Friday, May 25, 2007

A hot day's ride (or the 300k that never was)

Last Thursday, I successfully completed a 200 km brevet. (and plan to post a ride report!) While I struggled around the 150 km mark, I had a second wind after stopping for greasy pizza in Campbellville and finished with loads of energy left. Spurred on by this, I was thinking bigger and better things when signing up for a 300 km brevet yesterday. Visions of Paris danced in my head. To qualify for this madness (1200 km over 90 hours) I would need to successfully complete 200, 300, 400 and 600 rides all within specified time limits before the end of June.

This seemed like a bit of a crazy plan considering I have been struggling with bike fit and comfort issues, and being 50% further than my previous longest ride just the week before. The day before I really wondered what I was doing as my right knee was acting up, I had back and shoulder pain already and I hadn't ridden 300 km yet, and I could have sworn I felt a cold coming on. The weather forecast? Scorching hot, humid, with a smog advisory. The news suggests people avoid exercise outdoors. (on the 200 it was about 12C and I was trying to pick layers to stay warm enough) Mental toughness I told myself.

The night before I made up new yummy energy bars (trying to have something with real ingredients in it) and tried to organize everything for the ride knowing that I suck at trying to do that in a rushed around morning. I shuddered at the inhumanity of it all when the alarm went off at 3:45 a.m. (I am not a morning person) but got up with confidence I could ride 300k.

After rushing around the house madly (where the @#%% did I leave my bike socks that I thought I set out? why won't my water bladder open?) I managed to get out the door for a 20 minute bike ride through a dark downtown to meet fellow randonneur Linda who was kindly giving me a ride to the start point out in Mississauga (much too far to want to ride before a 300k)

Time we get the bikes loaded onto the car and drive out there we are only about 15-20 minutes before the start time of 6 while 30 minutes is suggested. And you really do want 30 minutes, time you unload the bikes from the car, quick checks that everything is secure, bathroom breaks, a much needed coffee from Timmies, a bit of socializing with the other riders, filling up your water which you needed help getting unstuck much time has elapsed before you know it. I look at the clock in Timmies as we are talking to the ride organizer (who is not riding today). Its 6:15 people, leeeets go!! The sunblock will need to wait. We must ride. There are 5 riders going - Mark, who has already mentioned he likes to ride fast has taken off already; Steve is still in line inside at Timmies but I don't think we need to wait for him - he is fast and will not likely ride with us; Linda doing her first 300 like me (and I'm hoping similar in speed though she did the 200 quite a bit faster than I on a different day); and my friend Mike.

We set off at a decent pace which is also much faster than the cruising speed I was going last week. Linda and I are taking turns drafting each other and Mike has a recumbent so doesn't work as well for drafting. I notice I am not able to breathe as well as I would like - what's up? Oh that cold... I think I have congestion going on. Great. But all I'm thinking about is riding 73 km to Erin, the first control point and not about how far I have to ride the whole day.

Only about 7 km out, Linda gets a flat tire. The three of us all confess to getting infrequent flats so while we all know how to change a flat tire, none of us is too proficient or quick at it, and we are stopped for a while. Steve passes us by at some point and waves. I remember populaire rides where people flatted and with the really quick people we were always back on the road in no time flat.

As we pass Speyside I'm feeling a bit uncomfy and so ask to make a pitstop as we pass a store with known washrooms. Linda hands me her water bottle to refill and only after I have refilled the water in the bathroom does the clerk mention the water is not drinkable. After a bit of discussion and buying some bottled water and wondering if the bottle has been contaminated (apparently its just bad tasting not bacteria) we are back on the road again.

We have a net uphill route and three tough climbs to make. I know how hard the route is because its to the first control point its the same route as the populaire ride to Erin in March. The first at Bell School Line I am determined to conquer the hill and not walk. I drop into the granny for the first steep part, then try to shift back to the middle ring for the more level section before another steep ascent. The gear gets stuck between the two rings and it won't shift into either. Defeated I walk (but the others are also walking) I manage to get the bike back into middle ring at the top and I'll have to avoid the granny, but fortunately I still have a fairly small gear (42x34) for most of the hard hills I will encounter. The second climb on Sixth line does not seem so bad as it did in March, but again without the granny I need to walk up the last little part of it.

