Newsletter - 2005 Archive

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Protozoa, Slugs, and Multicellular Life: a double blind study in hallucinatory function on a Vancouver Island tsunami
by Raymond J. Parker

When I signed on to organize the Vancouver Island Summer 200/300 events, I had little idea how much work was involved in establishing a new brevet. I now compare the labours to creating a Squamish rock-climbing route -- minus gardening trowel and wire brush.

Over the weeks, my ever-tolerant wife and navigator, Amanda Jones, accompanied me, clipboard in hand, on mapping jaunts out into the countryside around Victoria. The object was to keep the route, unlike the Spring 300, south of the Malahat. We (including VI route-wranglers Stephen Hinde and Michael Poplawski) knew what this meant: Port Renfrew.

Highway 14, snaking along the west coast from Sooke -- shall we call it an "undulating" road? -- had its brevet debut last year, as part of the Spring Series Island 600, dubbed by Kevin Bruce the "VPPV" - as in Victoria-Port Renfrew-Parksville-Victoria. Or, was it Attack of the Killer Slugs? But I digress.

I'd long been itching (before my enforced retirement from randonneuring, 11 years ago) to create a route that traversed the precipitous, though scenic, Willis Point and Ross-Durrance Roads, linking Saanich and Langford. Here, finally, was the chance to hatch my evil plan. The only question was, whether I'd survive my own wickedness.

The chance to find out came on July 9. With ideas from my Chief Navigator, input and last minute telephone and Internet control card help from Stephen Hinde, I was ready to pre-ride our, ah, creation.

Joining me were two veterans of last year's VPPV (one who survived and one who didn't): Jaye Haworth and Mike Poplawski.

After printing documents and grabbing 4 hours sleep, I arrived at Cook Street Village just before 7AM, where Jaye and Mike were waiting (this was the beginning of a trend).

Days of exploration and measurement passed by in a flash. Soon we were at the anticipated Ross-Durrance traverse, labouring upwards on the narrow strip of Macadam through the forest, as a peloton of racers swooped by in a blur of club colours.

Losing that altitude, in one 5 kilometre decent, we were on toward Sooke; first via a scenic maze of roads, discovered on recent explorations, then on E. Sooke and Gillespie; the latter freefalling into wondrous Roche Cove, swooping over the narrow bridge and winding back out. If you're a veteran of the Spring VI300, you've seen these sights -- that is if you made it through here before dark. So, if you sign up for the "Tsunami" 300, remind yourself : "Ray sent me here, so I could see all this beauty in daylight." Repeat as necessary.

What would a visit to Sooke be without a stop at Mom's Café? I was convinced, on the June VI200, by the restorative powers of Mom's deep dish apple pie, that this was the "your choice" place to pause and refuel for the challenge to come.

Fortified with bacon and eggs, coffee, French toast and other rib sticking fare, we tackled more climbing on Otter Bay road, only to scream back down to sea level at the West Coast Highway intersection. Still, it was worth it for our first expansive view of the open sea and the tip of the Olympic Peninsula.

To return to Kevin Bruce's observations, last year, on Highway 14's abundant and lightning-fast "ill-intentioned, shell-less mollusc," strangely, we noticed that the preponderance of these creatures -- though some sported leopard-skin markings -- were anything but swift. In fact, most of these slimy roadside denizens were ex-opisthobranchs. You know the routine: deceased, escargot-mort, pining for la forêt de pluie, metabolic processes consigned to history . . . DOA.

Their gooey remains, Jaye and I commiserated later, did not evoke similar epicurean ruminations as their cousins in the French countryside.

Beside the slug "problem" what else can a randonneur say about the West Coast Highway? Of course, it's scenic. "Built just for cyclists," as Kevin avers? Well, for certain breeds - athletes and ascetics - it's just what the doctor ordered. Apparently, I am one of these.

Jaye immediately showed what she's made of, and disappeared up a strip of pavement conveniently built to initiate one into the world of cyclism . . . that is, vertically. And so it went, for 70 kilometres: scenic, sluggy, steeply.

As Mike and I rode along, immersed in our own thoughts, my attention became riveted, not on roadside slug viscera, but on another biological anomaly: The sun passing, through Mike's transparent plastic mud-flap, projected an image that resembled nothing so much as a giant paramecium, speeding along the road, after his wheel. Could it be that I was caught in a giant Petri dish in some Twilight Zone classroom, doomed to chase after this protozoan tormentor for eternity? And Sisyphus thought he was trapped in a bad epic!

I awoke from my reverie as the tarmac slide-show faded and a light rain started, near Jordon River. Ahead, Jaye was catching the full downpour, marked by a steely-grey squall-line, out over Juan de Fuca Strait.

I didn't see much of my young companions as the road grew steeper; Mike too pulled ahead. On the infamous 21 per cent switchbacks, I dropped my chain, searching for the granny gear. Would I retreat to the bottom of the hill, where I could get the pedals turning again? Nah. I walked to the next bend. And so it went, until a few kilometres south of our destination, the road launched itself into the void, snaking down into Port Renfrew.

