That night you went to bed knowing that you were not going to have an easy time. The forecast predicted extreme heat and humidity with temperatures feeling like 40 degrees Celsius. The wind would be SW all day, averaging about 20km/hr. At least it would push you home on the way between Hamilton and Mississauga. There was also a very big storm moving in from Lake Huron. The weather network predicted it would hit Hamilton around 2pm, exactly when you were hoping to be in the area.
This is one of my favorite routes in the Randonneurs Ontario archive, and I’ve planned this ride almost a month in advance: were it not for these two factors, there is no way I would have undertaken a 300km ride under these conditions.
Very hot already and the sun has not even risen yet. It is 24 degrees, but it feels like 34. After less than ten minutes I am already sweating buckets. I am very concerned about the heat and how it will impact my ability to ride 300km. I will need to be very proactive, not only about drinking water, but also about taking electrolytes like sodium, potassium and magnesium. I have come prepared with supplements and pills, but how will I know that I am taking enough? How will I know if I am overdosing? If I take too little, my muscles will cramp up and I may suffer serious dehydration and heat stroke; if I take too much, will I walk away from this ride with a kidney stone?
6:40 am, 20km
My first pee break. Probably an indication that I have overdone my hydration strategy. I completely avoided coffee this morning, so there is no diuretic at work here. Monitor water intake more closely. Don’t overdo it. Hyponatremia happens.
I may be drinking too much, but I should not forego opportunities to top up my water bottles. I passed a church with a sign offering its garden hose to cyclists. I foolishly decided to carry on. I stop at a convenience store. It is closed for the Civic Holiday. Another store will pop up somewhere.
7:36am, 39km — in Milgrove
A gas station. Water topped up. Carry on.
8:03-8:35am, 48-60km — approaching Ancaster
This is one of my favorite stretches of road in the entire province. It is one of the main reasons why I like doing this Lakes and Vines route. This is my third time doing it, first in 2014 and again in 2016. They are the kinds of roads a cyclist dreams about — winding through dense forest, minimal traffic, and challenging climbs rewarded with exciting descents.
Though I am riding alone, I think about the other riders I have shared this road with on previous occasions. My memories are fond: no one is spent yet, spirits are high, and competitive urges have not yet been put on display. I think of my friends and this stretch of road, and I remember smiles, jokes, and high aspirations. It is a good place. People always seem to feel good here.
But this time I am alone. I ride uphill through a turn and I see a deer munching on grass in the ditch.
I hear a car approach me from behind. I don’t want to see the doe get hit, so I gesture with my hand to encourage the driver to slow down. Usually drivers ignore me when I make these pleas on behalf of deer. Success this time. The driver slows and passes me right at the moment I pass the deer.
She is obviously still wild, but apparently very accustomed to people. She looks at me, her tail flickering wildly like a sparkler on a birthday cake. She is deciding if I can be trusted. As I pass her, I realize I could touch her. I climb an additional few metres and stop. She is still there, eating her breakfast. It looks as if nothing happened; I have never been so close to a deer before in my life.
8:42-8:55am, 63-70km — along Fiddler’s Green Road
I am thinking now about how little I like mentors. The randonneur, even if he is inexperienced, does not care to be told how you think things should be done. Shut your mouth and let me learn for myself. You have your way; I will find mine.
That is the entire point of this sport.
9:16am, 80km — arrival in Caledonia, the first control
I am grateful to have a seat and be in an air conditioned space. I order two hash browns with my McGriddle. I get a coffee and a root beer.
It is quite rural here. The people remind me of the type I encountered in my childhood — friendly, informal, and jocular. They are constantly in pursuit of satisfaction, but their whims are easily satisfied, and so they are happy and kind. And yet there are hints that I have misunderstood them: a young woman behind the counter speaks with animation about the upcoming release of Crazy Rich Asians. She is neither rich nor Asian. She might be crazy, but probably it is just the energy of youth.
