Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Experiment...Part 3

Once back home, showered, fed and with our cycles and trailer safely put away, it only remained to work out what we learned about cycle camping. We had only been gone overnight but we did learn a few things.

Mostly, what we learned is that no matter how disciplined you are about packing, you will wind up bringing too much with you. For us, the tent seemed to be bigger in its stuff sack than either of us recalls. The other thing we learned is that no matter how tightly you compress pillows to fit into an army-issued stuff sack, it'll still take up way too much space in whatever trailer or pannier you have. Using sweaters or towels as pillows won't do it either as a horribly stiff and sore neck will be the result. Yes it will.

The other thing we learned is that as much as camping is touted as eco-friendly and a great way to get "back to nature" almost no public campsites are set up that way. Most campsites are just not easily accessible by any other means except a car. We managed to get to the one here in Ottawa simply because we can both easily cycle 40 or 50 kilometres. Adam probably always will though it's not so certain for me. The Ottawa Municipal Campground is precisely 37.7 kilometres from our place and following the bike paths as we did. It would be really nice if there were other municipal campgrounds within the city but I, for one, am grateful that we have even one.

One thing we were able to confirm about cycle camping is that, overall, it is a lot less expensive than many other vacations of this type. Another type of camping trip we have taken is canoe camping at Lac La Peche in Gatineau Park but that still requires one to drive to the launch site first and absorb all the associated costs of gasoline usage to get up there. Yet, this one overnight trip only cost us $71.73 in total.

So, would we do it again? Well, no, because other than this particular campsite, there really isn't any other place to go. I am physically limited to about 50-80 kilometres and I just don't think there are any other campsites within that range. Plus, unless we can seriously cut down even further on what we bring, that we won't be doing any more cycle camping.

It was a fun experiment and we really enjoyed the experience but I think that, next year when we go camping, we'll go back to renting a car and heading back to a place like Sandbanks. In the interim, it's day trips galore and, with there being about 2 to 2 1/2 months left of the cycling season, there's lots more to see and do this year.


Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Experiment...Part 2

The area of the Ottawa Municipal Campground we stayed in is rather close to highway 417. Ontario has a series of multi-lane highways all of which are identified by three numbers and all of which start with the number '4'. I had been told years ago that this is to indicate that it's a high speed 4 lane highway but I, personally, think that it's to indicate the first of the three numbers of the average decibel reading of the slobberingly huge transport trucks that go screaming along at all hours. For us, this translated to having to bring ear plugs with us or else neither of us would get any sleep. Try sleeping right next to a rocket that's launching and you'll get some idea of what I mean.

Yet, while I was sure I wouldn't need ear plugs Adam knew he would so he was glad to have brought some. For my part, I was just SO bone weary that I didn't think I would have any problem falling asleep. I was pretty sure I'd get enough to get me through the night and remain conscious enough to trike home the next day - even without my beloved cuppa to jump start my day.

One of the truly wonderful features of my Catrike is its 27 gears. There is almost no place I cannot successfully negotiate. The last long climb up the hill on Corkstown Road to get to the campsite was done in absolute first gear. It did make for slow going but I wasn't reduced to this shuddering, sweat soaked ball of flesh. From our home in the south part of the city to the campsite, the predominant trend is uphill but it is all easily traversible in comfort on my Catrike. I could not say the same thing for Adam, however, as his was the arduous task of dragging 80 pounds of gear in a trailer and on his bicycle. Now, I'm not saying bicycles are pooey and Catrikes are hugely superior in all respects but what I am saying is that he had a hell of a time on this last hill.

Yet, we made it in both good time and in good spirits. The areas that were indicated as "serviced" (meaning equipped with electricity and water on each site) were on paved and very tidy one way roads. The signage was very good with one way roads clearly marked. The trees at those clusters were abundant and very very green. Providing lovely shade for those people who came camping in their fifth wheels or other motorized campers - and we saw quite a number of those behemoths - the serviced lots seemed to be very well taken care of.

Our site was in the unserviced area where there were no such amenities. That doesn't mean we had to dig our own latrines or wash in a nearby pond but it did mean we had to travel over hard crushed gravel roads as opposed to the smooth, freshly asphalted ones. We hadn't been allotted a specific site (there didn't seem to be any numbers on each site) so we just picked the one closest to the washroom. There were already a few other campers there but, other than that, the area was very quiet...

...until we noticed just how close we were to the 417. We were reminded of this fact by the sudden throaty growl of a transport truck using engine brakes to make as much noise as possible. Rush hour was on and so we were treated to an unending chorus of car noise as commuters drove home from downtown and west to Kanata. The noise varied only slightly in volume and somewhat more in pitch as some cars seem to produce higher levels of tire noise or had engines of varying health. The other feature of our campsite was the thick and black cloud of gnats that just seemed to follow us everywhere we went. Setting up the tent was a quick and painless venture as much because we were just bone weary as that we wanted to be able to get away from those blasted gnats...and maybe even find some buffer from the highway noise.

