‘This ride from Vancouver to Whistler started it all’
Desirae McGee went on a night out with friends – and had no idea it would change her life.
“As a kid I never knew there was more to riding a bike other than learning to ride without training wheels. 10 years ago a friend of mine surprisingly showed up to a dinner with a broken foot. She had a stress fracture from training for a local triathlon. As the night went on and more and more adult beverages were consumed, I agreed to take her place in the triathlon, being held the following weekend. Who knew there was a difference between a mountain bike and a road bike, or that I would have to wear tight fitting spandex and tap-dancing-like shoes! The very next morning she showed up with her road bike and those funny shoes, and said I had to practice “clipping in “?!
“Ignorance was bliss. 5 days later I showed up at the park just outside of Indianapolis where I was living at the time for my first big-little race. As I watched everyone around me, who to me at that moment in time all looked like professionals, I started to panic; I do not belong here. The race announcer called for everyone’s attention and the first thing he said was, “who here is doing this for the first time?” Hesitant to put up my hand, I noticed I was not the only one. As more and more people put up their hands the crowd started to cheer. I decided not to pack up my things and give it a go.
“With a background in swimming, I knew I would not drown – and anyone can ride a bike, right?! I survived the swim and was the only one who took 5 minutes to get my fancy new shoes on before starting out on my first road bike ride. The family, friends and local community support out on the side of the road course was something I had never experienced before. Although they were likely cheering for their own family and friends, in my mind they were cheering for me. And every single rider who passed me, which was almost everyone in that race, said something encouraging as they flew by me like I was standing still. I had the time of my life. I left that event, went straight to the bike store and bought my first road bike. Apparently riding bikes as an adult is a thing.
“During a ski trip to Whistler that following winter, I saw an ad for the first ever RBC GranFondo Whistler . Ride your bike from Vancouver to Whistler, on the most scenic highway I have ever been on in my life, closed to traffic…..I was in! I convinced a few of my local Vancouver friends they should sign up and in September 2010 I flew from Indianapolis to Vancouver to spend the day riding bikes with my friends from Vancouver to Whistler. Suddenly, another ignorance is bliss moment: riding 122km up a mountain was not the same as riding 122km in the cornfields of Indiana! The new goal? Finish before they take down the finish line. That goal was achieved and that overwhelming feeling of accomplishment when crossing the finish line every year since 2010 has never dimmed.
“Now here we are 10 years later, I have since moved to the most picturesque city in Canada, and have ridden my bike every year with my friends from Vancouver to Whistler in September. Our group of 6 in 2010 has grown to 37, from all over North America. My most beloved friendships are those I have gained through the common love of riding bikes. Vacations are now always with these same friends, exploring the world on bikes and this ride from Vancouver to Whistler started it all.
“My advice to anyone considering taking up cycling either to challenge yourself to ride in the RBC GranFondo Whistler or simply for the physical and mental health benefits of cycling is to grab your friends, get outside, and ride bikes like we did when we were kids.”
What does it mean to you?
In 2018, Gernot Dick decided to take on RBC GranFondo Whistler. There was only one problem… he’d never done anything like this before in his life.
On September 8th, at 6:30 am I stood in the starting line-up for the RBC GranFondo Whistler for the first biking event in my life. I was nervous – very nervous, chilly and it was still dark with rainclouds above. Was I dressed properly? Should I have had a bigger breakfast? The other guys have two water bottles, I only have one. I do have clip-on shoes – they have clip-on computers!
Looking back, this journey started a few months earlier in the bike shop.
“You are 83 – you don’t need a bike like that,” said Johnny. Those words really made me feel self-conscious.
“You also don’t need clip-on shoes.”
“Yes, I do,” I said to Johnny, the owner of the bike shop, not quite certain what he meant by clip-ons. I have never had the experience where the owner of a shop would not sell me the more expensive item.
He pointed to another bike. “Get that bike and you save yourself a lot of money.”
“But it is bright red and the saddle is different,” I said.
He looked at the ceiling as if he were searching for words. “The saddle, everything is different. It’s a normal bike for a man like you. “
At least he didn’t say old man.
“I don’t want a normal bike,” I said.
