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Jul 12, 2003

Tour BC: Sunshine & Whales

July 12-19, 2003

Billed as seven days of adventure on the Sunshine Coast of beautiful British Columbia, Tour BC was scheduled as the big regional trip for the S2Cycle team this summer. Little matter that it started the day after our one-day STP. “We are fit. We can do it.”

Or maybe that should be, “We’re in pretty good shape. We can manage it.”

Or maybe, “We are greedy. We can somehow stumble through this hell.”

After weeks of planning the packing portion of this extravaganza, on Friday, July 11, we finally packed up all our gear, less the necessities for the STP, the first day of riding of Tour BC, and our toiletries. This included a cooler of vegan food for us to ensure we had enough protein for the week. We dropped it off at Patty and Ron’s house in Seattle. They were also going on the tour and agreed to cart it all up for us.

Jul 13, 2003

North Vancouver to Sechelt

Day 1: 40 miles

Click to see Spencer & Nick larger

Click to enlarge image of Spencer with staff

Click to enlarge image of Peter the bike mechanic

Click to enlarge image of Lon

Click to enlarge image of Amber


We woke Sunday morning at 6 and were on the road by 6:30. We arrived at Capilano College in North Vancouver around 9:45. Quickly we assembled the bike, changed clothes, and headed out for the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal. I thought it was 12 miles away, an easy ride to catch the 11:20 ferry.

The easy ride turned quite hilly as we got on Marine Drive. It became apparent to me that I’d miscalculated the conversion from kilometers to miles. I re-worked my figures and realized it was more like 18 miles. We’d have to really hump it to make the ferry.

We tried, but soon gave it up. Our STP-weary legs couldn’t work that hard. We both were favoring sore knees. I can’t imagine how the guys on the Tour de France go out and give it all, day in and day out. You have to try something like this to get a feel for something like that. We decided there would always be another ferry. We’d just get in a little later than planned.

The terrain was amazing. Every time I thought we’d be doing our final drop to the ferry, we’d end up going up another hill. Finally I could see the ferry landing. We were at sea level. Then came an incredibly steep, short hill. These were to become regular features of the ride. We just dug deep and muscled up the hill.

We rolled in to the ferry terminal at 11:30. We couldn’t tell where to go, so we rode against traffic to where a guy was directing cars onto the ferry. We showed him the chits we’d been given by Danelle, the tour organizer. He pointed us to the Langdale line which was still in the process of boarding. Apparently they’d had a man overboard drill on the run before and had gotten behind schedule. Moments later we were boarding the ferry as they raised the ramp behind us.  We didn’t even have time to take a picture! A lesson in giving up the goal in order to reach the goal.

The rest of the tour had caught the 9:30 ferry so we were surprised to find the Tour BC mechanic’s truck on this one (that’s Peter working on a bike). We also met Nick and Jean who had missed the first ferry. She is diabetic and was going to get sagged to the lunch stop. We joined up with Nick (first photo) and rode.

It was HILLY. We quickly figured out that we needed to change our attitudes about hills. Every up would lead to a down. Every down would lead to another up. Get used to it. Enjoy the ride. “This moment is like this.”

The lunch stop appeared (second photo). We met some of the tour organizers and continued on the way to Sechelt, the first stop. At least it was dry. We’d covered 40 miles in 3 hours, averaging 13.6. Not fast, but surviving was our only goal.

We had a motel for the first night in Sechelt. We also had massages scheduled. The room wasn’t ready when we checked in but Sheila managed a quick shower before her scheduled massage with Lon. My massage quickly followed with Amber. Then we ate dinner and crashed in our room. We fell asleep trying to watch the men on the Tour de France climb Alpe d’Huez. We got 9 hours of sleep before getting up at 5:30 to start day 2.

Click to see day 1 elevation larger

Jul 14, 2003

Sechelt to Powell River

Day 2: 56.5 miles

Click to enlarge image of Spencer with Audrey & Ray at ferry landing

Click to enlarge image of Sid & Joan

Click to enlarge image of Susan, Karen & John from Corvallis

Click to enlarge image of Brian & Sue

We woke refreshed on the second day of Tour BC. Nothing like a massage and 9 hours of sleep to help you ride better! We set off under glowering skies to Powell River which would require a ferry trip in the middle.

