Deflowered on Tunkwa

It was cold, wet, long and hard. I screamed in agony, begged for mercy, and closed my eyes tight. My ass was beaten, my legs could barely hold on. It was my first time, and nothing about it was gentle, in fact, it was rough and ruthless. But I came out on top, alive and unscathed; a brand new woman. This is the true story of having my cherry popped on Tunkwa; a one hundred and thirty kilometre up-hill battle of a bike ride from the edge of town in Kamloops to the heart of Logan Lake. She is unforgiving, and as we passed through rain that poured in sideways and right side up, hail, howling head winds, and freezing temperatures, I felt what it was really like to doubt myself.
It started out like any other ride and for the first twenty odd kilometres I laughed in the face of Tunkwa and it’s harsh reputation. I was extremely naive but humility followed shortly afterwards. Upon reaching the lookout point just past Tobiano, overlooking Kamloops Lake, we paused for a couple photos and a brief break. I felt strong, and I thought, bring it on. But after the ensuing playful and fast descent I saw what lay ahead of me. For the next forty plus kilometres rolling hills felt like mountains, and steep climbs felt like Everest flipping me over and slapping me silly. I drained my bottles of water, sucked back gatorade, mowed on bananas, crushed bags of candies, desperately searching for every ounce of energy I could find. At this point, I couldn’t tell whether I was on the verge of bonking or just overly exhausted, or just overly overwhelmed, or just overly crazy. With each breath, which sounded like I was in deep agony, I questioned whether I was worthy of chasing such absurd dreams. With every stroke of the pedal, I asked myself, “what are you doing, who do you think you are?” Then the skies opened and the rain began to pour. Grit and water flew up at my face and dripped from the brim of my helmet. My body started to freeze, and I began to think of which friend might find it in their heart to come rescue me. Then the rain turned to hail, and I saw another long ascent just ahead; “fuck me,” was all that escaped my lips.
After riding for more than 80 kms, we finally reached Logan Lake, and congregated inside the tiny gas station to warm up, replenish our fuel stores, and share stories of the grind. I was confused and lost, as I looked to Vince to tell him I may be calling for a ride home, I felt defeated. This is by far the weakest I’ve felt on my entire training journey thus far, both physically and mentally. I wandered aimlessly, feeling incredibly uneasy and unsure. Here I was pushed almost beyond my limits, miles from home, or anything that felt comfortable and safe, and I was on the verge of quitting.  Yet somehow, as I sauntered out of the store and into the harsh elements, I found myself back on the proverbial horse, and once again peddling my away along.
As we cycled out of town, the chill set back into my bones, and even changing gears became impossible, as I could no longer feel my fingers. I either stuck to the gear I had selected, or if desperate, reached around with my hand and palmed the lever until it shifted.
We were barely a few kilometres back on the road when we were randomly stopped by a guy with truck, apparently someone who knew my fellow riders, offering to give anyone a lift home who wanted it. Vince looked to me, and said, “hey Aly, you wanted a ride home, didn’t you?” I looked at him, with sweat and mud dripping from my face and said, “no, I didn’t come this far to quit.” And that was that.
By the time I reached the edge of Kamloops I was exhausted and just beginning to thaw. I was also talking to myself and singing random Celine Dion songs. Some would say I had gone delirious, but in my mind, I had made it.
My deflowering on Tunkwa wasn’t pretty, but it wasn’t supposed to be. Like all first times it was rough, raw, and painful, and I can’t wait to do it all over again, but this time I’ll be much more experienced and ready to go all day long.

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Just call me Topples

On this past sunny Sunday afternoon as we trekked out on a beautiful rolling ride that took us past everything from industrial buildings, country farmlands, goats, roaring cars and peaceful babbling brooks, I learned something new about myself; I’m a toppler. Most veteran cyclists have at least one crash story to tell, and I’ve heard a lot of them. There have been tales of run ins with parked cars or moving cars or speed bumps, slipping on wet roads, or rocks, being hit with flying debris or opening car doors, and even just flying off the bike for no other reason than it was your day to go down. I’ve also seen the end result; black and blue bruises, broken bones, and third degree road rash. While I have certainly endured black and blue bruises and blood, there has been nothing epic about my ‘topples,’ which seems like a perfectly good adjective to describe the slow motion flail of my body hitting the hard concrete. The word ‘crash’ should be reserved for stories that evoke shudders from your audience, not laughter. But what more would you expect, I still struggle to properly clip in and out of my pedals – a beginners skill I should have mastered by now. And if I so much as take my right hand off my handlebar to make a signal, I struggle with some fairly seriously teetering. Even dropping down into the TT position requires a significant amount of serious concentration. I am like a wobbly baby fawn learning how to ride a tricycle. So, it should come as no surprise on this Sunday ride that when my chain locked up mid-way through a steep yet small hill, I did what every rookie would do, panic. I immediately started over thinking the situation as my clipped in feet suddenly felt like led bricks chained down to the pedals, and my wobbly balance weaved me like a drunken sailor towards the ditch then the middle of the road before I flung one foot out and planted it clumsily on the ground. But my unsteady legs, tired from hours of riding, were practically wet noodles and like the demise of the leaning tower of pisa, I crumbled over onto my hip, and flopped to the ground. You ask almost any cyclist and they will tell you what hurts the most after a crash (or a topple in my case) isn’t our bleeding flesh, bruised knees, or concussed heads, but our pride. I felt like the lonely, geeky kid on the playground desperately trying to impress the cool kids, yet failing miserably. Although, the “cool kids” I play with are much more forgiving, and yelled back to make sure I was OK. Despite the black and blue hip and blood seeping from the back of my calf, of course I was fine, I fell over going a mere 2 kilometres an hour. So, I picked myself up off the asphalt, dusted myself off and thought to myself that at least the oozing blood looked badass, and for those who didn’t see the topple, I would just smile and tell them it was epic.