“Well, keep in mind what I’ve told you, because that giant bike might kill you.”
To me it wasn’t giant – it was the same size as all the other bikes. I didn’t know that he meant the GIANT Bike Company. Finally, he gave in and I accepted that I was risking $3,000 more and perhaps even my life!
I wondered if I was too stubborn, stupid or both. It started out so simply. All I wanted was to stay in shape for skiing – that is why I moved to Pemberton three years ago, and biking in the summer would keep me in shape for skiing. But, driving from Pemberton to Whistler, I saw people biking uphill – steep up-hills, on bikes with turned-down handlebars. I was curious, so that’s why I wanted a bike like that.
I got on it and started biking from Pemberton up to Birken. Between shifting gears, keeping balance, being afraid of getting out of the saddle and losing balance, no road shoulder and close logging truck encounters, I began to think maybe Johnny was right: “That GIANT bike might kill me!”
After a few weeks, I thought I was ready. On a sunny day around noon, I stopped by the bike shop and said to Johnny sort of calm and cool, “Today I will bike up to Whistler”. The other two guys in the shop turned their heads toward me – nobody said a word.
However, I really felt I was ready to for the challenge. After five kilometres, tired and sweating my body wanted to quit. But, being stubborn and starting to meditate, my mind got me to Whistler and back to the bike shop.
“Jesus, are you out of your mind? It’s thirty-nine degrees – no one bikes on such a hot day!” someone yelled.
They brought me a chair, sat me down and gave me a litre of water-cold water, the best water I have ever had! On that day I won the argument knowing that being stubborn helps me get what I need.
In early September my friend, Roberta, called me and said, “Gernot, did you know that Whistler has a Gran Fondo?”
“Grand Fonda, is that ice-cream?” I asked. I did not know that it was a bike ride through the wilds of the Coast Mountains.
On Friday, one day before the event at the VeloSpoke Expo, they dressed me. It took some time, as I didn’t know what a real biker wore. The biker pants felt like I had forgotten to go to the toilet. My friend and the sales people were great, making sure I was ready for the big event the following day.
Sept 8. Gran Fondo day. Having read the “Event Instructions” and “Riding Etiquette” I was ready, standing in the line-up for my first race. With hundreds of bikers around me, I had the most wonderful feeling rushing through me, as I hugged the rider beside me feeling overcome by it all.
I felt this was not really a race, but a big family event with chatting, laughter and music. The voice of the announcer sounded through the dark of the morning. Helicopters hovered, people were waving and somebody on the microphone singing “O Canada”. I loved the feeling of all this excitement, but was also still nervous, as I had never biked near other bikers.
…..5, 4,3,2,1 – slowly we started to move, with me right in the middle of it, trying not to come close to another bike. After the Lions Gate Bridge came a steep climb up Taylor Way. Bikers passed me and I puffed heavily thinking I would never make the time I had written down at home – Vancouver to Whistler in 7:15 hours.
‘Not a chance – I can hardly get up a city street! What will happen when I get to the mountains?’ My mind had to get to work. I am older; I just need more time to warm up, and with my clip-on shoes and 1,000 positive contemplations, my body went through a metamorphosis, and I made it to Whistler.
But, it was also the magic of the day that got me there – that mass of bikers, wonderful people, chatting, singing, bands and drums playing, cow bells ringing, biking through red lights and people shaking hands with me, hoping they would still be biking at eighty-three.
During the last twenty kilometres, I passed bikers who had passed me in the beginning. With an endurance challenge it is not important to me how I start, but how I finish.
My time was two minutes slower than I had guessed, so now I have a two minute challenge for the GranFondo 2019, and a new challenge in my life to keep staying vertical – biking in the summer to stay in shape for skiing and I will ski in the winter to stay in shape for biking.
The 80’s are wonderful! If the mind can make it important, the body will always follow.
Thanks to all of you for the help and the unforgettable day. I was impressed with how perfectly such a complicated event was organized, and the effort that was required to make it happen.
“I intend to live forever. So far, so good!” (Woody Allen)
Community cookie fondo
At RBC GranFondo Whistler 2018, one woman brought the definition of support to a whole new level. We reached out to Steph Corker to share her story:
“Oh my word – TEAM FONDO!
