Défi de L'Île de Montréal
128 km on inline skates
On the morning of the Défi I got up at 3:30, I really wanted to have breakfast before going. My two guests from Ottawa, Jan Riopelle and Inga Britt Petri, had to be at the Verdun Auditorium by 5:00 in order to register and have time to get ready without rushing. I'd gone to bed late (11 pm), but thanks to the usual nervous excitement I was still awake by 1 am. Still, I managed to sleep a little. This seems to be what always happens, the adrenaline gets to me, but as soon as I'm out of bed I'm completely awake and not the least bit tired. By 4 am Jan, Inga and my wife Denise were all up too, and half an hour later we left the house.
Getting to Verdun at 5:05, I had lots of time to get ready. Then suddenly it was 5:55 and everyone headed for the starting line. What happened to my glasses? Too late... Yet I had them right with me before leaving the house -- oh well! Then I get to the starting line and realize I'm holding them in my hand. Oh, no, I'm not the least bit nervous!! I decided to start off a little faster this year because during the second half of Athens-to-Atlanta I realized that I had more energy left than expected. Having finished A2A in 6:15, and last year's Défi in 6:30, my goal was to finish the Défi in under 6 hours.
5:59 am, what a beautiful moment, such feverish excitement in the air. I look around, so many smiling faces, everyone wishing each other good luck, have a good race. 10 seconds, 9, 8, .... And we're off! What a wonderful sensation to be skating through the darkness. I've started out among the first 15 or 20 skaters, but I have to watch out because everyone's trying to get in among the leaders -- a real mob scene until things settle down. Soon were all in line, each following the other except for a few skating 2 or 3 abreast. For a while I follow somebody with ski poles, till I get fed up and pass him. I skate among the leaders, and as the pace accelerates we lose some of the other players. Finally I'm right behind Charles Beaudoin and Allison Turner in 1st and 2nd. They speed up even more and I fall back a little. I carry on at my own pace, till I'm well warmed up and slowly start to go faster. I'm feeling great, thanks to my season of intensive training I feel really strong. For the past week I've had laryngitis, but apart from making it difficult to talk it doesn't seem to be bothering me. So I won't complain. Now I see Allison up ahead, but suddenly she slips on the leaves and falls. She gets up immediately and keeps going, but I catch up and we continue together. Charles is nowhere in sight, somewhere far ahead. After a couple of kilometers, Allison asks me to undo her race-bib so she can use it to clean her knee. That's when I see that she's bleeding. That little slip on the leaves, which I'd thought was harmless, turns out to have left a large and bloody wound. I give her the face-cloth I'd brought for swiping sweat from my face. A few kilometers later we catch up to Charles, and for the next long while we all skate together. Lachine, Dorval, Beaconsfield... Everything's going great, and Charles keeps asking if I'm okay. I'm so okay it's amazing. This is the first time I've pushed so hard, my usual approach being to concentrate on simply finishing. The problem was that often I'd finish a race with too much energy left, meaning I hadn't gone hard enough. Then we get to Senneville, the road's lousy and that hill awaits... Yet this year it doesn't seem so bad. On and on we go and the kilometers rapidly fall away. In Pierrefonds a little dog races after us, barking its lungs out.
Somewhere in Montreal-North, around the Pie-IX bridge, I started to feel the pace taking its toll on my body. I knew I had to slow down a little. Then along came two friends of Charles on bikes, and I told them Charles and Allison weren't too far ahead. I sped up again to follow them, but that didn't last long. Back on Gouin after the dam on Rivière-des-Prairies, I let them slowly pull away, keeping them in sight till around Rodolphe-Forget. From then on, I wouldn't see a single other skater until I reached the finish. Anyway I've spent a lot of time on the path along Gouin Blvd, so I felt right at home, tired but at peace with myself. I'm used to training alone, so I knew that I just had to keep to my pace and not back off too much. When I got to Checkpoint 4 at the tip of the island, the volunteer must have been taking a break, though all his things were there. A little further on, that place where you cross the railway tracks before turning onto the bike path, I lost my balance and nearly fell. My legs were so tense that just trying to jump the tracks almost made me wipe out. I shook out my legs to relieve the tension, but then there was another obstacle: the wind. From there until the end, I tried to concentrate on my technique, on my surroundings, the bike path, anything to distract me from the wind. It would be so darn long, that last part. On Notre-Dame my wife was waiting for me in a parking lot near Georges V; along with fresh food and drink, she gave me the news that Charles and Allison were scarcely 10 minutes ahead. I set off again much encouraged, determined to finish before noon. The path along Notre-Dame was long and difficult, with the wind not helping of course. But once I got onto René-Lévesque my spirits lifted, the Old Port went by fast and I picked up speed. Finally Wellington Street, I could feel the end and wanted to go faster and faster, but I knew as well that I was nearly at the bottom of everything I had to give, so I tried to measure it out right to the end. At last the school came in sight and that last little stretch of bike path, then the finish and Mme Fortier, and I knew that I'd done it. I'd finally finished, what's more in only 5:39 -- I was ecstatic. Charles and Allison were there and we all congratulated each other. It was the crowning touch to a beautiful season of skating.
What a fine race the Défi is, and all thanks to the determination and devotion of one individual, Robert Fortier, without whom we would never be able to live this marvellous adventure. Thanks Robert, and Mme Fortier as well, and all of the volunteers who help make the Défi de L'Ile de Montréal a first-class event -- and soon international!