Monday, 29 July 2013

Oui Oui...à Paris (Ontario...that is!)

If you've read my first post, you'll kind of get the gist about what I'm doing here.

This is a blog about my two-wheeled trail adventures preparing me for the grand daddy of all mountain bike adventures - the Tour Divide.

One of the most important components of training for this ride is to get miles on your saddle.  Of course, genteel Sunday rides along the bike paths leading to the local Dairy Queen are lovely, and can be quite rewarding (C'mon...its DQ Baby!).  But its not enough.  To achieve success on the GDMBR (Great Divide Mountain Bike Route), you need miles.  Lots of miles.

On the GDMBR, the route leads riders through the harsh, yet beautifully serene landscape of 1 province and 5 states: Alberta, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico.  As mentioned in my first post, there is ALOT of climbing.  Being from Ontario, preparing for that amount of ascention is next to impossible...unless I head to upstate New York, something that is not on the present horizon.  But I can certainly put on the miles.

My first "distance escapade" took me from downtown Kitchener alongside the meandering flow of the Grand River through Cambridge and Glen Morris - towards Paris, a quaint picturesque town nesstled into an elbow of the river.  All told, the route I had mapped out (via the latest capabilities of Google Maps) was going to last me 45.3 km one way, and according to the speed demons at Google, ONLY 2 1/2 hours.  Wrong.

Downtown Kitchener to Paris

I informed my wife that I wanted to head out as early as possible on Sunday to avoid the pending heat that the weather forecasters were predicting (actually, the predicted humidity for that afternoon was supposed to be 38 C.  Ouch!).  She had no problem, as long as I didn't wake her.

Having prepared my trusty steed the night before with the necessary carrying bags, chain lube, and "hydration management system" (cool name for a water bottle and a CamelBak), I endeavored to down a hasty cup of coffee and hit the road by 7:30 am.  With caffeine in the system and a sense of anxiousness at doing something I've never done before, I set off through the quiet streets of the downtown, confidently racing towards my first "map checkpoint" at Rockway Golf Course.  Strange as it may be, this area of Kitchener was one that I was familiar with, but had never through - either on two wheels or four.  After a couple of turnarounds, I finally gained my sense of direction and made my way towards the mildly technical trails in Homer Watson Park.

Enroute to Homer Watson was a truly wonderful trail leading from Manitou Drive through to the end of Wilson Avenue.  It was there that I was introduced to the rather docile cousin of Bambi.  Feeding on the side of the road not more than 15 feet away from me, my presence had largely gone unnoticed.

For those in Southern Ontario, you'll undoubtedly be familiar with the crazy weather we've been having this summer.  As the trail sauntered close to the Grand River, the results of said storms were evident on the lower parts of trail.  As the river level was high, parts of the trail were marginally washed out, resulting in a big decision on my part - retrace and go around on the local streets, or try to guide my bike (and previously dry shoes) through chocolate pudding-like mud.  I was on an adventure after all, so the mud it was.  The mud, as expected was thick, deep, and EVERYWHERE!  I rolled my bike through the standing water and used it as a crutch as I walked along the somewhat drier portions of the trail on the side.  A problem arose however - millions of problems in fact, in the form of a swarm of mosquitos.  After making it through the first patch of mud, I managed to find the bug spray in hopes of warranting off the little bloodsuckers.  It worked until I had to pass through two other similar, and unpleasent patches of pudding.  I suppose I would have been more frustrated if I didn't rationalize that this little inconvenience was quite minor in comparison to the major pain and suffering I was going to endure on the TD in two years.  As Churchill once said - "Keep Calm and get your fat ass out of the mud before the bugs suck you dry!".  And so I did.

Further on up the trail, I stumbled upon the ruins of an old mill.  Tranquil in its setting, I would have stopped to enjoy nature, but I had a long distance to cover.  Maybe another time.

Exiting the Homer Watson Park, I knew that the mud portaging was costing me some valuable time.  I proceeded down Old Mill towards Doon Valley Golf Club and the Hwy. 401 overpass.  Having never been on the overpass, I decided to stop for about a minute to check out the view.


Crossing over the highway took me to the tiny hamlet of Blair, home to the famous country inn - Langdon Hall.  While a pitstop at the spa would have been lovely, I had more pressing business to tend to...getting to Cambridge.  Riding the designated biking/hiking trail known as the Grand Trunk Trail.

A lovely descent into downtown Galt awaited me (along with the not-so-welcome ascent on the way back!).  I should point out that the day I decided to pull off this ride, the humidity was forecast to reach 38 deg. Celsius.  As it was only about 10:00 am by the time I reached this point, I new that things were going to heat up shortly.

As I pulled into the past known as Galt, I was starting to feel the lack of caffeine in my system from not having any coffee earlier, so I stopped in at the charming Grand Cafe, nestled perfectly alongside the river for a double espresso.  Mmm...bellissimo!

