Thursday, June 25, 2009

Ride2Survive - the Full Story

If you've been following the Ride2Survive story, you'll likely want to see the full report. It follows here. For the benefit of those not interested in reading what is honestly a long read with little if anything to do with knitting, feel free to scroll past it.
This is written like a journal. I experienced so many physical and emotional highs and lows during the ride, I wanted to capture them while they were fresh in my mind. I also want to share them unedited. I have included a link at the start to the route map that may help if you are unfamiliar with the area. At the end of my story, there are several more links. You can read other riders' and volunteers' stories, there's a stream of photos from the ride (more are being added almost daily at this time), and there's of course a link to the main site for the Ride2Survive. If you wanted to see if I/we could do it before donating...I did my part, now it's your turn.

Here's a map of the route - we made some different turns, but most don't matter to the story. You can click on the "Show" tab in the top left and then on "Elevation Profile" to see what we climbed over.

So, without further delay, my story begins at the finish line on Friday, June 19th; the day before the ride. This is where we stage all the vehicles for transporting the team and our gear from Vancouver to Kelowna.

After loading food, bikes and luggage into various vehicles on Thursday and then Friday morning, the energy, excitement and anticipation began to build. It was 10:50AM; time to board the bus. There were introductions and chatter as the bus worked its way through Surrey and out onto Highway 1 and stories of our inspirations and motivations for this ride. We ate our lunch, drank our water and the bus began the climb out of Hope, up the Coquihalla highway. Many of the riders onboard moved to the left side of the bus to see the entrance to the snow shed tunnel where we had been told the pavement was broken up at the entrance. Tomorrow we could be entering a dark tunnel at 80kph and wanted to see what was there. I was pleased to see the pavement had been recently patched. Not perfectly smooth, but certainly better than I had expected.

An hour or so later, we stopped in Merritt at the tourist information to stretch our legs, confirm the folks in the office knew we were coming tomorrow, and generally size up what lay ahead. I grabbed an ice cream at the stand and got back on the bus. The driver had to turn off the AC on the hill out of Merritt for a few minutes to keep the bus from overheating; at least we’d be coming down this hill tomorrow. Over the Pennask Summit and Vicki was looking for the rest-stop point where riders could grab water, a little food and more importantly, clothing for the ride across the plateau and then the descent into Merritt. Down the long hill into Kelowna, over the new bridge and we arrived at the Church near downtown.

We grabbed our gear, found somewhere to sleep for the night, re-assembled our bikes and set to helping prepare food for Saturday. We sat down to dinner in waves. There were over 200 of us, and seating for about 80 at a time. Huge plates of spaghetti were consumed by all the riders and several of the volunteers were “sympathy carb loading”. There were more introductions to be made with the Kelowna-based riders now in the frenzy, meetings for volunteers, then drivers, then ride captains and then the whole crew for the general meeting. The scope of the organization required to run this event was becoming clear to me. The number of contingencies for which a plan was required; plans for the unknown and uncontrollable, procedures for dealing with situations, the list was long.

In between the meetings, I found my felt pens and a chair and set to writing all the names on my legs. I don’t know many of the people whose name I wrote, but it’s still an emotional process. I started with my Dad, then my Mother-in-Law, then my Grandmothers, my Great Aunts, my friend’s father, my friend...another friend...then I took a break. Then I set back to the task...soon, volunteers come to help out and not long after, my legs were covered in over 50 names. Each one fought Cancer. Not all won, but many did.

Our team meeting began with an introduction from Kerry. It’s his fifth year, and he’s a co-founder of this ride. We all knew what we needed to do tomorrow and why we were doing this, so this meeting would not be about rules and regulations. We went around the entire room and each person introduced themselves and their role in the ride and why they were doing this. All the stories were important, some were more memorable. “Two years ago, I had 6 weeks to live.” “I want to look in the mirror one day and not worry about it coming back.” “I ride for me”, “I ride for my son”, “I ride for those who can’t ride”.

After the meeting it was off to try to sleep. My informal survey the next day confirmed my experience. It’s tough to sleep when you have something this big facing you the next day.

