The first weekend of Hell Week consisted of two rides East of Toronto, organized by my friend Lorne. With the first snowfall the night before, there was no confusion that winter had arrived.
Unfortunately, nowadays that means the snow mobiles arrive as well, although there wasn’t quite enough snow for that yet. The biggest threat snow mobiles pose is that their owners seem to be able to convince towns everywhere to smoothen out their rail road beds, making once-hard sections of our Hell Week rides easier every year. Such is also the case for the Pancake ride (named for the post-ride breakfast, not the course profile), although I found it plenty hard.
With the wide range of skills and fitness in our group, we splinter off quite quickly but once you settle into a pace, it’s just enjoyable to be out there in this weather. I’m at a bit of a disadvantage on the gravel roads with my mountain bike, but as soon as we hit a long stretch of singletrack I catch up with stragglers in front of me. Good thing too, as we soon encounter a fenced-off bridge which would have been tough to negotiate alone (short of just chucking your bike across and hoping for the best).
With that in mind, three of us decide to wait for the two guys still further back, and wait, and wait…
Now we get worried, retrace our tracks but nobody to be found. Half an hour and a five degree core body temperature drop later, we give up searching and continue on our route. We later find out they were the first back at the breakfast spot, with “a slight” shortcut.
The rest of the ride is magical, I had forgotten how much fun it is to ride in the snow. Of course, by the time we arrive at breakfast, everybody else is done, but that doesn’t make the eggs & bacon any less tasty.
The next day we line up for Durham-Roubaix. Lorne really has put a lot of effort into this one, getting permission from a few private landowners to cross their land, which opens up some fantastic trails.
After what happened yesterday, we have decided to stay together with a group of five including Lorne (tough to get lost with the organizer by your side). Fifteen minutes in, we get a flat. This one proves tough to fix, but eventually we get going again. Then I get a slow leak, which in trying to fix turns into a fast leak. Fixing that fails, and with me being the only one with mountain bike tires, I’m screwed. Durham-Roubaix: DNF.
I’m disappointed not to have seen the whole route, as is Lorne, so we decide to try again two weeks later together with Matt (the OPEN webmaster). In fact, it’s a day after I rode the original Hell Ride by myself, but more on that next time.
Conditions are completely different now, as it has been raining for two weeks straight. The mud is incredible, some slopes are ridable only at crawling speeds while finding a balance between giving enough power to propel yourself and not so much that the rear wheel slips.
At one point, there is so much mud on my bike I can barely lift it off the ground. I know that sounds like an exaggeration and it doesn’t even look like that much mud, but I honestly have trouble lifting it (insert upper strength joke here).
Because of the conditions, the course is so slow today, it takes us roughly an hour and a half more to complete than most people two weeks earlier. Maybe the best indicator of how tough it was is that although we didn’t take any breaks, the Garmin records no less than 45min of stopping time. If your GPS can’t detect your progress, you know you’re in trouble.
But, to me, this is probably my favorite ride of the winter. Partially because I feel strong when I am supposed to feel weak (I rode a hard 6 1/2 hours the day before), but mostly because it’s just great to battle the elements instead of opponents and to get this “we’re in this together” feeling trying to struggle to the finish. On top of that, it’s also a very nice route, with some very unexpected trails in the middle of Oshawa.
One disappointment on these two rides was my GoPro. My charger didn’t work properly, my battery seemed to have problems with the cold, long-story-short it didn’t record very much of these two rides. What it did record, I put in this little clip: