Lessons learned – Ontario, Canada

Total Trip Statistics:
Distance: 371.18 kilometers / 231.99 miles
Ride time: 24:00:00
Saddle time: 19:01:16
Average speed: 20.43 kmph / 12.77 mph

…being lost is worth the coming home.

Wear a long sleeve synthetic shirt under rain gear vice a short sleeve or tank top. In waterproof rain gear (i.e. rain gear that does not breathe), you will sweat like a pig even if the weather is cool/cold. As the wind pulls the rain gear away from your body when it flaps, the air cools the sweat on the inside and rain on the outside. When the raingear hits your bare skin again as it flaps it is cold as a bastard. A long sleeve shirt eliminates that.

When riding in the rain, things will get wet. I know this is a no-brainer statement, but items that claim to be waterproof may not be. Case in point: My Topeak Tour Guide handlebar bag’s bright yellow rain cover was not even remotely waterproof. You’d think with a name like “rain cover,” it would at least have some water repellent characteristics. It did, for about the first 20 minutes of riding in the rain. It is plain nylon, like a tent wall, and when there’s pressure on the inside of the fabric, water seeps through like there’s nothing at all. Luckily, I individually wrapped my camera and cell phone in sandwich bags and they remained bone dry. There are some good after market spray-on or wash-in waterproofing systems out there like Nikwax (which I personally used on my 8-year-old Eureka Prism dome tent and other odds and ends, and it breathed new life into the fabric’s waterproof ness and repellency), but in this case I kept it simple. I swiped a couple of shower caps (one for backup) from my hotel and used them. They’re 100% waterproof and I can still read my map case!

And speaking of my map case, my map got wet from my crappy rain cover and the ink ran everywhere. I had printed my map off the internet in color and parts were completely unreadable when the ink started to run. Nikwax also has something called Map Proof if that’s your thing, but buying waterproof maps or even laminating your maps prior to departure will eliminate the problem I experienced. I don’t think normal road maps’ printing will run if you get them wet. It’s worth checking out.

Listen closely to your drive train. Under normal riding conditions I lube my chain every few rides. The rain and water were so intense on this tour that, in over six hours of wet riding, I lubed my chain three times. I use White Lightning chain lube. It’s a wax based lube that repels water very well and sheds dirt and road grime even better. The small, 4oz. size makes it easy to keep handy for a dry spell between showers when you hear your chain starting to chirp or squeak. I’ve used this stuff since the beginning, through ice, snow, slush, mud, muck, and plain old dirt and it performs flawlessly. An oilier lube will stick to your drive train much longer in the rain, but it also picks up road grime horribly and is harder to clean off when reapplying more lube. Stay away from White Lightning Race Day as it’s a thinner, oilier version that doesn’t perform well under extended use.

I thought of a way to eliminate presta valve stem failure after mine tore less than 1/3 of the way into the ride (and I used my only spare). I identified the cause of the failure as being he rubber portion of the bottom of the valve stem (just below the threaded part itself) rubbing against the metal of the valve hole in the rim. After over 3 hours of riding with a full load it finally wore through. And what caused that? Well, I like to pull the valve stem as far out as it will go when I seat the tire on the rim so I’ve got plenty of valve stem to work with when I pump the tube up. It also locks the valve stem in nice and tightly against the rim, but that was causing the uncompromising proximity wear. I decided next time I would only expose enough valve stem to give my pump a solid bite. That way there a bit of cushion for unexpected stress or movement and the metal, threaded portion of the valve stem should be the only thing against the metal rim of the valve hole. Another solution would be a valve stem nut on the inside of the rim (on the valve stem) to ensure the valve stem only protrudes a predetermined distance. That, combined with a valve stem nut on the outside as normal, will lock the valve stem into place and allow only metal on metal contact. Keep in mind I haven’t tried this yet, so I hope it works. Let me know if you pull this off.

I need a wider variety of music on my MP3 player. The selection I had on the tour was my gym tunes collection. Yes, it is heavy hitting, motivating music, but I’m not the kind of person who will cycle any faster when listening to AC/DC vice Dido. Not after a few hours already in the saddle, that is. I’ve gotta mix it up better.

Refill your water supply at every opportunity. As it was I only had two water bottles (not the brightest move). I passed up a hole in the wall gas station thinking I could fill up in a town a few miles down the road. When I got there, it turned out the town was a bigger hole in the wall than the gas station. In a worst case scenario I could have stopped by a house and asked to fill them up, but I ran on under one bottle of water for about three hours. I felt like I was licking a sand popsicle by the time I got to Kingston. Also, a brief stop to fill up is good excuse to rest and stretch your legs as well as take a few photos if need be. Everybody wins. The problem with carrying 70 to 100 oz of water in a hydration backpack is weight. Water is probably the heaviest thing on your gear list. After hours of pedaling in the saddle, even the smallest amount of extra weight on your back or waist is transferred many times over to your crotch. I’m going to stow extra water on my gear instead of my back. IDEA: A 100 oz bladder with an extended hose mounted to the shelf of a front rack is a great compromise. I’m looking into some designs.

