In 2012, Daegan and I embarked on our longest ever bicycle tour: 500 Kindnesses. This project was treated like a charity bicycle ride in that we asked for “sponsors” to support us. But instead of sending money to a charity we asked them to perform a random act of kindness for someone. In the end, over 1,000 pledges were received. Our ride would take us from Toronto, northeast to Ottawa and Montreal then south through my home state of Vermont, eventually ending up in New York City. The trip was made on a tandem bicycle as Daegan was still young (only 13) and less confident cycling on busy streets like we might encounter in the major cities we’d pass through. Or perhaps, if I’m honest, I can say that I was far more nervous than he was and having him riding the same bike made me feel more comfortable.
Over the next several weeks I’ll be posting original entries from the trip.
July 3, 2012 – Approximate distance: 70 km
Our third day began relatively late after a leisurely (and delicious!) breakfast in Cobourg. We headed east along the Bike Rally route. Today’s destination: Picton, Ontario.
We headed east, following the route I used for the Bike Rally ride from Toronto to Montreal for the previous two years. Not long after we left we arrived at Colborne and though it wasn’t too long past breakfast, travelling with a growing 13 year old often means eating like a hobbit with first and second breakfast, brunch, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, evening snack, and bedtime snack all on the menu as a general rule. Add a long bike ride to the mix and you have an almost insatiable appetite. And so we stopped for an order of fish and chips.
One of the things we quickly learned about traveling while touring is that there are times when one needs to put a bit more trust in humanity than one might normally with a bike. And stopping for lunch is one of those times. With 50 lbs of gear packed and loaded on the bike, it isn’t really feasible to lock up the bike and carry all the gear inside. Instead we locked the bike somewhere relatively visible to us from inside, and left the gear there. As we ended up in more and more rural spots, we often would forgo the locking of the bike. Riding a tandem bike can be tricky for a new person, riding a loaded one with no stoker even more so. And so we trusted that even were someone shady enough to want to steal it they probably wouldn’t get too far and would be pretty conspicuous about it.
At the same time having a loaded bike, particularly one with front panniers, instantly makes you identifiable as a person on a bicycle tour, not a day trip and that often got us attention as it did when we were about to start off again after eating lunch. This time a couple came over and asked about our trip, where we were going, what our route was, what kind of support we had and so forth. We then shared stories of bicycle travels – this guy had done a bunch of riding and had just recently managed to ride from Montreal to Toronto with a full load including tent and sleeping bag in only four days – about 150 km/day. Very impressive considering that this was about twice what our average daily distance would be. At the end of our discussion they told us that they lived in Montreal and would love to host us for dinner and if we were interested, an overnight stay. Unfortunately, given their location, it wasn’t feasible in this time around but it was still a lovely gesture and definitely fit in with our experience of the cycle touring community.
Back on the road, now fully refueled, we headed back east, soon arriving at one of the Bike Rally rest stops by the lake. We stopped again, and while I relaxed, Daegan explored the lakeshore looking for cool rocks and fossils – things that would take up more and more of our pannier space as the ride continued.
This was rather an exciting rest stop on my last charity bike ride through the area. During the night before that ride, severe thunderstorms had pounded our campsites, flooding many tents and making for a rough night for many. We woke that morning to a continued downpour and thunderstorm and it looked as if we wouldn’t be able to ride because of lightning. But at the last minute, the rain broke, and we were off, albeit a couple hours late. But, when we arrived at the rest stop Daegan and I found ourselves at, a nasty surprise lurked off to the east. Another set of tall dark clouds were bearing down on us. I had a quick break and pedaled like crazy to try to outrun the storm but it was for nought. We ended up in the middle of it – 300 riders in a downpour so heavy that the raindrops stung like little needles.
Today, though, while there was a chance of rain, there was no sign of the sorts of clouds that would give us much to worry about and we headed back on our way. Daegan was feeling like some Johnny Cash, and so with Live at Folsom Prison playing out of the back pocket of my jersey so we could both hear it we continued on our way past Presqu’ile Provincial Park.
A bit further found us at the Murray Canal, one of my favourite rest stops on the trip to Montreal. In the whole time we rode the Bike Rally route, it always seemed a little empty without the other riders and road safety vehicles and volunteers giving us directions, but it seemed especially lonely at the rest stops. Where was the crowd gathered around the snack table? How would you know you were keeping the pace you wanted to if you didn’t see the same folks at the water refill station you always do?
The clouds built up a bit more as we rested at Murray Canal, and I was getting a little tired as well. Riding a loaded tandem bike, weighing close to 500 lbs with us and our gear on it was definitely a different experience than riding an unloaded bike to Montreal and I talked with Daegan about the option of cutting the day short and stopping at our usual Day 2 lunch stop, a B&B about 80 km into our ride. We decided that that wouldn’t be a bad idea and so I called them. Sadly, they were completely booked. No room at the inn for us and so we had another 50 km or so to get to our next couchsurfing hosts.
Once we got to Consecon, we reached a point where google’s suggested route diverged from the Bike Rally route. Google suggested a shorter, offroad route with 30 or so km on the Millenium Trail. It wasn’t far from the Bike Rally route so we decided to give it a shot. And here we found our first experience with some of google’s shortcomings relating to bicycle routing. We rode about 50 metres down the trail, before we realized that with all the leftover railroad gravel on the trail, going was going to be painfully slow and leave me with very sore forearms from wrangling the handlebars the whole way. So we stopped and started to turn the bike around and as soon as we did, the insects noticed us. Mosquitoes, black flies, horse, and deer flies all seemed to come at once and we ran from the woods and back to the road.
Back on the road again, we headed for Picton by way of Consecon as the sky darkened with the approach of a storm. Our route took us back into some rural areas around Consecon Lake, and as we got to nearly as far from any place to stop to take shelter, or better yet, to stay the night, the drizzle started. And so we began to sing, making up new lyrics to a song “25 Kilometres to go” based on Johnny Cash’s song, 25 Minutes to Go as we trundled onward through the rain.
Just as we hit the farthest side of the lake, the road turned and we passed a small campground. “What the heck, I thought. We have no tent but maybe they can find a place for us.” And so we pulled in and stopped in front of the office where the manager was sleeping outside on a sheltered couch. She woke when I arrived and I asked if they had anything. As it turned out, not only did she have something, she had a trailer with a large screened in porch right on the lake. But then came the challenge: they only accepted cash or cheque and we were easily a 40 minute bike ride or more from the nearest ATM. With that kind of distance we might as well continue on to our planned destination. But before I even had time to worry about that she had offered to drive us to town.
And drive us to town she did, and offered to wait while we ordered takeout at a local restaurant, and showed us to the laundry facilities in the campground.
The best thing the manager did, though, was to insist that we had to swim in the lake before we left. While it looked cold, it was far from it. And so, as the rain clouds left the area and the sun started to set, we found our way into the lake. And it was “like bathwater” just as she promised it was.
But as we fell asleep, we still had one question: Where would we go tomorrow? Would we ride to our planned host in Picton, find a way, albeit a bit longer now, to the scheduled stop for that night, or something entirely different?