Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Bike to Stratford

day 1: burlington to stratford

My friend Karen and I were roommates 10 years ago. Back then I don't recall her owning a bike, and I had a bike but rarely rode it. Since that time we have both become big bike fanatics. Anyway this past winter, when it was cold enough out that epic long rides seemed a far off dream on the horizon, we were sitting in a restaurant and she mentioned she had wanted to bike to her hometown of Stratford but had nobody to go with. Oh I'll ride with you! I volunteer, without having too much clue where geographically Stratford was.

A little while ago she proposed the plan - she had a wedding to go to in Stratford, along with two of her other friends also attending the wedding, but did I want to come to for the ride? Sure I'm always up for crazy rides! However there was one flaw I thought in the plan. We would leave on Friday but she had to work in the morning. Hmm noon seems late to leave for a crazy long ride. You have lights right? I asked. Lights? Why wouldn't we get there before dark she wanted to know. (distance was estimated at 160 km) Net uphill. Against the prevailing wind. Stopping for food breaks. Bad pavement. Map checks etc. The plan was to cancel the trip if the probability of precipitation was over 40%. Um ya but what if its 40C with the humidity (as the weekend was forecast to be) I'd much rather ride in the rain than a heat wave.

Karen and her friend Peter (training for an upcoming Ironman) planned to start out from her place at noon and be averaging close to 30 km/h. Her friend Amy planned to take the GO train out of Burlington to get a head start as she wanted to ride slower and less distance. Perfect. I didn't feel up for 160 km in a heat wave (and need to make some adjustments to my bike for long rides), and I certainly did not feel up for that kind of pace, so I opted to keep Amy company. Amy hadn't done any long rides before, but she bikes around downtown Toronto to visit her clients, recognizing its clearly the best way to get around, so ah she'll do great.

Fortunately our train out was before the derailment that cancelled trains for the rest of the day, and about 2 pm we are ready to head out of the station. First part of the ride is all uphill in the hot, humid and sticky part of the day. I had mentioned to Amy there would be a big hill and as we were going up what was certainly not the "big hill" she asked if this is the big hill. I mumble. I don't want to dishearten her by telling her what is really yet to come. I think that's what makes crazy bike rides possible is just having absolutely no clue what you've signed yourself up for. We climb up Cedar Springs Road heading up the escarpment. Its so hot out and the hill is very tough and once I've climbed the steepest part of the hill I think my head is going to explode and veer off at the first sign of shade tree to collapse under the tree.

We continue along the same road (which is very pretty, and thankfully completely amongst trees to keep cool). I'm getting all giddy happy when I'm not even pedalling and coasting down a hill at 49 km/h - until the thought occurs to me what goes down will come back up. We get to the village of Kilbride where we stop in front of a country store and I pull out my partially melted chocolate almonds. Ah must eat these before they turn to mush! My fingers are now completely covered in chocolate and I don't want to lick them because my fingers were previously covered in grease. (after trying to start up the hill again after the shade tree in the granny gear the chain popped off) I go into the country store and inquire if they have a bathroom. Nope. (well of course you have a bathroom.. grr) Ah can you tell me where the closest washroom is? Derry Road and Guelph Line. (I'm wearing soak-drenched spandex. Do I look like I'm driving a car? That didn't sound anywhere near where I was) Frustrated I leave the store and don't buy anything either since they were annoying - and I see there is a washroom outside the service station ACROSS THE ROAD. (which they had of course neglected to mention)

This is the point where our routes cross but after phoning the others they had a later start than expected so they are still quite a ways behind, so it makes sense for us to keep pedalling and since they are biking faster, they will eventually overtake us. After some pleasant country roads we end up on the former highway 97. The pavement is very chopped up which doesn't make for a great ride. And there are several transport trucks using this road. When they overtake they create a lot of wind which is pretty unnerving. Eventually the pavement gets better but there is still the energy sucking rolling hills to deal with. Having biked this way before, but several roads to the south on Concession 5, I figured it would be FLAT as Concession 5 was great that way.

I had my mirror adjusted fairly well so I could usually get a good idea of traffic behind. But at this point the mirror had been knocked to the side. I hear another vehicle. It is FAR too close to me. It doesn't sound quite as loud as I would expect it to be. I cannot look without risking veering slightly, and I am loathe to bail onto the rough shoulder if I don't absolutely have to - because I will undoubtedly wipe out. The vehicle overtakes me, and its a ... BICYCLE!!! I swear it sounded like it had a motor to it. It was a roadie with those super aero wheels and probably going 50 km/h and not giving me any indication he was passing. Super.

