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VanIsle 1200 - Willi's Story
Ride dates: July 14-18, 2014
by Willi Fast

I have successfully completed three 1200 km brevets in the past: Rocky 1200 (BC, Alberta, 2008), Gold Rush Randonnee (GRR, California, 2009), and Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP, France, 2011). I experienced my first ever DNF (Did Not Finish) when I abandoned the Big Wild Ride 1200 before the 300 km mark last summer (BWR, Alaska, 2013). The DNF resulted in a lot of soul searching and self-doubt: Did I quit too early? Was I still capable at this distance? Would I ever complete another 1200?

Not long after the Alaska DNF, I committed to attempting another 1200, and chose the Van Isl 1200 scheduled for July of 2014. A relatively local event, with minimal travel, and a route with roads and terrain with which I had some degree of familiarity seemed like a reasonable test to answer the post-DNF questions. I prepared a structured winter training plan, and a Super Series of spring brevets, all designed to maximise my chances of success at the Van Isl 1200. I accumulated some 7,200 km of riding in the 10 months leading up to the Van Isl, and hoped that I was sufficiently prepared to avoid another DNF.

While Germany and Argentina battled for supremacy at the 2014 World Cup Final in Brazil, (Die Mannschafft rose to the challenge – “Gut gemacht Jungens!” A good omen for me ?), I found my way from Sidney to the Van Isl Registration and Bike Inspection in Victoria, where I was greeted by an army of organized, enthusiastic and efficient volunteers! Registration and Bike Inspection were completed in quick succession.

A highlight was the services of Mr. VeloFix, a local mobile bike service shop/van, who was very helpful in providing last minute front derailleur adjustments for Mrs. Marinoni – who responded by behaving and performing well over the ensuing route! Mr. VeloFix is a partnership business venture – one of the partners is Simon Whitfield of Canadian National Triathlon Team fame. Thank You Mr. VeloFix, and to Van Isl organizers for arranging their services. Much appreciated, and they didn’t even charge me!

Leaving my drop bags at the Registration for shuttle to Campbell River and Gold River Controls, Janet and I made our way back to Sidney, for last minute preparations, final meal, and SLEEP.

I awoke at 01:00 on Monday morning, (no alarm required!), refreshed and ready, despite a nervous and fitful pre-event sleep. I showered, dressed, ate, and snuck out to drive to the start in Victoria. I was looking forward to seeing my daughter Katie, who had promised to come to the start to see me off. As expected, Katie arrived at 02:15, we had a short visit and pep talk while she watched me flail with last minute preparations and nerves. We had a big hug, she went back home to sleep, and I joined the throng of riders awaiting the start.

Not one to waste words, Route Organizer Mike Croy gave us last minute instructions, and right at 03:00, sent us on our way – a group of 47 riders from the start. I had recognized and chatted with some riders in the pre-start melee, but had made no arrangements to ride with anyone in particular. Not having spent much time studying the route sheets, I was not comfortable with the route out of Victoria, so had already decided to stick with the lead group of riders until we had left Victoria and started on Highway 1 towards Duncan. At that point, confident that I was “on route”, I would settle into a self-regulated pace with which I was comfortable. My plan was to ride to Gold River, 376 km, where I had booked a hotel room for my first sleep stop. I was pretty certain that I would find one or more riders compatible for my riding pace with whom I could link up.

As usual, there was a mad dash off the start, with a group of fast riders breaking away off the front. The pace was manageable, and I easily held on to the lead group until we reached the highway. At that point, I slowed down and began settling in for a long day in the saddle. It was warm, and I was glad for my decision to not use my leg and arm warmers. Soon, we were on the climb up the Malahat Summit north of Victoria and I began to get warm – I was able to regulate my temperature by unzipping my reflective vest and jersey.

By this time, I was riding in the dark, by myself, about mid-pack, with half the group ahead of me, and half behind me. I held a comfortable spinning pace up the Malahat, passing a few riders along the way. I passed by one rider, and when I was past him, realized that it was Ken Bonnor, Vancouver Island’s most experienced Randonneur with whom I exchange ride report e-mails from time to time. “What was I doing passing Ken Bonnor on the Malahat Summit?” I asked myself. My pace seemed good, however, and I continued on.

The climb was not difficult – I like climbing in the dark – and I was able to spin right to the top. Shortly before getting there, Ken caught back up with me, and we chatted for a bit. He gave me some route pointers to be aware of, particularly the home-bound descent of the Malahat, and when we reached the top, he said “Have a good ride!”, and was off like a shot. I would see him twice more along the route, each time going in opposite directions!! (He homeward bound, me out-bound).

