“Suffering” west-coast style: the epic monsoon ride

rough seas off Saxe Point

Whitecaps off of Saxe Point, Esquimalt, BC, Canada

Endurance athletes like to talk about suffering a lot. Sometimes there really is suffering: when you push yourself so hard to beat a race goal, like trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon, or the Kona Ironman championship, that you end up in a medical tent. Sometimes it means pushing through a hard workout on a winter morning when you’d rather be snuggled in bed.

Most of the time, when we say “suffer,” we’re really only using hyperbole to claim bragging rights to the latter kind of suffering. Yesterday’s ride was a good example of that.

The day before yesterday, after reading the Saturday forecast of high winds and much rain, I did what many of my cycling friends have suggested: I downloaded videos from Sufferfest. I have an indoor trainer (a device on which you mount your bike; it provides some resistance so you can spin indoors during inclement weather). I have rarely used it, for the same reason I avoid the dreadmill-er-treadmill for running: it’s excruciatingly boring, with the added bonus of being slightly more difficult.

With the low-cost Sufferfest videos, you get to draft such cycling greats as Sir Brad while listening to music and following the on-screen instructions for resistance, pace, etc. They look fun, but here’s my thinking:

If I have the choose of suffering on the trainer or suffering through the rain, I’ll pick the rain thankyouverymuch.

The only thing that really stops me from cycling outside is when it gets cold enough to form black ice on the roads, and even then it’s usually sunny and the open road beckons me. After all,

there is no bad weather, only inadequate gear.

I’m saying all this to explain why I ended up putting the fenders on and heading out for a ride with my TriStars teammates in pineapple express conditions yesterday.

I swear it was sunny when I left my house at 8:30 am, prompting me to scoff at the weather app and bring only a windbreaker rather than my GoreTex jacket.

By the time I got to Fort Street Cycle, our meet-up point, it was raining softly. The windbreaker was already starting to soak in water, but my wool baselayer was keeping me warm and dry. We headed for Dallas Road and the seaside route, where we started to experience the occasional cross-wind.

“Remind you of anything?” I said to my friend Sarah as we navigated the wind and the rain.

“I’ve tried to block that day from memory so that I keep coming out on days like this,” she said. We were referring to the Ryder Hesjedal’s Tour de Victoria last September, when we rode 100 kms in conditions very much like this. Except that day were were rewarded with sunshine and warmth once we crossed the finish line, and could actually enjoy the burgers and beer provided afterwards.

By the time we reached our mid-ride meet-up point in Cadboro Bay, I was ready to call it quits, even though it’s only at the 30k mark and the rain had eased off a bit. My windbreaker was soaked through and so was my wool shirt. My gloves were starting to get waterlogged and I had only a short time before the damp chill started to set in. For the zillionth time that day, I missed my GoreTex jacket.

“Once we reach Blenkinsop, I’m turning left and heading straight for the coffee shop, if anyone wants to join me,” I said.

Jim looked at Delani, who signed up for Ironman Whistler this year, and with a twinkle in his eye said “I’m headed for the airport [making it at least a 70k ride], want to come?”

“You’re going to the airport? Sure!” That’s our Del!

“No, just kidding, but the rain is letting up,” said Jim. He swallowed those words later, I’m sure.

We set off for the second half of the ride. We soared down Ash Road with me leading my little peleton (I love that downhill stretch), but by the time we reached Mount Doug the rain started to come down hard. I dragged the peleton (at least I think they were all there) on the slight uphill around Mt. Doug as the rain pelted down; I was by now feeling miserable, cold, and wanting to get straight into a hot bath.

No one followed me on my cut-off route though (intrepid teammates! Now you know why I train with them!) I said goodbye to them and followed Blenkinsop until I got onto the paved part of the Lochside Trail back into town. Every last centimetre of clothing was soaked through. Rain started to seep into my booties (tights OVER booties, people!), my thick gloves were soaked and heavy, and my hands started to hurt, then go numb. I was glad to be on the trail because I felt like I was braking and shifting with wooden blocks at the end of my arms; I wanted to avoid a lot of traffic.

“Only about 15K to home,” I thought “Heads up, eyes front, this is easy.” I dismissed the idea of stopping in somewhere to warm up, because I didn’t think I could get my gloves back on again if I took them off. So I just kept pedaling.

Lo and behold, once I got off the trail and onto Esquimalt Road, the sun came out. Cold and waterlogged, on the last 3k stretch, I could only laugh.

Just my luck, no one else was home yet, so I struggled to remove my gloves, find my key and unlock my door with numb hands. The dog didn’t even come to greet me, she was still snuggled in bed. As my hands regained feeling the pain was almost unbearable, but that only lasted a minute or two.

Then came the feeling of accomplishment and freedom and well-being, of coming home to a warm house and a hot bath and a kitchen stocked with hot chocolate and soup. I love cycling, I love living here in Canadian paradise, where we can still ride while the rest of the country is shoveling snow. This isn’t what it means to suffer, this is the very definition of a good life.