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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.