“First of all: I’m so glad you were not emailing me to tell me to get off the side of the road on your race! I was so worried that I was ruining your aid station experience!
“Truly – I’ve raced as a pro triathlete this year, mostly in Europe and in complete awe of the cheers and fans along the sidelines. Having just returned from Ironman Mt Tremblant, I knew I was in no condition to do the race myself, yet so badly wanted to be out cheering! “So, I did what any great athlete would do and spent 9 and a half hours baking 1200+ cookies on the Thursday [the ride is Saturday]. I thought for sure I would have enough cookies for at least half of the riders – yet it turned out we ran out of cookies in less than 2 hours!
“What really happened: just outside of Black Tusk Village, cars pulled over, families came to join, kids wanted to help, tunes were blasting; it was an absolute JOY! I’ve already been asked to bake twice as many cookies for next year and without a DOUBT we will make sure that next years cookie cheering station is even bigger!
“I’m so grateful for all of the work you do tirelessly and endlessly to put on these amazing local events. As an athlete, I have felt so selfish enjoying the race experiences. And to every old man who rode by with snot hanging out of his nose, begging for a cookie on Saturday — you made my day!
“Thoughts from the kitchen today: sport can be an incredibly selfish pursuit; it’s worth it. Cheering, be it for someone special or lots of strangers is rather selfless yet arguably even more gratifying; it’s SO worth it!
“My selfish days of sport were some of the toughest this year; I was always so grateful for your cheers. I’m rollin’ thru this off-season with more cowbell + cookies than ever before -a nd then I’m comin’ back some kinda stronger!
“PS. Let’s keep riding bikes!”
“My mom is an avid cyclist in Ontario and growing up I always thought the spandex and cycling jargon was weird. I mean who wants to spend their weekend riding 100+ km?? “They must be crazy” I thought.
“Over the years, I grew an understanding about the sport, what it means to be a cyclist and how strong my mom really is. As most people know, female riders are less common to run into. Not only was my mom one of them, but she kicked the guy’s butts. After chatting with some of the members from her cycling club I quickly learned my mom was an absolute inspiration.
“Even though I moved to Vancouver 2 years ago, cycling has brought my mom and I closer than ever. Talking on the phone for hours on end about what techniques she uses or what type of food I should be eating pre, post and during my rides was a common weekly activity.
“Before I knew it I started to form a small bike community of my own in Vancouver and I’ve never looked back. Cycling is part of my life and it always will be thanks to my mom.
“Mom decided to come out to ride the RBC GranFondo Whistler 2018 with a few of her cycling club members (some of them 70+ years old). When I heard this I had to sign up. Riding the most iconic road in BC with my mom was something I’ve always wanted to do.
“The gruelling 5 hour ride was one of the most memorable days of my life. I knew I wasn’t as strong as my mom, but she encouraged me pedal after pedal. From jamming out to music on my speakers to eyeing up bacon in Squamish (if you did the ride, you know what I’m talking about), or simply putting our heads down and ripping up the Alice Lake hill, this was a ride for the books.
“I can’t put into words how much it meant to cross the finish line with my mom by my side wearing her cycling club’s jersey. Cheers to many more rides, the sweat down our faces and the laughs that come with stories on the road! Love ya mom!!” – Sarah
Sarah and her mom completed the RBC GranFondo Whistler 2018 together.
The new Medio 55km – A family challenge
“When we heard about the new Medio route at RBC GranFondo Whistler we decided that it will be the perfect challenging distance for us to ride as a family. The boys are 16 and 12, they started road cycling in the summer as a cross training for Biathlon.
“Cycling is the only sport that I (the old man) am still able to keep up with the boys too. We are very excited to do this family challenge!” – Danny
Danny and his two boys are riding the new Medio 55km Whistler based route in 2018.
“Well, it’s two nights before the big day. I never believed this was possible. My story may not be that unusual but I am proud to be realizing a personal challenge and am almost there. I am 62 years old and in the past year, retired from my 38-year teaching career and completed my doctoral studies at SFU. On top of that, one year ago I had open heart surgery to correct an aortic aneurysm.
