My hat-trick with Patrick

by Raymond Parker on August 25, 2008

in Adventure, Cycling, Randonneuring

Third time lucky?

Sidelined by an early- season injury, the author signs up for the final BC Randonneurs’ 600 kilometre marathon cycling event of the 2008 season, hoping to complete three “Super Randonneur” series in a row.

Ten riders (Ken Bonner, Eric Fergusson, Gary Baker, Susan Barr, Ron Himschoot, Devon Mihalyi, Luke Galley, Jeff Oh, Patrick Wright and me) started out from Fort Langley, BC at 7:05 (official time: 07:00), August 23, 2008 for the “make-up” 600 kilometre randonée.

This would be a make-it-or-break-it event for me. Having squeezed in 200, 300, and 400 kilometre events during the Vancouver Island summer series, this was the last 600 on the calendar and my only hope to complete a full series this year. At the end of July, a mountainous 225km day tour, following my duties supporting the Rocky Mountain 1200, bridged my training

Ken and Eric both had early mechanicals—Ken a broken spoke, Eric a dragging rear brake (which failed to slow him much, so we won’t bother with that trick again!) That made Susan, Gary, Patrick and I the “lead” group for an hour or two. Patrick and I worked the front into a stiff headwind, pushing south into Washington, until the road kicked up toward the first control at Glacier. There, tiny Sue, on her helium-filled Litespeed Ghisallo, set a furious pace. Gary brought up the rear, suffering a sore back, as a result of waking up in a ditch last year, the victim of a hit-and-run.

We’d regrouped at customs and we now glimpsed Ken at a coffee shop, doing one of his millisecond turnarounds. Eric joined Sue, Gary and I at the general store. I’d survived the first stage on one gel and a bottle of some powdered energy concoction. I bought a shipment of bananas and a tray of baked goods. On the porch, as I was trying to figure out where I might stash my new fuel supply, and with a large square of coffee cake stuffed in my mouth, Gary and Susan trundled over.

“Are you ready?” asks Gary.

“No, I gotta eat,” I splutter, amid a hail of cake crumbs.

“We’ve got to keep moving,” says Gary, and off they go. There I am, alone, 80 kilometres into my last, crucial brevet of the season. Where did Patrick disappear to?

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Patrick Wright

It had been an epic journey just to get to this event. My wife phoned me at work Friday morning, to warn me that the “big ferry,” Spirit of British Columbia, had lost one of its props and was sailing in endless circles, out in the Salish Sea. The terminal at Swartz Bay was recommending Mainland-bound travellers find alternate routes. I phoned Patrick at work and he reserved a spot on the 20:15 sailing from Duke Point, 100 kilometres north of Victoria. We’d book off early, so we could make the departure time.

Nope, that’s not going to happen. My sales colleague, off to the Kootenays on a mountain biking adventure, pre-empts me. He will leave at 15:00. Another employee has a doctor’s appointment.

We arrive at Duke Point 10 minutes late for our reservation. The ticket lady says: “Sorry, you’re too late, Ray.” What the … ? Turns out she’s the landlady of the building where I work. I didn’t recognize her in her uniform. She proceeds to tell me the convoluted story of the troublesome tenant she is trying to evict from the upstairs suite. Then, checking the computer, she tells us we can make the 19:00 ferry at Departure Bay, on the other side of Nanaimo, if we hurry. We do and do.

We book into our hotel near Ft. Langley, pack our bikes, and hit the hay at 01:00. Four hours sleep and we’re loading the van for the short drive down Highway 1, to the Ft. Langley exit. There are 4 brevets—of 200, 300, 400 and 600 kilometres—leaving, at half hour intervals. We are the first group to start, after a bit of a scramble, at 07:05.

As I do a U-turn, heading back north from Glacier, I see Patrick’s orange Ebisu bicycle, parked outside the coffee shop Ken patronized. It’s a much more interesting place than the weird, cavern-like store. Patrick’s not in a hurry and I park my new titanium Marinoni Sportivo “Randonnee” and, in the spirit of neighbourliness, order a large Americano. Too bad I bought all that crap at the store; this place is full of home-baked goodness and the proprietors are very hospitable.

A good downhill run, with tailwind, leads us toward the next control, 120 kilometres away, at Arlington (a place I went, 40 years ago, to see dragster races!) We pushed on at a brisk pace — our average “on-bike” speed still reading over 26kph. As the sun reached its zenith, we passed through a “secret” control, threaded a gauntlet of Stars-and Stripes and Republican election signs (though one brave farming household dared buck the trend and erect the local Democrat candidate’s and Obama signs) then stopped to douse ourselves in sunscreen at the Acme store, where a gaggle of teens inflated huge inner-tubes and stocked up on beer for an afternoon on the river.

Due to a sparsely-cued route sheet, we continued a couple of kilometres past the turn-off to the second control and had to double back to the 7-11. As we fiddled with our luggage, Gary appeared … alone. He’d gone a full 5 kilometres up the road.

Listing his infirmities—sore back, muscle cramps, termites—he begged to join our two-man “team.” I assented, but warned we had a plan based around brisk riding, with leisurely rests at controls. I suggested, considering his present difficulties, a pace more suitable might be had with those yet to arrive: Jeff, Ron, Luke and Devon.

There is a fair climb north out of Arlington. Patrick and I traded pulls under the hot sun. The only distraction was the beautiful, jagged peaks of the Cascades, ruddy against the blue sky and the gleaming summit of Mt. Baker. In fact, the many moods of Koma Kulshan followed us throughout the marathon, as we semi-circumnavigated the great volcano. At some point, we realized Gary had “fallen off the back.”