The descent of the Malahat was fun, made safe and enjoyable by great lights I have on my bike. I reached the first Control at Duncan just when it was getting light (Monday 05:10, 59 km, total elapsed time = 2:10) . Riders were arriving and leaving quickly. I got my card signed, took the time for a quick bathroom break in the bike shop that was hosting the Control (well, not THAT quick, since it is impossible to do “IT” quickly when wearing bib-shorts, having to take off all upper layers before being able to sit, ………), and when I got back outside, I ran into Jeff Mudrakoff with whom I had ridden in California in 2009. I also had a quick chat with Bob Koen who had just arrived.

While riding into Duncan as it was getting light, I had noticed that my computer was not working. I pace my riding mainly by gauging effort against cadence, and without a computer, half that formula was not available to me. I fiddled a bit with the alignment of the wheel magnet sensor, but was unable to get the unit to work. Before I knew it, Jeff had left the Control, and since I knew him to be a rider with whom I could comfortably and compatibly ride, I headed off and quickly caught back up to Jeff.

We rode side by side and chatted away, and the km.’s flew by quickly on the way to the second Control at Graham Fishlock’s home near Cedar. Graham had pre-ridden the Van Isl route the week prior to the event, and now was also hosting a Control. Jeff raved about how good the food would be at Graham’s, and we were not disappointed when we got there (Monday 06:53, 98 km, total elapsed time = 3:53). Graham had built bike racks, had bike stands available for those needing some mechanical attention, hauled in Porta Potties, and set out a nice seating area in the shade behind his house. The spread of food on the deck was impressive, and I partook of French toast, yogurt, muffins, juice, etc. Soooo Good! Thank you Graham and Co.!

By now it was getting hot – after another (not-so-quick) Porta Pottie break, I took the time to apply a liberal layer of SPF 60 sun screen lotion to all exposed skin, and then Jeff and I were off towards Qualicum Beach, via Nanaimo.

I was glad to be with Jeff for the navigation through Nanaimo, he was intimately familiar with the route, and riding with him prevented me from getting lost among the many turns on the route sheet. The ride along the ocean into Parksville was enjoyable. I was still riding without a computer, and I now suspected that the battery in the sending unit was dead. In Parksville, I saw a local electronics The Source store, so pulled off in search of a replacement battery. They did not have the battery I needed!! Every other battery, but not mine! I continued along, not relishing the idea of doing this whole route without a computer.

I was glad to reach the small road-side park where the Qualicum Control had been set up (Monday 10:10, 165 km, total elapsed time = 7:10) and caught back up with Jeff. At Qualicum, after signing cards, I ran across the street to the Shell Convenience Store for chocolate milk, then returned to a bench in the shade for some sandwiches I had on board. The volunteers had ample water and ice for water bottles – I re-loaded before leaving again with Jeff towards Comox.

On the way to Comox, Jeff started riding somewhat slower. I latched onto a group with Henk Bouhuyzen (Ontario, rode with him in California 2009), and he introduced me to Brian Brideau a fellow Ontario Randonneur. Both are strong riders, Henk having completed some thirty six 1200 km brevets, and Brian fresh off the Tour Divide (4,000 + km mountain bike race from Banff to New Mexico, unsupported !!).

We rode together to Comox, with Brian showing his strength by taking more than his share of pulls on the front. It was getting hot now, the sun really starting to show its force. I was getting tired as we turned into Comox, and was dismayed when we started making a wide circle around the south and east of Comox, into the wind! I was pulling off the front, and started to slow down, and it took forever to reach the information Control near the airfield (Monday 13:35, 237 km, total elapsed time = 10:35).

We answered the question on the Route Sheet while we were sweltering in the heat, completely exposed to the sun, no shade in sight. Henk dumped the remains of a water bottle over his head in an attempt to cool down. I was out of water by now, “borrowed” a little from whatever Henk didn’t dump on his head, and we continued on for the stretch into Campbell River.

