Last year I was at a work event when a presentation came up about a bunch of colleagues who cycled 700km from Montreal to Toronto, in Canada. With them using the ride to raise money for Save the Children. I sat there listening, thinking about one of my last cycling adventures and how it would be a great way of seeing part of Canada. Fast forward a year and I was up visiting my Canadian colleagues when one of them mentioned in passing that a similar ride was happening this year and that I should drop the team a note. Not long after that I soon found myself signed up for a 1000km cycle from Quebec to Toronto via Montreal where we would visit three of our offices and manufacturing sites in Canada.
Admittedly I was a bit late to the game and on top of this between other commitments and post running race recovery I didn't quite fit in the number of training rides that I had wanted to fit in.
One key thing I did manage to do pre-event was to get my bike properly fitted at Hilltop Bicycles. It is safe to say that if I hadn’t done this the ride would have been significantly less pleasant. Pre-fitting I would get on my bike and after an hour cycling it felt like someone had severely kicked my rear end. Even on a short cycle into work, the return leg had become pretty uncomfortable. I ended up spending a happy evening in the bike shop being measured and fitted to my bike. My bikes is now over 10 years old and apart from when I first got the bike where the focus was mainly related to my height vs the bike, this was the first time that I had everything checked and adjusted to fit me. Everything from where my cleats on my shoes sat all the way up. The crucial element for me came with measuring my bottom. I sat down on this slightly squidgy seat and after a few minutes got up to see 2 little dimples marking where my sit bones were. Immediately I was informed my seat was the wrong size, good to know as it explained a lot. From here it was a quick exercise choosing the seat to fit my width. It was such a difference from what seemed like a fairly random exercise selecting a wider, narrower, shorter seat etc in the hope that at the end of the day it felt better. After a few further alterations the job was done. My wallet a bit lighter but certainly a lot better than a whole new bike. The next day I took it out for a ride and the difference was immediate. I was more comfortable on it than I had ever been and felt a lot more efficient in the process. All that needed to be done closer to the event was to take it all apart to fly up to Canada in a way that doesn’t wreck all these adjustments.
It was the day before I was due to fly, and I was breaking down my bike so it could fit in a bike box when I became stuck removing the peddles. They just wouldn’t budge. Not wanting to spend too much time on it, I took it to a local mechanic to see if they had better tools for the job. The first peddle came off quickly enough. The second was stuck and needed to soak over night. Not really the answer I wanted but at least there was some progress. Having ridden in all sorts of weather and conditions it turned out that the grease I had put in over a year ago had finally all oozed out creating a pretty solid seal. The next day I turned up and the peddle was finally off. I quickly got back to the house to finish off the job and get it packed up for the flight to Quebec. Soon enough I found myself sitting relaxing on the plane as we taxied to take off. It felt like we had only just taken off when we were on our approach. The first surprise when arriving into Quebec was the fact that the dead pan immigration officer did not seem surprised or interested in the fact that my reason for being in CanadaI was that I was about to cycle from Quebec to Toronto. He clearly hears far more interesting stories through the day. It was a quick stamp and called out "Next!!”.
It was great to finally meet the rest of the team who I would be cycling with for the coming seven days. It was a pretty impressive group with a mix of nationalities and backgrounds from national level kayakers to head ski patrollers and everything in between. We even had one guy who had committed to complete the 1000km on a fat bike. Riding by yourself or with other fat bikers is one challenge but as I was about to be reminded doing this on a fat bike in a peloton of road bikes is something else. Equally being in a peloton for the journey meant we could chat with one another and given that this was the first time i was meeting everyone meant listening to some great stories along the way.
The route itself followed the St Lawrence river from the outskirts of Quebec City up river to Montreal and the mouth of Lake Ontario then on towards Toronto. Going up river there was a marginal incline as well as being in the direction of the prevailing winds.
The first couple of days were to be the easiest with ride distances in the 85 - 140km range making for a good warm up, allowing us to break into our stride. There was of course the odd coffee stop. Occasionally we came across a good caffeine stop shortly after starting the days ride.
The distances then started to crank up as we left Montreal for the leg to Mississauga, Toronto. The first of these coming in at 171km (106 miles) and although not massively hilly the temperature was in the range of 30 - 35C (above 90F). Making the middle part of the day excruciatingly hot. It was not the conditions I was expecting. I had left the Carolina’s only the previous week as hurricane Florence had started its approach with the rain beginning to fall and the temperature dropping. We drove out fo the state in increasingly wet conditions. Then whilst doing final preparations in New Jersey the aftermath of this storm had started to drift north causing it to become much cooler and wetter in the process. I had just assumed those same conditions would slowly drift north. Fortunately not! A high pressure engulfed the part of Canada we were cycling through with cloudless skies and one seriously burning hot sun. There was already some interesting tan lines with various bits of cycling apparel. The mornings ride took us through corn country with significant sections that were as straight and flat as an arrow with only the odd pothole providing a slight deviation in our route. Later on we ended up stopping by the riverside and after admiring how clear the water looked and how tempting it was for a swim we finally broke. After one of the team dove in, the rest of us quickly followed, most of us diving straight in with our cycling kit on. They may have padded shorts but we were fairly certain this heat would dry them out in no time. It turned out to be a fairly long and hard day but filled with some luxuries. On the outskirts of Montreal we spotted an ice cream and chocolate shop called Talie Chocolat, quickly pulling over and were soon spoiled by the taste and selection of treats. An ice cream and some of their home made cold chocolate milk hit the spot after a hot days cycle! Getting back on our bikes, we had hardly ridden at all when we overshot our destination. After some road and traffic negotiations we made it to our final stop of the day.