Ten minutes to three, Saturday morning: beep beep...beep beep...beep beep. Time to get up, get dressed, eat, and roll out. Three bowls of oatmeal and a cup of coffee, brush the teeth, get dressed for 12 degrees and a sunny day of cycling. Pack food for the first leg of the ride, load the water bottles and be outside on my bike before 4AM. This ride leaves on time and waits for no one. Outside I met a high school classmate of my wife. She lives in Kelowna now, and came out to see us off. That was a pleasant surprise. Two minutes until we leave. Click into the pedals and we’re off! An SUV pulls out from the shoulder into the peloton after 10 or 15 rows of riders have’s the pilot car racing to the front of the line. After a round of jokes about riders passing the pilot car in the first 100 feet, we’re pointing out cracks in pavement and settling into the task of warming up our legs. We’re rolling through the streets of downtown Kelowna at 4AM over 140 strong. At this point it occurs to me that I’ve put the SPOT transmitter in the wrong vehicle. It’s supposed to be in the pilot car and I put it in the vehicle that tows one of the food trailers. I’ll deal with that at the first rest stop.

We pass over the new bridge westbound out of Kelowna and the sun is just trying to peek over the hills. It’s warm enough and there’s an eagle catching the morning sun on its belly and wings as it glides above the peloton. We begin the climb through the rolling hills of the Reserve into Westbank where our first stop happens. It’s only been 45 minutes. We arrive, add water to bottles, have some more coffee, a few bites to eat, grab some food for the climb and get back onto the bikes and we’re off.

Almost immediately we’re climbing...up the hill towards Glen Rosa...past the lumber mill...fork right following the signs to “Merritt”. A brief descent past Trepanier Road, and now we all know what’s coming. The next 26km are all uphill. There’s one water/food stop about half-way up. This was the climb that concerned me. It’s long, is pretty –much unrelenting, and at 6% it’s tough. Or, so I thought. I was pleased to find myself settling in nicely to a steady pace. There was no slinky effect in the group, and I got into a good conversation with the riders around me. I actually felt pretty strong. The sun started to come up full strength over the ridge and it warmed up a few degrees which nicely offset the coolness as we gained altitude. It was beautiful. The climb continued, and right about the time I thought we’d been at it for a while, there was the highway sign indicating the area of our first rest stop.

More water, more food, a few laughs and back on the bike. Someone told me the first half of the climb was the tougher section...if that was the case, I was going to be over this climb without much trouble. We rounded the corner where you can see the highway heading off to the right near Brendan Mines, and you thing you’re just about there. Actually, you have about 9km to go. In hindsight, I would disagree with the advice I got...I found the second half of the climb tougher, particularly the last 3km or so. I think it got steeper; I know we slowed from our 14kph down to 11.5-12kph. The air was noticeably thinner, and it was definitely colder (I have since learned it was 4°C up there...not counting the wind chill factor generated by both the wind and the moving bikes). The next stop was a quick one. There’s no decent place to stop a group this large for food and water, but we all need extra clothes, food and water for the next segment is rolling terrain across the top of the hills. The summit was 1728m and we wouldn’t drop down much below about 1500m before the next rest stop. I added enough clothes to the point I felt overdressed, at a little food, put a bunch in my jacket and we were off again.

Off again, right into the teeth of a big headwind. It was a cold wind and I didn’t feel overdressed in the slightest. We’d been riding for just over 3 ½ hours, and it had only gone 7:30. This was not pleasant riding, and the peloton was shattered by the wind, and ride captains were pushing folks through the teeth of that wind. I was hanging on for dear life and forcing the pedals around to keep the bike moving and hold the paceline. The cheery conversation of the early climb had been replaced with occasional terse one-liners and yelled words of encouragement.

With my full-fingered gloves and a new rain/wind jacket, I wasn’t really able to get as much food out of my back pocket and into my mouth as I should have. I was running a calorie deficit, and I was working so hard pedalling into the wind that my body was diverting the blood-flow needed to process food from my stomach to fuel my muscles. It’s the beginning of a vicious cycle – you need to process more calories to get the energy for the muscles, but to process the calories, you need to stop working the muscles. You’ve got to stay close to the rider in front of you. If you let a gap open, you’re hit full force by the wind and you have to work even harder to close the gap...stopping the muscles was not an option.

I have a broken recollection of the next rest stop. The stop duration was shortened from 10 minutes down to under 6, the wind had pushed us behind schedule, and we needed to get back on-time. We couldn’t do that by riding harder...we had to do it by stopping for less time. I recall a scene in a movie (sorry, I don’t know which one), but I think it’s a sci-fi humans-versus-alien-invasion type movie. A unit comes out of a battle into a base to get food, water, air and ammunition. A resupply team jump to their aid the minute the enter the base, change their gear, resupply them and send them back out the airlock to not die, all the while the one soldier has a shocked and stunned look on his face. That’s how I felt. Back on the bike, the next stage is 70km long, and it’s all downhill. Merritt is at about 600m and we’re coming down from 1300m or so.

