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Cycling Trip From Waterloo to Sudbury (June 15/09 to June 19/09)
June 20, 2009

Introduction

The dream for the summer of 2009 was to bike across Canada, but increasingly as the middle of June came near, Meredith and I knew that it wasn't practical for our family. We had planned to make a trip to Sudbury as a tester so that we could better understand whether or not a cross Canada trip might work, but even after we decided not to do the big trip, the Sudbury trip still seemed like a good idea.

The rough sketch was to do a 5 day trip with a pop-up camper which we would borrow from Gerald and Anne. We would stay with Meredith's grandma Mary in Kincardine, and end up at Ryan and Melissa's place in Sudbury.

Stats

Total distance: 637 km
Average distance per day: 127 km
Average time per day: 6 hours
Total time: 30:08
Total time not including breaks: 28:18
Ratio of time spent riding to taking a break: 16 : 1
Average speed: 21.14 km/h
Average speed not including breaks: 22.5 km/h
Start date: Monday, June 15, 2009
End date: Friday, June 19, 2009

Packing

Going away for a week with a little one made for an interesting time packing on Sunday June 14th. My goal was to have the car 99% packed by the time we went to bed on Sunday evening so that when I got up at 6:30, I could just shower, eat some breakfast, get dressed, and head out on the road without running around doing last minute prep.

It was 11 PM by the time we got to bed, a bit late, but the mission was accomplished: The car was packed and we were well organized. I had checked off a to-do list of about 40 things!

Day 1: Waterloo to London: 115 km

Morning: Waterloo to Woodstock: 57.5 km in 2 hours 19 minutes (24.5 km/h)

Map of route from Waterloo to Woodstock

While training a month earlier, I had cycled from Waterloo to Woodstock. That day turned out to be extremely windy, and as it turns out I didn't take the most efficient route. (Around 65 km)

This time around, I managed to find a route that was just over 57 km, and nicer too. The conditions were perfect, sunny and cool, with a slight tail wind. I left at 7:50 AM and got there at 10:09 AM, averaging 24.5 km/h without too much effort. What a wonderful feeling it was to roll into Woodstock at only 10 AM!

During the ride, Meredith passed me on the short stretch between Punkydoodle's Corners and the 16th Line. I got a great big smile on my face seeing her drive by in our blue Civic with the "Baby on Board" sign in the back. It was good to know that she had been able to get Eli ready and get out of the house without too much difficulty!

I arrived in Woodstock about 25 minutes after Meredith, and Hannah was there to greet us. Before long, Mom was home, then Dad, then Grandma Green, and even Emily Stewart showed up. We had a nice lunch out on the deck, shaded by the overhead trellis, and had a Skype chat with Rebekah and Charles, which was the first time that Eli's cousin Emily had seen him. After a nice five hour visit, I hopped on my bike and headed for London at 3:10 PM.

Afternoon: Woodstock to London: 57.6 km in 2 hours 47 minutes (20.7 km/h)

Map of route from Woodstock to London

The plan was to bike along Road 74, which is one north of Highway 2, but that road turned into gravel shortly after I started along it. The wind was also a bit worse than I was expecting, which was unfortunate. Later on in the ride, I came across a police blockade on Highway 2 just outside of London. Someone had been seriously injured in a car accident and the road was going to be closed for several hours. Traffic was detoured one road to the south and although it wasn't ideal, it was fun to be able to bike passed a lot of the backed up traffic along that road! All in all, Highway 2 turned out to be "ok", but definitely busier than one would like when on a bike.

I made it to London for 5:57 PM (2 hours 47 minutes) averaging 20.7 km/h, which is decidedly slow!

Gerald and Anne were very kind to have us for supper, and Aaron, Jen, and Katelyn were able to join us as well. We had a nice BBQ supper on their back deck, which was nicely in the shade. Monday's weather was great, nice and sunny and warm, but it was nice to escape the heat after 5 hours on the road!

After supper we didn't waste much time: We needed to learn all the ins and outs of putting the camper trailer up and down, which we were borrowing from them. It was a little more involved than I had thought. This was one of the unknowns about the potential cross-Canada trip this summer: How hard would it be for Meredith to put a camper trailer up and down without me? As it turns out, it would have been difficult, and with a baby, it could have made it extremely challenging. The main difficulties are:

1.Backing up the car so that the hitch meets the camper bang on, which is not a straight-forward thing to do by yourself by any means. One morning I tried this by myself and was actually able to do it on my first try, but I may have gotten lucky.

