Summer Fun: Mt Baker Climb

Despite the fact that technically my training and racing season is over, I joined a couple friends for an epic hill climb this past weekend to tackle a mountain: Mt Baker!

I’ve never actually been to Baker before, not even to ski, so thought it wouldn’t hurt/might be fun to see it on two wheels.  Besides, I wanted that picture of my bike in front of a wall of snow and ice that other people have on their Strava.

My friend Gregg invited me along on a ride he and some of his friends were doing.  An unofficial Kits Energy/Glotman Simpson (GS) joint ride, where everything was mostly fend for yourself.  I met Gregg at his house before 6:30 am on Saturday to pack the car and drive to Abbotsford.  The plan was to start cycling a block from the border, cycle across the border, to Baker, up Baker, down Baker, and back to Bob’s Burger and Grill for a beer and some much needed Best Energy and Electrolyte Replacement Therapy, before cycling back across the border and driving home.  Total ride distance: 147 km.

Me and the Kits Energy Boys

Cycling through the border was fun!  We had to go in and declare ourselves and then walk through to the other side.  Once there, we met up with the group and set out.  Pretty early on in the ride to Mt Baker there is a little popper of a hill: generally the pace line slows down a bit at the top of this hill and waits for everyone to join back on before continuing.  I got dropped off the back of the slowest paceline pretty early on.  A climber I am not (why was I going to climb this mountain on my bicycle again??), and since no one from GS knew who I was, I was on my own for the next 27 km. Luckily, all the solo riding I’ve done this year in preparation for my half Ironman at the end of June paid off, and my average speed was faster than the average speed of the paceline, so I ended up catching up to them about 3 km outside of Glacier, our first stop.  It was a long haul to get there.

A quick break, and a chance to refill water bottles and I set off again with my Kits Energy buddies.  Being the significantly better cyclists than me that they were, they took off like a shot and left me behind again.  I wasn’t upset with them.  There was no way I could have kept up and still made it through the rest of the ride.  This is a marathon, not a sprint, and I needed my energy and legs to get me to the top at my own pace.And besides, I thought, the GS paceline would catch up to me eventually and I would be able to hop on and alternate pulls with them until the base of the mountain.

Sidebar: a paceline is when a bunch of riders ride together in a line, at a certain pace.  We use the momentum of the person in front, the person who is pulling the line, to use less energy ourselves by being in the slipstream of the person directly in front of you.  This means you need to be within a foot of the person in front of you.  6 inches in better, 2 inches is pure trust.  The entire line can move about 30% faster than if you were alone.  Each person takes a turn to pull, and we rotate to the back of the line when our pull is over, to be pulled along by the others. Everyone sings out ‘Thanks for the pull!’ as you retreat to the back of the line, making you feel happy and accomplished and like you’ve added to the greater speed of the line as a whole.

The paceline never caught up to me.

22 kms of somewhat gently ascending roads later I reached the base of Baker.  It was time to begin the climb.  I thought it was only 13 km, and off I went, pedal stroke after pedal stroke, watching my elevation and the temperature rise.  Alpine temperature inversions in the summer are not something one generally thinks about.  I need to start thinking about them more often.

Andrea, Susin and Matthew did catch up with me at some point, and we had a nice chat.  It was lovely to be with company after nearly 70 km of solo riding.  We also sang a few songs, including “The Hills are Alive” . . . based on the backdop we were singing against, it seemed pretty apropos.  When we arrived at the meadow (which is above the ski hill parking lot), we refilled our water bottles, stretched our backs, and hopped back on our bikes for the final ascent.

The Hills are Alive

Artists Point is a mere 4.09 km from Heather Meadows.  On an average road, I could bike that distance in about 8-9 minutes.  It took me over 30.  They were the hardest 4 kilometres I’ve ever encountered.  Harder than sprinting, harder than swimming, harder than climbing Kilmanjaro, harder than a half ironman or a half marathon, harder even than the last 4 km of a half marathon at the end of a half ironman. The hardest.  Not to mention it was AS HOT AS THE SURFACE OF THE SUN by this point: 32.6C. I am not allowed to type the thoughts I was thinking on The Pulse, but you get the idea.