When we finally reach civilization (aka Cambridge) we head straight for the first strip plaza we can find. Looking forward to some real food and a bathroom break (unlike all these crazy country stores with "no public washrooms") We get some subs at Quiznos and call the others. They are about 10k behind which should be about perfect to give us a chance to eat, fill our water up, and relax. When we finish eating though we call again only to find they are still at the same point! Apparently Peter had decided to have a nap in the ditch. Ah a nap, a nap would be great about now. :)

So once again we keep on going. There are two steepish hills to get out of Cambridge, and we are feeling pretty tired out so we end up walking both of these hills. They are less steep of course than our initial escarpment climb and probably even less than the second after the coasting climb, but we are feeling pretty whipped from the rest of the riding. A bit past Cambridge we come across this rather idyllic looking spot to have a rest:

Dusk is going to be quickly upon us (far too many rest breaks?) I can not pedal anymore. I figure at this point we will wait for the others to catch up and then arrange our pickup point, because there is no way that we will be able to make Stratford before dark.

A while later what do we see come over the hill but two speedy-moving and far too chipper looking (considering they have pedalled 50km more than we have...) cyclists.

Karen is freaked out when she sees our panniers. WHY DID YOU BRING SO MUCH STUFF? (oh I must mention the wedding goers all sent their stuff ahead of them, and she offered I could send my clothes ahead too but I really didn't have anything I wanted to be without for a whole week, and it wasn't going to be heavy to bring everything I needed on the bike) No wonder you are so tired! she said. We are just shaking our heads. Really my tiredness had very little to do with the weight I was carrying on the bike. After much discussion about luggage, bike lifting comparisons, some graveyard bike repair, and some shots from Peter's tube of energy gel we were finally on our way again. The goal was to reach the village of New Dundee before deciding on what to do next. Here's all four of us before we departed the graveyard:

The energy gel did help perk me up a bit, as did of course sucking Karen's wheel for much of the way. The evening breeze without the hot sun in the sky also was glorious. Karen really is a machine! Never underestimate a woman with iron determination. Happily there were no more "killer" hills. I'm sure the entire village of New Dundee heard my yippee as we reached our goal. Of course Karen was completely determined to make it all the way to Stratford, and who am I to mess with another cyclists crazy ride dreams? (I had always hated in the past when taking someone on one of my crazy ride dreams and having them decide to wanna quit) I didn't have to keep going as Peter said he was tired but would ride all the way with her, but I figured the more the merrier for the after dark expedition. Amy sanely opted for a pickup from Karen's parents.

To avoid a long wait, we arranged to keep riding along the route and have Amy picked up en route. By this time darkness had hit and everybody had some sort of headlight. What may seem like a good light for CITY riding however is completely inadequate for dark country roads. I knew of course my light was not good for dark roads, however I hadn't expected we were going to keep riding after dark. Half the time I really didn't feel I could see the road at all or where the edges were. (of course I also have kinda crappy night vision and found driving a car on highway 401 at night a completely harrowing experience since I couldn't see the freakin lane lines) I felt like a lemming blindly following along behind Karen, where we could go oh-oh off the cliff at anytime :) The worst was when oncoming cars would come down the road we were on leaving their high beams on, those things are just blinding.

At some point Amy was picked up and due to weight reduction pressure I reluctantly handed my pannier over to be sent on ahead (we were all staying the night at her parents house) The rest of our route was going to be all rural and I had to pee so I found a ditch with nice long grasses... and nothing. Stupid body refuses to pee in the wild for some unknown reason so instead I just cramp up and get uncomfortable. At this point I think Karen thought there were 40 km to go.

More dark road riding (thankfully I had brought my reflective safety vest!)... An interesting phenomenon happened with overtaking cars. They would slow down from 80+ km/h to basically nothing at all, wait behind us, and then move way over to the other side of the road to pass. I'm sure it took them a while to register what the little red lights in the distance were. I'm sure cyclists would not have been their first thought. Hmm a pack of cyclists riding in the dark on dark country roads IN THE RAIN. Oh did I mention the rain? It was definitely raining now despite the 0% POP forecast. I had brought nothing for rain but probably wanted nothing anyway as it was so hot. I expected someone to roll down their window and tell us we were CRAZY but nothing of the sort happened. (although a yahoo yelled the usual get-off-the-road to Karen and Peter in Mississauga) The bugs were also attracted to the headlights, so one had to be careful not to inhale a mouthful.

As I was getting increasingly uncomfortable with the bladder problem and slight chest pain from the exertion, Karen points to a house along our route and says my aunt and uncle live there. This of course perked me up immensely and although it was late they appeared to still be up with their light on, so we went and knocked on their door. Yippee for bathrooms!

