Défi de L'Île de Montréal
128 km on inline skates
I am a late entry for the Défi (last number) because I wasn't sure I could do it after A2A. But Bernard Doth convinces me that it is a very special skate to go around the Island of Montreal. I swallow the hook. Bernard offers to put me up for the night and lead the way to the start line in the morning. As good luck would have it, Steve Macdonald joins us at Bernard's -- a reunion for the New York 100k team.
The alarm goes off at 4am. Groan. After a great breakfast we leave the house at 5:10am and head for the start line. We must be behind schedule because Bernard is moving very fast. As last car, I end up going through several stop signs and crossing on reds just to keep up. (Maybe this is the ghost of a race yet to happen.)
Then there is Highway 40. It's under construction so we tear along the collector streets. Whoops, Bernard gets onto the 40 Est. After making a couple left turns under "no left turn signs" and running a red light we're back on to 40 Ouest. Now it's down Décarie and into Verdun. We arrive 20 minutes before the start. Oh by the way, it's 6°C, a strong wind from the south east and it's raining cats and dogs.
I pick up my number and I put on all the clothes I have. As I am getting on my skates, I hear "2 minutes". I roll up to the start as I hear 2 -- 1 -- go. What a time to wonder if I forgot something. I'm sure glad I packed everything the night before and just mechanically put everything on. But I forgot to wear kneepads. I've got a new Rule Of Thumb -- If it's raining, wear kneepads.
Bernard is at the front leading us along the path. A group of 5 passes us and disappears into the darkness. It's a dark, dark, gloomy, windy morning in a cold, cold pouring rain. The path is wide but there's a painted strip down the middle.
I mumble to myself, "Now what did Eddy Matzger say about this?" Right foot, set down, fall, under push, cross the line, fall, over push -- Left foot set down and so on. The rhythm set in. Wonderful, it works!!
We have a six-pack. We push the pace for a while to warm up and catch up to the lead pack for a few minutes. Bernard reigns us in and we settle down to a more moderate pace and the lead pack gets lost in the darkness.
The bike trail along the southern part of Montreal is smooth and flat. No hills, but there are sharp corners, narrow places and dark spots. With Bernard's running commentary we negotiate the bridges and ridges. The wet board bridges are like ice. We can only slither across. (Poor Frank LaRue got a real shiner when he fell on one of the bridges. He was in a pack behind us so we didn't know about this until after the race.)
After an hour on the trail, we take to the road (La Salle Blvd). It is very smooth and it's a great pleasure to be skating along with a group of people. Oh, but there's the sewer covers. At the back of the line, I run over covers left right and centre. This road is full of them. We chat about this being the "recovery section" because of all the recoveries each of us accomplishes sliding over sewer covers and painted lines. We look like deer on ice at times but no one falls.
Then we move into Dorval and on to Pointe Claire. The pavement gets rougher. Cracks, grates, sewer covers, patched potholes, unpatched potholes. I catch a crack and I draw first blood. No one hits me and I'm up in a flash and back in the line. A good thing about wet pavement is you do slide. And with the cold, I feel nothing.
I focus and pay attention to every metre. I move up into second spot to see better. No time to relax but peripherally I enjoy the scenery. The dark becomes morning and the dark black wet pavement becomes just wet pavement. I don't feel cold but I don't feel warm either. The person in front is wearing his parka with a hood. I kind of wish for a fleece under my jacket.
Then we run into construction and a blocked street under Hwy 20. We do 20 metres of cross-country, through grass, puddles and soft stuff. We change the water in our boots. Reality check, this is starting to be fun! The pace is very easy, my heart rate is below 140bpm. A leisurely skate in the rain.
We go under Highway 40 and climb the only hill on the course. Under two minutes, we are at the top. Boy is it cold going down the other side. The limbs and joints freeze and it takes great effort to bend and move. The pavement is gator-back for a while but then smoothes out. We turn onto the streets again. The bike path sometimes has two lanes on the wrong side of the road so you skate facing on-coming traffic. And sometimes there's no bike path. The road is narrow. A van comes towards us and isn't moving over. There are cars coming towards him. The people in front of me bail onto the grass. Yikes, nowhere to go. Lady luck is with us. The driver leaves us 10 or 20 cm as he squeezes by. No one crashes.
We break up and some of us skate with traffic and others face traffic. I prefer to watch in my mirror for cars coming up behind me. I don't feel safe. I look forward to being back on the bike path.
Time check: 2h30. Steven looks at his watch and then hits a slippery spot. Oh, he's going to recover, no he's not, oh maybe he will, and nope he doesn't. He slides to a stop on all fours in slow motion. He is up again and back in stride. We are back in the city on Gouin Blvd. The bike path takes to the sidewalks. We go up and down the curbs and through deep puddles at some corners. I leave a gap so I can see any traps or obstacles at each corner.
I grab a bottle of water from the race-committee car, travelling alongside us. What service. I down the water and feel instantly cold and shivery. Then I've got to pee real bad. Oh boy, where's there a downhill? We stop for a few seconds to relieve ourselves. We continue along the bike path and through neighborhoods. The bike paths have lots of small branches and fallen leaves. Some of the neighborhoods have construction so there are sidewalk sections with loose gravel, rock and mud on top. Some sections of the sidewalk are crushed rock. A true test of balance, agility and eye-foot coordination. Niagara is as smooth as a baby's bottom compared to sections here.