Coming into Georgetown during busy-ish morning traffic, I'm flying along downhill about 40 km/h and the light is turning red. Mike stops. I squeeze both brakes and I think I must have hit a pebble or something, the rear wheel fishtails about and I'm freaked out. I see no way to avoid crashing. I psychologically try to brace myself for impact. All I'm thinking is this is gonna hurt like hell hitting asphalt at this speed. I can regain control of the bike but not in the space available. I don't want to go crashing into Mike. I scan the intersection. There are lots of cars waiting in the four lane cross road. They haven't started moving yet. In a split second decision fearing pain of asphalt, I decide to put my faith in drivers looking before proceeding on a green light, yell "I CAN'T STOP!!!!" (this is mostly for Mike's benefit as I doubt any drivers can hear me. this also may sound familiar to anyone that has gone skiing with me "look out below" or watched me try to paddle a kayak around snorkellers "I can't steer") and blow through the red light, managing to stabilize the bike through the intersection.

Phew! Pain averted but I am a bit mentally thrown off by this. We keep going and around the 60 km mark, I'm like uh what is that. Crap. My front tire is flat. I think this is the first time I have flatted on the bike on the road (as opposed to tearing the valve stem when pumping the tires). I knew I jinxed myself in saying something about that when Linda flatted. The country property next to where I have flatted has loose dogs so I'm like lets keep moving a bit and find another driveway to sit in for switching.

At this point I'm very red, feeling a bit heatstroke-y, flustered - because I really want to do this ride and I'm very aware we may have time issues getting to our control. I have no idea where my tire levers are in my rack bag. I am agitated and snappy and just want the tire fixed instantly. Not the best state to change a tire in, which thanks to Mike and Linda who suggested I drink (after admonishing me after finding out I am still on my first 2L of fluid 4 hours into the ride) and eat something while they fix the tire. I also pull out the sunscreen and sunglasses at this point so I can better cope with the heat.

Mike and I tell Linda she should go ahead. She wants to qualify for Paris. Its just a pie-in-the-sky dream for me at this point not a very realistic one, and Mike has already completed a qualifying 300. We do a time check somewhere in the process and figure out we have 13km to go and 1 hour left. Linda's like oh lots of time I'll wait. Should be easy right? Well we aren't back on the road yet, and also I'm ummmmmmm you don't know what's ahead. If the road was paved, absolutely not a problem.

But we have a couple of kms of gravel to do, and said dirt/gravel road also winds its way up a steep hill. Some patches are good and have a tire track to follow where the gravel is pushed away, other places there are loose stones everywhere. Linda is doing much better with the gravel than I am despite the fact she has 23c tires and mine are a beefier 28. Mike with a recumbent and high pressure 23c tires is way back. In my mind though Linda and I should push to the control, get our cards signed, and then wait for Mike in Erin if necessary since he has less need to make the ride "official". We are all walking this hill.

We finally get to paved road. My intuition is this should be our road to turn at. I must admit to being a Cue Sheet Virgin. I was mostly following Mike for navigation, though I have the route sheet clipped to my shifter cables (which has slid down and out of view). I was occasionally paying attention as I did point out a turn we should make the others didn't see - in general the more eyes on the cue sheet the better even if some of the riders have ridden part of the route before. I pull up the sheet and we are supposed to turn on Erin-Halton townline but the road says "Wellington 42". Of course with these country roads they often have names as well as numbers but the road signs and cue sheets seem to pick at random whether to use a number or name. Linda and I briefly discuss. We check the distance. On my bike computer we are off by 0.4 km. Her bike computer is off by quite a bit more distance. Which one of ours is more accurate? Obviously 400m it is going to be our turn because rural intersections do not happen that frequently.

