+

James Wanless

this is where I write

Ride2Survive

I tried typing with a sore, swollen wrist with Naproxen and Tylenol 3s in my system the day after the event – not the most effective way of writing. As such I had to get my thoughts down while this amazing event was a little less fresh in my mind, the day after the day after the event. It was probably the most enjoyable and worthwhile injury I’ve ever had, too, but more on that later. Apologies in advance for a long journal entry.

Months of preparation

It’s a mix of pride and melancholy when something you’ve been preparing for months for is finally done and that’s certainly the case with this. I’d never heard of Ride2Survive last year when I stumbled upon it while Googling alternatives to the Ride to Conquer Cancer. I wanted to find something big, challenging and sweaty that I could do to help in the fight against cancer. My wife is a six-year breast cancer survivor, captaining a Run for the Cure team for a couple years and raising a fair bit of dough along the way. Cancer research and treatment is very important to us for obvious reasons – after this experience, even more so.

What made this ride all the more special for me, is that it really became a family affair. My wife Connie volunteered to be a ride day crew member, as did my 19 year old son Tyler. My eldest son Malcolm wasn’t sure he could make it up to Kelowna, so he moved back home for a couple days, holding down the fort and dogsitting. Both my kids donated money, too. The whole thing really warmed my heart.

When I found Ride2Survive, the idea of grinding out nearly 400k on the bike with a lot of climbing (in one day), and fundraising for cancer research sounded ideal for me. The fact that not a penny of the money raised went to administrative and marketing costs was the clincher. I signed up last fall, paying the $200 rider fee and preparing myself for meeting the $1500 personal fundraising target. I’m not a natural fundraiser, so when the goalposts were suddenly upped by $1000 to accommodate the lofty $400,000 target this year, I viewed raising $2500 to be a bigger challenge than training for and completing a 390k one day bike ride. I’m happy to report that with many emails sent, the help of my beautiful wife, and our attendance at one of the mall fundraisers, we were able to bring in $3225 for the cause. For those of you who donated and are reading this, I thank you again from the bottom of my heart. You were simply amazing.

I won’t rehash the training here, except for a few quick stats. I keep a fairly solid base of cycling, so it wasn’t like starting from scratch for me. It would have been easy to ride 4000 or more kilometers since February in prep for this, as that’s when the training rides begin formally. I’ve also been dealing with some significant nerve problems in my left foot, and finally, I had to finish leading a 10k Sun Run clinic through April 15th, so I couldn’t get out for the early Sunday training rides. I began building my own ride-specific base in early April and began joining the R2S training rides in late April. In the past 10 weeks or so, including the ride itself yesterday, I’ve done 35 rides for a total of nearly 2500 km, including 95 hours in the saddle, 50,000+ calories burned and nearly 23 kilometers of climbing.

Kelowna

photo

Tyler looking thrilled on the bus in Delta

As of Thursday, all the emails, fundraising and training rides were in the past for the most part. It was time to pack up, buck up and get up to Kelowna. While you’re doing all the fundraising and training, as a first time rider you still haven’t connected all the dots of this thing. Yes, you know you’re going to do a big ride. Yes, you know you’ve been raising funds for cancer research, and yes, you’ve met some cool people who are doing the same things as you are. You’ve still got lots of questions about ride day logistics and, in my wife’s and son’s case, how all the crewing will play itself out. The “Potty 1” crew assignment did cause them some initial apprehension, but in truth, all crew ends up pitching in on pretty much everything at the stops. While all those niggling little remaining questions get answered in due course, what you don’t realize is that you’re about to be hit square between the eyes with what this event is really all about.

After the bus ride up, checking into the hotel, getting stickers affixed to everything, last minute bike checks, bottles, electrolyte prep, chain lubing, fender attachment and ride bag preparation, there’s a final supper at Mainland Community Church. The church volunteers who do the meal (and apparently have for the whole 8 years so far) – as with all volunteers for this event – are amazing, but that’s still not what really gets you. There’s a final full meeting of all crew and riders after dinner. One by one, everyone stands. Some speak for no more than ten seconds, while others have five minute stories – each one documenting why they’re doing this, who they’re doing it for and what it means to them. I am not given to much emotional sentimentality, but listening to the stories I was in tears many times, in awe, dumbfounded in fact, at the profound sense of hope in the room, despite some of the most difficult experiences I’ve ever listened to people talk about. People who’ve held friends or family members as they succumbed to cancer, or who’ve watched love ones fight, sometimes winning, sometimes not. Those who’ve lost people counting in the double digits, or babies who aren’t out of diapers. The joy when someone beats this disease. Within two hours, you know exactly why you’re doing this and what it means and, at least for me, I really didn’t until that meeting. At the outset, Tyler was wondering why we needed a last big meeting. Within two hours the family (and I dare say the rest of the room) was completely blown away.

