Newsletter - 2014 Archive

BC Randonneurs logo BC Randonneurs logo

BC Randonneurs
Cycling Club
BC Randonneurs logo BC Randonneurs logo


VanIsle 1200 - Étienne's Story
Ride dates: July 14-18, 2014
by Étienne Hossack

If you are of the internetz... tl;dr: it was hot, I went swimming, I DNF’d. I regret nothing.
For anyone else:

1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 12

It’s a weird sequence of numbers, but apparently that’s how the randonneurs count. Must be the French :)

So from a populaire in 2013, now a 1200 in 2014 this is how I DNF’d and had fun!

Following the Cache Creek 600, I developed a cold, likely as a result of my immune system stress. So I didn’t ride much for 2 weeks. Then I did the Ride to Conquer Cancer challenge route with a friend who wanted to the distance. I nice thing to do, but on hindsight, the incredibly long slow days were terrible for my recovery/training and I developed a sinus infection related to this. So that lead to about 5 days of completely unworkable health, and a desperate last-minute brevet that brought June’s total to 869.8kms or so. My least so far this year.

Throw in the Canada Populaire which was on a totally different bike and a lot more anaerobic effort, and I was really not super in shape for this ride. But still excited! :D

Pre VanIsle: I’ve convinced my girlfriend Debbie to come to the island with me and meet me at the controls north of Campbell River, so when I hit them at odd hours of the night, I can get food. I have a conservative plan with time estimates. I have drop bags. I have a bicycle.
At the check in I get to observe the interesting bikes around me and pose for a picture for Mikael, explaining how I hate my bike purposed for randonneuring. This proves to be the case!

The Start: A willing but tired Debbie agrees to drive me to the start from a friend’s house. After sho-eing me out, she takes off, I assemble my things and get ready for the start. After some chammy butter smearing and a bit of chatting, I offer Dave King my undesired pain-au-chocolat (Le Fol Epi - delicious!) as we head out to ride away into the sunrise (according to Steve, just when we will be cresting the Malahat. Spoiler: it was dark all the way up and down!)
Ken is full of helpful tips and I am happy to roll at the front with Ed P., Keith F. Ken and Craig with others flitting about.

The climb begins. I used to be good at climbing. I’m probably just as good as I was last year, but I worked so hard on my regular power, that - especially with no hilly races in BC - I can all but destroy on flats and hang middle of the pack on 8-15% gradients. As a whole I don’t think randonneurs are super good climbers (sorry folks!) but riding up the highway with Keith and Craig ahead of me was super amusing.

When you race, you expect attacks when others are suffering. When do many of us suffer most? On climbs. Get caught out in a high gear, you’re toast. So my style involves a lot of spinning. Also, when your bike is 62cms of regular tubing, you throw on 15lbs of gear in the wrong places, standing while climbing is a precious thing, only to be used in the most dire of situations when energy still remains relatively high. So here I am spinning up at 85rpm watching the two of them, almost in sync, riding with this rocking motion and wheel sounds at 55-60rpm.

Anyway, the Malahat was a decently tough climb given the bike weight and my fitness, but no North Vancouver mountain, so I was able to comfortable ride over the top to begin the 2 part descent.

More than I ever have been before, I began to be scared of my bike on the descent. Able to keep a decent speed, I picked up my downhill pace in the usual aero-tuck when my bike began to chatter/wobble a bit. Okay, nothing new - this happened on the 600 on a mid-morning descent Just be careful and brace the bike. Knees on the top tube, hands in the drops. Side to side swaying like never before. I hate my bike. After the ride, I had a chat with Gary Baker about this, and he recalled a similar situation that lead to an accident & an unhappy truck driver. Oh joy.

But after part one, we climb a little further, then continue down the hill. Same issue, I just descend half a lane off to the side of the main group. Seems like my best/only option. We hit the flat stretch leading up towards Experience Cycles and I roll up next to Craig. We have a nice chat - the weather and the usual - before I almost miss the control. Despite my garmin beeping, the lights outside, the cheering people and the BC Randonneurs sign with Steve next to it. So I swing into the lot at a good high pace and end up placing my control card on the desk rather faster than I thought I would. But this means quickly signed and off I go!

