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We met our ride hosts, West Lion Cycling, bright and early at Café Crema in West Vancouver. The coffee didn’t disappoint and after a few handshakes and brief hellos we rolled out alongside our new cycling mates. The skies were blue and the rising sun was already starting to warm our lightly kitted bodies. We formed two lines of riders and chatted with our neighbors as we made our way towards the first ascent, Mt. Seymour. Houses soon outnumbered city buildings then trees outnumbered houses. We climbed a bit then descended a rough, steep, single-lane road, slowed only by sharp switchbacks that took a few in the group by surprise. The road came to an abrupt end at the bottom of the hill. Confusion set in. Was that Seymour, our first climb?
Our stellar host and ride leader, Brian Young, then dismounted his bike and led us down an unassuming path masked by trees and foliage. Invisible to anyone unfamiliar with the area, the path turned into a steep, planked walkway that in turn descended to a dock on Indian Bay. Here, to our surprise, a television crew was at work, watched by a handful of spectators as they prepared to release 10 rescue seals from the Vancouver Aquarium. We watched as the seals were set free from their crates into the bay, some seemingly more excited than others to be back in their natural environment.
Still in awe of what we’d just witnessed, our thoughts of seals switched back to cycling as we retraced our wheels back up the steep, adrenaline rush-inducing hill we’d descended just minutes ago. Shortly after we were at the base of Seymour, a nicely paved 7.6 mile hors category climb with an average gradient of 7.6% over 3,020 feet of elevation. When the pace settled, we finally had time to get to know the folks we were pedaling with. I immediately bonded with Cynthia, the thoughtful, beautiful wife of Brian, an ex-pro mountain biker. A mother of two, Cynthia was a 2007 women’s pairs winner of the BC Bike Race and all round kick-ass lady both on and off the bike. There was also Awesome Adam, sporting the Red Truck Racing kit on a body and bike similar to professional cyclocross racer Ryan Trebon’s. And he could climb like Ryan, too.
Dave, also flying the Red Truck Racing flag, was not only a chef but a sports nutritionist (thankfully he was absent when the guys refuelled with burgers and beers atop Grouse). Sam, a cycling/windsurfing/kiteboarding physio and life coach had clearly got the life-balance thing figured out. Jay was our speedy descender and David a golfer-turned-cyclist who had only recently traded his khakis and clubs for spandex and a different line of carbon and metal toys. Even as a newbie to the sport, David managed two of our three climbs then the Gran Fondo the next day. Impressive. Then there was Marty. Kind, strong, generous, strong, unassuming, strong, and always humble Marty. Did I mention strong? He pushed and pulled some of our friends up Seymour without breaking a sweat. We later joked that while we were riding in the red, Marty didn’t even hit pink. There was more to Marty in his red Devinci kit than met the eye, I was sure of it.
The steep grade on Seymour was relentless and the heat contributed to the suffering. Sweat dripped down my arms and off my nose. The conversations became less spirited as the ascent wore on. Marty was doing more pushing and pulling and even then he spun effortlessly up the hill. I silently wished each turn would be the last and wondered if I was the only one ready for this hors category climb to end. Then, around one last turn and up one final steep section that opened into the parking lot, there stood Gerben and the big blue Rapha Sprinter van. Gerben and the van would become a more welcome and symbolic sight as the day progressed. One down, two to go. We spent a fair amount of time enjoying the views as we readied for the descent.