There was one lonely little tree that was offering a tiny bit of shade (it was about 12:30 pm) on the wrong side of the road.  I crossed the road, and managed to unclip from my bike and didn’t fall down the sheer, rocky, mountainside while I dismounted.  I did not cry. I wanted to, but at nearly 1500m elevation, air is a bit thinner.  Besides, I needed that oxygen to have a little chat with myself. I was about 1.5 km from the top at this point. I could do it. I just had to keep going. Back on the bike, just keep going.

Artists Point

MADE IT. Someone gave me a Coke. Gregg took my bike and I put my head in the snow, then rubbed snow all over my body and shoved it down my shirt.  I wanted to be cold. Surprisingly my legs held me up while I gulped the Coke and shoved a Cliff bar in my face. Took some pictures of the happy climbers and #sharkthebike and then started my descent before the others so I would have a hope of catching a paceline on the way back to Sumas.

Crazy Climbers

My plan worked! Met up at the maintenance shed with a GS group and helped to haul us back to town. Put in a couple good pulls, and almost forgot how not being in a line makes long rides 100x harder.  The 37 km back from Glacier were the hardest of the return trip. We were all tired and cranky and hungry and kind of loosing our minds by the last 10k . . . we’d been riding for over 6 hours, and needed more than protein bars and electrolyte drinks. Finally, we rolled into town. 6 hours and 38 minutes in the saddle.

Burger. Beer. Ice cream. SITTING IN A CHAIR. Home. Shower. More food. Sleep.

If you want a challenge that doesn’t involve swimming or running, this is it. I won’t do this ride again this year, or possibly even next year, but it was worth it, so I will head up there again one day. Next time, I’ll check the weather for an inversion, and make sure I have a paceline to help me both ways. This weekend, we’re going to top Cypress . . . there might be something wrong with me ;)

Baker climb elevation

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First race in the morning!

It’s nearly 10pm here in Budapest, my food and snacks are made and ready for tomorrow, my swim bag is packed, and I’m as ready as I’m going to get for my first international open water swim race tomorrow!

The schedule has changed and changed again. It might be postponed, it might be cancelled, the conditions will likely be horrible (huge gusting winds so strong they’ve actually already changed the course), but hopefully everything will work out in the end and we will get to swim!

It’s been a long, hard road to get to this point, but I’m finally here. Thanks so much to all my friends who have put up with me for the last year and helped me get here, either in the pool, on the run, or on the bike: I couldn’t have done it without your support and encouragement! 

-Michelle

ps: check out this sweet swimmer profile from Masters Swimming Canada! 🇨🇦

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Worlds in Budapest: getting settled 

The last few days have been a bit of a blur with packing, finishing up work, the joys of international travel (helpful hint: don’t fly Air Canada Rouge, unless you too consider a singular piece of loaf a ‘continental breakfast!), and the bumble of trying to figure out a new city while jet lagged no sleep deprived.

Once I got to Budapest and got settled into the apartment my teammates and I rented it was time for some food and a beverage. I stopped at the first restaurant I saw, and ordered something that had sour cream and pork, and chose dumplings as my side dish. It did not disappoint: 


Fortified by protein and carbs, and slightly tipsy from the beer, I made my way to the metro for the 6 stop journey to the pool to get my accreditation pass. I asked the lovely volunteers all the questions and walked out of there feeling like a rock star.


It started to pour with rain, accompanied by a huge thunder and lightening storm, so I eventually retreated to the apartment and tried to sleep for the night.

Monday morning it was STILL raining. My awesome coach had emailed me a different swim practice for every day that I’m here, so I got up, found breakfast in the cafe conveniently located steps away from my front door and headed to the practice pool. There were a few other swimmers in the pool, but the lanes were quiet overall and I made my way through my first structured taper swim feeling good and trying to get the arms and legs moving again after three days out of the water. 

At the Csaszar-Komjac training pool


I met a few other swimmers, including my new best friend Francois, a 70 year old from Cape Town who has been to the last 9 masters world championships, and has been living and training in Budapest for the last month to prepare. We started chatting and decided to head over to the Duna to take in some of the diving competition.

Francois showed me around Duna Arena like a tour guide: our passes give us pretty much full access to every area of every venue, and it was dreamlike just floating through the halls, changerooms, pooldecks and seating areas. Being in that arena is completely awe-inspiring. The pool looks less daunting than it did on tv: after all it’s just a pool, but the 8 stories of stands and the vastness of the uninterrupted indoor space are pretty incredible.

