Monday, 27 November 2006

Tim Brezsnyak

I’d always been a motivated recreational cyclist, from my earliest days on a bike as a kid, I’d known that I suffered The Addiction. I carried the promise to myself that after the self imposed priorities of university and CFA were completed, thus liberating my spring’s, I was going to try AT LEAST ONE mountain bike race. At that time, I didn’t know if the intensity of racing would enhance or ruin my favourite hobby.

Funny as it sounds, I had no idea how to go about getting myself into a bike race. My buddy’s room mate worked at Bow Cycle, so one afternoon when I was picking up some bike parts at the shop, I walked found Kevin at the shop and said I wanted to try racing. The words felt strange rolling off my tongue. How would this sound to Kevin, who I’d only known as an acquaintance. Was I coming across as someone who thought I had something to prove by lining up toe to toe with racers who knew what they were doing when I didn’t have a clue? Fortunately, Kevin didn’t sense any of my introspective self doubt. He asked if I wanted to do mountain or road racing. I said I’d probably try mountain biking.

“No problem, call Tim Brezsnyak. He’s a deadgoat.” Brezs-ny-ak stuck in my mind right away, as did deadgoat. He didn’t even think for a second before making the recommendation… It was like “oh, you have a headache? Here, take two aspirin.” I get a phone number on a slip of paper and head home. I wonder what I’m getting myself into with directions to contact an organization called deadgoats. How do I explain this to anyone I know? I decided I better keep it on the down-low until I figure out what it’s all about. Apparently Tim had the answer to what I’d been craving for the first 21 years of my life. To say I was excited was an understatement.

I cold call Tim, who obviously didn’t know me from a hole in the ground. It felt like I was calling a dealer, other than the fact I stated my name up front. “Hi Tim, my name is Erik Bakke. I got your number from a guy at Bow. I want to try mountain bike racing.” As odd as it felt from my end to call a stranger, it didn’t phase Tim a bit. 5 years later, I understand completely.

Unfortunately that’s a long winded introduction to a story that’s supposed to be about Tim. As I came to know, Tim is a people person. In fact, he defines “people person” in my mind like Dallas defines "big engine”. As it turns out, I still picture Tim as a bit of a dealer – his product is mountain biking. He was the first guy I ever knew, other than my dad, that liked bikes “that much”. Maybe in retrospect I had some sort of misconception of adults, but bikes are, you know, kids toys. I thought I was odd in my obsession, or maybe it was just a family thing. Discovering that “there were others” was comforting. We talked for a while – where club rides were, how to actually join the club, how you had to pay for an ABA license, etc. Conversing with Tim, as complete strangers, was incredibly easy. That’s just the kind of guy he is, and now I know why his calling in life was to be el Presidente of a bike club. I didn’t really care about the details, I just wanted to show up with a cheque and start riding with people. Conveniently, the first club ride I went on was only 15 minutes from my house through Bowmont slopes, featuring the trail Sideshow. I’d ridden sideshow a lot as a kid, so I had some comfort going into the ride. We’re scheduled to meet in a parking lot nearby, and I do my best to show up early. I didn’t know who I was meeting, but presumably bikes would be the identifier. It turns out Tim was the first guy I run into. He’s pulling something out of his truck I’d never conceived of before – a single speed. I didn’t know what to think. I had BMX bikes when I was a kid… but this was confusing. I wanted to get into serious biking, not kid shit. Other people started showing up… and to be honest I forget who else was there. I’m not particularly good with names, I was nervous, and this single speed thing was really trippin’ me out.

To reach Sideshow from the Montgomery Safeway, you have to climb Home Road. On a world scale, Home Road is nothing but a little blip. But on the local, kid growing up in the area sense, it’s a big hill that’s got a kicker of a grade to it. I shift down a gear or two on approach, and look over to see Tim standing on the pedals. Halfway up the hill, I’m breathing pretty damn hard just to keep up, and this is “just” the club ride. A few years later experience teaches me that you just gotta climb at a certain speed on a SS bike, but it didn’t dawn on me then. We coast down to the start of Sideshow, and Tim stands to climb up to the elevation of the traverse. I make a point of riding behind him, and notice he’s got a stylized red goat skull tattoo on his calf. Not just any calf, mind you. It’s a single speeder’s calf. Cyclists are bone, muscle and smiles. This calf said he was no rookie. The traverse has lots of rollers, and he’s cruising them so smooth - just blasting up the little inclines. I’m working super hard to keep up. Before we get to the first natural regroup spot, my mind is clear – this is badass, this is for real. These are the kind of mountain bikers I need to learn from. I’ve just met a stranger with a deadgoat tattoo who’s blasting off on a bike with one gear. He’s smiling continually, there’s no social barrier with this guy.

Tim mostly mountain bikes, and much of it is done on single speed. After one of my favourite road trips of all time, down to Colorado for some late summer riding, I felt I’d be in great shape for the 2004 edition of the Bow 80 mountain bike race. Underneath it all I probably was in good shape for it, but the one downside to the road trip was I got the worst food poisoning of my life, from Denver’s upscale “Little Russian Restaurant”. One of the egg salad type appetizers wasn’t freshly made daily as claimed, promptly sending me to my first ever encounter with Salmonella. Took a while to bounce back from that episode, the only lasting memory of which is that I learned the true meaning of the word delirium. I returned to Calgary, fully intending to use my two weeks of Colorado riding to put in a decent performance at the Bow 80. All was going decently well, until about the ¾ point, where my stomach decided that the pains of Salmonella weren’t really all that far behind, and this mountain bike race was getting a little long. It decided that endless digestion of bike based energy foods was a little monotonous, and more or less ceased to do so. Naturally my pace slowed down to the lower threshold, just above bonking while puttering home without really eating. Memories formed in times of distress lay themselves fairly deep, and to this day I remember clearly when I head Tim’s voice behind me, asking how I was doing. I think my response was something along the lines of “I’ve had better moments”. Misery loves company, and although I don’t think Tim was miserable at all, I think the “I’ve had better moments” description was also indicative of that point for various reasons. He said not to worry, we’re almost there and we can just ride in together. Partnership in riding is like magic. If left to my own devices I probably would have slowed, slowed, and slowed some more, with the eventuality of crawling to the finish. Having a wheel to focus on redirects mental efforts, pain becomes secondary to the task of not losing the lifeline. We didn’t chat much, but that was mainly my fault. Tim chatted to everyone around us, and I just tagged along and listened. That’s how little it can take to help out, and how much it can mean.

Encouragement feels just as good on the up days as well. Coming into the last 500 meters of TransRockies 2006, Dallas and I were hammering along a brief stretch of residential pavement at the Panorama mountain village before climbing up the bunny hill and coasting to the finish. We were cognizant of a pair of Brits who we’d been riding near for at least the last hour of the stage. Unfortunately, on a slight decline in the pavement, we started hammering and missed the subtly marked left turn up the bunny hill. It only took about 20m to notice, but as we u-turned and retraced our path, we faced straight at the Brits. We made our right hand turn up the bunny slope only 5 seconds ahead of them making the correct left hand turn on first attempt. Right away, they started jeering us, probably in good spirit. “We’re right on your tail boys, I bet your hearts are pumping now!” The bunny slope was about 100m long, grassy, and turned out to be an all out VO2 max test during the final 2 minutes of 7 days of mountain bike racing. Hearing the Brits made Dallas turn on the throttle up to 11. My cadence was probably around 100rpm, and I think I popped off 6 gear changes on that slope. Head down and heart ready to explode after 50m, I suddenly hear loud, louder, yelling words of encouragement from a voice I recognize. It’s Tim of course, and Tracy too! I don’t for the life of me remember what they were saying, but it put the searing of my lungs and legs in 2nd place, just for those few moments. At risk of pointing out the blatantly obvious, Dallas isn’t easy to keep up with on an all out finish. My only claim to fame that day was that I was near enough behind to hear him breathing, and he was working it. I actually didn’t know we were that close to the end, ski hill finishes worry me cause there’s always the threat of a little extra “bonus climb” before finishing. As it turns out, Tim and Tracy were there at just the right point to keep me one step ahead of the pain. As luck would have it, it was our best day of the 7, finishing coincidentally in 7th overall. The mile of climbing was hard, but I resolved to keep my fingers off the brakes on the way down. It’s worth pointing out that the primary reason they were there wasn’t at all to support Dallas or I. The last day of TransRockies is capped off with a huge party. Mountain bikers and a party are the magic mixture for Tim and Tracy!

Lately I’ve been road biking for the most part, or road racing anyway, so my riding overlap with Tim has been a little on the low side. Having said that, I’ve resolved to do more single speeding over time, although there’s a few shorter term goals I’d like to pick off first. In fact, Tim’s helping me look for a deal on a new single speed at the moment… hope all turns out well.