Whatever motivates, the common thread that bound the riders and crew in that room was as real as a physical chain. No one wants anyone else to see what they’ve seen and feel what they’ve felt; that when someone else gets cancer it won’t generate the initial, “Oh Fuck” moment that turns lives upside down and makes people wonder if they’ll see their next birthday. When I extend the experiences of a couple hundred people to its logical conclusion over history and the broader population, the impact of this disease is mind-numbing; absolutely incalculable and it must be defeated. This group is about finding a cure. One will be found through research and research takes money. As of this writing, that initial $400,000 2012 goal? Shattered. $410,000 and counting. Donations can still be accepted at any time by going here, picking a rider and pulling out your credit card.

Ride Day

start-line-photo

10 minutes to go time at the church

We got back to the hotel after some further fueling, around 10:00pm. No one much sleeps the night before, but if there’s any chance for some shuteye, I posited that it would come in a hotel room and not in a sleeping bag on the church basement floor. I guess three hours is about as good as it gets. I think Connie got a bit more, but Tyler and I got to sleep around 11-11:15 and woke up to the alarm clock at the luxuriously late hour of 2am. We were eating oatmeal at the church by 3am and, save for choosing what to wear in the abnormally balmy 17 degree celcius temps, 110 riders pushed off from Kelowna at 3:30 am.

Support

The first key issue for me was support, which, on this ride, was second-to-none. Volunteers hold your bike, bring you a plate of food, fill your bottles with water or e-load, clean up your road rash, help you change riding clothes, let you lean on them, help you up and down the potty trailer stairs … Get the idea? I’m not just saying this because their ranks included my son and wife. Amazing. The food was sensational. The spread we had at our Merritt lunch and Hope dinner was killer. Every stop included fruit, gels, bars, e-load, water, baked treats and all sorts of odds and ends. I don’t sense anyone was ever not fueled enough (unless due to their own lack of planning ;-)) Bocconcini, tomato and Balsamic at Britton Creek rest stop? Are you kidding me? Mechanical support, too – out of this world. If you got a flat (which I thankfully didn’t), all you had to do was let a ride captain know and pull over. That information was then radio’d to the mechanical truck who would stop, swap your wheel provided there was a fit, and you’d be on your way in 20 seconds. The flat would be fixed and your own wheel would be back on your bike at the next rest stop. Did I mention a traveling lane closure police escort courtesy of Delta Police and the RCMP due to an affiliation with Cops for Cancer? For the entire day. Amazing.

In fact, other than the police escort support, we had this kind of support through pretty much all training rides, too. My heart is overflowing with appreciation for every aspect of support this ride had, due to the great R2S supporting organizations and incredible volunteers. Riders had to think about nothing but what they needed at the next rest stop and just getting it done.

The combination of the unusually warm starting temperature, the eery quiet of the roads at that time (except for the occasional police escort intersection siren and the glowing chain of red blinky bicycle lights on the road ahead of me) made the start to the ride surreal. The first stop at Johnson Bentley Memorial Aquatic Centre in Westbank is only notable for me as it was the first of many glimpses I got of Connie and Tyler in action. AC/DC loudly blasting into the Okanagan air at 4:15am was kind of cool too. Every single stop for the rest of the day ended with me high-fiving my son (and many other volunteers) and kissing my wife. Near perfect context for a near perfect day.

Pennask

chainup-pennask-photo

A typical rest stop – a foggy Pennask chain up area

tyler-pennask-photo

Tyler enjoying the potty gig

connie-pennask-photo

Happy to help, Connie at Pennask chain up

However, I got a much better look at them, snapping a pic or two at the Pennask chain up area around 5:30am. The climb up Pennask was certainly long, but whether it was just due to it being early in the ride or total fog, it didn’t feellike a heavy climb. The course profile below verifies that it was solid, so I have no idea what effect was at work for my legs. In fact, as I polish this two days post-event, I remain stupefied at how good my legs feel.

