Race Across the West

Randonneurs Ontario member Vaune Davis recently completed the Race Across the West. The following article appears courtesy of Race Across the West and Vic Armijo.

VAUNE DAVIS: “If you had asked me five years ago if I’d be doing this, I would have said you were crazy.”

At age 54 Canadian Vaune Davis became the oldest woman to finish the Race Across the West, completing the 878 miles in 3 days, 14 hours and 26 minutes. “I’m thrilled to have set the record as the oldest woman to ever finish that race,” she wrote in a recent e-mail to RAAM Media, “That was my goal. And doing that while also getting Rookie of the Year is kind of cute!”

Since age 19 Davis suffered joint pain that was diagnosed as psoriatic arthritis: her body’s immune system was literally attacking her joints. She endured decades of pain and extreme fatigue and her feet, hands, elbows, shoulders and neck were all severely damaged. Thankfully a then new biological type of drug was approved 12 years ago that helped her condition, “I went into full remission and within five weeks I had energy spilling out of every pore and no pain,” she said in a pre-race interview with the Toronto Star. Sadly many of her joints were already badly damaged through the years, but her hips and knees still functioned reasonably. So at age 42 she took up cycling and eventually joined a local bike club, “I would go ride with them for an hour and I’d get dropped in the middle of nowhere by myself,” she said. “But that didn’t bother me. I would just continue riding. If they were doing a 75-km ride, I’d do 150. I found I didn’t get tired and I enjoyed getting lost in the ride.”

Since then Davis has become quite the UltraCyclist. A notable recent result came in this year’s 24 Hours of Sebring where she surpassed her previous 24-hour personal best (333 miles) by racking up 353 miles. She’s also earned Ultra Marathon Cycling Association (UMCA) World Cup and Ultra Cup age group championships.

Earlier this year she began experiencing knee pain which unfortunately led to a sad realization, “The MRI and blood test results were a shocker: my arthritis had not only figured out how to outwit the $22K-a-year miracle drug, but it was chewing up my knees. I had severe cartilage loss in both, inflammation in my hips and elbows, and a double-knee replacement instead of a double-century in my future.” So far she’s avoided that drastic surgery and instead has relied on biweekly physiotherapy, acupuncture, cortisone shots, synthetic joint fluid, anti-inflammatory drugs, a new drug combo: Humira (an immunosuppressive drug) and a chemotherapy drug called Methotrexate, plus knee and glute-strengthening exercises.

With the help of all that treatment and her coach Peter Oyler (a RAAM and RAW finisher himself) Davis arrived at the RAW start in Oceanside, California fit and ready. “She’s an average person going to do something pretty extraordinary,” Oyler said. She was aided by being as she describes, “One of the best-crewed racers in the field… you’d never know it from my speed.” That crew included Oyler, his 2013 RAAM crew chief Janet Wilson and Team Hoodoo finisher Suzy Nelson, who has also crewed RAW before. “I had an A-Team behind me.” They assured that Davis stuck to her simple plan in Durango, Colorado, “Always stay on the bike, keep moving, don’t stop, whatever you do.” As extraordinary as her story is to others, Davis can’t quite grasp its enormity herself, “If you had asked me five years ago if I’d be doing this, I would have said you were crazy,” Davis said. But in the end, she not only overcame the pain and the challenges of riding across deserts and mountains to reach Durango, she did so with smiles and a cheerful attitude despite the pain and a demeanor that endeared her to the whole RAW and RAAM family, many of whom remember her from back in Oceanside where she had as many riders as she could autograph her white cycling shorts.

She sums up her effort with this, “You don’t have to be the fastest or the strongest but you can compete against yourself and achieve amazing results as long as you focus on what you can do versus what you can’t do.”

Thank you Vaune. Some of us, I feel, must now put aside whatever excuses we’ve been making and go ride our bikes.

