Over the Hill: The Port Alberni hump will be the Tour de Rock riders’ biggest challenge

Tour de Rock, Port Alberni, cycling

The darkened area on the map

By Erin Haluschak

Former Tour de Rock rider Phil Hochu has not only a new perspective, but a new appreciation of the Port Alberni hump.

Hochu, a corporal with the military police at 19 Wing Comox who participated in the 2010 Tour de Rock ride, recalled one of the most difficult parts of the route across Vancouver Island — heading west.

“We did a lot of preparation for the race; hill nights every Tuesday in Nanaimo, sprint and chase Thursdays in Coombs and long distance Sundays from the Comox Valley to Campbell River and back. There are a lot of difficult spots all over the Island, but one of the hardest was the Port Alberni hump and Hydro Hill (towards Tofino) was short but super steep,” explained Hochu.

“We always went up (the hills) at our own pace, and going as fast as our slowest rider,” he added.

Hochu added in addition to the major challenge of the elevation change heading west, the weather added another twist to the hills.

“Heading from Port Alberni to Ucluelet, we were the first team to be actually taken off the road because the rain and wind became too much to handle. There was so much water everywhere that our brakes actually stopped working,” he noted.

Following a Tour de Rock tradition, the group of riders jumped into Kennedy Lake for a quick swim.

“We were completely soaked (from the rain), so it didn’t matter at that point. We wanted to keep the tradition going.”

Despite the challenge of riding uphill, Hochu said coasting back down upon return to the east side of the Island provided some of the more enjoyable, relaxing moments of the ride.

“We had a fun time coming off the hump. (The riders) would space ourselves coming out of Port Alberni and we coasted down. It was a good time, because we could relax a bit to balance the other times that would be intense.”

Hochu explained Mount Washington in the Comox Valley provided an excellent location for additional hill training, and also prepared him for some of the sights he would end up seeing along the trek.

“There was a bear as we were going up the mountain, and we saw a million deer along the way,” he said, and added despite his knowledge of Island landscape, viewing the topography by bike allowed him to appreciate the scenery from a different perspective.

“Driving the Island by car is nothing compared to doing it by cycling. You’re able to look around and see the wilderness,” he said.

Another set of major hills was coming out of Woss into Sayward, explained Hochu, although he said cycling into the small towns on the north part of the Island provided him with some of his favourite memories.

“When the Tour rolls into the towns, they make you feel like a rock star. At the events, it seems like half the town shows up. There’s such an essence of community in those places,” he added.

Heading south, Hochu admitted the Malahat was not quite as difficult of a challenge as he had expected.

“Of course it’s hard, but we were pretty strong as a team; the training definitely helped,” he said.

Hochu explained the hardest part about the Malahat stretch was not the actual ride itself, but a meet-and-greet event in Mill Bay just prior to the climb.

“I was talking to a woman, just about five minutes before we were supposed to take off. She introduced us to her 16-day-old daughter who was born with cancer. That just gave us all a shot of intensity and inspiration to push on.

“There are always moments of soreness, and everyone complains from time to time, but then you meet a kid or talk to someone — especially at Camp Goodtimes — and you just all put it into perspective,” he said.

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