Throwback Thursday

Eight years ago I was getting ready to move back to my hometown near Barrie from Ottawa. Most of of my things had already been moved back and I was living in an empty apartment sleeping on a mattress pad in a sleeping bag. Along with my bike and some other camping supplies, the place was empty. In fact, the landlord, thinking I had already moved out, showed up to clean the place only to find me sleeping in the middle of the living room floor.

I could have gone home with my stuff but I wanted to stay and spend my birthday in Ottawa with some friends. It was now spring, my birthday on the 20th of April, and I had spent the previous fall planning to ride my bike across the country the following summer. On a whim I decided to apply to university around that same time. When I found out that I had been accepted to Carleton University for Greek and Roman studies, the plans for my cross Canada trip had to be put on hold. I now had all this gear and everything planned out for a big trip but no time or money to do it with university set to start at the end of summer. I decided that in lieu of riding across the country, I would do the next best thing: ride from Ottawa to Barrie.

At the time I had only just started riding a road bike and knew very little beyond the basics of cycling. My tent was packed on the top of the back rack and fastened with some rope. I had no lights at all on my bike and I was wearing a pair of black running tights from MEC and a spring technical jacket. No chamois at all. I also had very little money –about $150. I bought some peanuts, a loaf of bread, instant oatmeal and gatorade mix and set out from Ottawa. I got lost on my way out of the city and had two flat tires before making it beyond Kanata. I discovered that my rear tire had a shard of glass embedded in the rubber. I pulled it out but there was still a gaping hole in the rubber exposing the inner tube. $40 for new rubber and I was on my way.

Because of the setbacks and some confusion about how to get out of the city, I made it to just past Perth on the first day. As the sun was setting I was all alone on highway 7 riding through wooded countryside. Being geared up for camping, I decided to pull off on the side of the road and pitch my tent. I walked my bike into the bush about 100ft so that cars (or police; I was not sure of the legality of doing this) would not be able to spot me, pitched my tent and made some oatmeal with my small camp stove. It was cold and damp that night and it wasn’t until the middle of the night that I realized I had pitched the tent on a slight incline. My feet were higher than my head and had gone completely numb because of the cold. Because of the nature of the tent –one of those coffin style tents where the end where your feet goes is only about 8 inches high– I couldn’t turn around.

The next morning was slightly warmer and I set out again after a breakfast of bread and oatmeal. I rode for 12 hours that day. The cheap seat that came with my bike was not at all comfortable and I had to resort to wrapping clothing around it to stay comfortable (this is the reason why I now call that bike The Punisher). During the day the weather was nice and I could even take my jacket off around noon. By the time 4pm rolled around the clouds had started to roll in and it started raining just outside of Peterborough. By then I was wet, cold and exhausted. I was rolling into Peterborough right around quitting time so the highway was busy with cars. A combination of exhaustion, hunger and the cold made me brain stupid –anyone who rides a lot will know wellwhat that feels like— and I wavered off the road onto the gravel and lost my balance. As I fell towards the road I could see a car tire narrowly miss my head by no more than a foot. I was too exhausted to really be fazed by it but a friendly stranger stopped and offered me a ride. I think he thought I was drunk because I was so out of it and my cheeks were flush red from fatigue and the cold. I gathered myself and told him I was alright and got back on my bike and rode away while he was still standing there.

I had initially planned to ride through Peterborough, stopping for dinner somewhere and then setting up camp on the side of the road again once outside of the town but I was too tired and hungry and I didn’t want to set up the tent in the rain. I stopped at the first motel I passed on the outskirts of the town. It was called the Blue Jay Inn and it was owned by a old Indian couple (from India) and got a room for $60. The place was pretty run down but it had a bed. It also had shag carpets. Retro.

After stripping off my wet clothes and having a warm shower I decided to order a pizza. Debit on delivery is pretty much standard for most pizza places nowadays, back then outside the big cities it wasn’t so common yet. I needed cash but I had no desire to go back out in the rain on my bike and I hadn’t packed any other shoes than my cycling shoes, which are not easy to walk in. I went to the hotel office to see if they had an ATM. The conversation between myself and the owner went something like this:

me: Do you have an ATM?

hotel owner: Why do you need money for?

me: I want to order a pizza.

hotel owner: We don’t have an ATM.

me: If I buy a pack of gum or something can I get some cash back then?

hotel owner: Why? How much do you need?

me: $20 should cover it.

hotel owner: Are you having anyone come see you tonight?

me: Um, no. Just me.

hotel owner: Are you sure you will not have any guests over later? Why do you need money?

me: I’m sure I won’t have any guests. I just want to order a pizza.

After this awkward conversation and being accused of wanting money for a prostitute –at least that’s what I think he was insinuating– he let me get cash back and I was able to order pizza. It was a very awkward situation and I was glad to leave the next day, especially when I realized that his subtle accusations were probably based on prior experience with guests of his hotel. I slept on top of the blankets in my sleeping bag that night.

The next morning I left Peterborough and continued on towards my destination. I rode another 12 hours that day, largely uneventful. The weather had cleared up and stayed that way until the evening. I had planned on riding all the way to my Dad’s house in Alliston, near Barrie, but it was approaching 8pm and I was still a few hours away so I decided to make a detour to my grandparents house in Innisfil. It just started to rain about 30min before I arrived.

I was wiped for a few days afterwards but I felt like I had accomplished something. I’ve since done other bike trips, for which I was better prepared and brought some company along with me, namely my wife. I still plan on riding across the country one day.

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