Carpe Diem, The Series: I Didn’t Say It Was Going To Be Easy!

cycling group

Paul Stevens

Up here in the Great White North a.k.a Canada, we have a long weekend on the first weekend of August.  There is nothing of significance that happened around this time, no historical events or birthdate of some revered public figure that we care to celebrate. Nope, it’s just a good excuse to stretch out a summer weekend in a country that has learned to appreciate the short summer that we get.  Oh, we’ve tried a few different themes but none of them seem to catch on.  The tried and true reason is just to have goof-off day for no other reason than because we can.  Who can argue with that?

‘Gran Fondo’

Rather than using the opportunity to enjoy a relaxing extra day (who would do that?!), my fellow Manditos (our cycling group in Sarnia) decided that we would partake in the annual ‘Gran Fondo’ bike ride here in town.

As a bit of a refresher, we did this ride last year and did the 100 km route without incident or difficulty.  Just before Christmas last year, we got together to enjoy the spirit of the season accompanied by a few spirits of the liquid variety.  With false courage in our veins, we decided that we would go for the gusto and tackle the big tamale, the full 150 km circuit.  This would be a one-day shot with nothing more than a couple of refreshment stops to break up the day. 

Related Article: Carpe Diem, The Series: Riding For Charity

Saddle Time

In addition to our regular weekly Saturday morning rides, we did a couple of long jobs of 150 -160 kms to get ourselves accustomed to some serious saddle time.  Several of us also joined in a large local group on Wednesday evenings that attracted about 100 participants which were broken into several groups, each doing a different distance and at different speeds according to each participant’s abilities. In between, I was also getting myself to the local gym to do some weight training and some stationary bike work.  In short, by the time of the Gran Fondo, I was in as good a shape as I was going to be so I considered myself ready.

The Weather

The only variable would be the weather.  Rain wouldn’t be that bad because it would at least be mild but I was holding out hope that it would not be excessively windy as I find fighting a headwind for extended periods more draining than anything else, including hills. Good fortune was with us for the big day as the sky was bright and the winds were very light.

There were some 800 riders from southwestern Ontario gathered at the starting point in a lakeside park just to the east of downtown Sarnia.  Last year’s Gran Fondo was the inaugural in the area as it attracted about 700 hundred riders so moving it up to 800 was a nice bump.

Starting times were staggered depending on the distance to be completed.  Since the 150 km was the big daddy on the day, we headed out first at 7:15 a.m. Leaving at that time meant an early start to the day in order to have some energy loaded breakfast, clean up, and get yourself to the start. All this on a day that would otherwise have called for an extended period of shut-eye.  Somewhat surprisingly, I would estimate that there were about 200 riders ready to go the distance.  Scanning the group, it became very apparent very quickly that I and my fellow Manditos were to be the chaperones on this journey as the vast majority were younger enthusiasts. Oh sure, there was a smattering of fellow greybeards, but not many.

The next group out was the 100 km group, then followed by the 50 km crowd. All riders had a similar route with extended sections added for the longer distances.  Local volunteers provided snacks and refreshments at reasonable intervals so we did not have to carry our own grub.

There was no way we were going to keep up with a bunch of 25/35 year olds nor did we try. It was our target to maintain an average speed of 27-28 km/hr; sometimes going well beyond that going on the flats or downhill offset by slower speeds when going uphill.

Related Article: Carpe Diem, The Series: Weather Permitting

Uphill In Both Directions?

I have previously commented on the preponderance of flat ground around here so I think it was almost diabolical that the ride organizers found some very hilly terrain.  These are not sharp inclines by any stretch of the imagination but are rather long, slower inclines that go on for several kilometers.  Several were of the variety that thinking you were at the top only to be greeted by another step up to climb.  As we got well into the ride, I started to think about how was it possible that we seemed to be going uphill in both directions?

Along the way, there were a series of four timed sections that would pit you against the clock. A couple of these were through hilly sections, a couple were on level ground. For the timed sections in the later stages of the ride, I was thinking that it might be to everyone’s advantage to use a calendar rather than a clock.

We maintained our chosen pace which in itself was not an issue. I admit to feeling pretty good up to about the 110-125 km mark.  After that, I must admit that it felt more like work than what I might otherwise choose to do on an off day.  At this time, we were into the home stretch and since we were past the noon hour, the wind of course had to pick up.  It was like an evil weather controlling genius was playing with the weather to make us work a little extra for the last leg.

The Finish Line

We were not to be denied however and we crossed the finish line as a group – six of us started and six of us finished together. We even picked up two additional riders along the way who joined us for the last 30 kms. At the finish, we were greeted with food, drink, music and a chance to jump in the refreshing waters of Lake Huron if you were so inclined.  I however was not so inclined as I was quite pleased just to sit down, kick off my riding shoes and stretch out in ways that you can’t do on a bike.

We crossed the finish line at about 1:30 pm and deducting, say, 30 minutes for the various nutrition breaks, we completed the ride in just over six hours of saddle time indicating an average speed of about 25 km/hr; a little slower than anticipated but there were more hills than expected. 

Returning home meant that some serious couch time was in order.  Thinking about the day, I started to think about what I liked, what I didn’t like about the ride.  It was very well organized with the safety of the riders on the road given priority. The volunteers who provided the nutrition stops were hugely appreciated as were the event organizers, several of whom had to forego the ride to fulfill their administrative duties. As mentioned above, the last 30 or so kms just seemed like a lot work.  Would I do it again?  My personal jury is still out but I have a lot of time to think about it.  I maintain that I was built for speed, not long distance. In my younger days, I was a decent runner up to the 800m mark and then I would fall off behind those genetically predisposed for better oxygen uptake in the longer distances.  It seems not much has changed over the years but at least I can train to build some improved endurance.  All I have to do is avoid any more truck/bicycle collisions like I had last year.  You know who wins those and it’s not me!

Your friend, Paul. 

And remember – Carpe Diem (but in relaxed sort of way)!.

cycling group


Here are five of us at the finish, yours truly on the far right.  Our three comrades were just ahead of us.  Note the lack of a crowd.  Admittedly, were were at the tail end of the riders and just about everyone else was already enjoying lunch on the other side of the finish line.

Related Article: Carpe Diem, The Series: Crunch Time!

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