Sunday, July 23, 2006

My First Century

Last weekend when I was biking to Stratford, when I had pains in my chest, my legs ached, and we were pedalling along in the dark and the rain and I couldn't see the edges of the road with my headlight, I made a decision. No more epic rides for several weeks. (er a couple anyway) It's rather amazing how the human body has a remarkable ability to forget about pain (um I'm sure that's why we have the concept of siblings in the age of birth control)

When a few posts ago I mentioned epic rides I'd like to do, Blake had proposed I ride with him on his crazy planned ride to Balm Beach. Uh no, that's too far! (see he was going to stay for a while, and I would need to bike back home) When he explained that what he really meant was ride with him to Holland Landing, whereby we would go separate directions, and I could ride to Lake Simcoe from there, I'm like sure! That sounds like fun. My problem is that my mental ambition for "fun" rides is far ahead of my physical condition for insane rides.

I woke up Saturday morning with some er intestinal difficulties. I wondered if it was best to abort this plan (nothing like having a repeat and being stuck in the middle of nowhere) but then thought nah it was probably just an isolated incident. As I headed out the door with my bike my neighbours were outside. Ah where are you off to they asked? Lake Simcoe. Keswick? they inquired. Sure. (I actually had no real idea of where I was going other than I wanted to ride to the lake, but Keswick seemed a good place to buy some lunch) I'm not sure they were all that impressed, see to people that don't bike you can tell them you are going to High Park (less than 15 km away) and they'll be like whoa that's far. And so you can tell them you are going to bike 150 km and it will really be all about the same to them - all in the realm of a long way to ride a bike.

I rode off to the subway - our plan was to start off at Finch, the north end of the line to get a good jumpstart. As I had wanted to do a Lake Ontario-Lake Simcoe tour, the plan was to ride to Lake Simcoe, dip my feet in the water somewhere, then ride all the way back to Lake Ontario, and dip my feet in the water again. Here's the route map of where I actually did ride if you want to take a sneak peak.

We rode up Bayview as far as Stouffville Road where were passed by a few of the carbon fiber types. Nothing on their bikes except a water bottle. I see the hill we have to climb up the moraine, between roughly 19th Avenue and Stouffville Road. So I stop to fuel up on chocolate almonds. I also remove and bungee my camelbak-clone to my rack since the water weight is bothering my back on the climbs. (its roughly kms 16-19 on the route map to see the elevation) A woman on one of these carbon fiber bikes stops to ask if we are okay before blazing up the hill. (ya we're just having a snack) Blake is better at climbing than I am so I'm not able to keep up close enough to draft. See I live near the lake and pretty much everywhere I want to go is gloriously flat flat flat so I don't get practice with hills. Poplar Plains Road is part of Blake's daily commute so he gets practice :)

While I get disheartened at the site of every new uphill we have to climb, sometimes there's a good downhill run to provide enough momentum to make it most of the way up. I get going at 57 km/h at one stretch. With taking turns drafting we make pretty good time to the village of Sharon, where we take a quick pit stop at the Coffee Time.

At this point it makes sense just to keep heading north on Leslie for me, where Blake is turning on Mount Albert Road, but hey I have no specific destination in mind so I follow him as far as Yonge Street where we turn separate directions. I wish him luck on his continued quest as he's headed close to Midland on Georgian Bay. It seems far just thinking about it. (although in actual fact my round trip distance ended up being about 20 km further than his planned mileage to get there)

Heading back east on Queensville Sideroad, I am going directly into the wind and its tough going. I am really missing having someone to take turns breaking wind with. Its also uphill again, and I am so relieved to be back at Leslie Street again, I decide to head north here, although the bike map suggests Woodbine. I take these bike map recommendations with a grain of salt.

Leslie Street is just two lanes, but thick with fast-moving traffic here, all no doubt escaping Toronto for the peacefulness of up north (which is not peaceful at all with all the traffic). The 404 highway has ended and Leslie Street is the closest road to it. After getting a bit annoyed with all the traffic I decide to bike on the shoulder. (its paved and about 2 feet wide, but not in the greatest condition which is why I was initially try to bike to the left of the white line) This decision may have saved my life. All of a sudden a car on the other side of the road decides to pass the car in front, and he's coming at exceedingly high speed directly at me. I'm pretty sure I screamed. I think in the Can-Bike II course I took they said if this happens GET OFF THE ROAD. Well first of all I was already on the shoulder, not the road proper (not that lines matter much to an aggressive driver), and this happens far too fast to react. As he whizzes past with far too little space between us for my heart to deal with, I concentrate on getting to my planned turnoff to get somewhere quieter.

I end up on a very quiet road with direct views of the lake. Great! Now where to dip my feet in it? You see I pass very many places that appear to be PARKS but in fact are private property. You need a key to get in. Presumably they are co-owned by a group of houses. Very odd, why not just take the fence down and make them public?

