This summer, I decided that I was going to try to see just how far I could go on my bike, with the goal of doing an American century (100 miles = 160km) and still be up for more the next day. So, whenever I’ve had a free day, I’ve tried to spend it on my bike. In fact, I’ve been spending so much time on my bike that I haven’t had time to write about it.
Before this year, my longest one day ride had been 140km on the Tour de Perogy. After doing several “shorter” long rides this year, mostly with friends, I decided I was ready to take the next step and attempt a ride that would rival my personal record, and get me some beach time – a round trip to Lake Miquelon.
I had a sunscreen fail on this ride. In addition to a blotchy burn, I got a burnt stripe between my bike shorts and the hem of my skirt. I only sunscreened to the bottom of my skirt, but of course it rode up as I rode, leaving me with bike short lines for the rest of the summer.
On this first ride, I was particularly concerned with getting enough food and not bonking. On average, cycling burns at least 500 calories per hour. That means that for 8 hours of cycling you’d need to consume an extra 4000 calories over and above your regular food intake (which is 2000-2500 calories a day for most people). I loaded up on complex carbohydrates in the days leading up to the ride (those calories are easier to store), and took more sugary snacks with me on the ride (those calories hit your bloodstream quicker). At every stop, I shoved a granola bar or some other snack into my face. Even so, I have rarely felt as ravenous as I did the next day.
The evening ended with a little side trip to see family, lots of leftover fake jerky, and 145km under my tires. The next day I had enough leftover to head out of town again to see my parents for dinner. They probably wondered if I’d been eating at all after scarfing down every vegan thing in sight then raiding the fridge for more.
My next big ride was to Sandy Lake, a place I vaguely remember going to as a young child with the all important nice beach. Learning from previous rides (including the peril filled Wabamun trip), I was sporting some stronger sunscreen, a white shirt & skirt to reflect the heat & UV of the incessant northern prairie sun, smaller panniers, and a handlebar bag care of the Raving Bike Fiend.
There was a vague familiarity to the road that snaked down to the lake to a memory imprinted in a preschooler’s mind so many years ago, face eagerly pressed against a car window. Not everything was as I remembered though.
Sandy Beach is a summer village that has seen better days. It seemed like every second cottage had a for sale sign, many of the rest looked run down and on a thirty degree day, the beach was completely abandoned. I cooked some lunch in a picnic shelter with the company of barn swallows and gophers before moving on, with the promise of a nicer beach on the other side of the lake.
I decided I’d better start heading home, and stopped in Sandy Beach again for food, water and gatorade (of which I bought the last bottle).
At the Burger Bar, the other business in this sleepy hamlet which was surprisingly busy for a Sunday night, I met some of locals, who were both colourful and refreshing. The cook noticed my bike and asked where I was heading, and was shocked when I told her I was going back to E-Ville and that I’d also ridden out that day.
“Why did you come out here?”
“It was about the right distance, plus I was kinda hoping for some swimming and beach time.”
Loud laughter erupted from everybody within earshot.
“Well actually, there are some kids who paddle out to the middle of the lake on boats and swim there, but everybody usually goes to Nakamun lake, it’s about 15 minutes away by car.”
Unfortunately, it was too late to be headed anywhere but home, and once again I raced there against the sunset.
Having not had my planned swim, I was still covered in greasy sunscreen. This was a problem because as the sun got lower in the sky, swarms of tiny black flies hovered above the land, and whenever I rode through these swarms, hundreds of the flies would get stuck to my greasy legs until it looked like I’d been playing in the mud (but it wasn’t mud, it was flies!!!!). I’m not doing too well with sunscreen. I ought to go back to using the powder that comes off of aspen trunks.
Gross but safe, I made it home in the twilight, but not before a stop at the leg grounds for an unsuccessful attempt to remove the greasy mess. Later, when I sat down with google maps, I was pleasantly surprised to find that at 147km, it was my longest ride to date.
The next step would be to ride the full century. I decided a return to Wabamun would be in order as it would be the right distance and I knew the beach there was lovely and swim-able.
When I rode out there earlier this summer, I was going slower than I could because of a damaged bike and slower companions. This would be the day to really test myself, with no excuse to hold back. I knew I’d have to ride farther than the provincial park to complete the century, so I headed to the town of Wabamun.
My original plan was to ride up Lakeshore drive to coal point (where there’s a beach made out of coal) but I got a rather late start, and if I went that far, the prospect of riding on that narrow road in the dark was quite real. Also, with the railroad tracks & allowance between the road and the lake, and blandly reclaimed former coal mines on the other side, Lakeshore wasn’t nearly as scenic as the name suggests.
With darkness creeping up behind me, I rode the 80km home in an astonishing (for me) 3 and a half hours, including snack, drink, bathroom & smoke breaks. Riding the highway in the dark wasn’t as frightening as I thought it would be. I had lights & lots of reflective gear, the traffic was light, and cars gave me a wide berth. The white line on the highway became my guide, and the scariest moments were when that line disappeared at intersections leaving me in disorienting blackness. As I rolled back into E-Ville, I was still energetic, and may have inadvertently serenaded another cyclist who was riding right behind me on Stony Plain Road with a complete version of Short Native Grasses, ipod singalong style.
Because I turned back earlier than I planned, when I got home I plotted my route carefully to find my total distance, intending to head back out if I came short of the century mark. The tally? 160.9km! I did it (barely)! I’m a centurion!
A couple days later I rode back out to Miquelon with friends. I didn’t take very many pictures that day, but I’d like to share this one. Because, for me, it isn’t all this riding that leaves me breathless.
In cycle touring, it’s about the journey, not the destination.