Thursday, September 3, 2009

Riding Mountain MS Bike Tour

Hi Everyone,

Many of you know that in one week (September 12 and 13) I am participating in the Riding Mountain version of the MS Bike Tour. This ride involves about 140 km of hilly riding from Dauphin to Clear Lake and then back again over the two days. This is my second year pariticipating in the event for a team based out of Red River College known as the Red River Rebel Riders.

I know people living with Multiple Sclerosis and I have, as a nurse, witnessed its devistating long term effects up close. This is a disease in which its cause is virtually unknown and a cure is unavailable.

Last year I was able to raise over $1100 towards this cause entirely through the generosity of my friends and family. I hope to equal or better this total this year. Those of you who know me well, know that sending an email asking for money is a far harder hurdle for me to overcome than riding 140km over two days. Therefore I try and keep this request as low pressure as possible.

If you can help out in anyway, I appreciate your donation. Donating through credit card online through the link provided below, is the most efficient route but if that is not a desirable option for you I can take cash or checks in person. Just email or call (955-9744) and I will arrange a pick up.

Please check out my personal page for more information on how to contribute.

Thank you in advance for your generosity,

For anyone interested.... below is the write up I did of last years event and adventures, complete with photos. Happy reading.


It was an amazing weekend. Thank you to everyone who gave your support. As of this date I managed to raise a total of $1065 for MS. My team involving 9 “Red River Riders” raised a little over $8000. And those totals are still climbing as there are still two more weeks of pledges being accepted. A sincere thanks to you all for being a part of that. Many of you went above and beyond the call of duty and in the last couple weeks or so I have been surprised and overwhelmed by the response I’ve gotten by my request for pledges. I tried to be as low pressure as I could in my fundraising efforts. You are all AMAZING.

If you are interested, here is a little bit about the ride. WARNING I am pretty verbose in writing, as most of you know, so read when you have time . . . .

We left Friday afternoon at about 2:30 PM. Christine and I rode up with Guy (one of our teammates) to Dauphin. I had never met Guy before and he was great company on the ride up. This was Guy’s 5th MS bike tour so he was a veteran with lots of tips.

I was anxious about the ride. I wasn’t anxious so much about my ability to finish it but I seem to get like this before these kinds of events, so I didn’t sleep well the night before – I laid awake until I saw 2 AM and woke up at 5:00. I think I may have got 2.5 hours sleep, if that – quality of sleep – non-existent. In the morning we got to the Parkland Rec Center at about 7:30, got some breakfast and filled bike tires with air, Coffee to perk me up.

The ride started at 0900 and I had a conservative plan for the day. I estimated that I would take 3 hours to do the ride. This was the goal I had in my head when I started out. I also planned on at least one rest stop along the way. I’ve never ridden that far without stopping before. I really had no idea what I was capable of. My girlfriend Christine got off peddling before I did. I had trouble getting my feet in my pedals. I caught up to her and went ahead thinking she was right behind me but by the time I got to the highway I had lost her. There was another team of riders (Quads of Rock) that we had been hanging out with, people who were friends of Michael’s (one of our other teammates). So the next person I saw was Bonnie from this team. I thought I might stay with her but my adrenaline was picking up so I set my sites on Mark Walc (another teammate and team captain) and Jen (from Quads of Rock). I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to stick with them because Mark has done this ride and rides of similar nature for 14 years running (Riding Mountain about 8 times) and Jen was a more experienced cyclist than I too. I had to push it to catch up to them and I was panting pretty hard for the first 12 kms which was essentially flat until the entrance to Riding Mountain National Park. Somewhere around that point I started dropping back a bit but caught them again on the first hill and stuck to them after that.

