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The Hill are Alive ...and they’re out to get you
by Michael Tilitzky

When I attended Simon Fraser University many years ago, I had a professor tell the class I was attending that, “Some of his favorite students held a C average”. In other words, we can’t all be brilliant. That pretty well summed up my university efforts and to a degree my cycling as well, I’m kind of average. No Ken Bonner or Nigel Press times in my future.

If I have “a thing” in riding, it would be hills. At some point someone told me you had to attack the hills. If you feared a looming climb you were defeated before you even started to gear down. Not me. I always get a bit of an adrenalin rush before a hill; bring it on, do your worst!! I’m ready!!! And so it was with some anticipation that I stood over my bike at the Tyee Rd Starbucks waiting for the 6:00 am start of The Hills are Alive 300.

I hadn’t ridden 500 metres and I could already see the red flashing tail lights of Craig Lylack and Ken Bonner, far ahead. It was unlikely that I would be the first in, I could see the C average coming my way. I did manage to settle in beside Steve Mahovlic as we set a comfortable pace down Government, out and around past Ogden Point, down Dallas Rd, following the coast line around Oak Bay. This was my third Randonneur ride in Victoria and all of them took advantage of this great route which was starting to feel comfortable, and highly enjoyable. The weather was cooperating and Steve stopped to take off some gear and so I peddled on, he caught up to me again going up Ferndale. We set a good pace and arrived at Sydney, dry and only about 15 minutes behind Ken and 20 or so minutes behind Craig.

The route stayed familiar as we headed out of Sydney towards Schwartz Bay, across Hwy 1 and towards Deep Cove. We hit our first real hill at Downey Rd which was short but steep. We continued on towards Patricia Bay where Steve stopped for a break and I continued on.

It wasn’t until the turn on to Prospect Lake Rd that the route started to live up to its name, with short steep hills as the road circled the lake. At Munn Rd and 90 km into the ride I hit the first real hills of the ride, a few steep pitches and some long ascents, and a great 15% grade down the back side to Millstream Rd and Langford.

It always makes a ride more enjoyable when there are staffed controls, and it was good to see Paul Nielsen at the Langford control. I was just finishing a bite when Steve pulled up and shortly behind him Mark Ford. I knew the Malahat was looming up ahead and I was antsy to get it started so I headed off.

The Malahat isn’t the most enjoyable hill to climb: traffic, exhaust, rumble strips, gravel and debris but I kept my head up and started the climb. It was going well until near the top when, with my eyes stinging with sweat, my legs tired, the fatigue of the climb starting to settle in that I had “the thought”, the same thought that I have on every ride: “of all the activities I could have taken up, why this, why distance cycling. Why not lawn bowling or darts, bridge is a perfectly good way to spend time. True, they wouldn’t help me shed the 25 lbs I needed to loose, but was I really that much over weight? Couldn’t I have just cut back on the cookies and achieved the same results?” Of course it was more then just the weight. When people ask me who rides these insanely long rides, I reply that it’s mainly men over 50 trying to out ride time.

I stopped at the top of the Malahat to clear the sweat from my eyes and my glasses when Mark rides up asking if everything is all right. Great I think, I must have had a 10 minute lead on Mark when I pulled out of Langford, and he pulls up a few minutes behind me. My “thing” of being the hill climber had just been whopped by a man who was almost 20 years my senior. Back to the C average.

Mark and I headed down the Malahat in a light rain and made the turn off towards Mill Bay, then back to the highway for a few kms and off again towards Cowichan Bay. Now its been said that if women remembered the pain of child birth, we would all be only children. So it is, in a small way, the same with randonneuring. Mark and I wound our way along Cowichan Bay, the beautiful landscape unfolded before us, the pain and fatigue of the climb already a distant memory. The climb hadn’t really been that bad, had it? And now look at the rewards.

