Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Riding Mountain MS Bike Tour: The 2009 Edition

There were a lot of things different about this year’s Riding Mountain MS Bike Tour. We lost some key team members. Mark moved to Qatar. Christine had a wedding. Michael dropped out days prior to leaving due to family commitments. Derek was absent with other obligations too. We gained Mike P. and his buddy Jim J. I went on this trip as the only female Red River Rebel Rider and all I can say is that the hills are still the same size and the ride is still the same challenge and we had dream weather.

Red River Rebel Riders:  Wayne, Jim, Mike, Yuri, Guy, Randy, Kim

I checked the forecast on Thursday prior to leaving and it called for days in the 20 degree range, sunny and with winds on Saturday blowing from the north (as we rode south) and blowing from the south on Sunday when we rode back north. How could this be possible?? But it was and it happened pretty close to prediction. Wind was a bit NW on Saturday and a bit SE on Sunday but it was still mostly from the rear and that was all that mattered. Summer had arrived, even in the North of Manitoba.


Guy and I drove up in the RRC van and arrived in Dauphin around 7:30. Wayne, Jim J. and Mike arrived shortly after 9 PM and we all headed for carb loading (i.e. beer and pasta) at Boston Pizza. I got a room to myself and slept well. I was up before 7 a.m., dressed and ready to go and wandered over to Parkland Rec Centre to register. As I am walking into Parkland I see someone familiar at a table near registration. That looks like Gyula, I think… hmmm… can’t be. Then I take a few steps closer and I can see that it is Gyula, and Esther and Stig… Wow, Esther and Gyula came.. Awesome! Apparently Stig had talked them into it in the weeks before and Esther made some phone calls and got them in to a supposedly full event, last minute. It is amazing what a little tenacity and persuasiveness will get you into.

I kinda screwed up at the start of Saturday’s ride. The UPHILL ride. I can be pretty strong , but hills add a whole new twist. I went out too hard and did everything I said I wasn’t going to do. I had it in my head that I was going to try and stick with Stig and Jim P. (Michael’s regular ride partners). The only problem was that I couldn’t find them. The last I had seen them was when they went back to their hotel after registering and breakfast to change and get ready. As it came time for the start, the usual calisthenics and warm up routine was acted out in front of me on the stage on the street in front of Parkland Rec. I figured Stig and Jim would work their way to the front to be with the lead guys. I chatted as I waited with a guy named Andre that I had rode with at the end of the Muddy Water’s 100 mile ride. I guess he figured we would be around the same pace and I was a somewhat familiar face. The warm up ended, and still no sign of Stig and Jim.

You can just see me and Andre chatting here at the start. I think we were supposed to be warming up and I was exercising my right not to do aerobics.

So off the horn went.

I catch up to the lead pack. We turn out onto Dauphin’s main road and I am still with the lead pack. Our speed is about 32 km per hour. Manageable. Then someone jumps and the next thing I know we are doing 40. There is another girl in the group. Nice to see another girl in the lead group, she says to me. Well, we will see how long this lasts, I say. One thing I know for sure about myself as a rider and found out explicitly at Muddy Waters when I fell out of the lead pack at 17km is that starting out hard is deadly. But here I am in the lead pack with one other girl and about 8 guys and we are doing 40 and I’m hanging on… barely. We settle into a more reasonable pace again. About 34 km/hr. I’m chatting with some of the other riders. We’ve lost a couple already from the original 10 during the first jump in speed. Just as I am getting comfortable with the adjusted pace someone jumps again and they start to pull away. I think I have enough in me to follow still at this point but I know I won’t have it in me to do it a third time. And there would undoubtedly be a third. I find myself feeling irritated. This is BS. I don’t want to ride like this. There is 12 km of flat before the first hill and I don’t want to give it all before going into that first hill. And I don’t have the skills as a rider to keep playing these games. I need to pace.

I was told later that this is what they do. The strongest guys play mind games with the pack. They do it to shake off the weaker riders. They make you think they’ve settled into a pace and then make a jump in speed when you least expect it, trying to shake you off the back end. What an evil evil evil testosterone filled sport. What the hell have I got myself into? This is an effing charity ride, not the Tour de France. As I watch the pack ride off I think about getting out my camera and recording this moment for posterity. I don’t but it is still embedded in my mind. I look down at the computer – 4 km of riding done. I slow down mostly because I have no choice but also because I don’t want to ride alone. More reasonable riders are certainly behind me.

That girl in the lead pack, she stayed there the whole way. I found out later it was Netty, one of the girls that stopped on Hwy 10 when I flatted out near Clear Lake the Monday after the Triathlon. I didn’t recognize her. I certainly didn’t realize she was a girl-rider in a class of her own. I remember her saying that day that she didn’t even know how to change a tire. But man, is she incredible.

