|Newsletter - 2003 Archive|
Finishing the 2003 Paris-Brest-Paris apparently wasn't enough cycling for me this year, because I still had an appetite to do the 200 km Quiche Brevet. It runs from Fort St. John south across the Peace River to Farmington. It then follows the Mason road to Ted's Service on the Hart Highway west of Dawson Creek, continues via the Dawson Creek bypass to the turnaround at Pouce Coupe. The ride then goes north to Rolla, famous for its pub built in the early 1930's and still operating. Incidentally, the grandparents of singer-songwriter Roy Forbes built this pub. The route from Rolla to Farmington runs due west over the rolling Sweetwater Road, which connects with the Alaska Highway. From there it is back to Fort St. John. Odometer reading: 205 km. The route is PBP-esque in nature, because of its continuous roller coaster terrain. Since I had covered most of the route on previous brevets, the topography was therefore old hat. The weather remains always a challenge, so too this time. Earlier in the week the forecast called for sunny skies and temperature to 15 0C; ideal for cycling. Half an hour before the start this had changed to a "60 % probability of showers in the afternoon and increasing winds from the southwest". Not bad for a fall ride. One local bike club member -- who shall remain nameless for self- explanatory reasons -- wanted to join for a long distance ride.
It was 10 0C; overcast skies with a less-than-promising look. About an hour into the ride, after we had ascended the 5 km climb out of the Peace River valley (variable grade of 6-10%; total elevation gain 900 vertical feet), it started to rain. First, a few spatters, but one knows how it goes with rain. Not only did it rain steadily during the next 20 km, the temperature dropped to 6 0C, and the winds picked up. Someone had fast-forwarded a weather system into the region and added a dose of bad stuff. Miserable! I could not help but think that everything we were spared on PBP 2003 was released. Given the difference in challenge between the two events, I consider that actually a good thing. While I had put on my raincoat, my companion did not. He did not have one; neither was his bike equipped with fenders. The first obvious thing did indeed become so: I remained relatively dry, and maintained my core body temperature at a comfortable level. The same however could not be said for the other rider. Soon he was soaked from the rain, as well as spray from his front and rear wheels and passing vehicles. Combined with a bit of headwind, and wind resistance generated by cycling and the second obvious did also become so: add the falling temperatures and one has the essential ingredients for a hypothermia recipe. Long- sleeved lycra shirts are great in warm dry weather; when conditions turn bad, the material is unforgiving. By the time we reached the Farmington general store, he was wet, very cold and shivering badly. A hot cup of coffee did not change it much. Luckily he had cell-phoned home for dry clothes, so help was on the way. When it arrived, his comment: "I have never been this cold in my entire life". He decided not to continue. I advised him to do the same, since the conditions did not look any better, and there were still 140 km to go. The thought to call it quits crossed my mind. I resisted and did not give in. What about that character-building thing?
So that left one lonely rider continuing in the rain. By noon it did get dry; temperatures remained cool. The beef-barley-soup and grilled-cheese sandwich in Pouce Coupe went down the "hatch" quite nicely. For the next 22 kilometers I enjoyed a variable tailwind. After turning west, the wind however became a partial headwind (up to 30 kph) for rest of the ride. During the last half hour it actually turned sunny, as if nothing had happened all day. Ten hours and 30 minutes later I pulled into the last control. No record time, then again most of it was solo.
So what can one learn from this, and this the main reason for the write-up. There are a couple of observations to be made here. First of all, and needless to state, but the Boy Scout slogan "be prepared" needs to be repeated ad nauseam. No shortcuts please. Secondly, on long rides weather changes are inevitable, and they can be quite drastic. Relying on even a recent forecast is not enough and certainly does not negate the need to remain prepared. Thirdly, getting wet at above zero temperatures can still lead to (near) hypo-thermic conditions. Those of us who rode the Vancouver Island 600 km in May this year may remember the 14 hours steady downpour on day one. What saved our collective bacon, I suspect, was rain gear and legwarmers, as well as the fact that temperatures that did not drop below 12 0C. The story would have been quite different had it been a few degrees colder on that ride. Finally, and probably the most 'surprising' is the short time it takes to go from comfortable to potentially hypothermic. In case of this Quiche Brevet, the conditions changed quickly and in less than half an hour it was the end of the ride. It makes one wonder whether during sign-up in general not a quick check should be included re. carrying essentials. No essentials, no start? Yes, I know we are mature and responsible riders. We've all been there, doing that, etc. Still, the question nags.
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PS. The other rider suffered no ill effects.