Category Archives: Personal

2016 Lake Ontario Tour, Personal, Tours

Nine Reflections on our Lake Ontario Tour

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.

Goofing around at Bat Lake

Goofing around at Bat Lake

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.


Philosophical Musings from a Week of Cycling

Riding long distances on a tour gives you a lot of time to think – barring brief conversations with your riding partner or passers-by, you’re essentially alone with your thoughts for 8-14 hours at a time. You also learn a lot about yourself – what interests you; what pops to the top of your mind or weighs on it, and how you deal with what could at times be extreme monotony.

Last week I had plenty of time for all of the above. Over the course of six days my Father and I rode 940km around Lake Ontario – the second tour of this type we’ve done (last year we rode 800km up to Algonquin, around the Kawartha Lakes and back to Toronto). Now that we’re back in Toronto, I thought I’d take a moment and reflect on some of those musings.

1. The impossible becomes possible when you break it into chunks

Riding 940km sounds crazy to most people (Caralin certainly thinks it is). It still sounds crazy when you break it into days – every day but one had us doing 120km or further.

But when you get even more granular, the infeasible becomes feasible – whether it’s looking ahead to specific milestones (towns, or even route turns), or points-in-time, or the next rest spot. Personally, my main coping mechanism for each day was breaking the routes down into tiny chunks.

At the most basic level there was a physical need – I have a bad habit of getting dehydrated due to not drinking early or often enough, so I make a point of having a sip of water every 20 minutes. Similarly, I would eat something (usually a gel cube) every hour so my energy levels didn’t dip.

Photo of a lake and cloudy skies

Moody skies during our Lake Ontario tour.

This gave me my routine – when I found the going tough, I would focus on my cycling computer and on the next 20-minute interval. They were micro-level achievements within day but were very achievable and came with a correspondingly small reward. As a bonus, I never got dehydrated throughout the entire trip.

2. There’s always more to learn about yourself

I tend to live inside my own head a lot – I’m pretty introverted and thrive on alone time. That said, there’s nothing like a challenge like this to teach you something new.

My lesson this time: if I have even a glimpse of a challenge, I’ll focus on it. On this tour, that came on the final day. On the previous day we’d pushed longer than planned and brought ourselves to the point where we had a choice of two reasonably short days of cycling to finish the tour (105km and 125km), or a very long 230km slog through to the finish.

For context, while I’d done one ride longer than this before (307km to Niagara Falls and back, earlier this year), this would be my second-longest ride and this time I had 30lbs of gear on the back of my bike, after five back-to-back days of riding. The additional distance would take us about eight hours to do – effectively another full day of riding – and would require us to ride the last couple of hours in the dark.

I convinced myself that we would make the call on which option to take at the 105km mark when we reached our potential campsite. In hindsight, though, the moment I knew that there was a glimmer of a chance that we would do it, my mind was made up.

When the time came, I knew without hesitation that I wanted to push on. Happily, so did my Father – and we arrived back in Toronto eight hours later.

3. You don’t have to be ‘on’ the whole time

I generally find it a bit hard to switch off – I enjoy my work, and I tend to be either 150% or 0% on things outside work too, with nothing in-between.

On the bike, there isn’t always a lot to focus on (aside from the riding essentials). I find long rides can be a great time for solving problems that have been bugging you (and I’ve figured out the structure for more than one conference presentation while in the saddle), but that would be exhausting over the course of a week – so when I’m on multi-day tours I tend to just switch off. There’s a serenity that comes with emptying your head and letting your mind wanter.

This time when I let my mind wander I ended up playing through full music albums I know (in my head – for safety reasons I never actually listen to music when I’m cycling). I covered albums from Muse, Nirvana, Metallica, Disturbed, Sevendust, Sixx:AM, Breaking Benjamin and more.

Unfortunately, at one point we stopped at a restaurant that had Shania Twain playing and it promptly got lodged in my head. I was in a dark place by the end of that day.

4. You need to pace yourself

As I mentioned above, I’m pretty much an ‘all or nothing’ kind of guy. Back in the day when I ran distance races, I had a constant struggle with going out too fast and suffering later in the race. Until recently I had a similar problem at work – something I’ve looked to curb in the last little while.

Cycle touring is no different in principle – there’s no use in trying to set a 30km/h average pace if you’re going to burn out later in the day – particularly as in almost every case there are more days of riding to follow. It’s all about finding a level of effort that makes you fast enough to complete the ride in the time you have – but more importantly is comfortable enough to maintain all day (and all trip).

