Tuesday, 8 September 2015

2015 Ride to Conquer Cancer

Although not technically a race, The 2015 Ride to Conquer Cancer (RTCC) definitely counts as an endurance event.

I had always known about the RTCC and thought that a bike ride from Vancouver to Seattle would be a ton of fun, but it was always held in July and never worked with my schedule.  Luckily, this year, hey moved it to the end of August.

Turns out, that every RTCC weekend has been plagued with weather anomalies and despite the change in date, this year was no different.

So first and foremost, let's go through what the RTCC is.  The RTCC is a 2 day cycle ride spanning 240k (149 mile) from Vancouver to Seattle.  The money raised benefits the BC Cancer Foundation.

The course.
(course was changed in some placed to avoid storm damage)

A little back story now.  Don't worry, we will get to the ride, but it is important you understand the history that got me here.

Back in October, I ran the the Inaugural Vancouver Rock & Roll Half Marathon. While on this ride, I met Doreen, who told me all about Team Finn and the work their foundation does.  That story and Finn's story can be found by clicking the links above. I will not get into it here, but I highly encourage you to look into Team Finn and who Finn was.

The morning of day one was here. Saturday morning a friend drove me to the start line.  After checking my gear bag and doing a final prep/check on my bike, I found some fellow Team Finn riders.

I also met a first time rider named Jennifer.  She seemed a bit nervous, so we welcomed her into our group as we waited.  Jennifer was riding for her brother who passed away several years ago at the age of 15. 

As we waited, I was introduced to more and more Finnsters.  Truly a very welcoming team.

Soon it was time to start heading to the start line.  As we left the shelter of the nice, warm, dry building, we were welcomed by just the opposite.

As we lined up to start, the rain beat down hard.  Our minds were soon distracted by the race directors speech, reminding us why we were all out there.  2,087 riders strong who had raised a combined $8.4 million dollars.

After the race director was finished, a rider from Team Better Outcomes (who was the 3rd top fundraising team) spoke about Dr. Michele Williams.  Dr. Williams was signed up for her 5th RTCC, making her eligible to receive the coveted Golden Helmet.  Unfortunately, she passed away in January of this year.

Then, a lone riderless bike was escorted trough the crowd.  This bike represented all those who could no longer ride and those we were riding for.

After a moment of silence, it was time to get underway.

As we left the start area, it was pouring.  Rain only really bothers me if I can feel it on my face/head, so wearing a water proof hood under my helmet did help.

About 10k in, the rain began to let up.  During this nice long straight away, I was able to chat with other Finnsters and other riders.  We chatted about for whom we were riding and what got us into riding.

Around 19k, we reached the US border and Pit Stop 1.  I saw a friend there who was volunteering as a bike mechanic with Obsession Bikes.  I stopped and waited on a few other riders I knew were behind me.  They soon caught up and we rode into the US together.

As we rode through Blaine, I had flashbacks to when 5 friends and I did RAGNAR.

At about 29k, was the Pit Stop 2.  A few of the Finnsters were only riding sections of the course, so after this pit stop I took off on my own with the sun beginning to creep out.

The next part of the ride was favorite (for day 1 at least).  The route took us through Birch Bay and along the water.  The sun was out in full now and I was starting to get warm.  I pulled over near a beach and began to take my ran gear off.

I had 2 Team Finn jerseys, one was a cycle jersey and one was a run jersey.  The run jersey fit a bit looser, so on day 1 I wore it with a rain jacket underneath.  The only problem was, there were no pockets on it.  So when I took my shoe covers, leg warmers, and rain jacket off, I had no were to put them.  I ended up rolling them all up and stuffing them between my Under Armour shirt and the small of my back.

At 30K, I had to stop and adjust the cleat on my left shoe.  It had somehow twisted and was torquing my knee in a weird way.  Everyone who rode by stopped to ask if everything was alright, a practice I also adopted for the rest of the race.

A few kilometers later, I stopped to take my gloves off.   I pulled the rolled up rain gear from my back and added my gloves.  As I was stuffing my gear back, the rider who was stopped in front of me asked, "Does the shirt give you extra motivation?"

It took me a minute to grasp what he was asking, but then it dawned on me.  Under my Team Finn Jersey, I was wearing a Superman Under Armour shirt.  I took this opportunity to tell him Abi's story.  When I was ready to get gong again, I told the gentleman about my tattoo.  As I rode way, he shouted up, "I see it now! Good job!"

Soon after this, the wind began to pick up.  It was not too bad at first, but soon it became a problem. 

Once in Pit Stop 4 (about 54k), the wind was so bad, a few people were bowing out.  Too many close calls with branches, being blown into traffic, and/or being blown off the road.

I took this rest as an opportunity to have the onsite bike mechanic take a look at my cleats.  I knew hills were coming up later in the day (and the next day), and did not want to randomly become unclipped.  They took one look at my cleats and told me they needed to be replaced.  Luckily, they had an extra set.

