Cabot Trail Challenge 2002

Fourteen bike racers, super jocks and wannabees left Cheticamp at 6:25 a.m. Saturday Sept. 7 for the annual one day race around the Cabot trail by bike. The three or four top cycle racers in the Province were there, along with Dan Smith, Mark Beaver, a local Sydney powerhouse named Basil, and several other super-jocks, including Mark Campbell, who will be competing in the World Eco Challenge in Fiji . I seemed to be the sole entry in the Grandfather / Tourist division, and was feeling exceedingly humble ....much like you would expect to feel lining up at the start at Boston with a bunch of those little skinny guys from small African countries where no one except marathoners have any shoes. Even my beloved racing bike looked like the poorest of cousins compared to the surrounding machinery.

There was a slight tailwind as we headed off counterclockwise in the direction of Baddeck just as daylight was starting to brighten the sky. There were three official support vehicles, staffed by Ambrose Delaney the race organizer, his wife and some friends. The cars were sporting way cool purple revolving lghts, borrowed from a funeral home in Sydney....they use them in funeral processions. Not a particularly good omen, but they served notice to the scant traffic that "something" was coming down the road.

Ambrose wasn't riding this year, due to an injury sustained a couple of weeks ago in the "Ferry to Ferry" ride, Yarmouth to North Sydney in three days. I had done day one of that ride, Yarmouth to Windsor (286 km) in 10 1/2 hrs of riding, averaging 26-27 km/hr, and felt as fresh at the conclusion as I had at the start. Of course, the back roads of the valley don't offer much challenge in the way of hills, and the 5 of us had spent the entire day pedalling without a trace of wind.

The competitors rode together in a tight pack out of Cheticamp, wanking along at an average pace of 32 km/hr. Way out of my league, but it's easier to sit at the back of a pack at 32 than to go it alone at 25 or 26. I knew I had to average 25 km./hr. as there was a checkpoint at Dino's, 200 km. into the ride. If you weren't at Dino's at the 8 hr. point, you would be asked to withdraw, as the organizers don't want you out there in the dark, flying down French Mountain with no lights and the possibility of moose in the road.

Just into the Margaree Valley on our way down a hill and around a curve at over 40 km. an hour, a truck pulling a horse trailer decided to pass, the trailer swaying onto the opposite road shoulder, and meeting an oncoming car....the driver cut back across the road sharply, misjudging our speed, and the horse trailer took out Lorenzo Catarini, the lead rider, bouncing him across the road shoulder and into a ditch, which was luckily shallow and filled with soft grass. While Lornzo is not that graceful a flyer, his bike soared about ten feet in the air before coming to rest. The rest of us hit the brakes, and there was a lot of skidding and aluminum and carbon fiber skittering around.

Lorenzo gained consciousness after a few moments, and much to everyone's amazement and a few silent prayers from the assemblage, emerged from the ditch with some bad gravel rash, contusions, and minor lacerations. The support vehicles loaded him in for the trip back to the hospital in Cheticamp, did the paperwork with the vehicle driver, and the rest of us tore off again, but a silent pack this time, none of the chatter and ragging that had preceded the crash.

We hit Hunter's Mountain shortly after, and I watched as the pack sprinted up the hill, my lungs burning and my quads starting to cramp up already. Not a good sign.One of the support vehicles pulled up alongside and asked how I felt. " 55 " I answered, watching those 20-25 year old legs cranking huge gears up the mountain ahead of me.

A quick checkpoint, banana, water bottle refill at the red Barn, and off again. The pack lit out like a tomcat with turpentine on it's ass, and I followed Mark Beaver of Cyclesmith at a more sedate pace of 30 km/hr. Mark is perhaps not the fastest cyclist in the world, but he can go for days on end ....he did a trip of four days through the Pyrenees last fall, averaging almost 200 km/day. A good man to try & pace with.

Just by the turnoff to the Gaelic College, I broke a rear spoke on a 3 km. section of cold planed asphalt, which resulted in my back wheel scraping the brake pad on one side every revolution. I didn't notice the damage until I got almost to Smokey, but was wondering why pedalling seemed to be getting more & more difficult.

If anyone is interested, it's exactly 162 km ( 100 miles) from Cheticamp to the base of Smokey. I got partway up & had to stop...took a drink & then noticed my %$&$#@ wheel. Despite disconnecting the rear brake, the wheel still scraped, but not as badly and I dragged my sorry ass the rest of the way up Smokey, & descended the other side depending on front brakes.

At 180 km, a support vehicle came by & I flagged it quads had totally given up paying attention to any electronic messages from my brain telling them to work.

By this time, one of the young guns, a 20 year old testosterone filled racer had bonked, but Lorenzo had been cleaned up, somewhat repaired, had a new wheel on his bike and was back on the road, having missed only about 100 km. Personally, I would have taken his earlier experience of the morning as a definite sign that I should not be cycling on that particular day, but some people are tougher than others.

Riding comfortably in the support van, we came on Jody Eisener just past Cabot High, working his way painfully up South Mountain into a nasty headwind. He also decided to call it a day, and clambered aboard. I shifted over to another support vehicle that came by at the same time, and off we set. At this point, there were still ten persons in the race, plus Lorenzo, now re-named Lazarus. They had splintered into three small groups, with Basil and then Mark Beaver a ways behind, both relentlessly chewing up miles with seemingly no effort.

The van I was now in had a spare rear wheel, so I decided to get out in Pleasant Bay & finish the ride. I had had a good rest for 75-80 km. and my legs were recovering. Unfortunately, the spare wheel was only an 8 speed cassette, which didn't marry up well with my 9 speed deraillleurs, but at least the wheel was round. The really discouraging thing was that the wheel belonged to one of the aforemantioned super jocks and the biggest gear on the cassette was only about as big around as the averge bottle cap. Great for downhills tho, there's always a silver lining !

I made it up MacKenzie, taking one short break of jogging alongide the bike for a couple of hundred meters, but since the jogging was at the same pace as I had been riding the switchbacks up, it didn't cost me any time, and was a welcome change for the legs.

I was getting hot on the uphills and freezing on the downs ( the weather or menopause ?) but made it across the top and screamed down French, (literally) forgetting that there are three or four very nasty little hills between the bottom of French and the village of Cheticamp. They are rotten little leg crampers by that point in the day !! I rolled into the starting point quite comfortably at around the 11 hour mark, having shortcut the route by about 75-80km., my odometer showing 220 with an average speed of just over 26 km/hr.

There were 10 official finishers, with Terry Tomlin being the first in, but seven others not far behind. Basil & Mark Beaver came in well before dark looking very comfortable, and Mark decided that since his odometer was at 297, he couldn't leave 3 on the table, and biked back to the motel. The official measured amount of climb on the ride was in excess of 3500 meters, over 300 km. of distance.

I signed up for the ride to see if it was possible to do ( possible for me, that is, not Greg LeMond or Lance Armstrong). Despite pooping out in the middle for over a quarter of the distance, I think it's definitely do-able with some increased distance training. was a total blast. For the average Gonzo who does things like running 100 miles in 24 hours, hikes umpty nine miles in a weekend with a full pack, or canoes down rushing rapids it would be a nice change. Think about it for next year guys......I'm definitely signing up.

Rocket Ronnie