A few weeks ago, seeing as how I had originally planned to be away out east – you know, competing in an Ironman competition (click HERE and HERE for the whole story) – I had some time off from work with which to relax. Now, I recognize that there were about a thousand things I could have been doing like ticking things off my wife’s “Honey Do” list but, truthfully, I was feeling a bit morose about the whole failed event; disappointed and frustrated. I ran the whole gauntlet of being depressed as if I had actually failed at something.
Silly, I know, but there it is.
Instead, I read, drank beer, and felt sorry for myself while listening to a buttload of sad records. Honestly, I accomplished little other than being a lazy arse and driving Kelly completely bat shit crazy (mission accomplished on both regards, by the way). I decided then that maybe a little “Cycle Therapy” might be order.
This area (ride) is pretty familiar to me for many reasons of which I will soon explain, and I’ve cycled this particular route a few times now. So I guess you could say it’s becoming a bit of a tradition. Each time I go back it feels a little bit like a homecoming of sorts for other reasons I will also elaborate on. The “tradition” started four years ago when Kelly planned for us to join what was then billed as “The Butter Tart Ride”, organized by one of the local cycling clubs.
Butter tarts and bike riding, what’s not to love about that?
Together we cycled 112 kilometers through Amish and Mennonite back country, gobbled butter tarts by the mitt full and otherwise enjoyed each others company on what we would come to affectionately refer to as the “Boogers, Ball Sweat and Hoark” ride. It’s a long story. I remember it being brutally hot out that day but together we soldiered through the heat and had an extremely agreeable time. The next year my father passed away and remembering how therapeutic I found that ride the year before, I returned again and plotted out a 95 kilometer route that, while still following some of the same roads as the Butter Tart Ride, also took me past more of the area that I am familiar with and have a strong connection to. This time the ride was solo and I pedaled along at a pace that I am more comfortable with, with fewer stops. Not that stopping for butter tarts is a bad thing, mind you.
When cycling alone, I can turn my brain off, turn the pedals over and just get lost within myself and the passing landscape in state of Zen that one can only achieve through effort and pleasing exhaustion. Call me crazy. I may not have gone as far, but by the end I was still thoroughly spent and more at ease with my swelling emotions. Last year I couldn’t make it out for one reason or another, so I figured I’d resurrect the trip this year in lieu of not having an A-race to compete in; a total lemon vs. lemonade kind of dealie.
I searched out the route from my Garmin.Connect data and, this time, made more mental notes of what I wanted to see and accomplish. Namely, retracing certain aspects of my childhood when we used to visit this area on family trips to stay with relatives. I wanted to more thoroughly indulge in all those memories from my past and let them flood into and out my brain like water through a pipe. Except this time it would be from the saddle of my trust steed, a Trek 1000 road bike that I have affectionately nicknamed “Daisy” (don’t judge), and not the backseat of my parents old cream colored Volvo.
Fortunately, my relatives now live in not-so-far away Waterloo, a bustling metropolis of 120,000 people (depending on what school term is currently in session), which provides the perfect launching and ending point for the trip. Also, having attended the University of Waterloo back in the early 90’s, I am also very familiar with the north end of the city and downtown core which definitely adds to the whole “Trip Down Memory Lane” purpose of the journey. Convenient, right?
My Aunt Kathy now lives around the corner from the campus – quite literally. I arrived around 11:00am which was definitely a bit later than I had originally planned, thanks to on-going construction, detours and a dodgy GPS device which thought it was best I take the slowest and most inconvenient route possible. I also have to say that I’m sure the Waterloo city planners also intended for motorists to be required to stop at some intersection other every 3.6 nanoseconds or so. It felt like I spent more time sitting at traffic lights than I actually did making progress towards my destination. But I eventually arrived, set and ready to get on with the journey. After a quick chat with my aunt and tire pump up, I headed out of her driveway eager to get going.
