An imperial century ride to Niagara Falls

In the midst of the busy Thanksgiving weekend, I joined two fellow alumni from the Friends for Life Bike Rally on a ride from Toronto to Niagara Falls.

My friend Geoff will often lead a small group on the 160 km trek on weekends when GO Transit offers its Bike Train, which only runs in the summer, on Victoria Day Weekend and Thanksgiving Weekend.  We ride to Niagara Falls, have dinner and then relax on the train home.

This was my first time riding that far in one day, but I wasn't worried, as the excursion came at the end of a summer of hard training.  Besides, this was about enjoyment.  We weren't going to be racing it.
The three of us met in the downtown core and departed just after 7:00 a.m.  Within minutes, the rain began.  We gingerly made our way through the dark and quiet city streets, our bike lights reflecting on the pavement.

We approached the end of a green light at the intersection of University and King streets and as we began slowing, I locked my rear brake, which by then was quite wet, and I went down on my left side.  I quickly glanced behind me, fearing traffic, as Geoff and Heather hopped off their bikes to retrieve my water bottle and helped me up.

I had scraped my hip and the outside of my knee, which was starting to bleed.  My left wrist felt sore, but not overwhelmingly so -- at that point.  Heather methodically checked out the parts of my bike: brakes, shifters, derailleur, and all were functional.  I looked at my PowerTap pedals, which were thankfully unscathed aside from a small scrape.  My Felt carbon frame likewise survived without a scrape.

We eventually continued south to the Martin Goodman Trail and made it only as far as the Humber Bridge, where we decided to seek shelter during a downpour of rain.  We hadn't made much progress yet!  When the cloudburst finally let up - and we saw rowers and kayakers paddling south down the river to the lake - we decided to take off again.

Most of the route was on bike paths and fairly quiet roads.  It was my first time cycling beyond Oakville along the lake.  Leaves changing colour, a slight breeze, families out walking - it was gorgeous.  A kind cyclist at Starbucks in Burlington saw my scrapes and offered me a cookie, which I happily accepted.  We occasionally crossed over the QEW and back again, stopping occasionally, until we arrived at our lunch break in Grimsby.

Station 1 Coffee House.  Photo courtesy of JW Vraets on Flickr

Having rode for nearly five hours through rain, cool winds and eventually sunshine, we were ready to eat.  Station 1 Coffee House had lots to choose from, and I made short work of a vegetarian sandwich, cream of broccoli soup and a chocolate chip muffin.

Moving beyond Grimsby, my left wrist was increasingly throbbing, and I began favouring it more and more.  Bumps and cracks in the road would send pain shooting up my forearm, even if I were resting in my aerobars, so I attempted to place as much weight on my right hand as possible.  Despite this setback, I was having a great time seeing this part of the province at a slower pace, atop two wheels.

As we approached Niagara-on-the-Lake, I sensed riders behind our little trio.  I eventually looked back and one of them called out a greeting.  It turned out to be two cyclists from Niagara Falls, out for a little mid-afternoon jaunt.  They joined us as we made our way west.  One of these men was 76 years old and took a pull at the front of the group, easily riding at about 32 km/hour.  Inspirational.

They took us on a slightly different route into the downtown of Niagara-on-the-Lake, first stopping at a park to look out over Lake Ontario.  Stunning.  At that point, we bid them farewell as we stopped for one final break, before making the final ride along the wine route into Niagara Falls.

This was a largely flat ride and so a high point (pun intended) was our sole climb of about 92 metres, just outside of the city.  I love climbing and so this added a little variety into our day.

As we rolled into town, our odometers passed the 160 km mark and we had officially completed an "imperial century," otherwise known as 100 miles of riding.

We finally joined the crowds of tourists at the falls and awkwardly attempted to take a selfie, laughing at the results.

We wrapped up our day with a big dinner -- including fried dill pickles plus vegetarian curry poutine, because why not? -- before making it back to the GO Station with an hour to spare.