Rideau Lakes Cycling Tour 2011
When two Ottawa cyclists meet at a stop light, the Rideau Lakes Cycling Tour (RLCT) is probably the third most common topic of conversation (“great day”, “how far?”, “riding the Tour this year?”). It is the classic ride of the region, run by the Ottawa Bicycle Club on the first weekend in June. Because it is early in the riding season (by Ottawa standards) it is considered a serious challenge.
There are four routes on the tour: the Classic, the Century, the Cruise, and the Challenge. We signed up in February for the Classic, a ride of 177 km from Ottawa to Kingston, returning the next day.
This was our third RLTC. Our first was the Century of a 100km that starts from Perth. The second was the Classic which we did not complete two years ago (we were rained out).
Training was an issue. We took a week to ride in late April when our limbs were still stiff, and neither our distances nor speed were stellar. I had extended my daily commute to double its usual distance, but Mary’s training was mostly indoors on the spin bike. Two weeks before the date I was concerned about her ability to do the ride, and voiced my thoughts. Let’s just say it prompted some discussion.
It was Friday night going to bed when Mary finally made her decision. She was going to ride the Classic. We agreed I would ride down to Carleton University to check in our panniers, and she would leave directly from home. We would rendezvous in Perth, 77 km into the ride.
Sliced vegetables, fruit, hummus, Lara bars, my mother’s fruitcake (made by Mary and better than my mother’s, but don’t tell her that), mixed fruit and nuts, a slice of bread, duck rillettes, and Garden Cocktail – this was our “lunch”.
Saturday morning was as nice as you could ask for. The sun shone and there was a gentle east wind to back us for the first half of the ride. The check-in was remarkably efficient. I walked up to a booth with our numbers (1740 and 1741), was handed two bibs and two luggage tags for our bags, and placed the bags in the appointed spot. No muss, no fuss. By 6:45 am I was on the road heading west.
There were scattered riders rolling out of the city. I found myself in the middle of a peloton at one point; they were moving at a fair clip and it took all my concentration to maintain position in their midst. They dropped me at a turn and I was on my own again.
I didn’t mind riding solo. It was a good way to start – I was able to stretch out and push myself, not that that means very much. Between the sun, the breeze and a scattering of riders it was a beautiful morning.
About 30 km out a group of four pulled up on me – I picked up my pace to match theirs. Dan, their leader, asked whether I was with the group ahead or the one behind. “Neither, so I guess I’m with you.” I did my duty at the front for about 10 km and then rotated to the back. For another 30 km I stayed with them, rolling between 30 and 37 kph. They were relentless. “It’s always like this,” said one of the guys at the back, talking about the leader. ”No rest – he doesn’t give a sh*t.” When the pavement turned rough I had to ease back and dropped off.
It was literally 50 meters from the turnoff to the Perth rest stop when I pulled up behind Mary. She had made excellent time herself – we were off to a good start. Among the throng we admired a Co-Motion tandem (we are in the midst of ordering one for ourselves) – it looks like a beautiful machine
The first 90 km of the RLCT route is almost flat and then highway 10 makes a 90 degree turn south. From this point onwards it is all rolling hills. For about 30 km there are no towns or services, just mile after mile of mostly-cracked pavement.
Quite a number of groups support the ride each year. The local amateur radio club stations members every 10 km or so, using ham radios to report and monitor on people’s condition, and to dispense water. Motorcycle cruisers from the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) keep an eye on things and control traffic at busy intersections (cyclists get priority). A bike mechanic from Kunstadt Sports runs a van along the route to help with minor repairs.
By Westport we were ready for a popsicle from the local gas station. Sixty more kilometers to go. Mary’s feet were burning by now – she needed to get out of her shoes every hour for about five minutes.
The afternoon was gentle to us. A cross breeze kept us cool and a cloud cover blew over by the time we hit Kingston. We were late, but we were not the last arrivals by any means. Our luggage, room keys, and tee-shirts were waiting for us at Queen’s University. I must say, the OBC does a superb job of organizing this ride. One of its marvels is that the logistics operate on an honour system. I suppose one could walk off with someone else’s luggage but I have never heard of it.
Between the time we arrived and stepped out to dinner the skies opened and spilled rain. Luck was with us – we were dry.
The evening meal in the Queen’s cafeteria was … well, it’s been a long time since we’ve eaten at a university. The noise was deafening and the food was industrial. However, what was missing in flavour was made up in quantity, and a hungry cyclist is not particular.
We could have gone to bed at 7:00 pm but decided it was too early, so we wandered downtown for a glass of wine and a cheese plate. Kingston is a charming, colonial-era town with lots of solid brick and Georgian architecture. It was strategic politically, commercially and militarily in the mid-1800’s, and it has never forgotten it. The lawns absolutely ooze gentrified snobbery.
Next morning we were up at 4:45 and in the dining hall before 5:30 for more industrial forage. The scrambled eggs could have been used to make tyres. However, bulk is bulk, and we had a long day ahead of us. Chains were waxed, tyres pumped (the bikes slept with us in the room). Room keys and luggage were dropped off (more honour system). We were rolling before 6:30.
Again the weather held. There was a light mist in the air and the breeze had shifted from the south – just perfect! The road from Kingston rises up through gentle rolling hills to Inverary, and then down through rolling hills to Westport. This is lake country, where cottages are within easy striking distance of either Kingston or Ottawa. The Rideau Canal was constructed along this network of waterways in the 1830’s as a means to transport troops quickly from Ottawa to Kingston in case of military attack by those dastardly Americans. Fortunately it has never been used for its original purpose.
Westport hill. Everyone talks about Westport hill. It is the one serious climb of the whole ride but, to be honest, its bark is worse than its bite. The first 50 meters or so are tough, but after that it’s just long. Once you’ve made it to the top it looks easy.
And then we were in the “dead zone”. This is the stretch of about 30 km that seems to suck all the energy out of you. It’s not that it’s tough riding (more rolling hills), I think it’s just the psychology that hits home. We slowed down here, almost to a crawl. More and more riders passed us. The slower we went, the longer it took. The “dead zone”.
And then we were through it. We hit the corner were the highway turns from north to east, and we were flying. Mary (who leads) starting hitting the pedals and it seemed we were flying all the way to Perth.
Perth is a major rest stop on the route. The local Kiwana’s service club had cookies and sandwiches for sale; water, juices and Gatorade were available for the asking. All riders were looking tired.
Mary set the pace heading out of Perth. By now the Testosterone groups (which included women) had all passed. The only riders left were those like us, the casuals.
The wind was still kind, the landscape was smooth, road surfaces were reasonable. The radio operators were calling out statuses up and down the line, monitoring stragglers and shutting down the network as the last riders went by. There were regular stops to rest Mary’s feet, and at Ashton there was even a steamed hot dog!
Home stretch. Mary was plugged in. At times we cruised at 25 kph, and at times we hit a blistering 38 kph. Feet were sore, muscles were sore, unmentionable parts were sore. We actually passed a few riders.
The final road leading into Ottawa is Hunt Club, were I have watched RLCT riders returning in years past. There was deep satisfaction in hurtling down the same road this year, knowing we were among those riders (inner glow).
Later that evening Mary asked, “So how was my riding?” “Fine,” I replied. I’m no fool. I had seen her blisters, her sores, and raw skin. “No, seriously. If you don’t tell me then I can’t improve.” Well, okay. I told her she needs to handle hills more efficiently (climbing and descending) and she has to learn how to draft properly. I won’t bore you with what followed. Finally she said, “Well, you know what I think about your riding? The way you ride is boring.” So there. The tandem should be interesting.