While waiting my turn in line, I met a nice woman who was having her back wheel fixed (she had broke a few spokes).  She was riding a big, slightly older looking silver bike. I found out later that this woman, Anette, was the mother of the 16 year old boy who died in an accident during the 2013 RTCC.

After getting new clips and refilling my water bottles, it was off time to be off again.  But just before I left, this happened:

We survived a FOR REAL shit storm today!!! So funny ... Shit flying wverywhere󾍔
Posted by Denise Hutchings Scott on Saturday, August 29, 2015

Hopefully this gives you some indication of what kind of winds we were dealing with.

Once back out on the course, it was a constant battle to keep my bike on the shoulder.  The wind was whipping me both off the road, and then into traffic.  After a strong headwind caused me to come to a dead stop, I decided to walk.  The road was a 2 lane, country road with no shoulder.  I did not was to be blown into a ditch, or worse.

I walked for about 5k before coming to some trees.  I hopped back on the bike hoping that tree cover would be my salvation.  It was.... for a while.

A video posted by @janetouchterlony on

At about the 63k mark, I noticed that a bunch of cars were turning around.  I turned to the rider* next to me and jokingly said, "What? Is there a tree down?"

As I rounded the corner, the joke was no longer funny.  There was indeed a tree down.  A big one.  Riders were helping other riders climb over, through, and/or under to continue on their way.

On the other side, I met a rider who said he saw it come down.  Suddenly, trees did seem the safe haven from the wind I had hoped.

Further up the route, I came across a few fellow Finnsters chatting with a race volunteer.  They were waiting to be picked up.  They did not feel safe with trees falling. That, and the volunteer was telling us about more trees and several power lines down.  Luckily the next few trees that were down did not span the entire width of the road.   

At about the 64k mark, the route took us into a Bellingham.  Trees where on houses, power lines were down everywhere, power and traffic lights were out, it was a disaster. During a stretch downtown, I was blown into the road.  Lucky for me, there was no traffic.

As I made a right turn, I thanked the traffic officer (as I do with all volunteers at all races), he informed me that they were closing down the ride.  All rider were to meet at the lunch pit stop and that the ride was done.

This raised all kinds or rumors among he riders as we approached lunch.
"The Ride is over at lunch.  They'll shuttle us back to Vancouver today." "They are calling it.  Lunch is now Camp and we will be shuttle back to Vancouver tomorrow morning."  "Lunch is now Camp and we will make up he remainder tomorrow."

I made it to lunch and was told that we were going to be shuttled to Camp.  As far as the ride on Day 2, that was still up in the air.

During lunch, I met and spoke with many Finnsters.  I heard all the stories about riders being taken out by the wind, flying branches, riders stranded between downed trees and power lines, and even the story of a rider who had a tree fall on her.

After loading my bike onto a truck, I got a ride to camp.  Once there, I grabbed my gear bag and made my way to the showers.  After a nice hot shower and a change of clothes, I made my way to the main building to get some food and meet up with the team.

More stories of the epic battle with the wind was shared over food and (free) beers.  People keep asking me if I'd do the ride again next year.  I told them I was having trouble separating the experience from the weather.

Normally at camp, tents would be setup for all the riders to sleep in, but it turns out, after setting them all up, they blew away.

Camp was setup at the Skagit County Fair Grounds.  There were plenty of empty buildings (mostly used for storing livestock) and we were told they would all be open for us.  Those who sill wanted tents, could request tents.  A few Finnsters and I  opted to get tents and set them up in our own "shanty town" between 2 buildings. 

After we had set up our tents, we heard word of an open bar  After a few more free drinks, we called it a night. 

Do to some poor communication (mostly on my part), I was ill prepared for the sleep over.  I did not pack a sleeping bag or an air mattress.  A fellow Finnster did let me borrow a small foam square.  The foam square, in combination with a few layers of clothes I packed, was my makeshift bed.  And my helmet, wrapped in towels, was my makeshift pillow.  The night was a series of find a comfortable position, fall asleep until said position became uncomfortable, change position, then repeat until my alarm went off the next morning.

Throughout the night, it poured.  In my waking moments, I kept telling myself I was not gong to continue.  I would jump on the shuttle and go back home.

I woke up the next morning to overcast skies, but no rain.  After a nice, long, hot shower and some coffee, I was feeling much better.

After breakfast, gear check, and bike prep, it was off to he start line.  We were off to a late start due to the course officials not opening the route until much later.  They wanted to ensure that the course was clear and safe after Saturdays maelstrom.  I started off with a few Finnsters and had a good morning ride.  There was no rain, but it was overcast and cold.

Along the ride I saw something I had never seen before.  To my right was an entire corn field where every stalk was bent at the middle at a 90 degree angle. It would the first of many signs of the aftermath.

Just before 20k, we hit our first pit stop of the day.  A few Finnsters dropped off and there was just the 2 of us for a while.  We enjoyed talking about why we ride, what we do for work, our connection to Team Finn, and told jokes.

