Monday, June 10, 2013

One-Way Trip

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you sort of know the story, but here are the details.

This weekend, Lori and I set off on the Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour, which runs from Ottawa to Kingston (on the Classic 177-kilometre and Challenge 250-kilometre routes). A shorter course, which starts in Perth, is 100 kilometres. The plan was to cycle to Kingston and back, but that didn't happen.

Neither Lori nor I properly trained for this event: Lori jogged a couple of times each week and rode her bike a couple of times over the course of about six weeks. I rode my bike to and from work a couple of times each week (40 kilometres, round trip), cycled a loop a couple of times (50K per trip), and planned one 100-kilometre route up to the Champlain Lookout, but only covered 86K before my tire blew.

That happened on Victoria Day (May 20); I didn't fix the tire until last Thursday.

There are a lot of things to consider when preparing for a 170-odd-kilometre ride. The proper clothes, a good supply of water, and enough food to sustain you. When I left Ottawa on Saturday morning, it was wet: not so much raining as there was a heavy Scotch mist. The temperature was in the low to mid teens (12-14°C), which was good. I wore my biker shorts, a long-sleeved biking shirt, and a cycling rain shell. I was comfortable.

I carried two water bottles: one, with plain water; the other, water and a squirt of agave syrup. In a fanny pack, I had lots of high-calorie snacks: chocolate-covered coconut bars, Clif bars, dried apricot, fruit gummies, mini Oreo cookies. My friends, who are experienced cyclists, told me I had to ingest at least 200 calories each hour to sustain myself. I had to drink every 10 minutes.

Because it was raining when I pulled out with a huge pack of riders, I didn't feel thirsty for the first dozen or so kilometres, but I eventually took a mouthful every 10 to 15 minutes after that. I mostly drank from my sweetened water, but I would swap to regular water just to keep it interesting (and to ensure that I could easily reach both bottles).

I didn't eat anything until I reached Ashton, a small village about 36.5K from the starting line. There, I ate a chocolate bar (280 calories), gulped down some water, and continued (I only stopped for photos).

I learned the value of travelling in groups, as the draft did save a lot of energy. But I didn't stay with groups for long. The first group, the large pack at the start, stayed together until about south Kanata, and then it broke up into several groups. When I changed my pace, I found that I had passed ahead of one group but fell behind others. I travelled for about 10K on my own, until the pack that had fallen behind me caught up at Ashton. Because they stopped and I didn't, I found myself on my own again.

This group didn't catch up with me until about the 50K mark, and I was able to draft with them. But they were faster than me and I couldn't maintain their pace for very long. Another fellow, at the back of the pack, stayed with me and we chatted until just before Perth, but he picked up his pace when I took a call from Lori, who was meeting me in Perth (from where she would start the ride).

Lori was eager to get underway, so when I reached Perth she didn't want to stay long. She had a fresh banana for me, which I hungrily ate. I also had been nibbling on a Clif bar and was about a third of the way into it. I ate the banana, stretched, refilled my bottles (I hadn't emptied either of them, had only consumed about a full bottle's worth), took a photo of Lori, and we continued.

Lori was fresh and keen on following a pack, so we got behind the first pack we could as we left Perth. I noticed that their bikes were clean and that none of the riders had streaks up their backs, so I immediately knew they had started in Perth, where it hadn't rained. These were fresh riders, and I had just finished about 75K.

I didn't keep up with the pack for long. Lori tried matching my pace, but after a few hills, on which I struggled a bit, she decided that she had to continue at her own pace, and so she went ahead without me.

That was fine: I understood the importance of keeping your own pace. I finished my Clif bar, drank some water, and continued.

Eventually, Lori stopped to rest and I was able to catch up, about 25K into her ride (I was past the 100-kilometer mark on my trip). I took off my rain coat, ate some dried mangoes, drank, and continued. (A couple of kilometres later, we stopped at a kids' lemonade stand, and I had them top up a bottle, which was about a quarter full). I told Lori that I had already completed more than the distance that she would be facing, so that if she wanted to go without me, she should.

We stayed together for a few more kilometres, but at some challenging hills, I couldn't keep up. I could feel my muscles complaining that I had taken them further than they had ever ridden before.

Heading into Westport, the cyclists are faced with some challenging hills. As luck would have it, a large group caught up to me just after I had raced down one hill and was faced with another upward climb. But riding in their draft, I felt that I was being pulled along and I was actually able to climb the slope in my top gear. Just before you actually reach Westport, you are met with a very steep, downward hill, and, still following this pack, I had to brake hard to avoid coasting into them.

But my body was starting to feel the strain. I had cycled about 120 kilometres and I could feel my left hip, knee, and ankle start to ache. Before leaving Westport, I took a couple of Advil, drank a lot of lemonade, and ate another coconut bar.

At the 140-kilometer mark, I started doubting myself, started wondering if I could actually do this ride. I was tired, my legs were lead anchors, and I was breathing hard. More water, more pieces of dried apricot. I forced myself to keep moving.

At the 150-kilometer mark, I felt better. My joints were no longer aching, my legs began to lighten, and I felt my second wind kick in. Also, at that point, Lori called me, wondering where I was. She had stopped in Perth Road Village and hadn't seen me.

"I'm already past there," I told her, "I didn't stop. I'm about 10 minutes ahead of you."

"Keep going," she said, "I'll try to catch up."

Just shy of Inverary, I stopped at the side of the road to eat more mangoes. I was in love with that snack: it really seemed to energize me without putting a lump in my stomach, something the other chocolate and energy bars couldn't do. Lori hadn't caught up, so I continued, thinking she would still catch me before long.

When I judged that I was about 10 kilometres outside Kingston, I stopped once more before a long, sweeping hill. I needed more energy before I could face that hill. My lower back was throbbing (it had been sore since before Ashton, and it usually does ache a little on my rides to work, but now it was just plain nasty) and I thought if I could wait for Lori, we would do this hill together. I finished the last of my apricot, downed the last of my lemonade, and took a swig of water. But after five minutes of waiting, Lori still hadn't caught up. I knew that if I waited any longer, my legs would return to their leaden state, so I faced that hill alone.

At the top of the hill I was met by the Kingston skyline on the not-too-distant horizon. I quickened my pace.

A short way further, the road dipped to a long, steep descent, and I tucked in deep, raced all the way to the bottom, where I slipped under Highway 401 and entered Kingston. There was still one last steep ascent, on an overpass that spanned a railway line, but I didn't care. I was practically there.

Because of a series of traffic lights, I managed to catch up to another pack of riders. They, too, knew that the end was near, so they began their cool down, and I stayed with them to the end. Lori caught up with me about five minutes after I crossed the finish line.

We made it. Lori, 100K. Me, according to my cycle app, just shy of 174K. Either the route had changed, the original measurements were wrong, or my GPS was off. But no matter how I looked at it, I had made it from start to finish.

But that doesn't explain my one-way trip. Lori and I were meant to return to Perth and Ottawa, respectively, the next day.

However, I'm not going to tell you about the next day today. This is enough writing for one day. At the time of this writing, I had only been home for about 10 minutes before I sat in front of my computer. I've rambled. I'm tired. I need a good night's sleep.

And so, can you wait until tomorrow to hear the rest?

Yes, I have man-boobs. Quit your laughing.

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