Whatcom Wamble 300km Brevet
I’ve done this before. Waking up just after 4 a.m. on a day where I will ride the longest ride of my life. Last July, I was waking up for the High Cascades 100 in Bend, OR which was part of the National Ultra Endurance mountain bike race series. Nine and a half hours after the race started I crossed the finish line. I was covered in sweat and a thick layer of dust and everything hurt. I mean it! Everything! My head to my toes including my skin. Pain. Everywhere! So, on the morning of my 300 k.m. brevet I knew what I could possibly be in for. Nonetheless, I wasn’t as nervous as last year and I was eager to get going.
You may be wondering what that word meant: “brevet”. It’s a term used to describe a randonneur bike ride... Stay with me! This won’t turn in to a French lesson! Randonneur cycling is different compared to more popular styles of bicycle races. For starters, it isn’t a race. Randonneur “brevets” must be completed by following exact directions given by the ride organizer and within a certain amount of time. Controls are put along the route; riders must initial and time stamp their control card upon arriving at each one. The time limit is generally set to an average 15km/h speed. Some participants use these events as long distance touring and others will challenge themselves to complete larger distances and faster times. My goal was to complete the ride as quickly as I could. Not to ride as fast as possible, but to COMPLETE the ride and not dilly daddle.
Before I knew it I had put my bike together, received my control card and I was rolling away from Marina Park in Fort Langley, B.C. A group of about 32 riders, all my senior, rode out and shortly I was in a group of six of quicker riders. We rode together zig-zagging the side roads near Highway 1 until we reached the Sumas border crossing. The border guards and cyclists alike all had a good chuckle when the question “What is the reason for your visit?” was asked and the subsequent reaction to the answer “riding our bikes 300km’s”.
Now in the U.S. we were into the meat of the ride. South Pass Road was where the route would take us on our first real climb. The group of six was split into to two groups with me and another rider named Chad off the front. Chad and I continued chit chatting as the kilometers clicked along. Being that there were so many kilometers to ride there were often long gaps of silence. It is nice to get a little banter going to keep things lively and loose. That said, moments of silence are just fine. I’d rather just enjoy the ride ride and not have to force conversation. Generally, these moments of silence occur as the road’s grade inclines. When the incline gets even steeper there is a point where I become very strongly focused. Even steeper? Laser-like focus. There is no past, there is no future. There is only now, only my breath, my heartbeat and my muscles that are moving me forward.
The next uphill grind was on Silver Lake Road and a section of Mount Baker Highway. It wasn’t too steep but it was fairly long. You could even say most sections of it were “false flats”. For the layman, a false flat is when, to your eyes, the road appears to be level but your sore legs and labored breath tell you that, in fact, there is an incline. Normal leg and lung function aside, my body was also telling me that it was having some difficulty processing the large breakfast I inhaled before leaving home earlier. It wasn’t until I reached the Graham Market on Mount Baker Highway that I, um, “relieved” that problem. With my bib shorts back up along with all the layers I had to remove to access the bib shorts I was back on my way with Chad and now Peter.
The next climb was on Mosquito Lake Road. Before turning on to the road we had reached the 100k mark. I exclaimed to Chad, and Peter: “Woo hoo! We’re one third of the way there!” The reactions were pleasant although not as jubilant as mine. The climb was relatively less miserable than the last since I was no longer worried about my digestion issues. At this point I said to myself: “Your bike is fine, your body is fine, you have no excuses, you MUST finish!” I go back and forth from chit-chatting to laser-focus-zen mode. “Breathe calmly; get nice and low; smooth and efficient with the pedal stroke…” I wasn’t talking to myself saying these things. It’s just how I can describe that focus when the pace or the incline ramp up.
The next control was the Alger Food Mart located on Old Highway 99. The store was something out of a movie. It was dark, had three-high shelves that were about four feet high sparsely sprinkled with random items; chips, cookies, toilet paper, but to my surprise, no ammo. Darn. It smelled like cigarette smoke and I shortly discovered the source when the clerk’s raspy voice instructed me how to find the washroom after she had cleared a thick, phlegmy cough.
As Chad and I rounded Lake Samish and entered Bellingham light sprinkles turned into showers. Once we arrived in the heart of Bellingham the showers turned into a downpour. Fenders and rain jackets kept us from being completely miserable even though my gloves were soaked and my fingers were barely functionning. Bicycle fenders are designed to keep the rider dry. Cyclists who often ride in groups and in the rain will make or purchase fender extenders, or “frienders”. They keep the stream of water coming off of the tire from spraying the rider behind them. Chad’s “friender” was... almost adequate. This left me drafting him slightly off to the side or with my head tilted out of the spray. I saw it as a minor inconvenience. Chad is a big man and I barely had to pedal when he was ahead of me. He most definitely dragged my carcass around a lot! I’ll take a little spray in exchange.
Chad’s draft was most noticeable on Lummi Shore Road. At this point we were at over 200k into the ride with “moderate” headwinds. When you’ve been riding that long and you’re riding into a 40km/h headwind it feels like you’re in a hurricane. The wind was strong enough for an osprey to literally hover in one spot over the shore of Bellingham Bay. I watched it as it scanned for what I could only think was its lunch. The osprey and I even made very brief eye contact. “MMM! No. Too big.”, the bird must have thought. Biting off more than you can chew... Yeah, I can relate buddy.
Once we got out of the wind Chad must have made the stronger effort because I started to pull ahead. A large enough gap opened up to lose visual contact with him. I charged ahead and figured we could rendez vous at the Pacific Border Crossing. I knew the end was in sight and at this point I just wanted the ride to be over. Before splitting with Chad our conversation revolved mainly about which part of our bodies hurt. Remember what I said about everything hurting?
The border crossing was the “30k to go” mark. I had waited for several minutes but Chad didn’t show up. Hoping he was ok I continued on. Time to return to that zen mode. I gave a very strong time trial like effort for the last chunk of the ride. The following in an excerpt from what was happening in my brain from the border to Fort Langley:
- “Ow, my foot’s cramping”.
- “Shut up, keep pedaling!”
- “Argh, I have to pee!”
- “Shut up and pedal! You’re almost there!”
- “I’m almost out of water!”
- Who cares you fool! There’s beer at the finish!”
Almost twelve hours after leaving the same spot I arrived at the Fort Pub to find the ride organizer Barry Chase. I was internally elated, but super cool externally. Barry congratulated me on my accomplishment, I gave him my control card, he gave me the coveted 300km brevet pin and that was it. No finish line celebration, no podium, no champagne, no stuffed animals, no flowers, no large novelty cheques. You don’t become a randonneur for the glory. There is none. Satisfaction of completing a lofty goal is what you get.
I’d like to thank a few people for helping, encouraging, and supporting me: Chad Coates whose draft pulled me over a ridiculous distance. Chad, you’re a machine! My dad Keith for having “leant” me his Brodie Romax... eight months ago. I’ve since put about 4,500 km on it. Thanks dad, I’m in the best shape of my life now! Finally, my fiancée Samantha for putting up with me spending so much time out on my bike. At this point I think I owe her ten thousand foot rubs, five hundred painted toe nails, and a few fancy dinners.
Alex Dove - @Adove