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Tribute to Randy Benz
On April 17, the Randonneuring world lost a great friend. Randy Benz, who rode 30,204 km over 73 brevets, without one dnf to his name, finally found an obstacle he could not overcome: mesothelioma.
Randy rode his first 200 in 2001, a year before I rode my first brevet. We did not really meet until the finish of the Interior 600 to Valemount and back in June 2003. On this ride he finished five minutes ahead of me, without us ever seeing each other on the route. I remember that it had been ridiculously hot, with headwinds. Somehow I had the idea that his name was Larry, which I remember calling him several times. When we joked about it later, he said he didn't notice I had called him by the wrong name, probably because he was so tired he thought it was right. It became a running joke for quite some time.
The 2004 Rocky Mountain 1200 was the first ultra distance event for both of us, the first of three times we would both ride this event. I chose the 90 hour group, and Randy opted for the 84 hour start six hours later. Both of us finished, six hours apart, in exactly 69 hours- a definite indicator that we should spend more time riding together. It was not always easy to ride together, as our styles were very different. I was a stronger climber, but terrified of big downhills. I would always get to the top of a large climb minutes ahead, then be white-knuckled and on the brakes down the other side, while Randy cruised by, tucked in on the aero bars, totally relaxed. I also had the tendency to start out too fast, burn myself out, then ride the second half of the ride with Randy. He had self discipline I have never seen in anyone else, knowing exactly how fast a pace he could maintain from start to finish- usually an average of about 25 kmh. On each Rocky Mountain 1200, he was very close to Lanterne Rouge (of the 84 hour group) into the first couple of controls, never getting caught up in the surge of adrenaline that pervades the start of these events. On each ride, he was just as consistently one of the first riders back to the finish in Kamloops, finishing at exactly the same speed he had started. Nearing the end of the 2012 Rocky, we decided that when 2016 came around, we would see the event from the other side as volunteers.
When I decided to recruit my first Fleche team in 2006, he- along with Peter Mair and Rob Bernhardt, was an obvious choice, and the only Fleche Test Dummy to complete every one of our rides. The Fleche became our favourite event. Other team members came and went, but Randy was the one who I always knew would be there when the first Friday in May rolled around.
No matter what the weather, Randy would never give up- extreme cold, heat, headwinds, whatever. It didn't matter. Mechanical issues? We'll just deal with it and continue on. The only things I ever noticed that would really irritate him were people who run generators in campgrounds, or who leave their diesel pickups idling outside convenience stores.Eventually, in addition to cycling, we started cross country skiing together. Once again, I had more strength, but much less ability. Randy, Jill, Susan and I started camping together whenever we could, and shared many, but no where near enough,great weekends.
In the fall of 2014, Randy started to have problems with erratic heart rates and fatigue. After months of test after test, he was diagnosed with mesothelioma- a lung cancer caused by asbestos from his years as a heavy duty mechanic. Chemotherapy was no cure, but gave some quality to the time he had. We did manage a few rides while camping in 2015, not far or fast, but more than we expected to have. Randy did not give up, and hung on, not only for the birth of his first grandchild, but beyond his first birthday. He was also able to fulfill his intention to volunteer on the 2016 Rocky.
Randy was, and continues to be, an inspiration. When I find myself cold, wet, exhausted, facing a fierce headwind (real or metaphorical), I say to myself "Randy would not quit ".
April 22, 2017