I was really excited about riding my first 200k brevet this year. I missed the first one on the schedule, my legs didn't feel ready for it, and I was still recovering from a nasty cough which I kept pushing through. But Sunday was going to be the Grand River brevet - a new route to me, and sounded lovely and scenic. Remembering my mistakes from the past I was determined to be organized and ready to go on the ride.
Of course typical advice of increasing long ride distance gradually is ignored, and also of not changing anything before a big event. In an effort to spare pain, I asked the friendly folks at Duke's
how I could set up my bike to fit me better. They suggested moving the brake hoods higher, which made sense. I also tried changing the angle of my cleat on my foot that was causing me pain. To test out the cleat I took a short test spin around the Leslie Spit.
Hmm strange noises emanating from the front wheel. This does not sound good. A friend suggested it could be the bearings in the hub. I took the wheel off the bike and spun it around and it seemed really wonky. No good, I can't ride 200 km on this! What do I do, its Saturday night. Must steal wheel from new bike. (New bike?! Oh yeah I'm behind on blogging, but I'll write about my new Kona Dew Plus for commuting soon!) New bike however has disc brakes but I'm hoping the disc can just be ignored on my other bike. Some frustration dealing with two tight tires later and I have the tires swapped around. I put the Kona wheel on Devinci happy that the rims are exactly the same width, only to spin the wheel and discover the disc rubs the fork. The disc has six bolts in it. My multitool has a matching head to said bolts. What am I crazily doing to my beautiful new bicycle? Fortunately the little tool gives nowhere near enough torque to budge the disc bolts and I decide it is just a plain bad idea.
By this time its too late to likely find anyone awake who is riding the brevet tomorrow, but I send a pleading email to two of them asking if they have a spare 700c rim I can borrow. I'm pretty stubborn, and I really want to go on the ride. The weather is supposed to be gorgeous to boot. I consider the realistic possibilities, ride wonky wheel, ride the Kona, or skip the ride. I like my new bike, but 200 km in the country on it? Its pretty upright and the wind will slaughter me. If the wind doesn't do me in I'll certainly be cursing my way up the escarpment on a heavy bike.
I have to show up to the ride as I'm the organizer! A fellow randonneur John is supposed to be picking me up at 6:30 a.m. for a ride to the start point, about 45 km away. I sigh, figure I'll need to take the Kona on the car, hand out the control cards to everyone, and then enjoy a pleasant 45 km ride back to my house.
3.5 hours of sleep later I'm completely dazed and groggy. I pull on bike clothes for the short ride plan. But I'm still really wishing I could do the ride and call up randonneur Mike. Do you have any spare 700c wheels? I ask wishfully. After he reminds me his recumbent uses 650 I'm like oh yeah... and then ask if his other recumbent could be ride-ready. 200 km on a recumbent when I haven't been riding one? Yeah it might spare my back, neck and hand pain, but it does use different leg muscles. Okay scratch that idea.
When John shows up I show him my wonky wheel, and for some reason it seems to be spinning just fine at the time. He thinks its probably okay to ride on. I pull its tire back off the Kona, and while I am frantically gathering last minute stuff (since I didn't plan to ride the brevet) John puts the tire onto not-so-wonky wheel.
In my non-caffeinated state we're driving along the Gardiner Expressway and I see a cyclist a couple of lanes over. I'm obviously confused. I have to ask John, that's a cyclist, on the Gardiner?!? Obviously someone with a suicide wish. I've seen some strange things with the increase in cyclists due to a weekend transit strike, but this was definitely the strangest.
13 riders are out on this lovely spring day, and I'm too busy handing out control cards and figuring out who I am supposed to collect forms from to look at anything on my bike. I haven't remounted the magnet for the computer after the wheel swap. Its 8 a.m and the pack takes off and I'm still adjusting the magnet. I know I'm too slow to stay with the pack for long but its always nice that first few kms of being in a group. I figure its not that important anyway (though its always helpful for navigation to know if you are at the right distance for your turn) and forget about it and get going with John who has waited for me.
As I start the ride I'm questioning the insanity behind wanting to ride 200 km on a questionable wheel, on very little sleep, with untested bike setup changes early in the season. When I definitely don't want to injure myself in any way because in less than 10 days from the brevet I'm going bike touring on Vancouver Island (yeah more blogging backlog!) The brevet is supposed to be a test ride for the trip, but on the trip I'll be more sane than riding 200 km in one day, and I'll be carrying a lot more stuff!
At some point towards Ancaster there's a sign marked 9% grade (downhill). Interesting because very few signs in southern Ontario mark the grade they just indicate trucks gear down. I've been obsessing about gradients after reading there will be 18% grades on the road between Port Alberni and Tofino. Not only steep grades apparently but narrow and winding at the same time, with a rock face on one side and a sharp dropoff on the other, and logging trucks on the road. And black bears. Not that I'm worrying or anything. Anyway said 9% hill seems really steep (so I'm really paranoid about 18!) and is quite twisty at the same time and I'm clutching the brakes really hard to make the tight turns and I have this feeling I'm going to fly over the handlebars. Not particularly confidence inspiring.
