Newsletter - 2001 Archive

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Tom Hocking


hu-bris- exaggerated pride or self-confidence often resulting in retribution…

Every brevet I've ridden has resulted in some new experience or lesson that I am able to add to the sum total of my randonneurring knowledge, but the August 18 Vancouver Island 200 was one of the most eventful one day rides I have ever done. As some of you know, Janice and I had made the momentous decision to get into tandeming this season and acquired a beautiful new Burley in May. We've been having a fantastic time learning about this new aspect of cycling and had a wonderful trip riding 300 km of the Kettle Valley in June. I returned feeling like an experienced "captain" and wanted to find out how the Burley would go with my son-in-law, the young, athletic and always 'game for anything' Kevin Strong working from the backseat. What better way to learn than to jump in at the deep end by doing a 200 for our first ride? We had arranged that I would take the first driving shift for 100 km, then swap and allow Kevin to get some experience as pilot while I sat in the navigator/observer's seat for the second half.

Our first minor mishap occurred while we were showing off for the amazement of Stephen and Carole Hinde our newly learned trick of standing up in unison to climb a major hill. The tandem wobbled disconcertingly, Kevin put out a distress call, and we came to an embarrassingly abrupt halt. One of the fixing bolts for the stoker's stem had earlier stripped, allowing those handlebars to yaw alarmingly the first time Kevin applied his youthful strength to them. Somewhat humbled, we decided that standing was a no-no for the rest of the day and all climbing would be done in our lowest gears.

The next noteworthy incident occurred while I was showing off the Burley's forte: high-speed downhill screamers. We had spun out the 130" top gear and were both curled up into the racers' aero tuck position when I ran over something I couldn't see. I knew we were in for trouble as whatever it was we hit gave off a loud metallic CLINK like the sound of flying shrapnel. Immediately my brave observer began calling, "Flat, flat!" We discovered the rear tyre mortally wounded by a slash on either side of a dent to the rim. Half an hour later, with the rim trued and some rather troubling bulges in the sidewall where we'd applied boots, we moved on with little hope of catching other riders. We were indeed surprised when we met the rest of the group at the 55 km control just as they were preparing to leave.

It is said that bad things happen in threes but I've never been much of a superstitious person. We proceeded on in good spirits and all was well again: We were back on the road and still in contention, having overcome adversity and emerged victorious. We proudly began chatting about our prowess and anticipating a happy outcome. As one proceeds south past the mill at Crofton, there is a sharp left turn followed by a high-speed downhill and a sharp right turn onto the main drag of the village. Increasing age is supposed to bring wisdom, but along with it comes impaired short-term memory. With visions of a course record and an image of crossing the line with four arms raised in salute I sped down that hill toward the right hander I'd negotiated dozens of times before. The Walter Mitty in me must have had thoughts of Lance and Jan bombing downhill together on a tandem. I braked hard, picked my line and leaned into the turn going 25 or 30. At the apex something, as they say, "went terribly wrong" because the world suddenly went all wonky. I can't say that my life flashed before my eyes, but time definitely slowed down. My first thought was that the front tyre had rolled off the rim as we'd lost all steering. My next impression was of the tarmac coming up to meet us at a high rate of speed as our controlled lean was rapidly changing into an uncontrolled one while the angle increased alarmingly. I recall thinking, "Hey…we're going down…." Just as quickly we were upright again and wobbling to the left side of the road while somebody somewhere, screamed, "Oil slick! Oil slick!". The insanity ended as it had begun. We were stopped in a cloud of dust. It was Carole who had been shouting as she'd just clipped the edge of the oil that we'd gone through the centre of. Stephen was farther behind and had the best view of the incident. He said he saw us move sideways some three to four feet in a perfect two wheel drift until we emerged from the far side of the oil spill and the dry pavement tossed us back upright in the knick of time. Kevin had immediately unclipped during the manoeuvre and was holding his legs out to either side like a pair of outriggers while I struggled mightily to steer in the direction of the skid. During our mini debriefing session he congratulated me on my driving skill (i.e. saving our butts) but I assured him that the actions performed were due to survival instinct reflex, possibly augmented by some experience. There was no conscious thought process involved.

At Genoa Bay the halfway control came and it was time to switch roles. Kevin adapted quickly to his pilot's job. I recall him saying something about a "steep learning curve" (?). I found my new job as observer refreshing as I'd abrogated the driving decisions and discovered I was able to sit up and take in views as never before. Navigation also becomes less of a chore when one is not preoccupied by driving. The night before we had installed a computer on the navigator/observer's handlebar and I began to notice our average speed dropping off as the distance wore on. Unable to push the uphills (bad stem) and unwilling to let loose on the downhills (bad tyre and at least one case of the willies), we hadn't many options left as this route contains no flat roads. I began to encourage Kevin to up the pace. "C'mon, Kev, Push it, Push it!" to which he'd respond, "Hey, no more incidents. Not on MY watch." Attempts to reassure him that bad things always came in threes were met by his impeccably logical engineering mind. "OK, if they happen in threes," he reasoned, " we've just had three during the first 100 km. So now we're eligible for three more in the second 100." I couldn't argue with that.

The rest of the day passed rather routinely. I promised Kevin that he'd earn his pilot's licence on this day if he could bring us in for a landing that we could both walk away from. We finished in something over twelve hours, including a half-hour stop at the Duncan Tim Horton's.

After I'd gotten home, showered and eaten, I reached for my copy of Webster's and looked up the word Hubris.