Kamloops Spring Sprint – 1:18:58

There’s nothing like the first race of the season; it’s what we wait all year to do. But on this race morning, with my windshield wipers frantically flip flopping to chase off huge droplets of rain pelting my car, I mumbled a few words of disdain. The temperature gauge registered at just 5 degrees and with three layers of clothing, a toque, mittens and wool socks, it hardly felt like the beginning to triathlon season. This was normal dress for a weekend snowboarding jaunt, and with the fresh blanket of snow glaring back at me from the hills, I felt a cruel mocking from Mother Nature.
As I racked my bike in transition and covered my shoes, saddle, and running gear with plastic bags, I had to smile.  Whether it stopped raining or not, I would eventually be soaked after the swim, and staying warm would be dependent on how hard I worked. Work harder, go faster, stay warm; seemed simple enough.
My heat time slowly approached after almost four hours of dancing around to keep warm, and all the familiar pre-race jitters began. Like a neurotic rain man I mentally ran through transition and the course map a million times over. Four laps. Three laps. Left, left, right, left, left. Bike, shoes, helmet, hat, runners, race belt. Over and over again. Once you’ve had one triathlon disaster nightmare, these things become an obsession.
Soon enough, there was no time left to mull over the details, I was in the pool, waiting for the go signal. Then, my favourite swim adjective, came to life as I flailed like a frantic demented dolphin through the water. I learned last year at my last race from Maurice that the key to a sprint triathlon is to go balls to the wall. There is no pacing or strategy, you just go as hard as you can, or as he put it, “you want to feel like you’re on the verge of puking the whole time.” So, without any rhyme or reason, I flailed through the pool as fast as my feeble arms would allow. Everything was blur. The sounds on the deck were muffled, at the end of every length the wall seemed to come out of nowhere, I inhaled water, fumbled under the ropes, things seem to spin and as I clambered out of the water and onto the deck I felt out of sorts as I ran out of the door and into the freezing rain. Tearing off my cap, and goggles I flipped on my lid, ripped off the plastic and flew out of transition with bike in tow.
The roads were flooded and the cold wind whipped at my bare skin turning it a bright shade of red within minutes. This only inspired me to pedal harder; it was all I had to try to keep warm. With each lap, I scanned the crowd for my coach, and with his encouraging words, I charged forward even harder. And still sputtering from mouthfuls of chlorinated water, I had been on the verge of puking since the first 100 metres of the swim; perfect execution.
As I rounded the final bend back towards transition, I reached down to un-velcro my shoes and pull out my feet, and it was like having ice cubes for fingers. I fumbled like a child learning to tie shoes, and miraculously pulled my feet out, rounded the curve, hit the dismount line and started running. At this point, I had no idea if my feet were even hitting the ground. In fact, I probably somewhat resembled a gazelle running across hot coals. I heard people commenting on my poor, red bare feet, and with an odd sense of self-satisfaction and bad ass-ery, I smiled.
Then it was rack the bike, grab the race belt, throw on the shoes, discard the helmet, throw on the hat and go. As I peeled out of transition in between heaving breaths, I yelled at Maurice, “I’m so cold!” and all he yelled back was, “GO! Fast, fast, fast!” Remembering that I was in fact racing, I quickly switched my mind back into race mode and tried to block out the numbing sensation in every inch of my body and move my giant ice block legs forward. I was sputtering, there was water in my ears, and all I could hear was the hollow sound of my heavy breathing and grunting, as I continued at my on-the-verge-of-puking pace. All I could think of was moving one foot in front of the other, as fast as my legs would allow.
Finally, I hit my final loop and rounded the corner towards the finish chute. By this point I was warm. Not fuzzy under a blanket warm, but at least I felt the rush of blood through my body again, and the rain had stopped. Once under the finish arch, I almost had to be grabbed to stop, as I charged through, my legs just wanting to keep on going. I glanced down at my watch to see a time that was almost 10 minutes faster than last year. There was a rushing feel of pride and happiness. All the flailing pool workouts, killer hill climbs and heart pounding tempo runs have paid off, and it felt so good.
Race one of the season, done, and one race closer to becoming an Ironman. The adventure continues.