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I don’t quite remember how it started. This campaign. That’s what I call them. Campaigns.
Campaigns to ride 1200 kilometers in under 90 hours, aka randonneuring. Among my friends we commonly say that we’re off on a ride of inappropriate distances. That’s a fair description because any time I talk to someone who doesn’t do these type of rides, they shake their heads, asking reiterative questions like, “did you say 1200k…um, how far is that, in …90?, er, um, how many hours?” More head shaking. It’s tough to wrap your head around the length of time that you are going to ride your bike.
I used to do these 1200k rides on a yearly basis. For a couple of years I was lucky enough to complete more than one or two a year. I even did three one year. That was pretty big for me, but there are others who knock out six, seven, eight or nine in a year. Almost one a month. Think for a minute about what that must take to accomplish. In a nutshell: it’s a lot.
These rides take quite a bit of Energy. Quite a bit of Focus. Quite a bit of Time. And yes, a bit of Money.
I have always approached longer rides as campaigns because these rides don’t come easily to me. No one skates through a 1200k, gliding on pavement as perfect as a fresh sheet of ice. They require organization and discipline and you can be trained up and as mentally ready for the ride as possible, knowing all along that things don’t go as planned.
If you’ve read any of my blogs, then you know that I was hit by a car 2+ years ago and spent 2015 and 16 in a wheelchair or on crutches. This year has been all about recovery and getting back some semblance of shape and strength. This has been THE campaign. One of the upshots of being injured for a long time is that you get to reset. Reset the choices before you, reset your goals. You can’t go back to being the person you were, that person is gone. And if you strive to get back to that person, you’ll be frustrated, so resetting who you want to be, what you want to do, how you want to spend your time and with whom, is perhaps, the only gift as a result of the injury.
In that light, I spent a bit of time thinking about whether or not I wanted to ride my bike for long inappropriate distances. And I did. I missed riding my bike, because I love riding bikes. I love the wind in my hair, going fast on a downhill carving the hairpin turn, watching the world go by at 15+ mph, talking with friends as the miles pass by. Riding longer distances also means you watch the sun move across the sky, appreciating the colors of light during the golden hour after you’ve been riding since dawn. The camaraderie of riding all day and long into the night – and sometimes into the next day and so on – builds deep relationships with people. You’ve shared an adventure and that’s the elixir I want in my life. For me, adventure with friends defines a life well lived.
This past July, I bailed out of riding London-Edinburgh-London. It is 1400k long and I just wasn’t in shape to take the ride on. I sat it out, tracking friends on Facegag and on the website watching them progress through the UK. Many finished, some did not, all had quite the challenge. It was the right move to skip it, however, I realized that I wanted to knock out a 1200k ride this season if I could and there are only two left in the US: Taste of Carolina and Last Chance.
I emailed John Lee, the organizer of Last Chance, sheepishly inquiring if he’d bend the rules and let me attempt LC without having done all of the pre-qualifying rides (a set of 200, 300, 400, and 600k brevets). I said I’d feel more comfy attempting LC with a 600k under me and he agreed. Ride a successful 600k and you have a spot on the Last Chance roster. Scouting around for a 600k at this time of year isn’t easy. Most clubs have already run them and what’s left will be done in the Fall. I needed something that was 600k, but not too far away and a ride without a ton of climbing. The British Columbia Lowlands 600k fit the bill. Plus, if I got this done, I would fulfill the requirements for an award I was chasing before I was injured. Double scoop motivation.
I sent out an email to friends in the SF area and up in Seattle. These rando clubs are two of the largest in the nation, and lucky me, I have friends in both groups.
“Who wants to join me in BC for an international 600k? It only has 12,000′ of climbing.”
40 hours, roughly 370 miles, and 12,000′ of climbing. Not ridiculously tough by rando standards.
I heard nothing. The interwebs were quiet. Crickets.
I can tell you, I really didn’t want to ride this alone, but I would if I had too. I emailed the organizer and pre-registered. I emailed a few trusty individuals again to see if I could get them on the hook, but everyone was busy with work, life or recovering from some other ride. I was gearing up my mindset to be alone when I got an email from Corey saying he’d be up for riding with me. Hoorah!
These longer rides require planning. Extra ride clothing, tools, tires, tubes, warm clothes for nighttime, good lights that will take care of you all night long, medications if you need them (I know someone who rides carrying his C-pap machine in his handlebar bag. Talk about heavy!), chamois and sun cream, electronic cords and chargers. The list is long and I am rusty on packing and organizing all of the stuff necessary to expedition on your bike. After triple checking my list, I stuffed it all into my bike box and duffel and flew to Seattle.
