Sunday 21 July 2013

Post trip story - riding to the Axel Merckx Granfondo

My bike tour to the Axel Merckx Granfondo was a very fun week, dare I say the funnest week I've ever had on a bike? Ok I've been really lucky to have done some great multi day bike racing events. On the road the Tour de France Feminin (last time run along side the mens tour)....that was very cool, the excellent womens Giro d'Italia left me a few pounds heavier (yikes!) with 2 weeks of never ending spreads of local delights. Best mountain bike stage race: first Cape Epic I did - which ran point to point Knysna to Stellenboch - was simply an amazing experience for all 8 days. Trans Alp Challenge? - all four I did were very memorable. However those were races, there was a pressure to try and win, and I was not exactly on holiday getting to go my own pace...and that makes a big difference for me in the whole fun factor equation.

I am a bit of a planner, maybe on the edge of obsessive. No doubt a mix of my personality and also my racer background (though probably more of the former as there are many many very disorganized pros!).
Daily route profiles
I devised my own luggage system for the trip with the aim that it be lightweight and allow me to ride my bike "normally". It also had to mount on my Trek Madone and be carbon bike friendly, ie. no clamps or attachments to the frame. During the winter and spring I'd researched a lot about lightweight backpacking and so this allowed me to tour safely and comfortably with a total of 16.5 lbs added to my bike. This does not include food or water, but it includes a robust frame pump, spare tubes and seat bag tool kit. Mission accomplished and I was very happy with my gear set-up during the trip.

The one area I really miscalculated on was my average speeds for each day. I was much faster than I expected every day. I was expecting an average of 18-20km/h and my days averaged 23.5-27.3 km/h (overall 25 km/h). I suppose better be conservative with calculations. Last minute additions to my kit of a good set of head and tail lights was unnecessary, but irregardless a prudent item to pack.
Crossing the 2nd Narrows Bridge just after sunrise
I left the North Vancouver on Thursday at 5:41, a bit later than I'd hoped. But by my calculations I'd already made up the time even before leaving the city roads of Port Coquitlam. Riding towards Langley I recognized the roads I used to ride on our "long Wednesday rides" back in the 90's. That was pretty fun and lovely riding too!
My first coffee stop was in Mission. I'd pre planned all of my stops for the trip, looked up addresses and such. Just my style, and makes it easy to get lots of km's in doing stops efficiently. I did not rush my stops. Proper refueling and a bit of rest I know always pay off in the long run. I am very comfortable eating my smaller snacks on the bike. I've been doing this half of my life!

The ride on HWY7 from Mission to Hope was far lovelier than I'd expected. The headwind I started with in the morning turned to a tail wind and as the day progressed the "cyclists best friend" got stronger and stronger. Yeah!

Ok when they call it the "Mighty Fraser" River its no joke - it's massive!

I was comfortably on schedule for an early arrival at Manning so during my lunch stop I sent a final "all's well" message to my sister from Hope before hitting the road again. I know the climb to Manning Park from the comfort of my vehicle, but was wondering what it would feel like from the seat of my loaded bike. It was really really hot at this point and despite the added weight I was glad I left Hope with 3 litres of fluids. Overall impression of the climb was that it was very long, but generally a very nice grade (though without compact gearing I did have to push in a few spots) with a few nice respites. The traffic was not bad at all and generally very considerate. A note on traffic on the route. I traveled on low volumes times and days of the week. All the trucks during the entire trip but one moved over and gave me extra space. Very much appreciated. The campers were also quite considerate. On the other hand surprisingly the cars were the least considerate. Even with 2 empty lanes only about half the cars ever moved to the passing lane to give me space (and a degree of safety and peace). On HWY3 the paved shoulder in places was missing or too bumpy to ride, but for an experienced rider it was still never feeling unsafe. I did take my lightweight tires off for the trip and ran a pair of new Bontrager Hardcase's for the trip.