Not long after the information Control in Comox, we came upon a small store, and stopped to replenish fluids and take on food. We each bought drinks, ice cream, etc., and sought out the small patch of shade beside the store. Henk and I went to the liquor store next door and bought a whole bag of ice. We crammed our bottles with ice, filled them with water, and then wondered what to do with the leftover ice? Brian immediately began to fill the back-pockets of his jersey with ice. I followed his lead, but then reversed my decision, as I didn’t relish the thought of a soaked seat chamois when the ice began to melt and dribble down my back into my shorts. Instead, I took off my skull cap, filled it with ice, put it back on, and then put my helmet on top of it all! Immediately, I began to feel better as my head cooled down. But, not long after the first rush of relief, I felt the beginnings of the worst slurpy head-ache you can imagine!! The others were leaving, and I didn’t want to be left behind on my own, in a tired state, so I quickly dumped the ice-bath from my head, suited up, and caught back up with Henk and Brian.

We rode through beautiful country enroute, but I was getting very tired, and was having trouble keeping up to the group. I was still very cognizant of my troubles in Alaska a year ago, where I worked too hard to keep up with a strong group, and paid the price with a DNF. I made a conscious decision to slow down to a pace that I could more comfortably maintain, and let the stronger duo pull away.

Pedaling by myself, I was still trying to conceive of a way to solve my bike computer woes. Near Black Creek, I thought of calling ahead to my friend Graham in Campbell River, to see if he could find a suitable battery for me. I pulled off to the side of the road, glad for another break, pulled out my cell phone, and dialed Graham’s number. Luckily he was home! He kindly offered to help me out, and to meet me at the Campbell River Control with a battery if he could find one.

I drank some water, ate a power bar, and got back on my bike, now nearing Miracle Beach Provincial Park, where we have camped many times since the children were young. As I passed a small strip mall, I noticed Brian in the parking lot beside the road waving and hailing me to stop for a break with them. How nice of them to stop and wait for me!! We had ice cream from the local store, and stepped inside the local liquor store / bar, where the bartender happily filled our water bottles with ice. It was still unbearably hot.

After a good break, we got back on, for the last push to Campbell River. From previous riding in the area while we had camped at Miracle Beach, I remembered a few good hills between here and Campbell River. Remarkably, nothing serious confronted us in terms of terrain. The heat, however, became almost unbearable. While entering the outskirts of Campbell River, we rode beside a large semi-trailer parked on the shoulder beside the road. The heat radiating from the semi onto us as we rode by was insane, and I wondered how hot it really was. We heard later that day it was over 40 degrees C in the sun in Campbell River that day. No wonder we were suffering. The heat was likely largely responsible for the greater than 25% abandonment rate at this year’s Van Isl 1200.

We finally got to the Campbell River Control (287 km, 16:45 Monday, total elapsed time 15:45), and were greeted by more great club volunteers, who gladly filled water bottles, provided ice, and showed us to a room with some snacks, and escape from the sun! (but not the heat!)

As promised, Graham met me there, with the requested Battery!! After unsuccessfully fumbling with uncoordinated and tired fingers lacking dexterity, I asked Graham if he could install the battery for me. What I was unable to figure out, Graham accomplished lickety-split, and voila!! I had a functional computer again! I was a happy camper! Thank you Graham!

I had a short visit with Graham, making a loose arrangement to drop in on him again on the way home, for food, and maybe some sleep at his place. I replenished some supplies from my drop bag which had been transported by volunteers, and then Henk, Brian and I headed out again towards Gold River, to the west, my first planned sleep stop. It was 90 km away, with a stiff climb shortly after Campbell River.

Henk lead the way out of town, and before long, we were on the much-talked-about climb. It was not overly steep, but sustained, and I settled into a steady spinning cadence to climb at my usual pace. I was feeling good, and climbed the grade to the top without stopping. When I got there, Brian and Henk had dropped back, so I slowed down and soft pedalled to let them catch back up. Finally, when they had not yet caught me after what seemed a long while, I stopped to wait, and eventually started to ride slowly back to see if something had happened. Eventually I found them, nothing had happened, just riding slower at a pace manageable for Henk.

We continued together for a while, but soon I again pulled away, Henk preferring to ride slower, and Brian committed to staying with him. I was riding by myself again, something I am well used to, and actually enjoy, and this turned out to be a very memorable piece of the journey on this ride.

The country west of Campbell River towards Gold River is beautiful: interesting forest stands, some logging (interesting for me as a forester), some new plantations, nice lakes, picturesque mountains. It was just really nice riding on a good road with little traffic. The terrain was rolling, with some short, stiff climbs.

