I said I was going to take the 50-mile round trip bike ride from my cottage in Thunder Bay to Niagara Falls and back. But as the day of reckoning approached, I began to get have doubts. I’ve never ridden 50 miles on a bicycle. I was afraid my quads would give out or my butt would rub raw or my back would seize up and I’d end up having to call Harriet to come pick me up somewhere along the Niagara River.
Adding to my self-imposed pressure, I was scheduled to ride with two guys who don’t exactly use training wheels or hang streamers from their handlebars. John has been on more epic bike rides than he can count. Steve has a favorite gear: the fastest one.
We start out at 8:00 AM in expectation of a five-hour journey, including stops. I’m on a borrowed bike, a vintage Trek 12-speed brilliantly in tune and a perfect fit for me, thanks to John. Within minutes, I can see I have no chance of keeping up with the pace Steven is setting. It’s a good thing he wore a high-visibility shirt so I can still detect that yellow spot way up ahead of me.
The route takes us on a number of roads through Ontario, mostly with wide and well-paved shoulders (thank you, Canadian friends), across the Welland River in Chippawa (short break for water and snack, too short), and onto the Niagara Parkway paved trail for the final push along the rapids to the brink of the falls and then the Rainbow Bridge between Canada and the U.S.
Our return route is going to be longer, but I made it to the falls and am not feeling too achy, even though I could have used an extra water stop or two along the way. For now, I’m standing in a cool, refreshing mist from the falls and enjoying the spectacular view and the crowds from around the world: many languages, colors, ages, and sizes. Niagara Falls is truly a global tourist destination, complete with the thrills: zip line, boat rides, guided walks to the base of the falls, and plenty of casinos. We skip all that stuff. We’re bike riders.
On the way back, we stick closer together and follow the longer route along the Niagara River and past where it splits around Grand Island. We thankfully stop at a bar for what might be the best beer I ever tasted, pass under the Peace Bridge, and pedal the last miles on a rail trail. I’m not up for any kind of victory lap upon return, but definitely a swim in the lake, lots of refueling, and a nap.
I shouldn’t have doubted I could finish the ride, but that’s the way I am when facing this kind of challenge. My confidence tends to build slowly, gaining momentum along the way, until I become a freakin’ unstoppable force. It’s kind of the way I write novels, a little bit.
Many thanks to my riding mates for inspiring me.