Ride report by Kathy Brouse:
Warning, this ride report is long, but then it was a very long journey! I hope you enjoy it.
My Granite Anvil 1200 Story
This was my first attempt at a 1200 km ride and I was nervous especially since I broke my arm on a fleche ride on May 18 and was off the bike for 6 weeks. I worried about many things: Was I fit enough to cycle the distance and the hills? Would I end up riding alone through the night? I remembered some discussion about bear sightings at the first GA, and worried about being alone in the dark and cycling into something big and furry or being chased by angry dogs in the dark. Or breaking down in the middle of nowhere and having to problem solve the situation with my severely challenged bike repair skills. But at the same time I was so excited to give it a try and was looking forward to riding a gorgeous route through scenic farm and cottage country. As it turned out, all of my fears were unnecessary and I had a great time, not every moment of the 86 hours and 8 minutes, but overall it was a memorable and fantastic experience. I will share some impressions and memories of my Granite Anvil journey.
Arrival at the university in Oshawa: Coming through the glass doors at the university on Wednesday evening with my bike and drop bags and seeing all these experienced male riders with their big strong cycle legs, milling and sitting around. Felt totally intimidated and considered turning around and going home: classic fight or flight syndrome. Checked in, met up with Liz and ended up going out for dinner with a group of riders from the States (you know the intimidating ones with the big muscular legs). Don’t ask me how this happened, it’s because of Liz. She’s so friendly that groups just form around her. Enjoyed a delicious dinner at an Italian restaurant and had a good time.
Day 1: So much nervous energy in the air for the 4:00 am start; everyone in full reflective night gear, lights on and raring to go. Set out in a large group from the university and headed north to the first control at Belfountain, 150 km. I was not riding with anyone in particular, just trying to hang in and on to the group. Reached the first control around 11:00 am, quickly consumed coffee, PBJ sandwich, refilled the water bottles and continued climbing towards the second control. The climbs throughout the day over the Niagara Escarpment and in the Beaver Valley were relentless and challenging. It was a difficult day made easier by periodic water and snack stops along the road at Conn, courtesy of Bob and Arthur, and again at the secret control in Grand Valley courtesy of Terry and Carrey who provided good cheer, water and more snacks.
We arrived at The Top of the Rock, Eugenia at around 5:00 pm. A number of riders were just pulling out. I gulped down a tuna sandwich and chips and prepared my bike for night riding. This is when I noticed something interesting start to happen. The big group had of course fractured and riders were naturally grouping up according to cycling ability. Chemistry kicks in and you find yourself drawn to a person or people that you suspect you will be seeing a lot of in the next four days because you ride at the same pace and enjoy each other’s company. By the time we arrived in Midland, the first overnight control, at 11:43 pm, having battled gusty NW winds and baked in the sun all day, we were a group of eight: five Canadians – Marti, Liz, Dave, BC Bob, myself and three Americans – Florida Dan, Cincinnati Jim and Iowa Rich (neither Liz or myself remember where Rich is from, Illinois, Ohio, Iowa? We agree it is not Idaho). The volunteers at the control were so helpful and I enjoyed a bowl of hot, delicious, beef and vegetable soup. Unfortunately, I did not sleep at all in the hotel, too wired and worked up, but I did lie down on a soft bed and was ready to head out with the group at 5:00 am. It was a cold morning in cottage country.
Day 2: The journey to Bancroft was flatter than the previous day, not so windy and the scenery was beautiful as the route twisted and turned its way through cottage country passing so many inland lakes, rivers and lots of rocks. The roads were blasted through the Canadian Shield and the granite is black and grey and sometimes pink. Pulled into the Big Chute control at 9:00 am and enjoyed a delicious hot chocolate served to us by Albert and Stephen. Replenished with more water, fig bars and bananas. My left foot was beginning to burn in arthritic pain and the pain was spreading to the big toe. This is when I begin to nibble on tabs of Tylenol Arthritis, not a form of pain management I endorse, but it takes the edge off the pain and keeps me on the bike. The next control at Houseys Rapids took much too long for the breakfast to arrive at the table and the ladies toilet was a disturbing visual, but John and Laurie were very friendly and on we headed towards Haliburton.
