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Personal Best
by Krazy Kevin

Many athletes, both professional and amateur, constantly strive for something called a 'personal best'. Exactly what this term means is worth examining, and I speak here of the desire to achieve new heights in one's athletic performance and refer in no way to the lesbian flick of the same name starring Mariel Hemingway which, in my opinion, was rather lame other than the nude scenes, which were lovely.

The term 'personal best' is problematic in that it defies precise definition. The first word, 'personal' is fairly clear as it refers to an individual, but the latter term, 'best', is highly subjective and this is where the fun begins. When we say something is 'The best', we are merely stating an opinion, not a fact. For example, many would say that The Beatles were the 'best' band ever, but there are those, and I among them, that would go to war in favour of the Rolling Stones with Alice Cooper a clear second and an honourable mention to AC/DC. Given human society's divergences in tastes, customs, belief systems and so on, discussions of what is considered 'best' must be embraced not as divisive arguments, but rather in the spirit of appreciating differences lest we make ourselves look ridiculous over disagreements about pop music that has long ceased to be relevant.

It is within this Spirit of Difference that I celebrate my own personal best time for the distance of 200 km on the 2009 Buccaneer 200 with a time of 12 hours, 53 minutes. This was by far my best time at the distance and one of which I am equally proud as I am of the 7 hours, 51 minutes that I rode in 2004. Between these two final times there is five hours' difference, yet both are 'bests' as far as I am concerned. The point of randonneuring, after all, is to finish within the allotted time regardless of the actual time as measured by a stopwatch. Thus, both the fastest and slowest times are superlatives and can both therefore be considered 'bests'.

Preparing for a 200 km ride that took nearly thirteen hours to complete was not easy. I had to not-train for nearly six months. Granted, there was about six weeks' worth of snowy weather this past winter where outdoor cycling would have been impossible, but blaming my lack of preparedness on the weather would have been a cheap excuse. I had to rigorously avoid the stationary bike at my local gym which is only three blocks from my home. Resisting the temptation to spin for an hour during cold winter nights was not easy but I managed it by going to movies and concerts, reading the occasional book, and following the NFL playoffs. When all else failed and thoughts of doing a bit of strengthening or cardio work danced tantalizingly in my head, I resorted to spending time with my son or calling my Mom long distance just to talk. I realize that trying to reconnect with the life I had before I became a randonneur, not to mention proving myself a loving father and faithful son, might make me look less than dedicated in the eyes of other club members, but I've always had a rebellious streak.

The ride itself was as daunting as my intense non-training regimen had been. From the Steveston start to the first control in Tsawwassen I rode alongside Karen Smith who set a blistering pace of nearly 23 km per hour. At that rate, I wasn't so much afraid of my legs giving out as I was that the paint might melt from my bicycle frame. Fortunately, both Karen's and my bikes were making strange rattling noises so we had ample opportunity to dismount, look the bikes over, accept that we had no idea where the noises were coming from, and then get back on and ride some more until we decided it was time to stop and look at the bikes again. Karen's noise eventually went away and mine was finally traced to a loose fender. Unfortunately for me, I know how to fix a loose fender so I was unable to abandon the ride.

After a terribly brief twenty-minute control stop chatting about bicycle clothing fashions with control volunteers Graham, Maya, and Alard, Karen and I carried on through Delta where we encountered Tracy whom we remembered from the Salmon Arm control on last summer's Rocky Mountain 1200. Both Karen and Tracy claimed to be out of shape and felt that they should take things easily, but I quickly proved my superiority at being ill-prepared as I soon fell way behind and watched them slowly disappear down the long stretch of Ladner Trunk Road.

I caught up with Tracy in Surrey as she had stopped to pay a brief visit to her parents. It occurred to me that a visit to see my mom might be a good idea but riding out to Colborne, Ontario on this particular Saturday just wasn't in the cards. Together, Tracy and I ambled along the wonderfully quiet, virtually car-free Colebrook Road, but the warm sunshine invited us to dismount for a twenty minute nap on a soft patch of grass by the roadside. Since lying on my backside was something I had gotten quite good at over the previous six months, this part of the ride was something I knew I could handle easily. From there, we managed the next 10 km or so at which point stopping for something to eat seemed appropriate. Since there are no French restaurants serving seven-course banquets in this part of Surrey, a convenience store at 8th Avenue and 176th Street became an exciting alternative. From a refrigerated display case, I selected a cellophane-wrapped submarine sandwich that resembled albino equine genitalia and a half litre of chocolate milk.

