Défi de L'Île de Montréal
128 km on inline skates
On Friday night I set my alarm clock to ring at 4 a.m. but I woke up at 3:30! That's how much I was tuned to the Défi!!
My wife and I left home (near the Olympic Stadium) at 5:10 and in just twelve minutes were at the Old Port, the streets were so empty that not even drunks were in sight! The light rain that was falling was probably the main reason...
When we arrived at the Verdun Auditorium there were already quite a few people there, all getting ready for the big event. I found an empty space, sat down and put on my skates and protective gear. This year, as I knew we would have a Défi under a lot of water, I put a plastic bag around my feet to protect the socks from getting wet (thanks Rod for the tip!). [Actually the plastic bag should go around the whole boot... Click here for the article.]
As I was finally ready, one of the organizers announced that we were ten minutes away from six o'clock, so we should go to the start line. I took my first aspirin of the day (during the year I never take pain killers, but on the day of the Défi I have to take four!) and went outside. The light rain was still going on...
The first surprise of the day was to see a CBC van nearby. We'll be TV stars! Yay! :-)
We had the traditional last-minute review of the rules (always on the right side, yield to the cars, respect the red lights, etc), did the ten second countdown and off we were. I said goodbye to my wife and took the bike path.
I always let everybody go in front of me, I fear that I may fall right in the beginning and bring down a ton of people with me. I know I have some eleven hours of skating ahead of me, so at this early hour I'm not exactly in a rush...
For the first ten or fifteen minutes I stayed with a group of ten skaters that were bringing up the rear of the Défi. But then I decided that they were going a bit too slow for my taste and pushed a little, leaving them behind.
Soon after that, I met another small group (five or so skaters) and stayed with them for a few minutes. I left them behind as well. The pavement was wet everywhere, so everybody was being ultracautious, which is quite understandable.
I arrived at the end of the first section near St-Jean Blvd at 7:35, ten minutes behind my self-imposed schedule. My wife was there, waiting for me with the car in the parking lot. She gave me water and a granola bar. I sat down and rested for a few minutes.
As I started the second section I joined again the group that I had just left behind before finishing the first section, this time they seemed to be going a little faster (or was I already slowing down?...), so I stayed with them.
I had my first fall of the day at the beginning of this section. The pavement was not that good, I had had many close calls during the first hundred minutes but this time I couldn't avoid it and went crashing down. It wasn't too bad, my left hand was hurting a little bit and the shoulder, too. Skater 101, who was just in front of me, stopped a little bit to ask if everything was ok with me. I told him I was good and quickly joined him again. I was feeling some pain but nothing that couldn't be endured. Well, that's the Défi, anyway, isn't it?
After this fall the second section was uneventful until I reached the Senneville hill. On my first year (2003) I had tried to tackle it as it came but had not been able to get to the top without stopping twice on the way up, so I learned that stopping before it and having some water and food was indeed a good idea. I did that last year and this one, too.
While I was resting there, M. Fortier showed up in his car and filmed me for a short while. I hope the sequence makes it out of the editing room! :-) Two volunteers in a van also stopped to ask me if everything was alright; I said all was fine, I was just getting ready to face the hill.
As I got myself prepared once more to take the road, a couple (skaters 14 and 15) were also going up, so I joined them. Even rested and fed, it was hard. Going up is normally difficult but with the rain, it's doubly so, you can't skate as usual, otherwise you glide sideways instead of going forward. Anyway, after a lot of effort I got up there with them and was able to breathe normally again!
The downhill immediately after the Senneville is also quite dangerous. In 2003 I went crashing down; last year I went with my brakes on; this year I went all the way in a nice crouch, I didn't have to slow down, so I was quite happy when I arrived in one piece at the other end.
But then comes the hell that is Senneville... It's the part of the Défi that I like the least, the pavement is just unusable. Fortunately there were not too many cars on the road, so we could choose the best parts of the street to skate, but even the best was truly bad. I'm always happy to get out of Senneville. Gouin feels like polyurethane after having skated through Senneville...
Every year around km 45 or so I get cramps. Maybe it's the effort to go up the hill or just the general tiredness that sinks in, I don't know, but the fact is that the muscles in my calves start acting up, I feel like they are "dancing" inside my legs. In the first two years I just slowed down and the threat of cramps subsided; however this year it was really painful, I had to stop. Fortunately there was a van with volunteers nearby and I could sit down in their car to rest for a while. We talked a bit while I waited for the pain to go away. They told me that this was their third Défi as well!
The cramps diminished enough to allow me to start once more the long road, I again thanked the volunteers, confirmed that I was feeling ok and went out. They told me that we were only four kilometers away from the end of section 2.
I met my wife right before taking Pierrefonds Blvd. She told me I was faster than expected. Even though I had been ten minutes late for section 1, I was on time now, meaning that my section 2, even with a fall, the hill and my cramps had been easier than I had foreseen.
I took my second aspirin of the day, got some water and another granola bar and faced Pierrefonds Blvd. Here I had my second fall of the day, a minor affair when going up and down on the bike path. I just got up and continued forward.