I knew that leaving a bit later meant that I would also be dealing with the mid-day heat and humidity but I have learned to cope with both in as long as I keep moving as I can usually generate enough “breeze” to convince myself that I am actually cool. The only real unfortunate thing was that almost from the get go, I was cycling directly into a headwind and for that I have no easy fix, so I consigned myself to the fact that it was potentially going to be a very challenging day. Regardless, I was under way and feeling pretty good about it.
The 2016 edition of the Tour de Waterloo was officially underway.
I chose the quickest route of the city that I knew figuring that I could do the reminiscing around campus later when I got back into the city. Let’s just say I was eager to get out of Suburbia. I headed out west down Westmount Rd. North and, coincidentally past my old dorm on campus where I lived during my first year of university back in 1994, exactly 22 years ago. At the time I lived (if you want to call it that) in the Village 2 Residence and as fate would have it today, I rode right past the window to the very same room I lived in East E. It didn’t look like there was much life going on around the Village today as the drapes were all drawn and there were was absolutely no sign of student life whatsoever, given it would likely be the summer break for most students, so I rode on. It’s not like I have terribly terrific memories I wanted to relive here anyway. After all, how much fun can one possibly have living in a room the size of a broom closet and where everything – furniture included – is permanently fixed down? But, hey, just for shits and giggles, here’s a throwback picture of that very room from back in the day:
My old dorm room along Westmount Rd.
Looking back at it now, it almost seems like I was in fact having fun.
Anyway, it was then a left on Columbia Rd. past more residences and the Trillium Lake Valley and right on Erbsville Rd., past the shops and strip malls of Erbsville and, eventually, a pretty lake belonging to a local conversation area of which I forget the name. What I do remember about it though is the big climb up and past it…a sure sign of things to come.
Unknown Conservation Area
At the end of Erbsville Rd., you come to a tee at Kressler Rd. This is what I consider to be the actual starting point of the bike route I had planned. It’s evident that once you get to this point you are no longer in Kansas. The city is now behind you and you have officially arrived in the country. All this constitutes approximately 10 kilometers of cycling. Had I known I was this close to the countryside back in university, or had the required energy levels to do so, I might have been more inclined to make an effort to get off campus more.
A quick dog leg to the west and then to the north and you’re on The Weimar Line, one of the major thoroughfares. Upon doing so, this is the sign that greets you:
How awesome is that?
Unfortunately, just a few meters beyond that you are greeting with this gentle reminder:
Remember that you would see this exact same sign every, oh, 1.2 km.
So, sure, there may be lots of horsies and wildife to behold, but it’s still not going to be any easy trot through the pasture, so to speak. And it wasn’t.
The Weimar Line, as scenic as it is, is basically one challenging hill after the other, over and over again, requiring nothing short of a total Sisyphean effort. Making matters even more challenging was that I was also riding directly into a strong headwind. With no buildings or man made structures to protect me (one of the few benefits of city riding), the wind was more or less blowing across the open fields unobstructed so that it was at times, like riding into a brick wall. In fact, as I worked my way up each climb, instead of a nice downhill descent as a reward (after all, what goes up must eventually come down), I was greeted by a strong gust of continuous wind that would require me to keep working at turning over the pedals lest I should get blown back up and over the top of the climb again…backwards. What a rip.
Regardless, the landscape down the Weimar Line to Bamberg is breathtaking. It runs pretty much straight as the crow flies for 5 kilometers or so past stately country homes, rolling meadows filled with hay bales, old barns, and expansive pastureland with herds of galloping ponies. And every inch of it you have to earn, as I mentioned before. In total, it took me exactly 12:01, averaging 25.8km/h; good enough for 666th position among other cyclists, according to Strava.
