Do you remember those winter days when you’d hear about an approaching snow storm? The weather forecast predicted at least 30 cm of snow and everything would certainly be shut down the next day. I would go to sleep thinking about what I would do on what would have to be a snow day. Then I would wake up in the morning to find the scene looked exactly the same as the night before. No snow? Where was my snow day? How could the forecast get it so wrong?
Don’t worry, there’s no snow in this story. I woke up this morning hoping that the forecast got today’s condition all wrong. There was a call for more thunderstorms, but what concerned me more was the wind. Not just a little tickle of headwind, more like like an assault with a 30 kph baseline of direct headwind and wind gusts over 50 kph. If you’ve been following along, you know what a strained relationship we have. You may remember the Battles of Fort MacLeod (http://wp.me/p8W5Az-2h) or Bow Island (http://wp.me/p8W5Az-2p) or Chaplin (http://wp.me/p8W5Az-2I) to name a few. Today was another one of those days. It’s hard to believe that south western Ontario was where it would happen, but today’s weather posed the hardest conditions that I have faced this entire trip.
I started the day with a hearty breakfast at the B&B. I was amazed at the amount of food – a plate of bacon, eggs, and potatoes, a second plate with an assortment of fruit, four pieces of buttered toast with homemade jams, and unlimited juice (Buster Bluth’s dream). If you find yourself in Walkerton, stay at the Silver Creek B&B. I knew what was ahead. While it was hard to motivate myself, I aimed to get on the road just after 7:30 am. The rain was expected to fall around 9:30 am and I hoped that I could get a head start.
I’ve spent a lot of my days “reading the weeds”. That’s not a euphemism for drug use. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the direction of the wind when you’re moving on a bike, so I look at the grasses and weeds to see which way they’ve been pushed. If the winds are strong, they’re clearly pointing the way, almost like chevrons. Most of the time, it’s more subtle than that. This morning, the trees didn’t seem too ruffled and, at first, the weeds were indicating a gentle southerly headwind in Walkerton. Sure, it would be more work than usual, but tolerable. As I left the shield of buildings and trees, though, I started to feel them more and they increased intensity.
I was pummeled with wind the entire day. There was no way to tell if I was on a flat or downhill because I was pushed back, just the same. Every meter was a fight, every kilometer a battle. There were just so many battles. The entire stretch of 150 km was my war. It was hard to convince myself at times, but I knew I would win. I have so many times before.
I weaved my way southwest along a route that Google Maps suggested. It was a collection of country highways (9 to 28 to 19 to 14 to 11 to 23) that probably don’t mean much unless you know the area well. I’m sure any of the less frequented routes would have been similar and acceptable alternatives. If the conditions had been better, I would have enjoyed it and the scenery would have been beautiful. I passed through multiple very small towns, so small that there weren’t even any stop signs or businesses in their “downtown” areas. There were no services like restaurants or gas stations. The only food stop that I could find was a diner in Dublin, ON about 60 km from London.
Eventually, there were signs of hope. For one thing, there would be a prize when I arrived in London. When I finally reached Highway 11, I saw my first sign telling me that London was 42 km away. That seemed manageable after 100 km of headwinds. I opted for Adelaide Street since it seemed like a quieter alternative. Once I hit Adelaide about 20 km north of London, there were trees and a few twists and turns to distract me from the monotony of straight highways. Then I saw it – the city sign – “Welcome to London, population 388,000 people”. And then there were bike lanes. In the city, I left Adelaide for a quieter route along the river. It didn’t matter that I was adding extra kilometers. I was happy to be on paved trails and have shelter from headwinds. The trails weren’t not particularly well marked, but I found my way to the “parkway”, a pedestrian and bike route hugging the shore of the Thames River. Even though I was in the centre of the city, I felt like in some green paradise. Eventually I made my way to the Blackfriar’s neighbourhood and pulled up to Lynda’s driveway.Lynda (Alex’s mom) was working away at clearing away space in her garage when I arrived. To my horror, she gave me a big hug, even though I was covered in sweat and sunscreen. I was so happy to be here. My prize. Her house and company were the light at the end of a long, windy tunnel. I washed away the day’s sweat and then gave her a proper dirt-free hug. Overall, it was a low-key night for us. I couldn’t imagine walking or leaving the house since my legs were so wrecked from the wind. Katie (Alex’s sister) and Andy (Katie’s boyfriend) joined us for dinner. Lynda prepared a huge spread of steak, scallops, baked potatoes, tomato salad, and grilled vegetables to nourish us while we caught up over beers. It was the perfect way to end my most challenging day of this trip.
There were a few factors that made today especially challenging:
(1) The wind. 30 kph headwind is unpleasant in any setting.
(2) The distance. I stopped 50 km north of where I had planned yesterday. If I had continued on, I would have chopped 50 km off of today’s route.
(3) Open fields. The landscape was wide open. There was no protection from the wind. Even a few lines of trees would have helped to shield me.
(4) No distractions. There was hardly anything to see or do between Walkerton and London. Looking back, I would have picked a route that had more stops to break up the trip.
There were also a number of factors that motivated me to get to London today. I have a stubborn side that refuses to be beaten by wind. My legs are stronger thanks to the mountains, winds, and distance. Most importantly, seeing familiar faces, good company, and amazing hospitality got me to the finish line. I wasn’t sure if I should ride the wind into Hamilton tomorrow or take a day to rest, but I’ve decided to spend more time with Lynda, Katie, and Andy tomorrow before my “homecoming” into Hamilton.
Start time: 7:48
Finish time: 17:50
Riding time: 6 hours, 58 minutes
Distance: 149 km
Total distance: 4556.63 km
Elevation gain: 839 meters (probably overestimated)
Total elevation: 21,492 meters
Average speed: 21.4 km per hour
Number of horrible gusts of wind: too many to count