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 6, 2012 – Approximate distance: 90 km
Just before bed on our night in Perth, I did a bit of searching about what to do about my sore wrists and rapidly numbing hands. By the end of the that day’s ride, I had lost most feeling in my pinkies and ring fingers, and felt a bit numb on my ring fingers. There were a number of people telling anecdotes about their own bike tours in which their hands got so messed up they were no longer able to even eat with silverware. This was definitely something I needed to address and soon. The answer was simple in theory: lean less on my hands. I resolved to try to do that as we rode.
We left Perth after a quick breakfast and headed east bound for our first rest day. The first few kilometres put us on the Trans-Canada highway, a relatively busy stretch of road. Not the most pleasant of riding with all of the noise and fast-moving traffic, but there was enough of a breakdown lane to keep us feeling pretty safe. And not long after that we turned off onto a series of small farm roads where, once again, we were able to listen to some music (Back to James Brown for a bit today), and relax for a bit.
But not long after we got off the Trans-Canada I realized that simply trying to lean on my hands less wasn’t working. The bike was adjusted such that I couldn’t help but put a lot of weight on my hands. And even if I moved them into different positions, I still was leaning on them a bunch. The answer, I decided, lay in adjusting my bike for a better fit. The first step would be to deal with the handlebars.
Now most people would agree that changing out a major component like one’s handlebars just before a big bike tour is a bad idea. And I wouldn’t disagree with you except to say that in my case, the old ones weren’t working much better for me. And so I went with trekker bars. The bike shop installed them and I did nothing with them until this point. Today, though, I resolved that I would make them work for me. The bars were originally installed with the part closest to me significantly lower than the other side. And so I loosened them and rotated them so the front was much higher – higher, even, than the front part of the bars. I then adjusted the shifters and brakes so that they would line up properly. Finally, for good measure, I slid my seat a bit forward to make it easier for me to put more weight on my bottom and less on my wrists. We then took off and though it took a few more tweaks, the difference was amazing. These bars not only stopped hurting my hands, they were very comfortable. My advice to both myself for future trips and to others going forward is to take your bike fit really seriously. Though I fixed the problem with the bike fit on this day and nothing got any worse, it wasn’t until last week I got all the feeling back in my hands. Fit is important.
In Carleton Place we picked up the Trans-Canada Trail, a trail I rode much of as it wandered east of Montreal during a previous ride from Toronto to Quebec City. The trail was as good here as it was in Quebec: stone dust – not so deep that it was slippery though it was a bit slower going than a paved trail would be.
The only down side was that much of the land we rode through was wetlands. And while wetlands are beautiful as you can see, they are also breeding grounds for so many different insects, most of whom bite. So despite the heat, we didn’t stop often in this 30 kilometre stretch of road as any time we did, the bugs would swarm and would keep bothering us despite our using bug spray with a large amount of DEET. We found, though, that as long as we were going over 20 km/hr the bugs wouldn’t really bother us. This didn’t mean that they gave up, though. In fact, as we rode, a look at the shadow we cast showed the two of us on the bike, and clouds of insects big enough to show up in shadow following us.
Finally, though, we were approaching Ottawa and ended up in the suburb of Stittsville where we were able to find a couple of sandwiches at a Polish deli. By this time it was quite warm outside and even though the air conditioning in the deli was unable to keep up with the heat, it was still nice to get out of the worst of the heat and drink something cold.
Ottawa was a bit of a challenge to navigate through. There were a number of very good bike trails, but the cue sheet we made from Google’s directions was a bit of a challenge to work with.
73.49 0.04 | Slight right to stay on Promenade Navaho
73.73 0.24 | Turn right onto Navaho Dr
73.76 0.03 | Turn right
73.78 0.01 | Turn left
73.81 0.03 | Turn right
73.83 0.02 | Turn left
73.87 0.03 | Turn right toward Tower Rd
74.27 0.41 | Turn right toward Tower Rd
74.37 0.09 | Turn right toward Tower Rd
As you can see, the specifics, when it comes to bike routes are a bit light. Unless your odometer is perfectly calibrated and you’re watching it like a hawk, it’s really difficult to know exactly where to turn and so we got very lost and relied a bunch on the iPhone’s GPS to find our way. The last 10 kilometres took almost two hours to travel for this reason. And it got even harder when the iPhone battery ran out and we were no longer able to find ourselves with the GPS. We were now completely lost and entrenched in Big Box Suburbia with all of the major streets, horrible traffic, and inconsiderate drivers you would find there. And to make it even more challenging, it was now one of the hottest days in recorded history. We needed help!
Help came in the form of a chain coffee shop with free WiFi. Since also had an iPad with us we got a bunch of directions from google maps from where we had ended up, and then made several screenshots of the map itself. And while we did that we drank lots of iced tea to cool ourselves down and lift our spirits.
And so, with a relatively good idea of where we were going, and no longer overheated and frustrated with the suburban drivers, we took to the streets again and found our way to our friends’ house. Never was a cool shower more appreciated than that day. And there was even better news. Now that we’d reached our first major milestone, Ottawa, Ontario, we were set to have a rest day. No alarms going off for us tomorrow, no pedalling to do, only rest, relaxation, and a bit of laundry to be done.