Newsletter - 2003 Archive

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Ten Thousand Point One

Kevin Bruce


A year ago today, on January 1, 2003, I set a personal goal of cycling a total of at least 10,000 km for the calendar year. As secondary goals, I intended to complete the entire series of Rando events (200, 300, 400, and 600 km) for the first time, cycle in at least one other series besides the Lower Mainland, and cycle in at least one other province besides BC. Since I do not own a car, cycling is a way of life with me but, even so, 10,000 km was a lofty goal, yet one that I felt was within my reach.

Over the course of the spring and summer, I managed to put together all the required distances to achieve my first-ever Super Randonneur medal, including a ride with the Interior club in May. When I went back to Ontario to visit my family in July, I rode out to Vancouver International Airport, checked my bike, then cycled from Pearson International to visit my Mom and brother some 120 km east in Port Hope.

Having accomplished all of my secondary goals in by the end of August, there was still the matter of 10,000 km on the year to deal with. Following the Annual General Meeting in September, I had logged 8,000 km, and so covering another 2,000 km in the remaining three months seemed very do-able. To encourage myself, I bought a new and lighter bike at Campione Cycles at 8th and Burrard, thus ensuring that the remaining 2000 km would go by as swiftly as possible.

Commuting to work and back everyday adds about 40 km per week to my total, but that would not be enough. I still had to ride on evenings and weekends whenever I could. By the end of November, I was at 9,525 km, and so I could now taste that magical five-digit goal. I am fortunate that my job allows for two weeks off at Christmas, and when my holidays started on December 20, I had only 325 km left. The following Sunday, December 21, I rode to Mission and back, thus adding another 130 km to my total. In the week following, I did a couple of easy rides from my home in East Van to Spanish Banks then along Marine Drive past UBC and then home at 38 km each, plus a longer ride out the Barnet Highway to the Mary Hill Bypass, then up Gagliardi and home via Adanac for another 66 km.

When I woke up on Sunday, December 28, I had only 54.5 km to go. The day was bright and sunny, but colder than a jealous ex-girlfriend's stare. I thought about waiting until later in the week in hopes that the weather might break, but after checking the forecast and seeing - yikes! - snow predicted, I decided that this had to be the day.

I waited until noon, figuring that by that time of day the temperature would be at a maximum and that the roads would be relatively dry and free from slippery ice patches. Indeed, the temperature was at a maximum for the day: 2 degrees above freezing. I put on several layers of nylon and various other synthetic fibers and headed out.

The route I chose was from East Van to Marine Drive and out to New West to the Queensborough Bridge, then along River Road in Richmond to the Arthur Laing Bridge near the airport then back home. This route is almost exactly 50 km from my place, so I knew that I would have to take a slight detour in order to rack up the needed 54.5 km.

The first thing I noticed as I headed up the Sunset Bike Route to get to 45th Avenue, was that as I ascended to only slightly higher elevations, that there were more ice patches than down near where I live. I picked my way carefully between them, made it over the crest, and headed down to Marine Drive. As I entered the long straightaway to New Westminster, I was very glad of my decision earlier this year to put on a pair of Continental Gatorskin tires. These things are virtually indestructible. In the winter, there is considerably more 'road flotsam' than in summer, and as I cruised along the paved shoulder, I could hear the snap! of small stones as they shot out from under my tires and even the crunch! of bits of glass - yes, glass - as the Gatorskins trod through these obstacles oblivious to danger. I have put 3000 km on these tires and have not had an honest-to-god flat, but have twice had tires go soft which has at least allowed me to get somewhere that I might fix it, or even home. At one point, as I sped along Marine Drive, I heard a metallic ca-chink! which had me momentarily worried as it was a distinctly unusual sound. Cautiously, I slowed down, tested all my gears, and tried both brakes. Everything was working fine and so, confident that there were no mechanical problems, I carried on.

The Queensborough Bridge is never fun at the best of times, with its restriction of cyclists to the narrow sidewalk that must be shared with pedestrians, but on this chilly winter day there were no such obstacles in my way and so I sailed across to the Richmond side unimpeded. The zig-zag bike path on the other side, however, was a different story. It was completely covered by an ice sheet, so I dismounted and, as I gingerly tiptoed my way down to the roadway, patted myself on the back for having the foresight to be wearing mountain bike shoes with cleats.

