That’s not good enough for me – JP Arsenault

April 15, 2008

This a picture of my good friend J P Arsenault. It was taken back in 1987 when JP decided to ride Tip to Tip to raise money but also to change his life.

I have already described myself as a selfish person, but this time I had a motive. I think I would have tried this journey for myself, but Elva’s idea for a fund raiser added a new dimension. In fact, I have been training regularly since my 100 mile trip in July. The opportunity to raise money for a worthy cause is a bonus. Three weeks ago, I quit caffeine, leaving me with only two vices: sex and alcohol and I’ll be damned if I’ll surrender either.

To be 33 is to be too old to be young and too young to be old. People of our age are destined to raise families, pay mortgages, be good and little else. That’s not enough for me! I have a wonderful family, a good job and enough money, but I need more! I am becoming addicted to challenges and lost causes and I am beginning to understand the meaning of discipline.

Here is his account of his solo trip which he did in 9 HOURS!!!!!! Now he used the road which is very different from the trail but this is still amazing

“I did it!

I always knew my legs were good for something. Yesterday, (1987) I cycled from North Cape lighthouse to East Point lighthouse a distance, according to my bicycle odometer of 172.25 miles. I was on the bike for 9 hours 32 minutes 51 seconds for an average speed of 18.0 miles per hour. So far, we have over $2,500 in pledges for le Centre préscolaire Évangéline.

Elva and I got up at 4:30 yesterday morning and drove to North Cape, arriving at 5:50. My first task was to collect some seawater in a mason jar to carry to East Point. It was pitch dark. Next, I did a couple of muscle stretching exercises and took off, with Elva following in the van to light the way.

The air was dead calm and the temperature about 15C, with a bit of fog as I drove through Seacow Pond and Anglo. A few fishermen were already on the water, as evidenced by their lighted boats; others were about to leave from the tiny harbour at Seacow Pond. My most vivid memory of those first few miles is olfactory; the smell of foxes was overpowering! This mixed with the smell of Wilson Shea’s piggery, the odd whiff of cow manure and the occasional smell of the sea kept me awake and helped pass the time.

We drove through Tignish at about 6:25, after taking a short detour on a wrong turn. At Alma, it became light enough for me to read my speedometer. We arrived at Bloomfield R.C. Church at 7:25 and stopped for about 15 minutes. At that point, I was at 26 miles and was doing 18.4 mph. The next 24 miles to Day’s Corner were uneventful; I felt great at that point and enjoyed a smooth road for most of the way. I met Leonard MacDonald at Inverness and Herb Isherwood near Richmond.

I arrived at Day’s Corner at 8:55 after completing 50.5 miles. At this point, my average speed was 18.6 mph. Several people were there to meet me and it was very reassuring to see them: Alcide, Alvina, Théo, Claudette, Monique, Sally, Claudette Caissie, Mom, Maurice, Réjeanne, Yvonne, Aurella, Elaine, their children and others. I changed shoes and socks and ate an orange. I should have eaten more as I later learned. At this point, I felt very strong.

From Day’s Corner onward, Émile Gallant joined us, driving the Olde Barrel van containing our supplies. The wind normally picks up at 9:30, but yesterday it remained dead calm. Ulric Gallant and Léonce Arsenault (Franky) drove beside me for a bit at Central Bedeque. I arrived at Crapaud at about 10:55 and at that point was beginning to feel the fatigue building. I drank two cans of V 8 and tried to work out the pain in my neck and upper back, changed shoes and socks and was off again. Still no wind: 18.8 mph at this point.

At Victoria, Raymond Arsenault (La Voix Acadienne) caught up with us and snapped a few pictures. Next came the dreaded Bonshaw Hills. I was doing OK until I reached Cornwall and then I began to lose strength. It’s a helpless feeling; little things like rough pavement through North River made matters worse. Along North River Road, I couldn’t make more than 16 mph and ran two red lights because I didn’t have the strength to stop and start again. I arrived at the Prince Edward Home at 12:37.

At this point, I was slightly confused and disoriented. I must have been suffering from lack of sugar and/or minerals. My spirits were very low and I was very restless; no matter which way I positioned myself, I couldn’t relax. I ate two sandwiches and a cookie and had two glasses of Kool Aid. Joyce had come to meet us but I was hardly in a mood for company. My speedometer read 105 miles and average speed of 18.4 mph. I left at about 1:15.