2.The process of getting the the tongue onto the hitch is a bit finicky. The first time I tried it, I gave up and went to get help. As it turns out, I think it's a bit of an art that you catch onto with some practice, but it's definitely not straight-forward when you're first learning.

3.Backing up the camper, if and when required, is very difficult and frustrating even with a spotter, let alone without one!

After learning how to set up the camper, Gerald and I went to get some air in the camper tires and then once we were back, I tried backing the camper into their driveway. I failed utterly! I think in a situation where I wasn't under pressure I would have had more success, but all I can say is that this isn't something that is easy and takes some practice.

Meredith and I enjoyed sleeping in G&A's nice basement guest room. (I love sleeping in basements in the summer... what a treat) A great way to end the first day of our adventure.

Day 2: London to The Pinery: 68 km in just over 3 hours (21.6 km/h)

Map of route from London to Pinery

Our second day was an easy one, but I think this worked out very well because day 2 is the first day where you're getting back on the bike after riding 5 hours the day before, and so you're body probably hasn't adapted yet.

The weather was great once again, nice and hot, and I really enjoyed my ride through an area that I've never driven in. The winds were ok, but the weather forecast had me hoping for a tail wind, so it was unfortunate that that didn't pan out. I left at 9:30 AM and got to the park entrance by about 12:30. At 65 km, this was about 21.6 km/h.

Meredith passed me in Parkhill and once again, it put a great big smile on my face. Something that was nice about this trip is that, because it was originally intended to be a feeler trip for the practicality of a cross-Canada trip, it had some of the same feel to it: Me starting before Meredith and then being passed at some point during the ride by her and Eli on their way to the destination, and then me catching up. Getting to experience that was a lot of fun.

Once I got to the Pinery, I still had about 3 km of riding in the park to get to campsite 491. Once again I had a big smile on my face riding up to the campsite with the Subaru and camper parked there waiting for me. Eli had been a bit fussy and so Meredith was quite stressed out. We were faced with attempting to set up the camper trailer for the first time, yikes.

We got off to a bit of a rocky start: Trying to find the right place for the trailer so that it would be laterally balanced. We did have a "drive through" site, which was great because it avoided backing the camper up, but it took about 5 of those drive throughs to end up level, which was very trying for Meredith.

The next challenge was that there wasn't enough space under the camper to insert the "fifth wheel". I wasn't quite sure what the right protocol was in this case, so I ended up digging a 4 inch trench below the fifth wheel insertion point to allow it to fit. By the time I was done, my hands were filthy black and I needed to go find a place to wash up.

So not the best start to setting up the camper, but from there on in, everything worked pretty much like clock work. Few!

Once we got the camper setup, we were again amazed at how large it was and how wonderful it was to be able to unzip the sides and get good cross-breeze. It was a very hot day, and so we just lay there on the bed resting and trying to stay cool, eventually dozing off for a nap.

Our stay in the Pinery was sort of peculiar because we didn't really "do" anything. We just relaxed, ate yummy ice cream and other things, and hung out together and with little Eli. We enjoyed taking pictures and videos of him laying there with only his diaper on. We suspect he actually got a bit of heat rash by the time we got the camper set up and got him undressed. But we joked that he was an excellent camper because he slept most of the day away with us.

For supper, I had pre-cooked spaghetti sauce, so all I had to do was make some noodles and warm up the sauce, and voila, a nice spaghetti dinner for two!

We also managed to watch three episodes of Battlestar Gallactica, which in a sense was so "wrong" in a provincial park, but really, was a wonderful way to relax together and stay cool.

Our night was an interesting one with racoons literally climbing the outside of the camper. Those little brats sure are bold to do that. I had to go outside and throw a water bottle at one of them before he'd go away. We also moved the remaining food out to the car, which we hadn't bothered with not being in bear country.

Day 3: The Pinery to Kincardine: 124 km in 5 hours 24 minutes (23 km/h)

Map of route from Pinery to Kincardine

Day 3 (Wednesday) was supposed to be rainy, and it was for part of the ride, but it was very light and was actually sort of nice after two hot days! Unless I had misread something, I thought the forecast for Wednesday was supposed to be a 25 km/h tail wind, but it ended up being mainly a cross breeze from the East.

This was my first day doing more than 5 hours in one stretch, and overall things went very well. I enjoyed the big downhill into Godrich as well as the big climb out of Godrich, and seeing all of the wind mills along the way was great. Later on in the ride I had a bit of a tail wind and a nice energy spurt, and I expect I was averaging 27-30 km/h during that stretch. I was reminded that you have to be careful though, because those extended periods of effort take a toll on your body which you don't necessarily feel right away, but do later in the day once you're off the bike, as well as the next day.

