There are hard days on the bike, awesome days, amazing days, your commoner garden Epic Day of course and then there is one Helluva Absolutely Brutal Day.Its called Hell of the North & its a compilation of every great, good, amazing, epic & absolutely brutal day you’ve ever had on a bike all packed into 126.4 kilometers.
I will never forget that last 400 meters to the finish into a driving head wind with mud flying off my rims into my eyes desperately trying to keep a straight line , my legs cramping severely watching wiry dude also weaving all over the road just ahead.
We were not chasing or being chased. We were just desperate for it all to end after 4 hours and 44 minutes of which the last 2 hours were sheer torture. I was aching for food and sustanenace and water. I was like a dying man crawling over dunes of mud, ice, fowl water and spring snow that swallowed the wheels. I didn’t even have the strength to blow the snot out of my nose. It just hung there mixed with the mud. My bottles had been empty for the last 15 kilometres. I was starting to imagine what God looked like and prayed to be delivered from this Hell On Earth. Why Why Why am I doing this? Where is the end? With my snot I wiped my mud caked Garmin, cause I had no spit left. It said 120 km – only 6.4 k to go. I perked up on the hilly gravel road. I can do this but on every hill my groin cramped all the way down to my knee on both legs. I hyperventilated to relieve the cramping all the way to the top of each climb. I can do this, I implored myself.
You can’t stop or you’ll never get started again. I longed for smooth pavement and flat road around each bend. Two racers came up from behind. Finally after the last 30 kms on my own – I had somebody to latch on to. The dirt road ended, we turned onto a paved road for 100 meters. I’m staring down at Andrew Randalls wheel vowing to never let it go beyond my reach. Andrew is going to be my saviour today. Suddenly he brakes hard and swerves left following the guy in front of him over a snow bank down a ditch and into a forest ATV trail.
WHAT THE F&#$ ! NO NO NO.
I tried to chase, my wheels dug into the mud, and the broken branches everywhere. I aimed for the frozen patches of ice to prevent my wheels sinking into the puddles of mud. My quads started to seize up with cramps every time I asked for power. I looked down the trail and it stretched on forever. But I promised myself it was only a short trail section. It wasn’t !!!
Real Deal Racing did their best to design the most tortuous route possible to test all your on and off road racing skills. The overall north – south route takes full advantage of wicked prevailing winds in early April. We began as a pack of about 150 hungry dogs anxiously awaiting the start under a drizzling steel grey sky promising dread. Nobody knew what to wear. Some wore their knee warmers, some bare legged, some wore full legs. It began to rain, but in the heat of battle with the first leg of the race going 30 kms north with a stiff tail wind nobody wanted to wrestle with rain jackets in a charging peloton. The neutral start lasted 500 meters and accelerated to 50 kph. We hit 80 kph on the roller coaster down hills and flew up the uphills. What a glorious day it promised to be. Thank god I didn’t know what lay ahead. Suddenly after 38 minutes the charging pack took a sharp left off the road down an ATV trail into the woods.
Immediately there was carnage! Bodies were strewn all over the trail. A ditch across the trail greeted the lead riders. Peter Morse, who had won Hell many times in the five year history of this race, was in the bottom of the ditch with a broken fork & bruised body Another rider I heard later , cracked his aluminum cyclo cross frame as he slammed into the other side of the ditch. I danced around the bodies and powered down the trail – At this point I loved the mud, the puddles, and aimed for the hard ice. I caught the leaders. I was in my element – with power I loved evert ounce of it. A kilometer later, the trail turned south into a gusting head wind on a rail trail that would never end. I believe it was at least 20 kilometers. The peloton shattered into groups of two, three and four trying to chase the leaders.
The wind and the soft gravelly rail trail was incessant and straight as an arrow into the wind. I tried to conserve energy but in a small group sand bagging is not allowed. Everybody has to do their pull to survive this section. Then suddenly I heard from behind me, “Ok lads lets catch those bastards up ahead.”
It was Bruce Bird. Huh? He has a weakness. I guess I dropped him in the woods. It wasn’t long before the Bird, flew off the front and caught the next group ahead. I wanted to go with him but I dared not shoot any of my precious bullets with 75 kms to go to the finish line. I missed a few pulls in my small pack, feigning weakness. Then I found a hard shoulder of grass and powered off the front to catch the Bird. The hard grass softened and I faded back to my small pack for riders. The Bird flew on. The rail trail, deteriorated into another ATV trail of mud , water and ice. I seemed to excel in that stuff, though I was using up bullets with each effort to stay up right.
Finally we turned on to a paved road. There was an arrow turning right and race marshalls on the corner waving us through.
“YOU are Third!” the marshall said.