Soon after leaving Charlottetown, the leg cramps began. Just as my body began to respond to the positive effect of the food, so my calf and upper leg muscles began to tighten. At Mount Mellick, I had to stop briefly to let Émile massage my leg (the right one was the worst). At this point, I doubted I could finish and thought about quitting. All I could think of was to take it one mile at a time.

Between Cherry Valley and Vernon River, we crossed a mile of road under construction. Surprisingly, I began to feel a bit better. We stopped at the R.C. Church for 15 minutes for a chocolate bar and leg massage, and from this point onward, things began to look up. We stopped at Poole’s Corner at about 2:55 and mile 131, with an average speed of 18.3 mph. With only 19 miles to go to mile 150 and 25 to Souris, I began to feel as if I could make it.

Before forgetting, I must relate the story of the black cat, although I am not superstitious. I came across a black cat at New Perth (just past Myers’ Machine Shop) who had run out of the woods and was about to jump out of the ditch ahead of me. I remember thinking: “I’ll be damned if I’ll let you get across ahead of me“, and I speeded up. At the sight of me, the cat turned around and disappeared once again into the ditch. It’s the little things you remember!

We headed up the Seven Mile Road at 3:10, and a light wind was blowing from the South. The leg cramps became less and less of a factor but were replaced by fatigue. At Albion Cross, we were met by Greg, Rose and family who followed us to Dingwell’s Mills. After a short stop, the obligatory massage and a second Oh Henry, I hit the road toward Souris. We were at mile 146 and 18.2 mph.

From Dingwell’s Mills to Souris, my one memory is of being very tired; by this time, my knees had begun to ache, particularly the right one, and I was looking forward to the end of my journey. At Fortune, I reached 150 miles. From there to Souris, I remember only two long hills at Rollo Bay and the beautiful view of Fortune Bay and Souris Harbour. The wind was stronger and was coming from my right. Rather than feeling pleasure at reaching Souris, I felt anxiety; the kind that comes from being hard to please. I wanted to make it to East Point.

Elva and Émile were stopped at the tourist bureau on the Souris side of the causeway and she biked to meet me as I arrived. I don’t think I’d have had the strength to climb the hill into town. We had reached 156.6 miles with an average speed of 18.2 mph. Instead of resting there before continuing, we decided to load the bike in the van and drive to East Point. I wanted to measure the distance, check out the hills and the wind direction. The twenty minute ride also gave me the opportunity to rest. We left Souris at 4:50 and arrived at East Point at 5:10.

At East Point, I crawled out of the van with my mason jar of North Cape seawater and poured it over the cliff, standing beside Elva and the dead end sign while Émile took our picture. Although I expressed doubt to them about being able to make the 16 miles back to Souris, I knew I had to try it, since never again would I come so close.

It was all I could do to mount the bike and when I did, my knees immediately started to ache. It was as if someone were sticking needles in under my kneecap. With 16 miles to go, I knew I had to take it one mile at a time. The first hill out of East Point was gentle, not too steep, and I kept to about 15 mph. After that, things got worse; there’s no level ground between East Point and Souris! I reached the top of my first hill at South Lake and wished it were the last. I had abandoned all thoughts of speed and was concentrating only on Souris and the end of the ride. Since pain and fatigue were getting worse, I was scared I wouldn’t be able to finish after coming so close.

There must be twenty hills between East Point and Souris and most are long and steep. As I remember them, the worst are at Bothwell and Black Pond. On each of these, I was in low gear and climbing at a speed of only 9 10 mph. They hurt far more than the hill from Bonshaw to Churchill. At Red Point, I knew I had it made! Just before this, at Bothwell, a man stopped and donated $6. It was to be our only donation along the way. Each time I passed the stopped van, Émile called out the distance to Souris.

The last two hills at Chepstow and Souris were relatively easy. The pain was forgotten and only the objective remained. My average speed read 18.0 mph, exactly as planned, so I enjoyed the last mile down Souris’ main street. At the tourist bureau, my speedometer read 172.25 miles and 18.0 mph. I was satisfied … relieved … happy! It was 6:17 p.m.