Duna Arena Pool A: the big pool!

THE pool!

First view of the pool… pretty incredible!

Duna Arena Pool B: I swam here yesterday!

Because why not??

Duna Arena Pool B: pro warm up pool, our competition pool

The diving was cool to see. I took a picture of the first male age 40-44 to compete because he was Canadian. Later that night at opening ceremonies he and his girlfriend sat down at my picnic table and we started chatting. I realized right away he was the person I’d seen earlier in the day and showed him his picture. Like me, he is new to his sport, encouraged by his girlfriend to come to worlds (she is a synchronized swimmer). He was overwhelmed by the picture and so pleased that someone captured his moment. He shared it to Facebook yesterday, and of course we’re now also best friends.


The Opening Ceremonies were…interesting. There was the usual suits welcoming everyone and a parade of flags held by the awesome volunteers. Then the ‘entertainment’ portion of the evening started: some kind of Hungarian glammed-up folk dancing (think Hungarian Riverdance) followed by some famous Gypsy old man string orchestra. Not everyone’s favourite but hey, I can say I was there!

Yesterday was back to the pool for my second taper swim. Another good practice, and a lane allll to myself, a bonus of being here a week before competition starts. Francois was there too and we headed over to Varosliget Lake to watch my friend Erin in her technical duet synchro routine. This is by far the best venue: two massive 50m temporary pools with a huge grandstand set up in the lake surrounding a castle: amazing.


Erin and Meghan did really well, it was awesome to see a friend competing in such an incredible venue. By early afternoon jet lag was rearing its ugly head. Francois and I wandered through Hero’s Square, the only part of Budapest I remember from my single day here ten years ago (!).  Hoping to see a bit more of the city in the coming days as my teammates arrive and jet lag subsides. For now, it’s off to the pools to watch more synchro and swim!

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#worldshereicome

Just over a year ago I committed to participating in the FINA World Masters Championships in Budapest, Hungary. If you have no idea what that sentence means don’t worry, about a year and half ago I didn’t either…we have a bit to catch up on.

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Rewind to summer 2015: My Tri-riffic Summer, where I swam, biked and ran my way to a whole new obsession over the course of three sprint triathlons. Three weeks in Vietnam to recover and eat everything in sight, and I was back to Vancouver and back to work for the next tri-season… and this meant swimming. For data/numbers/stats geeks like me, triathlon and the ever-popular training tracker Strava are the two best things since sliced bread. There are so many numbers, comparing so many things, and so many people and it’s just the best. The numbers, however, don’t lie. And the numbers were telling me I was a crappy swimmer. I was still volunteering at Yyoga, and chatting to all sorts of awesome triathletes on the regular, and one of them told me this: “take Masters 101 with English Bay Swim Club. I did and it’s what helped me survive the Ironman swim.” SOLD! I looked into it and sure enough, this course was on offer in a couple weeks time, they had space for me and at $60 for 6 weeks I couldn’t say no! The registrar at the time suggested I also come and try the club out… maybe I’d like to join? I took him up on that kind offer and swam my first ever swim club practice at the age of 31: and didn’t die. I should probably also mention that I was in the slowest lane, but I’m still friends with the people I met that night so I’m considering it a win.

I joined the club, took the course (learning that my breaststroke was so bad my coach actually guffawed on deck and begged me to stop so he could re-teach me) and just kept swimming. Within a few weeks I’d made some pretty great friends and by Christmas had moved up a lane and was entirely hooked. It was winter, I wasn’t running or biking but I could swim, and swim I did!  Valentine’s Day 2016: our club’s annual swim meet, Love to Swim. My lane mates had finally convinced me to try a swim meet and as my coach had taught me to dive 10 days before, I was all set! Kidding, I was so nervous I almost puked. But it was the Most. Fun. Day. Ever. I didn’t come dead last the entire time (I don’t think), didn’t drown, didn’t die (though I almost blacked out during one race), swam relays, did the club cheer and generally acted like a swimmer for the day. Afterwards we helped put the certificates together and then went out for burgers and beer. I liked this whole swim meet thing.

