Newsletter - 2007 Archive

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...and then Bob's thoughts on the subject:

How NOT to qualify for PBP
by Bob Koen

A tale about a less than perfect spring randonneuring season, and a hard bicycle ride

My goal since the middle last year has been to qualify for, and then complete, PBP. With this in mind I started training for the randonneuring season in early February. A few moderate rides in between downpours and snowstorms started bringing my legs into shape. By late March I had built up my fitness to a level that I was comfortable, if not terribly happy, with. Bad weather and the demands of being a single parent left me far short of the mileage that I would normally have put in by then.

At Easter I attended the Spring Hell Week series on Vancouver Island. I rode a respectable, for me at least, 200 and 300 km ride. Things were looking good. Then I got sick with flu. Getting sick is pretty unusual for me, and when I do get sick I usually shake it off in a few days. Not this time. This flu quickly progressed into a lung infection that stayed with me for the next seven weeks. I missed the lower mainland 200 and 300 and managed to recover enough to attempt a 413 km route for the Flèche in early May. 42 km into that ride I was descending a hill in the dark when I dropped both wheels into a deep longitudinal crack at the centreline of the road. I broke 4 teeth, 1 helmet, and various bits and pieces of my bike. My Flèche was over and I garnered my first DNF. Fortunately I wasn't badly hurt and was able to recover pretty well. Well enough to attempt the lower mainland 400 2 weeks later. By this time the flu was well settled into my lungs and I wasn't doing myself any favors by going for a long bike ride in atrocious weather. The ride went well enough though and I managed to finish in a personal worst 400 K time. The damage was done though and the flu came back into my lungs at full strength a couple of days later. By the following weekend I was in bed for 3 days straight, I had a resting heart rate of 84 bpm, and I had lost 10 pounds. This was the weekend of the Vancouver Island 600; the first of 3 chances to complete a 600 and qualify for PBP. It was obvious that I would not be well enough to attempt the lower mainland 600 the next weekend, so I set my sights on the Kamloops 600 as my one and only chance to get my final qualifier done.

The weekend of the lower mainland 600 came and went as I slowly improved in health. By Thursday of the following week I was able to do my standard 75 km training ride in reasonable comfort but in incredibly slow time. My lungs were working, but I was unable to take a deep breath without going into a coughing spasm. And my legs were in very early season shape. It didn't matter though. I resolved to attempt the 600 and ride as slow as necessary to keep the lungs and legs operating. I didn't think that I had much chance of success., but I decided that I couldn't succeed if I didn't try, and I knew that I would be much happier with a failure after a good effort than I would be with a failure that resulted from never trying at all.

The ride

My plan was to ride slowly and carefully. I figured that if I could keep the effort level low but steady I could stay away from muscle cramps and might not bonk. I didn't think that I would get much sleep, but if I could just keep going I might be able to finish the ride in the requisite 40 hours.

The ride started out pretty well. It began with a big climb out of Kamloops where I immediately fell off the pace. By the time I got near the top I could see the pack going over the crest about 5 minutes ahead of me. I was pretty encouraged by this because this was one of the two big climbs of the ride and it had gone fairly well. Then a long and beautiful ride down the Nicola valley brought me into Merritt. This section was marred by some moderate headwinds that kept the pace slower than I had hoped for. I left Merritt with an hour to spare and headed up the largest climb of the trip as steady drizzle began to fall. This section was pretty grim and was then followed by a long section of road construction. In due time I turned off the Coquihalla connector onto Hwy 5A towards Princeton. This was another beautiful section of road. I arrived in Princeton with two hours to spare on the clock and went about finding a late lunch. The clerk at the gas station control highly recommended the deli so I went there and had a chicken burger and a salad. The food tasted good and gave me some needed energy as I set off down what should have been the easiest section of the ride. This was a downhill ride along a river on very good road. There should have been a tailwind since it was the opposite direction to the Nicola Valley portion where I had a headwind. But it wasn't to be. I had a light headwind all the way to Keremeos and beyond.

I made a quick but desperate stop at Hedley for a bathroom break and carried on. Another quick but desperate stop at a rest area beyond Keremeos started me to wondering about the chicken burger that I had eaten in Princeton. Then I arrived at the third control in Okanagon Falls just at dark and now had three hours in the bank. I was getting pretty tired by this point and still had 130 km to go to get to the motel room that I had reserved in Vernon. But I was still moving and hadn't really expected to get much sleep anyway. I rode on to Penticton and made another quick but desperate stop to get what I hoped was the last of the pathogens from the chicken burger out of my system. I ate a bowl of Tim Hortons chili and carried on. Tim's chili usually agrees with me on long rides, but this time it didn't turn out that way.