I have already described myself as a selfish person, but this time I had a motive. I think I would have tried this journey for myself, but Elva’s idea for a fund raiser added a new dimension. In fact, I have been training regularly since my 100 mile trip in July. The opportunity to raise money for a worthy cause is a bonus. Three weeks ago, I quit caffeine, leaving me with only two vices: sex and alcohol and I’ll be damned if I’ll surrender either.

To be 33 is to be too old to be young and too young to be old. People of our age are destined to raise families, pay mortgages, be good and little else. That’s not enough for me! I have a wonderful family, a good job and enough money, but I need more! I am becoming addicted to challenges and lost causes and I am beginning to understand the meaning of discipline.

Fate is wonderful when it favours you; otherwise, it’s known as bad luck. Today, I awoke with few aches and pains, other than my knees, and even they are noticeably better. I am thankful for calm weather, a reliable bike (Peugeot), a good pit crew (Elva & Émile) and good friends who made the effort worthwhile by contributing to a good cause. Through life’s ups and downs, this is definitely a high point!

Now I sit in my library, listening to Eddy Arsenault on the fiddle, as my children leaf through their scrapbooks. My stomach is full of good steak, Priorato de Muller and vegetables from our own garden. If a pig is happy in s___, then so am I!”


Rob’s Journey – Part 3 – Resurrection and Redemption

April 14, 2008

On the third day we found acceptance. Not only the acceptance of the others but also the acceptance of ourselves. So the skilled set a speed test for themselves and shot off averaging 28K an hour over 100 k.

Those of us at the other end realized that we could simply have a nice day and we did coming in hours later. It was all OK. Any way any one of us wanted to ride this was ok. I did not feel like doing 102 k and so I took the soft option and did only 55. The soft option was designed into the whole design!!!

Behind all the freedom of the design was very careful consideration for what would drive the optimal environment. We were a group but the space for each of us to do exactly what they felt best was there. Now in the safety of the mood of acceptance in the entire group it was safe to be who we really were. No one was going to criticize the fit for wanting to go fast. No one would criticize the weak for going at their own pace.

Everyone could be themselves. What a feeling! To be ourselves in the context of a community that accepted that. Hey I could even have a wiz by the side of the trail and have 5 women ride by cheering me on!

Campbell says it best: “The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are” That night we all stayed up even later. We had music, we danced! We drank. We told stories around a fire (actually 3 candles). We returned to a communion that all humans had lived in for 4 million years.

The next day – Redemption.  We awoke changed even more.

Today, our last, we decided innately, with no conversation, no vote and no debate that we would like to spend this precious day together.

So, as the pictures show you, we spent the day in community.

We dawdled. We chatted. We laughed. We looked around at the beauty of our landscape and wondered. All the veneer of polite society vanished. Much of the conversation was about our poor private parts. We reached out to each other. We cried. We knew that we had been part of something special. Now the shepherds were hardly needed, we all looked out for each other. Even the most injured, got on her bike for the last few k. She had to finish this in community.

We finally arrived at East Point in triumph.

Imagine feeling like that!!

What is it like? Part 1 – What was my experience as a middle aged unfit man

April 11, 2008

Some of you might wonder if you can do this? Are you fit enough to have fun? Could you have fun?

Here is part 1 of a 4 part piece I wrote after my own ride. It’s a parable like parts of the bible.

The Call & the Support of Angels
Until last year (2006), I had never really biked before. Not only had I no real experience of biking (not even as a child) but I was very unfit. When my doctor told me this winter that if I did not get into shape and lose 30 pounds, I might die young as my father had, I wondered what to do.

A dear friend who is at the centre of the biking community suggested that I set myself a big challenge and convinced me that I did this in the community of a great group, I might be able to pull it off. So I signed up in February for this bike ride. I knew nothing of the cause, other that I am familiar with Micro credit, but going into this with my friend was the key. She got me to go to spinning classes to get fit. She, who is an iron woman, spent many boring mornings spinning in my class for support. Her going along at the outset got my inertia broken.