The thing you have to understand about cyclists at an event such as this one (in particular, elite ones) is that they can be a little ruthless if you can’t keep up. No mercy. You will get left behind. As you enter Riding Mountain National Park the road starts into this tremendous incline that lasts about 10 kms. Somewhere on one of the longest and steepest hills I was switching into my lower gears and my chain fell off my bike. Jen narrowly escaped crashing into me. But she and Mark carried on and I had to get off and manually fix my chain. It took me a couple minutes to get it fixed and after about 6 cyclists went passed me without stopping, one finally stopped and helped me get going. To give you an idea of how well organized this event is. There was a truck with a radio that pulled up beside me and was calling for bike support within seconds of me getting off my bike. The route is that well monitored. Why did my chain fall off? No idea. It is just one of those fluky things that happens. Gear adjustment usually fixes the problem but until I got into Clear Lake I was on my own.
I really think that the two or so minute stop I had helped me out because I felt like I had been working hard prior to stopping and suddenly I had new legs. I figured Mark and Jen were long gone. But with my new legs I started passing people. I passed all the guys that didn’t stop to help me with my chain (as well as the guy who did). And I did this on my own with no drafting. The trick to long rides like these is riding in a group and drafting each other. It was a light wind day and perhaps a tailwind as well so wind was not a huge factor but it is still easier to ride by drafting. Everyone takes turns leading and taking the brunt of the “draft”. I’m not a very experienced cyclist, I’ve done 80% of my cycling this summer alone. They have hand signals and routines that I’m just starting to catch onto. I am a little nervous riding less than a foot off someone’s back tire (what do you do if someone has to stop suddenly as I did when my chain fell off and Jen almost crashed?) But that’s what you do when you draft. I’m learning.

After the chain incident and after I starting passing all the guys who didn’t stop (in all fairness, we were on the biggest hill, it was HARD to stop because getting started on an incline requires some power), I thought – I’m going to try and catch Mark and Jen. I wasn’t sure it was possible. I had already dropped back from them and had to catch up once. They are strong riders. After about 5 km I could see them up ahead and after another 5 kms I was back with them again. The adrenaline rush I got from catching up to them alone probably explains what happened next. I had worked pretty hard to catch up and 90% of that work was done on an uphill. Mark said they had slowed down a bit (“but not specifically for you” – LOL). Mark said I might be strong enough to go on ahead but at that point I was ready for a break so I stuck with them for another 10 km or so. Then we hit the 3 km of incline which is 23-24 km out of Clear Lake and I was going strong. A couple other guys had caught us by that point so we were a group of five. Somewhere in the 3rd km of incline I could feel riders on my tail but I looked back and couldn’t see Mark or Jen anywhere. I didn’t deliberately “drop” them, I was so focused on climbing I didn’t notice they were gone. Mark said later that Jen was struggling and so he slowed down and stayed with her.

I rode in the last 20 or so km with two guys, Walter and Anko, who were strong cyclists. Walter apparently owns Lifesport and was a Junior national cycling team member in his youth (I would estimate he was in his 50s). He said he had broke his back a couple years ago and he did these rides “for leisure”. I think he saw his main focus as latching on to strong but inexperienced riders and helping them learn how to ride better and smarter in the conditions. So he took Anko (also in his 50s) and I to the finish and taught us stuff along the way. Walter would let me lead on the hills and almost always be passing me at three quarters of the way up. He had the largest calves I have ever seen -- Anko called him “big guy” – he was powerful for sure. (This is how you recognize people because the pavement is so crappy on highway 10 that taking your eyes off the road could be damaging – you don’t ever really see people’s faces, but you see bikes, shirts, and body parts. If I saw Walter and Anko on the street tomorrow I wouldn’t know who they were).

Me and Walter on the Saturday

Final time: 2:32 approximately. That takes into account the short stop. Derek and Michael from our team and Stig and Jim from Quads of Rock did the distance in 2:09 (Derek blew a tire along the way actually so he was a bit behind). I smashed my predicted time by almost a half an hour. I was on a high for the rest of the weekend. Christine came in at an amazing 3 hours. She did awesome, given that my bike gave her some gear trouble and she had to stop to get it fixed. We all missed the rain, thank goodness. I discovered there are benefits to arriving in the first group of 20-25 riders. No waiting for the massage table. It was awesome!

Most of the Red River Riders on Saturday Night in Clear Lake.... after a few drinks... and yes, there is a story behind why I am standing like that but it is not to be told publicly in print.

Saturday night was dinner and a reception and a bit too much wine (I contributed a bottle of “Red Bicyclette” -- pretty apropos and decent tasting too. Try it out.) and several funny moments and good conversations. Christine and I actually crashed pretty early (by about 11). I hadn’t slept much the night before. I couldn’t even nap after the ride I was so wired and caffeinated as well. I did sleep Saturday night but woke up at about 2 and didn’t get back to sleep for another couple hours. Still it was more sleep than the night before.

More Red River Riders Photo session... I have no idea what is going on here....

