Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Another 300K that got away

Sorry for the blog hiatus, it never seems there is enough hours in the day, and I'd rather be on my bike than writing about it! Also all my old images are currently missing until I get some blog hosting issues sorted out.

Two weekends ago, I decided to make another attempt at doing a 300K brevet. I don't think I was quite determined that I could ride that far in a day and that I wanted to ride that far in a day. But with having a very short commute to work, I was really just looking for a nice long bike ride in the country. Though being dead tired from the readjustment to the 9-to-5 world the idea of sleeping in on Saturday morning seemed much more appealing than a 6 a.m. bike ride that I would need to wake up at 4 to get to. The ride sounded nice with the name Pretty River Valley 300K.

I hadn't really paid too much attention to the ever changing weather forecast but hearing some noise about rain, stuffed a jacket, rain pants, and helmet cover in my bag. Whether it was the weather forecast, or post-PBP qualifying burnout for the randonneurs that were going I'm not sure, but there were only four of us that turned up for the ride. Ken, a fast rider, and Mike and Linda, who were my riding buddies on the last 300k that got away.

Caffeinated and ready to go, this time I was sure to leave on time, having missed the time cutoff at the first control the last time. We were all riding together for the first few kms from Maple towards Kleinburg. Ken took off on his own after that and I was hoping the three of us left could stick together. But I was finding the hills (most of which weren't tough, just kept seeming to be more of them) hard having only done one ride of 100k or more in about a month. I couldn't keep up with Linda's preferred pace, so she went on ahead, and Mike was keeping me company. There were some lovely country views and from Old Church Road in the Caledon region there was a nice view of Toronto from up on high.

Despite the fact I was hardly drinking any water on an unseasonably cool July day, nature seemed to making an excessive amount of calling. Having issues with the ditch, I was focusing my mind on getting to Colgan, which was marking on the cue sheet as having a general store. We got into the village and there was no signs whatsoever of any store. I saw a church and was really hoping it was open, but of course it was locked up. I asked Mike if he could see if he could find someone in the village to ask where the store was. Apparently he went knocking on doors and ended up asking someone if I could use their bathroom. They were very nice and let me into their house. After this probably 20 minute total grand waste of time, we arrived in Alliston the first control with 1 hour and 15 minutes to spare. I knew this time would come in handy later with scary looking instructions on the cue sheet like "over the purple hills of Mulmur" and didn't want to squander any of it.

The main road through Alliston was closed to construction, but Mike knew where the Timmies was in town, so we headed that direction to use it as our control point. It was mid morning on a Saturday morning and cars were lined up to go through the drive through as far as the eye could see! Nuts waiting that long for a mediocre coffee. Peering inside the fate did not look much better so we picked the grocery store instead for a control.

While we were eating in the lobby, the promised rain started up. So we put on all the rain gear, including plastic bags in my shoes to keep my feet dry since I was too cheap to buy actual shoe covers. After only a few minutes, the rain let up and we were of course sweating and overheating in all the rain gear, so took it all off. Then of course it started raining again, etc. so the joke was hey put on those rain pants so the rain will stop. But it was more comfortable to leave off all the gear except the jacket. I was fearing the Purple Hills of Mulmur having read some previous ride reports where strong riders were cursing them. (although some of them were riding fixies!)

The road went up up and up some more, providing lovely scenic views, but rather hard on the legs. I was determined I was not going to walk any of the hills. I also had in my mind that my granny gear was for loaded touring only, but quickly disabused myself of that notion. At some points I was even flicking my brake lever shifter over going hey there's no more gears... cursed I have to just mash up the hill. I stopped once or twice for a breather, and also was having trouble shifting from granny to middle ring, so sometimes I had to get off the bike and lift it up to do this. Here's a shot from partway up the hills:

At some point there is a very strange saved-by-Jesus chapel at what seems like it should be the top of the hill by now. It looks like the crest is near, just a little more climbing, and then... whee... whee... wheee... down down down we go. Of course the rain has started up again on the down and so I am slowing to make sure I don't wipe out. And then suddenly my heart lurches as I see a straight steep vertical climb ahead. Wasn't I up all those hills already? Partway up the hill I just resigned myself to walking and get off and push the rest of the way up.

The rain is getting harder and colder and I've stupidly put on none of my rain gear. When we get to the village of Honeywood I spot a general store with covered porch and we go under to get dry for a bit, put on my jacket, have a snack, and yet another washroom break. At this point we have 30k to go to the next control and 2.5 hours. Being cold and wet I'm not very motivated to keep going and half an hour is easily frittered away snacking and basking in dryness.

