There’s no easy way into stage 6 as riders, head straight up from Elkford to the rim of the Fording River Canyon and past Josephine Falls along some sweet singletrack. This is a long day in the saddle and the 1,000m vertical climb up rugged Grave Creek Canyon is gradual and unrelenting ride. From the top, the route drops steeply into Alexander Creek, but don’t get too excited by the descent – you’ll soon be climbing to the summit of Deadman’s Pass and crossing the Continental Divide into the province of Alberta. The finish rolls through some steep drainages across the face of Crowsnest Mountain and into the finish line.
Ken’s stage wrap-up
Stage 6 dawned, and neither Sheldon nor I were taking any chances… Both of us were wearing most of what we brought. Despite the low clouds, we tried to remain optimistic about the weather, and as it turned out, our optimism would be rewarded. Well, for a wee bit, anyway.
The low cloud and mist in Elkford would hold through the roll up the road and the sun would even treat us to brief appearances on the really fun series of singletrack up the first climb. What happened after can only be described as a descent into hell ;-)
As we worked our way down the wide, rutted downhill to CP1 we literally passed through a thick, almost murky wall of clouds. As we progressed through the cloud-bank you could feel the moisture seep into your gear. Dropping even further, the clouds decided that this was much too subtle an approach, opened wide and the downpour commenced.
Happily, both Sheldon and I were much better prepared than we had been all week, but sadly, that didn’t make the grunt through the sheets of rain any easier. By the time we hit CP1 and the sun started to shine I almost shed a tear I was so happy to see it.
The rest of the day unfolded much like many of the others as we picked our way through the course. We had been forewarned by many that there were three monstrous hike-a-bikes near the end of the stage so we were careful too keep a few ‘matches’ to burn when we hit those climbs. We were glad we did, as ‘the three bitches’ took their toll on the entire field.
With what we had left in the tank, Sheldon and I made our way to the finish, but Sheldon flatted almost the instant we hit the paved stretch into the finish (~1km to go). I managed to jump off the bike and get enough air into his tire to finish the stage, but I was glad it wasn’t anything more serious than that.
Sheldon’s stage wrap-up
This was the second longest day of the race at a whopping 101km. I had to shake my head at the distance because normally I would see 101km with 2,419 metres of climbing as a massive task on perfectly fresh legs, never mind after 5 wicked hard days. Yet, after a big breakfast (TR feeds you really, really well incidentally – lots of great hearty food) I got geared up to go out again. It was nice having our stuff inside overnight, but it was all still damp in the morning. The dark clouds overhead hung heavy and low. It had poured all night, but as we sat at the start line the rain was holding back. This gave both Ken and I hope that it might somehow be a dry day – fat chance though.
The day started out well. Ken and I put down an unusually fast pace off the start and found ourselves riding among teams we didn’t normally see. This felt good but it didn’t last, as this was a long, long day and around the 5 hour mark I faded and we settled back a little and found ourselves with some familiar faces again. Taking the pace back a bit wasn’t a bad thing though because Keith from Rocky Mountain Bikes had warned us of three major hike-a-bikes at the end. He wasn’t exaggerating either. These were shockingly steep and long climbs and with three right in a row it was punishingly hard, slow-going. I know I was on the verge of collapse by the time we got over them. Thankfully, it was a long super-fun rip on fire roads down from there into the town of Blairmore. Murphy’s Law though, I got a flat with about 1km to the finish. I run tubeless and had Stan’s in there so it didn’t go totally flat right away, but it was like rolling on a beanbag. We had two teams in our category not far behind us, one already in site, so Ken quickly threw his pack off and pumped it up just enough to get us across the line. Good times! We had to crank it to get in and hold our place. All considered, Stage 6 was the hardest stage of the race for us. 9 hours 29 mins we were out there, the longest day by far, and the body felt every minute of it. I don’t think there was a square inch on me that didn’t ache.
The final stage of 2009 rolls out of the historic coal mining community of Crowsnest Pass with a full menu of Rocky Mountain singletrack fun ahead. The advantage of a high elevation start is that the climb to the Continental Divide at Tent Mountain Pass is relatively gentle. Once back in BC the course rips through former coal-mining territory ending with a rewarding descent into Fernie via a speedway of famous singletrack. You will finish on Fernie’s historic Victoria Avenue to the cheers of thousands of fans.
