Smoke gets in our eyes. And lungs.

25 08 2015

Of all the weather on all the meteorology maps in all the world, we never counted on smoke.

It’s been a hot, dry summer. And in the days leading up to Sunday’s climactic FRF Fondon’t to Mt. Baker, we all hoped that trend would continue.

But the downside to hot, dry summers in this part of the world is the tendency of forests to catch fire. It’s been happening a lot. Careless smokers, lightning, spontaneous combustion; all of them conspiring to char the landscape and choke the air with woody smoke.

Which is exactly what wafted over us early Sunday as we car-pooled to the launch rendezvous for our 160 km roundtrip ride up the Northwest’s tallest peak.

The smoke settled in the valleys, dimmed the horizon, obscured distant peaks.

Smoke blankets nearby ridges as the FRF crew rolls out early Sunday morning.

Smoke blankets nearby ridges as the FRF crew rolls out early Sunday morning.

By the time we fell into a quick paceline after clearing U.S. Customs at Sumas, the smoke tickled our throats.

Otherwise, it was a fine day. Warm but not too warm, no breeze to slow us.

This year’s FRF Fondon’t contingent comprised seven regulars and three privateers joining us for our big day out.

The FRF crew plus special guests gather in a parking lot on home soil before crossing border to their destination, Le Sommet.

The FRF crew plus special guests gather in a parking lot on home soil before crossing border to their destination, Le Sommet.

It was a fast bunch, and by the time we got into the meat of Silver Lake Rd., a quieter but longer approach, I had fallen off the pace, lost contact.

Taking a break at Maple Falls, before the serious riding begins.

Taking a break at Maple Falls, before the serious riding begins.

But I didn’t fret, just fell into a comfortable pace. The purpose of our ride, the 20 km ascent to Artist’s Point atop Mt. Baker, was still a long, hilly way off.

FRF’s entire season had been structured for this ride. That meant lots of climbing.

In the weeks leading up, I’d ascended Mt. Seymour twice, Cypress Mt. once, Burnaby Mountain more than a few times. I’d made it out to a number of the regular Tuesday night climbing rides.

Team photo at Glacier. Who will survive? Who will summit?

Team photo at Glacier. Who will survive? Who will summit?

I’d never ridden Baker. I wanted to be prepared.

It’s not a hard climb; grades rarely nipped past six or seven per cent, and usually only in the switchback hairpins.

But it’s long. And it’s official 16 km route is rendered even longer by the approach from Glacier that rolls up and down into a river valley for another 20 km.

The road heads up, and then down, and then up again en route to Mt. Baker.

The road heads up, and then down, and then up again en route to Mt. Baker.

At the service yard that marks the official start of the mountain’s ascent, my thighs were already sore.

Again the speedy climbers shot away, leaving me with only my heavy breathing to keep my company.

A few times along those early ramps, my Garmin mocked me by going into Auto Pause. I blamed the trees, maybe the smoke. I hoped it wasn’t because I was going so slowly.

Sadly, the smoke obscured the peek-a-boo views of sprawling valleys and distant peaks which Baker’s veterans assured me were all around.

But it’s a beautiful climb nonetheless. The towering trees of the lower slopes shade the road.

As they thin towards the alpine, the road begins twisting and turning in ever-tightening switchbacks. They lessen the gradient, but they also demoralize the spirit.

Seeing those switchbacks rise up and away above me, I thought a couple of times of packing it in, waiting to catch the group on their way down. The climb seemed never-ending, and my legs, my belly and my lungs weren’t happy.

But you don’t ride this far, prepare all season to only get part way.

The magnificence of the surroundings kept me going.

Riding up Baker is a true mountain climb, the closest thing we have to a Tourmalet or Mt. Ventoux.

I imagined the crazed tifossi lining the narrow, rocky shoulder, their cheers pushing me through my limits.

More importantly, I anticipated the leans and sweeping turns of the speedy descent. I didn’t want to deprive myself of a single switchback, skip a hairpin, neglect a ridge.

 

The view from here is magnificent. If it wasn't so smokey!

The view from here is magnificent. If it wasn’t so smokey!

 

Le Sommet.

Le Sommet.

Because for every gruelling, arduous ascent, there’s a beautiful, exhilarating descent.

Lunch!

Lunch!

 

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Climbing to cure pancreatic cancer

16 08 2015

 

For eight years, the Glotman-Simpson engineering company has sponsored a ride up Cypress Mountain to raise money for research into the cause and treatment of pancreatic cancer.

One of the company’s founders, Geoff Glotman, had lost his mother-in-law to the insidious disease, which has a mortality rate of almost 100 per cent. Glotman is an avid cyclist. His company sponsors a rather large cycling club. So he put the two together to create the Cypress Challenge to raise awareness and money to help improve the odds for those diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

All the registration money for the Cypress Challenge goes to fund research into the cause and treatment of pancreatic cancer. This year's ride raised more than $400,000.

