It was 2019 when I watched an EF Gone Racing episode about the GBduro, where road cyclist and certified cool guy, Lachlan Morton set a record for the 2,000km stage race from Land’s End to John O’Groats. The 30min video allowed a glimpse of an extraordinary physical feat, but more importantly proved that the endurance muscle is in the mind. You see Morton hit what he described as rock bottom, yet he kept riding. I found myself both frightened and mesmerized as I watched him ride through the night, chasing an end that never seemed to be any closer. I admire cyclists like Lachlan, whose strength and skills transfer, allowing them to perform across disciplines; a true athlete!
Off and on over the next two years, I thought about that ride. I read stories and watched videos of FKTs, rides that lasted over 24 hours and solo missions across entire countries. What was it like? To ride through the night, and through unknown territory? To ride past the limit of anything you had ever done before. I couldn’t imagine myself capable of any of it. But then, why not? Will I ever find out the length and breadth of my capabilities if I don’t force myself to take on a challenge like this?
What capabilities do I have? How do my skills transfer? If I left my comfort zone of gravity and enduro, how would I fare? I wanted to find out. I wanted to know what it felt like to push past the point of fatigue that would usually have you calling it a day. I wanted to see and feel things that are only possible when doing something really, really hard. So I started talking. I said I’d do it. I couldn’t back out. I needed a route that would challenge and force me to leave the comforts of my local safety net. So I called in a friend and removed my ability to build the route- I forfeited control and embraced the anxiety of the unknown. Out of my hands, a route was built by my friend Nick Geddes. A late summer required a few changes, but soon I had my route. In an area entirely unknown to me-North Vancouver Island: 360km from San Josef Bay to Campbell River, the majority of it gravel roads.
My biggest ride to date had been Baton Rouge to New Orleans for a total of 185km, with a whopping 85m of elevation, while my longest gravel ride couldn’t have been more than 50km. But this was the challenge I wanted. A challenge offering the unknown and the unexpected. I started to have anxious dreams about it. Getting lost, giving up through fear or boredom before I was tired, or constantly taking the wrong turn to end up at the beginning. This was a sign I was doing it right and it was time to lean in and get ready for the exhaustion, the dark, the hunger, and whatever else was out there.
I set off from San Josef Bay just after 8 am and waved goodbye to Graeme and my friend Craig, who came along on his motorcycle. The plan was to meet them every 100km to refill on water and food. The first few hours flew by, I felt like I could ride forever! The majority of my route was on active logging roads, although I was only to see one truck, but it meant that the roads were well maintained. I touched the shores of the Rupert Inlet and weaved back and forth over rivers and along the edge of multiple lakes. It was at the 130km mark, on a particularly nasty climb, that it hit me just how long this would take and I felt a small amount of doubt creep in. But at the top of the climb, I started to descend and the fatigue in my legs and body seemed to plateau, and sort of just hover, seemingly never to get much worse. 100km, 200km, 250km. I ticked off the markers and then, at 270km, it happened. It got really hard.
I had ridden the last stretch of gravel in the dark to roll into Gold River around 2 am and onto the highway to Campbell River. I’m not sure if the sudden change from gravel to pavement allowed me to relax, but, almost immediately, I started to fall apart. The fatigue fell on me like a heavy blanket and I didn’t know how to fight it. My eyes would begin to roll back and my head would drop. I’d sleep for a second then jerk wake to be hyper-alert for about 30 seconds or so only to repeat the process. This went on for hours. I needed caffeine but I was too nauseous to even eat a gel. I’m not sure at what time, but eventually, I had to lie down for 15 minutes in the bed of my truck but it started to rain and I was getting cold. It felt good to be horizontal, but I knew I had to get back on my bike again.
My mind played tricks on me. I saw animals but they were cartoon-like, and I couldn’t tell the direction of the road. I only knew if I was going up or down based on the speed I was riding. Unlike earlier where time flew by, now it slowed to a crawl and every kilometer was tormenting. The highway was getting busier as the commuter traffic started, and I knew I had to call it a day. I was 20km short of my goal, but I was falling asleep and the consequences were too high. I had ridden 340km, climbed 3900m, and been moving for 19 hours.
When I first saw this route I made up 100 reasons why I couldn’t do it. Why, when this was my plan? Because the fear of the unknown makes it so easy to say no. Because the fear of failure makes it easy to not even try. But in the end, I didn’t back out even though I was scared of both the unknown and the failure. And I’m so glad I did because it’s an undertaking of which I will always be proud.
The distance may not seem that impressive to many. Others out there have always done more and done it faster. But I haven’t. I have never ridden further, harder or under such extended duress. To me, this was impressive and at the end of the day, that’s all that matters. I had no safety of a group to tow me along. I didn’t know what to expect around the next corner or over the next rise. I didn’t even know if I could make it at all, and while it was rough and bumpy, it was when the road was the smoothest, that it got the hardest.