Sunday 26 April 2009

A Saturday Randonnée: Exploring the Rideau Lakes Region

A nice Saturday ride...

After finding a Radonneurs Ontario brochure recently, I was intrigued enough to sign up for an early season ride. I have only done one randonnée, as these rides are called, when I did a 200 km ride in Virginia a few years ago which turned into something of an epic since I popped out my shoulder before I even started the ride!

There is a long tradition to the sport of randonneuring, dating back to the beginning of the 20th Century. With bicycles becoming both more reliable and more affordable, cyclists in Europe (notably France) began to undertake longer and longer rides. Labour laws in France were amended to include paid holidays so people who weren’t able to travel much could see the countryside by bicycle. The challenge became to go greater and greater distances. The famous Paris-Brest-Paris ride, which began as a professional race in 1891, has become an event purely for randonneurs who must complete the 1200 km course in 90 hours maximum. In order to qualify to ride P-B-P, which is only held every four years with the next being in 2011, it is necessary for a cyclist to complete 200-300-400-600 km courses before the event. I signed up to do yesterday’s 200 km event with the Ottawa chapter of Randonneurs Ontario.

Randonneurs are not racers and their bikes are set up to be as comfortable as possible to allow completion of the long course. The rules require the bikes have front and rear lights, and you have to have a reflective vest. Peter, the organizer, kindly loaned me a vest, which went into my left jersey pocket and stayed there for the duration. As for lights, I put on a small battery light from the commuting bike onto the Marinoni’s handlebars, and added a little blinky light to one of the rear seatstays, thereby meeting the letter of the rules. This would not be a set-up to illuminate an all-night ride, but since I did not expect to ride in darkness at all it would be find. I also brought along a very small backpack for food and additional gear. I would have preferred to use my handlebar bag but if I would have put it on it would have blocked the light (which I was not planning to use anyway!). For the longer rides, I would probably used my rear rack with one pannier for clothing and supplies. One element of randonneur riding is self-sufficiency.

Our small band of thirteen riders met at Ashton, to the west of Ottawa, and Peter gave us our cue sheets and our route cards. The latter are marked with the time as you get to each of the checkpoints on the course, of which there would be three between the start and finish today. Everyone was very relaxed and at 7:01 we rolled out as a group. The weather was beautiful, and the forecast was for a hot and sunny day. It was also supposed to be a windy day and leaving Ashton we ran into a rather nasty headwind that was to stay with us for half the day.

Very quickly the group divided up. A new rider, Mark, went off the front pretty quickly and we didn’t see him again for the rest of the day. I was riding with Vytas, a fellow OBC time-trialler, Suzanne, whose husband runs an excellent bike/ski shop in Chelsea, and Bob, on a very nice Merlin, who was wearing a Boston-Montreal-Boston jersey (the U.S. equivalent of P-B-P). Rounding out the group was Guy, on a RANS recumbent. We quickly got into a paceline, led by Bob and Vytas, and the flattish farmland soon became hilly as we rapidly reached our first checkpoint at 66 kms at Maberly, having the lady at the Post Office sign our cards.

I rode for a while with Guy and then went at my own pace for a while on the very pleasant winding road to Westport. I could see Bob further back behind me, his yellow jersey very visible in the distance. I enjoy a screaming descent into Westport, and promptly got lost, backtracking and getting onto Highway 42. I caught up with Bob at the Stagecoach Restaurant in Newboro, our second checkpoint and the midway point of the ride, where I ate one of my sandwiches and then enjoyed an excellent cappuccino and a warm blueberry scone. I also turned around my front wheel which I had installed backwards in Ashton–I just did not want to look a the quick release skewer on the wrong side for another 100 kms! Soon after Vytas, Suzanne and Guy rolled in and ordered some lunch.

Bob and I headed out together and rode through some small Ontario towns I had not heard of–Philippsville, Toledo–and one I knew because of its cheese factory, Forfar. I think that there is not much of anything else in Forfar.

We were in good spirits as the weather was fine and the nasty headwind had become a helpful tailwind. Bob was starting to suffer from some cramping so I went on ahead to Merrickville and said I would meet him at the next checkpoint, a coffee shop called Brewed Awakenings.

Merrickville was hopping on Saturday afternoon, with all the little stores and restaurants on the main street doing considerable business. It took three tries for me to find the coffee shop but after I was signed in I had an excellent strong coffee and sat outside to wait for Bob. I was joined by a couple from the area who were interested in our ride; they had an Irish Wolfhound puppy who was the centre of attention for anyone who walked by. After a while Bob joined me at the shop and then we were away for the home stretch, with 38 kms left.

Unfortunately 16 kms into the last leg I started to get some bad cramping myself in my right leg and had to ease off the pace somewhat. It stopped hurting and I was able to get the speed up a bit but then my left leg began to cramp at around 195 kms, to my extreme annoyance. But drinking a lot, taking a big shot of gel and spinning more easily helped. At least until we came to our last turn, onto Flewellyn Road. With around 2.8 kms of riding we discovered we had turned into an absolutely brutal headwind, right on the nose. Progress became painfully slow and it was with a sense of relief that I pulled into the parking lot behind Bob. The time was 3:32 pm.

After getting cleaned up a bit and changed, we headed over to Ashton’s Olde English-style pub to have a beer, relax and wait for the others; Mark had already gone. Everyone eventually turned up and I gave Peter back his vest and the control card before getting in the car and driving the 40 minutes back home, eating my two remaining sandwiches en route.

It had been an excellent day: 203 km in 7:19 of actual riding (with a bit over an hour stopped for coffee breaks and lunch), past nice rural scenery including rolling hills and lakes. The Marinoni, which I have not ridden on a long ride since the Mountains of Misery in May 2006, ran like a clock and was extremely comfortable for the whole distance. Maximum speed was 66.2 km/h!


Pedalman said...

That looks like a fun tour. I know some of the places you must have past, thanks for the map! I did my first Radonnee last year and had a great time. I'm hoping to do one before the Montreal ride to help get me ready.
Thanks for the history behind the sport.

Will said...

203 kms .... epic

I have never ridden that far, well done.