(For the pictures corresponding to this post, check out: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=23904&l=6f53d&id=524085566 )
My second dream ended at around 5:30AM. I couldn’t remember what it was, and all it left me with was a daze. Trying to blink away the sleepiness didn’t work; it was one of those situations where it felt like it was one of those pasty weights on your eyelids, and a fat man sitting on your chest. All conditions simply encourage resignation. Stay down, says the situation. Just stay down.
I rubbed my temples, trying to soothe the loud pulse of my headache. I hadn’t been able to sleep too well all night, thinking about the Metropolitain Challenge. I also forgot to close my window, and it was pretty chill so when I awoke I felt what seemed like a pang of sickness in the back of my throat. But all night, I was in that stage of tiredness so extreme that I was too lazy to get out of bed and close the window, and still too lazy to get a shirt on. I just curled up tighter. It felt as if for the next half hour or so, I just suspended my brain from my body. I was aware that I was still tired. I was aware that I was cold, and that the window was only a quick stride away, or that clothes were only two arms lengths out of the bed. But I stayed like that, too lazy, too dumbfounded on purpose.
By about 6:15, my cellphone’s alarm was going off, telling me to get up for real since the day was to begin. I rolled over– sunlight had not yet creeped over the house opposite of mine. I grumbled, I groaned. Getting out of bed as quickly as I could I went straight for breakfast, not wanting to lose momentum. I had laid out all my clothes and gear the night before, now was was just a question of getting it all on.
At about 6:35, Alfredo was knocking on my door. Good man; knocking instead of ringing the bell, in case anyone was still asleep. He would be the first to arrive. He, Jimmy and Jonathan would all eventually get to my place. The plan was for them to all arrive at 6:30AM, but well. Wouldn’t you know it– they were all late.
Jimmy arrived shortly after and we started making perparations. Getting our bikes on his bike rack was quite a trick– they just barely fit the frames. Looking at it, I was a bit skeptic that a few bars of metal held to his trunk by a bunch of quick release straps was supposed to do the job. I found myself looking back from the passenger seat constantly throughout the ride, half afraid that the next time I turned around I’d find our bikes were gone and that there was a 20 car pile up behind us.
“Where the fuck is Jonathan?” I said, checking the time. It was already 6:45, and we needed Jonathan to get here– we needed some time to change his tires from knobbys to semi-slicks.
Exchanging stories, Alfredo had gotten something like 5 hours of sleep the night before. Me,and jimmy had gotten about the same, if not less– we’d been fixing burst tubes until about midnight the night before. To top it off, Jonathan finally arrived, admitting that he felt badass hungover. (It was his graduation party the night before)
So much for an energized team! Well, in any case– we got our work done with the bikes, dismantaling, replacing, doing any last minute checks to make sure everyones’ tires were up to pressure.
Before getting into our separate cars, I handed a walkie talkie to Jonathan. “Press the signal button first so we know to listen. Then, start talking while holding this button down, but give it a second before you start.”
He tested it out.
“Testing 1-2-3. Kick. Ass.” There’s something about walkie talkies that comes straight ouf of childhood. They’re toys: like styrofoam cups with strings, but for taller people.
Our five man team would be split into two cars, so the walkies would be necssary since one would just be following the other, and we’d need some way to signal if that bike rack was falling off the back of Jimmy’s car.
So it was that we headed out to Roger’s place, who we were picking up at his home on account of the distance from the rest of us. Once we had Roger in, we headed out.
When we were still in the cars, nearing the starting point, it was already 9:30AM. Our original plan had been to start the event at about 8, but due to the delays we were behind schedule. We saw bikers all along the the roadside as we got there. The event launched at about 7AM.
“Roadie. Roadie. Roadie. Roadie. Roadie. Roadie. Hybrid. Hybrid. Roadie. Roadie. Mountain! That’s one REAL MAN,” I shouted. It seemed that the vast majority of bikers attempting this 150km trek were all using road bikes.
“Man,” I said. “All these roadies in their fancy outfits and stuff. They all think they’re hot stuff because they’re fast. You know what’s going to make my day?”
“When I see a roadie lying in a ditch.”
I have this prejudice against road bike riders. Not all of them, mind you. But the vast majority of them have one thing in common– illusions of speed. Every man and his monkey on a road bike think’s he’s greased lightning. That somehow gives them liscence to do dangerous passes, or, in downtown urban situations, to squeeze into spots between cars that they should not be squeezing into. But really– they’re not that fast. Something remains to be said about muscular endurance, cardiovascular endurance, and bike control skills– which many, many roadies actually lack. Why? Because their equipment, mostly the thin tires and lighter frames, let them go fast. As a result, most roadies can go way faster than most mountain bikes, with relatively little training.
