|Gratuitous bike picture|
In honour of my friend Heather D. who has MS and in the thirty odd years I've known her, has always shown great courage and an indominatible spirit - I dedicate this blog to her.
The live band in the lounge underneath my room in the hotel last night didn't have any effect on my sleep as I couldn't keep my eyes open past 10Pm as it was. It did help that I had the air-conditioner on full blast and its constant mechanized drone drowned out the annoying frequencies from the local band downstairs. As well, the feeble stream of air from its vents helped dry my sweat dampened clothing.
I checked out at 6am and made my way over to the Camrose Fairgrounds where I dropped off my luggage and dove into the enormous breakfast hall which was alive with the excited chatter of at least a thousand hungry cyclists. I scanned the list of acceptable foods to eat that my daughter Jackie had provided to me over the phone last night and then made my way to the tables groaning under the weight of a delectable assortment of breakfast foods. On my cardboard plate I made a mile-high stack of pancakes and added a shovel full of scrambled eggs and a pail of fresh fruit.
My plan was to leave as soon as I had eaten since I knew the route we were to take and I wanted to beat both the sun and the heat that it was surely to bring. I sat with a friend from United Cycle and one of the tour marshalls who explained to us that "The first day is all about broken bicycles and the second day is all about broken bodies!"
After scarfing down my high - powered breakfast, I had just mounted my two - wheeled conveyance when the fairground gate was swung open and five of us eager types rushed its opening. I exulted in being with the lead group for four minutes and ten seconds when over my left shoulder I heard the plaintive cry "On your Left!" and the day's steady stream of hard-chargers began. As I rounded the second corner I was passed by Kevin, a triathele that I had met earlier who told me that he would make Nisku in 2 hours. As he passed, I looked down at my cyclometer and saw I was doing 22km./hr. and he was easily going twice as fast as I. What an impressive display of strength and stamina.
Riding close to the front of the pack was quite a different experience from last year. No bikes being hurtled to the ground at the rest stops. No bodies thrown onto the cool grass in wasted slendour. No cacaphony of groans and complaints. No flaggin' wagins full of broken bodies. No department store bikes. These were serious riders astride expensive, lightweight road bikes. A lot of riders like Kevin who were using the tour as training for a triathalon or another tour. I felt proud to be among them (even if my secret was just to have left early) and I knew that even though hundreds, if not a thousand would pass me, I would still finish higher in the pack than I had done last year. There might even be a volunteer or two to cheer me into the finish line this time.
At lunch I found a shady spot on the fire escape of the Community Center in the town of Hay Lakes where volunteers were busy quartering oranges and slicing juicy watermelons. While I was waiting in line for grub, an older gal asked if she could take my photo. She was collecting pictures of greybeards and since she was sporting an official MS Society badge, I agreed. I struck a manly pose in the doorway of the Community Center and in my mind I decided to shave off the beard at the earliest opportunity. I haven't mentioned that yesterday, before we reached the first rest stop, a marshall rode up beside me asked me just how old was I? At 57, I don't consider myself old and I was rather insulted at his question. When I saw him at other times during the tour, he acted like he'd never seen me before. Maybe he lost a bet with one of the other marshalls. "Hey I bet you that old dude over there is at least 80!" "Okay, you're on! At the snail's pace that he's pedalling, I'd say he's at least 85! I'll go ask him!"..... In my mind, I again resolved to shave off the white facial fuzz as soon as I got home.
Next: After lunch meeting Anna! Finish line photos! The clappers!
If you'd like to sponsor me on this year's tour, please go to my donation page: http://msofs.mssociety.ca/2011bike/Sponsor.aspx?PID=1242881&L=2
And Thank You!