Arriving in Kincardine was again a wonderful experience... in four short summers I have already made some very fond memories here with Meredith, and it is always great to be with her grandma Mary. She warmed up some soup for me along with some cheese, meats, and her famous home baked buns. You've gotta love how food feeds not only the body but also the soul after a long period of exercise!

I had a nice nap on the couch and then before long we were into chips & dips, and then supper. Always great food at "Huron Haven"!

Day 4: Kincardine to Cyprus Lake Campground: 142 km in 7 hours (20.3 km/h)

Map of route from Kincardine to Bruce Peninsula National Park (Cyprus Lake Campground)

Average speed: 20.3 km/h
Average speed not including stops: 21.6 km/h

Day 4 was yet another excellent day. I was excited to leave in the 5:30 timeframe for the first time, which is my favorite time of day to cycle. By the time I left it was almost completely light out, and I was accompanied by more traffic that than I would have expected!

As I turned onto Highway 21, the traffic was incredible, but fortunately 90% of the traffic was coming from the North, so it wasn't a problem for me being on the bike. Again, I was surrounded by windmills, which was wonderful. There was this one scene that was breathtaking: A low sun shining through some thin, patchy clouds, illuminating a patch of farmer's field so that it glowed a bright green, with windmills on left and right and some darker sky off in the distance. It was just so "dynamic", it's hard to describe.

Thursday morning was also my "shake my head in disgust" morning. I believe there were four times when a vehicle coming from the North pulled out and passed the car in front of it such that it blew by me IN MY LANE. There aren't enough expletives to describe how this made me feel as a cyclist. In the end I would just resort to giving them an angry look and shaking my head at them. I hope they got the drift.

As I went through Port Elgin, I saw the golden arches and couldn't resist. It was the first time on the trip I had stopped for some food. I got a McGriddle meal with a hash brown and a milk. Yes, I ordered milk at McDonalds -- weird. It was 750 or so beautiful calories, and I was back on my bike in 10 minutes. Not bad!

I really enjoyed the route from Southampton to Sauble Beach. The road followed the lake, had almost no traffic, and even passed Silver Lake Road at one point. I love when you realize you're somewhere you've been before but in a completely different contexts. I pictured a group of us Conrad Grebelites walking down that very same road at that same spot with our swim suits on and various water things for a fun day at the beach.

Rather than cycling into Wiarton, I took "Quary Road", which was not surprisingly a gravel road. As I was nearing Highway 6, I had a bit of a mishap... I realized I needed to be turning left, and so I made a sudden turn. I was only going about 10 km/h when I made the turn, but as I learned, road bikes don't turn on gravel. They just don't. My wheels slipped out from under me and a came down on my hip and elbow. I had a nice little scrape and a tender elbow, but I was fine. Whoops.

By 12:30, I had ridden all of Bruce Peninsula and was at the access point for the Cyprus Lake Campground. Woo hoo! Meredith was only just getting away from Kincardine which was a little unfortunate, but oh well. I signed in and got our camp site, and then headed to the water. It was fun to hike up my shorts and wade out into the lake to cool off and enjoy the scenery. As I walked along, I pulled out my BlackBerry and found that out in the lake I had my coverage back so I was able to make a fun Facebook update to the effect of "Daniel Bigham is standing in Cyprus Lake".

In the end I waited for about three hours! By some miracle I was brave enough to fall asleep on the picnic table for a few minutes despite the bugs. But those few hours took their toll and I accumulated a fair number of bites.

Eventually Meredith arrived and without much trouble we had camp setup. I think as you get more practice with setting up the camper, as with most things, it gets much easier.

We headed into town for supper and ate on the patio of a pub there. I had a nice juicy burger and Meredith had fish and chips. We were sure to video tape Eli's first visit to the pub! :)

Day 5: Cyprus Lake Campground to Lively (Sudbury): 187 km in 9 hours 40 minutes (19.3 km/h)

Average speed: 19.3 km/h
Average speed not including stops: 22.4 km/h (187 km in 8 hours 20 min)

Map of route from Cyprus Lake Campground to Tobermory: 16.5 KM

Map of route from Manatoulin to Sudbury: 171 KM (Day total: 187.5)

Day 5 was the biggy, further than I had ever cycled in a day by about 40 km. I got early to pack up camp, and we were on the road around 6:45 AM. I made it to the ferry for around 7:35, a little before that 7:50 time we needed to be there. I parked my bike along side the motorcycles that were awaiting getting on the ferry, and it was nice to have almost an hour to relax before needing to board.