But training is a different topic. My main beef isn’t how much effort people have to put into something– after all, I’ll be the first to admit that I wished I had a faster bike for this event, instead of my Trek 8000 MTB. But my problem with roadies always has, and most likely will be, is primarily that most of them have bad road manners. Not all of them. MOST of them though. It’s a lot like giving people high end sports cars before they’ve learned to handle the speed and responsability of your family minivan first. You know, the one that’s always breaking down and forces you to respect just how much force you can get out of it. It’s also the one that you spend as much time under the hood as behind the wheel.
Like in other mediums, people just don’t know how to use power responsibly, and it leads to dangerous road situations just because they don’t respect the potency of their tools. I am not making beef where there isn’t– it’s just personal experience that tells me that most roadies are in fact bad bikers, in the same way that you would say a driver is a bad driver. It usually happens because people have more speed than they can handle.
As we arrived in Beloeil and were directed by trafic volunteers into a mall parking lot, we found that most of the closer parking venues were already full. We ended up being the only cars to park at a mall relatively far from the starting line. We were the only ones parking in this lot aside from one other vehicle, which showed up a bit later than us. We had the whole lot to ourselves.
Unpacking the gear took some doing, and then we started lathering up with the sunscreen, and dividing weights into our bags. If you assume that the average sports drink weighs about as much as water, then we already had about 20kg at least of liquid to carry with us.
I’m not entirely sure what the others ended up carrying in total weight but since I had a seatpost mounted rack, which is more comfortable than most peoples’ bags, I took my share of weight and perhaps a bit more. We also had a bottle of Carboom, this wicked ass ‘sports gel’ that you basically squirt down your throat for energy. That felt easily like a kilogram, that stuff was so dense. It feels about as thick as maple syrup and it’s just as hard to swallow, but it’s pure carbs, which is just what we need. First aid stuff. Tools. About 2kg of drink and food. Spare tubes. Etc. All in all, all the additions to my bike aside from me added up to about 7 kilos, or a bit over 15lbs. Which isn’t so bad, considering that I trained with about 15lbs of weight. My original plan was to have my training weights exceed my event weight, but well, I guess at the very least I covered myself.
We headed out to the school where things would start out officially where Jonathan got his bracelet (due to late registration). We made our toilet stop, then started off on our way.
At first, things were going great. The streets were mostly level. The hills weren’t all that bad at all.
At some point, there was a crowd gathered by the roadside.
There was a biker– in a ditch. She was on her back, her eyes were closed, and her arm was in a triangular bandage. The emergency medic motorcyle was on the site, calling in for help, and several people who I assume were her riding partners were gathered around her. The ditch was at least a meter deep. I wonder if she flew in there?
… about 20 yards away, I started laughing.
Yes, I’m a monster. But I did say earlier that my day would be complete once I saw a roadie in a ditch.
It’s a very terrible thing for me to say, and I admit– it’s unfair of me to generalize all roadies in the same bunch. But really, just because I half made my earlier condition known as a joke, it just seemed to me kind of funny that this one specific wish I would ask and that would be granted would be my stupidest one.
I should have said “If only a million dollars fell on me” instead. Maybe it was my lucky day, and I blew it on a stupid request. Anyway.
The main setback during was mostly that the roads were so badly maintained at some points– there were potholes everywhere on some of them, and I mean, more than an inch deep, and for kilometers on end. It wouldn’t normally be a problem if we were in a car, but when you’re operating in a pelothon, it makes things tricky.
First of all, in some open space areas like what’s so common around the Beloeil region, there’s a lot of wind. That means that it becomes necessary to use drafting techniques. Drafting means that you have a point man leading what is usually the group in a single file formation– the front man cuts the wind, and everyone else stays as close as possible to take advantage of the lower air pressure behind that person where there’s less resisitence to forward movement. This is only possible when your bike is within a wheel length of the person in front of you. Ideally, you’re within inches of the bike in front of you.
The problem with being that close to the person in front of you is that you don’t see very much of the road– what you do see is the back of the person in front of you. That places a great deal of responsability on the front man– it becomes his job to chose a trajectory that avoids all the major potholes, and everyone behind him has to follow in his tracks closely.
Some of those roads were so bad though that it was just impossible to avoid taking a few hard bumps. We got into the habit of the frontman yelling “Watchout!” or “Caution!” or “Careful!” when a situation came up that a stretch of shit road was just unavoidable.