A short ride south of downtown led to the trailhead of the Cambridge to Paris Rail Trail.  As the northern terminus of an interconnected trail system that leads ambitious cyclists, runners, hikers to Port Dover on the northern shore of Lake Erie, the Cambridge to Paris Rail Trail is widely regarded as one of the nicest trail systems in southern Ontario; both for accessibility and scenery.  Following alongside the slow moving Grand River, the trail steadily follows the old rail line ethat formerly linked the two communities.  Fairly straight and generally level, there were plenty of opportunities to gain some much needed speed, thus putting me in Paris shortly before lunchtime.  Wildlife aplenty, the trail offered an eerie respite under a shadowed Carolinian canopy.  Birds of all sorts and countless butterflies were whisked by as my tires greedily gobbled up the dirt.  Approaching a slight bend in the trail, I noticed a pair of riders oddly parked in the middle of the trail looking at something on the side.  Slowing down, I saw what caught their attention.  Less than 10 feet away, this Peregrine Falcon had decided that the 65 km signpost was a good place to take a breather (wait a falcons take "breathers"?).  Unphased by our close proximity, he/she was most likely more interested in his/her next feeding.

Shortly afterwards, I reached another trailhead - this one located in Glen Morris, a tiny community situated roughly halfway between Paris and Cambridge.  Judging by the number of cars in the parking lot, quite a few people were taking advantage of the warm weather by either hitting the trail or embarking on a lazy ride down the river via the boat launch.  As the midday sun was quickly melting all in its path, I was still feeling good physically and mentally.  I had consumed the requisite amount of fluids and my arrival in downtown Paris was only a few miles away.

For those unaware, the downtown section of Paris is quaint, if nothing else.  The main street, lined with its numerous boutiques, cheese shops, and cafes evoked waves of nostalgia and visions of small bucolic European hamlets.  Having dismounted from the bike to give my weary legs a break, I stumbled upon a local bike shop - Vintage Velo, who impressively was open on a Sunday.  I realized on the trail that my bike was missing something quite valuable - a bell.  With the number of pedestrians and slower riders, I found that I had no way to letting other trail users that I was approaching.  So I decided to give them my custom and bought a small bell, with help from the friendly attendent at the front desk.  What caught my eye in this store however, was not the selection of accessories, but rather the wide selection of vintage cruising bikes.  And they are all in top condition.  There are no words to describe what they carried, so I'll recommend you check out their site (see the link above) and click on the Bicycle Sales page.  Scroll down the page and emmerse yourself in two-wheeled nostalgia.

By this time, my stomach was starting to inform me that the gastank was empty.  Hacing asked the staff at Vintage Velo where a hungry, sweaty mountain biker could go for some good hearty food, I was told that the Brown Dog, about a block away, was popular with the biking crowd.  Having no reason to argue, I made my way down the street.  Upon arriving at the self-appointed velo cafe, a phalanx of roadie rigs (high end street bikes) adorned the bike rack in front of the building.  Carbon and titanium frames of all colours and sizes were bunched together on the rack like a pack of wolves forming a perimeter.  Not wanting my plebian ride to scratch the two-wheeled Ferraris, I gently rested my tired rig against the rack and headed into the restaurant.

My senses were soon assailed in the subtle fragrances of frying bacon, buttered bread, and freshly brewed coffee; accompanied by the oh-so-welcome freshness of air conditioning.  I grabbed a small table in the corner next to the group of spandex-clad roadies who owned the carbon rides outside.  Having engaged one of them in a brief conversation, the group had apparently ridden from Dundas for the day.  Try doing that on knobbies Fellas!

Lunch quickly arrived in the form of a bacon and egg panini on fresh baked (and grilled) italian bread with a pickle spear and fresh lemonade.  Needless to say, the sandwich did not stand a chance.

After about 20 minutes, I started to feel my muscles tightening up so I quickly lapped up the remaining lemonade and made my retreat back out into the 35 deg. heat.

I've always been a believer that loops and end rides are phycologically, the best routes to take to push oneself.  On that Sunday however, I didn't have that chance and would have to make the min-numbing return "back up from where I came".

Within about 5 km, I started to notice that my thighs were tensing up and my hamstrings were constricting.  The pedal strokes that I used to power myself down the trail had apparently gone missing.  I began to cramp up.  From a physiogical perspective, cramping is one of the most debilitating ailments that can strike an athlete.  Although I'm not an extreme athlete and I know well enough that hydration battles cramping, I simply lost all power in my legs.  The trail seemed to be ascending slightly, and all in the wrong direction.  Whereas an hour prior, I was booking it down the same plot of land, this time around the trail had forced me to hit my wall.  Slowly pounding the next 5 km to Glen Morris, I started to feel the extreme heat impacting me from above.  I finally made it to Glen Morris and decided to give my aching muscles a short break.  Resting under a tree in the shade, I made a call to Jenn, my wife.  She asked where I was and how things were going.  I responded in a gutteral tone "I'm bonked."  We discussed the inevitability of her having to come "resuce" me before the call cut off, likely due to the isolated spot I was in.

I reluctantly climbed back on my bike with cramping legs, a soaked-from-sweat jersey, and sore sit bones and slowly made my way the next 10 km to Cambridge.  I won't bore you with details, but needless to say, it was painful and ugly.  Shortly afterwards, my heroine had arrived to resuce me from the fresh hell I had put myself in.

I began the day with hope and determination.  I had a goal.  I had a target.  It all evaporated in a lactic acid build-up that would have crippled the best.  I had alot going against me that day - the weather, the lack of proper preparation, over-confidence.  However, after a hot shower and a cold beer, I relalized what I had just accompished.  I had NEVER gone 65 km on a mountain bike before in my life.  But that day, I did it.  And from that point on, I reassured myself that with more training and better awareness of my capabilities, I could reach my goal - to ride the divide.

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