By 6:00 pm the group had fractured even more and there were four of us at the Haliburton Bar and Grill eating burgers and fries before heading off into the night: Dave P, Marti, BC Bob and myself. Florida Dan and Cincinnati Jim showed up as we were exiting the bar. Liz and Rich were an hour ahead and we did not see them again until the overnight control. Bob and I got ahead of the group and arrived in Bancroft at 10:45 pm, cold, hungry, exhausted. Was great to receive a warm hug from Vaune and meet her friend Janice and son Peter who was so supportive, taking my bag and bike to my room. I ate something hot, may have been a chicken stew, and again was only able to sleep for about an hour in that soft bed. I wish I was able to hit the bed and switch to unconscious but it just doesn’t happen with me. I was beginning to worry when sleep deprivation would kick in and stop me dead in my tracks while the group went forward without me.
Day 3: BC Bob and I left Bancroft at 4:00 am. A lot of riders were pulling out at that time. Dave P and Florida Don were just behind, the others- Liz, Rich and Marti had opted for an extra half hour of sleep. As we headed down the road we past a rider coming through the fog to the Bancroft control at 4:15 am. It was dark and foggy and so very cold – not even 2 degrees! Our Garmins never agreed on temperature, mine was always two degrees less than Bobs so the temperature was somewhere between 1.1 and 3 degrees first thing that morning! You could see your breath! Even though I had on winter cap, gloves, leggings and merino wool shirt my fingers were numb. However there were so many very steep hills to climb that the body warmed up as we churned up killer hill after killer hill. Sometimes we were so high up in the hills at the top of the climbs that it felt like being on top of the world, the views were all of hill tops with fog and cloud everywhere. It was a little like the Himalayas scaled down and without the snow (I can say that because I lived there for 12 years). Such a welcome relief when the sun eventually broke through, to feel some warmth and shed some layers. Stopped at a little dairy restaurant in Barry’s Bay full of randonneurs all chowing down on the lumberjack special, a meal you should only choose if burning thousands of calories a day on the bike. Bob commented that if you ate that breakfast for 5 consecutive days you would be dead. I counted six sausages on someone’s plate! The control was just down the road and around the corner. Bob McLeod signed the control cards and we were introduced to the Barry’s Bay mayor who was very supportive of our cycling event and insisted we take a Barry’s Bay pin.
The ride from Barry’s Bay to Palmers Rapids was relatively flat for a while and then the relentless climbing began again. I remember Recumbent Roland zipping past me on a steep descent going so fast it was crazy. Then I watched from a distance as he climbed up Schutt Hill (you know, the gigantic hill with the pretty church on the left hand side at the bend at the top). In his recumbent he looked like a big bug going straight up a wall. It was all very scenic and very hot as we worked our way up and down those hills. Pulled into the control at Hardwood Lake where Stephen and Albert were dishing out hot soup, stocked up on water and bananas, rested in the shade for a while and set off for the next control. The next stretch turned out to be the hardest part of the journey for me as I struggled with front derailleur problems, switching from small to big chain ring was just not happening without a struggle. However, the hardest struggle on this stretch, the afternoon of day 3 was mental. I was sleep deprived, exhausted, sun baked, my left foot and toe was a constant hot and painful ache. As I chugged along the 30 km stretch of Buckshott Rd on the gravel with nothing much to look at for a distraction I was thinking, “Why do I do this? I am not having fun. This sucks. Never again.” Yup, Buckshott Rd just sucked the little bit of life out of me that was left in the tank. I know Bob was experiencing similar feelings as we were no longer talking much as we continued to pass and overtake each other on the road. I was whooped and sick of the stupid, exhausting 1200 km adventure.
Then something interesting happened. We pulled into the Plevna control, sometime mid-afternoon, where two very funny friends -Carey and Terry from the Huron chapter, were running the control. They made me laugh so hard as they related stories of their night together in the tent waiting for riders to pull in that I started to cheer up. Laughter and a huge Cherry Bordeaux ice cream gave me the heart, hope and drive to continue on the journey. Also, Liz and Rich pulled into the control as were leaving and it always cheers me up to see my friend Liz. The four of us regrouped down the road and finished the ride together into Nappanee arriving just before midnight. It was so great to see Stan and Paul at the control and they were a great support ensuring we got everything we needed, food, liquids, assistance with the bikes.
