Ahead of schedule in Ottawa

May 1: Montreal to Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue

In many ways, the first day of my run was not so difficult as the day which immediately preceded it. On April 30th, I had to move all my stuff to a new apartment, submit my final term paper for the year, deal with taxes, and check out and pack all of my gear for the run – most of which had just arrived with my dad. Did I mention that I’d scheduled a going-away party for 7 pm at Dieu du Ciel? So that was a pretty intense day – I won’t go into too much detail, but ultimately, it was only really possible with my dad’s help. Also, the going-away party was so much fun, and a great success. So awesome to see so many people there!

I only got about five hours of sleep that night, waking up super early to take care of some last minute details. At 9 am on the 1st, I headed out the door with my jogging stroller – from here on referred to as “the Chariot” – but even that proved to be none too easy. It actually got stuck, and Dave Tinervia and I had quite a time trying to get it through until I realized deflating the tires would give just enough wiggle room. So I arrived a few minutes late at Laurier Park, where there was a small group of well-wishers and fellow runners waiting in the misty/drizzly weather. Part of me realized a speech would be sort of the normal thing to do, but I also felt it was a time when actions speak louder than words, and that I do enough talking on this blog… so with little ceremony, we headed out. I was tickled to see a small but hardy crowd of runners who joined me for varying lengths of the way to Ste-Anne: the majority left when we reached Atwater Market by the canal path, but Dave Tinervia and Dave Benson stuck with me until much later. Benson turned around after the town of Lachine, for probably one of his longest runs ever, so I was pleased that in some way what I was doing had inspired someone else to push their own limits. That was also the case with Tinervia, who put up a real fight, almost all the way to Beaconsfield – unfortunately, some nasty blister action and muscle soreness caused him to hitch a ride home with Rebecca. Bloody fivefingers = hardcore:


Oh, and here’s a shot of the Daves and me, just past Lachine:


One of the really funny coincidences of the run thus far happened on the Lachine canal path on that first day. Because of the uninspiring weather, I didn’t encounter more than a couple runners along the way. At one point, I saw another guy with a jogging stroller going the opposite direction, and suddenly realized it was Glenn Cowan, the course-record-setting winner of the Mount Royal Summit Quest 50k I’d done a couple years before. I couldn’t resist hailing him, and so he ran with me for a while, and when he saw that there was no kid in the Chariot, he said, “you’re cheating!” It turns out that on the first day of my epic journey, this guy was embarking on his own with his first day of paternity leave. Anyway, a really interesting coincidence, since we’d met two years before, but hadn’t seen each other since.

The idiosyncrasies of pacing with all these other people in the picture, and probably also the short night and strenuous day I’d had before, made this a pretty sloppy run/walk. When I got to Ste-Anne, I had an awesome (very spicy) curry poutine and a Sleeman’s Honey Brown at a pub called Cunningham’s, and eventually met up with my host, Anna. Deja vu: she lives in the apartment that Andrea used to live in. Anyway, it was great getting to know Anna and her roommates, who were extremely kind hosts. I took some Nyquil (as I’d been fighting off a cold for a week!), slept for 13 hours, and bought some groceries and hung out with Pascal for a little while before heading out for Rigaud.

May 2: Ste-Anne to Rigaud

Perhaps it is predictable that my second day would be one on which I was beset by doubts and fears. It all began when the bike paths petered out, and then route 340 – a highway, but at least not a crazy one – entirely disappeared, culminating in a complete dead end. I asked for directions and was told, “Oh, yeah, the 340? I don’t know why they bother with all those extra numbers, it’s really the same as the 40.” So I get on this 40, but it’s enormous – three lanes in both directions. It was less than a mile before I was pulled over by a highway trooper with all his sirens going off. Yeah, I was freaked out. I tried to explain that the 340 disappeared and demonstrate in all possible ways that I was a sane and reasonable person, to dispel the picture he might have formed when he got the call that there was a man running with a child along a major highway. (Come on people, what’s the point in just making shit up?) Fortunately, this was a really nice cop, and one who spoke great English. There would be no running on chemins d’accès limités, he explained, but he’d call a truck to get me back on the road to Rigaud. Yes, he conceded, the 340 does suddenly disappear – you need the 342. I apologized profusely to both him and the pickup truck driver for causing a commotion on my second day out, but neither bore me any ill will. The truck driver said, “Hey, this is just my job,” and wished me luck. From there to Rigaud, it was a fairly uneventful run along the shoulder of a minor (two-lane) highway.

