Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Tour de King 50k - September 30th, 2012

I'm starting to feel like this less of a blog than a confessional for all of my dimwitted ideas.

It was about 4 days before I broke my wrist that I signed up Tanker, myself and our two new mountain bikes for the 2nd annual Tour de King - a 50km off-road race that seemed to be the fall version of Paris to Ancaster. I was pissed at the idea I might miss it because of a putzy broken bone, but since I had 5 weeks post-break to heal I figured I might be able to make it. It would be the only race so far this year that Tanker and I were doing together, so I had a lot of motivation to get me out there!

Of course, I still had to figure out whether or not I could ride the bike at all with the cast still on. Wednesday evening, Tanker and I saddled up to see whether or not Arven (my gorgeous - if slightly homicidal - Louis Garneau Apex Elite) would play nice with me. I rolled around on the road a little, then over some grass, down a bumpy turf hill and back up some broken pavement. Down a loose, gravelly spillway, over a curb, back onto the road - I seemed to be doing ok, but it was getting dark so I couldn't really do much off-road testing. The outside of my wrist was a little unhappy with the way the cast exerted pressure on it and I couldn't just rest my hand normally on the grip because of the lump of fibreglass where my thumb joins my palm, so I rode another 10km or so on the road to see if it worsened with time. Back to the house, I spent another hour trying various adjustments to see if I could get the damned seatpost to stop creaking, all without avail. Oh well, I could ride - good enough.

I love you, even though you've repeatedly tried to kill me.

Having overslept for a car service appointment on Saturday morning, I was paranoid Saturday night and kept waking up every hour or two. Didn't get to bed until 01:00, was back up at 06:20 after 3 short naps and 3 panicked awakenings. At least I wasn't feeling the cold I'd come down with last week as much as I had on Saturday morning - being able to breathe was likely to be key to success.

Slack 29er vs. aggressive 26er wheelbase comparison.

For not having done a damn thing to prepare for this race in advance save for switching out Tanker's clipless pedals for platforms (he had an infected ingrown big toenail, so wanted to just ride in his trail running shoes rather than use cycling shoes) and taking another whack at silencing the creaking that accompanied any pedaling done sitting on my saddle, getting out of the house went rather smoothly. We only had to do 1 lap around the block because I'd forgotten chamois creme and Tanker had forgotten to tie down the excess strapping on the Gran Fondo to prevent it whipping at our bikes as we hauled down the highway. Basically, we had to stop to prevent multiple kinds of chafing, but were still actually on time leaving. Eerie..

Some of us took longer than others getting dressed.

Tim Hortons. Cafe Mocha. Yes. Nearly awake, we cruised up to Cold Creek Conservation Area and arrived with plenty of time to pick up our race packets, put on our number plates, finish getting dressed and even get a bit of a warmup in. We needed the warmup - the overcast skies threatened rain at any moment, the forecast called for showers, and there was a brisk, chilly wind blowing right through my base layer. I'm sure all of this was awesome for recovering from my cold.

Tanker's ready to rawk in his fighter plane jersey.

Wearing a single glove and arm warmer is the new black.

The first wave went off, so we shuffled ourselves into the starting chute for the neutral roll-out. It had become apparent during our warmup spin that my legs would be DNS'ing this race - maybe running 16km for the first time since March the day before wasn't my best idea ever, especially since this would only be my third time on a bike in over a month. Tanker wasn't in any better shape; he'd never rode anything technical on his new bike, and other than Wednesday's little 35min noodle he hadn't cycled at anything faster than my (glacial) running pace in about a month and a half. We made sure to stay well back, as I didn't want to get in the way of anyone who had a chance of not finishing last.

The innocent smiles of those who have no idea what they've got themselves into.

"No no, after you - we'll ride sweep today"

The horn sounded, we rolled out with the rest of the second wave, and the punishing hills began immediately. Apparently King Township doesn't believe in flat ground, so my poor legs were going to have to haul my gravitationally challenged arse almost as many vertical feet as horizontal ones. Perhaps if I'd used my fork lockout on the road climbs, things might have been easier...but since there are only a precious few kilometers of paved road on the whole course it not only wouldn't have made that much of a difference, but I can virtually guarantee that I'd forget to unlock it again and ended up in agony from pounding my wrist into dust.

This may be from 2011, when the course was run backward.
Doesn't matter. Still massive ouchness.