A really nice section of smooth, empty, and flat highway raised my spirits. There was also a huge tailwind that pushed me along at a steady 30 km an hour for about half an hour. I was very happy for that short time until I arrived at the climb into Summerland. I rarely travel this road and had never bicycled it so I didn't know about this climb or that the smooth, flat, and easy part of the road was behind me. Then things really crapped out, so to speak.

I was riding through Peachland about an hour later when a bout of explosive diarrhea struck. I didn't manage to get off the bike and into the bushes anywhere near fast enough. A minute later I found myself squatting in the bushes beside a major highway after midnight with a load of minimally processed Tim Hortons chili filling my bike shorts. This was not the high point of my ride. It was also the point where I learned arm warmers make a good substitute for toilet paper and got the mess cleaned up as well as I could. It's a good thing that there weren't any open motels for the next hour of the ride or my dream of going to Paris would literally have gone down the toilet at that point. I finally found some services in Kelowna and washed out my shorts and carried on.

I rode through the rest of the night and watched a beautiful dawn slowly replace the night as I rode north towards Vernon. I finally arrived at my motel at 6:15 am, 430 km and 25 ¼ hours after leaving Kamloops. Two hours of rest did wonders to refresh me and so I set out on what I thought would be a much easier and more enjoyable day of riding a bicycle. It didn't turn out that way.

For the first hour or two it was an easy and enjoyable ride. Then just as I got to the top of a long climb my rear derailleur cable snapped. So I got out my spare and installed it, only to find out that the spare was too short. While doing this Keith and Eric came by. I was incredibly surprised to see them since I thought that they were way ahead. They had wisely stopped in Kelowna the night before and had a decent rest. They chatted for a minute and then promised to wait for me in Salmon Arm to make sure I got my cable fixed. Peter Mair also came by. I didn't know him at the time but he is a member of the club and knew of the ride. He didn't have a shifter cable to loan me either. So I rode the next 35 km to Salmon Arm with high gear only on the back and 3 gears to choose from on the front. This worked well enough since the road went down a river valley and had only a few short rollers for me to power over. I finally arrived at Salmon Arm where Peter gave me the shifter cable out of his bike. I thanked him profusely and he left for home. But I never managed to install the new cable because the end was a bit frayed and I couldn't make it go into the cable guide at my shifters. After much fussing about I gave up and resolved to ride the remaining 115 km to Kamloops on what was now a 3 speed bike. Now I know that there are some very strong folks out there who think that one speed is all you need, but I have never thought that way.

The terrain between Salmon Arm and Chase is rolling and has some long grades to go up and down. The downhills were fun and very welcome. The uphills were not. I walked my bike up almost every hill for the next 50 kms. I was still making forward progress and thought I still had a chance to get back to Kamloops before the 40 hour cutoff time. So I walked up hills and zoomed down hills and carried as much speed as possible in between. Then I got near to the top of one of the hills and hopped back on the bike to power my way up the last little bit. That's when my chain broke.

I nearly had a crying fit at that point. This was not turning out to be the easy and enjoyable day of bicycling that I had anticipated. I got out my chain tool and was able to get the chain repaired and get on my way again. However I am not the bike mechanic I hope to be someday and ended up with a stiff link. So I now had a 3 speed bike with a chain that skipped badly. I also didn't dare push too hard on the pedals for fear of breaking the chain again. But I was still mobile and was getting near to Chase where I knew that the hills ended. And I thought that I still had enough time left to have a chance of completing the ride in time.

I came down one last long downhill into Chase and headed out onto the flats. I had 55 kms left to go and my speed went up to between 25 and 30 km an hour. My spirits soared. At this rate I would be in Kamloops in 2 hours and the ordeal would be over.

That was when the headwinds started.

These weren't the moderate headwinds that I had experienced for so much of the previous day. These were constant and serious winds. My speed dropped to 15 km/h and stayed there. I had to ride with my chain on the small chainring for the rest of the day. What I thought would be a 2 hour cruise into Kamloops turned out to be a 4 hour struggle where I never got out of what passed for low gear on my crippled bike. And it was not a pleasant section of road. I was on a major highway with way too much traffic to be any fun at all. The fun had gone out of the ride for that day long before though, so I carried on.

All good things come to an end, and so did the ride. I arrived back at the finishing control in Kamloops 38 hours and 22 minutes after starting out. The ride was over, the job was done, and I had qualified for PBP.

I think that I earned my spot at PBP. See you in Paris.


June 19, 2007