Newsletter - 2001 Archive

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A Tale Of A Rookie Rando Who Hit The Wall And Bounced Back

Michael Ball


Just over a year ago, I decided to take my commuter cycling to a different level. I am a competitive person, but I figured I was a little old to start serious Road racing. I read Bicycling Magazine's book titled, "Long Distance Cycling." The first chapter was about Randonneuring, the author's account of his participation in the PBP of 1995. After reading this tale of pain, lack of sleep and the elation of completing the ride, I was hooked. I searched for someone who could tell me more about this challenging type of riding.

I finally contacted Stephen Hinde, who gave me more insight into Randonneuring. He gave me the name of Mike Poplawski, who was organizing the first Victoria Populaire. July 19th 2000 I rode my first Rando event, a 100 km ride. I rode my Gary Fisher mountain bike (front shocks and skinny tires). It was a challenging ride and quite a good intro to Randonneuring. I met quite a few interesting people, all riding for different reasons.

I was hooked, but I knew I would need a road bike to ride longer distances. Now to convince my wife!!! This proved to be the most challenging event of the entire Randonneuring season. I started my search for a good used or reasonably priced new bike, as I prepared for the 2001 season. I spoke with Stephen and Carol Hinde, and Mike Poplawski to gain more insight for riding the long distances. The goal for this year was to ride a complete brevet series. This turned out to be quite an adventure on my new bike.

The first ride of the season was the Nanaimo Populaire. There were 17 riders who rode and completed the 100 km event. It was a good ride, and an introduction to riding hills. The second ride was a 200 km brevet that started in Chemainus. It was a challenging ride. I had company in the beginning, which helped pass the first 50 km's quickly. I met Ken Bonner for the first time during this ride. We passed Ken who was fixing a flat on the side of the road. Fifteen minutes later he passed by, like we were standing still! I finished this ride in 9 hrs and 50 minutes. It is a good thing that I enjoy my own company. It is something that I became accustomed to this season.

The next ride was the 300 km brevet which started in Oak Bay, Victoria. It was Ken Bonner, Mike Poplawski and myself. Ken was gracious and rode with us for the first 5 km or so; sharing his different experiences and tips for training and riding. He then pulled away from us. I looked at the speed on my computer. It read 27 kph and I thought I was doing fairly well. I was not discouraged though, because I knew at this point I had a good distance to ride, and the plan was to finish the ride on my terms within the time limit. Mike and I rode together for most of the first 100 km. He then pulled away as we climbed the Malahat. Mike had a flat as he crested one of the many hills. I offered my help, but he said to go on.

Duncan was the next control and the turn around point. Time to refill water bottles and refuel with a short rest. Now it was off to climb more hills. The weather had been great, then the change. It began to rain a little then it started hail. The pounding of the pellets stung as I climbed the hills past Shawnigan Lake. When I made it back to the main Highway, it was sunny and dry once more. I headed downhill (talk about wash and wear clothing). I was dry again. Only to be greeted with more climbing and a headwind on the down hills. Through Sooke, the weather cleared and the end seemed near. I caught my second wind, maybe my third, okay my fourth wind as I pedalled towards Victoria. It became dark as I neared the end of the ride. One more pit stop, then only 30 km left. It was during this pit stop that Mike passed me. The last stretch of the ride I felt like I was flying along the waterfront to the last control. Actually it was the help of a tailwind, and the illusion of speed while riding in the dark. Finally the end; Mike was still at the last control having a snack and hot chocolate, trying to warm up. He and I congratulated each other on our accomplishments of the day. He shared a few of the highlights and down turns of his day then headed for home. I continued to try and warm up with a tea and a sub sandwich from the Payless gas station, while waiting for my wife to pick me up. What a day… 300 km in 15 hrs and 35 minutes.