The ride followed the form of the first day, lots of ups, lots of downs. It almost seemed the route was picked to maximize the climbing. Even without any major passes, this day would have the second highest total of climbs for the trip, 4330 feet.

Most were manageable until the rain hit. We piled on our raingear and proceeded to get soaking wet from sweat as we plowed up the hills. Without it, though, we’d freeze on the descents. It was a losing proposition. We were wondering why they called this region the “Sunshine Coast”.

We found out as the sun burst into view. We peeled off our raingear. Then it started sprinkling. We got a flat. Then it started raining. Then the sun came out. Then it started pouring.

By this time I’d had it. I was just wearing booties to keep my feet warm and letting the rain wash over my shorts and jersey-clad body. Sheila was still trying to find the perfect combination of light windbreaker, pants, or maybe jacket and shorts, or maybe… I finally threw a temper tantrum because I was so frustrated with being wet, being unable to ride fast on the gloriously long downhills because I couldn’t see through the rain on my glasses, having to stop to change clothes again. It was just too much. Plus, we were in danger of missing the ferry which only ran every 5 hours.

Of course, when we finally pulled in to the ferry landing, it was 45 minutes late. That wasn’t bad though. We got to schmooze with the other riders while waiting. The ferries proved to be the best places for meeting people. Sat with three folks from Corvallis, Karen, Susan, and John. We told our STP story quite a number of times. It’s amazing how many polite ways people could find to not say, “You guys are crazy to do STP then Tour BC back to back.” We finally had a reputation among cyclists. I’m not sure it was a good thing!

We took it easy after the ferry. We stopped to shop at a couple of bike stores. They appreciated our riding stories. We finally cruised into the campground to find most of the spaces taken up. We added our huge tent to a cluster at the end of the road. Fortunately, the rain had stopped again. As a matter of fact, the day was turning out beautifully.

After showers and visiting with two newly retired Oregon schoolteachers, Sid and Joan (that’s Sid in red), we went to dinner. We also visited with Brian and Susan from Aberdeen who Sheila had met briefly at Bike Expo. Our meal was served picnic-style under an awning. Afterwards we went to the beach, watched the waves and the sunset. Then we turned in for the night, skipping the drama of the Tour de France again. We were still in recovery mode, but had upped our pace from 13.6 to 14.4 for the day. We were feeling better.

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Jul 15, 2003

Powell River to Port Alberni

Day 3: 76.4 miles

Click to enlarge image of Danelle making announcements on ferry

Click to enlarge image of Spencer & Sid getting ready to disembark ferry

Click to enlarge image of cyclists disembarking ferry

Click to enlarge image of Ron & Patty from Seattle

Click to enlarge image of Spencer helping fix a bike

The ride to Port Alberni included a 500 meter pass in the last 20 km of the ride. Let’s see, that translates into a 1600′ climb in the last 12 miles. Not gigantic, but bigger than anything else we’d see in the trip.

We caught a ferry first thing in the morning. Arriving at Comox we had the nicest ferry disembarking I’ve ever experienced. There was no hill. For this ride, that was especially surprising. I was expecting something along the order of Vashon Island at least! The weather was so good we dropped our panniers off at the first rest area. We cruised the east coast of Vancouver island  for 45 miles without major hills.The view was spectacular. Then, within sight of what looked to be a perfect lunch spot, we turned around a corner and went straight up for 2 blocks. (Sound familiar?)

When we got to lunch we were somewhat dismayed to find only one restroom for all 120 riders. The line was appalling. Someone needed to order a sanican or two. I had Lon work on my neck, which was tightening up painfully. He unlocked much of it and gave me stretches to keep loosening it. Thanks, Lon! I also helped a couple of cyclists with mechanical problems. Good thing I have my trusty spoke wrench! Then we headed up The Hill.

Part way there we found Patty, suffering again from what must have been a hidden piece of glass. We got her tire off, and I hunted down the offending shard. Taped the tire with duct tape, pumped up the new tube, and we were off again.

By now it was getting into the hot of the day. We couldn’t climb very quickly, but at least it wasn’t raining. Got to the beautiful rest stop at Cathedral Grove, old forest all around. The traffic was pretty thick and some folks were complaining. We started the last climb. We kept at it steadily, never having to get into our lowest chain ring.

