When Chris Wille cycled through South America last year he was bitten by a dog, suffered an allergic response to a prescription drug and endured a gastrointestinal bug.
But there was no way the 55-year-old Saanichite was getting off his bike for any of the 13,300-kilometre South American Epic.
It ran last year from July 13 to Dec. 15, starting in Cartagena, Colombia, and finishing in Ushuaia, Argentina (the world’s southernmost city).
The tour, which has a race element to it, was the sixth for Wille, who’s made continental crossings on all but Antartica.
His efforts earned him entry into a small group of Super Alumni with TDA Global Cycling tour company, which organizes the SAE, and with which he’s biked 52,914 of the 60,414 kilometres it’s taken him to do “a lap around the world.” Wille finished first in the SAE race and, more importantly, accomplished his “EFI,” because the tour isn’t the same if you don’t complete it by riding “every f’ing inch,” he says.
“Wille would amaze me when we got to camp,” said Grant Prenevost, 52, and one of the seven to ride EFI in the inaugural 2015 SAE. “After cycling all morning and afternoon, he’d see a ridge he wanted to climb and he’d head off to do that.”
Prenevost is also from Saanich though the two only met at the starting line in Cartagena. They ended up spending a lot of the trip together as Prenevost was the second finisher of the SAE’s 40 cyclists.
For Wille, the former head of a local auto repair shop (think Wille auto family), the adventure started with the Tour d’Afrique in 2008. But the bug really kicked in at 50, he said.
He’d already done triathlons, which progressed from the sprint distance to Olympic to half Ironman, then to full Ironman distances. The same happened for cycling.
“I decided I wanted to cycle around the world, one continent at a time, and to run a marathon on each of the world’s seven continents.”
By reaching Ushuaia, Wille reached his cycling goal. Since then he ran the Rio de Janeiro marathon and has just one more marathon, in New Zealand, to complete his other goal and join the “seven continents club.” That includes a marathon on Antarctica. Willie has just left his home in Royal Oak for Global Cycling’s Trans Europa ride from St. Petersburg (Russia) to Lisbon (Portugal), 6,355 km through 13 countries.
Prenevost, meanwhile, is already onto his next cycling adventure, TDA Global Cycling’s 12,000km Silk Route tour from Beijing to Istanbul, May 15 to Oct. 5.
Prenevost, like Wille, worked hard to get his EFI during the SAE, and will likely have to battle through something else on the Silk Route.
Wille pointed out that each country and continent has its challenges. Drivers, for example, will run you off the road in Africa, he said.
“In Colombia, they’re pretty considerate, but in Boliva and Peru, there were certain roads where the tour bus drivers could easily drive around but would skirt awful close, reminiscent of Africa. South America was a lot less carnage compared to Africa, where bodies were crashing into things, and you had to be on the ball,” Wille said.
On the SAE, Prenevost suffered pulmonary oedema (fluid in the lungs) at the high altitudes, which slowed him down. Wille was one of two riders to be bitten by a dog. When it happened, he was bandaged at lunch and rode into town to get some shots. (The other dog bite victim actually wiped out, smashed his elbow, and had surgery to get pins put in.) Wille also rode with a gastrointestinal complication and an allergic reaction to Diamox (Acetazolamide), a diuretic used to manage altitude sickness.
Part of the challenge was spending three weeks riding at an altitude of three kilometres. They were in Cuzco when Prenevost suffered the oedema.
“I was lucky I was able to go to a clinic right away, got a shot, an aggressive antibiotic, and the doctor told me to take it easy for two weeks (sure I did). You suffered to get that EFI,” Prenevost said.
The injuries never came as a surprise to Wille.
“I’m so incredibly lucky to have cycled coast to coast, or north-south across six of the world’s seven continents,” Wille said. “As for the marathons, I’ve been super lucky to have run the incredible Kilimanjaro Marathon in Africa, Antarctica, the Great Wall marathon in China, and the Tuscany Eco-Marathon in Italy.
The SAE is believed to be the longest bike race in the world, tip to tip.
Wille’s wife Linda flew down to visit Machu Pichu and jumped on her bike for the final two stages of the SAE (the Willes cycled across Canada in 2013 and Australia in 2014). Linda’s 2008 diagnosis of breast cancer and survival is part of the drive for both Willes. Despite a nasty crash on a super steep gravel road, hurting her ribs, Linda rolled on.
“I am very fortunate to have a second chance at living life to its fullest after undergoing treatment,” Linda said.