Tuesday 10 June 2008

Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour 2008: A Weekend of Centuries

There, and back again...

From its origins in 1972 when 75 riders took part, the Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour, put on by the Ottawa Bicycle Club, has become a big event, with more than 1200 people registered to do the weekend trip from Ottawa to Kingston, Ontario and back. I rode this 354 km (220 miles) route twice before, a few years ago: the first time was to mark my 40th birthday and to prove I wasn’t completely fallen apart; to prove it was no fluke, I did it again two years later, both times on my old lugged steel Bianchi.

Since returning to Ottawa and rejoining the OBC, I was looking forward to doing the ride again but with the Tarmac and at more serious speeds. I suggested that my friends the Badger and Dr. Chef come up from Washington, DC to enjoy some Canadian hospitality and they accepted with alacrity. Unfortunately, the good Doctor’s work scheduled had him flying in from Denver on Friday morning to Washington-Dulles and joining the Badger in a rental car for the 11 hour trip up north. They arrived in Ottawa at around 11:30 pm and promptly collapsed.

Nearly ready to go

But no rest for the wicked as we were up at 5:30 am for a big breakfast and then off to Carleton University. The registration process went smoothly except that somehow the Badger was shown as riding the short 100 km ride from Perth. He was fixed up with a temporary ride number and after we left our bags we joined the long line of cyclists heading out of the parking lot and along Colonel By Drive. The time was 7:49 am. The weather forecast was for a very hot weekend but it was very comfortable as we rolled out, soon sitting behind a tandem as we went westwards out of Ottawa towards Kanata.

The tandem didn’t last long and we were waved through but were able to continue with a small group. At Km 22 there loud explosion and Dr. Chef was probably woken out of jet-lagged doziness as his front tire blew up. When we examined the wreckage it was clear that he was not going anywhere further on that tire. I turned around and headed back up the road to where the support van had been spotted and a short time later Mike the Mechanic was changing the tire for us. There was no charge for the tire, which had been donated, and this was nice; we were soon back on our way again.

The route heads westwards towards Ashton on fairly flat country roads. In Ashton itself the food/water stop really didn’t have anything, although we refilled our water bottles in the public restroom. There was a stand selling snacks and water but we pushed onwards. We found a group to ride with and Dr. Chef soon made friends with some Montrealers. We were rolling quite well, although Dr. Chef was pretty tentative about the gravel section just outside of Perth, but we got through that with no issue. Soon we found ourselves in Perth, at Last Duel Park, slightly past the halfway mark of the ride.

One of the Montrealers was not feeling well and he decided to turn back, with the idea of driving from Ottawa to Kingston and staying over. So we became a small group: the three of us and two charming Quebecoises, Michelle and Camille. Michelle’s English was a bit hesitant but I enjoyed trying out my French with her. She had a very nice Cervelo and looked like a strong rider, although she told me that she had only been riding seriously for four years. Her sister, Camille, was the wife of the Montrealer who was going to meet up with everyone in Kingston.

The Sprocketboy at the Park
(photo by Dr. Chef)

Last Duel Park, on the Tay River, was the location of–surprise–the last fatal duel, which was fought in June 1833 between two law students. The survivor was tried for murder in Brockville two months later and so ably defended himself that he was not convicted and went on to a distinguished legal career. The other student is buried in the cemetery adjoining the park.

Dr. Chef and the Badger: "Three Stooges" enthusiasts

As a food and drink stop, Perth also did not have a great deal. The local service club made sandwiches and was selling them to the cyclists, along with fruit and soft drinks. Compared to the US and Germany, where all the food along the way is included in the registration fees, this seems a bit chintzy. While it is okay for local communities to earn something en route, it would just be a lot more convenient to up the price of registration a little and give away the food.

Colorado fashion victims
(photo by Dr. Chef)

After leaving Perth, we soon found out just how hard the day would be as we ran full force into a strong headwind from the southwest and the temperatures began to climb up to 33C (91F). The road ran straight and shadeless and the Badger, Dr. Chef and I took turns leading our little group. Camille began to flag a bit so we slowed down a bit which was a good thing to do as there was still a long road ahead and our intent had been to do the first day at an easier pace.

Men of Iron

We came into a series of rolling hills and were gratified with the sight of some pretty little lakes. I was up near the head of the pack when I saw the sign for Westport, which meant it was time to go into the big gear and get ready to descend the only hill of note on the trip. I accelerated quickly, tucked down and went into the first curve, only to get stuck behind a twit on a Colnago who started braking on what was a very easy descent. I crossed over the yellow line and pulled around him, but my momentum had been interrupted and I probably did not get much over 65 km/h, to my irritation. We crossed over the little bridge and found ourselves in the summer destination of Westport.