We had a wonderful, if difficult, tour along hilly Chuckanut Drive to Fairhaven (273 km) in the late afternoon light, looking out over the sparkling waters of Samish and Bellingham Bays. We arrived in the old, red brick quarter of Bellingham, where I spied Dos Padres, a Mexican restaurant I used to frequent, 30 years ago, when I lived in White Rock. Patrick said he’d been dreaming of burritos for the last 50 kilometres. Lest we offend patrons with our fetid state, we sat in the lobby and ordered take out. The hostess’s eyes widened as she signed our control cards.

“You guys rode from Fort Langley, to Glacier, to here … today?”

I tried to ignore the thought that we had another 87 kilometres to go, before we could lay down. Never mind what we’ll demand of our legs on Sunday.

We took our huge, boxed meals down(hill!) to the village square, where a folk singer was singing Stan Rogersesque songs to a hundred-strong throng. We spent about 2 hours total in Fairhaven, the highlight of the whole event. But too soon it was time to affix helmet lamps, check generator hubs, turn on tail lights and head out into the dusk. Presently, we are enfolded in the dark country roads of northern Washington State, weaving our way back to the border, at Huntington. Patrick does most of the work, as we fight a steady breeze, under the cold stars.

Somewhere out here—before or after the border crossing; I can’t remember—we see, in the distance, a flashing red light. “Who could that be?” Patrick wants to know. “Bet it’s Gary!” Patrick stomps on it. Soon, I can recognize the reflective pattern on Gary’s rack bag. We pass. He hangs on for a while, but falls off again.

I’m showing off my latest German-engineered, nuclear-powered ultra-extreme LED headlight (PDF), which causes motorists to career off the road into fields of panicked bovines. “Wow! Patrick exclaims, as he hallucinates a white, glowing window in the road, leading to the Garden of Earthly Delights.

But there is no time to follow fancies. We are on a mission now; we want to get in before we turn into pumpkins or flesh-eating zombies. With my beacon parting the darkness, we drive our bicycles and complaining sinews onward, arriving back at the Lion’s Seniors’ Hall—site of the Ft. Langley control—around midnight. Gary pulls in, just after.

Control Mistress Ali Holt treats us like royalty, swaddling us in blankets, feeding us steaming soup, pasta and hot chocolate—finally tucking us into bed, asking what time we want a wake-up call. Patrick and I elect for 05:30.

Day Two

We set off into the rain, somewhere around 06:15, last of the six-hundreders. Ken and Eric had been back on the road most of the night. Gary, Luke, Devon and Jeff had started an hour before us. Susan Barr had abandoned with foot problems and Ron was my pre-wake-up call, heaving wretchedly in the toilet. I gave him some electrolyte capsules and wished him luck, but, as we found out later, he didn’t recover.

It was, we were assured, “mainly flat” to the furthermost control at Hope. Why do people lie? There were nasty little hills out to the Whatcom Road control, at 404 km. We cleared it with nearly two hours to spare, sharing a Tim Horton’s table with Jeff.

As the rain abated, our Saving Grace was the easterly tailwind, bending grass, leaf and branch horizontally. Just a minute though: how are we going to do, after the turnaround? “We might have a bit of trouble on the next bit,” Patrick surmised, employing typical New Zealand understatement. I seriously doubted I could survive.

As we arrived in Hope, Luke, Devon and Gary left together, braving the wind. We resumed the battle half an hour later, as did the rain.

Now the rain is a bit of a blessing in soggy disguise, because as it began, the wind moderated. Still, it was no picnic and I couldn’t hide behind my young companion; the rooster tail arcing from his flapless fender sprayed like a hose in my face, every time I ventured nearer than about 10 metres. So, it was either drop back, or, when safe to do so, ride abreast into the driving storm. Soon there were rivulets everywhere — in the gutters, in the ditches and in my britches.

About 20 km short of the next control, at a traffic light, we pulled up behind the threesome.

So, how’s it goin’?” I asked.

“More stories for Nigel,” replies Luke, referring to lanky rando phenomenon and his lifelong buddy, Nigel Press. Later, I’d give Luke and Devon a ride home and get the story of their successful ride. They have this year completed a brevet series, a 1,000 and the Rocky Mountain 1200. Not content, they turned out for the final 600 of the season.

Patrick and I engaged in some serious philosophical discussions during those many hours in the saddle, perhaps to distract from the painful chaffing down below. Life is a constant struggle to transcend the ego and live without motive, to enter that pure place where to do is to be—“do-be-do-be-do,” as one great poet mused.

Well, it is for some. I guess not for the guys who tromp on the accelerators of their giant diesel pickups, blasting great, black clouds of smoke in your face that say: “Eat hydrocarbons, fairy!” But most other folks are trying to be better. Well, except for the guy who screamed at us from his snarling “muscle” machine: “Get a car!” He’s not trying to enter a state of grace, either; he’s trying to wear a Camaro as a codpiece.

So, in the end, we prevailed against the storm, with an elapsed time of 35:10. I got my yellow, 600 pin and await my third Super Randonneur medal from Audax Club Parisien. Nietzsch would be proud.

At the finish, Patrick tapped on his bicycle computer. I checked mine. We had maintained 25 kph average on the bikes. Our riding time was 24 hours, 38 minutes. We’d pretty much executed our plan to the letter: ride as fast as fitness allowed, savour the controls, enjoy a reasonably luxurious sleep break.

Everthing else was gravy. Tasty, tasty gravy.

Brevet Results at BC Randonneurs

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