As it was, the only time my wrist actually hurt was on the bumpy descents...of which there were a lot. I had two options; I could lay on the brakes and hang my butt off the back of the saddle, easing myself down at walking pace, or I could let go of the brakes entirely and just rest my left hand gently on the bars. Anything in between was pain personified as the bucking of the bars shot bolts of pain into the break site, probably disintegrating the new bone I'd had to grow to patch the two halves of my radius together. I can't say I really preferred one method over another; selection depended mostly on how sketchy the descent looked, how far ahead I could see, and what I thought might be at the bottom. Unfortunately for Tanker, stuck with me as he was, there were a lot of times that I opted to ride the brakes.

He didn't seem to mind too much, though.

Into the first section of singletrack, I quickly ended up dismounting and walking my bike through some technical stuff I was simply too wussy to attempt. This particular portion didn't even appear on the route map I'd seen, and I knew there was a long day yet to come. As I walked, I sipped on my bottle of eLoad, as it was only just barely possible for me to pull the bottle from its cage and drink while I was in the saddle - stupid gimped hand! At least it was an improvement from Wednesday, when I hadn't been able to do so at all. I did manage to ride some of the first trail section despite some twisty, bumpy, semi-vertical bits, so I didn't feel completely useless.  I'm pretty sure my bike was disgusted with me, though, and expressed its distaste by continuing to creak throughout the whole damned race.

Map shows 2 singletrack sections. There were at least 5.

Another blogger found this the toughest section of trail; grassy, slippery in places, and hard on the legs, so I guess I should be pleased I rode any at all. We were eventually spat out onto road again, making our way through rutted, potholed packed dirt and gravel country lanes and always climbing, climbing, climbing. Saturday's ten miler was looking like a worse idea all the time, but at least the weather was looking more cheerful - we actually saw some patches of blue sky and even caught a bit of sun, nearly making us forget about the chilly wind blowing in our faces. Scratch that: you never forget a headwind on an uphill. Ever.

The next sections of off road riding took us through what Chico Racing calls "road allowances" and what I called "taking my bike for a walk". After hup-hupping over a barrier and riding a few feet, we came to something resembling a wall of mud that someone laughably thought a crappy mountain bike rider like myself might actually be able to ride up.

Uhh, no.

Tanker and I had a tough enough time just slogging our bikes up on foot, as did many of the people around us at the time. A gentleman with whom we lugged our steeds up this monstrosity said he hoped we liked technical riding, as there was lots to come. I was apparently grossly misinformed somewhere along the line, as I'd heard this was a pretty non-technical course. Clearly the people who said this forgot to add the caveat that they were perfectly at home with riding terrain that even mountain goats would only tackle with ropes and climbing harnesses, could bunny hop small buildings at will and were expert two-wheel drift racers. I paused to suck down a packet of peanut butter Gu since we'd already been rolling for over an hour, hoping it contained a large dose of bike handling skills and luck as well as the usual carbohydrates.

We crested the giant mud hill, rolled along to the gate at the far end, and ended up negotiating a terrifying loose gravel descent through a chicane before hitting the next "road allowance". Off the bike once more, up an even longer mud wall, then mount up and roll down the other side...and have to give up all of that lovely free speed immediately since there's another barrier at the bottom.  

With the course being reversed from last year, this used to be a descent.
The very thought makes bits of me clench.

After a few more hills, we finally arrived at aid station #1. I haven't the foggiest clue why it was called aid station #1, since contrary to the information provided by Chico Racing (and much to our later consternation)  there was no aid station #2. In any case, we were about halfway through the course by my cycle computer, so we stopped to take on some calories. No fruit (again, contrary to pre-race info from the organizers), but I was able to refill my bottle of eLoad and grabbed a Halloween-size Aero chocolate bar for courage (how tri dork of me!).

Back on the bike, figuring I could always get my smaller bottle of water re-filled at the second aid station (ha!), we grumbled over the logic of putting the aid station at the bottom of a hill. Grinding away, we made it up only to see that it marked the start of a series of rollers. I was making a lot of use of the 34t cog on my cassette, and my legs were doing a lot of talking. I was really missing my cross bike here, though I know it would have been pretty useless on the trail portions due to my aforementioned total lack of bike handling skills. Soon we arrived at the Centennial Park trails, running through a gorgeous arboretum with some trail I could actually ride.

