Newsletter - 2004 Archive

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Heat, Headwinds, and Hills: The Okanagan Loop 2004
by Kevin Bruce

After having read Eric's account of the hardships that those riding the Squirrel-on-a-Stick route faced during the solstice weekend, I can only tip my helmet, stand, and applaud their courage. Bravo! For a couple of us who attempted the Okanagan Loop 1000 that same weekend, we, too, decided to abandon, but unlike them we made good on our decision.

There was neither rain nor cold on our ride, but there was heat. In addition to the usual heat, there was also heat which wasn't really heat because there was more intense heat on the way which made the day's earlier heat seem like something other than heat even though it felt like heat at the time. Then there were headwinds that were both preceded and succeeded by other headwinds and, once they died down, gave way to more headwinds. At one point, we experienced what seemed like a tailwind, but over the course of about an hour, the perceived tailwind shifted and became a headwind. Thus, I concluded that an apparent tailwind might not actually be a tailwind, but rather a headwind searching for its true direction. There were also hills, and upon each hill sat a hill; and once we got over a given hill, we would find a bigger hill. Even on those occasions where we found ourselves going DOWNhill, we could look up the road ahead and see yet another hill.

It was hell.

The day before the 1000 weekend, Jaye Haworth came over from Victoria, crashed at my place, and the two of us headed out to the opening control on North Road in Burnaby in the early morning hours. There we met the several others that were also attempting the ride: Manfred Kuchenmiller, the ride organizer, on his recumbent; Alard Malek, prepping for the Rocky Mountain 1200 with his classy, personally monogrammed steel-frame Marinoni; Lindsay Martin, on his stylish, rust-orange Rivendell with Carradice saddlebag; and Henry Berkenbos who could ride a bloody CCM tricycle and still finish an hour ahead of the rest of us.

Jaye and I spoke boldly of making it to Kamloops that first day, so off we went at the appointed hour and unflinchingly paced ourselves against a steady headwind to the first control at the Seabird Island Café, 104 km away. Cards signed, water bottles filled, we briefly greeted Lindsay who arrived as we were leaving, admired his bike, then pushed on.

As we headed north from Hope through the Fraser Canyon, we were met with more headwinds. This was distressing and we soon realized that we were not going to make as good time as we had thought and, even before we reached Boston Bar, had our first inklings that maybe we would not make it to Kamloops that night.

The heat was oven-like and was more conducive to baking cakes than randonneuring. From time to time, I looked down at my body expecting to see a skeleton, the flesh having melted off the bone. Instead, I saw a familiar corporeal object that housed my consciousness so I knew that I was still, in fact, alive, and probably (though not certainly) sane.

As the heat continued its relentless rage, I looked to the sky to see if there might a cloud somewhere that would drift in front of the sun and give us a few moments respite. What I saw, however, startled me: there, above me in the sky, robes flowing and spoked-wheels spinning, was the Goddess of Cycling. Randonneurs are all too familiar with the works of this ethereal creature, for it is her job to ensure our humility. I looked desperately at her, begging her for the smallest morsel of mercy, but the Goddess just smiled at me with mock innocence as her hand reached for a thermostat which she cranked up to full.

Only once did Jaye and I actually run out of water and were forced to stop at someone's home and ask if we could fill our bottles. They were very nice, offered us the garden hose, and let us pet their pink-tongued puppy dogs who thought we were really interesting since we tasted like salt. The kind people asked us how far we were going, were amazed at what we were attempting, and wished us well. We said "thank you" several times since, after all, they had saved our lives.

Thus rejuvenated, we carried on toward Cache Creek.

The heat, hills, and headwinds did not relent until night fell, at which point only the heat gave way. By this time, we felt as though we had ridden an overnight 500 km Fleche even though we'd covered less than 300 km in about 16 hours. We were drained; exhausted; beat; fatigued; expended; depleted; pooped. We agreed that Kamloops was too lofty a goal for us to reach before we slept, and decided that Cache Creek, the 325 km mark, was more reasonable.