We decide to keep going. My memory for directions travelled is vague but I am getting a feeling we never did *that much* gravel on the last ride (especially as it was mud in March). Did we reroute then because it was a populaire and we wanted to avoid mud? Or were we on the wrong track now? An intersection is seemingly very far away. We've gone about 2 km further, we see Mike in the distance behind us and he is not making any gestures to indicate we've gone the wrong way. But we are getting a sinking feeling and wait for Mike to catch up.

Did we miss the turn? I was following you guys he said so he hadn't even checked the sheet. We talk about it, I pull out my advermap which has both the name and number on it, and I wish I thought about the map earlier. We check the time. There's only 15 minutes left. Maybe if we really sprinted we could make it to Erin from here if we could continue the way we were going and make the next turn. But that's against the rules, we need to go back to the point where we left the route and follow it from there. Its just not possible.

I'm really disappointed we had to abort the ride but when I think about it, it was also a very hot day to be riding 300k. None of us has any interest in continuing to ride 300k we wouldn't get credit for, just for the fun of it. We decide to continue to Erin though for lunch, and then from there plan a pleasant country route back home.

We get to Erin, and stop to ask one of the locals where the Timmies is. (ah always with the Timmies). Apparently Erin has no Timmies! He's telling us where other lunch options like Subway are when a redneck in a truck going the other direction yells "Get off the road!" out his window. A bit confused, we had to stop again to ask an older gentleman where the Subway was. He looks at us rather like we are space aliens. Subway!? There's no subway here!! Realizing he is thinking of the underground transport rather than the sandwich place, we mention this and he's like oh and points it out. Since both Linda and I only had brought one spare tube each (not my original plan but I had been in that where is everything? panic mode) we thought it would be useful to stop at a bike shop. The consensus seems to be if Erin is not big enough for a Timmies it isn't big enough for a bike shop, but I'm looking at our route on the advermap and see an ad for one!

The bike store seems to be the type of place that caters more to the recreational cyclist than serious cyclists and initially it seemed like they would not even have a 700x28c tube! But the guy found it and so I was happy with my insurance but Linda decided against. She also had a patchable tube where mine had a leak in the valve stem.

Lets check out the village of Terra Cotta on the way back. Sounds like a nice name on the map anyway. At some point we were faced with a dirt/gravel road in front of us (we were tired of gravel), a known gravel road the next line over (the one we came up), and an unknown road on the map two more over, so we pick the unknown. Ugh. We come up to it and its an oil covered gravel road, not only do we have bumpy gravel our bikes may get grimy. Backtrack back to tenth line (should have been suspicious the bike map suggested a gravel road if there was a better alternative one over) I can't bring myself to go flying downhill on the steep up we walked with the gravel, I fear losing control after the fishtail in Georgetown, and so I walk down :)

We turn onto a sideroad with rolling hills and we have a tailwind and so every time we go down a hill we'd come right back up the other side without pedalling. We all were crying out Wheeeeeeeee wheeeee whee gleefully bouncing up and down the hills. Then I see a big one and go heh that's not a wheeeee hill. But I discovered something along this hot day's ride, and that is after riding enough hilly rides lately... I have gotten stronger at hills. Hills that I used to find hard aren't.

Again in the middle of the country I felt I needed a bathroom break. The other two are looking at me like just go in the ditch eh, but I have ditch issues. So anyway. Looking at the map we'll pass through Georgetown again soon enough, so I'm thinking I can wait and we can get water and food. We pass through the village of Norval where there's a big store, and I stop prop my bike up and gleefully go inside to ask where the bathroom is. "NO WASHROOM FOR CUSTOMER". Hmm alritey then. "It's one minute to Georgetown". Hello is this one minute by any chance while travelling at 100 km an hour? We are on bicycles can't you tell from our helmets? Anyway I may have loudly mentioned about all the things we will now go and buy in Georgetown like bottled water and chocolate bars and the like. Outside the store Linda has noticed her tire is flat again, I'm thinking we must have missed the debris and since its slow she pumps it up to get to Georgetown.