Nice sign, did they put this up for me??? ;-)
Most of the afternoon was like this - wide road, no traffic
Even when you are travelling light and fast seeing this sign is such a great feeling!
It was about 11 hours after I left the North Vancouver that I arrived 226 km later to my pre booked campsite. I was so worried that I would arrive in the evening that I booked into the campsite closest to the highway even though it was a very basic site with few comforts. I made a quick unpack and set up, boiled water to rehydrate my "Chicken Santa Fe" and had a quick "birdbath". I was so prepared to be doing this in a rush in the dark, but with my early arrival I had plenty of time to stroll 2km down the highway to the Manning Park Lodge to look for some wifi. None found, but I did find a payphone and as promised I left an "all's well" message with my sister. There is no cell phone service for 140km on this route between Hope and Princeton.
My fresh air hotel room for the night
Maybe it was the long day in the saddle, my excitement or my choice to pack the lighter less comfy sleeping mat to save weight - but I did not sleep very well. Anyway I'd planned for an early start and so I did not mind that I was awake naturally before sunrise. I did not rush to get on the road and I enjoyed a peaceful morning coffee before a single sole at the campsite had stirred. I thought I was on the road pretty early, but found out quickly cycle tourists are early risers. On the way to Princeton I saw nearly as many cyclists as vehicles.

Looking at the profile for the leg to Princeton it looked mainly downhill. It was, but the uphills were pretty hard also, plus it was really dry and I only started with 2 bottles partly due to the fact I was too lazy to filter more water in the morning (the well at the campsite had a boil water warning posted).  Needless to say I was very hungry and thirsty when I arrived at my favorite cafe in Princeton. A huge coffee, a muffin and a egg and ham breakfast sandwich went down ever so well.

It was probably not the best to get so hungry and dehydrated to start the day, but I knew the leg from Princeton to Keremeos was 75 km all lightly downhill by a river so I set out from Princeton with extra water and pedaled easy for the next couple of hours to get the food and water levels back up. By the time I got to Keremeos is was very very hot out. Not far to go to Penticton at this point, but I still packed 3 bottles for the final 45 km. I was on the ironman course and came across a group of triathletes from Portland. It was nice to have some company for a while. I was feeling really good up the final climb and started to motor. Thats the best about riding solo. You get to always ride your pace - taking things easy when the energy is low and putting the hammer down down when its high!

As I approached Penticton the headwind had become near gale force. I was in no rush, but still my feet were very uncomfortable after the long day in the heat and I could not wait to get my shoes off. 
Penticton never looked so good
My feet wanted to be on this raft soooooo badly!
I arrived to the Ramada in Penticton and during the check-in I had a chuckle when they asked me for my license plate number. I rode to my room and....
enjoyed this view for a while ;-)

After a shower and a few snacks I jogged over to the Bike Barn for the first ever Granfondo Women's night. It was really well attended, especially considering it was Friday and most of the Fondo participants were arriving on Saturday. There were a few different stations and activities (including a wine and cheese station ;-)) for those who attended. I heard many women especially enjoyed the session with Lisa, the co-owner of the Bike Barn, who explained some mechanical stuff in a way that the women seemed to really enjoy and get. I had a nice chat with Lisa at the end of the evening and got a great local knowledge tip for my route on the way home.

Needless to say I had an amazing sleep and enjoyed a leisurely start to the morning before heading over to the Penticton Convention Center for an autograph signing with Axel and guests...who included a 3x Ironman champ - Peter Reid, a duel Olympic medalist triathlete - Simon Whitfield, an Olympic Gold and Silver medal rower - Andrew Brynes, and myself. There was quite a lot of Olympic hardware on display! 

I zipped on back to the hotel and suited up in bike gear to go and help out at the kids race, the Picolofondo. When I was riding downtown my bike felt so weird. I assumed it was the lack of luggage, but soon realized I had a soft rear tire. I did not have my pump and spare with me. I looked up and saw a woman walking down the street with a brand new floor pump (still sporting it's price tag). I rolled over and started with "this may seem like a weird request but...". Luckily she was happy to oblige and even did the pumping for me. 

The Picolofondo has grown each year, it's highly anticipated by all the kids and parents, and it's pretty much a full on criterium style race for the kids. I essentially played the part of the "lead moto"/lap counter for the three races. And let me tell you it gets harder and harder to stay in front of the fastest kids each year. They must be speeding up, it cant be me slowing down....or could it be? Nah, kids are just getting faster and faster! 

