Tour de Kennedy

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How long does it take to ride up Kennedy Road to Lake Simcoe? Almost two months, apparently. As I mentioned before, it took three attempts (and two bikes) starting at the end of June for me to complete this trip. Kennedy Road is an interesting contrast to Warden, just two kilometres to the west and my more usual route north: Kennedy seems much more wild, with fewer farms and estate houses, and more forest and overgrown meadows. Kennedy also has less industry than Warden, fewer golf courses, and less traffic. The downside is that it’s also somewhat poorly maintained, with many kilometres of the road through East Gwillimbury cratered with potholes and only haphazardly patched in a way that makes it rather bike unfriendly. Still, it’s a very peaceful ride. The landscape feels less constricted than on Warden, with several sweeping vistas that you don’t see from the other northbound routes.

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One of the things that I like most about riding out of the city is watching streets take on completely different characters. Two of my formative years were spent not too far from the foot of Kennedy Road in Scarborough, where it’s a sleepy residential street. Most people are familiar with the big box hell of Kennedy Road from Lawrence to Sheppard. That’s followed by the suburban thoroughfare of northern Scarborough and Markham, which gives way to a quiet concession road and a lazy country road before finally ending up at a beach in a little cottage area. It may all be one street, but it has at least eight distinct phases from beginning to end.

Before these rides, the only part of Kennedy north of Sheppard that I’d ever ridden on was the 400 or so metres between Ravencrest Road and Mount Pleasant Trail, where it forms part of a nice big diagonal shortcut from Woodbine to McCowan on the way to Sutton.

Read on for the full gallery treatment of my ride up Kennedy Road.

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The long road

Water!

Three and a half hours after setting out from home on Sunday, I was rolling up to Willow Beach on Lake Simcoe. It’s pretty underwhelming as beaches go, but that didn’t stop me from celebrating by taking my shoes off and wading around in the cool water while I ate my lunch. The ride back home was into a full-on headwind, destroying the usual downhill advantage of the ride back to Toronto. This was the third time I’ve tried this trip this summer. The first time I turned around after an exhausting traversal of a muddy, overgrown trail, but I wasn’t really expecting to make it all the way up that day anyway. My second attempt was cut short by time constraints just 20 km from Lake Simcoe.

It wasn’t the first time I’ve ridden up to Lake Simcoe, but it was the first time that I’ve gone all the way up and back in a single day. The other times I’ve made the trip, I either stayed overnight at Sibbald Point or cheated by driving over the Oak Ridges Moraine to start and finish my ride near Newmarket. The round trip was 154 km, with seven hours in the saddle and about an hour of breaks. I just didn’t have it in me to ride around Toronto for another twenty minutes to make it a full century.  Still, it was my longest ride of the year by about 35 km and my longest overall since riding to Toronto from Niagara Falls a couple of years ago.

I really like the challenge of pushing myself on a long bike ride, but I don’t think I’ll ever be ready for a Hairshirt. Still, I feel that a 200 km ride is within reach. Probably not this year, but maybe next.

Two important lessons from this ride:

  1. The next time I ride anywhere near this far, it’s going to be a bit cooler than Sunday’s humidex of two and a half jillion degrees.
  2. My current carrying capacity of four and a half litres of water and Gatorade isn’t enough to last 150 km on a hot day. Are there any good bike-mounted hydration options that hold more than a couple of water bottles? I’d love some kind of frame-mounted system that would add another 2-3 litres to what I currently have. I suppose I could mount another couple of bottles under my seat or on the handlebars. Until then, I’ll just keep stopping at variety stores or farmhouses for refills when my water gets low.

What's in my repair kit?

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I only started cycling longer distances about 8 years ago, after a lifetime of confining myself to Toronto’s streets and trails. Breakdowns weren’t a huge issue in the city because in the worst case, I was always within an hour’s walk of the subway. But as I started riding farther and farther out of the city, it became increasingly obvious that I needed to be prepared for flats and other common bike ailments. This is especially true because my longer rides are almost always solo.

I started with the bare minimum of a patch kit, tire levers, and a pump before gradually adding items based on actual problems that I’d had or encountered other people having. Eventually, I decided to package it all up into a bag that I could just move from mountain bike to road bike. And then I just built up three separate kits: one each for my commuting, mountain, and road bikes. They each have slightly different requirements and it was easier in the end to have dedicated kits for each than to repack a single kit for each trip.

The interesting thing I’ve found about having a kit is that I use it to help others more often than I need it myself. I’ve helped other riders get back on the road from problems as simple as a flat tire and unexpected as loose handlebars. I always stop to ask cyclists at the side of the road if they need help. Even if they wave me off, I’ll frequently hang around until they finish the repair, offering moral support if nothing else.

Let’s take a look inside my kit.

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Dodgeville takes the train to Jasper

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Leaving Vancouver behind, we took the VIA Rail Canadian to Jasper. I love trains, but even I have to admit that spending more than 18 hours on a train is pushing my limit. At least one family in economy with us was going all the way to Toronto, a four-day journey. My head hurts just thinking about it.