Climbing a few more hills it is not really that far into Georgetown where I'm happy to pull into the first service center I see but the others suggest waiting to Timmies. Ah Timmies always the Timmies on randonneur rides. We are riding highway 7 through Georgetown a mildly unpleasant four lane thoroughfare with scenery that pops up identically everywhere in carland - strip plazas of Walmarts, and big box stores and the same monotony of chains all with huge parking lots. Now out of the country we can really feel the effects of the smog day. Anyways, bathroom, water, and snacks make me happy. Linda patches her tube but for some reason the air does not hold.

We decide to ask where to find a bike store in Georgetown, and at this point we'll just have the bike store fix the flat. The attitude in the store was quite unfriendly. They wanted us to leave the bike for a while. I've never seen a bike store empty of customers where I've had to wait a significant amount of time for a flat fix. Its one of the things most places put aside the work they've been doing for customers that have left their bikes in for a while and just fix. Okay just sell the tubes. But its so hot so we ask really nice if we can change it in the air conditioned store. Nope sorry. I think we have been too spoiled by much friendlier bike places in Toronto like Urbane.

So we sit on the sidewalk where the mechanic does come out to give his opinion after having sold her two exceedingly overpriced tubes. (to be fair they were racing tubes but they didn't actually sell anything more practical) He thinks we just broke the valve stem from pumping on the last one but this does not sound right, but at any rate unable to find the cause we install yet another tube and are on our way. Some idiot is operating a gas powered leaf blower in the plaza on a smog day and kicking up dust right our way and I can't breathe. UGH.

Picking a route from the map, we stop at a convenience store to ask where Main street is. The clerk tells us but says oh no I would not bike there. The others are thinking of backtracking to a different street, and I'm like why are we going to take the opinion of a non-cyclist for road choices? We continue on where we maybe have to take the lane for a 100 metres on a "main" street. Whoop-de-do. We get just past town when...

Yup you guessed it another flat. At this point we decide we aren't going to be able to fix it right now and try to think of options for getting home. We decide that Linda will stay in Georgetown for a while, while Mike and I ambitiously speed our way back to Mississauga, get his car, and come back to pick her up. We see big hills looming ahead of us on 8th line.

I zoom up the hills that looked so hard and really weren't then wonder what happened to Mike. Recumbents tend to climb slower than upright bikes, though back in March Mike was always faster than me up the hills anyway. Its nice to notice improvement. After we're riding together again, I hear the most hideous noise coming from behind me and swear Mike's bike is falling apart. I'm like oh no now I'm going to have to bike back and drive Mike's car back and while I have a drivers license I am rather uncomfortable with the whole idea. But I turn back and it turns out to "only" be a tire blowout.

I guess Mike was feeling left out on the flat front so all three of us professed hardly ever get flat types had to get one. We find a tree and some glorious shade to sit under. The sun is wearing me out (but not my legs) and so I'm lying on the grass leaning on the comfy recumbent seat pad. This time we find a big hole in the sidewall of the tire. I am going to suggest maybe a five dollar bill as a tire boot but Mike has come prepared and has a foldup spare in his pack. Covered a bit in gatorade goo but a spare nonetheless. Once again this is rather a slow process.

Back on the road again and we are heading down sixth line enjoying the lovely country air and scenery. The road breaks up for 500 metres on unpleasant fast busy rural road Steeles (did I mention its rush hour?) They happen to be doing construction on this stretch so its down to one lane road with a "3 minute wait" traffic light controlling which direction gets to go. I'm thinking no way in hell I'm sharing that lane, and I'm hoping the drivers behind won't be aggressive and so I'm happy to see a cop has stopped behind us. Through the muddy and mucky one lane I proceed down the center, and about a second and half from the end instead of waiting for me to move to where the road opens up, the cop (who must have first veered onto the gravel shoulder to do this) whizzes past me around the pylons. Argh. Soon enough its back to quiet farmland.

