What A Ride (part 1)

After signing in for the Ride and dropping off Jill at the Direct Energy Centre, Sal and I came back to our hotel and walked over to a small restaurant for supper. It had to be Italian tonight as I wanted a good meal of pasta and that's what I got, fuel for Saturday. We packed up what we could so that we didn't have to stay up too late or get up any earlier in the morning. Each participant had a 35 pound maximum for gear which we learned later was a 'rough' guide.

We had tickets for a concert at the Danforth Music Hall to see RyanDan, identical twins whose music Sal really enjoys. I'm not crazy about them but with what she's about to put up with over the next two days I think I can make it through the night. The show was actually pretty good and unless we were in the band we could not have gotten much closer, second row seats. We got back to the hotel and finished packing our gear, jamming a double sleeping bag and pillows into two garbage bags and duct taping our tent number on the outside for easy identification, a wasted effort as it turned out. We finally got to bed just after midnight. I fell asleep almost immediately.

When the alarm on my cell phone went off at 4:45 I was sound asleep but jumped up quickly and showered. Sal followed and we were in the truck and on our way by 5:30. Sal was supposed to be on site by 6:00 to start her work as part of the 'Crew'. She was at the bike parking checking rider id bracelets against bike numbers, with that many bikes in one building it would have been fairly easy to wander away with one and this was the method for ensuring that the bike and rider were a pair. I would guess that the value of the bikes in that building was somewhere around $3 million. Many of the bikes were full carbon road bikes ($5000-$12000) while I think I only saw one or two 'department store' specials. Hybrids like Jill were very common (though I never saw another Lapierre at all), mountain bikes were the least common and most of those had put on street tires rather than the normal knobby off road type and then there were many older classic road bikes. There were a few recumbents, at least two tandems and at the finish line I saw a singlespeed Rivendell Quickbeam. I have 2 singlespeeds (Molly and Cecelia) I used for training and I have no idea how he got up the hills with no gears to work with.

In what turned out to be a very welcome trend, the first meal supplied was breakfast. All of the meals that were put out were varied (even vegetarian if need be), nutritious and plentiful. One of the great things about riding distances is that you can eat whatever you want when you are done, in fact you have to. I started drinking water at around 5:15 and kept taking regular drinks throughout the day as I have under-hydrated a few times and leg cramps are not much fun especially if you have to climb.

Sal and I had breakfast, I grabbed Jill from the rack and we said our goodbyes. She had to stay inside and work the bike park and riders were to assemble at the start line for 6:50am. As with most events, people take their own sweet time getting themselves going. I along with maybe 500 other eager riders waited at the start for probably 35 minutes before the masses got there, mind you the first bunch of us were there and waiting at sunrise.

Finally a roar of motor cycles sounded as the safety gang took off for their designated corners and O Canada was played. This group did a fantastic job of keeping us safe at uncontrolled corners throughout both days of the event. They would be there to wave us through stop signs or left turns and hold traffic when they could. Toronto police did the same but only for about the first half of day one, after that we were on our own in traffic or aided by the motor cycle club. In some places we had to cross 3 lanes of traffic to make a left. A lone cyclist would be hard pressed to pull it off but 30-40 all wearing yellow jerseys just signal and take the lane.

The opening ceremonies saw a few of the doctors, the organizers and a rider that lost her husband to cancer in October all take a turn at the podium. She had everyone choked up. They brought an unmanned bike escorted by 6 cancer survivors that were riding. The numbers we were all waiting for came and a roar went up when they announced that 2850 riders had raised 14 million dollars. I have read this over numerous times and I still get choked up remembering that. The same guy who would energetically welcome us to Niagara took the mic and rallied everyone. RIDE he screamed and the mass of yellow-clad riders crawled through the start line and headed for Lakeshore Boulevard. It was crowded, scary and exciting all at the same time especially when your eyes are still watering and the lump in your throat threatens to keep you from breathing.

The first 10 miles we were separated from traffic by pylons and police. Even at that with bikes riding 6 abreast I saw a small truck speed past the officer and cut through the oncoming mass of bikes. The pace was fast up close to the front as things thinned out quickly. The teams that came into Hamilton first averaged 20 mph or just over 3 hours to finish the 60 odd miles. They work as a team, taking turns at the front of the group and rotating to the back, riding less than a foot off the back wheel of the bike ahead. They definitely didn't enjoy the scenery. After nearly taking out a pylon I skipped the first rest stop and arrived at the halfway point in Milton for lunch at 10am, averaging somewhere around 15 mph, not that I was counting. Lunch was great and even though it consisted of a sandwich wrap and strange salad I inhaled it, saving the butter tart in my bar bag. I filled my bottles with orange Gatorade and got back on the road. The route which I never saw until Friday wasn't what I expected. I was thinking we would be on the lake most of the first day but when we turned north at about 5 miles I never saw it again until we were high over Hamilton.

