Newsletter - 2006 Archive

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Abbotsford (x 4)
by a survivor

        With a few notable exceptions, those of us on "The Island" rarely venture over the water to participate in randonneuring events on the Mainland. As everyone knows, it is always sunny and warm here on the Island, in stark contrast to the lousy weather to the east of us. The roads here are traffic free, life is a little more laid back, and randonneuring events are structured around café's, coffee shops, national parks and wonderful restaurants. On the other hand, events on the Mainland seem to have as key controls places like the toll booths on the Coquihalla Highway, or an Esso gas station or, in the case of last weekend's 600km ride, Abbotsford, Abbotsford, Abbottsford and…, yes, Abbottsford. Nevertheless, I decided not to heed my fellow Island cyclists warnings and instead ventured over to Abbotsford (where else?) to ride my first ever 600km brevet. Ken Bonner also made the trip, but since I didn't see him on the ferry I expect he swam over, pulling his bike behind him, before riding to the start.

        To give the Mainland organizers their due, the ride did start at the civilized time of 6:00 am, unlike the Island 400km that began at 3:00 am, about the time I normally go to bed. Despite some early morning sprinkles, 19 Mainland riders joined the two of us Islanders as we started the ride (in Abbotsford) and made our way through some beautiful countryside along the Chilliwack River. Even with 50 km on the TransCanada Highway, the first 200+ km was quite enjoyable, blessedly flat, and made me begin to question all the nasty things that Island riders said about Mainland brevets. At 215 km, we returned to… Abbotsford, where I kicked back and had a cappuccino and some treats at the nearby Starbuck's Coffee shop. By the time I emerged, somewhat reinvigorated and ready for more time on the bike, all the other riders had left the control and were headed toward Tsawwassen. Hmmm; I had been warned of this. While we Islanders like to linger over coffee and tea, or maybe a brandy or two, at control stops, the Mainland riders get their cards stamped, wolf down an energy bar and take off. You mean I actually have to look at my control card to see where to go? I clearly wasn't used to this, and an hour later missed a turn and biked an extra five km, singing merrily all the while and totally oblivious to my surroundings.

        After the morning wanderings along the Chilliwack and Fraser Rivers, the ride deteriorated rapidly. We (well, since I was alone at this point, it was "I," not "we") rode along the Fraser Highway, with virtually no shoulder and mega-traffic, only to turn onto 64th Avenue, with mall after mall and a bit of ad-hoc drag-racing adding to the local colour. And while the traffic was terrible, I was more perturbed by the sight of an enormous hill in the distance, some 10km away. I just prayed that we would turn before reaching the hill. No such luck. I'm not sure whether it is more stressful to see a hill for 30 minutes before climbing it or just knowing it exists and worrying about it. I think ignorance is bliss, and I would prefer not knowing and not seeing. Where are all these cars going anyway?

        As I crept into the control in Tsawwassen, I caught up to most of the other riders… only to have them leave just as I was sitting down for tea. Gee, that ain't too sporting; I was used to Ray and Graham diddling around for an hour while I got myself all primped and ready for the next leg. In a way, I was impressed with the Mainland riders; while they seem very efficient at controls, it always takes me at least 30 minutes to coax my weary rear end back on the bike seat. Seeing two riders come into Tsawwassen behind me actually gave me some courage, so I jumped (for effect only) on the bike, turned around and headed back to Abbotsford again, arriving before midnight. At this point, the thought of a warm shower and a bed was simply too overwhelming to resist, so I decided to take a short break, which turned into a five hour nap. Well, maybe it was more than a nap. By the time I was ready to leave for the final 220km it was drizzling steadily and the other riders had long gone… except for Luke Galley, who overslept and barely made it to the Maple Ridge control before closing time. My kind of guy. At least I had achieved one of my goals; getting out of Abbotsford before any other rider finished. I made it by 15 minutes!