That’s not an entirely impressive time and I could certainly do better, but I was too busy enjoying myself and taking in the sights and smells of horse shit and dried grass. That’s not to say however, that I wasn’t working. To effect, I don’t think it’s any through any mere coincidence that I ended up 666th over all. I genuinely thought at times that I could feel Lucifer himself prodding me along up the road by sticking his pitchfork in my ass. Coincidentally enough, I also passed this sign:
Little did I know at the time that this sign was actually in reference to myself.
It was also somewhere along here that I passed my first Amish horse and buggy, of which there would be many more over the next few hours. I would have taken a picture to post here, except that I know the Amish hold humility as a highly-cherished value and view pride as a threat to community harmony. They literally take “Thou shalt not make unto thyself a graven image” (Exodus 20:4) to heart and they would prefer to be remembered by the lives they lived and the examples they left, not by physical appearance. So I refrained from doing just that. Besides, I’ve seen ‘Witness’ and wouldn’t want to end up laid out by some Amish poser with a well timed Harrison Ford-style haymaker to the bread basket (click HERE).
I will say though, that there is something hugely satisfying about passing a horse and buggy on your bicycle.
I should also mention here that the last climb into Bamberg is a real doozy. Just look at this gradient:
This little bump here in the middle may only constitute a mere 380m of elevation, but it took me exactly 2 minutes and 50 seconds to grind up and over, good enough for 643rd spot on Strava.
I will concede by saying that on the left hand side as you climb, there is the most spectacular farmhouse and working farm you have ever seen, complete with vegetable garden, pretty flower beds and a clothes line with wet laundry flapping in the breeze. When was the last time you’ve actually seen laundry on a clothes line? It was something right out of ‘Little House on the Prairie’. I have expected that Laura Ingalls herself would come running out of the house, pigtails trailing behind her, to cheer me on as I struggled up and over that damn hill. But she didn’t and I almost died. I did, however, finally make it over and pressed on.
Anyway, continuing down the Weimar Line, not to mention up an over another stupid amount of hills, you eventually end up at the end of the line at Hutchinson Rd. I turned a sharp left here and made my way towards the Township of Wellesley.
Wellesley is where my relatives lived for many years when I was a kid and this is where my family would venture out to on Christmas vacation. So I am quite fond of the area. Wellesley encompasses approximately 277.79 km2 and had a population of 10,713 as of the 2011 census. Most of the residents likely will not have a home phone, access to the Internet or have the faintest idea about Pokemon Go! The town of Wellesley’s original name was Schmidtsville, derived from its founding settler, John Schmidt. But In 1851, the town was renamed Wellesley after Richard Wellesley, 1st Marquess Wellesley, the eldest brother of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington. The community quickly grew to be the largest economic centre in rural Waterloo Region, then called Waterloo County, with a wood mill, feed mill, grain mill (which still stands today after being constructed in 1856), leather tanner, cheese factory, restaurants and housing, and many other businesses that also brought much trade to the town from the nearby farms and farming villages. It was in here that Kelly and I stopped for our first butter tart on our ‘Boogers, Ball Sweat and Hoark’ tour, at a cute country style deli on Nafziger Rd. It was also here that I had a colossal (not to mention embarrassing) wipe out on the curbside outside the shop. There would be no butter tarts today, however, and I pressed straight down Queens Bush Rd. through the center of town past the local post office, feed store, pharmacy and a village market.
This entire area is also the setting for the annual Wellesley Apple Butter and Cheese Festival of which I am also well acquainted. Periodically, my family would make the bonus trip up in September to visit with the relatives which, for whatever reason, always welcomed us back even after allowing us access to their home for a week already that past December. The festival, founded in 1976, attracts a few thousand visitors to the grounds located at the Wellesley Arena and Community Center during the weekend-long festival. The festival begins with a community pancake breakfast at the crack of dawn and continues with a smorgasbord at noon, not to mention the apple butter and apple cider available all day long. There are cider tours, coach rides, quilting bees, remote-controlled boat races on the nearby Wellesley Pond, horse-shoe pitching competitions and a classic car and tractor show.