Meredith went and got us a super delicious breakfast. All in all that morning, I had 3 eggs, 2 sausages, 5 slices of toast, 3 pancakes, and a giant orange juice. Wonderful! The toast was slathered in butter and jam, and the pancakes were covered with butter and blueberry sauce. It makes me weak in the knees thinking about it!

The ferry ride was fun, and I met a couple of guys, Chris and Tim, who were biking across Canada. (From East to West, no less!) They were raising money for Ronald McDonald Houses, and it was neat to chat with them about that. They both work in Ronald McDonald Houses and so they have a personal connection. It was interesting to learn that McDonalds doesn't totally fund them, but rather pays about 20% of their costs.

I asked if I could ride with them to Espinola, and they seemed more than happy to have some new blood in the group. I even got to wear one of their spiffy blue riding shirts! What a hoot! Their website is here. They even have a little device called "spot" that uploads their GPS coordinates so that you can follow them.

So we cycled across Manitoulin island, which was beautiful, and then on to Espinola. I really enjoyed some of the climbs, especially the "big one", going towards Espinola. It was beautiful scenery.

Once we got there, we said our good-byes and I had a quick bite to eat at McDonalds before I headed off to Sudbury.

On my way up the road out of Espinola, I felt something blowing on my leg. Hissing. Oh nice, flat tire. It was actually a fun challenge. I was just glad that I had gone to the free demo at Ziggies Cycle in Waterloo so that I had an idea of how to do it. Everything went great until I realized that I had put the wheel on through the chain, rather than on to it. Even worse, there didn't seem to be a way to release the breaks to take the wheel off, so I had to completely deflate the tire, take it off, put it back on again, and then re-inflate it. (Using a wimpy pump) I was quite proud of myself for getting the tire up to about 120 PSI though, given the tiny pump! It took 25 minutes to change the tire, 8 of which was trying to figure out how to make the silly pump work, so really it was about a 17 minute tire change, which was great. Fixing my goof up took another 18 minutes though, so in the end I was on the side of the road for 43 minutes... yuck. The bugs had a field day with me since I was focused on changing the tire, and I learned that up north there are these little tiny bugs that, unbeknown'st to me, bite. The accumulation of bites from Cyprus Lake and then changing the tire was pretty nasty... I've got a serious case of the itchies! Not good!

The ride along Highway 17 (the Trans Canada) was a bit nasty, as I was told it would be. Apparently the Trans Canada isn't usually that bad, but this stretch, especially at rush hour, is quite busy. There was one point where the shoulder was about 3 inches wide, and that simply isn't enough with trucks going by at 110 km/h and it being fairly busy in both directions. Thankfully the shoulder was in the 10-15 inch range for much of the trek, and sometimes the shoulder was a nice 7 feet.

The last hour and a half of cycling was tough because I just wanted to get there, and so I think I was averaging about 26 km/h... I was going about 23 km/h up the hills and 35 km/h down them, and perhaps 25 km/h on the level. Doing this on fresh legs is a challenge, so doing it after 7 hours on the bike really takes it toll. During the last 30 minutes, the head winds got worse, and so I decided to just give 'er and go into a tucked position, which again, really takes its toll on my body. (I'd say my back is my weakest link)

Finally, at 7:45 PM, I rolled onto Ronald Crescent and was greated by Ryan and Abby on their front lawn. I had a quick shower, an amazing steak dinner with fresh corn on the cob, (one of the best of my life), and enjoyed visiting with Ryan, Melissa, and the kids. At one point, Luke went up to Eli and started interacting with him, and we have never seen such big smiles and reactions from Eli. It was so precious.

I was reminded how wonderful it is to stay with friends and family when you're traveling. A warm shower, a meal, and visiting, what a priceless thing. And it is so nice to see where someone lives. All of the little things, from how they decorate their bathroom, to all of the pictures they have on their walls.

Once again, we enjoyed a glorious sleep down in a basement guest bedroom. I awoke at 6 AM (given two 5:30 starts) and was greeted by the uncontrollable urge to itch all of those nasty bug bites! Yowza!

So that's that, a trip come and gone, glad to be here safe and feeling very blessed for the opportunity.

Ryan also really enjoys cycling, so hopefully we'll be able to do a trip sometime soon... maybe Peterborough to Turkey Point?

How the body held up

The body help up really well overall. I only trained about 600 km in April/May/June, but I think that was actually enough to do the trick.

As mentioned, my back is my weakest link, at least on a road bike. It's not "bad", but my lower back definitely starts to get tender.

