Last weekend, to beat the heat, my husband and I headed up to Canisbay Lake in Algonquin Park for a bit of camping. I put the bike in our truck, hoping to get some practice in on the rolling roads up in that part of Ontario. I mentioned at the park’s reception office that this was my plan, and she said, adamantly: "I don’t recommend it." Why? "Because drivers through the main Highway 60 are so busy watching for wildlife they aren’t paying attention to their driving. I saw a cyclist almost get hit last week." Okay then; that was enough for me! But at least some of the roads within the campground itself were paved and rolling, so I figured on doing a few laps.
At 7 the next morning I took off toward the park exit, planning to do a U-turn and come back up the hill. But glancing up and down Highway 60, which was bathed with soft sunshine and full of birdsong, I was sucked in by the empty, stretching road. And it was awesome! Long, rolling hills. A couple of kilometres in, though, I realized I didn’t have anything in my pockets’not my usual ID and cellphone, since I’d been planning to stay inside the campground. I had left my husband sleeping in the tent, so I knew if anything happened to me it would not be a good thing. And indeed, there were cars about, taking wide berths past me as I kept to the paved shoulder.
So I turned around. Determined to make the most of it, and since I had such a long and open stretch of road before me, I dared do something I hadn’t done before: use my left-hand gear shift to shift the chain to the "big wheel" on the front derailleur. That meant I would get WAY more power. Up to now I’d only used 10 of my 20 gears. And more power I had; it was an unbelievable feeling. I turned off the highway and flew back into the campground, up and down the gentle slopes, feeling that power and revelling in the beautiful morning birdsong and lovely dappled sunshine. I didn’t want it to end so instead of turning off the road toward our campsite, I continued down a steep hill toward the beach. Down I coasted, and at the bottom, where there was a parking lot, the surface turned to hard-packed sand. Not ideal for the thin tires of a road bike, but I went slowly and could handle a wide turnaround. Almost back now to the foot of the paved hill and I flicked my right gear to get an easy ride up’which is when I realized I’d forgotten to switch out of the large wheel and back onto the small one.
It was too late to correct my mistake by flicking my left gear; I needed to be moving in order for that to work anyway, and I was basically at a standstill’no way could I get any power from zero, in the gear I was in, at the bottom of a hill. So, I tried to prepare for the fall by unclipping my shoes from the pedals to get my legs free’and instinctively unclipped my right one first. Unfortunately, I fell to the left. Oops. Went down like deadweight with the bike on top of me. My right leg slammed onto the chain and derailleur, leaving rows of teeth-like, oil-filled dents in my calf [no broken skin there, though]. My left hip and left shin took the brunt and I still have the scrapes and bruises. I was so glad I’d put my gloves on that morning; I didn’t think I’d need them for such a short ride, but put them on at the last minute as a "what the heck"’and that thick padded glove was what hit the rough pavement with my body weight behind it, as opposed to an exposed wrist.
Well, I knew it’s all part of the learning. You have to take some falls. You have to wear your gloves. And, I also learned I have to pay more attention to what I’m doing and think ahead, rather than get too caught up in the beauty of my surroundings. I’ll probably never again forget to shift back to the small gear wheel. And at least I had a little story to tell as I walked the bike back onto the campsite, smiling but limping, and my husband looked up from his coffee-making at the picnic table and asked, ‘What happened to you?”
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