Tuesday, July 27, 2010

LOL 1000k - New York and Canada

L.O.L. = Lap of Lake. The lake in question being Lake Ontario. The distance required to make it all the way around through New York State and Canada is 624 miles.
Jon and Al lead two Canadian riders on the Sea Way Train in New York State
Al and myself on day one.  It's starting to get hot.

This ride, indented to be the pinnacle of my 2010 season, has been on my calendar for about nine months. I registered at the first call, along with about fifty other riders. My friends Paul and Jon signed up as well. Unfortunately, as the date drew near Paul needed to withdraw with a stomach ailment. Although, he would be missed Jon was still intending to go, so I would have company. In addition, Jon had completed the route the prior year when it was run by the Ontario Randonneurs. His experience with the ride would prove invaluable.

The event was being organized as an unsupported ride. This meant that amenities, such as drop bags, or provided food and sleep stops would not be part of the organizers responsibility. This left the onus on the riders to figure out where to eat, sleep and to manage all their own gear. The extra planning was substantial. I did not feel that I could carry everything I needed on my bike for three days, despite equipping my Salsa Casserole with a handlebar bag and rear pack. My wife Lucy would be driving up to the ride start with me, then going off to do some sightseeing in the Niagara Falls area. I convinced her to visit Toronto as well and stay overnight while we would be passing though there. She would stay at the hotel with me on night two of the ride having any gear I needed with her. As for the hotel on night one I sent a package from home with the things I would need. A return envelope inside the package would allow me to ship anything I needed to get rid of back home. The plan was workable but very burdensome to organize. I envied my friend Jon who just decided to travel light, taking only what he could fit in the rear pack of his bike. Although, I did convince him to give a small overnight bag to Lucy to be taken to the hotel on night two.

With the logistics handled I was then able to concentrate on the ride itself. The start was in Ontario NY, which is a small town on the lake just east of Rochester. A very civilized start time was scheduled for 6am. We stayed over the night before at a hotel in the neighboring town of Webster. Jon drove up separately from New York City and met us at the hotel in time for dinner. We ate at a very nice Italian place a few minutes from the hotel, seeing other Randonneurs there as well. After dinner we drove over to Abbot's for frozen custard. After the refreshing respite we returned to the hotel for a good nights sleep. Jon would drive me to the start in the morning allowing Lucy to sleep in. After a somewhat restless night of sleep I meet Jon at 5am for the drive to the start. The location of which is at the RBA's home on the lake. A breakfast of bagels and coffee was promised starting at 5am. We would be in time to partake in a little food before starting out. Much to our surprise when we arrived we were greeted by a lady bag piper with full outfit. Quite unique to say the least. With breakfast in hand we moved to the road for the start.
Organizer Pete Duesel ready at the start

Day # 1 Lap of Lake

After a few last minute announcements from RBA Pete Duesel the group was off at 6am sharp. There were 50 starters in all. Several I recognized from our New Jersey brevet series. For most of the journey along the New York side of the lake we would follow what is known as the Sea Way Trail. The trail is actually just roads that are as close to the lake as possible offering many nice views along the way. The great thing is there are signs that clearly mark the way, so for much of the ride the cue sheet isn't needed. However there are a couple of spots where we use different roads so one must pay some heed to the sheet. The trail starts out as rolling terrain. Nothing particularly steep but fairly constant. We are rolling along with many other riders at about 20mph with a light tailwind. I am noticing that it is on the humid side and temperature predictions are for the mid-nineties. The thought of a hot humid day puts a bit of a knot in my stomach. We are scheduled for 400k today before taking a sleep break in Belleville, Ontario. After a few miles I come across a rider I've seen before. Al, from the DC area, recognized me from the 600k I attempted there back in early June. We both dropped out from the heat at around the same spot. He rides along with us as we chat about all things Rando. Soon we reach the first control at Oswego, NY stopping for a quick break. Oswego is about 60 miles into the ride.  So far we've made good time to here. We are ahead of the time I anticipated. This was a good thing because it was getting quite hot now, surely we were going to slow down at some point.
Jon and Al cycle by Lake near Cape Vincent, NY