But the doubts weren’t over. I got to Rigaud and had the inevitable realization that the place I had chosen for my second stop was really just a random strip of highway in Quebec. I stopped at the Tim Horton’s. Basically, it was 7 pm or so, and my plan was to continue moving in the direction of my next destination, and camp at the first available opportunity – but my problem was that I stupidly did not have a printed copy of my itinerary (what can I say, it’s a long story… there was a lot to organize the day before). So I sat down to make some texts and calls. That’s when my prepaid phone credit ran out. It was dispiriting to be in this random place (and again, why?), in a Tim Horton’s, with no phone and no internet, and no place to sleep.

In such situations, there is only one thing to do: keep moving. It’s like the time I got stuck in Warsaw and realized the direct train route to St. Petersburg was fictional, and I suddenly realized there was no point in moping and stressing – I just had to start taking trains that headed in the right compass directions I needed to go. I did some poking around, found the road that led to Ontario, and kept my eyes peeled for a good – albeit probably illegal – campsite. The cemetery looked like a place that I might not be bothered, but I kept moving in the hopes of something better. Eventually, a plot of woods by a river bank, not too close to any houses and fairly secluded. I went for it.


Did I mention I’ve never been camping on my own before? But what is there to know, really? I pitched my tiny one-man tent by the last bits of daylight, threw in my sleeping bag and mat, and settled down to sleep around 9:30. It rained for most of the night, and I was a little scared of being awoken by whoever owned this land. Around 4:45 I heard footsteps, which got close to the tent, then stopped. In my half-awake, half-dreaming mind, I felt a hand reach through the side of the tent and grab my side with an iron grip. The footsteps were not my imagination, but they left soon after, never to reappear, and the grab I’m pretty sure was my imagination. Anyway, I got up at 5:30. Perhaps I didn’t have the most restful night of sleep, but I felt I had accomplished several significant and highly necessary rites of passage – doubts and fears, dealing with highways of various kinds, camping, trespassing, etc.

May 3: Rigaud to Plantagenet

I was buoyed a bit by those successes (acts of survival? Instances of non-death?) and felt enthusiastic about the prospect of crossing the Ontario border so soon. According to a road sign, there was only 15 km to St-Eugene, Ontario, which is where the Prescott-Russell Recreational Trail began. I’d be on the PRRT for almost three days, so I was excited to leave cars, roads, and the French language behind. Unfortunately, the road sign lied, and it was more like 25 km to St-Eugene. There were absolutely no turns off of this road, so there was no turn to miss! But 15 km later, there was no sign of anywhere called St-Eugene, although there was indeed a sign saying that Rigaud was 15 km in the other direction. Whatever. So I took the road that led west and promptly crossed the border:


Incidentally, I had decided it would do me good to start the day with an hour or two of walking as a type of warmup for the running I would do later, so I was planning to walk all the way to St-Eugene, and then run on the PRRT. So it transpired that I walked a lot more than I had planned to – but maybe it was for the best! The roads to St-Eugene were bleak… real farm country, on an overcast and windy day.

Once I got on the PRRT, things were better. No cars, just walking and running through farmland. I got into a rhythm of running for half-hour chunks interspersed with walking, and it felt really good. I stopped for food and internet in Vankleek Hill (still really nervous about the lack of phone), and the people in the public library were really friendly. I decided I had to stop for a pint at this local microbrewery in town, Beau’s – not only an award-winning organic microbrewery, but located on Terry Fox Drive:

Look, I’m not dissing the company or their product, but if you’re ever running across Canada, I’d skip that 2k detour. I thought I was going to encounter a pub-type situation, but what I got was a bleak, empty terrace on an overcast, drizzly day. The one guy working at the counter seemed annoyed that I’d shown up, and what I got was a “cup,” not a pint, for $4.50. That said, Lug Tread lagered ale was really good and refreshing… it was just a very awkward moment of life. When I asked why the road was called Terry Fox Drive, the guy said something like, “Oh, I don’t know… I guess he must have run through here, or something..” without looking up from his book, as if nothing could be less interesting. Emotional low point of the day.

On the trail from Vankleek Hill to Alfred, I had some kind of a turning point in my attitude. The later in the day it got, the more my body wanted to run. I also just started feeling more confident and optimistic about what I was doing. I do a lot of my training at night usually, so this shouldn’t be a surprise, but it was really crazy when the sun was going down and all I wanted to do was run! After going through fields all day, suddenly the sun was down and I found myself in a forest, so I got out my headlamp, running in total darkness. It was scary, but exhilarating. I decided I was going to go further than I’d originally planned. This plan was taking shape in my head – if I could get to Plantagenet instead of Alfred (10k further), maybe I’d treat myself to a cheap motel, and then I could make it to Ottawa a day early, and have a rest day. So I went for it. That was my first time ever checking into a hotel/motel, and it felt weird and extravagant, but oh my god, was it ever worth it.