We are very thankful that Denise, Bernard's wife, follows us in her car. She feeds us bananas, which keeps us going and going and going. We are halfway down the east stretch now.
On one particular part of the bike path Bernard warns us that there are some very sharp S-turns ahead. I'm munching a PowerBar. As I round the first corner I slip on some leaves but don't fall. As my arms swing to keep my balance, the rock-hard PowerBar cuts my upper lip. I burst out laughing -- I can see the headlines --- Busted in the mouth by a PowerBar. What else could happen? A few minutes later one of our team falls on the next S-turn and limps off to the car.
Time check, 3h00. I wish out loud, "Wouldn't a warm bowl of soup be great now?" Five minutes later, we pull into checkpoint 3. They have hot chocolate. Oh my god, how good is hot chchchoooccccolate on a cc-ccold day. How delightful and exquisite. I'll cherish those hot chocolates forever.
We get back on the road (Gouin Blvd) and then turn onto the bike path again. We are on Bernard's training route. It passes by his school. He gives us a running commentary as he leads us through the labyrinth.
We finally get to the east end. Time check 4h30. We turn southwest on to rue Notre-Dame and are now homeward bound. We've only got a marathon or so to go. I lead for a while and I can feel the wind in my face. The wind hasn't been a factor because the path is so well protected. We skate alternating on the road and the bike path. I begin to feel a twinge in my ankle. Another mental long distance call to Eddy. Ah yes, I hear in the wind, "Ampersand, Ampersand, and push through your wheels. Rest between pushes." I slow down my cadence and double-push slowly. My ankle relaxes and the twinge disappears.
Then the bike path becomes narrow and unskateable with cracks and potholes. We skate with traffic.
Steve takes the lead for a while and I rest behind him with Bernard behind me. Only 3 now, we are. Steve stands up and stretches. I get too close, set down and touch his skate. I'm down for the second time, rolling and sliding. I feel an unnatural strong wind rush by my back. As I stop, I see a huge truck sliding in a locked-wheel skid 30 metres ahead. I go cold and shake uncontrollably as I regain my feet. I've just escaped being run over. My life doesn't rush before me but I'm cold sober now. This is a high-risk time. Being on the road in the rain is extremely dangerous. I make a point to stay further back, keep one eye on traffic behind and one eye on the road ahead. I wonder if this will make me cross-eyed but alive? Thoughts become strange when one has a near death experience.
My Camelbak strap has let go so I have to hold my pack on. I finally take it off, tie the strap. (It takes a long time because my hands are so cold they only move in ultra-slow-motion.) I need both arms for balance. Good thing, because as I come off the bike path, I catch my front wheel on the curb and go down for the third time. Steve falls right behind me. We can only laugh because we are so stilted we look like cows getting up on ice. We skate hard to catch up to Bernard.
The wind is now making me very chilly. I can feel my legs getting very stiff and slow. I can't react very fast. I also think my brain has frozen because I'm really enjoying this skate. I have a feeling of elation and well-being, Maybe I'm in hypothermia... no, just a nut-bar. Oh that reminds me to eat another PowerBar.
Now we can see the city centre through the mist. A few more kms and we come upon a giant slough on the bike path. Steve and I try to avoid it and splat. We fall face-first into the water. Bernard skates through with water over his boots. There is a lady on the other side watching us. You can tell she can't believe her eyes. Some crazy guys on skates having a swim in the park. I can't stop chuckling at the absurdity of it all.
Time check, 6h00. That's four falls for Steve and me, and no falls for Bernard. It pays to do this more than once to get it right.
"Are we there yet, Bernard?" we kid.
"There's the Jacques-Cartier Bridge ahead. It's 10km from there," he answers. It's been 10km to go for quite some time.
We zig-zag through the city as the bike path goes from one side of the street to the other. We carefully cross at green lights but rush through on red ones. It's Québec. We reach the only downhill with a light at the bottom. Sure enough it's red for us. Braking on wet pavement is easy, we just don't let ourselves get any speed.
We are in Old Montreal. The path turns into crushed rock so we skate on the granite walkway. I fear it's going to be slippery but it's not. Ah smooth surface again, how delightful. By this time even the smallest things are delightful.
Bernard apprises us of all the turns, dips, bridges and knolls. It's hard right then hard left. Then there's a 180-degree turn and under the bridge. Then a 180 to the right, then over the bridge. This is the area where Roller-Montreal meets and skates. I'm envious.
I can feel the cold creeping into my bones. I constantly shiver and shake now.
Then the athletic centre comes into view. A surge of adrenaline warms me up. Bernard leads us in. We skate through a few more puddles, changing the water in our boots once again. The water feels warm so we must be pretty cold.
There's a crowd of 6 or 7 to meet us at the line. Oh, what a great feeling.
Time check, 6h41 for 128kms. We are 6th, 7th and 8th across the finish line.
I can't wait to do it again next year. The course is outstandingly challenging and the company is very special.
I will remember this forever. No one forgets their first time.