Newsletter - 2003 Archive

BC Randonneurs logo BC Randonneurs logo

BC Randonneurs
Cycling Club
BC Randonneurs logo BC Randonneurs logo


Vancouver Island Organizer's 400

Stephen Hinde


1892 Pope Manufacturing Co. advertisement for a "Columbia Ladies Safety Bicycle"

"Why should I ride a bicycle?"

"The man of sedentary habits throws off the confinement of the office and seeks relief in an enjoyment of nature. To ride into the country with its ever-changing scenery and to breathe the healthy air is fraught with keen enjoyment. The nerves are relieved and sound health and sleep promoted."

Several recent articles by enthusiastic riders have extolled the virtues of Island riding. The most prominent among those virtues are the hills--numerous, lengthy, steep. Obviously routes designed by a sadist. Not true, I cry. The routes are selected for their ever-changing scenery, the wild ocean views, the tree-lined mountains, the quiet back roads, the wonderful blossoms, the buzz of the bees, and the chirp of the birds. Ah, healthful air, the enjoyment of nature.

Ok, I admit that the 300 is a might hilly, but it is wonderful training. So, in designing the season, I considered the difficulty of the 300 (only 10,500 feet of climbing, and there are even some flat stretches), also the difficulty of the upcoming 600 (only 18,000 feet, and some of the most magnificent scenery on the planet), and decided that an easy 400-a treat for the weary Randonneur-was in order. Hence the Duncan-Campbell River route was born-only 8500 feet of climbing, and almost impossible to get lost, as the route is simplicity itself-cycle north, turn around, cycle south. So the route is all highway riding (much improved since the new Island Highway has taken most of the traffic), but you can't have everything.

After a slow start to the season, (nearly 19 hours for the 300-Carol's worst time ever), we were looking forward to a nice fast run. In 1992, as part of the 600, we did the 400 route in 17 hours 30. That was not in the cards, as we haven't been training as much, but 20 hours seemed a reasonable target. Key to an enjoyable ride is good weather. Several hours of rain during the 200, and then the 300, had us longing for dry roads. What to do? For the spring social ride, Karen Smith performed a sun-dance, and what was predicted to be a wet and wild weekend turned out to be dry, at least during the planned hours of the ride. Discussions with Karen revealed the secret of the dance. Unfortunately for the reader, I have been threatened with rain on every ride if I reveal the details of this most arcane ritual, descended from ancient Druid tradition. So, use your imagination. Carol had a practice dance for the Island 300. After a couple of hours' rain in the morning, the skies cleared, and the rest of the ride was dry for the riders. Some fine-tuning was in order. (By the way, Karen, does wearing slippers affect the dance?) Carol decided to start the dance the night before. But wait-this is a 400. There is night riding involved. How can a sun-dance work? After careful deliberation, the chant was changed to be a dry-dance. Particular body positions were subtly changed. Timing was critical. Would it work?

Organizers Carol and Stephen, and volunteer Don Munro gathered at Tim Hortons in Chase River just before 6am. (Note: the official start will be at 5 am.) The sky was clear, and cold. I mean frost cold. But no rain. Donning cold weather gear, we headed south towards Duncan. Conditions were calm, and the first hill (one of the longer of the ride) did little to warm the toes. Near Fiddler's Green, only 5 km into the ride, the sun broke the distant horizon. Instant bliss. Things were looking up, and it appeared that the rituals had been correctly interpreted. So, under warming rays, we sped south. At the Red Rooster, just north of Duncan, the first signs of trouble appeared. Where did that head wind come from? How could that be-the skies were clear, not a storm cloud in sight. At least after the turn in Duncan, it was going to blow us to Campbell River. (Allow me a small digression into Island weather. Vancouver Island runs NW-SE. Good weather on the East Coast is nearly always accompanied by mild NW winds. SE winds usually mean a big storm is blowing in. So, headwinds south to Duncan didn't fit with clear skies.)

Just under 2 hours to the first control, 45 km under now sunny skies. A quick turn around, and back on the road heading north, searching for the tail wind. As we near Nanaimo, the weather is conforming to the normal pattern-clear skies, northwest wind. That putative tail wind is now a raging head wind, making flags stand out stiff as boards. Still, 90km in 4hours, so things are going well.

"Can I go home now? The car is just over there" asked Carol. "I don't want to ride into this wind all the way to Campbell River. We'll be slow."

All husbands know the response to this question. "Yes dear." Here at the first phase of an argument, reasonably agreeing to any unreasonable demand eliminates the possibility of dispute. "How can I get mad with him when he has agreed with me?" Thus, with no one to fight, the only option is take up battle with the elements.

The route follows the new highway bypassing Nanaimo. It's a long easy climb, and the shoulders are wide, and covered in glass. With the new highway policy of no-post barriers on the shoulder, and government cutbacks eliminating road sweeping, and the usual array of yahoos who love to toss items out the window, the lower Island highway is covered with glass. The good news is that the wind is keeping our speed down to 12 km/hr, so we have lots of time to avoid the hazards…

First flat, my rear. Don and I send Carol ahead, and then patch the glass damage. 20 minutes later, we take off in pursuit of Carol. We finally catch her near Nanoose, lying in the grass in the only sunny, dry, wind-free spot we've seen, munching on liverwurst sandwiches.

"I'm turning back."

We now move to the second phase of the argument. "You can't. There are concrete barriers in the middle of the road. You have to keep heading north to go south." Ah yes, masculine deviousness. I know that once Carol is riding north, she won't turn back. "Besides, the wind always changes north of Parksville."

