Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Ride report: CVRM 300km Brevet

After really enjoying my 200km brevet with the CVRM in early June and finishing with lots of time to spare I decided to give the 300 a try last Saturday. My main goal was to finish and since it was Nicole's birthday the next day the secondary goal was to get home before midnight.
At the start
I got up at 4:35, slurped down my oatmeal, and left the house at 5:15, well in time for the 6 o'clock start. With 9 riders (one more would catch up with us later) we got going right on time, heading for Chambly. I started out riding with Clement and one rider whose name I forgot but soon decided to catch up with the riders slightly ahead of us, Serge and Raymond. This turned out to be a good decision and I would stay with them for quite some time. The first controle was a gas station in Saint-Césaire after about 55km, and during our quick stop the whole group regrouped again.
Route Verte near Granby

We continued east towards Granby where Raymond (who Serge described to me as "the human GPS") took us on a detour on the Route Verte 1. This was slightly longer but much more scenic and quiet than the original route. Ten kilometers past Granby we changed our general direction, now heading south. This should be the beginning of the hilly part of our ride which continued for the next 100km. Initially, I was doing fine on the rollling hills, yet our pace was fast and the closer we got to the second controle in Lac Brome the more tired I felt.

Second controle in Lac Brome
Awesome scenery
Rest, V8, a coke, and two Clif Bars got me back into shape, however, and we continued. The dark clouds and showers that we had observed all throughout the ride now finally reached us, and for about 20 km we rode through heavy rain. Since it was still very warm and I was wearing my wool jersey I didn't bother putting on any extra clothes. Riding in the rain without fenders is something I haven't done in years but I wasn't as bad as expected, and eventually the sun came out again. In a little village near the Vermont border (Mansonville?) we stopped at a gas station for a final refuel before the big climb of the ride. Jean and Olivier passed us there while Martin decided to stop, too, and continue with us. The route was still very scenic, following a river between the sizable hills of the Eastern Townships. After about 160 km it was then time to leave the valley and tackle the climb on Scenic Drive. The climb, while being the biggest on the ride, is not all that bad with less than 200m of elevation change and a doable gradient. Nonetheless, I quickly fell behind Serge and Raymond, and Martin also slowly disappeared ahead. On top of the hill I took a quick stop to get out my camera and then it was all downhill. Martin fortunately waited at the next intersection which I otherwise probably would have missed. The descent was smooth, steep, and awesome, and I got up to over 70 km/h. For the following ten kilometers to the third controle I decided to take it easy, enjoy the scenery and take some pictures.

I made it up Scenic Drive
Getting ready for the downhill on Scenic Drive
Controle in Sutton. Yes, that big bottle of V8 is mine
The picturesque town of Sutton was buzzing with St. Jean-Baptiste/Canada Day celebrations. The controle was at a supermarket on the outskirts of town, and the rest was very welcome. I devoured a bunch of crackers, a liter of V8, and a cup of coffee. Freshly nourished our group of 6 riders got going again, now headed north and into the wind. Serge had stop after about 5km for what I think was a mechanical, and Raymond and Olivier stopped with him while Martin, Jean, and me continued on. For the next 50 km I should learn why Jean is nicknamed "La Machine": despite the headwind he pretty much pulled me and Martin along all the way at a very good clip. I felt somewhat bad for not being able to contribute much but I was in no shape charge ahead. At km 225 we had another stop at a little dep with the now usual crackers, coke, V8. Somewhere between there and Farnham Olivier and Raymond caught back up to us and for the rest of ride we'd stay together.
Quick stop in Stanbridge East
Quiet country roads
Unplanned stop at a railway crossing

Tired legs at the second-to-last controle
Getting ready for the last leg of the ride
The second-to-last controle was again in Saint-Cesaire and from there we took the direct route back to Montreal on the Route 112. This is a busy four-lane highway but it has a wide paved shoulder and we made good time. The wind had mostly died down and I felt very good, allowing me to do some work for the others. We had a quick stop to fix a flat on Martin's bike but other than that the final stretch to Saint Lambert was uneventful. Following Raymond's suggestion we followed a different route into town which had much less traffic but unfortunately many more bumps.
Through the suburbs

Yay, 300km
Into the sunset
After 14 hours and 26 minutes with a moving average of 27.5 km/h we arrived at the final controle. I still had some way to go, and at the end of the day I had clocked in 335 km. During the ride, Jean and others kept suggesting that now I should do the 400 -- and I must say that probably I would have been able to do another 65km. Unfortunately, the CVRM's last 400k of the season is this coming weekend and I'll be in Europe. Oh well. I'll definitely be back for the remaining 300 and 200 km brevets in July, August, and September.
Cartier Bridge on the way home from the ride's start/finish

A big merci goes to all the riders who rode with me last Saturday, and especially to our great president Jean, for their advice, encouragement, stories, and paceline work. Without them I probably still would have made it but it would have taken much longer and been much less enjoyable.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Ride report: CVRM 200km Brevet

After the tough but successful 147km Populaire in late April, I was determined to do at least one 200km brevet this season. I missed the first opportunity in May but last weekend there was another one scheduled.