The Four Hundred; it was only Ken Bonner and myself riding out of Victoria this day. A 3 am start and a climb over the Malahat in the dark. It was a good day, dry and cool to start. Ken rode with me for the first two kilometres. He then sped away in the dark. As I climbed the hill past Thetis Lake, I could see Ken's rear flashing light. That was the last I saw of him until later that afternoon. I felt good and I was a little cocky, (not having much adversity in my first few rides, other than the normal aches and pains). This day would be different. There was a slight head wind all day as I headed north. My first sign that things might not go my way was a flat tire, as I raced down the hill approaching Ladysmith. It was good that I was slowing down because of a red light. A puncture at high speed could mean the end of the season. Sitting on the cement girder at the edge of the road fixing my flat, my tire lever popped off the rim and bounced into the highway traffic. After the traffic cleared, I picked up the tire lever and continued the repair. A gulp of water, a power bar and I was on my way again, with renewed vigour.

Everything was going well and I was ahead of my estimated time. Ken passed me heading south. He was about three to four hours ahead of me now. At Union Bay (the turn around and control point) I had a bite of lunch and I was away. As I headed south I met the riders who started out of Duncan. They cheered me on as I passed. I felt good. Then the heartburn started, saddle sores and numb feet. My paced slowed slightly, but I was still making good time. I arrived in Duncan at 7:30 pm. Just over 50 km's to go, but I was done, I'd hit the wall. I had been unable to eat anything since 2 pm. The previous 50 km I struggled to keep water down. My vision became blurry and I felt very unstable on my bike. I phoned my wife to pick me up. She encouraged me to rest and then continue, but I felt so sick, cold and tired. About an hour later I loaded my bike onto the van and we drove home. The next day I felt much better, with my stomach accepting food again. I was mad at myself for not being tougher and sticking it out. I now know what it is like to suffer. Next time I vowed that I would be mentally tougher.

Stephen Hinde encouraged me and he said not to be too disappointed. I had accomplished a lot so far this season. He gave me some tips to avoid stomach problems. I spoke with Ken Bonner as well later that day. He was also a great encouragement and explained that he had suffered a bit as well. Ken suggested that I should ride a brevet on the mainland in the summer and make up the four hundred.

My work required me to travel to Nova Scotia for a week. It was a good break from the bike. I had time to reflect on my ride and what I could do to improve. When I returned home, I phoned Stephen and asked if I could ride the 400 again on June 9th. He looked into it and made the arrangements.

It was a 6 am start. The roads were still wet from a heavy overnight rainfall. The wind was gusting strongly out of the west. As I started the ride, I could barely maintain 13 kph because of the head wind. I was thinking what have I got myself into this time? As I started to climb the Malahat I was sheltered from the wind. My spirits were raised but I was much slower than last time. It took me 40 minutes to ride 10 km, due to the strong headwind. I fought the wind all the way up island. I encountered Larry Voth and Wayne Harrington just south of Bowser. They were riding the 600. I made it to Union Bay again! I refuelled and filled my water bottles. I was hoping to catch a tailwind for the ride south. During my short break, I watched as the wind shifted and I now had a head wind again. With a pack of Tums and fresh water, I continued my steady pace south. I stopped a lot more during this ride, taking breaks and visiting every Tim Horton's for a bagel or scone. It became very cool as I rode into Parksville. I had to stop to put on my fleece jersey and my windbreaker. I was feeling not too bad at this point. I made it to the next control in Nanaimo and I knew that I could finish this ride. As I pedalled through Nanaimo, Ken Bonner passed me heading north. He was riding the 600 this weekend.

It was now becoming dark and I was getting very hungry. I stopped in Ladysmith and had a dreaded McDonald's cheeseburger and iced tea. Big mistake! The ice tea, air conditioning and my damp jersey were not a good combination. I was shaking so violently, I couldn't get the burger close to my mouth. I was quite entertaining for the staff. They brought me a hot tea and once I stopped shaking, I paid them. A forty-minute stop and I was off, it was 10:30 pm. The highway was much quieter now. Again I was climbing hills in the dark. Since I couldn't see the top of the hill, I didn't get discouraged. I just kept pedalling until it got easier. Then I knew I was over the top. Riding past Shawnigan Lake was interesting. No street lights and lots of wild life (cars heading home from the bars), animals too. The clicking of my rear derailleur started a chorus of croaking from the local frog population. A couple of deer, at least I hope they were deer, ran near the roadside. I gave a shrill whistle and they ran off. I finished the ride with a great downhill run and a short climb to the last control. 400km 20hrs and 33 minutes, it was 2:33 am.