Jaye warned me that she had had an experience on a previous brevet where she actually fell asleep while riding and did not want to risk a repeat of that situation. I was glad she mentioned it, because I was yawning repeatedly and my eyelids felt heavy and feared that the same thing could happen to me at any moment. So, with about twenty kilometres to Cache Creek and a hotel bed, we pulled over and laid down on the hard surface of a side road, and tried to regain enough strength to carry on. We lay there on the pavement on our backs and, because we were so tired, and our bodies so desperately needing to be motionless, the pavement felt like the softest, most invitingly sensuous surface imaginable. As I looked up at the stars, just beyond the Big Dipper I caught a glimpse of the Goddess of Cycling pointing at us while doubled over with laughter. Gradually, the Goddess' laughter drifted away in an echoing decrescendo and we slowly picked ourselves up off the pavement, one limb at a time, carefully placed ourselves on our bikes, and carried on.

Our pace was now slower than it had been all day, and it was a good thing that the darkness no longer allowed me to read my speedometer since it would have been embarrassingly slow and therefore exceedingly depressing. About ten kilometres outside of Cache Creek we came to a heritage house; a white clapboard affair, with a porch and a lawn, looking very civilized and inviting. It had apparently been turned into a tourist attraction and, since we were tourists of a sort, we pulled in, got off our bikes for a second time, and lay on the lawn.

The grass was cool and soft, and here there was a fence for us to put our feet up while we gazed at the stars. I have no idea what was running through Jaye's mind as we lay on the grass looking up at the sky, but running through my mind was absolutely nothing. At this point I was so tired, both physically and mentally, that either being eaten by wild animals or winning a million dollars would have met with exactly the same reaction from me: a simple, acquiescing nod of the head accompanied by a polite smile and the words, "That's nice."

Eventually, Jaye and I got up from our grassy repose, slung our respective legs over our respective bicycles, clicked into our pedals and resigned ourselves to riding the remaining ten kilometres to Cache Creek.

Once in the town, we happened upon a 24-hour restaurant which turned out to be the control listed on the route sheet although we failed to realize this at the time. Thus, we coincidentally got our control cards signed at the right place. We sat in the restaurant and stared at the menu. Jaye ordered something to eat and although I heard her enunciate the words to the waitress, my ability to process what I was witnessing had so badly deteriorated that she could have been ordering uranium on toast with a side of hatpins and a glass of motor oil. I ordered spaghetti and asked the waitress if it was a meat sauce. She said it was. I don't eat meat but was so tired and hungry I didn't care and ate it anyway.

As the food took effect and sentience returned to my state of awareness, I looked at my control card. What I saw made me do a Buster Keaton double-take: the ride from Boston Bar to Cache Creek, a distance of a mere 130 kilometres, had taken us over eight and a half hours. How could that be? Jaye and I are both fully capable of riding 200 kilometres in eight hours, so how could we explain having taken a half hour longer to cover two-thirds the distance? We had not squandered time at controls, nor taken unreasonably long unscheduled stops. There had been neither flat tires to fix nor mechanical problems to deal with and what road construction we had run into was minimally inconveniencing. We had not used up valuable time by taking guided tours, snapping photographs, earning PhD's, attending weddings, or writing our memoirs. What had happened? Quite simply, the heat, headwinds, and hills had taken their toll on us. Moreover, the state of Jaye's Achilles tendon was gradually deteriorating, and I had begun developing saddle sores.

At around 1:00 o'clock in the morning, we left the restaurant and went motel shopping. After a brief perusal of our options, we checked into the Sandman Inn where, as it turned out, Manfred and Alard had checked in about ten minutes earlier. Zombie-like, we had our respective showers, climbed into bed, and quickly let a very trying and tiring day slip away forever.

On the road again at 7 o'clock the next day, the cool morning air and sight of the sagebrush-dappled hills on the road to Kamloops were enough to lift our spirits and gave us confidence that today would hold greater promise than the previous. For the first time on this trip there was no headwind. As we progressed along the Thompson Valley and its magnificent views of the river below and mile-long trains snaking along the mountainside, a slight breeze from the north picked up. This boded well for us since it meant we would have a tailwind when we turned south at Monte Creek.

Once through the city of Kamloops, we stopped at a restaurant for lunch, and there I noticed that, in addition to saddle sores, I was developing bruises on the palms of my hands. After thinking it through, I concluded that two points of contact with the bike were being adversely affected by one mal-adjusted component. Given the kind of injuries the bike was slowly inflicting on me, I concluded that the handlebars were angled up a bit too high so I took out my Allen key and lowered them a few degrees. Once back on the bike, the relief on both my hands and butt was almost immediate, but the damage had been done - I was bruised and blistered in two key areas and the noonday heat only exacerbated the problem. To make matters worse, Jaye's Achilles tendon was restricting her ability to effectively climb out-of-the-saddle. She was now becoming concerned that continuing might result in greater injury and jeopardize her plans to ride the Rocky Mountain 1200 five weeks' hence.

