How I quit work and joined the chain gang
Ottawa’s scenic bike paths win over a new spokeswoman
What did you do?
Believe it or not, I got out on my spiffy new bicycle and went for a thoroughly enjoyable 25-kilometre ride through Ottawa.
Whoa, back up there. New bike? Yes, my friend Susan Riley made me buy it. When we both retired last winter, Susan, a relentlessly active person, decided we should schedule regular excursions — from snowshoeing to cycling — for companionship and exercise. (Well, exercise for me. By the time I join Susan for one of our outings, she’s already hiked, biked and scaled two mountains before breakfast.) With winter finally over, she insisted I get a decent new pair of wheels for cycling expeditions. Her favourite bike shop outfitted me with a beaut, a Trek “fitness” model. I thought “fitness” sounded a bit punishing, but in fact it just refers to the kind of bike that suits my needs, tootling along mostly urban bikepaths. It rides like a dream.
I’m sure it’s terrific, but you still have to push the pedals. You’re telling me you did 25 “enjoyable” kilometres? Without complaint? You?
I did, and not complaining was easy: I was enjoying myself too much. Yes, I am at best a casual cyclist. And yes, the day was iffy, with gusts of wind (dismissed as “zephyrs” by Susan, the eternal plucky optimist) and a couple of sudden downpours in between the stretches of sunshine and blue sky. But it was immensely fun.
Rain and gale-force breezes. This is what you call fun?
Not exactly, though they did add a splash of adventurous colour. The fun part was the wind-inthe-face exhilaration of riding in a way that made you forget you were also getting some decent exercise. In other words, it was the antithesis of the grim, steady pedalling from A to B that cycling sometimes looks like. With Susan as tour guide, it was filled with scenic variety, laughter and conversation (when the zephyrs permitted) and frequent stops to take pictures or look at neat stuff — like geese, of all things. Sure, the critters can be a messy nuisance, but when we encountered various families of them — protective parents and mini-gaggles of babies — we got off our bikes to do some lovely low-key watching.
Surely you don’t need a bike to appreciate goosey scenes of domestic bliss.
No, you don’t. But a bike lets you slow down to look at things you don’t usually notice from a car. And a bike, on a 25-kiilometre ride like ours, takes you through wonderful areas you don’t get to nearly often enough. Where did you ride, exactly?
We met at the Riverside parking lot opposite the RA Centre and headed up the Rideau River pathway to New Edinburgh, drove along Sussex past the National Gallery and east side of the Château Laurier to access the canal bikepath, then headed south to Dow’s Lake. Then we cycled through the arboretum — heavenly in the springtime — returning to the canal pathway toward Hog’s Back, from which it was a short sprint to complete the loop back to our starting point. Apart from the geese, we saw spring flowers, trees in a hundred shades of green, bodies of water, downtown landmarks, tourists, boaters, canal locks and ducks. Susan, a dedicated monarchist, kept looking for the royal swans, but they eluded us. That does sound kind of nice.
“We are so lucky to live here,” the two of us kept repeating to each other throughout our ride, usually after yet another bend and yet another lovely view. Residents of the area, on both sides of the Ottawa River, have such a wealth of accessible bikepaths. Between the National Capital Commission and the cities of Ottawa and Gatineau, there are hundreds of kilometres of cycling routes in the region (540 kilometres in Ottawa alone) — almost all of them engagingly diverse and scenically interesting. Sort of makes you wonder why the people responsible for promoting tourism here don’t play this up. We are incredibly blessed, and yet we seem to want to keep it a secret.
How did you know exactly where to go?
Easy. I just followed Susan, who knows the pathways around here like the back of her hand. Striking out on my own, I’d rely on the excellent maps available for area cyclists. The NCC publishes maps that show all the bikepaths it maintains on both sides of the river, as well as linking roads. And the City of Ottawa has a detailed map showing all dedicated bikepaths on this side of the river, both off-road and pavedshoulder, as well as bike-lane streets and suggested routes. You can plan a cycling daytrip as long or as short as you want. NCC maps can be downloaded at canadascapital.gc.ca/biking or picked up at the Capital Infocentre, 90 Wellington St. City of Ottawa maps are available at local bike shops.
All well and good, but aren’t you forgetting something important? Something essential to any successful daytrip? Ah yes, thanks for reminding me. Snow or summer sunshine, Susan and I never set out on any expedition that does not involve a restorative — and usually tasty — respite. On this particular trip, we detoured off the canal bikepath and into the Glebe, where we stopped at Bridgehead. The organic fresh lemonade was perfect, and the Moroccan chicken sandwich was fine, though not perhaps as savoury as it sounded. But we could have stopped at any of dozens of places along our route, whether in New Edinburgh, the Market, the Glebe or around Dow’s Lake. Feel a bit peckish while navigating our fabulous system of urban bikepaths, and you’re never far from good eating.
Another joy of cycling in Ottawa? One among many. Janice Kennedy, who retired from the Citizen last winter, is trying to get out more.