After a brief rest we continue on towards the next control which is Cape Vincent, NY. Al has decided to continue riding with us. It is really heating up now. I had placed a small thermometer on my bike, it was registering well over 100 degrees. This was not the actual air temperature but rather the effect of the intense sunshine beating on it. The sun was also beating on the top of our heads with the same intensity. I made a note to use the ice sock I had packed at the next opportunity. There is no longer any doubt this was to be a long hot day. The terrain of the Sea Way trail remained about the same if not maybe a bit flatter on this 75 mile stretch. We manage a nice pace as the tail wind is still helping us. About half way to the control we spot a deli/grocery and decide to replenish our water supply. There are a lot of other riders stopped here and everyone appears to be suffering from the heat. I buy water and a bag of ice. The time has come for the magic of the ice sock. We spend about twenty minutes icing up water bottles, camelbaks and socks. We continue on with the ice cold socks around our necks. We get back into a good rhythm making good time despite the heat. My thermometer climbs to the ridiculous temperature of 111 degrees which is obviously somewhat hotter than the real temperature. I take a photo of it just the same as I've never seen it this high. We arrive at the control smoothly and in good time. There is a support vehicle there provided by the ride organizer with water. The driver Marcia reports several DNF's already. This does little to buoy my spirits. After refreshing water, sustained energy and replacing the ice filled sock around my neck we are off to the next stop - Canada.

Like us my bike thermometer is getting way too much sun.
After about twenty miles we approach the first of two bridge crossings. The bridge has the narrowest pedestrian walkway I've ever encountered. At the highest point, which is the suspension portion of the span, the path is so narrow it is nearly impossible to walk alongside the bike. I was bumped and bruised from banging into the metal rails of the bridge. The view of the St Lawrence River and the thousand islands was breathtaking, but the torture of the walkway had me focused solely on getting off the bridge as soon as possible. After the span is crossed the Canadian border is reached and we must pass through customs in the vehicle lane. The process goes smoothly with just the presentation of my passport and the answering of a few questions. The customs official is even nice enough to sign my brevet card as the border was designated as a control. After about two miles the second bridge appears with the same type of quirky walkway. It is equally torturous to cross. In addition, I notice at the top of the span the bridge bounces wildly up and down when trucks roll by. Not highly recommended for those with bridge phobias. Fortunately, I've yet to suffer from that affliction.
Jon takes our photo on the Thousand Islands Bridge.  Notice the narrow walkway.

Jon cycling on Canadian side of the lake on hot day #1.  The advertised boat ride looks inviting.
Once on Canadian soil we resume normal riding. The three of us pace line along the Thousand Islands Parkway to the town of Gananouque. Once there we decide we should have a decent meal since we've only had snack foods so far. We stop at a casual restaurant hoping they wont mind having some hot sweaty cyclists for dinner. My first experience with Canadian hospitality is a good one as we are welcomed and treated like royalty. As we are eating two other riders, Renato and Brian, come in and occupy a table next to us. They are from Canada and Renato has completed this ride last year with Jon. We all devour our food while conversing between bites. Upon leaving we don our reflective gear preparing for the long night ahead. Our current ride plan has us arriving at the sleep stop in the wee hours of the morning. Our next stop is an information control in Millhaven. On the route to there we pass by the town of Kingston, and the Glenora Ferry, which was part of the course when the ride started in Canada. Once past the information control we have 42 miles remaining to the sleep stop. I am looking forward to it immensely as I desperately need a shower and some sleep. We keep a steady pace and arrive in Belleville and the Clarion Inn. Both Al and I have packages, sent from home, waiting for us. It is now after 3am.  We all agree to meet for breakfast at 7:30 for an 8am departure.

