On a recent extended-family vacation to a rental cottage on Doe Lake, just south of Burk’s Falls, my scarcely used Specialized 24-speed road bike made the journey. Not as a means of transportation from London to the cottage, but in the back of a pick-up truck, packed for the prospect of some local exercise. I hadn’t done much biking of late and the opportunity to saddle up for a leisurely spin was inviting.
On a clear, cool morning while the rest of the lads were on the lake catching breakfast, I set out for a short ride in the rolling hills of Muskoka. An hour-and-a-half and thirty kilometers later, I negotiated the last incline back to the cottage with a feeling of satisfaction and a torrent of cycling memories.
There is something pleasantly liberating and mildly therapeutic about being one with your bike on a road you’ve never travelled. A chance to meander quietly through unfamiliar territory and uncover the route’s beauty and surprises with each turn of the road or crest of a hill. Pegg Mountain Road – true to its name – tested all 24 gears and a pair of dubiously optimistic legs. Still, there was warm reminiscence in the muscle burn that came with scaling long, steep inclines, and the exhilaration of a shirt flapping wildly in triumphant testament to the speed of the full-tuck free-fall, down the other side.
Cycling has been threaded throughout my life. Growing up in East End Toronto, it was the primary means of transportation, as a kid. The complexity of equipment evolved steadily from tricycle to two-wheeler, three-speed, and most memorably, a well travelled 10-Speed Raleigh Racer that carried me through the teenage years.
My principal riding cohort was longtime buddy, Dave Osborne. Dave and I rode our bikes virtually everywhere. Living on Toronto’s Rhodes Avenue, north of Gerrard, it was 10-minutes to get to Kew Beach to watch a ball game or ride the length of the boardwalk, and we made the trip often. Scarborough Bluffs was another frequent destination, but at a 20-kilometer return trip, it required a little more planning to cover the distance and explore the Bluffs, before being discovered missing on the home front.
The first venture of notable length was an 80-kilometer ride, 45 years ago at age 11, heading north on Highway 48 to Lake Simcoe. This was a co-ed trip where Dave and I hooked up with neighbourhood pals, Terri and Debbie, to visit Terri’s grandmother at a cottage in Sutton.
The bicycles for the trip ranged from three-speed models for Dave and I, to a low-profile, one-gear bike with high handlebars and a banana seat, bravely piloted by Debbie. What may have been lacking in quality of equipment was made up in the detailed planning of routes and contingencies – principally to win parental approval for the trip.
Cycling accessories in the late 60’s were not nearly as sophisticated as we find today. No padded biking shorts, no helmets, and no GPS units to guide us. Road tunes for this trip were supplied via a bulky radio unit carried in a knapsack on Dave’s back. The protruding antennae behind his head did a nice job of tuning in crisp renditions of John Denver’s, Take Me Home, Country Roads.
At age 11, a fellow is considerably more interested in bikes, than girls. But on the return trip, in a moment of exploratory prepubescent bravado – presumably inspired by a John Denver serenade and the fresh country air – my awkward attempt to reach for Terri’s hand, while positioned side-by-side on a quiet stretch of Highway 48, precipitated a dual-bike wobble of such severity that it very nearly led to a tangled heap of bicycle parts and gangly limbs.
The successful Sutton trip was an important prerequisite in preparing a credible case for a 210-kilometer overnight ride to Three-Mile Lake, north of Bracebridge, the following year. Before approaching the parents to promote a trip of this magnitude, meticulous planning was undertaken to ensure no parental challenge would be left unsatisfied.
The overnight trip would turn out to be a tough sell, but was critical to ensure we would be competing with limited motor traffic, particularly as the trip would involve a stretch on the relatively busy Highway 11. Pages of documents and diagrams were produced outlining planned meal and rest stops. A full itemization of tools and parts for tire repair and generator light bulb replacement was assembled. Conveniently omitted from the presentation, was the leather-sheathed Rapala filleting knives taped to our respective bicycle crossbars as a measure of personal safety in the event of a confrontation with wild animals, or shady characters. As it turned out we never had to draw our weapons, but a substantial portion of our food supply was jettisoned to fend off country canines, barking wildly while chasing us clear of their property lines in the dead of night.
It’s interesting on reflection, though we would never have allowed a child of our own to venture into the dark for such a trip, we would have been inconsolable had our parents vetoed the cycling adventure that stands as such a rich memory.
The Three-Mile Lake trip paved the way for several other overnight rides to my parents’ cottage, 200 kilometers away on the Trent River, near Campbellford. Riding partners alternated over the next few years, and whether joined by Dave, Jim, Cliff, or Gary and Brian (with whom the best time of a little over 10 hours was recorded), all were unique and memorable rides.
The 30-kilometer spin in Muskoka this summer was sufficient challenge, for the moment, and brought back a rush of memories of a time when the bike played such a prominent role. True to the suggestion of the title, it doesn’t take long to rediscover the comfort and confidence of hitting the road on two wheels.
When it comes right down to it, I guess I just like riding a bike.