Up until very recently I had never participated in a Gran Fondo. *
But this past weekend, we made our way to the little town Saulnierville for Nova Scotia’s second annual Gran Fondo Baie Sainte-Marie.
The previous year’s race had brought in around 400 riders. Apparently, the word got out about the incredible community spirit and all those original riders told a friend or two about the Acadian-flag-waving citizens, the clapping, the cheering and incredible volunteer participation (they had 110 volunteers this year and there was a waiting list of other ready-to-roll citizens wanting to help).
Which is why this year’s event had almost 900 registered riders. I too did my part to increase those numbers. After I found out about the race this past June, I had myself and Kevin signed up, along with friends, Mary Ediger and Dave and Vi Nick.
But first, I should clarify something.
It is a bit of a misnomer for me to suggest I rode the Gran Fondo. There were really three rides happening at once…the piccolo (35 km), the medio (67 km) and the actual gran (117 km). So, considering I was in the piccolo (Dave was the only one of our group to do the medio), my ride wasn’t so much a BIG ride, as KIND-OF-A-BIGGISH ride.
However, it felt pretty gran to me and, having never gone for a bike ride with hundreds of people, it seemed like 35 kms would be quite enough.
It was a good hunch but for an unforeseen reason.
Last year’s ride had been a warm and lovely day. But this year’s race wasn’t just bigger in numbers. It was bigger and wilder in a much more significant way…the wind.
The Bay of Fundy hugs the shore of the area and we all know that when you get whitecaps on the big ol’ Atlantic waters, that you probably have a pretty stiff gale going on. So, when almost 900 people are huddled behind the walls of the buildings before the race and the ocean waters look like a big frosted cake, you can rest assured that the wind is stiff.
I wore a long-sleeved Merino as my base layer, then my new Gran Fondo cycling jersey. On top of that I piled another Merino wool hoodie. The top layer was my Gore-tex jacket zipped and Velcroed as tightly as possible. I wore Kevin’s golfing rain pants over my cycling shorts and, under my helmet, a bandana wrapped around my ears.
The recorded temperature hovered around 10 degrees Celsius but it was those North-NorthWest winds of 30 km/h that gusted up to 45 km/h that were the real issue.
We headed directly into that bone-blasting wind. By the time we had finished pedalling that shoreline and turned inland into the hills, the gusts were more of a side-smack than a frontal assault. This was a mercy because those hills weren’t exactly minor.
But everywhere we looked, locals (some wrapped in blankets or sleeping bags) lined the road or stood in their living room windows, waving Acadian flags, clanging cowbells and shouting encouragement in French and English. They’d advertised the ride as fun and safe and it was definitely both. At one point I dropped my chain, and before I was even off my bike, a cop on a motorcycle was checking to see if I was alright.
Given my kickstand, handlebar bag and pannier, it was obvious that I wasn’t there to break any records, but I wasn’t alone in my attitude. For most of the riders, this was more of a fun ride than a race. I saw one older guy riding in bulky blue jean overalls and some people rode past me in socks and sandals.
But the most inspiring rider was a woman who appeared to have had a stroke. She was on a recumbent trike, one foot tied to the pedal, the other one doing most of the work. She had one arm that was barely moving and yet she completed the piccolo not much after Mary, Vi and me.
The last part of the ride was back along the same shore where we’d started and directly back into that gale wind that was determined to twirl us all backwards. But one by one we pushed across that finish line with numb knees and pumping hearts and grins that stayed on our faces, long after our cheeks had thawed.
Whether it was the donated lobster, donated time, donated swag and even donated housing (a local citizen gave us his lakeside home for the night before and after the race – thanks again Delbert!)…
Everywhere we turned, someone else had given something to help create this community event.
For those of you who have been following this blog, you know that Kevin and I have spent these last months traveling across Canada, thinking about whether we should relocate, wondering about what factors create a good community and what it is that makes somewhere a great place to live.
It seems to me that the good people of the Baie Sainte-Marie area have figured it out…
Get together for a common purpose, encourage and support each other to do well, donate love and time, laugh a lot, and always remember to throw in a good feed of lobster.
*<The first ‘Big Ride’ or “Grand Tour’ was held in Italy on July 12th, 1970. As chip technology became more prevalent in the 90s, the rides became more popular. You can now find them all around the world, including Nova Scotia where their first Gran Fondo was held last year on the ‘French Shore’>.