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Photos: Murray Tough
Photos are in chronological order, but are not in sync with the Murray's story.

The Granite Anvil 1200
(Randonneurs Ontario)
Ride dates: August 25-28, 2022
by Murray Tough

This was a ride that nearly didn't happen. When I registered everything was fine. I have been living with prostate cancer for 4 years but this year's biopsy changed everything. My cancer had jumped from a low risk, you don't need to do anything about it, to a high risk, you need surgery right now. For better or worse, the earliest operating room time available was late August or early September. I took early September. My doctor and I agreed that if an O.R. became available in July, I would take it and riding would be out of the question for at least 8 weeks.

And then I got hit by a car while cycling a 1000 km brevet. It was a little more than two weeks before the start of the Granite Anvil. You can read the whole story here. The short version is that I got lucky. I escaped with some road rash and likely some cracked ribs. The road rash healed but ribs would take much longer. I showed up in Ottawa not knowing if I was going to be able to ride.

The start was really early; 4:00 AM Eastern Time. That was like 1:00 AM Pacific Time! Before leaving the west coast, I started getting up at 3:00 so that I could be at least somewhat adjusted to Eastern Time. My bike and I arrived safely in Ottawa on Tuesday night. With all the horror stories in the news of delayed flights, terminal congestion and lost luggage, I felt like I had cleared a major hurdle.

Wednesday was preparation day. I assembled my bike, completed the mandatory safety inspection and received my all-important brevet card. All I needed to do was get my card stamped at every control station along the course. Each control had a time limit. The organizers let us know that they would give us some grace on the intermediate controls but the final control would close at 11:00 PM on Sunday. No leniency. It was like being a courier in a spy novel. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to get this completed card back to Ottawa in 91 hours. Don't let the card out of your sight, if you lose it, or fail to get all the stamps, your mission will be a failure. Although it is unlikely that the government will be replaced by a villainous regime if the mission fails.

I went out for pizza with a large group that included riders from Colorado, California and Quebec. They were all experienced riders. I was the only rider that had never done a 1200 before. My longest successful brevet had been 600k. Most appeared younger than me. I felt intimidated.

Day 1

3:30 AM, we are assembled in the hotel lobby for breakfast and last-minute instructions. 4:00 AM, we head out onto the streets of Ottawa. We crossed the Rideau Canal, passed the National War Memorial and zig zagged through the concrete barriers on Wellington Street to ride past the parliament buildings. Our early start would have us through the suburbs and onto country roads before the morning commuters took to the streets.

We rode through farmland, past lakes with cottages and across bridges. For the most part, I was riding in group that expanded and contracted as the day progressed. At times we were only 4 riders and at others we had 10. I convinced the group that stopping at one of the Rideau Canal locks to take a photo was a good idea. Other than that, the group kept moving at, for me, an outstanding pace. The first half of the day was fast and easy on flat terrain. Then we came to the hills. Farmland gradually gave way to trees and granite. The hills got bigger. The group separated. There was no longer a great deal to be gained by riding together. The descents were too fast to ride in a tight group and the climbs were too slow for the drafting to be useful.

As I approached Bancroft, I hit some light drizzle, which got a little heavier and then became a downpour. With only minutes to go, it wasn't worth stopping to put on rain gear. When I arrived at the hotel and final control for the day, I was soaked. But there was hot food, a hot shower and a bed.

360 km done.

The forecast for tomorrow morning was not good...

Day 2

In my mind, this was going to be the most difficult day. The mileage was about the same as yesterday but it was all hills. The route sheet showed that it had 3980 m of ascent, which was about 1500 m more than day 1.

The organizers recommended a 5:00 AM start, they strongly encouraged us to cover 22 km and get past the village of Maynooth before 6:00 AM, before the commercial traffic became heavy. Dark, cold and raining! The first climb started shortly after leaving Bancroft. It was still dark and raining as I descended into Maynooth. The rain hurt my face as my speed increased.

Daylight arrived, the rain stopped. I'm enjoying myself. I'm feeling strong. I reached the first control of the day in plenty of time. It was the usual routine. I got my card stamped, had some food and filled my water.

As I rode along, I felt slow and started feeling lightheaded. It's a feeling I have had many times before, it means that my body is in desperate need of fuel. But I had never experienced it a mere 20 km after eating. I ripped open a Cliff Bar and continued pedaling. With more fuel in me, I recovered. I learned that I needed to eat more. According to my bike computer, I was burning 5000 to 6000 calories a day! There was no hope of being able to eat that much. I ate more at the controls and had more frequent snacks while I was riding. With better fueling, I was able to get my stride back.

Hills weren't the only story of the day 2. We rode through Algonquin park, through forests, past lakes and up and down hills. I smiled at the memory of canoeing here with my wife and our water loving Golden Retriever many years ago. Well, if I'm honest, it was decades ago. Try to imagine what it is like when 20 kg of dog suddenly decides she wants to swim and jumps over the side of your tippy canoe! It demonstrated Newton's Third Law every time she did it. "For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction."

Many hills later, we left the park and entered the Muskokas. Cottage country. Up and down hills, past lakes with boats, docks and cottages. There was one road that we all talked about later. It had two really steep pitches. Neither was particularly long but the grades were daunting. One rider was intimated enough to walk his bike up the hill. There are strict rules about safety and receiving outside assistance but there are no rules about how you will get yourself, your bike and your brevet card around the course. You can carry it for 1200 km, it you want. We would all be talking about a different hill by the end of day 3!

I was ahead of the pace I had hoped for on day 2 and that meant more sleep.

706 km done. Past the halfway mark.