As we progressed through the debilitating midday heat toward Vernon our tailwind flagged, shifted and became another headwind. We climbed more hills and then the paved shoulder of the road vanished forcing us to share a single, narrow lane with a constant stream of impatient cars, camper vans, and trucks. At this point, I looked to the sky and saw there the Goddess of Cycling looking down at me, a sardonic smirk on her face. I called out to her saying, "Should I take all this personally?" She nodded. My eyes narrowed to slits and I gave her the finger.

We arrived in Vernon at the 528-kilometre point in the late afternoon and pulled into a tourist information centre. Our plan was to make a motel reservation in Keremeos, but the grassy lawn outside the building distracted us. The lawn was banked slightly and we found that lying on the grass with our feet higher than our heads produced a sensation that we were not about to end sooner than necessary. Thus, we lay in the shade of the building, on the grass outside the info centre, and explored various options. What if we just took a room right now and slept until midnight, then headed out at that time? What if we stayed in Penticton instead of Keremeos? What if we bought gel-padded seat covers and a foil blanket at Canadian Tire? What if we…

By the time that we had discussed all of the various scenarios, an hour had passed, and we both realized that we simply were delaying the inevitable, ugly decision. We were both sustaining injuries that would only get worse the further we rode; my original goal of finishing by suppertime on Monday was no longer possible; and since I had to be back at work first thing Tuesday there was no way that I would be well-rested and fresh were I to continue the ride. We therefore chose to abandon.

I entered the Tourist Info Centre no longer wanting information on motels in Keremeos, but rather for directions to the Greyhound Bus station. The young lady in the info centre was most helpful as she signed our control cards (for the record) and gave us a map with the bus depot clearly marked. As much as I hate to say it, the ten minutes' ride to the bus station was by far the most fun and relaxed few kilometres of the ride to this point.

At the Greyhound station, I approached the ticket counter, and addressed the young woman who, apparently, was running the whole place by herself:

"Hello. There are two of us, and we have to get to Vancouver, but we have bicycles with us."

"You'll have to put the bicycles in boxes, otherwise the drivers won't take them."


"Yes, boxes."

"How do we go about putting our bikes in boxes?"

"You take them to a bike shop and they'll do it for you for a fee."

"Yes, I know that; but at 6:30 on a Sunday night?"


"Have you any other suggestions?"

"Well, there is a bin out back full of broken down cardboard boxes. You can sift through it to see what you can find. I can loan you a packing tape dispenser and a box cutter if you like."

"That would be very helpful. Thank you."

And so, armed with a tape dispenser and box cutter, Jaye and I headed out back of the parking lot to a green metal dumpster filled to the brim with cardboard boxes. We attempted to raise the lid of the dumpster only to find it locked. On the front of the bin, however, was a slot about two feet wide and four inches high through which I could reach my arm and so had my choice of only those boxes that were within my grasp. As I fished around inside the bin, I wondered if there was any present significance in the quote, "A man's reach should never exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?" Indeed, there turned out to be great significance in these words as the first box I pulled out was of exact proportions necessary in which to fit a bicycle. After several more smaller boxes had been hauled out, we set about the task of cutting, taping, and packing, and within an hour we stood admiring how well we had orchestrated the improvisation of makeshift bike boxes. With a few hours to kill before we caught the bus back to Vancouver we headed off to a nearby Chinese restaurant where we ordered too much rich food and drank too much bad wine.

Of six starters, only three finished. Alard also abandoned at Vernon having developed a sore shoulder and did not want to risk injury. Manfred and Lindsay finished only two hours before the final control closed, and Henry turned in a time of just over 68 hours which was 8 hours' slower than his previous time at the same route in 2002.

As the bus pulled out of Vernon and headed along the highway that we would not be travelling on bike, Jaye and I settled into our high-back seats in air-conditioned comfort and let the hum of the engine lull us to sleep. The troubling experience of two days' worth of heat, headwinds, and hills began to dissipate from memory. Just before I closed my eyes and bid adieu to the Okanagan, which had defeated me, I glanced out the window for the last time and, lo and behold, caught one final glimpse of the Goddess of Cycling. With a mischievous grin, she gave me a knowing wink and then scurried off in the direction of the Kootenays, presumably to create havoc for randonneurs in those parts.

Kevin Bruce

June, 2004