River Road is always delightful as it runs so close the Fraser River and carries very little traffic on weekends. Inevitably, though, it gives way to the industrial area, which, although not as scenic, is interesting in its own way. As I made my way past the various gravel pits, sawmills and warehouses in the industrial area, I could feel the rear end of the bike start to bump a bit. I dismounted in the parking lot of a marine supply company and inspected the bike. The rear tire was going soft. Not flat, just soft. Maybe back on Marine Drive something got into the casing and was now working its way into the tube. It didn't matter too much since I knew that with the Gatorskins, all I had to do was pump the tire back up and I should at least be able to get back to Vancouver. I leaned the bike against the building and pulled the pump off the frame. As I went to attach the pump to the valve, I found that the connector on the pump was missing. Oh my god! That was it! The metallic ca-chink! back on Marine Drive!!! Damn!

A soft tire, a useless pump, and about two miles to the nearest highway where there might be a bus with bike rack was not the scenario I had planned for this particular afternoon. Since the tire was not completely flat, I knew that I could ride it at least for a little while so long as I stood on the pedals as much as possible. I re-mounted and continued.

Progress was slow and tentative, but there was sufficient air in the rear tire to keep the bike from riding on the rim and so I just kept going. I made it to the Arthur Laing Bridge and back over to the Vancouver side, and I knew that if I could just get over the crest on the Cypress Bike Route, I would be okay. From there, I could coast all the way down to 8th and Burrard and stop in a Campione Cycles who I knew were open on Sundays from noon to five. As I ascended toward 49th Ave, I was once again reminded how much more ice there was on the roads at this slightly higher elevation. Fortunately, there was virtually no traffic and so no life-and-death decisions had to be made - until I got to Shaughnessy. As I descended through the million-dollar homes of Vancouver's elite along the tree-lined streets of the Cypress Bike route, I came to an intersection where I was faced with a stop sign and through traffic to my right and left. A sheet of ice covered the intersection and I was now skating on top of it. My choices were either a) crash the bike to avoid going through the intersection and risk only broken bones, or b) barrel straight through the intersection and hope for the best. Given these choices, the first seems like the more sensible. It occurred to me that since this was Shaughnessy, if got hit by a car here, surely I'd be facing someone who could afford a lawyer. Still, I'm a gambler by nature, so I just barreled through and made it unscathed.

Within minutes after this non-near disaster, I was at the door of Campione Cycles only to find that they were closed for the holidays. I thought about heading over to Mountain Equipment Co-op and just buying a new pump so that I could finish my ride, but I'd left my lock at home in an effort to keep weight down, so that was not an option. Once again, I mounted the bike and very slowly and cautiously, standing on the pedals as often as possible, headed home to East Van where I could use my floor pump to add some badly needed tire pressure. When I got to my front door, I checked my odometer and it read 9997.5 km. Only 2.5 km to go! I grabbed the floor pump, wriggled the attachment onto the valve, locked it in place, and pumped away until the pressure read 120 psi. I pulled the attachment off the valve. In my excited haste, I forgot to release the lock, and pulled the valve stem out with it. I muttered a few unprintable words as the tire hissed all of its air out and went irreparably flat. Taking a few deep breaths to shunt away sudden thoughts of giving up cycling forever, I lifted the bike upside down, released the axel, unhooked the chain from the cassette, levered the tire off and changed the inner tube. I even replaced the tire with a brand new one to ensure that nothing would stop me from completing just two-point-five goddamn more kilometers. After carefully locking the pump attachment on the valve and inflating to 120 psi, I very deliberately - and oh so carefully - RELEASED the lock and pulled it off the valve. The tire held air. I was ready to go again.

The sun was now dipping quickly to the horizon, but with just 2.5 km to go, I had only to ride 1.25 km and back. For reasons obvious to me but perhaps not to others, I just happen to know that it is exactly 1.25 km from my door to the Waldorf Hotel Cold Beer and Wine Store on Hastings Street. I headed straight there.

After picking up a nice little sangiovese, I headed home with the wine fit snuggly in my water bottle cage. I celebrated that evening by ordering a pizza and downing several glasses of red wine while telling my cat the whole story of my adventure. (She doesn't really care but does listen politely.)

The next day, of course, it snowed and continued snowing, as we all know, for a couple days thereafter. If I hadn't ridden the Sunday before New Year's Day, I would not have made it. My total for the year? 10,000.1 km. Yes, that's right, ten-thousand-point-ONE for all of 2003. And here I sit writing this on January 1, 2004. What should I plan for this coming year? Hmmm….