With the weather being less than ideal for riding, training is becoming a bit of a challenge. I actually decided not to ride today. I’m sore from a weekend of getting thrashed in cold snow, rain and mud, and running with flat tires at both Saturday and Sunday’s cross races.
Instead, today I’ve been thinking a lot about the best rides I had in 2017. I’ve already written about one, (my “#2”) my 300 km journey in late August. Each memorable ride took place primarily on roads I’d never before explored. They were all on sunny days, done in good company, and of ‘epic’ length (or duration).
The first ‘epic’ of the year took place in February. It’s odd to think that in the darkest month of my cycling career I had such a positive experience on the bike. The day occurred in the midst of a torturous month, where I would spend, on average, five hours a day riding alone in the cold rain.
On my ride the day following this epic one I found myself alone, crying as I climbed one of the Santa Monica climbs, wishing I was at home and never had to ride a bike again.
We started early in the morning, and rode North on the Pacific Coast Highway towards Santa Barbara. Past Ventura, we continued north and climbed toward Ojai before riding past Lake Casitas. We then traversed north-west through vineyards along a hill side on narrow, winding, quiet roads.
The sun was shining for what felt like the first time in years. I rode in a short-sleeved jersey and bib shorts. For the first time, I could feel warmth on my bare skin while riding. We rode through forests and always had a view of the ocean to the left. It was breathtaking. I was laughing and chatting the whole time.
We climbed Gibraltar about mid-way through the ride. I thought how, a year earlier, I had watched Neilson Powless of Axeon Hagens Berman ride away from a world-class peloton as a U23 during the Tour of California. He was caught later on, but his ride was incredible. It was unreal. He was so strong, so smooth, and so fast. After watching that ride live, I found myself imagining riding that same climb, in the same race, in the same style as Powless.
Now I was on that very climb with my two team-mates, Jure and MA, who were riding at a steady tempo. I struggled to hold their wheels, and was reminded of how weak I’d been for the past few months. But I held on to the top. We waited for the others to catch up, and met with some other BC cyclists from Langlois Brown. We started riding again and found ourselves climbing more, which was unexpected. The Langlois boys were riding at a harder pace, and I decided to tag along. I started to lead. I pictured myself sitting on my bed watching Neilson. Then I pictured myself there, on that very climb, in the Tour of California with spectators lining the roads. I felt as strong as I wished I was. My legs felt better than they had in months. I started to believe that a successful season might actually be possible. I dropped everyone.
We were out for almost 9 hours and had ridden for 7. I had done 198 km, so I rode around the block a few times to hit 200 km. Everyone else was inside. I was exhausted, cold, and it was dark. But I wanted to hit that mark.
This day served to remind me that I love riding, but it wasn’t enough to lure me back completely. In fact, when my ride the following day was just as bad as the ones leading up to our big ride, I was even more disappointed and confused. A low after such a high felt even lower. The clouds after a day of sunshine felt even darker. The cold was colder. My heart was heavier and my passion was missing all together. I found myself riding alone, crying as I climbed one of the Santa Monica climbs, wishing I was at home and never had to ride a bike again.
Almost seven months later, after taking time off the bike and rediscovering my passion for riding, I had my third epic of the year.
I raced the Whistler Gran Fondo on Saturday, the 9th of September. Following the wet, cold race, I got pretty sick. I had a cold for the week. On Friday I picked up my new cross bike from Russ Hay’s, but didn’t ride it as I was still recovering from my cold. I had registered for the cross race that Sunday, and needed to ride to get the legs moving. With the cooler weather we’d been having (as compared to the summer highs), Saturday’s high of 16 looked too nice to pass up. Maxim had planned a birthday ride on Salt Spring, and I had to do it. I didn’t want to miss the last opportunity to ride in shorts and short-sleeves.
I left around 6:45 am to meet at Mitch’s place at 7. I arrived first and Mitch opened his door. He had just woken up; still in a hoodie and boxers. He was hastily eating some oatmeal and rubbing his tired eyes. Maxim showed up and we patiently watched as Mitch pulled together some mismatched kit from the floor of his bedroom. The ride was meant to be pretty relaxed, but this slight delay meant we had to set a solid pace to ensure that we caught the ferry to get to the island.
It was freezing when we arrived on Salt Spring - too cold to fully enjoy the ride. We stopped at the cafe just off the ferry and sipped coffees before embarking. The 20 minutes inside the café was well worth it, as the sun was up and warming when we started to climb Mount Tuam. Energized by coffee and our anticipation of an adventure, we set-off. The road was empty, the view was breathtaking. We took a wrong turn and hiked through the forest to find the road we were meant to be on. The climb eventually became gravel, and at the top we were on private property.
We descended the rough gravel track from the peak and I flatted right away. I changed my tube only to have my replacement tube’s valve break. Another tube went in and we made our way toward the second summit of the day. The following climb to Bruce Peak was brutal. The exceedingly steep gravel road had Maxim and Gordon walking for a bit. It was super difficult to maintain traction, so one slip-up and you were off. It was too steep to get back on. I had to put my foot down once, but managed to keep moving and climb the rest of the way. Mitch cleared the whole climb without putting a foot down once, which was super impressive!
After soaking in the view from the top, I flatted again on the decent. Maxim spotted me a tube and we rode to Ganges. The gravel further along the decent was packed, which made for an awesome ride. The rode was empty and we bombed around the sweeping turns.
After a pit-stop in Ganges to restock our tube supply, I was not in the mood to spend money on food. The others wanted to though, so we made our way over to Thrifty’s. The store was celebrating its birthday, so I helped myself to two massive pieces of birthday cake and a cup of Kicking Horse coffee while I sat on the curb and guarded our bikes. Free cake and coffee? An excellent day had become even better.
The final climb up Mount Maxwell was another steep, gravel one. We all rode our own pace and I was the first one up. I managed to climb at a comfortable pace on all three peaks, but my pace was faster than the rest of the guys. This was a testament to the form I had gained at Tour of Alberta. We weren’t competing at all, but I was proud of my strength.
My three ‘epics’ consisted of a minimum of 2,000 metres of climbing, took place on primarily unfamiliar roads and were all at least 6 hours long. They took place on sunny days and in good company. I now know my requirements for a good day on the bike, which I don’t think I was aware of until late this year. I’m looking forward to turning more rides into epics in 2018!
Here are links to the three rides on Strava!
Epic #1 - Cali
Epic #2 - 300 km
Epic #3 - Salt Spring
And if you would like to see more photos by Maxim, here's his Instagram!