While all volunteers made my day, it was a real blessing to see Tyler and Connie’s happy faces every time I wheeled into a rest stop. As I’ll describe shortly, having my family there may well have avoided me having to pull out of the ride earlier than Mission. Approaching Pennask summit sometime around 7am, the sun had broken through the clouds and things were great. Unfortunately, this was the genesis of the aforementioned injury.

ride-elevation-image

R2S elevation – the first (Pennask) climb is a good one

At some point just before the Pennask summit rest stop, I had to suddenly veer to avoid crossing wheels with the rider in front of me. I guess I veered just a bit too sharply and I was on the pavement before I knew it. I was back on my bike and riding within about 15 seconds, but unfortunately I broke my fall directly with the palm of my hand. I pulled into the stop minus a nickel sized patch of skin on my right knee and a pretty sore right wrist. Connie cleaned up my knee for me, I refilled my bottles and spent some time flexing and stretching out my wrist and fingers. I sensed that my wrist might complain more as the ride went on, but it was nothing that was going to cause me to pull out at this point, and nothing that a little Alleve and Tylenol 1 wouldn’t hold at bay. As I started riding again, the right hand was stiff, but I could still shift and brake and the palm of my right hand was able to take pressure as I rested it on the handlebar and hood. This may well have been the adrenaline talking, but I was able to ride. Most important of all, of course, upon detailed inspection, my bike was absolutely fine. Cut my hand off if you need to but my carbon frame better not have a crack in it.

I referred to this injury in positive terms in the opening paragraph, not because it really was an enjoyable and worthwhile injury in and of itself, but because it happened in the course of this event. If I had to take one for the team (and not cause someone else to crash), then taking a little sprain for this team was absolutely no problem. Despite the fact that this injury progressively got worse and did force me to cut my ride short at Mission, it never dampened my spirit one bit all day. Plus, I did all the major climbing and got about 85% of the ride done – a success by any measure except completeness.

Merritt and Coquihalla

The wrist was pretty good through the rolling stuff past Pennask and I managed the big downhill to Merritt pretty well, though as you can see below, I stayed a little more upright than I typically like to when descending. Emilio was pumping my tires about my hand and I was still braking and shifting decently, though I did notice that hitting bumps on the road (particularly while cruising downhill at high speed) was causing significant discomfort to my wrist. Our 10am ‘lunch’ break at Merritt was rushed for me, since I had to eat, change kits and get my road rash cleaned and arm bandaged by paramedics. I was pretty proud of my family, with Connie ensuring I was fed and Tyler getting my bottles filled and getting me to my ride bag quickly. At this point I could still dress myself. The first major food spread was beyond awesome, too.

R2S 2012 5067 bwk 1080

A little too upright, but managing the descent fine, thank you very much

The rolling overall climb through Larson Hill up to Britton Creek on the Coquihalla was somewhat uneventful for me. The legs were feeling great – freakishly great in fact – and while it was getting harder to use my hand, I could still brake and shift enough that I expected to complete the ride. Timewise, Britton Creek is getting close to the halfway point of the ride with most of the climbing also under our belt. However, the difficulty I was beginning to have in using my hand was my grip strength. By this time I’d already had to switch to using my left hand for drinking and I couldn’t open gels or bar packs while riding any more. The motor skills for package tearing just weren’t there. Continuing our climb to and past the Coquihalla summit didn’t provide any more problems. We still hadn’t seen any significant moisture to this point in the ride, though the 17 degrees we’d had in Kelowna nine hours earlier had dropped to single digits in the mountains. Nothing approaching cold, though.

I was riding alongside Al Jenkins and chatting about my wrist just before we were to descend westward toward Hope. He sensed the symptoms suggested I might have a Scaphoid bone fracture. As of this writing, most of the remaining tightness is in my high wrist on the back side, with upward flexion proving the most difficult – almost like more of a forearm strain or bone bruise. I will see how it progresses and possibly get an x-ray this week, but the improvement I’ve seen in less than two days since the ride ended, and where the discomfort remains, suggests it’s not the Scaphoid. Since I kicked his Coke over at Merritt, I figured I better listen to him, though.

