Winter has lifted! Temporary reprieve, maybe, but Southern Ontario basked in sunshine and double-digit (celsius) temperatures this past (long) weekend, allowing previously S.A.D. friends, neighbours, and sport aficionados to come out of their dens, stretch their arms into the sky, and see light at the end of the seasonal tunnel.
[This photo shows a group of my students from Western University playing and jumping in the leaves. In the foreground are a young woman and a young man, arms and legs in the air, smiling in a happy, goofy way. The woman is wearing a turquoise top and a black skirt and boots; the man is wearing a striped jumper, jeans and loafers.]
As soon as I saw the forecast, I knew what was coming: a text from my riding friend Sue, copied to many of the hard-core touring members of my cycling club (the London Centennial Wheelers), to plan unofficial weekend club rides. In the end we did three: two very well attended tours Saturday and Monday mornings, and a smaller, even more hard-core, long ride north on Sunday for the keenest of the keeners. I decided to join Saturday and Monday, and Sunday I rode on my own in order to get a more controlled workout in.
Now, I’m not normally the kind of person who rides three days in a row. Unlike some of my club mates, I’m a voraciously eclectic sportsperson, and in addition to riding I row, I swim, I train, and I do yoga. I also walk a lot with my companion animal, Emma, and frequently that produces spontaneous hikes with friends in the back country around London and the GTHA. So typically I’ll do one club ride on a (spring, summer, or fall) weekend, sure – but one is enough. There’s lots of other outdoor activity to cram in!
[This photo shows me and my cycling club friend Suzanne in a close-up; we are wearing winter riding gear and I am covered in mud. We are both smiling into the camera; our clothing is reflective neon and Suzanne wears her cycling glasses. It was taken last winter on a (messy!) unofficial club ride.]
Not this weekend, though. First of all, the weather was, put simply, a gift. We hadn’t seen sun in so long that I was starting to think the heavens were as sad as I was about recent events in the U.S. and around the world! When the sun came up and the temperature rose on Saturday morning, I just could not resist the thought of getting out on my bike over and over again. After several months of sitting in a basement on a trainer, well – what a blessed change!
Beyond the lure of spring, though, was the looming pressure of something else: in three weeks’ time I’ll be in South Carolina, at Table Rock state park, riding for six days straight with friends connected to Sam’s cycling coach, Chris. We will be doing 70-100km a day, and there will be a lot of climbing (mountains!). I’ve done multi-day cycle trips before and I know what it feels like to ride hard, eat, sleep, wake up, and ride hard again: it’s, well, HARD. It requires some preparation on the routine and endurance front, regardless of how much base fitness I’ve amassed over the winter on my trainer and rollers. So I knew getting out all three days this weekend would be essential preparation for that journey.
How were the actual rides, then? Glorious, warming, instructive – though they were not easy, I know now that I am where I need to be fitness-wise and will be fine in South Carolina.
Here’s a quick play-by-play of what we did and what I learned.
DAY ONE: Saturday 18 February. There were probably 20 of us at the regular club meet-up point in downtown London at 9am; I saw friends I’d missed all winter, as well as a few I didn’t expect to see (including Cheryl, who will be with me at Table Rock!). Although the ride was unofficial, our tour director, Jeff, had a loose plan: the wind dictated we would go south and west. We set off as a bunch, but by the one-third point it was becoming clear who had been keeping fit over winter and who had not spent as much time on the trainer; some were struggling to keep up, and others were keen to push the pace. As we sailed south of the highway and west of the indigenous Oneida community nearby, we were starting to break up; one group member, a very keen, fast racer, was making things harder for the slowest in the group as he sought to pull beyond 30kph.
So, like, I was holding on, but still: that’s not ok. As many of us noted, it’s February! Nobody should be racing – or pushing a race pace – right now! When Jeff started to really press the rogue racer to slow down, we tacitly agreed to let him go off on his own. The rest of us regrouped and happily stopped for a snack and a coffee in Delaware, a little town just west of London. Then we did the short, sharp hill out of town, followed by “heartbreak hill”, our local long climb with the trick ending. A few punched it; Cheryl and I decided that slow and steady wins the race – and better prepares us for the climbs in Table Rock too. After all was said and done I’d logged 72km and 351 metres of climbing, and was feeling absolutely fine the rest of the day. A great start to the weekend’s riding.
DAY TWO: Sunday 19 February. Today I decided to skip the group ride and do my own thing. I got my period overnight, and was feeling crampy and groggy in the morning; I slept in rather than jumping out of bed at 7am, and when the sun reached its peak I pulled on some shorts (SHORTS! IN FEBRUARY!) and a light winter jersey and went south to the town of Belmont. The wind was brisk from the west – aka the opposite direction – but I decided not to care; again, it’s February. I’m not looking for personal bests, and I don’t so much care when I ride into the wind as long as I don’t let my heart rate spike too high when I do.
Plus, I felt the siren song of riding straight into the warm, welcoming sunshine.
[This image shows a water tower with the word “Belmont” in blue letters at its top, to the right of a two story yellow brick farm house. The sky is blue with a few clouds. The Belmont Strava segment is ironically – maybe? – called “city of wonder, city of light”.]
The tailwind blew me into Belmont. I worked at a low aerobic pace for most of the first half of the ride, and STILL managed to steal the QOM from Sam (sorry, Sam!); I paid for it on the way back, though, with the headwind holding me at around 24kph. I used that as an excuse to just stay aerobic; I tried to ignore my bike computer and stay low on the hoods and in the drops, enjoying the sunshine and feeling the mid-range work in my legs. At the end of it all I’d done 52km, and finally held a nice 27.5kph average, even with the headwind for the back 25km. A nice day’s work, and a welcome chance to be out in the sun, alone with my thoughts.
DAY THREE: Monday 20 February. Another big, unofficial LCW group met at 9am, and this time we rode east into the wind, to the town of Thamesford. The group was a bit more evenly matched than it had been on Saturday, and we worked pretty well together all the way to the coffee stop. After two days of riding, and 124km (a good amount for February, after a winter in the basement, I think!), I was still feeling happy, keen and strong; I took a lot of turns voluntarily at the front of the pack.
I have to stress that, usually, with my club, I’m a mid-range rider and just as happy to get off the front: I’m not the strongest and not the weakest. On today’s ride I could really tell my trainer and ergometer fitness was solid, though; I was feeling the benefits of some real endurance over the weekend and I was holding the front of the peloton longer than some of my usually stronger club-mates. I know by mid-season they will have overtaken me again, but right now I think I’m in a great place, fitness-wise, and am happy about that and looking forward to South Carolina!
[This image shows four Ontario alpacas in a farm field; the two on the left are white, and the two on the right are brown. One of each colour is a baby. The adult brown animal has its head down, grazing; the baby brown animal is looking into the back distance. The sun is shining although the sky is not blue.]
After today’s coffee stop I veered off course with my friend Leif, and we headed down a side road to visit one of our local alpaca farms. So wonderful to see the animals out and enjoying the sunshine! We gossiped and talked politics, gear, and cycling fashion. It was a really nice end to three glorious stolen days of riding.
Wherever you are, I hope it’s sunny and warm! Happy riding!