To Hull and Back
The “tourist” group for Paris-Brest-Paris starts between 5PM and 9PM on Sunday night, and since the time limits at the controls don’t stop running for sleep, this means that one should be prepared to ride most of the night as well as the next day in order to avoid a humiliating early disqualification. The evening ride I did from Chambord to La Tuque a few weeks back, while it certainly built character, wasn’t enough to prepare me for this, since I didn’t ride all the way through the night but stopped at 11:30 to get a good night’s sleep before continuing on the next morning around 7. With the BRM average minimum speed of 15 km/h I would have had to leave around 3 or 4AM…
So, when a friend suggested riding to Ottawa and back through the night, I figured it would be useful to tag along. In the end we had 4 riders, me, Trevor, Ralph, and Olivier, not surprisingly the same group that I rode with through the night on the 600km brevet last month. I found them to ride too fast for me during the day, although we ended up at the same place by nightfall since I generally don’t stop, and their nighttime pace (after riding 315km) suited me just fine. I was looking forward to riding in a group, not something that I usually do.
We made plans to meet at the Vaudreuil train station at 6:45PM. As Trevor and I got off the train, Ralph came riding up after an easy 10km downhill from St-Lazare. There was no sign of Olivier, but luckily we had his cell phone number and figured out that he was waiting for us at the Dorion train station (which is, technically, in Vaudreuil-Dorion, after all…) No problem, since we would have to backtrack that way a bit anyway to get out of town, we would find him at the McDonald’s by the bridge over the 40. We all downed coffee and ice cream to fuel us up and headed out, probably around 7:30.
Instead of the normal way I go along Chemin de l’Anse to Rigaud, we climbed up from Hudson village to Route Harwood, descended into Rigaud, then took a “training” detour up Mont Rigaud and back down into Ontario on the other side along the very nice road on the other side of the Rigaud River. We stopped at Vankleek Hill a bit before 10PM. Zut, no V8 to be had (do they drink it in Ontario?) … I picked up an ice cream sandwich and some Gatorade instead.
The roads in Ontario were shockingly good so far. We headed down the 11 to L’Orignal from where we would follow the river for a while on the 24, which unbelievably even has a small paved shoulder (though it has detached from the road in places and the resulting crevasse of greenery is hazardous especially when riding in a group!). It was now quite dark, but we were still averaging over 30 km/h, riding in a paceline, with pulls of around 10-15 minutes each. My heart rate monitor was on the blink so I was unsure if I was going too fast but decided to keep up this average anyway and worry about it later.
Eventually the river road dumped us out on the 17, which we had been trying to avoid. Luckily, the traffic was light, without trucks, since it was the middle of the night, and there is almost (but not really) a paved shoulder … maybe a few inches of asphalt. We tried for a little while to ride on “old highway 17” but it had the absolute worst pavement imaginable – gravel would have been better, as it seemed like it hadn’t been paved at least since the Mike Harris administration. We stayed on the 17 through Rockland. As we crossed the Ottawa city limits the road deteriorated dramatically, and paradoxically, Old Montreal Road, which we finally bailed onto in Cumberland, was not only quieter but much better paved. Finally we crested a hill and saw the lights of Orléans below us. I was starting to feel extremely irritable, which, at 180km, is a sure sign that the bonk is setting in. I pressed on, hoping that a good meal and some coffee would take care of it.
Some confusion on directions, a quiet cruise through suburban streets, and we were back on Montreal Road, with a bike lane, no less. It was getting close to 2AM and not even the Tim Horton’s were open… but a Pizza Pizza, strangely, was, so we stopped for a good half hour or so and rested up over pizza.
That’s when we saw the lightning.
We lingered over the radar map on my phone for a long time seeing if we could wait out the storm, which seemed to be only on the Quebec side of the river (since there was just a sprinkling of water on the ground), determined that we probably could, and headed out, making another stop at the next Tim’s for some coffee. It was now 3AM.
Vanier is apparently still Vanier, and Montreal Road showcases the finest of what it has to offer in terms of pawnshops and after-hours clubs. We managed to avoid getting beaten up or hit by cars or motorcycles and cruised up the bridge and down Rideau Street, which is strangely trashier (literally, there were bags of trash laying in the middle of the street and junk everywhere!) than I remember it. The Rideau Centre was under some kind of heavy-duty reconstruction and the whole scene was, at least to my sleep-deprived eyes, amazingly chaotic, particularly for Ottawa. A quick obligatory selfie with a view of Parliament Hill and we had arrived in Hull… for a few minutes. We took the bike path to Gatineau and got on rue St-Louis which eventually joins the 148 (I would have preferred rue Jacques-Cartier along the river, but there wasn’t much to see at this hour anyway). Drunk people were standing in the middle of the road arguing with cab drivers but otherwise there was no traffic to speak of all the way out of town.
