The live band in the lounge underneath my room at the hotel last night didn't have any effect on my sleep as I couldn't keep my eyes open after 10Pm. It helped that I had the air conditioner on and its constant drone drowned out the higher frequencies of the band and the feeble stream of tepid air emanating from its vents dried my sweat dampened clothing.
While checking out at 6 Am, I tried to make a reservation for next year's tour but was told that I would have to start trying in 6 months. With my overnight bag tied to my pannier rack, I made it over to the fairgrounds in time to drop off my luggage and get over to the breakfast buffet. The enormous hall was alive with the excited chatter of early morning as I scanned the list of acceptable foods to eat that my daughter Jackie had provided to me over the phone last night. I made a small stack of pancakes and filled the rest of my plate with scrambled eggs and fresh fruit. I sat with a friend from United Cycle and a marshal while I ate. My plan was to leave as soon as I had eaten breakfast since I knew the route we were to follow and I especially wanted to beat both the sun and the heat it would create on my way back to Nisku. The marshal was enjoying a cup of black plasma and he explained to us that "The first day is all about broken bikes and the second day is all about broken bodies!"
I had just mounted my bike to look for an exit from the fairgrounds when as luck would have it, the main gate was pulled back and 5 of us rushed toward it to begin the day's festivities. I enjoyed being with the lead group for about 6 minutes when I heard "On your left!" and the day's steady stream of faster riders began. Making my second corner, I was passed by Kevin, a triathlete who had told me earlier that he would make Nisku in 2 hours. As he passed, I looked down at my cyclometer and saw that I was doing 22k. and he was easily going twice as fast as me. I could only marvel at his speed as he disappeared around the next bend. Just after I made that bend myself, Stew, our team leader said hello as he and his wife Sharon came abreast of me on their tandem bike. I love tandems and watching those synchronized moves their riders make.
Riding close to the front was a very different experience from last year. No bikes being dropped to the ground at the rest stops. No bodies thrown onto the cool grass in wasted splendor. No moaning and groaning. No flaggin wagons full of bikes and broken bodies. No department store bikes. These were serious riders astride expensive, lightweight road bikes. Riders who for the most part were using the MS Tour as training for another tour or like Kevin, training for a triathlon. I felt proud to be among them and I knew that even though hundreds would pass me on my left, I would finish higher in the pack than last year.
At lunch I found a shady spot on the fire escape of the community hall in Hay Lakes where volunteers were busy quartering oranges and slicing watermelons. While I waited in line, an older gal asked if she could take my picture. She said she was collecting photos of greybeards and since she was sporting an official MS badge, I reluctantly agreed. I struck a manly pose and in my mind I resolved to shave off the beard at the earliest opportunity. Having grey facial hair was drawing more attention on this ride for my liking.
As I tore away from lunch, I spotted my friend Anna coming toward me and as we passed each other, I realized this might be my only chance to give her my email address so she could send me the picture she had taken of me in Gwynne yesterday. Being a strong rider,she had gotten quite a way past me and it was difficult to keep sight of her with the throng of cyclists making their way to the lunch stop. I was determined not to lose her and when I did catch up, she was surprised and pleased that I had made the effort. We exchanged war stories and contact information and she mentioned that she was thinking of trying the 6 degrees of separation to find me to send the picture. Thinking I might reach Nisku before she did, I thought I could return the favour by photographing her crossing the finish line.
I came across 3 ladies who had been shadowing the tour all day and stopping their car to get out and cheer the cyclists on. I was touched by their gesture and told them they were awesome as I rode past. Their efforts made me feel special and reminded me that we were participating in something much bigger than ourselves.
The last big hill before the finish line was not nearly as bad as I remembered and keeping to a low gear and keeping my cadence high did the trick without blowing a knee or injuring already tired muscles. I debated in my mind making some sort of victory salute as I crossed the finish line so that the automatic camera would record a great shot, but since I knew I wasn't going to buy the photo anyway, I didn't bother making an expression. I was really pleased to see someone I knew - Haydn, in the cheering section as I finished my tour. The fact that there was a cheering section told me that I had made better time than last year as when Jackie and I had crossed the year before, so many riders had come in before us that the cheering section had gone home.
My hunger drove me inside to the BBQ and unfortunately I missed the opportunity to photograph Anna at the finish line. (I assumed she was further behind me and I had plenty of time). When I bumped into her and I apologized, she said she had it covered by her niece who was waiting for her, camera in hand, to cross the finish line.
Distance:98.052, Time:5:02:27, Average speed:19.2, Maximum speed:47.5