There, my choice of controls -- the Coastal Kitchen Café -- met with general approval. No escargot, but plenty of delicious, fresh seafood!

But now we had to face the fact that had tempered our enjoyment of the swoop down into town: the rigorous climb out. The sun even made a debut, though not too hot to make things unpleasant. Certainly, we were happy to strain our braking fingers, rather than aching quadriceps, on the storied switchbacks. All in all, it seemed the return was not as difficult as the approach.

At Kemp Lake control, we were met by my father, Ray Sr., and Amanda with fresh water and congratulations. Seventy-five kilometres to go, but not without incident, it turned out.

After warning Mike and Jaye to watch out for the next turn (recommended by Stephen), I slipped into a reverie -- or was it catatonia? -- cruising downhill, towards Sooke. I awoke to reality with a cry from behind. It was guardian angel Jaye, sprinting after me. Back up the hill went Ray the Route-Planner.

Sooke Road went by and, as night fell, we navigated the humps of Humback. Then, in eerie darkness, following my headlight on Prospect Lake Road hill, I met the dreaded Bonk. All day long, I'd made a mantra of that randonneur's dictum about eating an elephant - one bite at a time, one bite at a time. But how was I going to swallow its ass? I stopped to inhale a Power-Gel instead, and then granny helped me back to "speed." I wobbled on, unconcerned, as I heard my pen skitter from the open top pouch on my rack pack.

Up at the intersection of Munns Road -- a level spot on the otherwise vertiginous landscape -- I found Mike and Jaye waiting once more.

Upon announcing my glycogen-deprived state, Jaye suggested resting here for a while. Understand, I would have soldiered on, but perhaps hypoglycemic soldiers don't an army make (The Pentagon has surely done a study). Anyway, the damp roadside vegetation beckoned like a Sealy Posturepedic.

So we lay there for a while, admiring the night-shrouded fields (perhaps my daytime knowledge filled in the inky shadows). Telling big hill tales, we sighed and flapped our lips, a language the horses on the other side of the fence appeared to understand, answering in kind.

The rest and corn syrup infusion resuscitated my legs enough to traverse the remaining roller coaster to the final control at Pat Bay Highway, just after 11 O'clock.

There, a sandwich and caffeine break restored us to some semblance of devoted randos, as did the knowledge that we were nearing Victoria, AKA Blessed Relief.

A few days previously, I'd decided to cut the section to Mt. Douglas on Cordova Bay, in preference for the .1 kilometre shorter Lochside/Royal Oak run. "I'm disappointed in you, Ray," Mike said, as we turned onto Lochside. "This road is flat."

Mike's other concern about the final 25 kilometres ran to the nasty bumps on the Seaside Route; specifically King George Terrors, I mean Terrace, leading up to Harling Point. Unconvincingly, I argued that the alternative would have been to continue on Beach, a less steep, but longer hill.

We seemed to, indeed we did, accelerate through Cadboro and Oak Bays, right up to the lookout at Harling Point, where the lights of the Olympic Peninsula twinkled on the sea and a patch of stars broke through the clouds. The agonies of Prospect Lake had receded into that special place randonneurs keep for such memories -- let's call it the Archive of Abridged Agonies. We did not allow fear to change our lives, or send us running to granny. We conquered King George with our middle chain rings. "There now; that wasn't so bad!" I said to my companions, extolling the view. The reply, if I may say so, seemed a little tepid.

As we pulled back into Cook Street Village, my father and Amanda were there to cheer us in, 17 hours and fifty minutes after we'd set out. Vancouver Island has a new 300 kilometre route.

For me, this is the point (and a decidedly high one, in comparison) I left "the scene," 11 years ago. Felled by what I now know to be chronic piriformis syndrome (AKA "sciatica," or, a pain in the ass), I languished, until diagnosed and treated, last winter. This affliction, however, took a back seat to my battle with cancer, which began in the spring of 2003. Then, in April of this year, training was interrupted by the necessity of gall bladder removal, likely damaged by precipitous weight loss (which causes the organ to be bombarded with excess cholesterol), during radiation treatment. More medical advances -- i.e. laparoscopic, or "keyhole" surgery -- allowed me to get back on the trainer (don't tell my doctor!) a week post-op.

Will I continue toward the holy grail of Super Randonneur? Do I dream of the title "Ancien?" Do I dare to wear my tights rolled, where lovely randos come and go, speaking of Michelangelo?

I cannot say. Life is a mad, unpredictable cabaret, and all those other less-than-useful clichés. But, to use one that evokes a good post ride meal, now, every ride is gravy. Pass the escargot.

Postscript: Thanks must go especially to Vancouver Island route co-ordinator Stephen Hinde, who patiently marshalled this rookie through the intricacies of Excel and the principles of brevet mapping, adding ideas and confirming mine with his encyclopaedic knowledge of Island roads and geography. Thanks also to Ken Bonner for helpful input. Amanda has accepted my apologies (I hope!) - Did I ever tell you the story about how she navigated us backwards through the VI 600 route, at night? Jaye and Mike are simply the best companions one could hope for on any Odyssian journey.

July 24, 2005