May 4 & 5: Plantagenet to Ottawa (west side!); rest day in Ottawa

That morning I checked in with my body. I felt fine: moderately sore, one blister on the one toe that always gets blisters (second toe of right foot), no chafing/sore spots, and basically just ready to go. I confirmed with Marie and Real (my wonderful hosts in Ottawa) that it’d be ok if I was there an extra night, and gave an ETA of 9 pm based on my 11 am departure. I packed all the food and fluids I’d need for the day, with no intention of stopping at all. At the time, I thought the route would be about 73 km, and I had a good warmup-run/walk-cooldown plan to cover the distance in that time. I already knew that Marie & Real lived on the far (western) side of Ottawa, but, as things turned out, I believe it was more like an 80 km day.

Ever heard of interval training? You know, maybe 6 x 1k with a minute to recover… or 8 x 800m… 16 x 400m… that kind of thing. Emil Zatopek once ran about 50k in an incredible interval training session composed entirely of 400m sprints broken up by 200m jogs – unreal. Anyway, try this on for size: walk 10k as a nice warmup after your previous day’s workout, then repeat 5k run / 2k walk about eight times. Cool down with a 6k walk. That was the plan. In the end, I skipped the cooldown and ended the day with an uninterrupted 10k run, furiously headlamping it across Ottawa. Zatopek could run circles around me with his speed, but I like to think he’d have respect for that “workout” I did yesterday.

It went pretty much according to plan, too, until I reached the terminus of the Prescott-Russell trail at the eastern end of Ottawa. I got really confused and temporarily dispirited at this point, when I was supposed to be like 2k from Ottawa, and saw absolutely no sign of a city. All I could see was more forest! I had a couple detours at this point, going up and down Anderson Road looking for the city. Eventually, I found the way and discovered it really had been hidden around the corner – obscured by the massive “greenbelt” that surrounds it. It was kind of surreal, not realizing you’re so close to a capital city!

The process of entering a city on foot is really overwhelming – even in a city as committed to providing green space and pedestrian/cyclist pathways as Ottawa is. I haven’t fully processed this experience, and I don’t want to embark on a full rant about it right now, but ever since reading that Urry article about the culture of automobility, I haven’t been able to ignore how much space in our cities is devoted entirely to cars, and how off-limits it is to pedestrians. “Automobility” is an illusion; I am the only person I saw on the way in who was auto-mobile.

But once I was into the city proper, of course, it was much easier, and there were a lot of beautiful running and cycling paths. I may never understand why people find Ottawa so boring, when I find it such a beautiful and well-planned place. (Or maybe that’s precisely why people find it boring.) Real met me on his bike near downtown, and took me on bike paths all the way to where he and Marie live – quite a hike, but my energy level was at a high around 9 pm, and I ran the whole last 10k at quite a good pace (probably my standard 8 mins/mile or 5 mins/ km).

Since the moment of my arrival at Marie & Real’s house, I’ve had a completely excellent 24 hours of recovery. Both of them are experienced as endurance athletes and outdoors enthusiasts – seriously, how many couples am I going to stay with, who have both run ultramarathons, and encountered grizzlies in the wild? But, more to the point, they’ve just been extremely kind and gracious hosts, showing me around town and feeding me fantastic meals. Today, we all three went to the National Gallery, caught a half hour of “The Clock” and really dug into the Janet Cardiff exhibit, “Forty-Voice Motet,” which is based around the Tallis motet, “Spem in Alium.” And a nice surprise to end the day… Cadence decided to come home to Ottawa a day earlier than she was planning to, so I’m just about to pick her up from the bus station.

Best of luck to my dad in his first marathon tomorrow morning – I’m really excited for him, and I know he’ll do great. As soon as he finishes, I’m going to cross the border one more time and run to Wyman, QC (or somewhere near there, anyway).


~ by edmundmilly on May 5, 2012.

2 Responses to “Ahead of schedule in Ottawa”

  1. Hi, Ned!

  2. Edmund, I’m delighted to read that things are going well. Ahead of schedule, bravo! All the best for tomorrow, and tomorrow’s tomorrow. I look forward to reading more when you have a chance to post.

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