After the crest we had an 8 mile roll to the campground. The rumble strips on the way down were a challenge. I vowed next time to just take up the lane and let the motor homes deal with it. With little effort we got to our assigned camp spot.

Set up the tent, showered, then walked to dinner. It was about 6 long blocks away. I wasn’t really impressed that the meals would always be so far from the campgrounds. In this case, though, the food was worth it. They had made a great effort to provide vegan food, clearly marked, for us. Mashed potatoes, veggies, salad, tofu cutlet thingies; it was wonderful. We evenAlarm: Tandem Security! had entertainment. Local cloggers were stomping around the stage. One interesting sign we found at our accommodations proudly indicated that it was protected by Tandem Security.

Well fed, we retired for the night. Some local kids got their jollies by honking and revving their engines until the police came to run them off. Good thing I can’t hear and I had ear plugs in. I slept like a charm. Little did I know that our day of reckoning was coming.

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Jul 16, 2003

Port Alberni to Ucluelet

Day 4: 62.7 miles

Click to enlarge image of Spencer with campground kitty

Click to enlarge image of Carol & Ralph Nussbaum from Seattle

Click to enlarge image of Canadian Princess (photo credit Charlie Buchalter)

Click to enlarge image of the view from the W/C on the Canadian Princess

Click to enlarge image of Ambulance Al

Click to enlarge image of Lindsay with Charlie

Click to enlarge image of John

Today’s ride would set a new standard for “brutal”. It started off innocently enough. Gentle grades with some typically steep stretches. The first rest area was the beginning of the struggle.

Sheila was in serious need of a rest room when we got there. But there was nothing except a water jug on a table. She’d brought toilet paper, but no shovel so the trip into the woods was not as pleasant as it could have been. I just can’t figure out why there weren’t ever any sanicans where you needed them.

As we got ready to leave, the rain started crashing down. We got on all our gear. By the time we were riding, it was letting up. (Sound familiar?) You know the next bit of the story: we roasted in the rain gear going up the hills, stripped it off, and continued to lunch.

Now it was sunny again. People were whispering about a reported 18% grade coming up. There also was a rather steep, long climb out of the lunch stop. We opted to let the panniers go on the lunch truck. Oooops.

We climbed the hill without a lot of difficulty and cruised down the back side. Halfway down, it began to sprinkle. Then rain. We got to the next water stop (again no rest rooms) as it began to really pour. We hung out as long as we could stand it. But we were getting cold. We waited for a break in the rain, donned our windbreakers (not water breakers, mind you) and headed off.

Now the skies opened up. It was coming down so hard I had rain on the inside of the prescription lenses on the inside of my sunglasses! Sheila kept yelling, “Can you SEE anything?” Water sloshed in our shoes as we pedaled. We could do nothing but laugh deliriously and joke about going for swims. Then we got to the 18% grade.

Just so you understand, they put up the warning signs for trucks when there is an 8% grade. 10% is very steep. 18% was impossibly steep. Plus, the water was flowing down the middle of the road an inch or two deep. It was several inches deep at the side next to the barricades. We could have used paddles to go up the hill!

We persevered, though. We made it. Of course there was an 18% downgrade to follow which was very hairy since we couldn’t see and the road was slick. Oh, did I mention that the road was full of 18 wheelers, campers with boats, and bus-like motorhomes pulling cars? Of course, there was absolutely NO shoulder, not even a fog line. It was harrowing. We had to keep our wits about us, which was hard given the weather and the cold.

Eventually the rains stopped, even if the hills didn’t. By the time we were 7 km from Ucluelet (YOU-cue-let) we were dry, except for our feet. But the hills didn’t relent. WE hit another that must have been 10% just 2 km from home. I cracked. Sheila had to push us up. I couldn’t do it. Thank goodness for strong stokers.

The camp in Ucluelet was pretty rough. The road in was gravel, so we had to walk the bike. Then the washrooms were located hell and gone on the other side of the campground. Showers cost $2 for 6 minutes. Lots of people found hotel rooms that night. We set up our tent and explored the village.

Dinner was to be served in two shifts, 6 and 8 p.m. at the Canadian Princess, a moored boat near the campground. Tickets were going to be given out at 5:15. We didn’t want to risk missing out on the early seating, so we went to the bar in the Princess, ordered Peach Spritzers and waited.