Heading back into suburbia along Eglinton its very strange to see new townhouses on one side of the road, and cows on the other. Soon the sprawl will have taken over so much further. Do you still have energy left? Mike asks. I accelerate and sprint along at 40 for a bit to prove my point. Then cars get in my way and I have to slow down. I wish I had as loud a horn as they do to complain I want my one and a half seconds back.

Bikes on the car, its weird to recover the same territory we biked along but in a car. Heh this doesn't look pleasant for biking I thought seeing all the cars but it felt so different on the bike. Maybe it was the bikes but other cars kept feeling compelled to pass us (going the speed limit) over the solid yellow. Or maybe it was typical of driver behaviour we just weren't going the speed they wanted to go and its always a me first world.

We pick up Linda who mentions having a lovely tour of historic Georgetown and finding another more helpful bike shop who thought she has some spoke tensioning issues with her wheel. (So if you ever happen to be in Georgetown, avoid the one on highway 7...) Overall it was a very pleasant 140 km with excellent company.

I'll leave you with a photo of Erin, whose signposts say to "Experience the charm". Ah the charm of rednecks yelling get off the road! (and an amazing amount of congested traffic through what seems to be a small village)


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Recipe for a Mood Booster

Sorry folks for the lack of posting lately! I am having far too much fun enjoying the lovely spring weather and always on my bike to be writing about being on my bike. Some rainy day I will get around to the backlog like fun with recumbent bikes, and a ride report for my recent 200k brevet.

Take one lovely sunshiney spring day.
Bring one fun vintage bikey that has been languishing in the basement out to play.
Pump up the tires.
Tie a milkcrate to the rear rack with old inner tube.
Put on bright shoes.
Put hair in a ponytail.
Just get on and ride - no special bikey wear required.
Gleefully pedal to favourite garden store with a happy back from a very upright bike.
Enjoy bouncing on the sproingy seat.
Enjoy how flared pant legs don't have to be tucked into socks (Twenty has a chain guard)
Load milkcrate full of trailing petunias.
Pedal home at a leisurely pace.
Try to make the petunia machine zoom along to catch up with a recumbent bike in the distance so I can see what kind it is. (a Burley SWB)
Tell recumbent rider "hey I like your bike!"
Coast down tree lined residential street going wheeeeeeeeee!
Arrive home with goodies.

Assemble petunias in homemade hanging baskets.
Determine there is a shortage of flowers.
Gleefully repeat pedalling steps and load up the milk crate at the store again.
Shrug that my homemade trailer project is not finished yet its a gorgeous day for multiple trips anyway.

Enjoy playing with dirt.
Water and hang baskets up.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

I Bike T.O, You Bike T.O, We can all bike T.O.

Check out the new website - a resource for commuter cyclists and wannabes in Toronto. Its the brainwave of a group of enthusiastic cycling activists including myself, and we've just launched the site. The main feature is a group blog, but we also have discussion forums, profiles of commuting cyclists to inspire you to get started, and a still evolving guide.

Want some fun things to do in Toronto while meeting other cyclists? Come on out to our events - we are hosting a weekly social ride. Tonight (Wed May 2) we'll tour the Humber trail before winding our way back to Bloor Street for food and bevvies (probable destination: Dark Horse pub) Meet outside of Old Mill subway station at 6:30.

For bike week, we are hosting a photo scavenger hunt downtown on Sat June 9th. Ride your bike around while taking photos of bike themed things - with a prize for the winning team.

If you bike T.O. and have an interesting story of why you bike T.O. perhaps you'd like to be one of our featured commuter cyclists! Leave me a comment or email and let me know. In fact, I'd love to hear from any Toronto cyclists that may be lurking on my blog - so leave me a comment. (in fact any lurkers should comment!)