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Island 300-April 22: Granny gears + duct tape + dog biscuits = Success!

Mike Poplawski


Here for your enjoyment is an account of the 300 km Victoria-Sidney-Colwood-Duncan-Sooke-Victoria brevet of April 22. The cast list isn't long (hint: the Victoria 300 km is not a group ride, a shame considering the beauty of the route) but the story is. I hope you don't get tired of me, I'm in all the scenes. Hang in there; I did!

What was I in for?

This is my first year of randonneur riding but I was well aware of the reputation of the other rider who would start with me. There's always the hope that you may meet another rider or few at an event who you'll see a few times during the ride and keep your spirits up during the day. Ken Bonner could not be that other rider.

I was also aware of the difficulty of the route. I had ridden nearly all parts of it in preparation for the day, save for Sooke. I felt pretty comfortable that I could cover the distance and the climbing, legendary as it was. (I would someday like to have an altimeter to see if the 10,000 feet of climbing was just a rounded figure. Down. To one significant digit.)

Early to rise, but who could rest?

I had been awake since 3:30 after having a hard time falling asleep the evening before. A lot was going through my mind. I have a trepidation about hills. Not going up them, mind you. As I'm not the greatest descender, I was worried about some of the descents:

Prospect Lake Road is a roller-coaster, with one descent best ridden on the opposite side of the road.

I rode off the side of Munn Road on a wet day last November, narrowly missing a van coming up the hill.

A group of us had ridden over the Malahat Drive the week before with aplomb but I wasn't all that pleased with the road conditions before Bamberton (some nastiness on the shoulder), where riders hit 60 easily and oblivious drivers pass close by at 80.

Finally there was Humpback Road, where there is a sharp right turn at the bottom of a hill. The last time I rode it, I turned left.

I was hopeful that I would be able to keep it together during these parts and turn in a safe, and therefore, complete ride.

My girlfriend, Joanne (who's aiming for Rando 1000 honours this year herself), was not riding and was no doubt unamused by my rising at 4:30. I was pretty well prepared the night before, but I had to return to the bedroom for my wallet which resulted in Joanne being awakened for good. It was nice to have her see me off on my way to the start.

The first neutral start

I rode about 14 km to the start line, mostly on the open highway. I thought to myself that riding to the line could expose some mechanical problems that could plague my ride, giving me one last chance to bail out if there was something I couldn't fix. Happily, my bike was running smoothly and I was on time for the start. This would be the last time I would be ahead of Ken! (He arrived a few moments later.)

The second neutral start

Ken was gracious enough to keep up with me through Queenswood, about a half-hour into the route. We shared thoughts about the rando series, exchanged thoughts about how to successfully complete brevets and so on. Ken gave me a few pointers, such as to eat often (I'm pretty slim and don't have too much in the way of fuel reserve) and to not waste energy on downhills. These were two pieces of wisdom I was very thankful for during the entire day.

As we turned on to Arbutus, at the predetermined time, Ken was gone. I had enough brains to let him go without a struggle-he was about a minute ahead of me by the time I reached the next turn on Gordon Head! A day of solo riding awaited me.

The ride out to Sidney was fairly brisk for me. I took some pride in that I was not letting myself get held up. I think I may have been the most alert creature on the road as I had to shout at two drivers who were pulling into the roadway and my path, something I rarely find myself having to do during normal hours. By the time I reached the control in Sidney (the 7-11), I had spent less than 10 minutes off the bike in 1:40. This was very good! I had also averaged 24 km/h on the bike. This was great! Was this the best way to finish 300 km? The former, sure, the latter...not so much.

At this point I was happy to pull out my supply of duct tape to secure my BLT battery to my bottle cage and frame to keep it from rattling. A loose bottle on a short ride is one thing, but I wasn't going to let the rattling drive me nuts, or allow the cage to break.

Wait, it gets harder

Sidney to Colwood is getting to be a tough stretch for me. I think it might be the hills combined with what is usually a headwind. There was definitely a headwind this day and not surprisingly, the hills were present as well.

