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The 2006 Inaugural VanIsle 1200
by E. W. (Wim) Kok


        There were several 1200+ K rides on the 2006 international randonneur agenda; I selected the VanIsle 1200, a ride which would mainly follow the east side of Vancouver Island. Except for the section north of Campbell River, I was quite familiar with most of the area. I had cycled a few VI brevets over the years and in the seventies we spent a few years working in and around Port Alberni, an area west of Parksville. This brevet also offered a format that I knew quite well: minimal support, which means that you're mostly on your own. That's also the story of the brevets in the region where I ride. The difference is that at the VanIsle 1200 there are other riders. A few days before the event started we arrived in Victoria and we stayed with friends. Since Larry is an avid cyclist, he and I explored and 'inadvertently' cycled parts of the route, a very memorable warm-up. On registration day there was a thorough bike-check, as well as a pre-ride dinner at the Bleathering Place. Great choice to meet, greet and eat. When that was over, 35 riders and many volunteers retired to get ready for the big one. So here's my account of the experience, marbled with a few observations and musings.

Day 1: Victoria - Campbell River (382 km)

        The day was barely a few hours old, when I was cycling to the Oak Bay Marina. After we received our control cards and a few words from Ken Bonner, we moved to the actual start. The count-down in down-town Oak Bay was as quiet as the neighbourhood itself: very!! At 3:00 am we set out neutral through urban and sleepy Victoria. We cycled along the harbour front, past the Legislative Buildings, and then to the ocean front. We heard waves breaking and crashing on the rocks. The waves released their energy and inspired us to the same with our pent-up energy. And we did. The pace went up considerably. The speed devils took over, after all we only had 1200 clicks to go. I must admit that for awhile I was also hanging near the front.

        There is always a bit of anxiety in the beginning of a ride, especially when it is dark and there are almost as many turns on the route sheet as on the London-Edinburgh-London brevet. Getting lost is the main concern. Needless to say that everyone tries to hang on for dear life. In the end the route sheet proved to be pretty easy to follow. In rapid succession we reached the first four controls Ten Mile Point (Km 25.4 @ 4:04 am), Sydney (Km 56.8 @ 5:18 am), Swartz Bay (Km 64.1 @ 5:37 am) and Saanichton (Km 81.8 @ 6:25 am), before we arrived at the Royal Oak Mall (Km 98.1 @ 7:02 am). The first 100 km had been a fast-paced opener, but at this control the fast riders split and continued without a break. Knowing that the Malahat would be our first major obstacle, a break was the right choice for me at that time. Ken Myhre, Maurice Smith, Michael Koth and I then resumed the ride. When we showed up at the foot of the Malahat, Michael and I maintained our manageable pace, that is we let those with faster manageable paces go up first. We followed. The Malahat is not an onerous climb, although Vancouver Islanders and Flatlanders may think so. Anyone who has cycled elsewhere knows where the challenging climbs are. The south side of the Malahat consists of three climbs, interspersed with flatter sections. On the way up there are magnificent panoramas of the Saaanich Peninsula. What a treat. We stopped to appreciate the grandeur of the landscape. The descent was one long plunge along the north side into Mill Bay (Km 140.7 @ 9:33 am), which fortunately was off the main highway. The ride along the placid bay was a real treat. We turned briefly on and off the main highway and via secondary roads and a steep downhill made it into picturesque Cowichan Bay (Km 156.3 @ 10:20 am). We had more than 4 hours in hand by now. At the "The Udder Guy's" Ice Cream store we sampled some wares and got our cards signed. More secondary roads led us through the beautiful back country with its small farms and vineyards near Cherry Point.

