Reader beware caveat: though the following may seem very much like a twisted fairy tale, it is actually a factual relating of one of the stranger things that has happened to me on a bike. I believe it is such an odd story that if, after reading it, you were to tell me that you were not left wondering “you mean this is not THE strangest thing that has happened to you on a bike?”, well then, I might accuse YOU of telling a tale.
On June 4, 2011, I set out from home for a training ride. I was getting into pretty decent cycling shape having trained for and ridden the Tour de Victoria, and was focused on the upcoming Highwood Pass Gran Fondo and my first solo attempt of the 24 Hours of Adrenalin mountain bike race. I was down in weight, I was feeling great, and I was even starting to enjoy the climbs.
I cycled west at a brisk (for me) 32 km/hr pace for the first hour and then hit Cochrane Hill, a nice local climb. I could have ridden straight home to Calgary from there, but I wanted to do 100 km, so I opted for an out and back side trip on Lochend Road, a quiet country road.
I was 40 km into my ride and my legs were starting to get tired from my first hours’ efforts, so I was impressed with how high my average speed was. I did not realise the full extent of the tail wind pushing me along as I continued north, and due to the rolling terrain I also failed to recognise the net elevation loss. I just rode along, enjoying the pace and the scenery, blissfully unaware of the events unfolding before me.
I was 65 km into my ride when I was stopped by a cattle drive blocking the road just beyond an intersection. As I dismounted my bike I realised my legs were quite fatigued, so I decided to make that my turnaround point. I watched bemused as the cattle drive turned at the intersection and headed off in another direction. It was a peaceful moment as I stood there, resting and appreciating the sun-bathed serenity of the mostly uninhabited farmland around me, and enjoying the small amount of food I had brought for the day.
A pickup truck passed by on the other side of the road, heading the opposite way and slowing down, presumably to take the same turn the cattle drive did, towards a small town called Madden. The driver – an older fellow – brought the truck to a stop, backed up, then pulled across the road, stopping with this truck angled in front of me.
Leaning out the window he commented how nice the day was, to which I agreed. He seemed pleasant and friendly. I wondered if he had stopped for directions, or perhaps to warn me about something up the road.
A smile spread across the man’s face as he explained how he had just come from a garage sale in the city. He was excited about the great stuff he had bought. I was intrigued about his treasures, but couldn’t help wondering why he had seen fit to stop in the middle of nowhere to tell a random cyclist about it. Maybe he was lonely and just wanted to talk.
As the meandering and mostly one-sided conversation continued, I started to get a weird vibe. It was clear from the way the man offered to show me his special purchases that he felt I would be as excited as he was. He pulled out two Mickey and Minnie Mouse dolls, each about twelve inches high, in full wedding regalia. It was hard to hide that I was, in fact, not as excited as him.
As I stood there alone in the middle of nowhere with this confounding stranger, my mind sought a rational explanation for what was going on. I would have assumed that a good old country boy like this might actually try very hard to avoid someone like me, clad as I was in Lycra from head to toe. Exactly what about the lawfully wedded mice was so important that he was compelled to stop his vehicle and show it to a complete stranger on the side of the road?
I was able to come up with a few scenarios. It wasn’t even the scariest of those that ended with me locked in his barn, dressed in a wedding dress, and wearing one of those Disney mouse ear hats.
I looked around nervously, hoping a vehicle would come by.
None did, and the fun continued with my new friend “sharing” a random slew of very inappropriate and exceedingly racist jokes. I was growing steadily more uncomfortable. I laughed nervously after each punch line, buying time to plot a polite withdrawal that would hopefully not set any perverted or psychotic wheels in motion.
I went with the simple approach, and the man seemed to accept my assertion that I had to be getting back on the road. Looking back as I pedaled away, I saw that he had pulled back onto his side of the road, but had stopped on the shoulder and was just sitting there. I could only hope he was admiring his dolls and not looking in his rear view mirror.
I pedaled fast and hard, fuelled by adrenaline and the duelling banjos soundtrack looping through my mind. My legs burned. The headwind felt strong, and the gradient steep. I was trying to escape a seemingly crazy man, and I was pedaling into an unexpectedly strong wind up an equally unexpected steep gradient. Looking back at my Garmin data, I had averaged 45 km/hr for the last 6 km before running into the cattle drive, so I really should have had a better grasp on the terrain as I initiated my retreat, but it somehow came as a total surprise.
It was a very long ride home indeed. That first hill dragged on and on as I kept looking back over my shoulder, and then the rollers continued for another eternity. For as long as I could look back and see that spot, the truck was still parked there.
I eventually got over the hills and out of sight and relaxed somewhat as the adrenaline surge subsided. I realised the toll the event had taken. My legs felt like wood, and it was so hard to pedal that it felt like my tires were flat. I was spent. I had no food left, limited water and the sun was beating down hard on my shaved head through the vents in my helmet. The wind hurt my ears and annoyed me to no end. In hindsight I was likely experiencing my first real bonk. I stopped several times to sit and rest in the ditch, always keeping my eyes open for the blue truck.
I could have called my wife or my sister to come pick me up; at one point I even had my phone in my hand and started to dial one of the numbers. In the end though, my pride won over, and I plodded ahead hungry, sweaty, tired, sunburned, and frazzled.
I finally turned back onto the main highway with 13 km left to go. I put my head down, mustered my remaining resolve, and pedaled as hard as I could in an effort to just get the heck home, but my best exertions were not getting me anywhere fast.
About half way home from there, my day finally took a turn for the better as two riders on sleek triathlon bikes slowly overtook me. The lead rider looked over, perched on his aero bars, and said just about the perfect thing considering my level of exhaustion and self-perceived lack of progress: “we’ve been trying to catch you for quite some time”. I was just thankful it was them who had caught me.