Cycling: The Importance of the Long Haul

Paul Stevens

Carpe Diem (but in a relaxed sort of way)

Moving to a new town, albeit one I was fairly familiar with, I had a few things I wanted to accomplish in terms of keeping myself active while at the same time meeting some new people.  One of them was to continue playing hockey and I was able to do that with two different groups.  I’ll give myself a big ‘check’ for Part 1 being done.  With spring now firmly entrenched, next on the agenda was to hook up with a cycling group.  I was hoping to get involved with one that was in my age group as I didn’t want to embarrass myself by the need to hang off younger and faster riders with bungee cords.  If I couldn’t latch on to the appropriate group, I was prepared to start my own.  I had a name already picked out; “SOFCC”, the initials for the “Sarnia Old Farts Cycling Club”.  The plan was to put the word out through the two main cycle shops in town and see who I could dig up, figuratively speaking of course.

Cycling can be a very social activity as there are plenty of opportunities to exchange pleasantries along the route as well as at pre and post ride refreshment stops.  The other big benefit of cycling with a group is that the pace will inevitably be a step or two ahead of what you would do on your own.  You can’t help but push yourself a little bit harder.

As it turns out, through my wife’s brother-in-law here in town, I was introduced to a group that was well matched to my list of preferences.  I met a bunch of guys who are in the 60-ish age demographic, some are retired, others are continuing with their respective careers.  Even better, I didn’t have to pull the SOFCC moniker out of the bag; these guys already had one of their own.  They call themselves (are you ready for it?) the “Manditos”.  I thought this was a pretty cool name – sort of macho but in a mocking sort of way.  They even have riding shirts printed up with the Mandito name on it. 

There are about 10 members in good standing although I have been told this number can jump up to 20 or more as the weather gets even better.  I’m the rookie and I have been made to feel very welcome.  If I pass the initiation, whatever that may be, I may even get a shirt.

The usual ride day is Saturday with a start time of about 9 a.m. from a local coffee shop.  Last Saturday was my initial ride with the group and six of us headed out for the morning.  In all, we covered about 55 km (that’s 34 miles for you non-metric folk) averaging about 27-29 km/hr (17-18 mph) with occasional bursts to the low-mid 30s.  That’s pretty much in my wheelhouse of preferred speeds although the distance was longer that I would typically do on my own.  In terms of speed and to put it in perspective, Tour de France riders are clipping along at 50-55km/hr and that’s on the flat parts!

The retired guys in the group also get out once or twice during the week as from their point of view, every day is Saturday.  Since I’m self-employed, my schedule is fortunately flexible so I was able to join them for a midweek ride on Wednesday morning.  I’ll have to admit that the extra distance last weekend caused me to be a bit more tired than I would otherwise be but by the time Wednesday’s ride came along, I was ready to hit the road again.  I felt much better for the entire ride and after about two hours of pedalling, I still had some gas in the tank.  We’re scheduled for another ride this weekend and we should have a good turnout. 

I have previously mentioned that the landscape around Sarnia is very flat, a farmer’s paradise, so it is easy to keep up a steady cadence as any hills you might encounter are minor in nature.  The only blip that Mother Nature can throw at you is the wind that can come off Lake Huron.  A persistent wind can be draining but of course it can only affect you for half the trip; you can always keep in mind that you will be rewarded on the return leg.  Traffic is virtually non-existent with the only mobile threat of consequence coming from farm tractors and hay wagons. 

The Manditos know their way around the area (with a name like Manditos, should I call it the ‘hood’ instead ?) so they showed me some routes I would have had to learn on my own over time.  Going along the Lake Huron shore is a pleasure – continuous views of the Caribbean blue water, some really splashy homes and cottages, and as said, no traffic.

Shortly after starting out on Wednesday morning , we were still in what would be generously called the city before we would be into the countryside.  We were on a four lane road that I think had as many as three cars on it. That is about as many as you will ever see in that section of town.  We were riding in a tight group but we were two abreast, therefore taking up the right-hand lane.  Sure enough, a police officer with obviously not enough to do that morning pulled us over to remind us that it is required that within the city, we must ride in single file.  I don’t think I have heard that since I was about 12 years old.  Maybe the reputation of the Manditos preceded us on that day and the officer, who was young enough to be the son of any of us, wanted to make sure he kept a bunch of unruly grey-beards in line before things got out of hand.  Like that was going to happen. 

We of course politely thanked him for his reminder before we started up again.  Once outside of the city limits, about one block down the road, the rebellious nature of the Manditos won us over and we again rode in out in two abreast formation.  With no cars to be found, this was not going to present a problem to anyone.  All respectful riders will pull into single file when cars are trying to pass as this is just the right thing to do in order to protect yourself and to respect a larger, much heavier vehicle.

I am really looking forward to the coming months as there will ample opportunities to hit the road and explore the area with my fellow Manditos.  There are a number of organized rides in the immediate area put on by professionals that allow you to cover distances ranging from 50-150 km.  These rides offer  traffic controlled routes giving you the right of way.  There are refreshment stops at frequent intervals and usually a large meal at the end of the day.  This is all part of a reasonable fee paid to the organizers so with a bit of swag thrown in – usually a riding jersey of some sort – it makes for a fun day.  I have one of these in mind for the end of July and another one a couple of weeks later, the latter one being a fundraiser for Multiple Sclerosis.  I did that ride a couple of years ago and I am looking forward to joining some long-time friends by doing it again. 

When I think of what my age group does in terms of physical activities, I can’t help but think of what my parents used to do at the same point in their lives.  Although my Dad was a cracker of a baseball player in his youth, I don’t ever recall him doing exercise of any type at any time, ever.  My Mom was always active however and she would go her health club three of four times a week until her early 80’s.  Thinking of my relatives and the parents of my friends, I can’t think of any of them as being active, other than a couple of golfers and one Dad who was a jogger.  I hope we’re setting a good example for our kids and that they continue to see physical activity as just a normal yet integral part of a healthy lifestyle.

Your friend, Paul.

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

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