I pedaled as hard as I could on that grade into town, and I could only hold 40kph. The wind was taking 30kph off my speed and making me work to keep limit the losses to only that. We pulled into Merritt, our first food stop and, more importantly our first real bathroom break. Enough said about that. Back out to get some food, and discover that the 40 minute stop would only be 30 minutes...that wind was really hurting our schedule. Change clothing and get ready for 20+ degrees along tough rolling terrain on a bad road. The dreaded Coldwater Road was next.

I didn’t feel really good leaving Merritt. I hadn’t eaten enough on the downhill from the Pennask Summit, and I wasn’t processing what little I had eaten. I’d lost a water bottle at the Merritt stop too, and hadn’t had enough brains about me to realize I had a spare bottle in my day-bag. Did I just feel the start of a cramp in my left calf? My immediate reaction to that situation is to drink much as I can. I took two gels, and 1/3 of my e-load electrolyte solution bottle...waited 15 minutes and drank half the bottled water I had taken when we couldn’t find my second bike water bottle. The cramp wasn’t getting any worse, and my stomach wasn’t sour, but I was still working too hard to process the food I’d eaten at Merritt. At least I wasn’t nauseous. Greg had mentioned during the Ride Captains’ meeting that there was a bad 20km of road. We were soon on it. It was warm, but not hot, the wind was less noticeable than up on the hills, but we were constantly up and down little hills, and the group was nearly coming to a stop at the bottom of the hills, before sprinting up. All the while, we were slowly gaining altitude again.

I talked to various people as I rode that stretch of road. Steve was very helpful...I wasn’t feeling well, but I seemed to be doing everything right to prevent the problems. I just needed time...time at less than full-throttle, and it wasn’t happening. I was running out of water, and Steve gave me his second bottle in case I needed it. It turned out I didn’t but giving up water on that stretch is one heck of a gesture - thanks. Later along the road, Emilo and I decided we just needed to get to the top of the Coquihalla, and we could coast down to Hope. That was about 40km away, and a good section of it was seriously uphill.

Just about the time I figured I had about 5km left in me before this was all going to go horribly wrong, we came upon the rest stop. Not even the change from bad road surface back to normal was enough to distract me. I drank a full bottle at the rest stop and had a pee. That was a good sign. I was no longer dehydrating. I ate two more gels a banana and vowed to take the Larson Hill climb as easily as I could. I grabbed more food for my pockets and we rolled out. I was down to about 60%...this next section was a 3km climb followed by 25km of false flat.

Graham rode with me and it was good to have someone fresh to talk to. He was riding Relay, and Coldwater Road was an “off” shift for him. I was starting to feel the weight of this ride. The names...I’d written the names on my legs. THIS was the time I needed them. I could feel my legs weakening, and the words and memories from conversations and emails about these names came back to me and pushed me up those hills. Other riders around me were struggling with their own battles. Some were worse off than I was. I tried to share some reassuring words with them to help with their fight and it seemed to lift them...that lifted me. I just had to get to the Britton Creek Rest Area. From there it was almost all downhill...I could do this. I HAD to do this. The words of volunteers at the last rest stop came to can do’re doing this...drink’re amazing. This ride is not about a rider pedalling a bike 400km in a single day. It’s not about 140+ riders doing that either. The volunteers that cheer us on from the cars as they race past to set up the next rest stop, having just torn down and cleaned up the last one, provide not only the required food and water, but emotional and psychological support too. It’s just not possible without them.

And then we were there; Britton Creek Rest Area. Ali forced some fig bars into me. I had some more soup, more gels and Al advised me that there were only a few km of gentle uphill, then the long descent into Hope. It’s windy, so just coast down the hill, your energy will come back and you can rest again in Hope. Make this a recovery leg he advised. It was another slightly abbreviated stop but soon we would pass the old tollbooth and I’d ridden this section with Graham and Markus in ‘07. I knew what lay ahead, and I wasn’t fearful of the road. I packed the back of my jersey with two stops worth of food, hoping to empty all that during the long coast down to Hope. At the last minute, word came that it was raining in Hope. Back into that rain jacket with the pocket that confounded me on the Pennask Summit. This time, I had the wits to study the darn thing. No, I don’t know how the technical operation of a rain jacket with one big zippered pocket on the back can confuse a mechanical engineer, but it did. Trust me. I avoided the full fingered gloves this time, it was 2PM, and the temperature was comfortable.

