cycling

Niagara on the Lake to Niagara Falls: Such a pretty ride up and such a fun screaming fast ride down

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Sam’s story

It’s a ride I’ve done maybe a dozen times but I love it each time I do it.

I’ve done the holiday-with-friends version and the Gran Fondo version, each fun in its own way. Cyclists tend to be a bit evangelical. I love sharing my passion, including some of my favourite places to practise it, with friends.

This time I rode this route with friend, colleague, and guest blogger Catherine Womack.

My favourite direction is from Niagara on the Lake, up the off road bike path to Niagara Falls, and then back–whee! zoom!–on the Niagara Falls Parkway. You can warm up on the path, enjoy the falls, and then head back down. Yes, you can ride up on the road but the path is both shadier and takes a more forgiving route up the big hill. After a certain point on the way into Niagara Falls the bike path becomes a multi use pathway, a bit dangerously crowded with awe struck tourists. At that point moving on to the road seems prudent.

By the falls there’s the tension between the requisite cyclist-in-front-of-falls photo and the desire not to get one’s good road bike wet. Also, wet smart phones aren’t the best idea either.

We compromised by stopping short of the actual spray. Here’s our Canadian Falls selfie.

After that we zoomed away, riding on the road at a pretty fast pace, back to our car in Niagara on the Lake. Sad part? Balzac’s espresso machine was broken. We’re cursed. The first time we stopped there the power was out. And sadder still? Despite zooming we were were late for the session we’d aimed to me on time for (we’re here for the Humanities and Social Sciences Federation Congress) due to a lift bridge, a large ship, and a route back to campus that involved crossing the Welland Canal.

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Catherine’s story:

Today was my last day, both of the Canadian Philosophical Association meetings in St. Catharine’s, Ontario, but also (and as importantly) the last day of group riding with my philosopher/blogger/cycling friends.  Samantha and I got up early (really really early for me!)– 5:30am— to drive to Niagara on the Lake, a lovely little town on Lake Ontario.  We were to do a ride Samantha had done many times– on the bike path to Niagara Falls, then on the road back to Niagara on the Lake.  Round trip total 46K,  about 28 miles.  This is a great distance for me– long enough to get a good workout, and short enough so I don’t have to start thinking about where to refill bike bottles, even if it’s hot.

I am NOT a morning person, and certainly not a morning cyclist/activity doer.  But this trip has convinced me that there are joys to be had by riding early.  We started out at 6:51am, and Samantha quickly issued a warning:  the squirrels are out!  She was right– black squirrels were scooting around and often right in front of us.  She shared stories about cycling in Australia, where kangaroos pose a rather larger problem of this same sort, sometimes hopping alongside packs of cyclists.  Well, nice to know it could be worse…

Riding along a bike path, even on a road bike, has a different sensibility– it encourages a meandering pace, tempting one to stop occasionally to admire a view, take a picture, inspect flora, or even just pause to take a sip of sports drink and enjoy the scene.  The easy pace also allows for more conversation, and Sam and I swapped stories of places we had cycled, noting many of the small but important differences that make a cycling lifestyle easier or more difficult.  She told me that at Australian universities, there are very commonly showers on all floors of many buildings so people can walk.run, ride to work and then clean up for the day.  I really wish this were more common in the US.

On the way there was one very short but steep climb on the road, followed by a winding path up the escarpment and through the woods.  It was super-well designed to be gradual– I rode slowly but easily up to join Samantha who was waiting for me at the top.

We switched to the road once we got into Niagara Falls proper, and at that point focused on potholes, the occasional car (it was still before 8am and things were quiet), and finally: the jaw-dropping view.  We took the obligatory many pictures (including selfies with Falls in the background), and then headed back.  We were on the clock, as there was a conference lecture at 10am.

The ride back was on the road, and it was a different experience.  We were both focused on cars, road conditions, handling, pace– all those factors that a road cyclist manages in the course of her ride.  We chatted some, but for the most part just pedaled along the still-quiet country roads.  It felt like a completely different ride to me.  The surroundings looked different from the perspective of the open road (the path was shaded).  The view of the river was further away, and didn’t tempt me to stop.  I was also riding faster, so that meant (for me) turning more inward, more meditative, aware of my breathing, my leg cadence, hand position, location on the road, etc.  This is not a bad thing– in fact, one of the great pleasures in my life is a quiet road ride, my mind turned inward and mostly quiet, noticing the ways my body is making the bike move through space.
Remember that meandering woodsy path that we took up the escarpment?  Well, we opted to take the road back down, and it was a screaming downhill– a little winding, so we both scrubbed a bit of speed (but not much), steep and in good condition (no potholes).  This was followed by that steep bit down on the road, so it made for an exhilarating descent.  I whooped at the end.
Before I knew it, we were at the parking lot.  I was sad it was over, but am already making plans to come back for more bike explorations of this area, hopefully with some of my blogger pals!

 

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6 thoughts on “Niagara on the Lake to Niagara Falls: Such a pretty ride up and such a fun screaming fast ride down

  1. Sounds as if it was a great ride for both of you. AND I think that, for all concerned, I made the right decision to stay close to the conference that day, go for a run, and let you two climb up and scream down hills at the pace appropriate to your skill level! I look forward to our trip next year after the Ottawa Congress (or is it before) when we explore Gatineau, possibly with a larger group! I love cycling with other philosophers (who knew!?).

    You’re also both excellent teachers and I feel lucky to have access to your biking wisdom (and patience). Thank you!

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  2. Thanks for the shout-out, Tracy. Riding with people at different places on the cycling learning curve reminds me how much there is to learn, and helps me remember to focus on the basics as well.

    re next year: looks like Gatineau Park has nice hiking and mountain biking, too. And they rent mtbs nearby. Just sayin’.

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