Meet our Members: Bianca Hayes
January 25, 2022
HUB members are passionate individuals and organizations who are committed to making cycling in Metro Vancouver safer and more accessible to everyone.
This month we caught up with HUB Lifetime Member Bianca Hayes on her amazing feat to be the fastest woman to cycle across Canada, her attempt to do it all again this summer and clinch the Guiness world title and what she likes (and dislikes) about cycling in Metro Vancouver when she's not busy chasing records!
Q: Where you always into biking or did you rediscover it as a tool to bring attention to the Ovarian Cancer?
Funnily enough, before I did the ride to conquer cancer in 2018 I hadn’t been on a bike since middle school! Finishing first that ride then cycling to San Francisco it was like a door had been opened and I saw a path where, if I continued to train and tackle challenges I could use my platform to raise money and awareness for Ovarian Cancer.
Q: Tell us a bit about your 2020 trip - your ride from Vancouver to Halifax in just 19 days. (Where did you start and end? Did you get any sleep? What was the longest stretch?)
The Guinness rules are for the start and endpoints to be Vancouver City Hall and Halifax City Hall, it was pretty cool to take off from the center of the city at 4 am and have the streets to myself as I was leaving town.
Sleep was in short supply during the trip, my support was a two-man skeleton crew and we were losing too much time during food and hydration refills, this really cut into sleeping time. I think the maximum sleep I got each night was only three hours, which, when you’re cycling all day just isn’t enough! I hallucinated and had a couple of scares where I caught myself falling asleep while riding. My longest stretch was my last day and a half where all I took were a few short 10 minute micro-naps, quickly closing my eyes before riding again, that push was 628 km and 27 hours on the bike, the end was so close and I just knew I had to keep pushing forward.
Q: Your 2020 ride in support of ovarian cancer research has made you the fastest women to cross Canada by bike. Having experienced more of this country by bike than most people, what were the biggest frustrations in terms of infrastructure that you faced?
I definitely missed the Lower Mainland! The highway outside of Kamloops on the first day was my first big scare, my lights had died and it was pitch black, I was going downhill and at the last second saw a giant pothole, I was able to slightly get out of the way but blew a tire and had to finish before my set ending point since I couldn’t see the road. That was only the beginning though; Saskatchewan highway shoulders were covered in sand and I had zero traction, trying to follow an alternate route in Calgary to get away from construction ended up leading me onto a gravel path! I think the sudden change from paved to gravel routes was the biggest frustration, any gravel areas just increased my chances of a flat and slowed me down, the detours cost me dearly and added on a ton of time.
Q: Was there any part of the country that you were particularly impressed with in terms of the way they accommodate safe biking?
I was blown away by the cycling infrastructure around Quebec, from the easy signs and navigation to little bike pump stations with tools set up along the way it was by far the best in those regards - although I’m still bitter about all the surprise gravel I encountered in areas where there weren’t clear bike lanes or shoulders so cyclists could stay safely separate from traffic.
Q: What part of your ride were the most scenic?
New Brunswick and Saskatchewan, both completely different in terms of the terrain but equally beautiful. New Brunswick was gorgeous - rolling hills and scenic water views, huge highway shoulders also made for safe and easy cycling. Saskatchewan was pretty because of the huge sky, it was neverending and I couldn’t get over looking around and seeing the gorgeous sky above my head.
Q: Besides lack of sleep/physical exhaustion, what was your biggest challenge in terms of your 2020 bike ride?
I had serious nerve damage from the compression in my palms, this lead to the muscles in my hands atrophying and being too weak to push my gears. By the time I was in Manitoba they were so weak I was reaching across the handlebars to pull the gears inwards so I could shift. The absolute worst was Northern Ontario though, I have never experienced bugs like that before! I was swarmed from the second I stepped out of the RV and it was maddening to hear them buzzing around my face, trying to enter my ears and nose.
Q: Clearly your campaigns have inspired a number of people and I'm sure created connections that you otherwise would never have formed. At HUB, we really feel that bikes are a very disarming way to travel and have a way of bringing communities and people together.
