Go to: VanIsle 1200 Stories


"Free" Wheeling VanIsle 1200
by Melissa Friesen

I have been a volunteer at three 1200s now. At my first, Rocky Mountain 2004, I was very concerned by the condition of some of the riders at the 1100km mark in Salmon Arm. "They're crazy to keep on going!" The very high temperatures had a lot to do with their condition I think. But I saw some glimpses of sanity amongst the riders that showed that it did not need to be a suffer-fest and that a reasonable amount of sleep could be had if you allowed for the full 90 hours. Then Scott demonstrated this in his first two 1200s. I began to think that maybe this is not so insane after all. The ride stories do not always help, because the best stories have drama and the uneventful rides are rarely written up. But when the VanIsle 1200 was announced, I knew that I wanted to do this ride. I also knew that I liked my sleep so I had to get faster, but getting faster is another story.

In keeping with a good story needs drama, my VanIsle 1200 success nearly wasn't.

What are the odds that two VanIsle 1200 riders would have exactly the same mechanical on the ride? Both Paul Johnson and I had the same mechanical that was essentially irreparable in the field. Our respective Campy 10sp freehubs became truly free, rotating both forward and backwards with no forward propulsion. Paul's mechanical occurred at ~980km and he was fortunate to get cell phone service. He was back on the road about 2-3 hours later after a friend, Brian List, who had DNF'd earlier on the route returned (via car) to lend his rear wheel.

When my mechanical happened, I didn't believe Scott when he said he couldn't fix it. In fact, I think the exact words he said to me were "I don't think you understand, you're [insert swear word here]". I think my response was "you don't understand...I'm 1020 km into the ride, I'm still feeling good, and I can do this thing. What do you mean I'm done?" Fellow riders, Lindsay, Don, and John K, stopped when they saw us at the side of the road, but there was nothing they could do either.

Fortunately, we were near the Nanaimo airport and very close to a pay phone at a pub that was just closing which fortunately had a phone book. We had no cell phone and had no "emergency" contact numbers with us. Scott managed to get a hold of Stephen Hinde who lived only 10 minutes from where we were. He and Carol have over 20 years of rando experience and a garage full of bikes and parts - all the makings of the perfect road angel. Of course, this was at 1am. He arrived in great spirits considering he was just woken up. He was our road angel that night, but this was a common role as he has helped salvage many randonneur's rides on Vancouver Island routes. A special thanks also to Sheila, who was supporting her husband Paul Johnson, who I also woke up and was willing to pick me up if we could not find a solution to keep me on the road.

Once Stephen showed up, we knew we would only be delayed, not out. The spare wheel he brought wouldn't work, though. The first decision was to get me going as it was my first 1200. So in true "super domestique" manner, Scott gave up his rear wheel and sent me down the road to our planned sleep stop in Duncan 35km further along. Of course, now I was on a 8 speed Shimano hub instead of my 10sp Campy. Amazingly it worked just fine with my shifters. Scott's willingness to sacrifice his ride for me was just amazing. Fortunately he didn't have to, it just delayed him. Scott and Stephen returned to Stephen's place via car to search out a solution that would work. At worst he could ride one of Stephen's bikes. But they managed to fit a 700cc wheel on Scott's bike (both of ours takes 26" wheels). They then returned to the route and Scott time trialled into our sleep stop, arriving one hour after me. After 1.5 hours of sleep instead of our planned 3 hours because we did not want to waste the cool morning hours, off we went again, each on our "new" wheels to complete the ride.

The story of my mechanical was told and retold at controls, the finish, and at the post-ride breakfast. One common suggestion was that we could have ziptied the freehub in place and ride the bike as a "fixie". Ron Himschoot said he had the tools to take apart the hub (cone wrenches, I think), but was quick to add that putting it back together would be the problem. And it would not have fixed my broken pawl spring. Don Monroe, a fellow randonneur living in Duncan, doesn't know just how close he came to being called in the wee hours. Don had once said we could try out his DaVinci tandem whenever we wanted - I don't think Saturday 1am was what he had in mind. But it would have been fun to see Ken Bonner's face if we had shown up at the finish on a tandem.

Amazingly, the ride was fun and there was never a moment that I wanted to quit. I had met many of the non-BC riders while volunteering on other 1200s. Being a rider out on the route with the friends I'd made felt surreal. I still think it might be a bit insane, but I'd definitely do it again. We had 10.5 hours of sleep over the ride (Campbell River 5hr, Woss 4hr, Duncan 1.5hr) and we always had lots of time to spare. I developed Achilles problems on the last day, partly from walking 20-30 minutes in my cycling shoes to a lit area where we could work on my mechanical. I have some hand numbness in my pinkies and had one bad saddle sore. The last day I was hurting a fair bit, but never thought of stopping. But it was a constant debate: Sit and allow my butt to hurt to save my Achilles or stand and give my butt a break but stress my Achilles?

And Scott, don't forget that your fastest 1200 was with your wife!


October 2006