Back in Toronto we had dropped our camping gear off at a truck that matched the number on our wristbands which also gave us our tent assignments. The trucks were on site in Hamilton but unloaded. The tent city was about 75% up but un-numbered. So I grabbed the sandwich from my bag that I had saved earlier and finished it along with my butter tart and the remains of my bottles, and waited. I called Sal and found out she was moved over to tent city. She was wet from working in the rain and not very happy. Her day had started with just getting out of bike parking in time to see the us ride off but couldn’t find me in the crowd.
Finally the truck with our gear was ready to be unloaded. By this time the riders in camp had realized that the Crew was short of help. We formed lines behind the truck and started tossing gear to a pile at the end of the row of tents that corresponded. It was because of this that I learned that the 35 pound maximum was a guide, there was no checking. I got one hockey equipment bag and that could have had 3 sets of goalie pads in it, maybe 70 pounds. So here we were with sleeping bags and bare essentials while others had brought the kitchen sink and a bar fridge. We had actually gone to a Canadian Tire and were going to grab an air mattress and pump the day before but knew it would be far over the limit. Instead we grabbed some bug spray and a small tarp. Neither of which we needed. Now if you know Sal you know this would be her first time in a tent, she doesn’t do camping. Her first taste will probably be her last, I think it was “if we ever sleep in a tent again it will be grounds”. I missed the next part but my bet is that the next words were not ‘for coffee’.
Now that I had some clothes to get into I set up the sleeping bag and tarp, then headed to the showers. I went to lie down for a bit and about an hour later noticed the sun was coming out and I had taken her hat, fanny pack and sunglasses so she wouldn’t have to carry them around. When I got up and out of our tent ( I guessed on which tent based on another row that was numbered) I got a severe cramp from the top of my thigh through the top of my left knee. I stood doubled over with my hands on my knees and waited. The pain subsided in a few minutes but scared me. Where had that come from? Would it come back? I searched among the tents for about 45 minutes with no luck. I finally found someone with a radio and he knew the bike parking crew had been sent back as more and more riders arrived. I got Sal her stuff and some lunch and sat with her while she ate. She went back to work and I headed over to the tents they had set up for assistance. Massage was booked for 4 hours, I didn't think yoga would be much help and I didn’t want St. John’s Ambulance help. I found the self help table and grabbed some Motrin, and then grabbed another for my bar bag and one more for later.
Another great meal followed along with music and plenty of beer which I decided to skip. They had a huge tent setup with tables and chairs and the band in the center. At 7pm all riders on the route were picked up. I’m not sure how many were out there but anyone who spent that long on a bike would probably not be used to it at all and would definitely not be sitting down for supper or much else for a while. Rumors spread around the camp about the crash, the girl with one leg that was riding, the guy that got 4 flats on the first day (and only 1 on Sunday). They talked about the climbs, they complained about the climbs, they laughed about the descent into Hamilton. Riders thanked the safety guys and had supper with their families.
After Sal finished she had some supper and we headed for the tent. She was exhausted. We talked with a member of the Bauer team and agreed the camel backs were the toughest section. We noticed he had an air mattress and I told him he could leave his wallet or just about anything else in the tent but if he left the mattress it would be gone. We rested in the tent for a bit and then I headed back to the music. The Test Icicles were great, a 3 man band that played everything and very well, not trying to duplicate the covers they were doing but not changing them so as not to be recognized.
At about 10pm I headed back to the tent to sleep. Sleep was nowhere to be found. It was warm, the neighbours were noisy (and almost in the same tent), and the ground in Hamilton is unbelievably hard. There just was no comfortable position. I'm sure at some point I joined the chorus of snoring riders but it seemed like I was awake all night. When 5am came most people were grumpy about another early morning, I was happy just to get on my feet and give my back and hips a break.
We packed up our gear and dropped it at the truck and had breakfast. I loaded my bottles and grabbed Jill. Sal went to work and I checked Jill over and waited to head out. I decided not to take any more Motrin unless I needed it. I planned to take it very easily to start the trip to Niagara at least until I was confident that cramping wouldn't be a problem. The weather man was calling for thunder storms but I left the rain poncho in my bag. It was cool and overcast, perfect as far as I was concerned. We rode out of camp in another mass start at 7:13.
The route took us along the escarpment and we could look down at Hamilton below. Lots of comments about the view being more enjoyable when we were not climbing were made. Sunday would see almost no climbing. Out over the lake there was a bright spot on the horizon and I hoped that we kept going in that direction as it would be nice to see the sun at the finish.