Sunday, 26 November 2006

Dallas Morris

Other than possibly shaking hands once with George Hincapie, and a chance French Alps introduction to Kevin Livinstone, Dallas Morris is the highest horsepower cyclist I know. “Big engine” is a term often used in cycling speak, and to me Dallas defines the term. I’ve independently verified the story that he melted two budget oriented trainers at Bow Cycle’s off season spin sessions a year or two ago. To continue the spin sessions, they guilted him into purchasing a more sturdy model of his own. But along with his power comes a little bit of weight. On the provincial level this doesn’t interfere with his competitiveness, nor does it on obvious climbing events like the Revelstoke hill climb. Dallas makes an effort to maintain his, uhh, fuel stores by eating as much as I’ve ever seen anyone eat. Without much exaggeration, I’m sure that after TransRockies stages I’d witness that guy eating upwards of 8,000 calories. I have a sneaking feeling that at 160lbs this guy might do more than a little riding on the other side of the pond, and maybe at anything under 180lbs he’d have a few more wins around home, instead of chasing around Tim Heemskerk, our local ass-kicker extra-ordinaire.

When I first met Dallas, he was a guy who showed up to the Tuesday Nigh Hammer Rides occasionally, lacking the typical svelte cycling figure, and often… uhh… smelling like he didn’t know to throw the cycling clothes through the wash very often. He rode with zero sense of self preservation that a roadie usually employs on a group ride, every pull he took made me redline. If someone was wimping out on a pull, he’d pull out of the pace line, make his way up to the front, and turn on the jets, forcing everyone to pick up the pace. Mid-engine riders take “normal” pulls, leaving themselves painfully near near threshold when done, and while doing their best not to show any outward signs of exertion, secretly relish the sight of the next rider pulling through to give them some rest. Not Dallas. I recall one Tuesday Night Hammer Ride during the summer of 2006, where during the last 10k approaching Calgary’s outskirts, a moment of satisfaction crossed my mind that I was one of 3 riders left in the lead group. I was hanging on tooth and nail, evidenced by the fact that I was replaced within 10 seconds of assuming a pull by the other guys who’d hammer it out for a minute. Dallas was hell bent on training himself into the ground, and was pushing me near aneurysm stage. With his mass, flat or downhill riding is his place to shine, and this is exactly the terrain we were on. I’m riding tight on his wheel, milking the draft for all it’s worth. Eventually my sense of dignity engages, so I pull out to the left to attempt to demonstrate that I’m still worthy enough a rider to be in the group. I shift down a gear and accelerate, hoping I can generate at least a 30 second pull. Dallas of course pulls one of his subtle tricks, which we’ll chalk up to something less than but remotely akin to altruism: he’s just trying to make us as fit as he can. He accelerates with me. We’re drag racing for the right to pull. I try one more futile acceleration, but my body has much firmer plans of blowing up at that point. I coast off to the side, and use the 3 remaining pedal strokes of power left in me to jump back into the draft. There’s only three of us left, so if there’s going to be a roation, it’s gonna be Devin “6th gear” Erfle heading up to the front. Devin shifts over to the left and accelerates. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was. Dallas appears hell bent on riding himself to the limit, and decides to drag race Devin too. To state a few obvious points here – a) Dallas has been pulling, b) Dallas just drag raced me (ok, not a huge challenge), and c) Devin has been drafting for a few minutes. This one works out in Dallas’ favour. We finish off the last 300m of straightaway and transition into the final roller that signifies the end of the ride. I’m drafting in 3rd, and have nothing left for a hill sprint, I’m just the closest spectator at this point. Devin’s a hill monster, so I’m just waiting for the showdown. Knowing a calculated hill attack was coming, some riders may chose to ease up and play it out track style, hoping to have legs for a jump. Dallas, not a practitioner of subtle tactics, prefers not to take an attack lying down. A third of the way up Dallas starts full on, big ring, hands in the drops sprinting, shouting “BRING IT ON MOTHERFUCKERS”. Devin puts it in 6th gear, and after a few seconds of acceleration, nips Dallas on the last few meters of the hill. I’m suffering serious anaerobic burn, but am grinning at the chance to have witnessed the showdown.

Tuesday Night Hammers are for suffer training, pure and simple. Collectively, our friends, family, wives, co-workers, etc. wonder why on earth we bolt at 5:30 sharp to make a 6pm to sundown in any weather every Tuesday night, coming home in varying combinations of bonked, sore and exhausted. It’s pure freedom, pure stress release, pure pain. It’s animalistic, no backing down alpha-male competition. They’re harder than any road race on the circuit. It’s like Fight Club, but on two wheels. In Dallas’ world, this means the more pain, the better.

Naturally, Dallas is too powerful a rider for me to keep up with for long, but as circumstance had it, we ended up doing TransRockies 2006 together. Through thick and thin it was a pretty good time, and although we didn't impress the world with our (my!) result, we survived.

Well, before this gets too long, here’s a few concluding thoughts. Just like dogs and their owners having similarities, Dallas and his Ford truck have a lot in common. Overpowered, overweight, and suited mainly for off road.

And I’ve discovered why at the end of it all I like the guy. He’s a true Norwegian at heart, going all the way back to Nels Nelson, a famous ski jumper. It’s the sport of choice for many a Norwegian, including the modern day Bill Bakke, who made a career of it. And as Dallas says, undoubtedly Nels prayed for the blessing of Ulls, as does he. I’d have to admit I do to in my own way, and I’m not the first of my family to do so… you see Bakke means hill, but back when immigration was the thing to do, the town in northern Wisconsin that some square headed Amundsen’s decided to call home already had an Amundsen family living there… so being practical they used their knowledge of the alphabet and picked a name starting with a B – Bakke, which is “hill” in the mother tongue.

Does anyone else know any other Amundsen’s who didn’t fear a little winter weather? Well if the name isn’t on the tip of your tongue, already, it’s Roald. Roald, armed with 2 years of rations and 97 greenland dogs, sort of spontaneously decided he’d head for the south pole, since someone else had just made it to the north pole. I don’t even know if there’s any direct lineage, but a little bit of the spirit keeps me going…

Investment Banker on a Bike

Since graduating university (and even slightly before), I've been employed as an investment banker. At first, it was just that - I had found an investment banking job.

6 years in, at the Vice President level, I can say that the transformation has been somewhat fulfilled. Now I am an investment banker; investment banking has permeated all aspects of my life. I'm relatively impatient at reaching conclusions, I scowl upon ineptitude, I process most of what life presents me through a fairly analytical set of processes, and my cash burn rate has steadily increased. These are just a few of the numerous implications, but the one I'll elaborate on is a greater appreciation for "time is money". The opposite of which is "money is time". So if I want to buy myself more recreation time, I spend a few dollars to open up times for recreation which I didn't possibly consider.

Investment Banking, in my capacity, involves providing corporations with basically two products: raising of equity financing (selling shares from treasury) and related input on capital structure decisions, and merger and acquisition advice (which again incorporates the ability to raise equity around such proposed M&A activity).

For reasons I've tried to communicate (not justify) to friends and family for many years, these two activities often are performed outside of what most people consider "a normal workweek". For the most part, this doesn't bother me too much, although it is a hindrance to cycling performance.

Given that the hours I have outside the office are precious and few, coupled with the fact that the hours I do have outside the office aren't usually my choice, I've created some changes in my perception of recreation time.

My time outside the office may be cold, wet, hot, windy or often times dark. It may be in other cities, accompanied by any of the above conditions. And on top of that, I don't want to show up to races or group rides droning on about how much my riding time or ability to train and therefore my expected performance all suck. Does it suck not having control? Occasionally, but that's my choice. I don't like listening to people who complain about things that suck that are entirely within their control to change (clients??). So I generally try to refrain. If you're one of my fellow riders and catch me doing so, feel free to reference my stated opinion as above to a) shut me up, and b) remind me I'm supposed to be more positive.

Erik's Investment Banking Career Inspired Bicycling Philosophy*

Do not let weather, season, or time of day affect your cycling schedule.

Observation phase:
Look outside and determine the riding situation you're faced with. You'll easily percieve the unique challenges that present themself, and likely discover more while you're out riding. Prepare to the best of your ability, then head out for your ride without asking questions or whining. Undoubtedly, new challenges will arise. Make mental note of them. This is usually quite easy, ie. "my toes are frozen and I want to cry when I get home and the blood flow returns while I'm in the hot shower."

Adaptation phase:
Think about how to keep your feet warmer. Maybe rely on proverbs, and wear a toque? Consider more breathable socks? How about some heavier or more breathable shoe covers? Maybe shoes designed for cool weather riding? If all else fails, try additional heat sources.

Drop by Mountain Equipment Co-op or your local bike shop. Cash cost of items to keep you cycling is known to be irrelevant once you figure in health and social benefits, so bring lots of moolah. You will find available for your consumption such things as: rain jackets, rain booties, rain helmet covers, and fenders. You will also find warm gloves, toques, bala-clavas, shoes, tights, jersys, and little chemical or combustion based warming devices. Further available are lights, snowtires, and other useful hardgoods, such as chocolate bars, and various models of the Leatherman, perfect for self amputation of frozen toes.

Really that's about it, just keep repeating the cycle. What good is a $5,000 bike when it can only be ridden for a quarter of the year, when an extra $1,000 will let you ride it all year?

*Conveniently applicable to other careers and hobbies.

