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Flesh and Steel
Part one: The Tour de Cowichan of Hell Week
by Bob Boonstra

I only get out of bed early for a few things like cycling. It is difficult to leave a warm comfy bed for the hard steel of my bicycle but I will do it sometimes. The "eau de Hell" week is a special event. Actually, it is a rather determined week of special events.

Fictitious names have been used to protect the innocent, for their participation in these real life events is not to be tarnished by my story. I offer my apologies to these people in advance lest anyone discover themselves and take exception. To my "true to life" riding companions, I am especially grateful for your participation and determination. Each of you has encouraged me to pedal harder and longer though my struggle continues.

Years of rando riding have left me amazed with whom I ride and equally at how much I have yet to learn. Each randonee is an adventure, an exploration of sorts… even though the long ride is often a difficult one. Stuck zippers, broken chains, flat tires, patches that don't stick, being cold and wet or just plain cold, being too hot, or thirsty, sick, feeling pain or tired… one soon gets the idea. It is hardest to explain to non-participants what the sanity is in such activity. The magic of lights at night or the outrageous nightime sounds bullfrogs make after waking up after a long winter's sleep in the mud of a roadside pond might give some idea. One has lots of time to think and experience things on these rides.

With the help of Lucky Nickel, Smiling Eric, GI Bake, Man Ford, Man Fred, Sea Finch, Dutch Hawk, Eh Pope, Sue Zann, Key Bonaire and others in this series, I would soon continue to explore this puzzling question of: "What's in all this anyway?"

My plan had been start each of the 4 events in this early season compressed series to "see how these would progress".. These were to be adventures, so I thus carefully prepared each of my event waivers (not my food) in advance and signed up on the "Randopony" (hosting program) as if it were a magical conveyance to get me onto and down the road. This way I would just have to hand over my completed forms in sequence with my entry fee to get the requisite directions and all-important route card. Randopony was helpful also, in that it let me scout out the participants in advance to see who might be compatible on a night train excursion. It worked.

So, with a beautiful day lined up for the 200 km Tour de Cowichan, and the "Randopony" indicating lots of interest, the party should be a good one.

I knew lots of riders who would be there for the party. At the start I even got to greet some of them. But this would not be for long. Are Scott said she wanted to go faster than the 10.5 hours I had in mind. "Too bad" I thought. Man Fred said "You have to ride your own ride". These words would be repeated. I was disappointed the first time he said that. Sue Zann said confidently that she wouldn't blow up in the heat today (not too hot right?) so that meant she would go fast too! I was in trouble already…. This ride wouldn't be social at all! Conflict had already arisen. I would have to settle this dilemma. I would go at MY speed! How clever was that? Even in a crowd.. I could ride all by myself! There would be little time for idle chat.

So I rode off ahead of some friends, behind some and lost some of them at the first control when I took off in a spurious blast down the road. It was fantastic! A nature call soon after the first control (where I should have taking care of things) had me scouting out a closed provincial picnic site for suitable accommodation and I lost them all by hiding my bicycle in the bush! No problem. I later emerged and found Jay Fidster on his bicycle, riding steadily along. He had been on my radar scope as a rider of competence and interest with a suitable riding pace. He is a friendly sort. He makes a good draft too. Eventually he too, had to stop in what appeared to be a roadside depression and said he would see me up the road. "No problem," I said. I could ride by myself and would meet him later.

Full of confidence, now that the road was near a crest and that things were going so well, I just carried on… right past the next turn that didn't telegraph anything. I sailed right down a glorious 13% grade (didn't see that till much later) into Bay of Cowichan - a little village somewhere on the coast of Vancouver Island. I recognized the ocean coast. I had not to this point, known the difference between Bay of Cowichan and Lake Shenanigan or Cowichan Lake before. There are lots of quaint little places on that big island! By now I was sort of lost and my only map of Captain George's Vancouver Island was at home - a long ways from here. No matter… there was a funky Saturday craft fair with music, colorful flags, and display booths. People were enjoying the warm sunshine everywhere on the waterfront.