Jim P. rides up beside me about a km later. Where’s Stig? I ask. Oh back there, he says. Well let’s see if I can stick on Jim’s wheel. I’ve recovered from my hard start but not completely. I can see up ahead that there is at least one other rider that has fallen off the lead pack. It is one of the other guys I had talked to when I thought we had settled into a pace. He had also doubted he could stay with them the whole way. I hang onto the back of Jim’s wheel and it feels comfortable. This is promising. We pass the one other lone guy who fell off the lead pack. Well you hung on longer than I did, I say to him as we ride past. I don’t think he tagged onto us. Not recovered enough I guess. I hang onto Jim’s back wheel for about 8 km all the way up the first hill but at the top I need to recover. I ease off and he slowly pulls ahead. I think about calling out to him but I don’t want to hold him back so I let him go and I am on my own again.

Jim makes it to the top of the hill. This was after I was no longer behind him.

I stay on my own until about half way through the big 10km of uphill. It is harmless heavy breathing behind you, a voice says from behind me. I’m breathing heavy too, I say. In fact, I’m not just breathing heavy. I’m grunting. I’m too hot with arm warmers on and I want to get off my bike and walk. My speed is 11-12 km per hour. I’m in the lowest possible gear in existence on my bike and I wish I could go lower. I have no draft and these are the first riders I’ve seen in about 6 km. But I am not convinced that draft is relevant in this part of the ride. How much benefit would you be getting at 11-12 km/hr? I keep pushing forward. The voice behind me is Bruce. He is with another guy Paul who isn’t climbing as well and I think Bruce is quite a bit younger than Paul. It is hard to tell. The only thing I can focus on are my legs and my lungs.

I tell them I’m glad someone caught up to me. I tell them the story of how I got dropped from the lead pack. Yeah, young guys will do that, Bruce says. Especially if there are girls.

These weren’t young guys, I tell him. They were old guys.

Doesn’t matter, Bruce says. I tell him I think that is dumb. But there I go again: 38 years old and still naive about men.

Me, dead, at the peak of the mountain. Don't be fooled into thinking that is a smile.

I slog out the rest of the hill with them. Somewhere along the way the guy Jim and I passed earlier (the one who had fallen off the lead pack after me) passes me back again. I’m not feeling great. I want to stretch out my quads which requires I glide. It is hard to glide when you are on an uphill. I have a cramp in my right side from lord knows what. I have visions of having appendicitis and having to be airlifted to Dauphin. Good lord, please spare me Dauphin hospital. It is gas, I eventually presume. It doesn’t go away for the rest of the ride.

With “the hill” over, I need to slow down. Just as I start to fall back from Bruce and Paul, Stig rides by at a good speed with two other guys on his wheel and says hello. We’ve been riding for 32 km and have just passed Moon Lake. He passes Paul and Bruce and they tag on the back. I yell, See ya later Stig but it appears they are slowing down. I push to catch up, and I do. I catch them but just as I hit their draft they jump speed and I don’t have the energy to follow. I let them go. I am on my own again.

Stig looking pretty strong hitting the top of the mountain. That's Pat behind him who I rode with at the end of Day 2.

One more guy catches up to me. Another Paul. I latch onto his wheel and ride there comfortably for about 5 km until we hit a hill. I find I am waaaaaay stronger than this Paul on the uphills. I ride beside him for a bit and notice we are both in the same gear. The lowest gear on the big ring. He’s grinding it out and breathing heavy and I am spinning and talking easily. His bike is 13 years old, he tells me. A relic. This Paul and I are not very well matched riders. I leave him in the dust on the uphills and he zooms past me on the downhill. We hit a bigger downhill that pulls him further ahead and I can’t keep up, but I can always see Paul up ahead. We reach the section 23 km out of clear lake where you ride up continuously for 3 km. More climbing. I catch Paul easily. I thought I’d catch you here, I say. He says he’s been waiting for me.

I don’t think this Paul much liked getting his butt kicked on the uphills by a girl. I don’t really get a good look at Paul until after the ride is over. He is late 40s in age, grey hair, very attractive actually. It all starts to make sense. We rode “together” for about 35 km but never really helped each other out. But I have a feeling he didn’t really know riding. After he took off on me on the downhill on that one big section and I finally caught him again, I didn’t bother easing up any longer to stay with him on the uphill. I would leave him behind and then he would promptly giv-‘er as we hit a downhill or flat and be sure to catch up and pass. And so it went for the final 20km. He was burning himself out making sure I knew that he wasn’t as weak as his uphill riding suggested. I tell him at the end that it was all bike. If he had a lighter bike with a modern gear ratio he would have smoked my ass.