I was still a bit tired, and looking forward to a break at the Strathcona Park Lodge, where I had told Henk and Brian I would wait for them. I got to the Lodge, parked my bike, went inside, bought some good cold drinks, and retired to the balcony out the back of the lodge for a rest. After a while, Brian and Henk also arrived, and settled into recuperation mode. Henk said he was not doing well, and began talking about abandoning. What? No !!! Henk is such an experienced Randonneur, how could this be happening?

Brian got some nice hot chili from the Lodge kitchen, and was really taking care of Henk, encouraging him to eat and drink so he could continue. I was starting to get chilled sitting outside on the deck, so told them that I was going to continue, and would see them in Gold River. I left with a bit of a heavy heart, knowing too well the demons Henk was facing, and hoping he would find the strength to continue.

I began the final leg to Gold River on my own, through more beautiful rolling terrain, and eventually one more substantial climb to Summit Lake (aptly named). It was on this stretch that I began to see riders already returning to Campbell River, far ahead of me in the event. I saw and waved to Ken Bonnor, who acknowledged me as he whizzed by, looking strong. Some of the others riders didn’t acknowledge me, perhaps completely focussed on their return to Campbell River.

After working hard to get to Summit Lake, I knew it would be downhill all the way to Gold River. I repeated my mantra: “Have fun on the descent, enjoy the moment, don’t think about tomorrow when you have to climb back up this same grade on the return leg to Campbell River!”

It was getting dark by now, so I stopped to put on a layer, and to turn on lights. The descent into Gold River was fun, safe with good lights, and I arrived and found the Control hotel feeling good, tired, and looking forward to food, shower, and sleep.

I checked into the Gold River Control (376 km, Monday 22:33, total elapsed time 19:33), received my pre-ordered food from the volunteers, checked in with the hotel desk, received my room key, and left a message for Henk and Brian that I would be leaving at 02:00 on Tuesday.

I got to my room feeling well. I was 30 minutes ahead of my ride plan, had arrived in Gold River without incident, and looked forward to a shower and sleep. I had something to drink, and decided to shower before eating. I stripped my clothes, got into the shower, and instantly relished the heavenly feeling of warm water on my tired muscles. I stood under the soothing stream for what seemed like forever, drinking in the relaxation and revitalization of the shower. After some time standing there, I began to get first a sickly feeling in my stomach, then a tell-tale tickling and gathering of saliva at the back of my mouth, and then a sudden and uncontrollable need to vomit! I kneeled in the tub, hung my head over the toilet beside, and retched my stomach repeatedly for several minutes.

While convulsing there, my mind was racing …………. WHAT WAS GOING ON ??? Why was this happening? Really??? Was this going to be Alaska all over again?? Was I headed for another DNF ????

Please, no …………

I lay there in the tub for several minutes, panting and exhausted after all the retching, and feeling awful. What to do now? Was I done?

Not wanting to rush into any decisions, I crawled out of the tub, rinsed my mouth in the sink, and dragged my limp and sore body to the bed. Please, just let me sleep!! I set my alarm for 01:15, and collapsed on the bed, wishing for a long, healing sleep, but knowing I could only afford, at most, a short yet hopefully recovering snooze.

My room was stifling hot, I crawled to the air conditioning unit to try to coax some cooling effect out of it – no luck. At best, it blew a pitiful breath of lukewarm air, not much help to me in my state. I switched beds, to lay right beside the window air conditioning unit, with my head at the foot-end of the bed, directly in the path of the limp air stream. And began to try to sleep ……

I tried, and tried, and tossed, and turned, and for two hours, was completely unable to sleep, knowing that every passing minute was taking me closer to the time I had to start off again, and that every minute of wakefulness was a lost opportunity for rest and recovery. At this rate, I was definitely heading towards sleep deprivation, IF I was able to continue at all.

Too soon, or not soon enough, 01:15 came, I didn’t even need my alarm to get out of bed. What to do? Have another shower to wash away the drowsiness? Nope – that was too scary a thought! I began to realize that I actually was feeling pretty well. I got dressed (still moist cycling clothes from the day before), and headed to the hotel breakfast room to scrabble together some breakfast. Could I really eat anything? I tried, and was able to stomach some cereal and milk, got that down, and went back to my room to get ready to leave.

I lubed my chain, packed my rack pack, including the uneaten veggie wrap provided the night before, and lugged my machine down the stairs to the hotel entrance. I was surprised to find Henk and Brian there as well, ready to leave. Henk wasn’t sure how he would do this day, having arrived 1.5 hours after I did the previous night.