Corey picked me up at SEATAC and we immediately went over to Mark’s house to drop off some wheels. Mark had arrived home from a 1200k in Scandinavia that morning at 2:00AM. We shared some food, banter and a few brews and Corey and I headed for British Columbia. Arriving in BC, I still needed to put my bike together and it was already 10:00 PM. Wonderfully, Corey is both an ace mechanic and an excellent framebuilder, so we got the Calfee together in short order. Asleep by 12:00, up at 5:00 for a 6:00 start.
In the early AM, we walked outside of our hotel and signed in. I knew a few people – Cheryl, Nigel, and Rick – whom I had ridden with BtC (Before the Crash) in eastern WA. Cheryl and Nigel are fast tandem riders, they hold all sorts of records (even though randonneuring is not a race, people take notice of people’s times), so I knew that I’d see them at the start, and maybe at the finish, but not in between. We were off right at 6:00, and our first order of business was to go through the border back into the US. The ride was built around 2 loops. Day 1’s route dropped into the US and hugged Puget Sound as it headed south to Camano Island. After a loop around the island we went inland for a spell and then headed back north to the border and Surrey. Day 2 was a shorter loop (150 miles) around the Fraser River valley in BC.
Perfect temps, a light tailwind, fresh air, blue skies. Corey and I moved south stopping at bakeries and spots to take pics. We ran into another SIR rando in a small town. All three of us were 100s of miles from our respective homes and still, randomly found each other. Now that’s rando. Narayan was on a shorter ride, and after a few minutes of banter, we bid our goodbyes and continued on.
We were in our groove moving down the road. We reached Camano Island and headed into the loop around the island. This was the hillier portion of the ride, it had been mostly flat up until then. I worked up countless steep rollers that I didn’t have quite enough umph to pull me up and over on, but the zoom zoom of the downhill always brought a smile and renewed strength for the next roller. At the last control on Camano, we scooped up Kyle, a messenger courier turned grad student and a newbie randonneur. Tall and lanky, Kyle rode like the energizer bunny. We became three and headed towards the next control.
Smoke filled the air and our road was closed due to a fire that had broken out. We were ushered to a detour that required yet another hill that I hadn’t counted on. By now, the left side of my body was tired (still regaining strength on the right injured side, so the left does more work) and I was riding from control to control, working my way back to BC. This unexpected fire added a few miles and elevation, so when we found ourselves at the control we all looked a bit spent. Time for dinner. It was evening now and we pulled on our night clothing, turned on our lights, and headed to Bellingham, the last control before the border crossing and bed.
My light setup consists of a dyno-hub and a prototype light that has a USB plug built into it. A secondary light is mounted on my handlebars and a small light attaches to my helmet to read the cue sheet at night. The dyno-hub light worked fine in the hotel when we put the bike together, but once I needed it to work, it failed. It would blink on and off at irregular intervals, sometimes a bump in the road caused it, other times, who knows? Corey and I tried to troubleshoot the possibilities while moving down the road but it became useless. I abandoned it using the secondary light only. The good news is that both Corey and Kyle’s lights were bright enough that I really didn’t need any light, especially if I was between them, there was plenty of light to see. The secondary light only lasted about 3 hours and we still hadn’t made it back to the border so by the time the evening was finished, I was riding in the dark, completely using the light of others.
Corey had begun to have some stomach issues once we finished riding around Camano Island. After dinner, our paced slowed down: a flat tire, faulty lights, stomach and a few navigation issues, none of these were in the plan. When we finally reached the the border it was 2 hours later than when we hoped we would cross. The border official was a bit confused:
Where did you start your day?
What were you doing in the US?
Riding our bikes.
You crossed into BC yesterday (this, to Corey and myself), correct?
And you crossed back into the US this AM?
Are you riding alone?
No. Followed by a quick explanation of randonneuring… More head shaking…
Why has it taken you so long to get back?
Because we suck!
Where are you going tomorrow?
Around BC and then back to the US.
Partly, the BC part by bicycle, and then back over the border to get to Seattle. More head shaking.
OK, have a good evening.
15 minutes later we were in our hotel room and I was in the shower. In bed by 3:00 AM with a 5:00 wake-up and a 6:00 departure.
The alarm went off too soon. Corey rolled over and told me he was going to bail. Stomach still upset and I agreed, it’s not worth getting sick over. He didn’t need the ride, but I did. I steeled myself for a day alone.
