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November 7, 2019

World 24 Hour Time Trial Championships – 2019 Edition

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Nope. No fun at all. (Photo: Don Forbess)

On November 1-2, 2019, I competed in—and won—the World 24 Hour Time Trial Championships (Women’s Solo Division) in Borrego Springs, California. While it was my only race of the 2019 season, it proved to be the cherry on the cake in an amazing year of cycling and personal growth. If I had updated my blog regularly, you could have read all about how I crewed for RAAM, sped from Turin to Norway in the NorthCape4000, buried myself in croissants and coffee during Paris-Brest-Paris, and launched my first book, but alas. Perhaps I’ll still get around to it.

Early Season

After finishing second in my rookie year at the 24 Hour World Time Trial Champs in 2018, I looked forward to returning and improving my mileage. I decided that if I was going to get good at time trialing, I would need a dedicated time trial bike. So I found a used Cervelo P2 on Pink Bike and e-transferred cash to some dude in Ontario.

“What have I done?” I wondered, imagined that I would never see my hard-earned savings again.

Two weeks later, the seller showed up at the airport en route to a ski holiday in BC with my precious cargo in tow. I exhaled, and set to work configuring my new steed, which I christened Sarah Cervelo, to my dimensions. I also hit the gym a few times a week with the goal of strengthening my core and increasing my range of motion and flexibility, but ended up swinging on the monkey bars and gaining pounds of upper body musculature that most cyclists would shun. Fail.

In terms of actual cycling, I completed the full 200 to 600 km series of brevets (required qualifiers for this year’s Paris-Brest-Paris 1,200 km) at a 27 km/hr+ pace, with minimal break time, and set a new BC women’s time record on the Marysville 600 with a sub-24-hour finish. Win!

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Cruising past the pit after it got dark, but before temperatures plummeted (Photo: James Folsom)

Summer Months

After a stint driving across the States as crew for the fabulous and inspiring Serpentine Golden Girls in their Race Across America attempt, I found myself in Switzerland, staying with training partner/coach/friend Brian Welsh and putting on hundreds of miles every week on a playground of winding roads surrounded by bucolic cow pasture and stunning mountain views. I rode as much as possible, pedalling to Brussels to celebrate the Grand Depart of the Tour de France, snaking a 4,400 km line from the Italian Alps to Norway’s Lofoten Islands that terminated at the end of Europe’s most northern paved road, touring the mountainous island of Corsica, and seeking out hilltop fromageries with new friends. It was, in a word, heaven.

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First wave on the start line (Photo: James Folsom)

Back in Kelowna

I returned home in late September to frigid temperatures and redneck drivers who cursed my very existence on their roads. Last year, I had spent the fall months training in sunny San Diego, and I now I really wasn’t keen on long rides in low temperatures. After being set back by a nasty cold in early October, I decided to move my training indoors to protect my lungs. Note: I ride a Kurt Kinetic Road Machine. It’s not a smart trainer, and I don’t have a power meter, or Zwift. While I was relieved to continue cycling without irritating my lungs, it was frustrating not to be able to Strava my rides—everyone knows that if it’s not on Strava, it didn’t happen. Additionally, I now had no way to measure speed: I relied entirely on heart rate and RPE to gauge my indoor intensity. Nonetheless, I completed a mix of long endurance rides (accompanied by Netflix binges), shorter interval sessions, and sweet spot workouts that fell somewhere in between. I rounded off my training by jumping in the sauna—protein-recovery drink in hand—with the aim of acclimatizing my body to the desert heat.

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I have no clue why we were laughing. (Photo: Don Forbess)

South Away! (Insert shameless plug for my debut travel memoir by the same title, available for purchase here)

Blue skies, palm trees, and my parents’ Pleasure-Way van greeted my arrival at Palm Springs International Airport. They had driven down from Canada over the previous two weeks—with stopovers in Monument Valley and Antelope Canyon—carting my spare bike along with them. In addition to my mother and father, who had upgraded their crew skillset from amateur to expert over the course of the Golden Girls RAAM attempt this summer, Trans-Am racers James Folsom and Max Lippe had volunteered to help. I was thrilled to have four people on board this year; I would be able to zip though the pit much quicker with all hands on deck.