The long westward descent from the Coquihalla summit wasn’t fun for me. It should have been. Normally I’d be looking to hit some nice high speeds, only braking when necessary to maintain control. As we came around to the windy and wet side of the pass, true to its reputation, we hit the tail end of our first torrential rain and water was running across the road in sheets. My grip was just beginning to fail me at this point, too. Moving my first and second fingers medially to shift was really difficult and pulling the brake lever was not very fluid, requiring focus more akin to surgery than cycling. Resting on the handlebar was a bit achy in general, but going over bumps was producing significant discomfort; much like small electrical jolts through my forearm. In other words heading downhill on a 9% grade at high speed on very wet roads on essentially one brake, was a white knuckle ride and a half. I never let myself go really fast and probably didn’t go above 65km/hr for fear of being a danger to myself and those around me. As the pack turned off the Coquihalla at exit 183 and rolled into Hope, the short climbs were also producing some significant discomfort in my right arm. Settling into my saddle and granny gear and grinding hills is something of a favourite of mine – I love ’em. Pulling on the handlebar to get up the hill wasn’t the usual enjoyable experience. As we rolled into town for our 3:30-ish dinner break, it was the first time I seriously considered pulling out of the ride.

Hope and Deroche

I don’t know if it was the killer veggie lasagna and perogy feedbag, more Alleve and Tylenol 1, three gels and a pack of clif bloks, or the beautiful sun and 20-something temps, but after struggling through a change of kit and getting the big team photo taken, I just wasn’t ready to quit riding at the end of the Hope rest stop. Maybe it was that 5-6 hours in the SAG just felt wrong to me; just not sure. This change of clothes was pretty difficult, too, as I was forced to do the whole thing with my left hand. In keeping with what this is all about, I considered the wrist to be just one more struggle and nothing I couldn’t endure. I rationalized that since there weren’t any major descents left I could keep my shifting to a smaller range of gears and mitigate the safety issue my hand was seeming to become.

As we headed toward Aggasiz on the 7 it seemed like I was on the right track. We got a semi-rotating pace line going for a bit in the sun and, while a building headwind was making holding the pace line difficult, I was able to tolerate the wrist, though it was definitely what I’d call persistently painful by this time. Perhaps the Hells Angels whizzing by was an omen, but it clouded over quickly and the skies to the west could only be described as ominous – blackened with those telltale strings of rain hanging like angry tears on the horizon.

Within half an hour or so of leaving Hope trees began to lean nearly sideways, rain started spitting and we stopped the rotating paceline. Oddly enough I found myself riding right at the front of the pack behind the pace vehicle, paired with Al Jenkins again, 2 up and chatting with Pam et al inside the truck. Spitting begat showers, showers begat rain, rain begat a torrential flood of Biblical proportions, and the wind remained strong and gusty; just shy of sandblasting strength. I recall Chad enjoying this stretch immensely directly behind me. During our banter, Al and I recognized how lucky we were to be drafting a little off the truck and getting the wind broken for us. We hoped to stay there as long as we could and did so straight through to the Deroche rest stop.

It was during this little stretch of banter with the truck folks that they relayed to me that cancer warrior and all-around nice guy Rob had just tweeted the following wishes:

 

deroche-james-photo

Sopping wet, me tweet-pic’d by the pace truck

Pam asked (well, yelled through the rear truck window, really) if they could snap a pic and tweet it back to Rob. The likelihood of me being right there as they read that tweet was so low that I couldn’t possibly refuse. The result to the left (or above, depending on how you’re viewing this) doesn’t really show how wet we were at this point.

If there was one good thing about the rain and wind, it’s that it was so intense that for an hour or so, I pretty much completely forgot about my wrist. That temporary solace was utterly shattered when I left the Deroche rest stop and went up that tiny. little. HILL.

Just below you can see a different pic – from the wonderful R2S 2012 Flickr stream – that demonstrates a little more clearly how completely unpleasant riding conditions were at this point.

R2S 2012 6870 bwk 1080

Riding in full-on nastiness behind the pace truck

Deroche to Mission

As we rolled into the Deroche stop, gas heaters were fired up, sugar and soup were flowing and everyone was soaked to the bone. This is when my son Tyler really stepped up to the plate. I was wet, but not cold yet, however, I really couldn’t use my hand at all to grab and pull; essential functions for dressing oneself. I needed a complete clothing change right down to shorts and socks. There have to be few things in this world that a 19 year old guy relishes less than dressing his old man, but he rocked. I’m sure other volunteers would have stepped up to the plate if necessary, but that he would do this for me meant more than I can say. My hand was near useless and I had to make the decision to skip the hill and start riding again at Mission, stop riding altogether, or suck it up and save the decision for later.

