Cycling Through Toledo and California
Welcome back to another report from me, Activesteve, on my latest exploits. This time I'll be covering a little cycle touring that Deanna and I did with a group of friends last weekend. The tour? Rideau Lakes. The distance? 370km over the course of two days. Biking from Ottawa to Kingston, and then back again. Yes, it's a lot of time in the saddle, but with good weather and great friends, it really doesn't feel all that bad. And luckily, we had both those ingredients with us on the weekend. I've done the tour once before, but this time, we were a different group, and took a different route. Read on for the whole story, and don't forget to check out the pictures that I snapped along the way!
The decision to do the tour was actually rather straightforward. As most of you are aware, I plan on getting my first Rudy Award this year, and one of the mandatory events is to participate (and complete) the Rideau Lakes Tour. So that was that! Back in February, I was waiting for registration to get my name in early. The tour sells out every year, and I didn't want to miss out. It was especially important because of the route I wanted to take. The 'Classic' route accepts thousands of riders. However, the 'Cruise' route only allows 250 riders to sign up. This makes the Cruise route much more relaxed and 'touring-like' in my mind. You're not constantly being passed by large groups of cyclists. Of course, it also means that there is no support or signs, but I was definitely willing to forego that. After all, the essence of touring is being out there on your own, right?
Along with signing up myself, I had already convinced Deanna, a now 'cycling convert' to join me. However, the more the merrier, so Dave and Meghan were also enlisted as I knew they were doing more cycling as well. And to cap off our 'six-pack', both Kevin and Grant agreed to join in. For me, that was pretty much an ideal number. With 6 people, we can move at a steady pace, and rotate the lead enough that no one should get too tired at the front. Also, you don't have to wait as long each time you stop for everyone to get sorted out. Here we were, months away, and already excited to embark on the tour!
The other aspect of the Tour is that you really should be doing some kind of prep work and putting in some good saddle time. On the site, they recommend putting at least 1000km on the bike in advance of the tour. As it turns out, the mileage wasn't a great problem for us, but the time was. You see, Deanna and I commute to work every day by bike, so the kms added up quickly enough. However, we rarely got out for longer rides, as there was lots of other training and racing going on, particularly my prep for the marathon as well as some adventure races. In the end, I think we only went on one ride of over 60km I think! Needless to say, Deanna had a bit of trepidation as a result. I assured her it wouldn't be a problem. I've watched her becoming a stronger cyclist, so I knew she could tough it out no matter what.
Of course, all that doesn't matter if the weather turns sour. The most hardened cyclist can turn tail and run home when the weather turns to 8 degrees and the rain pours for hours on end! That's precisely what happened last year, when, for the first time ever, the tour organizers had to charter buses for riders to get home! So in my mind, that was our only obstacle. Personally, I was willing to do it no matter what, since no Tour, no Rudy Award, which is what happened to a few last year. Luckily, in the days leading up to the ride, the weather forecast kept improving and improving, to the point that on Friday night, it looked like we would like barely get any rain, and by the time we got up at 5am on Saturday to head out, it looked like smooth sailing till Kingston at least!
Bags packed, bikes loaded, we got to Carleton at 6:30ish on Saturday morning to meet the 'team'. By about 7:20, we were off! To summarize the entire day's riding, using a line from Grant, it was "the least eventful 180km ride of my life". That's a good thing. Apart from Deanna going off the shoulder once and rolling down the grass a bit, we had zero incidents. No flats, no mechanical, no wipe-outs, no close calls, no winds, no rain, great temps, no exhaustion, etc. etc. We kept pretty much a constant speed the whole way down and made it to Kingston in about 6hrs and 40mins. Our average pace was around 26.5km/hr. We wouldn't win the Tour de France, but that was right where we had hoped we'd be.
Along the way, we made our way through a number of back roads and small towns. Merrickville, Toledo, California, Elgin, Battersea. All pretty rural towns that if you blinked in a car, you'd miss them, but from a bike, you get a slightly longer glance of life in rural Canada. Oversized stuffed monkeys? Small general stores? Courteous drivers? Friendly waves from tractors? Yup, it was all there. Oh, and how about lovely little old ladies from a Church group? Yup, we had that too. Our 'lunch stop' was in Toledo at a Church. The volunteers there had a nice menu posted at the entrance and were making fresh sandwiches and had all sorts of baked goods, not to mention cold water and tables all laid out for us. It was the equivalent of the 'royal treatment' to some. I had a delicious grilled cheese sandwich and a big cookie. I also snagged a brownie for further down the road. Bellies full, we headed back out.
