Monday, June 28, 2010

Ride2Survive 2010 - Tony's Story

I've been reading the posts from your regular hosts, and I can assure you, it's almost like being there. As for simulating the riding part, you'd need to run up and down the stairs all day carrying your computer while trying to sit on a chair that gets progressively less comfortable. If you're not interested in DH's on bicycles, you can skip this post.

I want to begin by thanking all our supporters and donors. The knitting community of this blog is now legendary within the R2S group, and I think several of the riders' spouses are now lurking here after being re-directed to the live blogs from the page. "Honest dear, I was just keeping up on where you were and how it was going". Next thing you know, it's "ding-dong...hey, there's a package for you at the door!'s soft and fluffy...MY WOLLMEISE!!..your WHAT?" You know how that goes though. My wife, and kids were amazing while we were out training in the rain, and it was really cool to pull into a rest stop on ride-day and see my wife there. Thank you all for allowing this non-knitting distraction on the blog, and your support, both financial and emotional were most welcome.

This year Ride2Survive looks on-track to raise over $300,000. Again, because of the way the costs of this ride are cover
ed by the riders, and there is no staff or expense budget for advertising. ALL of that total amount will be applied to research to fight Cancer. Well done all!

The energy in the room during the "telling of stories" was fantastic and very motivational.
Gladys cited a few of the more memorable quotes from that time, and after doing this ride for two years now, and having been involved to a much lesser level for the two years prior, I now call most of the people in that room "friend". Every person in that room has a deep, personal motivation for being there and giving of their time and energy to contribute to something terrifically positive. When was the last time you stood in a room with 150 "good people". It is a most rare opportunity to be a part of something like that.

Most of us turned to bed after that...I deliberately didn't say "went to sleep"...personally I lie awake and watch the ceiling until about 12AM before I get to sleep. My alarm goes off at 2:50AM. Get up, get dressed, eat and get on the bike. There was a significant air of relief as
riders detached the fenders they had put on their bikes last night. The sky was only partly cloudy and no sight of the torrential rain that had hammered down during our meeting the previous night, and the temperature
was about 14°C/58°F. Gladys' picture shows the image, but does not capture the sense of impending doom most riders felt upon seeing that rain.

The mayor of Kelowna personally rang the bell to send us on our way at 4:00 AM on the dot, and we were off.

I like the feeling I get at the beginning of a long ride. It's usually early in the day (not this early mind you), so it's cool. There isn't usually any wind, and there's a tranquility. The sounds of a bicycle being pedaled don't disturb that that peace. My legs feel strong, it's still a little cool, but I'm beginning to warm...there's no traffic on the road, just 100 blinking red LEDs mounted to the back of 100 bicycles. The flashing lights reflect off the glass of the store fronts. The road is ahead of us and it is all ours.

After about 10 minutes, we were on Harvey Road and heading over the new Bridge going west out of Kelowna. This next 5km section (3 miles if that suits you better) is one of my favourite
parts of the ride. The reason I like it so much has nothing to do with being about 10 minutes into a 15+ hour ride. If you look back over your right shoulder, you can see the dim lights of Kelowna's downtown as it still sleeps. The sun is just beginning to light the sky, and the string of blinking bicycle LEDs is in a more consistent, organized line. That peace still exists, but the sound of your breathing is rhythmical and rather than disturb it, seems to accentuate it. You can hear the smooth clicking of freewheels as riders coast momentarily.

The local Rotary chapter organizes our first stop at 4:45 at the Westbank Community Centre. These folks greet us warmly with coffee and cheers. Ten minutes to figure out your clothing options for the next hour or so...have a bite to eat...kiss the wife (that one is a new luxury for me this year) and back on the road.

The next hour passes through another of my favourite points on the ride. We head up to the
Coquihalla Connector, past Trepanier Road and begin the climb to the Pennask Summit. This climb is 26km (16 miles) in length and averages about 6.5% (click here for a profile if you are curious). the first 20k is at a solid 6%, the last 5km is at closer to 7% before it eases off for the last km. We stop about half-way up the climb at a chain-up area the truckers use. About 5km into the climb, we hit our rhythm. My breathing is heavy and regular, but I'm not struggling with the effort. The sun is just peeking up over the ridge over our right shoulders.

This year, as a Ride Captain, I have a radio. There are about 10 riders with radios, and the front pilot car, rear pilot car, and the two SAG vehicles have them too. (SAG is the name given to a vehicle that picks up riders that can't continue to ride...they need a rest for a while, or they've had a flat tire or similar "mechanical"). The chatter on the radio is upbeat and we're identifying riders who are struggling with the challenges of the lower portion of this climb. I love the sense of mission I get as we round a curve and we can see where the sun is hitting the road. It's warmer up there. The sun is shining. We want to be there. Keep turning the pedals.

I pulled alongside Cathy as she slows from the pace of the group. Cancer took Cathy's Mom. I reach out with my right and place it in the middle of her back, I push and take some of the load
off her tired legs so she can recover. I glance down at my handle bars and see the readout indicate my heart rate has jumped 10 beats per minute with the increased effort. Another ride captain pulls alongside me and begins to push me as I continue to push Cathy. This is how we get our team over the tough parts of the ride. We help one-another with words of encouragement, with a wheel to follow, and even push when we need it. This ride is a group effort. It is not a race. We start together. We ride together. We finish together.

