A year ago I participated in a fantastic event: Ride2Survive. (www.ride2survive.ca). It is a 388km 1 day bike ride from Kelowna to Delta in BC raising money for cancer research. Moving to Edmonton and other financial constraints meant I was unable to participate this year. But it is an amazing event and so I wanted to share my experience of this event with everyone a year later.
June 20, 2013
Ride 2 Survive:
For me, a rookie on this ride, all I have to go on are my expectations of what the next 18 hours will hold. In many ways I remain blissfully ignorant which either helps (you cannot truly fear what you do not know) or doesn’t (my expectations make me more anxious than if I knew what was coming). In the end, what sums up my experience is that my expectations completely missed the mark. What I expected to be more difficult was in fact easier, what I expected to be easier was the most difficult.
Before long we roll into our first stop. Volunteers are everywhere, grabbing our bikes, filling our bottles, handing us a banana and, even thought it is 4:30 am, speakers blasting AC/DC. It feels like it will be a good day. After this quite stop on the west bank of Kelowna we head out, off to start the Pennask summit. From here we have approximately 50 kms of climbing, going from 400m to 1728m above sea level. These two legs of the ride, while they sound the most intimidating, were less onerous than expected. By the time I reached the top, my shirt was soaked with sweat, my legs were ready for a break but the second we got on the flats of the summit and I could soft pedal and coast with the group, I quickly felt recharged. The training paid off, the climb, as many had said, was not as bad as our Cypress training ride as the grade isn’t as steep. While I was unsure whether I would be able to complete every single leg, my goal was to attempt them all and if I had to bow out, so be it. However, standing at the top of Pennask, feeling great with a banana in hand, I felt like completing the ride was a definite possibility. Maybe it was the fog that never let us see farther than the pilot car, but this was one expectation that was easier than expected.
The next leg up was the Coldwater creek run as part of the Coquihalla ascent. The leg was recommended as a good one to take off and recharge for those who were feeling a little spent. I decided to at least try it and if I had to quit so be it. The weird thing about this leg was it was a lot of rolling hills, up and down, up and down. I was getting anxious because it didn’t seem like we were ascending that much and, having left a bunch of the slower riders behind, we were moving at quite a pace. I was getting to the point where I was unsure I would be able to do the major ascent we would need to do and then, before I realized what was going on, we were rolling into our next stop. I looked up and the Coquihalla was just above – we had ascended, just not all at once.
Next up was Larsen hill, the last steep climb (3km) we faced. We headed out and so far it had been overcast or sunny. Many expected the same and so, like me, were in nothing more than a jersey and shorts. The second we pulled out and started up Larsen hill, it started to rain. Perhaps fortuitously, it merely rained for that climb and kept us cool (perhaps a little too cool) on the climb. But the 3 kilometres when quickly and we were on the ‘false flats’ of the Coquihalla. And at this part of the ride, my back started to ache something fierce, your hands go numb, and the wear of the ride starts to get to you. But you know in your mind…its all down hill from here. This too, was easier than expected.
At the final stop near the Coquihalla summit, we changed gear in preparation for the decent into Hope. I was so cold from doing that last leg in just a jersey and shorts. Volunteers were going around with hot soup. Glorious! Never before had Lipton’s chicken cup-a-soup tasted so good. On the ride down to Hope, it began to rain again so we didn’t get the free reign of the road the way we previously had. With lots of water on the road, we had to be careful. While it was nice to be coasting for pretty much the whole way, my back was still aching and so I kept standing and trying to stretch it out on the bike. That gives you temporary respite which lasts about, oh, 30 seconds. Heading down, I couldn’t tuck for very long because of my back and yet, as usual, I would generally catch up and pass a lot of people. I caught up to one of the ride captain’s and as I passed him, me more upright, he in a tuck, I jokingly said “Come on Mike, put your back into it” as we coasted along at 50-60km/hr. He laughed. Rolling into Hope was a sight for sore eyes; a large group of people awaited us, some with signs cheering on their rider. And all we could see looking up the lower mainland was blue sky and a bright yellow sphere up in the sky – I think I remembered what it was called. At Hope we had our last big meal before the 140km flats along the lower mainland. At this point, I was determined to continue. I just rode over 2 mountains; the rest should be a piece of cake! But I needed help, I saw the paramedic helping one of the riders stretch out his hamstrings and glutes, and I asked if she could give me a hand stretching out my lower back. She put me in the Yoga “child’s pose” where you are on your knees, arms stretched out in front of you. She told me to exhale while she pushed down and compressed me as much as possible. Then she told me to push up against her hand and suddenly my back was on fire. We did that twice and I got up. It felt slightly better, but still ached. Nevertheless, we still had a ways to go. One quick group photo and we were on our way.
