Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Last Chapter, Part 1

Well. This has taken far too long. I will finally finish (in instalments) the last chapter in this saga, because I have to start the first chapter in the next saga - The Ride to Conquer Cancer 2011!

Yes, Virginia, there is a sequel. But first...

Day One: Saturday, June 19, 2010

Saturday morning, very promising - scattered clouds, lots of blue sky. Guilford Mall is a sea of bikes and riders, some all ready to go, some not so ready. Lineups for the PortaPotties, the food tent. Cleats clacking on the pavement, music thumping from the PA system, speeches and cheers from the main stage.

We mill around for what seems like a long time, full of jitters, and then finally, there’s a slow surge towards the main gate and the road ahead. We all squeeze out the gate, 2,250 riders being cheered on by hundreds of supporters - bells, whistles, horns, applause, the snap of hundreds of cleats into pedals. Glorious!

Half a block down, someone is fixing a flat. Oh oh.

We snake through the streets of Surrey, a column of riders as far as you can see. Traffic control is out in force, stopping all vehicles to let our two-wheeled army pass. Some drivers are patient and cheer us on, some not so much.

Overheard (Traffic Cop to frustrated motorist): “I’m sorry ma’am, but you’re just like everyone else here…”

We finally reach the first pit stop, at the Pacific Highway Truck Crossing. The parking lot is jammed with riders, and we wonder what sort of madness awaits us at the border - we all have visions of hours of waiting but it turns out that there is a system after all, and in just under an hour we wheel up to a line of US border guards with our passports at the ready, stop for a quick check, and we’re off again.

The column of riders stretches out, and there are big gaps between groups of riders. We’re on secondary roads to the west of I-5, and the traffic control consists of the local sheriffs giving out tickets to cyclists running stop signs.

Obey All Local Traffic Signs!

After about 85 km we roll into the lunch stop in a park on Lake Padden. Bikes are everywhere. Lunch is good - pasta salad with dried tomatoes, cold grilled chicken, green salad - and gets inhaled without ceremony. A quick pee, fill up water bottles, load up pockets with munchies, on the bikes and on the road again.

We ride and ride, and then ride some more. Long stretches of rough road and headwinds take their toll - it’s starting to feel like a real slog. My back and arms are stiff, my legs are holding up except for my hamstrings which are complaining with each pedal stroke. Can’t imagine why…

And then finally, after 130 km, camp!

Camp: Edgewater Park, Mount Vernon

A sea of blue tents, rows and rows of portable toilets, a fenced-in area for the bikes, big white tents for food, medical, 2011 registration, massages, a shop, repairs, entertainment.

And line-ups - for the toilets, the showers (worth the wait!), dinner (not worth the wait), the free beer, but strangely, not for the massage tent. It turns out that they’re all booked up, so there’s no point. (Note to self - next time, upon arriving at camp, go directly to the massage tent & book a time.)

Team Napier regroups, free beers in hand, a couple of bags of ice for my knees. We’ve found our gear and tents and we settle in for a rehash of the day. It’s very festive, people sprawled out on the grass, happy that the day is over. There’s a pretty good band playing in the main tent, but nobody’s paying much attention - it’s just too nice out. The free beer runs out so Ben & Tucker head into town and come back with 3 growlers of a pretty good pale ale from Skagit River Brewery. More celebration ensues.