A lake on the Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour
(photo by Dr. Chef)

For some reason everyone pulled into a large gas station and bought water and snacks rather than going 1 km down the road to the official food stop. We pulled in too and everyone bought a lot of water, to put in the bottles or pour on their heads. Michelle poured some water down Dr. Chef’s back, and mine as well. The shock was actually refreshing but everything dried out again in just a few minutes, between the heat and the wind.

Back on the road we came to what is probably the nicest section of
the ride, with more rolling hills and lakes. Some of the cyclists pulled off and went for a swim at some of the lakes, but we continued on. It was getting very hot and we were all getting a bit tired. At one brief rest by the side of the road, Dr. Chef invigorated Michelle with a nice foot massage ("You can trust me! I'm from the FDA!") and, not to play favourites, did the same for me as I was suffering from a bad hot spot in the centre of each foot. On we went: a few hills, then under Highway 401 and we were in Kingston, where we experienced every red light in town. Kingston having only around 170,000 inhabitants, we were pretty sure all the stoplights were in fact on our street. We rolled up to Queen’s University and Day 1 was over.

Registering as early as we did (Nos. 54-56), we had rooms right near the registration tables in the Brockinghouse Dormitory. We picked up our bags and hauled the bikes up one flight of stairs to our room. The building looked nice on the outside, but was pretty grim inside although the room was clean and had fresh towels. I felt a bit queasy, probably from the heat, but started to recover after a shower and some more water.

Dr. Chef was anxious to get some beer, so we went for a walk along Lake Ontario and then to a small pub, where we enjoyed a pitcher of wonderful Creemore Springs Lager, along with breaded zucchini, mozzarella sticks and onion rings, something that people who have spent 7 hours on a bicycle can really enjoy with no detrimental effects. We watched the Belmont Stakes and Dr. Chef was very disappointed that Big Brown, winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, just didn’t have anything left for the Triple Crown.

We walked back to Queen’s and joined the masses for dinner. This involved some serious lining-up but the food, while plain and institutional, was actually quite tasty. Dr. Chef got halfway through his pasta and then apperaed to fall asleep sitting up with his eyes open but was revived as we finished off with some ice cream. I was in bed and sound asleep by 9:30 pm. Although the room was not air-conditioned, it was quite bearable and very quiet.

In my Pink Lemonade Fat Cyclist jersey
(photo by Dr. Chef)

Up again at 6 am, we quickly got ready and headed back for breakfast. Everyone had two plates–waffles with syrup, eggs, croissants, potatoes–and we left our bags for transport and got ready to leave. My rear tire was a little low (which did not surprise me as the tubeless tires leak out a lot of air overnight) but I could not find a pump anywhere. I did spot three guys with a floor pump but when I approached them they told me to get lost, although not so politely. Since I was not being unpleasant about it, I was irritated by their lack of civility although I supposed a lot of people had bothered them. The organizers apparently had at least one pump available but it wasn’t very obvious to me where it was.

The Badger calls for reinforcements (photo by Dr. Chef)

It was quite overcast, and the forecast called for thunderstorms throughout the day. To the west we could see very dark clouds. We rolled out through the empty streets of Kingston at 7:10 am, a bit later than we had planned, but after leaving the city we managed to join up with a good group of about eight riders from Sudbury, Ontario. They kept a reasonable pace and welcomed us in. We ran a double paceline, with rotation off to the sides, and with a slight tailwind made excellent time to Westport, where we had a short break. Then it was up the hill, where I got to push myself a bit and get my heartrate up. We soon settled down into our group, occasionally joined by others who usually dropped away. Before we knew it, we were in Perth again and it was not even 11 am.

This time we invested in some $3 sandwiches and some soft drinks. The lady who sold us the Cokes mentioned that today was World Nude Cycling Day, and the Badger asked how it was. When she went on to say that the ladies at the stand had been wondering about the cyclists. At this point, Dr. Chef started to unzip his jersey for her but was stopped by our expressions of sheer horror.