“This had been monitored for about 10 years after the sudden deaths of my brother and my father. Coroner and autopsy information suggested that their deaths were related to heart rhythm issues, which was followed by the recommendation that my 10 remaining siblings and I be tested and screened for cardiac issues. Of all of us, I was the only one who displayed the unusual heart rhythm. This led to the discovery of my aortic aneurysm.
“The ensuing years have been a time of well-followed intervention by my heart rhythm and aortic cardiac teams. Although nervous, I continued to grit my teeth and to stay fit, cycle moderately, and generally stay active, all the while knowing that I could have some kind of unpredictable cardiac event. After surgery, It took three months to be close to my normal “old” self, and 5 months to where I seem to have gone back in time, literally feeling the energy of a 20-year-old.
“During the past 4 years my family has been involved in the RBC GranFondo several times. For one of my four sons and my husband, this will be their third ride. For another son, his second. For me, my first. My only nerves relate to getting out of the marshaling area and managing clip-in shoes/pedals at the start.
“As far as the ride is concerned, I am excited. I received a new road bike for my spring birthday and my husband has been an overly tolerant and encouraging coach. We have spent the summer on the Sunshine Coast where we live, creating road circuits, riding up the coast to Pender Harbour and throughout the rest of the area. I have learned to be brave and endure areas of no shoulders, bad pavement, and the odd close vehicle encounter.
“I am loving the hills and at this point feel fit and ready. I am doing this ride to honour everyone who has been in my court over the past few years, particularly my family and wonderful cardiac team.
“Nothing feels as good as being on a bike, with the breeze in your face, and the road under your pedals.”
On September 9, 2017, Marian completed RBC GranFondo Whistler in a time of 8:15:37. On the KOM/QOM hillclimb competition, she rode faster than 284 other participants.
The Forte is the toughest category at RBC GranFondo Whistler, with 3100m of climibing and 152km distance. We sat down with Anneleen Bosma, of London, UK, to discuss her victorious 1st place in the Women’s 2017 Forte and see how she prepared:
This was your first time riding RBC GranFondo Whistler. What had you heard about and what attracted you to enter the Forte category?
I visited Vancouver a couple of years ago and rode with someone that was training for the Gran Fondo. It’s such a beautiful route! I entered the Forte category as I love to challenge myself and I having never climbed a mountain before, this was the perfect challenge for me.
What were your experiences in riding as an overseas athlete?
I had a great experience! I met some really lovely people at the start line and rode most of the route with a really great guy called Sean, who actually supported people on their journey to their First Fondo via the GranFondo Whistler clinics. The event was very well organized and I really enjoyed the burger at the finish line!
You ride with Rapha Cycling Club. How did you go about training for the ride?
I joined Rapha Cycling Club early July, which has been life-changing. Riding with friends is so much more fun, a great motivation to get up early to train and really helps you push yourself to get stronger.
I mainly trained by doing longer (hilly) rides on the weekend, weekly race training (sprintervals!) and I started racing crits three weeks before the Gran Fondo. In the months running up to the Gran Fondo I did several sportives, all quite long distances (160-305k) and very hilly (3500-4600m climbing).
What was your strategy for pacing, nutrition and the ride in general? How does the Forte rank in your spectrum of riding achievements?
I arrived in Vancouver three days before the Gran Fondo and as I had never climbed a mountain before, I went up Cypress Mountain on the Thursday to check it out and see what pace I could maintain on such a long climb.
On the day, I tried to ride in a group up to Cypress Mountain, but decided to stick to my own pace on the climb to prevent burning out too quickly. Halfway through I started passing people that passed me earlier so I knew that my strategy was working. When I got to the top of Cypress, I realized that I hadn’t seen any women descending yet so that motivated me to just push at my max pace for the rest of the ride.
I tend to find it quite difficult to eat well during a ride (gels and bars make me feel nauseous) so I try to consume about 400 calories/hour by drinking sports drinks and by eating Haribo!
The Forte ranks as one of my highest riding achievements, up there with getting my to Category 2 race license 6 weeks after I started racing!
What would you say to someone who was thinking about whether to enter the event?