Just for confirmation, I don't really enjoy being cold, wet, or any in any other stage of discomfort more than anyone else. I don't ride much when I'm not comfortable. In the winter I ride in town, so I can always duck into a coffee shop or stop by a friend's place. Tim Horton knew Canada can be chilly at times, so he began serving hot beverages that are Always Fresh. You haven't lived until you've sat down for chili in a bread bowl when your core temperature was only 35C, and experienced the sheer pleasure that food warming your core can provide. I don't want to freeze when I'm out. But once I'm out, I often find I'm not really that uncomfortable. Never in history have we had so many wonder textiles and products available to us to aide the enjoyment of the outdoors. Without a hint of exaggeration, I'll point out that the socks I was wearing yesterday while riding in -20C had three patents. Once I saw that label, I knew I had to have them. If you recall tobogganing when you were 7 years old and come home with cold feet, it's cause you were probably wearing P-O-S cotton socks, not the latest NASA designed triple patented pair. We live in a rich society, and wherever a perceived or real problem exists, someone has tried to address it with science. Soft windproof garments are the latest push in the last year or two, and they're ridiculously practical.

And yes, although "all bike, all the time" has been known to be a fixture of my lexicon, other activities should be included wherever possible. It's just that when sharing one car with Tori, biking is still my second best mode alternate mode of transportation (truthfully, it's the Best Mode of Transportation Know to Human Kind, but we are talking specifically about Canadian winter here). Sure beats the petrie dish we call public transit. Bike clothes, ski clothes, XC ski clothes, hiking clothes, all overlap enough to be useful in many situations.

I've heard in the last 3 days how much the cold sucks from people on the train, my barber, my neighbour, my co-workers, etc. This is Canada, and it's inevitably going to get cold. You've just had 6 months to hit the rummage sales to prepare for it. Complaining about the cold is for the inferior, such as people from Toronto or California.

Make the best of it!

Tuesday, 21 November 2006

Three Strikes and I'm Out

My coughing evenings have been spent mostly on collecting a few thoughts for the biking friends writeups I'm working on... which isn't a quick task. It'll endeavour to answer questions that nobody is asking! Namely: what impact has (insert cyclist name here) had on Erik? These may differ from your self image, forcing criticism to rain down upon me. Or you may feel flattered. At least when I'm old, senile and have only short term memory, I can read about each of you every day, and feel like I'm always meeting new people.

But as I ponder cycling friends, I see Dallas has raised some interesting points in his comment. Dallas and I are more alike than he likes to admit... speaking ones mind is just one of them, not being embarrased to put it out for scrutiny... like a mental nudist.

Strike 1
Sure I'm too verbose. But I'm recording my memories as much as anything. One of these days I may even drone on at length about how I've battled the Eric with a c spelling my whole life, trying desperately to firmly entrench the K. I certainly wouldn't be much of a cartoonist with those tiny little speech bubbles, but I'll get some pictures up eventually to break the monotony. Lastly - Dallas - don't let long stories bother you - Mical thinks you look cute wearing your glasses.

Strike 2
I firmly live in the "now" and selectively acknowledge the past. Important thing here is that the path from here on in is planned to be on the upswing, both for Dallas and I, and hopefully my friends. I've had downs too, they might surprise. Hopefully we pick up and move on. Second chances are part of my world and my beliefs. 3rd chances not so much, cause you either learn or you don't. Fact of the matter is humans make mistakes. I think first chances should be given generously; let someone have a try. Second chances should be calculated. Save the third ones for truly the right situations.

Strike 3
Is helping others ego feeder only?

What do I do that isn't motiviated by making me feel good? I work, I feel self sufficient and purposeful, that feels good. I bike, that feels liberating and good. Most of what people do is to make them feel good I'd argue. I'd be interested to hear examples of the contrary.

Feeling good is broad. Much of it lies in the context. Do people volunteer at the animal shelter to feed their ego or to help animals? Is there a circumstance where helping animals draws a negative connotation? What about environmental conservation? Or is that connotation reserved for person to person interaction? A helping hand can be lent, establishing a dominant/dependant heirarchy to feed an ego, true enough. To say the least, Mother Teresa was a helper. Did she ever feel satisfaction, gratification or joy from her work? I bet she did, along with feeling its calling, its pain, its purpose. I speculate she went to bed some nights with the peace of knowing that the days of at least a few people were measurably better as a result of her efforts. Is that ego feeding? Feeling good by helping others doesn't make helping others inherently selfish.

But obviously I'm no Mother Teresa. Which leaves us at a cross-roads: are only the purely altruistic able to help free of negative labelling, or can the rest of us too? Are all of the "non-Mother Theresa's" shut out of the helping business for fear of ego feeding, or are we allowed to dabble?

In more juvenile years I may have heckled Lloyd, or worse. In more stressful years I may have just ignored. But what did I lose in giving up 15 minutes of my time? Maybe it fed my ego. Maybe I was bored and looking to see how an unknown situation would turn out. More interesting than watching TV to say the least.

At the end of it all I'll judge myself on how I contributed to cycling rather than symptomatic relief for the pure down and out. Cycling is my cause. It's economic transportation which makes it liberating, it's environmentally friendly, it's healthy, it's fun. On paper, it's a workable solution to a lot of issues. To each their own.

Three strikes and I'm Out!

ps. Don't forget, I'm poking fun at myself more than anything with the yuppie mobile references. Going price was probably half the Dallas mobile, plus Tori and I share. So I'm only about $10k in... I'm not a big price tag guy, unless it has only two wheels and me as the engine. Frugal at heart!

Saturday, 18 November 2006


I’ve been downing cough syrup, lozenges and pills since I woke up this morning. Body feels fine, throat is continually sore. I’m looking forward to an “easy fall base miles ride” organized by my TransRockies partner Dallas “I bend crank arms by just looking at them” Morris and his new H&R Block team. Perfect way to socialize with the cycling crowd, enjoy the fall weather, and help flush out my illness. Part of me should have known better once I saw the riders gathering… this wasn’t going to be an easy fall base miles ride. One rule of thumb for base mile rides, is that Elite mountain biker powerhouses such as Dallas shouldn’t bonk.

Long story short, we enjoyed the day. Typical guys out to play, and playing too hard. We talked enough to be social, competed enough to organize the egos of the group, and stopped for the requisite coffee break. Probably not good for the cold, but tomorrow should be a lot easier – the memorial ride for BK and some cruising probably with Nutbrown and Devin after is in the plans. Dinner will be swapping cycling tales with whoever of the euro-roadie-vacation crowd shows up now that Cornelia is in town. Cornelia is a popular cycling guide with quite a Calgary following.

After doing a few errands and dropping by my dad’s place for a birthday evening a few days in advance of his actual birthday, I’m driving home. Somehow, when I’m out of town for a few weekends, I return to find the car has a few missing buttons on the dash, and only one headlight is working. My girlfriend is gifted in many ways, and being slightly accident prone seems to be one of them. I don’t let this stand too much in the way of loving her though.

But back to cough syrup. Driving along Morley trail, my one headlight picks up a person staggering up the middle of the street. I one-touch the button that rolls down my window, instantly letting a fog of Scope enter my car.

“Hey man, where you headed?” I ask from the comfort of my heated seat in my yuppie mobile.

“Oh hi, man I’m just looking for the C-Train, can you help me out.”

“You bet buddy. Just hang a right on that street. Watch where my car turns, that’s where you should go.”

“Ok, thanks man, god bless.”

I’m not known to be a bleeding heart, but as the years go by I seem to have developed a little more concern for those who probably don’t have too many people concerned for them. Life has a way of presenting itself in stark contrasts, and it’s obviously the least I can do to remove myself from the yuppie mobile for a few minutes to help this dude out. I know this guy is going to have a hell of a time making it to the station, so once I park and say hi to my girlfriend, I say I’m running back outside for a minute to help out my new friend. In the slightly less altruistic sense, I also think it’d be better to limit the number of drunks wandering my neighbourhood at night, although he’s too inebriated to do much harm. I grab a couple of Plus Calorie Boosts out of the fridge, and the half bag of Cool Ranch Doritos that I have left over from my stash of last nights “I’m sick and I need comfort food” binge.

Buddy is walking down the wrong street, and although he would definitely benefit from the safety of walking on the sidewalk, he seems to favour the center of the street.

“Hey man, remember me? I’m the guy that just drove by. I’ll help you make it to the C-Train station, it’s just down here.”

He tells me he really appreciates the help, cause he can’t seem to find the station himself. “I’m Lloyd, what’s your name?”


“Pleased to meet you man”. Lloyd offers a handshake. Interestingly enough his fingerless gloves are soaked with Scope, so our handshake is nice and moist. On the bright side, it’s probably a bit more sanitary that way, Lloyd doesn’t really exude an aptitude for personal hygiene. I ask him what he’s drinking, he shows me his bottle that’s not Scope. It’s the Safeway brand of mouthwash, cause it’s “only $2.88”. According to Lloyd, it’s got 32% alcohol that’s “the same as imported gin”. He offers me some, but I say I really shouldn’t because I’m sick, and I wouldn’t want to get him sick. This actually seems to register, and he expresses his appreciation. He’s also got an empty bottle of cough syrup he’s just downed, “cause it makes the alcohol work better”. I guess we’ve got something in common for the day, although our motives were a little different. Lloyd seems to have a rudimentary understanding of urban chemistry at least… fortunately he’s not operating any heavy machinery.

