Monday, May 26, 2008

Tip to Tip - A Spirited Adventure of Spandex and Generosity


I cannot sleep. For the love of me, I cannot sleep. I spend the majority of the night tossing and turning, sneaking peeks at the bedside clock. At one point I even pull my sheets off the bed and try out the floor. Sleeping is normally not a problem for me – I’m good to go once I’ve put my earplugs in and turned the light out. Fred’s company also helps, but there wasn’t room for him in my suitcase. Sigh. This is not good. Eventually, I give up trying to get a full night’s sleep and promise myself I will make it through whatever the next day brings. I finally fall to sleep somewhere around 4.00 a.m.

The next morning brings more grey clouds and cool temperatures – the silver lining is that the winds are light. I wish I drank coffee. I really do. I sit down to breakfast with Derek Lawther, one of the veterans on the trip, who has taken it upon himself to share the ‘Top Ten Things You Really Didn’t Want to Know About Me’ with the group during the weekend. Last night we learned he has only had one cup of coffee in his life. Yes, yes us non-coffee drinkers secretly like to think we are superior in our abstinence of a caffeine-induced morning pick-me-up. Except on those mornings after a night of no sleep, then we just curse and grumble a lot and search for a vending machine that sells chocolate bars.

Jen and I are the last of the group to head off from Mill River. This, surprisingly, is not because I am sluggish. Truth be told, after a few chocolate almonds, I feel mighty and strong – ready to conquer the trails. If only Jen could crawl out of bed...a morning person she is not. So we head off at 8.10, with our shepherd, Bruce, and Geoff, the bike mechanic with the pink bunny horn and T-shirt that reads ‘Bicycles Can Save The Planet’. Early into our ride Jen stops to take horse pictures, and my impatience sets in. I want to get to lunch! So off I go alone. Along the way I encounter a hare on the trail and chat with other riders. I’m surprised when I catch up with other bikers, I didn’t think we’d see any of them until lunch, but Bruce did say we were doing a good pace when we left the hotel. Eventually Jen catches up to me and we ride into our lunch stop together. Brrrr. Everyone is freezing and the warm chicken fricot served up at the Wellington Community Centre is a godsend to the starving, shivering group of bikers that descend upon it. Yummy biscuits and plates of delectable sweets complete the deal. Based on what we’ve been fed so far, I determine I will not be losing any weight during this trip. (Insert lame attempt at foreshadowing - little do I know then what devastation the scales will bring me on completion of the four-day trip…)

I want to be closer to the front of the pack – more specifically I want to be at the Boxcar Lounge in Emerald Junction before it starts raining, preferably with a beer in my hand. I head out with some of the first in the group, it’s 39 kilometres to our next break – the Frosty Treat in Kensington. I find myself biking with Jeff and Ryan. We draft most of the stretch to Summerside, with Jeff doing the lion’s share of the pulling. I am smitten with this thing called drafting, it makes pedalling so much easier (up to 30% apparently). We take an unscheduled break at the Cows in Summerside, where Cynthia and Derek are enjoying ice cream cones at staff prices. We indulge as well, and then head back out on the trail. That’s when we discover what headwinds are really made of and the going gets a bit rough. The trek from Summerside to Kensington is all grind, grind, grind. It’s unrelenting, there is no shelter from the wind and as we crisscross over Route 2, I fantasize about getting on the highway and going the quick and easy way. Thank goodness Jeff is there to keep me in line and pull me along.

I have been waiting for fatigue to hit all morning and afternoon, but it does not come. I am filled with gratitude to my body for giving me all it has and to my mind for sticking with the program on only three hours of rest. I am keeping the promise I made to myself in the wee hours of my sleepless night – I will get through whatever today brings.

A short break in Kensington, then Jeff and I are off again, trying to beat the dark storm clouds to the Boxcar Lounge. 19 kilometres later we are ordering up drinks and warming up beside the propane fireplace. The cheers grow louder with each cyclist that comes through the doors. And then it starts raining and we hear that someone has been injured. Kim braked really quickly and flew over her handlebars. She’s OK, a bit bruised and battered, but nothing broken, thankfully. Finally, everyone comes in from the rain and we climb on the bus to Charlottetown, where warm showers and a banquet evening await us.

