Home At Last – Kinmount to Ottawa

One more block
The engine talks
Whispers 'Home at last"
Whispers "Home at last"

Tom Waits – "Diamonds on My Windshield"

Home at last. We have just finished a three day ride on Lady CoMo from the cottage to Ottawa and are shivering and exhausted. However, we are still talking to each other, and the ride was a success. Tomorrow I will draft the events of the trip, and focus on the uniqueness of the tandem. There are still things to learn in life ...

The ride from the cottage crosses a series of highlands including, at its height, the watershed between the great lakes and the Ottawa river. Mary had ridden it twice before, once in four days and once in three. We planned to ride it in two days this time, a distance of over 300 kilometers.

We left on Tuesday morning under cloudy skies cycling into a momentum-sucking headwind. That headwind stayed with us, one way or another, for the duration of the ride. Tandem or no tandem, a headwind is still a headwind.

We started gently, partly because we knew we had a lot of distance to cover, and partly getting used to the panniers. The terrain was constantly rising, so any downhill coasting was immediately repaid with interest by a yet another longer climb.

After 60 kilometers I knew I needed food. We were eating our trail food too quickly and it was not satisfying me, plus the weather was cool. At Cardiff they had a pot of cream of broccoli soup in the crock pot to warm the bones.

Roadside Stop Roadside Stop

Bancroft,about 20 Km past Cardiff, started as a logging and mining town; today it seems to thrive on the tourist trade. It is one of the few towns en route where you can be sure of finding both bed and food. It was slightly past noon when we rolled through the main intersection without stopping and pulled ourselves out on the long climb up from the York River.

The next 25 kms are mostly short, sharp hills, still climbing, with gradients a couple of percentages higher than the road we had come over. At MacArthurs Mills on the Mississippi River (not the famous Mississippi) I crashed. I had to eat. The restaurant in town burned down in January – the local menu consisted of milk, corn chips and a jar of salsa.

MacArthurs Mills MacArthurs Mills snack

I had not eaten properly for this ride. I started the day with a fried egg, had another hard boiled egg on the road, and a bowl of soup. Otherwise all we had was pack food.

Hardwood Lake is a major turn in the route. The road dives down into a deep valley and then, as with all descents, there is the mother of all climbs. I napped for 20 minutes at the turn to build my strength, but before we had finished the initial descent into the valley we both had decided that discretion was the better part of valour. We walked up Snake Creek hill. In hindsight, could we have made it? Another day with fresh legs and better conditioning, perhaps, but not that day.

Low Gear Low Gear

At Denbigh the venerable Swiss Inn has closed – it was our original intended stop for this leg of the route, but it had water troubles that could not be fixed so the owners have put it up for sale.

Five kilometers down highway 41 we stopped at Piper's Rest b&b (highly recommended). Were we tired? Our legs were like concrete, and unmentionable parts were chafed and sore. We had reached our objective, but the finish was a chore.

Over breakfast (lots of protein) Mary analyzed our riding. The ride had been tougher on both of us than if we had been cycling by ourselves, but we also had made better time. The difference, she said, was the hills. We were climbing the hills at my preferred cadence (80 – 90), where she could not make a real contribution. Consequently, she said, I was the one doing all the hill work. She had my attention. If we slowed the cadence down to, say, between 65 and 75 then she could really engage and I would not have to put in as much effort.

Lucky Charm Lucky Charm

The morning's ride let us test that little theory very soon. On a long climb of a couple of kilometers I geared accordingly, letting Mary do the work while I contributed as best I could. I'm not used to a slow cadence, but found that by concentrating on the upstroke I could use my hamstrings to effectively assist Mary's downstroke. It didn't feel like I was doing much, but overall it worked.

At Griffith we turned down the road to Black Donald Lake, going towards Calabogie. I will declare this the nicest cycling road in Ontario, even if it is rough and patchy in spots. It follows the Madawaska river and then twists between beautiful lakes in a serpentine, slithering path. There are just the right number of hills that are neither too short nor too long; those with steep gradients allow you to test yourself without beating you up. Traffic was almost non-existent, and the autumn leaves were just starting to hint at their fire. It was a gorgeous ride.

Madawaska River Madawaska River

We started experimenting with pedal strokes – right foot leading, left foot leading – and standing up on the hills. Standing didn't work very well, in part because of the panniers I think. We are agreed that we will work on this in Gatineau Park which is a standard cycling patch.

Autumn Fire Autumn Fire (on its way!)

The gears started slipping, or rather they weren't shifting as smoothly as they had the day before. Bertrand had warned us about this – because the cables are so long, they take time to stretch. So we will be bringing Lady CoMo in for some fine tuning in the next couple of days. But all in all, her mechanics were excellent.

Griffith to Black Donald Lake Griffith to Black Donald Lake

By early afternoon we rolled into Calabogie, the only town with both food and shelter until home, another 100+ kms away. We were on holidays; we didn't need to beat ourselves up. Besides, the Calabogie Lodge offered us a room at half price, so Lady CoMo spent the night on the balcony overlooking the lake and listening to the loons. We ordered in pizza for supper that night with massive amounts of meat on it – there would be no shortage of protein for the rest of the trip!