The walk down my block takes several times longer than it normally should. Lloyd claims he was trying to meet his brother out here, but they couldn’t find each other. In the mean time he picked a few bottles, dropped them off at the VRRI, then went shopping with his proceeds. He’s also carrying a plastic bag that’s leaking a bit. I ask him what’s in the bag, and he tells me it’s my lucky day. He’s got a 2L bottle of Safeway Select Orange Soda with a lid that’s about 97% sealed. The rest of the bag is full of CD’s “he found in the garbage”. Good stuff he tells me, like his hero Kurt Cobain, an entire box set. He’s lucky he saved them from the trash, he’ll be able to sell them downtown before heading home to Victoria park. I suspect someone is going to find they left their car door unlocked tomorrow morning, or worse that they now need to replace a window. Lloyd says I’m a pretty nice guy, and that if “I toss a few bucks his way, I could be listening to some classics tonight, none of ‘em are even scratched you know”.

Finally we reach the stairs leading up to the C-Train bridge, and Lloyd asks if I can hold his mouthwash, he needs to hold the hand rail for stability. At least his survival instinct is still somewhat intact. During the ascent we cover topics such as where he’s been in life (Vancouver, Toronto, Winnipeg, Regina, and New York “but that’s a whole story in itself”… which I don’t doubt). He says it took him 42 years to find true love, but he sorted through his share of floozies and eventually found it. I let him know that I’d recently shared a 10th anniversary with my girlfriend, which prompted a damp, congratulatory handshake. He said I was a lucky man; I agreed that I felt my life had been pretty lucky so far. He said true love will get you really far in life, further than he’d ever gotten. Aside from any sarcasm my mind would generate about using his life as a measuring stick, it was a decently poignant comment. Yes, love and relationship stability will certainly help one navigate both life’s rough waters and life’s calm waters. After a painfully long ascent up the stairs, including near disaster on the halfway flat section, we head into the station. I hold the door open for him and we make our way inside. The second it shuts behind us, he again mentions that he wants to sell his CD’s. I hadn’t noticed anyone behind us, but the doors suddenly open again, and 9 university partygoers trample through. The first one has a yellow baseball cap on sporting foot long stuffed moose-like antlers. Lloyd is seriously impressed; he’s at a loss for words. Well, to him they were probably words, but to the partygoers and I it was mostly exuberant slurring and gibberish. The second guy is probably 6’2”, and he’s wearing a faded pink one piece ski suit with green shoulder trim that, at best, was intended for someone no taller than 5’6”. Mint 80’s style golden mirrored Oakley goggles cover his eyes. Lloyd had a hard time digesting this as his face went pretty blank, but I’d surmise his thoughts were something akin to “what the f**k?”. Two girls trailing the group were fairly average looking and pretty overweight for being early 20’s, but Lloyd straight up told ‘em they were “the dead sexiest bitches he’d ever seen”. His choice of approach had understandably predictable results.

Once the entertainment passed, we got down to business. I gave Lloyd the Doritos, pointing out that “everyone gets the munchies, and these are good chips, but my girlfriend’s got dinner waiting and I don’t want to ruin my supper.” He said he really loved Doritos, so that transaction went over fairly well. He didn’t quite understand the Boost bottles… he was fairly upset that they weren’t alcoholic. I told him just to have one to help wash down the Doritos, and to have one in the morning when he was hungry. Don’t know how well that sank in; at least I tried. He offered me the orange soda, but I said I wasn’t much of a pop drinker. So the only business left to settle was the CD’s. He really wanted to give them to me as a thanks for helping out present, but it’d be really nice if I could spare $5 for them.

Looks like we’re back to morality as a theme again for a second night in a row, funny how that keeps cropping up. Here I am potentially buying stolen CD’s off a drunk native for $5. I quickly work it through in my mind, and fork over $5. I tell him not to spend it all in once place. He says he’s gonna spend it as fast as he can.

“Well, Lloyd, you can’t buy 2 bottles of mouthwash with $5, so if you’re gonna buy one, you should buy something good, like a burrito with the money you have left over.”

“That’s not a bad idea brother.”

“Lloyd, it’s been great meeting you man. Have a good night, hope you make it home safe.”

“Erik, thanks for helping me out. Next time we meet we’re gonna sit down for a COFFEE!” I have to admit I’m 100% surprised he remembered my name for 15 minutes, I often have a hard time with names even when sober.

“Sure, coffee’s on me.”

“God bless. And you’d better buy Tim Horton’s.”

First, I’m impressed with the brand power of Tim Horton’s in Canada. And with respect to morality, I’m taking the view that our transaction was $5 in exchange for a little insight into true love. I’ll probably print off this story and leave it with the CD’s in a grocery bag at the neighbourhood police station, seems like the only way they have a remote chance to get back to their rightful owner.

Just a Saturday night in the burbs.

Friday, 17 November 2006

Cough Remedies and Morality

Unfortunately, the trinity of lack of appropriate sleep since La Ruta, the stress of studying like mad in Toronto, and the three very distinctive climates of Costa Rica, Toronto and Calgary seem to have overpowered my immune system.

I make a point of trying not to get sick. I don’t consider myself to be quite as, uhh, disciplined against infection as the legend surrounding Howard Hughes would indicate, but I do try to preserve my health where possible. I commute by bike, instead of riding the Petrie dish we call public transit, I wash my hands after navigating public spaces, and until I’ve done so I attempt not to rub my eyes. Rudimentary stuff really, not the actions of a neurotic.

Regardless, I’m obviously not impervious to the odd cold. I’m about 4 days into the current one, and my only symptoms are mild – sore throat and a bit of sinus congestion. It hasn’t progressed “deep” into my body at all. The only symptom that’s really been aggravating me is a continual dry cough. As I mentioned, this didn’t seem to be a very deep infection, and I was hoping it would run its course before I buckled and deviated from my usual routine of avoiding shopping areas to purchase some over the counter remedies.

My preferred antidote of a glass of red wine tonight certainly didn’t numb the throat enough to control my coughing. I finally pack up for the 3 minute ride on my new ‘cross bike over to London Drugs, fully intending to drop the Visa Gold down hard at the cash register and make out with any and every “extra strength” remedy that looks applicable to my ailments. Woe is the modern urbanite who strives for the macho feeling of hunt and kill; spending a few bucks on mass market cold remedies hardly stirs my survival instincts. Yes, I need more excitement.

I spin over, and experience my recent recurring theme of life: being on my bike for only a minute or two seems to remove any symptoms, ailments, stresses, etc. from my body. Biking has proven itself time and time again to be the greatest facilitator of both my health and pain. If it weren’t below zero and dark out, I’d ride a little more to prolong the therapy. The one glass of red wine I had before heading over also made me a bit unaware of my position relative to the center of the road as well, an entirely unexpected and somewhat disconcerting revelation.

As I cross the street, I turn left into the shopping center entry way. There are no cars in front or behind me entering the way I am, however there’s an oncoming SUV that turns right into the same entryway immediately behind me. Right away, I sense a tone of urgency in her cornering.

At some point in recent modern history, likely the 60’s or 70’s, an undoubtedly adequate and qualified, yet run of the mill urban architect was contracted to design the typical eyesore of a neighbourhood strip mall to house my local conveniences. Although structurally sound and economical, it lacks architectural appeal, and a few practicalities. The entrance way for the parking lot is directly in front of the store, separating the parking lot from the store, which is a common design. However, to state the obvious, this necessitates excessive pedestrian/motor vehicle “interaction” for patrons entering the parking lot and entering the store. Apparently the urban designer who set this precedent never visited the beach, where he would have seen that nature’s brilliance had avoided putting the driveway for the beach parking lot between the beach and the water. Anyway, the store entrance way is close enough to the adjacent avenue, that little old ladies leaving the store with their weeks supply of baby powder and Ensure back up traffic enough that lines of cars waiting to proceed to the parking lot are often stretched out into the adjacent avenue. Locals are aware of this state of affairs, and will aggressively navigate the smallest gaps between little old ladies crossing to gain access to the holy land of suburban parking lots.

I proceed into the said parking lot entrance way, and encounter a typical little old lady crossing out to the parking lot with a small amount of weekly consumables being carried for 10 minutes in a disposable plastic bag that will take 10,000 years to degrade in our landfill. The SUV driver behind me however focuses on me, my bike, possibly my nighttime safety blinker, and doesn’t see that I’m stopping for a good cause. Assuming I’m just a run of the mill jerk cyclist slowing down her overpowered 5,000lb SUV from some high speed parking manouever, she honks at me. I’m in brake stand position, and manage to turn my head back enough to give her a questioning look. We make eye contact temporarily, and subsequently I see her gaze remove itself from my face and track the little old lady crossing in front of me. At this point she realizes she’s morally sinned; a small smile of vindication colors my mind. It’s a small win, but it’s enough to temporarily overcome the mild surliness that comes with feeling under the weather.