From Mission onward was undoubtedly the toughest section of the whole ride for me. I kept thinking of reasons to just take a leg off but looked back at what I had accomplished thus far and couldn’t quit now. Maybe this is the “wall” people keep telling me about, the part where it is the mental battle more than the physical one. My back was beginning to ache again, my fingers numb, my butt incredibly sore and I just kept pedalling. Before I knew it we were leaving Maple Ridge and heading over the Golden Ears Bridge. Up a hill or two and there was 64th Ave. I knew we were turning there and it was the home stretch. I just didn’t know how much longer it was until we hit Scott Road. This was, by far the toughest stretch of riding I did. It wasn’t that it was a slight climb, it was the fact that, really, I was done back in Mission and still had gone so far. I kept thinking the next set of lights would be Scott Road, only to be disappointed. If I had stopped, for even a second, I doubted I would be able to start pedalling again. And then, Rich grabbed Graham (two of our Ride Captain’s who are cancer survivors) and they headed to the front. I knew we must be close. We arrived at the gas station and got our selves organized. Anyone who was wearing R2S gear stripped off any jackets or what not to ‘show their colours’. (My one jersey I was able to buy was drenched in my bag after a certain thunderstorm incident).
The final stretch was perhaps the most surreal. Mostly down hill, coasting through red light after red light as the cops blocked off the intersections. People were cheering from their balconies – whether they knew what we were about or just saw a massive group of cyclists, I do not know. A light flashes over top of the riders ahead of me, a few of us look up to see a police helicopter flying above with its search light on us, leading us home. At this point, I begin to realize what a big deal this is. I begin to realize how much support we have with us now and all along the way. From those of you who liked my Facebook check-ins all along the way, knowing that you were following our progress throughout the day, to something as extraordinary as pulling out a helicopter to follow us home was unbelievable. And then we arrived at the Yellow Mile. Masses of people dressed in yellow, run out into the street as we roll in. Bag Pipers were playing, people were cheering, yelling out “thank yous” as we rolled under a big welcome home banner. I’m sobbing at this point (both during the ride and as I recall these events) as I wonder what my mom would think of what I’ve just done. She passed away January 13, 1996. And I had spent more time thinking about her the past 15 hours than I had the past 15 years. A small part of me wonders why I didn’t do something like this sooner. To that I have no answer.
Looking back over the whole event, from that first training ride to today, I am amazed at what I’ve accomplished and how I have changed. I bought my first road bike the year before, but it wasn’t until a random conversation with a few customers working at the Point Grill that I was set on a path that would take me on an extraordinary journey. Those customers were the owners of West Point Cycles and, in talking about uncertainty about work for the summer, they offered me a job right there on the spot. That was my introduction to the biking culture that got me interested in combining cycling with something beyond mere fitness. Be careful when talking to people, they might just change your life!
Essentially, though, I was a rookie rider – as green as they come. Others had come from competitive bike racing groups, or had done groups rides before. I experienced many of my cycling firsts with this group: first group ride, first ride over 30kms, over 100kms, over 150kms, first ride up a mountain, first ride in a torrential downpour, first flat tire and subsequent ride in the SAG because of my special ‘pinhead’ wheel locks that kept me from changing that flat, and the first time eating so much red liquorice in my life!
All in all, a great experience. Just not what I expected. It usually never is.
So much thanks to the Volunteers, the police, the ride captains, Cheerful Charles, my donors and those who supported us in whatever way they could (Dogwlkaing you say? That’s awesome!) and to all my fellow riders thank you for your friendship and support!
I don’t know if I will be able to do the ride next summer as I will be living in Edmonton. I know its not impossible, but the thought of doing all of that training on my own with out you guys is intimidating. If not riding, I hope to at least be crewing next year. Perhaps attempting to outdo Cheerful Charles’ enthusiasm!
Peace & Respect!
June 27, 2012