Tour du Lac (Part 2)

Posted: July 18, 2013 in Lifestyle
Tags: , ,

The first leg of our journey was pretty much complete at this point, successfully navigating the north coast of Lake Ontario.  The next leg would take us south into the United States and along the southern coast of Lake Ontario home.

Day Four (151.85k) – Kingston to Oswego

In Kingston, bracing for a hard day or riding.

In Kingston, bracing for a hard day or riding.

Day Three was tough, solely because of the distance alone, but it was far from being the most challenging.  That distinction was made on the fourth day as we entered into the USA and pressed onward to Oswego, NY.

As Kelly made herself cycle ready in the bathroom, I took an opportunity to check out the local newspaper that had been left outside our hotel room door.  I was absolutely amazed at the pictures I found of extensive flooding in the downtown streets of Toronto, where we had passed only a mere 48 hours ago and I realized just how lucky we were having just missed it.  Sure we got wet, but nothing like what the Torontonians were dealing with now.  That’s not to say that it was going to easy going though, as the weather called for more dramatic storms into the late morning and early afternoon as we were now cycling straight into the belly of the beast.  Time to get our game faces on and I was a bit concerned how our “B Group” would manage when the going got rough, as it almost certainly promised to be.

Crossing the St. Lawrence on the ferry to Wolfe Island.

Crossing the St. Lawrence on the ferry to Wolfe Island.

We started off early as we had ferries to catch to Wolfe Island and not fall behind schedule.  We stopped briefly for a quick breakfast at Tim Horton’s (the unofficial sponsor of the Tour du Lac, if you ask me) and I experienced the first bad omen of possible things to come when they ran out of scrambled eggs for my breakfast sandwich.  I know no big deal but, still.  The sky was overcast and dark, ominous clouds lay ahead as we boarded the ferry.

Wolfe Island is the largest of the Thousand Islands, laying just at the entrance to the St. Lawrence in the heart of Frontenac County.  The island was part of the traditional hunting lands of the Tyendinaga Mohawk people and the original name of the island is Ganounkouesnot (‘Long Island Standing up’). It was called Grand Ile by the French, but was later named after British General James Wolfe by the British settlers.  The island is about 29 km long, and the resident population is approximately 1400 people, but this number can double or triple during the summer months, although you wouldn’t know it given how incredibly quiet it is.  Seriously, aside from the wind and birds you could literally hear a pin drop anywhere on the island.  Don’t just take my word for it:

 

It’s almost eerie, especially given the gravity of the dark skies looming overhead.  The most significant thing about Wolfe Island, however, is that it is the home to 86 huge wind turbines as part of the Wolfe Island Wind Project, a wind farm developed by Canadian Hydro Developers in June, 2009.  These turbines are scattered across the vast landscape we were currently cycling through like enormous giants, each giving off a gentle “whopping” sound.  It was almost hypnotic.  Check it out:

 

Impressive, right?

It doesn’t take long to cross Wolfe Island and there is next to zero traffic to contend with and if you’re lucky, as we were, you’ll have a nice tail wind to propel you along.  When you reach the other side you have to take the smaller Horne ferry to Cape Vincent on the other side.  Thankfully, the captain was gracious enough to take us across right away, so we boarded the bikes and SAG wagons and had a private trip across to the USA.

 

On the ferry, the rain started.  Queue the carnage.   As the rain started to pick up, almost everyone in our group of riders (except Kelly and I) immediately whipped out a white rain jacket, so there was either a clearance sale on cycling rain jackets that we missed somewhere, or we were now traveling with the Four Tops.  Either way, we were destined to get wet…very wet.

The rain persisted all the way through Cape Vincent as our group of four riders rode along South Market Str. into the countryside.  I could tell Kelly wasn’t terribly happy and getting anxious about the poor weather and cycling conditions.  At the top of a hill, with the rain pouring down, her tires slipping on the pavement and a huge dump truck lumbering down and laying on the horn behind her, she opted for the safety of the van.  It had become too much and who could blame her?  This was extremely tough going, especially for a novice rider and I don’t blame her one bit.  I was determined to see it through though, so I piloted our dwindled group of riders along the road to Three Mile Bay, where the sky really opened up.

20130710_10074090%chance of rain20130710_100808

Now there is rain, and then there is RAIN; and this was certainly the later, like, real Amazon monsoon style rain.  The kind that feels like thousands of stinging insects as it hits your skin.  The sides of the road filled with rushing water and visibility was next to zero but we soldiered on with me in the lead pulling through the uphill slop.  Just as I began to wonder how we were ever going to make it another 130k or so, as we crested a hill the rain instantly stopped.  One minute it was raining, and the very next it’s not.  It was quite that sudden.  Now, I’m not an overly spiritual person, but at that exact moment as we passed through a literal curtain of water onto dry pavement again is about as close to a religious experience as I’m likely ever going to experience on a bike.  I’ll remember that exact second for the rest of my life.  That’s not to say it wouldn’t rain again, but for the moment I was very happy.

