Riding the Rideau
I’m usually only home in Westport, my small hometown in Canada, for Christmas and confined to the indoor trainer because of the snow. This past month, however, I was home during warm weather so I had plenty of uncharted roads to explore. The roads rise and fall forever, winding through the small towns and farms between the fire reds, oranges and yellows of the changing autumn leaves. On the other hand, I discovered what “Canadian cobbles” are.
My hometown of Westport (yes, I was actually born there) is located on the Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so it is nestled between canal ways, locks, and lakes. With a population of 700, the village is a stereotypical picturesque Canadian town where everyone knows each other and you can leave your front door unlocked. Our grocery store is filled with local produce from our neighbors’ farms and everything, from the bank to the post office to the bait and tackle shop, is within 500m of my front door. As we like to say in Canada about small rural towns, Westport is in “the sticks.” Love small towns or don’t, but since Westport is perfectly located amid endless rollers on quiet roads, it’s love for a cyclist.
Never mind the stunning roads, I was lucky enough to time my visit home to see the leaves changing. I might have grown up watching the leaves change every year but, having missed autumn for the past few years, I can understand why tourists flock to see the Canadian trees during this time. The forests just seem to be on fire with colour. There were also a few other quaint things my fresh eyes were privy to including seeing wild turkeys, deer, porcupines, skunks, and what my parents like to call “the bike farm.” There is a certain farmer’s property outside Westport where the boundary fence is completely lined with old bicycles. From rusted retro city bikes, old steel racing bikes with down-shifters, to bikes definitely from the 80’s, identified purely by their colour schemes. I think the farmer had a first love…
The “Bike Farm”
I also discovered that Belgium may have cobbles but Canada has frost cracks. Don’t get me wrong, cobbles are on a whole other level but they come in sections and can be avoided on a training ride. And, of course, every country has less than desirable roads, but the frost cracks in Canada are everywhere and, although they are only small cracks in the pavement, over a long ride they rash you. Every few meters there is a break in the pavement and every ten minutes there seems to be a “bad patch” or pot holes caused by the winter freezing. I thought after a month on the roads I would adjust to it like the local riders have but during the last few hours of a base ride, each crack seemed to “crack” me a little bit more. Nothing that couldn’t be fixed by a recovery shake on our deck though.
From our deck across the lake
Nevertheless, even as a Canadian I never thought of Canada as a (road) cycling destination and I don’t think the rest of the world does either but it should be. Despite the frost cracks, I have to say it was one of the best places I’ve ever ridden. As long as you time your visit with the agreeable weather, the open space, quiet rolling roads, the simple beauty of nature, and the odd small town convenience store where a can of Coke is still only $1, is enough to put it on any cyclist’s destination list. Forget snow, ice, frozen bottles and indoor trainers and rethink Canada as unexplored territory. At least that’s what I’ll be trying to visualize and remember on the indoor trainer this Christmas.