        After riding for six hours in a constant drizzle and into a headwind, all I could think about was how wonderful it would be to have a tailwind for the final 100km out of Hope. It gave me a lot of hope about arriving in not-so-big Hope. But when I saw the large sign that read "Welcome to Hope: The Chainsaw Carving Capital of Canada," I realized that this was, indeed, a strange place, and things on the Mainland don't always work the way one expects them to. This is hard to abide by. We always have a tailwind for the last 100km of brevets on the Island. It's sort of a requirement for all ride organizers to ensure this. So as Luke, Paul Kusch and I left Hope, the rain intensity increased and the wind started blowing like a banshee. And either the wind switched direction or I was going the wrong way (always a distinct possibility), since we now had a very strong headwind. I decided the first thing I was going to do when I returned to the Island is check the randonneur rules about headwinds at the end of a brevet. It was a long, wet slog back to Abbotsford, made a bit more miserable by the climb at Woodside. About 500 metres after starting the climb, my bike just decided it couldn't take anymore, and fell on its side. No amount of cajoling could get the damn bike to rise up and carry me over the hill. With my heart beating at 220 bpm (and this when my maximum heart rate is 177 bpm), I didn't even have the energy to kick the bike. After five minutes of staring at each other in the pouring rain, we compromised. I walked 100 metres after which the bike seemed to be willing to pull me the rest of the way up the hill. I guess that is why so many people have switched to aluminum or carbon frames; steel ones are too much like donkeys; very ornery.

        Late Sunday afternoons, the Lougheed Highway is jammed with cars, trucks and 4x4s coming down from mudding in the mountains, so there was a constant splash of water from the noisy passing traffic. I also realized that they must train engineers at UBC different than they do at UVic. Because on the Island, the roads have a camber to allow the water to run off into an adjacent ditch. But on the Mainland, while the road surface is convex, the shoulder is slightly concave. This means that water accumulates on the shoulder. To make matters worse, the white line that divides the road from the shoulder (assuming there is a shoulder) is not a line at all, but is a bulge of tar painted white. So water accumulates on either side of the white bulge as well. This means a cyclist has four options. 1) ride on the shoulder, through the puddles; 2) ride on the white bulge, which is slippery and eventually you slide into water on one side or the other; 3) ride to the left of the white bulge, incurring the wrath of most drivers, getting honked at, spit at and yelled at; or 4) ride in the ditch. I tried all four, and none worked very well. Luke - who had been riding with me since Hope - didn't fare much better (except his bike didn't whine or complain going up Woodside like mine did). We basically just wobbled our way back to… Abbotsford. And I was never so glad to see Abbotsford.

        I never did get to talk about the ride with the others; they were long gone by the time we finished. The weather did claim one victim, as Roger Holt fell within a kilometer of the finish and broke his hip. Bummer. And to be fair, Bob and Patti Marsh were great; they had treats laid out for the riders, always were keen to help, and even waited until we laggards finished the ride before closing up shop.

        So were my fellow Island radonneurs accurate in their assessment of rides on the Mainland? Well, maybe they overstated things a bit. We are a little isolated out here, you know. And the water does strange things to our brains. I also wasn't completely honest with my reasons for riding the 600km brevet on the Mainland; I really didn't want my friends to see me whining, crying and cursing as I lay on the side of the road at 500km or so. I shouldn't have worried; by the time I reached 500km, there was nobody near me.

        I couldn't finish this piece without a little chest puffing, however. I know, randonneuring is not a race and the sport is not competitive. But everyone has to admit that the Abbotsford4 600km did demonstrate the superior speed of us Island riders over our Mainland counterparts: the average finishing time for Island riders was 30 hours and 28 minutes, over three hours less than those Mainland folks. Suck on those eggs for a while!

* Steve Lonergan, 2006 "Super Randonneur" (heh, heh; it might be better to title this "Surviving Randonneur.")

June 9, 2006