After that, is my rear end. Actually, that was probably the most uncomfortable aspect of the trip. I have to wonder whether this seat on my road bike is really all that good for 5-7 hour rides. More investigation is needed in this area.

Next is my wrists and triceps. My wrists were usually fine, except after the 187 km day, at which point they were fairly tender. My triceps were usually a little sore at the end of the day.

And lastly, ironically, my legs and feet. They held up extremely well, I would have to say. I think the big factors here are:

1.Not pumping hard up hills, but rather gearing down and going at a more event pace.

2.Not having too many spirts where you up your pace considerably.

At the end of most days, my legs weren't bothering me at all. Sure, they are tired from a lot of effort, but they still had strength left in them and weren't particularly sore. I'm impressed!

Random stuff

Once I figured the bike pump out it worked really well! I'm impressed that you can get a tire up to around 120 PSI with a tiny pump that clips onto your bike.

The bugs in Northern Ontario weren't bothersome at all when you were riding. The only annoying stretch was towards Tobermory -- I had a couple horse flies buzzing back and forth around me for a while, but they didn't land.

I really enjoyed the dynamic of being out on the road, being passed by Meredith and Eli around 2/3rds of the way, and then catching up with them around 12:30... it's was so sweet to see them.

Meredith says that Eli actually did very well in the car. Sometimes he'd be fussy for a while, but she says that if you know that he's fed, changed, and he's had lots of sleep, you don't feel too bad about letting him cry for a bit. Eventually he just falls asleep and then he's ok. This surprised me a bit. Most car journeys were between 2 and 2.5 hours, plus a half hour stop.

I continue to enjoy the style of cycling where you bring along about 1000 calories of Nature Valley bars as well as fruit bars, and you just cruise along and eat one every hour or so without taking official breaks. It keeps your average speed much higher and it's nice to finish the day earlier to be able to relax, hang out, etc. And it has a bit of a "race" feel to it, which I find fun, not in the sense of cycling fast, but of keeping close tabs on your time etc.

I just love having a BlackBerry with GPS, Google Maps, and the ability to send and receive email. Although it is fun to look up routes before hand and memorize them, it can be quite tricky to memorize all of the turns over a 6-7 hour ride, especially if you're trying to stay off of the main highways. It's so handy to pull our your BlackBerry and see a dot on a map of where you are, and if you want to check distances, you just go to the "Get Directions" function and select your destination. It's also fun to be able to update your Facebook or Twitter status so that friends and family can see how your trip is going. (This would likely not be as significant if you weren't cycling by yourself)

It appears that for me, it makes sense to cycle between 6 and 7 hours a day, which is right around what I was thinking for a cross Canada trip, but my speed on the road bike has been quite a bit slower than I would have thought. On my mountain bike (with slicks) I expect I would average around 21 km/h, and as it turns out, I only averaged 22.5 km/h on the road bike (not including breaks). The wind this week wasn't the best, however, and I wonder whether cycling West to East would bump that average up to 24 km/h? Anyway, at the speeds I managed this week, it makes it practical to do as much as 145 km per day on average for a long trip.

For long trips, you can cycle for 6 days and then take a day off, but personally I think I'd be tempted to cycle for 5 days and then take two days off. (Or simply to be flexible and take 2 days off within each 7 day stretch) If you average 145 km per day with a 5 day week, that's an average of around 105 km per day adjusted.



The planning begins!
April 24, 2009

Here we are, approaching the summer of 2009, and while it's still unclear whether the trip will happen, it's time to start planning in the case that things work out! A lot of it depends on how easy going Eli is. So far he seems like a fairly typical newborn :) And of course, it will depend on where Meredith is at. Only time will tell.

As for the other guys, it sounds as though everyone else is out. So sad, really... but I guess that's life. Matt may join me for a bit he says.

Tonight I spent a couple of hours reading journals of people who have done it and following along their routes on Google Maps. I also watched a video on how to replace a flat tire :)

This weekend is supposed to be beautiful, so hopefully I'll be able to get out for a ride.

On Tuesday evening, Meredith and I went to Ziggies so that I could show her the bike I'm interested in. Since I'm not going to be hauling a lot of gear (support vehicle), the guys at the store recommended a road bike rather than a touring bike. (The other factor being that I'd like to do triathlons with it) The model I decided on was the entry level one, for about $950. I think it's this one. I went with the white color so that I'll look spiffy in a red Canada bike jersey. Isn't gear fun?! Can't wait to get this road bike when it comes in. Apparently I'm a size 62 frame.