Hell Week

January 7, 2013

After the Eroica, my “Year of True Cycling” moved to Canada for a few events that collectively are called Hell Week. They embody everything I like about cycling.

Decades ago Mike Barry Sr (yes, the father of) started organizing a winter race for die-hard cyclists in Toronto. Randonneurs, semi-pro riders and other people with more guts than common sense would show up to ride 140km through gravel, mud, snow and ice. It was aptly named To Hell and Back.

Although nominally a race (then again, not really, to avoid insurance issues), I don’t believe first prize was ever much more than the entry fee. Showing up, experiencing the elements and if possible finishing the darn thing seemed to be more important than racing. You can read about my first experience with the race in 2000 here.

Mike has since stopped organizing the race due to a combination of insurance issues and retirement, but my friend Nigel Gray, whom I had convinced to come along that fateful day in 2000, decided to carry on the tradition. It is now a ride among friends, no entry fee, no organized support, only a starting time & place and a course map (we kept using the original Mike Barry maps for a few years, although nowadays it’s all on the Garmin of course).

Enthusiastic about the ride, another friend Lorne Cunliffe decided to scope out unpaved roads and trails around where he lives, which resulted in the Pancake Ride and Durham-Roubaix. Finally, Nigel created the City Loop, 95km of trails, paths and quiet residential streets that you would never expect to find inside a large city like Toronto.

Put together, they form the Hell Week. Most use cyclocross bikes for the rides, but obviously I used the OPEN mountain bike. I did switch the tires to cyclocross for a few of the rides (one more advantage of 29er wheels, the rims fit 28″ road and cross tires perfectly).

So how about you, are there events like this in your area? Do you participate in them or even organize one? Let me know in the comments section below!

Coming up next, a report and some video from Hell Week. You can subscribe here to get notified of that automatically.

16 Responses to “Hell Week”

  1. Patrick Says:

    It’s great to experience this vicariously, Gerard: thanks. It makes me wonder whether the romanticism of cycling that you describe in Canada (and which fits with what we can read about in the beautiful le-grimpeur.net) is more alive outside its traditional heartlands. I also wonder if the current revolution in cycling wasn’t caused to a significant degree by the brutal loss of innocence of many English-speaking riders (from Kimmage to Swart to David Millar) when reality clashed with that over-idealization.


    • Hm, interesting theory. Never thought about it that way. I see it more as an internal vs an external motivation to ride. Are you comparing yourself with others as the main motivation, or do you try to “be the best you can be” or any similar platitude? Of course any cycling event has a bit of the former, even cyclosportives or a Sunday ride with friends, but the type of events that I describe here are predominantly about beating the course, not others. You also see that at the breakfasts that we usually have at the finish, it’s all about “how about this section”, “how about that trail” and not about “that’s when I passed you”.

  2. Mark S. Says:

    Dear Gerard – As you work your way through the Year of True Cycling, I hope you’ll consider attending one of the wonderful Grasshopper Adventure Series in Sonoma County, CA. This is a series of five mixed-terrain unsanctioned races that attract between 100-300 riders on road, ‘cross, and mountain bikes. Although some very accomplished riders often attend, the vibe is low-key and supportive.

    The events have a helpful website at: http://www.grasshopperadventureseries.com/.

    All the best,

    Mark S.

  3. Alex Says:

    Gerard – Any chance there’s a link available to Nigel’s City Loop, like this one for the To Hell and Back route?

    http://connect.garmin.com/activity/248779814

  4. Touriste-Routier Says:

    Gerard, I am glad you were able to participate in L’Eroica; it is a fantastic event that must be experienced to fully understand it. Hell week sounds compelling.

    In the Mid-Atlantic, I organize a series of Spring Classic tributes:
    http://hellofhunterdon.com/ (March 30) and http://foolsclassic.com/ (April 6). We are also planning a L’Eroica style ride in Virginia for May/June.

  5. Togo K Says:

    Hi Gerard,

    Hope you are well? Sounds like fun! What temperature were you cycling in? If you are in Europe in early September why don’t you cycle with us from London to Paris on behalf of the Royal British Legion http://www.britishlegion.org.uk/support-us/poppybike/pedal-to-paris-2013.

    Nothing like riding up a closed Champs-Elysees and finishing at the AdT.

    Cheers,
    Togo

    ps When is OPEN going to organise its own Hell’s Week where we take on the elements?

  6. Anonymous Says:

    The spirit of l’Eroica is all over Italy
    http://www.bicidepoca.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=790&Itemid=1&mosmsg=Salvato+correttamente.
    We have a couple of bikes to fit the specs going together for future participation. These events remind us of why we first got involved in cycling back-in-the-day.


    • Yes, I got the flyer for this race at Eroica. It looks very appealing, of course it’s a difficult one to participate in for a foreigner because it is on so many different weekends. But definitely looks like an epic experience.

  7. Touriste-Routier Says:

    Gerard, I am glad you were able to participate in L’Eroica; it is a fantastic event that must be experienced to fully understand it. Hell week sounds compelling.

    In the Mid-Atlantic US, I organize a series of Spring Classic tributes:
    http://hellofhunterdon.com/ (March 30) and http://foolsclassic.com/ (April 6). We are also planning a L’Eroica style ride in Virginia for May/June.

  8. Tim Farrar Says:

    Hi Gerard, There is a series just like that in your own backyard in the spring. The Tour of Bronte , a road race on half paved, half gravel closed circuit, the Hell of the North ( a Mike Barry senior inspired route) and Paris to Ancaster. The first two are road bike/cx friendly, the last is ‘cross/mtb, but collectivly they are now known as “the King of the Spring” Your former Test Team employee, Roger Hammond rode the P2A last year, as have cyclo cross stars Jeremy Powers, Helen Wyman. Your “Open” sounds like the perfect machine for it.


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