In the days leading up to the event, our team (minus Max) met to review race goals, as well as clothing, nutrition, and hydration strategies. My father and James made sure that both of my bikes—Sarah Cervelo (my primary) and Epona the Cannondale (my backup)—were tuned up and ready to go. I also pre-rode the course several times in different conditions to gain familiarity, ease my nerves, and decide which wheelset to use. Since wind was forecast to be minimal, I opted for a pair of Zip 808s that a friend of a friend had lent me, as I believed these would provide the greatest aerodynamic advantage.

We were lucky enough to stay with Borrego Springs local Mary Olsen, as well as another fabulous retiree named Fran. Access to a kitchen, living area, workspace for the bikes, not to mention pool and hot tub, proved to be a huge bonus.

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My mom thinks it’s hilarious to kiss me in public. I guess it is kind of cute. (Photo: Don Forbess)

Race Day

I delegated as much as I could to my crew in the leadup to the race. Having filled out the waiver and collected my race package the evening prior, I didn’t turn up at Christmas Circle until 3:00 pm, after a nap, spaghetti lunch, and quick visit with some friends from San Diego who had just arrived in town. After a quick tour of the pits, I did some dynamic stretching in the shade of Christmas Circle, and laid down in the back of the Pleasure-Way to take it easy until go time at 5:00 pm.

This year, I headed out with the first wave of racers. I felt honoured just to be on the start line alongside the A-listers, but was quickly dropped. No biggie. My plan was to go out with a heart rate in my endurance zone, and just keep it nice and steady for the next 24 hours. Excellent pacing had seen me through the 2018 edition, and I believed that it would work this time around as well. I hoped that my endurance zone would align with my desired speed of 32 km/hr (19.9 mph)—which would have resulted in 760 km (472 miles) with breaks—but since I hadn’t actually trained outside for the previous month, or ridden with deep aero wheels before, I had no idea how it would go down. Imagine my surprise when I found myself flying effortlessly along at 35 km/hr (21.7 mph)—“I could do this all day!” I thought. “I’m on my way to the 500-mile club!”

Of course, this completely ignored the fact that my heartrate was through the roof. After a few laps of the 29 km (18 mile) course, I realized that I should probably ease off and settle in on my stated 32 km/hr pace. After dark, I stopped a couple times to layer up and pee, swapping out my lights and water bottles during the breaks. It was cold, but that was no surprise: race organizers had conveniently posted the weather forecast, and even though I still don’t get Fahrenheit, I came prepared with an assortment of clothing. Still, the frigid air was wreaking havoc on my lungs, and the after effects of my silly speed demon laps were catching up with me. After midnight, I found that I could no longer hold onto my target pace. I was scared, actually: with 17 hours still to go, how much slower would I become?

“Caffeine,” I barked into the mouthpiece when my crew called to ask what I needed. “I need Red Bull.”

At the next pitstop someone popped open a can while my front light was swapped out and my iPhone plugged into an external battery pack. Even in darkness, I admired the efficiency of my crew. To have four individuals—two who weren’t even related to me!—rushing to take care of my every need just seemed insane, a complete 180 from the self-supported style of events I was used to. I went back on the course rejuvenated, keen to keep my pace from slipping and not disappoint the people who had come all this way to help me succeed.

“Lap by Lap,” I reminded myself. “Just take it lap by lap.”

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Posing with my beauties: Epona & Sarah Cervelo

Daybreak

Thanks to Red Bull and Boney M, I was able to maintain a 31.7 km/hr (19.7 mph) average though the night, despite protestations from my poor, tired legs. I had asked not to be told my ranking until after sunrise, since I knew my steady approach wouldn’t land me in a top position until others started to drop.

And that’s exactly what happened.

At 9:00 am, long after the sun had climbed the mountains to illuminate the serpent’s rusty scales, I discovered that I was 10thoverall, and 1st in the women’s division.

“I’ll bet Jen Orr is nipping at my heels,” I said, with more than a hint of bitterness into the mouthpiece.