Day 4: By the end of day 3 I was falling into a routine at the overnight controls, getting faster, more efficient: quickly eat something hot, drink fluids, shower, dump dirty clothes in dirty laundry bag, plug in the phone and all lights with rechargeable batteries, try to keep eyes open and text friends, lay out clothes and route sheet, sun and butt cream for early 4:15 departure. And finally I was able to fall asleep at the last overnight control, a whole 3 hours!! After a big breakfast at Spuds in Nappanee, the four of us headed out – Liz, BC Bob, Rich and myself. The sunrise was magnificent and if you have travelled through Prince Edward County you will know how pretty the landscape is there. We were in high spirits with perfect weather and best of all we were headed home, a mere 220 km to the finish. Only concern at that point was the number of hills that lay between us and the finish. Liz broke a spoke and was riding slowly with a wobbly front wheel. Eventually she phoned Nuala at the front desk who arranged for a replacement wheel to be delivered to along the route. Unfortunately, when the support car arrived with the wheel they brought a replacement for the back wheel, not the front wheel and Liz had to keep going with her wobbly wheel until another front wheel was found. As it turns out, Guy Q had his bike in a support vehicle and he generously loaned his front wheel to Liz making it possible for her to safely complete the ride. Once again Liz was tearing up and down the hills. Thanks to Dick, Rolf and Guy for their fast support on Liz’s wheel.
Starting before Bewdley at around 1100 km into the ride is a series of hills that are relentless and go on for about 60 km. Dick described them as “rollers”. Dick is a member of the Huron chapter and, like Carrey, he lies a lot! These were not rollers. At one point, as I was moving at quite a clip, I got stung on the butt by a wasp or hornet and it hurt so much. I will tell anyone the story in greater detail of how I shouted to Lizzie to stop and inspect my bite. She is a good friend and administered topical cream to take the sting away. Suffice to say that what happens on the road should stay on the road, there is little dignity involved when you are moving fast and trying not to waste time! So, with a bike that that was sounding pretty sick at this point: grinding, skipping gears and frequent clunking noises, we managed those hills, stayed together as a group and pulled into the finish in Oshawa at 6:08 pm on Sun evening. Friends and riders who had finished before us were all clapping and Lizzie and I were shouting and whooping as we came through the door. The applause went to my head and I did a little victory dance with my bike kicking my heels up in the air. Stephen said to me that if I had that much energy at the end of the GA the route was not hard enough!!
What an adventure I had! I now have a folder in my brain with the memories of the Granite Anvil 1200; the people, the places, the pain, the pleasure. Would I do it again? Yes, in a heartbeat, but not just for the cycling; that’s a given. I would do it again because I am drawn to the full package -the extreme physical challenge, the excitement of traversing new terrain and enjoying the scenery from the bike, the intensity of the friendships that form, the alliances and the unique spirit of camaraderie that develops as a result of sharing something very difficult with passionate kindred spirits. My heartfelt thanks go out to all the individuals who supplied support and encouragement, food, drink and hospitality along the way: Elizabeth and Jim (Midland); Vaune, Janice and Peter (Bancroft); Stan and Paul (Napanee); Stephen and Albert; Carrey and Terry; Bob and Arthur; John and Laurie; Bob and Milana; Vytas and Colleen; Dick and Rolf; Guy Q; the volunteers at the front desk in Oshawa; Peter G for the great route sheet and a tribute to Henk B who planted the seed for the Granite Anvil 1200 years ago. A special thanks to Dave Thompson who devoted countless hours, days and a significant part of his life to making the grand event come together. Without his efforts there may not have been a Granite Anvil 1200 this year. Hugs to Liz and BC Bob, Rich, Dave P and Marti for company on the route. A final salute to super hero Dave Pearson who achieved the awesome goal of riding the GA 1200, 35,000+ feet of climbing, on his fixie. Wow!
Thanks for sharing my journey with me. I hope I have inspired anyone who is considering whether they can do a 1200 km or not. My advice is to set a goal, train hard for that goal, prepare carefully and just go out and do it. If I can accomplish this goal, you can too!