Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Wreck of La Julie Plante

Monday was a lovely day. So lovely in fact that I skipped out of work an hour early so I could go for a bike ride.

Ever since Saturday's triathlon I've been inspired to get better on the bike. More comfortable going down hills, more steady while drinking from my water bottle, stronger and faster on the flats and less wobbly on turns. We went out on Sunday morning and rode a fast 45k. I kept up a pretty good pace, I practiced bending down over my handle bars (rather than my usual position) and I didn't brake on the ride down the escarpment.

It went so well that I was eager to head out again. So, Monday afternoon at 3:30pm I found myself pulling my bike out from the basement for a solo ride. I figured I'd ride about 10k to warm up, then I'd climb the escarpment using the 9th street hill which is a nasty climb, ride around at the top of the escarpment and then got down the same hill (Effingham) we rode down on Sunday to see if I could go faster this time (are you reading this Erin??).

I headed out and was a little surprised at the wind. It didn't feel that windy when I left work...

Oh well, I'm a triathlete now. A little wind won't stop me!

I rode head on into the wind for a few kilometres, turned and found the wind at my back for the next few. So far so good...

I got to the bottom of the 9th Street hill and made my way up to the top. That hill is never going to be easy but I do think it's getting easier so I took some comfort in that as I stood at the top panting too hard to drink my water. Panting too hard to even pretend I wasn't panting when cars pulled up beside me.

After I recovered from the climb, I continued on and realized pretty quickly that I was now in a spot of trouble. The wind which was gusting pretty hard at the bottom of the escarpment was hurricane-like at the top. It was, I learned later when I received Doug's warning text, gusting South at over 40km/hour. The first half of my ride was North/South so I was either heading into the wind or I was being pushed along by the wind. Either option is fine with me.

The top of the escarpment found me cycling mostly East and West. Or North West. Or South East. There were no North or South roads.

No matter what I did, I was being buffeted on my side by wind gusts that threatened to knock me off my bike. It was crazy. I know I have some irrational fears when I ride but this was the first time I had real, valid concerns for my safety. I headed for Effingham road because I figured it was the safest way down the escarpment. Pelham Road would have had me rushing down a busy hill with the wind gusting from the side. At least Effingham would have me riding down the hill directly into the wind. It would be slower but there was less chance of my being blown into the path of a car. As I rode east towards my escape route, I found myself clenching the handlebars and locking my frame in an attempt to keep the bike steady. I rode down the middle of the quiet roads for fear of being blown over a few inches and tumbling into the ditch. And I repeated 'you're ok, you're ok' over and over in my head to keep me focused and calm(ish).

I forced myself to keep going until I reached Effingham. Once there, I stopped to catch my breath and compose myself for the descent. Sunday I clocked about 40 km/hour on the downhill. This time, I had to pedal down the hill and couldn't get above 20km/hour even on the steepest section. I felt like I was being pushed back up the hill.

Halfway down the hill, to add to the excitement, I could tell my blood sugar was low. I weighed the risks and decided going down a hill with low blood sugar was safer than trying to stop on a downhill in a hurricane. I got to the bottom, ate a gel and a pack a fruit chews and checked my phone while I waited for my number to climb back up. That's when I found Doug's text warning me about the wind...

The ride home alternated between cycling head on into the wind and cycling with it blowing me several inches sideways with every gust.

Instead of an hour of cycling to practice my speed and my downhills, I spent an hour and a half giving my legs, my lungs and my nerve a fabulous workout. In hindsight I'm glad I did it. It pushed me a little farther out of my comfort zone and taught me that I do indeed have control over the damn bike - even when Mother Nature is trying to wrestle it out from under me.

But the next time the wind blows like that - I'm going running.


To explain the title of this blog - it comes from a poem that we read in grade nine english class. It's a fabulous little poem that's written with a french accent and it tells a sad tale of a windy night on Lac St. Pierre. Join me if you will on a walk down high school memory lane:

The Wreck of La Julie Plante

On wan dark night on Lac St. Pierre,
     De win' she blow, blow, blow,
An' de crew of de wood scow "Julie Plante"
     Got scar't an' run below--
For de win' she blow lak hurricane;
     Bimeby she blow some more,
An' de scow bus' up on Lac St. Pierre
     Wan arpent from de shore.

De captinne walk on de fronte deck,
     An' walk de hin' deck too--
He call de crew from up de hole,
     He call de cook also.
De cook she's name was Rosie,
     She come from Montreal,
Was chambre maid on lumber barge,
     On de Grande Lachine Canal.

De win' she blow from nor'-eas'-wes',--
     De sout' win' she blow too,
Wen Rosie cry, "Mon cher captinne,
     Mon cher, w'at I shall do?"
Den de captinne t'row de big ankerre,
     But still de scow she dreef,
De crew he can't pass on de shore,
     Becos he los' hees skeef.

De night was dark lak wan black cat,
     De wave run high an' fas',
Wen de captinne tak' de Rosie girl
     An' tie her to de mas'.
Den he also tak' de life preserve,
     An' jomp off on de lak',
An' say, "Good-by, ma Rosie dear,
     I go down for your sak'."

Nex' morning very early
     'Bout ha'f-pas' two--t'ree--four--
De captinne--scow--an' de poor Rosie
     Was corpses on de shore.
For de win' she blow lak' hurricane,
     Bimeby she blow some more,
An' de scow, bus' up on Lac St. Pierre,
     Wan arpent from de shore.

Now all good wood scow sailor man
     Tak' warning by dat storm
An' go an' marry some nice French girl
     An' live on wan beeg farm.
De win' can blow lak' hurricane
     An' s'pose she blow some more,
You can't get drown on Lac St. Pierre
     So long you stay on shore.

William H. Drummond

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