Rising to the Challenge

15 08 2016

Five years ago, Fondos were everywhere.

The big, organized group rides offered growing legions of cyclists the chance to attain personal goals, compete against others, visit new places, commune with each other. Signing up for a Fondo became a kind of affirmation of your dedication to the sport.

I did two myself; the inaugural Whistler Gran Fondo and the Levi Leipheimer Gran Fondo in Santa Rosa, California. I loved both experiences. I enjoyed the training, the camaraderie at the start line, the legions of helpful and cheery volunteers, the snacks along the way, the reward of the finish celebration, the settings. It felt good to be king of the road for a day.

Warming up for Sunday's Cypress Challenge with the Just Giver crew from Coquitlam on Saturday.

Warming up for Sunday’s Cypress Challenge with the Just Giver crew from Coquitlam on Saturday.

But Fondos are expensive. All that organization, security, traffic control costs money. Sign on for a destination ride and you’ve also got to factor in travel, food and accommodation expenses. Even a relatively local Fondo like Whistler can set you back $1,000 for the weekend when you add up the entry fee, an overnight stay at a decent hotel in the village, dinner, breakfast the next day, maybe a celebratory beer or two, gas to get home.

On August 28, the Fraser River Fuggitivi will be holding its third annual Fondon’t.

It’s our club’s own modest attempt to capture some of the qualities of the Fondo experience without the hit to the wallet.

We’re promised an epic route by this year’s organizer: the first Fondon’t traversed the eight major bridges in the Lower Mainland; last year we climbed Mt. Baker; this year’s plan is still a mystery.

There will be snack stops and some sort of post-ride celebration.

Most importantly, there will be camaraderie.

But there’s a third option.

Modest charity rides to support a cause or organization may not offer all the bells and whistles of a full-blown Fondo like police escorts and a beer ticket at the end. But they do give cyclists a chance to gather for a ride en masse, share experiences on the road, and support a worthy cause. All for a fraction of the entry fee to a Fondo.

Sunday I did my third such ride this season, including the Canada Day Populaire.

The Cypress Challenge for Pancreatic Cancer was my chance at redemption for the beat down the 11 km ascent of Cypress Mountain administered to my wearied legs a month ago when it was the third climb of the Triple Crown For Heart to support the cardiac ward at Children’s Hospital.

Both rides were organized entirely by volunteers; most of the modest entry fees went directly to the rides’ causes. Both rides enjoyed support from sponsors that supplied snacks like power bars, energy drinks, at the start, along the way and at the finish. Both rides attracted plenty of like-minded cyclists keen for a big day out.

160815cypress2

The support of sponsors like VeloFix give charity rides like Sunday’s Cypress Challenge some of the trappings of more expensive Fondos. They also give me a chance to get a wobble in my rear wheel fixed for free!

While the Triple Crown was held on a dreary, cool day, the weather couldn’t have been more perfect for the Challenge, sunny and warm all the way to the summit.

Five of the FRF rode all the way from New Westminster; a sixth joined us at the mountain. All but one achieved new Personal Bests going up the mountain; I bettered my time from a month ago by 19 minutes, last year’s effort by seven minutes.

Five of the FRF roll to Sunday's Cypress Challenge.

Five of the FRF roll to Sunday’s Cypress Challenge.

The FRF is ready to rise to the Challenge of climbing Cypress Mountain on a warm, sunny day.

The FRF is ready to rise to the Challenge of climbing Cypress Mountain on a warm, sunny day.

At the top, in warm sunshine, we snacked on fresh bananas and peppers, breakfast burritos, cinnamon buns and even cricket protein bars. I wasn’t in a buggy mood, but one of our members assured us it didn’t taste anything like cricket (not that anyone would really know).

Trying to decided who's going to brave the cricket protein bars.

Trying to decided who’s going to brave the cricket protein bars.

With no washed-up ex-Grand Tour winner to keep us around for photo ops and idle chitchat, we quickly descended – quick being the operative word – then rendezvoused with the rest of the FRF contingent that timed their Sunday route to intersect our return so we could ride home together.