300 meters up the road I could see the distinctive long lanky limbs of the albatross. He is a 42 year old legend in the Ontario racing circuit just as I was somewhat of a legend 10 years earlier. But the Bird was born from the world of triathalon, I cut my teeth in the rough and tumble of mountain bike racing. I don’t know how I was suddenly sitting Third and I didn’t care. I dug deep to catch the Bird. If I can just get on his wheel I was pretty sure I can survive to the end. I looked over my shoulder – all I saw was an empty stretch of road and nobody chasing. Perfect. Its just me and the Bird. 300 became 200 meters, then 100. Either the Bird was fading in the head winds or I was digging deeper I wasn’t sure and I didn’t care. Bruce Bird was MY rabbit and I was hungry!! Finally I stealthily caught the Bird and sat in. What a glorious feeling, I am just going to sit here and stare at his ass, I thought, for the next 70 kms and victory will be mine, because 100 meters ahead was Mattias another Wheels of Bloor team mate of Bird’s.
I was shocked when we sailed right past Mattias and he couldn’t latch on to my wheel.
This is F&#(@*! AWESOME – I m now SECOND! AND THE BIRD IS MY BITCH.
And I thought this was the Hell of the North. I was in HEAVEN with nobody chasing us.
The Bird finally commented.
“You are Hamish Gordon aren’t you? “ Ya baby and you are MY BITCH, I thought to myself.
“Yep its just you and me I guess. But I am the old guy, REALLY old. ” I said sheepishly
“Hey you’re a legend”
“Not anymore I’m not. I am just Hamish The old Guy. YOU are the legend!”
“ This is a weird race man, don’t you love racing?”
“I sure do, and it sure is!” I said
Now lets get back to work shall we, I thought. No more chit chat. And so we did. I pulled up the hills, he pulled on the flats where he was most effective. Till finally we hear the blaring HONK HONK HONK of a motorist. What the f*&^? I thought. “Don’t startle my bitch like that.”
It was Ed Veal the Race Organizer.
“Stop guys, STOP. The race has been neurtralized.”
“What are you talking about? “ Bird says.
“10 lead guys went off course, its not your fault . It was my Marshall that sent them wrong way!”
“We are on the right course right? Its our responsibility to know the course. That’s their problem. We are on course. “ Bird argued. Now standing on the shoulder of the road and cooling down, I chimed in.
“This is Bullshit Ontario Racing. You can’t stop a race cause some guys don’t know where they are going.”
“We, ( I should have said My Bitch) are working our asses off to stay away and you want to stop the race and restart? You have to be kidding. “ Meanwhile Mattias catches up to us and rides right past with no comment. He’s pissed too. Mr. Bird, the gentleman that he is could see what my anger looked like.
It wasn’t pretty. Hey, I was being robbed of becoming a legend – again! I fooled myself into believing “I had this race in the bag!”
“No problem Ed, do what you gotta do. I don’t need to place.
Mr. Veal wanted us to turn around and rejoin the peloton for the last 50 kms of the race. Well, I knew if I did that I wouldn’t stand a chance of even finishing. I was going forward not backwards.
“Whatever,” I said and I rode off with Bird at cool down pace. We caught up with Mattias and three of us rode along deflated. For about 20 kms in the middle of the race – Mattias was third, Bird was Second, and I had become a legend AGAIN in my own mind. Five kilometres later Bird and Mattias rode off without me. I was spent and they spat me out. Ten k later Mike Garigan and another dude, came up from behind. I hung on for one kilometer. And then settled into being my OLD self – completely wasted and without food for the last 30 kilometers, all alone in HELL all the way to the end.
I was caught by another group of three riders who included Andrew Randall and this is how he described The END:
“The trail was muddy, wet and close to un-rideable. I was off my bike as much as I was on it. There were a few remnants of my group ahead but most of the rest were out of site. I was riding with Hamish Gordon. I think he must have been up the road and run out of steam. He was not having much fun on the trail. We exited the trail together and I dropped him initially but he eventuallygot back on my wheel. We ran down one other guy ahead of us so the 3 of us did worked together until we hit the 2nd to last trail section (Proust Rd). It was as hard as Wagg by thankfully not as long. We dropped Hamish but no one was really trying to drop anyone, just survival at that point. The final section at Hillsdale was even shorter, but dicey. Lots of ruts to eat your front wheel. The other guy I was riding with crashed so I made it out of Hillsdale all alone. I had zero fight left in me so I was very happy I didn’t have to pretend to sprint. I rolled across the line with cramps in my calfs, my hamstrings and my butt. I don’t think I could have gone even 1km further. I did managed to finish 9th which was a complete surprise as I really had no idea where I was most of the last hour. Please remind me next year how hard this was. I can’t imagine signing up for that sort of punishment again, but I seem to keep doing these sort of things to myself. Probably the hardest day in the saddle since Day 1 of the Everest Challenge a couple years ago. Thankfully no Day 2 of this version of Hell. See you all next weekend at Paris2Ancaster. Should be a walk in the park after today.”
You betcha Andrew, I’m all signed up for Paris to Ancaster. Hopefully I will recover by then.
Ed Veal and I kissed and made up a the finish line Real Deal Racing put on a Helluva Show.
Hamish – the Really OLD guy.