Sunday was cold and continuously threatening rain. We were taking team photos and I was shaking throughout. I took my bike to “bike support” and had them adjust my gears – I didn’t want my chain falling off again. I decided to start off with Jen and Mark this time. I wasn’t sure how I was going to handle two days of heavy riding but I intended to “go hard” – as Michael kept saying to the boys the night before: What’s the plan guys? -- GO HARD. And there was the too-much-alcohol issue to contend with as well. Nothing that a bottle of water and a couple of Tylenol couldn’t fix. The problem was I had to pee something awful through the whole ride. It took about 10km for me to be able to ignore my bladder calling to me.

Red River Riders Team 2008 -- cold and shaking on Sunday morning in Clear Lake

Me and Mark

Mark and Jen and I pushed to get through the sea of riders who started ahead of us. When we hit the first hill I looked back and discovered that Jen was no longer with us. I couldn’t see her. In the end she ended up not riding – she pulled something in her glute and wisely stopped around 15 km before she made the injury worse in the cold. Later, I could tell she was pretty disappointed and ticked off. I would have felt the same. Mark and I pulled off ahead and pretty soon there were 6 of us riding in a group. Met up with Anko and Walter again as well as another guy named Michael (not RRC Michael) and Max who was riding a gorgeous looking Cervelo. (In case you’re wondering. And if you’ve managed to read this far, you might be . . . . (LOL). There is no big game of intros and handshakes on the road – we were all wearing name tags on the back of our bikes).

My riding group for most of Sunday until the end.

It was cold and the wind was wicked on the Sunday and picked up as the ride got closer to Dauphin. I led up one of the big hills and it just about did me in. I didn’t do much leading after that. I found myself struggling to keep my knees in as my quads were tired from the day before. It is bad to cycle bull-legged. Puts a lot of strain on your groin muscles. I still managed to keep up with these guys but at moments I barely kept up. Whenever I tried to lead in the wind, the speed dropped to about 24 km/hr. The guys never let me lead for long. Mark was super strong. I think he had been taking it easy the day before. I suggested later that he probably hadn’t drank as much as me. He said that was arguable. There were moments on Sunday that he deliberately slowed down to wait to for me. Those guys, Mark especially, kept me going on Sunday. I owe them.

The rumour is that this ride is mostly uphill on day 1 and mostly downhill on day 2. Well in reality that is far from the truth. There is a fabulous section of 10 km pretty much straight downhill but there is a lot of climbing to get to that. We lost Michael and Walter somewhere before the downhill. Michael’s chain fell off and he dropped off and when Walter discovered he was gone about 4 km later, he turned around to help pull him up. To give you an idea of how strong Walter really is. He passed me again before the end of the ride. He had done a similar back-track thing the day before on the big hill for someone else.

That downhill was fabulous. I wanted to turn around and do it again and on any other day, I might have. I just couldn’t have handled that uphill again that day (mind-you it would have been with a decent tail wind). Mark knew it was coming and he pumped his way into it. Anko was not far behind. Max and I were further back. Right before we headed into the downhill I hit a patch of uneven ash fault (there were many, as well as many huge water-filled pot holes), and the next time I looked down, my sensor wasn’t reading on my computer. I was getting weird mileage readings. At the worst possible moment I had no idea how fast I was going. Max was beside me most of the way. He said his max speed was about 59 km per hour. Without the wind and in better conditions others have done in the 80 km per hour range. Two years ago, Michael (RRC Michael) did 80 with a broken spoke. Mark hit 85 the same year. This year was not the year for speed.

Then you are down one last tiny hill and it is all flat into Dauphin. That would have been great any other day but against hefty winds on the open prairie, it was awful. I plopped down on my aerobars and tried to keep up with the guys but in that position other more sensitive body parts hurt more so I came back up and eventually I couldn’t keep up. There was no waiting for me this time. With about 8 km to go they dropped me. I did the last bit into the wind by myself. Everyone wanted to get home and be done. I could barely walk when I got in. Mark said we were even since I dropped him the day before. Not really true, he allowed himself to be dropped. If Mark rode more long rides to prepare (and perhaps had a better bike) he could have been keeping up with the fast guys of our group.

Time: about 2:27 (I’m guessing – My computer had ceased to function and was inaccurate). The fast guys were 2:04. We all only shaved about 5 minutes off our time from Saturday even with all that downhill. That’s how strong the wind was. Then it was time for bathroom, massage, shower, food, home. I was wiped out. It was an awesome and rewarding weekend. I met some really cool people. I had a great time. I’ll be back again next year.

Thanks for your attention. Thanks for your support. I couldn’t have done it without all your encouragement. Thanks for reading. Thanks to my awesome teammates and friends.

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