by Keith Luder
photos by Raymond Layno, Ben Nolan, Michele Haley
When Johnny offered me time on stage to fundraise at The Windsor Bluesfest I immediately said yes. There was only one catch: I had to cycle there from Toronto. Next day I was wondering if I’d find other cyclists to do it with me. Will the roads be safe? Will we have mechanical problems or crash? How about the weather? But a few weeks later it was time to ‘just do it’.
The van arrived late at the meeting spot and Albert ‘The Stallion’, ‘Nurse’ Michelle and Ben ‘The Rookie’ emerged from the darkness like human cargo smuggled across the border. Team Velocity kits were the only clues they were about to embark on a cycling adventure that would culminate at the Windsor Blues Festival about 400 km later. Raymond ‘The Puller’ must have been relieved to see us; he’d been waiting on his own for 30 minutes. Soon all nine of us were assembling for the group photo, glistening with newly applied sunscreen. Keith ‘The Garminator’ had the route on his Edge 800 and after several shots we hit the road. The traffic was light as we headed west on Eglinton but the sun was already strong and it was comforting to know that we had 150 bottles of chilled water in the van. It didn't take long for one of us to hit the deck but Ben showed great agility in avoiding the car and got back up unscathed. There was no blood so it didn't count.
It didn't take long to drop a rider despite having talked about not doing it before we left. Keith had to get something from the van but the others rode on and were a good distance down the road when he got going again. There was too much pent up energy to wait more than a few seconds and in their enthusiasm to get to London as fast as possible they turned right instead of left. Keith was yelling but to no avail. It was the beginning of several "off course / recalculating route" messages from Garmin. We got to know a certain segment of Parkside Drive very well as the Garmin rerouted back and forth trying very hard to get us back on our original route. Luckily a Tim Horton's was close by and we had a refreshing stop there. We would get to know the Timmy's menu very well on this trip especially the frozen drink section. As Garmin continued to reroute my cell phone rang. Tanya ‘The Comeback Gal’, who was doing the first shift driving the van wanted to know where the f____ we were and was able to direct us back on course with the printed directions faster than you know what!
Albert reminded us he had been cycling in these parts since he was a teenager and led us towards Sydenham Hill where any frustrations with the Garmin rerouting were washed away in a beautiful descent with a breathtaking view. The group was humming along now, nice tight formation over the rolling hills with Raymond in his usual position at the front. The temperature continued to climb and it felt like the hottest day on record. Conversation had started with Monty Python sketches but soon switched to poorly fitting chamois, the benefits of certain creams and Nurse Michelle’s expert advice for everyone's posterior. Before long we had left the GTA far behind and were rolling down quiet and deserted country roads. The Garmin hadn't given an off route message since Parkside Drive yet Herb ‘MC’ was suddenly convinced we were lost and decided to stage a route revolt. Raymond created a new route on his Garmin and it came up with the same route that Keith's Garmin had but as the old cliché goes two Garmins are better than one!
After lunch at yet another Tim H we continued to head west into dark clouds that suddenly covered the sun and cooled us down with a light and brief shower. ‘Chipper’ Jessica earned her nickname around this time by bursting into song, reeling off such classics as "my sex is on fire" which soon descended into the comical "my butt is on fire". With the van always nearby we were able to hydrate and refuel regularly even when the farms went on for 50 odd kilometers. Copious amounts of eload, nuun and fig newtons were consumed and endurolytes were handed out like candies. Tanya shared some interesting cooling techniques like pouring cold water over legs and down the neck and back. Screams of pleasure rang out! Finally we arrived at the Timmy's in Ingersoll where Keith had to talk Michelle out of rolling around on the cold floor. Cyclists already had a poor image in these parts judging by the looks we were getting and that would have just about killed it. Thankfully, despite the sunstroke she was able to think logically! Herb was getting impatient with the long break and invented an electrical thunderstorm telling us we only had one hour to avoid it. We pedaled strongly to London where ‘50%’ Mike proved his memory was still sharp by guiding us to our hotel down quiet streets. Surprisingly, the van was not there. Very strange! Had Tanya and Ben got lost (after all, there wasn't a Garmin in the van!)? When the van did arrive we appreciated the delay; they had rerouted to the beer store and we drank the best blondes we have ever had. We went out for dinner and enjoyed a great après bike meal with everybody a little tired from the hot, long ride but in great spirits and determined to get an early start the next morning for stage two to Windsor.