Mom and Jim join me for the banquet dinner. It’s so nice to see their smiling faces at the halfway point. Some familiarity in the midst of unfamiliarity is reassuring to say the least. Dinner is followed by an auction of South African goods generously donated by Don Wagner, a professor at the School of Business who has been on sabbatical in South Africa working with micro-financing groups for the last year. I watch tables filled with people who were strangers 36 hours ago, laughing together and bidding each other up on items made halfway around the world and purchased by a former Tip-to-Tipper and PEI resident. I amreminded that there are no boundaries in this world, except the ones we set. Friendships can be forged on bike trails, and neighbours can help neighbours half a world away. We need only open our minds and our hearts to the idea of living in a world without boundaries and we will find ourselves richly rewarded. So give it a try, I dare you!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Tip to Tip – A Spirited Adventure of Spandex and Generosity


The Night Before

I decided to give the gym a miss for the second day in a row, temporarily relinquishing my ‘gym rat’ tendencies. I had pushed myself far too hard earlier in the week, with two workouts per day on both Monday and Tuesday. I was still might sore in the legs and arms for ‘Mean’ Gineen’s bootcamp class and early morning PT session and figured I should be kind to the body that would be carrying me from North Cape to East Point over the next four days.

Just to be sure my body knew how much I appreciated it, I gave it a few samples of the yummy Bulk Barn treats I’d bought for trailside energy boosts. It responded by asking for more of the same and, of course, I obliged. Then, with my belly full of licorice allsorts and chocolate-covered pretzels, I set about the simple task of packing lightly for a four-day bike ride. Three hours later, I was almost there. In the end, I decided I didn’t need to bring my black boots and one jacket would suffice. I also ditched about half the trailside snacks I’d purchased and sampled a few more, just to lighten my backpack. Woohoo – I was packed and ready to take on the four-day odyssey ahead: 320 kilometres, 28 riders, 4 days, 3 nights, 2 legs and one way to the finish line.

Sleep did not come easily that night – nothing like a bit of anxiety to keep one awake into the wee hours. But I finally fell asleep and woke to a misty, gray Friday morning, May 16th – Day One.


A Breakdown and Blast Off

The first thing I did was turn the radio on to listen to the weather report. I’d not been so obsessed with the weather since my last flight out of PEI in the dead of winter. 100.3 promised sunshine and temperatures in the mid-teens by the afternoon, which was when we’d start biking. Yay!

Jen picked me and my gear up and we drove to the pick-up spot in the Smitty’s parking lot. The Trius bus was there and a bunch of well kitted-out cyclists were milling around and loading their bikes on the trailer. I still hadn’t asked myself the obvious question ‘What did I get myself into’? Instead I concerned myself with more important matters like whether the spandex pants I’d borrowed from Rob were flattering or WAY too revealing. No matter, I’d already deduced this was most certainly not going to be a sexy weekend.

We hopped on the bus and sat down. I saw only two other familiar faces – Cynthia Dunsford and my friend, Ryan, who showed up with Rob Paterson (my unofficial guardian angel and an all-round brilliant person). It seemed Jen and I were skewing the average age down just a bit. I reckon that most of the riders were between 35 and 55. After roll call we were off, headed west to North Cape. As we left Charlottetown, the organizers, Max and Andrea started making announcements and handing out necessities including a handy map of the Confederation Trail. When I unfolded the map, I almost laughed at the absurdity of having volunteered to bike across this Island I grew up on. And to do it on the old rail line, which essentially goes through EVERY little village that had sprung up during the rail era. No, we most certainly weren’t cycling the shortest distance from tip to tip.

We had our first (and only) breakdown about 30 minutes into our bus ride. The coach stopped alongside the Lotus Garden restaurant in Kensington, which just happens to be the town that I grew up in. We had an air leak, so we pulled in to wait for a new coach. While we waited, I visited the Petro-Can to say hi to a high school friend. Some of us also took a tour of the liquor store and some suitcases got heavier while waiting in transit.

Finally, we were on our way again and by the time we got to North Cape, it was about quarter past twelve. The gray clouds were still clinging to the skies above, but there was little wind, which was unusual since North Cape is home to a wind farm. We were told we would ride the first fifteen kilometers together into Tignish on the road. Once we hit the Confederation Trail we could set our own pace. Total kilometer count for the day was 63 and dinner would be served at the Mill River Resort at 6.30. There was no way I was missing dinner. I set my iPod to shuffle, did a few stretches and headed off with the pack. I quickly found myself near the front, without intending to be and Cynthia invited me to draft her. Well, sure, why not? My first taste of drafting was sweet and easy. I didn’t know it then, but drafting would become the saving grace of my ride over the next few days and the means by which I made friends with virtual strangers while riding behind and in front of them on the trail. Nothing like a bit of butt-viewing to cement the bonds of friendship.

