When the Mountains Called for Me
There are hills that we are going to confront in this life. Long winding monsters with knives out that we see waiting from a great distance, others that seem to step out of the treeline and blindside us from out of nowhere, causing us to fight for each foot forward in slow motion. When I moved to BC four years ago I was reminded of this fact every time I left the house with my bike. I’m from the prairies so the analogy of climbing hills seemed apt; cycling has been an incredible tool for me to climb the hills in my life, whether they be emotional, mental or in the case of training for events like the Tour De Victoria, very, very real.
When I got here, I lived around the Elk Lake area, outside of the city and this is where I began riding. It was a very shocking experience. I had some experience on a bike. Back in Manitoba, I had begun using a bike to lose weight. That meant an awful lot of riding on flat surfaces. I thought it was great. It was a fantastic low impact cardiovascular workout, one that I learned to spend a couple hours enjoying whenever I got the chance. I realized that I wanted to ride a bike forever.
I remember the day that I first took off on my hybrid for a spin around Elk Lake. There was some Oldfield, West Sannich Road, Sayward and even the Pat Bay Highway involved. When I completed a 17km loop around the lake and back home, I was gassed. I was also confronted with the reality of hills. Brutal, grotesque things that I struggled with. There were two I can think of that I simply couldn’t climb. They were just too steep for me.
I also quickly learned that a couple of options available to me where to ride the Lochside and the Galloping Goose trail. Not only did both paths offer some of the most dramatic Pacific West Coast scenery I had ever been exposed to, both had a lot less elevation to contend with over longer periods of time. I started piling on the kilometers, building strength and endurance along the way. I would continue to attack every hill I encountered, beginning to realize that hills were now an everyday occurance in my life and that I had no choice but to take them on at full force.
I was losing weight. I was developing confidence. I was feeling good. The pieces of the puzzle were starting to fit. In addition to riding, I started studying nutrition. I realized the importance of a high protein, low carbohydrate diet. I understood hydration and added a second bottle cage to my whip so that I’d always have enough water until I could refill my bottles if required. As I started tracking my rides and building some statistics, I saw how many calories I was burning, came to understand the importance of rest and I even picked up a few training tips related to hill repeats and having a better understanding of how a person’s heart rate is a good measure of how fast a person can go for how long.
I had spent the summer and fall riding outside, and when the winter finally chased me indoors in January, I continued my training at the gym. It was not as adventurous to attend to a spin bike, but it was important to maintain and hold onto those gains earned in the warmer months.
In the spring, I took it back outdoors and resumed riding everywhere I could whenever I could.
It wasn’t long before I was on track to once again climb one of the sharpest hills I knew up over on West Saanich Road, just past the Red Barn. For me, it got steep fast and even if you got up the steepest part, it maintained a slow exhausting incline well beyond what I would have considered fair. This was the representation of what I had been unable to climb. But this time, I felt strong. My legs felt really good. I realized halfway up that I wasn’t going to pull over. I wasn’t going to stop. I gave my best effort and all of a sudden, it was done. I was over it. I kept on riding, taking stock of what had just happened.
That day, I experienced a huge payoff in my life. I had spent hours and hours engaging my body in striving for a goal that didn’t happen overnight. It didn’t happen in a week and for me, didn’t happen for several months. During that time, that hill gave me nothing but grief, burning lungs and defeat. But I had stuck with my plan. I had decided that I was able to do it. I had decided that it was of critical importance that I do it. I felt that the only way to live my life was in service of climbing that hill, and although it took a long time, I finally conquered it. I earned my status as a Vancouver Island cyclist.
That achievement was important to me. Conquering it made me wonder what other goals might I set for myself. That’s the way my mind works now. I set goals and refuse to let anything come between them and I. My most ambitious goals are a few years in the making, but I am encouraged by that day on the hill when I realized that I could accomplish almost anything.
It was around that time that the Tour De Victoria came to mind. For me, it was time to find a new thing to plan for. I was restless. I needed a goal. I needed to commit myself to the pursuit of something really positive for myself. The idea of riding in an event with other cyclists was so new to me, that I wasn’t even sure if I should do it. Familiar doubts crept into my head until I just realized that there was no choice. The event was billed as a ride, not a race and so I threw my hat in and declared that I too, was going to be a part of the Tour.
Join me next time for the continuing adventures in training and awesomeness of preparing for the Tour.
Mike Alexander is of Anishinaabe descent, originally from Swan Lake First Nation in Treaty #1 Territory. He is an emerging graphic novelist, contemporary painter and (extremely) amateur triathlete currently living in Kamloops. Mike is a grassroots rider for Easton Cycling, and believes that diversity and inclusion in endurance sport is important.
Awesome story and very inspiring from a fellow Manitoban!