Onlookers show their support from the sidelines at the 2018 Tour de Whatcom. // Photo by Oliver Hamlin
By the end of the 100-mile route of the 2018 Tour de Whatcom, Paula Morrison was already looking forward to next year. The cyclist from Harrison Hot Springs, British Columbia came alone to Bellingham on the morning of the ride and finished the race with a couple of new friends.
“I’m lucky I’m not crying now,” Morrison said with a laugh. She was worried about the distance of the ride at first, but she finished just under her six-hour goal.
The Tour de Whatcom is in its 13th year. It features routes of 22, 44 and 100 miles along with a 100-kilometer leg. Cyclists ride around Whatcom County with rest stops in Alger, Bellingham, Lynden, Birch Bay and Ferndale.
“It is a ride, not a race at all,” Event Coordinator Anna Rankin said. “With a race, you would have to have law enforcement,” she added.
The ride started and ended on Railroad Avenue in between Boundary Bay Brewery and the farmers market.
Rankin said around 30 percent of riders come from Canada and the two longest routes are the most popular. She said there are usually up to 250 riders for the 100-mile and 100-kilometer races.
Participants in the ride share the roads with vehicles and visit rest stops run by charities and organizations in the area. They ride on mostly rural roads with occasional tight turns and large sections with only cows as spectators.
Mindy McCutcheon works at Cirrus Cycle, a sponsor for the Bellingham rest stop. Rest stops were filled with smiling volunteers, a mechanic for quick repairs and snacks.
“The go to’s are usually water, electrolytes and bananas,” McCutcheon said. While she said she was happy to volunteer for the cycling community, McCutcheon admitted, “I’d rather be riding my bike.”
At the Birch Bay rest stop, the sound of children screaming from the playground mixed with the clicking and buzzing of bikes as they took off for the next leg.
Riders talked about past rides, their bikes and the status of others in their riding groups. On the road, cyclists rode in larger groups that occupied nearly an entire lane.
For riders like Morrison, riding with a group came easy.
“We started riding and ended up at the same speed,” she said.
Shortly after starting the race, Morrison linked up with other riders by riding in the same general area and talking.
Carlos Luna, a cyclist from Abbotsford, British Columbia rode with Morrison for most of the Tour de Whatcom. He noted how “Birch Bay was really pretty,” and added that he will “definitely do it next year.”
Morrison had the opportunity to learn a couple new cycling phrases during her ride.
“I know what rabbit means now,” Morrison said.
She explained how “rabbit” is refers to when a faster cyclist passes a slower one.
Morrison also said she was happy to be “pace lining for first time.” Pace lining happens when cyclists ride in tight, single-file lines to cut back on drag. The technique is useful when roads are congested with cars.
Riders received a pint glass and a beer token for Boundary Bay at the finish line. The beer garden was filled with brightly colored shirts and exhausted cyclists, while the bike parking lot in the street swelled with people.
“Do you want my beer chip?” Morrison asked Luna before they exchanged numbers and departed.