I was looking down at the route sheet as we approached Tzouhalem Rd when Mark called me back because I had ridden right past the secret control!! Graham Fishlock and Dave Macmurchie were sitting in Graham’s Volkswagen van, and I’m not sure if either of them had seen me pass. What a colossal mistake that would have been, a dnF instead of my standard C. Thankfully I was riding with someone. We were fed and watered by Dave and Graham and were soon on our way to the next control, the Tim Hortons north of Duncan.

Tim Hortons is a challenge for me to say the least. I have a wheat intolerance, I’m off coffee, I don’t eat meat, and too much dairy gives me that phlegmy thing at the back of my throat, which pretty well eliminates every item on Timmy’s menu. I did grab a hot chocolate and Mark had a coffee, and we both snuck in sandwiches that we had in our bike bags, like a couple of kids sneaking popcorn into a theatre.

As we headed back towards Victoria on Hwy 1, the intermittent rain became a bit more intense, the skies a bit darker. We made good time to the Cobble Hill turn off and made our way towards Shawnigan Lake. At this point Dave passed us in his car, pulled over, and cheered us on as we rode past, like we were a break away group in the Tour de France.

When we turned left at the lake, Mark stopped at a corner store for a coke and I found a take-out sushi joint. What a treat. Food is my nemesis and it’s always a bonus when I find something I can eat. Well fueled, we pedaled our way towards the climb out of Shawnigan Lake and back to the Malahat.

If there was a climb on this route that I wasn’t looking forward to, this was it. The last time I was here it was at the end of last years 600 km from Victoria to Campbell River return, which I had ridden most of the way with Mike Croy and John Oswald. It was on this hill, so tired that I could hardly keep my head up, breath ragged, every turn of the pedal possibly my last, that I came to the undeniable conclusion that someone had hired Mike as a hit man and that he was trying to use this ride to kill me. Some much needed sleep at the end of the ride put things in perspective, and I’m pretty sure now that it was a hallucination, but I was still not looking forward to this hill. In the end it wasn’t too bad. Mark is a good person to ride with, and we “leap frogged” our way up and over the top, and back to the Malahat. Where it started to rain. In earnest.

We rode down the Malahat in the pouring rain and off towards the humpbacks on Humpback Rd. At this point Mark started to have mechanical problems. When he was in his climbing gear and stood in his pedals, his chain would skip. Not good on the humpbacks where you are climbing at a crawl so Mark decided to walk and I slowly ground my way up the first hump. From there it was on to Sooke Rd and the worst stretch of the ride.

We rode Sooke Rd in the falling light, heavy rain and heavy traffic: ugly, ugly, ugly. The shoulder on Sooke Rd is ephemeral, appearing and then disappearing, forcing you into traffic. I would catch glimpses of pickup truck fenders looming in my mirror and then pass a few feet from my shoulder. It was a relief to pull off at Drennan Rd and catch our breath. We made our way to the staffed control on Hwy 14, and 50 km to go.

We were greeted at the Hwy 14 control by Charmain Munro and Craig. Yes, Craig had finished the ride, showered, then apparently went to the gym to work some weights, had another shower, and then came to help out at the last control. He did look at little fatigued. The control was exceptional, with drinks, fruit, and baked goods including gluten free brownies which I devoured.

The ride back up Sooke Rd was better with less traffic, a better shoulder, and the rain had stopped. According to Mark there were just the dreaded hills of Gillespie left to climb. The jump had definitely left my legs and each hill was a grind. You know you’re cooked when you keep looking up to see if you can find the top of the hill. One last push, one last hill... when Mark, standing in his pedals, had his chain skip and he fell over. The hills were out to get us, and I was concerned that they had taken Mark out. He kicked out of his pedals and stood up, no worse for the fall. Mark was able to walk to the top of the hill and rode on from there.

The last 30 km were a blur. I had forgotten a head lamp and couldn’t see my control sheet, so was relying on Mark to call the route. At 10:03 pm Mark and I pulled into Starbucks and were greeted by Dwain, and Mike and Brynne Croy. It’s always a reward to be greeted at the end of a ride with the smiling face of a randonneur. Someone who can appreciate and relate to what we had just accomplished, arguably a C+ ride.

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April 28, 2014