Baby powder works wonders on a chafed “undercarriage” when off the bike. After two days of riding, I noticed my saddle was a few degrees off from center and it was rubbing the bejesus out of my port side. When I rolled in to Merrickville on day two, I was well past uncomfortable and way into excruciating. The baby powder was a godsend while I milled around town seeing the sights. I fixed the saddle, finished the last three hours of the ride the next day (as planned, but very painful none the less), and was completely healed up in about two days. This was, hands down, the worst case of “bike ass” (a term affectingly coined by me in the mid 90s) I have ever experienced. With the knowledge gained, I now know that it’s better (given enough time) to take 1-2 days off the bike, heal up, and continue as planned rather than push through the pain. Bringing a small, travel-sized bottle of baby powder will make your life a lot easier.

Pay very close attention to your chow intake. I ate a Nutri-Grain granola bar (often two) at least every hour. I kept them in my handlebar bag along with snickers and Twinkies. A couple Twinkies or a candy bar go a long ways for keeping your energy levels up on the ride. Junk food like that is fine as your cranking the pedals hour after hour, but ensure you get a damn good, well balanced meal when time permits. Supper should always be pasta/high carbs to give you the long, slow burning energy you need for the next day’s ride. Get a good breakfast too, but don’t ever get so full you feel uncomfortable when leaning over your handlebars.

Listen to your body. A five minute break from riding does wonders. Simply get off the bike, walk around a bit or lie on the grass, and veg out. You’ll feel 100% better when you climb back on.

You can’t count on a 10mph average to get you 70 miles in seven hours. Sure, if you do the math it all adds up, but factor in things like chow, breaks, and sightseeing. Count on about 15-20 minutes an hour that you won’t be pedaling. I noticed that I could pedal a couple hours without taking a break on my first day, but on day three I was stopping every 30-45 minutes for a 5 minutes break.

Don’t push your daylight limits. I got caught in three hours of darkness due to a late morning start. Luckily I had a reflective vest so vehicles could see me, but no light. Riding in the dark isn’t worth the risk of getting run over just to cover a few more miles before rack time.

The mounting bracket of my Topeak Tour Guide handlebar bag was constantly rotating downward from the weight of the bag. It was to the point where I couldn’t read the map because it was angled down too far. This was because the stock mounting system didn’t come with rubber inserts to put between the handlebar and plastic clamps to prevent it from slipping. I scrounged up a couple of rubber strips from old cyclometers and plan on using them to secure the mounting bracket better.

My bar ends sucked. They were too small and too narrow. They didn’t fit my hands properly and hurt like a bastard. I’m going to stick with my Bontrager bar ends that are on my Specialized M4 and save myself some numbness.

I configured my tour bike with an adjustable stem so I could have the option of a more upright riding position if I wanted. This, indeed, was more comfortable on my hands, arms, and shoulders, but it put more weight on my butt and quickly became a pain in the ass, literally. It also shortened the cockpit and I often felt cramped with the urge to stretch way out over my handlebars. I recommend you stick with your existing riding position for your own tour. It’s what you’re used to. On top of that, the joint of the stem where it adjusted would squeak with every shift of weight on the handlebars. It was maddening. If I can’t find a way to dampen that infernal racket, I may have to forgo the adjustable stem and go back to a standard rise and length.

Keep your clothes on. On a nice day it’s tempting to strip down to your cycling shorts and soak up some rays, but your asking to get your back badly sunburned by day’s end. Six to ten hours in the sunlight, and any weather, will give you a good burn, so apply sunscreen on your ears, nose, cheekbones, and back of your neck. Ride shirtless sparingly. In addition, you will stay cooler by allowing yourself to sweat under your shirt while remaining shaded.

After hours and hours of riding into a headwind with my tank top flapping madly in the breeze, my nipple was actually rubbed raw! This is something I never had considered. It may explain why road jerseys are so tight. For future tours I plan on using the little circular Band-Aids and taping my nips up. You laugh now, but this really hurt! On Day 3 it was bad enough that I couldn’t wear my shirt anymore, but my back was really sunburned so I couldn’t take my shirt off, so I had to pull the front of my shirt over my head and behind my neck to ward off more pain than I absolutely had to endure. Yeah, I looked retarded, but it worked.

Most importantly: Have fun. Take your time. Enjoy the sites. There is a whole other world waiting to be experienced as soon as you climb on a bike. Don’t get caught up in the numbers so much that it prevents you from taking photos, grabbing chow, or relaxing at a scenic view.

