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Eli's VanIsle 1200
by Eli Brettler

This was the year in which lots of people were writing me off which maybe seemed warranted though my success in the end speaks of a different story. Last year I was more ambitious, trained more seriously, and tended to ride with more aggression. This year I was less pumped (in all respects) and found the focus of my riding to be more purely mental than ever before. I am really thrilled at how this season has gone.

I did not train over the winter. I was disappointed over not finishing BMB and not ready to commit the time and energy that I had the year before. I had planned to do the VanIsle 1200 and had an invitation to stay with Melissa Friesen and Scott Gater and do the ride along with them. The ride was July 5 - 9.

My first 200 was hard. My longest ride prior to it was a 100 km training ride to the Holland Marsh then across to Sharon and back, an easy run under sunny skies. Some riders had reservations as to my ability to finish and questioned me at the last control. The weather was miserable, I felt miserable, but I was confident that I would finish in time. I did 200's on each of the two following weekends and began to feel that I was getting my legs back.

Then came the Pretty River Valley 300, with its climbing against the wind and periodic wind driven sleet. I sabotaged that ride, having followed what my gut knew was a wrong cue, and at 220 km ended up on the way to Alliston rather than at the Angus control. It was a good training ride and I made the most of it, but the reality was that I had let go of the brevet and knew it. I wanted things to be easier, if only by some small bit, and when that didn't happen I chose not to go on. That was my weakest point of the season and a place to which I knew I could not return.

I felt good on the Oak Ridges 400. My control times compared favorably with those from the year before. I found the section heading east after the Mount Wolfe Road more difficult than I had remembered but much of the earlier part of the route seemed easier and when it was over I felt confident. I was surprised to hear that others had reservations about my riding, especially my lack of aggression on the climbs, and that they were concerned as to whether I would succeed on the VanIsle.

Two weeks later was the Haliburton 600, which unbeknown to its route designers turned out to be the technically most difficult Toronto 600. I did it without sleep, riding from control to control, without the kind of time cushion which might allow me to slack off. I rode by myself but with the company of Anne, with whom I spoke to by phone periodically and who brought me supper at the Little Britain control, and Lori, who stayed to keep me company at breakfast on day 2 and waited to sign me in at the finish and give me a much appreciated ride home, I did not feel alone. This ride was about sticking with it and when Phil and Henry asked me if I wanted to stop and take a lift home from Haliburton my thought was that I had gone too far and for too long to even consider that a possibility. I had a decision to make and in this case it was not to let go. This was my most purely mental ride ever. My performance boded well for the VanIsle.

When Melissa Friesen and I rode together last year in Ontario we were pretty closely matched but she had notched up considerably over the year and I knew that it was unlikely that I could match the pace which she and Scott had in mind for the VanIsle. With this on my mind, I headed west to Vancouver.

I had folded last year on BMB after reaching the control at Rouses Point. I was exhausted, feeling pain in unexpected places, still punchy from my crash the previous week, but most critically weak in my commitment so that when Jennifer Wise said, "you won't finish" I caved in and chose to give up. I should have told her to keep that to herself, that this was my ride not hers or anyone else's, but I didn't. I had accepted a DNF with barely a fight. This year, I was asked in reference to the VanIsle, what I would do different. I answered, "finish", and in the end this ride was about commitment and the strength of character to fulfill it.

The VanIsle is a great ride, with about 30,000 feet of climbing, including six long pass climbs, one on the first day, two on each of the second and third days and one on the fourth. The route is a revision of the Island End to End 1000 and very beautiful. Ken Bonner did an amazing job putting it together and was a wonderful organizer and host. Thirty six started and thirty completed the ride.

My low points were on days 2 and 4. On day 2, I tried to minimize my off bike time at the controls, and was not eating adequately as a result. I felt physically weak. Once I sorted out why, I felt much better. I also felt lonely despite phone calls home. On day 1, I rode by myself a fair bit, but kept on crossing paths with Dave Gillanders and his son-in-law Paul Lahti as well as Paul Johnson and Brian List. I knew Dave from BMB, and the group with which Anne finished the Gold Rush included Paul Johnson. On days 2 and 3, even when I met other riders I felt engaged in a solo ride.