I had my first run-in with a dog along Land's End; a skittish Dalmation showed me some paranoid hyperactivity before disappearing into its yard. I was able to remount and ride on my way.

My tradition of taking a wrong turn would manifest itself soon thereafter. Riding on Madrona, my next turn was left on to Downey. Except I went up Cromar. Never mind that I've ridden up Downey several times before. Somehow Downey was missing. I rode back on Madrona looking for Downey. No Downey. I turned around again, realizing that Downey was, yes indeed, after Cromar and around a bend where it always was. No worries; now that had shaved a few grams by losing my mind it made riding a hilly 300 km that much easier.

As I was approaching 100 km, I was starting to feel the fatigue, but it was the normal fatigue I feel at that point. I was hoping it wouldn't hit until later, especially since I hadn't hit the big hill towards Duncan. Encouraging was that I had ridden through Prospect Lake Road without any problems, and had no real trouble with Munn or Millstream Lake roads where there was the potential to miss a turn. Not a wrong turn, but an aforementioned dump somewhere or other. My only nervous spot was, once again, a visit from a dog, this time a pair, actually, who weren't all that friendly but at least their master was around to call them in while I walked up a particularly steep part of Munn Road. At least it's pretty up there! Millstream was a nice relief with about 5 km of descending before hitting Colwood and the second control around noon.

The big hill

Now that I've ridden it twice, the Malahat is not quite as intimidating. It's pretty, and there are a few breaks where you can let loose and fly. Its reputation is no doubt mostly from the motor vehicle drivers who don't appreciate either the beauty or the danger of the route if you're not paying attention. It's very rideable, and in fact, my average moving speed for the day went up between the Colwood and Duncan controls, hard to believe since I was feeling a little down.

My last contact with rando folks happened on the climb near Shawnigan Lake when Carol and Stephen Hinde drove past in the opposite direction and got my attention. I caught a glimpse of two folks and their bike-rack equipped car as they rode towards Victoria and the control points for the riders who started the day in Duncan.

The reward for conquering the Malahat is riding the descent down Mill Bay Road to the water. What a delight, especially without any car traffic! It was the last treat until Duncan, with there being a constant headwind along the highway.

Wait, it gets harder again

After reaching Duncan and refueling with a sandwich and a Sobe at the 7-11 (please go through with changing this control point to the Tim Horton's, Stephen!) I was off again to the south towards Cobble Hill. The tailwind was more than welcome since I still was feeling a little down and the climb was fairly steady for quite a while. I found the stretch through Cobble Hill and Shawnigan a bit tougher and changed out of my jacket in anticipation of the climb out of Shawnigan. The only other delay I faced was when someone from the Ba'hai school stopped me along the road to tell me about an upcoming save-the-trails meeting in Mill Bay that week. She accepted my excuse that I was from Victoria and I was on my way again.

I was looking forward to the big descent back into Goldstream Park when my bike began to shimmy shortly after getting back on the highway. Fortunately, it wasn't a bad load or a wayward rim, but unfortunately, still something I'd have to fix. As Dr. Seuss may have put it, a pinch puncture, or a Flat-on-the-'Hat.

I was pleased that I was able to get going again in 20 minutes, especially since I had been on the road 10 hours already and my workspace was a ditch across the road from the Malahat restaurant. I remounted and naturally started to take it easy the way I usually do when I'm wary of having another flat tire. I had used my jacket as a bench while fixing my flat, so I was a little frustrated when I had to put it back on again in Goldstream Park.

A little miracle for me was that I was able to ride up Humpback road without dismounting. My smallest gear is 30x25, but I expected to be too tired to push even that at close to 200 km into the ride. The ride through the woods was pretty, and I had plenty of company as I believe this road, which is about as wide as a driveway in parts, is a popular shortcut. Another little miracle was making the correct turn at the bottom of a little dropoff in the road! The big help was that I noticed the "Highway 14 right" sign on the approach.