5. Life will throw you curve balls

No matter how well you plan things out, something will come up that throws you off stride. Sometimes those things will be big; sometimes they’ll be small. Sometimes they’ll require minor on-the-go tweaks and sometimes they’ll require a complete re-tooling.

Last year two spokes broke in my rear wheel and we had to return to Toronto to get it repaired. This year I had a number of minor things – spokes loosened throughout the ride and needed tightening, gears needed adjusting and on the last day we needed to go in search of a bike shop part-way through the ride, in order to replace a pedal.

It’s not whether you get those curve balls that matters; it’s how you deal with them.

There you have it. A few philosophical musings courtesy of a week on the road.


Tough Mudder (Re)Conquered

Another Tough Mudder* here and gone. Once again it was a blast.

The weather wasn’t as bright and shiny as last year – we had a couple of downpours during the run – but on the whole the weather was warm and not too hot, unlike last year when it was scorching.

We had a smaller team than last year – just nine of us (plus Caralin and my dad who came along as spectators) so we stuck together as a single group and took it a lot easier than last time. As a result we finished a couple of hours slower but had a nice relaxing day in the meantime.

Most of the obstacles were straightforward. Everest was challenging as usual but teamwork got us through:

Win (just!), win, win.

A video posted by Dave Fleet (@dave_fleet) on

Birth Canal was as hard as ever:

Bloody hate this obstacle.

A video posted by Dave Fleet (@dave_fleet) on

I failed spectacularly at the new King of the Swingers:


A video posted by Dave Fleet (@dave_fleet) on

We all made it though, and overall it was a great day.

Tough Mudder crew, mid-run.

A photo posted by Dave Fleet (@dave_fleet) on

Importantly, I didn’t catastrophically injure myself ahead of tomorrow’s ride. That said, I’m sitting here with an ice pack on my knee as it’s extremely sore at the moment. Hopefully the cold will take down the swelling and painkillers will take me through tomorrow.

One event down; the tour begins tomorrow.

* Tough Mudder is a client of Edelman, my employer.


Tough Touring

I never intended to… but for some reason I stopped blogging here back in the winter. It’s pretty hard to find anything interesting to write about when you’re sitting on a turbo trainer, watching Netflix all the time. I just forgot to start writing again in the spring; better late than never, I guess.

I haven’t been sitting still in the meantime, though. I’ve had some great rides this summer, with highlights including some lovely scenery in Port Perry, a 200km trek up to Wiarton and an epic 300km ride to Niagara Falls and back

More recently I’ve begun a series of pub rides – Gran Fondo-length rides with a scenic pub as a mid-point. It’s nice to have a designated destination and to give myself permission to stop for lunch – something I haven’t tended to do in the past (I tend to just plow through). I’m toying with the idea of getting a group of people together to turn these into group rides next year.

This weekend warrants dusting the blog off, though. I’m writing this post while sitting with my Edelman colleagues on our way to run Tough Mudder* – my second time running this event. The forecast is for thunderstorms which is a little daunting; I guess we’re getting muddy anyway so it’s not the end of the world. The 18km course goes up and down the ski hills at Mont St. Louis, so it could get slippery. 

The flagship event really begins tomorrow, when I’m taking my trusty Cannondale out on another bike tour with my dad – this time a 900km loop of Lake Ontario.

The elevation profile of this entertains me… flat, flat, flat, NIAGARA ESCARPMENT…

Should be a great trip, assuming I can avoid injuring myself today. Hopefully the weather improves in the days ahead.

* Tough Mudder is a client of Edelman, my employer. 


Trainer FTW!

Well, I took the plunge after my post last week, and bought a trainer.

Ok, I bought a trainer… and a riser for the front wheel… and a floor mat… and another floor mat, as I was an idiot and didn’t measure how long the bike was… and a trainer tire for the back wheel. Suffice to say, my credit card wasn’t happy.

I had to do a little bit of maintenance, as I decided to pick up a road bike to use on the trainer so needed to fit the new tire and shift my pedals over to the new bike. Cue much swearing and hitting of the pedal wrench with a hammer (it worked!). Before too long, though, I was up and running riding.

1hr 45mins later, I’d learned a few things.

Lesson #1: Riding on the trainer is roughly the equivalent of having a jet engine in the living room. I threw a movie on while I was riding and Caralin tried to watch it with me; we turned our TV volume from 16 to 70 and still needed to use subtitles. Something tells me Bluetooth headphones are in my future.

