Just like any other weekend morning, I was brewing away in my kitchen like a mad scientist, measuring and calculating calories and bottles of water, following a formula to ensure that I had enough to get me through a long ride. On this morning, I was fuelling up for the annual 200k Merritt Loop – a ride that just the previous year had kicked my ass. There really is no other way to describe the aftermath of what that ride did to me. I set out to as a Merritt Loop virgin to conquer the day and instead wound up being conquered, and sitting on the side of the road in delirium trying to figure out where I went wrong. The suffering began with about 50K still to go. My body decided that enough was enough, and for the rest of the journey, I wobbled to and fro, suffering with every stroke of the pedal. In the end, I was angry that I had failed, but in failing, I had learned. I learned the importance of calorie and hydration intake, I learned the key to pacing and above all, I learned how to suffer and survive – an extremely important learning lesson that you won’t find in any Ironman training handbook. Ever since that day, I have been seeking redemption, a chance to conquer that ride and to finish strong. I thought this was the year, so on this morning I had a prize in my eyes.
We hit the road just after 6am to give ourselves lots of time, and with a forecast of 35 degrees we wanted to minimize our time in the late afternoon heat. Just the same as last year, the ride from Kamloops to Logan Lake was calm and enjoyable. There were some gentle climbs to get us warmed up, and quick descents and rolling flats. As we arrived in Logan Lake, still bushy-tailed and bright-eyed, we laughed and swapped stories of the beautiful morning, and reminisced about the freezing cold we encountered at this exact location a couple months ago on our Tunkwa loop. This time we were happy to be warm and dry.
Once re-fuelled, we descended from Logan Lake along the windy stretch to Merritt. Sailing along the smooth curving pavement, we were treated to a gentle fresh morning breeze, the sights of deer and soaring birds, and an incredible tail wind that pushed me past speeds of 75 kilometres per hour. It was sheer joy – just the simple sound of my bike roaring against the pavement and the wind screaming past my ears.
As we stopped for the first time in a while just outside town I could feel the afternoon sun heating up, and as I looked behind us at the long stretch of road that had just been my playground, I realized we would be paying for the enjoyment later. As any veteran cyclist knows, a great tailwind out, means a great headwind home.
After refuelling in Merritt and taking a few minutes to stretch out our legs, we saddled back up for the journey home. With our bikes now facing east, I could instantly feel the hot, dry wind pushing back against us, almost as if challenging us to carry on. For almost 100 kilometres, we would trudge through 30 kilometre an hour headwinds, gusting to 45 in 35 degree desert heat. My neck began to tense, my shoulders began to ache, and the fun started to waver. Every stroke of the pedal felt like we were going up against a hurricane and the heat pouring down from the searing sun as we rode along the exposed asphalt made me feel as if I was melting. With about 30 kilometres to go, the pain within my aching muscles forced me to pull over more than I wanted, and it was in this moment I realized that on this day, redemption would not happen.
As we approached Cardiac Hill, the last, long steep climb of the day, I had vivid flashbacks to last year when Vince pushed me up this mountain. On this day, I longed for the push of his hand because there was a hint of possibility that I might either start going backwards or come to a standstill and then topple over to my death. As I started to pedal, I tried not to think, I tried not to look too far ahead, just pedal, one, two, three, one, two, three. The ache in my quads was excruciatingly painful. I still don’t know how I made it to the top, maybe I blacked out and an angel carried me, or maybe I just made it on pure insanity. Either way I made it, but it was not in the fashion I had hoped. As I pushed out the final rotations of the pedals, I practically fell off the bike and crumpled in a heap on the ground. If a picture was worth a thousand words, this one tells the whole story. There was no super hero pose or grandeur moment – just defeat.
We still had about 15 to 20 kilometres to go and at this moment we came to the stark realization that we had completely run out of water – there wasn’t even a drop. We were nomads in the desert and it was a dire situation. Even if I had water, I would not have wanted to drink it. I could no longer choke down anymore nutrition and even the thought of the water bottle touching my lips made me gag. Instead, I would opt to dry heave, my body revolting against the torture of Mother Nature beaming down upon us. For the remainder of the ride, I would mumble my words in a way that had me sounding like a drunken fool. Even when we had friends come out to meet us on the highway with ice cold water just outside town, I could barely choke it down before staggering back off on the road. I was desperate to finish and hell bent on not quitting. Damn that last 10k – it felt like the longest 10k of my life.
After almost nine hours in the saddle, and more than ten hours after setting out on the road, we finally arrived back home. I don’t even remember how I got off my bike – just walking in the door of my friend’s air conditioned house where we lay on the cold tiled kitchen floor moaning. I had a cold cranberry juice in one hand, a bottle of Advil in the other and a cold cloth pressed against my burning head. Redemption did not happen. I did not come out the victor- in fact I was a hot, pathetic mess.
The aftermath of this ride haunted me for nearly two days. Mother Nature was the victor and my demise came in the form of heat stroke that kept me shivering with a fever and riding out the waves of aches and pains. The adventure may not have ended how I wanted it to, but sometimes you just have to chalk it up as miles logged and another challenge finished. I guess I have a date with Cardiac Hill for next year because my redemption is now long overdue.