A man in his seventies approaches me. His smile is enormous and open. In no way does it suggest a smirk.
“You picked a hot one for a ride, din’cha?”
“You can pick your day, but you can’t pick your weather.”
Ever since the Concord to Collingwood 400k brevet I did on 7 July, I have been struggling with chronic pain in my right knee, sometimes in my IT band and other times just above my patella. I have been experimenting with my saddle height and cleat position to overcome this problem. The pain has been growing all morning, and it seems sensible to take a few minutes to try to correct it.
I stop along the Grand River where some Canada geese are resting. The No Trespassing sign reminds me that, sometimes, geese have it better than men.
I take out my tools, and, one by one, remove my shoes and adjust the cleats.
I confess that I fear what the long term consequences of cycling will be on my knees. From time to time I’ll ride with someone with enormous surgery scars on his or her knees. I have been riding for 30 years. You’d think the damage would have been noticeable by this point. Maybe this latest pain is just the beginning of a long descent.
All morning I have been riding with goldfinches. They are such beautiful birds, and very bold, too. They fly and dart across the road like acrobats. Sometimes they fly so close to me and in such numbers that I feel like a fish in a river of birds. Other species fly with them, but I cannot remember them. Even the female goldfinches are unnoticeable alongside their brilliant yellow brethren.
I am not surprised when I see one lying in the middle of the road. He must have flown into a windshield and ricocheted onto the pavement. His body is still intact, but his neck is probably broken. And yet, perhaps he is just unconscious. I ride back, pick him up, and take a closer look. I have revived birds before, though admittedly they flew into the panes of houses, not the windshields of speeding cars. I take him to a shady spot away from the road. If he is dead, then there is no harm in moving him. At least he can safely feed a scavenger. If he is alive, then the heat, the sun, and the road will not undo his chances of survival. I gently place him on the ground and carry on.
A pee break next to bee hives. They are so numerous and so loud that I can barely hear my urine dribble and pound into the dry earth.
11:23am, 123km — Dunnville
Water is life. Normally when I drink it, I do not make this association. Now the association is absolutely clear. I am drenched with perspiration, and have been for almost six hours. In this heat and with this effort, how can I possibly have taken in enough H2O and electrolytes over all that time? Even on a good day I can’t answer that, not scientifically.
I feel fine, but I should not, and I worry about how I will feel in a few hours. I replenish both water bottles and pour in my electrolyte supplements. I drink a can of Pepsi for the caffeine and the sugar. I drink more water. I only eat an ice cream bar. I stand in the shade, and for entertainment watch people argue while they fill up their cars and motorcycles with gasoline.
A woman stands next to me, smoking.
“Sure picked a hot day for bike ride, din’cha?”
“Yes,” I smile and nod. I want to say something about smoking next to a gasoline stand, but I’m too tired to care.
“Where you coming from?” she asks.
Her eyes pop out of her head. “How far ya gonna be riding today?”
“It will be 300k when I’m done. If I finish.” I pause and then get to the question that is most on my mind, “Have you heard anything in the weather report about rain today?”
“Nope,” she draws on her cigarette.
“I’m expecting to hit a big storm before Hamilton.”
“We get completely different weather down here…”
“Yes, I suppose it’s Lake Erie,” I finish her thought for her. Just then I look to the North sky and see my first cumulonimbus cloud. “See, look!” I draw her attention to the sky.
We both smile at each other and nod.
1:05pm, 165km — Port Colbourne, the second control
A quiet and lonely stop at a convenience store. I am certain it is the same man behind the counter, but there is no trace of the plants or flowers he used to sell. His front porch used to feel like a tropical retreat; now it is concrete and cobwebs.
1:34-2:55pm, 171-195km — along the Welland River and the climb up to Pelham
I am exhausted. The heat, the distance, and the hours in the saddle have taken their toll. I turn westward, and a headwind demands an effort from me that I am unable to give. It only lasts five kilometres; but by the time I cross the Welland I feel defeated.
