Report - Lisa Bongiorno



From Soup to Nuts

My second Défi was so much better than my first, due to the dry weather. How I persevered through that wet misery last year is still a mystery to me. I was reveling in the gorgeous clear day. I had my fingers crossed that my chosen skates -- the Least Evil of the 3 Evils -- not my regular skates (the Most Evil of the 3 Evils) would work out okay. Finding skates was a problem because I was suffering from numerous ongoing foot and ankle injuries, plaguing me the entire 2003 season. Nevertheless, I wanted to experience whatever was in store for me on this 3rd Saturday in October. I wanted to come back to Québec like I had planned...

I brought my good friend, also named Lisa, with me to Montréal; she decided last year to join me at the Défi, which gave her a goal for her bike riding over the summer. She drove up from New York and I flew in from Atlanta, Georgia. We arrived in Montréal Friday afternoon and went out to get a bite to eat. I was too nervous to order the soup in French; Lisa ordered the soup with her High School French. She was feeling good that a few words were coming back. I was feeling dreadful that I here I was in Québec and all my studying had been for naught because I could not say a word.

I always get very nervous the night before a race, when I am packing my stuff, so I can just grab it at 5AM. In the hotel room we dumped out our stash of endurance food, and it looked like we brought enough to feed 10 skaters. Last year I was so hungry and I ate so much, which now I realize was from my body trying to stay warm in the cold rain. I was expecting the same, to need to eat about 18 energy bars like I did last year, and I wanted Lisa to carry them! This led to -- I wouldn't say an argument, since we never argue -- but a heated discussion on how many power bars I could possibly eat the next day. And how and where would we carry all of it? And who was going to carry it? I stuffed my camelback really well with as much food as I could along with the required skate tool, Kleenex, Advil, Excedrin, extra bolts, sunglasses etc. I forced Lisa to take the other 12 bars I was sure I would need.

We got lost finding the start, and by the time we got there, the only place to park was way around back. It was so dark at our parking spot that I was having trouble seeing my skates and lacing them up right. I skated over to the Auditorium and left Lisa finishing getting ready. I thought we would meet at the start line, but when it was time to go, she was in the restroom and nowhere to be found. I waited a bit and then decided to go so I would not lose the Peloton. Unfortunately, Charles, Mehdi and Said's pack had already taken off, and without having them to draft, there went my plan to blow this race wide open!

I love that whole feeling of being outside at 6AM, and traveling down the bike path in the dark with a bunch of inline skate nuts, while seeing the St. Lawrence to the left. It is surreal. There I was before dawn, with flares lighting the path, inline skating with 200 other similar-minded skate enthusiasts (nicer word than "nuts"!). Is there anything on the planet to compare to this Défi experience? There I was in the dark, skating outside in Canada (our friendly neighbor to the North), on a beautiful autumn morning! This exquisite view, the big flock of skaters, and the background noise of bilingual chatting put me on a long-lasting, total high. I have rarely been filled with such moments of happiness!

When we began to skate over the wooden bridges, I started to recall so vividly the year before, all of us sliding and groping the railing in the rain. Clear memories of slipping and skidding and falling into puddles haunted me as we came up to the same landmarks. I remember the exact place where Gerard from Germany had a terrible fall crashing down a hill into a ravine. This all seemed so blissfully easy while dry.

I was hoping though that Lisa #2 could find her way and thinking what would happen if she got lost? I wouldn't have enough to eat! We decided not to take cell phones to make more room for, well... more food. I began to panic a little bit. I never saw her at all during Section 1. I must have been skating fast because I then came upon Ed Leibnitz and Frank Cherry from New York, and we were doing great in a big paceline in Ste. Anne de Bellevue. Then Rod's group appeared out of nowhere -- I was not sure where they came from -- either we were skating too fast and caught them, or maybe they were behind but being smart and steady? I stayed with them for quite some time and I was hoping to keep it up because I love working in a pack. I have a vague recollection of taking a long pull at the front. I was feeling really strong. At 7:30, we watched the sunrise to our left and I remarked to Ed, "If we were skating a marathon-distance race (42K) we would be just about done!" It seemed absurd to us that anyone would even bother with such a short event since we were just starting to have a ball! This is usually when I am feeling great and I cannot get over the scenery and the camaraderie and the fact that I am in finally really and truly here in Montreal!

