A sunny and warm Good Friday in the Greater Toronto Area had crowds of cyclists reaching for their bikes to take advantage of the first really nice riding day of the spring. While many took the opportunity to put in their first relatively big ride of the year, two students from the University of Toronto decided to take that to the next level and tackle a distance they’d never ridden before. Not many would decide to do an almost 300 km ride around the Niagara peninsula passing through Port Colborne, Fort Erie, Niagara Falls, Niagara on the Lake and Hamilton in mid-April.
On Thursday afternoon, Kamil Krawczyk made the decision to do a big ride and turned to the University of Toronto Road Racing team Facebook page to look for someone to join him. “I was feeling a bit down and overwhelmed with work and the progress of my PhD,” Krawczyk explained on Saturday afternoon after a morning of rest and recovery. “It’s been preventing me from enjoying cycling in the same capacity that I had enjoyed it for in the past. I felt that going on a long ride with nothing but the experience itself to think about would clear things up for me.”
It was not Krawczyk first big ride but it would be the biggest. In November 2014, Krawczyk rode a brevet with the BC Randonneurs and a friend from the University of British Columbia Cycling Team. That day put 257 km into his legs but that was almost three years ago.
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“I couldn’t quite grasp what a 300 km ride would feel like or if I was even physically fit enough to do one,” Krawczyk who is from B.C. explained about the challenge of the ride. “I had taken a two-year hiatus from cycling after moving to Ontario due to an injury, and only started training seriously again as of January. This was the biggest mental factor – the worry of not being up to snuff by this point just yet. I was training primarily for racing, and not for long distance endurance stuff. I tried to throw in the occasional century but nothing longer than a 100 km since the beginning of the year.”
With phenomenal weather with a high of 16 degrees on the day Krawczyk boarded the GO train from downtown Toronto to their starting point in Burlington. At around 9 a.m. the two riders started pedaling heading first through Dundas and then towards Port Colborne on Lake Erie. Across the Southern portion of the route along the northern shore of Lake Erie, the pair had a steady headwind meaning the going was a little slower than expected. On arrival to Niagara Falls, it was time to refuel and focus on the last portion of the ride.
“Never try to get a meal at Niagara Falls when the weather is nice. It took half an hour to get two pizza slices and a drink, which on a normal day wouldn’t be such a big deal,” he said noting that the time constraint did make the long break problematic. “Because it was Good Friday, many places were closed especially in rural parts of the province. It was hard to find somewhere to fill up my bidons or grab a more protein-heavy snack.”
With only five hours to make it back to Burlington, 100 km from Niagara Falls, the two riders buried themselves covering 62 km in less than two hours before needing to take another break to refuel.
“That’s what definitely made the last stretch so hard – we should have been a little smarter and conserved our energy for the last haul. I think what got me through those two hours was the worry of being stranded or having to ride back from Burlington to Toronto and the fact that I really, really wanted a cold Slurpee,” he recalled about the toughest part of the ride. “The last 40 km were the worst since I had nearly run out water and was starting to feel dehydrated. It was a relief to get back to the train station and fill my water bottle up a good four times.”
After the big spring ride, Krawczyk had some advice for others looking to tackle such a big ride. “Take some time to build up to it. If you haven’t done a 200 km trip, don’t try a 300 km trip just yet. Try to get accustomed to riding these distances and to supporting yourself. Make sure you’ve had a lot of sleep and a hearty meal the night before,” he said.
“Bring more than what you expect you’ll need – that goes for food, hydration and bike consumables, especially tubes and maybe a spare tire. Start early and don’t overexert yourself at the get-go,” he added. “You’ll need that energy more than you need at the end. And most importantly, don’t do it by yourself. Bring a friend for some moral support, conversation, and troubleshooting talks if need be down the road.”
The ride from the train station in Burlington took the pair 11 hours 35 minutes and covered 296.2 km. They also rode the distance between the train station to their apartments in Toronto making it a well over 300 km day. Upon arriving home, Krawczyk shared a screenshot of the Strava ride on Reddit and received 3347 upvotes and over 200 comments. It was a response he did not expect.
“It definitely worked,” Krawczyk said about the experience bringing the joy of cycling back. “I couldn’t take my mind off of the beauty of southern Ontario. I was constantly telling my riding partner about how excited I was to go on these country roads, how the air was so fresh compared to the city and how this reminded me of home. I bet I got a little annoying. Most importantly, I was able to get back in tune with what I loved about this sport and clear my head.”