At the spinning class, there was a group of women of my age. They and the instructor bathed me in support as I struggled to get fit. I saw that others as old as I had already made a big change. Their achievement gave me hope. They made me welcome and all helped me in their own way. There was never any sense of my being a “Loser”. As my confidence grew, my angel was able to drop out of this phase and leave me supported by the Spinning girls.

Now the need for good equipment. Again I was lost. What did I know. But my angel returned and introduced me to the owner of one of the better bike shops. I had a very different experience I think from the walk in punter. I was tagged as being related to a person who could not be short changed. I ended up with a beautiful a machine and with the confidence that I now was “Known’ and could continue to get support from the store on my own.

My spinning instructor is also part of a biking family who own the other main biking store. She set me up with all the clothing that I would need. My two angels had taken an outsider and made him an insider. I now wanted more.

Lesson 1 – How I found that real community works
I am sure that many of us have joined “Social networks” and been plagued with wannabe new “Friends”. You can see that my experience of joining a real community was very different. This was all about love and trust. My Angels were the doorways into a community of trust. They were already icons in their own community. They offered me true love – acceptance of who I am and that I had a mission that they could help with.

Their own iconic role in the bike community carried with it a message – they trusted me, so I was trusted immediately by the community. I did not have to spend a lifetime trying to make my way in. being trusted, I got the attention of the rest of the community such as the bike shops owner that an outsider would never get. I was special and it felt that way. He could trust me too. He left off an item on the bill. I showed that he had undercharged me . Trust was reinforced on both sides. Now when I go into the shop, I enter as a family member. Quite a different experience.

Nor was I a “Wannabe”. My motives for joining this community were selfish but about my true self. Was I going to have the guts to change how I lived my life was the deal. My angels and many other responded because they could see in me, their own struggle to be more real and more human. More complete.

So even before I got on the bus, I had found the community that I had longed for all my life. A group who accepted me up front as a frail man who was trying his best to do something difficult. I could be weak. I could be stupid. I could look like an idiot. They did not care. What they cared about was me. In seeing me, I could start to become me too and start to put away my pride and my shame of being me.

Real community, I am finding, is about allowing another to become themselves. The way is maybe a common cause. For you it may be sailing. But for me it was biking. But of course it was not about biking. It was about becoming human. What better motivation can you find that that?

The garden of gethsemane
Finally the big weekend. Ask me to speak on one day’s notice to 1,000 people – no problem. Ask me to write a 20,000 word report in 5 days – no problem. But the physical world is an unknown to me. I live in my head. So in the bus on the way up with 45 strangers except for my two angels, I was quite frightened. Was I going to be able to do this and what price would I have to pay in harm to my self esteem and maybe to my poor old middle aged body? The most I had ever ridden in a day this year was 40 k and we were set to do nearly 300! All but one other couple were experienced bikers. I was scared. They were going to laugh at me. I was going to get hurt. I was going to feel that the whole thing was a grind.

But I had made a public commitment. I had asked many of you to support me with money and you had come through for me. My family expected me to get through this. My two angels had given so much. And most importantly I felt that I owed this to myself. How would I live with myself if I did not do my best. After all, for me this was about my chance to break the habits of a lifetime that had been literally killing me.

So I set out on a cold and blustery Friday with a bunch of strangers. Into the unknown and into part of my life that I knew the least and feared the most.

Next -The Cross


April 10, 2008

Here are the Tippers at the end of Tip 2007 – The weather Gods did not smile on us. The irony is that the poor weather pulled the group together and made the achievement even more special.

There is a wonderful alchemy at play here. When I did the ride in 06, on day 1, I was focused on me. (I have since shot my knee and can only cheer) Could I really do this? God my bum hurt etc. But some time durring day 2, I began to notice the rest of the group. A bond begun as I spent time chatting with someone next to me. The ride can be very social. I started to notice the countryside.

On day three, it all clicked. We had of course also been partying hard at night. The group closed up and I felt part of something very special. Last year, when the weather was bad, there were a number of people who had made up their mind that no matter what happened they were not going to quit andf the whole party got behind them.

The last day is a short one and a bit of a parade – easy peasy – we all stay together and we know that we have done it. It’s a fantastic feeling. There are few things that I have done where I have felt so good about myself and the group that I was in – we all joke about “The Love” but it was there big time.