Tanker ripping it up out of the saddle.

We had a great time in here, though the trails quickly got more technical and had me hopping on and off my bike like I had a spring in my butt. I am totally never using my cyclocross bike for this race - I'd have to walk just about all of the trail sections (well, even moreso), and I don't think I'd make that up on the road. Another blogger agrees that mtb is the weapon of choice, especially after hearing of a guy on a cx bike cannoning into a tree and snapping his collarbone. I had been expecting that this would be less technical than Paris to Ancaster, but it was turning out to be the opposite. I dabbed. I schluffed. I executed endless "manual turns" by getting to the apex of some ridiculous hairpin, stopping dead, unclipping and lifting the rear wheel around to where I wanted it. 

Occasionally, I even rode the bike.

For all that I was a total wuss with no skillz, I did actually end up taking on a few obstacles that I wouldn't have expected going into the race: as I bombed along a straight section, a small rock garden appeared in front of me out of nowhere. First one I'd seen since the one that broke me, and I had Tanker right on my butt. After an initial thought of "OHSHITOHSHITOHSHITI'MGONNADIE", I actually managed to do the right thing - whip up the pedals to keep my speed and roll right over that sucker! I'm sure I made some kind of unintelligible and ridiculous noise of triumph when I landed on the other side, still upright and moving. I have to be one of the most annoying people in the world with whom to ride trail, as almost every maneuver is punctuated by some silly exclamation of "uh-oh" (if it's something that terrifies me), "ARGH!" (if I think I'm going to wreck), "WHEEEEEEE!" (if I actually get above walking pace) or "YAY/WOOHOO!" (if I manage to ride over even a tiny logpile, fallen tree or rock garden, or make it up the slightest climb). I have no idea how Tanker puts up with me, especially since I was actually starting to build some confidence and roll over some obstacles, so the woods echoed with the sounds of my foolish rejoicing interspersed with the occasional click-stomp-stomp-stomp of me dismounting and walking yet again. I had a close call where I nearly fell over trying to climb off my bike, but managed to hop a bit and get my back up against a tree without even banging my cast.  I was finally getting back into the groove of looking where I wanted to go (rather than right in front of my wheel, which is a nasty habit of mine), and feeling the flow of the trails. Good times!

I had initially wondered if I should even bother with clipless or switch out to flat pedals (making it less likely that I'd fall over if I got hung up), but I'm pretty sure I made the right choice - being clipped in let me pedal smoothly to keep the rear wheel from breaking free on some of the soft, loose surfaces, and gave me much better control when bumping along over roots and logs on the trails. There were a couple of hairy descents in the singletrack where I might have lost my pedals, too, and that's just never a pleasant experience. Tanker was happy with his flat pedals, but that was mostly due to his ingrown toenail business and an increased ability to stop in a hurry when I chickened out on something right in front of him.

Out of the woods and onto the road one last time, we were back into the rollers and suffering. I'm pretty sure I left it in the granny ring here, as we'd already been out for over 2 hours (of actual moving time; probably closer to 2.5hrs total) and my fitness was pretty much spent. Tanker mentioned something about water, which finally prompted me to have a suck on my bottle of eLoad - I get pretty stupid about remembering to take in calories sometimes, and this was definitely one of those. We chatted a bit about how lovely the scenery was and how we'd both be happy to do this race again. Despite the huge weenie I was being on the trails, we were having a lot of fun!

We haz a happy!

Into the final off-road section at Seneca College's King Campus, and what I felt to be the most challenging part of the whole race. We entered through an open field with trails that are apparently frequented by wolves during their migration for mating season, riding easy and enjoying a bit of sunshine and the beautiful fall colours.

This was very reminiscent of portions of P2A.