By this time of day, the wind blows fairly steadily in your face heading west to Sooke, so I had to be pretty patient. By now, this was the longest day of riding in my life and it felt that way. Most of Sooke was out to watch their friends and family play sports and I had to wind my way through them along Charters, but it was nice to see some faces close up again.

By the time I hit Otter Point, it was raining fairly steadily. I felt it was just a squall, so I waited it out in the Otter Point grocery store. My taste buds had had enough of what was good for me throughout the day, so I decided to reward them: a can of Coca-Cola (caffeine's supposed to help tap stored energy, I hear) and a bag of nacho chips. They were nothing short of exquisite. I also finished off the sandwich I bought in Duncan. I turned down the storekeeper's offer of butter tarts.

The storekeeper and I kept each other company during the cloudburst; I explained what I was doing and I asked her whether I had passed Becher Bay. She said I was on my way there (it's in East Sooke). I expressed my desire not to have to take on any dogs there. She then enthusiastically reached behind the counter to produce a bag of dog biscuits that she often feeds to dogs tied up outside the store. She initially offered a kennel-sized supply, but I took about five biscuits, light enough to fit in my right jacket pocket, and with any luck, enough to create a distraction if I ran into trouble.

More duct tape, dead batteries, but no dogs

The ride east was wind-assisted, which was much-appreciated, as it was mostly uphill until the turnoff onto Gillespie. For the unitiated, the Gillespie/East Sooke/Rocky Point stretch is beautiful, save for the awkward angle my bike was normally at. However, there is a point where each new hill is no longer a surprise

Thankfully, the dogs on the Indian Reserve seemed pre-occupied. I'd have the biscuits to carry on another ride.

As darkness fell, I realized I now had two lighting problems, namely the front and the rear of my bike. As I went to reconnect my BLT system, I saw that I had my seat bag open. I was very relieved that I hadn't lost my phone, my tools, etc., but I could not find my BLT cable to connect my battery to my light.

I managed to cobble together a solution, plugging my BLT lamp into the top of my battery, and duct taping the whole mess so that the lamp faced forward. I rode the final leg with my headlamp actually on the back half of my bike, with a large shadow on the road in front of me which looked all too much like Bart Simpson (the hub making a set of ears) and my bike aglow. I realize I must have been easier to see from the side than from the front, but a little wiggle left-right every once in a while sent the message that I was coming. A simpler repair was made to my rear tail light--batteries were available from the corner store at Metchosin and Happy Valley for however much they asked.

I finished at the Oak Bay Payless at around 10:50; the person who signed my card in the morning arrived for work while I was sipping on a hot chocolate. He had a look on his face which said nothing less than "What on earth are you putting yourself through?". His partner nonchalantly told me "some other guy" finished a "few hours ago". Such is randonneuring on the Island.

Some important things I learned: Don't skip breakfast. You cannot carry too much food. Duct tape is an excellent tool to carry. It is possible to ride enough hills in one day that the next one you see doesn't faze you at all.

The body: My physical report was pretty good: other than overall fatigue and a bit of lower back stiffness (I only ride a road bike once a week) I fared okay. The days after saw some numbness in my right hand (after what, a billion shifts?) and a bit of weariness (a 12 km round trip to the grocery store on Monday was pretty gruelling) but no major problems. I clearly do need to eat a lot, including before the rides, and I will pack more Gatorade powder and gels for the calories.

Statistics: I completed the ride in a reasonable (by my own standards) 16:50 (17.8 km/h), consisting of 14:12 on the bike (21.4 km/h) and 2:38 off the bike (0 km/h). I had thoughts beforehand of finishing with a faster time (I estimated around 15 hours), but I am very happy to complete the event!

In reality, it turns out I never saw Ken again that day, but I did hear from him the following Wednesday (I presume he wanted to know if I was home yet) and we had a chat about the 300 and the upcoming 400 km out of Victoria May 13. I'm looking forward to the ride north-maybe I'll see some riders out of Ladysmith!