Next, I climb up to Pelham. I refuse to give in, but accept that I can only give a minimal effort. I automatically drop to my lowest gear and just spin up to the top where a traffic light awaits. The light is red. With my aluminum frame there is no way for me to activate the steel-detecting switch. Unless a car comes, that light will never turn green. Хватит! I will wait here as long as it takes.
3:05pm, 203km — Near Jordon Harbour, the third control
Normally this control is at a Tim Horton’s at North Service Road just off the QEW. I just can’t bring myself to stop there. It is so sterile. I am in the land of Lakes and Vines, and I must eat fruit.
I had planned to stop a little further along at Peach Country Farm Market, but the severe weather I was expecting finally hits. It is a downpour. The sky looks frightening and the wind accelerates dramatically. I have all my lights flashing, but it is unwise to ride under such conditions. Besides, I was planning to take a break at this point anyways. I pull into The Red Barn.
Thankfully there is a picnic table beneath a steel awning. I eat six peaches and chase them down with some cold brew coffee. Dessert is a bag of six chocolate chip Skor cookies. I see pickles and crave brine. Do not judge me. After you have ridden your bike 203km, you can eat like a pregnant woman too.
It is somewhat cooler now that the storm has passed, but not as cool as I would have wished. The roads are still quite wet and soon my feet and back are soaked from my own spray.
I ride beneath the QEW. The great quantity of vehicles and the immense speed at which they travel always make a big impression. Now that the road is wet, it is very loud too. The cars literally tear the water from the tarmac in strips of roaring, indifferent fury. Speed, sound, mass, and an unnatural misty spray combine to make this into a terrifying place. Is this Earth or Jupiter?
I don’t think there is a single driver on that highway who understands this. If they could see themselves the way I see them, they might be embarrassed of their immodesty, thoughtlessness, and mindlessness. But what choice do they have? I know they have none. I drive on the QEW too.
210-250km — delirium
Kilometres of fighting wind, finding vines, and admiring hops. This is pure survival mode.
252km — descent into Hamilton
I’m not even pedaling. Gravity pulls me down the Escarpment almost all the way up to 70km/hr.
At the bottom of the hill there is a fountain. It actually looks clean. I consider lying flat in its reservoir and counting to ten. Dare I sully it? The young woman walking by sees me, and she knows exactly what I am thinking. She smiles, and I chicken out.
262km, 6:10pm — Hamilton, the fourth control
“What do you mean you have been riding for twelve hours? How far have you gone?”
“I must be around 250k by this point. Almost done.”
“Man, I used to ride a hun’red k with my wife sometimes, but I mean that is nuts. Where ya’ goin’?”
“My car is parked in Mississauga.”
“Wha? Mississauga? Man, that is amazing!”
“You build up to it gradually. You don’t just decide to do it without any training.”
“Still… I mean … umm…” He is considering something. “Let me give you a ride! Just throw your bike in the back of the truck and I’ll drive ya to your car.”
“No thanks, man. I’m good.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, man, I’m sure.”
“Ok, then,” and the kind and incredulous man shakes my hand. I have to get up off the ground to reach it. “Good luck, brother!”
310km, 8:36pm — Mississauga, the ride finish
My final bit of endurance will be the drive home. My wife wants to meet with me for supper. I am eager to meet with her so that I can prove to her, yet again, that my bike riding need not be an obstacle to marriage.
I ask her to bring a pair of jeans and a t-shirt so I don’t have to sit in the bar in lycra-spandex with a sweat-soaked chamois. But I forget to ask her to bring underwear. Commando? Oh well, I can suffer a little bit longer, I suppose.
I arrive at the bar, march into the place in my skin-tight clothing and draw the attention of everyone. It’s like I have a flame dancing on my head. My wife waves and holds up a bag for me. I take it to the men’s room to change. In addition to the requested jeans and t-shirt, there is a pair of underwear.
Copyright T, 2018
Wildroads by Timo Ormo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.