For the most part though the safest way to deal with bad roads was to break formation so we’d get better road visibility. This comes at two prices though. First of all, the bumps themselves rob you of velocity. Every bump you hit instantly chops your speed down by a few clicks, because your force is spent trying to roll over a bump, so you have to fight gravity and waste force going at an upwards angle instead of straight forward. Obviously, if all your force could be directed forward, that’s ideal.
Secondly, when we’re out of formation, 5 of us riding scattered means that 5 of us are taking ‘wind damage’. This is as opposed to riding in formation, where the front man takes the majority of the wind damage, while the 4 others have it relatively easy (and then we switch and take turns in the lead).
The third problem, which isn’t as big of an issue this early on, but it’s that related to point number one where it takes more force to cover the same amount of distance, it’s that bad roads are tougher on your body. Hitting bumps puts a lot of stress on your muscles because you have to stay in control of the bike. Overal, you have to be more tense– and this leads in the long run to fatigue.
Anyway, we dealt with that in any case. It was early in the day, and we had a lot of energy in us and we had high spirits were really good. It wasn’t super sunny out, it was overcast, but that meant that the temperature was just cool enough to be comfortable so we weren’t overheating or burning in the sun.
It really was kinda nice to be out there. The air felt so fresh, and despite the fact that the roads were in some places total shit, they were for the most part empty. Nothing pleases a biker like roads that he feels are all his, all his and his alone.
This feeling though, of total command over the roads, it’s a conflicted thing though. Because though yes, you are out there, a locomoting person moving under the power of your own spirit and body, in this situation, the context is different. You are part of a team.
I think that this whole experience was, first and foremost for me, an experience of teamwork.
Now, obviously, nobody could ride my bike for me. That’s not what I mean. And drafting only does so much to help you, physically. But a lot of the mental stresses of the whole trek were easier because I knew they were shared, and that for the most part I knew that my teammates were watching my back.
There’s one topic that I’d like to address that has a lot to do with this teamwork thing– and I don’t want to sound like a jackass being nitpicky, but Alfredo is not a team player. This is a good and a bad thing. It’s good for him, because it means that he’s capable of mostly surviving on his own. It’s bad for the rest of us though, and in my opinion it was affecting the rest of us a lot in terms of performance.
The main issue is that Alfredo is a lot faster than the rest of us on his road bike. The other four of us– Jimmy, Jonathan, Roger and Myself– are all using slower equipment. Now, it’s my opinion that in a team situation, someone who has an easier time of it is supposed to push his teammates to go further– but that’s only in training. The actual event takes a great deal of realism to complete. By realism, I mean that it takes discipline to stick to a game plan, and it takes humility to put the group before the individual.
I found that before we were half way through the event, we lacked discipline in that respect. I stressed over and over that we needed to start out slow and save our energy for the end, but I’m as much to blame as everyone else how we let our pace get faster as we always tried to squeeze that extra kpmh out of our rides.
Things went more or less well for the first 60 km or so. At about 66km, we reached the designated lunch area where we got whooping huge meals. They included sandwiches, some sorta creamy salad coleslaw thing, milk boxes, milk shake, cake and some other stuff. You could even get all the tea that you wanted. It was a pretty good lunch.
But then, IT began.
That rain which soaked through our clothes and right to our bones. That rain that was like an electric, unshakable cold, numbing and coursing through all your nerves. That rain that made you want to clam up and curl, and stop pedaling, maybe close your eyes.
The rain which we wanted to deny all along. All until then, we had been telling ourselves “IT IS NOT GOING TO RAIN.” Positive thinking as it may well have been, our willpower held no sway over the weather gods. It began to rain. The winds weren’t as bad in the schoolyard where we were having our lunch, but we could already feel the chill. Alfredo was starting to freeze, being in shorts and t-shirt and not having all that much body fat on him; he went into the school for a while to warm up. Me, I was starting to get pretty cold myself and had to down a couple of cups of hot tea to get my blood coming back. Jimmy and Roger seemed fine. Jonathan improvised a rain poncho out of a garbage bag.
Some of the bikers were looking at the ominous sky with disdain– it looked like it was going to get worse. Some people were eating their lunch under the shelter of a truck’s trailer.
Though it might’ve been nice to rest longer, we wanted to get moving before it got too cold. We needed to get a move on because with each passing moment, it was getting colder and it’d be that much harder to set upon our course again.