As we rounded a bend, I decided to grab a bottle of water from a man on the corner. I was worried about how much water I had because I had taken my smaller camelback reservoir in order to make room for all the supplies. At the time I didn't know the man on the corner was our chief himself, Monsieur Robert Fortier! I asked him, if he saw a girl on a black bike, to tell her that a girl named Lisa was looking for her. He said "Lisa? Lisa Bongiorno? Ah! I remember you from last year!" We were having a nice conversation, which could have gone on for hours but then I realized I had lost the group. Ed, Rod and the others were now gone and there was not another skater in sight. I decided to have a seat on a stone wall, take a rest and adjust my skate. My right foot was starting to hurt like mad. The bone on the bottom of the right foot was feeling painfully bruised. Almost like it was broken. At this point Ken Cleaver from California, whom I had corresponded with via email about the Défi, came skating along. We went up the Big Hill together. He was kind enough to give me a power bar since I told him my food supply was probably lost. At the top of that hill was some terrible pavement that I don't remember from the year before. It was really treacherous and Ken and I were having a terrible time. Soon Lisa #2 came along and I was happy to finally see her! She had all my energy bars stuffed in her socks and pants-legs because her back was killing her from carrying them in her jacket pockets. She started emptying out her pants, cursing and throwing all the food at me!

Lisa and I are old friends, and we share the same big fear about doing long athletic events (as well as doing anything else): is there going to be a bathroom? Because of this we have taken mental notes about where useable restrooms are all over the world. Lisa and I can tell you where every good washroom is in New York City, Atlanta, Moscow, Milan and Rome. In fact, ask me sometime about my fabulous secret potty-stop on the Athens-to-Atlanta route! And now I know where there is a good one on the Montréal Défi course! There was a Couche Tard on Pierrefonds Blvd. and it was perfect. I rolled right in and voilà an easy-to-use fast pipi-stop! On my way out of the CT I see a pack of about 12 skaters flying by the store. I told Lisa I was going to give chase. I took off down Pierrefonds trying to catch up with them. I could always keep them in my view but this was killing me. I was lucky when they had to stop for a red light; I was not so lucky when I had to stop for one. Little by little I closed the gap. So many intersections, so many bumps, cracks and close calls with cars. I just kept pushing and pushing, slowly catching up to them. Finally I reached them but I was completely spent. Nothing like a good little sprint on Pierrefonds, now is there? We crossed the street at the end there where you turn to go to Gouin. Again I was worried Lisa #2 would miss this turn since I didn't see her behind me. This pack of 12 suddenly started to disintegrate. Four of them started to go really fast, 4 of them really slow and 4 of us about medium. The 4 of us dwindled to 3 and then down to only me, and one other skater, Simon Duclos.

Simon had a great knowledge of the course, from being a 5-time Défi finisher. He knew which side of the street to skate on, when the path was coming back up, etc., so I stuck with him. It turns out we stuck together until the Finish. We were matching pace perfectly. We chatted about all of his recent travels and he shared with me some figs he had just brought back from Morocco.

Of course, I had to find another restroom again. The opportunities looked bleak. Then we spotted a port-o-let and Simon said he would wait for me under the Pie-IX Bridge. When I got to the Pie-IX, Simon was sitting in a chair resting. I sat down and again tried to adjust my skate to see if I could get the pain in the right foot to let up. This was a classic Catch-22: if I tightened the laces the bone felt much better, but tightening them aggravated my "lace bite" injury. Tightening the laces caused excruciating pain -- a piercing stab into the front of my ankle. I had to pick the less painful of two pains. I finally went with the bottom-of-the-foot anguish because I could not even skate 2 meters with the torture on my ankle. Strangely, my left foot felt perfectly fine.