Once in Kingston, we were faced with the reality that this is in fact a large tour, as hundreds of people were streaming into town, and the campus was abuzz with lycra clad superheroes who had all finished their respective rides. We checked in, got our keys and headed to our 'quaint' dorm accommodations. Spartan as they were, the shower I had was absolutely awesome. After cleaning up and lounging a bit, we all headed over to be in the early group for supper. Silliness ensued, and we stayed quite a while, everyone marveling at how much food I could shove into my stomach, and wondering where it all went. I was so full that I paid Kev to go get me deserts :-) Good times. It's always a good sign when the people you just spent the day riding with are still happy to stick together and socialize. I should also mention that while we were eating, the heavens opened up outside. I'm talking massive thunder and lightening, and huge downpours. It couldn't have been timed better. We hoped it would all rain out by morning.
After supper, the socializing didn't stop. As a group, we visited each others rooms while heading over to the beer gardens. There were not many partiers, but we stayed out there for a good bit, with Kev, Dave, Grant and I each having 4 beers! It was also the site of our 'red nordic berry challenge'. Basically a blind taste test of real Swedish Berries that Deanna had, to knock-offs that Kev had picked up in Battersea. It was no contest. Everyone to a T, regardless of conditions, accurately identified the real deal. Well, all but Grant, but he doesn't count, as he didn't even know what they were supposed to taste like!
Beers and chips done, and it was off to bed. There were two single beds in the room, but I'd have nothing of it. Deanna and I snuggled up into one bed and drifted off to sleep, ready to face the next half of the trip!
The next morning, the skies were pretty grey, but the forecasts we looked at along the route looked like we'd avoid most of the rain, as it would be clearing in Ottawa by noonish. Sounded great to us. Off to a 6:00am breakfast with the team. We were shooting for a 7am departure, but in the end, it was once again after 7:30 by the time we were rolling out of the campus. It was also raining just a little bit, so we had rain gear on. However, after the first 15km or so, the rain was all but gone, and we had made our way to the 'rollers', so we took the jackets off at Battersea, and rolled on in dry skies and roads. The legs were all a bit stiff, but we still managed to keep the same pace we had the day before, probably assisted by the slight tailwind.
In an unfortunate navigational error (which I'll partially take credit for), we actually ended up cycling an extra 3.5k or so at one point, as we missed a turn. Dave and Meghan had called it, but were not given their due attention. After all, we were rolling at a good pace and had the wind at our backs. When we reached a highway, we realized that we'd definitely made a mistake. Ooops. Well, a little doubling back and we were back on the right track. After getting on our road, we ended up back in 'Thunder Alley', a spot we'd nicknamed that on account of all the high tension towers that we figured would be a cool place to be during a big storm.
This was about the time where our discussion turned to the best aero position to be in for downhills, and Grant stated unequivocally that it would be the 'superman'. This is so named as the rider puts his ass behind the seat, put his belly on the seat, unclips, and sticks his legs straight back. I gave it a half-hearted attempt, foiled by my safety flag. Then our of nowhere, Grant gave it a try. Sadly I didn't have my camera out. Deanna described is as a giraffe looking like it was falling over. Not pretty. He also almost wiped out.
As we kept pushing on, the wind started picking up the closer we got to our finish line. By the last 15km or so, I think we were all ready to call it a day, but we did finish strong and as a group, rolling back onto the Carleton campus around 3:30pm, received warmly by volunteers who clapped and cheered for us. It was a nice way to finish off. Quick pose with our certificates (and a full complement of smiles), and it was all over. We bid each other adieu and went our separate ways to find our post ride meals. For Deanna and I, that was take-out Chinese food. Yum!
And there you have my little tale of a 370km ride in one weekend. I was very relieved with how smoothly it all went, especially since I needed to have this done for my Rudy Award. With the ride out of the way, I'm now 80% of the way done. Just one tiny little Iron-distance Triathlon to get out of the way. Child's play, right? Not quite, but I'm looking forward to doing it on the Labour Day weekend. Hopefully some of you will be able to make it out along the canal to cheer me on during my 11-12hour race! Till that time, I'll fill you in on the rest of my races from now till then. I think I have something like 5 more races between now and then! Next up, Ultimate XC at Mont Tremblant!