Soon Charles catches up to me and we ride together for a short section. A dead deer lies on the side of the road. Oh Dear. The ‘main group’ reconnects soon after and we’re speeding along the rolling highway. Never one to enjoy the rolling climbs, I hang back to conserve energy and choose my line carefully. Dave is bouncing on and off the back of the pack, not looking tired, but not looking comfortable. I’m still amazed he has like 5 mirrors on that bike. Next he’ll have a rear facing parking camera!

After not too long, it is really light enough to turn off our lights and we make the turn towards ‘Chez Fishlock’. Some rougher roads but very pretty, chock-full of sharp, punchy rolling hills. This island. Sensing a hold-up coming at the control, at about 1.5k to go I attack off the front just to gain 50ms or so from the group, Keith following suit. We eventually lose most of it as our computers read slightly more distance than the cue sheet to Graham’s house, but we whizz in over the gravel, past the port-a-potty’s and lean our bikes on the awesome racks. Mental note to thank myself for the 32mm tires. Hopping to get cards signed and seeing the heat spring up, I fill both of my 950ml bottles and an extra water bladder.

The breakfast looked like quite the spread and it was a shame not to enjoy it, but crazy racers will be racers, and time was ticking. I wolfed down a yoghurt as Keith went to the bathroom and rolled out with him maybe 500metres up the road. However he rode like a man on a very solo-mission, and I had no desire to burn myself out to bridge the 500m gap, so I left it steady and took in the gorgeous scenery around there. Seriously, Graham’s house is in such a picturesque location, I think those were the best views I had. Mist on the fields, sun in the distance, and no pictures taken! Self-slap.

Eventually on the outskirts of Nanaimo I pulled up to him on a flat-stretch. He seemed surprised that nobody else was around. But nobody else did show up so we took off to navigate the city. I very nearly missed the turn up Larch St. near Departure Bay… and kind of wish I had. That was a bit of a hill! Then we powered along the Island Highway for a bit before turning onto Uplands for the next section.

I would say this is where the ‘fun’ began. Never one to keep up with Keith on the short steep climbs, I found myself out of the saddle on the first two, and then grinding up the third until I pulled something in my groin. Oh how exciting! Actually, not in the slightest - every pedalstroke with my right leg was sore. Quite sore. So I began to find myself falling back. A couple of traffic lights were all it took on the road to put a few hundred metres between Keith and I and reinforce that this pain was not conducive to riding quickly.

Luckily it seemed to quell itself on the flats, so I was able to ride a bit of a stretch pain-free - but uh, well the VanIsle isn’t exactly flat. So I eventually stopped and dropped my seat a few mms to try and alleviate the leg extension. It helped to an extent, but it wasn’t ideal.

Powering on I approached Nanoose Bay where I was joined by the lovely Craig Lylack. He had rested a bit at Graham’s house before continuing on behind us, and was now catching up to my slowness.

It’s always nice to have company, especially someone riding comfortably with you, and Craig had no desire to push himself a ton, so we chatted for quite a while as we rolled along. We pulled into Qualicum Beach and I gunned for the Shell, but noticed that there was in fact a manned control. Nigel and Cheryl were there, signing cards, stocking Gatorade and water, and subtly showing of the L’avecaise bike. Very nice Nigel. Looking jealously onward I watched Craig’s dog jump around excitedly before we headed off again onward.

As we rolled along the coast, the sun began to show itself, but the nice shore breeze kept the temperature down and we plugged along. As we neared Parksville however, I began to slow slightly, partly due to my groin, and partly due to a bit of an energy dip, and subsequently watched Craig ride away for a bit. Consigned to the fact I would have to make it to the next control on my own, I was riding along enjoying the scenery, when eventually, to my surprise, who should come up behind me but… Craig?

