Earlier this week I wrote about a few of my more philosophical musings from our recent Lake Ontario cycling tour. However, I’ve also had a lot of conversations with colleagues, clients and friends alike in recent days about what the trip was actually like – so figured it might be interesting to lay out a few observations of the trip itself.
No real life lessons here; just a few thoughts. Here goes…
1. Plan your route for variety
In last year’s tour we rode through varied scenery from the Greater Toronto Area, through the greenbelt, up into Muskoka and Algonquin, through the Kawarthas and back along Lake Ontario. Each had its own different scenery and characteristics.
In contrast, we based this year’s tour on a single geographic feature. As a result, we got a lot of very similar scenery as we rode around Lake Ontario. Now, that scenery was nice – farmland at harvest-time isn’t exactly a hardship – but we didn’t have the same level of variety this time around. While it was generally flat (except one day), it also tended to be monotonous – we often would turn onto a road and see on our cycling computers that our next turn would be in 40 or 50km.
As a result, as nice as this tour was, neither of us feel a need to repeat this particular route.
2. Rural drivers rock
No massive surprise here, but this trip brought it home to me just how much of a difference there is between rural and urban drivers.
As we rode through up-state New York, I constantly saw drivers move over to the complete other side of the road as they passed us, often with a friendly wave as they did so. When they couldn’t pass us safely, they would hang back. We actually had one driver in rural Ontario deliberately hang back (despite us waving her through) in order to hold back a large tanker truck that was behind her as we passed through a single-lane section of construction.
Meanwhile, the moment we hit urban areas this completely changed. The amount of room drivers would give us would generally depend on what was available at the time they passed us – there generally seemed to be little consideration for the idea of braking if there wasn’t enough room to pass safely.
School bus drivers were the worst – in both Kingston and the Toronto suburbs, I was consistently buffeted by the air disturbance as they passed me by – often within a foot or so; far closer than I would consider safe. I counted one out of maybe a dozen buses that gave me a decent amount of room. Ironic given that they’re plastered with signs about road safety.
3. More deer than Clinton supporters… yikes
We rode through up-state New York for about four complete days altogether. As I mentioned in a previous post, I really was struck by the lack of broad evidence of an upcoming election at the outset. However, as time passed I I saw countless Trump signs on peoples’ lawns.
I saw a total of one “Clinton for President” sign (on day two). The house to the right of it had a “Hilary for Prison” sign on its lawn. The one to its left had a Trump sign.
One Clinton sign. I saw four deer on the trip. More deer than Clinton supporters.
Now, this isn’t entirely surprising in a farming-heavy, rural area with more than its fair share of fairly low-income families (judging by a lot of the houses we saw, there seemed to be a mix of very high-income and low-income families, with relatively little in-between around the lake). Still, it was jarring.
A while back I saw a story on FiveThirtyEight (I think) about the risk of people who simply vote for Clinton as the lesser of two evils, being primarily that they won’t advocate for her like Trump supporters will, neither will they donate/work to get voters out on election day. I have to believe that we rode past the houses of a lot of Clinton supporters on our trip, but only one of them was actively supporting her.
4. Taking care of yourself is key
Without committing a grave sharing violation, let’s just say that some body parts won’t appreciate the length of physical activity that cycle touring requires. Happily, there are ways of mitigating the effects of this – just as Body Glide was my saviour when I ran marathons, there are products available to help with cycling.
Also: my saddle is a jerk.
5. Rural areas can be ghost towns post-Labour Day
Lesson learned: a lot of tourist-driven places just shut down after Labour Day. On the fourth day we had to do about a 12km round-trip to get dinner as the on-site restaurant at our campsite had cut its hours back just the day beforehand. On our fifth day we didn’t eat for the first time until 3pm despite riding through a number of tourist-friendly towns. Along a similar theme to my previous point, you can bet that your body won’t appreciate it if you do seven hours of physical activity without fueling up.
Lesson learned: post-Labour Day pickings can be thin. Don’t be picky when it comes to nutrition – unless you’ve planned rest stops in advance, stop at the first place you see when you need to eat, as you never know if it’s the last one you’ll see for hours.
6. Fresh fruit FTW
While the scenery wasn’t too varied, there was a big benefit of the farmland: fresh fruit. We took advantage of this whenever we could, with the highlight being fresh peaches picked locally. Delicious.
The hardest part was resisting the urge to just pull off the road in the middle of nowhere and fill ourselves with fruit straight off the trees (yes, we did resist).
7. New York State Parks Camping > Ontario Parks Camping
I was very pleasantly surprised by the quality of facilities in the New York State Park campgrounds. Bathrooms were clean and well-equipped (none of the vault toilet shenanigans you get in Ontario Parks – these were a step up), electrical sites were easy to come by (very helpful when you’re relying on a cycling computer for navigation) and the campgrounds were very well kept.
I was thoroughly impressed.
8. Ontario Parks Camping > New York State Parks Camping
With all of that said, the one thing that many Ontario Parks can offer is wilderness. Perhaps it was just because of the area we chose to cycle, but I didn’t see any parks that gave me the feeling of remoteness and connection to nature that a Restoule, or Grundy Lake, or Algonquin Park give me every time I camp there.
New York State Park bathrooms were nice, but I’ll trade that for the surroundings of rural Ontario campgrounds any day.
9. A wonderful way to spend time with someone
Last but far from least, one of the biggest pleasures of this trip – and our last one – for me was the opportunity to spend real quality time with my dad. While this year we’ve seen each other a fair bit, we don’t usually get to as he lives in the UK. Trips like this are just a wonderful way to spend time with him while doing something we both love.
I’m extremely conscious how fortunate we are that (a) he’s in such great shape that he can do these trips, and (b) we have this shared interest, and those things make these trips even more meaningful for me.
With that said, he’ll probably read this so before his head gets too big here’s a reminder that he’s still a goof.
There we have it. Like I said, nothing particularly life-changing here, but a few thoughts and reflections on the ups and downs of a thoroughly enjoyable trip.