Cape Vincent

Cape Vincent

The three of us carried on like this, in and out of the storm for the next 30 kilometers or so through Chaumont and Limerick, before turning west onto Brown Str. towards Sackets Harbor where we rejoined the rest of the riders from the faster main “A Group”, minus one that had kept going towards Oswego on his own.  I guess they had taken shelter from the rain while we chose to ride right through it.  The plan was made to order our lunch which the SAG drivers would then go fetch before meeting up with us again in Henderson’s Harbor up the road another 20k or so.  I used this quick break to literally squeeze about 2 gallons of muddy water out of my socks and wipe down Daisy before carrying on.  Thankfully, it had stopped raining so we all mounted up and headed out and I used the opportunity to ride off on my own a bit up ahead.  Unfortunately, I accidentally zipped past the turn off for Henderson’s Harbor and carried on up one bitch of a climb up to Henderson proper where I stopped to wait.  When the other riders failed to show I became worried and zipped back to find them only to discover they had veered off somewhere leaving me stranded alone.  “Oh shit!” is all that went through my mind.  Here I was stranded in a strange land with no means of contacting the main group.  What an idiot.  Thankfully, I found a road sign for Henderson’s Harbor and after journeying down the road a bit I found the group enjoying their subs by the roadside.  Thank Christ.  Oh well, what’s an extra 8k among friends?

Exhausted, but happy to still be going in the right direction.

Exhausted, but happy to still be going in the right direction.

As I ate a few of the “A Group” riders left and I was torn about what to do.  I wanted to open up a little bit but didn’t want to abandon my “B Group” either.  Finally, I decided I would ride on my own for a bit to enjoy the new countryside in peace and set out at quick pace in the direction I had originally gone in the first place.  What the hell.

I don’t know what got in me to be honest, but I rode angry.  I got to thinking about my mom and how fortunate I was to be able to do what I was doing and before I knew it I caught the lead group, blew past them and kept riding hard.  I know it wasn’t a race by any means, but that’s how I rode.  In my mind, this was a stage of the Tour de France and I was the solo breakaway from the main field trying to catch the leaders.  I rode like a wild man not breaking or slowing down for anything.  Soon I was riding alone and putting time on the other riders.  The cool air had turned hot and humid and around the 80k mark, the flat landscape turned to endless hills, one after another, but I kept riding hard.  You could say I was having fun.  I know, I’m a special kind of crazy; Kelly will tell you.  Every now and again, a SAG wagon would pass me and I would grab water from them on the fly to pour over myself, but I didn’t stop.  Especially beginning at the 100k point, it was a constant up and down with little opportunity to recover at all.  Just check this out:

Elevation chart.  Just a few climbs over the day...

Elevation chart. Just a few climbs over the day…

At the pace I was trying to keep, it was easily one of the most challenges rides I have ever completed.  I passed through the small rural towns of Selkirk, Sandy Creek, and Mexico (not to mention past about a zillion species of road kill, including one huge, raunchy smelling porcupine) before turning south on Main Str. into Oswego.  By this point, I hadn’t seen another rider in nearly two hours.  As I entered Oswego (which, it must be said, is another series of endless hills) I pulled into the Best Western parking lot a mere 15 seconds behind the sole rider ahead of me who failed to stop for lunch.  I was totally spent and dripping with sweat, but I felt somewhat relieved, completely purged and, well, good.  I had covered nearly 70k of hills on my own in little under three hours.  I’m happy with that as a rider.

Yes, this is exactly how I tackle the hills.  I'm huge.

Yes, this is exactly how I tackle the hills. I’m huge.

Later when Kelly arrived in the van, we sought out some treats and devoured them in the park to replenish the 6949 calories I burned getting into town, while people watching and waiting for our laundry to finish at the local Laundromat.  Back at the hotel, we had a nice dinner on the patio overlooking canal, complete with birthday cake (It was Kelly’s 41st birthday) and fell asleep rather quickly back in our room anticipating another hard ride in the morning out of Oswego.

 

The hardest ride of the week.

The hardest ride of the week.

 

Day Five (111.49) – Oswego to Webster

Day Five promised to be just as challenging as Day Four as getting out of Oswego, also meant going over those same brutal hills that we just rode over to get in.  Goodie.

By now, Kelly and I had our morning pre-ride routine down pat.  It goes exactly like this:

  • Wake up and poop
  • Get dressed
  • Have breakfast
  • Second poop, lube, and sunscreen

Seriously, we could do this blindfolded.

