Newsletter - 2000 Archive

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Tales of the Unprepared (or: Knowing When to Quit)

Lyle Beaulac


With my better half's encouragement getting the better of my better judgment, I decided to have a go at the Triple Mountain Challenge on June 3. Not having been on the bike much since the 300 to Concrete, I ought to have known better, but most people would claim that sanity isn't really a randonneur's strong suit. What with sunny weather forecast and the prospect of a bit of climbing, I threw my usual caution to the winds and pared my pannier load down to a bare 5 pounds or so, compared to the usual 15 or more. Yep, travelling light, I was.

Morale at the Grouse parking lot start was high. Danelle and Rainy collected fees and handed out route sheets. There was the usual kibitzing over the route as those who knew the area tried to picture it in their minds. Once the pesky autos let us cluster together long enough for a group photo, we were away.

The first bit was fantastic. Isaac Newton notwithstanding, heavy objects on bicycles tend to roll downhill faster than lighter objects (with the exception of objects named Milner, it seems). Being one of the heavier objects in this group, I soon found myself near the front with Bob Marsh and Manfred. Wheeee. Oops, just as the downhill fun levelled off, we realised that we had missed the turnoff onto Edgemont whilst avoiding impact with a pickup truck, so a quick U-turn, a little climb and we were back on course.

By now the sun was getting pretty high, and the gradual climb up Edgmont and Queens Road soon had everybody peeling off layers. At the turn onto Lonsdale, it looked like we were going to get another downhill ride, but just around the corner onto 29th St. awaited a nasty surprise. Looming ahead of us had to be the steepest bit of pavement in all of North Van. Most riders were walking up this little monster, but I figured it was time to try out my new 28-tooth cog, so it was "hello Granny" and I huff'n'puffed my way up the pitch. I didn't see any grade signs, but it had to be more than 18% at the crux.

While I was letting my heart-rate come down, Manfred coasted up behind me looking as fresh as if he'd just started. We chatted a bit on the way down the hill through Lynn Valley: I expressed surprise that Real wasn't on this ride. He told me that Real had elected to do the Interior 400 instead, deeming it the easier of the two rides. Urk! Coming out of Lynn Valley we had another lovely bit of downhill, taking advantage of a traffic light change to swoop past Karen and Danelle.

The 4.3 km. of Mount Seymour Parkway were forgettable, I just kept looking for a sign to tell me where to turn. Eventually there it was, and now there was just the small matter of the first mountain to deal with. Even though the grade was gradual, I opted to go to my basement gear right away and spin up the hill. Passing the "Fed bear is a Dead bear" sign (Oh Gawd, do bears eat Powerbars?), I could hear Danelle and Karen chatting merrily away as they caught up to me. Gasping a quasi-coherent reply to their cheery greetings, I could only gaze in envy as they pulled away, still chatting as if they were on a casual pedal on River road. About a kilometer later, Manfred caught up and passed me, chasing Danelle and Karen. Somewhere during that interminable climb I started seeing the front-runners on their return leg: first Ted, then some more that I didn't recognise. I actually heard Rainy before I saw her: she was whooping up a storm as she swept around the bottom switchback, with Joe drafting right behind.

By now I was in survival mode. I just kept plugging away at 9 kmh., noting the elevation markers as they slowly went by, calculating the average grade between markers (Ok, most people would enjoy the scenery or something. Engineers do things like calculate average grade.) Finally the top loomed into view, with only bicycles and cyclists to decorate the otherwise empty parking lot.

What? No concession stand? Oops! Ok, so I choke down a Powerbar with some water, refill the bottle and chat a bit.

"Nice bike."

"Yeah, I'm glad I put the ten-speed cluster on."

"Ten-speed??" (me, not keeping abreast of the latest gear. How many cogs can they stuff back there? I find my 8-speed has too much dish already.)

"Did ya see the bear?"

"Bear? No, where?" (me again)

"On the first stretch. You really didn't see it?"

"Um, no."

"So how many of these randos have you done?"

This last from a fellow who was contemplating getting into the sport. Glad to get off the subject of bears, I made what I hoped were positive noises about randonneuring. The inquirer and I then got on our bikes to relish the reward for the punishment we had just endured: the descent!

My excess baggage was once again an asset as the hard-won kilometers slipped under our wheels. We got to play "crit racer", hanging out our inside leg as we leaned into the switchbacks. On the final downhill stretch, doing about 60, the bear suddenly appeared to our right. He was running in the ditch alongside the road, his black pelt rippling in the sunlight. Just as we caught up to him, he turned away from the road and surged up into the forest, apparently startled by our sudden appearance. Whew! Didn't even have time to be scared.

All too soon, the downhill jollies ran out and it was back to reality. I lost my downhill companion somewhere on the Parkway and then stopped in confusion at the turning to Fern (there isn't a street sign on that corner). Eventually another rando came along and we determined that the only way back was over the overpass, so over we passed.

Upon getting onto Keith Road and seeing the hill awaiting us there, I decided to forego the scheduled attempt on Cypress in favour of limping back to the car as best I could. At the top of the Keith Road hill, I turned right, loath to lose any of the altitude that I had just gained. Making my way back through Lynn Valley without a map, asking locals for directions, I somehow found myself at the top of Mountain Highway, contemplating taking the Baden-Powell trail to Grouse. Whilst enjoyng a refreshing Kool-aid purchased from two young entrepreneurs at the trail-head, I asked one of the local mountain bikers:

"This Baden-Powell trail. Is it steep?"

He simply nodded. This silent affirmation was all I needed to send me back down the hill in search of a paved route back to my car. Turning onto Dempsey, I was greeted by a long, steep winding hill. Admitting defeat, I got off and walked for about a half kilometer. Once back on the bike at the top, I endeavoured to make my way west while losing as little altitude as possible. Unfortunately, this strategy didn't work quite well as I had hoped, and I ended up taking impromptu tours of some of the more remote neighborhoods in North Van. Saw some nice houses, though.

Eventually, after asking directions from several residents, I found myself back on Nancy Greene Way, pointed uphill. Just as I was about to tackle the tough bit, Tim and Rita Pollock came driving down the hill with Wayne (?) in the back seat. Tim pulls over and announces that they're going down to Edgemont Village to "get some vittles" before tackling the Grouse Grind. If I wanted to, I could join them in the village and he would drive me and my bike back up the hill. I needed very little convincing, so I quickly got pointed downhill and followed Tim's car to Edgemont Village. On the way down, I counted the bikes on Tim's roof rack. There were two. I then counted the number of bike mounts on Tim's roof rack. Also two. Uh-oh. Tim must have noticed me counting, because he pulled over and explained that he had a trunk-mount carrier in the trunk. Phew.

After a much-needed snack at Starbucks, we bundled back into Tim's car and headed back up the hill. We passed several front-runners on the way up, including Rainy and Joe, still going strong. Back at the parking lot I loaded the bike into the car and motored home, humbled by the experience. Rainy was kind enough to offer me a pin for the event, but I declined, feeling that I hadn't earned it. Next year, perhaps..