        At Maple Bay (Km 170.2 @ 11:09 am) we answered the question on our card and made it to Chemainus (Km 187.5 km @ 11:55 am) to record the details of the old logging locomotive. By now it was time for lunch, which consisted of soup and sandwiches. We must have spent about an hour here before we went to Cedar (Km 216.4 @ 1:52 pm). Here we recorded Anno Domini 1885 as the year in which the Wheat Sheaf Pub was established. Too soon we were back on the Island Highway, leaving behind a very pretty section of the Island. During a short stop in Nanaimo (Km 228.9 @ 2:35 pm) we glanced at a newspaper. While both of us confessed to never reading horoscopes, we did look at what ours had to say that day. Mine indicated that when tackling big jobs (interpretation: cycling the VanIsle 1200), it is wise to divide it in manageable portions. I did heed that call and decided to go for three overnight sleeps instead of two. After I shared these findings, Michael consulted his. He was advised to regularly work on his love relationship. As a result he was faithfully text messaging with his girlfriend back home in Germany. Consulting the horoscope had two effects: (1) I arrived feeling rather fresh at the finish line; (2) Monica's responses to Michael provided him with positive support. In one case the remaining distance of some 40 km to a control was put in perspective with "Fuer Dich is das nur eine Katzensprunge." ('For you that is a cinch', literally a 'cat jump').

        The road to Parksville took us out of never ending Nanaimo and again along the Island Highway, the least attractive section of the route (traffic-wise that is). In Qualicum Beach (Km 272.8 @ 4:45 pm) we connected with Melissa Friesen and Scott Gater. Through teamwork we made it in very good time to Courtenay, where we enjoyed a meal. Using the same cooperation we hurried further along and made it just before dark to Campbell River (Km 382.3 @ 10:05 pm). While I had contemplated to reach Sayward Junction that night, Michael's plan to stay in Campbell River, the astrologer's advice, the early morning Victorian start, and the thought of cycling in the dark for another 65 km were enough excuses to rationalize staying in Campbell River. A shower, food and a good sleep came just at the right time. We had covered 382 km in 19 hours, an average of 20 kph, including all the breaks.

Day 2: Campbell River - Port Hardy - Woss (339 km)

By 4:00 am we were on the road again. We began with a long steady climb to get across the Island's spine, not bad when one takes it with fresh legs. At the Roberts Lake rest stop (Km 414.4 @ 5:29 am) we counted picnic tables for the record and shortly before seven we rolled into Sayward Junction (Km 446.9 @ 6:55 am) to enjoy a good breakfast. We noted a real change in weather here. Weather maps from preceding days showed, that there is a marked change in temperature patterns once you're past Sayward Junction. The West Coast/Pacific influence was definitively noticeable. The terrain appeared rougher, the climate colder and wetter. So far we had enjoyed the warmth of the sheltered east coast. Soon after we had to climb a bit more, actually quite a bit more. A pick-up truck with a boat trailer roared past us. A little later we roared past the same pick-up, not as fast though. Actually quite slow, since we went uphill It was parked along the road with a lame trailer. One of its wheels had come off and disappeared at great speed somewhere into the dense bushes. The driver and passenger were trying to find the missing wheel. Upon arriving in Woss (Km 512.7 @ 11:16 am), I first booked a room for that night. I figured that our return it would be pretty late. Michael and I enjoyed a good lunch. We were barely on the road again, when we met Ken Bonner returning from Port Hardy. He was already at Km 721.1 and more than 200 km ahead of us! We chatted for a few minutes, and then continued along what I later dubbed the "fish and chips" road. This on account of the tractor trailers with fish, fish products, pulp chips as well as logging trucks. While the fish transports generally made wide passes, the same could not be said for some of the local logging trucks. It appeared that some made it a game to pass as closely as possibly in situations where there was absolutely no need to do so. Yes, they are professionals in their field, but sharing the road appeared not to be part of the driver ethic. Less than impressed, I might add. Other randonneurs shared similar experiences.