Lesson #2: It’s insanely hot on the trainer. I used the same fan as I use on my exercise bike, but was still soaked by the end of the ride. Think I’ll need to invest in a bigger fan for longer rides.

Lesson #3: The trainer isn’t as comfortable as my exercise bike. It’s not uncomfortable, but it’s not the same level of comfort and, with the lack of variety that being outside provides it’s pretty easy to get stiff after a while.

All that said, there’s definitely something about riding on an actual bike that makes a big difference over riding on an exercise bike. Riding inside is going to take some getting used to after a great summer of outdoor riding, but I’m hopeful that having a real bike to ride will help me maintain the enjoyment through the winter months.


Winter is Coming

As I sit here writing this, it is two degrees outside. I hear that my sister-in-law’s car had six or seven inches of snow on it today. When I rode through the area last week, it was 16 Celsius. I did my long(ish) ride – on my exercise bike – indoors today.

It’s time to admit that winter is on its way, and my days of outdoor riding are limited until the Spring.

I have a good exercise bike at home, but it’s a recumbent bike and I’m loathed to pass up the feel of riding a real bike for the next six months. So, I’m on the market for an indoor trainer.

Generally speaking, I’m looking for:

  • A trainer that I’m going to want to ride for 3-ish hours at a time – meaning relatively road-like and that doesn’t sound like a jet engine in an enclosed space
  • Something that doesn’t completely break the bank (for that reason, I *think* I’ve bailed on the idea of having something that syncs with my computer)
  • Something reliable that won’t break every other ride (grumble grumble CAADX grumble)

I spent part of this weekend researching trainer brands, and the Kinetic Road Machine 2.0 keeps coming up high on the lists (it got recommended by and by Ray over at DC Rainmaker), and it’s right at the top of Amazon’s listings.

Thoughts and recommendations welcome…

Kinetic Road Machine 2.0

Also: Greg reminded me today of a cool new innovation – SpeedForce, which integrates a GPS computer with a power supply, headlight and navigation, and with 40h of battery life. It’ll be $159 when it launches on Oct 27, but right now you can pre-order it for $99 (edit: Not $9. Oops – thanks for catching that, Aran). Colour me tempted.


Introducing the Britnadian Cyclist

I grew up cycling – I remember riding around “the stones” just outside our back yard in Cornwall, England as a kid; I remember churning up the singletrack in the nearby woods; I had a blast downhill biking in Switzerland when I was 19. Somehow, in the time since then I fell out of the habit. My activities weren’t helped by one incident a few years ago when an ex-girlfriend accidentally dropped my bike off the back of her car on the highway – as you can imagine that wasn’t too good for the bike. Once the bike was damaged in that accident, I just never got back into cycling.

I always thought of myself as being athletic – I played all sorts of sports in school, and I ran marathons at a decent pace when I moved to Toronto in the early 2000s. However, over the last few years I let it get away from me – a high-stress job, lots of work travel and a busy lifestyle meant I put on about 35 pounds and let my fitness lapse.

A couple of years ago I bought an exercise bike in an attempt to get myself back in shape. I could never find the motivation to go to the gym, but putting a bike in the room next to our bedroom meant I had no excuse for avoiding it. I used it on and off for a while but then let it lapse again too.

In February 2015 I flew home to England for a family emergency. While I was there, I spent some time with my cycling-obsessed parents. We went out on several rides together; my addiction was reborn. Once I returned to Canada I set an exercise routine and stuck to it – morning workouts on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and at least one long ride at weekends. My weight stabilized and began to slowly drop.

Meanwhile, I searched for a real bike that would meet my needs – something that would meet my needs and let me get out on Toronto’s roads for long rides, but would also let me get off-road on gentle trails. I settled on a Cannondale CAADX 105, and absolutely loved it – it gave me the variety I needed to stay interested, and gave me a new challenge – improving myself, which is the thing that motivates me the most.

Fast forward a few months, and my dad came over to visit. A focal point of the visit was a week-long cycling tour that we organized of southern Ontario, camping at a different provincial park every night. I kept a diary while we were on the trip and got to thinking – why keep these thoughts to myself? A new blog was born.

I don’t really know what I’ll write about on an ongoing basis here. Likely a combination of ride reviews (when the Canadian seasons cooperate) and general musings on cycling, exercise and other things that catch my fancy. We’ll see.

Here goes…