Every little stretch of waterfront it seems is privately owned, some fenced and some not, but "Private Property", "No Trespassing", "Video Surveillance" and other such signs abound everywhere.

Blake had actually ridden to Keswick the previous week with the Friends for Life bike rally folks, and had given me a copy of their route map to Keswick (pdf link). I set out to find the Mr. Sub on the map to get myself some lunch. I tried to find their rest spot as a place to eat but couldn't find the turn. So I just rode along the lake where the quiet road had signs to share the road with cyclists.
(someone needs to post these same signs on Warden south of Steeles. Thanks.)
I wanted to venture much further around Lake Simcoe, but the thought did occur to me, how ever much further you ride away from home, you must also ride BACK AGAIN. So at some point I backtracked, and at long last I found a public park (I didn't stop on the way in because I didn't know it would be the only one) but without a real beach here I just bypassed the idea of dipping my feet in it.

I was feeling quite weary as I slogged my way over to Warden Avenue (my way home was to take this road straight south for like 60 km) I somehow had this crazy idea in my mind that once I turned onto Warden it would be all downhill with the wind at my back. Hahaha. As I stopped for a bathroom break at the gas station at the corner of Warden and Ravenshoe Road, I noticed a pay phone. (I don't have a cell phone) I really did not think I would be able to make it much further at this point. But who am I seriously going to call to drive all the way out to here to get me? It was my crazy idea to bike all the way out here, I must continue to bike all the way home. Insert more chocolate almonds here.

The first part of Warden still had lots of uphill climbs, and overall it was fairly rolling. Nothing very steep but I was feeling pretty wiped out. Thankfully the traffic was much much quieter than Leslie, and it was all rural, where we had encountered lots of development + farmland becoming development on the way up. When I already felt done for, and had 60 more km of the same road to bike along, my mind started to make up little games to push myself further. No stopping until the odometer reaches X and I pass a major intersecting road, and I get to the top of this hill, and the mailbox numbers go down to such-and-such. Its pretty depressing when the numbers are 21,000+ and you know you have to get to where the road begins. Of course if I keep changing the criteria as I go, I keep going. If I stopped whenever I felt like I needed a rest I would never make it home.

A few things kept my spirits up. One was the promised land - Blake had mentioned that at one point along Warden it felt like he went for 20 minutes at 40 km/h with minimal effort. I definitely had not encountered that yet. The second was my mistaken belief that the IBM Canada lab was located at 14000 Warden. I knew if I could just make it this far that there would be a BUS, a bus, I could hop on the bus... I made the occasional stop to sit in the ditch and munch on trail mix. At some point on the opposite side of the road I saw a very slow moving tractor carrying bales of hay. It was entirely predictable that the car behind would try to overtake it. But surely he can SEE ME and wouldn't try to do such a crazy thing until I am past.... AAAAAAAAAARGH. Yes another oncoming pass scare, which I should have got off the road instead of contemplated. But Warden had no shoulder at all here, and few good places to really get off the road.

One thing never to do when you are tired and have a long ways to go is to pull out the map to check your progress. It will only completely dishearten you. What? I'm only way up there? But at some point in time I could see the promised land - both buildings of civilization in the far distance, and a seemingly endless downhill. I perked up so much after this and probably had an evil little giggle on my face as I waved at two other cyclists I passed who were going the not-so-easy way. This was definitely the best riding of the day. Wheee!

Even better was when I saw the Markham sign, welcoming me to a sprawling car-centric wasteland, where I'd rather cut off my own leg than have to live in. But a very welcome sight.

Bathroom! was my first thought. Bus! was my second. But at this point I knew I could finish my trek and I didn't need the bus. The reassurement though that there might be a bus made me feel they wouldn't have to peel my body out of a ditch in the countryside somewhere. It was still several kilometres to civilization as it was farmland for quite a ways after the sign. Just a depressing thought that since it is in the limits of Markham, all that farmland can easily and quickly be goobledly-gooked up into badly planned development.

Once I passed IBM (about 6000 street numbers further south than where I had thought) the road became much less pleasant to bike on. Note that the ramp in the picture is an off-ramp from the road into IBM. The company relocated their large development lab from a suburban, yet still easily transit-accessible location in Toronto to the edge of Markham forcing many previously car-free employees to buy cars. Doesn't look too friendly to be in anything but a car around here does it?

I try to avoid the madness of the traffic here by making the right of the construction pylons my own personal bike lane but its not a very long reprieve. I'm making really heavy use of looking in my mirror. After my first attempt at finding a bathroom turns out to be a closed coffee shop (being in an industrial area the hours are very limited) I opt for a McDonalds in a plaza even though I have to turn left off Warden and traverse a huge parking lot. This is where I am glad I brought the lock, in the boonies I would just lean my bike up against the glass of wherever I was going into, here (at Warden and Finch) I don't trust my bike unlocked for even a split second.