I talked to several riders as we climbed. Words of encouragement to riders struggling with the effort can work wonders. Soon, we're at the rest stop. Add some clothes. We've climbed to about 1000m/3300' above sea level and even though it's now nearing 6:00AM and the sun is up, it's probably about 8°C/46°F. Refill the water bottles, grab some food, visit the bathroom quickly and we're back on the road.

The next section is the toughest, sustained climb and the highest elevation of the day. It is also
famous for the mosquitoes. At 12kph, the bugs can catch up to you as you ride. The chatter on the radio is gone, replaced by pain in my legs and lungs. The effort of the climb is showing. Riders are needing help at the back, and one-by-one, riders that were pushed lower on the slopes are being picked up by the SAG. The last 5 km of that climb were tough. It feels like it will never end, but the knowledge that it will is what keeps me climbing. The facial expressions of riders around us are ones of pain and effort. Faces wet with sweat and red with the effort.

There it is! The grade eases ahead. One km to go to the next rest stop, and that one will be much easier. The faces dry somewhat...the red fades and is replaced by a smile. We did it.

We pull into a small pullout near the summit and refill our, once again, empty water bottles. We
grab some food and add clothes. The next hour or so is up and down, but mostly down. It's 5°C/40°F and mercifully this year, there's no heavy head-wind like last year. We bundle up and ride into the morning sun. There's a somewhat ironic celebration as we pass the 1728m/5669' summit sign, the location of the pullout has you climbing a very gentle hill for about 500m and then you summit. I joked at my 4oth birthday party last month about knowing I was a cyclist when I got an "Over the Hill" balloon on one of my gifts, and my immediate reaction was "YES!".
On the downhill sections over the next hour, we topped 70kph/45mph. Eat and drink on this section of the ride. It is critical to replace fluids, electrolytes (salts) and calories burned on the climb. There's no headwind this year. It's fantastic. We're flying down the hills and regrouping on the climbs.

We quickly arrive at the chain-off area for another food and water stop...take off some of the clothes because the temperature is back up to what it was at the start back in Kelowna and
we're off for another downhill leg into Merritt. The ride into Merritt has a 5km/3mile descent at most of 70kph. Last year, I was pedalling hard into that wind to hold 38kph. We have a Police escort that meets us at the top of that hill this year and soon enough we're at Merritt; our first long rest stop.

It's 10:06AM. We've ridden about 100km/60 miles. Time for, to quote a famous Hobbit, "second breakfast". Many of us change into a clean pair of cycling shorts and a dry jersey. The temperature in Merritt is about 20°C/68°F, and it will get warmer in the next hour as we ride along the valley floor.

I had second breakfast/early lunch with Gladys and Markus and Dotty. Over the past 4 hours I've burned over 4500 calories; that's more than 2 day's food. Not bad for a morning. All to soon, a 5 minute warning is issued, and we're back on our bikes.

Coldwater road is next. This section was very difficult for me last year, and I don't remember it that well. It was so hard, that I was just focussed on keeping the pedals turning. This year was much nicer. I felt strong and it's really a very beautiful stretch of road. It's mostly uphill, but I've decided I actually like it.

There's a couple of cattle grates across the road on this road, and we slow right down for them. I didn't slow down enough apparently because I broke the cage that hold one of my water bottles as I crossed over the bumpy pipes. Conveniently enough, I have a radio and the SAG wagon has a spare cage they can install at the next stop. How cool is that?

This next stop is at the junction of Coldwater Road
and the Coquihalla Highway. It's a little rest stop by the side of the river, and I decided this year, upon detailed review, I like this stop too. It's beautiful and sunny and warm. And the food is great! It needs an espresso machine, but we can work on that for next year...

Another 10 minute stop, and it's time for Larson hill; 3 km at 6% and then a 1-2% grade for another 40 minutes or so. That "false flat" is the toughest part of the ride. First-time riders fear the Pennask summit. That climb happens early in the ride on fresh legs. The false flat has just enough hill to a rider down, but not enough that it's really perceivable. Last year, this is where the names on my legs (and a few tears along with encouraging words from other riders) were all that got me through it.

This year, for some completely unknown reason it felt far easier. At one point, I commented into the radio that we were all together as a group, travelling 31kph up a 1% climb. That's moving. We pulled into Britton Creek rest stop near where the toll booths used to be. I say "used to be" because they took them out in 2009, and if you're not from around here, when was the last time you heard of anyone taking out toll booths? The toll booths are 200km into the ride and represent the half-way point for distance.

I have no idea if I've gone into more detail here than anyone's interested in, so, seeing as we are at the half-way point, I'll stop here and put together a part 2 of this post. Besides, our ride's volunteer photographer hasn't had a chance to post photos past this point yet. Stay tuned for the 2nd half of the ride...


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Tony. Your heartfelt account reminds me of my 3-day (marathon and a half) Avon Walk experiences and the crazy cycling trips of my youth at the same time.

Anonymous said...

Hey Tony, when are you going to finish? You're only at Britton Creek. There's a good chunk of road and story left before you get to Delta! And we need a picture of Markus finishing after doing all of R2S on his first try :-)