Day # 2 Lap of Lake

It's a warm overcast morning as we depart from the hotel 1/2 hour behind schedule at 8:30am. The weather forecast called for showers for at least part of the day. The gathering clouds would seem to bear that out. As we pedal through the town of Belleville a female rider appears on my left. In talking to her I discover her name is Michelle, from Rochester, NY.  She is riding the LOL. having slept at the town of Napanee 25 miles back. Her three riding companions have all dropped out. We invite her to ride with us and she falls into step seemingly happy for the company. Our next control is in Bowmanville 75 miles away. We make it about half way before the rain begins. It's gentle at first but soon it's really pouring. We arrive at the town of Bowmanville totally soaked. Upon locating a restaurant with some bikes parked outside we decide to eat there. We enter the establishment dripping wet. The staff couldn't have been any nicer. They showed us to a table and immediately brought us towels to dry off with. After enjoying a nice lunch our waitress refreshed our water bottles with ice water. It was a great stop. Upon leaving the rain had stopped, at least for the time being Our next stop was Stouffille about forty miles away. The terrain is a bit more hilly today as we move away from the lake shore for the purpose of avoiding the city of Toronto. I welcome the hills which are not really too challenging, even though they slow our progress some. We have two flats on this stretch, one for me and one for Al causing us to lose some more time. When we arrive in Stouffile we are behind schedule. Peter the RBA is there along with Marcia and the support vehicle. We fill our water bottles from the vehicle and have a bite to eat at the restaurant. After a quick meal we depart for the next stop in Erin Mills a suburb of Toronto. We are outfitted with night gear since it will get dark along the way. There is more climbing on this section as well. It is pleasant enough but it does slow us up some. Plan #B called for us to arrive at the control around mid-night. It appears we would not make it on time. We arrive at the Tim Horton's at around 2:30am in desperate need of some refreshment. Coffee and muffins go down smoothly for me. With only 21 miles left to the sleep stop I feel confident we will make it in.

Endless rolling hills in Canada
Leaving the control we are quickly out of the suburban environment into much more rural surroundings. The heavily wooded area has no traffic to speak of and some moderate hills. At some point Jon and I found ourselves ahead of Al and Michelle. We had not noticed at first assuming they were just a short ways back. A very loud pick up truck, possibly the only vehicle we have seen for miles, pulls up alongside and asks me if I want to know where our friends are. He says he encountered them and they are lost. He actually offers to drive back to find them and direct them to our location. Jon and I stay put while he takes off in search of our companions. The truck is so load we can hear him driving around seemingly miles away. We then hear him returning. He reports he was successful and our friends will be here soon. He stays and chats with us while we are waiting. After about ten minutes the two are back with us. Our new friend in the pick-up wishes us well and drives off. We have about 8 miles to go to the hotel. Michelle says she is very tired and may have to sleep now. With hotel rooms waiting it seems extremely unappealing to sleep on the side of the road. I convince her to keep riding and to talk with us to stay awake. We move on, albeit ever so slowly. We arrive at the hotel at 5:30am, two and half hours beyond our plan. We all agree on a 9am start time. I get to my room and find Lucy sleeping peacefully in one of the beds. I organize my gear for the next day, shower and lay down for about two hours of sleep. I'm hoping it is enough to see me through.

Day #3 Lap of Lake
Climbing the escarpment to the top of the falls. 

A passing tourist takes a photo of the four of us in front of Niagara Falls (Canada)
Jon and I find ourselves alone in front of the hotel at 9am sharp. Al and Michelle arrive a few minutes later. We start off to a humid sunny morning. It has the feel of another hot day. We wind our way out of the city of Burlington and follow a service road alongside the Queen Elizabeth Expressway for about thirty miles. The roadway is cycling friendly but exposed to the sun and there is much traffic noise from the highway just overhead. We decide on a breakfast stop at 32 miles into the leg. Our first official control is the US Border 65 miles from the hotel. We all enjoy the break at the Tim Horton's and run into the omnipresent Pete and Marcia on our way out. We return to the service road, but only briefly, before we are directed elsewhere. The riding becomes more pleasant as we work our way back to the lake. We pass through Niagara on the Lake which is an agricultural area seemingly built up for tourism. We stop at one of the many farm stands to buy fresh peaches and blueberries. After all the processed foods the fresh fruit is a nice treat. Moving on we close in on Niagara Falls where there is a good size climb known as the escarpment.  At the top we are at the touristy area of the falls. We stop at one of the overlooks for a photo of the impressive view. We move on through thongs of tourists to the bridge which brings us to the NY side of the falls and to customs. We smoothly get through the process with the answering a few questions.
Niagara Falls New York is not nearly as nice as the Canadian side. In fact the surrounding area is quite seedy. We decide to ride right through until we find a more desirable location for lunch. We are directed back to the Seaway Trail which leads us to a small town with a Subway and convenience market suitable for our purposes. After a rather long break we get back on the road following the Seaway Trail. We are now in orchard country passing by countless trees of peaches and other fruits. The tail wind allows us to keep a steady pace with minimal effort. With over 500 miles in my legs I'm pleased and surprised to be able to ride so efficiently. Soon we find ourselves at the control in Olcott, NY. Many riders are here some coming out of restaurants having enjoyed a nice meal. We opt to refresh water and get back on the road. Our target finish time, according to plan # B, is mid-night. It's clear to me this is no longer possible, but I am in favor of mitigating further time erosion.