A barely even a kilometer back on the roads, and I couldn’t take the cold and rain at once. We stopped at a depaneur to get rain ponchos. At least, we tried– not only didn’t the owner of the ‘convenience store’ know what ‘rain’ or ‘ponchos’ meant, but he barely spoke any english at all. I would have even settled for plastic food wrap– I just needed SOMETHING to cut out the wind.
Ironically, I had rain gear with me– but, it was back in the cars. Because at the begining, we wanted to show solidarity that IT WOULD NOT RAIN. But I guess that wasn’t enough.
In any case, without any rain gear (with the exception of Jonathan) we hit the roads again. I don’t know how the others were faring but the first few kilometers were excruciating on me. Those of you who know me already know this– I’m pretty lean. I don’t know what my body fat percentage is, but it’s not high. As a result, my temperature tends to change like crazy along with my environment. I just don’t have enought insulation to regulate my temperature all that well. It was probably only 10 degrees out there. Throw in wind chill, and throw in rain, and you get something really badass. Throw in the fact that the only way to generate heat is to pump harder with your legs, which makes you move even more strongly against the wind (meaning, even MORE windchill) and you’ll see how the situation really felt to me like a gamble, the stakes of which were my health.
I kid you not when I say that I was so cold that I almost felt my elbow cramp– I was that tense, from simultaneously shivering my ass off and trying to keep control of my bike.
Eventually, when we pulled out of the more populated area, we didn’t have to stop and go so much with trafic and small street intersections, so I managed to get my temperature up and avoid what could have ended pretty badly right then and there.
This is where things got increasingly complicated.
“Watch out for those puddles! They might be hiding deep holes!” shouted Jimmy at some point. When cracks in the road, or entire potholes, fill with water, you have no idea how deep those holes are anymore. So, in most cases, you try to avoid them. Sometimes though, when the puddle is a few square meters wide, you don’t have time to check your sides to see if you can avoid it. So you go through it. One such time, I went through a puddle that turned out to be perhaps a 2 inch deep hole, and I felt my teeth clatter from the jarring impact.
At this point, drafting to me felt like it was the ONLY way to survive. The front man now wasn’t just breaking wind for speed– he was also breaking wind to cut down the windchill of those behind him.
But here’s the tough part about drafting in the rain. As it stands, visibility is already poor in rain. It’s not that water is made out of lead and superman’s x-ray’s couldn’t even penetrate it. It’s just that it’s distracting. Rain sticks on your glasses, or gets in your eyes, and it distracts you. So maybe it’s not your visibility that goes down, but your perception time takes a bit of a hit.
The problem with drafting in wet conditions is that you’re so close to the bike in front of you that the water from that bike’s back tire is flying up– right into your face. I mean, you are literally getting road water, sand and mud flung up into your face. And you have no choice. If you break out of line, you’ll find that you’re getting tired a lot faster because you have to break more wind on your own, and not only that, but your energy is being rapidly drained by the increased windchill. So you have choices. You can either break formation– or, you can, as Roger suggested, “Suck it up”.
Luckily for me I bring a bandana for just such an occasion– I wore it over my face so I didn’t really have to eat anything unpleasant, and my goggles kept my eyes from getting too messed up. It wasn’t much of a problem for me at all, but I heard horror stories from the others. Every now and then, I’d see Jonathan turning his head to the side to spit. He told me later that he’d been literally feeling sand in his teeth.
What made matters worse was that teamwork was starting to get difficult in terms of working with Alfredo. It’s about sometime in the afternoon that he starts pushing the group. I’m not sure if it’s because he’s cold or just getting impatient. I thought that our last training run at the Gilles Villeneuve racing track taught him the importance of teamwork. But we got into a number of scenarios which, in my opinion, were bad for the group.
The first one is the general tendancy to try and push our pace. Every rider has a comfortable riding speed– the one where you can get highest speed with the lowest loss of efficiency. When you’re a group, the logical occurence is that you use a ‘weakest link’ principle– the most efficient speed to move at is the comfortable speed of the slowest rider. If you go beyond that, you tire that person out, and that leads to even more delays later on with that rider bottoms out.
From the training runs and from the actual conditions on the road on the day of the MC, our optimized group speed on level, smooth road is ranges between 25 and 30kmph. On bumpy or pothole ridden roads, it’s between 20 and 25kmph. The problem was that Alfredo kept on taking the frontman position– so naturally, everyone tries to stay on his tail to use his windbreak. But then, he starts accelerating. By increasing our speed, we increase our exertion– to the point where we simply can’t keep up. We repeatedly had to back off from trying to follow Alfredo, and so what you had was the four of us, sticking together, and Alfredo, maybe ten yards ahead of us on his own. Of course, when he saw sometimes that we couldn’t keep up, he’d slow down and rejoin as the frontman, but then, he’d speed up again, hoping to get us to up our pace.