As it’s 8pm on a Friday night, and everyone who’s anyone has some type of social activity scheduled, London Drugs is fairly empty. Save for this being North America where retail service is of paramount importance coupled with long lost sanctity of home time and family life, the story should be closed. I use the emptiness, and my aesthetic apprehension of carrying a bike lock on my $5,000 custom titanium ‘cross bike, as an excuse to walk my bike right into the store through the automatic doors. I scan the fluorescent environment to see if anyone is near enough to balk at my faux pas – nope. I lean the bike harmlessly against some shopping carts and b-line it to the cold remedies aisle. I purchase three items – the first pills, lozenges and syrup I see out of an excessive number of choices that prominently feature the words “cold and cough” and “extra strength”.

There’s two cash registers staffed. One has SUV driving moral faux pas lady buying packs of cigarette and gum. I arrive at the same time as a guy buying a vacuum cleaner and a microwave. I guess now’s as good a time as any to be making small appliance purchases. He checks in behind cigarette lady, and I take the open register. I grab a bag of impulse buy Doritos, knowing the cleansing effects of red wine have prepared my arteries for some junk food. Placing my 4 items down on the motorized belt, the girl working the register asks me “is that your bicycle over there”. I’m wearing a red, windproof, Cannondale Saeco winter jersey, my helmet, tights and silver Sidi cycling shoes the Silver Surfer would envy. My mild under-the-weather surliness has returned, but I politely confirm it’s mine with outside voice.

“It’s wrong to bring it in here, you’re going to have to take that outside.”

The word wrong strikes me, it’s a bit harsh for the situation. Yes, to most people bikes are outdoor items, to me that distinction doesn’t exist. What’s so wrong about it? It’s a piece of art – custom welded titanium no more than two weeks old. It’s clean and shiny, it’s beautiful. I stare blankly for a second – she can obviously see I’m checking out and will leave the store in the next 30 seconds, but is she somehow suggesting I need to remove it before purchasing my items?

“Yeah sorry about that, I was in a rush to get some cough stuff and left my lock at home. Didn’t think it’d be too much of a problem, just this once.” Small white lie included, I’m not going to lose sleep over that one. As she begins scanning my items, I add “but it’s really not that wrong, is it?”

Morality deals with concepts of right and wrong, ranking in hierarchy of human thought well above law, rules, and trivialities such as what’s at hand here. All those derive from morality. I’m realize I’m pushing past what the average Friday night teenage worker wants to deal with for minimum wage.

“Well, we don’t want them in here, so just remember that for next time.” Ok, sure, she’s dropped her guns a bit. That worked out well.

I pay my cash and dig a quarter and a nickel out of my wallet to supplement the Queen Elizabeth I just handed over for some mass market patented drugs.

“Thanks, but I just want to say that wrong isn’t what went on here. Wrong is more along the lines of being honked at impatiently when I’m trying to let one of your elderly customers cross the street, or like driving around with a lead foot by yourself in an oversized SUV when we know there’s too much CO2 entering the atmosphere, or 10,000 year plastic bags, or like having the right to smoke cigarettes in close proximity to non-smokers who’d prefer to breath clean air. Clean lungs, riding a bike, and waiting for someone to cross the street are right. If the price to pay for that is having a clean bike in an empty store for 5 minutes, that’s just a small price to pay.”

I smiled when I finished, and she smiled back. She probably thought I was a complete moron, but she let me have my 15 second soap box. I’m not usually a preaching hypocrite; it most likely had something to do with a glass of red wine, and some mild under-the-weather surliness.

Right and wrong have been on my mind a bit these days. Is it right for airlines to charge extra for my bike box, which is under allowable luggage weight and size, solely because it contains a bike? Is it right to sell me an airline ticket and not assign me a seat, forcing me for the second time this year to beg and grovel for a ride home at my assigned time? Are many pieces of my daily routine right, in the context of a recent climatology speech I heard, and the effects of human activity on our environment?

Or, more to the point, is it right that I’ll be doing a memorial ride this weekend, for the third cycling acquaintance this year who’s departed us a little too early?

Monday, 13 November 2006


I suffer an addiction, and I don't feel obligated to hide or regret it. I relish it. For it's in me and it is me at the same time. They say the first step in facing addiction is to admit it. I'll admit mine openly, but mine doesn't need "fixing", it needs enhancement.

After a week of small errand running bike rides, plus 3 days of library and hotel room studying in Toronto for the partner, director and officer exam that's a condition of my recent promotion, my physical energy levels are peaking. After last weekend's super stress of La Ruta de los Conquistadores, a 20+ hour endeavour which is as tough as they come, plus a week of decent rest, my body is ready for anything. Last time I felt like this was the weekend after TransRockies at the provincial road race. I was cramming all weekend for the PDO exam, and only managed two "sanity" rides that totaled 90 minutes over Saturday and Sunday. I crammed right up to the 2pm exam sitting, and upon completion finally felt able to decompress. On the way back to my corporate sponsored posh hotel, 5 blocks away from the exam, I pictured myself bursting out the front doors on my bike. I don't care that my room is probably big enough to ride in, I'd stay in a basement closet in exchange for the ability to ride more. I am teeming with energy.

How do I know I'm experiencing addiction? Without my fix I become irritable and short tempered. My social life and my work suffer. My heart rate and blood pressure increase. I think about it, my next fix, all the time. When can I get it next, what type of riding, and how much, how long? I become thoroughly preoccupied and fixate on one subject. Yet I relish the feeling.

I quickly change out of my study attire; it felt like my prison uniform for the last few days. I assemble my bike kit and head out of the hotel. Proceeding eastward a few blocks I begin to warm up, although my focus is on navigation toward the lakefront path and warming up to interaction with traffic. Toronto traffic is bad. I've ridden in many places, but I've rarely felt my safety to be endangered as frequently as here. Fingers always need to be on brakes, all intersections are crossed only with careful analysis. There's no such thing as cruising along "cause the light was green". Onus is on the rider. The drivers are not particularly rude or unconscientious, they are simply oblivious. They don't mean harm, its just incidental.

Upon finding the route to the lakeshore path, I quickly reach the eastern end. A quick u-turn and off to the west it is. The path winds along the lakefront distillery district, hotels and the like for several kilometers before exiting the downtown core and become dual lane bike freeway. The sun is setting, and it's cool enough that not many other cyclists or others are out. I'm dressed light (and fast) - knickers, a windproof jersey and long fingered gloves. Commuters are out looking excessively utilitarian and over burdened with layers.

My new custom frame is about to get the trial ride I've been eagerly anticipating. None of this heavy studded tires with snow and fenders BS, but rather a real bike ride. It feels as though I sent in a DNA sample, but instead of having a lab clone me, the sample was used as an input to Carl Strong's titanium art process. The bike isn't a machine beneath me; it is an extension of me. It feels like it's always been there, that it's grown to my form, and that it will always be there. It feels strong and trustworthy as a 'cross frame should, yet sleek as a thoroughbred road race bike. My heaven has two wheels, and for tonight, this is as close as it gets.

The path is flat, with only mild grades. There is a light wind. The capital T torque my body developed last week suffering up the Volcan's of Costa Rica doesn't blink at either challenge. I start to spin up one of the easier gears in my big ring (compact cranks, 50 tooth ring). I spin it up a bit excessively to check if my pedal stroke is smooth; when I'm well-rested high rpm's come effortlessly. I drop a gear in the rear and spin it up, the additional power is not a problem. I stand on small inclines to savour not shifting down. I pop another gear and spin it up. I hear the frequency of the hum of my 'cross tires building on the pavement. The speed limit on the path is 20kph, and I'm nowhere near that guideline. Coming around a corner, I swing to the outside lane to pass a slower commuter, and notice an equestrian police officer. I don't try to brake at all in shame of my speed, I carry along at speed. Fortunately, I don't register on his scale of importance.

Reaching a straightaway, I drop another gear. First I lose stress. My mind is serene, the scenery and my breathing replace my responsibilities. I drop my final gear. With stress and responsibility behind me, I'm racing. I'm outrunning my inner demons; I'm chasing pure joy. No matter how hard I push, I can’t seem to induce anything more than superficial burning in my legs and lungs. The burning I do achieve is food for my soul. I'm now in 50x11, topped out in terms of gears, yet still spinning nicely. I feel no leg fatigue, and my heart and lungs are calm and tranquil. Deep breaths suffice, no hyper-ventilating. The path is flat, with no hills to work my weight up. This is my riding forte, and I can feel how governed up my body has been for the last week. My body is embracing the opportunity to run free. I feel like a muscle car: I'm an over geared V8, but gearing doesn't matter cause I'm easily dishing out the torque. The hills and wind on the scale they're presenting themselves are irrelevant. My new ride is stable and it's loving the speed. Looking down I see the "Strong" label on the down tube and contemplate the appropriateness of it.

The word defines the moment. I'm unleashing the accumulated fitness of La Ruta and subsequent rest on the lakeside bike path in a two hour blaze of glory. I'm passing 20kph commuters at 40kph. For these two hours I'm a thoroughbred. I am the Shelby Cobra from the race track earlier this year, half the weight of a Miata but twice the power, doing 100mph in second gear. There is no fatigue in my body, anywhere, period. Even 90 minutes into the ride, I'm doing sprintervals on every straightaway, yet not over exerting. I repeatedly am on the verge of spinning out the 50x11 gearing.

