Painful Truth: Adventures of a dumb cyclist

Langley Advance reporter Matthew Claxton's weekly column.

I have an up and down relationship with cycling, and not just in the sense that I spend a lot of my time crawling up and speeding down the local hills.

For several years, after I first got into the pastime, I rode almost as often as I could. But then I tapered off. The less I rode, the harder it was to get myself to go on long rides, and the more my mid-section expanded.

I needed a goal. So after two years off, I signed up for the Prospera Valley GranFondo. I filled out of the form in January, so I’d have more than six months to train.

And I did ride a lot more. I’m in much better shape than I was last winter. But last weekend’s ride showed me that there’s a difference between preparation and enough preparation.

The GranFondo is a 163 kilometre course, starting and ending in Fort Langley, and with a loop that heads over the spine of Sumas Mountain and some nasty crawls up and down the lumpy slopes in the Glen Valley area.

I spent much of the spring heading out through the Fort and Glen Valley areas, flinging myself along the long straight stretches near the Fraser River, darting off to crawl up the steep slopes to the south.

But I didn’t go on very many long rides, rides longer than 80 kilometres. The week before the event, I headed out for a ride of more than 110 klicks, and I came back with rubbery legs and a backside that was screaming for me to buy a new bike saddle. But I finished. I was pretty sure I’d survive the GranFondo.

And survive it I did. But if I’d been better prepared, I might have actually enjoyed the last stretch of the ride.

Not that the entire ride was horrible. The first eighty kilometres, half the ride, were beautiful. We left in the cool of the early morning, just me and 1,499 fellow cyclists, riding south through Langley, then east along Zero Avenue into Abbotsford. I settled in behind groups of other riders, out of the wind, to conserve energy. No problem.

After about the halfway mark, I remembered that whole issue with the bike saddle. If you’d like to know what that felt like, locate your tail bone and start tapping yourself there with a mallet. Slowly increase the force over the course of an hour.

The heat was also increasing steadily. By the time I got to Sumas Mountain, temperatures were flirting with 30°C. I was terrified of the climb, so I didn’t look up. I forced myself to just look at the five or six feet of road ahead of me. Finish that stretch, I said. Then the next five feet. And the next. And in not too long, I was at the top.

I thought I’d conquered the worst. But it turned out that the long, flat, almost treeless trek through Fraser Valley farmland would be what almost did me in. I drank water more or less continuously. I paused several times in the shade to rest. I invented new swear words to mutter at the perpetual headwinds. I passed other riders who were laying on the side of the road, massaging cramped muscles.

I almost didn’t make it to the finish line. I got a bad cramp at 161 kilometers, within sight of Fort Langley. I waited until my calf unclenched, and staggered across the line.

So of course, I’m already planning on doing another big organized ride next year. Maybe this ride, maybe the Whistler GranFondo. After all, now I have the goal of doing the ride faster, of being in better shape, of doing more training through the spring.

And of buying a new bike saddle, and pretty quickly!

Read Bob Groeneveld’s Odd Thoughts online this week at


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