When our friends Ralph and Carol showed up, we knew it was time to get in line. They had a knack for being first in line for everything. We followed them and got into the 6 p.m. seating.

The food was pretty bad. There was no protein for the vegetarians. They served veggies, rice, and marinara sauce. Then dessert was a slap in the face. They called it “West Coast Cobbler” a delicacy the chef learned in Vancouver. It looked like apple crisp, but tasted horrible. He had baked cantaloupe and honeydew into the cobbler and left out the sugar. Sheila didn’t even eat two bites of hers.

The tent was looking pretty good as we crashed that night.

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Jul 17, 2003

Rest Day in Ucluelet

Day 5: 0 miles

Click to enlarge image of Canadian & BC flagsToday was an optional out and back ride from Ucluelet to Toffino. Are you kidding? Did you think we were going to ride again after our last day? We took this day off completely. We did laundry, found a motel room (Sheila’s back was killing her), surfed the internet, napped, got massages, struck the tent in the dry afternoon, and had another remarkable meal at the Canadian Princess.

It was remarkable that a resort could serve such poor fare. The breakfast they gave us was cold cereal in little boxes, orange-colored water, and danishes smothered in cream cheese. Dinner was little better. Frozen mixed vegetables, egg-sized potatoes, and a plain Boca Burger. Dessert was sliced strawberries. An improvement.

Many people had taken whale-watching trips or hiked the beaches or ridden to the tourist town of Toffino. We didn’t. We needed nothing but rest.

It was this day that we learned about another couple from Seattle who were killed while riding their tandem near Lake Louise. The similarities were scary. She was the same age as Sheila, worked in the Seattle School District, and they were celebrating 21 years of marriage. We’re celebrating 20 years together in September. They were hit from behind by a truck which had crossed the fogline to navigate a turn. I’m so sorry for their families.

We finally watched a stage of the Tour de France that night. It was an exciting ride with a breakaway that successfully made it to the finish line. Lance still seemed to be struggling, but continued to wear the yellow jersey. Then we slept a blissful sleep. We wanted to be fresh for the attack of the relentless hills the next day.

Jul 18, 2003

Ucluelet to Port Alberni

Day 6: 66.5 miles

Click to enlarge image of sunrise at camp

Click to enlarge image of Ray & Audrey from Calgary

Click to enlarge image of BC scenery

Click to enlarge image of more BC scenery

Click to enlarge image of Danelle & John climbing a hill (note bicyclist walking UP) (photo credit Charlie Buchalter)

Click to enlarge image of group of friends from all over the country

We tried, but failed to get an early start this day. We’d packed all our gear up on the afternoon of the day before. We’d set it under the luggage truck, helmets and shoes included, to await us the next morning. Since the rule was that everyone loaded their own luggage, we thought it would be simple to come in, swap our hotel clothes and shoes for riding gear, load the truck and be off. Wrong again, spaceman!

Someone had thoughtfully loaded all of our gear, bags, panniers, and rear bike trunk onto the truck for us. They did this before anyone else loaded their gear. When we arrived the truck was half full. Our stuff was on the bottom. Without shoes or helmets, I had no choice but to dive in and start flinging around bags.

I found the bag with our riding stuff quickly as well as our rear trunk. I could see the panniers buried in the distance and we decided to go without them. That meant we’d have no raingear again for this pass from hell, not even windbreakers. We hoped the newly found good weather would hold.

Another tantalizing meal at the Canadian Princess and we were off. The hills out of Ucluelet weren’t nearly as bad as we remembered them. We were keeping a steady 18 mph pace. A couple of singles drafted us for 5 miles. Then we started the serious climbing.

Every hill we topped, we’d say, “One down, a hundred to go.” Before you knew it, we’d climbed the 18 percenter! We knew it had been a hard one, but hadn’t figured we were that far into the ride yet. Huzzah! One single cheered us on by saying, “That’s making it look easy!” Another told us at the top that he’d never consider doing that road on a tandem. We felt pretty sassy.

The climbs continued, and we just kept at it. We finally decided we were coming to the start of the last 8 km climb. We were still not in our granny gear. Within 2 km I recognized a pullout as being the pass. Sheila doubted my memory. Then we saw the sign marking the pass. Now it was a fast fly down to lunch. Got in the middle of the lane and got up to 46 mph. It was great fun!