Follow that meet up with another couple of meets, the famous Mermaid suits (now in teal AND purple!), a provincial swim meet (where I took silver in my age group in my first-ever attempt at 200 breaststroke) and it was time to join VOWSA – the Vancouver Open Water Swimming Association. Other than the swim tests I’d had to do for my Divemaster, swimming in the ocean was really not a thing for me.  But as my 2016 summer goal was the Vanocouver 5i50 Olympic Distance Triathlon, complete with open water ocean swim in Coal Harbour, I needed to don my new wetsuit and get cracking.  The practices made a huge difference, and by the middle of the summer, I could comfortably swim the 1500m in the open water with or without a westuit.

Race day last year dawned the only sunny day in a couple weeks!  The water was freezing but manageable, and after a less than 32 min swim I was on the bike.  Three loops of Stanley Park, with plenty of encouragement from my swim family and I was on pace for a fantastic 10K to finish it all off.  It was the most prepared I’d ever felt for a race, and the most fun I’d had: every picture from that day is just me grinning ear to ear.  I exceeded my expectations and finished the tri in my dream time of 3 hours.

At the beginning of last summer’s ‘Fat August’ (the month you have to take off from training because you got shingles after your epic triathlon performance) I started hearing whispers of the World Championships.  Inspired by the awesome season and new friends, I committed to going to worlds in the spirit of the Masters philosophy of fun, fitness and friendship for life.  I didn’t know how fast the qualifying times would be, or that I would actually have to be super human to make them: I had a goal, I was going to worlds.

Training started in September, and since then I’ve hit the pool at least 3 times a week, every week, in preparation.  I’ve conquered some massive swims in the last year, including Bex’s Farewell 50 x 50m, The 12 Days of Christmas 7800m swim, Swim Camp, and Nicole’s Farewell 60 x 50m.  I’ve been to 8 swim meets and done two open water races in the last 10 months.  In July I swam 50 kilometers in total. Have I done absolutely everything possible I could have done to be the most competitive I could possibly be at worlds?  Heck no, I have a life! In late October the qualifying times were released and I did the math: I just wouldn’t officially qualify.  I was very, very upset, and worried that I wouldn’t be able to go, until I read the rules a few more times: “you must register with a qualifying time” WELL, I can do that!  So I kept biking, and running (both awful for ankle flexibility, which is necessary for swimming).  I went hiking when I should have been swimming, and hung out with friends, and made new friends and made sure to keep doing all the things I loved while swimming more and more.

After a year with EBSC I’d moved up three lanes, and in the last few months I’ve moved up another one.  Right in the middle of the pack, swimming my little heart out and trying not to be too hard on myself.  I am totally the person who can get a 6 second personal best time and then cry about it because it’s not what I wanted or thought I could achieve . . . Yeah, I know, I can’t stand my stupidity either sometimes.

I’m leaving for worlds in about 30 hours. My bag is packed, my suits and caps and goggles are all bought and ready to go.  If I have the races of my life I might make some of the qualifying times, but I’m pretty sure there are many others who are in the same boat as me: swimming with everything they’ve got while trying to savor every moment. One thing IS for sure though, I’m going to win at having the most fun  #worldshereicome!

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Frankfurt!

12 hours in Frankfurt is a long time in a city in the winter after zero sleep on an overnight flight. BUT in a mere two and a quarter more hours, I should be successfully installed on my last flight to South Africa.

Here’s what I did today:

8:30’ish: arrived in Frankfurt, asked the information people where the beds were that Mom and Dad told me about. Apparently they were in Germany, so through passport control I went

9:30’ish: learned that the beds are definitely in the quasi-world of pre-passport control airport land *sigh*

10:00: boarded the train into Frankfurt with my newest travel buddy Alina, from Romania (is any one really surprised that I found a new stranger to spend the day with? Yeah, me neither). 

‘abfahrt’ tee hee! I love German!

 

10:30: arrived at the Frankfurter Weihnachtsmarkt……

….11:01: ate this:

Bratwurst mit sauerkrautt and mustard!

 
11:05: wandered around, smelled the delicious smells, looked at the pretty sights, decided an hour or two of the day would not be wasted on a city tour!

11:30-12:30: city tour! Quite interesting, I’d forgotten how important Frankfurt was to Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Empire. This place is ooooooold.