Well, I was getting mighty fed up of telling him to slow down. We were simply burning our legs up too fast, and I’d told him several times already that it was too much and that we’d have to ease off. But it was always the same thing– he’d rejoin, and he’d try to bring us to a faster pace.
At some point, the four of us just decided to ignrore him if he was the frontman. It was useless! Following him would only cause us to burnout anyhow. It annoyed me from a team perspective because he was basically wasting energy– he was effectively putting us into two groups, namely, his group, and everyone else, which means double the windbreaking.
Further, whenever I was in front of the group breaking wind and he was the second man, he wouldn’t stay in my draft because he didn’t like the water coming up at him. Which means– he’s cut me off from the group. Effectively, in that scenario, I was drafting for myself only, and he was drafting for everyone else. If that’s the way it would be, what’s the point of me being in front if my contribution is being wasted?
The third scenario had to do with passing. As a group of five young men, it seems inevitble that we’d eventually pass other bikers along the trek who were less fit than us. However, there is a technique to passing other bikers. It has a lot to do with courtesy, but the real concern is safety.
When you’re driving a car, for example, you don’t switch lanes at the same speed as you drive straight. You need to accelerate, since you’re driving along the hypotenuse which is longer than a straight. When you’re passing other cars, you don’t pass a car then decelarate. That’s just rude and pointless.
When you’re on bike, and when you’re frontman to a group, you have to take such theory into consideration. There’s also one important thing to remember– you’re not the only one who is trying to pass.
The thing about the frontman is that he has other responsabilities. He is to initiate the pass. For example, if we’re pulling up on a biker who is too slow and that we want to pass, the frontman will use handsignalls and shout out “PASSING!”, and then, initiate a pass. That means, the frontman will accelerate to pass the slower biker and then remerge into the original line, basically going around the passed rider.
HOWEVER. WHen you’re riding in a draft formation, there is one important thing that always seemed to get ignored when Alfredo was initiating the passes– he didn’t leave enough space for the rear man to re-merge. I mean, for example: we’re pulling up behind a slower biker, so we initiate a pass. The frontman isn’t just supposed to pass the slower biker and then re-merge. He has to accelerate and put enough distance between himself and the slower bikers so that his teammates behind him can also remerge.
What went wrong a few times is that Alfredo intiated passes where the rearman couldn’t re-merge on the line because Alfredo didn’t give enough space to the line behind him.
When you’re on a street when there was oncoming traffic from both forward and rear, it’s really goddamn annoying to not be able to put yourself safely back in your line.
And this is where part of my prejudice against road bikers comes in– they’re supposed to be all about speed, but what about technique? THIS is a situation where a frontman needs speed– to push forward and to protect his team by giving them space to remerge– but where was that?
When I was covering rearman position, it happened twice that he signaled to initate a pass and I started shouting from the back of the line “CANCEL THAT PASS!! THere is a car coming up from behind, we won’t have time goddamit!” We would be cut off or boxed in.
Worse still is that when Alfredo is already pushing us at our maximum pace, how can we using passing? We can’t GO any faster– we won’t be able to accelerate effectively enough to pass in the first place, so why bother?
The worst sort of scenario, which happened to me once when I was rearman, was that a pass got initiated and was effected, but they didn’t leave enough space for me and the second-to-last man to re-merge, and as a result, I got honked at by a car coming up from behind us. But what could I do? There was no space to get back in the line! You know what that is? It’s unncessary , and it’s dangerous.
I think the others realized this as well. At some point when we were initating passes from the front, Jimmy started ‘confirming’ the pass authenticity. Someone in front would declare ‘Passing!’ and signal. Then Jimmy would yell, in concurence “Clear! GO GO GO!” as if he was on a swat team.
It might sound Lfred, you really have to shout, and you have to make sure your ideas are communicated.
Anyway, at some point, without really needing to say it, we just ignored Alfredo as a frontman altogether. Jimmy, Roger, Jonathan and I just operated as if we were a four man team, and we left him to go ahead at his own speed. That bothered me, because prior to the event I had specifically told Alfredo not to leave the group– if he went too far ahead, he was the only one out of us 5 who didn’t have a cellphone as part of his equipment, so if he got hurt or fell off the course, we’d have no way of finding him. But well. There wasn’t anything we could do– at some point, he was so far ahead that we couldn’t catch him if we wanted to. In any case, attempting to catch up to him would have costs someone their legs– that kind of exertion would have been a bad move in the long run.