Day 3

Everything is hurting. My quads are the worst. I do some stretching and head for breakfast. Today's ride is a mere 254 km. I'm thinking this will be a short day, which would give me some time to catch up on my sleep. But my exhausted legs aren't the only problem. In 254 km we will squeeze in almost the same amount of climbing as we did the day before.

It's a cold start but it's dry and it's daylight. Environment Canada says it is 8 degrees but my bike computer reads 4 degrees in the valleys. Fortunately, the volunteers warned us of this so I am dressed for it. It is one of the things I am pleased about on this ride. I carried only the right clothes, which is to say I was never cold and I never carried anything on my bike that I didn't wear.

I ride through some hilly farmland on the way out of Bancroft. Did the early settlers have to clear the forests and work around the granite to create these verdant fields? There are wisps of fog in the valleys and brilliant sunshine on the hills. I stop to take pictures thinking that I have lots of time today. I make pretty good time at first but the hills and my accumulated exhaustion take their toll. I don't take any more pictures.

I am only about 70 k into the day. I turned at an intersection at the top of a hill and suddenly I see it. Before me is a roller coaster with a steep descent followed by a monstrous climb on a punishingly steep grade. Letterkenny Road. This is the hill that everyone will be talking about for the rest of the ride.

It's a little disconcerting that I don't remember much of day 3. What I remember most about day 3 is that the climbing was relentless.

Despite the hills and the exhaustion, I was still making better time than I had expected. I arrived at the hotel at a reasonable hour. I needed an early start on day 4.

960 km done. Now all I need to do is get myself, my bike and my brevet card back to Ottawa.

Day 4

Even though I was sleep deprived and exhausted, I didn't sleep well. My body was just too sore to get comfortable. But, when I wake up, I am already underwater in terms of my time. This has been the norm for every day of the ride but now I am worried that my legs don't have enough left to propel me over the hills to the first control before it closes. I didn't have any time to dawdle.

I push hard for the first 25 k until I know that I am maintaining an average speed that is fast enough to make it to the control before it closes. I play mental games with maintaining an average speed up to a given elevation. The game is to get to a higher elevation on the next hill before the average speed drops below the previous record. It gets me to the first control with time to spare. I can now relax to an easier pace.

But the hills are still not done with me. I'm both physically and mentally exhausted. Every hill takes more and more effort. I no longer play games with my average speed. The only game I play is get to the top of the hill, and then the next, and then the next... It's getting hot. I have developed saddle sores. When will this be over? All I can do is keep turning the pedals.

I am riding up a hill when two riders blast past me. They don't look that fit to me. Am I that exhausted? I pass them on the descent but on the next hill - there is always a next hill - they pass me again. Only this time, I see the big batteries. They are riding e-bikes! I don't feel as slow anymore.

Finally, I reach the control in Calabogie. It is at the Redneck Bistro. The briefing notes say that it is the best food on the Granite Anvil. How can you resist that? Past the halfway mark for the day and most of the hills are behind me.

It's a long haul to the next control at Carp but the volunteers let us know that there is a wonderful general store at Clayton, halfway between the controls. It has ice cream! I stop for an ice cream and grab some Gatorade and a banana for the road. I'm not in any danger of falling behind the time limit but I am much slower today. For the first time, I am behind where I expected to be.

I'm about 10k from the control at Carp when I get a flat. I have tubeless tires, which should self-seal. I pump up my tire and continue on. But I don't get very far before it needs to be pumped up again. I find the hole and plug it but the plug doesn't hold for long. Time to put in a tube. It's also time for the mosquitoes to come out. As I finish up, one of the volunteer cars comes by to help. The extra set of hands is much appreciated. I jump back on my bike and leave the mosquitoes behind.

Somehow the time off the bike to fix the flat has restored my energy. Or maybe it's that the hills are gone. Or maybe it's that pizza and beer are getting closer. Crossing over highway 417 makes the finish line seem closer. The 417 is one of the major arteries into Ottawa.

It is with renewed vigour that I pedal the last few kilometers to the control in Carp. At the control, I enquire about the washrooms and am directed to the dumpsters behind the building. If I thought the mosquitoes were bad when I fixed my flat, the mosquitoes behind the dumpsters were unbearable... you can use your imagination to fill in the details. A super quick turnaround at the control and I am into the last 40k.

I meander through suburban streets and through "Canada's largest technology park," according to the lamppost banners. An alarm is going off. It sounds like it's inside my head. Are my hearing aids malfunctioning? I turn them off but the alarm continues. Am I hallucinating? There are some National Defence facilities in the area, I decide that it must be coming from them and it eventually stops.

It's dark when I reach the Ottawa River pathway. The many pedestrians are invisible in the darkness. It is that much worse when the headlights from the cars on the Sir John A. MacDonald Parkway blind me. Somehow I make it to the end without seriously harming any children, pets or on-coming cyclists.

A multitude of turns on city streets gets me to the Rideau Canal and into downtown. I turn onto Nelson St. Another hill! To be fair it is probably only 5 m of ascent. A final turn onto Rideau St. and I can see the underpass into to the hotel parking lot. The last control. I'm done!

I am just crossing the finish line when I get a congratulatory text from my wife. The mysterious alarm from earlier is suddenly clear. My dot watcher accidentally triggered the "find my phone" alarm!

My brevet card is collected, photos taken, bike secured and I am led to the 4th floor where pizza, beer and finishers' medals await. When I enter, the room erupts in applause, some people shout my name. I can't describe how incredible that moment was. A medal is hung around my neck. The mission was a success!

1218 km with 12,460 m of ascent and a 91-hour time limit. Done.

It took many volunteers to pull this off. They were there with breakfast in the wee hours of the morning, they had food, water and encouragement at every control and a hot meal late at night. They got even less sleep than the riders. My heartfelt thanks to every one of them.


Go to: Granite Anvil 1200 Home


September 26, 2022