Making a Smart Call

My first time, I was ill-prepared. I started, in way over my head, not knowing what I was doing, fumbling as I went along. In the end, I didn't go all the way.

The next time, I knew what to expect, was prepared for what lay ahead of me, felt great throughout. But something went wrong during the home stretch, and I had to pull out. Disappointed, I didn't think I would ever try it again.

By the way, I'm talking about cycling the Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour. What did you think I was talking about? Geez..

I barely made it from Ottawa to Kingston, over 175 kilometres, two years ago. More than 200 kms into the trek, I ran out of energy because I wasn't eating enough at regular intervals, didn't stop to rest, and I hit the wall between Westport and Perth Road Village. I wanted to stop, but I told myself that I was closer to the finish than to the start, and there was nowhere for me to go but forward. I pressed on, and made it.

It was my wife's knees that failed her, after she arrived, and because she couldn't complete the return trip, I pulled out as well, secretly relieved that I wasn't going to punish myself—possibly kill myself—trying to get home.

Last year, I trained better. I cycled the 36 kilometres to work, twice a week, and took a scenic route that took me more than twice as long to get home, just so that I could say that I cycled 100 kms that day. I averaged about 250 kilometres each week, in preparation for my ride, and on the weekend before last years RLCT, I rode to Merrickville and back, a 116-km trek from my house.

On the actual ride, I was smart: I made a point of stopping every hour, pulling over on the side of the road, and stretching. I would eat: a Clif bar, some dried mango, some fruit gummies, and chocolate bars. I would drink. Five minutes is all it would take, and then I would get rolling again.

Throughout the ride, I felt great. I was truly enjoying the trek. When I arrived in Kingston, I was incredibly proud of myself. I was looking forward to the ride home. I was thinking that I was going to make the RLCT an annual event, for as long as I could do it.

And then, 60 kms into the return trip, something went in my left calf, and I had to stop. The disappointment was unbearable: the rest of my body felt great. I knew that I would have made it all the way, had my muscle not sprung like an over-wound watch. I swore that I would never ride the RLCT again. It was beyond my abilities.

A few days later, I changed my mind: this trip was unfinished business, as far as I was concerned. Next year, I told myself, I was going to train, I was going to take good care of my legs, and I was going to finish the route. Both ways.

While I have taken care of the leg, making sure I exercised it and that my massage therapist kept it knot-free, I haven't ridden as much as I wanted, not nearly as much as I had ridden by this time, last year. I have ridden much more than I did in my first year, and I even joined the Ottawa Bicycle Club, participating in several group rides. Last Friday and Sunday, I rode through the Gatineau Hills, tackling some hills that make those on the roads to Kingston look flat.

But I don't think I can complete the Classic Ride, the route that I took the past two years. I might be able to make it to Kingston but I doubt I could complete the ride home. And I don't want to fail this time.

So, instead, I'm participating in the Century Tour, which starts in Perth and shortens the tour to 100 kms, each way. I know I can do that: last year, before my leg gave out, I had covered 235 km over the two days.

One of the interesting things about the Century Tour is that, this year, it doesn't follow the route of the Classic Tour between Perth and Kingston. Instead, it heads down a more southerly route, through the Narrows, down towards Jones Falls, and basically stays closer to the Rideau Canal system—something that has meaning for my wife and me, when we canoed with our kids from Kingston to Ottawa.

It's not cheating. It's knowing my limits. It's making a smart call. Because when I write about my weekend, I don't want to say I've failed that I didn't finish what I set out to do. I've already ridden from Ottawa to Kingston. I've just never finished a route, both ways.

And for me, that's what it's all about.

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