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Ultra-marathon cyclists crazy,
but dedicated bunch
KAMLOOPS, B.C. -- There are sports in this world that are so challenging, so energy draining, so ... well, so impossible sounding, that it makes you shake your head. Why would anyone put themselves through such pain and torture? What could possibly drive people to abuse their bodies this way? I think of adventure racing. Here, folks traipse through all manner of jungles, deserts, mountains and the like, battling bugs and bad water along the way, and trying to beat other teams doing the same thing. I admire guys like Kamloops' Chris Koch who thrive at this, but you won't ever catch me doing it. Likewise with ultra-marathon cycling. A nice, leisurely bike ride is OK. This sport is something else entirely. Kamloops sports fans have a chance to give a rousing sendoff to about 100 ultra-marathoners from around the world when the Rocky Mountain 1200 starts from the Kamloops Curling Club on Wednesday, beginning at 10 p.m. Established in 1996 and organized by the B.C. Randonneurs Cycling Club, the Rocky Mountain is a 1,200-kilometre cycling adventure from Kamloops, up Highway 5 to Jasper, down through the icefields to Castle Junction, near Banff, and back along Highway 1 to Kamloops, where it will finish back at the Kamloops Curling Club.
It isn't technically a race, but a clock is running. Cyclists -- called randonneurs, which is derived from a French word for ramble or tour -- must cycle day and night to complete the circuit in 90 hours or less, checking in at control points along the way at Clearwater, Blue River, Tete Jaune Cache, Golden and Salmon Arm. Riders can't receive any help along the way, except at the checkpoints, so they must always be ready for weather changes or mechanical mishaps that invariably arise. If you crave a challenge, this is it. And it's one that many folks out there do over and over again, at any number of distances, because randonneur cycling also features races of 200, 300, 400, 600 and 1,000km. Take, for example, Ken Bonner of Victoria. Since the 61-year-old retiree took up the sport in 1987, he has completed some 18 1,200km events around the world -- including two Rocky Mountains and four Paris-Brest-Paris rides, the latter being randonneur cycling's premier event since it started in 1891 in the sport's home of France. Bonner will be here next Wednesday for the Rocky Mountain 1200. He's one of the crazy ones. "That's true," Bonner says with a chuckle. "Until you do it and you actually meet other people who are doing it, it's a little strange. "I always ask (riders), 'What got you into this? How did you get involved? Why are you still doing it?' continues the former marathon runner, who, it seems, simply switched his mode of transportation. "Nobody's really got a good answer." But then Bonner pauses, and you can tell he has thought about this a bit. "I think it's an opportunity, without pressure, to overcome adversity," he says. "It's kind of like life itself. We all start off optimistically, thinking that we'll go off, there'll be a warm sun, the wind at your back the whole way, and it's going to be a lovely ride. That's sort of the way life starts. Then things happen in between. And in the end, by and large, most people feel kind of crummy about the whole thing. Yet we'll do it again. "Things happen along the way, always different, so you have to figure out, 'Now what am I going to do?' You can't prepare for everything -- a bit like life. I think that's the addicting part." And Bonner is most certainly addicted. He can't seem to get enough of randonneur cycling. For the past two years, the B.C. Randonneurs have awarded Bonner the John Hathaway Trophy -- or the Iron Butt award -- which goes to the B.C. resident who covers the most distance in successfully completed official events anywhere in the world in one season. Bonner rode 12,494km in 2002, and another 12,000km in 2003.
Yep, he's an addict. He says he loves nothing more than lying on the side of the road in the rain in the middle of the night, his head pillowed in his helmet as he tries to get some rest during an ultra-marathon. "It sounds weird, and it is weird, but others do the same thing," Bonner says. "But you don't have to do it that way." Bonner says there's enough time that riders can go slow enough to meet checkpoints at the last possible moment before disqualification. Or, like him, riders can take a speedier tact. The difference is between riding 15km/h and 32 km/h. Fun? Bonner thinks so. "Oh yeah. You meet interesting people out there," says the former child welfare manager for the provincial government, who has met talented cyclists from all walks of life and from all points on the globe. "Some you never see again. Some you only see at night. Randonneuring is all about cycling through often spectacularly scenic environment in the dark. There's a spectacular piece from Jasper down, and I've never seen it on my bike. It's always dark. "I don't know why people do it and keep doing it. But we all do." Cyclists are expected to begin returning to Kamloops shortly after 6 a.m. on July 24. All riders must finish by 4 p.m. on July 25. Bonner says at least three Kamloops cyclists will be participating in the Rocky Mountain 1200 next week, so if you know Bob Goodison, Bud MacRae and Richard Blair, wish them well.