If you’re thinking about it, just do it. Join a cycling club to train as it’s much more fun to train with friends than on your own, and when the big day comes, enjoy the ride and the incredible scenery!
“Every year I would say to myself and my wife – “this year I will get a bike and get into shape. But alas…it never happened.”
It’s a story that many of us can associate with. But out of the blue, life threw Dan and his family a curveball.
“For years I have been making false-starts at returning to fitness. I now sit heavier than I have in decades, and it is not working out very well. My kidneys are not healthy, my energy levels are low and its downright embarrassing. I have a great career, one that I love so far, but lately it has come with a extra hours, travelling and stress. I am tired and can pull from hundreds of excuses.
We could lose her
My wife of 15 years, the sweet gorgeous hottie who is my best friend, and an absolute “must have” in my life, got very ill too. It was frightening kind. Not the easy “she has a cold, she needs orange juice” kind of ill. It was the “we could lose her” type. That kind of worry for me and my kids really got me thinking. I thought about several scenarios that don’t end up well.
Then, text from 3 of my friends from High School came in from nowhere: “We signed up for the GranFondo Whistler…get a bike, stop being fat, and stop being a chicken”.
I am doing this
“Done. Sold. I had a bike within the week and signed up for the ride and the clinic. Never mind that it is 122km, a total elevation of 1900m, and that I get very tired driving the route in my car. I am doing this, and on an actual bike.
“Its hard being my size going into bike stores looking for kit. Apparently my lovely little, hardly used, hybrid bike wouldn’t work, I need a decent road bike and kit. So I asked my cyclist friends to translate the language of “cycle-ese” into plain English.
Advice and encouragement
“Plenty of help was available. The good news is that when they have my size, its often available in older models which can be heavily discounted.
“I Got a Specialized Roubaix SL4 Expert (Carbon & Ultegra) from Dunbar Cycles on Broadway, so now I cannot blame my kit. The price and service were great. No one laughed at me, and in fact they gave me a lot of advice and encouragement.
Sir Mix a Lot
“I then bought the pedals, accessories and clothing. The clothing included a jersey and bib shorts. Moments before trying the clothing on I almost quit. My mind raced: I don’t do spandex or lycra. I lift weights, I do judo, I drink beer, I have a bit of a gut and already own huge legs. Sir Mix a Lot once performed a song in praise of my calibre of backside. My wife noticed the fear so came into the change room. Fortunately, it looked only bad enough to motivate me. Not bad enough to have me quit.
“Finally I got to worrying about the inevitability of riding the trek alone. My friends are all about a foot shorter and over 100lbs lighter. The way up the mountain has a lot of up-hill action. So I figure that I would make friends fast during the training and the ride itself. This group seems to be a positive, supportive horde. The riders generally strike me as being a community that is there for each other, with encouragement, tools, advice and banter (something I respond very well to!)
“These parts of the journey, that have scared me so far, will likely pale in comparison to the actual struggles of the day, and the struggles of training. That last major climb before Whistler, the one I get tired driving up, will beat me far worse than my insecurities over my weight. Oddly, that feeling one gets when they face these challenges and feel those inner personal victories, is something I crave.”
“My dad is a pretty fit guy (always has been) and he never seems to stop moving; he is always working on his vintage sports car or drafting the plans for a new renovation to the house. He has always been fairly athletic, but he really tested that athleticism by completing his first Whistler GranFondo the day that he turned 50 years old.
“At the time that dad completed his first Fondo, there was no possible way that I could comprehend the amount of mental and physical strength and willpower that it took for him to complete that task. I was morbidly obese, stressed out of my mind in a toxic relationship, I was suffering from an unstable mental health disorder, I had zero motivation to exercise or to make any healthy decisions and I was incredibly unhappy with the direction that my life had taken. This was all very evident to my dad and he worked very hard to set a positive example for me and to encourage me regularly to start taking control of my health. His persistence eventually paid off and I was able to slowly turn my life in a direction that encompassed healthy living.