Promptly, as we exited Gatineau, it began to rain. We debated whether to put on raingear and decided it would be a good idea. I also managed to convince the group to slow down to a rolling speed of around 26 km/h as the rain and the pavement were really starting to take their toll on me. I kept myself sane and awake by trying to avoid running over the hundreds of tiny frogs that would jump across the road as our headlights woke them up. Somewhere to the right were the vast marshes of the Ottawa River.
It continued to rain, sometimes fairly hard. My shoe covers were rapidly defeated and every part of me was now wet, with pools of water forming in the cuffs of my rainjacket (I guess this means it’s waterproof?) Somewhere between Masson and Thurso, Ralph remarked that we would be seeing the sun rise if it weren’t for all this rain, and sure enough it started to get light as we pulled in to Thurso. Nothing was open yet, but we idled under the awning in front of the local Dollarama for a few minutes as I ate my last energy bar. Just as we were getting ready to leave, the rain started to get heavy again… we had no choice, so we pressed on, until we reached the Tim Horton’s in Papineauville where we stopped for breakfast for a good hour or so. I was so hungry that I ate two egg sandwiches and downed a large coffee – in fact I really had not recovered from bonking back in Ottawa, because the pace was too fast, maybe.
Leavnig Papineauville I thought that I felt better – the rain had stopped and the sun was even shining a little bit! Unfortunately, I soon found myself lagging far behind even our new reduced pace, and my stomach wasn’t too happy about that extra sandwich. The rest of the group may have been good at 27 km/h but I found it hard to hit 25. At a certain point, I thought I felt a strange dip in the road until I realized that I had just fallen asleep on my bike for a fraction of a second. I caught up with the group in the next town and informed them of the situation, and they agreed to slow down the pace a bit more, while Ralph gave me a super-caffeinated energy gel to wake me up. This seemed to have minimally worked since, although I still couldn’t go very fast, I was definitely awake.
It was clear that I was the “boat anchor” of the group. Still, they graciously waited for me before getting too far ahead. The scenery on this part of the ride started to get really impressive – the Laurentians rise up from the completely flat valley floor in a sheer wall, the top of which was cut off by some low clouds, which made it more impressive, giving the impression of really large mountains that keep going above the clouds (this is not actually the case).
Another coffee stop in Grenville, and I finally got the idea to simply lay down on the pavement and take a nap outside Tim Horton’s. I may have managed to snooze for 10 minutes or so, and I woke up feeling quite a lot better, until I noticed that my rear tire had gone flat in the meantime. Still, 1600km before my first flat on this set of tires is nothing to complain about – I’ve found that inspecting them for embedded shards of glass helps prevent a lot of flats, which seem to happen only after the debris gets a chance to work its way into the tread for a while. This may have been the case here … a huge chunk of glass was visibly protruding from the rubber.
After patching up, it was just a short ride on a pretty nice bike path to get to Carillon and the familiar road through Kanesatake into Oka. We dropped Ralph off at the ferry and sat around eating ice cream for a while. I had hoped to make it to Deux-Montagnes for the 12:00 train, but it was already almost 12 by the time we got to Oka, and although it’s actually a lot closer than I remember, there was no way to make it in time. Unfortunately the next train doesn’t run until 4PM… so Olivier rode off back to St-Laurent, while Trevor and I hung out in Oka for a while before heading into St-Eustache for a beer and poutine to close out the ride.
Riding in a group really isn’t something I like to do, and I’m thankful that the other three riders were so patient with me as I was essentially bonked for 10 hours (from 2AM to noon). For a long time I tried to find some secret of eating or drinking that would prevent this, but in the end, it’s simply a problem of riding too fast, outside the “fat-burning zone”. Once my muscles’ energy stores are gone, they are just gone. On the 600km brevet I was able to make it all the way to the 415km mark without any bonking simply by keeping my heart rate low (prompting everyone who passed me to ask if I was okay…) and still managed to average over 25km/h all the way to the 180km mark. It seems that this 25 is a good number to shoot for in the absence of my heart rate monitor.
Now, onward to Paris!