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Dan's VanIsle 1200
by Dan Wallace

Day 1: "Oh, God! What am I doing?" I thought as I got on the bike for the first time since the Cascade ride. "This is a bad idea." But it was too late to turn back. I was up, dressed, on my bike and waiting at the marina for Ken to lead us out on the prologue to the starting point. Too bad the sprinklers were on and pointed at the road. The 3AM cold mist was a good substitute for the coffee I couldn't have that morning.

Off we went on about a half-mile ride to the official starting point. "Come on legs. You walked this hill yesterday. Why is it so difficult this morning? Why am I breathing so hard?" The group stopped briefly at the official start, and then we began a nice ride through Victoria on our way out of town. Or so I thought.

I latched on to a group that turned out to be going faster than I could handle, so after about ten miles, I started to drop back. Mile 15 was the second control. As I left, there was a rider about 50 feet ahead of me. He blew right past the turn. I yelled at him. He stopped and turned around. "The turn's back here," I said. "I thought so," he replied. "Huh???" I thought. Turned out it was Ron Himschoot from Seattle whom I met in Colorado last year. We rode together for a little while, until my ankle reflector fell off. Since BC Randonneurs assesses time penalties for various things, including not wearing the required reflective gear, I stopped to recover the lost item. By that time, Ron was long gone. And I was riding alone again. It wasn't the first time and wouldn't be the last

About five miles later, things started looking very familiar. There was the hotel I stayed at. And, there's the marina where we started. Twenty miles, more or less, and I had gone in a circle. At that point, the desire to quit and climb back into bed was very strong…

At the fourth control (mile 40), I was told there was one rider behind me.. At control six (mile 61-two donuts and coffee), I was told that rider was still behind me. Of course, what no one realized at the time was that the rider that was supposed to have been behind me was actually in one of the lead groups and would finish in 70-some hours…

Mile 75 brought the first in a series of flats. A large nail punctured the tube and the cheap Bontrager rim tape. Didn't notice the hole in the rim tape. That would be the source of future trouble.

The Mahalat climb was really tough. 3 - 4 miles an hour. I left my legs in the states. I rewarded myself at control eight (mile 97) with a mocha chocolate chip milkshake and some spice drops. "Power food." The clerk said I was a half hour behind the previous group. Lunch at a store around mile 118 brought news from the clerk that the last group had gone through about twenty minutes earlier. Water stop at a grocery at mile 134. Two riders pulled in behind me: Paul Johnson and Brian List from Seattle. We leap-frogged each other to the next control (#12 at mile 142) where Paul's wife was supporting the two of them. I borrowed their floor pump. "Bam!" (expletive deleted) Changed the tube. "Bam!" (more expletives). I was down to my last tube. I bummed a couple from Paul. Tried to fix the torn rim tape and fixed the flat. Paul and Brian started out, and I told them I'd catch up with them. I got stuck at a series of red lights and watched them ride off in the distance.

"Bam!" (expletive) Then a slow leak in one of the borrowed tubes. As I rode down the busy highway at rush hour on a flat tire, I spotted a sign for Sports Chek, the largest sporting goods chain in Canada. I pulled in. They didn't carry road bike stuff. I explained my predicament to the bike tech, and he took pity on me. He had ridden his road bike to work that day, so he pulled a tube off his bike, made a better temporary rim tape repair, fixed the flat and sent me on my way. Talk about exceptional customer service…

After a nice coastal ride along the sea shore, the route turned inland and ninety miles after my last flat, I finally made it to the overnight control (mile 237) where I restocked my supply of tubes.

Day 2: After two hours sleep and an hour of dilly-dallying, I hit the road at 5:45AM. Climb, climb, climb. A mile before control 15 (mile 257) I spotted a bike at a restaurant. "Great! Company for breakfast." Dean Zimmer from Manitoba introduced himself. I ordered breakfast and waited and waited. Finally, the omelet came out Hint: never take the server's recommendation when you're on a brevet. Meanwhile, it started to rain. Paul and Brian came in, and Dean left. There was a brief break in the rain, so I took off. While it was only 20 miles to the next control, this was the most treacherous stretch of road because of the narrow shoulder, the rumble strips, and the logging trucks.

The Sayward Junction convenience store control (mile 277 & 489) was the friendliest control of the ride. Besides having plenty of c-store food and coffee available, the clerks regaled me with stories of local interest and traffic reports for the route ahead.

Somewhere after Sayward Junction, Paul, Brian and Elias Brettler caught up with me, and we rode with each other off and on for the rest of the day. Around this time, a young fellow from the Netherlands started to leap-frog with us. He had cycled around Canada, and was headed up to one of the ports on the northern part of the island to catch a ferry to the mainland. From there, he was going to fly to Chile or Costa Rica and cycle around South America before returning home in six months. What a cool way to travel.