At the top of Queens Bush Rd., I turned left on Greenwood Hill Rd. and up an extremely scary looking hill that leads back up to the Weimar Line completing the loop through Wellesley proper. It was here on our butter tart ride that I waited for Kelly to get to the top. Here she is at approximately the half way mark, ready to toss up her butter tarts:
Don’t laugh though, this climb may be short but it’s a total bitch. It took me a whole minute and 45 seconds to breach the summit (good enough for 483rd spot on Strava). I thought it would be altogether appropriate to have a Sherpa greet you at the top with an oxygen bottle.
Here’s the results:
How the hell the KOM on this segment navigated this hill in 35 seconds averaging a speed of 44.3km/h I’ll never know. I suspect doping. However, providing you are observant around the half way mark of the climb as your lungs begin to explode (especially given how hot it was out), you might notice this beauty on the right hand side:
On the other side of the hill is a more modern and fancy residence complete with a private pond, gazebo and floating jungle gym. As gorgeous a property as it is, it seems extremely out of character with the rest of the landscape. But, hey, power to them as I would have loved to have been able to jump in that pond at that point.
At the top, I kept climbing up and over the Weimar and down again…into another headwind.
This, however, was a stretch of road that I had really been anticipating since I left. For here, at #2039 Greenwood Hill Rd. is where my cousins lived. To say I have fond memories of this place would be understating the obvious. I remember my cousin Jodi tangling her hair up in the tire swing out back, getting trapped half way up the tree house in the field beyond the backyard and having to be rescued, waking up Christmas morning with chicken pox, mountains of presents piled up under the Christmas tree, huge roaring fires in the afternoon as the snow slowly piled up outside. Man, those were the days. I also remember going for my first “jog” here along this very stretch of road, when I stubbornly followed my Aunt Kathy until it was impossible to keep up and I was abandoned to play in a snow bank by the side of the road until she came back to collect me. In total, I think I made it about 50m from the house or so. Now, she has no recollection of this whatsoever and swears that she has never ever jogged in her life, but the memory is so vivid in my mind that I can’t imagine how it could not have happened.
Anyway, the house is one of only a few residences along this stretch of roadway which definitely adds to its quaintness. Back then, it was a log cabin style residence and features a gi-normous wood burning stove in the family room, perfect for Christmas eves and mornings; especially for disposing the small rain forest worth of wrapping paper we inevitably tore through. Its new owners have now covered up the log exterior with a soulless cream-colored vinyl siding and have paved the driveway, but I was pleased to see the same huge bay window in front. Back then, this was about as “rural” as I thought you could get. It seemed to be in the middle of nowhere but, then again, anywhere where I could cross the street to see cows grazing behind barbed-wire was about as rural as I could get; city slicker as I was. I would have stopped and peeked inside the window had there not been a Dodge Caravan parked in the driveway. Can you just imagine the reaction of those people had they found some stranger in a skin tight pink and purple Lyrca cycling kit pressing his nose up against their front window?
“Honey, fetch my shotgun.”
Shortly afterwards, I turned right on the Hessen Strasse, which more or less parallels the Weimar Line meaning I had to deal with all those hills again in reverse order. And let me assure you, they are no less challenging in the opposite direction. In fact, they’re longer, meaner and nastier. And any notions I had of finally having the wind at my back were immediately vanquished the second I turned onto the Hessen Strasse; Mother Nature was definitely having a dig at me today.