The second checkpoint in Qualicum Beach has lovely ocean views, showing the nice waves and fluttering flags. Reality has caught up to phase 2. No change in wind direction, but it has eased somewhat. Credibility is lacking. It's time for phase 3.

"But how will I finish if you don't come with me? I need you." Well, it's a nice sentiment, but patently untrue in the context of a bicycle ride. But, love is not only blind, but dumb. So on we plod, under clear skies, cold winds, and quiet roads.

Descending the Costa Lotta hill (so named for the RV park at the bottom), we spy Sandy and Stella, heading home to Parksville. They have been out training, on their usual run for lunch in Deep Bay.

"You guys are lucky," says Sandy. "You have a tailwind. We have a headwind."

"Watch out for the nasty pothole, just at the white line, opposite the Shady Rest (in Qualicum Beach). We hit it last week. It wasn't good," adds Stella.

Crosswinds are headwinds in both directions. But fortunately, the trees offer shelter.

How many traffic lights between French Creek and Courtenay, a distance of 65 km? Answer: one. And it turned red just as we approached the Denman Island ferry. Bummer.

Rolling into Courtenay, the wind shifted. At last. Along the river flats, for an entire 400 metres, we enjoyed the assist. But hunger was looming. And Carol was ready to strike.

"Let's go to Tim Hortons. You said you were hungry. And I can get a motel. I've had it with this ride." Dangerous ground. Remember phase one? So, we headed to Tim Hortons. And that is where I made my fatal mistake. Honestly, I didn't do anything. But how could I ignore the 2 girls walking out the door? They practically ran me down. The short see-through dress on one, and the shrink-wrap jeans on the other had nothing to do with my inability to avoid objects. Honestly.

Man, having utterly failed in his mission to keep his spouse on the road, called up the big guns-out right begging. "Please, do it for me. You'll hate yourself if you give in now. What about Smith? She'll catch up. (Check the Super Rando standings if you don't understand that one.) I won't…"

Just in time to save me from making a complete fool of myself, Don Monro interjects a voice of reason. "Look at the flags on the RCMP station. Tailwind." Perhaps another votive offering when I next visit Notre Dame? Besides, the admiring older couple helped. "I can't imagine riding all that way. You must be so fit." Ha. Take that.

So we climbed out of Courtenay, past the church and graveyard. I was thinking of how I had narrowly missed visiting one of them, when disaster struck.

"My tire is flat. I guess I'll just go back."

The ever devoted, self-sacrificing spouse is on that one in a flash. "Take my wheel. I'll fix the flat and catch up." (The advantages of interchangeable parts.)

And that is how Don and I ended up sprinting 25 km to catch a flying Carol. A Carol with a big smile. "What took you so long? I've just been puttering along. Did you see the blue heron on the rock? How about that beautiful tree?"

So, what does the humble spouse do? I mean, is this some weird revenge? You know-he made me ride when I didn't want to, so I'll make him pay-sort of scenario. The lack of oxygen to the brain prevents rational thought, so I resort to well-worn habit. Remember phase one.

After another meal at the Wendys attached to the control in Campbell River, we finally head south into the dying breeze. The 20 km south of CR is flat, and the views of the setting sun on the distant mountains are magnificent. Approaching Black Creek, we stop to light up. Cateye 100. Nighthawk Dual. Photon Fusion. That's the front. Cateye Smart (2 each). Nightrider universal. Photon 3 (2 each). That's the rear. Good thing I have shares in Duracell.

Coasting into Courtenay, I seem to be unable to keep up. Shortly, the reason is obvious. Carol's front wheel, on my bike since Courtenay northbound, has another flat. So, Don and Carol into Tim Hortons, while I brave the cold and replace the tire (broken belt) and the tube (too cold to care). We finally leave at 11 pm, only 110 km to go, and only one hour to meet our target of 20 hours. Not even Bonner would attempt that.

The old highway south from Courtenay is almost empty of traffic. We ride in the middle of the lane, cunningly avoiding the shoulder debris. I'm admiring the stars and the mild winds, when Carol asks "What is that? It feels like rain." The sky is clear. Carol did a dry-dance. Wait. What is that little black cloud hovering overhead, following our every move? Ah, hubris.

For once, the gods, having caught our attention, move on the more interesting play. (I later found out that it rained in CR only 2 hours before we arrived.) Wind. Howling through the trees of Qualicum Bay. Ha, that SW wind only knocks us about a couple of times, and we're into the shelter of Qualicum Beach. Watch for the pothole. Avoid the mudslide. (Yes, really). Dodge the police car. Into the checkpoint for a 2 am snack on Bean and Cheese Burritos.

Having blown our schedule, fatigue is setting in. We slowly plod back through Parksville and Nanoose, a ride that is reminiscent of our first 1000 (in '86) when I fell asleep while riding down the Nanoose hill. (That's another story). We stop for 1 minute "micro-naps" every 15 minutes. I'm at the back, doing most of my riding standing up. An old injury. Don decides to ride behind to make sure I don't fall asleep again. Carol is off the front looking for a comfy shoulder (mine was too prickly). Near Woodgrove Mall, only 15 km to go, I hear birds. 5 am already? Dawn is near, and the biorhythms switch to daylight mode. The last hill down to the finish is my fastest descent of the ride-at 56 km/hr. We swoop into the finish, only 23 hours 55 minutes after leaving. Thanks for your patience, Don.

The ride, while not one of our better results, is over. From hilly 300 to windy 400. It was excellent practice for the upcoming Fleche. And we are now three-fourths of the way to France.