Montreal to Ottawa (minus 30km) Holy crap.

It was May long weekend, which also happened to be my birthday weekend, and I wanted to spend it in Ottawa.

When normal people travel to between Ottawa and Montreal, they drive. Or bus. Or maybe take the train.  In what I now consider to be a moment of questionable judgement, I decided it would make a fun (and completely feasible) day-long bicycle ride at just over 200km.  I’ve known people who have done the trip in the past, so no big deal, right?

Wrong.

Thankfully I have an Ottawa-abiding soul mate who shares the same passion for cycling and who so kindly agreed to come meet me half-way.

So it all began at 7:00am on Friday morning.  I packed up my bike with two paniers and my sleeping bag (a tent was to be purchased at our friendly neighborhood Ottawa MEC).  I was on my way and totally invincible -Hawkesbury by 1pm, no problem. The ride started with a tour across the entire south side of the island, which was quaint and beautiful.  For the first dozen kilometres or so, I rode alongside the Lachine Canal, which was fantastic despite the wind being to my face.

Breakfast break.

My self-assurance (and energy) started to dwindle by the third hour, at which point I still had not made it off the island.  Yes, an out of practice cyclist is a slow cyclist. On the bright side, I got to acquaint myself with a handful of Montreal’s boroughs that I would not have visited otherwise: Lasalle, Lachine, Dorval, Pointe-Claire, Beaconsfield, Baie D’urfe and St. Anne.

I was thrilled when I finally reached the bridge and said bye-bye to Montreal.

View from Bridge to l’Ile-Perrot

Once on l’Ile-Perrot I made the first in a series of mistakes and took a wrong turn.  Thankfully this was only a minor setback, and after a quick phone call to my oh-so-patient roomie I was back on track.

Okay, so a quick sidenote to defend my cycle-adventuring honour: I brought two sets of directions with me on this trip.  The first set was acquired from what I now know to be a less-than-reliable fellow blogger.  The second set was mapped out by yours truly on almighty Google.  I figured with two sets of instructions I could not go wrong, and at the first sign of trouble I would nip into a depanneur and purchase a road map (smartphones, huh?).  I was foiled on two fronts. First, I opted to go with the shoddy blogger directions that took me on unnecessary detours and conveniently omitted important turns.  Second, while stores in little Quebec towns do carry maps, they don’t see the necessity of carrying interprovincial maps.  Lucky for me, I have a man in Montreal who works near a computer and agreed to be my long-distance navigator (in shining armor).

Bicycle lawn decorations.

Needless to say I showed up in Hawkesbury several hours later than scheduled, leaving my travel companion to cafe and curb hop (because everything in Hawkesbury closes at 2:30pm, apparently). The second half of the trip was a hundred times more pleasant and starry, despite a few minor setbacks (ie. finding ourselves on the side of the highway for several kilometres).  We reached the outskirts of Ottawa around midnight, and instead of chance the bike paths so late at night we hailed a van-cab to take us the rest of the way home.

 Paying no attention to our bike-ride fatigue, we finished the night off with champagne and plans to bike a simple 40km to Wakefield the next am.

Superheroes

Important lessons?

1. I am not cut-out for solo bike journeys.

2. 200km is too far for one day

3. Think about a smart phone.

This is how I roll.
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Au Revoir Ottawa

On Sunday I packed up my bike (as well as all of my other worldly belongings), and hitched a ride to Montreal.  I will be staying in Canada’s most cyclist friendly city for the next year, at least.  Yes, life is tough.

See ya never, old furniture.

My new neighborhood is home to some interesting and hilarious sights.  Take for example, my new church.

Church on Sundays, poker on Mondays.

Now, I have never been one to go to church, but the neon sign (which is blinking, by the way), is just too godly to pass up.  On my way home from service, I can stop at my new hangout:

Members...Ha!

A country club in the middle of the city- what a novel idea!  To top the day off, I can take a stroll down St. Catherine’s, which is currently a pedestrian-only zone, complete with a billion tiny pink balloons.

Taken at 9am -not the busiest time of the day, apparently.

Finally, I can retire to my own semi-private back yard.  Smack in the middle of the city, this is what sold us me on the apartment.

Complete with fountains and occasional wildlife/the neighbor's cat.

Stay tuned for cycling adventures in the lovely Montreal.

New home.

Rite of Passage

This morning I was cycling to work, thinking about my next blog post, when it hit me–in the form of four wheels, two doors and a windshield.  Yes, today I was involved in my first ever bike-car collision.  Don’t let me blow this out of proportion; it was a minor collision and I suffered no injuries.  My lunch-of-champions however (dried raman noodles) exploded on impact. 

