I Cycled with an Astronaut through Downtown Ottawa

Before we leave Rideau Hall (image Marc Gobeil)

Wednesday June 27, I got a phone call from the office of the Governor General of Canada.: if I would like to join GG Julie Payette on a short bike ride on Canada Day.

The Governor General is the official representative of Queen Elizabeth II in countries that recognize the Queen as Head of State. Which Canada does. The role of the GG is ceremonial and they are appointed every four years; sometimes a fifth year is added.

Astronaut Payette

The current Governor General is Julie Payette. She is an accomplished scientist and former astronaut who has been to the international space station twice. Last year, she became the Governor General of Canada. As a GG she has her own Coat of Arms no less, and a large number of ceremonial titles. Wondering what she does? Follow her Twitter account.

No calèche for a GG Payette

On Canada Day, the GG usually arrives in a horse and calèche at Parliament Hill apparently. But not Mme Payette. She suggested to the Prime Minister’s Office that she’d rather bike to Parliament Hill: this to support her intention to promote a healthy lifestyle. And by the way, she’d like to be accompanied by about 15 residents who cycle.

Of course I said yes to her request, because how often do you get that chance? As a recipient of the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers, I thought it was nice they thought of me. Several other organisations got the request too, such as Bike Ottawa, Army Run, Velo Canada Bikes, YMCA, Navy Bike Ride, the Moffat Farm Cycling Club, SoldierON, and the National Health and Fitness Day organisers (being former MP John Weston and his wife).

Before the ride: pretty fresh looking

Meet me at the Monument

We could choose where we wanted to meet, and even though the Governor General wouldn’t ride from Rideau Hall, Heather (Bike Ottawa) and I and several others though it was fitting to leave from Rideau Hall, while others decided to meet up with us at the Peacekeeping Monument.

The GG walking up to us

It was so hot that day, I decided to leave really early so I could cover the 16 km to Rideau Hall in a slow pace, which took me about 50 minutes. I had even built in some time to change a tire if needed. Because you always get a flat when it is least convenient.

Case in point: Flat tire. Not me fortunately, but I did bring a small pump which I could lend to him.

When we were all there, we cycled together to the Peacekeeping monument via Sussex, which was partly closed and super quiet anyway. All local drivers know to stay away from the whole area on Canada Day, because a number of streets are closed off. We passed barriers and trucks, placed in a way that they will keep all motorised traffic out. Arriving at the Peacekeepers monument, we waited along side the motorcade (including known Twitterers The Bearded Cop and Sgt. Marc Gatien) for the second leg.

Slow ride extraordinaire

Scientist meets scientist: Bike Ottawa President Heather Shearer greets Governor General Julie Payette
Scientist meets scientist: Bike Ottawa President Heather Shearer greets Governor General Julie Payette

After the GG inspected the guards, which we couldn’t really see, she walked up to us and we all shook her hand. Then it was off for an 800 meter bike ride, which we covered in about 8 minutes, or about an excruciating 6 km/h. Cycling that slow is more like balancing on your bike ride, but the cheering spectators were great.

GG Payette ready for action
GG Payette ready for action

As not everyone was overly experienced in cycling, Heather and I avoided some near crashes, which wouldn’t have looked good on National TV. One of the participants had a flat, but kept riding anyway, squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak. There were surprised reactions when people realised it was actually the GG cycling by.

Fun fact

Had we travelled with the speed of the International Space Station, we would have covered the 800 meter distance in one tenth of one second. It would take about 0.3 seconds to fly from Rideau Hall to Parliament Hill, if she’d followed the road!

Snowbirds

At a certain moment we actually stopped. I wasn’t sure why, until the Snowbirds were flying over. The GG apparently flew one of the Snowbirds at some point in her life. Then we biked on to the Hill and the GG thanked us and pointed out we should do a longer ride next time.

VIP treatment

We were allowed to stay on the Hill, and see the noon show from the VIP box. That was a nice treat but it was so incredibly hot by that time, that we were totally drenched. By now it was around 34C and 47C (116F) if you include the humidity factor. The wind speed was only 17 kmph so that didn’t give us any relief either. Volunteers handed us water, lots of water, and ice packs. We also got sandwiches and an apple during the show, which was a nice gesture.

After the ride: drenched. It was sooo hot.

After about an hour, we had to give up. It was simply too hot. I said goodbye to Heather who, very un-Heather, took the Rack-and-Roll home. I however had to do a guided tour for Escape Bicycle Tours, so I spent another two hours (plus the 10 km ride home) in the heat.

former MP John Weston (left) and his wife (right) had a great time

It doesn’t take much imagination how much water I drank this day, but it must have been six litres by the time I was finally home. It was worth it though. A great once-in-a-life-time experience. For a mood impression, here is a short one minute clip of the ride:

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