We headed out together into the night, and immediately faced the climb back up to Summit Lake on the way back to Campbell River. From time to time, I heard Henk dry-heaving and retching on his bike behind me, and knew he would be in tough this day. I proceeded to ride my own pace again on the climb, and soon caught up to Kathy Brouse from Ontario, who had also gotten in after me the night before, and who was riding on her own back to Campbell River.

We rode together, leapfrogging up and down hills, eventually getting to Strathcona Park Lodge. I had told Henk and Brian that I would likely stop there for a break, to see if I could eat something. When we got to the Lodge, still closed at this early hour, Kathy also wanted to stop, so we sat down in the parking lot for a rest and food. I ate the untouched wrap from the night before, and it was actually very tasty, and seemed to sit well in my stomach. By now, I was feeling pretty well again, and the horrors of the previous night were fading into the past. Blessings! For that, I was glad! While we were sitting there, Brian and Henk rode past, not stopping.

After a while, Kathy and I started up again together, and soon we had caught back up to Brian and Henk. We leapfrogged the rest of the way to Campbell River, on what was shaping up to be another hot and sunny day. All of us, except Henk, were looking forward to a good breakfast in Campbell River.

At Campbell River, (466 km, Tuesday 07:26, total elapsed time 28:26), I changed into fresh clothes from my drop bag, replenished food supplies, and then Henk, Brian and I headed off to a local restaurant for breakfast! I was famished, feeling back to normal, and ordered omelette, toast, juice, chocolate milk, fruit.

Henk ordered food, but couldn’t eat, and soon told us he was done, and would abandon. His mind was finally made up, despite our efforts to persuade him otherwise. Soon, Brian and I prepared to head off again, towards Port Hardy, left Henk sitting at the restaurant to organize himself, and went outside to our bikes to start the next leg.

There, we were met by one of the Campbell River Control volunteers on his bike, who said he would escort us out of town to ensure we didn’t get lost on the route. He led us up a rather rude and steep hill, and after a few twists and turns, had us on the route and said Goodbye. Another nice touch! Thank you BC Randos, Van Isl section!!

Brian and I now settled into a riding two-some, and soon found ourselves on a LONG sustained climb out of Campbell River, heading north towards Port Hardy. The sun was starting to climb into the sky, and temperatures were also increasing – I was glad for the shade along much of this stretch of road. After a while, my pace was somewhat faster than Brian’s, and slowly I pulled ahead, climbing steadily, but still not pushing too hard.

We climbed, and climbed, never too steeply, but unrelentingly. After what seemed like a long time, I decided to take a break in the shade along the side of the road, and while I was eating and drinking there, Brian came up alongside. Nothing untoward had happened to him, he was just riding a slower pace. We rode together the rest of the way to the next Control.

At the Sayward Junction gas station (533 km, Tuesday 11:45, total elapsed time 32:45), we had a good break in the shade, and met other riders there. Gary Baker was off to the pizza joint next door for pizza. I had an egg salad sandwich from the gas station and chocolate milk – both hit the spot! Kathy and Colin Fingler were also there, and we all joined together for the next leg to Woss.

So, now we were a group of 6: Gary, Colin, Brian, Kathy, Peter and myself. We all knew that there was a substantial amount of climbing between Sayward and Woss, and everyone was watching their altimeters (except me – don’t have one!!) to monitor our progress upward! Several false summits were disappointing when we went over the other side, knowing that all elevation lost would have to be gained again in our quest for the high point. When we began the route around Nimpkish Lake, we were exposed to some headwinds, and had to work together to maintain progress at a steady rate. Several group breaks were called enroute to rest from the wind, heat and terrain. Eventually, Colin exclaimed: “We’ve reached the high point!”, and sure enough, we began the long descent into Woss.

In the hay-day of forestry on Vancouver Island, Woss was a bustling company town of loggers. Nowadays, it is a shadow of its former self, but the community hall that still remains was a welcome site as our next Control.

At Woss (600 km, Tuesday 15:46, total elapsed time 36:46), we were again greeted by a bevy of volunteers set to make our rest stop as efficient and effective as possible. Food and drinks were provided, and I found the ample water melon to be a special treat (had more than my fair share!). My feet were very sore, and the volunteers fixed up a nice ice bath for my feet to have a really good soak. What a special treat! Gary remembered doing the same for me in Revelstoke on the Rocky 1200 in 2008.