I’d happily take the train across the country, but I could never do it all at once. I’d get a 30-day pass (or, thanks to VIA’s somewhat limited fare structures, two or three 12-day passes) and hop across the country a few hours at a time, spending a day or two here and there to explore. Four days all at once? I can’t imagine.

Still, I highly recommend the train trip from Vancouver. The train crosses much of the B.C. interior at night, and spends most of the following day crisscrossing the Fraser River and North Thompson River valleys and eventually climbing over the Yellowhead Pass into Alberta.  By my count, our train had at least 17 passenger cars (including 6 cars with observations domes), making it by far the longest train I’ve ever been on. The observation car nearest to us was never more than half full when we went up there. My advice: try to get a good night’s sleep at the beginning of the voyage and then grab a good window seat for the rest of the day, whether in the dome car or your regular passenger car. If you can, shell out for a sleeper compartment; it’ll cost twice as much, but you’ll be at least three times happier in the morning.

Jasper, the National Park, is nothing short of awe-inspiring. You could probably spend the entire summer there and not run out of places to go or things to see. Jasper, the town, is tiny and reminds me a lot of southern Ontario tourist towns: the main drag is so focused on serving tourists that I’m always left wondering where local residents shop or eat. I can’t imagine that locals spend $100 for a middling dinner for two at Evil Dave’s or $20 for souvenir underwear.

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I love little local museums, and the Jasper-Yellowhead Museum didn’t disappoint. The walkthrough display chronicling Jasper’s history is so chock-full of Banff-envy that it reads like it was penned by a spurned lover. “Banff may be bigger and better, but we’re happy that we’re small and unappreciated! We swear!” While the museum spends a lot of time disparaging the development and popularity of Banff and extolling the quiet virtues of still-wild Jasper, it’s actually bang-on in making the comparison. Wildlife was abundant in Jasper, with appearances by too many elk to count, as well as some deer, a moose, a black bear, and countless ravens that seemed twice as big as their urban cousins in Vancouver.

Just about the only thing I remember about Jasper from when I was there as a kid thirty years ago was the preponderance of trailers and motorhomes. It’s still largely the same, but at least half of them these days are rentals.

Anyway, read on for the obligatory gallery and more observations.

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Dodgeville annexes Vancouver

Kayaking on False Creek

The best thing about taking a vacation is coming back home. Don’t get me wrong, I always enjoy exploring beyond the normal boundaries of the Greater Dodgeville Area, but there’s just something about Toronto that really makes me appreciate coming back to it.

Risa and I were visiting family in Vancouver before scooting over to Jasper and Banff for a few days. It was a varied couple of weeks for transportation: in all, we flew, drove, walked, hiked, biked, and canoed, and rode the train, the bus, the icemobile, the ferry, and horses: something different almost every day.

This was the third time I’ve been to Vancouver in the last five years, and my first trip to Alberta since I was nine years old. I’ll spare you the typical vacation slideshow here, but I thought I’d share some random Dodgeville-style observations from each place we visited, starting with Vancouver. Banff and Jasper will follow in subsequent posts.

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Grouse Grind

Risa and I are on vacation out west. I used the occasion to climb Grouse Mountain, one of the peaks overlooking Vancouver. The interesting thing about Grouse Mountain is that you can take public transit to it: a quick ferry and bus ride  from downtown Vancouver gets you right to the base of the mountain for $3.75. Ah, for TTC and GO service like this to some of Toronto’s far-flung attractions. Grouse Mountain isn’t huge by mountain standards, but it’s still a lot bigger than anything I’ve climbed in Toronto. I’ll have more random thoughts about Vancouver in a later post or two, but for now, here’s a gallery of my climb up the Grouse Grind.

Custom bike trailer

DIY bike trailer

I mentioned a couple of months ago that I was looking for a new flatbed trailer to augment my BOB Yak for use in the city.  Armed with my requirements, I headed down to Urbane Cyclist, fully expecting to ride away from the store with a new Burley Flatbed or equivalent. But after considering the options and talking to the staff about my needs, they recommended that I either get a DIY trailer kit from Wike and build my own trailer, or call Wike and get a custom trailer built to my specifications. I opted for the former, and am really happy with the result.

It’s done duty twice so far: its inaugural trip was ably carrying three Rubbermaid totes crammed full with much of the equipment and materials required for the Ward 29 Bikes meeting two weeks ago, and it pulled 80 lb of cat litter home last weekend. It’s big enough to be used for flats of flowers, bags of soil, and many other large or awkward loads that would have overwhelmed or overflowed my Yak.
The new trailer easily carries two 40lb boxes of cat litter, twice what I would usually carry on my BOB Yak. I could easily have carried a third without approaching the load limit.

Read below the fold for more details about the construction.
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What did you just call me?

One turkey of a quote

Ever get the feeling that one of your vendors is trying to tell you what they really think of you when they deliver a quote? Maybe it’s just me, but doing a turkey installation doesn’t seem like that professional a service.

(The quote is littered with other errors as well, including the name of the product itself. It sure inspires confidence.)