I know I'm an addict because I'm in tears with the pleasure of this ride. The wind plays a part with the sunglasses off at night, but it's more than that. My head is clear and my body is whole, but only temporarily. The transformation from life dictating my activities, whereabouts and attention to me being the director takes less than a half an hour. I'm grinning excessively for no apparent reason, to the observer it probably looks maniacal.

Biking is my addiction. It takes me from the depths of pain to the highs of pleasure, yet I can't consciously withdraw myself from it at either extreme. My satiation is short lived, leaving the cycle to begin again. I'm powerless to stop it.

Monday, 6 November 2006

La Ruta de los Conquistadores 2006

After a 5 hour layover in Houston, on the flight down we meet a nice couple from Phoenix, Zach Heim and his girlfriend Alejandra. He'd done some hundred miler mountain bike events, but not any stage race biking. This was his first time at La Ruta, and he was looking forward to it. He’d followed it for years, and finally bit the bullet, registering and bringing along Alejandra as his companion.

Arriving in San Jose well after sunset, and are faced with a customs line took an hour to clear, but fortunately caught the Best Western shuttle bus right away. Put our bikes together ASAP, did a test spin in the parking lot, and hit the hay at 1am.

We wake up relatively early on Thursday and head down to Denny’s for some calories, bus to Jaco leaves at 10am. Jose, one of the race employees (and incidentally, ¼ of the male population of Costa Rica), gives a very informative and articulate overview of Costa Rica as we drive. It’s a bit like watching National Geographic from the front seat of the bus. Among other things, we stop on a large bridge, look down to the rio below, and check out some bad ass looking crocodillos. At 2 pm we're checked into hotel. It’s worth noting here, that at one point while discussing the local climate, Jon summed it up well by miming the breast stroke through the air – it’s hot, humid and thick.

We nervously chat with out fellow participants, turns out Marla Streb and her husband/baby are with us, and she was sporting the single speed world champion shoulder tattoo. Darryl Jones, Jon and I head out for a warmup ride after checking into the race and getting our gear bag and timing chips. I struggle to keep up, legs are feeling dead and I feel hot. I assume that pushing through this for an hour will be good for the acclimation and that tomorrow my legs will snap back, since after all I’ve been in travel limbo for 36 hours now, which is never good for the legs. Sun sets quick, we head for dinner, check out the local chicas parading up and down the street. It’s hot, so lots of clothing is a definite faux pas (or maybe that’s falsos something??). And recall we’re firmly centered in “Latino world” here, where the fashion motto is “if it ain’t tight, it ain’t right”. This is a direct translation by me, using no Spanish, but rather just my eyes. Beach cruiser bikes are the most common form of transportation, when Tim Bresznyak sees this scene he and Tracey might be hooked, as surfing, biking and cervezas are all readily available. We head back to drop off our bikes and shuttle back to our hotel. Darryl has motocross “mud off” spray we all use, that turns out to be surprisingly effective. I notice my rear tire isn’t holding air well, so I bring it back to my room to remedy the situation.

Day 1

My alarm is set for 3am, but I wake up at 10 to 3. I put on my cycling kit, see the pitch black morning outside, and throw on a long sleeved shirt to head over to breakfast. Opening the door to leave the room, I realize I was dead wrong, it's hot and muggy out before the sun even shines. I ditch the shirt and head over to scarf down some calories. The food is very good. Boarding the bus at 3:45 to make our way to the race start, I notice the thermometer on the bus says 28C. We start at 5:15 and warm up for a couple of k's before heading up the first large climb. I feel decent, but can feel my cardiac workload is too high for my power output, as my body has the added task of trying to keep cool. I'm doing ok through the Carrerra national park, but instead of last year's "cooling" rain, the air is still and stifling. 48 hours ago I was shoveling my driveway. The first twinges of doubt enter my mind. I'm riding the climbs, hitting the difficult downhill's with gusto. I love my tire choice, and find world champion single speeder and known downhill animal Marla Streb behind me at one point. She starts by asking to pass, but I request a 15 second trial period for her to guage if I'm really slowing her down. I lead for the next several downhills, she passes me on a climb. Later on, I learn she had crashed 4 times and didn’t start stage two. I take credit for slowing her down enough to be safer ; )

After check point two I really start to suffer. I should have started the morning with a second bathroom stop as per normal race practice, but the early start threw me off. At about the 4.5 hour mark I'd degraded to heat exhaustion and bonk phase. Somewhere in here Louise Kobin passes me, and I thought how if I were just a few IQ points higher how I should have paced off her all day. I crawled into check point 3, found a bano, and took time to eat and drink. I was resuscitated only temporarily and began to suffer on the subsequent climb. Instead of last years paved climb, we went the "back way" around the same mountain which featured climbing via muddy 20+% grade "jeep" trail. I saw 4 incidences of stuck dirt bikes and 2 incidences of stuck 4WD quads on this section.

This was by far the hardest day on a bike I've had. My suffering begins to crescendo. It starts by my legs slowing, then I hang my head at all opportunity. At the low point, I find myself sitting with my head between my knees, wondering what on earth made me come back. I promise myself that I’ll slap my fingers with a ruler next time my hand directs my mouse anywhere near the “register” button on the La Ruta web site. I decide to lie down for a brief moment, and when I do, I shut my eyes. Unfortunately, I’m shivering. I begin dreaming instantly, and picture myself lying on my parent’s couch when I was a kid, their house was always kept cool. I have my deceased cat Fuzz with me, and I’m happy. I feel the need to pee, and I smile, happy to have some fluids left in me. Of course, they’d be more useful in my cells and blood, but regardless I’m happy in this dream. The incessant mud and river crossings really reset my concept of filth, I have no shame peeing in my shorts at this point. I begin to wake, and am happy that my pee is warming me up. Some dude is walking up the hill and asks if I’m ok. I ponder before answering, realizing that I’m relishing the warmth of pee to curb my shivering, despite the fact I’m in severe tropical heat. In my head I know I’m approaching the realm of “screwed”, but I tell him I’m fine.

It’s an experience to witness the war zone of the mid-pack privateers. On the long climb, a Brit in front of me asked one of the race Range Rovers if he had water. Nope. “How long till next checkstop then mate?” Seises kilometers mas. “Seises?” He replies holding up 6 fingers for confirmation. Si. He then holds his arm upward asking if it's all uphill. Si. Demoralized, he drops his bike to the ground, collapses to the ground himself, and lies face down on the dirt. Are you going to be ok? someone asks. “I find it impossible to answer that quite frankly” he says in his cockney, consonant swallowing working side of London accent. Being this far back in the field at this point, and suffering myself, gave me huge appreciation for the cut-off time beaters who finish this race. It was like warfare out there, people dropping like flies. The sides of the trail had people lying down in the most miniscule amounts of shade. As I passed, strong recreational athletes on their turf would beg for water and gels. Sitting on the trail, I pass one fellow and say “I feel your pain man, just take a breather and keep moving.” He weakly replies “can you spare a gel/swig of water?" Yeah man, but only a little, this is all I’ve got. He replies "Thanks man, really appreciate it. I won't take too much, or you'll end up like me. We all gotta survive." It was sublimely philosophical. I try to stay positive, but it’s always challenging in a bonk, and it’s super hard for me to eat in that heat, I was just force feeding myself in an unpleasant manner. Why did I ever sign up for this race again? I only get 4 weeks vacation a year, who in their right mind does this to themselves? Don’t I have better things to spend money on? Like hot dogs, I really wanted hot dogs with mustard. And those meat balls at Ikea. I should sell all my bikes as a preventative measure to avoid this behavior. It certainly is fascinating though to watch the armies of leaf cutter ants marching toward their homes. Some of the lines stretch for 30m or more. I wonder to myself if they could somehow band together to carry my bike.

The course was like riding in a steam room where the entire ceiling was an overpowered heat lamp, with zero air movement (sweat doesn't evaporate to cool you), while trying to proceed up a 22% grade (quoting Marg's GPS), with less than perfect traction in the mud, up the "feature climb" which was essentially 1,200m vertical and 30km. Pushing my bike at this point, I realize I forgot to put my tool bag on under my seat. I hope that life can't be cruel enough to throw mechanicals into the mix at this point. I’m a decently well prepared amateur athlete, and this is pure torture. The problem is I can’t sustain enough Watts to ride these hills at the ambient temperature, I need either less grade or less heat. The combo easily puts me over my limits. Paez admitted to walking, Bishop stopped to cool off in a waterfall to help him continue. When the top percentage of riders had a hard time making it between checkstops, you know the privateers are going to be in a world of pain.