“No, she pulled out a few hours in,” my father answered.

“Christie Tracy?” I asked.

“She’s way back.”

“Crystal Spearman? Seana Hogan?”

“You’re in the lead, Meaghan. But don’t slow down.”

I grinned. It had been a hard night for everyone, it seemed, not just me.

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Pitstop: ice sock, Gatorade, salt pill & green juice (Photo: James Folsom)

Tummy Troubles

With the sun up and the 12- and 6-hour racers now on the course, I found it easy to stay motivated. My pace continued to slip—accompanied by a brief outburst of swearing every time my computer notified me of this unfortunate fact—but with my closest competitor more than a lap behind, I wasn’t stressing like I had during the night. In fact, if it weren’t for the gut bomb that was contracting in my stomach, I would have 100% enjoyed myself.

After last year’s failed fuelling strategy of egg salad croissants and peanut butter and jam sandwiches, I decided to stick to a more basic diet, with a focus on liquid calories and fast-digesting gels. I tossed a few Madeline cookies, bananas, sweet potatoes, and bite-size Halloween chocolates into the mix (as well as the occasional salt pill and ibuprofen) and slurped down baby food every time I landed in the pits. For most of the race, this mushy concoction seemed effective, but 18-20 hours in, my stomach had started to turn. Looking back, in the balancing act of trying to hydrate but avoid rushing to the Porta-Potty every lap, I probably wasn’t getting enough liquid to digest the ultra-dense gels. While not a total roadblock, I felt pretty wretched those final hours.

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Ripping up those final laps (Photo: Don Forbess)

Home Stretch

I knew that I would have to knock out six laps on the small course (7.7 km, or 4.8 miles) to break my previous year’s mileage of 456 miles (733.8 km), as well as best the course record set by Jen Orr in 2018. I flew into the pit moments after race officials had opened up the short course, amid shouts of encouragement from crew members, friends, and event supporters. This would be my last stop until the finish, I realized. My father shoved an ice sock down the back of my jersey. Someone slapped my handlebars and told me to get moving. I hit the pedals and rolled out, relieved that I wouldn’t have to tackle the hill on the back half of the course again. Once on the short loop I tucked low and found my rhythm.

“You’ve got this,” I told myself. “Enjoy it.”

My crew counted down the laps as I passed the pit:

FIVE!

FOUR!

THREE!

TWO!

LAST ONE! GO-GO-GO-GO!

Like last year, I loved those final laps of the finishing loop. I absorbed energy from the 6-hour racers as they zipped by, and swapped words of encouragement with familiar faces out on the course. I knew that a bottle of bubbly awaited, as well as the promise of real food. At 23 hours, 54 minutes, and 50 seconds, I crossed the finish line, setting a new women’s course record with 460.8 miles (741 km) with an average page of 31 km/hr (19.3 mph). Total stop time: approx. 15 minutes. Rank: 1st in the Women’s Solo Division & 6th Overall (four men and one team finished ahead of me).

I wish I had come closer to my initial goal of 760 km, but feel like it’s poor taste to complain upon winning a world championship. So I won’t. Instead, I’ll say that I have learned my lesson about going out hard, and in future will stick to the plan, even if blinded by delusions of grandeur, or an impossible conviction that I am Wonder Woman.

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Rockstar crew (left to right): Max, Carol (my mother), me, James & Laur (my father). Note the yellow “Serpentine Golden Girls” t-shirts.       (Photo: Don Forbess)

Final Thoughts, or, Hackinen Tells All: Race Secrets Revealed!

Over the past year, I’ve focused on setting goals that, as much as possible, I can control. Nonetheless, when I first looked at the women’s roster for the 24 Hour World Time Trial Championships, I was intimidated—sick to my stomach, actually. But then I reminded myself that if was going to put in the effort, and travel all this way, I want to compete against the best of the best—even if that meant I might not make the podium. I actually thought back to when I played roller derby with the Terminal City All Stars, and our coach had scheduled us to play a series of early-season games in LA against some of the toughest teams in the league. Even though the odds were against us, he believed that by pitting us against higher-level teams we would have a chance to grow, despite the losses.