All the registration money for the Cypress Challenge goes to fund research into the cause and treatment of pancreatic cancer. This year’s ride raised more than $400,000.

My dad died in 2004 of pancreatic cancer.

It was not a pleasant end. Within months of his diagnosis, he was wasting away to nothing, his pain controlled by increasing amounts of morphine. And there was nothing we could do. By the time pancreatic cancer presents itself with symptoms, it’s usually too late.

So when the Cypress Challenge was moved to a Sunday date this year from its usual Saturday, and with the company of some fellow FRFers, I registered.

I’d never ridden up Cypress Mountain. But I’ve wanted to for some time.

A ride with a view. Waiting for the call to line-up for the start of the 2015 Cypress Challenge.

A ride with a view. Waiting for the call to line-up for the start of the 2015 Cypress Challenge.

Cypress veterans assured me it’s easier than the opposite bookend of the North Shore’s three major climbs, Seymour. Just as long, 12 kms, but a more gradual, steady gradient.

The Challenge is simply the climb, 24 kms round trip. To make it a good morning out, our trio of FRFers shuttled in the early morning gloom to North Burnaby and rode from there to the start point, ensuring at least 75 kms of riding.

The Challenge has all the trappings of a Fondo, the mass start, the nervous anticipation before rollout, chip timing, treats at the end.

The FR Fugittivi represents at the 2015 Cypress Challenge.

The FR Fugittivi represents at the 2015 Cypress Challenge.

A starting line selfie. That's Ross on my right, Guy to my left.

A starting line selfie. That’s Ross on my right, Guy to my left.

But they come at a fraction of the price, with all the registration money going to the cause. Services and treats are all donated, or absorbed by the organizer.

The announcer said this year’s peloton was the biggest ever, more than 650 riders.

We formed an impressive snake spread over two lanes up the sinewy curves of the mountain’s lower slope at the start line.

More than 600 riders make an impressive snake up the coiling curves of Cypress Mountain's early slopes.

More than 600 riders make an impressive snake up the coiling curves of Cypress Mountain’s early slopes.

Once the start horn blasted, it didn’t take long for the snake to thin out. Climbs have a way of doing that, which is likely why most fondos try to place some sort of climb early in the route to make it safer for everyone.

The advice I was given before the ride was to just find my pace, which is exactly what I did. It’s not blistering by any stretch, but I never felt uncomfortable or strained. I passed some riders. Some passed me. For the most part, I hung in with the same general group most of the way.

At the top, 53 minutes after I had crossed the timing mat at the start, there was too many sweet treats in which to indulge; donuts, cinnamon buns, breakfast burritos, muffins, energy bars, recovery drinks, yogurt beverages. A good idea at the time; not so great about an hour later.

Awaiting us at the top, a photo op with 2012 Giro champion Ryder Hesjedal.

Awaiting us at the top, a photo op with 2012 Giro champion Ryder Hesjedal.

All in all, a great event for an important cause. I hope they keep running it on Sundays.





June is Bike Month; July is cycling month

1 08 2015

June is Bike Month.

But July is cycling month.

It’s the month when Le Tour takes over the TV; the news and other regular programming goes unwatched.

It’s the month of long days and longer rides.

It’s the month of big mileage, sore legs, new routes.

Here's something you don't see on every ride; a bear in the city!

Here’s something you don’t see on every ride; a bear in the city!

Last year, July was a bit of a letdown.

The Tour was lame. And for the first time since 2009, I didn’t achieve 1,000 km in July’s 31 days.

This year I was determined to right that ship.

The weather helped. Aside from a couple of light sprinkles, and a rainy morning that scuttled our group ride on the month’s last Sunday, every day was dry, usually sunny, mostly warm.

A hot slog up through the Seymour demonstration forest; but the effort is worth it.

A hot slog up through the Seymour demonstration forest; but the effort is worth it.

The company of other riders helped. Two of our FR Fuggitivi rides in the month topped 100 km. And the summer of Grant meant there was always someone to answer the request; “wanna ride?”

In fact, Grant’s mileage made my modest accomplishment look like a medio fondo.

Still, it was a good month; I was on the bike 17 times for a total of 1,312.6 km.

That made it my best July since 2008, when I just nudged over 1,600 km in the month, also in 17 rides.

But then, 11 of those rides were longer than 100 km.

The metric century seems harder to achieve now. I don’t know why.

I doubt it’s a question of fitness or commitment.

I think it’s about time.

In 2008, with no family, no Little Ring to drop off and pick up from daycare, no errands like groceries or laundry to tend to on an almost daily basis, spending seven or eight hours on the bike didn’t feel like stealing time from other duties.

Now, those duties call constantly.

Six hours on the bike instead means a couple of hours leftover to answer those commitments of life, to ensure everything is in order when Princess of Pavement returns from school, Little Ring gets home hungry for food and attention.

It’s a good shift of ride-life balance.

The mileage may not be as extreme. But the experience is richer.