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Confessions of a Hell Week Rookie
by Jim Runkel

It was just over a year ago, that I completed my first Randonneuring event with the club...the Victoria Populaire. And shortly after that I completed my first (with permission) brevet - the Hills are Alive 300. I remember that event for being the most challenging thing I had done to date...that is until last week. My friend Philip and I decided that we would attempt to complete the full series in what is know as "Hell week". And we did! but not without much mental and physical exertion. The routes have been well described by others so I will not give a turn by turn summary, instead just highlighting what stands out in my mind. Firstly, the weather...what a spectacular week for riding...mostly sunny...mostly moderate...mostly great. Over the whole week, rain only came into play once, and that was in the middle of the 600. Cold certainly was present, both at the start of the rides and in the evening/nights, but most days brought warmer temps making riding very comfortable.

Another amazing thing was the lack of any mechanical issues...not a broken part, not a flat tire...everything worked well and even my seat (a Selle AnAntomica) and I came to an agreement that kept me "comfortable" with not a saddle sore to be felt!

Food was always an issue for both Philip and I...getting enough of what we needed to keep us going, was a balancing act. Tim Horton's became a faithful friend along the route, but I can tell you I don't want to smell, see or taste another egg salad/chicken salad sandwich for a very long time or for that matter go into a Tim Horton's in general. Fuel was certainly a concern on the lonely road between Campbell River and Gold River.

The "daily" routine of coming home to Victoria, sleeping, eating, getting ready and driving back up to Chemanius for each ride took its toll...there is something to be said about staying in Chemanius for the whole event.

The routes were each unique and challenging. Beginning with the 200, the Old Lake Cowichan Hwy comes to mind as the challenge road. We had one interaction between a BIG BLACK DOG, which caused Philip to fall down but with no injury or bike damage...and the BEAST slinked off the highway back to it house!

The "Alive are the Hills" lived up to its times I am sure I saw "hill monsters" lurking just off the road, laughing at us as we struggled up the next fact I think they made some the hills steeper as we road up them! Riding the Malahat at 1030pm was the "hardest" part of this event. Danger in many forms threatened, from big trucks cutting close, to unseen rocks and debris.

On the 400, it was an easy section of riding, Northwest Bay road, on the return leg, that brought about a low point in the mental game for both Philip and I. If you thought about how much was still to come...still having to round Shawnigan Lake at 2am, it was overwhelming, but we came through it by looking to the next stop instead, and breaking it down in smaller chunks, and getting these done. The roads around Duncan heading toward Shawnigan also stand out as being very hard at night, mostly because of road quality.

Finally, and ultimately, the hardest, was the 600 Ride for Gold. The shear distance was a mental barrier. Although the 19A was a pleasant ride, it presented the factor of WIND, which again was in our favour this time. With dark and rain coming on in Courtney, the wind blew us toward Campbell River, making the ride much more bearable. After a refuel, the lonely long road to Gold River was ahead. Climbing, climbing and more climbing, characterized this section. It made the Malahat seem like a desirable hill, compared to some on this section. And the all encompassing was a tunnel we were in, with high walls, and no overhead light. Having a break on the way out at Stathcona Lodge, in our room, for a few minutes, helped refresh us, then off to Gold River, where a nice lady at the hotel offered coffee and a warm room to rest for few minutes before heading back to our room at Strathcona Lodge. Sleep was short and not restful, but the morning was picture perfect with sun on the snow-capped mountains and calm reflective lakes. Getting to Campbell River that morning was well timed, and a Timmies breakfast fuelled us on. It was the last 200 that really felt hard to do. Lack of sleep, took its toll on both of us, mentally. Qualicum, Parksville and Nanimo felt like they would never come. But our amazing bodies kept going, and we both seemed to turn a corner with the end in sight, and after the climb up the TC out or Ladysmith, took the nice long downhill to Mt Sicker road and then Chemanius....

It was over, and a feeling of doing something rare and special was what we both felt.
Over the course of the week, we met amazing people, at controls along the way. We chatted with some cyclists but I would have liked to get to know more of you.
I am sure both Philip and I could learn much from the "veterans" among you.
But even after all this...I am still left with the question...What's next!
I want to leave you with this quote:

The courage to try different things is one part curiosity and two parts the inspiration of a friend.

And thanks to my friend Philip for first getting me into this crazy "sport" and for being a great riding partner for this week, which in the end was not so "hellish" because we did it together.

Ride safe,
Jim Runkel


April 19, 2010