Too soon, we were rousted from our roosts and called to continue our journey to Port Hardy. We had reached the half way point! And after 100 km more, we would be rewarded with a sleep stop. It was still hot, we were riding in the heat of the day, and I was glad for the company and the sharing of effort in the group. At one point, we were stopped by road construction crews, and we were then encouraged to continue, but had to ride through thick, choking clouds of road-grinder dust with zero visibility. I was glad to make it out the other side without hitting any riders!

Well on our way towards Port Hardy, we were riding a fairly tight pace line, I was second from the back, and Kathy was behind me. Suddenly, I felt a bump on my rear tire, and then heard screams of panic behind me. I knew right away that Kathy had hit my tire, and had likely crashed. I called out to the group, we slowly stopped, and back tracked to find Kathy lying in a tangled mess at the bottom of a steep ditch, still clipped into her pedals. Our worst fears were allayed when we discovered her to largely be OK, despite some road rash and torn clothing (oh my, that beautiful Castelli jacket !!). We helped Kathy to re-group, and glad to discover that her Van Isl was not going to be a catastrophe after all, continued on our way, Kathy now leaving a large margin of assurance between herself and the rest of the group.

As it was getting dark, we descended on the outskirts of Port Hardy. My pre-booked hotel room was on the southern edge of town, so before taking that turn-off, where I would leave the others, we arranged to meet again there on the highway at 02:00 on Wednesday morning for the start of the return trip to Victoria!!

We said goodbye, and I made my way through the dark streets of outer Port Hardy to find my hotel. At the Glen Lyon Inn (705 km, Tuesday 22:15, total elapsed time 43:15), I was greeted by a very friendly clerk, with the words: “You made it!”. She remembered what I had told their reservation clerk at the time of my booking that I would be getting in late, since I was riding in from Victoria (to the usual gasps of amazement at such a thought).

When I had checked in, I asked about getting some food, and she got a very concerned look on her face: “I’m sorry Sir, there is nothing open in Port Hardy at this hour.” “Really? That is going to be a problem for me, both tonight, and tomorrow when I start back again.” Her reply: “Just wait a moment please.”

Three minutes later, she returned with a care package she had prepared for me – leftovers from her own dinner: half a roasted chicken, a large container of potatoe salad, two juice boxes, a banana, two pieces of cake, and a cup of fruit cocktail!!!! Oh wow, What hospitality. I have nothing but GREAT THINGS TO SAY about the people at the Glen Lyon Inn in Port Hardy. Please give them your business if you are ever there – they deserve it, and you will not be disappointed!

Care package in hand, I retired to my room (first floor – as requested!!), for a shower, a feast, and a sleep! I inhaled a coke I purchased from the vending machine outside, then went back to get a second, saving it for my “supper”. Somewhat apprehensively, after my bath-tub disaster of the previous evening in Gold River, I tentatively stepped into the shower, and began what I hoped would be an incident free cleansing. It all went well this time around, no nausea, no convulsions, just pure, utter enjoyment at being washed in a warm soothing flow.

Happy that I had not suffered a repeat performance, I now ploughed into supper, and finished off the entire half-chicken, all the potatoe salad, and one piece of the cake. I saved the other piece of cake, the banana, and the fruit cocktail for breakfast. The air conditioner had already cooled the room to a nice comfortable level, the bed passed the Goldilocks test (not too soft, not too hard, just right!!), and all that I now needed was a couple of hours of pure rest and sleep. I set the alarm, lay down, and instantly fell into a deep slumber. I was on-pace with my ride plan again. Beautiful …….

All too soon, but in rather good spirits, I awoke (again, no alarm!) two hours later, had another great shower, polished off the remainder of the desk clerk’s provisions, squeezed back into moist cycling clothes, and headed off into the cold morning to meet my mates back out at the highway.

Sure enough, Kathy and Gary were waiting there for me when I arrived, and together we headed off south towards Port McNeil, and eventually, Victoria …… It was cold, and foggy, and I was happy to have packed arm- and leg-warmers and an extra top, having been pre-warned that the morning would likely be cold in Port Hardy.

Halfway to the Port McNeil turn off, we stopped at a 24 hour gas station, to take on more food. There, we competed with early shift workers to garner supplies for the day, and I ate a second breakfast while shivering at the Electronic Lottery Kiosk at the rear of the store (convenient “table”!) More egg salad, chocolate milk, chocolate chip cookies …….

Shivering and cold, we headed back out again for the quick ride to the next Control at Port McNeil. Part way there, I discovered a “squishy” rear tire, and confirmed that I had a slow leak. I stopped to pump up the tire (in the dark), hoping that it would get me to Port McNeil. We did make it to the Port McNeil Control without another stop (746 km, Wednesday 05:10, total elapsed time 50:10).