Paul and I came in, by my mental calculation, around the 13th and 14th riders. I’m giving myself 13th spot as he fatigued on the last uphill, and I pulled him in on the last 2 km. Then it was time for the massage. They told me when I walked into Danceland in Clear Lake that I was the second woman (which I knew). The massage therapists had a hay day with my tight legs (they were students). I think they gave me far longer than my allotted 10 minutes. I could barely straighten up as my side hurt so bad. But it did eventually dissipate. I had chili and fruit and veggies and chatted with Stig and Jim. Total distance: 68.89 km. My total time was 2:25 (and change). Jim was about 2:17 and Stig about 2:20. Those guys were easily 20 minutes ahead of me the year before. My average speed was 28.3 km/hr. Not bad. I think I could have been closer to 30km per hour on average if I had felt like I had any legs. What do I blame this on? My 200 km two weeks ago? My cramp in my side? Esther arrived back while I was still on the massage table. She was kicking butt too and must have been 3rd woman in.


I tried not to over drink on Saturday night. I really did. Can’t say I was all that successful, I was having too much of a good time. I will let the photo’s tell the story. Enough said.

Esther, Gyula, Stig, Kim, Bonnie, Jim: On the peer at the lake

Fortunately, I did not feel all that bad Sunday morning. I had discovered I had a flat when I returned to my cabin to sleep. I get up early to fix it, discover I have the wrong tube size for my bike, “borrow” one from Wayne, break the valve and it starts hissing air slowly almost as soon as I finish pumping. I think I get it fixed but wait, on edge, for an hour and decide that the tire is not holding air. I take my bike to the repair guys and get a new tube and buy myself a little confidence for my ride.

I chat with Paul on the gravel road behind Danceland. He recognizes me (or my bike) not the other way around. This isn’t the Paul I rode most of the way with the day before who leap-frogged with me on the hills, but the first Paul, the one who rode with Bruce. He is 50ish in age, glasses, bald, over 6 feet tall. Massive legs. He says Bruce really worked him hard. He hopes to do the return ride in less than 2 hours. Me too, I say, except I don’t have high hopes of that. I rode 200km only two weeks ago and I haven’t felt strong since. I am just going to take this ride as it comes.

I think I might tag onto Stig’s wheel and see if I can hang on – five minutes behind isn’t all that much over 70km. I hoped Esther would hang on to me. I don’t want to ride alone. That was boring. I want company. Things, of course, don’t go as planned. I have a conversation with speedy Netty and remind her that we’ve met before. I’m taking a couple pictures at the start. I take what turns out to be a lovely picture of Esther and Gyula and I take my last picture of Stig and Jim. Stig whistles at me and tells me to put the camera away, were going. And there goes the horn and I am barely ready. As I am putting my camera away and getting my foot in my pedal a couple of riders who never should have started as far in front as they did, block my way. Stig and Jim are too far ahead to catch and off with the lead group. After yesterday’s experience, I have no interest in starting with the lead group. Maybe next year.

I follow Gyula out instead. I hope Esther is behind me but I see quickly that she isn’t. Gyula and I are basically alone. He’s breathing pretty heavy. A group of three guys pass us. I am in front of Gyula as I grab onto the last guy’s back wheel as he goes past. These guys know what they are doing. They have a smooth pace line going. This could be a good ride if the five of us stay together. Two of the guys are wearing FOG vests. At least I think they are FOG vests. I can only see their backs. As we move through the pace line, I end up second from the lead. We approach what I know is the biggest and longest uphill on the whole trip back to Dauphin and it is at the 5 km mark. Just as we approach the hill, the lead guy drops off. Thanks, I say to him. There is more than a touch of sarcasm in my tone. They’re going to let the chick pull up the hill, yeah right. So I drop my gears into my low ring, place my hands on my drops and I climb. I keep climbing and I keep waiting for one of these guys to be unhappy with my speed and overtake me. It’s not happening. My speed drops to about 19 km per hour. Oh yeah, here we go. Those boys aren’t going to let me lead much longer.

Then the next thing I know the road flattens out. I keep pedaling. I haven’t climbed at a killer pace. I’ve kept it comfortable. I take a quick glance behind me. There is ONE guy there. What the hell! And it’s not the FOG guys. It’s Paul. Not leap-frogging Paul but the first Paul, the one I had a conversation with on the gravel road before we started. I signal I want to drop back, he takes over the lead and it was like that for the rest of the ride; Paul and I together trading off. We are well matched. I couldn’t stay with him the day before but today I feel strong. There are no games and no showing off with him. There is one lone rider that fell off the lead group. He never gets further ahead and we never seem to get closer. I say to Paul that if that guy is smart he will slow up and work with us, he’s going the same pace and doing it all himself. We’ll catch him eventually, Paul says.