Great summer morning riding

Rolling hills
 As per usual, I didn't get much sleep the night before and at 4:47--13 minutes before my alarm was going to go off--I got out of bed. Despite my attempts to prepare as much as possible the night before, my slow morning self still had to do a couple of things and I only got going at around ten past 6. My ride to the start leads across Île-Sainte-Helene and I was lucky to still get through, as there were already barricades and plenty of security people in preparation for the Formula One Grand Prix weekend.

Rando-panda cockpit shot
After the obligatory group picture, we got going a few minutes after 7. Overall there were, I believe, 9 or 10 riders and I started out with the lead group of 4 others. As I tend to stop at traffic lights and only ride through stop signs carefully, I fell behind the group a couple of times but always caught back up when they got stuck at a traffic light. Like on the populaire, the route led south but on a slightly different route due to construction. By the time we had gotten out of the suburbs, one of the four riders had gotten ahead and quickly disappeared in the distance. The speed of the other three was just a bit too high for my taste and I stayed a bit behind all the way to the first control at a gas station in St. Cyprien, after 41km. From there to the second control I stayed with the three others.
One of several vineyards and cider mills on Covey Hill Rd

Covey Hill in the distance
The route took us pretty much straight south towards the US border, parallel to the A15. The weather was lovely, the roads were scenic and quiet, and I was very much enjoying myself. At the "last exit before the border" we then turned west towards Covey Hill which I had just climbed a three weeks ago. Before getting on the actual Covey Hill Rd, there was a horrible but fortunately short stretch of very rough gravel road. After that the initially gentle and rolling climb to Covey Hill began. Me and one other rider of the group had an easier time with the climbing and after a while we each went off on our own before regrouping at the top of the hill. The last bit of Covey Hill felt pretty mean again, but I arrived on top first. The rest of my group arrived after a few minutes, almost at the same time as those riders who so far had been behind us. From here to the second controle it was all downhill which, despite the poor road conditions, was very enjoyable.
Gunnar on top of Covey Hill

View down Covey Hill's western flank
Controle 2 was a nice change to the usual gas station/depanneur stops: Saint-Antoine-Abbé is a tiny village but it features a lovely bakery, Boulangerie Chartrand. Of course, they didn't have anything vegan but that was alright. I refueled with an espresso, a can of V8, and a homemade lemonade. With a group of nine riders arriving and the usual customer traffic the rest stop took fairly long but the folks I had been riding with previously were also eager to get on the road again.
Their pastries looked awesome

The next part of the ride would lead us back east, and the roads we were riding were awesome. The espresso (my first caffeine of the day) worked wonders and at some point I decided to ride ahead at my own speed. After a while, another rider from my previous group caught up with me and we rode together until the next rest stop. For most of the time we shared the work and were going at a very good clip. Only for the last 20 km before the controle, my partner was starting to bonk a bit and I pulled for the rest of the way. This didn't slow us down too much but it definitely drained my energy reserves; and we were both very happy once we got to the gas station controle. I had just started drinking my bottle of Pepsi when the 5 riders of the bigger group and after another couple of minutes our two riding buddies arrived, too.
On one stretch of road there were dozens of telephone poles with stuffed animals nailed to them. Very weird.

With only 40 km to go I didn't feel like hanging around for too long and thus headed out by myself ahead of the others. As I was now riding mostly into the wind I kind of expected to be caught by the others but that didn't happen. My speed was still decent and at 3:47 pm I reached the final controle. I would have gotten there at least ten minutes earlier but my bike computer and the cue sheet didn't quite match and I therefore rode past the controle and had to turn around.
On the way back from the ride finish. Masses of people at the Grand Prix

To conclude: this was a great ride, both in terms of performance and of experience. I was fast (moving average of 27.8 km/h), the route great, the weather awesome, and never during the ride did I feel particularly crappy. Next stop: 300km.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Ride report: Montreal - Ottawa

My old club, the FLCC, has the tradition of a Memorial Day getaway where everybody stays at a not-too-close-but-also-not-too-distant location on Friday, and then we have 2.5 days of riding from that destination. This year the destination was once again Ottawa, and this was a perfect opportunity for me and the accomplice to join the FLCCers and have a chance to meet and ride with old friends. By train, Ottawa is about 2 hours from Montreal, but I decided to do the route by bike. At a distance of 215km that seemed far but definitely doable.

