Just six days after the Valley GranFondo I found myself at the Fairhaven Village Green in Bellingham, lining up with 457 other cyclists to set out on a 170km/105 mile ride around Whatcom County.
I hadn’t really given much thought to riding two imperial centuries in six days. I figured I’d take it extremely easy after the Fondo, rest my legs, and all would be well. In practice, it didn’t quite work out like that. I’m working out of a different location, which means my basic commute has doubled to 24km. I also had some site visits to wrap up that doubled that distance on a couple of days. I suppose I could have taken the car to give myself a break, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.
And so I arrived in Bellingham with legs that still felt like jello after the big push for the sub-six hour finish in Fort Langley. My quads had been whimpering and quivering after some of the hills on my work rides; I really had no idea how I was going to force them through 170km. At the back of my mind I did note that I’d just made the ride more challenging for myself, and perhaps that wasn’t a bad thing. I like challenges.
The Tour de Whatcom certainly provided plenty of motivation. We span out of Fairhaven at 7.30am, and the first part of the ride took us up and down rolling, forested hills past lakes that glittered in the soft morning sun. My legs felt the way they usually do at the end of a long, hard workout, but I focused on the beautiful scenery and tried to push them to the back of my mind. Every now and then reality would intrude and I’d realise that I still had a minimum of six hours to ride to get to the finish, and contemplate how completely impossible that seemed.
It was an exceptionally friendly pack of cyclists, and I had fun spotting other Canada jerseys as the group spread out (I’d worn mine specially as this was my first organized ride in the States.) The rest stops were fantastic. The selection of food was great and I wolfed bagels with peanut butter and nutella at every one, determined to provide my weary legs with as much fuel as I could. Volunteers were waiting to grab my water bottle and offer protein bars the second I stepped off the bike. My only small gripe was that the first rest stop only offered three bathrooms, and the wait to use one while I was there was nearly 15 minutes.
There were some more stunning mountain views near Deming, but the stretch through the farmlands from Lynden to Blaine didn’t have quite the same visual distraction. The ride did flatten out considerably here, but strong, warm headwinds kept my moving speed lower than I’d hoped. I just kept pushing on. Blaine was the make or break: I was sure that if I could just make it there, I’d be good to finish the ride. My cycle computer had broken so I didn’t have a strong sense of exactly where I was, and that part seemed to go on for an inordinately long time.
Rolling into Blaine and glimpsing the ocean ahead was pretty magical. Under a wide-open sky it was the shade of blue you normally only see in photoshopped tourism images, and the slightly cooler breeze coming off it seemed to give my legs new strength. I pedaled right back up to 30km/h and pulled two cyclists behind me almost the whole way to Birch Bay.
From the moment we hit the ocean, I was able to get lost in the views again. After leaving Birch Bay State Park we swung onto Mountain View Road, and Baker appeared on the horizon. Pedaling toward the mountain that has always loomed so large in my imagination, seeing those glaciated slopes outlined against the deep blue sky, I felt like I could keep going forever. My favourite moment of the entire ride was the big hill down to Ferndale that pitched us directly toward the mountain. I thought of future ski tours, and the punishment my quads had taken in the past six days suddenly made perfect sense.
I was lucky enough to ride into Bellingham with a couple of cyclists who knew the route, which saved me from getting completely lost on the final stretch. It was slow going through the traffic lights, but by this point I knew the end was within touching distance. Cheerleaders were waiting to dance us home as we swung around the very last bend. I pulled over, unclipped from my pedals, and carried my bike to a spot where I could finally collapse in a heap on the grass and wait for my friends from Seattle to come and find me.
In spite of the terrible state of my legs, the Tour de Whatcom was an amazing ride (definitely not a race) and I had a fantastic time. I look forward to riding again in 2014.
And then the following day I headed out to Chillwack for the Slow Food Cycle Tour and pedaled a very leisurely 30km around beautiful farms with some of our favourite friends. I did switch to the downhill bike, which probably didn’t do my quads any favours (it’s really not very efficient to pedal) but did spare my saddle-sore butt.
I’ll be the first to admit that I have some OCD issues around numbers. I can’t finish any workout on an uneven number; if I set out to ride a certain distance, I absolutely have to meet or pass that goal. So when I got back from Chilliwack and realised that I was just 11km away from riding 500km in a week for the first time ever there was only one thing to do. I hung up the downhill bike, pulled out the Bad Boy, and rode as fast as I possibly could along the westside beaches, up the UBC hill, and home. My final mileage was 502km, which felt like a huge, huge achievement. Strangely, my wiped out legs didn’t seem to mind that last ride at all.
It will be a very long time before I have a cycling week to match this one.