We eventually reach the town of Tavistock. This confuses me since I know this is south on the map of where New Dundee is but Stratford is north. It seems like we have gone on quite the circuituous route. I think it was to avoid having to go on #7 highway and to avoid any roads known to be gravel, which of course I really appreciated. I don't think I could have done gravel without having better illumination of the road surface. We stop in front of civilization to fuel up again. Of course I'm disheartened to realize we still have almost 20 km left to ride. The rain picks up here. I contemplate calling my parents. They only live about 20 minute drive from here, and having been in Toronto the day before I left offered to babysit Abby. So I can be comfortable, dry, no longer pedalling, and cuddling my kitten. So tempting... until I remember I have sent my bag ahead to Karen's containing any possible clothes to wear that aren't the wet and sweaty ones.

We keep trekking on through the rain which is actually quite refreshing (I am just hoping for no slick potholes I can't see). I get a wee bit freaked when I see a lightning flash (uh aren't we like going to be the highest point as we pass through open fields?)

Finally at long last we reach our destination - 20 minutes past midnight. Our hosts have generously cooked us up a yummy casserole, and so its food, showering away the road grit, and sleep!
122.32 km (for me, Karen and Peter went 174)
max speed 49 km/h
average speed 20.5 km/h (this is of course while moving, the whole trip took a long time since there were a lot of non-moving breaks)

Here's me happy to be dry in the garage

day 2: stratford to my parents house

Since of course the others were all wedding-bound I needed a plan of something to do on Saturday evening. I figured since my parents did not live that far I would bike and visit them. When I called them they were oh we can pick you up, its a hot day.. etc. I'm like bah its only 40 km, a 2 hour ride. So after brunch I got my energy up and going again for more pedalling.

The plotted route involved quiet country backroads. I was somewhat stiff and sore from the day before but it was not that bad. I had swapped the saddle before I left with the one on the beater bike, and it made a world of difference! I had no neck/back/shoulder pain as I often do, just a bit stiff arms/wrists where I'm constantly changing position on the drop bars to get comfortable.

I rode for about an hour, and then stopped at Timmies in Tavistock (what small town Ontario visit is complete without a trip to Timmies?) for a snack and pee break. Once through the one stoplight town, I was looking for my turn southbound. My mom had recommended 15th line as being a paved backway. Excellent! Avoid the busy regional road I would selected from the map. I get to my turn, and I'm squinting through my sunglasses and its like um after 100m ahead, this is definitely NOT PAVED. I hate backtracking so I was hoping she was confused 15th and 16th, and the gamble paid off, as I turned on 16th line I had a glorious paved country road with great views ALL TO MYSELF. (I saw maybe 3 cars the next 20k?) I didn't take any pictures as I didn't think they could do justice to how amazing the surroundings were for the soul.

I speedily arrived in under two hours including my Timmies rest stop. (its about 40 minute drive)

distance 40.64 km
max speed 55.5 km/h
avg speed 25.2 km/h

day 3: bicycle boot camp

Sunday is the worst of the weekend weather, the hottest and the humid day. The others are planning to bike back to Toronto today, but I decline to join them. I decide I want to stay and visit with my parents another day, and also there is the logistical issue of getting my kitten home again (somehow I don't think she'd enjoy the pannier ride)

My dad and I go for a walk to check out an open house in the village. Its terribly cute and I could buy it for cash (no mortgage. woo!) I could have a gigormous veggie garden in the backyard, and there's a detached garage big enough for hundreds of bikies. (or maybe to turn into a storefront) It all sounds very tempting until I remember the bike ride into town (which only has 30k people) from my last visit. Or the thought of constantly having to drive a car to go places. UGH.

Its such a hot day. I'm dripping in sweat just from our short walk plus stopping to munch on fresh peas out of their pods from my aunt's garden on her patio. (in the shade!) Coincidentally one of the reasons I'd contemplate moving to be able to just eat my own fresh peas out of pods from the garden, a calmer slower pace of life with fresher air!

Of course no visit to my parents is complete without "bicycle boot camp", or taking them on longer rides than they thought they could go on. With the brutal heat, we wait until evening to go, and its just me and my dad. We look at my Southwestern Ontario advermap and decide to hit a nearby rail trail. I love rail trails! After biking 10 or so km west through the country to get to the trail it turns out to be a bit of a disappointment. The trail seems okay where it first crosses the road, but as we progress further it becomes more and more overgrown.

My dad with wide tires and front suspension has zoomed way off in the distance while I am struggling to make it over the rough terrain with skinny tires. I think its all in my head as my tires have decent tread on them. As soon as I get comfortable just riding I hit a tree root and ouch that hurt. But if it was just rough terrain it would be one thing- but prickly bushes have grown across the trail so if you speed your way through them they cut up your arms. Um ya it doesn't seem like a good trail, so we don't make it far before backtracking the entire route instead of the planned pleasant loop. A mere 18km total.