There are two main route options, both following the Ottawa river (which flows into the St. Lawrence near Montreal): you can follow the Route Verte 1 on the Quebec side of the river or you can ride on the southern, Ontario side. I've had pretty good experiences with riding on the various Route Vertes, but after some online research I figured out that this particular stretch isn't all that great: it mostly runs on the shoulder of the 344/148 highways which are apparently busy, including a lot of trucks. The Ontario side, in contrast, was supposed to be very rural and quiet, presumably due to the existence of the more direct A40/417 expressway. 

I planned my route mostly based on Brian Hedney's suggestion, but chose to stay completely on the southern shore of the river instead of riding from Oka to Hawkesbury on the Route Verte. That decision was mostly due to timing: since I was leaving in the very early morning hours I couldn't be sure if the Hudson-Oka ferry would already be running by the time I'd get there, and in addition the ferry crossing itself would cost me some time. So if you ride at a more normal time of day and aren't in a rush, the northern option makes sense, too.

My alarm went off at 3 am, after only a few hours of sleep. The night beforeI had prepared everything as much as possible, which is uncommon for me. This helped with being ready go just a little after 3:30, despite my usual morning slowness. It was still pitch dark (well, it doesn't get all that dark in a big city) and I headed off on the usual route towards the western tip of the island. The Lachine Canal bike path was completely empty, and so were the residential roads on the West Island. This made riding a real joy and I zoomed along at a good clip. I reached the spiral staircase to the bridge over to Ile Perrot at pretty much exactly 5 o'clock. It was already pretty light at that point and the highway adjacent to the bike path was getting busier.

Following the Route Verte across Ile Perrot, I then reached the mainland in Vaudreuil-Dorion. After getting off the bridge there is a short stretch where you either have to salmon on the busy highway's shoulder or ride on the sidewalk. Two horrible options, but at this time of day it was alright. I left the Route Verte at the intersection with Route 340, turning northwest towards Oka. During the day this is also somewhat annoying to ride on for a few kilometers until you get to Chemin de l'Anse. I made a quick stop to take a picture of the beautiful sunrise, only to realize that my camera didn't have a memory card. Drat -- another ride report without pictures!

From here on, the ride was really beautiful for many kilometers. The quiet highway follows the Ottawa River through the town of Hudson and into Rigaud. Around Rigaud it was slightly more busy due to the nearby A40 but highway 342 has good shoulders and quickly got more quiet again after getting away from the highway on-ramps. Route 342 ends where it meets with the A40 again and for a short stretch I followed a service road parallel to the expressway. It might be possible to take a different route here, staying north of the highway and going through Voyageur Provincial Park, but I couldn't determine if that road was open to public and what its condition would be.

The service road itself was pretty bad: a gravel road which only recently had gotten re-graveled, making the riding with my 25mm tires very unpleasant. Fortunately, this was only for a few kilometers. Crossing the highway once again, I rode on Front Road/Rue Principale which follows the river into Hawkesbury. It was time for a breakfast stop, and I stopped at the Tim Horton's for a coffee and bagel. It was very noticeable that I had entered a very bilingual region of Ontario, with people effortlessly switching from one language to the other in their interactions. My odometer displayed 105km already -- almost half of the total distance.

The route, now following Hedney's suggestion, kept going along the river at close distance for most of the time and the riding was beautiful. At about 140km there is a very short stretch on the busy CR 17, but after only 500m you turn onto a quiet country road again (presumably this is the old highway 17). The wind which up to this point had been barely noticeable started picking up now, making good on the weather forecast's prediction of a 30 km/h headwind from west to southwest. Also the road conditions which had been fabulous so far started getting worse. Despite Ontario's reputation for much better roads than their Quebec neighbors, some of the roads I was riding on very pothole-ridden. Nothing too horrible but my wrists and lower back did not appreciate it.

In Rockland I made my second stop, this time at a gas station, with salty pretzels, a big coke, and refill for my Gatorade bottles. I estimated that I had about 40 kilometers still to go and I still felt surprisingly well. The road out of Rockland leads you onto CR 17 again, but the unpleasant conditions with heavy traffic and a very narrow only lasted for a few kilometers. Old Montreal Road was quiet and its surface was okay. At Trim Road I turned right and at the intersection with N Service Rd I had reached familiar territory: this had been the turn-around point on my Monday morning ride on the previous year's Ottawa weekend.

From here it was smoooth sailing on the pretty Ottawa River Parkway all the way into downtown and to the jail hostel. After 9 hours and 15 minutes I had reached my destination, yielding a total average of 23 km/h and a moving average of 26.6 km/h. I still can't quite comprehend how I ended up being so fast, especially since I didn't feel all that destroyed at the end of the ride.I can highly recommend this route, either for a one-day ride or for a multi-day tour with camping along the way (I don't remember seeing many hotels or B&Bs along the way).