A former National Team teammate of mine, Kelly Ann Carter-Erdman was riding the Fondo this year with her husband Ken and they invited me over to Skaha Lake for dinner. Thankfully Kelly Ann came and picked me up as riding with the kids had pretty much done in my legs for the day. It was super to have a home cooked dinner lakeside, and we discussed our plans for riding the fondo. Which feed zones to stop in etc. Kelly Ann wanted to support Ken with his fondo and I was down also with the plan.

The fondo morning is an early start, and thankfully the Starbucks across the street from the hotel opened up early at 5:30 for the cyclists. It was looking like a perfect weather day for the fondo - clear, but not nearly as hot as last years scorcher.

Trevor Linden and a couple young fans at the start line

I stayed up near the front of the fondo peloton until the Summerland climb. Then I started to look for Kelly Ann. I did find her, but not Ken. He'd dropped his chain and so she would wait and we agreed to meet again possibly at the OK Falls feed or definitely at the Fairview feed. I carried on with my group to Penticton and over the McClean creek climb. I was suffering a bit and certainly feeling a bit of effects from my tour! With some more climbing out of the way the pace relaxed a bit amongst the riders I was with, it became more social, and I was finally able to get my camera out to snap a few shots.

Passing by the vineyards on the Black Sage Rd.
I stopped at the Fairview feedzone and waited for a while for Kelly Ann and Ken to arrive. The feedzone was very well stocked and hosted by many energetic volunteers. Lots of riders milled around and seemed in no big rush to leave for the hills that were coming up right away.

 Kelly Ann arrived minus Ken and so we waited for him, but after more than 10 minutes we realized something was wrong. Somehow maybe we missed him, which is what happened and he was ahead of us. Anyway we got back on the road and joined with various groups along the way until the finish. 

And on the grass after the finish line we finally rendezvoused with Ken, who finished under his target time and was over the moon. 
I hung out at the finish for a while, enjoyed some food and just sometime to relax and socialize with a bunch of tired happy folks.
And yes she does ride the Fondo with those wings! 
Kelly Ann suggested I stay with them at the lake for Monday rather than rushing home, which was an offer I could hardly refuse.

mmmmmm - Post Fondo appies
While hanging out at the beach on Monday I came up with a little plan for my return trip which to Kelly Ann and her husband thought sounded pretty good also. So on Tuesday morning Ken drove to Manning Park, parked and rode back to Penticton, while Kelly Ann and I rode together to Manning Park. Its such a great ride and I was glad it worked out for all of us to do it. Ken of course got the mainly downhill and tail wind section and Kelly Ann and I the headwind and uphill leg. 
Mission accomplished - got my photo with the Manning Park Eastgate Bear
Kelly Ann picked up the car and I loaded up my gear from the car and headed off to the Lightening Lakes campground. It was a 7km ride in from the Lodge, but on the ride in I knew those kms were going to be worth it.

I was there in the late afternoon so had plenty of time to set up, eat some dinner and then go for a hike around the lake.
I slept fantastically this night which was good as I'd set my alarm for 4:30 am. Though it was a bit chilly going down the mountain just before 6, I was treated to a great downhill cruise with only a couple cars passing me for the first 65km of the morning.
The Manning Park Westgate Marmot
The aptly named Sunshine Valley Unincorporated
I was back on the Shore by 4 pm, and quite happy to be back home and able to make it downtown in time to take in the evenings Gastown Grand Prix. It's so great for the riders and the whole Vancouver cycling community to have this great race back after it was resurrected thanks to the folks at Global Relay.    

Overall what an awesome week of cycling that was. Lots of exercise, fresh air, camping, lake side cabins, good food, local wines, visits with friends, a Granfondo and even a the biggest Vancouver cycling community party to go to back home to to finish things of very nicely indeed!


  1. Thanks for sharing, Alison! My family lives in Penticton and it was always a vacation spot for us as kids. Since taking up cycling, I've looked to this as a challenge to gear up for in the future. I'm not ready for it this year, but I look forward to when I am - hopefully in the next couple. Thank you for sharing some of your insights! I snagged a copy of your hill profile that you created and I'm also going to zoom in on your bike to see how you packed your stuff. I have a similar bike (Trek Madone 3.1), so it's tricky attaching to my carbon frame too. Thanks again for sharing. It was great reading about your journey!!! - Brad Helland

  2. Thanks for posting your story & pics, we saw you en route on Friday, you were looking strong!


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