I crossed somewhere around the 10.5 hour mark. 510 people started day 1, and I believe I heard at the 12 hour mark at the finish line that only 250 had crossed. Honestly, from the 5 hour mark on, I was bonking. Fortunately, there is liberal breaking of the official assistance rules on course, which state among other things that you can only receive feeds in the proper feed zones. With this year's stage one being substantially longer than day 1 last year, and without the benefit of cooling rains, assistance was necessity. Like any modern society, there are rules, then there's a higher plane of morality that (most) people have to help guide them. There's a bit of a sharing spirit at TR, and probably moreso the further back in the pack one rides, but the first stage of La Ruta crushes people into a brotherhood. They may be only inches from the other side of the line where they need help themselves. And it's not just convenience help, it's the “I'm no longer too proud to admit that there's likely no way I can make it to the finish line on my own” type of help. So many bonked, lost souls, mine included, were saved by locals offering plastic baggies of coca (flat coke), jugo (not really juice, more like hot McDonalds orange drink), or agua (never was too comfortable with the source). Occasionally you could find a guy with sugar cane too.

Upon finishing (10.5 hrs vs. Paez at 6:00.25!), I'm greeted by a surprisingly energetic Jon, who is bouncing around helping the half of my former self that remains with my heavy rain soaked bag even after expending enough energy to come in as the first Canadian on day on, 17th overall. It's raining, and I slowly work up to the task of putting some post race nutrients into my stomach, have an uncomfortably cold shower (it's not too cold out, but my body is unwilling to burn any more calories to effectively regulate my temperature), and hit the massage table. I'm led to my table, which unbeknown to me, is staffed by a masseur who I'll refer to as Wayne, since his talent for massage puts him on par in his profession with the hallowed place Wayne Gretzky occupies in hockey. "Wayne" was probably about 5'4", likely 40 years old, had short cropped hair with layered with plenty of inexpensive Costa Rican gel, a well manicured and stylishly trimmed moustache (if you believe in such a thing), multiple gold chains, a well tailored trim fitting cherry red track suit top covering his svelte frame, color coordinated shorts that were dangerously close to hot pants, bright white mid calf athletic socks, and the local equivalent of a puma flat bottom weight lifting shoe. His vocation could have easily been DJ'ing ill house beats in Brooklyn on a his prized turn-table with some serious hi-fi equipment rather than working me over on a table somewhere in the Costa Rican jungle. My initial assessment was that of the choice of Costa Rican women, a decent chica or two amongst them, was that I'd just been led to the table of the local flamer. As I wearily climbed up onto the table, both quads began to cramp as I lay down on my stomach. Other than my quads, the only other muscular contractions my body was mustering had to do with my heart and lungs. When the cramping commenced, I started to do a push up so I could roll to my side and clutch my quads, but I was interrupted by his Costa Rican massage ju-jitsu. In a flash he chopped my wrist out from under me, caught my arm and pulled it down to my side. I thought for a second he was oblivious to my pain and I wouldn't be able to fix my cramp. His other hand grabbed my head and smoothly pushed it down to the ring shaped headrest. In the second that this took, both my quads were still tightening, but with me securely in the prone position, he instantly moved down to my legs, and addressed my cramps in one deft manouver. I couldn't see what his hands did, but I suspect he drove each of his pointer finger knuckles into my hamstrings while using his thumb and index finger to squeeze each side of my leg just above the knee. This was black belt massage equivalent of the Vulcan death grip, my quads became muy tranquilo in a fraction of a second. All in, from start of cramp to this outcome couldn't have been more than 4 or 5 seconds. I knew things were looking up from here on in, my body felt more like the canvas of an artist than a defeated mountain biker for the next half hour. I never had to attempt to guide his motions to suit my ailments with one word Spanish as was being done all around me (despacio, fuerte, muy aqui, etc.), he was effectively plugged into my nervous system.

Feeling almost like a new man, I proceeded to gorge on gallo pinto and the associated parts of dinner under a tent in direct view of the finish. Jon, Marg and I sat with Alejandra, who was waiting anxiously for Zach to cross the line for a stage 1 completion photo. Conversations with racers came and went, and we encouraged her hope as the 12 hour deadline neared. It came and passed without sign of Zach, meanwhile the sun rapidly set leaving us in pitch-black night and the glowing moonlight. Eventually we rounded up our bags and decided to part on the 7pm shuttle bus. Marg and I made it to the bus, Jon was nowhere to be found. It was raining, and I attempted to jog back to find him before the bus left through ankle deep mud in a large field. To add color to your understanding of the finish area conditions, the various Latin American utilitarian style Nissan, Toyota, and Land Rover 4x4 vehicles in the area were having an extremely difficult time making their way to the road. 2WD vehicles weren't moving. Jon was with Alejandra at the finish tent, assuring her that Zach was probably fine.

The bus trip back to the hotel was in a full sized Mercedes bus, with manual transmission. Costa Rican's don't seem to think twice about driving these busses on "inappropriate" roads. We averaged no more than 30kph, navigated dozens of pitch-black hairpins by assuming the entire road (meaning the entire one lane which is used for 2 way traffic) is ours, and by amazingly navigating 4 bridges, which were located on tight corners via 3 to 6 point turns. These bridges, in all honesty, left 8" of clearance on either side of a full-length bus, done in pitch black, with no outside guidance.

We quickly unload our belongings from the bus, and make our way to the terrific restaurant around the corner from the hotel, still sporting a decidedly un-restaurant worthy amount of mud. Dinner was huge and service was great. An absent minded senior from New Brunswick is the chef and proprietor. We were lavished upon with pasta, potatoes, rice, beans, fish, chicken, steaks, agua and jugo de guaranama; grand quantities of all are devoured.

We proceed back to the hotel, only to find Alejandra in the lobby looking stressed. She concluded that maybe she somehow missed Zach finishing while she was in a quick pee or snack break, and came back to the hotel, only to find that he hasn't checked in. It's 10pm. Jon assures her, in a less convincing tone than prior, that he's probably fine. What was conceived as a neat bike racer and companion trip at home in Pheonix certainly isn't being viewed that way now by the half of the team that’s present. That's as much as we can do for her at the moment, so it's off to bed for tomorrow's 4am start.

Day 2

4am comes unpleasantly early, my body is tired and I don’t magically arise a few minutes before the alarm as is common. At breakfast we heard that Zach was the last person found and removed/rescued from the course last night in the pitch black, and was immediately hooked up to IV's to treat for severe dehydration then taken directly to the hospital rather than the hotel. Alejandra only learned of this in the morning, she looked terrible after a night of no answers, nobody knowing, and no Zach. The race crushes people.

One of the more poignant anecdotes I heard was "at La Ruta, if you think the worst is behind you, you're probably facing the wrong way".

On that note, we board the bus to head to the starting area. I locate the bano immediately, then put on my mud caked wet shoes, my mud caked we gloves, and my mud caked fresh helmet. I didn't have the energy to clean them last night, and seriously, there isn't too much of a point each day, although this year was cleaner. Today's route is more to my skill set, you climb continuously to the top of Costa Rica's 11,000ft Volcan Irazu, first in the cooler morning air since we're not on the coast, but gaining enough elevation and making our way into the clouds to keep cool before the sun could roast us. For me, the day was approximately 4.5 hours of climbing and 1.5 hours of descent. It was continually misting and "cold" on the road section. This means legs and lungs are my governors on power output, not overheating, I climb reasonably hard, wearing only a jersey, and descend like a demon. I pass 21 people on the way down; my XC tires, 80mm fork, and hard tail frame are letting me go faster than last year. Mostly I credit this to lower pressure of tubeless tires. Within 2k of the finish, I get into a corner wrong and am not leaning my bike enough to get the side tread on my tires to bite. This is the 4th instance where I enter a front wheel drift/slide, but the first where I can't correct it. I slide 3m on my chest superman style on gravel. Upon coming to a complete stop, I don't feel any excruciating pain, so before I allow much time for any more self-assessment, I grab my bike out of the ditch and motor to the finish. Later I see I'm not really any worse off for the wipeout. Unfortunately the same can't be said for Jeremiah Bishop (Trek), who was leading at that point, and who other pro riders will attest is a member of the "ride to die club", i.e., he show's little restraint on the downhill’s. Pics are available on the net, but he broke his nose, jaw, cheekbones, and lost several teeth. As with most facial injuries, the quantity of bleeding was gruesome. Last I heard he was being stabilized in Costa Rica still 2 days later, letting the swelling go down and monitoring for infection, before heading back to the US for an off season full of reconstructive surgery. He still coasted to the bottom and was 2nd on the day.

Jon suffered 5 flats, the classic one problem building on itself scenario. He did crest the hill in 12th. His day is a story in it's own. He came in a couple minutes after me for 45th I think. The 2nd and 3rd women were behind me on the climb, and I didn't see Marg until 1/2 way down the climb, so not surprisingly she won the stage again. She climbs almost exclusively standing and can climb with the top percentage of elite male riders.

Shower, food and massage all seemed less miserable, at least the suffering on the bike today translated to an acceptable result. All pain and no glory, like yesterday, is a much harder scenario to swallow. Our trip up to our lodging was an hour, turns out the place was only 500m off the racecourse at one point. It's a beautiful wildlife spotting/volcano lodge at high enough elevation to provide a Canadian style sleeping temperature. It was 11C when I went to bed.