I was traveling south down the Prince of Wales when I was car-tackled in the middle of the PoW/Fisher intersection by a driver turning left.  Granted, I was busting my butt through a stale light, but right-of-way was still on my side.  The driver was kind enough to stop and holler at me through her car window while I picked up my bike, panier and dignity off of the pavement (all three seemed to skid away in opposite directions).  Was I hurt? Did I want a drive to the hospital?

Not in your car, lady.

Not true–I was actually appreciative of her concern but unable to express it in my state of shock and bewilderment.  Did I just get slammed by a car at 8:15 in the morning?  I must have shook my head, maybe muttered something about her being more careful in the future, then I dragged my pathetic self out of the intersection.  Needless to say I made it to work with all of my parts in working, albeit shaky, order. 

Though not a pleasant experience, I feel being hit by a car has aged me at least two bike years, like some sort of rite of passage into the world of  better-than-amateur but cooler-than-pro cyclists.  It almost makes me want to buy a fixie and take up bike polo.

Kidding!

On a brighter note, here are a few winners making great use of our neighbourhood bike lanes:

Hey bros, smile for the camera.

Rack it up.

As of two days ago, I am the proud owner of a bicycle panier rack and bag. 

Panier
Panier and rear rack (apparently the term "saddlebags" is not a part of a cyclist's vernacular).

This is a huge upgrade from the bag I lug around to work, back and everywhere in between.  Mostly it means that I won’t have to carry the weight of books, food and rain gear on my back.  Unfortunately, the absence of said bag means that on hot days my inevitable back sweat will be visible to all that share the road- sorry fellow commuters.  

Having the rack installed on my bike was not an easy feat.  I arrived at MEC at 7pm and I picked out a panier rack and basket.  Why bother getting fancy when all you really need is a basket and some bungee cords to carry around your valuables?  When I brought my bike and purchases to the MEC bike shop, I was kindly informed that my bike was a strange model and would not fit the standard bike basket.  No problem- i’ll take the regular rack and I will splurge and buy the accompanying bag.  The in-house mechanic advised that I should be back in 20 minutes.

At 9pm I was finally prepared to pay and leave.  As it turns out, my velo is a strange model all around and it took the dedicated mechanic the entire two hours to rig up the little panier rack.  To do so also required that he take off the back fender, which is barely a loss because it created some friction with the back wheel to begin with.  Needless to say I was all sorts of apologetic, especially considering that the $5 I paid for labour was supposed to cover 20 minutes, not two hours.  (The service was fantastic throughout the two hours, and it is one of a myriad of reasons that I would recommend MEC to all Canadian cyclists and outdoor enthusiasts.) 

My Bicycle

 Two hours, $55 (including labour) and a back fender later, I had my first backpack-less ride.  Speaking from experience, I highly recommend all commuter cyclists to take a load off their backs and go the way of the panier.

Bike Gripes

As a cyclist, naturally I have many enemies.  This thought struck me yesterday as I was forced to cancel a bike trip due to rain and thunderstorm warnings.  As it happens, however, rain and thunderstorms do not even rank in my top five list of velo adversaries.

No Biking
In Iceland, some major streets are bike enemies.

The Wind

The wind and I have a very tumultuous relationship.  I swear that windy days have the potential to tack on an extra 15 minutes to my ride.  Although I enjoy a cool breeze on a hot day as much as the next guy, there are few things I hate more than biking into the wind.  Few things, my friends.

Crotch Burn

Sit on a bike seat for two hours + each day and you will know exactly what I am talking about. 

Calluses

I have cyclist’s hands -calluses and blisters line the top of my palms (I wanted to call this part of the hand “inside knuckles” but my gentleman friend suggested that this was a made-up term).  Although I am mildly proud of my toughened cyclist hands, this is quite likely one of the worst places to nurse a popped blister.  I suppose that this problem could be easily remedied with the purchase of a good pair of bike gloves, but I just don’t think I’m there yet.

Bugslaps to the Face

Seriously.  You know how sometimes when you are in a car, bugs smack into the windshield and explode?  Picture the equivalent for cyclists, except instead of a windshield it’s your face.  The only upside in this situation, is that I will never go fast enough for an insect to actually explode, hence the term bugslap.

The Number 14 Bus

Every day I cycle Elgin and Gladstone twice, once on my way to work and once on my way home.  The number 14 bus also takes this route.  Since these times tend to be peak commuter periods, I often find myself playing tag with the 14.  This mostly consists of me catching up to the bus and ducking into traffic to pass it when it makes a stop, only to be passed again at the lights three blocks later.  Sometimes, when OC Transpo is feeling particularly inept generous, they send two 14’s out at the same time, and I find myself sandwiched  in between both until I finally get into Little Italy.

