Monday, August 17, 2009

Zen Bicycling...a solo trip from Ottawa to Vankleek Hill

For most of my life, I have ridden my bicycle alone. Usually it was a work or school commute but sometimes a trip to the Gatineau. On Saturday August 15th, I decided to do a long distance ride, and by that I mean over 100km alone.

I picked the hottest day of the year. I was fortunate to be riding in the country but that had its problems. The first challenge with riding alone is a map. I had a small scale map and quickly went over it. Due to the scale, there were details that I missed and I ended up on a different route and having to do some 30km out of my way.

I discovered a lot of new little roads and lovely farmland scenes eventually sitting down on an old bench in an Anglican churchyard in Vars. I had ridden over 40km without a break and on such a hot day, that the painted wooden sign that read "rest and pray" seemed like an invitation to stop! The churchyard had a well worn wooden bench that was shaded by a tree, it turned out to be a wonderful place to have a break. I called Cyril to inform of my progress. I was actually further from my destination, Vankleek Hill than when I started despite my efforts.

Undaunted by the heat and despite the fact that the map was difficult to read with my contact lenses, I persisted making several wrong turns, retracing my steps, finding myself on gravel roads and concluding after a few near accidents that the gravel was dangerous for my bike, until somewhere near Ste. Isodore, I decided I needed to rest. The farmlands have very few trees and corn does not provide sufficient shade. I stopped at a house and stopped my bike in the shade. The couple who lived there provided me with a glass of ice cold water. On a very hot day, ice water is almost a religious experience. He was an iron worker and made beautiful wrought iron doors and fences. He pointed out a much more direct route and my time of wandering in the farmlands was over.

The roads that I took, county roads and back roads were devoid of all traffic. There was only once that I met a mechanical device. It was a huge, green, monster of a farm machine with prongs. It was so wide it spanned both sides of the narrow roads forcing me into a wheat field to avoid being swallowed into it. I waved as they passed me by. Apart from that encounter, the roads were entirely mine.

I could hear the crops growing in the heat. At one point, I stopped at the edge of a farm beneath an enormous oak tree. The farmhouse had a variety of bird houses and the tree was covered with birds providing me with a chorus of singing as I stopped to have a long drink and eat a snack.

There is something very zen like about distance cycling. You are not bothered by keeping pace with others, or talking. That being said my average speed in the heat was 26km/hr. You are reliant on your own map reading abilities, and mine were lacking. You are also reliant on your own mechanical skills, and mercifully, mine were not tested on this little journey.

As I approached Vankleek Hill, my map indicated a turn. I could not find the turn off and concluded that I must be miles from my destination and well past the turn off. I had ridden fairly non stop for 4 and a half hours and concluded I had at least another hour to go, judging by how lost I felt I was. I stopped at the edge of an enormous farm and called my husband, who was waiting for me in Vankleek Hill. He picked me up as I waited beneath a large tree in the grass. He arrived a few minutes after my phone call and as it turned out, I was less than 2km from my destination, having misread the map.

After I got changed in Robin and Jim's farmhouse I spent the rest of the day at the Vankleek Hill fair watching Barbara show her neighbour's Aryshire calf, and learning about how the Judges judge the showing. She on first prize. I also indulged in a candy apple and listened to an excellent all female band called "dirty dishes". Their harmonies and energy were terrific as they belted out their music in cowboy boots and sleeveless dresses. It was the perfect compliment to my Beau's beer. The song was about "medicinal water" and the miraculous effects it had on many people, and Beau's beer is, after all, made from spring water!

There was a bird of prey show, sheep shearing, wagon pulling, cow shows and of course the rows and rows of prize winners. As the afternoon drew to a close, Cyril and I had dinner with Robin, Jim and Barbara then drove home. I had ridden some 130km.

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