Apparently his single water bottle wasn’t enough in the heat and he stopped to grab some more water. :-P So we continued to ride together and chat at a nice pace as we passed through Courtenay and head towards the Comox airport. By this point the heat was rather picking up and I was feeling its effects as I neared the end of my water bottles, hoping the next control would have water. Of course it was the info control and did not. But there was to be a store nearby so I felt alright at this news. On arriving to the control though, we found Pam (Dan’s lovely partner) and Craig’s lovely dog (& supporter) who generously refilled my bottle and gave me a small fig newton (AWWWW YEAAAHH). So we were able to hit the road pretty soon. Not before smothering myself in sunscreen and watching Ed and Dan chatter for a bit and ask for food at the next control. Those fellas.

Onward! Craig and I continued the ride and chat but somewhere near Miracle Beach my body started to notice the heat, and remind me that pushing myself on day 1 of 3 would likely not be the best, so I let Craig slip off ahead of me. Kindof a bummer actually, because the section along the coast into the wind was nice, but I could’ve taken a draft or two :)

And of course the last little section into Campbell River is rather car-busy and there’s that one steeper hill into town that I was happy to push on up, but decided it was worth getting ready to cool off. I texted Debbie to plead for some sort of cold drink, and lo and behold, on arrival she had just checked into our hotel room and obtained ice for a coke and I was able to nibble on some food and just rest in the shade. Craig was doing some weird stretches. Keith of course had passed through after checking in some time before. And soon after Ed and Dan rolled in.

Here I knew the heat was starting to become a factor. So I pulled out the extra bladder, ensuring it was full, stuffed my bottles full of ice and decided to wait and ride with Ed and Dan for the next section. After Ed eventually got ready (what a princess! :-P) we headed eastward ho! Except, by the time we passed the bridge, and the road had become Gold River Highway officially, my ice had melted… That’s less than 3k…

And then there was that first hill. OH GOSH. That was crazy. Also my bike. So heavy. Never again. By the time the road had leveled out I was thinking “HOT. DEHYDRATION. DRINK” so I did. And there went ¾ of my first bottle of water. And I slowly followed Ed and Dan, yo-yo-ing off their tail for quite a bit before realising that I really had to cut down the pace. I kept drinking water as I knew I would soon be very dehydrated, and wanted to keep on top of things.

Eventually though, the heat and a saddle sore that was building on my thigh forced me to stop, and I reapplied some chammy cream and just sat down on the road in the shade for a while. Technology tells me this was in ‘Quinsam’ on Argonaut Rd. No idea where that is in the scheme of things, but it had some shade. Glorious shade.

Here’s where things began to go downhill. I did an assesment of the water I had left. It was about 300ml of water. I was about 25kms away from the nearest water source according to my sheet & Garmin. Oh joy. But, it was either that or turn back, and the nearest lake for a water refill was a ways away. So I decided to press on. Knowing that conserving energy was key, I spun my granny up every hill, and rolled along at what averaged to about 17km/h. Still hoping for a section of road that would go near the lake, I sipped sparingly at the water. There were several long, unshaded sections of the road here that climbed significantly upward, and sadly due to the time of day, there was little shade to be had in general. My Garmin (which does tend to read a degree or two warm) was showing 44 degrees centigrade. That is not my heat. Holy cow that is not my heat.

I have been to Strathcona Park Lodge a few times as a kid for camps. It was tons of fun. But I did have a glorious memory of one time going down to reception and buying one delicious Blue Sky soda. In this heat, nothing could stop me from dreaming of such glorious liquids. Sugary, refrigerated, glorious, glorious soda. Oh please. Oh please. My speed dropped below 10kms on every uphill, and hit the high 20s, low 30s on downhills as I tried to push towards that lodge. 5kms away I’m completely out of water. Hoping, dreaming of what is to come, feeling very gross at the moment. At last I round the corner and view the greatness that is a place to acquire water. I stumble inside and ask for Blue Sky soda. The receptionist gestures around the corner. AN ENTIRE FRIDGEFUL. YES!!!!! I pull out some juice and a rootbeer soda. I happily pay whatever tens of dollars that cost and run up the stairs to fill my water bottles and bladder.