The highway wrangling did eventually settle down as evening creeped closer to us but we did hope it would die down even further. Once again, earplugs are a must unless you are actually able to sleep through truck convoys and their engine brakes.

We did get a half way decent night's sleep as much I think from the romance of a campground setting as the simple fact that we were both just utterly exhausted from all that cycling, hauling and that last hill in particular. We both showered before crawling into our sleeping bags for what we hoped would be a good night's sleep - or at least a not-too-horrendously-awful night's sleep.

The next morning dawned sunny and deliciously cool. We are both early risers and so took advantage of the fact that no one else in the area was awake yet. So we got up, enjoyed a bit of breakfast and did some stretches for the trek home. Adam did a tai chi set while I did a few yoga poses knowing we would both be spending the next few hours cycling. This time, however, we would take a few more breaks on the way home. We left the campsite at 8:30 and revelled in the cool of early morning and the fact that much of our homeward trek would be downhill. It didn't take long for the cicadas to start their buzzing thus signalling to us both that the day was heating up quickly. We knew that some unstable weather was forecast for Ottawa but was not expected until later in the day so we weren't worried.

We stopped back at Britannia Park - in fact at the exact same picnic bench we had been not 24 hours earlier - and were immediately assailed by gnats. Our stop there would only be for a few minutes before riding away. We had passed a number of other cyclists on the path and assumed them to be commuters. It was only after about 9:15 that we noticed the character of the cyclists had shifted a bit from young/middle aged to older and likely retired people just out for their morning run/walk/cycle. Quite a number of people were out walking their dogs and I couldn't help but start humming, " the park...I think it was the fourth of Joo-ly-y-y-y..." The scene almost looked like that silly song.

We got to the end of the Ottawa River bike path right at the Bytown Museum and right at the base of the locks. That hill is a steep slope though, thankfully, not a long one. We got to the museum right at 10:00 and just in time to get an ice cream for us both. By then, the humidity was starting to creep up so we were glad to be only 15 kilometres from home. By our reckoning, and in the bright sunshine with only a few clouds, we would be home by around 11:30-ish.

We did get home by that time, noticed a few more clouds and thought little of it. We washed the bicycle, my trike and the now enptied trailer in the driveway. Because we packed up our tent in the morning, it was still only very slightly touched with the dampness of morning dew so we laid it out in our front yard to dry. The breeze sure felt nice and really helped to dry off our just rinsed cycles.

We looked up again and saw that one of the clouds had grown quite dark and ominous looking and, within a short while, the first spatters of rain had begun. We put the trailer and both cycles in the garage and had just brought the gear back inside the house when the pause in rain had ended and resumed anew...and this time, a little more briskly.

We got inside, noticed the rain had stopped once more and then we both hit the showers. Done there, it was time for a regular meal...and then we saw the skies darken again. This time, it was that really ominous looking dark that spells thunderstorm.

Lightning - just a few light sparks at first - and then a few quiet rumbles danced in the air. The rain began anew, lightened once more...and then all hell broke loose with sparks of lightning, loud crashing thunder and some of the nastiest wind gusts I had seen in awhile. The wind blew the rain sideways and our tree in the front was bending quite vigorously, its branches flustering and shaking as the winds from this thunderstorm beat against it.

It had been sunny, warm and VERY pleasant not an hour earlier. But, such is the nature of things. Everything changes - and sometimes suddenly too. No matter. We were both just grateful to have not been out there and trying to seek shelter from this storm.

Part 3 tomorrow


Friday, August 19, 2011

The Experiment...Part 1

We like camping...a lot...and do freely admit that this is one of the very few things we miss about not having our own car. Time was, we would book a 3 or 4 day trip to a place like Sandbanks or Bon Echo in Ontario or even at Lac Taylor or Lac La Peche at nearby Gatineau Park in Quebec. Camping, for us, is a fun way to take an inexpensive holiday and one we were more than prepared to have to 'shift' when we got rid of our vehicle. Because we only went camping once a year, it was hardly a serious sacrifice - renting a car would fix that. However, we wondered if it were at least possible to find a local campsite, pack up our gear and...yes...cycle to the place. The answer was 'yes' to all three questions - with a few minor changes.

We love a challenge like this and so, earlier this year, decided to give it a try. We thought we would try to pack our camping gear into the various panniers and wheeled, human powered devices and head out to go camping. We would try to go for one night as an experiment and we would see how much work would be involved.