That was my strongest season as a skater, and I was grateful to identify my weaknesses early on and improve.

So, going forward, I aim to be excited—not intimidated—by the competition, and continue to focus on goals that I can control. As a non-contact sport, I guess there’s no need to worry about who I’m up against in ultra-cycling events anyways, since I’m in no danger of being laid out by a swift hip check.

Now, onto the juicy training secrets…

Actually, I got nothin’.

All of my rides are on Strava, aside from the ones on my indoor trainer that I have no way of accurately uploading. I commit to strong training efforts and try to explore new routes. I aim for eight hours of sleep a night, wish that I stretched regularly (maybe in 2020?), and eat loads of leafy greens. I’m super low tech, rely on an eTrex to navigate, and don’t use a power meter; I literally just discovered the benefits of a heart rate monitor, and had James adjust the settings on my hand-me-down bike computer for me on the morning of the race. I make an effort to talk to cyclists who have more experience than I do, and listen to athlete interviews on podcasts like Finding Mastery and Rich Roll. I rely considerably on the kindness of friends and strangers to let me crash their sofas in places that I couldn’t otherwise afford to train, and accept both criticism and praise from those who take the time to deliver it to me.

Oh, and this year I discovered that compression socks aren’t just for dweebs—they’re actually amazing. I’m a total convert.

Now you know.

 

 

 

November 21, 2018

Everesting Knox Mountain

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Descending

It’s November. I’m visiting family in Kelowna, BC, working on some writing projects, but mostly, I’m just feeling antsy and not quite ready for the ride season to be over.

So I decided to everest Knox Mountain. From the folks at Hells 500: “The concept of Everesting is fiendishly simple: Pick any hill, anywhere in the world and ride repeats of it in a single activity until you climb 8,848 m—the equivalent height of Mt Everest.”

Knox Mountain Drive zigzags 3.1 kilometres from the base parking lot to the top of the hill, with an elevation gain of 241 metres and fabulous views of the downtown Kelowna on the descent. A bonus: the park is closed to vehicle traffic during winter months, leaving the road open to deer, dog walkers, and cyclists.

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Okanagan Lake & Kelowna

On paper, it sounded easy enough: if Mt Everest is 8,848 m, that meant 37 hill repeats. After training for the World Time Trial Champs, I felt fit and strong, though admittedly I hadn’t done much climbing since the summer. Temperatures have been hovering around freezing, so I knew that I’d need to stock an array of layers and warm clothing items at my basecamp. I also knew that, with shorter fall days, I’d end up doing a lot of riding in the dark.

On November 19, I conned my father into driving me down to Knox Mountain before dawn. I loaded extra clothes, bushels of bananas, GU gel, mac & cheese, as well as two litres of chocolate milk into the van and we were off. I rolled out at at 5:00 am in mittens, rain pants, wool-insulated boot covers, a hooded long-sleeve, and bandana.

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The first hours were easy: I kept up a brisk pace, and enjoyed marking off each lap on a tally sheet I’d attached to the gate at the base. As dawn came, I made a game of searching out antlered deer in the pine forest. When I took my first longer break at 11:00 am to remove some layers and have a snack, I’d completed 15 laps. My mom dropped by with pain au chocolate and fresh pressed juice, and I was pleased to report that I was doing well. The juice provided a welcome kick, the pastry a reminder of warmer days cycling through the French countryside. Things continued alright for the next few hours as I listened to episodes of Radio Lab and enjoyed the plus-Celcius temperatures.

By mid-afternoon, however, I was starting to slow down. My legs had lost their freshness, my caffeine had worn off, and I now approached the 12% section—a Strava segment known as “Knox Wall”—with a mounting sense of dread. To combat these negative thoughts, I channeled my inner Anisa Aubin—a strong, steady, and extremely resilient cyclist I met during the North Cape-Tarifa Adventure this summer (she finished the race; I did not)—and reminded myself that I didn’t need to be fast, I just needed to remain consistent. Keep the pedals turning. Just after 4:00 pm, I discovered a puncture and wasted the last minutes of daylight repairing it, which, while annoying, was still better than having to fix it in the dark.