        After recovering a bit at Hyde Creek (Km 572.4 @ 3:08 pm) we continued to the most northerly point of this brevet. The winds were variable by now; low hanging clouds and showers accompanied us. The weather couldn't quite make up its mind on what it wanted to do. We plodded on along this 45 km section. The topography was rolling, which at this time tried to take a bit of toll on us. We stopped for a few minutes to feed Michael some EnsurePlus and then things picked-up. Try this for an advertising jingle: "Brevets go better with EnsurePlus." In Port Hardy (Km 617 @ 5:50 pm), almost 39 hours after we started, Michael, Bob, Manfred and I had a sit-down meal. Within an hour we were heading south. We thought we could smell the barn and rode at a good pace. We passed a good size black bear. Our return stop at Hyde Creek (Km 661.6 @ 8:33 pm) was again short, since we were anxious to stretch daylight as much as possible. We knew though that it would be pitch dark by the time we'd get to the next control. Except for our conversations and the soft hum of the tires, a sound of silence surrounded us. As we moved up and down a rolling course flanked by tall timbers, the moon came out, singing its silent serenade. Time for poetry again. Pretty neat. After what seemed an eternity, finally a lone streetlight appeared in the distance, marking the Woss turnoff (Km 721 @ 11:42 pm). Another 339 km covered at a pace of about 17.2 kph, including the breaks. Stella and Sandy signed our cards. Soon we were sound asleep. That did not take much prodding. Neither did the alarm sound to get us going again.

Day 3: Woss - Nanaimo (285 km)

        The morning was quiet, a perfect setting for the first kilometers out of Woss, a little after 4:00 am. There was quite a long climb to get over the hump for a downer into Sayward. We were wondering if the loaded boat trailer, the one that lost its wheel on the way up, would still be parked along the road. It was here that one of us -- who shall remain nameless - shared a story from long ago. As the owner of a VW-van, he once picked up hitchhiker. As they were driving along, one of the wheels came off the van and passed them. Oops! Without incident the vehicle was brought to a stand-still. The hiker got out, bid a quick adieu and continued his trip, ungratefully leaving the driver to find the missing wheel and lugs. The driver succeeded, but as he continued his trip, who should he see along the road but the same hiker trying to hitch a ride. With a honk and a wave the driver passed, thus expressing his appreciation for the non-assistance. This was definitely worth a good laugh. Once over the hump we were back at Sayward Jct (Km 887.1 @ 08:10 am) for breakfast. At Roberts Lake (Km 819.3 @ 10:57 am) we recounted the picnic tables, to make sure that nobody had taken one. At the nearby General Store we enjoyed a delicious home-made ice cream and a Coke, energy for the upcoming down hill stretch into Campbell River (Km 851.5 @ 12:57 pm). Somewhere along Peter Noris passed us, then stopped his Airstream combo to take an action picture. Since we were faster upon him than he could ready his camera, we did a "dance-de-bicyclette-a-deux".

        At the Campbell River control I took shower, had a change of clothes, which made me feel like a new rider. On our way to Qualicum Beach (Km 960.9 @ 8:05 pm), we did stop again in Courtenay for bite. As we turned on the Island Highway, we saw quite a few deer. They barely acknowledged us as we took the fast lane south. We sped up, hoping to beat the oncoming darkness before Nanaimo (Km 1006.1 @10:40 pm). It did not quite work, but when we got there I was able to snag a motel room before the lights went out and "No Vacancies"signs appeared. Michael had his mobile motel waiting for Peter Noris, fellow randonneur from previous brevets (BMB, RM1200 and PBP) was supporting him. The day's distance of 285 km was covered in under 19 hours at a pace of 15.3 kph. We were slowing down a bit, mainly due to more frequent and longer breaks.

Day 4: Nanaimo-Victoria (200 km)

        Since we had enough time in hand, we treated ourselves to a few extra winks, and left close to 5:00 am. As we were about to depart, who arrives at the control, but Elias Brettler. We chatted for a bit. He looked very tired, but determined. With this 'never-say-die' look in his eyes. Elias indicated that he was badly in need of sleep; he was afraid of nodding off on the busy highway. We suggested that it was high time to lay down somewhere to get at least 15 minutes of sleep. With 200 km to go he had till nine that night -- another 16 hours, which at 13 kph would be more than enough to finish. And he did!! On top it earned him and Paul Johnson a bottle of red wine. As we left Nanaimo and negotiated a complex intersection near the junction to the Duke Point ferry terminal, we met Dean Zimmer. Dean had made an unscheduled detour - read: wrong turn-off - to Duke Point. This meant a lot of backpedaling for him. We joined forces and went looking for Duncan. The plan was to cycle there, which according to Melissa and Scott was only 30 km south of Nanaimo and where they would spend the night. If things worked out we could have a breakfast rendez-vous at Tim Horton's between 6:00 and 7:00 am. Well, things did not quite work out as planned. First, Melissa had major equipment problems around midnight, which we did not know about until much later. Second, it became clear that after 30 km, there was no Duncan; after 40 km there was no Duncan, and even after 50 km there was still no Duncan. Where was Duncan? Had it fallen off the map? No, we did not get lost. (We should have consulted the route sheet for the distance, but who wants to be bothered by that). It took some 52 km to reach Duncan, so when we got there it was after 7:00 am, no Melissa and Scott. We decided too have breakfast anyway.