While the last hills before Hope hadn’t been pleasant, climbing wouldn’t force me to brake and control my speed and I still had a couple tepid shifts left in the right hand, so it was back on the bike for me. Besides, getting into the SAG and skipping the hill didn’t seem to honour Tyler’s effort – a scene perhaps never to be repeated in our lives again. As well, since I didn’t know what things would look like from Mission on, I knew that riding the Deroche hill would be a gnarly, but blessedly short, climb and then roll a bit and flatten out to Mission.

While it was indeed short, at the roughly 300k point of the ride, an 11% climb is none too pleasant, even with the recent dump of rain and gale force winds finally subsiding. Unable to put significant weight on my right wrist meant I had no option to stand during the climb and take a bit of the stress off my hips; an essential comfort strategy for small portions of steep climbs. Grade-wise, this one is in the same category as Cypress and Seymour. I should note here that, even in the discomfort I was experiencing, I was in awe of how the group tackled and conquered this little dose of late stage hill love. As I sat and began grinding up Deroche, my wrist told me clearly and unequivocally that it wasn’t going to do any more climbing. Every pull on the handle bars was causing my arm to jolt in muscular revolt; the whole thing being a complete wince-fest. The pack regrouped at the top of the hill before rolling on toward Mission through the Lougheed Highway portion of the old H2H relay course. I’d run into Brett a couple times leading up to this point and I think he was surprised to see me still riding as we rolled toward the Mission turn-off. My chats with various riders, such as Chad, Ryan, Nick and Kacem, were full of good thoughts and encouragement, but for the first time in the ride, I was pretty sure I’d be packing it in at Mission.

The only hope I had for remaining in the ride until the end, was if absolutely everything from Mission to Delta was pancake flat and well lit. I knew I simply couldn’t descend or climb one more hill of any size, lest I be a real danger to myself or other riders. As I queried those who’d done this before and remembered that we’d be doing the Golden Ears crossing and at least some climbing and descending around Maple Ridge and near the very end around Scott Road, I was also told that some of the roads leading into Delta were pitch black and in very poor condition. Climbing, descending, bumps, holes and pitch black roads were simply not on with that wrist.

At the Mission rest stop, with roughly 60k of riding left, I made the disappointing, but entirely appropriate, decision to end my ride. The bike was loaded into the truck, I wished several riders luck for the remaining distance, my carbs and fluids were replenished and I jumped into SAG 5 for the rest of the journey. We cheered along the way, hit Planet Ice in Maple Ridge for the final rest stop and, after dropping Charles off so that he could ride the final 3k when the pack regrouped at 64th and Scott Road, ended up at the finish about 45 minutes before the riders came in. Charles tried to get me to join – and I wanted to – but the wrist wouldn’t have any of it. Plus, my helmet and cycling shoes were in a bag in the Potty 1 truck and I had no way to get them.

The end of the journey at Cap’s South Shore in Delta was very cool. With the pipe band blaring and people lining the street, 200 odd cancer fighting rock stars ended their epic ride or crewing shortly after 11pm. I really couldn’t stay, as my arm was in need of ice and pain relievers in the worst way. Proud, elated and wiped, the three of us headed home to Vancouver.

In closing

My decision to stop riding was disappointing only in the sense of not completing the distance, but I’m completely proud of the nearly 330k I did ride and of the fact that I somehow managed to ride about 250k on an injured wrist. Given how my legs felt when I stopped, there wasn’t a doubt in my mind about my ability to be strong through the whole 390k. I spent a day riding my bike to kick cancer’s ass with many other cool people doing exactly the same thing. I’m unbelievably proud of what these people managed to accomplish together; every dime of $410,000+ raised for cancer research and an amazing endurance effort that makes most peoples’ jaws drop when you tell them about it. I made several new friends and now have a perspective on people and teamwork that I never had before. Something significant changed for me over about 30 hours, from 6pm Friday to midnight Saturday. On a completely personal note, this was just one more example of how my wife and sons absolutely rock.

On Garmin

Top