Some granny gear climbs and pretty scenery later (yeah what goes down must come up again!) and we're rolling into the first control at the 57k mark. The middle group of riders is just leaving the control. One of the riders that lives in the area warns about construction on Wilson street on the way back suggesting the sidewalk. I'm really not feeling up to 200 for the day, I'm already hurting and the coffee never woke me up. The bike is feeling pretty sluggish too and I'm not sure if its the wheel, the engine, or the damn headwind. Probably all of the above. Stubbornness kicks into gear and I start riding to the next control rather than turn back.
We ride along the Grand River and into the town of Caledonia, where I see no signs of any blockades
, just a seemingly endless stretch of ugly strip malls. At least now the ride is relatively flat into the far point of the ride Cayuga.
I'm pretty sacked by the control at the 100k mark in Cayuga. Efficiency is totally lost on me at this point and I can't think clearly to organize the control steps of getting my card signed, peeing, eating and filling up on water. I'm sitting munching subs with Mike and John in the park, and at this point napping in the park and waiting for someone to finish the ride and come back for my tired body is sounding quite appealing. Why did I think riding 200k at a time is fun again? I think I have already decided this is the last randonneur ride I will ever go on. 10k jaunts on the beach bike path for me from now on.
The wind seems a bit too chilly for park napping so I figure if I can make it part of the way back it will make getting home a little easier. Fortunately as we turn the other direction, cha-ching! Tailwind! Tailwinds how I love thee. This made the whole idea so much more bearable.
When at some point later when I'm just riding with Mike now he turns onto a road and I follow but don't check my route sheet. Hey you're going the wrong way I insist! We must be going south because we're going back into the wind again. I pull out my route sheet and squint at it going SOUTH 4 km to Haldibrook Road?!? They really want us to go south now? We were already on that road before, the start is to the north, is this some random distance adding loop? Because I really am all about efficiency at this point.
The scariest part was riding down the Hamilton escarpment into Dundas on Wilson Street. Super busy with fast moving traffic on a 2 lane road. They put a bike lane here (on a descent you could hit 70 kph on a bike) but I must admit its decently wide for a speedier descent, but its really cracked up pavement! The adjacent roadway is nice and smooth. I look over wanting to take the lane, and if I could maintain 60+ kph maybe I would (despite the fact the traffic is probably going over 80..) but if the road turns I really want to slow down on the descent so I just resign myself to going really slooowly down the cracked pavement. I don't see Mike at all until much later (he went for the take the lane plan)
I remember the warning from earlier about the construction and wonder where that is. Oh yeah there we go. Narrow pyloned lanes still descending. No way I want to ride sidewalk down a hill. At least I feel comfortable taking the lane here in that the pylons are narrow enough traffic will need to slow down. But what scares me is random construction debris that I can't see going too fast. And of course at one point there it is a messy pile of uneven gravel in the middle of the freakin lane.
Add in a few aggressive drivers passing too closely on descents and I'm just kinda in shellshock mode when we roll into the Tim Hortons in Dundas. (the third control point) Between the shellshock and knowing we are in a valley that we must now climb out of again the idea of quitting here seems awfully appealing. But I've gone 155 km, what's 50 more?
Fortunately I found the climb out of Dundas to be gentle. It was gradual enough, and just put the bike into the granny gear and spun up. I think one hill I stopped for a breather partway up but then got back on the bike again. I'm glad I got the small chainring figured out better, I had troubles shifting with it before so I would always try to avoid it. My knees are much happier with the new plan of actually making use of the triple.
I couldn't quite figure out why on the ride the saddle felt like I was sitting on a rock or something. Aha the moving of the brake hoods... a more upright riding position kindly puts less weight on my hands, but then the weight must get moved to my behind. Ouch. Add in a liberal dose of back pain and that's really why I found it hard to keep a decent pace going. (recumbents are looking more attractive all the time, especially the added bonus of aerodynamics to thwart my nemesis the wind)
At some point John has finished and calls to find out where we are since he offers to wait to give me a ride home! What a saint! This spurs me on to get back faster. Add in smooth roads, a tailwind, and the fact that busy Britannia road at dusk is not very much fun, and I'm finally pedalling at a decent pace. Mike seems shocked I can go that fast and there's some mumbling about training so I can keep that up all the time. (the word training really kills the fun in biking for me)
I finish the brevet in 12:35. Already thoughts of my first 300 are entering my head. How quickly I forget my "last randonneur ride" mutterings.
The best part of the ride were the lovely scenic views. Scary descents and tough to grunt up hills usually have rewarding results. I'm sure I'll feel the same about the tough climbs I'm dreading on the Vancouver Island trip. I'm really excited about touring and being able to go at a relaxed pace. No time limits, lots of time to stop and take pictures, eat, enjoy the scenery. Fortunately my touring partner Dave
both likes to take lots of gear (a hope of keeping up on the hills!) and really knows what he's doing having crossed the country bike camping before.
PS The wonky wheel was not just my imagination, apparently the cones were pitted. But its all fixed up and ready to roll now thanks to Sherri at Community Bicycle Network