Tracy chose to push on, so I sat on a patch of grass in the sunshine near a set of gas pumps, indulged my culinary passion, and watched bemusedly as several riders failed to make the turn at 176th and went straight through on 8th Ave. Just for fun, I made a bet with myself that they'd be back in about ten minutes. I was right. They returned, looking somewhat sheepish and defeated, made the turn they'd missed and headed south on 176th. I gave them another ten minutes to get well ahead of me lest I should catch up and then follow them while they missed several more turns and wind up in Boise, Idaho.

With no excuse to remain sedentary any longer, I carried on alone south on 176th and made the jog over to 0 Avenue. I'm very fond of riding 0 Avenue, I must confess. The reason for this is because of the name of the road. If one is counting from the southernmost to the northernmost, 0 Ave is the first road that runs east to west, and 1st Avenue is the second. 2nd is the third, and 3rd is the fourth, and so on. That's just plain ridiculous. I love that sort of shit.

After many quiet short climbs and descents along 0 Avenue, I actually managed to catch up with the riders who'd earlier shown a creative sense of direction by missing the turn at 176th, Theresa and Malcolm. Collectively, we were able to determine that the next turn was at the imaginatively named 232nd Street. We stopped for photographs by the road sign that bore the answer to the information control that we were to write onto our control cards. The answer was "McCartney" which tells you something about the musical preferences of ride organizer Mannfred Kuchenmuller. This made me realize that I'll have to design a ride that goes along Richards Street in Vancouver since Keith is my hero.

This road, the route sheet warned us, contained a climb of 21% grade. Malcolm was on a mountain bike and demonstrated that by shifting to his lowest gear he could practically walk up the hill. Of course, he had to pedal at something like 10,000 rpm just to advance the bicycle one foot, but it was an easy climb for him. I decided to rise out of the saddle and stomp my way up which I did successfully. Once I'd crested the hill, I came face to face with a horse and rider who bore a remarkable resemblance to Princess Anne (the horse, not the rider). "That's quite a hill!" I said. "It sure is", came the reply (again the horse, not the rider. Strange place, Langley.)

Malcolm, Theresa, and I rode as a loose trio the length of 232nd Street chatting amiably, but all the while I was secretly plotting how I could fall back and therefore become dead last. It's not as easy as you might think. The call of nature allowed me to tell them to go on ahead and say that I'd catch up once I'd jumped a fence and disappeared behind a clump of bushes for a couple minutes. This I did, but even so I couldn't ride slowly enough thereafter to avoid bumping into them at a stoplight. So, I formulated a new plan: take a nap at the Marina Park control in Fort Langley. The nap on Colebrook Road had been pleasant and allowed several riders to pass, so why not see if it would work a second time.

After traversing the entire south-to-north length of Langley (Canada's Entertainment Capital), we arrived at the control. Who should greet us there but Keith, Barb, and the ubiquitous Harold Bridge. I say 'ubiquitous' because seeing Harold at a control is as commonplace as seeing Henry Berkonbos out for a ride. Harold and Henry are much like the namesake of the 'Where's Waldo' books - you know they're in there somewhere.

An inviting-looking bench beckoned me to lie on its smooth, varnished surface not far from the water's edge of the Bedford Channel. I stretched out, closed my eyes, let the ambient sounds of spring in full bloom drift around me, and allowed the world to disappear for a small chunk of time. After a while, I sat up, stretched, yawned, and wandered back over to the parking lot. Theresa and Malcolm were still at the control, so the three of us headed out together. My quest for a last-place finish still had hope, however, as I had become very hungry and decided to make a pit stop at a Tim Horton's in Surrey while the other two carried on. For added insurance, I managed a flat tire on 108th Avenue when a piece of glass the size of a Toyota became embedded in my rear tire.

Thus it was that I rolled in to the Buccaneer control dead last as dusk was setting in. From their seats at on the outdoor patio, Mannfred and fellow volunteers Roger and Ali raised a cheer when they saw me turn the corner at Moncton & 3rd. My guess is that it wasn't so much a congratulatory cheer as it was a thank-god-we-can-go-home-now cheer. I promised them I'd do some training before the next ride.

It was an interesting coincidence that Roger should be at the closing control when I recorded my slowest time ever for the 200 distance as he had been part of a paceline with me and two others (Jaye Howarth and Susan Barr) when I recorded my fastest of 7:51. The difference is that on that fast one several years ago, I remember little other than the image of the back wheel of the rider in front of me. On this year's 200, I'll remember quite a bit more.

(Krazy Kevin... Kevin Bruce)


April 30, 2009