One of the best days

Today was no doubt one of the best days thus far on the trip. Our route was long, challenging, beautiful and rather rewarding. The people on the road alongside me were full of hilarious conversation. The weather was splendid, overcast and mid-twenties. I got to sleep in all the way until 6 am.

I’ll make an attempt to give a brief overview of the day because these broad sweeping strokes don’t paint a terribly beautiful picture for everyone who couldn’t ride a bike today.

I have to start out by saying that there was no elevation profile given for the ride today, a blessing and a curse. We knew there was a pass to cross but didn’t know how steep or how high it would be. We didn’t know how soon the climbing started once we left camp and didn’t really know if it was downhill or rolling after that. We set out on our bikes soon after 7 am knowing there were about 150 kms to travel and not a whole lot else.

I teamed up with 5 others while leaving camp, Jeff Schoon, Jenna Zee, Jessica Fox, Julia Wissink and Hilena Zylstra who was quickly re-named Jelena for the day so that she’d fit the mold with the others on the J-team.

We started by loosing around 500 feet of elevation within the first 5 miles. It was downright cold to be blasting along at 60 kph without getting warmed up first but there wasn’t much complaining about that. After a quick left we proceeded to gain that 500 feet back and another 300 within 2.5 miles of highway. If we could coast along at 60 stretched out over 5 miles you can imagine that all that elevation squeezed into a 2.5 mile stretch meant for a bit of a steep “Welcome to Monday Morning!” kind of climb.

When we reached anoverlook and turned around we saw that the downhill grade had a warning for an 8% grade. Serious stuff to accomplish before 7:30 in the morning.

We proceeded to cross a few rolling hills before Hilena… sorry… Jelena got a flat tyre and insisted on changing it herself. 36 minutes later we were rolling along again and that was going to be the flavour of the day, lots of breaks, lots of long breaks, and not a lot of reason for them to be so frequent or so long except that we were in no rush. Jessica and Jeff were long gone, 36 minutes long gone by then and our riding group was whittled down to 4.

The climb to the pass started without much of an announcement, we were following the bank of a small river up the valley and were distracted by the water so didn’t pay much attention to the fact that we were crawling along at 26 kph. 26 soon became 24 and soon became 22, We rolled up to Walter Vink’s support vehicle and filled up our water around the 50 km mark of the day. Everyone felt like our tyres were low on air, that our hubs were full of glue and that our legs were out of practice from taking Sunday off. That lack of elevation profile was probably a good thing, no reason to take on the hill climbing mentality, we just pretended we were slow and needed to rest more than normal.

Walter then told us that we were going to be going up, and that there were about 7.5 miles of it before the peak. That’s a big climb and the mentality changed. We were now climbing a hill. The sluggish legs were traded in for climbing legs and the dawdling minds were traded in for the focused ones. Those 7.5 miles were tough, the climb was steep and the lungs burned more than the legs. We were reaching the level at which elevation would begin to influence the riding, not by much, maybe only 1% but enough to notice and that was exciting in and of itself.

The second to last mile was a real kicker, I was out of the seat in my second to easiest gear (that’s about 2 gears easier than my easiest gear while sitting) and really going at it. The final mile gave a bit of reprieve and soon enough the summit sign was in sight. 9485 feet above sea level to boot.

After taking a much longer than necessary break at the summit and shooting photos with the sign we saw a semi-trailer go past and bemoaned the fact that we weren’t ready to try and draft it down the hill. Just then a second semi trailer came around the bend and John Vanderveen, Alex VanGeest and myself lept into action. We worked harder for the first 2 kilometers of the descent than the entire ascent trying to catch up to the semi trailer on the downhill and finally caught it’s draft. The driver was taking it easy and we could see that the semi trailer ahead of it was going a bit faster. Out of the draft we went, into the passing lane and passed the semi trailer on the downhill at around 75 kph. We worked hard again and I managed to catch the draft of the semi trailer ahead. John also caught on for a stretch but fell off. I was all by myself behind that semi trailer and I had high hopes of breaking 80 kph. Indeed we had a straightaway and the semi trailer let off the brakes a bit and got up to 81.6 kph a new personal record top speed! The semi trailer honked, I backed off and he turned off into a neighbouring farm. I then proceeded to set another record of my own and crossed a cattle grate at 71 kph. I waited up for John and Alex to catch me and together we cruised into the town of Hanna.

I waited up for the J-team at the local cafe and we got some coffee and pie. Everyone else hd the same bright idea and the cafe was standing room only, we ate all of their apple and blueberry pies. Their cherry and peach pies were almost running out by the time we left as well. We guessed that they were supposed to be the entire week’s supply. Leaving town the gradual downhill continued and we cruised along into a moderate headwind for another 20 miles. At this point Jenna decided to have a flat tyre and changed it herself in only 5 minutes much to Jelena’s dismay. It was done 98% correctly but Lawrence and myself needed to get in there and reposition the tube so it wasn’t pinched under the bead because there was no way this was going to turn into another 36 minute tyre changing game.

The ride from there into Duchesne was more downhill and between Jelena and myself we managed to suck John Vanderveen along at 25 miles an hour for almost the entire 18 remaining miles into the headwind without him pedaling at all.

Arriving in camp we had spent 10 hours on the road and ridden for 5 hours and 26 minutes. We had ascended 4700 vertical feet and covered 149 kilometers. Arrangements had been made to use the local pool for showers and a quick swim. The lifeguards there were amazing and didn’t care what kind of stunts we tried on the diving boards, quite opposite to our experiences in La-Grande and Ellensburg. That’s all for now though, I’m off to bed. We’ve got another relatively long day ahead with a moderate amount of climbing, it’s split up though so shouldn’t be too tricky. Rumour is that we’ve got to build a tent shower tomorrow for our stay in Dinosaur, that announcement tonight was greeted with 50% cheers and 50% groans. Read back to the account from Snowville last Thursday if you missed it, I suppose it was a polarizing experience.

A couple of items for prayer:

  • Arnie Isset ruptured his achilles tendon last thursday and has returned to Michigan for medical attention. Pray for complete healing and that he would be at peace with the fact that he likely won’t be able to rejoin the tour this summer.
  • Art Smit (whom I’ve done a lot of riding with this summer) who had a sprained ankle in week one has had knee trouble recently which may or may not be related to a modified riding style trying to keep stress off that ankle. He’s had to take a few days off even though the rest of his body would love to get out and ride. Pray for quick recovery.
  • Stephanie Webb (whom I have ridden with a bit this summer) arrived with knee trouble but has been able to ride each day thus far. Today was too much and she had to pack it in before getting to camp. The decision to take a ride in a vehicle ‘is a very tough one and I couldn’t imagine having to make it for myself. Pray for peace with her decision, that there would be no regrets about having to miss a piece of one day. Pray that she would reap the rewards of not pushing it too far today and that she would be able to successfully ride many more days this week and the rest of the summer.

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