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After sunset, my progress really started to drag. The cold air wasn’t helping my lungs either. I’d initially estimated my lap time at 23 minutes, but my ascents alone were taking that long. At 6,000 m, my body simply refused to pedal any faster; by 7,000 m, I had to coerce my legs to move at all. Sections that had seemed almost flat in the morning felt as though they were now vertical; I didn’t know it was possible for a person to ride a bike this slowly. I started taking the descents more cautiously as well, aware that fatigue had impaired my response time—better to take a few extra minutes each lap than risk a wipe out, especially this close to the finish. My dad decided to stick around at the van after dark, and for this I was grateful. I hopped inside every few laps to warm up with a poor man’s mocha; it also proved extremely satisfying to have an ear to whine to:

“This is haaaaaaaaaaaaard.”

“Whhhhhhhhhhhyyyyyyyy??”

“Uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuggg.”

My dad is great because he is supportive yet unsympathetic: doesn’t encourage or discourage, just listens and asks if anything hurts.

“No,” I’d sigh. “I’m all good.”

He brought his bike and I hoped that he’d join me for a few laps, but—no surprise—he wasn’t feeling the sub-zero temps.

I was using both my eTrex 20x and Strava on my phone to track the attempt, and on one of these chilly descents the eTrex crashed, rebooted, and crashed again. Thinking it might be the temperature, I tucked the device inside an inner pocket, alongside my phone and birthday cake-flavoured GU gel (it’s delicious, by the way).

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Triumphant exhaustion 

Two hours later than anticipated, I summited for the 37th time. Total elevation gain: 8,975 metres; distance: 249 km. Those final hours were mostly agony, interspersed with momentarily relief. I wanted to quit with ever fibre of my being, but forced myself to relive the disappointment of defeat during all those Trans Am days that I’d stopped short of achieving my daily mileage goals—this was not going to be one of those times, I’d decided.

At the end of the day, I felt an immense sense of accomplishment, as well as whole body, low-grade pain. To celebrate, I took an Epsom salt bath, and collapsed in bed snuggling my water bottle.

Would I ever Everest again? Maybe, but not in November.

To be honest, I’m more likely to toss my road bike in a dumpster and take up curling instead.

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Climb tally taped to the gate at the base

For full stats, check out my Strava or the Everesting Hall of Fame

November 2, 2018

Before & After the World 6-12-24 Hour Time Trials

Last weekend, three women broke the 24-Hour course record at the World 6-12-24 Hour Time Trial Championships in Borrego Springs, California. I was one of them. I racked up 456 miles (733.8 km) in 23:57:24 to place first in my age division (30-39) and second in the Women’s Solo division, mere minutes behind the indefatigable Jennifer Orr. It was an incredible weekend, from catching up with Trans Am friends, to racing through the moonlight. I’m still arranging my thoughts about how it all went down, but wanted to share a little before and after. A brief race report can be found in Pedal Mag; results can be found here.

Before: Check out this FitSpeek interview I did in early October, 2018, to get a sense of my training and where my head is at before the time trials.

After: Immediately following race I took a photo with Janie Hayes, Trans Am vet and 2nd place finisher in the Women’s Solo 12-Hour division, where neither of us appear nearly as floored as we undoubtedly feel. I raised a glass of champagne with my crew, then downed another two beers during the awards ceremony to drown out my immediate aches and pains. My mother (who I was sharing a bed with) tells me that I groaned through the night, which I don’t remember, though I can say that I barely had the strength to turn myself over.

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Janie and I rapping the Trans Am

But the following morning I hauled myself—with bloodshot eyes from some sort of desert dust irritation—out of bed and off to Kendall’s where I drank all of the coffee and took photos with Seana Hogan and the velociraptors. Suddenly, I felt alive again. I was reminded of my time playing roller derby and the routine of waking up the morning after a bout with that whole-body pain of being plowed over by a tractor. But as the day progresses and you have the chance to get some food in, swap stories, and relive the previous night’s glory (and suffering), the physical ailments fall to the wayside and all that’s left is exhausted bliss. I realized that I was so, so happy. As we drove past the now-familiar Christmas Circle and saw the RAAM crew finishing their tear down I grinned, stupidly content, and reached into my pocket to grab another Advil.