Number 14
The number 14, ruining my life.
 
This list is not all-inclusive.  I could probably add a million other things, starting with rain, humidity, flat tires, jerk drivers, bike laneless roads, jerk cyclists, taxi cabs, jerk pedestrians…etc.  But I won’t, because if you have already made it this far, you don’t deserve to be subjected to further grumblings.  Stay tuned for a more cheery post that focuses of the positives (of which there are many more than negatives) of being a bike commuter! 

Hello Heatwave

Holy hell it was a hot day for cycling.

At 35 degrees it feels like 45 and I took this opportunity to cash in on some lieu time and play hookie from work.  If ever there was a day to avoid melting off of my bicycle in a 30km ride, today was it.  Now I am in my toasty apartment, sipping a Stella and competing with my cat for a space in front of the table fan.  Earlier today however, I found myself cycling around centretown despite Environment Canada’s weather warning.

Cycling in near tropic temperatures is an acquired taste, to say the least.  By the end of a short 5km ride you are a giant, glistening sweatball with bad hair and the beginnings of an awkward knee tan.  (Honestly, I can’t be the only cyclist in the city with tanned knees.)  Today, in fact, I fit the above description by the time I finished unlocking my bike.  By the time I made it to the next block I was questioning my decision (and my sanity).  Why give up the wonderful comforts of home (ie. table fan) for the sweltering streets of Ottawa?

No, I’m just being dramatic.

Cycling in the heat is no sweat (lies; it’s always sweaty) as long as you bring sunscreen and lots of water.  And as long as you go nice and slow.  The heat tends to have a slo-mo effect on the city so you may not have much of  say in the matter.  Of course, if you are anything like those bike short wearing, aquapack toting diehards that insist on breezing past me no matter what, you will go as fast as you can to prove to us all that mere temperature hikes will not stand in your way.  

But seriously, here’s hoping tomorrow stays under 30.

Bike parking

Dear Car; Love Bike.

 I know that bikes and cars don’t always get along.  In fact, as I was trolling the internet for other like-minded Ottawa cyclists, I happened across many personal blogs raving about the insensitivity (or stupidity) of motorists.  Likewise, I hear many drivers grumble about the amount of reckless (or law-breaking) cyclists on their roads.  As a cyclist that both loves and appreciates the occasional car rides donated by friends and family, I maintain the following position:

99% of motorists are competent and bike tolerant. 

This is the only explanation for how I arrive safely to and from work each day.  Yes, I could give all the credit to my skillful car dodging abilities, but then I would be living a lie.  In all honesty, most people in cars give me plenty of space and consideration, and as an easily-crushable cyclist, this could not be more appreciated.  Of course there are those drivers that seem to have a perpetual hate-on for bikes (and maybe life in general), but this is thankfully a small minority.

99% of cyclists are well-meaning and rule abiding. 

Sure, we may cut through the occasional Power Sports RV lot, but all in all, we are a pretty decent bunch.  Aside from your intermittent street anarchist, we stick to bike lanes and road shoulders, we signal when needed and we generally try to stay out of your way.  This is because, when it comes down to it, we all just trying to get from A to B in one piece.

So why the constant misunderstanding?  The road is to share, and whether we like it or not, neither car nor bike is going anywhere (except during the winter when most bikes choose to hibernate).  As an occasional driver, I would like to offer up this advice to cyclists, from one amateur to another.

  • Please don’t be obnoxious; the rules are there to keep everyone safe.  If you want to be treated like a street vehicle, act like one.
  • It doesn’t hurt to signal.
  • Make sure you are visible.

As an avid amateur cyclist, I would like to offer this advice to motorists:

  • Please shoulder check before turning right and, when parked, before opening your car door to oncoming traffic.
  • Give cyclists space; it’s not their fault that the city has chosen not to provide bike lanes.
  • If a cyclist tests your nerves, keep the follow things in mind.  Many cyclists are either a) helping to unclog traffic by keeping another car off of the road; b) reducing our impact on the environment or c) unable to afford a car, which makes them poorer than you.

    Hunt Club
    Hunt Club Road, conveniently with bike lanes to help cyclists beat the 5pm traffic.

So there you have it, my two cents on how to minimize the car eat bike world that is the city of Ottawa.  As much as I would love it if every driver within a 10km radius of work/school left their car at home and opted for a more sustainable method of transportation, it can’t be helped if people love their cars.  And let’s be honest, when faced with an impending rainstorm, or a trip exceeding 30km, I love their cars too.