So we let him go. We basically let him do whatever he wanted to do. We treated ourselves like a four man team instead.
I think that throughout the day, what weighed most heavily on my mind was our inability to get Alfredo to respect his team.
We had been taking breaks every now and then, most of the time to take a piss. Later in the afternoon the rain had stopped, but somehow, despite the fact that the event was a circuit, the wind was either neutral or totally against us. We never got any supporting wind to make it any easier for us. And even if the rain was done, the water was still on the roads collecting especially in those potholes. There was still more than enough to fling up from our tires into eachothers’ faces. ANd it was still more than cold enough that every time we took a stop, no matter how short, we’d be cold and chattering again once we got back on the road.
I’m not sure exactly what the others were feeling, but Jonathan admitted that one of his knees was almost gone. Jimmy said at some point that he wasn’t sure if his kidneys were failing– he had some strange pain deep inside him around the area of his lumbars, but it wasn’t his lumbars. Me? My wrists felt like they were paralyzed. I couldn’t bend them anymore. My right thumb was also completely numb, and my left knee was starting to feel loose.
By the time we reached the 110km mark, my legs were feeling heavy, and I really felt like I just wanted to lie down and take a bit of nap. My bike was starting to feel a bit crunchy on the components– I could feel my derailers getting a bit slow from dirt getting into them, and I could hear my chain grinding on the gears as they crushed road sand between their teeth.
We pressed on. We were more than 2/3rds of the way through, after all.
It had been happening on and off for a while now, but I was losing circulation in my toes. I had to wiggle my feet specifically, change my pedaling position every few minutes. If i forgot, I wouldn’t be able to feel anything from the far end of my foot.
At some point, we lost Alfredo completely. He just went so far ahead that he dissapeared from view. The four of us pulled over to rest. Jonathan swore when he found another bottle of gatorade in his backpack, having thought that he’d used it all up. The way it usually works is that you want to finish all your food and drink before the end of the race, otherwise, that means that you were carrying it as dead weight in your bag for nothing. We finished off the extra bannas that we had leftover from lunch for that reason. We each took a few squirts of Carboom, and felt the luxury of sitting on a flat park bench. That park bench may as well have been a bed of down feathers– compared to our bike saddles at this point, anything was comfortable.
I was so exhausted that I didn’t even want to walk the few yards to the garbage can to throw my bannana peel in. I just chucked it onto the grass near the shoreline. My throw didn’t even carry it very far, I was so tired. We stayed there for a few minutes, until once again the chills started to settle into our bodies. We’d have to get moving again. We had no choice. If we lingered too long, our body temperatures would slingshot down and we might get hypothermia, wet as we were from the rain, roads and our own sweat. It felt as if I was a timebomb, just hoping to get to the finish line where someone could reach the fuse behind my back before it was too late.
We checked the maps, and checked our time. Apparently, there was a pool at the end of the race where the weary survivors could take a warm dip in the water. There was also an all you can eat cheese buffet of some sort.
You have to understand that, wet as we were, the idea of getting in a pool seemed absolutely ludicrous to me. Especially since there was a river right next to me, whose strong current was probably contributing to why I was so goddamn cold. And cheese? What the hell is cheese? I don’t need more food– I’ve got food. What I need is a replacement BODY and about 24 hours in a bacta tank.
Nevertheless, we convinced ourselves that that was what we wanted– cheese at least. We’d have something like an hour and a half to get there before the finish cutoff time came up. So, we got back on our saddles, and headed out.
When we finally got on the road again, I was wondering where Alfredo might be. If he ever made a wrong turn or something, or gotten into an accident, what way would we have of contacting him? He has no cellphone. And i’m sure as hell he didn’t have the clairvoyance to take a copy of our numbers with him. This is why I specifically said at the begining, “Alfredo never goes on his own”. I told this to him specifically.
Anyway, there wasn’t much we could do about the situation, so we did all that we could– just kept on pedaling. The three others head off the road shoulder first, and I was the slowest to get started. I had some catching up to do– but it was tough, because even though they were maintaining a low speed so that I could catch up, I’d let more cold sink in than I thought, and I was having trouble getting my legs to pump.
I started coaxing myself verbally.
“Come on. Go. Onesteamboat twosteamboat onesteamboat twosteamboat,” I half hissed, half grunted to myself, trying to get my cadence up. Counting ‘steamboats’ is how I set my cadence to my optimal rhythm, which is about 60 to 90rpm on the pedals.
