Just to be clear, I did the 55 km “medio” version of the ride. A small group of us started in Squamish instead of Vancouver. At the 67 km mark, we were “fed” into the ride route and did the last 55 km of the ride.
I chose to do the medio because I didn’t train and didn’t feel I could do 122 km. But I felt like my 20 km bike commute 3 times a week put me in good enough shape to do a 55 km ride. But I was nervous about my biking equipment. I don’t have a road/race bike (whatever you call it!). All I have is my 15 year-old mountain bike that I converted into a commuter bike. It would have to do.
Also, I was nervous about what is called the Fine Gara (“end of the ride”). If you get passed by the Fine Gara, you have 2 options: one is to climb into van that accompanies the Fine Gara and get a van ride up to Whistler; the other is to keep riding outside of the official “ride”, no longer having the benefit of the dedicated bike lane and having to follow normal road rules. Neither of these option were particularly consequential, but somehow, I knew it would feel like failure for me. The literature said that if you maintain an average speed of 15 km/hr, you should be able to stay within the ride, so the big question for me was whether I could maintain 15 km/hr on a predominantly uphill route. Well, I would have to do the ride to find out!
I hummed and hawed about doing this ride for a LONG time (this is probably why I never mentioned it to anyone!). I asked a couple of people if they wanted to do the ride with me, but nothing panned out. Finally, last week, I HAD to make a decision and I leaned towards doing it - yay! I registered 2 days before the ride and Brian and I had to do some hurried logistical planning. In the end, it all worked out perfectly!
It was a seemingly perfect day to do the ride, though pretty damn hot in some sections! The ride started in Vancouver at 6:45am. Our ride from Squamish started at 9:30am. Needless to say, I had a fitful sleep of nerves on Friday night in Squamish - but thanks, thanks, thanks to the Bhullar’s for putting us up at August Jack’s! It made my life (ride?) SO much easier having such a comfortable place to stay up in Squamish.
When I woke up at 7am, the first thing I thought was, “Wow. The cyclists from Vancouver have already left!”. Bri and I took our time getting up, having breakfast and making our way over to the start line. It was nice and leisurely, but I was still feeling pretty nervous underneath it all.
We parked our car beside a guy named Daryl who has done the ride every year. I asked why he was doing the medio and he said because he hadn’t trained this year. Still, he expected his time would be somewhere around the 2 hour mark. Wow. I was hoping at best to do it around the 3 hour mark! I was thinking that anyone doing the medio would be like me - not entirely geared up, not having trained, etc. I was wrong! Daryl gave me some good riding tips though; offered to check my tires, and was just generally very supportive. His reassurance definitely helped to calm my nerves. He was very enthusiastic about cycling - he had previously done this ride with his daughter, who was starting again from Vancouver. They cycled with the group sponsored by Daryl-Evans. And yes, indeed, it turns out that Daryl is THE Daryl of Daryl-Evans. Ha.
The first Vancouver riders came through Squamish around 8:45. There were 2 riders that came through first, followed a couple of minutes later by the first “peloton”. Wow. It was amazing! Just like a bike race! And the guys didn’t seem tired at all! As the second big group passed us, the lady standing beside started yelling out, “Way to go, ??? (don’t remember the name)! First girl to go past!”. Incredible. We kept our eye our for Daryl’s daughter and we eventually saw her go past. I think that made Daryl’s day.
We watched and cheered as riders passed until it was time to head to the start line. Of the 4500+ riders, there were only about 100 of us doing the medio, so it was a small start line. There was a guy from the Squamish First Nations who welcomed us to the Grand Fondue (yes, he was joking!) and he sang us a chant that wishes for a safe journey. The Mayor of Squamish said a few words and then we were off. It was a short 150m before we merged in with the rest of the ride. This was the first time that I thought, “Oh my God. I’m really doing this.”. Yikes.
Daryl said that they call the first 15 km out of Squamish the false flats. This is because it appears pretty flat, but it is really a gradual incline that can suck all your energy because you think it’s flat. On the elevation map, it seems like more than a gradual incline, so I’m glad that I had that part mentally prepared in my mind. It was a LONG drawn out uphill climb, but having started from Squamish, I was feeling pretty ok :-) BUT I can’t imagine what that would have been like already having done 70 km of a ride!
The first rest stop was only a few kms into my ride. I hadn’t planned on stopping there, but I realized as I started out that I forgot to take a puff of my inhaler. So, I made a quick stop at the Alice Lake rest stop to puff my inhaler, and then I was off again.