I slept 2 1/2 hours on the first night and 1 hour the second night. On the third night I would have liked to have a 2 hour sleep stop but hadn't the time. I had a 20 minute nap at Qualicum Beach and then headed to Parksville and Nanaimo. The ride from Parksville to Nanaimo was extremely scary. I was on the shoulder of a four lane highway, in the darkness not altogether sure I was on the correct road, and kept alert by the periodic appearance of transport trucks overtaking me at 120 kph. I thought that I could die there and was relieved when it started to get light and I reached Nanaimo, but also extremely distressed to find myself starting to fall asleep on the bike. I had 16 hours to complete 200 km but did not know if I could stay awake and safe. That was my state when I ran into Wim Kok and Michael Koth preparing to leave the Nanaimo control. I met Wim last year when he was in Ontario for a conference and he rode the Oak Ridges 400. He told me that when a rider on PBP is falling asleep, the command is, "to the ditch", and that a nap is what it takes to revive and regain composure. I wanted a motel room for an hour's sleep but they were all filled. I had a 20 minute nap at Tim Horton's and fortunately that sufficed. By the time I left Nanaimo I was at the closing time for the control. The next control was Mill Bay. After that was the climb of the Malahat and the descent to Saanich, a tour of the Saanich peninsula and the return to Victoria and the finish. There was no way that I was not going to complete this ride.

I did not experience sleepiness again. My hands, which started to bother me the previous day at about km 800, and my bottom which was chafed and raw, provided me with pain which may have helped keep me alert. I pushed hard to Mill Bay and ended up with 1 1/2 hours in the bank. I hung in on the climb of the Malahat. Near the summit Paul Johnson's wife Sheila drove by and stopped. Paul was behind me still in the middle of the climb. She offered to support me as well and would wait for each of us at the Saanich control. Brian was with her. He had to drop out at Port Hardy. I finished the ride with Paul. Here is an excerpt from his posting to the Long Distance Bikers Forum.

"Though this was one of my faster 1200K's I still 'won' the Lanterne Rouge! Finally, the recognition I so richly deserve after all these years of mediocrity! Actually I was co-owner of the Lanterne Rouge, I rode in with a new friend from Ontario. I had written this guy off for dead at least three times at and after the turnaround out at Port Hardy. But when he showed up at control #28 (1117km) my decision was a no brainer. He was really cooked, and was hoping we could ride together. I told him not to worry, I thought it was a great plan. That was music to his ears and off we went. In my mind I was committed to delivering him to the finish, he really earned it. We had to work for the next couple controls and he did a great job of giving it all he had, I could tell from his body language, his winces, and his audible yelps that his rear was like hamburger, I've been there. Once we were at control #30 (1159km) it was clear that if there were no surprises we ought to have no trouble getting home by dinner time. We did, though I should have told him we were still at risk, he really took the pace
off and I was sort of wanting to get it over with and get off the frickin' bike."

It's Paul's story and he does exaggerate his role in my finishing. I would have finished on my own but I was thrilled to have his company, the gracious support of Sheila and Brian, and someone with whom from time to time to push the pace with and get to the final control. I am guilty of letting go right at the end, when a meandering tour through the beautiful seaside setting of Victoria was lost on me, and I kept complaining about not having a straight finish rather than just keeping my head down and moving at pace.

I left something of myself on those roads in BC and though I feel great joy and a tremendous sense of accomplishment I know how hard this achievement was for me. When it was over I felt physically battered but once that passed I recognized how much I had carried off this ride by willing it to be a success.

Next year is PBP. My plan is to train this winter for its physical demands but I know now that the hardest part will be the mental part and training for that lies in how I live my life over the next year.

July 2006