Newsletter - 2004 Archive

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The Wonderful Toil to the Toll
by Margaret Elliot

After an eight year lapse, I've come back to try my legs at longer rides again. Not owning a bike, this is only possible because of the generosity of my Wonderful friend, Barry, who by good fortune is exactly my size. Dressed from headgear to toe in his clothes and on one of his bikes, I had already done the Populaire, the 200 and the 300 this spring at which point I firmly decided I was not capable of and NOT GOING TO DO the 400 because I am not really a cyclist. Even when I spotted a Wonder Bread jersey in a Fairhaven bike shop a week after the 300, I thought I'd love to have it but dismissed the thought because I'd feel like an imposter wearing it. That weekend we talked a lot about the 400. It was quite the plum of a ride, going up the Coquihalla to the tollbooth and back, something I'd love to be able to say I had done, but the 300 seemed to be the limit of what I was capable of. After all, I'm an already near exhausted, working, single mother of two teenagers, two cats and a rabbit. What was I thinking when I even did the 300? I thought that was going to kill me. But at 11AM of the Thursday before the 400, inspiration struck and I called Barry to say I had to do the 400 because that way I could say I had Toiled to the Toll and earn the right to wear that Wonder Bread jersey. He said he was already planning to do it without me anyway, on my bike, but would prepare the other bike for himself if I was serious.

So, by Saturday AM we were ready. We decided to be at the start ON TIME for this ride since we couldn't afford to needlessly waste any. Barry figured we'd be at Hope by 2PM and at the tollbooth by 6PM if all went well. I didn't tell him but I still had grave doubts about my ability and thought his timeline was optimistic, but even if all I accomplished was getting up the big hill I would still have earned my jersey. (Of course, what I kept forgetting was on these rides you can get halfway BUT THEN YOU STILL HAVE TO GET ALL THE WAY BACK TO THE START WHERE THE CAR IS PARKED!!)

Off we started with the whole group, me on the bike Barry had taken to PBP last year with the low gears and him on the bike without the low gears (no Wonder I always beat him up the hills). We rode with several others for much of the way to the first control but soon after that seemed to be comfortably at the back going as fast as I could. We made it up Chilliwack Mt, though I had to speed ahead of Barry on the hill (because I could), reaching the secret control in plenty of time to rest and refresh before he arrived and we were off again. It was a lovely, pleasant ride along Hope River and Camp River Roads until a spoke broke on Barry's rear wheel. We sat and ate lunch at the side of the road while discussing the options. Barry felt confident in gambling that a repair short of replacing the darn thing would be fine but several searches through the bags failed to turn up the zap straps I was supposed to have put in there. It looked like duct tape would have to do (maybe we could get zap straps in Hope?). Then one last randonneur came up the road behind us and asked if we were okay. He did have a small zap strap or two and so it looked as if we were going to be okay (and that we really were the last ones now). We carried on to Hope and arrived at the control at 2:05. Wonder of Wonders, we were actually on schedule! We forgot to look for zap straps and didn't remember until Othello Road when the second spoke snapped, but because it was near the first one we just used more duct tape. I was beginning to Wonder about how this was going to turn out but Barry still seemed confident enough to not replace the spoke (oh yes, we had only one spare spoke anyway). So on we carried, up the hill, me way faster and far enough ahead that I reached the junction at the Coquihalla and had several minutes to wait and Wonder if Barry was soon going to appear around the corner or if something more serious was happening and I was going to have to back track, find him and a disabled bike and walk back to Hope for more serious intervention. I actually waited for only two minutes (the GPS tracking us confirmed this later) and when he caught up he suggested that the safest way for us to reach the top with the compromised spokes was if I rode that bike because I weighed less than him. This worked Wonderfully for him because it also meant he now had the lowest gears for the climb and we were evenly matched for speed.

I was instructed to watch the road and avoid all potholes and bumps, which wasn't too tricky at the speed we were traveling. And Wonder of Wonders again, we reached the tollbooth at 6:30, nearly on schedule. Not only was I tremendously proud and impressed with myself for having achieved that goal and earning that jersey, but also strangely impressed with Barry and his confidence, too, for having so closely figured out how fast we were actually going to be able to do it.

It was much colder at the top than we had planned for but a few extra cookies and a banana and we were ready for the descent. Karen wisely counseled us to head for the next control at Seabird without much delay in Hope so that we could have a good meal before it was too late. The descent was long but controlled, particularly on my part because I had in the back of my mind that one of my wheels was not quite right and I was still supposed to watch for bumps and potholes. I was amazed at the length of the highway as we coasted down for two hours! Did I really climb up this? All was going too well. I was feeling on top of the world and bursting with pride and the Wonder of the accomplishment. We rounded the corner back to Othello Road and as we began the climb up the next hill my bike came to a screeching halt and I nearly fell over. Another spoke had broken and the chain had come off. This time I applied the duct tape as Barry figured out how we were going to manage this one. He loosened my rear brakes which really began to concern me. Now I could feel the wobble and we were still nearly 200K from the car. I Wonder how I did it, but Barry convinced me we were okay to go on. At the bottom of Othello Road we found a gas station and Barry looked for zap straps. They didn't have them but offered us twist ties instead. Good enough! We twist tied together every set of spokes we thought we needed to and had spares left over. On to Hope where Barry still had to work to convince me the wheel was safe, but it was already past 10PM and I wanted a hot meal and table and chairs at Seabird so off we went.

We made it in time for the hot meal but left without the coffee, a mistake in hindsight. Now came the long, dark ride down Highway 7 with only the headlights to mark the bumps in the road. I was beginning to feel more confident about the wheel because so far it was still holding up. On and on in the dark, heading for Woodside, but before we reach it spoke number four breaks in Agassiz. As we are stopped at the side of the road twist-tie-and-duct-taping this one back in place, an RCMP officer pulls up. He thinks we must be bike cops-- who else would be out on the road at 1AM? We asked with Wonder, "You have bike cops here in Agassiz?" and he said, "No." We couldn't miss this opportunity so I admit we asked him if he would give us a ride back to Vancouver. He said no. We asked him if he had any zap straps but he only had the ones for handcuffs and they are too big. So he looked at us as if we were crazy, warned us to be careful on Woodside because it is so narrow and drove off.

From here to the finish we had no further trouble with the rear wheel but the deterioration of my mental condition was becoming a concern around hour 22! Coffee and cake at Tim Horton's in Mission, dawn and daylight, a ten minute nap on a bench near Silverdale, Barry's good humor and -what was that near the end?- cheerfulness?- pulled me through, though apparently I was a Wonder to behold as we arrived at the Knight and Day.

In the end, the bike shop replaced 11 spokes, and I did get my Wonder Bread jersey. I will wear it without hesitation knowing that I cycled the Coquihalla to the tollbooth and back! Will I ever do another Randonneur ride? I don't know but if that plum of a ride to Cache Creek and back is ever put on again.....


Margaret Elliott (click image)
May 25, 2004