We rolled out, and went up the hill, trying to not work very hard. Soon we passed the summit at 1044m and made the right hand turn and then pulled off at the Zapkios Brake Check at the top of the Snowshed hill. We’d only been riding for 10 minutes or so and we stopped to discuss how the descent would be handled. I took the opportunity to eat while we were stopped. I was already feeling a little better. It’s steep and you can go fast, so there’s a significant safety concern. The police were there and closed off all three lanes of the highway for us and down we went, straight into that persistent headwind. Two years ago I’d nearly hit 90kph coming down...this year it was only 72 -- there was that much wind. Through the tunnel and the grade eased back to about 3%. Have some water, have some food pedal a little, have some more water...repeat. The lights were back on. I’d had long enough to get all that food in my stomach processed again. I could feel my legs strengthening and my mood lightening. This was fun again, and I was smiling. We regrouped 2/3 of the way down and pulled off at Othello to catch the Kawkwa Lake road. It’s a rolling piece of road and my mood was getting better by the minute. It didn’t matter if we were going uphill or down...I was back! We pulled into Hope and we were still about an hour behind schedule.

In Hope, most members change clothes from whatever they’ve been wearing to the Ride2Survive kit they purchased. We were a sea of blue/green with the names of our motivators on our chests and backs. Each rider and volunteer put forward one name and a year. If you were riding for “John” and he was diagnosed with Cancer in 2002, “John02” was on that jersey. Another bathroom break with the clothing change, and an embarrassing display of consumption at the food table, wash it down with a bottle of water, refill the bike bottles and with a congratulatory word or two from the Mayor of Hope, we were off. We had only 140km to go (into a headwind of course). I was going to make it. We were in a time crunch, so the rules changed slightly. If a rider needed to be pushed up a hill, they needed to get into the sag wagon for a rest; we couldn’t slow down the group for them.

We headed across the river to Hwy 7 and said farewell to the Coquihalla. We travelled at 30kph most of the time, into that wind, with some nerves in the group creating what’s called a “slinky” effect. Someone up front slows down a little, the person behind slows a little more and by the time you’re 50 riders back it’s a jackhammer. We split the group to reduce the impact. My analytical brain was back on-line, and I was doing the math...we’re supposed to arrive around 10PM...we left Hope at 5PM...5 hours...140km...1/2 hour for the ferry...30-32kph...that’s not impossible.

We still had riders suffering, even after the descent and rest in Hope. I started talking to help them out. We had the pack settled down, a little, and although many were tired, we could almost see the end. We stopped in Deroche and ate and drank some more. The mood was definitely lighter. You were either recovering nicely or in serious trouble. Most of those in trouble were moved to the sag wagon and their bikes put in a trailer.

There’s a steep climb just before Harrison Mills. It’s only a kilometre and a half (a mile or so) long, but it’s 11% and it comes with over 300km in your legs. For some it’s the final hit that stalls them...for others it nice to feel some strength back in your legs on a climb after feeling so tired in the mountains. For me, it was the latter, and even ended up in an impromptu sprint near the top. Well won Mike! After that, there are no more serious climbs. The worst uphill is near the finish, and it’s from 152nd to Scott Road and by that point we’d have the rush of adrenalin as the finish line approached to help us.

We regrouped on the gentle descent and resumed our 30kph grind. We could see the abbey on top of the hill in Mission now. Our next stop was in Mission. The slinky had returned and nerves were getting frayed. As Nicole said, “My legs are fine, it’s my nerves that are shot.”

We stopped at the Mission Information Centre for our final official rest stop. It was after 8PM. We had about 2 more hours of riding, and the sun goes down around 9-9:30...hmmm. Get your lights back on your bikes if you’ve taken them off. This was a critical stop. You still had to eat and drink in order to make it to the end, so no thoughts about giving in to the thoughts of “I’m tired of eating and drinking”. Justine came around with her magic massage ball and opened up a previously unknown world of tenseness in my shoulders, but boy did that feel good. The banana jokes had now started. How many bananas have you eaten? I think I had eaten 23 of them by that point, and was definitely looking for a change in primary foodstuff. I walked past the food table where they had the Hammer gels...two flavours left; mild orange guessed it...BANANA! The poor fellow manning that station had about 8 orange gels left, and 4 boxes of banana. Back on the bikes with our bottles and pockets reloaded. We left mission and crossed 272...the Albion ferry, and our next stop, was at 232, and soon enough it came.