Day 3

We arrived late to the start; I started at the back of 200 riders. Right away we climbed 5k of loose gravel with two crowded good lines, leaving passing to be done on less preferred lines. I felt on fire and climbed hard. The road gave way to rollers, which I hammered on the tail of Tim, the Cannondale single speeder. We got to gravel straightaway descent. No brakes yielded about 70kph of red line descending fun. More rollers, then the infamous "hot climb". I couldn't do anything on the hot climb other than granny, in 15C I could push a gear and make time despite the loose gravel and steep grade, but with the heat limiting my power all I could spin was small gears. There's no way it was under 35C there. Fortunately, there's a check stop at the top that leads into a 75kph paved descent before hitting the infamous railroad tracks. I descended the hill in my best Euro tuck position and caught up to a tico. We traded coasting pulls a bit, and I amused him by doing a superman pass. Eventually however it became apparent that he had no intention of doing anything than soft-pedaling at the front. See you later sucker, no need for that. We pop out onto the railroad tracks eventually and I find my bike setup amazingly well suited to them this year. I try to ride the first short crossing, but the ties are missing every other one. This doesn’t dawn on me till I’m too close and going too fast. I wedge my front wheel into the 4th gap, and endo. I put my arms out to brace my landing, but they go through the trestle. I get one across my stomach and the other across my shoulders and chin. Lovely. I get up quickly and keep going.

Eventually I catch up to a guy in front of me, but loose him on a longer bridge when a local carries his bike across so he can jog, while I watch every step and make slower progress. It takes me 15 minutes to catch back up to him, I’m pissed, but I waste too much energy doing it. It feels good to pass him however, although I suspect while doing so that it won’t be the last time I see him today.

The lowlands are poor and hot. We go through towns that don’t have any apparent economic sustenance. Kids want to high five you, some are slap you as hard as they can. Others want to throw buckets of water at you, which I welcomed, but their sport for the day is to make it as painful as possible for you. Eventually I start bonking in the heat, it’s hard to eat continually when it’s hovering around 35C. I mercilessly jam a pack of sharkies in my mouth, shift down a gear, and spin. I try to move my feet, they’re extremely sore from putting power to the pedals continually. We’re in banana plantation country, and the gravel road has no shade. I feel like I’m being baked alive.

One of the following longer train track sections surprises me. I’m grinding along, head down, putting distance onto a group I passed by starting and finishing my bridge crossing with a swift cyclocross dismount and mount, coupled with a pass along the outside lane of the ties. I just kept telling myself that if I stumbled, I wouldn’t be successful unless I caught both myself and my bike from falling to the water below. After riding a few minutes on the other side, I feel some shaking. It doesn’t register in my mind at first, so I continue to trudge onward. Eventually a blaring horn splits the thick heat, and I look up to see an oncoming train 50 yards ahead. I wasn’t aware these tracks were live, but I waste no time dismounting and moving into the weeds at the side. The train passes surprisingly quickly, with people waving at me. This certainly wouldn’t pass North American safety standards. I’m not sure exactly if TR needs to be a partner race, but this one certainly has more hazards than TR.

We cross a few streams on foot, I take the opportunity to lie down in the water to cool off. I’m careful not to get any water in and around my face or ears. I come upon check stop 3, and grab a banana while race personnel are filling my bottles. I hear some commotion and see a tico train go by as I turn. I reach for my bike, hoping to get in their group, as they looked like they meant business, but the bottle filler had moved my bike off to the side. Once I grab it, a few other volunteers move in my path, so I can’t get pedaling soon enough to get onto the pace line. I hammer for a while, but realize that it’s futile. I continue to ride mid 30’s for a while on my own, the breeze feels nice at that speed, but I realize it’s a losing battle not having anyone to draft with.

The deep puddles on the last portion of the course aren’t present this year, and I end up riding with a group that at times is up to 10 riders. We keep the pace as high as we can, and whittle the group down to three. Upon reaching pavement again, we know we’re extremely near the finish line. I hear the music blaring, and launch the stairs down to the finish line.

It didn’t take me very long to make it to the Caribbean. The salt stung the half dozen scratches on my legs, my arms, my saddle sores, and my eyes. The relief is unbelievable.

Post Race

Heard Marg come in, went and gave her a hug and a congratulations. Eventually heard Jon come in, took me a while to find him, but he was relaxing in the water too.

After relaxing, eating, getting a massage, etc. I sat down again while Jon ate his dinner. I wasn’t feeling too energetic, so eventually I said I’d have to bail out and take the first bus back. I lay down next to our bags for a while near the bus, ready to board. The bus fills up, and the guide says that the washrooms aren’t working, so I head back to the party for a quick pit stop before we depart. It… uhh… sort of indicated I wasn’t feeling well. The plan was to head back to San Jose without stops to make progress as quickly as we could. It’s around 6:30, the sun had set leaving us in total darkness, and the temperature is reading 29C. My face is clammy and hot. I try to doze off. Eventually, I get to the point where I need to request another stop. I feel terrible, and fortunately some Mexican guys buy me Canada Dry soda water while I’m otherwise occupied. After 15 minutes we board the bus.

I put back quite a bit of the agua con gas, and again try to doze off, this time having some success doing so. An hour later, I wake up, and tell Darryl Mekechuk next to me that I need to get out of the seat immediately. We’re 2 seats back from the front, and he tells the driver right away that we need to stop, pronto. The guy in the seat in front magically hands me a plastic bag. It gets used before the bus stops, saving the front stairwell from a mess. The bus is coasting to a stop, and I’m telling them to open the door fast. Eventually it gets opened, and I find myself expunging my dinner onto the grass. After the first round, I lie down on my side, resting my head on my arm, looking for some peace. Predictably, I feel better, but my face is clammy and I can feel the heat. A physician/bike racer is asking me somewhat relevant questions, honestly I’m not working too hard to give him answers as I know the feeling of food poisoning, and I know I’m already on the mend after these few minutes. But he’s trying to be helpful, and I appreciate it. I’m glad I drank the soda water, it sped up the removal process greatly, which I find is key in overcoming food poisoning.

I hear the race employee yelling at the bus driver “Miguel, get out here with your flashlight.” I can’t imagine where he’s going with this, last thing I want is any illumination on my jettisoned dinner. “Miguel, there’s snakes in the grass. Stand here with the light and don’t let any go by his arm.” If I wasn’t feeling so ill I would’ve laughed… how could it get any worse than this? Anyway, I wasn’t going to waste any more time lying down with that tidbit of knowledge. Somebody gives me half a bottle of coke. It goes down smoothly and uninterrupted. It tastes like it came from the wellspring of life itself.

I board the bus and doze off. I’m chilly with the air conditioning on, but don’t mind. Deal with checking into a hotel with no ID, credit card or money, and go lie down. Eventually Jon shows up on a later bus and brings me some simple foods. It helps.


We have nothing to do today but rest and pack before heading out Tuesday. I wake up feeling sore everywhere. My body feels poisoned, my muscles haven’t had a chance to recuperate at all since no nutrients have been absorbed by my body since finishing the race. At least I don’t have a headache.

Around noon, Jon and I mobilize for an easy spin on the bikes around the hotel. I feel like crap even walking through the lobby. We clip in and start heading up a small incline. It’s overcast, cool by San Jose standards, and breezy. Being on a bike is miraculous therapy, I instantly feel fine. It’s like night and day, no muscle aches, no the poisoned feeling has passed, and I can take deep breaths of fresh air. We cruise around for a half an hour and return to the hotel. As I dismount and walk into the lobby, my stomach rolls. Heading up the elevator I again feel poisoned. The bike is magic. But it needs to be packed for now. I make a mental note that if I’m ever faced with severe malady and hospitalization style illness in life, I will not take it lying down, spinning the neighborhoods will be my therapy, my wellspring of life like the bottle of coke.

We spend several hours wandering downtown San Jose. Nothing is cheap, but we see a variety of neighborhoods. A Quizzno’s sub place catches our eye as some palatable comfort food, so we duck in and pay the associated North American prices. I could care less. We’re strolling along with the intent of making it to Hotel Don Fadrique, the La Ruta HQ, to try to track down some of [forgetful] Jon’s belongings from a lost and found type operation. The minute we find the hotel, the skies open up into the afternoon San Jose showers (in Calgary these would be referred to as unprecedented torrential downpours). While Jon and Marg are conducting conversations to figure out his lost goods, I watch the crocodile hunter approaching crocodillos as big as the ones I looked down on from the bridge 4 days ago. I’m entertained, and glad there’s no sensible reason I’ll ever have to be as close to one of those myself. The Spanish voice-over doesn’t do Steve Irwin much justice, his spirited accent isn’t picked up by a dry translator. We take a long cab ride back, with too much diesel fumes and jostling around for the liking of my innards. We head over for eating, but I leave early for my massage booking. A bonita chica works me over for 90 minutes, flushing what needs to be flushed out of my muscles. It’s heavenly. Other than “ruining” my massage later in the night with Jon by lifting hotel mattresses so we can push the beds together to accommodate Marg in our room, that’s the end.

I’ll be down next year. The attraction is that this race is the hardest thing I think my mind will tolerate me completing. Day one is so sufferous it annually pushes my will to continue, close enough that I don’t really wish to seek out harder events until I can get “comfortable” with this one.