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Grrraw!

October 13, 2018

Borrego-go-go for Twenty-Four Hours

To wrap up an incredible summer of bike-capades in Europe, I signed up for a 24-hour time trial in the 6-12-24 World Time Trial Championships taking place October 26-27 in Borrego Springs, California. Some friends in sunny San Diego invited me to turn their house into a home base for my training camp, so here I am: cruising the shores of Encinitas, eating fish tacos, and sharing a bed with a cat named Precious.

Why did I sign up? The opportunity to rub shoulders with RAAM legend and ultra-badass Seana Hogan, for one, but also because I’m looking for a final opportunity to test my limits before the 2018 season is over. I want to know:

  • How many miles I can pack into a 24-hour period?
  • Am I able to ride through the night without stopping?
  • Will I survive the desert heat once the mercury starts to rise?
  • What crazy places will my mind go when there’s nothing left to do but pedal?

Now is my chance to find out.

Check out this rad (but totally dated) 2016 promo video for the event, and wish me luck!

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View of mountains in Anza-Borrego State Park during a reconnaissance ride 

 

October 5, 2018

Below is a reprint of the Granite Anvil 1200K writeup that I did for American Randonneur, Winter 2018 (reprinted with permission from RUSA). Enjoy!

The Granite Anvil 1200K: August 21-24, 2017

By Meaghan Hackinen

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Challenge Accepted

“You haven’t seen hills,” my ride buddy, Robert Couperthwaite, told me during our first brevet of the season, “until you attempt the Granite Anvil.”

“I’m in,” I replied.

He chuckled, perhaps mistaking my enthusiasm for insanity. But while I may live in the flatlands of Saskatchewan, at heart I’m from the West Coast, forever pining for Coastal Mountain climbs, roller-coaster island roads, and the steep slopes banking Vancouver’s downtown. I love hills like a dolphin loves tuna—I can never get enough.

By day four of the Granite Anvil, however, I may have had my fill.

The Ride

2017 marked the third edition of the Granite Anvil 1200K, hosted by Randonneurs Ontario. The ride departs from the Toronto suburb of Oshawa, taking riders for a 1200K loop on scenic back roads through eastern Ontario’s sparsely populated granite hills, cottage country, and gem-hued lakes in remote Algonquin Park. According to ride organizer, Dave Thompson, this year’s event took into consideration feedback from previous renditions: the final 100 kilometres had been rerouted to follow the relatively flat lakeshore of Lake Ontario (instead of climbing inland on busier roads) and the food at controls was revised to contain more protein sources and varied offerings, including sit-down meals, fresh seasonal fruit, and ready-to-go sandwiches. The ride included hotel accommodations (and beer!) at overnight controls, professional photography, as well as mobile support. There were 56 starters, 44 finishers, and a crew of dedicated volunteers; seven individuals participated in two pre-rides.

Day One

We set out from Durham College at 0400 hours. The first day would be the longest at 400 kilometres, followed by two 300-kilometre days and an “easy” 200-kilometre day to cap everything off.

My goal: finish in U-80 hours.

I’d completed my one previous 1200K in 84 hours on a commuter bike with sneakers, so figured with an upgrade to a road bike and cleats, my goal was achievable as long as I could maintain pace and stay on course. I had a last-minute challenge upgrade when my phone crashed during the flight en route. No phone meant zero distractions: no music, social media, or motivational messages from back home. Luckily, I was loaned a Spot Tracker so that the support vehicle (as well as friends and family) could keep tabs on my whereabouts.

After a few final reminders and notes of caution about potentially sketchy gravel sections, we were off. I pedaled alongside fellow Prairie Randonneurs Marj Oneschuk and Bob, climbing gradually up to the Niagara Escarpment until I lost them on one of the hills. Alone, I chased down the twinkling red of riders’ taillights ahead of me, picking up pace on the rolling climbs as my legs warmed up. Daylight seeped in slowly to reveal ominously dark clouds, threatening precipitation. Regardless, I felt charged and alive, experiencing gleeful relief as the clouds parted to let sunshine filter through. The first control at the McDonalds parking lot in Alliston provided a welcome break.

