There was a time when I thought 100km was a crazy distance to ride, and wasn’t sure if it was something I could pull off. In fact, there was a time when I didn’t even think I could ride a road bike. Skinny tires? Being actually physically attached to your bike via clips? That could be a recipe for disaster.
I’ve never been a runner. I mean, I have run, and I will run, but I don’t enjoy it. I don’t get that runner’s high that runners talk about. It sucks pretty much the whole way. But it’s good, economical exercise.
I was inspired a couple years ago by some friends who do triathlons. They talked about how great riding was, so much easier on the body, and it was a great social activity as well. So I bought my first (yes, as in past tense) road bike, and I started slowly, riding with a couple girl friends whose husbands are riders. We did river valley trails, and really thought we were awesome completing 30-35kms.
Fast forward 2 years, add an upgrade to a full carbon bike, and I, along with 4 fellow Legionnaires and 2 girlfriends, finished the long distance at the Tour de l’Alberta. An advertised 160km, that was really 171.9km, at least on my Strava.
I’m a born again optimist. No, actually I’m a realist. My husband would say I was previously a pessimist, but I’ve learned to look at things from the positive side in the past few years. Life experiences are learning experiences and certain life experiences taught me to have faith, to believe in myself and also believe in others, to be kinder to myself and also less judgmental of others. But I’m also still one to call a spade a spade.
In any case, a few months ago, I signed up for the Tour with another girlfriend and we decided to go for the “160km”, even though it would be 50km longer than any training ride, and 35km longer than I’ve ever ridden in one day. But, I believed that I could do it. It’s not a race, so there’s no pressure. So naturally, I put the shout out to my Legion teammates, saying they should sign up too! After all, there were 3 distances to choose from, and we had JUST climbed 17km to the top of Highwood Pass in June on our bikes, with sleet and wind to boot. I was pleasantly surprised that 3 other teammates signed up right away, with Victoria signing up last minute.
A few weeks ago I led the Edmonton contingent on our first team 100km. It was a first for a few of them, but we all did it and felt pretty proud of ourselves. This started some of them thinking that maybe, just maybe, 160km could also be doable. Not like Andrew Ference crushing it in 4:40 doable, but finishable perhaps is a better term. And with some encouragement, all 5 of us – Todd, Dragomir, Jared, Victoria and myself were in for the long haul on event day!
Cycling is one of those activities where you can do it as a team, together, when everyone is of similar abilities. Our Legion is made up of riders of all different abilities, with the commonality that we CAN all FINISH the 115km each day, for 2 days, for the Ride to Conquer Cancer. We are all riding for the same cause and have the same goal to complete. But it’s hard to keep everyone in a pack with such a variance of riding abilities.
The insides of our collars on our jerseys read O’hana. It’s one of Linnea’s favourite sayings. It means family, and family means no one gets left behind, or forgotten. So how do we ride “as a family” then. Todd and I had some discussions on what the plan should be, if we would wait at each rest stop for the others until everyone was together again, before moving on. He was concerned that he didn’t want anyone to feel left behind. But here’s the thing. Families are separate, yet still together, all the time. I go to work, Mike goes to work, the kids go to school, we all go off and do our separate things, but then congregate again at the end of the day. Share our individual stories. So we decided that we would ride to our own abilities, and meet up at the end.
I started off strong, crushing the first 75km in just over 2 hours. I had thought I had lost Todd behind me, but ended up seeing him at the second rest stop, getting ready to leave, just as we were pulling in. He had blown right by us at the first rest stop, feeling strong and decided to push on to the next one. Good for him!
The third leg is when things turned. Just like any journey has its ups and downs, leg 3 was a killer. We headed south with a cross wind coming from the west for about 20 km, only to then turn west, right INTO the wind. Bam. Cruising speeds went from above 30 to low 20’s. And there was still 30km ’til the lunch stop at Miquelon. It was a slow slog. And on a slight uphill grade. And it was HOT out. Great. Thanks Mother Nature! And she (Mother Nature) was also calling in other respects, so it was a really uncomfortable 50-ish km for this non-bush squatter.
But then, we saw Todd up ahead, with Grace, whom he had teamed up with along the way. Dana and Eve were so excited they hammered to catch up to them. I didn’t have it in me to push between the discomfort of my bladder and the wind and the grade of the road, so I was dropped for a while. But not forgotten.
In those times when you’re riding on your own, with no one to talk to, and no encouragement coming, having to take 100% of the workload (drafting and echelon makes such a HUGE difference when riding long distances – you’re maybe working at 50%, getting pulled along by the lead), it becomes a real mental game. I’m not ashamed to admit that I had a bit of a mental breakdown. I had thoughts and ideations of whether or not I could finish. I got down on myself. I was mad at myself for getting dropped, mad at the wind, and just overall frustrated. I was working at my perceived hardest, and getting little in the way of return. I learned at that point, that I was not as tough as I thought, not as strong as I thought. Mentally or physically.
That’s when my thoughts turned to Linnea, and how her entire battle has been “uphill and into the wind” so to speak. How there really has been no reprieve, save for a brief hiatus last fall, in the last 2 years. That, made me snap out of my Eeyore-ish mood, and just keep pedaling.
So at some point, either they slowed down enough for me to catch up, or I sped up, I’m not sure, but once we were in a group again, things became easier. There was comradery, laughs to distract from the suckiness of the wind and the growing discomfort of riding with a fully distended bladder.
We were all pretty excited to finally reach the lunch stop. Refueled, took our shoes off to let the toes relax a bit and sat in the shade for some reprieve from the hot sun. And who pulls in but Dragomir! Another team member found!
Leg 4 was still into that frickin’ wind, and though I had fuel in me, I still did not have any hammer in me. We started as a pack, but pretty quickly, D’rice, Eve and Dana took off, with D’rice in the lead (Yay D’rice!!), and I thought it was just me and Todd and Grace, but when I looked behind they were gone too. So, there I was riding alone again. And the darkness came once more. You’re tired, you just want to be done, you just want a break, but the sun keeps beating down on you, then wind keeps pushing you back and the road keeps sloping up. I watched in the distance, as the group pulled further and further ahead of me. But even as slow and sluggish as I felt, I was still coming up on other riders and passing the odd one here and there. And what helped me at that point, was not passing them, but giving them encouragement as I went by. “Good job, you’re doing great.” That gave me strength to push a little harder, to keep pedaling. We all were on the same journey, heading to the same place. I too, was doing a good job. I was doing great.
I caught up to D’rice because he had slowed and stopped at the last rest stop, wondering if we should wait for Todd. And as we were contemplating this, he rolled in. Feeling every bit as deflated as we were. But, there was only 18 km left, and at some point we’d be turning north again, where the wind would be our friend. Nevermind that there were 2 big hills to contest with, the change in wind is ALL I cared about. We all wondered where Victoria and Jared were, and wondered if they were still riding. But, Todd got a text that Victoria was at the lunch rest stop and we were all super proud and giving fist pumps.
We started off together, but again at some point I turned around, and there was nobody with me. Do I slow down and wait? Do I just get ‘er done? At that point, I just needed to get ‘er done. I finished in 6:29, a whopping nearly 2 hours behind Andrew Ference, who I’m told was in the lead group. But, it’s ok. It wasn’t a race. You just had to keep pedaling and cross the finish line, and I’m happy to report, that ALL 5 of us made it. We did it individually, but still as a family, as Linnea’s Legion. Being a family has its ups and downs, its good and hard times. But what’s important is that when you need it, they come together and are there supporting you, even if they’re not right there beside you at that moment. I have no doubts that our teammates were cheering us on from wherever they were, telling us to just keep pedaling.