Around mile 325, the first of the riders passed us on the return. A little while later, I saw Ken talking with Paul and Brian as he made his way back. I was a little too happy to see him, and not realizing that he had stopped on gravel, I nearly slid into him. How embarrassing! After a few lantern rouge jokes, we parted with a promise from him that he'd have a beer waiting for me at the finish.

Sundown found us at the turn around point (control 19; mile 383). Brian wasn't feeling well and grabbed a ride back with Paul's wife who was waiting at the control with warm food which they shared with me. Elias was somewhere behind us.

Paul's goal was to make it to Sayward Junction at mile 489 before stopping. My goal was to get to Campbell River - the bag drop control - at mile 529. Paul waited for me at control 20, and we rode through the night together. Somewhere along the way, we crossed a bridge and I heard "plop". "Hmm, what was that?" I thought. It turned out that my control card had fallen out of my map case. Fortunately, the wind wasn't blowing, and I stopped and retrieved that most important document. A little while later, Paul was feeling tired, so we pulled over for a power nap. This Florida boy was freezing and didn't sleep at all. Paul slept like a log for a half hour. Back on the road, we saw and heard all sorts of wildlife. I missed seeing the bear, but something that looked like a beaver (it was dark) scurried in front of me that night.

Daybreak saw us leaving control 21 at mile 448. By this time, I was getting tired and a few miles up the road, I told Paul not to wait for me. I pulled off for a power nap. Big mistake. I was swarmed by mosquitoes that had their way with me despite the arm and leg warmers. Back on the bike. Climb, climb, climb. Then a great downhill back into Sayward Junction and my convenience store friends. Coffee and a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich. As I pulled out, Paul pulled in then headed to his motel room. Neither one of us could figure out where I passed him.

After a climb up the logging truck route, a wonderfully long downhill, and an unexpected (expletive) climb, I made it to the bag drop control (mile 529) shortly after noon.

Day 3 1/2: Despite the attempts by housekeeping to keep me from sleeping, I grabbed two hours of great sleep, then my "wake up a half-hour before the alarm so you don't miss it" gene kicked in. Back on the road around 4PM for sixty-some miles of mountain and coastal views. Sundown found me at control 25 at mile 597 where Missourian Danny Klinkenbeard and his posse provided a warm welcome. We leap-frogged for the next 30 miles or so until the wind-chill got to be too much for me and I sought refuge in a low-lying drainage ditch. Pulled into control 27 at mile 669 shortly after dawn. Didn't make much progress that night.

The Malahat return climb was next. It wasn't nearly as bad as the first time, but I was getting hot and sweaty in the morning sun with my shell and arm and leg warmers. I stripped off all those just before the summit. Bad idea. The downhill was long, steep, and in the shade. Brrr…. People who know me would tell you I have bad judgment. This was just another in a long line of examples…

At the foot of Mahalat, Lindsay Martin from Victoria caught up with me and we rode the ten miles to the next control together. Along the way, we found Danny Klinkenbeard and John Kramer searching for the way to the next control. Since Lindsay was "a local", he led the way. Through the control, we continued on together as a nice group. Then we hit the hills. I had no legs and was dropped rather quickly. The next 20 miles were nothing but steep rollers--pure punishment. Along the way, I stopped for comfort food at the first opportunity. Home-made ice cream. I forget the flavor - it didn't matter because it was really hot out (not as hot as Seattle, but in the 80's) and the ice cream was so cool.

Two controls and forty miles later, I found myself passing the marina. A quick glance to my right brought Ken's house (the finish line) into view, one block away. Unfortunately, there were about ten miles and one control to go before the finish. What a tease… A couple of miles down the road and a left turn. Oh no! A short very steep climb to a "scenic drive". Then a ride along the shore with a great view of the light house and the mountains. A turn into the city and the last control where I was greeted by Mike, one of the ride volunteers, who was out for a quick afternoon ride of his own. "Four kilometers to go," he said. I grabbed a popsicle, got my card stamped, and headed out. A guy on a motorized bicycle wanted to race me and kept blowing through stop signs. Jerk.. I missed the second to last turn and ended up in someone else's front yard. When I saw that there was no beer, I got back on course and pedaled around the block to Ken's house, a warm greeting from a bunch of folks, and that wonderful bottle of beer. Mission accomplished.

It was a great route with great scenery along the way. Hopefully someday you will have a chance to ride the VanIsle.

July 2006