There, Graham Fishlock helped me with my flat tire repair while I tried to gulp down some food – again, fresh cut melons and cookies hit the spot! Thank you BC Rando’s …..

Off we went towards Woss. Part way there, still in the dark, we were joined by Brian and Colin who had gone to Port McNeil the night before. Together, we rode the rolling terrain back to Woss. Construction crews this time were not creating the same dust as the day prior, and after a short wait, we were allowed to proceed, and reached Woss for a second time (810 km, Wednesday 09:17, total elapsed time 54:17).

At the Woss turn-off, we answered the Information Control question, and then headed to the Woss Café for food!! There, we were treated to great local fare, and although the kitchen was stretched to meet the demand of riders coming and going, we all got fed, and the food was excellent! We also got to visit with the Van Isl 1200 Woss volunteers, who had closed the Control by now and who were also on their way back to Victoria.

Well-fed, and in blazing sunshine, we started off towards Sayward Junction, and the substantial climb that awaited us enroute. We mostly rode together without incident. I was extremely hot, and we stopped several times in small patches of shade along the road to escape the heat. On one particularly long climb, I felt good, and sat and spun my way up to the top, getting there before the others, and waiting in the shade of an overpass until they came up to join me. The descent into Sayward was long and enjoyable, but I rode conservatively, with most people passing me. I wanted to avoid the much feared speed wobbles that I’ve had before on similar descents, and was able to do so here by controlling my speed.

At Sayward Junction (875 km, Wednesday 13:21, total elapsed time 58:21), our resting bench from the outbound leg was still waiting for us. I had more gas station food (surprisingly good sandwich, chocolate milk, coke – UNUSUAL for me !!).

Soon we were off towards Campbell River, again in searing heat, with a good deal of climbing to do before the long descent into town. Brian and I rode a lot of this stretch together, and began the hatching of a plan to consider riding straight through from Campbell River to Victoria without any more sleep stops.

The climbing went fairly well in this section, but I had also started to get some upset stomach symptoms, likely from too much time spent bent over onto my bars on my forearms in an “aero” bar position. Brian wisely told me not to go down into aero position anymore, and gave me some fizzy tablets to suck on. They eventually helped to settle my stomach, but I no longer used the aero position for the remainder of the ride.

While still climbing before Campbell River, we reached a nice little café, and stopped for ice cream, with everyone convening on the deck, in reprieve from the heat and climbing. The break couldn’t last forever though, and so we got back on and continued to work to the top, finally reaching the bridge which I had noted on the way out of Campbell River that would mark the end of the climb on the return leg.

We now had the long descent into Campbell River, and got to the Control (942 km, Wednesday 17:23, total elapsed time 62:23). Brian and I were now committed to trying to ride through, and I called Graham to let him know that I wouldn’t be stopping. I hated to not stop, but was also itching to keep going towards “home” ……. I changed into my last set of fresh cycling clothes in my drop bag, and took on food provided at the Control.

Jaimie Guzman also indicated he wanted to try riding through, and we arranged to meet at the Starbucks before heading out – Brian and Jaimie wanted to take on some caffeine to help make it through the night that was facing us. I too took on a Chai Latte, not drinking coffee. Then, the three of us headed out.

We had a nice tail wind in our favour, and kept up a good clip heading out of town. After we rode around a traffic accident on the road, with screaming sirens and flashing lights, Jaimie pulled off, saying he needed to stop at a gas station, and urging us to continue.

Brian and I continued, riding a very fast clip, and feeling good. I was conscious of not expending too much energy, and felt that I was OK riding at this abnormally fast pace under these conditions. We were riding at 32, 33, 34 km/hr, and after a while, each of us started to get hungry. We decided to ride until Courtney and then to look for food there. We passed several possibilities, but never stopped for one reason or another, until we finally came upon a Tim Horton’s that was both convenient, and open.

While cruising through the parking lot to the Timmies, I noticed a nice looking restaurant called Sonja’s (I think ?), a Mennonite restaurant. Entertaining thoughts of perogies and Mennonite sausages from my youth, I circled back to the restaurant to check out the menu. When I walked in, they told me they were just closing……… aaawwww !!

Disappointed, I made my way back to the Tim’s, where a standard ham and cheese sandwich and soup would have to do. There, we met Colin, who was on his way to Qualicum Beach where his wife (on holiday from North Van) was waiting for him at a friend’s house. We decided to ride together to Qualicum, and headed out together into the dark night, a tired threesome.