The place we found is in the city's west end of the greenbelt and it was called the Ottawa Municipal Campground. It's located just beside the Equestrian park and is very easily accessible by a combination of cycle paths and only a few not-too-heavily-travelled roads. So, last month, Adam made a reservation for one site for one night for the two of us. We were committed to going and, dagnabit, we were going to go.

As I said, we love a challenge like this and there were a couple of challenges before us. The first one was in finding a place to stop for lunch since we knew we would have to. I get fatigued fairly easily, despite the utter comfort of my catrike, so planning for breaks, including one for lunch, acquired a new significance. Normally, we would have packed a good lunch and made a picnic of it all; however, this would not work out because of challenge number two...cargo limits.

Camping, even for one night, still requires that you cart a lot of equipment with you. You have to, essentially, bring your house with you. Okay, it's only a tent and not bricks and mortar but a tent can still take up a lot of space which our one does. Then, there are sleeping bags, pillows and all the other gear you actually need. Determining what we would need, versus what we would like to bring with us, did take a bit of extra care and one area we shaved a lot from was food. With car camping, you bring most of your own food, a cooking stove and all the necessary pots, pans, utensils, cups, plates, bowls et cetera. But, for this trip, we limited our food to some trail mix, a couple of bags of lentil chips and a few cereal bars. We did bring our mini camping stove (a real sweetie of a thing that fits into a wonderfully tiny bag), some fuel and my tin cup in which was an envelope of coffee. However, we forgot to bring a pot to boil water in so I was relegated to my caffeine tablets I did remember to bring for this particular instance. We brought our toothbrushes, soap and dental floss as well as two very thin but useful beach towels. We were only staying for one night so that seriously cut down the amount of clothing we needed to bring. In short, we shaved off a lot from what we would normally have brought with us...

...but it still made for very full panniers on my trike and a very full trailer which Adam pulled on his bike. Still we felt as prepared as we could be and, best of all, as enthusiastic about the whole venture. We were going to have fun.

The weather was nothing short of magnificent the morning we packed our things. Sunny, warm and yet not too hot, we pulled away from our place at 10:20 with the intention of stopping for lunch at Britannia Park (a place we'd previously visited and enjoyed). We would buy lunch at the park's little 'burger shack', a charming place called 'Baja Burger' but it was well worth the nearly $25 for two burgers (served on gluten free buns...a bonus), a side order of fries which we shared, two pops and one of those super deluxe ice cream bars which we also shared. We sat down to eat by around 12:30 and continued our journey to the campsite about an hour later.

So far, the trip had been pleasant and the heat of the day wasn't too grim that we couldn't handle the final long uphill slog to get to the gate of the campsite itself which we arrived at by 2:20 - precisely 4 hours after we started.

The site we picked was right across from the bathroom/shower facility and there were a few other campers in sites right by ours. Although our site did have one tree on it, the set of sites was quite sparse in that regard. The gnats were pretty thick and annoying but nothing we couldn't deal with. Admittedly, it was somewhat amusing when Adam emerged from the campsite office with a tag which we were supposed to place in our windshield. Such is the general assumption most campsites make, eh? Instead, Adam simply kept the tag in his pouch and ready to show to any official who may ask whether we were legally authorized to be there.

Setting up the tent took a short time though I have to admit that it's a challenge to arrange the air mattresses, sleeping bags and associated liners in such a confined space. I did it anyway even though I had Adam's air mattress wrong-side-up. Oh well, no harm done.

So, what did we do after setting everything up? Well, we thought we'd try and go for a walk around the facility but the whole place seemed to consist of other clusters of winnebagos or other non-tent campers. There was a playground and I plunked myself onto one of the swings just to stretch other muscles. Otherwise, the whole place is fairly nondescript and devoid of anything much beyond individual campsites.

But then, the whole point to this exercise wasn't to find exciting, distracting things to do but to just see if we could go camping without the use of a car. That goal was met, as far as I was concerned.

Part 2, really, I'll post it.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Happy bike lane news

Well, much to my delight, the dedicated bike lane on Laurier Avenue is being used. In fact, more than 40 thousand cyclists have used the bike lane, according to the online CBC article. This is exactly what I had hoped to read, especially because the dedicated bike lane on Laurier Avenue is just a two year pilot project.

The important point to know, as far as this pilot project goes, is that a feature not used becomes a feature removed. In other words, use it or lose it and I am pleased to see people using it. Equally pleasing, to me anyway, is that objections to the bike lane, seem to have disappeared or at least been reduced to a dull roar. What I am hoping comes soon is increasing pressure on city council to expand the dedicated bike lane so that anyone travelling west won't have to devise devilishly creative ways to connect to the Ottawa River parkway cycling path. As it stands now, cyclists who want to continue their travels westbound have to travel south on Bronson and find their way to Booth Street. Heading north on Booth Street, cyclists can intercept the bike path that goes just behind the war museum. Travelling north on Bronson is, technically, possible but the criss-crossing web of one way streets and the number of concrete staircases really makes it impractical for bicylists and impossible for those on recumbent trikes.

