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Vancouver Island man marks 80th birthday by cycling up Mt. Washington

Roger Thomas has been making the ride around birthday time for years
Roger Thomas marks his 80th birthday with his annual ride up Mt. Washington. Photo supplied

To say Roger Thomas is marking his 80th birthday by going for a bike ride is a bit of an understatement. The route is 14 clicks, uphill, all the way to Mt. Washington.

The Comox Valley man spent years with the local cycle club, even serving as race director, as he’s still an avid cyclist. He’s been doing the birthday ride for several years, with a best time of about one hour and five minutes.

This year, he reached the top in one hour and 42 minutes, which he says was a little faster than his 2020 climb.

The road up to the lodge provides a challenge right from the start as riders face a big uphill battle almost immediately, with a 14 per cent grade.

“You right away hit a steep climb,” he says.

Thomas is quick to point out he doesn’t actually turn 80 until the last week of the month, but he did the ride on Sept. 2. A big reason is he never knows what kind of weather he’s going to get come September. A lot of it gets down to winds, which usually come from the south but have been blowing in from the northwest this year and can provide additional challenges. A lot of planning is required.

“It’s not only a physical exercise but a mental one too,” he says. “I just wanted to get every advantage.”

This time, the conditions seemed right early in the month, with low wind speeds, so the night of Sept. 1, he decided the next day was the day to head up the hill, starting at the chain-up area and working his way up the road, with wife Isabel traveling along the route to supply water or sports drinks when needed.

“She’s always been very supportive,” he says.

The event was a family affair in another way, as his son, Tristan, helped with the bike. Tristan runs a company called Wheelworks, which handcrafts bike wheels in New Zealand.

“He made my wheels,” he says.

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In Thomas’s racing days, he’d cover about 10,000 km a year. Now, he rides a few times a week, doing about 400 km a month, even working in some hills. He also did some heat training earlier in the summer to help him prepare.

“My wife says I never go out without racing,” he says. “Even though I’m getting on in years, I still go out and race against the clock.”

This year’s annual ascent could end up his last hill to climb — at least when it comes to the Mt. Washington ride for his birthday.

“This year will probably be my last,” he says.

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