Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour 2003

By Markus Wandel, with pictures by Andrew Lavigne and Markus Wandel

If you just want to see the pictures, check the links at the bottom...

Last year I was a total newbie. This year I'd seen it all before, so I wondered how much fun it would be - just a long, long ride where I already know all that's coming. Would it be worth another writeup? Should I even bother taking the camera? We shall see.

For a hiker, spring is not really the best time to go into the mountains: Lots of mud from the melting snow, and then lots of bugs. A good time to go biking. This year, with the spring colder than usual and fairly wet, I still managed 1680 kilometres of pre-RLCT riding. They say you should have 1000km minimum and I find this about right, since it was about the 1000km mark where I realized that long rides were painless and fun again! You can, of course, complete the RLCT on much less training, but for me it's supposed to be a fun ride, not an endurance test.

You always take a chance on the weather, and this year it started raining almost as soon as we got started and we got pretty wet. But the rain only lasted half an hour or so, and the rest of the day was in a modest headwind under grey skies with cool temperatures and the occasional minor drizzle. On Sunday the weather was textbook perfect, beautiful sunny skies, warm but not too hot, and with a very slight tailwind from the south.

Pu, Andrew, Jenn, Markus, Dave, Caroline (Picture by Andrew)
Our group of six (Andrew, myself, Caroline, Dave, Jenn and Pu) started out together and joined up with others as opportunity arose, to the point where there was about 18 of us when we hit the hills around Westport. To someone still not used to group riding, leading such a large pack is quite neat. Unfortunately, since we were not well matched, our group broke up on the first significant uphills and we did the rest of the ride just riding by ourselves or drafting random solo riders.

On the way back, we split up and only Andrew, myself and Caroline rode together. Since we were fairly well matched, we decided to find a pack that would take us. We joined the next one that passed, and it was perfect - their hill climbing and flat performance matched ours. A bunch of them had just taken the OBC group riding clinic, and were eager to pass on what they had learned, and truly I learned some important stuff. Above all, do not ever allow your front wheel to overlap the rear wheel of the person in front of you. If you do, and that person then swerves unexpectedly, you crash and so does everyone behind you. I had crashed like this only a week before while riding with a couple of friends so I heeded this advice carefully from that point on. Also we learned many hand signals and other group discipline, though I was usually too slow to pass the signals on meaningfully to the rear.

We were glad to note that we were fit enough to do our turns leading the pack. In fact, we usually had to be careful to keep a manageable pace. There were many calls of "pace down" when the stronger riders were in front. At times we flew along as fast as 43km/h. Once again, the pack stabilized at about 18 riders, which is two rows of 9, and when such a pack is in motion, it is an impressive sight and sound eliciting thumbs up gestures and cheers from people by the side of the road, and passing smaller groups and solo riders as if they were stopped. It feels like everyone together is a mighty unstoppable machine. Awesome, but you must always remember that it is much more fragile than it looks, and a mere pebble, disregarded and getting under someone's wheel, could bring the whole thing crashing down.

One thing that you can't do when you ride like this is gaze at the scenery, or sit up and ride hands free and uncramp your shoulders. You even have to be careful reaching for your drink bottle. But you really feel part of something and it is thrilling. I love the sight of a large pack pulling into a rest stop or doing almost anything else, and I love it even more when I'm one of them.

Once again, I was riding one of the oldest and least sporty bicycles to be seen. But my old Schwinn clunker is in perfect repair and fits me, the extra weight doesn't bother me, and anyway it's what's in the leg muscles that counts, not what's printed on the frame, unless you're into competitive racing of course. I did cruise through the 2km of dirt road near Perth on my kevlar-belt tires with no worries, whereas I saw three people get flats with their high-tech 20mm lightweight tires on aero rims. I also have the "wrong" kind of saddle (a cheap, wide mountain bike seat) and I ride in ordinary sneakers on a cheap pair of plastic pedals. Countless people have told me to upgrade to cycling shoes and clipless pedals, but I finished the RLCT with no pain whatsoever in the tush or the feet, so why change what works? Plus a friend who took the sag wagon said it was full of people who had knee problems, and he himself thought that pulling up on the pedals caused his particular problem that forced him to drop out. So, call me a luddite if you must. I may change my tune when I finally get addicted to the high-tech stuff.