What kind of connections have you formed with people on your bike that you wouldn't have been able to sitting behind the wheel of a car?
I have met some of my favourite people through cycling! Up until this past fall I was a solo cyclist, going out alone on rides. I found a local cycling group in September, The Last Drop, and they have quickly become amazing friends and are so supportive of my wild ideas.
Even though I was mostly a solo rider before there are a few people who really made an impact on me early on. Rick Parsons who was the team leader for our A&W RTCC team has been so supportive through the years, after the first RTCC ride I was hooked! The second is a local photographer who I was connected with through the BC Cancer Foundation, David Tam, he brought me out on my first group ride up Cypress Mountain and didn’t even flinch when I mentioned my dream of setting the record riding across Canada (all of this may be his fault!). To bring it full circle though, David and his wife, Justina will be the film and photography team for my ride next year.
Q: We all know about the physical benefits of riding a bike, but how have you found biking to help your emotional well being especially given the trauma you went through loosing your sister to Ovarian cancer and your own health struggles that you document in your blog?
In the span of three years I lost my sister and was hospitalized and diagnosed with Crohns and Rheumatic Arthritis. It was all completely insane to me and really made me question why all of these horrible things kept happening. Cycling was an amazing outlet, I could head out for hours at a time and just think about things, being alone with my thoughts and pushing myself out of my comfort zone was incredibly rewarding. I spent quite a bit of time following my diagnosis just thinking about what I couldn’t do, especially when my arthritis first flared up I was completely unable to dress myself or really do anything without help. It was devastating to feel so helpless that I couldn’t do so many basic things. Remembering how difficult those times have been are the motivation to do these big rides, I don’t have any inspiring mantras I use but when I think of a crazy challenge all I can think about now is “why not?” I’ve found that I generally can’t find many reasons to NOT do things anymore, cycling has made me braver and helped me change how I thought about myself and what I am capable of.
Q: Now a bit closer to home, what are you favorite rides in Metro Vancouver - both for leisure and training?
I love the MEC century loop around Abbotsford, it’s a perfect training route for me because I can work on so many different skills, speeding through the flats and a couple of climbs.
Richmond loops and the triple crown will always be special for me though. I know it isn’t most local rider’s idea of fun to do the triple crown but it was such a great thing to accomplish and look at afterwards! Richmond loops are just great because they’re so popular with other cyclists so even when you’re riding alone you’re still passing groups and other people out enjoying the same thing.
Q: What part of Metro Vancouver is your least favorite to ride in in terms of unsafe biking infrastructure?
Unfortunately around where I live! Burnaby/New West are nightmares to get around, weird navigation and a couple of really unsafe “bike routes” that I hope get updated soon!
Q: You are a strong (understatement!) advocate for Ovarian Cancer research. What message would you like our members to go away with in terms of educating themselves on this type of cancer?
Ovarian Cancer is the most deadly women’s cancer and there is no screening test.
If you have a family history of breast cancer your risk for Ovarian Cancer is increased significantly. You can get tested if you have significant family history to see if you carry the brca gene which can tell you your lifetime risk of developing breast or Ovarian Cancer.
The symptoms are incredibly vague: bloating, lower back pain, changes in bowel routines and urination, pain during sex. It’s the persistence of those symptoms that is the warning sign and where friends and partners can really play a significant role, two weeks or more of these symptoms and you have to go to a doctor.
Women are friends, mothers, partners, and caregivers who so often put the needs of those around them above themselves, because of how vague the symptoms are they are easy to dismiss - this is where our friends and partners can help - if one of these symptoms are mentioned, mark the date. Still there in two weeks? Go to see a doctor. Hopefully, it is nothing, but Ovarian Cancer is incredibly aggressive and early treatment could save your life.
Want to join HUB as a lifetime member for just $10? HUB Cycling members support better more connected biking throughout Metro Vancouver for all ages and abilities.
Bianca's 2022 ride is supported by 7mesh