Tuesday, June 22, 2010

MS Tour Day 2, June 13,2010

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

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The sight of nearly 2,000 cyclists and their bikes is an image that never fails to inspire me so I grabbed a few pictures while I waited in the crowd for the tour to start. I was supposed to meet up with my team-mates before the tour began but I was too eager to get going to make a serious effort to find them. Next to me waiting was an old boy like myself and when he grew tired of the speeches, began to heckle the speakers in a loud and petulant voice. His nickname was "Whitey" and he had done the tour many times as evidenced by the many MS stickers on his helmet.

I managed to leave in the first 300-400 riders and was pleased with myself until I realized after being passed a number of times that with approximately 1,500 riders behind me, I was bound to hear "On your left!" many hundreds of times before we got to Camrose! I felt I was just getting warmed up when we turned south and into a headwind that would plague us all the way to Wetaskiwin where lunch was to be served. Then the route would head east and hopefully we'd have the wind on our backs.

For whatever reason, I was insulted when a marshall rode beside me to chat and after a few minutes he asked me just how old was I? He seemed surprised when I answered 57 and anytime he passed me again, he acted like he'd never seen me before. Maybe he lost a bet and was pissed. I wasn't the only greybeard on the tour - the heckler Whitey was a white-beard as well.

Riding into the wind was not fun. I watched my cyclometer as my speed dropped down and down. A rather large and well dressed gentleman wearing a tweed jacket, knickerbocker pants, a white shirt and a bowtie passed me and I thought for sure he would win a prize for best dressed at this evening's banquet. A few moments passed before it occured to me to draft him. His large size would be perfect for blocking the wind and the fact that he was riding a fixie meant that I would be able to stay with him. I had to pedal hard to catch him but I was amply rewarded in energy savings and I rode into Wetaskiwin in much better shape than some of the other cyclists.

During lunch I sat in a small patch of shade and devoured the tasty wrap that Moxies had supplied and joyfully gobbled a huge stack of watermelon slices that I knew would slake my thirst. An older gal, Arlene joined me in the shade and we swapped stories of our ride so far. She explained how she planned to keep her bike in her tent so that she could start whenever she felt like it on Sunday morning instead of having to wait for the bike barn to be opened, releasing all the bikes. I told her how I was going to keep my bike in my room at the hotel and if I didn't have to drop luggage off, I could leave from the hotel since it is on day two's route.

After lunch I rode side by side with another gal - Anna, a yoga therapist. We chatted for some time until she suggested that it would be safer if we rode single file. She was in the lead and it wasn't long before we became separated. I next saw her when I pulled into the rest stop at Gwynne School where she was standing with her camera and took my picture as I rode in. She shouted to me that I should give her my email address but I was too hot to stop right then and a patch of shade was what I wanted the most. I did wonder if our paths would cross again on the tour. With 2,000 cyclist scattered over 200 kilometers, it was highly probable that we wouldn't meet again on the tour.

We had all been warned about road construction near Camrose and it did involve a bunch of us being stopped by a flagman and waiting for the paving crew to finish their immediate task. When we were waved through, I could hear the pearl sized tar bubbles popping beneath my hot tires. Just past the construction, I found a short length of bike chain on the shoulder of the road and I thought it might do as a bracelet.

It was a long single file line of us as we entered Camrose and headed toward the fairground where the day's tour ended and tired riders could retrieve their luggage, set up camp, clean themselves up and get ready for the banquet and the dance that would follow. Just after crossing the finish line, I ran into Stew, our team leader who said he'd make a place for me at the team table and introduce me to my fellow team-mates.

Once in my room, I put the next day's water and powerbars into the bar fridge, had a shower and then put on long pants, a striped shirt and bandana in a lame effort to look "Western" for the themed banquet. It took quite a while to find my team-mates and it was only after I asked the United Cycle mechanics who looked like they were having a great time (everyone wanted to buy them beers either to say thanks or for insurance in case of needing their services the next day). When I found my team-mates, I discovered that there was 16 of us on the team and we had raised $16,000.00! It turns out I knew 2 of them, Karel and Brandy, both from Mountain Equipment Co-op where I frequently shop for gear.

Once the Country and Western band struck the first chord of the night, I took this as my cue to head back to the hotel and prepare for day two of the tour.

Distance:103.58 Time:7:04:02 Av.Speed:14.7 Max.Speed:44.3