Heat, hills, and happy birthday Susan!



Or why we decided to ride 80 km in a heat advisory!

Yesterday was Susan’s birthday and we celebrated on Sunday with a bike ride. Not just any bike ride. Nope. We celebrated with a plan for a 90 km bike ride up and down the escarpment on heat alert day. Why? We have our reasons.

Me, I’m just back from almost two weeks without my bike attending academic conferences in Sweden and Scotland. Great for walking, not so good for cycling. (Or running. But that’s another matter.) So I was anxious to get back on my bike and ride. I also like riding with these wonderful people: David, Natalie, Susan, Sarah, and Cate. And it’s a birthday bike ride. My favourite. So hot or not, hills or not, I was in.

How was it? Well, hard. Really hard. Our Sunday ride actually reminded me of the bike rally last year which didn’t have those hills but did have the heat alert days. (Read about that here.) But we did the worst of the hills in the morning, then we had a lovely lunch break (with french fries and a strawberry milkshake!) and noodled around on the flats for awhile. By the end, we were all pretty beat. We ran out of water a few times and it began to feel like it didn’t matter how much you drank, you were still hot and thirsty. I had dried salt on my face–despite a shower and washing my face–into the evening. Ending at Susan’s house we were treated like royalty by Susan’s partner Tim. There was an optional hose down with cold water, pitchers of gatorade, cold beer, and lots of snacks. Also, a hot tub with the temperature turned down and an ice cream cake.

Happy Birthday Susan! That was a very hard thing with an amazing group of people.

Sarah’s story:

I rode first and foremost to celebrate the birthday of the awesome Susan. Also, after following Sam around Europe for two weeks of conferences, I definitely needed a long ride to get back in the groove before losing the next couple of weekends of Pride festivities.

But even more importantly, Susan’s birthday slog, I mean ride, I ended up learning some things!

First, I put a big fear to rest : I don’t do well in the hot weather. Heat alerts for me usually involve getting heat stroke while sitting in the shade. But riding in the heat is surprisingly okay. As long as you don’t stop (what red lights?) you make your own breeze. Reassuring for me as I was worried about surviving the six days of the rally at the end of July!

This was also a first ride for me to try wearing both sleeves and leggings for sun protection and cooling. I’m thrilled to report that they feel cooler than bare skin with sunscreen. Definitely a wise addition to my cycling wardrobe and best of all – no funny tan lines!

Because I have often ridden with Susan, Sunday’s ride was on familiar, tough terrain, so it was a pretty good yardstick for my progress on the bike. Even in the heat, I was able to just ride (in “granny gear” mind you, but still!) up hills that last year left me with burning thighs and gasping for breath. I was really happy to be able to ride with Nat and share every strategy I had learned to make those hellish hills less horrible (Answer? There is nothing you can do to make the second trip up the escarpment suck less.).

And because I’d completed the back-to-back 90km ride requirement at the end of May (fighting wind instead of heat!), I was perfectly happy to take a shortcut back to the garden hose, Gatorade, and beer waiting for us back on Susan and Tim’s lawn. Heavenly! Happy birthday, Susan!

Here’s some words from the birthday girl herself:

Last August, Sam introduced me to the idea of the birthday bike ride. I don’t know what is so much fun about doing REALLY HARD THINGS with good friends but I love it and I decided to copy her. . .again. My birthday bike ride was supposed to be a fun casual ride but given our training requirements and the heat, it was not very casual. It was a hard core experience with a bunch of invested people. From this vantage point, I romanticize it but when I wanted to throw up at Tremaine and Main Street, it was not romantic in the least. Hell is 6 lanes of fresh pavement, suburbia on one side and a corn field on the other, no trees at 33C. Luckily there was a man with a hose waiting for me at home. Think what you will of that. . .it was a great birthday.

Here’s Cate’s reasons for riding in a heat wave:

I was riding for a lot of reasons on Sunday. The “required” Bike Rally back-to-back 90km training rides, which Susan and I had planned weeks ago — I’m stubborn about that kind of goal. Celebrating Susan’s birthday. Celebrating life. And because the simplest way I know how to see the world is from the saddle of my bike. There was a terrible death in my family on Friday, and there was nothing I could do to be helpful until Monday. So I joined my gang and rode, feeling the hills in my every cell. The otherworldly light-headedness of riding in that kind of heat matched what was happening in my soul. I rode strong and hard. The heat cauterized some of the grief, the sadness that I wasn’t ready to let in. And being with alive, struggling, joyful people reminded me to be right where I was, be in my life.
Next, Nat chimes in:
I was going into Sunday mindful I was the slowest rider and least experienced. The day before I had done 120 km (my longest ride ever) with David & my partner Michel. I needed to get my back to back rides. I would get to ride with awesome humans. I needed some hills training. Sarah designated herself my sweeps pal and coached me along, preparing me for a coming hill or sharing gearing strategies. It was a very challenging ride for me. Being round I heat up quickly and because I’m not as skilled a rider it takes a lot for me to sustain even a modest 20 km/HR pace. I hit my first wall just before we stopped for lunch. My tired right calf started cramping as we passed Milton towards Campbellville. I started crying from the heat and fatigue. Sarah dosed me with some awesome maple syrup gel that calmed the cramps down. We ate lunch and I wondered if I had over committed. The wind was so hot it burned inside my nostrils. I took odd comfort when everyone admitted they were surprised how hard the ride was. After lunch we flew down the escarpment for what seemed days. It was glorious.
I hit the second wall around 70 km. I was feeling like I was crawling along and my glutes were on fire. The tears started again and I couldn’t stop. Everything hurt and I was just sick of the heat. I said I might need to end the ride and get picked up. After some chatting Sarah offered to take me a shorter route back to Susan’s and Sam came with us. We tootled back hitting about 80 km in total.
Afterwards we debriefed in the hot tub. I was pretty embarrassed about my snot bubble sobbing. I also knew that these were exactly the kind of humans I trusted not to mock or shame me. I felt safe to push past my limits and I’m glad I did. I got help all along the way. David updated me on my pace regularly, stressing how great I was doing for a back to back ride. Susan made sure the group waited for me to catch up at regular intervals. Cate has this amazing lightness about her when she’s on her bike as she calmly asserted it was ok for me to stop riding if I needed to. Sarah topped up my water, nodded emphatically when I muttered my self-soothing stuff out loud and affirmed that yes, these were cuss worthy hills. I’m so thankful to Sam for introducing me to this lovely group of people who are really into their physicality. It was an uphill ride through hellfire and it was awesome. I can’t wait to do it again.
Our lunch break!



We survived! After the ride, we relax

David said (on Facebook) “I realized in the middle of the night that we should have taken a photo of all of our bikes scattered across Susan‘s front lawn like we were 14 and hanging out.”

No bikes on the lawn photos but these capture the feeling





Also, if you want to encourage us you can of course sponsor our team in the bike rally.

And buy our t-shirt and mug, all proceeds to the rally!


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