No matter what scale you prefer to go by, (I grew up with imperial in the UK and have since completely migrated to metric), today, Charlie Bucket Cycles completed a century. There is, without doubt, a sense of achievement that one feels having ridden for 100 miles. I don’t think it makes any difference whether it is the first time you do it, or the twentieth time, you’ve ridden a fair distance. The metric century is not quite as exciting, but nothing to be sneezed at either. Although it must be said, that when we got to 100 km and realized that we were still two hours away from home one could not help but feel a slight twinge of “Oh boy, this is not going to feel any better“. Actually I was to be proved wrong: we all felt pretty damn good throughout most of the ride.
It has been a tough summer to get all three active members of Charlie Bucket Cycles on the road together. Our respective calendars have not aligned often, and between holidays and other obligations we’ve only managed to get out on what could be counted on two hands, but only just. I like to think we’ve more than made up for it on those occasions, however, and I don’t doubt that Andy and Paul would agree with me on that. Today was no exception.
As usual we had no set agenda for the ride other than we knew it was going to be a long one. We also stated that “We gotta take it easy guys, save some legs for later on“, but as always this seemed to be something that was only said and never acted on. So, off we went from Andy’s place, heading due west into what was a 10 km/h headwind. Nothing oppressive, but present nonetheless. Stage one, if you can call it that, was to get to the ferry crossing on Île Bizard. If you go there via the shortest route it’s about 22 km, but we weren’t out to take any shortcuts, and so we went all the way out to Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, through the John Abbott campus, across the Hwy 40, back east for a short while, then finally cut north across the island of Montreal before heading east again before eventually reaching the bridge that would take us across to Île Bizard and the ferry. By the time we stopped at the shoreline and had a few minutes to kill waiting for the ferry to make its way back from the north shore we had already done 36 km. Good start.
Once across the river, a ferry ride of no more than two minutes, you enter an altogether different land. The houses are no longer houses but mansions. They are grand, sometimes bordering on ludicrous, and on occasion prove the adage that money does not equal taste. Yes I understand that taste is subjective and not everyone will agree on what is tasteful and what is not, but I think that there are some commonly agreed to standards, largely dictated by common sense. These have been wantonly abandoned in this neck of the woods. I’ll try and remember to take some pictures next time I am out this way to show you what I mean.
After a brief sojourn through the streets of the ridiculously wealthy, you cross an industrial looking aqueduct that looks as if it belongs on the set of an inner-city crime show, and you enter an altogether different neighbourhood. It is funny, how in these modern times, there is still such a divid between the rich and the poor. You can sense the change as you cross the aqueduct. The graffiti is rampant and aggressive, and the dejected and forlorn looks of the few fisherman casting their lines off the bridge into the murky and smelly waters below complete a picture of ambivalence. I’m not judging, merely observing, and I could be way off, I’m just writing how I perceive things to be.
As we were rumbling along the main road through what was not a particularly scenic part of town, Paul suddenly cried out behind us that he had a flat. The odd coincidence here is that only two weeks ago when he was riding the very same road with Andy, he got a puncture as well. Now, I’m not one for reading into tea leaves and other odds and sods like that, but it is bizarre. Still, Paul’s an expert at whipping a wheel off, peeling the tyre from the rim, yanking out the now deflated tube and stuffing in the new one and then using his nifty little CO2 canister to bring the tyre up to pressure in no time.
We were not far from our first climb of the day, and we were certainly well warmed up for it. Well into farm land as you can see from the map above, the series of hills was as exciting to go up as it was to go down right afterwards. Heart rate and elevation metres well to the max, and the speed hovering at its lowest point for the day were clear indicators that we were feeling the burn. The descent the other side of this climb was epic though. It was there that we clocked the fastest speeds of the day, in the high sixties, with my computer locking it in at 66.6 km/h. I love that feeling of getting to the crest of the hill, chest burning and legs screaming, then starting to come down the other side. As you pick up speed, the wind that you were denied on the slow climb up feels almost icy on your skin as it evaporates the sweat. You drop down through the gears rapidly until you’re in the 11 or 12 sprocket and mash the pedals hard for as long as your already tired legs can take it, then you drop forward, pull your knees in until they are squeezing the top tube, and you let gravity do the rest of the work. You can feel your speed building as you keep plunging down the hill, your eyes scanning the road in front you you manically for tyre-width cracks, or worse, potholes. At the bottom there is a feeling of euphoria which confirms why you do this: it just feels good.