Charles the MA randonneur comes in soon behind me, thirsting for a drink as well. I’m downing the glorious cold rootbeer at this point. He fills his bottles and asks me if I’m going to head off - but at this point I clearly needed some rest, so I shake my head no, and let him carry on. Very slowly I drank some of the juice and packed up my stuff to hit the road again. I knew speed regulation would be key in this weather if I hoped to keep going.

I took off again down the road, hoping for some better fortunes in the sun. The temperature did drop down to the mid-low 30s according to my Garmin, but I just was not feeling up to the ride. By the end of Campbell River lake I was weighing options in my head. I could possibly pull out of the ride, go home and hang out with Debbie and enjoy the next couple days. I could ride to Gold River, rest up there, and head back to Campbell River quite behind schedule, or I could do the fast turnaround I planned and see how I felt. Guess which option was looking most attractive? As I passed more and more lakes that were closer to the road I knew what I wanted to do. So I stopped, and began to ride down a gravel road looking for a place to go swimming. Yes. What else do you do in that heat when you no longer care about time?

The first road was too bumpy and didn’t seem to go anywhere. The second was a trail off of a gravel pull out, that despite the time I took to unload my bike and lock it up to a tree with my cable lock, proved to have a pretty crappy launch point in the water. Later on down the road I discovered a hiking trail by Drum lakes and decided to follow that. So I marched down the road a bit with my bike, propped it against a tree, grabbed my handlebar bag and went hiking. Walking around in the forest was seriously a nice change from riding in the heat. It was shady, it was quiet and really a lovely walk. I wish I took photos. Seeing my chance as the trail moved towards the water, I wandered through some ferns and over some logs before climbing down a bit of a hill to reach the waterside. Of course as soon as I got there I looked across the water and saw a wonderful launchpoint on the other side of the lake, with plenty of rocks to sit and dry on, rather than the meagre bits of moss-covered gravel where I was - so it was back, whacking to the trail, back over the nice hiking bridge, pick up the bike and ride another couple hundred metres down the road where I finally found a launch spot. A quick climb down the rocks on the side and I was stripping out of my lycra, ready to jump in the water. After a bit of self-encouragement, I was in the water, swimming in the cooling awesomeness. Such a good idea.

Getting out wasn’t exactly the best, and I did slip and whack my legs on a rock, as well as cover myself in dirt n’ stuff, but I knew I could shower soon - so who cares!? I lay in the sun drying for a bit before changing back into the clothes and hopping back on the bike to head Eastward once more!

Soon after I passed Craig going the opposite direction and waved to him, getting a oddly amused/puzzled look and carried on. Pam passed soonafter, yelling encouragement out her window and asking if I would like water. Man I could’ve used that an hour before! But at this point it was a bit late, so I yelled a “No thank you!” and rode on. Ed was the next encounter, and I chatted with him briefly about my plans, and he offered some words of encouragement, but I was pretty sure it was time to stop. A brief wave to Dan and Charles when I passed them, with a great “It’s all downhill from here!” yelled by Charles, and I was descending into Gold River. Seriously though, there was one hill right after he yelled that. The b***ard.

Finally getting to Gold River, I slowly got off the bike, acquired my pre-ordered wrap and rummaged through my control bag contemplating what to eat and what to do. It seemed very plausible to sleep the night there and continue on in the morning. But the heat would probably be back then. It also seemed plausible to wait until nightfall and ride then. But I was seriously beat by that point. And the forecast for the next day wasn’t looking much cooler - even though I would be heading north. So I sat resting for a bit, deliberating and began to text Debbie to see if she’d be willing to drive out and pick me up. Eric Larson rolled through and we had a brief exchange before I decided that 2 more days of riding in at least some heat, and on that stupid quivering, heavy Double Cross, and feeling already half-drained, that spending time with my girlfriend sounded a bajillion times more appealing. I informed the lovely team there that I would be pulling out - something like the 9th or 10th in the heat.