Day 1 – Ottawa, ON to Kingston, ON

Distance: 187.01 kilometers / 116.88 miles
Ride time: 14:00:00
Saddle time: 10:34:16
Average speed: 17.8 kmph / 11.13 mph

I had originally intended to get a 0700 start, but getting a full eight hours of sleep was a higher priority. I set my alarm for 0800, finished packing up my gear, and rolled out the door at 0930 and right into the rain. The sky was gloomy, the clouds ominous, the rain cold. Little did I know that, less than 100km later, I’d be hunched over in the mud and driving rain repairing a torn valve stem with my only spare. The outlook would be grim. It would seem I was in over my head. Unprepared. Maybe in some small way I was, but not near as much as I could have been.

Despite the fact that it was the coolest day we’d had for quite some time, I promptly worked up a ferocious sweat in the heavy humidity and waterproof rain gear. I put my head down, took commanding control over three feet of asphalt shoulder, and started cranking the pedals over. The sidewalks, streetlights, and convenience stores turned into farms, fields, and trees as far as the eye could see. I felt good. I felt strong. I felt right with my life again. More so than I had in months.

As I zigged and zagged across the Ontario countryside it became increasing obvious that a) it was damn good to be back on a bike again, and b) I was going to be a long ways from home by the time this trip was done. I tried to remember the next three road names in my head. The rain cover over my handlebar bag was a dark enough shade of yellow where I could only make out lines and curves of my map, but no details. Freshly printed off the internet, I was doing my best to keep it dry and readable the duration of the ride.

I rolled past quaint little farmhouses, sleepy main streets of towns barely appearing on maps, and cow after cow. The rain continued to spit and sputter as I constantly zipped and unzipped my rain gear in adjustment. I was hot, and sweat poured out the bottom of my sleeves and mixed with the rainwater on the highway. My hands slipped uncomfortably on the black rubber grips. I had two pair of cycling gloves in Brazil but this trip was bare bones. I knew it would be from the start. I debated taking my jacket off completely, but the wind still held a bite that I wasn’t ready to deal with quite yet. I shifted my brain a notch as well as my rear derailleur and spaced out while the kilometers ticked by.

County road 8 to county road 13 and back to county road 8. County road 8 to county road 13 and back to county road 8. I repeated it over and over in my head like a mantra as I pedaled through downtown Manotick and out the other side. County roads 13 and 8 overlapped slightly through town, but the split was obvious enough when I made a left turn, resumed my southwesterly direction, and continued on my way.

15 kilometers later country road 8 came to an abrupt end and I knew I had taken a wrong turn.

Lost!!

I referenced my map, already soaking up plenty of water through both the rain cover and map case, and plotted an alternate course that paralleled the original route. I finally intersected both courses in Merrickville…

Found!!

and the cyclometer showed me as only being 3 kilometers long from the diversion. I smiled to myself, thanked my brilliant navigational skills, and pressed on.

The rest of the day passed relatively uneventfully. The rain and clouds finally cleared late in the afternoon and left me in the dwindling sunlight. I stopped for a rest at about 2000, still 42 km from Kingston. The sun was almost set and I had just hit busy highway 15. As if warning me to keep my distance, an 18-wheeler blew past me, horn blowing, as nine of its wheels rolled well onto the shoulder of the road. I had been making good time and didn’t want to waste my precious daylight on detours and side roads. I made a quick evaluation of risk over reward and rolled slowly back onto the road.

Three more hours of riding, I told myself, but 138 km had taken its toll on my body and mind. When the last light faded I pulled gingerly off the side of the road, donned my reflective vest and long sleeve shirt, and concentrated on the long, white line in front of me. I never expected to ride the dark, but I was thankful I had the foresight to throw one in my pannier.

The night was black. There wasn’t a star in the sky. No clouds. No moon. Nothing. Only yard lights of farmhouses miles away and an endless stream of headlights on nearby Interstate 5.

I was bonking hard. At 2145 with two almost empty water bottles and an empty stomach rubbing against my spine, I spied an open convenience store. I dragged my weary bones into the chilly, air-conditioned shop, topped off my water bottles, and grabbed a few candy bars for the final push into Kingston. I stepped back outside into the humidity of the evening I had grown so accustomed to and sat on the curb, casually munching on my Snickers bar.

The overhead banks of florescent lights abruptly shut off as the night crew prepared to close down, and I was once again in the dark of the highway. I finished up my candy bar, a couple ding dongs, swigged down a few gulps of water and pedaled into the night.

The night grew colder. I was having a harder time staying warm despite the harder I pushed my bike across the Ontario countryside. Another hour and a half passed by…

Stayed tuned for the rest of the story, and more, when I return from the big tour at the end of September. Okay, so I haven’t finished it yet. But I’m making progress!

Dog tired in Kingston