That’s how it started. Nothing says “Hey! I’m September!” like a swing from a hot and humid 35C to a cool and windy 12C.
The Railway City Cycling Club (RC3) did a great job of pulling together an event for all the local cycling clubs to participate in, the Roady-Groady Tour. There was great attendance from the London Centennial Wheelers and the London Cycling Club. There was a bit of a falling out with the County of Elgin this year due to some disagreements about the fundraising model, so RC3 went ahead on their own. The event consisted of two road routes and two gravel/road routes. Looking for some adventure, I picked the long (80k) gravel route designed by Curmudgeon in Chief, the man that had me introduced to the glories of gravel riding, and the leader of the Roady-Groady initiative, Derek.
The night before, I learn that both Cam and Jeff have bailed, one requiring a urine test and the other citing mysterious reasons. Given the serious amount of trash talking that led up to the event, completing the 80k gravel before Mel and Marty finished the 50k road with the kids was about to become more challenging. Well, I guess that means I get to make this a good workout then, I think to myself.
It started off so well! Living about 12km from the Roady-Groady HQ in Shedden, I decide to ride in. During the 10k on Talbot Line, I average 40kph @ 250w and 160 bpm, a precursor for the interesting day ahead (huzzah, tailwinds). I get to the event about 20 minutes before departure and the parking lot is pretty full. Grabbing an air horn from Derek, I get to give the pre-ride briefing and get the 100km roadies on their way (N.B. the group of mostly MAMILs averages nearly 37kph for the 104km route). I then loop back to grab the 80km gravel group, the dozen or so brave souls line up at the gates… and we are off. I hop to the front because I know the first gravel section is a doozy.
Gravel Section 1 - Moore Rd and Sixth Line (3km)
We hang a tight right and someone comedically (I hope) shouts out “gravel”. Game on.
I’m sure that Moore Road and the eastern extent of Sixth Line see about 2-3 cars a week - if that many. I’m happy in the front because I don’t have to navigate around others. The gravel is loose, the road is a bit rutted and the group quickly breaks up. I look to my right and Abe is there, plodding on with me. We cruise through at 28kph, it looks like it might be a party of two for most of the day. We relax a bit on Lawrence Road and wait for the group to catch back on. They do, we continue on.
Gravel Section 2 - Lawrence Rd and Second Line (4.5km)
Just past the 401 overpass Lawrence Road reverts to wide open gravel between large fields. We hold it steady around 33kph until the end of Lawrence, where the road dives into a small gully. We hang a left, still all together, and climb a short hill out of depression onto Second Line.
The group stays together all the way down Second Line where we are able to hold onto 37kph due to the lovely tailwind.
Gravel Section 3 - Iona Rd to Currie Rd (15km)
After a short southern segment on Iona Road, we hit a long gravel section. With that tailwind, we let loose a bit. After 5km into Aberdeen Line, we make our first turn. I look to my left and see Abe there still and look behind and see… no one. The rest of the group seems to have decided to stay back a bit. So it’s just Abe and I, on our own, for the next 60km or so. Knowing Abe is a strong endurance athlete, I’ve got faith that we will be just fine.
We have David (our great event photographer) for company as well! He snaps some great shots as we ride by, smiling with a tailwind. Does that sky look ominous? Maybe foreshadowing things to come?
We cruise by the first rest stop at Tall Tales Cafe in Wallacetown and continue south on Currie Road, knowing that our luck with the wind is about to be up.
Gravel Section 4 - Ash Line (3 km)
We get one last reprieve on Ash Line, where there is a bit of a hill but still a lot of tailwind. We come to my favourite intersection in Elgin County. Ash Line and Coyne Road - for some reason a four way stop?! Abe and I theorize on what kind of tragedy must have occurred here to create the desire for such a waste of signage.
We continue on the pavement of Coyne south and then catch our first bit of headwind on the paved and sheltered Lakeview Line back east. Not so bad I’m thinking, as I get down into a bit of a TT position on the gravel bike.
Gravel Section 5 - Lakeview Line - Wiley Road - Erin Line (11km)
Then the trees around the road disappear at about the same time as the pavement. We’re out in the wide open lakeside road with a cold northeast wind right in our face. I check to the side where Abe has been riding for most of the day so far and he’s not there. A quick check under my arm and he’s now sitting on my tire. Lucky for him, I’m a glutton for gravel based punishment I can cruise at 250w all day (well, a few hours at least). Unlucky for him, this is pretty much the toughest part of the whole course. Hiding from the wind is going to be the least of his problems in a few kilometers.
As we turn onto Erin Line, changing cross-wind for head-wind, Abe mentions that he’s already at the 80km mark, thanks to his ride in from London this morning. I file this tidbit away, in the “That’s going to make this hurt” section of my mind because I know our day is about to get worse with the painful climb out of the upcoming gully. But first, we must descend!
The descent sucks. Eating a face full of wind, I push down the hill. I’m thinking, “this was supposed to be the easy part!” We cross the bridge at the bottom and head back up the long and steep side of the ravine. Thankfully, this year it is hard packed!
I recall to Abe at the top of the hill that at least this time there isn’t a legion of turkey vultures waiting for their next meal on the top of the barn. We plod on in the headwind recovering below 30kph and escape to pavement on Iona Road.
Gravel Section 6 - Iona Road - Zen Rest Stop - Lake Line (7.5km)
Just over Fingal Line and Iona Road returns to gravel. We head slowly downhill towards the lake and the Zen rest stop. Derek’s wife (Lorraine) and daughter were great hosts as we devoured bananas, refilled our bottle(s) and swallowed some jubejubes. Sweet, delicious, gummy jubejubes.
We double back up Iona Road and jump on to Lake Line. Passing our trailing group on the way back, I note they are down to just four. I recall Mike mentioning something to me earlier about this road getting a fresh bit of gravel. As we direct ourselves northeast into the wind, there is indeed nice soft gravel. Wonderful, just what we need. I power on, knowing there is pavement not too far ahead.
About a minute in I notice that Abe is starting to fall off my wheel, I slow to give him some shelter until we can change surface and direction. Soon enough we are out of that mess and onto Boxall Line then back into the wind on Scotch Line - at least it is paved.
There’s a growing gap between my wheel and Abe now. He suggests that the jubejubes were a bad idea and they may be making a reappearance. I joke that no one wants to see multi-coloured vomit. I don’t think he appreciates my sense of humour at this moment. I lay off the gas and try to keep it together, knowing the next group is only a few minutes back.
Gravel Section 7 - Coon - Munro - Oneida - McDairmid (11km)
We finally trade pavement for gravel again and kiss the headwind goodbye. Abe is seriously hurting at this point and there’s a 15 second gap between us. I wait for him at the intersection of Coon and John Wise and he just cruises on by on fumes.
“I’m done, I’m broken” Abe tells me. He also says something eloquent and funny that I can no longer remember. He tells me to go on ahead and finish it off. I wait a kilometre or so to see if he gets a second wind, then I carry on by myself. Munro is fast with a tailwind and Oneida has trees in all the right places to keep the going smooth until McDairmid where a tailwind carries me back to Union Road.
Union Sprint and Finish
Approaching Union Road I see a long pacelne cross in front of me. Could it be them? I hear someone belting out Celine Dion’s famous cover of Eric Carmen’s “All By Myself”, it’s none other than Marty, Mel and the kids. Less than 3km out from the finish!
I push a bit to get up the road then slide along side the junior peloton, passing my greetings onto the group who must have put out some fantastic efforts. Looking ahead, I see Mel jump off the front and try to make a break up the road. I jump over to her wheel and wait until she’s done.
Knowing that both Mel and Marty have much more important events tomorrow, I figure that most of the fun is over with and I roll back into Shedden to collect my burger and relax.
Abe rolls in shortly after the kids finish and sums up the day in one statement, “Well, I paced that like an 8 year old doing their first 5K”.
I finish my chow, thank Abe for putting up with me and jump on my bike for the grueling 12km back home into the wind. I curse several times during that final stretch.
In the end, it was a great day put on by a dedicated group of enthusiasts that I am truly better for knowing. I hope that we can continue to grow this event so that I can share the pain and suffering with more souls next year!
Most of the pictures are taken by David Hinton, RCCC Club member and event volunteer
Streetview images from Google
All roads were open to the public. This was not a race on a closed course.