Just don't turn up the heat

by Chris Meyers Almey
Northern News Services

NNSL (Mar 05/97) - Don't fret about Rob Thom when you see him pedalling his mountain bike in -40 C. He's working up one heck of a sweat.

Actually, Thom says it used to be a lot worse at his southern home on the prairies, where it was often -30 C with a strong wind blowing.

"I find winters here to be more conducive to riding," he says.

Thom says the roads in Manitoba are atrocious compared with the NWT, scarred with ice ruts and too much traffic.

What really bothers Thom is when the heat reverses the readings.

Like the last two days before he came here from Winnipeg in the summer of 1995, pedalling 600 kilometres in Saskatchewan in a 41-degree blast furnace.

"The last 120 kilometres was a battle against a gale-force head wind in driving rain," Thom recalls.

"That 41 degrees was the absolute worst ever, physically, mentally and emotionally.... It was brutal ... Dad and a friend practically had to carry me on the plane" for the trip to Yellowknife.

The co-ordinator for the Transportation Department's traffic safety program is no stranger to long hauls, having survived the demanding Paris-Brest-Paris 1,200-kilometre road tour in 1995.

The 3,000 riders in that race had 90 hours to complete the ride, with Thom managing at a quick pace of 74 hours, 52 minutes.

"I don't know my precise ranking but it would be right around the thousand mark," he says.

Thom, 38, got serious about cycling in 1978, using a bike as a regular means of transportation while working and earning his masters degree in civil engineering.

"In 1980 I did the first century -- that's 100 miles in a day. That is the hallmark of what is considered a serious cyclist ... I did it in nine hours and 40 minutes , which for a first century is pretty good."

Now Thom does that anywhere between seven to eight hours at a stretch, depending upon conditions.

The fastest he ever clocked a century was five hours and 40 minutes in 1994 just outside Winnipeg, riding with a pack of 40 racers, who all took turns wind-jamming.

Thom regularly knocks off 40- to 50-kilometre trips and basically finds riding here uneventful, "but a great way to get around and enjoy the natural surroundings and the solitude of the North ... it's not so uncomfortable or so much of an ordeal as people think it is."