A dozen FRFers strung along in a pace line in the bike lane may not look quite as impressive as a few thousand roadies crossing the Lion’s Gate Bridge. But it is a heck of a lot cheaper.





By dawn’s early light

12 08 2016

The early bird gets the… waffles

My late push to exceed 1,000 km for the month of July came at a price. I didn’t get back on the bike until the ninth day of August. It was the first time since Christmas I’d gone an entire week or more without at least one ride.

So my legs were fresh for Tuesday’s FRF climbing ride up Burnaby Mountain that even included a little pump track action in the dirt.

In fact, my legs were so well-rested, I signed on for a dawn ride the next morning.

I’m an early-riser; I maintained my 5:30 a.m. wake-up call even when I wasn’t working.

But I like to ease into my day, sort through the garbage emails that hit my In box as I slept, catch up on the overnight news on the internet, maybe find a streaming feed from a European bike race. By the time the rest of the loft awakens an hour or so later, I’m showered, informed and relaxed.

The prospect of being astride the Lapierre by 6 a.m. so we could pedal a solid 65-70 km AND stop for breakfast before everyone’s workday officially began was a little daunting.

It's not yet 6 a.m. and we're already rolling for waffles.

It’s not yet 6 a.m. and we’re already rolling for waffles.

It’s incredible how busy the world already is that early. The bus stop outside our condo building already had a queue. Trucks were rumbling along in the dawn gloom. Flaggers were putting out barriers for some road maintenance project. The sidewalks were bustling with dog walkers, none of them looking particularly pleased about their pooch’s preferred bowel habits.

The air hadn’t yet had a chance to be warmed by the sun, which was ducking in and out of a morning cloud cover, so the arm warmers stayed rolled up.

Morning over the Burrard Inlet.

Morning over the Burrard Inlet.

Five intrepid FRFers reported for this mid-week dawn patrol. The pace was determined, singular in its determination to reach our destination, Café Orso in Deep Cover, with plenty of time to enjoy their sweet Liege waffles, sprinkled with icing sugar, swimming with fresh strawberries.

FRF early risers.

FRF early risers.

 

The ride IS worth the reward!

The ride IS worth the reward!

The calories we consumed probably exceeded those we expended to get there and back. But it didn’t matter. It wasn’t even 8 a.m. yet and we’d have to quicken our return pace if everyone was to get to work on time; we’d earned our 15 minutes of breakfast debauchery!





Setting goals

31 07 2016

It’s good to have goals; even better to achieve them.

For the past 12 years, my July’s have been defined by my goal to ride 1,000 kilometres in the month.

I came up short in 2009, a sweltering July, and again in 2014, for some unknown reason.

But otherwise, it’s been pretty achievable.

Especially as I tend to take two weeks off to get up early to watch the Tour de France then, suitably inspired, spend the rest of the day riding my own bike.

In 2008  I must have been particularly inspired, as I pedalled 1,600 km, including 608 in one incredible week!

Eight days ago, my beloved 1,000 seemed out of reach.

The demise of my newspaper meant I’d seen the last of my six weeks’ annual vacation that I’d toiled 20 years to attain. In fact, the beginning of a new job meant no vacation at all.

But two unexpected gift rides last week, and a favourable calendar with a long weekend to close the month, opened the door to the possibility of reaching that 1,000. Good legs, recovered from the gruelling Triple Crown, put me over the top.

What better way to celebrate the achievement of my July riding goal than to salute the goat!

What better way to celebrate the achievement of my July riding goal than to salute the goat!

To ride those 1,095 km took me 44 hours and 53 minutes; that’s like a full work week plus half a day of overtime!

Ah the rewards of a great morning on the bike!

Ah the rewards of a great morning on the bike!

 

Any cycling goal requires good fuel. This excellent Mexican meal of roasted peppers stuffed with quinoa, beans and corn powered a busy weekend of riding.

Any cycling goal requires good fuel. This excellent Mexican meal of roasted peppers stuffed with quinoa, beans and corn powered a busy weekend of riding.

 

Uh oh, beware the dismay of a Fuggitivi denied his first Lunch Doctor experience!