This marked the start of some challenging days a head with the distances increasing. This meant there was to be less rest in the evenings, our days would start as the sun began to rise. Meandering out of the towns as the commuter traffic began to start up. The mornings were glorious. Sunrise provided some beautiful sites across open fields and forests, silhouetting the riders a head. It was my favourite part of the day, picturesque and the temperature at its best. Not to cold or too hot. I felt like I could ride for hours during those early morning sections and in many ways it reminded me of the conditions riding in the UK. The first of these was a 210km day. Our route taking us a long the St Lawrence river in the region of the Thousand Islands. The flat meandering road provided the odd opportunity for a bit of a sprint mid cycle ride to break up the monotony with a mixture of thrill and dread given the distance still to ride. I ended up making the decisions late in the process as some of them had broken away making catching them and then continuing on all the more difficult. The bursts of speed along with the spectacular views made for a long but epic day. Although some of the team went for a dip I didn’t feel quite as overcome by the heat as the previous day so held off. We did however find ourselves at a vineyard. Like the original Tour de France fuelled by wine we pulled over for a small glass. Sitting there looking out over the vines and having a few sips of wine. The remainder of the day cycling through Prince Edward County. With some incredible views and great roads to cycle along.
At the end of our 210km day it really felt like we had broken the back on the ride with the longest distance day over.
As we edged ever closer to Toronto the route began to meander away from the city in a bid to get as little traffic as possible. This resulted in us taking a few dirt tracks, which on our road bikes was a fun little challenge. One of the team however was on a fat bike (and had been for the entirety of the bike ride so far) who was now in his element storming up the dirt road hills as we tried desperately to avoid getting a puncher. Just before the finish we even had time for a stop at a skate board park where some of the riders tested out their skills down stairs and around the park. We finished the penultimate night with a team BBQ. A perfect way for brining the ride to a finish before we arrived at the finish to be dragged in multiple directions as friends, family and colleagues were expected to be at the finish line the following day.
The final day arrived all too soon, thinking back to hours in the saddle to reach this point. All the sites, sounds and experiences we had over the last week as we cycled across part of Canada. It had been a great experience that was coming to an end all too soon. Although the final days distance was only just over a 100km we needed to be done by midday and we did not want to be late. WE rolled out of the hotel car park very much in the commuter traffic for the first couple of hours as we weaved about the roads, past traffic and picking up a few last punctures for the trip. It was also due to be the hilliest of the days. A perfect way to finish the ride. We set off at a steady pace. But as the day progresses the excitement of finishing built up. There were a few more direct road sections to complete and then a final coffee and cake break where we met up with some of the other riders before hitting the hills. The hills provided a chance to see some of the training area for some of the riders compared to a lot of the relatively flat riding around central New Jersey. With it being the final day we let loose a bit of the hills chasing one another up and up the switch backs to the summit. This was a glimpse of what was to come. Its safe to say the last miles were very much a sprint finish. It started with some decent chases between stopping points, where I found the limit of my gears where some of the group were able to keep peddling downhill mine had reached the limit as I effectively free wheeled down until i could start getting some purchase on the gears. Once we re-grouped into our now tight knit peloton we entered the final 20 - 30km to the finish for a brief lunch stop prior to the final km’s for the finish. Our speed cranked right up, our heads were down and fortunately the cooler weather fo the final day helping with this final speed burst. It certainly made me appreciate the level pro riders operate at as i think our speeds still paled into insignificance to their coasting riding speeds. Reaching the outskirts of suburbia it was time to start winding down the speed whilst we worked our way through the streets and suddenly we were at the final stop of the ride. The place was to try and ride into the finish as one huge group. There were two groups of multi-day riders then another 50 or so riders who had gone out for day rides. Unfortunately with punchers and mechanical issues slowing up some of the groups we had to make the final miles before all groups could make it as apparently there was quite the crowd building at the finish. Cycling the final few kilometres to the finish as a group of maybe 30 - 40 riders we came round the final corner to roaring crowd of supporters.
We had cycled from Quebec City to Toronto over 7 days with single and multi day riders. The team had overcome challenges from punchers, mechanical issues and a couple of unfortunate crashes. After just over 1000km we all managed to cross the finish line safe, sound and up for more cycling!!
All that was left was to disassemble my bike for the return journey back to the US.