Chowing down at Charlotte close to the end.  I'm using my I-pod to stay awake
Upon leaving Olcott we continue on the Sea Way trail for 24 miles to a rather large state park. We stop briefly to put on night gear as darkness will be upon us soon. Leaving the park we are directed up an entrance ramp to the Ontario Parkway which is a divided super highway. Fortunately, the traffic is extremely light, but when cars do pass by it is quite a rush. I for one am not used to being passed at such high speed. To make matters worse there are some sections of very poor road surface. For most of the way the shoulder was unusable. The brain adapts quickly to the situation and I find myself enjoying the road as darkness falls. We stay on the highway for about 30 miles. Jon and I get ahead of Al and Michelle and we pass a large group of about ten riders just before exiting the highway. The control is just a couple of miles after the exit. We arrive in the center of Charlotte, which is a Rochester suburb, a little after midnight. The place is alive with activity, mostly from a biker bar with live music blasting from it. Across the street we spot a hot dog place. Fortunately, the menu is a bit more extensive than I would have thought. I opt for a veggie wrap which is actually not bad at all. Al and Michelle arrive while we are eating. The timing works out for us all to leave together for the last leg of 28 miles. The temperature has dropped considerably and arm warmers and leg warmers are in order.

Much of the remaining route is through the city of Rochester. Quite the party town it would appear as every car passing us by has someone yell out the window. Mostly those doing the yelling are voicing some form of objection to our mode of transportation. I simply put the blinders on ignoring any and all verbal assaults. Michelle who is from the town comes alive in the hilly terrain. It is all I can do to stay with her. After a fast descent Al has a flat on the rear. We pull into a bar parking lot for the repair. Peter and Marcia miraculously appear with the support wagon. A bar patron enjoying some fresh air outside the bar asks about 100 questions. Al and I focus on the repair while all the others deal with him. With the tire repair complete we resume riding through the city following the Sea Way Trail to Pete's house. The speed of our little group increases as we get closer. The last mile seems to be an all out sprint to the finish. We reach the driveway to the house, which is gravel, and gently ride in to the sound of applause. Lucy is there waiting for me. It is about 2:30am, more than two hours beyond the predicted finish of Plan #B. Truth is...I really don't care. I'm happy to be done.  Final result: 68hrs 32min.
Jon and I at the finish.  I can't believe we're really done.

I was too tired at the finish to know exactly what I was feeling. After a number of hours of quality sleep I awoke to sheer elation. The memory of the last three days was etched in my mind. As thoughts of the ride popped into my head I couldn't help but smile. To say it was fun would be putting it mildly. The ride was a total blast. I would do it again in a heartbeat. There was just the right mixture of challenge and adventure. We caught it lucky that there were not dire winds, as was the case in prior years. The climbing was on the mild side. Most of it being concentrated on the second day. Despite the hot first day, and the rainy spell the next day, the weather was manageable. The organizer and crew did an admirable job. We were promised no support at all, yet Peter and Marcia seemed to be everywhere providing whatever was needed, for which I am grateful.

A special thanks to my buddy Jon for all his knowledge, experience, encouragement and companionship during those three days. Also, thanks to Al and Michelle for the many hours of lighthearted conversation and humor.  The time passed quickly thanks to the excellent company.

1 comment:

  1. Joe,

    Very nice report and great job on the ride. I really envy you guys. Maybe I'll try that ride myself down the road.