Tag Archives: cycling life

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.


Recap: Short Sauble Blast

I took my legs out for a quick stretch around the Sauble Falls area yesterday, on the back of Saturday’s long ride from Toronto to Wiarton.

Right from the get go, I was surprised at how strong my legs felt. I expected more of a hangover from Saturday – I’d been stiff since that ride, and was expecting that feeling to carry over to the ride. On the contrary, from the moment I started I felt fresh and strong.

After a fast (30-35km/hr) 5km into Wiarton, the first major climb was on the other side, heading north up the Bruce Penninsula. To my surprise, I handled it fairly easily, averaging over 17km/hr on a hill that I’d only previously descended and had generally dreaded climbing.

Once at the top of the hill, the next 10km was flat and easy – amidst lovely Fall colours and nice scenery, I was able to get well into the 40km/hr range for a good chunk of it without too much effort.

Before too long it was time to turn off the highway and onto a side road that wound its way over to near Lake Huron and Sauble Beach. It was nice being on a quieter road, and the scenery just kept getting better – quiet lakes and rivers, and trees of all sorts of colours.

About that headwind…

Before I knew it, I turned onto Huron Road and started to head south towards Sauble Beach. At that point, the wind that had been nice and refreshing for the 25km or so up to that point became an ugly headwind that didn’t subside until I turned off the road 12km later. It was strong enough that it slowed me down from an average of 30km/hr over the first hour to around 23/24km/hr for that full stretch.


Happily enough, after 30 mins or so I was able to turn off the busy main road onto Rankin Bridge Road – one of my favourite roads in the area thanks to the lovely scenery around Sauble Beach Provincial Park. Despite it being a dirt road, I was able to speed up immediately as the headwind faded completely thanks to the shelter of the trees. I stopped a couple of times to snap quick pictures of the lovely surroundings before pushing on and heading for home.

The duration of the ride was pretty similar to the first half – fast, scenic and flat. My legs continued to feel strong – I don’t know if I’m already seeing the benefit from the long ride this weekend, or if it was just a function of the route being flatter than I’ve been used to recently. Either way, it felt great to be able to cruise along at 35-40km/hr without having to really push too hard.

Before too long I arrived back at my base for the day, having averaged 29km/hr for the full ride – far faster than I usually manage. I pushed to try to crack 30km/hr, but the headwind put a bit too much of a dent in my time to recover fully. Not that it even remotely matters – I had a blast, the scenery reminded me of why I love Fall in Canada and my legs felt great just two days after the longest ride I’ve ever done.

Another spoke bites the dust

The only real downside to the ride was that I arrived home to find that yet another spoke on my back wheel had broken. That makes four spokes since we left for the Ontario Parks tour a few weeks ago. Happily it didn’t affect the ride – in fact, it either happened right at the end of the ride or just had little impact on the bike when it happened, as I didn’t notice until I stopped and noticed that unmistakable rattle of the head of the spoke rattling around inside the wheel rim.

To say I’m unimpressed with the stock spokes on the CAADX is a real understatement.  I’m leaning towards getting the full wheel re-spoked at this point.

My local bike store showed a real disinterest in handling that work when I asked after the previous three broke, so this week I’ll be on the lookout for a place in Toronto that is more willing to take my money (suggestions welcome!).

I was about to write that the good news is that I’ll be indoors on the trainer and not worrying about spokes soon anyway thanks to the changing seasons, but there’s clearly nothing good about that either. Blech.

Technical annoyance aside, this was a lovely ride and a nice way to round off the weekend up north.

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Recap: Toronto to Wiarton

Well, that was… long. My longest ride by almost 60km, in fact.

My wife’s family’s Thanksgiving in Wiarton has been an annual pilgrimage for me ever since I met her back in 2002. I’ve been there every year, including for the first several years before we were even dating. This year, with the cycling itch well entrenched in me, I decided to cycle up instead of driving with Caralin.

