Newsletter - 2002 Archive

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Island 400

Stephen Hinde


The ride to Tofino is normally reserved for the lonely 600km rider, but the organizer felt like a challenge, so the Nanaimo--Tofino route was dusted off. Being an Island ride, we like to add small challenges to the route, so the plan was to have Cheryl Lynch and Keith Nichol start in Parksville at 4am, and chase down the other riders (Karen Smith, Michel Richard, Susan Allen, Doug Latornell, Stephen Hinde), who were to start in Nanaimo at 5 am. Unfortunately, Susan had some minor bicycle difficulties in Horseshoe Bay--a piece of wire wrapped itself in the rear spokes, pulled in the derailleur, and bent that nice new Vitalli frame. So, Doug and Susan didn't even get on the ferry.

Shortly after 5, still dark enough to require headlights, Karen, Michel, and Stephen set out for the west coast. Only 5km from the start we saw Cheryl and Keith, already 30 km into their ride, heading for the control. At our first pit stop by Lantzville, the sun broke the distant horizon, and the clear skies framed the Tantalus range near Squamish. We were wearing our warm clothing, as the headwind was cold. Climbing out of Nanoose, we first saw Mt. Arrowsmith, a distant snowy monolith. "Port Alberni is the other side", I explained to Karen. "Really? It looks so far away."

We pressed on through Coombs (the goats are still on the roof). The small climb past Little Qualicum Falls helped warm us, but my feet were starting to tingle. "Not to worry," I thought, "the big climb is just ahead." After Cameron Lake, and another stop in Cathedral Grove to admire the trees, we tackled the hump. This is a 3 km 8% climb, with a short stretch of 10%. By the top my feet were beginning to tingle as the blood returned, but the wonderful, swooping descent into the Alberni valley (on fresh pavement!) soon put them back into deep freeze. In the distance, the western mountains were pure white.

A 25 minute stop at the 7-11 (the hot chocolate speeded the thaw), with control checker Carol Hinde running round in shorts (just to make us feel really cold), Cheryl and Keith pulled in. Keith had had a rocky start to the ride (he had knocked wheels with Cheryl at the start, and had come to an abrupt stop) and was sporting some impressive road rash. He was grumbling mightily, but was determined to push on, so we were off into the wilderness. Between Alberni and Tofino there are precisely zero services and one rest area. The ride along Sproat Lake was magnificent--the water was glassy, the sky bright, the mountains steep and snow-covered, and everything was green. And that was just the reflection. At a photo stop, I finally removed my rain coat--I was down to my Rando jacket and tights! At the base of Sutton pass, we came across a bear cub that had lost a fight with a car. Cheryl, being curious, found the bear still warm. At the top of the pass, Carol was waiting to sign our cards, fill our water bottles, and provide encouragement. So, it was time to be bold--down to shorts.

From Sutton Pass along the Kennedy river, there are some wonderful views of deep gorges and rushing water, most of them invisible to the motorist. Soon, paradise came to a crashing halt in the form of Hydro hill, a short (800m) climb posted at 18%. And then you go down the other side. And then you go up the next one. And then after a few kilometres of up and down, the road descends another 18%er to Kennedy Lake. From here to the Long Beach junction is 15 km of just average riding, with a nice ocean breeze in our faces, and a 5 deg. drop in temperature.

With 5 in a line up the peninsula, the wind didn't seem so bad. The large bear at the side of the road was spooked by the strange sight, so we didn't get a close look. That may have been a good thing, considering the size. The road doesn't actually run beside the ocean, except for one small stretch at Long Beach itself, where the azure water meets the verdant land in a line of sparkling surf, crashing in fury against the ancient granite, producing yet another grain of ... (Sorry about that--I don't know what came over me!) After leaving the park, the road undulates past motels and campsites, Crab bars and Whale tours into the environmentalist capital of Canada. 9 hours and 48 minutes for the 200.

Carol met us again, as we settled outside the Common Loaf Bakery (our usual haunt--the Alley Way Cafe--was closed) to replenish. Cheryl and Keith left just ahead of Karen, Michel and myself. "We'll take it easy--you'll catch us in no time". Well, Keith, you forgot that we couldn't pass that poetic stretch one more time without something coming amiss, so it was past the surfers, over the logs and onto the sand. Oh how we wanted to lie down in the sun for the rest of existence. And there wasn't a snake in sight. "Back on the road, you scurvy lot" prodded some cruel organizer. Cast from Eden, the world seemed a harsher place, so we dragged our sorry butts back to the junction.

In reverse, the hills after Kennedy Lake are even more formidable. Or perhaps it is the extra miles in the legs? At the start of the first climb our average is 19.9 kph, just below schedule. At the start of climb 2 it's dropped to 19.8. "Not bad," I think. After descending climb 2 it's down to 19.6. Oh well, I really didn't want to break 20 hours. Climbing Sutton Pass in reverse is a none event. With a mild tailwind and a gentle slope, you are up before you know it. And there's the checkpoint--Carol with food and water. And all the clothes go back on, as it is now after 7 pm, and cold. The descent off Sutton Pass is usually the fastest portion of the ride--I hit 78.5 kph, the same as I did in '95, and '94, and '93, and '92. However, I am going too fast to see the spooked bear cub clambering up the tree that had Karen and Michel uuhing and aahing. Just outside of Port Alberni, it was time to turn on the lights, and to wake up Carol, sleeping at the side of the road. "Keith and Cheryl are just ahead of you--Keith had a flat." So, into Tim Horton's to fortify for the climb back over the Hump.

Climbing out of the Alberni valley is a one hour exercise, just grind away, and the top will arrive. And there is Carol, just checking to see if we're ok. "Put on all your warm clothing--the descent will be freezing." And she was right. I had to stop half way down to control my shivering that was threatening to put me in the ditch. >From here, in the dark, the road back through Coombs to Nanaimo was tedious. How we envied Keith and Cheryl, finishing at Parksville (20 hours and 20 minutes). How we wanted to get to bed! We were not very efficient, but finally we reached the north edge of Nanaimo. "We could still break 22 hours," suggested some fool. That was all the encouragement that Michel needed. We were off, ala Bonner et al, through town with the long descent, to arrive back at the start in 21 hours 57 minutes.

This is a hard 400, and not one to set personal records, but under the near ideal weather conditions that we experienced, it is a ride that makes you come back for more. Perhaps I'll do this again next year. Special thanks to Carol who drove us to the start, saw us at every checkpoint, made sure we were still awake after dark, and then waited for us to finish.

Editors Note: The bike shop (La Bicicletta) gently straightened the rear dropout holder, replaced the replacable derailleur hanger, and put on a new derailleur. Doug replaced the scored spokes in the back wheel. And so my bike is FINE! We had a nice ride out to Horseshoe Bay on Sunday and all was well... other than we missed an excellent 400 k.