Hammerheads enjoying Freezee Pops (via Dr. Chef)

Back on the bikes, I led out with Paul, one of the Sudbury group’s hammerheads. Dr. Chef had to go back for a cleat cover but quickly rejoined the group as we pedalled slowly, then we quickened the pace. The only incident, a bottle lost on the gravel road which I immediately ran over, was no big deal and we smoothly continued towards Ashton, holding a steady 30-32 km/h and working the paceline. Since we were an odd number we had the chance to chat with different people beside us, including Mario, who took some of the group to Italy, and Peter, who is a teacher. There was also Don, Jim, Wayne and Alex and the aforementioned Paul: we really enjoyed each other’s company and worked very well. Ashton came up quickly too.

Freezee Pop Effects (photo by Dr. Chef)

We found a slightly shady spot to rest for a bit, and in a moment of brilliant inspiration Dr. Chef bought us four Freezee Pops to enjoy. Mine was deep purple and the Badger got a red one. I think I last had one in Grade 7 or something, but it coloured our tongues as grotesquely now as it had then.

From Ashton it was a fast ride back to Ottawa, although when we came up to stoplights and had to wait the heat was oppressive. We came into Carleton University around 3:30 pm, making the trip back almost ninety minutes faster than the outward bound leg. I did not stop my computer so it was recorded as one trip, but I think that we averaged over 30 km/h on the way back.

Team Sudbury and Friends at the finish (photo by Dr. Chef)

We picked up our certificates to show that we had completed the Classic ride. Time to celebrate with a beer and we met up with our new Sudbury friends and had a cold (albeit not very good) brew before packing up and heading home for good beer (the last of my Creemore Springs UrBock) and some barbecue. I felt great, and we all agreed that the return trip had been a particularly good experience.

After a good night’s sleep, Dr. Chef and the Badger got in the RAV4 and headed south, while I decided to panic since I could not find my wallet, thinking that I had left it on the grass when we had our beer at Carleton. I cancelled my credit card at the bank this morning and sent an e-mail to the club but in the middle of the afternoon I suddenly remembered that I had put my wallet on a shelf in the garage when I had moved two bikes before I moved the car in and, sure enough, it was there when I got home. Just another Stupidity Attack™.

The elevation profile for the Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour

I enjoyed the ride very much, although Dr. Chef noted we saw a lot fewer riders on Saturday than on Sunday, suggesting that the virulent headwind had been a bit too much from some cyclists. We hope that we can persuade the Sudbury bunch to ride with us in Virginia at some point. My training over the winter seems to have yielded real results as I felt very strong, especially on the second day, and the Tarmac continues to impress as a fast, long-distance bicycle. But this was my third RLCT (the first one without rain!) and I probably will not need to do it again as fresh horizons beckon. There are several routes on offer and perhaps one weekend I will try to do another ride to Kingston by different roads. All I need nine or ten strong guys to draft...

Click on the map for a view of the entire region


Will said...

Well done guys!

remember not to follow me down any descents in July or you shall be slowed.

Sprocketboy said...

And angry! Seriously, anyone who rides a Colnago like that should have the Bicycle Police take it away.

Donald said...

Sounds like a fun event. I've never ridden a two day event like this. I need to look for something like that here in the states. I know there is a rough one of riding the entire Blue Ridge Parkway in two days but that's 469 miles and the tour group is not cheap. Check it out-

Sprocketboy said...

In addition to the three Rideau Lakes tours, I have done two century rides (Richmond, VA and Potomac Pedallers) back-to-back twice but came home in between. I also did one in Chester County, PA but I was so worn out I collapsed in the hotel and did not ride the Hanover Century I had planned to do the next day.

I guess you could do 469 miles in 2days but I do not really see the point. Better to take 5 or so and enjoy it with your friends. Several of us are thinking seriously about the Skyline Drive/Blue Ridge Full-Press next year--570 miles, I guess--and see if we can get a student to drive a support van for us. I don't think bike trips need to be expensive.

Bob said...

Glad you were able to do it. My group was on the Cruise route and suffered a number of casualties from the heat and head wind.

PS: I have heard that the OPP have written a number of speeding tickets for cyclists who go down the Westport Hill in full cry, so maybe Mr. Colnago couldn't afford the points on his licence.

VERY sad to hear that you had that negative experience re: the pump. I suppose even cyclists can be %#*(@#s sometimes.

Sprocketboy said...

Hi, Bob. That Westport hill looks ideal for a high-speed descent but with the compact crank I can't get much over 65 km/h anymore anyway.

The surly pump guys were a new experience for me as usually everyone trys to be helpful. Let's hope there are not too many out there.

Anonymous said...

You can't get a speeding ticket cycling in Ontario - you have to be driving a motor vehicle.

Judi said...

Sounds awesome except for those dickheads who wouldn't let you use their pump!