Knowing how long the ride would be, I decided to leave early to maximize the daylight hours available to me. After a solid laughable pre-ride dinner yesterday (tacos and half a pitcher of margherita) and plenty of relatively little sleep (5 hours) I left the house at just before 7am today for the trek up north. I figured it would take about 10 hours of cycling to cover the ~220km to Wiarton.

The ride started smoothly – the Toronto roads were quiet at that time of day, and after an hour I’d cleared the busiest of the Toronto roads, hitting The Gore Road (one of my favourite roads to drive along) just after 8am. The colours were lovely today – everything from regular green to deep red – and The Gore Road was possibly the best part of the ride, with huge houses paired with the Fall colours.

After heading west on Highway 9, there was a pretty long hill that started to tire the legs a bit – so I paused for a break and second breakfast at the intersection with Airport Road.

A few kilometres later, I hit a major downhill – nearly 2.5km of 6% decent. I averaged 55km/h down the hill, hitting nearly 72km/h at one point before having to brake as I caught up with a couple of turning cars and had to slow down. Sadly, that downhill was mirrored by a similar uphill on the other side… sigh.

For some reason my GPS had plotted a route that turned off the main road before hitting the next east/west highway. I was keen to get away from the long weekend traffic so went along with it… only to find myself on hilly dirt roads for the next 20km. The good news was that there were hardly any cars on the road… the road surface and hills weren’t a lot of fun for the next little while though.

After emerging back onto the asphalt, the next 20km along side roads were scenic and lovely. The section just after passing Shelburne was particularly nice, with countryside views paired with flat, fast terrain. I made good time there, and cruised into Dundalk – my scheduled lunch stop – around 12:45pm.

Unfortunately I couldn’t find any sit-down restaurants in Dundalk (I admittedly didn’t look overly hard), so I stopped at the local Foodland and grabbed a bunch of snacks for lunch. Key among them was Gatorade – I was already running low on my first bottle and didn’t want to attempt the last 100km with only one bottle.

The next stretch of the ride was scheduled to be a 77km stretch of trails, along the Grey CP Rail Trail. Unfortunately it lived up to its “more difficult” billing at the outset – lots of loose gravel, potholes and ATV furrows. It was very scenic and blissfully flat, but I was making very poor time and concerned about not making it to Wiarton in daylight, so after 15 very tiring kilometres I bailed back onto the roads and skipped the remainder of the trail in favour of the main road. It might have been nice for mountain bikes, fat bikes or ATVs, but not for my cyclocross bike.

The gravel trail had really taken it out of my legs and I was starting to feel really tired. My body was starting to complain about the level of effort in general and I was starting to get some stomach pains, likely due to my almost carb-free lunch and dinner yesterday (damn you, tacos). After about another 30km I pulled over for a break and wolfed down a banana and half a granola bar. That seemed to fix things up – I got a burst of new energy and the discomfort went away for the duration of the ride.

The rest of the ride into Owen Sound was uneventful. The downhill into town was glorious, although I wasn’t thrilled with the climb out of the town afterwards. I’d picked the route into town due to the trail so contemplated just skirting the city now that I was no longer on that route, but decided to just stick with the plan as I was feeling much better and less tired at this point.

From there the rest of the ride was pretty fast. I had enough energy to set myself a bit of a challenge for the last seven or eight kilometres – I needed to average 30km/h over that portion (which included a couple of small climbs) to finish in less than nine hours according to my Garmin (the Strava app on my iPhone decided I was moving for another 20 minutes for some reason). Part way through it I decided I should slow down as I wanted to feel good at the end of the ride, but my competitiveness got ahead of me and I pushed on, managing to finish a minute under nine hours according to the GPS.

Now, four hours after finishing the ride, my legs aren’t too happy with me but it’s just tiredness rather than anything else. A pretty epic ride overall; if I were to do it again I would make some route changes that I think would save me a fair bit of time, but I don’t know that this will become a regular thing.

Definitely fun today, though!

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