After a few miles I felt loosened up and had no indications that my cramp would be back, I made sure I kept drinking and felt good enough to skip the first rest stop again. Before I knew it I had arrived at the lunch stop at 9:22, halfway to the finish. I ate and refilled my bottles with orange gatorade and saved a sandwich for later. I still had 4 bars with me but didn't think I would need them. I called Sal and she was at the first rest stop on a bus that was picking up loose ends, injured riders and Crew.
After lunch we went through some construction where the pavement had been scraped and the remaining surface was very rough and shook the bikes. There was lots of complaining at this point. Somewhere in here I was passed and told that my rear tire looked a bit low so I stopped and put in a few pounds. The wind picked up and every time we took a right we faced a headwind, nothing major but you knew it was there. We were stopped at the Welland Canal by a raised bridge and the organizers tried to hold the riders back to allow the buildup of car traffic go but many just ignored what they were asked.
I noticed a squeaking whenever I was pedalling. It was annoying me to the point where I asked another rider to look over the rear hub for anything suspicious. He saw nothing so I carried on. I noticed when I stood to pedal briefly that the squeak went away. Damn seat was squeaking. I tightened the screws at the last rest stop but only managed to change the noise a bit. I really can't complain, the Body Geometry seat had done its job as even after 120 miles in 2 days my butt felt fine. I had brought my Brooks leather saddle but was glad it never left the hotel, the rain on Saturday would have killed it. I thought about having no mechanical problems. I must have seen 50 bikes stopped for flats. But I pushed those thoughts out of my head as I was sure I would find some bad juju if I kept thinking about it.
As we passed the 80km sign leaving us just 20km to the falls I decide to start pushing. I stood and pedalled hard passing about 40 people as I sprinted. It felt great. Anyone who was reading my blog on May 6th will remember how I felt down about everything and was looking for my second wind. Well it came back in the last 20km of the Ride. As I got closer to the falls I could see some of the taller hotels in the distance. The sun broke through as if someone had turned on a light. Then the mist from the Canadian side could be seen. The last few miles along the river were pyloned and then we came to a bottleneck just before the end. They had a rubber mat about 2 bikes wide on a wooden framework so that we could ride over the grass. Crowds of people lined each side. Music and the voice that had launched us Saturday could be heard as we crossed under the arch of the finish line. Crossing the finish line in tears was something I had expected. I stopped and called Sal and she was back sitting in the bus at the lunch stop, she wouldn't get to Niagara for another 2 hours. It was tough for both of us. I felt good about finishing at 12:10 (about 4 ½ hours of riding time) but it just wasn't the same without her there to share it with.
I had my sandwich and emptied my bottles. I knew I wanted a picture before I turned Jill over to the transport crew so I asked a young girl with a Crew shirt if she would mind. Well the first showed me from the waist down and the second had me posing in front of 6 outhouses, at least they were orange. I went across the road and found 4 other riders and made a deal to take their picture if they would take mine. I grabbed a burger and some salad and headed for some shade.
I was lying under the shade of a tree waiting for Sal and just thinking about everything. The money raised works out to an average of just over $4900 per rider so the $6705 I finished with beat the average by $1700 and I guess that was the only race that really mattered. I was surprised that with all the bikers there, no one was talking bikes. I wore my FatCyclist.com t-shirt at camp and not one person asked about it. No one asked about the name 'Jill' on my bike. I guess they were all wrapped up with the people they came with. Many of the 'elite' cyclists were the worst at sticking to the simple rules, we were asked to say 'on your left' or just 'left' if was we passed close to another rider and to always to pass on the left. There were a few times I wanted to say 'on your right' as 4 or 5 zipped by inches away without a word. All in all it was a great experience, not the physical challenge I had imagined, but that means I just have to find something else to work toward. I didn't sign up for 2009 and unless I can find someone to ride with I don't know that I will. Coming all the way from Thunder Bay is fairly expensive no matter how you do it, having another team member would cut the costs in half and make the experience a bit better.
To wrap this up I want to say thank you to all of you. To everyone that donated I appreciate your generosity so much. To Tom for his never ending support, friendship and confidence in me that bolstered my own confidence. To Farzum for all of his advice, his patience with an overweight newbie who always had a ton of questions and for helping me find the right bike to make the ride. To Sal's dad, Ling Lee who put on a great show and helped raise a third of the donations. To my parents for their love and support, their ideas and for helping me get through some of the tough times along the way. Finally to Sal who gave up her first holiday in 3 years to make this journey. While I was doing exactly what I had been planning to do for 6 months she was working for the same cause but without any of the glory. I couldn't see her at the finish line but I could feel that she was right there with me none the less.
What's next? I haven't decided but I'm thinking a century, 100 miles in a day. Any one want to go for a little ride?