Sunday, July 28, 2013

Ride report: An accidental 185km ride

I got back from France on Monday night and the jetlag and who knows what else made me feel quite miserable throughout the whole week. Whereas in France I wanted to ride all the time -- and couldn't, back in Montreal I could've ridden all the time -- but wouldn't. Since the lack of physical activity obviously didn't help with my mood, I firmly planned to go for a ride on Saturday. Nothing strenuous, just 100km at a leisurely on a well-known route.

Knowing myself and my tendency not to go through with the "leisurely pace" or "just 100km" aspects, I even took measures like leaving at home my GPS (to prevent me from chasing Strava segments), just bringing one water bottle, and not packing more than the four Clif Bars that were already in my saddle bag. The jetlag woke me up at 5:30 and I was on the road by 7:30, and initially everything worked out as planned. I tootled along across the St. Lawrence and on towards Chambly where I was then to turn towards St.-Jean-sur-Richelieu on the Chambly Canal bike path.

Once I got to a little map display of the region's bike trails in Chambly, however, I suddenly was like: "Hey, you've already done the St.-Jean ride a couple times this year. What about going to, say, Granby?" The map claimed it would only be 26 km, and while in the back of my mind I clearly knew that that couldn't be right, the urge to bikebikebike had already kicked in. I was thrown back a bit when just 5 minutes later I got stuck at the swing bridge across the Chambly Canal. It stayed open for quite some time, meaning that a sizeable number of cars and cyclists amassed on both ends.
Gunnar at the shore of Lac-Chambly

I was first in line when it opened and somehow the knowledge of having large packs of cyclists behind me made me drop that "ride leisurely" thing. Things got even "worse" when at a traffic light a roadie on a crabon wonder bike asked where I was going. He told me he was headed for Magog, which is past Granby, and that he, too, intended to take the main road instead of the bike path. Neither of us said anything about riding together, but soon I'd hear the sound of another bike sitting on my wheel. I was going fast now -- and enjoyed it. Soon we'd start taking turns with the pulls and with an average of well over 30 km/h we zoomed along on the wide shoulder of Route 112 towards Granby (which, by the way, is 48 km from Chambly, not 26...).


After 35 km we started slowing down a bit and by the time we got to Granby both us felt pretty wasted and in need of a break. I had only had one Clif Bar and my water bottle wasn't even empty yet. A nice female triathlete we had been drafting for the last 2km (ouch, was she fast...) gave us some recommendations for places to eat at in Granby and pointed out that there was a huge classic car expo going on. I parted ways with my riding buddy -- I hope his legs weren't too toast, as Magog is still an hour from Granby and now the hills would start -- and went to a drug store to buy water, V8 and a bottle of sunscreen.

Lac-Boivin and its fountain
One of many crazy cars
I don't particularly care about cars but since the expo was just around the corner I rode in that direction anyway. Seeing all the crazy hot rods lined up was actually fun and I do appreciate the DIY and custom modification culture in that scene (more pics at the end of the post). Past the exhibition grounds, at an observation tower at Lac-Boivin, I finally took my well-deserved break and after feeling somewhat recovered I started heading back home. My odometer was at 92 km and I took it much more slowly now. Instead of riding on Route 112 I stayed on the Route-des-Champs trail all the way back to Chambly. My legs were tired and my butt increasingly sore (I guess my sitbone calluses have disappeared during the three-week period off the bike...), but I nonetheless enjoyed myself immensely. After 185km and 7:43 in the saddle I arrived back home.
Crossing the Yamaska River

Loons(?) hanging out in the Richelieu River

Final stop at Fort Chambly, 30km to go
Perfect car for the biketopus
The Québec Libre! mobile
Funny from the outside...
...even better inside