But my body wasn’t responding quickly enough, and I wasn’t gaining on my group. I was maintaining an equal distance from them. They weren’t too far ahead, but they were far enough that I wasn’t getting anything out of the draft formation that they too were trying to arrange. They looked like they were having problems of their own, so I didn’t call for a slowdown. In any case, I needed to get my legs back to speed anyhow, because there was a hill coming up.
Now, I’m not a very verbally profane person. But from this point and on, I found it quite easy to swear. ANd in fact it’s probably what got me going.
Forget steamboats. I was just cursing my way back to my cadence.
“Fuck. Breathe. Fuck. BREATHE. Fuck. FAK! FAK !*!*@$(!)!% (!@$(!@$( “
Eventually I was able to get enough blood going that by the time we got to the small hill ahead of us I was able to take it without much problem (relatively speaking).
Within a few minutes of riding, we came upon a more populated area. Less open plains, more residential areas. And then, we saw a familiar face.
It was Alfredo, pulled over by the roadside. He had a flat tire, and the emergency mechanics were fixing his tires.
“This is a perfect example of the tortoise and the hare,” said Jonathan.
“We should leave him here,” someone said.
I agreed at first. Quite frankly, he was the hotshot– he had all that speed, he’d catch up with us anyhow right? What better way to respect his descisions than by leaving him alone to do as he pleased.
But then we thought it through. If Alfredo was behind us and then got into more trouble, there’d be no way for us to know where he was, and again, we’d have no way to contact him. So we decided to wait.
For the most part after his flat, Alfredo stuck to the group.
My odometer was, a while later, reading something close to 150kmph. Roger was begining to ask more frequently what our mileage was, until I just stopped answering. I didn’t want to be constantly reminded of how slow progress we were making, and how close I felt to being at the end of my rope. I could feel the numbness from my wrists spreading to my elbows and shoulders, so I had to constantly steer one handed while I shook the other arm back to life while riding. THe more tired I got, the more weak my posture got, placing more stress on my arms and shoulders.
Then something happened. We got to 150km. Now, to be truthful, the event is marked on the maps as being officially 154km. Roger asked me how much further we had to go.
To be on the safe side, even though my odometer read 150km, I said we had 10 km to go.
But then, we got to the 155km point. 1 km beyond our supposed destination.
“Guys,” I said, “According to my meter, we’re supposed to be finished already.”
But there were still roadsigns telling us to go this way then that way.
Maybe the calibration was off.
And then that struck a sinking realization to us, that was hammered home with each stroke of our pedals. We were still going, and no end was in sight.
As we hit 160km on the odometer, the possibility dawned upon us that if the calibration was off, we had no way of know how much further we had to go. It could be a kilometer. It could be ten. It could be twenty. We had no idea how close we were to the end!
“The cheese buffet’s closing soon!” someone wailed. We had a second wind, fueled by our desperation for closure. we managed to pick up our pace to that strong 25kmph that we had at the begining of the day. But then… that second wind passed. And still, we were not at our goal. Our speed sagged.
Like when I was trying to get my legs moving earlier after a break by swearing, Jimmy and I were now actively yelling and cursing to ourselves to keep moving. My muscles burned. I was on such a low gear it felt as if my legs were swimming, everything was a blur. It felt like an eternity to me.
Eventually we arrived at the school we were supposed to finish at.
Fifteen minutes after closing.
There was no cheese left.
I got off my bike and just sank to my knees. Jonathan lay down on his back and stayed like that for long moments.
We heard faint clapping. The cleanup crew from the event, maybe 5-6 volunteers, cheered for us a bit. A man came over telling me “C’est beau les gars, c’est termine!” (“Good work boys, it’s over!”) and he asked us, looking a bit concerned, if we wanted something to eat. He had bannanas and a few bottles of milk left. We took what we could get and ate our fill.
We had, it turns out, finished SECOND TO LAST out of everyone in the event, which was estimated to have 3000 participants. However, the attendants pointed out, of those 3000 people, not everyone had opted to complete the full circuit (instead chosing to take the shorter routes, which could be 75km, 100km, or 125km) and also, there were riders (such as the lady I saw in a ditch) who had been removed from the course without getting to the finish line.
In any case. We’d finished.
I was exhausted. I have no way of describing to you how exhausted I was. Asking Jonathan what he thought of the whole event, he simply said “Kill me.” I found that when I wanted to stand up, I had a lot of trouble, I had to grit my teeth to do it. My knees were both practically gone. I was covered in sand and mud, my eyes were red from the salt of my sweat and under my helmet, my hair was matted with filth.