And then I found myself alone, caught between the racers ahead and the leisure pacers behind. That’s how I spent most of my first day – alone on the trail, chewing on peppermint gum and thanking myself for the foresight to add songs to my iPod before the trip. It was only in the last ten kilometers that I found myself joined by Bruce, one of the ‘trail shepherds’ that was on the trip to make sure we were all safe, happy and not lost. It was so reassuring to have these guys with their yellow vests and vast amount of experience in patrolling ski hills and bike trails on the trail with us – they were our safety nets and we would need them throughout the weekend.

Finally, I found myself on Route 143, taking the turnoff to Mill River Resort, where beds, showers, food and the bar awaited us. I was surprised to find that I was the sixth biker to arrive at the hotel. I biked in around ten to four, and calculated that, not including my short break, it had taken me about 3 hours and fifteen minutes to bike 63 kms. Not bad. Even more impressively - I was able to walk, my legs were in fine shape and I had only a slight pain in my lower back.

Come Together

A couple of pints of Keiths later and I had met a few of my fellow cyclists. I sensed immediately that I was amongst a friendly, welcoming group of people. And while we were diverse group in terms of our ages, occupations, hometowns and cycling abilities, it became clear that we were all on the ride to challenge ourselves and enjoy a good ol’ bike ride.

During a pasta buffet dinner, Martha, the founder of the Tip to Tip for Africa also spoke to us about the reason we were on this trip – to raise funds for people in South African townships that needed micro-loans to start-up or expand their small business. We learned that the banks in South Africa do not want to lend money to their citizens, especially not to women, so it’s virtually impossible for most South Africans to raise the equity needed to start a business through the normal channels an entrepreneur in the westernized world would employ. And that’s where the Townships Project comes in. We had raised money to provide South Africans with the equity to start their own businesses, to become self-sufficient for the foreseeable future. And we were told that most of the loans were $50. Each loan had a positive influence on 5 people. Wow. That’s mind-blowing when you think of it. That’s about the same amount one of us might spend at Tim’s in a month, or the cost of a pair of jeans that we might buy and wear once before deciding they aren’t flattering on the behind. Martha told us that 98% of the micro-loans that had been given out, had been paid back (or were in the process of being paid back). Hopefully, banks would start to realise that making loans to South Africans was not a risky business, but rather the most important means by which to stimulate the struggling economy. Because there's no question that self-sufficiency and entrepreneurship are the backbone of any thriving economy.

And so it was that we were all here. 28 strangers from the East Coast of Canada had come together to bike four days across a red island, in hopes that we could make a difference in the lives of many more in Africa, the only continent on the face of the Earth that is getting poorer with each day that passes.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Gearing Up, Getting Down

It hurts to move from a standing position to a sitting one. Seriously. I daresay, I have certainly been putting my body to the test as of late, especially the legs! I can't believe the Tip to Tip is less than two weeks away. I feel like I've not had enough practice rides on the bike, although I have certainly been doing tonnes of cardio and strength training at the gym, where rain and wind are avoidable. I did manage to get in a longish bike ride on Saturday - Jen and I hit the trails and did approximately 40 kms. It was a lovely day and I found once we got into the rhythm the going was pretty easy. I am just going to pray to the weather gods that we have sunshine, no rain and, most importantly, nothing more than a gentle breeze. For four whole a row...on the Island that has wind test sites at either tip. Yes, I am a wishful thinker!

In addition to my long bike ride this weekend, I also did an 8 km jog Sunday morning, a pretty intense strength training session (focus on legs and abs) and then a 1.5 hour walk in the evening. Tonight I am going to a boot camp workout class, followed by a PT session. Yay! I shall look forward to more pain :)

OK, so now that I've done a practice bike of a decent length, I am a bit more confident I can pull of this whole 'biking 400 kilometers' thing. So now I turn my attention to gearing up for the ride. At this point in time, I am severely lacking in appropriate gear for the trip. I have two necessities - a bike and a bike helmet. Aside from that, I have nothing. I don't have a spare tube, or a bike repair kit, or even the appropriate clothing. I don't think I've EVER owned a windbreaker, so getting one for just four days seems kind of silly. And I have a great little rack on the back of my bike, but I don't have a saddlebag to put there.

I think I need to get this sorted soon. I've been procrastinating because I can't really afford to spend more money on this trip, and because I don't have a car to bounce around town in hopes of finding all the gear I definitely can't do without. Yes, yes, of course I could use my bike, and I will, but a car would be handy. I've been biking a lot as a mode of transport lately, it's all fine and dandy when the weather's great, but I'm still not a fan of riding in the rain.

Afterthought - they DO list trail snacks on the 'what to pack' list, so I will have to force myself to go to the Bulk Barn and load up. Oh the sacrifice!