It’s been an odd summer. We haven’t had the normal heat wave, and it seems like we get a good rain storm every few days. I’m not one to complain a lot about the weather, but as a cyclist, I’m always paying attention to it. I’m finally at the point in my concussion recover that I feel like I can ride a little harder and a little further, and now, the limiting factor is my lack of fitness, rather than my concussion symptoms. I’m not entirely symptom free, but I’m feeling better with each ride.
This past week, I was able to get a couple of good rides in. Friday was my 51st birthday and after last year’s 50-in-50 goal (and my bicycalligraphy ride on my 50th birthday), I decided to go for another bicycalligraphy birthday ride this year. Since my new term “bicycalligraphy” has yet to be adopted, I thought I’d try again. My friend Shelly and I met at 10 am and rode this route:
And here’s the link to an animation of the route on Relive.
The route was about 40 km start-to-finish, and it involved some U-turns, but it was fun to plan and ride it… and it only rained a bit!
The next day, Saturday, I entered the Eager Beaver 2.0. A gravel/road/dirt bike event just south of Collingwood (actually, it’s best described on the website as: It isn’t anything. It is just riding a bike, whatever bike you have/want to ride, on a bunch of different surfaces for fun in a race.). It’s my second year entering this event. Dan Marshall at Substance Projects runs fantastic events throughout the year, and this is no exception. There were three distances to choose from: 50 km, 100 km and 100 miles. Last year, I rode 100 km on my mountain bike, and this year, I opted for the shorter 50 km on my fat bike.
After spending Friday evening in Toronto at Amsterdam Brewery with my bro and our partners (celebrating my birthday by sampling most of their craft beers), and getting home after 1 am, I was up waayyyy to early Saturday morning to drive to Highlands Nordic for the Eager Beaver for the 9 am start. After meeting and greeting some of my Waterloo Cycling Club (Ana-Maria, Kevin), Fatboy Nation (Raf, Jenn, Mike), Pinoy Pedal Pushers (Robert, Christine, Arlie) and many other friends (TeamColin, Darcie, BarryC, ChrisW and others I’m sure I’ve forgotten…), I lined up near the back of the nearly-200 competitors for the start with Raf, Jenn, Mike, Robert, Christine, Colin, Darcie and others.
All three race distances started together up a fairly long climb and with recent rain, the trail was muddy. Riders were sliding out, unclipping, while I just kept peddling my fatbike onwards and upwards. After this climb, I settled into a rhythm with PPP riders Christine and Robert. I’d ridden with Christine earlier this year at Steaming Nostril, and it’s always nice to have some company at events like this.
After the first climb, there were some fast descents. These were fun on my fat bike, but I was amazed at how fast some people flew by me on these loose, gravelly hills on their CX bikes. Darcie was one of them, and she told me that her brakes didn’t work well so she had no choice but to go fast. After descending, there were some paved roads and headwind, before we turned up “the climb”, which is a long, steep (Strava says grades over 25%!), sandy, gravelly, rutty climb of over 100 m of vertical elevation in less than a kilometre and a half. Dan refers to it as the “Murderhorn” or “Mudderhorn”. I’m not sure which, but both names are appropriate. It’s a grind, and it fools you! It flattens out a couple of times, and you think you’re done, but then you turn a corner and keep going up! This year, it fooled me again; I thought I was done but turned another corner and saw the hill continue upwards! Out of breath and legs, I walked part of the top (but managed to ride up a steep part where I saw a guy with a video camera. Too proud to walk this section, I managed to keep the pedals turning.).
This was the only BIG climb for the 50 km distance (longer distance races had a lot more climbs like this). It took a lot out of me, so I cruised along by myself and tried to recover. There were some muddy trails, big puddles and slippery downhills, but it was a lot of fun on my fat bike. Soon, we made a turn towards the 25 km rest stop. It came after a fast, steep gravel-road descent, where I hit speeds over 60 km/h and I didn’t want to stop. I was just about to cruise right past the tent when I heard someone say “Hey! Want Bacon?”. I hit my brakes hard and said “Did someone say bacon?”. I’ve hallucinated in races before, so I wanted to make sure I heard him correctly. Robert and Christine from PPP were already stopped and Chris handed me a piece of bacon. I’m not a big meat eater but wow! That hit the spot.
I also spotted another fat biker at this rest stop. I wondered if he was in my 50 km race, so just in case he was, I didn’t want to spend much time at the stop. I left the rest stop just after him and at the turning point for the 50 km route, I saw that he was racing my distance. He wasn’t too far ahead – about 50 m, along a long gravel road with a few rolling hills. We still had a lot of riding to do and I didn’t have it in me to sprint to try to catch him, so I thought I’d just try to keep him in sight. I was riding on my own into a slight head wind, with fatbiker ahead of me, and Robert and Christine just behind. As we neared the end of the gravel road, I saw that I was getting closer to the other fatbiker, so I put my head down and put in a harder effort and just as we reached the stop sign, I caught him. We turned north on a paved road and I remember thinking… If I catch him, I have to work hard to try to get a gap. So I did. I upped my pace just a little to see if he could hang on, but he didn’t. I was able to maintain a steady pace on the paved road for nearly 10 km and when I turned back east, I didn’t see him. I knew I was close to the finish, but also knew that I couldn’t afford to slow down too much.
As we headed back into the forest, the trail was grassy and very soft and the final downhill was still very muddy and slippery. Just before the finish, there’s a “shortcut” through the woods on some singletrack. It cuts off about 200 m of wider trail. I took it, but was slower (someone passed me, but fortunately, not that fatbiker). I finished in just under 2:40, and fatbiker came in just under a minute later. Christine’s husband Arlie got this pic of me crossing the finish line:
He told me a short time later that I was the first fat biker to cross the line! A few minutes later, his wife Christine, and Robert/Pinoy finished. And then it really started to rain. I found shelter and chatted with other riders and we shared smiles and tales of survival, hills, puddles.
Eventually they gave out awards for the 50 km race, and I got on the top step of the podium for the 50 km fat bike category (there were four of us in this cat). There were no medals awarded, but… I got a big, glass beer mug AND a six-pack of Amsterdam beer, which is, in my opinion, better than any medal (unless you’re talking a solid gold medal!). This was my very first individual first-place podium placing (unless you count swim races way back in high school!). It felt good, and the beer tastes great!
Huge thanks to Dan and his amazing team of volunteers. I’m not the first to say this, but Dan runs the BEST cycling events in Ontario. I don’t mean to disrespect other organizers, but the mood at his events is fantastic. It’s competitive. Or not. It’s fun, it’s hard work. But it’s outdoor exercise with a group of people who are all there for the same reason. Everyone I talked to was encouraging, friendly, positive, supportive. If you haven’t experienced a Substance Projects event, you should. Let me know if you have any questions. You may even be able to talk me into riding with you (if you want to ride slowly).