        We then set out for the foot of the Malahat in Mill Bay (Km 1,077.1 @ 8:46 am). The 6 km climb was not all that long, but given the time of day, we were going sunny side up. This meant a rather hot climb as the morning sun rays tried to bake us against the rocks. It was probably the hottest section of the day and the entire ride. After a stop at the summit, we rapidly descended down the other side. That was cool and swell. Now it was back in the fast lane to the Ravine Way control (Km 1,117.4 @ 11:09 am). Here we were surprised by my wife and Larry, our family friend. Being only two km from the control, they decided to meet us and taste a bit of the rando flavour Her embrace and smile were rather sweet and energizing. I did have this fleeting thought that this could be construed as pre-arranged support, then again since (a) it was at a control, and (b) Michael also received a hug, we were safe in terms of the rules governing brevets. There were quite a few fellow riders at the control, the place was buzzing. Melissa and Scott recounted their equipment failure and their ingenious solution. Bob Koen informed my wife that he had slept with me in Woss. We could explain it. Although there were still100 km to go, this control definitely had the feel of the finish. Since it was not, we crawled back on our machines. Somewhere on this section, I don't know exactly where, but Michael suggested that if we cycled a bit faster -- we actually had to go a lot faster (30 kph+) - he might be able to realize a PB on this 1,200 km brevet. Now he told me! We tried for awhile, but then realized that this quest was started a bit too late. We should have ...., we should ......, yes, there are excuses. We didn't and that was fine, too.

        At the Saanichton control (Km 1149.2 @ 12:47 pm) we saw that there was no question to answer, so we made one up: "What would the question be?" and answered it with "Only Ken knows!" At Land's End we reached the most northerly point on the Saanich Peninsula, then turned east, past the ferry terminal and finally south. "From Land's End to Ken's End" was the slogan now. At the control in Sidney (Km 1159.0 @ 1:19 pm) we each bought a cup with fresh strawberries and a chocolate dip. Michael's PB attempt was toast. We parked our bicycles at the Sidney Marina, sat down and one after another dipped the strawberries in the chocolate and then slowly into our mouths. Delicious and decadent. To us it was Randonneuring in style! Add to that the magnificent views across the water on the Coast Mountains and Mount Baker, and the event was just about complete, except that the ride wasn't over, until we'd cross the finish line in time. The remainder rolled through a very beautiful part of Victoria, beautiful homes, gardens and parks. There was one fly in the ointment, that tiny bastard of a steep hill (inhaling the fumes of a diesel double-decker accounts for the unparliamentary language), compensated for by a few equally short and steep descents. In one of the gardens there were these beautiful bright red Crocosmis 'Lucifer', a very pretty flower, vivid memories of gardens in the Netherlands. At Mac's (Km 1200.9 @ 3:58 pm) we got our cards signed one more time, and now it was a mere sprint to the finish at Ken's Place (Km 1205.7 @ 4:15 pm). Wow. Done!! We were back, 85 hours and 15 minutes after we left. The last 200 km were covered at a pace of 17.8 kph. We earned our medal, which was celebrated with a beer and French cheese A very thoughtful touch. Our hosts, Ken and his wife, know how to treat randonneurs. Much appreciated. The next morning we met again at the Bleathering Place for brunch and post-ride story swap. Thank you's and goodbyes, a wonderful conclusion to a great event. I was glad that my wife had a chance to meet many of my rando friends during the VanIsle 1200. Thanks to Ken and all the volunteers for making this possible. Thanks Michael (and everyone else) for sharing the experience. It was a lot of fun. Auf Wiedersehen! We'll see you on the road.

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September 2006