“Selfie!” screamed Shab Memar, volunteer and partner of rider Hamid Akbarian.

I turned just in time for Shab to snap a photo of the two of us, her looking impeccably fresh and me already rosy-cheeked and sweat-glistening. Shab would become the unofficial photographer of the GA, collecting photos of all the riders and uploading them to the group Facebook Page with astonishing regularity.

The remainder of day one flew by as the rolling hills giving way to farmland that transitioned to rocky Canadian Shield (the Granite!). Aided by the readily available granola bars, fruit, and refreshments at the controls, I made my stops brief and efficient. On a curvy back road I caught up with Larry Graham, a returning rider who participated in the GA during the inaugural run in 2009.

“There was this section that they called the glutebuster,” he told me in hushed tones. “Imagine: you’re near the end of a 1200K, and then they throw this at you. Pure torture.”

Lucky for us, this year’s edition did not include the glutebuster.

We arrived at the control at Wood Fired Pizza Joint in Torrance to find bikes aplenty in disarray across the lawn. Despite the beckoning aroma of baking dough, I wanted to cash in on the remaining hour of daylight. I switched on my lights and took off toward overnight control at Parry Sound, reveling in the smooth pavement, wide shoulder, and minimal climbing of the day’s final 60 kilometres.

Day Two

Another early start. At the urging of Shab, I rode out from the overnight control with her husband Hamid.

“Take care of each other,” she said.

The route dipped and swerved through misty darkness, cool undercurrents of air indicating the passing of small bodies of water. Hamid and I exchanged stories and before we knew it, we were approaching the first control of the day in Huntsville alongside early morning truck traffic. From Huntsville I rode with Ontario-rider Jim Raddatz, the two of us breathlessly tackling 15% grades, grateful that this section of the route pulled away from the main roads and vehicle traffic was infrequent. Overhead, leaves rustled in the wind, the only sound aside from our own heaving exhalations.

Jim and I joined a handful of other riders for lunch at the mid-day checkpoint in Algonquin Park, including Jerzy Dziadon, first-time-1200-rider John Cummings, and the wisecracking duo of Renato Alessandrini and Albert Koke. The scenery in Algonquin Park—pristine green wilderness reflected in the glassy lakes—was glorious. If I have one regret, it’s not taking the time to strip down and take a plunge.

I spent much of the afternoon pedaling alone, enjoying the challenge of the quick climbs and rush of the swift down hills. The final few kilometres of the day circled around the calm waters of Elephant and Baptiste Lake before routing into the picturesque town of Bancroft. I joined the others for a buffet-style dinner at the Eagle’s Nest Restaurant before we made our way back to motel rooms, road-weary but refueled.

Day Three

A series of steep climbs took us out of Bancroft. Held up by a rear flat, I caught up to Jim, John and Jerzy as the rose-hued pre-dawn sky transitioned to brilliant sunshine, midway up an unforgivably steep climb.

The volunteer crew had been relentless in reminding us that the early-hours ride out of Bancroft would be chilly.

“It’s called Siberia Road,” said volunteer Dick Felton. “Let that sink in. It’s going to be cold.”

I was glad to have heeded their advice and layered up, taking the extra step to pull my blue latex surgical gloves over cycling gloves for better insulation. A rewarding downhill brought us into Barrys Bay, where riders de-layered and sipped hot coffee at the day’s first control. I rolled out again with John, Jim and Jerzy, enjoying the amiable atmosphere of chasing each other up and down rolling climbs. The words on the Granite Anvil homepage—“If you’re not going up, you’re going down,”—aptly describe it.

I had my first encounter with the support vehicle after I pulled over to change another flat.

“Noticed your dot stopped in the middle of nowhere,” said the volunteer. “Just thought I’d come along to see if you were okay.”

I was—if there’s one thing I can do it’s fix a flat—but the fact that the support vehicle had tracked me down to ensure my wellbeing was a heartwarming gesture, and demonstrated the level of care afforded to Granite Anvil participants.

