by Alex Cataford
Most people assume that since I am from Ottawa, my favorite ride must be the Gatineau park. The beautifully paved roads rolling through the Gatineau hills do offer a popular destination for Ottawa cyclists, but although I do love this ride, for me there is no better ride than the out-and-back to the small town of Pakenham.
I grew up on the outskirts of Ottawa. I had to ride one hour on bike paths, narrowly avoiding chaos as I passed through the gauntlet of pedestrians and their dogs crowding Brittania park–just to get to the Gatineau park. Because of the battle to get the Gatineau ride started, I have always preferred to explore the country roads to the west side of greater Ottawa.
My favourite ride consists of mainly straight, flat and quiet roads through cornfields all the way out to the town of Pakenham. Built along the shores of the Mississippi river, Pakenham is home to less than 5000 people. The small town vibes are strong there, with a sense of calm and simplicity. After a mandatory stop at the general store for a coffee and choice of pastry, I head back home on the same roads I used to get there.
Sometimes riders love a training ride because of the challenge of a climb, or a long stretch of tailwind along the water. Other riders are passionate about the local hammerfest. That said, it’s often the way a rider’s life intersects with a ride that turns it into a “favourite ride”–a memory, personal history or even a need.
I’ll try to explain: I enjoy the quiet farm roads, but I also learned how to downhill ski at the hill that is minutes away from Pakenham. Later, I would work my first job on that hill as a ski instructor. So I have been visiting this town since before I can remember. I think that is why this has become my favorite ride of the region.
Ok ok, maybe it is the delicious pastries sold at the General Store. They provide a change from all the Clif bars we depend on during our races. As a racer, it’s a privilege and advantage to be fueled by Clif bars, Gels and Bloks. Clif helps me do my job; but after weeks and weeks of intense racing and traveling to different places, it’s nice to come home and train on familiar, quiet roads that I have known since a young age. It’s this sense of home and a break from the bustling unknown that we experience when traveling that has made this my favorite ride.