I spoke with Stephen again, inquiring about riding the 600. He said he would get back to me. A day later he called, and said there would be no problem for me to ride the 600 on the 22nd and 23rd of June. I purchased a camel back, knowing that I could easily get low on water during this ride. My route started in Langford. North to Mill Bay, then down into Cowichan Bay. North to Duncan and I continued North to Parksville. Through Coombs, around Cameron Lake, then the climb up and over Alberni Pass into Port Alberni. It was a gruelling climb. As I approached each curve in the road it looked as though the hill would end, but it didn't. I crested the summit finally, after 40 minutes or more of climbing. The roller coaster ride down to Port Alberni was terrific. I had a chance to cool down. Checked into the control and quickly out. I stopped at Tim Horton's for a snack before the climb out of town. Heading back up to the Alberni summit was not as hard on this side. The hill would level out in spots for about 100 to 200 meters. It gave my legs a slight reprieve. This descent was a little more dangerous, with a lot of cracked pavement and hard to see potholes. Especially when riding at 65 kph.

Going past Cameron Lake, I had a tailwind. I kept my pace up to 35 kph for about 45 minutes. I encountered an older gentleman riding along the lake on the wrong side of the road. He then decided to turn around. Which was all right, but he nearly drove into me. I guess he didn't see me until I yelled at him, because he had a patch over his right eye. I made it back to Parksville safely, 227 km under my belt and it was 4:00 pm. I continued on to Qualicum Beach where I had supper. After an hour off the bike I was away again. It was now 5:30 pm. I made it to Courtenay by 8 pm. There my wife, children and in-laws came down to cheer me on as I rode through town. Next stop was just past Campbell River. Now, I was in unfamiliar territory, and it was starting to get dark. I made it to the turn around outside of Campbell River at 11 pm. I was heading south again. I couldn't wait to get back through Courtenay. We had booked a room at the Kingfisher Inn, which was on the route back. I arrived a 1:40 am. My wife was quite worried thinking the worst had happened to me, as she had heard sirens racing past the hotel. A hot bath and a comfortable bed awaited me.

Another stop at Tim Horton's just south of Nanaimo and I refilled my camelbak. It was now 2:30 pm and I had 100 km to ride. Re-energized after my snack and short rest, I quickly resumed my smooth efficient pedal stroke. I zoomed down the road (well not really). I resumed my steady methodical pace as I plodded southbound along the highway towards Victoria. As I passed by the Cassidy Inn, I encountered a Hell's Angels event. For the next hour or so hundreds of Harley's roared past me. Sometimes it felt like they rumbled through me. Finally I arrived at the second to last control in Duncan. It was 5 pm and only 50 km to go. As I left Duncan and headed to Cowichan Bay the rain started again. I survived a fifteen-minute downpour, the skies cleared. It became warm as I started my climb towards Mill Bay.

Through Mill Bay I became giddy as I am near the end. Just a long slow climb over the Malahat 30 km to go. I just kept turning my pedals as I crept inch by inch over the unrelenting hills. I saw the summit. I am revitalized as I crested the last hill. I poured down the hill with reckless abandon, careening around corners!! I arrived at the final control in Langford. It was 7:05 pm. I have done it!!! It took me 38 hrs and 5 minutes. I calculated that I had been off the bike for 10 hrs. So it took a total 28 hrs and 5 minutes of actual riding to complete the route of 607 km. These rides would not have been possible with out the understanding and support of my family. I am very grateful for my wife Marilyn and daughters Meredith and Meaghan who rejoiced in my achievements. They were also encouraging and sympathetic when I did not finish. I would also like to thank Stephen and Carol Hinde, Mike Poplawski and Ken Bonner for their encouragement, insight and tips for completing these challenging rides. I look forward to next season and the Rocky Mountain 1200.