Sunday, May 16, 2010

Bicycle time-travel

Don't the physicists tell us that time is not constant were you to exceed the speed of light? Well, you don't need to go that fast to turn back the clock. You just need to hop on a bike and ride up a mountain!

Yesterday, my bikeclub left Montreal around 9:15am and drove to Sutton, Quebec. We parked our carpool of vehicles, hopped on our bikes, and rode into Vermont, then up Jay Peak Road. The highlight of the ride was one big climb (and big descent) on Jay Peak. The altitude dipped as low as 440 feet and up to 2,218 feet on Jay Peak.

Anyway, the bit about time-travel was that as I pedalled up Jay Peak, the microclimate changed, so you could kind of see spring going backwards. The apple trees that were in full bloom in the valleys were partially in bloom on the way up, and not in bloom at all (or even absent from the flora) higher up. Ferns that are fully fronded-out in Montreal gardens were fairly advanced at the base of Jay Peak, and just fiddle-heading out of the earth higher up. Erythronium (trout lilies, I think) that would be long finished if they grew here in town, looked about to reach their pinnacle on the mountain. The wildcherries in town finished blooming about two weeks ago but were still in blossom there. And so forth. So as I climbed the mountain, time rolled back, and then as I rolled down hill---a delightful WHEEEEEEEEE of a descent---, time leapt back to where I expected it to be.

We stopped in North Troy, Vermont, at the grocery store for lunch. My fellow riders were astonished when I bought a coke and a huge bag of chips to complement my store-bought sandwich, but they weren't above tucking into the chips, which I'd bought for sharing in any case. Fortunately I have pretty solid digestion. I don't like spending a whole day eating energy bars and energy goo, and for the record, I kept the M&Ms for later.

After we returned to Quebec, the rain started. It wasn't at all nice, but at least it wasn't as intense or as cold as the rain on last year's Jay Peak ride. It always rains for our club's Jay Peak ride.

There was still one smaller climb near the end of the ride, over a flank of Mount Sutton. It may have been shorter (1/3 the altitude gain?) but I think it was steeper, and being toward the end of the ride it came when my legs were not at their freshest. I let 10 of the 12 riders in my group pull ahead, all stronger than me, and hang back with a friend I hadn't seen in months and whose company is always a joy. (Merci Steve de ta présence!). In any case, there were still 2 other groups of riders from my club behind me.

What's nice about climbs are at least two things: first, you can go as slow (or fast) as you like and take as many (or few) breaks as you want, and the mountain will still wait for you; and second, what goes up must come down. Thank you, physics, for these affirming realities. Unfortunately the second half of the descent had a road-surface that was pretty bad, so I couldn't go as fast as I'd like.

On the outskirts of the village of Sutton, I saw the president of the other club I used to ride with, Le Club vélo randonneurs de Montréal/. They were doing their 300km bicycle ride today, which departs from the south shore of Montreal, cycles out to Sutton and environs, and then returns. They take an indirect, scenic route so that it makes 300km. I've done that ride before and it almost makes me feel wimpy to have driven out to Suttong in gas-powered vehicles rather than leaving from Montreal under pedal-power. I did say almost, because while I'm fine for 150km and 200km rides, 250km is tough, and 300km is very tough.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

First century-plus ride of 2010

Yesterday I went on my first long ride of the season. Here is the map, in two parts.

If you're curious about the route, you might want to click on the "view larger map" link for each, and zoom and scroll to your heart's content. Switching to the "walking" option will help too.

View Larger Map

View Larger Map

The ride itself was about 145km. The plan for the ride said 147km, but due to a road closure and a detour, we shaved off about 2km. My cyclometer reads 143.13km but its readings are always under - I need to adjust for my tires' actual size. My ridemate got about 145km so I'm going with that.

Then it's about 8.5km from my house to the ride's starting point in St. Lambert, and another 8.5km back home, so that puts me just a bit over 160km. My first long ride of the season wasn't just a metric century, it was an imperial centure. YAY!

This ride was with the Club vélo randonneurs de Montréal. I used to ride with them, but 2 years ago I switched to a different club that organises more rides, more frequently. However CVRM has some nice riders, and I like longer rides, so it's nice to ride with them from time to time. Oh, about the longer rides? I like their 200km and 150km rides. I did their 300km ride once and found it rewarding but hard. I haven't (yet?) done their 400km ride and am not sure if or when I might want to try the 600km ride. By the way, the 600km ride is not a week-long affair; its time limit is 40 hours maximum from start to finish.

When I arrived at the starting point, I saw several riders I knew: Jean, Hossein, and Eric. I hadn't seen Eric since the summer of 2007 so it was great to see him. He's a really nice guy, and almost as tall as me. Back in 2007 we had very similar riding paces, so we rode together. I was worried because he had just come back from a week-long training camp in Cuba, whereas I had not done much training this winter and really don't feel as strong as I'd like to or as I was back in 2007. My basic endurance is still pretty good, but I can't crank out power for long periods just now. It's coming back. Anyway, I was delighted to ride and draft with Eric all day. I have to admit that he pulled me more than I did, but all the same, I did help him too. I was pretty pooped on the last stretch home, but made it. The weather got threatening in mid-afternoon with a few isolated drops as we were getting close to our starting point, but it held out. When I got home, as I was taking my bike into my apartment, it was at that very moment that the clouds opened and let loose. Lucky timing!

It was a beautiful ride. In Montreal and the suburbs, the wild cherry trees were in bloom: chokecherries, maybe black cherries or pin cherries too. I really LOVE the spicy smell of cherry blossoms, though I don't know which cherry species smells so nice. The Amelanchier sp. (saskatoons?) were also in bloom everywhere, and here and there some early apples or crabapples were also opening up. The terrain was fairly flat, the wind wasn't too bad, the sun was lovely, and the scenery in parts was quite nice. Apart from the springtime glory, some of the little villages, especially along the Richelieu, have a bit of charm. All in all, it was perfect for an early-season ride.

I'm almost disappointed that I didn't have even a bit of near-miss disaster during my bike ride; maybe you have to live in Strasbourg for that, and maybe riding around the Richelieu isn't the same as riding along the Rhine. But truth be told, Eric and I were very happy with this outcome. Once on this very ride, I had 3 flat tires within the stretch of about 10km. That exhausted our collective stock of spare tubes, and he graciously finished the ride (without any spares) and drove back to pick me up.

I slept very well the evening after my ride, but today (the next day) I feel great. I think this augurs well for the 2010 cycling season.