Uh oh, beware the dismay of a Fuggitivi denied his first Lunch Doctor experience!

Of course in the Strava universe, 1,000 km in a month is but a molehill. The month’s distance champion was a woman from Florida, who clocked more than 11,000 km! That means she rode more than 370 km a day, 12 hours of every day of the month!

My legs wilt just at the thought.

As does my brain. Because she did her rides covering laps of the same 20 km circuit, over and over and over again. I can only imagine the mental fatigue and boredom of watching the same countryside roll past hour after hour, day after day, week after week.

Her Strava profile says she has a goal to set a new record for ultra marathon cycling. To achieve that, she’ll have to ride more than 122,432 km by next July 1. Because this was the first month of her challenge.

I am humbled.

We all are.





The gift of free kilometres

25 07 2016

Never look gift kilometres in the mouth.

When Princess of Pavement asked me two days running, “aren’t you going for a ride?” the nature of her enquiry and the way she asked it implied encouragement.

I hadn’t planned to ride.

On Sunday I was scheduled to work on a special project so I was resigned to missing the weekly FRF ride. Instead I went for a solo roll on Friday. When I reminded PofP after her ride query Saturday night, she suggested I could head out early, before I had to work.

Hmmmmmm, free kilometres!? Yes please!

Early morning roll-out.

Early morning roll-out.

Living in an open loft presents challenges for any early or late activities. There’s no door to close to muffle the noise. And while Little Ring has a separate room with a doorway, his senses seem to roust at first light and await any cue that the day is set to begin, especially if that cue indicates breakfast is being prepared.

“Is it morning yet?” he’ll cry out. “I’m hungry.”

So an early-morning ride requires meticulous preparation the night before. That means placing the bike by the door, hanging kit in the bathroom for changing, placing shoes, helmet, gloves and emergency kit somewhere clear of creaking floor boards, honing muscle memory and arranging furniture to avoid those noisy floor boards, putting out breakfast utensils and dishes to minimize drawer and cupboard opening, rounding up breakfast ingredients to limit the number of times the fridge or pantry has to be opened and closed.

Free kilometres usually means flat kilometres to maximize the gain on the mileage goal.

Free kilometres usually means flat kilometres to maximize the gain on the mileage goal.

The pressure is enormous. One false step, one moment’s inattention, could disturb the pre-dawn peace.

The unexpected evening ride, however, usually comes with a peace dividend. It seems Little Ring is more amenable to sticking to his bedtime script when there’s only one of us around; it’s as if he has an innate sense there’s no “good cop” who will accede to his various nighttime stalling games just to keep the peace.

So when Princess of Pavement asked again on Monday whether I was going for a ride, I was gifted another great big mozza ball of free kilometres.

The sun begins to set at Iona Beach.

The sun begins to set at Iona Beach.

And while they’ll help get me a little closer to my usual July goal of 1,000 kilometres for the month, I’m resigned that I likely won’t attain it this year. Working at a new job and not having my traditional two weeks holiday during the Tour de France to pile on the rides has been the Yoko Ono to my Strava goals.





A hill too far. Almost.

16 07 2016

Everyone has a hill they’re willing to die on.

Today mine was Cypress Mountain.

Earlier this season some ambitious members of the FRF signed on to do the annual Triple Crown for Heart, a charity ride that ascends the three mountains that comprise the North Shore: Seymour, Grouse and Cypress.

It’s seemed an audacious ride; more than 2300 metres of climbing on a 70 km ride, but if we rode to and from the ride, the mileage would more than double.

What the heck, I thought; I’ve done all three climbs on their own, the descents are a lot of fun and there’s plenty of time between the mountains to recover.

My hubris almost killed me.

Even with the ultra-early 6 a.m. roll-out, spirits were high on the ride to the ride. We were a sizeable contingent, all looking very pro in our matching FRF kits. The weather was perfect; overcast, humid but not too warm.

Ten members of the FRF reported for the Triple Crown but only nine rode it as one member was still paying the price for his ambitious ride last weekend.

Ten members of the FRF reported for the Triple Crown but only nine rode it as one member was still paying the price for his ambitious ride last weekend.