It helped a lot that we could see this time. There were mountains, lakes, and gorgeous forests all around us. It also helped that we were early enough to have beaten most of the riff raff. We only had one close call, when a camper plus boat went wide to get around us and barely got back in our lane before the semi with flatbed trailer came round the bend.

After lunch it was just more scenery and more flying along. We played leapfrog with Ray and Audrey, a tandem team from Calgary, as we rode to Port Alberni.  We did some shopping before we got to the campsite at 2. That accounts for the difference in mileage you might have noticed. Even so, we still beat the luggage truck which had broken down in Ucluelet.

We used our time (which couldn’t be spent showering and changing clothes) by going to the local library and sitting in air-conditioned comfort. I read and napped. Sheila surfed the net some more. Then, showers, setting up the tent, cleaning the bike, and going to dinner.

This was the place with great meals. They out-did themselves again. I don’t remember all of what they served, but it was plentiful, tasty, protein-packed, and hot. Plus real apple cobbler for dessert. No melon! Woo-hooo! One of these mealtimes is when we got to know a group of 30-somethings who gather annually from all over the cournty to ride together.

This was to be the last night of the trip. We had to catch a 12:30 ferry after climbing that 12km hill out of Port Alberni the next day. We scarfed up some food at dinner for me to use for breakfast. That would allow us an early getaway in the morning.

But, since it was the last night, many people had little parties at camp. They were up drinking and talking until midnight. Not our style. We laid down with ear plugs in at 9:30 and slept as best we could until 5. We wanted to be fresh, not fried, the next morning.

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Jul 19, 2003

Port Alberni to North Vancouver

Day 7: 75.5 miles

Click to enlarge image of Spencer doing his neck stretches

Click to enlarge image of rushing river (photo credit Charlie Buchalter)

Click to enlarge image of Danelle, the event director

Click to enlarge image of Danelle clogging

Started this day with our quick breakfast and a fast pack-up job. We were on the road by the time most people started the breakfast line, 6:30. We’d been worried about the hill, but we had worried needlessly.

The hill turned out to be a steady, easy climb. Again, we never had to get into our smallest gears. We topped out then charged down the backside. Got up to almost 49 miles per hour. Might have gotten higher had it not been for the 25 mph turn stuck into the middle of the descent.

Most of the early morning was spent going downhill. We were at the lunch stop by 9. It didn’t open until 10. Sheila and I just continued on our way since we had our sandwiches packed. The hills continued to roll up and down as we made our way to the ferry.

Another impossibly steep grade caught us unprepared just shy of the ferry. We should have expected it. We made it up and back to the ferry by 11. When we saw that the luggage truck was going to make the 11:15 ferry, we took our tickets and got into the line. We had tickets because Danelle had sent them to us, knowing we wouldn’t be with the group the first day. Why she sent us tickets for the whole trip is beyond me, but there you have it. The rest of the riders had to wait for the 12:30 ferry.

The return trip along Marine Drive wasn’t as bad as we remembered it, either. The hills were continuous for a while, but we just did them. Obviously, we’d become more competent with hills over the week. We arrived at the luggage truck at Capilano College, helped unload it, then checked in to the nearby Holiday Inn for one more good night’s sleep before returning. Saw the Tour, too. Great race in the Pyrenees! Lance still hanging on to the lead by a thread.

Thinking back on our tour, it was pretty neat. Thanks to Danelle (shown left clogging with the entertainers) for all her hard work and planning to make this week special. The scenery was spectacular. The roads were mostly good, although I’d never lead a trip on the Ucluelet-Port Alberni road. The food arrangements were spotty. They were generally bad when it came to convenience, although the food was good everywhere except at the resort. The dearth of sanicans is unfathomable. The people were fabulous and a diverse bunch. The average age must have been over 55. Folks were from as far away as Calgary and New Zealand. The massage therapists were a real treat. It would have been nice to have some kind of finish line celebration, pin, or patch. Maybe even a party for the folks (and there were many) who stayed the last night at the Holiday Inn.

We both enjoyed it. We’d do it again and probably enjoy it even more, knowing what to expect.

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