Photo assistance from Steve Gibson
To call Midland resident David Burke an avid bicycle rider is an understatement. Among his “credits” is the annual One Day Ride Across Michigan event -- a little jaunt of nearly 160 miles in one day, from Montague to Bay City,
He also has participated in the seven-day, 412-mile tour of Colorado known as the Ride of the Rockies.
But those were on his road bike. On paved roads. In April 2010 he bought his first mountain bike, hired a trainer, and in November participated in "La Ruta de Los Conquistadors"—a four-day, 240-mile ride over roads and trails, through jungles and coffee fields, across rivers and atop active volcanoes from Costa Rica’s Jaca on the Pacific coast to Limon on the Caribbean. It is considered one of the most difficult athletic events on the planet—accumulative climbing of 39,000 feet; gravel, hard-packed dirt, loose dirt, mud, sand, volcano ash surfaces; hot and humid weather to freezing cold.
At 7 p.m. Wedneday, June 1, Burke will share images and stories on his training, racing and recovering from that adventure during a “Nurturing Nature” program at the Green Point Environmental Learning Center, 3010 Maple in Saginaw.
“The biggest surprise was my fourth place finish in my age category,” says Burke, 55. “There were 14 competitors in the 50 plus age category and I placed fourth. My goal had been to get fit, learn how to ride a mountain bike and just plain finish La Ruta—25 percent (who enter) do not. To finish just off the podium was a very pleasant surprise.” There were 194 participants overall, he says, with only 146 completing the four stages. He placed 77th overall.
Burke, a native of Ottawa, Ont., moved to Midland in 2001 to work for Dow Chemical in its finance department. He retired from the company in 2009.
“I have always been an avid cyclist. When I lived and worked in Toronto I commuted to work there on a bike. I also took bike vacations with my wife. But when I moved to Michigan, I met an enthusiastic group of riders who encouraged me to pursue more biking activities, including charity rides starting in 2002 and eventually racing in 2004.” He is a member of the Tri-City Cyclists of Bay City, Saginaw and Midland.
Preparing for such an event was rigorous. "Training for La Ruta was a bear," says Burke. It included road biking, mountain biking and some running as well as two skills camps in Colorado Springs, Colo., and a four-day camp in Costa Rica to scout parts of the race course. “I trained on the bike up to 18 hours a week and sessions in yoga and pilates. However, with mountain biking comes injuries, so there were extended periods of time when I recovered and spent less than 6 hours a week training.”
So how did he even consider LaRuta in the first place? Newly retired, in November 2009, Burke participated in a Carmichael Training System camp in in Tucson, Ariz., run by former Tour de France racer Chris Carmichael. Then, in early 2010, he met up with Carmichael again at a skills camp in California. “He told me he would be forming a team to race La Ruta and encouraged me to apply, even though I did not even own a mountain bike. I saw it as an opportunity to learn new skills, improve fitness and travel.... exactly what I was interested in.”
Carmichael, by the way, finished third to Burke’s fourth.
“I will race La Ruta again, possibly in (November) 2012, the 20th edition of the race. The Transandes Challenge is my next big event—a six-day mountain bike race across Chile in January 2012.”
“Nurturing Nature” is sponsored by the Friends of the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge. Admission to the programs is free for members and $2 for others.