This was to be my biggest cycling event in over a month. I felt relative calm as we lined up, but I used what nervousness I did feel to sharpen my senses and increase the blood pumping to my soon-to-be-taxed muscles. My preparation for the start had rewarded me with one of the two coveted positions at the front of the pack, giving me a boost in confidence. I adjusted my grip on the handlebars, poised for the start.
Over the PA system: "Pickering station stop". The doors opened, and we were off!
I relinquished the hole-shot as I fumbled while pulling the bike onto the platform. Then I lost another to an aggressive move at the door to the tunnel under the tracks by an unknown commuter. Damn! I knew my position on the train - that nearest the station exit - placed me among the most well-travelled veteran commuters, but I hadn't expected such fierce competition!
The same two savvy office-workers kept the lead, blocking attempts to pass in the double-track through the tunnel, but at the other end, I was able to shoulder the bike smoothly and take the steps two at a time to keep in contention. They kept their position ahead of me to take the coveted first and second places into the parking lot, but I was happy with third, knowing that soon it would be mine time to shine.
I pitied all those others with no bicycle, having to use their inefficient stride, as brisk as it may be, to reach their cars. The icy wind tore at us as we spilled into the car park. Momentarily I was taken aback by the others outside - where had they come from? Reverse-commuters perhaps? But quickly I refocused my attention to the task at hand. Once off the curb, I remounted and accelerated across the bitumen expanse, wind in my hair.
I had barely made it to the other side as the discordant symphony of starter motors began and dozens of engines roared to life. After another dismount for more stairs, I bounded up this minor obstacle and remounted once I gained Liverpool Road. There was no time to waste for they would soon be upon me, and I crested the 401 overpass quickly, the twelve-lanes below roaring with highway-speed traffic.
Quickly I became engulfed in automobile traffic. Only four traffic lights stood between me and the relative refuge of suburban side streets. Fate smiled upon me on this day, and the lights' synchronized timing gave me an uninterrupted passage, and soon I reached the residential area. But my aerobic efforts were beginning to take their toll, and sweat began to soak the cotton of my button-down. I pressed on.
Soon the last test was upon me: Heartbreak Hill. It's vertical presence loomed above me as I arrived at it's base. The pitch is such that it's ten metres in elevation gain can feel like twelve, but I was strong on this occasion, and big-ringed up and through the one switchback. There was no holding back now; I powered along the false flat at the top and through the park, surging toward the finish.
And finally, it was over.
I granted myself 100 metres of my home street to revel in the accomplishment and spin out my legs, ravaged from the three kilometres of exertion. Neighbourhood cats silently cheered their adoration from vantage points in upstairs windows. I stabled my steed for another day. A can of sardines waited in my cupboard, to reward me for a job well done.