When I first heard about the Whistler GranFondo three years ago, I really didn't believe it was for a rider like me.
I'm reasonably fit but I'm also an amateur, not someone who was ready to join a ride that spans 100-plus kilometres and more than 1,500 metres elevation. It wasn't an issue this year, as I had knee surgery in the summer and by September was barely able to wobble, slowly along my 6km route to work. I still did the ride, and could enjoy it for different reasons.
But last year I took the GranFondo very seriously. I spent the summer working in the southeast of the city and every day I cycled 30 hilly kilometres to and from work. I rode 60 km training rides at least twice a week, and centuries every couple of weeks. When I rode the Fondo in 2011, I was out for the best time I could get. I knew, as a weekend warrior, I couldn't compete with the elite riders, but when I came in at four hours and 47 minutes, I was super stoked. Breaking five hours felt huge.
This year was different. I was very ill this summer and while I waited for the doctors to figure out what was wrong, I lost all of the opportunities I would have had to get ready for a ride.
By the time the date came around this past weekend, I had only been on my road bike a handful of times since the start of the year. I was completely out of shape and unprepared.
As a consequence, the ride felt brutally hard. Having done it in good condition the previous year, I was very aware of the difference. But with determination, it was still manageable. And that's really the point. GranFondo is Italian for "Big Ride" - it's a ride for everyone.
The Whistler GranFondo leaves from downtown Vancouver and has enough elevation gain to be a very solid challenge but it's also an accessible challenge. You can ride it fast, compete with the pros and watch the clock. Or you can take it easy, enjoy the incredible scenery and sunshine, and sip a glass of wine at the Alice Lake aid station before continuing on your way to Whistler.
Regardless of your physical condition or what kind of bike you ride, it is simply an incredible experience.
Seeing Georgia Street packed with cyclists in the pre-dawn darkness; doffing your helmet with the crowd as the national anthem echoes through the downtown highrises; pouring over the Lions Gate Bridge with the sun rising in the east and the blue mountains waiting ahead of you; seeing Howe Sound unfurl beside you as you pedal for all you're worth on a lane that's given over to cyclists for the duration of the ride.
When you're participating in the Fondo, you don't have to worry about traffic or red lights. The Sea to Sky is yours, all the way to Whistler.
It's true that if you haven't prepared for a ride with the length or hills of the Fondo, it will be tough. Your leg muscles will feel like wet noodles on the first hills and tenderized steak by the time you reach the final approach to Whistler. But that just makes the achievement feel greater when you cross the line. Don't let articles about demographics or times dissuade you. The Big Ride is an achievable goal for more of us than you might think.
Kay Cahill is a cyclist and librarian who believes bikes are for life, not just for commuting. Read more at www.sidecut.ca, or send a comment to firstname.lastname@example.org.