We rode together on good roads, through the dark starry night. Slowly though, it became evident that we were all getting too tired to ride through, and finally Colin offered: “OK guys – should I call in the Cavalry? My wife is in Qualicum and she can bring some food for you, and you can sleep in the 24 hour Laundromat there!” Brian and I both chimed in: “Make the Call!” And so he did.

And just as planned, Colin’s wife met us at the prescribed Laundromat, and provided each of us with potatoe salad, buns, coke and a sleeping bag! When we were finished, could we please leave the sleeping bags in one of the dryers in the corner for pick-up in the morning? Ha – improvisation at its finest! BIG thanks to the Finglers for coming through for us in our hour of need!

We got our cards signed at the convenience store next door (1049 km, Thursday 00:15, total elapsed time 69:15), then retired to our public dormitory in the laundromat to eat and sleep. There we discovered Jaimie, who had also decided to sleep a short while there. We gobbled potatoe salad and buns, drank coke, set alarms for 30 minutes, then crawled into sleeping bags spread on laundry folding tables!

Thirty minutes came and went, we woke up, ate more potatoe salad, drank orange juice, packed away the sleeping bags as instructed, and got back on our bikes.

We were headed for Duncan, but first had to reach and navigate through Nanaimo. We were now riding on the main Inland Island Highway, but luckily there was little traffic in the middle of the night. Upon reaching Nanaimo, Brian and I got messed up with navigation, lost Jaimie on the way, and put in an extra 10 km through Nanaimo before finally asking a taxi driver for directions. Now having to back track yet again to get back on course (@!#&%^!@$#&%^$ ~!!!!), we finally got back on the highway towards Duncan, and started the push to the second last Control.

While still in the dark, my front derailleur mis-shifted, and I ended up badly twisting my chain around the pedal crank. This took a lot of delicate effort to untangle things without breaking the chain. Brian’s assistance was crucial for me to solve this problem – I likely would have broken my chain without his help! Thank you Brian (yet again!).

We continued, and as it was starting to get light out, Brian began to have trouble staying awake. He urged to me to go on alone to achieve my target of riding sub-80 hours, but I refused to leave him alone on that highway by himself, in that state. We took several breaks, and eventually reached Duncan together (1145 km, Thursday 08:23, total elapsed time 77:23).

After a long stop at the Tim’s in Duncan, we started out again onto the highway, the next challenge being the ascent of the Malahat Summit from the north. That by itself was not daunting, but the traffic at that time of day (morning rush hour) made this the least enjoyable part of this entire ride for me. The climb was long, and steady, but not overly taxing, and Brian even gave me some climbing technique tips along the way, which I practised, before getting too tired and “lapsing” back into my own technique!

When we reached the summit, we stopped at the view point on the opposite side of the road, had a quick peak, and then dodged traffic to get back onto the correct side of the road for the descent towards Victoria. By now, we had joined back up again with Jaimie, and began to compare notes about route finding for the way back into Victoria. There was some consternation about being able to find the “tunnel” after Goldstream, and it turns out we wasted substantial time in looking for, back tracking, and finally stumbling upon the tunnel prescribed on the route sheet.

Now getting very tired, and near the end, we struggled with some route finding issues getting on to the Galloping Goose Trail, and negotiating numerous road crossings before finally reaching the final turn-off that would take us back to the Finish Line!

Jaimie took a wrong turn, Brian and I continued together, and got back to the finish Hotel, where Janet was waiting with a big hug for both of us!! (1208 km, Thursday 12:22, total elapsed time 81:22).

We were done!!

All smiles, I went to get my card stamped, and was pleased to see Deirdre Arscott working the Control desk. She came right around from the desk and gave me a huge Hug of congratulations – the way only another Randonneur can give you a hug at the finish of a 1200! Also in typical Randonneur fashion, she expressed concern for the riders still out on course, who would soon be facing headwinds! Again, as only another Randonneur can empathize ……

All in all, in hindsight, this was a spectacular 1200 Brevet. Steve Mahovlic and his crew did yeoman’s work in organizing and delivering this event. To Steve, and everyone involved in the 2014 Van Isl, a deep “Thank You” from the bottom of my heart! To all the fellow riders, strangers, and new friends made along the way, I tip my hat in gratitude, telling you all that I could not have finished this Randonnee without your help.

Thank you one and all!


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September 27, 2014