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The wide open bomb down Seymour required little braking. Our new friend, Jay, slid out on a fast corner sprinkled with gravel but popped back up before most of us knew what had happened. It wasn’t until we stopped at the bottom of the hill that we noticed his severely road-rashed body and torn West Lion kit.
Our hosts led us through a maze of neighborhoods to our next victim, Grouse Mountain. There are two ways to get to the top of Grouse: by gondola or by the ironically named Old Grouse Mountain Highway, which resembles nothing of the sort with its mix of loose gravel, chunky rocks and sharp switchbacks. Because bikes aren’t allowed on the gondola and few in their right minds would choose to ride back down ‘the Highway’ on road bikes, cyclists normally take Capilano Road to the base of the mountain, where the gondola starts, and call the end of the climb there. However, the nice folks at Grouse Mountain Resort agreed to allow our bikes on the aerial tramway, so our route up would be the gated gravel road followed by a ride down on the gondola. According to Strava, Old Mountain Highway is a 7.1 mile Cat 1 climb averaging a 6.6% gradient, gaining 2,462 feet. Ground conditions considered, it certainly felt more like a hors categorie climb to me.
Ira went on ahead and the rest of us followed once the gatekeeper arrived. Only Cynthia, Marty, Jay and David were still with us. After the first few turns we all tried to find our rhythm. The grade didn’t feel any less unkind than Seymour’s but was made worse by the unsteady earth below. Aaron started pulling away from the group and I found myself next in line with Marty by my side. Despite the turbulence beneath, Marty’s hands rested softly on his bars as he floated over the rocky ground with his silky-smooth pedal stroke. Enviable.
I normally find great pleasure in gravel but I was not enjoying this. A good line was not to be had, neither was a good rhythm. At one point I recall telling Marty to go on ahead. Partly because I didn’t have the energy to sustain an intelligent conversation anymore and partly because I knew the real suffering had yet to come and I wanted to do it in silence. He pulled ahead a few meters and I attempted to follow his lines, hoping his wheel held the key to this riding this stuff. Instead it proved no line was going to be easy or make me look as effortless as him, so I resigned to settling in and simply finishing with as much grace as possible. Eventually we broke out of the tree line and the blast of heat from the midday sun compounded the misery. I asked Marty how far we had to go, not really wanting to know but at the same time wanting to know. Four miles under normal road circumstances would be a walk in the park but in these conditions it would be something else.
I kept pedaling, growing more and more thankful for Marty’s company and conversation as the climb wore on. I’d go home that night and Google Marty Lazarski to discover this humble man with a huge heart and perfect pedal stroke was actually a World Cup mountain biker, two-time TransRockies winner and BC Bike Race and TransAndes Challenge podium finisher. He also held national titles in cross-country and cyclocross, as well as having multiple Canada Cup wins. Which made Marty’s humbleness and generous demeanor even more classy.
My lungs hurt, my legs screamed and sweat poured off my body. Those last four miles felt like 40 and just when I thought I couldn’t hold the pace any longer we rounded a sharp, steep switchback in rocky dirt and there stood the Dutchman and the van, with Aaron and Ira by his side. Hallelujah. It wasn’t the summit but the short break would allow my breathing to recover before the last little push to the top. The four of us summited then Marty, Aaron and Ira rode up an even steeper (was it possible?) gravel and asphalt road to explore the massive wind turbine perched atop Grouse. I hung back to wait for the others and as the rest of the group dribbled in there were stories of punctures and falls. Greg pointed out that a double sweat line on the shorts signified a hard climb. I looked down at my legs and nodded in agreement.
One thing the Continental is good at is squandering time off the bike and we again successfully did that at the top of Grouse. Eventually we made our way to the gondola for the trip down where we, and our bikes were packed in like sardines alongside unassuming tourists. I couldn’t help but wonder how we looked and smelled. Flying in slow suspension over the vast treetops was a lovely way down the mountain. I don’t imagine Gerben was saying the same thing on Old Mtn. Highway in the Sprinter.