Two guys individually catch up and pass us. I would have let them go but Paul kicks it up both times to catch up and somehow I manage to stay with him. I am feeling strong. The first guy catches us at about 20 kms out, right before the road split and the 3 km downhill. We eventually drop him shortly after the end of the downhill. He at least chatted a little. The second guy, Brian, catches us not long after. He is with us for about 20km. I don’t think he said a word to us. We drop him too on one of the bigger uphills. Brian eventually catches us again and passes us on the big downhill. I believe he stays ahead and finishes ahead. He is a big guy and he takes his downhills well.

We catch the lone wolf guy at the 45 km mark. And if you know highway 10 you know this is right before the 10 km stretch of downhill, where, in reverse, 11-12 km per hour turns into 68. At least for me. (Jim got 74. Stig got 70ish.) I am sure that Paul and Pat (the lone wolf), hit higher than me as they were ahead of me on the downhill. I don’t know how to go faster than that. I’m tucking as best I can and I’m out of gears so no point in pedaling. I did hear someone else say he rode with 3 people and they all showed varying max speeds even though they were together the whole way down.

This is me and Paul, not on Day 2 but on Day 1 for that brief time I rode with him. The damn photographer was sitting right at the top of the steep hill so we all look trashed in those photos

The descent works in two phases. There is a stretch of downhill right immediately after the second worst uphill of the return trip, then it flattens out for about a km and then proceeds to descend again. The organizers have an RCMP car sit at the start of the second descent this year. We had been told this would happen to “slow us down.” The pavement has sagged and deteriorated greatly and they want us to be safe. So we see the RCMP, wave, and go. I keep watching for the broken pavement. Paul and Pat put on the breaks at one point up ahead of me and I follow suit thinking we are at the collapsing road, but it isn’t there yet. That RCMP officer sat in the wrong spot. He should have sat right at the crack. He was really about a km in front of it. Ah, there it is. I felt the drop in the pavement before I saw it as I flew through the rough section at probably close to 60 km per hour. Slow us down?.. Yeah Right. That worked.

And then when the big descent flattens out, there is the last hill out of the park and it is flat all the way back into Dauphin. Or, more accurately it is deceivingly flat, Paul claims it is on a slight descent. I glance at my watch and see that if we get back in 22 minutes we will crack the 2 hour mark. We have 13 km to go. I always base my calculations on averaging 30 km per hour. It is an easy calculation because at 30km per hour you do one km in 2 minutes. You double your distance to get your time. We needed 26 minutes at that pace. We would be back at 2:04. But as I keep pedaling, I notice we aren’t going 30 km per hour. We are going more like 37-40. Paul lets Pat pull us for a while but Pat is fatiguing. Paul takes over for a while and then it is my turn. I am a little slower and there is a bit of a side wind. I am going 35-37 km per hour. I signal for Paul to take over again. This is the final pull. Let’s take her home, he says. I am thankful for him doing that.

This is me an my broken bike... the tire was getting fixed

We ride into Parkland Rec Centre. I almost wipe out, I can’t get my foot unclipped. We compare times on our computers. Pat had fallen back on Paul’s last big pull. He was about 30 seconds behind. I see Pat now, he’s 30ish with what I would call rock and roll facial hair. Probably younger than me. Did we do it? Did we break 2 hours? I ask. We must have done it, I say. My computer says 1:56. But I had forgot to set it at the start. In the mess of getting my camera put away and getting off quickly I forgot to clear myself from the day before and we were out of Wasagaming and on the highway before I did. I figure I was only 2 minutes into the ride when I finally reset it (my watch said 9:02 at the time of reset – I remember that), but I didn’t know for sure. I didn’t know how my watch compared to the starter’s watch. The time on my watch said 10:58 when we arrived. Pat said we were 2 hours even. Paul had 2:00:56. So I will just say we got back at 2 hours even, seconds from our sub two hour goal. Average overall speed: 34 km per hour. Paul gives me a hug and thanks me for the great ride. It was a great ride and I had a great riding partner. I was 12th rider back. I’ll give Paul the 11th spot. He earned it.

So I hit the massage tables. Stig and Jim are already back and getting their massage. I am not on the table more than a couple minutes when Esther gets back and bonks me on the head. Yay Esther! I have a conversation with Netty how we need to make Rhonda (another triathlete) come out to this next year. My massage gets cut short because the riders start coming back in droves so I get exactly my 10 minutes. Stig asks what happened to me at the start. I got blocked, I tell him. We all go for showers. Have lunch and then home.

There is nothing negative to say about the weekend. It was perfect. I said to Wayne, Guy, Jim, and Mike night before the first day that I wanted to find something more challenging (and longer) next year but I don’t know, now, how I could miss out. This is just simply too much fun!


Lisa said...

It does sound like fun...if I had a bike, and trained a bit I just may be convinced to go next year...;))))

Kim said...

Ohh you ARE going next year... DEFINATELY!