Features & Images » Travel

Travel Story

Ottawa cyclist crosses country on DH bike

by

comment

Determined McGinn goes 4,600 km with full downhill tires

If he really thought about it, Ken McGinn doesn’t know if he would have ever attempted to pedal from his home in Ottawa to Whistler on his Intense M1 downhill bike.

"I’ve always been more a doer than a dreamer," said McGinn. "In a way I’ve wanted to do this for a long time, but I didn’t really know I was doing it until a few weeks before."

If you don’t know bikes, McGinn’s full rig weighed in at over 45 pounds, with eight inches of travel and a 2.5 inch downhill tire in the back, seven-plus inches of travel and a 3.0 inch tire up front. He deactivated the chain guide, but rode the entire way using his size 36 chainring.

He also added a little weight to the frame, mounting a home-made pannier on the rear seat post. As well, he kept his air shifting system, ("the third sold in Canada," boasts McGinn) despite the fact that it added weight and hassle if he ran out of air between gas stations. Add his gear and food to the mix – about 100 pounds in the pannier and on his back – and you get the idea that McGinn made it as hard as possible for himself.

"I have an 18 pound carbon fibre road bike at home, everyone wanted to know why I didn’t take that instead, but that wasn’t what this is about. I wanted it to be a challenge, and to do something that nobody has ever done before," said McGinn.

"Back when I started mountain biking, in about 1980, we used to ride up the mountain and then ride down. Now everybody is taking the lift to the top, which is great fun, but it’s getting away from what biking is all about and that’s getting from A to B, enjoying the scenery, getting some exercise, giving the environment a break."

As a skin cancer survivor – the last mole tested came back negative – McGinn looks up to Lance Armstrong. On his trip he tried to raise awareness of skin cancer everywhere he went, while soliciting donations for Armstrong’s foundation.

He doesn’t know how much was donated in the end, but hopes he got the message across in more than a dozen media interviews across Canada – get any suspect moles checked by your doctor, and take care of your health.

"When I was first diagnosed about 10 years ago I didn’t know what to do. The doctor told me to stay indoors, wear hats, wear sleeves, and that was the complete opposite of who I was – I’m a surf bum, a bike bum and a ski bum," said McGinn.

"I did what he said at first, I was pretty freaked out, and after that it was just a waiting game to see what would happen next. I went back outside and did all the things I normally do. I’ve been eating well and riding my bike, and taking care of myself. About six months ago I went to the doctor with another couple of moles that worried me, and it was pretty tense for a couple of days there. I was so relieved that the tests came back negative. To me, that’s positive thinking and trying to live a healthy lifestyle."

McGinn has always been a little different. He’s lived in a few different places over the years, including Mammoth for five years and Whistler for the summer of 1993 – he came for a mountain bike race and didn’t leave for months. Now that he’s back, after 54 days of riding, he’s hoping to stick around for a little while if he can find a job and somewhere to live.

"It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, physically and mentally. When I first started out I could stand up and pedal for maybe a minute before I had to sit, but by the end I could stand for an hour if I had to," he said. "That’s like doing squats for an hour. Actually, it’s even worse than that."

McGinn’s timing was definitely poor. He left Ottawa in one of the coldest and wettest springs in years, and things only got worse as he crossed the country. By the time he hit Alberta, parts of the province were flooding from record rainfalls. Arriving in Whistler wasn’t much better after weeks of cold and wet weather.

"It really tested me, the wet and the cold. By the end of some days I’d be close to hypothermia and might have had some real problems. But people are amazing. I’d go somewhere to eat and someone would buy me a coffee and dinner, and breakfast for the next day," said McGinn. "If you ever need to restore your faith in people, I would recommend doing something like this."

Despite the weather, McGinn really enjoyed his ride. "I smiled every day," he said.

He didn’t stop smiling until he hit Whistler on Wednesday, June 29, and realized that he still had a long way to go to get settled here. The constant rain and grey skies didn’t help either.

Still, no matter what the weather, McGinn says he knew the end would be a letdown.

"It’s chemical. You’ve heard of runner’s high, when you get the release of endorphins? Well I had that every day for 54 days. When you stop, you go through withdrawal," he said.

The trip was not without its difficulties. Outside of Thunder Bay he snapped off the top of his seat tube with the weight of his gear. Rather than turn back he found a welder to reinforce the tube and improve the way he mounted his gear.

In Alberta he got an infection in his hand, but couldn’t afford antibiotics – until a clinic gave him a deal on some samples.

Riding in the wet also caused a rash, and another doctor gave him some medicinal cream.

On the final stretch, between Lillooet and Mount Currie, he ran out of water and was forced to boil his water in a soda can. He went off the road on the same section when he hit a rut on the shoulder, which was the only time he was glad to be riding a downhill bike. "That could have been bad for me," he said.

"Putting it together it’s just a million little stories from the road, but all of them had a happy ending because of the people you meet along the way," he said.