What happens when you have been watching RAAM and RAW unfold, cheering on the 4 women from WattsUp as they manage to finish 2nd of 7 teams (4 of which DNF’d) and crewed by our very own James Young (also a hairshirt rider)? When you are silently cheering on Canadian Jason "hammer" Lane as he tries to finish his first RAAM solo after getting hit by a car on day 3? When you read The United States of Delirium in one day? You start to romanticize about the notion of long rides. Type Hairshirt and Wikipedia returns:
a garment or undergarmentmade of coarse cloth or animal hair (a hairshirt) used in some religious traditions to induce discomfort or pain as a sign of repentance and atonement. In modern religious circles it simply means any device worn for the same purposes.
So why is it that I succumbed to Kerri and Steve’s invitation to ride the Hairshirt – a double century ride organized by the TBN? Well with Dianne away with our daughter and my sons working, I had a lot of free time – why not spend 11-14 hours on my bike? In the week leading up to the event, I had registered myself as tentative, not wanting to commit too early to something that is a challenge at the best of times, not to mention if it is raining or 36 degrees. While Steve was doing his best imitation of a rain dance, I was pondering the possibility of how much time was reasonable and coordinated things on the home front to be out for 13-14 hours. With the decision by Peter Cahill to jump on board, I decided that 12 hours of riding was well within reach, little was I to know that it was as critical that Ian Wilcox decided to join the effort at the 11th hour of Saturday night.
The day began with some great weather, hard to really see this at 4:45am, but it wasn’t raining and it wasn’t hot. I picked Peter up at timmies at leslie and we made our way to square one for the 6am start. In preparation for the ride, it went through my head that I needed to replicate a lot of what was available on the road from my support crew at the tour of california, only I had to carry it myself. Note to other rookies, you need less than what you think – but you still need lots, you just don’t have to carry it all with you from the start. Here would be my checklist of requirements that should be taped to the bike or will fit in the shirt pockets. Given the number of stops available on the way, you probably don’t need a knapsack.
Here is what I would take the next time:
-full repair kit in the seat storage incl,
-Spare tire – 3 tubes – 2 co’2 – mini pump
-vest or rainjacket
-gels – 5-6 in the bento box, banana or 2 and 2 cliff bars in the shirt pocket
-2 large bottles on the bike with liquid nutrition and one smaller in a back pocket
There seemed to be enough stops that you could refill the bottles with Gatorade or bring along your own mix in baggies if you were so inclined (I did the latter).
After a picture of the BCC contingent (Dave, James, Ian, Peter, Kerri, Steve and Me) The ride started at 6:15am and most of us rolled out nice and easy. While only about 50 riders where there, I lost my orientation and kept looking behind me for Peter. Peter, Ian and I had thought about hanging with the fast group. Unfortunately Ian and I forgot to really study the memo. While Peter had latched on with that fast group immediately, I was sitting in the back chatting.
After a couple of minutes of looking around for us Peter came back to figure out where we were and at this point the fast group was off the front. Ian, Peter and I decided to try and track them down, figuring that if we worked hard now, we could get to the group and then sit in for awhile – perhaps this was mistake #1 for me. Pushing it hard, we did our best to track the group down. Off in the distance, we could see a car with flashing hazard lights that was following a group of cyclists, this was to be our rabbit. We would find out that this was an escort car for the recumbent cyclist who clearly needed some protection given he was only 2 feet off the ground – clearly a dangerous spot if you don’t have an escort.
We tracked down the recumbent by the time we got to hwy 5, but the rest of the peloton was gone so we kept soldiering on. By the time we passed hwy #6 in Hamilton, we had caught on straggler who had fallen off the back, he joined our motley crew of 3. In a day where I caused lots of waiting time, I managed to hit a pothole on hwy 5 (as our day proved, tax money has not been spent on creating smooth roads). As I finished the repair, one of the groups that we had left back in mississauga caughts us although not before one of the lapdog riders hit the same pothole with the same outcome. From that point through to ancaster, we rode intermittently with the group, having as many as 8 riders and as few as 4, by the time we got to wellandport convenience store we were back to the 3 of us. We refueled here with water, Gatorade, chocolate milk. As we were finishing off the group of riders we left were arriving. This would be the last time we saw them again.
We headed out from there making our way to the first half the double century at Kingsbridge park in Niagara Falls where we added water to the bottles and took another break. AT this point, I was feeling much weaker than I should be, and was not taking in enough calories. The eload/calorie drink was too warm/sweet so I had moved away from liquid calories and was not offsetting this with gels. I had moved into deficit, never good with 100 miles left. Thank goodness I had two strong riders at my side, more importantly they were willing to ride in front of me for what would be a very long 100 miles.
We stopped in Niagara-on-the-lake for a Panini for Ian and Peter, I just had a coke, refilled water, banana and pbj hit. This is a picturesque town that would be better visited on an upright touring bike, with a picnic basket Pannier. Rolling out from there the ride becomes more picturesque but the complaints from the body become far more numerous, making the ride more difficult. Peter and Ian were in great shape, hauling at 34k/hr, while I would hang on for 2-3 minutes and then slowly drop off the back. They would then have to bring things to a crawl and I would crawl back on to the wheel. The route past Jordan was bereft of places to eat or get water. As we motored down fly road, we were seeing dark ominous clouds and winds were picking up. Meanwhile Ian was out of water (I know it is hard to believe but he actually drinks water – I had the pleasure of sharing some of mine – the least I could do given his pulls). We kept hoping for a general store, but none arose. With none of us having water, when we got to Barton street in Winona, our desperation (my desperation for water and a break from riding – I was using any excuse to stop!!) led to Peter calling out to a guy washing his motorhome to allow us to use the hose.
Not 4kms later, another QB stop as I requested laying down on some grass – I know, pathetic, but I needed to stretch out. I am not sure whether my decision to wear a backpack played into the issues I had on the day (a first time for me) or it was just the pure challenge of riding 200 miles in a day. But this was not going well - I was very clearly the weak link on this team. As was the case for the past 100kms, Peter and Ian were patient as I sprawled out on the grass trying to find some energy. By the time we got to Burlington, it felt like the ride was over, the only problem was that we wanted to deliver a sub 12 hour ride. There was only 30kms left, and we had about 80 minutes to complete it to go sub 12 hours – this should be a slam dunk. If Ian and Peter were on their own, they were finished by now, however they promised to deliver all of us to the finish line. I just had to make it up to Burnhamthorpe and 6th line from there it was more downhill than up and we had a tailwind. It was a good thing that it was both of those as we came across a road closure due to a motorcycle accident. After having a conversation with the police for several minutes we were able to traverse the bike/path sidewalk on the North side and get past the closure. With a few minutes to spare, we found our way back to square one. I for one was totally fried, my legs had not an ounce of energy left in them. Peter and Ian, while not fresh seemed like they could have gone another couple of hours – unbelievable.
Post Mortem: While 200 miles is a lot of riding to do in one day, it really does pale in comparison to what goes on in the world of true endurance cycling. I kept thinking about the context of my ride relative to Jason Lane, not imagining what it is like to get back on his bike after being run over and finished this unbelievably grueling test of the human mind and body. I was merely doing the hairshirt and drafting for most of the last 100 miles. Kudos to all of the racers who do RAAM (3 Canadians soloed and two 8 person teams competed and finished this year) and RAW.