challenge · cycling · fitness · traveling

Five Decisions that Shaped a First Cycling Trip

Early in the year, my friend invited me to cycle a 132-km rail trail in western Ontario known as the “G2G Trail” (Guelph to Goderich, which Sam has blogged about before) over the May long weekend. I said yes, though I hadn’t cycled seriously since summer bike tag with the neighbourhood kids over 30 years ago.

Thus began a series of decisions during a challenging but adventure-filled two-day cycling trip.

Decision 1: Get advice and follow it

Elan’s bike, Zoë, with much cycling gear gifted and borrowed.

From reading online articles about cycle touring I discovered water camelbaks. Where I got my bike tuned up I learned about comfortable saddle heights. I followed advice from fellow FIFI blogger FieldPoppy to spin at the gym in advance. Thanks to suggestions from friends, I purchased my first pair of shammy shorts and found myself unpacking and re-packing my gear 3 days ahead.

Result: Much gear and preparation that reduced my uncertainty somewhat.

Decision 2: Buy into shared optimism

Cheery friends, and our mascot, Hammy.

We all knew it was going to rain. The weather report had not shifted all week long. But the sun was shining hopefully when we set out from Guelph. Wearing all my gear, I looked like I knew what I was doing. At every kilometre sign, one friend did a fist pump and whooped with excitement. “Will she do that the whole way?” I asked another in our group. “Yeah, probably,” was the reply.

Result: Sponging up the eager optimism of my more experienced cycling companions, I gained confidence that all would go well on the trip.

Decision 3: Weather the storms

Very Wet Elan.

That’s not just a metaphor–there was a real storm. On our first break, while happily dangling our feet over a stream flowing under a bridge, we started getting texts and calls from friends, warning us about the bad storm that had already struck town. Trees down, power out. Yet, high on optimism and snacks, we headed back out on the trail towards the quickly darkening sky.

Water flowing on the trail.

Half an hour later, the storm hit us fully. The rain and hail that pelted our skin felt like glass. We were thrown off our bikes by the wind, and rushing water drowned the shale path. We had no time to find shelter as we were crossing a long, wide pasture area, so we took as much cover as we could behind a tiny tree. Since we were already soaked, we sat in the grass and had a beverage.

Result: When you can’t change something, go as far as you can go and then stop.

Decision 4: Get past the counting mindset

Do not ask when the buttertarts will come, yet be assured that they will sometime arrive.

Trail signs tell you how far you have gone, apps describe how fast you are going, watches share how long you’ve been going for, and digital maps show how far you still have to go. For me, counting minutes and miles was making the journey feel much, much longer, so I stopped. And when it no longer mattered the time or kms it took to get to where we were going (such as the Mennonite grocery store for fresh butter tarts), our destinations came a lot sooner.

Result: When my brain emptied of countdowns, it filled with good ideas, meditations on my work and my life, and thoughts of gratitude for the trip.

Decision 5: Feeling every moment, with friends

Kind trail stewards make available pay-to-take provisions for trail users.

There were some great-feeling moments: seeing two fuzzy fox kits, discovering coolers of drinks placed by trail stewards, finally catching sight of our Milbank B&B after a long day of riding in the rain. I cheered when a sore pulse in my right quad muscle suddenly went away. On a downward grade I stopped pedalling and, looking up, was thrilled by the trees tops rushing above me.

A relatively dry part of the trail. Not pictured: much wind.

There were also not-great-feeling moments: being cold, wet, and tired; annoyed at the ever-blowing headwind; frustrated by the muddy trail that slowed us down to a crawl. But by being fully present during those moments, and feeling supported by my friends, I stayed aware of what was going for me and those who helped me to get to where I was.

Result I: My group’s present-mindedness led us to appreciate all we had achieved together over two days of hard cycling. And our achievement let us be satisfied with ending our trip a little sooner than planned so that we could celebrate with warm pizza and cold drinks at a local craft brewery.

Result II: Me thinking about when my next cycle tour will happen.

Friends celebrating the end of a great cycling trip.

Row, row, row your boat! (Trying something new)

One of my goals in the “fittest at fifty” campaign is to try a brand new sport or physical activity. I’ve often admired rowers–it looks so beautiful and like cyclists, they get to play outside in the sunrise. I love watching people at rowing practice as I ride along river and lakeside bike paths. But it’s nothing I’ve ever done before.

An aside: I’ve been tempted in the past to try rowing but been put off by weight categories. Light weight rowers are tiny. I think the cut off might be 130 lbs for women. But the heavyweights tend to Amazon proportions. Often they’re 6 ft tall or more. When I was younger I would’ve been strongly encouraged to “make weight” to row as a light weight, I think. I’m only 5’7 and in theory that’s doable. Not without ditching some muscle these days. As I mentioned in an earlier post I’m currently 122 lbs of lean muscle and bone.

But I think that matters less as a Masters level rower and competing for fun. At the encouragement of a friend, I attended two sessions this week at the London Rowing Club and I’ve joined their Off-Water Masters Program as a beginner. Our first coached day covered basic erg technique (like this, 7 Steps To Seriously Effective Erg Technique). Since it’s Canada in the autumn/winter we’re inside for quite a few months though they also have a tank to practice in-water technique. Rowing turns out to be very technical. (You experienced rowers can insert knowing chuckle here.) Lots and lots to learn (I like that) and I think I’ll never be able to look at people using the rowing machines at the gym the same way again.

The second day was our first 2 km erg test. Here I discovered that rowers and cyclists have something in common, a love of suffering! So that’s one transferable skill from cycling.

Since I have no shame and part of the joy of a new sport is I have no idea how bad this is, I’m happy to share my results here. I’m a beginner again, I love that. In fact, I think it’s one of the best things about being in reasonably good shape is that you can try new sports and activities and focus on technique rather than the fitness barrier. We’re going to repeat these monthly and results are posted on the bulletin board at the club so we can track progress. I’m just a little bit competitive (even if just with myself) so I like that. 🙂

Here’s my November 2 km erg time and splits

110 drag factor
2 km time 8:45.4
avg split 2:11.4

400 m 2:00

800 m 212.6
1200 m 217.2
1600 213.8
2000 212.8

What I really like: There’s a keen coach. I need that. Like cyclists, rowers like to suffer and that matches my sports profile. A time trial is a time trial.  There’s also lots of women my age.

What I’m not so sure about: It’s more indoor exercising which isn’t really my thing. I worry the technique might be too tricky to acquire at my age. I’ll report back.

In the meantime, I’m watching videos like the one below on proper erg technique.