Caroline and Markus at speed (panned shot by Andrew)

Oh, my perverse satisfaction in having the junkiest bike in the whole RLCT was ruined when we met up with a couple of riders riding rusted all-steel 1970s bike boom vintage ten-speeds, no better than I could get for $20 at almost any garage sale. I so wanted those guys to be stronger than all those high-tech cyclists, but they were just a bit slower. I have no doubt they finished the tour though.

We also saw a one-armed guy cycling, and a guy on a recumbent who was pedalling a solid steady pace so we leapfrogged him all the way down - we would pass, then we'd stop for some reason, he would pass us and so on. At the Perth Road Village store, what was funny was two small dogs who were barking up a storm the whole time. From where they were tied up, no bicycles or brightly lycraed riders could be seen, but they could just smell the cyclists, and of course every dog knows that bicycles are evil and it must defend the world against them to its last dying breath. How a million years of evolution taught the dogs this, I will never know.

When we got our room numbers at Queen's, we discovered the disadvantage of registering separately at different times: The six of us were in four different buildings. Next time, we register together.

At dinner The food was better than last year, with roast beef as the highlight of dinner. For some reason, my appetite was not as ravenous as last year - I barely finished a plate and a half of main dishes and three pieces of cake, and then I felt full and didn't have any ice cream.

Caroline on cop motorbike The tour support was more evident than last year. There were two motorcycle cops who were obviously assigned to it fulltime and were always in evidence and obviously on "our side" and stayed in the dorms at Queen's overnight. There were two mechanic vans and two sag wagons.

On the way back, our group had just gone single-file for the short busy stretch of Eagleson Road, when the ominous "bike down!" call came from the rear. I looked back and saw a lot of bikes on the ground, people standing around, a stopped car. This looked serious. There were no injuries though and the car had nothing to do with it. Two riders had bumped bicycles and fallen and taken out several others. In no time at all, one of our friendly motorcycle cops was there, and ten minutes later a tour support vehicle showed up. One of the damaged bikes was still rideable after a broken spoke was dealt with. The other was pretty much wrecked and its owner had to ride the sag wagon for the 21km remaining. What a bummer! I saw that the fancy aluminum frame had dents in the top tube, which is not a good sign. Also the back wheel had 1/2" of lateral wobble.

Expert flat tire repair My average moving speed for the ride back was 27.0km/h because of the favourable conditions. However it took about 9 hours because of all the stoppages, even though these people were mighty good at changing flat tires (there were two), like a race pit crew almost. In Westport I had the satisfaction of my second fastest coasting speed ever (71km/h) going down and the fact that I made it up again on my 12-speed (last year I had to get off and push).

I had always wondered what the truck looks like that transports all the overnight bags. Well, I found out because it was delayed and just unloading when we arrived. It was a full-size transport truck! They were handing bags out and a long bucket brigade of volunteers handed them along to the appropriate area. I got to climb in and take a picture of that, and practically tripped over my own bag. Great! Also odd was that the huge mound of bags still in the truck had a bicycle sticking partly out of the top.

So, final impressions this year? It was great. Good weather, support, food and company, nice "big event" atmosphere, the training paid off, the bike worked fine, felt like I could ride right off to Champlain Lookout after arriving back at Carleton. A success. As if to underline the luck with the weather, as I write this (on Monday) there is a gale-force wind outside and everything is wet from intermittent rain. See you all again next year.

All the pictures:

Before the start, and ride to Kingston
In Kingston
Ride Back
After the finish

Authorship of the pictures is shown in the file names (_markus or _andrew).
Note that full-resolution digicam images can be provided on request.


Andrew's much more detailed writeup (with maps and GPS data)
Markus's RLCT 2002 writeup (more informative)
Markus's various bikes
Markus's home page