Soon we ran into double track ATV trail, which was a pleasure to ride, and some tight, twisty, damn near vertical mountain bike trail, which was mostly a pleasure to walk. I did manage to make a couple of climbs about which I had my doubts, but there were some steep descents into hairpin turns and some big roots that I knew I would be foolish to attempt. I was getting tired, and at that point I start making bad split-second decisions - having passed a volunteer who told us we only had 6k left to go, I didn't want to wreck myself when I could nearly taste the end of this! We could actually hear the announcer and band at the finish, but the twisting trail kept turning us aside and we wondered if we'd ever get out of the woods. I almost fell over again, but managed to pull what Tanker said was a pretty impressive-looking little leap to clear myself of the bike and land on my feet. I rode over a bridge made of logs, and somewhat regretted its effect on my tiring wrist. After a climb that left me gasping, I decided I didn't care if we were almost done; I'd only taken in 2 bottles of eLoad, one gel and that mini Aero in the 3+ hours we'd been out, and I was starting to bonk and lose focus. I called a break at the top, and with almost the last gulp of water I had I sucked down my secret weapon; an Espresso Hammer gel. I hoped the caffeine and sugar would trick body and brain into cooperation, as I really needed to be able to keep my eyes up and ride this thing out!


Mere moments after the nutrition break, I was bumping along down a descent and came down rather hard in the saddle, which shifted under me to point its nose quite high in the air. YEOWTCH! Hopping up on the pedals I apprised Tanker of the situation, and we stopped once again so I could whip my multi-tool out of my Awesome Strap and stop my saddle from getting quite so personal with me. We're just friends, ok? At this point I was really looking forward to getting off the bike for the day - apparently the lining of my cast wasn't chosen for its anti-chafing properties, and the outside of my wrist was starting to feel pretty raw and sore. 

More or less sorted out (not having level ground makes it tough to adjust saddle tilt with any precision), we were rolling once again and heading for the finish, quickly passing a hand-drawn sign that joyously informed us we had "1K LEFT TO GO!". Despite feeling as though my seat wanted to dump me onto my top tube, I think I actually managed to ride the rest of the way out, emerging onto a grassy field and clearly able to hear the post-race party happening at the finish line. Our tired legs stroked away at the pedals as we rolled and bumped along, finally climbing a knoll and crossing the line exhausted but grinning.

With the end of the road behind us!

Official time: 3:43:48.96

While we may have been almost dead last to finish (there was 1 whole person behind us), I can't think of a better way to spend a day. We had incredible scenery, fun trails with something for every skill level (even mine: "practically non-existent"), and my bike didn't try to kill me! Tanker also finished his first off-road cycling event, having snapped his rear derailleur hanger at Paris to Ancaster in 2011 and declined to ride it with me in 2012. Since neither one of us focuses on cycle racing, we're perfectly happy to ride in tourist mode - just because there is a clock doesn't mean we're really racing against it, or anyone else for that matter. For anyone thinking of doing the Tour de King but shying away because they're not competitive, just come out and enjoy the day! For those who are less ambitious, there is a 35k version that cuts out some of the more technical singletrack sections. Had I remembered that earlier than 2 days before the race, I might have switched to the shorter, easier event...but then what fun is taking the easy way? It turns out that the "long course" isn't a full 50k anyway - my cycle computer showed something like 42.8km (and 3:06:49 of actual moving time) at the end.

On the bus to pick up our car.

Chico Racing puts on an excellent race. I'd have been happier if the second aid station had existed (since both Tanker and I nearly ran out of water), and if there had been bananas or other fruit available at the aid station(s) or the finish (since I'm gluten intolerant my post-race meal was a hamburger patty with a couple of tomato slices - couldn't have a bun or any of the pasta salad), but overall it was a great time. Even the live band was pretty good, and they seemed to have some awesome draw prizes. We didn't win anything, of course, unless you include huge grins and the satisfaction of having taken on a race that most people wouldn't attempt even without a broken wrist. There were 13 DNF's and 18 DNS's on the day, but we weren't among them!

The ill advised racing team!

We hope that the Tour de King continues for years to come, as this makes a great way to end a cycle racing season that begins with Paris to Ancaster in April and I'd love to return and see what I'm able to do on this course when I'm not broken. Speaking of P2A, though, their 20th anniversary is 2013...and Tanker says he's in!

At least by then I shouldn't have a cast to break..



  1. Good for you 2. I thank you for the write up. I plan to do the Tour De King this year and I have never did one. I had in my mind it would be quite easy. Sort of like a road ride on flat land with the occasional sideroad and single track. I now will go practice some hills in prep for the event. That was a real good description. Hey, I may see you 2 there.
    Frank E

    1. Thanks for reading, Frank - I know you'll have a blast at Tour de King! It's a great event, and we'll be sorry to miss it this year; just too many other things on the schedule. Hit those hills, polish up those technical skills, and have fun!


Go on, have at me!