Similar to the Weimar Line, the Hassen Strasse is beautiful…maybe even more so. There are the same vast expanses of open pasture land, quaint little churches (one of which we would visit on Christmas Eve) and maple syrup farms as far as the eye can see. If you stopped to have a swig at every maple syrup farm along the Hassen Strasse you would surely have type 2 diabetes by the time you navigated it’s entire 10 kilometers or so. One day, I might even put this to the test. It is along here though that you begin to come across a lot of little roadside “aid stations”. This one was located approximately half way up another stupid climb:
That’s one of the reasons why I love the Amish and riding in this area in general. They may not like you very much or care to do business with you directly, but if you’re inclined to leave a buck for a cold can of Coke left in a grungy old cooler at the end of a remote driveway, so be it. Other unmanned roadside stands (if you can call them that) will have bouquets of flowers, home baked goods, bottles of water, and excess fruits and vegetables from their own gardens. Garlic scapes were certainly in season as that what was primarily on offer. You really don’t need to bring any GU gels or protein bars when you have all this instant nourishment available on the honor system by the roadside. Likewise, who needs Clif bars when you can have a home baked Amish-style fig cookie? I love it. I could pedal for hours after one of those things – and I literally did.
Here’s another more “elaborate” one:
Around this time I passed another horse and buggy. As I approached it from behind, I noticed two little faces pressed up against the back window watching me ride up on them. Two little Amish girls were sitting in the back seat of their family carriage on their way to market or whatever with their father. As I passed, the stern looking man never gave me so much of a sideways glance, which given what I happened to be wearing, seemed kind of surprising, but such is the Amish’s ability to block out the rest of us “English”. However, I did manage to get a quick and nervous little wave from one of the girls before she instantly snapped her gaze straight ahead again as to not be noticed by her father. I flashed her a little smile but I don’t think she noticed.
Turning left on Kressler Rd. again, having completed the first big 40 kilometer loop of my route, I headed north towards Heidelberg.
Oh, and I also passed this:
Anyway, there’s not much to write home about Heidelberg aside from its being nearly 200 years old. There’s not much even there aside from a stop light intersection, a garage and The Olde Heidelberg Restaurant of which I have never visited (maybe someday). Really, it’s a reference point on my route to turn left on the Lobsinger Line into St. Clements and then right on Herrgott Rd. to Wallenstein. Neither of these routes are particularly enjoyable riding as they roughly paved, and busy thoroughfares for traffic and large trucks so I just boogied along them as quickly as possible to get to my next intended destination in Elmira. In fact, I will likely seek out an alternative route altogether on next years’ tour.
I will pause here for a moment however to point out that one of my stops is at the General Store in Wallenstein.
By this point I am at the (more or less) 60 kilometer point of my tour and could generally use some sustenance in the way of a cool beverage seeing as how there is very little shade along the road out here…anywhere. The last shade I passed through was likely back at the University Campus. It has been my habit to stop here for a Coke and give my ass a brief break while I’m at it.
Now, say what you will about the Amish and the Mennonites, but they generally aren’t very welcoming of strangers for one reason or another. Each time I am in their presence I do my best to be polite and courteous and mind my own business. When I entered the store, I was greeted by no fewer than 13 ladies in their traditional plain dress.
I gave them my best non-threatening smile.
Not. A. Single. Response.
Then again, considering that I was dressed like somebody who was about to be shot out of a cannon, maybe it was too much to take in all at once. Maybe they were just stunned? I tried for a little friendly small talk by confirming with them that Elmira was in fact just up the road.
I thanked them for my Coke and told them to keep the change.
So much for “Where Friendly Neighbors Meet”, and I exited the store to allow the women to return to their scowling. While sitting on the porch though, a huge Parmalat truck pulled into the parking lot beside the store. One of the scowlers (about 70 years old I might add) came out of the store, jumped on an old forklift and proceeded to unload about a dozen palates of ice cream out of the truck and into the back of the store in seconds flat. I guess the Amish and Mennonites really like their ice cream. So say what you will about the Amish and Mennonites, they sure can drive a forklift.