As the 170 or so riders departed from a community centre in North Vancouver, the damp air turned to light rain.

Into the Misting; the clouds descend quickly on the climb up Seymour.

Into the Misting; the clouds descend quickly on the climb up Seymour.

As we climbed into the clouds, the rain became a cold curtain of mist. Nothing a gillet and arm warmers couldn’t temper. Although I wished for wipers on my glasses.

I should have packed windshield wipers...

I should have packed windshield wipers…

I beat my personal best up the mountain by about 10 minutes.

The descent had to be dialled down a bit because of the wet, slick road. But it was still fast enough to dry my damp shoes, blow the drops from my lenses.

Dean wrings the rainwater from his socks at the bottom of Seymour.

Dean wrings the rainwater from his socks at the bottom of Seymour.

The climb to Grouse isn’t long, but it does have some nasty pitches that can throw your Garmin into pause mode because it thinks you’re no longer moving.

Again, a PB. And my legs were feeling strong.

Two climbs down, one to go. Oh how my hubris would come back to haunt me.

Two climbs down, one to go. Oh how my hubris would come back to haunt me.

At the bottom of each descent, our group reassembled to recover en masse, fly the team colours.

But the ride to Cypress is no lazy roll to the base of a mountain. In fact, before the mountain even officially begins, you’ve had to climb about 300 metres from sea level.

It’s that progressive climb to the climb that sapped my legs.

At the official start of the Cypress climb I rolled past one of the half-dozen aid and refuelling stations set up by the ride organizers. My legs turned to inert logs.

I had stayed hydrated and I had plenty of food on board; fruit and energy bars from the aid, a stations, a good breakfast at the start of the day.

But the start of Cypress was almost 100 km into our ride and my legs were crying “Uncle.”

Of the three North Shore climbs, Cypress is considered the least challenging. It’s the longest, about 12 km; but it rarely pitches steeper than five per cent.

Today, the back end of three major climbs, it was anything but easy.

My cadence slowed, my average speed dropped precipitously. My thighs screamed. My hamstrings protested. A guy ski-poling his way up the road way ahead never seemed to get any closer.

The clouds closed in, bringing with them more cold mist to compound my misery.

Riders who’d already finished the climb and were now screaming down the opposite lane seemed mocking; I so wanted to be them.

But for that speedy descent, I’d have to reach the top. And so my legs kept turning the pedals over. Slowly. Grinding out each agonizing kilometre as other riders passed.

I wished for a bigger cassette. I wished for a triple chainring (who rides those anymore). I wished for a burger. Oh yeah, those were awaiting us at the top.

To distract my despairing legs and flagging spirit, I focussed on catching ski pole guy, which I eventually did. I focussed on joining the sinewy lines of speedy descenders snaking down the opposite lane. I focussed on that burger; my belly heavy with bananas, oranges and energy bars, it craved meaty sustenance.

One word: shattered.

One word: shattered.

The cold mist penetrated deeply this time, finding purchase in my depleted state.

But amazingly, the legs kept turning over.

And when I got to that burger, it was the best burger I’d ever had. Even if it wasn’t.

After 153 kms and 2700 metres of climbing, I earned this badge!

After 153 kms and 2700 metres of climbing, I earned this badge!





Measuring mediocrity

11 07 2016

Strava is the measure of my mediocrity.

After every ride, I dutifully download the data from my Garmin GPS to the social site that connects riders from around the world who break down their routes into bite-sized segments. Comparing my performance with previous rides can give me an idea of improvements in my own fitness, as well as affirm the sensations in my legs; feeling strong during a climb up Burnaby Mountain isn’t just in my imagination when Strava awards me a Personal Best trophy icon.

Enjoying a baguette et brie at the first lookout on Cypress Mountain during the annual FRF Bastille Day ride. The climb also served as a warmup for this Saturday's Triple Crown up all three of Vancouver's major mountain climbs.

Enjoying a baguette et brie at the first lookout on Cypress Mountain during the annual FRF Bastille Day ride. The climb also served as a warmup for this Saturday’s Triple Crown up all three of Vancouver’s major mountain climbs.

