Cycling is now the fourth most popular non-team sport in the country. Of those who actively participate (you have to sweat to qualify) in a sport activity, there are about an equal percentage of both men and women. This is a sport which includes exercise and the possibility of a bit of romance.
I have done or participated in many sports over my long life and now rank cycling among one of the best. It causes fewer knee and leg problems than most other sports. The motions are mostly smooth with no heavy pounding on dirt or pavement. Racers may have a different perspective than I have.
This is the great adventure that I have just completed.
Along with 250 others and at least 50 volunteers, I pedaled 720 km from Niagara-on-the-Lake to the Quebec border. It was not a race. The trip lasted eight days and traversed 41 communities. Camping was provided at the end of each day as part of the registration fee but riders could also choose to stay at hotels and B&Bs along the way. I camped.
A large truck carried all the heavy stuff (tents, towels, shirts, etc) from one destination to the next. All we had to carry were water bottles and some energy food. A few vans brought supplies to use along the route or to carry cyclists who felt that they had pedaled enough for that day. That latter was an easy option and with no questions asked. The volunteers, who pedaled or drove the entire distance, were always there to check whether everything was all right. I felt safe at all times.
The Waterfront Trail runs along the edges of Canadian shores of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. The trial is still evolving and at present runs along beautiful bicycle paths and mostly low-traffic roads. The trail actually runs right in front of my house. Last year, I saw 250 happy people cycle by as I sat on my front porch. I thought that if they could do it, then why not me? And I did.
Was it easy? I probably worked harder than some others as I am a bit (??) overweight and have been cycling seriously for only three months. The tour literature suggested that we pedal about 1,000 km to get ready for the tour. I did 850 km. As an encouragement, my son Eric actually paid for most of my new bike. In life, roles often tend to reverse themselves.
The first day was the toughest. The prevailing winds were in my face from the beginning point until I got to Burlington. This was a day when the temperatures were in the mid 30s and the humidity was in the low 40s. Advisories were out for you regular folks to stay in air conditioned spaces. I and 250 others pedaled on.
This first day provided a taste of what was to come over the eight days. This included some tenderness in those body parts that reside on or near the seat. I also learned a valuable lesson on that first day. If you think you are a bit slower than the rest of the crowd, it is best to start near the front or at least in the middle of the pack at the beginning of the day. On that first day, I started near the back and was often surrounded by friendly red shirts (technically called volunteer sweepers) that were there to make sure that no one, including me was left behind or lost forever.
I started earlier for the rest of the tour and let other people past … the cyclist warning passing on the left is now embedded in my brain forever. There were rest stops about every 10 to 15 km along the route. These stops were provided by enthusiastic local communities and organizations. We were given water, energy drinks, veggies, fruits and lots of information about their communities. This was done at 41 places along the trial. The Mayor of South Glengarry, Jim McDonell was the official tour ambassador and he and his wife Maggie collected community pins as they pedaled along the trail with the rest of us.
That first evening was great. I put up my tent and talked to many other cyclists about the day. I made many new friends. I was also in the company of my older but fitter brother Hervė and his wife Ursula. It was wonderful to talk to so many other enthusiastic people who had at least one thing in common and that was cycling. Typically, the campgrounds were silent by about 10 pm, or when the mosquitoes came out, whichever came first. I slept better than I do at home. I thank Mike for letting me use his pump for my air mattress.
Everyone was well fed during the trip. Many purchased a meal plan as part of the tour while others provided for themselves. I actually gained two pounds, in spite of all the burnt calories.
The second day covered 105 km from Hamilton to Pickering. The wind was now at my back and my pace increased. The day included a stop at Ontario Place in Toronto. The hardest part was pedaling through the Scarborough Bluffs area, which included several hill climbs.
In Pickering, we stayed at the Town Centre with access to showers and the recreation centre. A local bike shop was set up on the site. A top selling product for new cyclists like me was Chamios Butt’r a cream which provides protection for those increasingly sensitive body parts that reside near the bike seat. I recommend it or something similar. I encourage you to use it even if it makes you the butt of your friend’s jokes … the reality is that non-users ended up being the sore losers.
The next day I pedaled 105 km to Cobourg. Not only was I really beginning to enjoy all of this cycling but I was challenged to do the hills near Port Hope. I did them all (some by walking rather than pedaling my bike) and thus was the recipient of a free beer at a restaurant that evening. Thank you to my new friends Marg and Andy.
The next day was my favourite. I biked the 120 km to Picton. The trials were nicer and I was getting into the zone. For me, being in the zone means that I am consumed by the here and now and nothing else. It is a great feeling. After the evening meal, I even danced to a few old tunes. Yes, I danced after all those km on the road. At 10 pm that evening, and most evenings thereafter, some fellow cyclist in a distant tent played a short tune on a flute. This was a soothing signal for the end of the day. I thank this unnamed flutist.
Another 120 km through the 1,000 Islands the next day, followed by a swim at Ivy Lea Park. Day six was only 80 km to Johnstown and another swim. I think it is a very good sign when I can honestly put the word only in front of 80 km. A few months earlier 20 km was a struggle.
Day seven took me all the way to Cornwall. The day had some of the best scenery with terrific pathways from Upper Canada Village to Cornwall. There were signs of an approaching rainstorm as I pedaled through Cornwall. Since I live only 15 km beyond Cornwall, I decided to try to get home before the storm. I did not make it in one try. It suddenly started to pour and so I hid under a tree. A couple in a nearby garage yelled that I should come in out of the rain. I accepted the invitation and ended up watching the storm inside the garage while enjoying some liquid refreshments. Thank you to the Campeau family. I did get home a few minutes later.
This left only 30 km for the eight and final day. The mood was fantastic as everyone knew this was the final stretch in a long journey. This last bit covered the South Glengarry route that I pedaled many times during my practice runs. It now seemed so easy compared to just a few months earlier. And I saw the scenery as being even more beautiful than ever before. We arrived at the Quebec border to cheering, clapping and singing. We all received a medal made out of recycled links of a bicycle chain. Pizza and dessert followed. There were lots of hugs and promises to meet again.
Am I glad I did it? YES. Will I do it again next year? MAYBE. Do I recommend it to others? YES. It is a once in a lifetime experience that should not be missed. I am #145 in the picture.
Check the Waterfront Trail website for more information. http://www.waterfronttrail.org/gwta_web/
Roger Sauvé is President of People Patterns Consulting (www.peoplepatternsconsulting.com). Roger is an economist and demographer and lives in Summerstown Ontario.