At the end of Pierrefond Blvd I met three skaters who were lost and were asking for directions. I told them to join me, because I knew the way pretty well. We stayed together for a good part of section 3, I showed them the entrance to Lalande (the small Défi sign was a bit confusing, it seemed to indicate not to take Lalande...) and we continued together through Gouin until the bridge at Hwy 13.
There I met my wife once more and sat down for some more resting. She told me that I was ten minutes ahead of schedule, so it seemed I was going even faster than before. I'm sure my better performance this year is in big part due to my new skates. My previous pair of skates hurt my feet after long sessions, so they were not appropriate for the Défi. This year I finally bought a new pair and my feet didn't hurt anywhere as much as before, I could skate better for longer periods. Good investment, I would say!
Going the rest of the way through Gouin was mostly uneventful. But once again the bike path in the parks was horrid, the leaves and branches were scattered everywhere. With the rain, it was like skating on soap! Just going through without falling was already an achievement...
Soon after passing Christophe-Colombe I met skater 50 (or was it 52?) once more; we had crossed each other many times during the morning. We went together through the area of Île de la Visitation, she told me her ankles were hurting too much, she just wanted to get to the Pie-IX bridge and she would stop there, she couldn't go any further. Hey, eighty kilometers is already a lot...
I was under the Pie-IX bridge at 11h45, my best time ever! I accepted the water offered by the volunteer and went on to meet my wife for lunch at a park nearby. I had my longest pause of the day, I stayed there for twenty minutes or so, rested and ate some delicious food she had just bought on the way. While I was in the park I saw only two skaters pass by, which seemed to indicate that once more I was one of the last ones.
Well, fine as everything was, it was time to take to Gouin again, to complete the shortest section of the Défi. The rain had stopped and I even saw some spots where it was beginning to dry, I was able to skate more or less normally for the first time in the day. I had a short stop at the mid-point where I met my wife for what would be the last time before the end.
Around 1:20 pm it started to rain yet again, quashing all hope of a drier Défi. It was 1:35 pm when I got to the old site of the Farago restaurant (now a beauty salon, it seems), which marks the end of the fourth section of the Défi. I was a lot earlier than my scheduled time, so I did not meet my wife at this point unfortunately. One more aspirin and I was ready to take the road under a persistent rain. When I left the restaurant area there was a couple arriving, but I didn't see their numbers.
As usual, the fifth section was the hardest. The winds were quite mild this year, which was a welcome plus, but the bad pavement and the rain made it truly difficult to proceed. I had three small falls in this session, all due to the bad pavement and the tiredness that was setting in. None of these minor falls were important, but with the first one the cramps returned and I had to stay on the ground, the pain was just too much. A resident even came out and asked me if everything was ok...
The fifth section is long and boring, you see kilometers ahead of you and there is only road after road, it takes a lot of strength to keep going all alone under the rain, feeling pain everywhere, going on bad pavement and all that. At this point you're no longer thinking anything, you just keep going and going because stopping is just unthinkable after all you have gone through. The Défi is most definitely not for everyone...
My last scheduled meeting point before Verdun was the Honoré-Mercier park near the mid-point of the section. But once again I was too fast and got there way before the scheduled time. When I called home, my daughter told me that my wife had just called from the previous meeting point at the end of section 4! I saw that it would be impossible to communicate again before the end. I told my daughter that they should be there at Verdun between 4:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. She was impressed, that would be an hour less than last year!
The bike path on the sidewalks of Notre-Dame were as bad as I remembered them, I had to slow down to avoid accidents. Anyway, I was not in a hurry. I knew I couldn't make it for 4 p.m., so there was no point in rushing things, I took my time and enjoyed the way.
Just after the military base there was some heavy construction work going on, it was dangerous to skate around those areas, I had to share the route with trucks and tractors, heavy stuff...
I know the way after Pie-IX quite well, I take this bike path every day to go to work, so I was "at home" in this area. I felt great, I knew I would finish in under eleven hours, something I had been trying since my first Défi two years ago. The silver medal was unfortunately out of reach, but that can wait for a drier Défi some year in the future, right?
Right before entering the bike path that leads to the Verdun Auditorium, more heavy construction on the road and I was scratching my head on how to get to the end. Definitely election years are bad for the Défi, the incumbent party wants to show off how much they are working for the people and the city becomes one huge construction area...
It was 4:36 p.m. when I finally got to the Auditorium. Mr Fortier, some skaters and volunteers were there to cheer me on. Unfortunately my wife and children arrived only ten minutes later, so they didn't see me coming in.
I ate an apple and some grapes while I waited for my family to arrive and then we went home for a small "after Défi party" with some friends. On Wellington Street we saw the last couple of skaters going towards the Auditorium.
Well, that's it for this year. As usual, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Mr Fortier and his team of volunteers for organizing the Défi and making it run so smoothly. Also many words of thanks go to my wife for being there the entire day and carrying all my things for me, easing a lot the incredible task of completing the Défi.