Lake Calabogie Lake Calabogie

Burnstown Burnstown

There are two possible routes out of Calabogie, one going south through the hills and the other east towards the flatter valley. We chose the latter in deference to our weary limbs. That still left 40 km of hills to make it to Pakenham with its pretty five-arch bridge (supposedly the only one of its kind in North America). We had sandwiches there, keeping half of one to take with us for the final leg home.

Pakenham Lunch Sandwiches to Go

Five Arch Bridge Five Arch Bridge

By now we were both saddle sore and coordinated our pedaling with a sequence of stands to let the blood circulate. We have arrived at a common vocabulary to synchronize our movements, and our mutual timings are becoming instinctive. But our tiredness was showing – pedal strokes sometimes became more disjointed as one or the other over-exerted.

Homeward bound Homeward bound

From Pakenham to Ottawa is about 70 km, most of it unexciting except for traffic. By the time we were in the city itself it was rush hour with drivers fast and furious on their way home. None of it was dangerous, but the noise and heat of the engines was unnerving. Our routines stood us in good stead for negotiating the starts and stops of traffic lights, stalled cars and frustrated drivers. It was a relief to finally pull into our driveway, come to the final 3-2-1-Down, look at each other, and realize we had really enjoyed ourselves.

6 comments on “Home At Last – Kinmount to Ottawa”

  1. Patrick wrote:

    I'm starting to see how a tandem makes sense in this environment, cruising the distances on the open highway – you might as well. Better, even. Why ride on separate machines when you can float through the wilderness together? This is working out well.

    Natural wilderness is a thing we have very little of in the British Isles, if any at all. Even the Scottish Highlands are mostly man-made (if you know what I mean). The stone bridge and general store could almost be English but your account highlights the tenuous hold that some settlements have on the natural earth. This struck me when I lived in Australia. The primeval bush is never far away, pristine, untouched. I'm envious of this in some ways – your massive forests – but I guess it takes more nerve to make the trip.

    Mary has mastered the Garmin I see 😎

  2. Hilary wrote:

    I suppose there is always a trade off between beautiful wild scenery and somewhere to buy food! I enjoyed your post Kern, its certainly a very different and more demanding business than cycling on the Isle of Wight! I'm glad the tandem is working out well, its a beautiful machine. Interested to read how you had to adjust your cadence for hill climbing. There is obviously even more teamwork involved in tandem riding than I realised. I always see cycling as rider and machine in perfect harmony, 2 riders and machine in perfect harmony must be quite tricky to achieve!

  3. Mary wrote:

    You have done so well in such a short time span. I know how hard it is! I was VERY impressed with your 100km day too. Funnily enough, its cadence that causes our tandem hassles too. Chas likes a slow cadence, but a big gear so its hard effort for me. Wheres I like a high cadence, but he finds it tiring.

    A case of finding a midway point somewhere.

    Did your rear ends improve? I find sitting all the time on the tandem also causes more sit bone pain as we have not learnt the art of standing up hill yet... getting there tho'.

    Loved your trip notes, and that bridge is very English! Infact the grocery store could have been in Yorkshire with that stone cladding.

  4. Chris wrote:

    It's good to read that you are getting it together on your CoMotion. I enjoyed your photographs and viewing the details of your Garmin tracks. You made good time for such a hilly route, especially on that first day. Ooh, a Garmin 800 – are you thinking of writing a review by any chance? Cute top tube bags, btw 🙂

  5. Kern wrote:

    The sit bones are ... well, saddle time is still saddle time. We will work on standing the next time we head up to the hills in Gatineau Park. Eventually it will all come together (for our mutual benefit :)).

    The Garmin: I did not get the Garmin for Mary's birthday; Mary had found her charm by then so all other gifts went by the wayside. I knew I did not want a 7xx based on Mick F's feedback and all the trouble synchronizing. (Mick's comment regarding "is it about the ride or the rider" stayed with me.) However we did need a computer, so we decided on the 800 which, by the way, I would recommend highly based on our limited experience. We mounted it on the stoker's handlebars because it gives Mary something to look at while pedaling. She likes to monitor our gradient and lets me know the speed or cadence when I ask. It is very intuitive in its touch screen menu, and even we were able to synchronize with connect.garmin.com. We have not tried maps or waypoints yet, though.

    Yes, teamwork and cadence are a learning experience. Compromise (on both parts) is definitely an asset. If one starts out expecting to be disappointed it only gets better :). (When we first had kids I decided I would consider myself to have been a successful parent if all my children reached the age of 21, alive and not incarcerated for a capital offence. Full marks to me!!)

    Did you cycle in Australia, Patrick? It is one of those wish list destinations that will likely never happen. I would think think the heat would be too great for us.

    You know, it's interesting to read the "wilderness" comments. We love Europe because everything is so close and so civilized (very cycling-friendly). I guess the grass is always greener ...

  6. Patrick wrote:

    For saddle discomfort: when cycling any distance I use Assos Creme (a generous splodge down under). It seems to help, and it's clean: non-greasy and almost no trace afterwards.

    The real Down Under... I didn't cycle much. As you say Kern: too hot, and limited in places to ride safely. No bridleways as we have in the UK. British grass is certainly green LOL. Australian grass – what there is of it – grows only in winter.

    (But what a place – if one can forget cycling it is truly gorgeous)

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