At which point Mike asks me if I want to quit and tells me I don't have enough time to make the next control. 30K in two hours? Easy peasy. However there is 10K of gravel I have not accounted for. I take this as a personal challenge and say LETS GO. I zoom along to the first stretch of gravel which I am not looking forward to. I'm not very balanced on gravel to begin with, and dreading gravel + rain. Mike suggests detouring around the gravel roads, I'm thinking that goes against the rules, so I'm happy to give the roads a shot. We start on the road and he asks what I think, and I'm like this is great, lets go. Great is relative of course. The road is very very muddy but at least its pretty hardpack with minimal loose stones and flat. (downhill on gravel scares me)

At this point my bike and my lower legs are covered in mud, its raining, I'm cold, rain is pelting in my face, and I'm bracing against a strong crosswind. And I'm wondering why I signed up for this, why I thought this was a fun way to spend a weekend. But oddly it is fun, in the sense of feeling like a road warrior. Conquering the elements. Unsure what the next gravel section might hold, I speed along the nicely paved middle section at 30-35 kph. The next gravel section is pretty similar. Here's what Mike's nice recumbent time trial bike (Bacchetta Aero) looks like covered with mud:

We arrive in the village of Feversham to spot a bicycle in front of the store. Linda! Ah she must not have been too much ahead of us after all. As we go in we find out she actually arrived 1h40 minutes before us, and she is cold from the rain and waiting for a pickup from a friend. When I mention the next stretch Linda asks "you guys are going to keep going?!" and hmm suddenly the possibility occurs to me maybe I don't need to. I am however 150k into a 300k ride which puts me quite far away from home! I ponder the options while ordering a coffee.

Warm coffee. No rain. Not cold. Suddenly I have completely forgotten why I wanted to ride 300k. It no longer seems like an important goal. If it was I would be tough - after all I'd already done the hard hills and the muddy roads. Its almost 4 p.m. I'm running near the time limit so it would probably be 2 a.m. (the time limit) when I finished. Even less appealing than going back out in the cold rain is the idea of riding in the dark and colder and raining. And the idea of possibly being too tired to continue and being stranded somewhere there is no shelter that we are luxuriously standing in now. We ask Linda if her friend would have room for two other bikes but the answer is no - particularly tricky for a recumbent to be rescued as it won't fit inside a regular car.

The store owner suggests there is a motel about 10k away that has really cheap rooms (about $30 she thinks). This sounds like a plan to me, I can bike the 150k the next day instead. She kindly calls around for us but it seems that every plan we can think of is booked up. Mike calls the organizers for the Simcoe chapter of the Randonneurs that live in Alliston (which was our first checkpoint). They are out of town but happen to be driving back. They are angels and tell us they can pick us up in Creemore and give us a place to stay over night.

Creemore looked pretty close to Feversham on the map. But if someone told me at this point when I was already discouraged I had to bike 40 more km I probably would have given up! Sometimes not knowing all the information keeps you going! At some point towards Creemore my spirits picked up enormously when the sun came out and the wind was at our backs. Whee! Could it get any better? And hey we had climbed a long way it seemed today, what goes up must come down! Unfortunately the route our hosts had given us was under construction - or at least the sign said Bridge Out - and we believed it - so we followed the road detour which was of course... you guessed it, gravel (aka mud).

This gravel was much harder going since there was a lot of downhill (that would have been buckets of fun on the paved road) but I really had to control my speed not to lose control. Also staying in the path between the stones means sometimes being in the middle of the road, and rather annoying when a pickup comes barreling up behind you going 100+ and there's no good spot to brake or move over with sure balance. I must mention that with yet another nature call on this stretch of road and too far to get to civilization I decided I had to train my body to get over its aversion to ditches, and so there was success. I still am envious that guys have it so much easier, no having to try to crouch in wet grass in the ditch for some privacy etc.

There was lovely scenery approaching Creemore tucked into a valley near the Mad River. And all I kept thinking about that kept me pedalling was eating a big plate of pasta washed down with a pint of Creemore (Creemore the village is famous for its microbrewery). It was indeed very refreshing once we finally made it to Creemore. Timing worked out great as we just finished eating in the pub when our rescue ride arrived.

After some trickiness navigating a recumbent and my bike with aerobars into a Honda Element (and much apologies for the dirtiness of our bikes), we were off to a warm place to sleep with some great hospitality and a wonderful breakfast in the morning.

Sunday was a sunny day for a nice leisurely 63k ride through the countryside (we went more direct than we came to Alliston) over some gorgeous rolling hills. Yay for sunshine:

A great day for soaking up the views. I loved this scene of the cow on the top of the horizon:

We stopped for a snack break on Jane Street about 15k north of Maple where we ran into a roadie with an expensive aero bike on a training ride. So of course Mike and the roadie had to have one of those macho-type whose bike is faster competitions whereby I'm out of breath trying to just keep them within sight range and eventually I just give up and figure Mike will stop at some point and wait for me to catch up. Apparently the recumbent beat the diamond-frame bike with the aero wheels. It was good hill training anyway trying to push up the hills on Jane Street.

Approx stats: Saturday - 190K, 20kph moving average. Sunday - 63K, 21.9kph moving average. Some nice country riding even though I lost track of the goal. Oh and Ken did finish the 300K ride, although he mentioned it was the toughest 300K he had ridden (and he's been doing this for quite a few years) so I did not feel quite so bad about quitting. Sometimes I think you have to not see it as giving up, but making a smart choice. Another 150K on Saturday in cold rain would have quite likely made me sick which is no good for the work week.

Coming soon: this past weekend's adventures in bike camping.