  
12:30: freezing from sitting in the bus, and in desperate need of refreshment and rejuvenation, new travel buddy Alina and I joined some of the locals in one of the Glühwein huts for a drink(s!) and some Schnitzel 

 

did I mention that Germany has REAL MAYO!?!?!?

 
14:00: board the other city tour bus that our ticket also gave us access to, wait until 14:30 fighting ever-drooping eyelids for the tour to start

14:??: agree that the second bus tour is a worse version of the first, and ditch it for a train back to the airport.

16:00: Shower. SHOWER. At the airport. How have I never, in 7+ years and 32 countries of travel never experienced the wonder that is the airport shower?!?! For a mere €6, you get a little tube of shampoo/body wash, two glorious warm towels and an entire bathroom to yourself in the middle of Frankfurt’s airport. Bliss.

16:30’ish to present … Wander aimlessly, still looking for the mystical airport beds, and settle for a lawn chair-esque contraption.

Have the best little nap ever.

Write this blog post.

Still two hours until flight time…South Africa here I come!

  

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Green sky, pink dawn

I am back in Europe, in Frankfurt to be exact. It’s been 15 years since I’ve been here, and really, that time didn’t count, since I never left the airport. This time, however, will be a different story.
At some point over northern Canada last night, not able to sleep and wondering where we were, I looked out the window to be greeted by an expanse of arctic below and bright streaks of flashing green across from me. The northern lights were in full effect in the clear, starry night sky, the first time I’ve ever seen them from a plane! I watched the green dance and flare for about a half hour, until it faded into black again, and I tried to get some sleep.

I’m on my way to South Africa for a once in a lifetime family Christmas. With 12 hours to spare in this European city, I plan to eat a lot (nothing new there!), drink some mulled wine and generally explore the city. True to more recent travelling form, I have done absolutely zero research about Frankfurt, and intend to fly by the seat of my pants for the day. As Mom and Dad were just here last week, they’ve already scoped out the markets and tell me it’s a must – of course, I already knew that; it’s where the food is!

Currently I’m still winging my way to the city, and enjoying watching the sun rise over the patchwork of fields that is Germany. The little twinkly lights of the towns and villages in the countryside look quaint from way up here, and of course will only get more picturesque the closer we get. The tops of some buildings poke out through the early morning fog, and the sky is bright with pinks and oranges. 

Time to land, more to come!

  

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Ha Long Bay

After my morning in the Imperial Citadel in Hue, it was time to take our longest train journey of the trip up to Hanoi, and from there a bus to Ha Long Bay.  We started our epic travel day with one of my only Western-style meals of the entire trip: pizza.  Some for lunch, and the leftovers for dinner on the train, and we were off!

We arrived in Ha Long Bay to overcast skies, and were given the morning to rest after our long train trip.  Around the time we were meant to head down to the board, the temperature dropped, and wind picked up and the rain started POURING down.

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We huddled in a café for shelter and a coffee to wait out the storm.  Being a fairly seaworthy person, I was beyond upset at the possibility of not being able to actually get out on the boat and see the bay up close.  Luckily, after about 40 minutes the weather died down and blew over enough for us to start making our way to the boat.

The overcast skies hovered for the rest of the afternoon, and it rained on and off for the entire time we were on the boat, but at least we were able to get out to see the bay.  The boat put on a great seafood meal for us on the way out to the rock formations.

As soon as we got close enough to the formations to see them clearly, all thoughts of food and drink were forgotten.  I must have taken a couple hundred pictures of the amazing scenery.  Ha Long Bay is definitely worth the trip, but I would really, REALLY suggest making time to spend a few days here.  If you can get out on a boat for a few days and just relax and take in the scenery, it would definitely be worth the time and cost.  Make sure to check out the small gallery of pictures below!

The ‘town’ of Ha Long Bay is really nothing to write home about, however, I would definitely recommend sticking around long enough to have a few seafood meals!  We went to a very local restaurant on our one night in Ha Long and I was almost overwhelmed by the choices of what to order.  Basically, all the seafood was kept very humanely in buckets of flowing water and you just pointed at what you wanted, and then asked them to cook it to your liking.  The owners made suggestions and the prices were based on weight, all of which seemed reasonable.  It was hard to only have the clam soup and grilled prawns which I eventually settled on.

Ha Long Bay Gallery:

 

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