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Provincial Randodisgrace Cambon grinning like a chimp
before DNFing on the 2009 Eau de Hell Week 600.
Photo: Dave Macmurchie

DNF: The Ultimate Shame & Disgrace
Eau de Hell Week 600 - April 16
by David Cambon

We all know otherwise sane people who have DNF’d and become irrationally yet unavoidably despondent and inconsolable. The bigger the brevet the bigger the DNF despair. A DNF at Paris Brest Paris invariably results in at least four years of debilitating remorse and self doubt. It does not seem to matter what the cause of the DNF was. The DNF could have been caused by lack of preparation or by unforeseeable calamity no fault of the victim. The result is the same: overwhelming sadness that lasts and lasts.

On the evening of April 16 I was cycling merrily along on the Vancouver Island Eau de Hell Week 600 when …CLANK! What the Hell??? I was airborne and bike stuff was flying all over the place! The clanking sound was my aluminium water bottle hitting my head and flying into the forest! My other water bottle disappeared into the dark in the other direction. Part of my pump vanished even though the rest of the pump remained firmly attached to the bike. My tires were blown out. There was no traffic so I could not have been hit by a car. I must have hit a pothole or a rock.

Even more strangely a bluish light came hurtling towards me in the silent wilderness of Strathcona Park. It could not have been a randonneur because it would be at least two hours before I met a rider who had done the turnaround at Gold River. I thought maybe it was a very quiet motorcycle. It actually turned out to be human motorcycle Nigel Press who was setting a pace hours ahead of mere mortals. Nigel stopped and offered help but I was so astonished at the speed he was going I lost interest in my own petty issues. I wished him well on his way to what was obviously the fastest Eau de Hell Week 600 in history.

Anyway, I was prepared for all eventualities. I located the hurled items launched by the collision and I got my tools and spares out to repair the damage. Even though it was pouring rain and chilly I was warm because I was properly dressed for the mountain weather (unlike the previous Eau de Hell 600 when I stupidly wore my summer ensemble for the sub-freezing occasion). Actually it was not just pouring. It was absolutely pelting! I noticed that the nice waterfall on the other side of the road was not there 15 minutes prior. The water was flowing across the road to where I was doing repairs and it was up to my ankles against the concrete crash barrier. I did not notice the water because I was wearing my fancy new cycling booties (no more shopping bag booties for me but even proper booties are not meant for standing in water!).

There is a lesson here. I had been speeding through dark and rain for 25 years of brevets and it was only luck that had prevented me from colliding with anything previously. I have a very bright light but it was raining very hard and I wear prescription glasses that are useless as anything other than kaleidoscopes when covered in raindrops at night. I could not see well enough to avoid potholes. I feared that I might have damaged my carbon fiber fork. It was foolish to go on under the circumstances and I wanted to check the fork in daylight before doing another 100 km/h descent. I called Hell Week Organizer Ken Bonner and sheepishly DNF’d. Luckily I was just a few kilometres from the Strathcona Park Lodge and even more luckily Gary Baker had the foresight to book a chalet at the Strathcona Park Lodge. It was the best DNF ever! Unaccustomed to such opulence I almost broke out into song! I had a fabulous sleep in the chalet and awoke to a brilliant sunrise over the lake.

I did some final checks and repairs and I got on my bike and cycled the long, lonely ride of DNF shame and disgrace. Ha, ha, just kidding! I went on a lovely cycletour of Vancouver Island with a couple of scenic detours I would have missed had I not DNF’d. So overall it was a successful brevet as far as I am concerned. I got some exercise, I had some fun and I did not become a burden to the health care system by colliding with a fixed object at 100 km/h. However, I do have sympathy for everyone who DNF’s, even if I have inadequate remorse myself.


Re: Eau de Hell Week

Last year I did the whole Hell Week 200, 300, 400 and 600. It was a very nice vacation from the city (I live in the actual Hell, er …I mean Vancouver). I also found that doing the 200, 300 and 400 was an excellent warm-up for the 600 and I would recommend doing the whole Hell Week instead of just bits. By the time I did the 600 I was in better shape and I had lost some weight. However, the weather was not exactly Hellish. There was a lot of sunshine and warm temperatures and no sideways rain and ferocious howling winds like the previous year’s Hell Week. So I returned this year to get my money’s worth ($15) of hopefully more Hell-like weather. There was a tailwind for 230 kilometres but luckily we were treated to a lengthy night-time rainstorm. I was quite pleased with myself for the manliness of the whole tough guy weather situation and the fact that I had chosen the right gear for ultradrippy conditions.

The section of highway where I DNF’d is one of my favourite parts of the Eau de Hell Week route and it’s worth doing Hell Week for (180 kilometres out and back from Campbell River to Gold River through Strathcona Park on the 600). The scenery is pretty. It’s sub-alpine wilderness with a few clearcuts and there is almost no traffic at the time of night you cycle that part of the brevet (it’s a log hauling road during the daytime so avoid that route during log trucking hours if you are touring on Vancouver Island).

I am starting to learn that I have probably been using the wrong tires. In the past few years I have switched from 25mm tires to 23mm tires because I could not get 25mm tires in the boonie town of Vancouver. Bike shop workers in Vancouver tell me that 23mm tires are for real men and their customers are real men. I don’t think 25mm tires would have saved me from the DNF incident but perhaps some of those 30mm Bicycle Quarterly Grand Bois Cypres tires might have sailed over whatever I hit without blowing out. I have noticed that some of the very fast randonneurs are using big tires and it is dawning on me that those big tires might actually be faster on brevets, just like very fast randonneur Jan Heine says.


Re: Recumbent Bicycles

Ya, I know what you’re thinking: "That weirdo guy obviously DNF’d because he rode a recumbent bike. Get a normal bike, you lame-brained recumbent idiot! Your silly lie-down bike makes me angry! No, it makes me laugh - at YOU! Har, har, har!".

True, I have been experimenting with various recumbent bikes on brevets and most of them have been too damn slow for randonneuring. Most recumbents are too heavy for brevets and are bad climbers because of too flexy frames and power-absorbing mesh seats. I finally compromised last year and used a semi-fast touring recumbent for Eau de Hell Week. I put all kinds of luxury touring junk on it (like a heavy Lexan front fairing instead of a light carbon fiber one) but it actually completed the 2008 Hell Week despite doing quite a few bonus miles (I think it’s the only ‘bent to do Hell Week with a winery tour). For the next Hell Week I may actually try a fast and light recumbent (and lose the 20 lbs I am overweight, and maybe do some training). I’ll try some puffier tires too.

And for everyone who has been making smartypant remarks about my recumbent bikes I would like to point out that I have appeared on recumbents lately not because I have developed some type of mental (as suggested) or physical affliction that prevents me from being normal. I just like riding recumbents. I have been using recumbents for touring for quite a few years. I ride uprights too. I have mostly used uprights for brevets. Recumbents are more fun. These days there are a couple of recumbents available that are just as fast as uprights for brevets and they might even be faster. Certain randosuitable ‘bents have come a long way in the last five years and even non-nutbars are starting to ride them on brevets and other ultramarathon events (like RAAM).

Smirking brevet boffins may also wish to know that the randonneur with the best time at Paris Brest Paris (Hervé Le Du) is in training to ride a recumbent at the 2011 Paris Brest Paris.


April 24, 2009

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