Before the Dawn
My alarm is set for 6 am, but I turn it off before then. As I shuffle into the kitchen of the “pop bottle house” in Meteghan, Nova Scotia to make coffee, I am already thinking about the day to come. More than a thousand cyclists will converge on the 2019 edition of the Gran Fondo Baie Sainte Marie, ready to ride bikes, be festive, and make memories. Since I am riding in the 120km event, my start time is 8:45, so I have a few hours to go. After a quick coffee, I load my bike onto my car’s roof rack and set out. It’s still dark, but the stars are shining brightly in the sky. It is going to be a beautiful day.
But first, breakfast!
My first stop is not the event. With a rumbling stomach I head to the Clare Golf and Country Club where a hearty breakfast is being served to cyclists until 8 am. I am there shortly before 7, and the parking lot is already nearly full. The smell of coffee greets me as I walk in, and the sound of laughter and excited conversation gets louder as I go upstairs. Cheerful volunteers load mountains of food onto my plate, and as I eat I listen to the conversations unfolding around me. I hear French and English, to be sure, but also a smattering of foreign languages like German, too. This truly is an international event.
Gearing up for the Gran Fondo Baie Sainte Marie
After a delicious breakfast and several cups of great Sissiboo coffee, I make my way to the staging area and the start of the Gran Fondo. There are hundreds of people there ahead of me getting bikes prepped, numbers attached to jerseys, and water bottles filled. It’s a festival atmosphere! Music is playing over a PA system, announcers are talking about the day to come, and the sun is shining. Soon, everyone is ready to go and as the start time approaches people begin moving towards the inflatable arch that is the start of the ride. My event splits into two groups – advanced and beginner, and I queue up for the former.
And we’re off!
5!.. 4!.. 3!.. 2!.. 1!… Go! And we’re off! The adrenaline and excitement coupled with the cheering fans lining the sides of the road, many waving Acadian flags and yelling encouragement, makes the first part of the ride fly by. Soon we turn right and begin riding into the backcountry. Rolling hills, brilliant sunshine, and friendly smiles from other riders make the day perfect. The wind has picked up, and the faster riders have started working together to keep up the pace. At regular intervals we pull off into roadside rest stations, full of happy volunteers who offer everything from energy drinks and bananas to dulse and salt cod bits. Yes, you read that right!
As the day progresses and I approach Mavillette beach, the scenery changes one more time. With the Bay of Fundy crashing against the shore to my left, I make my way through the last rest stop and prepare for the epic 30 kilometers remaining. With the switch in direction, I now have a tailwind, and the wind has picked up even more, so it’s time to put my head down and charge back to the finish line! As I race back to the finish, I meet oncoming riders who are still riding out to the beach turnaround. I yell encouragement at them and tell them that they are almost in the home stretch. A half hour later and far too many ‘thumbs up’ to count, I pass back under the arch at the start/finish and hear my name called out over the PA. The very second I unclip from my petals someone is putting a medal around my neck and asking me if I want something cold to drink. Other riders are milling around the finish, and we talk about the ride, share memories about our favorite parts, and make promises to keep in touch. Plans for next year are already taking shape.
My final stop of the day is the banquet. I’ve been thinking about this meal for the last few hours, and it completely surpasses my expectations. With lobster, pulled pork, and vegetarian options it’s hard to decide what I like best and I make a mental note to switch up my meal choice each year until I’ve tried everything.
Why the Gran Fondo Baie Sainte Marie is so awesome
A week since the event, I’ve had some time to think about what made it so special. I’ve ridden in other Gran Fondos and have been a competitive cyclist for nearly thirty years. The Baie Sainte Marie Gran Fondo is special, though. Yes, it has beautiful scenery, great roads, and excellent organization. What makes it truly fantastic, though, are the fans and the volunteers. It’s impossible to not get swept up in their enthusiasm and their desire to share their proud Acadian heritage. I’ve been a visitor in many different places but here in Clare I felt at home. There’s an Acadian verb, rayonner, which can mean “radiate”, or “shine”, or even “spread the word”. For me, it’s definitely all of those things. I’ll be back!
For more info or to view photo albums from the event, visit https://www.granfondobaiesaintemarie.ca/en/about/photos.