Another bathroom break while we waited for the ferry, and Police1, the RCMP police helicopter, lit up the ferry loading area while we waited. The mood was light, there were no bugs and we were chugging the traditional chocolate milk recovery drink. The Albion Ferry will be taken out of service at the beginning of July, replaced by the newly opened Golden Ears toll bridge, so there was a hint of nostalgia amongst some riders that this was the last year, and perhaps the last time, they would be on the ferry.

We arrived at the Fort Langley side of the ferry and were met by the Cops for Cancer riders; fresh legs and smiling faces, and riders with new stories to lighten the collective mood. It was now 9:30 and it was getting dark. We rolled into Fort Langley and were met by cheering crowds on the side of the road. What a thrill! We turned onto 96th Avenue, crossed the dreaded “angled train tracks” and rode into Port Kells. We turned left on 192 and crossed over the freeway. I remember how beautiful all the blinking lights on the bikes looked as they rolled over the overpass ahead of me. I’ve driven this road often, having worked in the area, and it suddenly dawned on me that there were no street lights south of the Freeway. It was dark. We picked our way along 192...along Harvie Road, and I paired up with Vickie. I was 3 bikes behind her as we rolled out of Kelowna and saw her front light fall off the bike at the first corner some 17 hours ago. The two of us were following the light of my single-LED turtle light. Actually, it was more like riding by Braille. We made the right onto 80th, and could see the street lights of 176th to the west. Every once in a while, the head lamp of a police motorcycle escort would go past and provide some light to see the next 100m of road. We turned left onto 176th with relief. Back on a lighted street. The street lights end south of Fraser Highway and we were back in the dark until just before 64th. We turned west again and sighed as we returned to a world we could see. Vicki and I were now cursing the dark, and noticing how many of our fellow riders were pulling over for a pee-break; so many in fact that we began to count them. Just before we crested the hill near Northview Golf course the street lights ended again, and we were facing a kilometre downhill in the dark. I called out a warning, and announced my intention to take it safely and slowly. We made it down and returned to street lights by 152nd. With the return of the street lights came the resumption of the pee breaks. We were heading for 120th/Scott Road. Somewhere in the 140’s Vicki’s husband Kerry pulled in, and our counting of the “budgie bladders” ended.

In keeping with ride tradition, the cancer survivors riding with us wore yellow Ride2Survive jerseys, and they gathered at the front of the pack to lead us home. A right turn at Scott Road, and down the hill to 72nd. By 75A we could hear the cheers from the finish. The road was blocked off for us to turn left into the finish, and the road was lined on both sides with family, friends and supporters.

We looped into the parking lot and dismounted. We’d done it! My kids were both up way past their bedtime to see our 11:15 arrival, my wife was there with a drink for me (and I don’t mean water), my parents were there and a half-dozen friends greeted us too. Hugs and congratulations were shared all around. I can’t believe we did it! I sought out several of the riders and volunteers with whom I’d shared the training and the ride and thanked them, grabbed some of the fantastic food that Boston Pizza and the Cactus Club donate to the finish party and I was stunned that it was over.

It’s now the Thursday after the ride, and the soreness in my legs has mostly passed. The awe and sense of pride in what we accomplished has not. Many have asked me,

“How was your ride?” Thus far, I’ve been calling it “Epic, and the hardest physical thing I’ve ever done.”

Another friend has compared it to child birth. I’m a Dad, not a Mom, so I don’t know about that. For me, there wasn’t much more than sleep deprivation and long days to the physical side of my children’s births. This ride changes your perspective on life I mean the two hours in the room on Friday evening changes it significantly, and that’s just the start. Would I do it again? I definitely want to continue being involved with the ride, it’s too fantastic an event to not help. Solo? Maybe in the future, maybe not.

The Ride2Survive is a grassroots event, organized by the monumental efforts of a small group of volunteers, supported by an even larger group of volunteers. Riders and volunteers alike, fundraise for the cause. All the participants need the support of family and friends; it takes a lot of time to train for, and participate in, this event. Without that support, the event would just not be possible.

So, I say, “Thank you” to my wife, Gladys, my sons Andrew and Geoffrey, my parents Roger and Charis, and my in-laws, Robert and Lydia. I will also re-thank all the donors who contributed to this most worthwhile cause. My final total was $4,250. The ride’s total is still growing...there were donations collected along the roadside from supporters as we rode through town to the finish, but I know it is closing in on $400,000.


Other participants' stories

Flickr Photostream for 2009 Ride2Survive

Donate Now through Canadian Cancer Society's Secure "Kintera" server

No comments: