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Of Wheels & Watersheds

May 6, 2011

Ride: 67km—Guelph and back. Sort of. Or Guelph and back.*

Weather: Beautiful. Sunny. Even warm.

A tale of two rides. I attended a workshop on teaching the global history of science and technology at the University of Guelph. Last weekend, I experimented with “commuting” to a symposium, taking a backpack with clothes and shoes with me while in cycling kit. It’s weird: I commute to work on a regular basis, but I find there’s something intrinsically awkward about doing this on my road bike. In actual fact, it’s barely an issue. I have a nice, small pack, which I don’t even notice while I’m riding unless I get out of the saddle. At that point, it bounces around a little, but it’s more distraction than impediment. Beautiful, sunny weather; I’ve been looking forward to the ride there and back all week. Guelph is roughly 42kms away, but it seems further, even in the car.

I discovered just how far yesterday morning. About 15km out of Dundas, I punctured. Rear wheel. Sneaking around the house before people were fully awake (I left, later than I had intended, at 7:40), I almost forgot my notes for the talk I was to give. Remembering those, I slinked out of the house (this is the build-up to an excuse and further drama). At the top of the hill on my way out of Dundas, I realized I had also forgotten my patch kit. Running a little late—and not having had any trouble in more than a year—I carried on. Brock Rd. has a mild but steady increase to it. Barely noticeable until you realize you don’t seem to be going as fast as you would like and your legs are a little more tired than you think they ought to be. It also has a quarry off to the side and heavy trucks make use of the road, which isn’t in great condition. It’s not horrible, but there are regular cracks and mild bumps along the way. Just as I approached Safari Rd., I could feel something wasn’t right. Even before I’d pulled over to the side of the road, I knew that I had tempted fate. No way to make roadside repairs. To add to this cyclist’s shame, I don’t own a cellphone, which meant I really was a bit stranded. I threw myself at the mercy of the first house. The owner very kindly let me use the phone to call home.

Mrs. Velonista, for whom my cycling is quite frequently an inconvenience and considerable expense, very graciously came to my rescue—waking our littlest and putting her in the car. It was such a beautiful day, I wasn’t even that bothered by the wait or the circumstances. It seemed to me that the best course of action was to whip home, drop family, and then drive out to Guelph. I’d be a little late, but none the worse for wear. My wife, however—saint that she is—provided me with the closest experience to becoming a pro rider that I will ever have. Not only did the “team car” come collect me roadside, but she also insisted on driving me to Guelph, dropping me at my workshop, and then continuing on to get my tire repaired so I could ride home (hat tip to Bits Bikes and Boards, whose staff really impressed her). Which she did. And all in good nature. I am a little, undeserving man. Humbled.

And the ride home was fantastic. I was nervous on every bump (the tires are just beginning to show their age, and probably responsible for the snakebite flat), but it was such a smooth and steady ride home, along back roads to avoid Highway 6. I managed a very steady rhythm in a big gear, completing 52km in roughly an hour and a half. Not bad, factoring in the fact that I seemed to manage to hit every red light in Guelph on the way out and the hills along the way. (And my being tentative on the long descent into Dundas).

After crossing over Highway 401 and turning left onto Gore Rd., I was greeted by a sign that informed me I was entering the Hamilton Harbour Watershed. This was satisfying on three counts:

1. I was headed in the right direction.

2. Entering the Hamilton watershed meant that it was downhill from here.

3. I experienced a curious sensation of home.

First, 2. M. C. Escher must have designed the Hamilton Harbour Watershed. Upon seeing the sign, I turned right onto Foreman Rd., and spent most of the next several minutes climbing a series of hills. Which seemed counterintuitive. Knowing I was headed in the right direction was good. One of the peculiarities of this kind of “commuting” is that rather than riding a loop, which begins and ends at home, a singular line is a little harder to navigate on unfamiliar roads. For some reason, there is no direct route between Hamilton and Guelph (other than Highway 6); the grid of concession roads all head off at 45 degree angles in the wrong kinds of directions. Between this and dead-ends, the ride home consisted of considerable zig zags on roads I didn’t know. Getting back into familiar territory, on Highway 97, shortly after entering the watershed was a mild relief.

The sensation of home, though, was interesting. I’ve noted that Ontario doesn’t feel like home. And I don’t think most people think explicitly about place through watersheds. We do, but not consciously. The sign, though, implied a curious sense of kinship with the surrounding (still alien) area. These were my neighbors and home was on the horizon (figuratively speaking). Part of this might have been the relative fatigue I was experiencing after the day’s workshop and riding (another issue with the two-part ride is that I typically have to forego a good stretch after the first leg, which leads to some stiffness). But home also conveys a sense of belongingness, and that constituted a warm welcome, especially after the adversity of the morning.

In other news, yesterday’s rides put me over the 500km mark. Lower than where I hoped to be by May, but more than this time last year, when I was only finally getting back on the bike after being laid up with a sprained ankle. The goal is to be over a 1000 before the end of May.

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