Photos can be found at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Race-Across-the-West/162127126721

Tour for Kids Charity Ride

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Photo by Victor Crowl

Ride report by Andrea Ferguson Jones:

Stephen and I just completed our fourth (well, his third since he missed 2011 for PBP) Tour for Kids which ran from August 15th to August 18th. This is a four day event (with a two day option) that supports the Coast to Coast Against Cancer Foundation and their funding of Camp Oochigeas, Camp Quality and Camp Trillium pediatric oncology camps. These camps give kids living with and beyond cancer as well as their families the opportunity to leave the doctors and hospitals behind and spend time at camp which is excellent therapy itself. The camps have medical staff to maintain treatment protocols and provide any special care needed. For kids who are too sick to travel to one of the camps, Camp Ooch also has an in hospital program at Sick Kids that provides programs for kids while they are still in the hospital.

The ride itself consists of four days with the option to ride 100, 160 or 200 km each day. Two day and one day options are also available. This year we were riding a borrowed tandem so we stuck to the 100 km routes and more than quadrupled our tandem experience over the course of the event (trial by fire!). In previous years, I would usually ride the 100 km routes while Stephen took on the 200 km routes. There is a wide range of people on this ride from those who will never ride more than 100 km to RAAM finishers. The bulk of riders are probably in the moderately strong roadie category with moving average speeds of 25-30 km/h taking on at least one day of 160 km if not more. If you ever wanted to pull off a 6 ½ hour 200, this is the place to do it!

The ride is very well supported with a fantastic team of volunteers staffing full service rest stops and ride marshals on the road to support groups as needed. After being cheered in off the road at a typical lunch stop, you are greeted by volunteers making sure you have sanitized your hands and then you work your way down the multiple food tables as the volunteers load up your plate with whatever you like. The usual fare is wraps, fruit, vegetables, cookies, energy bars, pop, juice, water etc. There are other rest stops on the route with snacks, water and the very important porta potties. Not only are riders thanking the volunteers, but with many of them camp staff, they are thanking the riders.

The routes have changed a few times since we started riding the event. The first couple of years, we rode out of Stouffville up to Peterborough and then onto Haliburton with accommodations at Trent University and Camp White Pine. Last year, we started in King and headed up to Barrie for all three nights at Georgian College. No shortage of hills on either of those sets of routes! This year it was an Oakville start riding out to Waterloo to stay at the University of Waterloo for all three nights. Not a lot of hills on this year’s routes, but they were very nice and people could find their challenges in the distances instead of the terrain. The weather couldn’t have been better and this was the first year we didn’t get wet on at least one day. One year, the longer courses were actually shut down due to tornado warnings!

Of course, this is much more than four great days of riding. As their mantra “Ride Somewhere Meaningful” suggests, it is really about raising money and awareness while riding our bikes. Every morning and evening, we hear from a family that has been touched by childhood cancer and benefited from the programs the ride supports. Many of these stories don’t have a good outcome, but parents share how wonderful it was to give their child a bit of their childhood back through their camp experience. Rides are often dedicated to a child who has lost their battle with cancer. We have ridden for Alex, Stella, Adam, Tamara…the list goes on unfortunately. There are also stories of survival and the role that camp played in a child’s recovery and the health of the whole family. One of our favourite stories is that of Dave who lost his leg to bone cancer like Terry Fox when he was only 8 years old. He didn’t want to learn to use his prosthetic leg and just sat in his wheelchair. He got the opportunity to go to camp and it wouldn’t be a stretch to say it changed his life. When he got home, his mother found him in the garage tinkering with his bike to figure out how to ride it with his prosthetic leg. He figured it out and hasn’t stopped riding since including a cross country ride and riding Tour for Kids every year now as a marshal. All the stories inspire and make those hard points in the ride easier to bear.

Plans are already being made for the 2014 Tour for Kids. We are really happy to support Tour for Kids and the fact that 100% of all donations go to the charity. The event runs on rider fees and in-kind corporate donations and the foundation has their own corporate sponsors for their operating costs. If you would like more information about the ride or our team, please check out our website www.teamendurance.ca. We really appreciated the sponsorship support from members of Randonneurs Ontario this year and we hope that more than a few of you will join us on the ride next year. The tentative dates for 2014 are August 14th-17th. Please email me at andrea@teamendurance.ca if you might be interested in joining the team.

Photo by Victor Crowl