The sun was coming out and I was starting to get hot.  I started out the day wearing a rain jacket and full leg tights.  I kept making the joke that at some point I needed to take off my pants.  As we rounded a corner, I saw a nice large parking lot.  I signaled and pulled over.  As I was dismounting my bike, I hear my buddy call up, "Here!?"  I was then that I noticed, I was in a church parking lot.  I replied, "Well it is Sunday."  And then proceeded to take off my pants.  Relax, I had bike shorts on underneath.

We soon came a very large hill.  I put my bike in the easiest gear and began to climb.  There was a section at what appeared to be the top of the hill that several other riders were stopped.  I had a good momentum going and did want to stop.  Good thing I did not.  Turns out that was only the halfway point up the hill.  I kept trucking up the hill keeping a good cadence.

Once at the top, I was met by a couple Finnsters in a support car.  They asked if I needed anything.  My rain jacket and cycle tights were in my back pockets and I ended up handing them off.  After this hill, I found a groove and stuck with it.

The next section was full of downhills.  My bike accelerates quite a bit on downhills, so needless to say, I enjoyed this section.

On one of the downhills, I noticed a group of girls from team To the Max.  I decided I would show off a little.  I put the chain on the big ring, got into aero position, and began to speed up down the hill.  Just before I passed them, I heard one of the girls say something to the effect of, "What's with all these triathletes speeding around this course?"  By this point it was too late, I could not slow down and then I was already past them.  There was nothing I could do but laugh at my horrible timing.

At kilometer 54, I met up with a couple Finnsters who rode with me along the Continental Trail.  This trail was amazing.  There was no traffic and plenty of scenic views.  We stopped at Lake Cassidy (65k) for a short pit stop.

Here was when I realized I would have to make a decision.  Team Finn always rides in as a team.  In order to do this, everyone meets at Pit Stop 4 at 2:30.  It was 12.30 and I had about 40k to go before Pit Stop 4.  If I were fresh, well tapered, and well rested, I could do 40k in an hour and a half, but I was none of those.  And there were hills.

My pride wanted me to do the full distance, but I did not want to miss out on riding in with the full team (100+ strong).  I decided the experience of riding in with the team was more important that doing the whole distance.

We made it to lunch, a very nice picnic area on Lake Stevens.  There I made arrangements  to be picked up at Pit Stop 3 and driven to Pit Stop 4, in order to make it in time to finish with the team.

After lunch, the course wound its way through farm land with only a few smaller, rolling hills.  But at kilometer 92, was the big one.  According to the course elevation chart, this was the toughest hill on the course.  I knew Pit Stop 3 was at the top of the hill, so I found a good cadence and stuck with it.  At the beginning of the hill, quite e few people passed me.  They were going pretty hard.  Halfway up the hill, I ended up passing them. 

Once I got the top, I loaded my bike onto a Finnsters truck.  We doubled back to pick up a few other riders and then went on to Pit Stop 4.

We made it to Pit Stop 4, and after several Team Finn group photos, the prodigious peloton of pink and polka dots was underway.

We rode the last 13k as a group, chatting with each other about how our rides went, sharing storied of the wind, and stories of previous rides. 

Soon, the finish was in sight.  Cheers from spectators rose as we all crossed.  We found a grassy area, laid our bikes down, and basked in the glow of the weekends adventure.

Such a good feeling going through the finish line with this team! @Team Finn Foundation #theridebc #teamfinn
Posted by Amanda Gregor on Sunday, August 30, 2015

And that was that.  My first Ride to Conquer Cancer.  Despite the weather and short cuts, it was a great experience.  One that I would definitely do again.

This blog was difficult to write.  So much happened over such a distance, I know I missed some things.  I heard so many stories on this ride and can only remember so many of them.  For that I apologize.  But know that every one of the 2,087 riders were out there riding for one reason: They or someone they know and love, was affected in some way by cancer.  I still hold out hope, that one day, cancer will be a disease of the past.

Thanks for taking the time to read my post.  In know this one was a long one and less exciting than a triathlon or obstacle course.  Thanks for your continued support and time.

* I felt that this riders story was best told on its on.  There was not really a good way to fit it into this article.

Throughout the ride, I would see a rider named Ashley.  I mean no disrespect when I say that Ashley is a big woman.  In fact, I have nothing but respect for her.  Every time I saw her, she was upbeat and pedaling hard.

Her friend she was riding with would always be ahead of her waiting.  I soon began to give Ashley's friend updates.  If I passed Ashley on a hill, her friend would be waiting at the top.  I'd let her know how far back Ashley was.  This continued to happen as we leap frogged each other over the 2 day ride.

On day 2 at Pit Stop 2, I saw her friend and informed her that I saw Ashley on the hill.  I told Ashley's friend that I was very impressed with how well Ashley was doing.  Her friend informed me that Ashley lost her dad to cancer and that one night, over wine, they had decided to get in shape and to the ride.  The next day, Ashley signed up and began training.

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