Friday, July 26, 2013

Ride report: Parcours du Gapençais

I've just returned from a three week trip to the south of France. Probably there are going to be more blog posts about my adventures there, including those about seeing the Tour de France live, but for now I'm just posting a little ride report. Our stay in France was decidedly not a bike vacation and so my riding was mostly confined to riding around cities on various ill-fitting bikeshare bikes. The last leg of our trip had us staying in Gap in the French Alps. After suffering from increasingly strong bike withdrawal symptoms, I finally decided to rent a bike from the tourist info and go for at least a short ride. There was one shop in town that rented road and mountain bikes, but you would have had to drive there and the bikes were 40 Euros per day. The tourist info bikes, in contrast, could be picked up right in the town center and were free to use for the whole day. The choice of bikes was limited to some pedelecs, a step-through city bike and a couple Scott fitness bikes. The latter looked least ill-fitting for my 2 meter body and after dropping off a 200 Euro cash deposit and a copy of my passport I was good to go. In addition to bikes, the tourist info also provides a decent map with road ride suggestions on one side and mountain bike trails on the other.

As it was the only one starting directly in Gap, I decided to do the 42km Parcours du Gapençais which would lead me over two major passes, one of them having been ridden by the Tour de France pros just a few days ago.

From downtown Gap the ride starts by following the main road towards the Col de Manse. The road, leading to Grenoble, is fairly busy, but a good shoulder exists and drivers in general are very curteous. Whereras the main road continues north, the bike route turns east towards the Col. It was great fun to do the same route as the pros and seeing all the fan stencils scattered over the road.

After the obligatory pass sign selfie, I continued on an increasingly narrow road back towards the valley. Whereas to the Col de Manse I had gone in the same direction as the Tour during stage 16, the downhill towards the village of La Bâtie-Neuve ran opposite to the route of stage 18. I slightly regretted going downhill on this part, as the road was really beautiful and I wouldn't have minded taking some pictures.

Looking up from the Col de Manse
Looking back towards Gap (better viewed large)
 From La Bâtie-Neuve I continued into a side valley on a busier road, but soon I'd turn right onto another one of those lovely French minor roads which are so well-suited for cycling.

The road marker (there is on at each kilometer, providing you with current altitude, kilometers from start and grade over the next kilometer) promised some heavy climbing, and the road indeed delivered. The gears on my bike were low and so I didn't have too much of a problem getting up to Notre-Dame du Laus, but I was sweating profusely. Strewn along the way were the stations of a via dolorosa, which seemed quite appropriate

Great view back into the valley
Before reaching Notre-Dame du Laus, I passed a little chapel with a ceremony going on.

Notre-Dame du Laus is a Christian sanctuary that was created to honor a supposed apparition of Mary to a local woman in the 17th century. My mum later told me that it's a fairly popular destination for pilgrimages. I used the bathroom at the town entrance to wash off some of the sweat that had kept running into my eyes and making them look pretty scary...
Red face, red eyes
Ill-prepared as I was, I didn't only not have my cycling cap with me, but also no water, so the tap here was very welcome. I walked around the sanctuary for a bit before continuing further on uphill.
Notre-Dame du Laus
Whereas the road to ND du Laus had already been narrow and quiet, this part was even more narrow and more quiet. For the next half hour or so I would maybe pass one or two cars -- and this was for the better, as the road was barely wide enough for the width of a car. The gradient of the road was a little less steep, according to the signs between 4 and 7 percent and the trees along the road offered some relief from the burning sun.
Col du Tourrond
After not too long I reached the highest point of this section, the Col du Tourrond, and made a quick stop for another pass sign selfie.
Perfect roads for cycling
 The way back down to Gap was very pleasant. The narrow and quiet roads continued for a while through the forest, every now and then offering vistas of the underlying valley and the surrounding mountains -- and, as you can see below, of a beautiful poppy field.
After reaching the secluded village of Jarjayes, the road widened just a little, making for some good downhill riding before the quick interlude of going back up to the Col de la Sentinelle. After a final selfie I zoomed down the hill back into Gap and returned my bike at the tourist info.