After Canada Games I decided to take a little break from training and catch up with friends at home. I started with a mountain bike ride at the mountain bike venue with my old friends Ari and Terry. It was loads of fun to swap pavement for dirt for an evening, and check out a venue that was the result of endless volunteer hours from Manitoba’s cycling community. The hard work had paid off as it really was brilliant.
I then spent about a week doing coffee shop rides before flying home. Each morning I’d ride ~15 km to meet a friend at a cafe, where we’d sit and chat for 2 plus hours before heading home. I think I did at least 2 minutes chatting for every minute spent riding. My Tour des Cafés was a real treat- it allowed me to spend most of my morning out in the sun with great company, and I got to check out at all of my favourite spots back home. By the end of the week, I felt really, really mentally healthy. I’d had non-stop positive interactions with great people, and had allowed myself some proper recovery time from the past two months of hard riding.
On my flight home, I didn’t really know what lay ahead. I had no races scheduled for the rest of the season, but I wasn’t yet ready to stop riding. In the past, after a target event all I’d want to do is take a break from riding. But this time it was different; all I wanted to do was race. This drive felt like a testament to how far my mental health had recovered. Unfortunately, I had no goals to work up to, so I made some on my way home. I wanted to ride 300 km in a day, climb Mount Baker in Washington, and do the Triple Crown (three peaks) ride in Vancouver. If, as it appeared, there was no more racing for me, I needed something to keep me busy.
I got home on the 17th. In the evening of Sunday the 20th my Directeur Sportif called to inform me that I would be racing the Tour of Alberta, as Connor couldn’t due to a concussion. I couldn’t believe it! This is a race I’ve dreamt of doing for years, but had accepted that I wouldn’t be doing it this year. I would be leaving that Tuesday. Suddenly my Winnipeg Tour des Cafés didn’t seem like such a good idea. I started to fret seriously about my fitness. Alberta would be my first stage race in over a year, and the highest level road race of my career. I managed to get a grip pretty quickly though and turned my nervousness into simple excitement.
On Monday morning I set out around seven to attempt a 300 km ride. The loop we had planned was only 270 km, so I’d have to add some on at the end. Until then, the longest ride I’d ever done was around 230 km, and the longest one I’d done since getting back on the bike was only about 130 km. It was an ambitious goal and I didn’t really know what to expect. I packed a ton of bars, several tubes, and my credit card.
I rode with Emile, who had done the loop before. My plan was to ride easy, eat every hour, and wait as long as I could to look at my Garmin. I didn’t want to spend the whole day watching the kms slowly tick away, willing them to pass quicker. I wanted to focus on enjoying the ride. I’ve done far too many rides watching each kilometre slowly register on my computer.
The first ~80 km to Jordan River were pretty familiar, as I’ve ridden and driven the route many times. Once past all the beaches on the Jaun de Fuca, I was on a stretch of road I’d never seen before. It was gorgeous. We twisted along the coast before a climb and then a fast decent into Port Renfrew. We stopped for the cheapest gas station pastry, which tasted like ass but felt like fuel. Solid dollar to calorie ratio. I finally looked at my Garmin for the first time and we were already at over 110k.
The ride out of Port Renfrew was beautiful. After about thirty minutes, we found ourselves on a long, steady climb. We climbed for 45 minutes, which was a nice surprise, as I haven’t found a climb that long anywhere near Victoria. It was beautiful and relatively car free. A Twix bar from Port Renfrew made the climb even better. We weren’t rewarded with much of a decent after though, as a massive headwind forced us to work all the way into Lake Cowichan. I ran out of water on the climb, so a huge bottle of PowerAde in town was a real treat. We sat in the sun for a bit by the Esso station car vacuum, and drank, grateful for a break from the saddle.
Getting back on the bike was tough. We were 175 km in. I felt pretty terrible as we started to make our way toward Duncan. We did about 5 km on the highway with no shoulder, before turning onto the old highway, which was empty. I started to get pretty nervous. Would I make it? I still had 125 km, some solid climbing, and at least four hours of riding to go. By the time we turned out of Duncan and onto a beautiful little climb out of the Cowichan River Valley, I was at 200 km. That milestone switched something in my brain. Now I had less than 100 km to go. Double digits! My legs felt amazing.
We stopped in Shawnigan Lake for some water. I bought and ate an entire loaf of chocolate chip banana bread for a dollar. Again, nailing the dollars to calorie ratio. On the climb out of Shawnigan it felt as though my legs were constantly being punched, but I was now on familiar roads which meant we were getting closer to home. The following decent to Goldstream also hurt. Emile felt awesome and was setting a decent pace.
We decided to treat ourselves to an extra bit of climbing by turning up Finnlayson Arm. Finnlayson is abouta 2 km climb, that is viciously steep, with several sections over 20% gradient, maxing out at ~29%. At 253 km into our ride, I climbed it in 10:55. I wasn’t riding full out, but rode a pretty hard pace to get it over with. It put me in 25th on the segment on Strava, which I’m pretty stoked about considering my ‘warm-up’. That would be the last victory for a while though, as 20 km later I hit a wall. I completely bonked.
I rode the last 15 km alone after dropping Emile off at his place. I could barely pedal. I couldn’t hold my head up. My legs were moving because that’s all they knew how to do at this point. There was no power behind each pedal stroke, simply gravity pulling my feet down. I rested my forearms on my bars and stared at my Garmin, finally succumbing to the habit I had fought most of the day, watching as every hundred metres was recorded. I could have taken a shorter route back, but I wanted to hit 300 km. It was a sick goal I had made for myself. I wasn’t miserable. I just wanted the ride to end. I wanted to hit my goal. I wanted to sit on a couch and watch Netflix. I rode at 15 km/h. I couldn’t go any faster.
My Garmin read 300 km 2 blocks from my house. I had done it. I got home, and immediately uploaded my ride. Strava said 299.9. You can’t go back out and add to a ride after, so that was that. Training Peaks read the same file as 300. I was so exhausted, I started to cry as Bryanna passed me some food. I cried because I was so proud of where I’d come. Having only ridden for three months, and still often feeling that certain lingering darkness from which I recently emerged breathing down my neck at times, I had done something I never imagined doing even at my healthiest. But going from being unable to get out of bed to riding for 10 hours and 300 kms filled me with a certain pride. I was proud of how far I’d come. I was happy that I was so mentally healthy. I might’ve also been a little pissed off at Strava, but, I also laughed about it. Of course I would end up 100 metres short of 300 km on Strava. Of course!
Here's a link to the route we did: Big Loop