However, city council would not have anything to consider if the Laurier Avenue dedicated bike lane weren't already there so it's a very good thing it's being used. So, with about 3 and a half months left in the cycling season - unless you're a fanatic in which case I wish you the best as you put your winter tires on your bikes/trikes et cetera - I say keep up the good work everyone!



Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Just another... day at the beach...

Sunday was both sunny and warm but without that crushing, stifling humidity. The Alcatel-Lucent Sunday Bike day would be on in full force and we would be out there too - but with a slight difference.

Because my MS often results in me getting terribly fatigued by early afternoon and because Adam and I are morning people by nature we are very often some of the very first people to get to the closed-to-motorized-traffic barriers. Sometimes we get there before the scheduled 09:00 am closure and it's not uncommon for us to be on Colonel By and zooming down the road only to see the (very) occasional car trying to sneak off the road at the last possible second. This time, however, we were planning to head out for a picnic lunch, not at Mooney's Bay which is too close to our place to make it worthwhile but way the bejeepers at the beach of Lac Leamy.  Lac Leamy is over the river into Gatineau but it's still not really all that far from our place. The beach/picnic area is 21.7 kilometres using a combination of the closed Colonel By Road and bike paths that trace curving routes around the area. At my current triking speed, we figured that if we left by around 10:30, we'd get to the beach at Lac Leamy by around noon.

This is precisely what happened. I packed a fairly light but nutritious lunch for ourselves and then headed out on a gloriously sunny mid-late morning. I have to admit that it felt a bit odd passing some familiar landmarks, like the Frank Clair Stadium, at such a late time of morning compared to when we would normally be there but it wasn't anything anxiety provoking.

We exited the Colonel By road and went right onto the Corktown foot bridge that crosses the Rideau canal, continued north towards the locks and found ourselves smack dab in the middle of some kind of festival featuring Celtic music and more tourists there than I was expecting even for a long weekend.

There is one lock which will allow users to transport their bikes across but it is a bit more of a challenge for recumbent trikes and my Catrike was no exception. However, it wasn't all that horrendous and the free flow of boat traffic was in no way jeopardized by my having to take a little longer time getting across. We were prepared for the next major event of this trip...crossing the Alexandra Bridge.

The last time we crossed the Alexandra Bridge on our trikes, the condition of the bike lane was - well - alarming. The lane itself seemed to consist of a washboard set of rumble strips whose effects were as tough on a trike as they were on one's body. Specifically, cyclists of all kinds would have to stop once on the other side to allow one's eyeballs a few minutes to stop bouncing around and this is what we both expected. However, we got a really nice surprise.

Someone, somewhere got it in their minds to perhaps fix the bike lane on the bridge so that people wouldn't have to put their internal organs back in the right place and our crossing over the Alexandra Bridge went very smoothly. Our next step was to maneuver around the Museum of Civilization, which lies just at the end of the bridge itself on the Quebec Side which is what we were expecting. What we were up against, instead, was a sign proclaiming the bike lane closed "due to construction". A minor annoyance, to be sure, but that did mean we'd have to cycle up to the traffic light and cross Rue Laurier to regain the bike lane.

There is a park there and bike lanes course and meander through it. We found ourselves there and immersed in some kind of art display. We're not Philistines per se but do object to the idea of someone passing off what looks like scrap steel painted in bright colours as art. No matter, the day was sunny with a few building cumulus clouds and continued warmth. The beach/picnic area at Lac Leamy wasn't too far away and we were both getting hungry.

From the park, the trail curves, climbs and settles through a lightly treed forested area until one emerges from the green forested area, goes under a few highway overpasses and then comes out by the beach. There were a number of other people there but the place wasn't packed to capacity.

We enjoyed our lunch, despite our having forgotten a couple of items in the fridge at home, and took a few minutes to just relax after a good 21 kilometre venture, crossing a much improved bridge and negotiating the very public display of scrap metallic...things...

Going home was a simple matter of retracing our steps back with the sole exception of not re-joining Colonel By Road after crossing at the Corktown foot bridge, for the road had been re-opened to motorized vehicles. That meant we would be relegated to the bike path only which neither of us minded at all.

We pulled back into our driveway at around 2:45pm, having left precisely 4 hours and 15 minutes earlier. Our total distance was 42 point something kilometres and, frankly, we were both ready for a shower.

I don't photograph well and that's evident in this picture. I am actually enjoying the ice cream; it just doesn't look like it.