We met early for breakfast but were shocked to find that the joint which was supposed to open at 6am was shut not even one car parked outside to give us hope. Breakfast at the hotel didn't start until 7 so Ben volunteered to go to MacDonald's. With belly’s full we were soon cycling out of London heading South West towards Chatham-Kent thankful that it was cooler than the day before. After breakfast, Herb had announced that because of his distrust of the Garmin he had memorized the route and was leading us out of town to make sure we didn't get lost. Well, after about 4 turns Herb was asking Keith which way the Garmin wanted to go and there wasn't an argument as the Garmin guided us the rest of the way to Windsor.
Our biggest challenge on the second day was maintaining interest as we cruised down long, Roman like roads that seemed to go on and on forever without any change in scenery. It was so monotonous that Jessica yelped with joy when we came across fields of wind turbines slowly moving in the heavy air. Raymond couldn't take the steady 30k per hour pace anymore and twitched his sprinting muscles into a brief breakaway just before we stopped in Twin Peaks for a coffee. Quite a few locals were having breakfast and Tanya noticed they all looked alike and had the same large ears, like the Royal Family but in reverse. All of the pictures on the walls were of tractors and other farming achievements which should be respected because as the sign on the road said "Farmers feed cities". Keith wanted an iced coffee but was told it wasn't on the menu so he ordered a coffee with ice on the side and got lots of funny looks when he combined them. Herb ordered one as well and amused the locals by putting a large amount of salt in with the sugar which we all thought was a great idea and copied.
Before long we were rolling down the country roads again, cornfields on both sides of the road, fighting the boredom with our singing and joking when Herb yelled out "Flaaaat". We all pulled over, eager for a change of activity when the loud popping sound repeated itself. Surely there couldn't have been a second flat. When the sound repeated a third time we realized that the locals were shooting their rifles. How many points for a cyclist? We got back on the bike in a hurry and sprinted away from those crazy people!
Our last Tim Horton's stop was in Belle River where Raymond made an unusual request. Would we mind going with him to the funeral home? I had strange thoughts before Raymond explained that he knew the manager and wanted to surprise him. We took a photo; 8 cyclists in lycra and a man in a suit creates an interesting shot.
Our first glimpse of Lake St. Claire meant that it wasn't far to Windsor and our police escort. We didn't know what to expect but when the supercharged Camaro and Charger showed up it was like a huge shot of adrenaline. As Albert said " a police escort into Windsor at 37 km/h will cure a very sore butt and tired legs". The sirens sent out warnings at intersections and the muscle cars lit up like Christmas trees. What a buzz to see the traffic stop and cheer for us and the cops must have hit the green light switch because we didn't stop at one traffic light for about 10km.
They took us to our hotel overlooking the mighty Detroit river and we had completed our cycling adventure. We were really pumped now and ready to celebrate, first over dinner and then at the Bluesfest just down the road. We played the smart phone game at dinner: everybody puts their phone in the middle of the table and the first one to touch it pays the bill. That put an end to the constant smart phoning that had started in the lobby and we had a great meal with lively conversation.
Despite cycling almost 400 km since the previous morning we had lots of energy as we walked to the bluesfest. The atmosphere was great as we entered the VIP section and met up with Keith's friend John who had challenged us to cycle from Toronto to the Windsor bluesfest in return for an opportunity to fundraise for the Tour for Kids. Hang tight he said and I'll get you on stage between acts. We were taken backstage then led on to the stage in front of 10,000 merry people. Herb took the mic and soon had the crowd in a generous mood. I'll never forget the sight of the man dressed like a biker in leather pants and vest running to the stage, fist pumping, yelling "Tour for Kids yeah, Tour for Kids yeah" with a $100 bill in the other hand. Others quickly followed and we collected a decent amount of money for the kids with cancer. Our work was done and we could now relax and enjoy the great music of Alto Reed of Bob Seger's Silver Bullet Band and Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad fame.
After meeting for a late breakfast the following morning all that remained was to put the bikes in the van and get to the train station on time. It was very difficult for Raymond to part company with his Rabobank Giant and he was soon arranging all of the bikes to ensure the safety and protection of his beloved machine. Tanya and Keith had made sure there were lots of thick blankets to make the bikes as comfortable as possible on their easy journey back to TO. As we turned north on to the DVP, the sky turned very dark and the rain came pouring down just like Herb had said it would in Ingersoll. How nice of Mother Nature to wait for us to complete our cycling adventure first!
To learn more about The Tour for Kids go to http://my.e2rm.com/personalPage.aspx?registrationID=1333538&langPref=en-CA