“On the week of dad’s 55th birthday, he rode his third Whistler GranFondo and I wanted to see him cross the finish line ever so badly. My mom and I stayed in Whistler Village the night before the race and we woke up early to stake our place along the fence to cheer for the cyclists crossing the finish line. I will never forget seeing the look my dad’s face when our eyes met moments before he crossed the line: I felt electricity run through my body, and I immediately new that the Fondo was something that I needed to experience from the saddle of my own road bike.
“My dad did everything in his power to support my dream and my training the coming year. We started swimming olympic lengths together during the winter and I also started cycle training on an indoor trainer for the first time.
“In the early summer 2016, we set two endurance tests for ourselves that we would have to complete together before we registered for the Fondo: ride from Kitsilano to White Rock/Crescent Beach and back (122km) and to cycle up Cypress Mountain. Both endurance tests were THE most difficult challenges that I have ever put my mind and body through. However, were able to complete both tasks by mid August, so that meant that the 2016 Whistler GranFondo was a “go”!
“I was a nervous wreck the morning of the Fondo, to say the least! The amount of adrenaline running through my body was astronomical and it only increased when we crossed the start line in Stanley Park. I was terrified to cycle up Taylor Way for the first time, but little did I know that this tiny little steep climb was only a drop in the bucket compared to the Britannia Beach and Fury Creek climbs!
“Throughout our 8 hour ride, regardless of how fast or slow I was cycling, my dad was either by my side or faithfully at the top of the hill waiting for me with a huge smile on his face or a hug for encouragement when I was feeling low.
“My dad and I were two of the very last people to cross the finish line in Whistler Village that day, but the important part is that we FINISHED! Words can’t describe the sense of accomplishment that I felt when I saw my mom cheering me on at the finish line, and with my dad’s hand on my shoulder as I wept tears of exhaustion and happiness all at the same time. I never could have imagined completing such a physically or mentally challenging feat without my dad’s steady encouragement, patience, understanding, sense of humour, time, energy and hugs while I cried tears of joy in celebration of my victories.
“With his influence in my life, I am now in a solid routine of exercising 3-5 days a week, I have lost 85 pounds and my weight continues to drop, my mental health disorder is stable and manageable, I choose to eat healthy and well balanced meals, I have a solid sense of self confidence and I have a renewed sense of joy in my life.
“I will never give up on training to become the best version of myself, and I have my dad and the Whistler GranFondo to thank for that.”
In 2017, Liz and her dad rode together again and took 90 minutes off their 2016 finishing time. In 2018, they’re aiming to shave off another hour.
“My name is Rick Rumohr, 59. I have ridden the RBC GranFondo Whistler three times now, and loved every minute of it! But this is not about me, it is about my best buddy Dale Carleton, 58 years young.
“In 2012 Dale and I decided to tackle the Fondo, and even though Dale had been going through some health problems at the time, he wanted to give it a try. On the day Dale did not finish, but made it way farther than I ever expected him to. The thing that bothered him the most was the DNF – ‘Did Not Finish’ – after his name, which I could tell did not sit well with him.
“Fast forward to 2016, my wife Laura and I and Dale and his wife Sandy were vacationing in Whistler and made a pact to return in 2017 and compete in the Fondo. Dale trained hard and with the support of his family and friends he was determined to remove the DNF following his name.
“Race day came and we were all very excited to get going! There was 5 in our group, and in no time we quickly spread out all striving to get to the finish line. Four of us completed the race and headed off to the hotel for a change of clothes, returning quickly to the finish line to cheer on our buddy Dale.
“Dale was having a tough time on the course. He’d run over a stray water bottle in an accident and come off his bike, requiring a trip to the medical tent thanks to his scuffed jersey and dented helmet. Despite all this, Dale however just wanted to complete the race. He said the medical staff were great, and on his behalf I would like to say a big thank you to all of them!
“His bike was in rough shape but the great roadside mechanics were able to straighten things out and make it rideable again! Again, a big thank you to all the volunteers; what you do is greatly appreciated!
“Well Dale got back on his bike and at about the eight and a half hour mark he came around the corner and they announced his name, sending our group at the finish line into a big group hug jumping up and down and cheering for Dale as he crossed the finish line. It is something I will always remember!
“Dale is a true testament to the perseverance of life! Good on ya Dale – we are all very proud of you – plus you no longer have that DNF after your name!”