I’ve blogged several times about the Paris to Ancaster (P2A) cycling event. I’ve blogged about my thoughts during the ride, how I prepare and even tips for newbies. Yesterday, I completed the shorter St.George to Ancaster event on my fat bike, and 2017 marked the 16th straight year I’ve entered the race.
Back when registration opened for the 2017 event I knew I’d enter, despite the recovery process from my concussion. I decided that I’d sign up for the shorter distance, and for a reason that I don’t recall, I’d enter in the fat-bike category.
As the date approached, my recovery didn’t allow me to ride very hard or for long periods of time, but at least I was getting out about once a week. I knew I’d be able to ride the distance.
Through the spring, I tested my recovery by occasionally pushing a bit harder during my rides. Sometimes, I felt good and thought I was getting better. Other times, those symptoms would return, leaving me with the concussion ‘fog’, both during and after the ride. The difficult part was to be cautious during the times I felt good such that I didn’t push too hard and cause symptoms. During the Steaming Nostril event a few weeks ago, I felt pretty good during most of the race and was able to ride a little harder at the end to finish 3rd!
On P2A race day, I didn’t know what I’d be faced with, both in terms of weather and race conditions, but also the state of my symptoms. It was cloudy and cold (around 1-2 degrees C!), with a strong wind from the east (in other words, a head wind for most of the race!). My friend Shelly and I lined up in the first of two waves in St. George, in the middle of the pack.
When the gun went off (I think it was actually a real gun!), the fast racers took off at the speed of fast (including my bro Jeff, who finished 3rd overall and first in the fat-bike category, and his daughters Kaitie and Sarah, who also got top 3 results in their categories… in fact Kaitie was first overall female and 13th OVERALL at this distance!). Shelly and I settled in to a more relaxed pace as riders zoomed past us (we were both on fat bikes).
Shelly, by the way, is a former World Masters’ road cycling top-10 finisher. She, too, is recovering from a concussion that resulted from a crash at the velodrome a couple of years ago. We’ve been riding together this spring in our joint recovery.
We rode side-by-side for a lot of the first half of the race, chatting, getting passed, and passing a few others. Less than an hour in, my head started to feel that ‘fog’, and my pace slowed. When I mentioned this to Shelly, she advised me to have a snack and drink and she allowed me to draft behind her, which proved to be very beneficial into the long stretches of headwind. Not only did drafting help, but it also helped to follow a bike and focus only on the wheel in front of me. In the ‘fog’, my senses can get overwhelmed by everything going on around me, so having a wheel to focus on was very helpful.
After snacking and drinking, I started to feel a little better, and I took a couple of turns leading into the head wind. The wind was so strong at times that when I looked at my speed, we were only going about 15 km/h, despite a fairly hard effort (on fat bikes!).
As always, the mud chutes were epic (and I don’t use the word “epic” very often). The first one had thick, heavy mud, and as soon as I tried to ride it, my wheels accumulated so much mud, they wouldn’t spin. I had to walk most of that chute. There were a couple of kind volunteers at the bottom with power washers. I lined up (!) to get my bike hosed down so the wheels would spin, and we continued.
The second chute (Powerline Road) had been cleared, so it wasn’t a narrow chute as it was in past years. Instead, it was wide open, with lots of lines to choose. It was also covered in a slick mud that made for poor traction, even on fat bike tires.
One other thing about concussion recovery (at least in my case): I’m very hesitant to fall from my bike, even if my head doesn’t come in contact with the ground (or a tree, or another cyclist). Because of this, I tend to unclip and walk a lot of sections of trail that I would otherwise ride. The Powerline mud chute was rideable (Here’s a video of the race leaders riding through it at unbelievable speeds https://twitter.com/adamlikesbikes/status/858795527567269888 ). However, I walked a lot of that mud chute, which is near the finish to avoid slips and falls.
As we approached the Martin Road climb, I told Shelly that she was stronger than me and she should go on ahead. I knew I’d be able to make the climb, but I didn’t want to slow her down.
Let’s face it, the climb is hard. No matter how fit and fast you are, it hurts. I’ve managed to ride up each year, and this year, no matter how long it took, I was determined to ride all the way up again (for the first time on a fat bike!).
I always start this climb cautiously, and I try to keep a few gears in reserve for the really steep parts. That strategy lasts until the very first left-hand turn when I needed my easiest gear too quickly. By this point, there were some people walking. I tried to settle into a rhythm to keep the bike moving while not red-lining. The hill starts to get really steep as the right-hand turn approaches. At this point, I heard cowbells and people cheering (and in past years… bag pipes, although I admit I may have been hallucinating). I passed more walkers, barely moving faster than they were. By the time I reached the next left turn, the end was (almost) in sight. Here, the road was lined with spectators and other racers who have finished. Their cheering and encouragement fueled me to the top of the hill and to the finish. When I crossed, Shelly was waiting, having finished shortly before me. And all I wanted to do was lie down…
This race is hard. Period. Short course. Long course. CX bike. Fat bike. It’s hard. And I remain challenged by it every year. I may complain about: wind, mud, cold, the poor rolling resistence of fat-bike tires…
It’s that challenge that brings me back each time! See you in 2018.
Thanks to the organizers and volunteers! And thanks to my family and friends for support and encouragement and photographs. It’s at events like this that I am reminded of the amazing cycling community that I’m involved with: WCC, TeamColin, Riot, PPP, FBN and everyone else (too many to mention individually!).