6-Hour Ride from Ottawa Canada with a Tornado Warning // Decisions and Gear Choices

You are planning a big self-propelled outing by foot, bicycle, paddling, etc… In the days before, the weather forecast is good. The day of, things change for the not-as-good. We might face a difficult decision. Cancel? Delay? Shorten? Bring certain items to decrease the impact? Join me for my 140km ride from Ottawa, Canada that went from great to a having a tornado warning, a puncture and taking refuge.

The YouTube Episode:

The Ambitious Day on the Bike Meets Weather Forecast

I had been planning and looking forward to doing a big bike ride from Ottawa, Canada, to a destination southwest about 140km away, roughly about 6-7 hours depending on riding conditions, winds and stops.

The weather forecast had been for very hot and dry all that week. Despite very long, cold and snowy winters, Ottawa tends to get very hot weather through the summer and there can be some end of day thunderstorms when the atmosphere just can not cope and the sky gets determined to offload a huge amount of lightning bolts and maybe some rain showers.

Changing the Plan Based on the Weather

By the night before, the forecast changed to potential showers in the morning and maybe some blips of bad weather late in the day. By early morning as I finalized my gear choices, there was a chance of storm early that morning and then late in the day. I opted to delay my 07h00 start to let the morning storm system go by and avoid having 50-60km of gravel trail turn messy. That storm broke up just before it reached Ottawa. Humm. I set off just after 09h30. Having delayed my start, I was aware that it was now pushing my ride later into the day and despite the weather warning, there is never a guarantee of an afternoon storm. I did keep it mind and planned accordingly.

Adding a Tornado Warning to a Puncture

The first three hours went well. It was ridiculously hot and I stopped to top up my water bottles ahead of the longer sections of gravel rail trail. With about 2.5-3 hours left, I punctured. No big deal although the sky was starting to darken. I had my saddle bag bike repair items and my mini-pump. The patch held and I started reassembling my back wheel. Within the span of a few minutes while I packed up my repair, two separate drivers stopped to ask if I was okay (very kind) and also to share that the radio was reporting a tornado warning for the area, not good!

Ottawa’s end of day summer storms are a reality of bicycle commuters and when I live here, we check the weather radar for pretty accurate accounts of what weather systems are approaching. My phone is registered in South Africa and given the high cost of phone service here in Canada, I had opted to not buy data for the short stay in Canada. Unfortunately, that meant that I could not check the sky status while I was out there riding.

Racing the Storm, and Loosing that Race

Gear packed away and still a long way from my destination, I upped the already swift tempo and watched the sky turn from a few clouds to extremely dark within 30mins. My hopes of maybe only catching the edge of the storm system were dashed when it moved over top of me and the winds switched on like a wind machine and the first rain drops turned into buckets. One benefit of knowing that route was knowing there was one single store in my final 2-3 hours of very rural paved and gravel riding, and I pushed through the early phase of rain and wind.

To my joy, the store was open and the bag of chips I bought sure hit the spot. The mega winds and lightning first knocked out the phone lines and then the power. I stayed inside and chatted with members of the community. After an hour or so, the weather system had mostly passed, and I set off into the light drizzle of rain. The delayed start, puncture and storm stop meant that it was getting later in the day than desired, I pushed on.

A benefit of being on a bicycle was that I was able to go around the dozen fallen trees along the route. A downside of being on a bicycle was that the damp overcast conditions meant that the deer flies were out and hungry for biting me each time I slowed for the numerous short and steep climbs. Fatigue from the long day in the saddle and having gotten soaked meant that I was also riding more slowly. The deer flies were happy about that.

Along with my awesome new Better Preparedness cycling kit (check it out!), I brought along the following:

Emergency and contingency items for this outing:

  1. Compact rain jacket
  2. Helmet rain cover
  3. 3rd water bottle
  4. Extra food
  5. Compact emergency and 1st aid kit (see BP videos)
  6. Mylar thermal blanket
  7. Bike tool pouch and pump
  8. ID bracelet
  9. Wallet
  10. Phone

Review of the Day?

Despite the adversity that day, I was happy about my choices. Without the store to stop at, I would likely have sought shelter at one of the houses along the route or I would have taken out my rain kit and mylar blanket, found a spot along the route less vulnerable to lightning or the possible tornado, and waited it out. This is what I’ve done in the past during big bike tours. Storms are a reality of long distance cycling or cycling trips in rural regions.

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