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The Route Of The Assassins : Vancisle "300" (2002-04-27)

Harold Bridge


The history of the Human race is blotted with countless examples of Stupidity and Ego going hand in hand. One of the latest is someone in their seventies attempting the Vancisle 300 - twice! At least, the second time I got 83% done as against 50% the first time.

The 1994, June issue of "BC RANDONNEUR" contains an article, "Are We Having Fun Yet", by Gary Fraser. It describes the record ride he and brother Keith did on this torturous compilation of switchbacks, and it starts with a prologue that I deem worthy of repeat:

"1910: Tour de France founder Henri Desgranges extends the boundaries of the Tour to include the Pyrenean cols Peyresourde, Aspin, Tourmalet and Aubisque. At the time bears still inhabit the mountains and the roads are rough, stony paths. The climb up the Aubisque is especially brutal, and while waiting for the first riders to appear Desgrange worries that some of them may have slipped over the edge. At last one rider arrives on foot. He passes by without comment. After 15 more minutes elapse Oscar Lapize, future Tour winner, pulls into sight. Glaring at Desgrange, he speaks a single word: "ASSASSINS!"

1994: Vancouver Island 300 km randonnee route planners extend the boundaries of sanity to include some of the toughest hills your humble Boswell has ever encountered. Countless short snappers cumulatively drain all the zip out of my legs. At this time 15 foot lime-green bears with pink poms-poms inhabit my mind. The roads are rough. The climb up Humpback Road is especially brutal. Stephen Hinde is nowhere in sight. Worse still, I suspect he isn't too concerned about my slipping off into a huckleberry bush. At the top of the climb I pause and click out of my 23 tooth cog. With a keenly developed sense of melodrama I speak a single word: "ASSASSINS!".

Stephen Hinde is a nice chap but he has a problem, he gets bored very easily. He finds there is nothing more boring than a straight, flat road. As a result he has developed a genius for route design that avoids as much as possible those very boring bits of road. He reached his zenith with the Vancisle 300 route.

Two groups set out on this ride, the Bonner Poplawski lot from the Oak Bay control and our lot from Duncan. A facility opening time dictated that we couldn't start until 06:45, a blessing in some ways, as it is quite a drive from Chez Hinde to Duncan. Assembled around the Passat were Stephen Hinde, Don Munroe, Cheryl Lynch, Keith Nichol and I. After diverting a wandering old chap who wanted some Ecstasy or something we set off about 06:50 heading down Island. The first hill a short way south was bye-bye time as Keith and Cheryl glided away from me. Don and Stephen were well capable of gliding away as well. But they had decided I needed looking after and so for them the ride became a series of intervals interspersed with stops while waiting for me, usually at the top of hills.

As the morning fog dispersed so the day showed promise that recent climatic conditions were not forever. And so it was, bright sun tempered by a cool breeze so the many tree-shaded pieces of the route were still cold and damp. It was a pleasure to turn off the Highway at Cobble Hill. But being Saturday morning there was a lot of traffic still. Alongside Shawingan Lake we enjoyed the scene and the big sprockets enjoyed the hills. Stephen's conscience must have been troubling him going by the number of times he remarked about how beautiful the route is! On the descent of the Malahat's south side my choice of a 50x14 top (94") was shown to be a bit on the low side. But why pedal at 50+kph?

Turning off the Highway at Sooke Lake Road, where the others stopped to remove clothes, my memory from 2 years ago reminded me that I was about to be faced with Humpback Road. But instead of relying on memory I tried to read my route sheet and got the next line's 4.3 km aligned with Humpback Road, not the 0.8 km. Luckily the road I took was a dead end and so I only added about 1.2 km to my total.

In 2000, with no previous knowledge of the area, I was taken unawares by Humpback's 25% grade up to the rail crossing and had to get off to walk. But in my cleated Duegis I actually slide back down the hill on the pea gravel surface! This time, the road had been resurfaced and the approach was quite smooth. I got into my 26x26 at the right time and dealt with Humpback with a fair amount of aplomb.

When I got to the Sooke Highway, #14, I wondered if Stephen and Don had got ahead of me during my detour. But almost immediately they were there and provided me shelter and comfort into the west wind, provided I could stay with them. In Sooke we turned off for the convoluted Otter Point circuit that finished up with an exhilarating drop down Kemp Road back to #14 and the 75.6 km control at Sea Otter Cove. Here Carol signed cards at 10:49, 58 minutes inside limit.

Hwy #14 back through Sooke was busy but at 91 km we turned onto Gillespie Road to seek out more monstrous hills in East Sooke and Rocky Point. And so through Metchosin, to a "Secret Control" outside a Danish Bakery (Revival and Survival!) before dropping down to the Causeway across Esquimalt Lagoon and up to Colwood and View Royal.

Over the blue Johnson Street Bridge I was in familiar surroundings and didn't need any help navigating through the dense traffic of Downtown Victoria to the hairpin loop west of the Legislative Building. It remained just to follow the coastline along to Oak Bay where the missing Carol caused some consternation. A cell phone determined she was looking for Cheryl and Keith somewhere in the vicinity of Sidney. The clerk in the 7-11, 148.0 km control provided a signature at 15:30, 67 minutes to spare!

I was wondering at this point whether I was going to survive and decided I would need enough time at Sidney, 185.3 km, to stop for a meal. The Saanich Peninsula isn't too difficult and we maintained steady progress juggling time and remaining energy. Shortly before Sidney I began to feel the occasional thump under me and on checking realised I had a slow leak in the back Continental Grand Prix 3000 700Cx25, the first puncture since installing them in September last year. I decided a pump up would get me to Sidney, which it did at 17:53 according to Carol's reckoning, and 1 hour and 13 minutes in hand.

Service at the Pantry was fairly quick and with help from all concerned I changed the tube after finding a small piece of glass had cut through the tyre. We set off for the delightful loop round Land's End before West Saanich and Wallace Roads took me into strange country. By this time it was dusk and our lights were on for the acid test on this route; Prospect Lake Road. Coming as it does at 222 km the frequent and brutal climbs provide a block to progress like no other. At this point too my left hand Ergopower gear lever was jamming up so that the rapid gear changes such a road requires were not on.

Progress to the final control at Colwood was painful. I unshipped the chain a couple of times, at the start of a climb of course, and that had me walking in cleats, very slowly. I told Don and Stephen to press on, but they wouldn't and despite my convictions to the contrary, Prospect Lake Road did finally come to an end. I had been having difficulty keeping the bike in a straight line and I was wandering all over the road. Riding the Highway under those conditions and with a painful knee was not on and so I quit at Colwood.

Don and Stephen had 11 minutes in hand there and provided they didn't waste too much time they should make up time from the summit of Malahat to the finish. Observations from the passenger seat of the Passat suggested the traffic on the Highway was fairly light and so the lads had a fairly easy ride to Duncan. The only consternation was some Club turning out as they passed by just before the finish, which they reached at 02:33 with a bit of a margin on the 20-hour limit.

I understand that even Cheryl had to walk some of the Prospect Lake Road hills. Gary Fraser writes about his 23-sprocket. I prefer double chainrings to triples, as the simplicity is an improvement. But there is a fantasy in vogue at present that low gears need a triple ring. If I could get the right chain set I would use a double all the time. Something like 47/28 would do fine. But I would also be prepared to change sprockets to suit whatever I was planning to do. It doesn't make sense to tackle a ride such as this with an inadequate bottom gear.

My thanks to Stephen and Carol for the weekend. I had a great time despite the 300.