The pace was faster than the organizers expected as we would find out later. You can say 'it's not a race' as much as you want but every serious biker will tell you he or she hates to be passed. I got used to the teams on the high end road bikes go roaring by without a word but if anyone on a mountain bike or hybrid, or older guy, or fatter guy or anyone riding a junker, or Lord help me a (sorry ladies) girl passed me, I wanted to chase them down. I managed to hold back or just nestled in close behind and worked on a bit of a draft. It's not a race but that's what I wanted to do. Maybe later.

The first 10 miles after lunch took us through rolling countryside, the camel backs. Up down, and up and down, again and again and again. This is where everyone started to feel their legs burn and heart and breathing rates increased. The ups were more prevalent than the downs as it turned out. We spoke to a member of Steve Bauer's team in the tent that evening and he had a gps that measures altitude. I said I thought that this stretch was worse than the long climb in Hamilton and he agreed, confirming that the gps showed we were climbing the whole time. Someone asked 'how's that butter tart tasting the second time around'?

Somewhere shortly after we came across a small wooden bridge with narrow slats running perpendicular to the road. We hit it at pretty high speed and it rattled everything. A few water bottles jumped from their holders and most of us cursed and then carried on. About an hour later we came down a short hill and everyone recognized the same type of bridge and slowed down immediately. What we didn't see was hidden behind trees to the right. It was probably the steepest small hill we would face all day and we were all slowed down but in my case not geared down. As I started to climb I tried shifting to a smaller gear with the front derailleur and the chain jumped right off, I lost all momentum and because I was clipped in to the pedals I fell over onto my left hip and shoulder in the middle of the road, embarrassed but fine. I pushed Jill to the shoulder, clicked the gears down, got the chain back on, checked her over and then continued. I was lucky that no one was on my tail. There was one accident that took out 5 or 6 bikes. One of the riders involved got driven to a bike shop and bought another bike to continue. I saw quite a few people with new bandages wrapped around their knees and elbows and Sal said there were lots of people picked up for various injuries along the way.

One of the things that kept us going were the cheering stations. The organizers had publicized several spots along the route where it would be safe to gather. Some teams had signs of encouragement held by friends and relatives, they clapped and told us to keep going. I thought it was the spontaneous small groups that came to the end of their driveways that were more inspiring. Small kids rang cowbells, cheered and just sort of stood there smiling and watching us go by. I think the research that results from the money raised will benefit them the most so it gave me a small surge of energy whenever it happened.

At about 11:30 we were high over Hamilton probably somewhere in Burlington. We had been warned about a few severe descents and this was the first. The road was paved and winding and if I had let Jill go I'm sure we would have made 45 to 50 mph. I was doing 35 with the brakes on. Fun but scary, one wrong move and your day is over at best.

As we moved through the streets of Hamilton what had been very light drizzle turned into rain. Not a downpour but steady. With your back tire throwing water at your butt and anyone in front throwing it in your path it didn't take long to become soaked. The Hamilton police did not make an appearance as by this time the group would have been stretched out for 25 miles and they would have had to tie up traffic far too long. It was lunch time and the roads were busy and brakes are a bit less effective when wet. We were stopped by traffic lights and getting cranky at the conditions.

And then THE climb started. It wasn't steep but it was long and around corners. Many riders had to stop and walk. I saw one getting back on only to see that the corner he was on revealed at least another mile of the same hill. He cursed. Although the going was slow I didn't think it was as bad as the camel back section. Once you found a gear you could push constantly you just kept going and ground it out. At the camels you were constantly shifting and speeding up and slowing down, frustrated. I can proudly say I rode Jill the entire distance, never had to push her at all.

After getting to the top we had to make a left in three lanes of traffic. These turns and the severe grades must have been unnerving for any of the less experienced riders. We continued through residential streets with occasional views through the mist and fog at the valley below us. The rain stopped and we picked up speed as we neared the end of day one. There were not too many street names on the route that I knew but Fennel Ave. was one that I remembered and that was where camp was. I had made it, at least the halfway point. I had ridden 60 miles once before so I knew I could do the distance but there was still some self doubt rattling around in my head. Then as we made the turn into the college the cheering started and people along the road congratulated us as we slid by. It was 1pm, I was feeling great but very soggy. I had expected this to take much longer. I would have been happy just to crank out an average of 10 mph. Apparently the organizers were thinking along the same lines as we found there was much to be done before camp would be ready.

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