The ride was incredible. Really. I’ve driven the Sea to Sky highway many times and it looks completely different from a bike. I’m not really talking about the scenery - I think it’s breathtaking from car or bike - but I’m thinking more of the experience. It’s hard to explain. I imagine its the same feeling you have doing any long ride on a road you travel frequently by car. It’s just different.
And I met some motivating people along the way. The camaraderie truly added to the experience. I met Lauren who played tag with me up and down the hills. On the uphills, I would get past her, but on downhills, she would get past me. It amazed me how much faster a “good” bike could go. On the downhills, I was maxed out in a coast (i.e. if I tried to pedal going downhill, I would have to pedal like mad woman in order to increase my speed). Meanwhile, all these other cyclists would easily pass me STILL pedalling AND picking up speed! There were quite a few women, actually, that played this kind of downhill/uphill tag with me.
Anyway, Lauren said her strategy was to exert the same effort through all parts of the ride. I guess that was working well for her as she was going zippy on the downhills and not so fast on the uphills. At one point, as she was passing me, she looked at my bike and she said, “you don’t even have road (racing?) tires!”. I told her that I had one bike, it was my commuting bike and it was all I had to ride.
My bike must have made a pretty big impression because many people commented on it (and how strong my legs must be!) as they passed me. I was talking to someone about my bike and I joked that I was hoping to win the oldest bike category. Someone behind us piped in with “not if I can help it!” and this is how I met François. We rode along together for a couple of kms we talked a bit about his vintage 10-speed (yes, I said 10-speed!) Nishiki. I was somewhat humbled from my complaining about not having enough gears going downhill. He said that going uphills was killer for him! Ha. We parted ways as we started going downhill and he realized I wasn’t going to go any faster. At that point he sped ahead and said, “I guess this is the part that you were saying you have trouble going down hills!”
Besides Lauren and François, I talked to countless people along the way. Whether it was a short conversation about something bike or ride related or whether it was just a passing word of encouragement, every little interaction brought me closer and closer to the finish line. And not only were there words of encouragement from riders, but there were many people along the side of highway cheering us on. It was pretty awesome. Somewhere in the middle of nowhere, a guy had set up his drums and was drumming to encourage riders on. People were holding up signs to cheer on family members or friends, but they cheered everyone else on as they went past. It made me feel quite proud to be doing the ride.
I would say that my low point was when I was about 35 km into the ride. I had just passed the last rest stop and the sign saying that there was 20 km to go. I had to keep reminding myself that it was only one bike ride home from work to get to the finish line. This helped but I had to keep saying it. I know there were a few times where it felt like I zoned out on my bike. I was blankly staring at the few metres ahead of my front tire with my legs mechanically pedalling on their own. I had to remind myself not to zone out or I had to take a gulp of water to get my head back.
There were 8 kms to go when we entered Whistler. I swear, it was the longest 8 km of my life! It took forever to get from Function Junction to Creekside and even MORE forever to get from Creekside to the Village! I remember when I passed the main Creekside intersection, all I could think was, “Really?! I haven’t passed Creekside yet?!”. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only cyclist feeling this through Whistler. There are many little up and down hills in that last 8 km and not only did I feel myself doing a lot of gear-shifting, but I could hear a lot of gear-shifting going on around me!
Only when I made the right turn into Whistler Village did I really feel like the end of the ride was close enough to taste. But I still made sure I didn’t over exert myself because I really WAS worried that I would fall off my bike! As I made the final left turn and saw the finish “line” in the distance, I heard a voice say, “Way to go, Yvette! You did it!”. I turned and saw Brian cheering me on. That gave me my final burst of energy I needed to get to the finish line - 55 kms and 2 hours and 51 minutes after I started in Squamish. Phew!
At the finish line, I ran into some of the cyclists I encountered through the ride, including Daryl and François, and we exchanged congratulations. Everyone truly inspired me. I have a couple of friends who did the whole ride from Vancouver to Whistler, but I never ran (rode?) into them along the way. Congratulations to N and M. You guys are my heroes!
But at the end of the day, as I am mildly sore but well-rested, all my thanks go to Bri. He was my amazing support system and I am deeply indebted to him for making all the plans for getting the kids looked after (Thanks, Nana!) and getting me up to Squamish and back down from Whistler. He was also my cheering section both in Squamish and in Whistler. I don’t think I could have done the ride without his support. Thank-you, Bri. You are awesome!
Now the big question remains: am I going to do the full Gran Fondo next year?! Ha. I’m undecided and I’m glad that I have at least a few months to make up my mind!
P.S. I almost forgot to mention: the one irritating thing about the whole ride was when I went online to see my ride results, it turns out that they got my name wrong! I appear as Shannon Van Dop. Shannon?! Really?! It’s not even close to Yvette! Oh well. Congrats to you, Shannon!