So I hung around the station, watching riders come in, Ken Bonner eventually rolling in, chatting to the Malou and John tandem duo, navigating the bike up the stairs towards their room. Eventually another randonneur from Seattle, Todd T. decided he was also done with the heat, and I offered space on our rack for the return car ride. The comings and goings were exciting, but Debbie eventually rolled in and I was happy to begin to pack the car. Alex Pope rolled in around this time, and I informed him that I was off, to what seemed like an amused face, and encouraged him to destroy the ride as the last remaining EV hope - and then we were off home. Or so I thought.

As we rounded the first bed out of Gold River, I noticed that the gas tank was just under a quarter of a tank full, and on asking Debbie, she had not noticed when leaving Campbell River. So we turned around and proceeded to the nearest gas station and stopped to fill up. Only the pumps were locked and the station was closed as it was past 9pm. Oops. So we asked some passersby who informed us there was one more tank in town open to locals. It wasn’t much, but we decided we’d go back to the hotel and ask the kind receptionist if she knew a way to use the pump. In the dark now, we pulled back in and asked her. Turns out she had a friend who would be willing to let us use her card and fill up. Relieved, we hung around until our saviour and bearer of a loveable small dog rolled up in her Nissan Cube named ‘Sugar’. Yup. That awesome. She lead us over to a further-away section of town where we stopped and she proceeded to try several times to get the pump to work. Of course it didn’t. Of course!

We did some rough calculations, looked at the distance and decided we would probably make it back. Odds were good. It should happen. Yeah, it was going to be fine. Totally fine. Yes. Great….
So, thanking her profusely, we got back in the car, the three of us and headed back towards Campbell River on an eighth of a tank of Gas according to the meter. What followed was some harrowing driving through the twisty highway, in the dark, around blind corners, and with tired randonneurs on the road. Needless to say, I’m glad Debbie is a confident competent driver as the warning gas light went on soon, and we rounded every bend with me really hoping that we’d make it. We did. Barely. I don’t think I’ve ever put that much gas in my car. It was at the point where we’d be trying to catch the downhill momentum and engage the engine in the least possible stressing manner, all the while flashing lights around blind corners, slowing down for the randonneurs, and preparing for the sudden jumping out of deer. Oh dear.

Finally we pulled into Campbell River around midnight. Todd and I returned our control cards and we all headed to our rooms. I collapsed on the bed soonafter and that was that.

The rest of the week was pretty relaxing. Debbie and I did some touristy things in Campbell River, I hung out with Susan, Jeanette and Dewain for a bit, even managing to join in the excitement of “When will Keith ride through!”. Steve’s constant messaging was hilarious. After Keith had showered, napped and rolled off, Susan and I chatted for a bit before I was the weirdo sitting alone at the control bench playing iPad games at night. Eventually exhausted, I woke Dewain and headed to bed myself.

When we returned to Victoria I stopped by the finishline a few times, witnessing tired riders roll in and Susan’s joyful Bob-crushing hug, but for the most part explored Victoria’s coffee and bicycle scene with Debbie. Because why not? I even picked up a Bicycle Quarterly for some hilarious ferry reading on the ride home after the brunch.

And then it was the exciting brunch, to conclude and unsuccessful, yet very successful ride. Randonneuring is about testing your limits, and having fun pushing yourself. I tested my limits, found them, and chose the best way to have fun :)

Too bad Alex Pope tired himself out avoiding the heat later on at Woss. Escape Velocity’s 1200 score? 0/3!

Étienne Photos (4 images)


Go to: Results
Go to: Photos
Go to: VanIsle 1200 Stories
Go to: VanIsle 1200 Home

August 1, 2014