It took this year’s Valley Fondo to make me realise just what rough shape I was in when I pushed through illness to complete the ride last year. I signed up for a second year running because I wanted the chance to ride the route properly fueled and without battling nausea and crippling stomach pain. Everything aligned almost perfectly this time around, although once again any thoughts I had of a training plan fell by the wayside thanks to the (now much improved) shoulder impingement.
I arrived at Fort Langley early enough that the air was still cool, although the rising sun promised another scorching day to come. As we gathered to the beat of a Kwantlen First Nations drum at the start line, helicopters swung low overhead to film our departure. We headed out of town through fields draped with lingering traces of groundmist, the air growing warmer with each inch that the sun crept through the sky above us.
The kilometres unfurled incredibly fast. Before I knew it we were away from the trees and the rolling, curving roads, and spinning along the long stretch of Avenue Zero with soft blue mountains lining the horizon and the snowy peak of Baker rising above them all. As the border markers rolled by and my wheel tracked that invisible line between Canada and the States I thought again about how incredibly lucky I am to be living this life, to have escaped the cramped confines of the country where I was born for these immense, beautiful landscapes.
The road took us on through Sumas Prairie, dipping in every now and again to kiss the forested foothills before swinging back out through farmlands and homesteads whose water sprinklers coated them with droplets that sparkled like diamonds. It was toward the latter part of this section that I missed a turn and headed straight on for a couple of kilometres before realising that the intersections were no longer marked and I was clearly off the route. A quick check on the website and cross-reference with Google maps and I was able to backtrack and get myself back on course. Initially I assumed that it was my own fault for being too absorbed by the scenery, but on the way back I ran into a number of cyclists who’d made the exact same error which suggested a signage issue. In the bigger scheme of things the detour was just more beautiful riding and I didn’t really mind it, but I was a little bummed that it looked to have blown my chances of a sub-six hour finish.
As we swung toward Sumas Mountain the hot headwinds found us, draining energy and sapping legs that had already carried us 100km and had the hardest climb still to come. I’d hoped to significantly improve my hill climb time from last year since that’s normally one of my strengths, but in the sweltering heat I ended up taking it slow and steady.
The descent on the far side of the mountain was everything I’d remembered: tree-lined, beautifully cool compared to the beating sun on the open road, fast, curving, and fun. With just the length of a regular ride out to Iona and back I thought I was on the home stretch after that, but the heat and the way I’d been pushing my untrained legs were starting to take a toll and I could see my overall speed gradually lagging.
The last aid station provided a welcome boost, and as I reached the final 10km I realised that I was still in with a remote shot at breaking the 6 hour mark…provided I could keep my speed at 30km/hr+ for the entire remaining distance. The last part of the ride is a long, flat stretch of road beside the wide expanse of the Fraser River, and I gritted my teeth and spun the pedals until my bike computer registered the magic number. A couple of times it dipped back down and I dug deep and forced my weary quads to spin just a little bit harder. I reminded myself of the year before, when at this stage of the ride I’d been in a state of complete physical breakdown. When I span around the final corner, sweat-soaked, overheated, and totally exhausted, I saw the finish line just ahead and broke into an enormous grin.
I caught a glimpse of the official clock saying 6:01 as I rolled over the line, which meant I was absolutely on the cusp of the sub-six hour finish that I wanted. I knew I’d crossed the start line at least a minute after the actual start of the race, but not much more than that. I grabbed a very welcome cold towel and picked up my lunch from the White Spot tent, then called J while I wolfed my burger and downed a couple of bottles of water. It was only after that that I thought to check Sportstats, and discovered I’d not only beaten the six hour mark by just fourteen seconds (official chip time 5:59:46), I’d finished third in my age category. A great result to cap a fantastic day out on the bike.