The hotel parking lot was empty, everyone still riding was already gone. I had the cue sheet and my Garmin was working again (it had also gone on the fritz in the night). I rode the course until I found a Tim Horton’s. Revived with breakfast and coffee, I cruised through a gorgeous Sunday morning. The landscape was easy on the eye: large homes with grass, barns and horses. This is equestrian land. I wound through the Telegraph trail and dropped down to the Fraser River. Crossed over and meandered along the route passing many cyclists out for a Sunday AM spin.
As the day wore on, the temps were on the rise and I was getting baked. I was following the Garmin and the cue sheet but really didn’t have a clue about where I was in the larger picture of things. I found myself on Highway 11 with cars flying by me at top speed. Canadians drive fast, and having recently been hit from behind I was a bit anxious about being on this road. Another bridge over a river and I was heading to Abbotsford, where I would turn to the end of the valley and make my way up to Chilliwack Lake.
Getting across the valley seemed to take forever, but I got a boost when I saw everyone still on the road. Nigel and Cheryl yelled out as they passed on the last leg heading back to Surrey. At least I wasn’t lost! After a brief stop I headed up the river valley. The water was clear and cool and people were in innertubes floating, or fishing, or splashing about. I was hot and tired and had spent all day talking to myself and was out of conversation topics. I wanted to jump into the water, but kept pedaling.
Turning into the small group of houses where I had an information control, I looked around for the B & B House of Prey. No sign of that anywhere. I rode up and down the lane, but no sign. There was an elder couple pulling weeds and I stopped to ask them if they knew the house.
“Nope, I’ve lived here for 42 years and I don’t know any of my neighbors. These people have lived here for 15 years (pointing across the street), and Marvin and his family have been there for 25 years (pointing next door), but gosh, I’ve never heard of a House of Prey. Why not check on the house up the road, they have birds on their mailboxes, maybe that’s what you’re looking for.”
I thanked him and looked for that mailbox. Red Cardinals were painted on the side, hardly Birds of Prey. I did find a house that was huge with an iron vulture in a cage. That’s as close as it’s gonna get, so I jotted down the answer on my card and was off. Like a rubberband that is stretched, once you turn around releasing the elastic, it seems like you get back to where you were faster and I was once again back into town getting fluids and ice cream.
I texted Mark: 50 miles to go, hopefully only 3.5 hours. He sent me a picture of the patch I was trying to earn. Riding for trinkets. It’s incredible how small a thing this patch is, but I wanted it and I needed to complete the ride in order to get it.
Back across the valley, which was hot with headwinds. Across the highway and up some nasty rollers. The sun was dropping in the sky, directly into my eyes as I pedaled West. Cars were zooming by me and I was a bit nervous again as the sun was blinding and the shoulder was non-existent. It wouldn’t take much for a car to hit me, throwing me into the ditch and continue on given the angle of the light. I stopped a few times in the shade to calm down, drink some water and then carry on.
In the early dusk I was close to town and a car came towards me with a tandem on the top. It’s Cheryl and Nigel.
Are you ok? We’ve come to look for you.
Yep, I’m only a few blocks from the finish, right?
You look great!
Hardly, but I’m almost done now. See you at the finish.
There’s a 6-pak of beer waiting for you!
They drive off, I’m a bit confused but also thankful. How nice that they were on the lookout for me. I hump up the final hills and make the lefthand turn towards the hotel. Zoom in, hop off my bike and walk in. Corey hands me a beer. Woot!
I’m pretty tired but triumphant and happy too! After a sit down with everyone who waited around to see me in – which was really cool – I take a shower, and Corey and I depart to find food and head back over the border to Seattle, where we crash hard. The next day I hang around Seattle with rando friends. Eat, sleep a bit and chill.
Tomorrow, I’m leaving for Colorado and on Wednesday AM, I’ll be at the start of the Last Chance 1200k. With any luck, I’ll complete it. The last step in this campaign that has been on since April. Two mantras, if you will, have been with me since my crash. One, from a friend, a woman I’ve not met, but has also suffered from a car vs bike crash. Lynn tells me that, “Motion is Lotion”. The other comes from a friends mom, who told me after Tom died, that, “The only way is forward.” Both of these have been the cornerstones of this campaign, in fact, the cornerstones of my reset.
~ Thanks for reading! Mega thanks to Corey for making the trip to BC, to Mark and Mark for all of their support, and to Roy, Cheryl, Nigel, Kyle and Rick and all of the BC randonneurs for such a fine event.