"You get used to it," everyone says.
No you don't. It sucks.
It's in Cranbrook, British Columbia, surrounded by deep white-water river valleys, incredibly sheer rock faces, dense northern forests, cool alpine meadows, and a sawtooth range of snow-capped mountains stretching forever.
I show Mrs. Bucket Rider an eye-candy picture of the ride hotel, the St. Eugene Resort. It's stunning. That's all it takes. "Let's go!" she says with a big smile.
"Canada is the 2nd best country in the world," She says reading from her phone.
"What is Texas ranked?"
"It's not a country."
"Anyway, Canada also has great national health care, in case you crash."
"Bet they have great dentists too...with all that hockey."
"You know nothing John Woodson," Which she says all too often.
"You might be right, but I'm certain their musicians are great - Neil Young, k.d. lang..."
"Ok. Not all of them."
"This is interesting; the Wonderbra is a Canadian invention."
"I'm going to love Canada," I say with a grin.
Our first Canadian stop is at Tim Hortons for coffee. In front of us an extra-high maintenance 'Merican is ordering an extra-hot, extra-shot, extra-whip, venti, skim, sugar-free, caramel macchiato fancy coffee. The polite clerk is overly apologetic since they only sell regular coffee with cream or sugar. No foffee here. So with my cultural education diploma in hand, I order two Double Double coffees and a half dozen Timbits, while also apologizing for my fellow countryman's behavior. The clerk smiles and says "Are you sure you're not Canadian?"
With rider check-in located at the casino, I brace myself to run through a gauntlet of drunk gamblers, not-quite-so-hot hookers and thick cigarette smoke, just like in the US. Oh what a pleasant surprise. The casino is peaceful, quiet and smokeless - the kind you actually want to visit.
Packet pick-up is festive with smiling volunteers making it run smoothly for the 400 registered riders. This event is all about community. Volunteers started it, run it, ride it and embrace it whole heartedly with all proceeds staying in local charities, including Rails 2 Trails and a spring Kids Gran Fondo.
In Kimberley we ride down The Platzl, a Bavarian themed city centre with brick streets, boutique shops, Canada's largest cuckoo clock and unique restaurants, including the KOM sponsor Pedal & Tap.
Wedged between the Kootenay River and the Kootenay Mountains towering 2000m above us we then turn into a stiff 30kmh crosswind. In what is the envy of every Saturday morning group ride leader, our pack seamlessly and smoothly slides into an echelon paceline, the hardest, most dangerous and most enjoyable paceline to ride. Without surging, touching wheels, opening gaps or yelling we slice into the wind, just inside our comfort zones, working hard together but not struggling. It doesn't often happen like this, but when it does it's truly an awesome experience.
Soon we cross the KOM timing strip, shift into competitive mode and begin the 2-kilometre 8% race. Eric drives the pace, with Mike and I glued to his wheel. Unfortunately, my glue isn't very strong and I quickly come unglued. Halfway up Mike tires and I catch him, but Eric is still a few seconds in front. With 500m to go I somehow jump across to Eric, take a quick rest and surge past him in the final metres. "You saved something for the KOM," Eric says. I just smile.
With competitive juices flowing, a nice gap and now only 10-kilometres to St. Eugene, Eric and I push hard on the pedals to stay away. We roll under the finish banner in 4:09 with Mike, Hugo and Brent arriving shortly. At the post-ride lunch with live music, BBQ, pasta, baked potatoes with all the fixin's, dessert and beer we chat, commiserate and congratulate one another. It's a fun way to end a wonderful ride.
John is a former faux pro racer enjoying life as a geriatric cyclist in search of great bucket list rides to keep him in shape and out of trouble - well, at least in shape.
He writes about his Bucket Rides in all their variety and glory for Granfondo.com. See his other pieces here