Earning those little trophies is addictive.

Strava has more than 1.5 million active users. They include cyclists and runners. Logging their activities into the site provides real-time tracking of their performance improvements over segments created by fellow users.

Those segments are also the measure upon which cyclists and runners can compare their performance with others, a sort of giant ongoing virtual race.

Those virtual competitions can get pretty intense. Setting a new KOM can be conversation fodder in the FRF peloton, a throw-down to other riders.

The FRF peloton celebrates French culture and food on its annual Bastille Day ride.

The FRF peloton celebrates French culture and food on its annual Bastille Day ride.

Not that I ever have to worry about setting or regaining a coveted KOM.

In the Strava world I am famously mediocre. My modest achievements are neither great nor terrible. Inevitably a personal best that I worked hard to attain will end up ranked solidly somewhere in the middle of the pack of all riders who’ve ridden the same segment.

Of course, what's a ride these days without a flat. The latest also revealed a cut in the sidewall of my rear tire, so I detoured to a bike shop to get a new tire. And more spare tubes, of course.

Of course, what’s a ride these days without a flat. The latest also revealed a cut in the sidewall of my rear tire, so I detoured to a bike shop to get a new tire. And more spare tubes, of course.

Except for descents. Apparently I can be pretty decent at those; I’ve even managed to crack the top 10 on some, even if briefly.

This Saturday I’ve signed on for the Triple Crown, a challenging ride up Vancouver’s three major mountains, Seymour, Grouse and Cypress. I’ve done all three separately, never on the same day. The route covers 75km with around 2000 metres of climbing.

I’m confident I’ll be able to do it. I’m certain I’ll be slow. I’m scared of the effort it’s going to take.

So instead, I’m going to think of it as three fast and fun descents. Because what goes up, has to come down. Before it can go up again…

I may even manage to set a downhill PB or two.





Into the Heart of Darkness aka Delta

5 07 2016

The clouds of doom began gathering as soon as the destination for Sunday’s FRF ride was announced.

As we embarked on our ill-fated adventure into cycling’s Heart of Darkness, Delta, they thickened, became more menacing.

The clouds of despair and desperation began gathering even as we set out for our Sunday ride into the Heart of Darkenss.

The clouds of despair and desperation began gathering even as we set out for our Sunday ride into the Heart of Darkenss.

Barely over the Bridge of Lost Souls that transports unwitting victims into her lair, never to be seen again, the trouble began. Mike, an FRF newbie on his inaugural ride, flattened. By the time the day was done, the fierce headwind was no longer the topic of our peloton’s consternation; it was Mike’s unprecedented FOUR flats!

Flat #1, just after entering Delta from the Bridge of Lost Souls.

Flat #1, just after entering Delta from the Bridge of Lost Souls.

Delta is where cyclists get lost, and tires go to die.

The city’s bike routes are deplorable. Not only is their signage inconsistent and often illogical, the lanes are poorly maintained.

It is July, the thick of riding and bike commuting season, and the bike routes are as dirty with gravel and debris as if it was mid-March after a harsh winter of snowplowing and sanding. The sharp stones bite into tires, ricochet into unsuspecting shins, ping off shiny carbon fibre frames and even catapult off passing vehicles. Riding in Delta, especially along busy routes like River Road, is a dangerous game of waving and weaving through a moonscape disguised as a bike lane.

This is not acceptable. Bike lanes also need to be maintained.

This is not acceptable. Bike lanes also need to be maintained.

Making roads and routes safe for cyclists involves more than just painting white stencils on shoulders. Those lanes should be swept regularly to clear them of the debris and detritus strewn by cars and trucks. A sharp stone squeezed out by a tire inflated to 120psi becomes a missile, capable of gashing shins, chipping paint, flattening tires. Just ask Mike, whom we last saw humping his bike back down the Bridge of Lost Souls to get a ride back home, his patience and our peloton’s supply of inner tubes and CO2 cartridges exhausted.

Four flats on a single ride is terribly bad luck. In Delta, it seems inevitable.








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