Warden in Toronto proper is not at all bike friendly. The lane is narrow in many places but the traffic also nuts (in terms of speed and driver mentality). Do I take the lane here? Do I dare? (I opted for ride close to the curb with frequent mirror checks) I am happy when I get into the headways of the bus because it really reduces traffic in the curb lane but if I get too far ahead of the bus the advantage is lost. The road really is a desolate wasteland of strip malls or industrial here. My legs are getting REALLY tired now and I make little chants to myself with the major intersections I have left to cross - Lawr-ence, Eg-lin-ton, St. Clair, Dan-forth, King-ston.

I was really happy to see Kingston Road (where I turned westward), although I should have remembered from my bike up it recently that the section near Warden was the absolute worst for potholes. My tired body was too weary to stand on the pedals whenever I crossed one (and it was impossible to avoid them entirely) and so I just got bump-bumped instead. I escaped Kingston Road at the first available opportunity to fly downhill (Fallingbrook), and kept riding on Queen until I knew I would have access to the lake.

South on Glen Manor, I head straight for the sand at Balmy Beach.

I am so close to home at this point, but very weary. I consume the remainder of the chocolate almonds and pedal very gently along the Beach path towards home.

The odometer shows 162 km. (just over 100 miles) My first imperial century! Yay! See with this crazy thing we have called the metric system I have ridden 100 km often but never 100 miles. Some people don't think you are a "real cyclist" until you have ridden 100 miles in a day. Personally I consider real cyclists those that use their bike for everyday activities and not as a toy (that they attach to their SUV to take to somewhere "safe" to cycle). Stuff like riding to get to work. Or hauling furniture. That's real cycling!

Here's a gratitious hedge shot I took as I made it home. This 7 foot high hedge of pretty yellow flowers started off last year as 4 plants I think separated from a neighbours hedge to fill in the blank space between my walkway and my attached neighbour's walkway.

Total distance (bike computer): 162 km
Total distance (gmap pedometer route): 156.1 km - I've included at the end of the route map the distance I pedalled in the morning to get to Queen subway station. I can only explain the missing 6 kms by some backtracking I did over the route to find Mr. Sub, the odd turn and diversion and circling of huge plazas to go looking for bathrooms.
Approx total elapsed time: 9.5 hours.
Max Speed: 57 km/h
Avg Speed: unknown (the trip mode was not engaged on the computer) If we assume 20 km/h, that leaves 1.5 hours of time spent eating lunch, visiting washrooms, dipping feet in the lake, and eating trail mix in ditches. I suspect the average speed was somewhat faster and the time spent not biking somewhat longer.

At this point in time, I really just wanted to sit and relax with my feet up and a beer. (oh first a shower! definitely a shower! bye-bye road grit.) My fridge had no beer. (note to self: stock fridge before epic rides) I don't know why I didn't take the bike. Walking the short 1 km distance to the beer store was painful. Worse was walking home with a 12 pack in a backpack on my already achy shoulders.

Footnote:To save weight I decided to dispense with panniers altogether since I usually just toss stuff I might need into them willy-nilly. A rain jacket might have been among them. While it rained in the city, and dark clouds throwing out the occasional spit loomed at us, it did not rain. Mostly in the summer my theory is "just get wet" although the day was actually cool (a nice reprieve from last week's heat wave ride) so I may have been unpleasantly cold if real rain had happened. My packing list for an epic day ride: frame pump (attached to the bike), 2L camelbak, spare bottle of water and Gatorade bottle (both on bike), gloves, safety vest, and helmet (all on me), handlebar bag packed full: wallet with cards and cash, camera, feminine hygiene products, snacks: banana, chocolate almonds, soy-based trail mix, granola and dried fruit mix; chain lube, mini pressure gauge, two spare tubes, tire levers, patch kit, allen keys, bungee cord (used to tie the camelbak when I didn't want to carry it, also useful in case of any surprise acquisitions of stuff), cable lock (useful for being back in the city) and keys, sunblock and sunglasses (in case the sun came out, I didn't use the sunglasses, I SHOULD still have applied the sunblock as I got a very slight burn), pen (you never know when it will come in handy - and in hindsight I should have used this to record the license plates of the two drivers who made illegal passes when there was oncoming traffic ie me, and reported them, but they were long past before it would have registered to get the plate), two Power Gel packs (for emergency need energy now, otherwise I prefer not to ingest all that unnatural crap). Useful stuff I didn't bring: zipties (always handy for emergency something falls off the bike), mini multi-tool (particularly to have a screwdriver if the rack/fender screws come loose for some reason)

Now of course someone better remind me to LOCK AWAY my Ontario maps before I get more ideas of somewhere crazier to go next weekend. Century ride: check. What's the next challenge? Why a double century of course! Really I think I'll just to stick to things like toodling on the folding bike to the farmers market and other such non-pain-causing uses of the bike for a while :)
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