I continued on to Elmira, about another 7 or 8 kilometers along Country Road 86, where I had planned to have lunch. Elmira is the largest community within the Township of Woolwich in the Regional Municipality of Waterloo. While the land comprising Elmira originally belonged to the Huron followed by the Mohawk Indians, the first settlers arrived in here in the late 18th century. In 1798, William Wallace (not this William Wallace) was one of the first settlers in the area after he was deeded 86,078 acres (348 km2) of land on the Grand River for a cost of $16,364. In 1806, Wallace sold the major portion of his tract to Mennonites and the rest, as they say, is history. There is obviously still a strong Mennonite influence in the area. Each spring, beginning in 1965, tens of thousands of people gather in Elmira to celebrate the return of spring and maple syrup as part of April’s Elmira Maple Syrup Festival.
My usual stop is at the Elmira Donuts & Deli off the street a little behind some shops.
You can see my little jog back to it here:
It’s nothing fancy. Believe me.
But they do have one kick ass tuna fish sandwich and the Mennonite proprietors are a little more welcoming than the ones in Wallenstein. Not much, mind you, but a little. I will usually pass 20 minutes or so here on the front stoop in the shade thoughtfully noshing on my sandwich and whatever cookie that happens to catch my eye and do my best to “blend in”, which is not at all. I consider this to be my half way point, even though it’s really more of my three quarter point. Regardless, I know it…I like the tuna…so I keep returning.
Such is life.
From here I zip out of town as quickly as I can down Arthur Rd. and right on Listowel Rd. and back out into the countryside. A quick left turn onto Three Bridges Rd. and, low and behold, I experienced my first tail wind. Amazeballs. Finally! I amped up the turnover of the pedals and applied a little extra effort and eventually was cruising down this nice scenic stretch of roadway at an average of 36.9km/h and at one point I was sailing – effortlessly I might add – at 47.2km/h. After 70 kilometers of head winds I was determined not to waste this brief opportunity. My effort was good enough for 15th position over all on Strava this year, covering the distance in 5:26.
Turning left on Hawkesville Rd., I pointed my bike towards popular destination tourist town of St. Jacobs. First known as “Jakobstettel” which means “Jacob’s Village”, the village was settled in 1820. The St. was added to the name simply to make it sound more pleasing and the pluralization was in honor of the combined efforts of Jacob C. Snider (1791–1865) and his son, Jacob C. Snider, Jr. (1822–1857), founders of the village. It now pedals that heritage to tourists who have come to experience the “Mennonite Lifestyle”…which is entirely laughable. Basically, I consider it as a necessary obstacle to endure on way back to Waterloo. I mean, it’s a nice enough village, don’t get me wrong. There’s lots of artisans, and a thriving market and yadda, yadda, yadda. But the hapless throngs of people and touristy bullshit piss me off. It reminds of own town of Ridgeway which practically triples its population in the summer when the “out of towners” flood into town and literally proceed to take over the beaches, shops, restaurants, etc. It’s enough to drive you insane, so I get out…quickly. And that’s pretty much what I did today in St. Jacobs.
Funny thing though, in the 30 seconds or so it took me to pass through the village I probably had my photograph taken about a dozen times. Do tourists really think a Mennonite would be caught dead on a high performance road bike…and dressed like this?
Anyway, shortly afterwards there is a fun stretch of road along King Str. which takes you pretty much back into the city of Waterloo again. “Fun” in that it is downhill and protected from the wind. Eventually you pass through Wagner’s Corner and onto Weber Str. which will take you back into downtown Waterloo. I spent a little time passing by the old familiar haunts of my University days and much has changed. There is a significant amount of new high rise buildings now on just about every corner. Waterloo, it seems, has been very busy. I also passed though the campus quickly and it too has changed drastically; most of which are the students. Did I look that young when I was in university? Anyway, I was hot, tired, and getting instantly annoyed with all the hipster beards and toques on campus (seriously guys, it’s JUNE!) so I made my way back to my Aunt Kathy’s and a well deserved beer…or two.
All in, I covered 95.3 kilometers in a little under 4 hours, averaging a speed of 26.8km/h, which seems miserably slow. I know. But given the ridiculous amount of climbing I did today (almost 2,000m to be exact), I’ll take it.
Until next year.