Kelly and I had already planned that she would sit out the hills in the van for the first portion of the day and I would meet up with her around the halfway point, or at lunch, and we would ride into Webster together.  This gave me the green light to ride off out front for a while to tackle the hills and vicious headwind that was also blowing that morning.  In fact, the headwind was the more challenging of the two.

Really?

Really?

I rode away alone up and over the endless hills (in fact, I counted 33 of them in rapid succession) for the first 70k or so.  In fact, while passing through the township of Hannibal I half expected to see a herd of elephants waiting for me at the top of monster of a hill, all ready to ride off and sack Rome.  But I digress.  It took a while for the legs to wake up a bit in order to deal with the constant climbing but, once they did, they began to turn over easily enough and it wasn’t long before I had made some good time on the rest of the riders.  Eventually, not wanting to get lost, I stopped for a break to wait for either the SAG wagon or other riders to ensure I was still going the right way as it seemed I had been riding the same Hwy 104 roadway for quite some time.

It may be good here to pause to talk about our SAG (‘Supplies and Gear’) wagons and support drivers.  These guys simply can’t get enough credit.  We had two wagons/vans with us on the ride to support basically two groups of riders, the faster riders and the slower riders. Eventually, each group would break up into its own separate units which would then cause even more challenge for the drivers.  For the entire seven days of riding our drivers, Tom and Neil, would basically shepherd us along the route while catering to all our food, water and directional needs.  Sometimes, it was just a kind, encouraging word that we needed or a hearty ‘thumbs up’ sign out the window as they passed by.  As Tom so eloquently put it to Kelly one afternoon, “These guys get all the exercise, and we get all the stress”, and that’s pretty much how it is as they keep constant tabs on us throughout the day.  Every time I got out ahead, just seeing one of these wagons go past would be a huge sigh of relief that I was, in fact, okay…just as it happened today when Neil finally pulled up beside me at the side of the road and validated that I was still going in the right direction.  Whew!

Horsie enjoys lunch in Sodus Bay.

Horsie enjoys lunch in Sodus Bay.

After three or so hours of riding alone, I was more or less ready for some company so I continued to wait with Neil in the parking lot of a McDonalds (and somehow resisted the urge to run in for a quick milk shake) until two other riders, Steve and Richard, caught up and I joined them for the rest of the ride to Sodus Point for lunch.  Thankfully, we turned off the highway we were currently traveling more a more scenic route along the ‘New York State Bicycle Route 14’ which runs through pretty orchards and fields all the way to Sodus Bay.  There was still the ever present headwind to fight against, but at least we had more to look at and admire other than the bumpers and license plates of passing motorists.

In a word, Sodus Point is ‘gorgeous’.  As a group, we all reconvened at a restaurant right on the bay called ‘Abe’s Waterfront Boat House, Bar & Grill’ where I enjoyed a delicious bowl of lobster bisque and a turkey club wrap to fuel me the rest of the way to Webster.  It had turned into an idea afternoon for   riding being warm and sunny so, what the hell, I had a beer too.

Sodus Bay

Sodus Bay

After lunch, we headed out of Sodus Point along Lake Rd. through the coastal townships of Wayne County in upstate New York.  We passed by fruit orchards completely laden with cherries, fruit stands, and farmer’s markets galore.  It really was pretty country.  A little up the road in Pultneyville (after the hills), Kelly got her bike out again and started riding by herself for a while until I caught up with her.  Of course, she didn’t make it easy and it was a while before I actually saw her up ahead and followed along into the outskirts of Webster where we gathered as group again before heading into our final destination in Webster proper.

Our hosts in Webster were the local branch of Rotarians, who make quite a big deal about us arriving.  They had a mist machine set up to ride through and a huge garage to store our bikes, not to mention a cooler full of ice cold water and soft drinks which was much appreciated after four and a half hours in the blazing sun.  Afterwards we were billeted at a Rotarians house, named Karen, who was simply the bomb.  She allowed us to relax and enjoy a luxurious stretch in her pool while enjoying iced drinks and bowls of fresh local cherries and snap peas.  It was glorious.  I just hope she is prepared for the carnage we’ll inevitably unleash on her bathroom in the morning.

Barn along Lake Rd.

Barn along Lake Rd.

Later we were treated to a nice dinner at the local Legion by our hosts and after a few speeches and laughs, we caught up with two of our closest friends who live locally and went out for dessert and a bottle of Banana Bread beer.  Yes, banana bread flavored beer.  It was delicious.  It was nice to relax and enjoy some downtime and laughs with friends and it totally rejuvenated our spirits.  After five days of hard riding, it’s amazing how small things like bowls of snap peas and joking about all the current pop culture we’ve been missing the past few days can totally breathe life back into you.  It was exactly what our fatigued bodies needed…aside from a good night’s sleep, that is; which is totally what we would get not long afterwards.

Only two more days of riding to go.

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