In every way conceivable the volunteers were amazing, putting in long hours and catering to our every sleep-deprived whim. While I usually pride myself on self-sufficiency, I was surprised how much I enjoyed the convenience of supported controls. I had a great time chatting with the volunteer crew and appreciated knowing that if I required mechanical assistance, it would be available. Huge thanks to everyone who came out to support this ride—we couldn’t have done it (and wouldn’t have had nearly as much fun) without you!

By the time I reached the final night control of day three in Napanee I was close to my limit. The sun swung low on the horizon illuminating golden fields, and the evening breeze chilled any exposed skin. Volunteers Shab and Kathy Brouse waved us into the final night control, cheering our arrival: “You made it!”

Riders feasted on lasagna, garlic toast, and salad thick with creamy Caesar dressing. I climbed into bed at 9:15 pm and set my alarm for three hours.

Day Four

Night riding has always been a challenge. Generally, I try to avoid it, but since I aimed to complete the GA in less than 80 hours, this time it was non-negotiable. The route followed quiet country roads out of Napanee where I tuned into the rhythms of my body, my eyes tracing the silhouettes of trees. Aside from a few harrowing moments when I dog burst from the darkness to give chase, I had a superb ride. Despite being without a phone, I was never bored, never lonely.

I crossed the high bridge over the Bay of Quinte and then followed the bay to Carrying Place, passing by cottages interspersed by small towns. Since the supported control wasn’t yet open, I stopped at a 24-hour convenience store to have my brevet card stamped and refuel with a microwaved breakfast sandwich. As I reached the Waterfront Trail on the north shore of Lake Ontario the day was dawning, and I welcomed the morning sights.

Not long after Carrying Place my rear shift cable broke. With only two gears, the final hundred kilometres of the ride—especially the climb from the lakeshore into Oshawa—proved nothing short of soul crushing, but I managed, pumped full of adrenaline from the thrill of finishing within my goal. I was forced to walk my bike up the nastier climbs, wincing in embarrassment at the sound of my cleats on pavement.

I finished in 78 hours and 24 minutes, welcomed by the enthusiastic volunteer crew and bestowed a medal with the ceremony of a medieval knighting. GA veteran Marcel Marion had been the first rider in, no surprise since he was the quickest to reach all of the controls from day two onward. Arriving early meant I had the opportunity to greet other riders; instead of catching up on sleep I spent the better part of the day drinking beer and enjoying the camaraderie, balancing out the solitude of the previous night.

The festivities continued into the evening with a pizza party wrap-up and medals awarded to the Can-Am Challenge finishers. A few riders rolled in mid-meal, the whole room turning to applaud their efforts. Everyone, even those who DNF-ed, seemed to have a story. Unfortunately, my memory is fogged by exhaustion and/or beer, so here is a sampling of emailed and online comments:

  • Support great but I only used one “drive by support”you guys did a great job but could sleep a little more?
  • I was never hungry.  There was plenty of food and drinks. I particularly liked the chicken and ribs in Bancroftdelicious and just what I needed.
  • GREAT!!!! You were with us on the road. Couldn’t ask for better support. I’ll be back in 2021!
  • Loved the route. It was scenic and beautiful with a variety of terrain. I wish I was faster so I could have seen more of it in the daylight, but that is something I need to improve, not you.
  • The mobile support was unbelievable! A+! perfect! Amazing! And I mean that literally, I can’t believe the dedication of the mobile support. Their work looked far more tiring than the ride… I loved the ride, I loved the atmosphere you created, the people I shared it with and everything about it.
  • THANK YOU again for a challenging but gorgeous ride with the best support and volunteers I’ve ever encountered. While the PBP Benevoles were awesome of course… you guys did it with far fewer folks and greater encouragement, especially during the ride. Can’t say enough for your roving support guys and nice folks each night. Hard to say who stood out the most as everyone had different contributions.
  • I just hope that our 1200 next year goes as well as Granite Anvil!

As for me? I’ll be back for another round of punishment four years from now at the 2021 Granite Anvil.

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Showing off my completed Granite Anvil 1200K brevet card