But well, we’d finished.
It was a great experience all in all. I would do it again. It’s made me realize, more than ever, that there’s two kinds of fun. There’s “passive fun”, where you go and watch a movie, go out with friends for dinner and drinks– the kind of situation where it’s more or less effortless. You just soak it up.
And then there’s “active fun”, where you suffer for it. Where nobody in their right mind would tell you that it’s fun to eat dirt, to drag your body to the edge of it’s limitations for endurance and pain, to subject your mind and spirit to conditions that really, really make you feel like you’re weak. Nobody would say that’s fun. And yet– when you add it all up, somehow it is, in a different way.
It doesn’t matter how great or how small your limitations are. The fun comes from pushing them around, and deciding that they’re not going to decide who and what you are made of.
The experience has somewhat changed my outlook on the world. I was thinking, up until this event, that everyone should try their best to help everyone else. I mean, I’ve always been reluctant to make sacrifices out of individuals for the good of the group– I thought that everyone deserved the benefit of the doubt. The way the teamwork worked on this trip though told me otherwise– it was, for example, necessary that we cut Alfredo out, because we wouldn’t have survived any other way. You have to try and keep people together, but sometimes you have to draw the line– you can’t hold peoples’ hands through everything, and in the end, people have to make descisions and accept those consequences for themselves.
The other way I’ve changed was that I’ve got a slightly stronger “take no prisoners” or “cut the bullshit” attitude towards talk. I was recently having an argument about the viability of bikes as a mode of transportation in Montreal. The argument presented to me was that old people and children wouldn’t be able to use bikes for transportation, that just wouldn’t be realistic. But the person telling me this was young, and in good health.
“So what if old people or children can’t bike for transport? You’re not old, and you’re not a child.”
Really what is your excuse?
Do the limitations of others somehow have any relevance to what our own limitations are? It was in the context of the recent metro strike. The person was hiding behind old people and children to justify why the person himself wouldn’t bike.
Really, we have NO REASON to accept limitations. Limitations exist as derivitaves of what we try to do. It is not that what we try to do is limited. It never was. We have no reason to talk for the sake of talking. If biking just simply isn’t your cup of tea, fine– but don’t make up excuses, don’t try to use distraction to deflect the issue. DON’T TALK for the sake of talking, I really can’t stand that anymore. If there is something that you can do– don’t try to give me excuses why you’re not doing it. Just go out there and fucking do it!
When we started out with this idea of completing the Metropolitain Challenge, our first day on the road for training was a total shock– we were totally unqualified to finish this event. The battle plan was to maintain 25kmph for 6 hours– during training, we barely managed to hold 20kmph on a windless day, for 4 hours. We’d have one month to train to up our average speed by 5kmph and to increase our muscular and cariovascular endurance by 2 hours.
Our total time for the event itself was 6hours and 45 minutes on the road, at an average speed of 24kmph. Considering the winds against us and the rain, I’d say that we did a pretty goddamn good job.
Having finished it makes me feel a lot less tolerant about excuses that people make not to take on things that they kind of want to take on, but are content to just talk about. Wanting something isn’t enough to make it real. You have to go after it!
On May 27th, 2007, five young men took to the roads with nothing but food for fuel, spirit for electricity and legs for engines. They didn’t know if they could succeed. They didn’t know if they would last. We had never before completed a 150km dress rehearsal; the closest we’d come was 93kmph, and even that day had one rider ousted by mechanical failure, and nother one limited by physical exhaustion. And, in the end, the event turned out to be about 15km longer than anticipated, with wind and bad weather to boot. As the journey went on, the direness of our conditions only worsened. It would have been easiest, at any point, to just sit on the roadside, and wait for the truck– the one that said “J’abandonne” (“I resign”) that was picking up the dead and wounded.
Yeah, it wasn’t glorious at all. It was a very dirty, gritty thing, and to be honest I completed it out of stubbornness and a gut wrenching sense of worthlessness more than out of hope or faith. On May 27th, 2007, five young men inched to the finish line.
Though, really, in having showed up at the start line, we’d already succeeded.
It was impossible at first. But we fought for it.
At the end of the day, when we were back at my garage sorting out our equipment, and everything was over, Jonathan and Jimmy exchanged some last words before heading home. Before this event, they had never met. I had trained with both of them separately, but the MC was the first time they’d ever worked together.
They said to eachother:
“It was an honor suffering 6 of rain dirt and shit with you man.”
Then they shook hands, and that was our day concluded.
So, when’s the next time you want to head out for that starting line of yours?