At the Pie-IX checkpoint it was a little party atmosphere. Lots of volunteers, water and lawn chairs, we could have stayed all day. Simon looked like he was not getting up. Several times I said, "Hey let's go now! If you sit there too long, you are going to get really cold! His answer was: "Okay but can I take the chair?" You can't stop in cold weather for more than a few minutes or the sweat on your body will give you a terrible chill.

I had the idea that once you reached Pie-IX you were close to Section 5, and are practically through. I forgot all about Section 4! I did not realize until I got home that from Pie-IX there are still 50K to go! Simon told me how lucky we were to not have a headwind that day. The awful chopped-up bike path was so hard to conquer with the pain in my foot. It was hard to be that tired and in that much pain and still have to do the aggressive freestyle maneuvers required to keep yourself from falling, especially in speed boots. Jumping up curves, over obstacles, over cracks and leaves -- I don't know how I did it with all that foot pain. Simon kept saying that he just was waiting to see the Jacques-Cartier bridge. I got some interesting history lessons on the Port of Montréal and some of the landmarks we were passing. My foot was in torture. It had started to pronate severely to one side, and no matter how hard I tried I could not straighten my foot up. Mentally I know how I should be on top of my wheels in skates, but my foot would not listen to what my brain was ordering it to do! It was fruitless. I think I could no longer bear weight on that bone and I had to turn the foot out. This caused the boot to start to dig into the outside anklebone and cut into the skin. I felt my skin being rubbed off just as we had about 10K left. Simon suggested we stop so I could bandage it. We were so close I didn't want to waste the time to stop. As I sit here writing this 10 days later, the spot is still oozing -- got a bandage on it now!

Finally, when we were in Old Montréal, Simon started to smile and he suddenly cheered up. He was really, really happy, in fact he was screaming to the passersby in triumph that we had done it! In Old Montreal, we put on the afterburners (I didn't really have any real afterburners to put on but I just like saying that I did.) I did try to skate the last 3K as fast as I could. My right foot by now was completely pronated over sideways, I looked down and I could not believe what had become of my once fine speedskater "technique". We reached Wellington with great relief, but that road seems LONG, huh? We finally pulled in at 7:23. Lisa was at the Finish waiting for me. We took photos and figured we should go before we got too cold. When we got back to the hotel, I tried to take a nap. I was too hyped-up to sleep so we went to St. Louis Square and Prince Arthur to take a walk, of all things, before the soirée at Magnan's.

While driving down St. Patrick on the way to Magnan's, we see Charles Beaudoin in the car right next to us. I roll down my window and say: Bonjour! I could tell Charles was super-impressed with my French. The dinner at Magnan's was très fantastique. Several Défiers (Défiites? Défians? Défieurs?) insisted I prove that I kept my promise to speak French this year, so after a few glasses of wine I said a few phrases to the waitress, who surprisingly did not fall over laughing. That gave me the courage to speak to Renaud, and he seemed very pleased with my progress from last year. He remembered last year I truly could not say a word, as I had sat next to his wife Lina, and our communication was mostly sign language. I was really having fun and the phrases started to just roll right off my tongue.

Now I am home and attempting to read all of the Défi reports in French. I've also joined a "Learn French" Internet forum, installed the French keyboard on my computer, and written a few emails in French. Next visit to Montréal, I will certainly order the soup myself!


A big thanks goes to Rod Willmot. Your friendship, gentle wisdom and positive attitude are an inspiration to all who know you. Thanks to Robert Fortier and family for your hard work each year keeping the Défi going. Thanks to Simon Duclos for being a strong, non-whining skating companion. Thanks to Lisa Panero, for carrying all that food (which I really did not need.) Thanks too to Lisa for 20+ years of friendship, for happily joining me on this crazy challenge, and for having such an energetic and upbeat attitude the whole weekend.

Lisa Bongiorno, #68