At 82 km we arrived in the little town of St Placide, or rather a gas station / depanneur on the side of the road. Gatorade, water, gels, granola bars and Mars Bars (for me only) were on the menu while we plotted which way to take back. We were on a high having completed several kilometres as a fast switching peloton maintaining a high 30s average speed. Our legs felt good and no one had any aches or pains, yet. The only shadow was in fact not a shadow at all, rather it was the sun coming full on as the clouds had burnt off and we were now in the process of baking, slowly but surely.
The peloton of three continued on its merry way following the aptly timed fuelling stop. We barrelled along le rang Ste. Étienne for 12 km before turning south briefly and then rejoining the route from this morning, right at the base of the big climbs. What could be more perfect than to start climbing again after 98 km?
In fact, we had all the motive we needed to make a solid charge up the hill. We spotted a larger peloton than ours in the distance behind us, actually only about 150 metres back, and they looked to be made up of about twenty or so weekend warriors. There was no way we were going to let these guys overtake us, just no way. So we knuckled down, got into a good gear, and just turned the wheel. When Andy does this on a hill, he tends to go flying into the distance and today was no exception. Within a minute he had pulled out a substantial gap on Paul and I who opted to stay together and work our way systematically up the hill. Three and a half kilometres later we crested the summit at a staggering (-ly slow) 14.6 km/h and we were still well in front of the gaggle still down the hill some way.
The next 10 km were largely downhill, all at varying degrees of pitch, and this allowed for some well needed recovery time. We came back through St. Eustache then Deux-Montagnes where we once again caught the ferry across to Île Bizard. Taking a breather and soaking up the breeze coming up off the water, we reflected on the journey so far. 121 km in 4 hours and 9 minutes and we had a choice to make. Do we take the ‘short’ way home, i.e. 22 km as mentioned above, or once again the longer route, the one which would actually get us to the true century? Well, there was really no contest there now, was there. We all instinctively knew what we were going to choose and sure enough, as we rode off Île Bizard, we turned right and headed west, away from home.
From the John Abbott campus, where we stopped one final time to fill up our drained water bottles, we were blessed with a steady tailwind. The temperature was now reading 29.1c and it felt like way more. The humidity in Montreal is a factor in the summer and had we known that it was going to be this humid, we may not have set ourselves such a big task, but no matter, we were only 15 km from home now and still feeling good. The only minor niggle was a slight cramping in the legs for Andy, but it was not enough for him to slow down much. I have a feeling that nothing is really going to slow this guy down.
At 152 km I decided to have a little fun with the lads. We were drafting off one another quite happily cruising along at around 31 km/h when I dropped down a few gears, moved out of the slipstream, and stood in the pedals and did my best Manx Missile impersonation. I pedalled hard, grinding the gears and pushing through the burning pain in my chest and legs. I was away! I’d surprised them! I……wait a second. Who’s that? Bloody hell…..it’s Paul and he’s going past me! That totally deflated me……he’d managed to catch me and pass me, and I could not hold the pace anymore so I sat back down and turned around. Well, at least Andy was still a way back, but then the bugger had cramp in his legs so I couldn’t really count that as a victory now, could I? Paul has always impressed me with his bursts of power and speed, and today, despite being the elder statesman in our group, he did not disappoint, once again beating me fairly soundly.
Rolling up to the house at just after one o’clock, we were all three elated. We clocked off at 160.46 km in 5 hours 19 minutes. The longest ride this year for me (not Paul and Andy who did 180 km a couple of weeks ago) and one that I plan on repeating a couple more times before the season is out. May be a long one in October for my birthday. What do you reckon fellas?