It might be said that if you don't know where you are going any road will get you there! There are lots of roads on Vancouver Island. What could be better? It occurred to me that I could enjoy the entire afternoon right there and I considered this for a few moments. I knew I should be on a mission to get back on course. It had seemed to me that Kookaburra road must be the same as Bay of Cowichan road so I carried on up the coast along the Bay of Cowichan one, albeit now at a more sedate tourist pace because I was becoming increasingly uncertain. By and by, I began to suspect that the two descriptions did NOT describe the same road! Jay Fidster was not catching up to me. I should seem to be closer to my second crossing of the Trans Continental Highway and vaguely remembered Glenora as previously being significantly above the ocean and I wasn't. It obviously had not moved. I was thus getting somewhat more stressed by the minute - especially considering that I was going to have to go back UP that 13% grade to have any hope of finding that school that had seemingly vanished. This would later prove to be not all that I would miss..

Eventually I found the school, right where the description said it would be - but in reverse - and discovered that Telegraph road and Bay of Cowichan road and Kookaburra road make a neat little triangle. "How cool is that?" I thought to myself. I went around two sides of this triangle to get back on course because I didn't have a map to show me the shorter and better way along one side. I didn't have a fancy GPS like Man Fred and the others. It would have been fun to play with. I have seen how much fun the others all have with these things. Maybe I'll get one but I've seen that Man Fred wastes time with his.

Back on course I resolved to focus on the route description and actually measure the distances from place to place. These novel ideas do prove helpful on randonees unless one takes the chance of just following along. I was too far back now to even see, let alone, "follow" anyone. I thought I might not even make the Glenora control in time. I really did like getting rid of all that nervous anticipation and energy though and was having a wonderful time settling into riding at MY pace. I had been considering putting my hat on backwards since its flap was constantly flapping down towards my eyes but it was just too much bother. The thought of a backwards hat did seem to suit my distorted sense of humour and adolescent competence at the time. This seemed so appropriate so I wore the hat backwards later in the series.

I became occupied about getting lost again, when I flew past a sign that pointed to a Bright Angel road in the direction I was going. It was not on the route description. I've heard of Angel Falls and a Bright Angel rock formation but those are not near here! "Whoa!"… brakes on hard…"whoa… my cycle has good machined rims and GOOD brakes… so back off on the brakes!" I told myself. I thus literally flew down towards Bright Angel whatever, careened through some tight curves and across a beautiful wooden bridge across some watercourse and on up the other side. I stayed on course. The scenes were vaguely familiar from a previous randonee with Stay Even Hinde. On this fast descent on my rando rocket these moments of flashing scenery remain unforgettable. I was to see them in reverse the very next day again to have a better look during the "Journey to the Heart of the Sun" ride.

On arrival at Glenora control, Jenny said she had been "waiting for me". No kidding (equivalent) I thought to myself, as I offered the explanation of my adventures so far. It seems they knew I should have been a bit faster getting there. "Well… I'll get there when I get there I guess.." I thought. Jenny kindly observed my studious attempts at sorting out the route description and wisely pointed me in the direction NORTH even though the sun didn't seem to be suggesting NORTH to be the direction I was supposed to go. Anyway, her directions "go that way" worked and I carried on…

Somewhere on the crest of a topographic divide, Key Bonaire flew past in the opposite direction on my road. It seemed to me that he should be at about 175 km to my 125 km into the course. I guess he was in a hurry. So was I. Shortly after leaving the second to last control I passed the Golden Hinde's (Stay Even and Cay Roll) on our way towards the finish.

I finished the ride in just 2 minutes more than my anticipated arrival time. Great! The next day would bring the much anticipated 300 km "Journey to the Heart of the Sun" also known as "Hell are the Hills". What could be more fun? The Tour of the Cowichan was done.

Go to: Tour of the Cowichan Valley Results & Photos
Go to:
Eau de Hell week home


April 21, 2010