Ken’s stage wrap-up
Waking up for stage 7, you could tell something was different. Something special. There was a buzz in the air, there was a small spring in tired racers legs. Despite the overnight rain, eyes gleamed and people were eager for the start line again.
The grey skies slowly pulled away after the peloton left Crowsnest Pass, and everybody was treated to what the Rockies can really offer. Granted it wasn’t all sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows, we still had a sincere 75km to pound through before rolling into glorious Fernie, but at least we had the warmth of the sun on our faces.
I’m not sure if it was the weather, or the energy in the racers, or the fact that the end was tantalizingly near, but stage 7 felt like a race again, and I found myself wanting to push the pace at every opportunity. My legs didn’t seem to tire as quickly and I seemed to rebound a little quicker each time… Why wasn’t I able to feel like this everyday? ;-)
We were treated to a really fun course and despite the obligatory quad-busting climb, everything was tight, rolling, and fast! By the time Sheldon and I hit the singletrack descent into Fernie we were primed – and I dare say that I attacked that descent like a fresh racer. Now, I’m certain that it was more like a fatigued, hollow shell of a fresh racer, but boy, it still felt good!
When my tires finally hit the pavement of main street Fernie, I could hardly believe it had been 7 days. All the struggles and triumphs of the days past came back to me, and I almost wanted to just turn the bike around and keep the adventure coming… Almost… Instead Sheldon and I hammered it home and concluded an adventure that had started over 1 year prior. It was truly something else.
I’m not sure if I can say that the Transrockies lived up to, or exceeded my expectations, mainly because I really didn’t have any going in. Going in I only really had two goals:
- To have a wicked-assed mountain bike adventure with my buddy
- To get a little insight into what I’m *really* made of on the bike
For those two goals this race delivered in spades. I think the conditions combined with the fact that this was our first stage race ensured that we experienced an adventure we will be hard pressed to replicate (but I’m sure we’ll try ;-).
I think I said it on Day 1, but I’ll say it again… Even in the face of rediculous conditions, the Transrockies is a well oiled machine. There wasn’t a single point in the whole race where I thought this was anything less than a world class event. The host locations were all beautiful and hospitable, all of them going out of their way to ensure that we were happy and comfortable. The volunteers were on a level unto themselves… They were oftentimes sitting at checkpoints for hours on end, they pumped us up when we were down and cheers us on when we were up.
Looking back I think Sheldon and I had a perfect gig… We had the support of the race crew and a ton of awesome volunteers while we were on the bike, and the support of our gorgeous wives when we returned… If I had to come back to camp and share a tent with Sheldon I’m not sure I could have done it ;-) Ladies, I love you both, though I will admit to slight favoritism for my wife ;-)
Smart, you left it all out there man, and did it (mostly) with a grin on your face… I don’t think I could have asked for a better partner.
Thanks everybody, it was an adventure I’ll will not soon forget.
Sheldon’s stage wrap-up
After laying in my tent listening to it pour outside again, I rolled out of bed and headed for breakfast. Scrambled eggs, sausage, pancakes, oatmeal, some trail-mix and Kicking Horse coffee brought me back to life. Thinking back, I can’t say there was a hugely noticeable step up in the level of excitement that morning. You’d think there would be, but it seemed more like a sense of relaxed relief. I think most racers felt like Ken and I did in that it was suddenly the last day and there was nothing in the world that could have stopped us from finishing that race – after what we’d been through, with only 74.8km to go, we’d made it.
As we rolled out of town, again Ken and I took a higher than normal pace. We could sense the end was near and wanted to get to Fernie. This time though we were somehow able to sustain it. All day we rolled on, feeling good. It didn’t really rain that much which was nice and we fell in with a group of faster riders that we could keep up with for the most part. It was a surreal day for me. I wanted it to be over so badly, but at the same time, I didn’t want it to end and kept telling myself, ‘This is it. This is the end. Remember this. It’s almost over.” It was very bitter sweet for sure.
Despite the day only having 1,293 metres of climbing, it was still a slog to get over it and like all things that go up, we were rewarded with some of the best high-speed down-hilling of the race. It helped that it wasn’t raining or that cold so we could actually let it rip and enjoy it. Bombing down fire roads at 60km/h Woo Hoo! This led us into a last gasp grind before we were dropped into the famous Fernie singletrack trails. This was hand-cramping, heart pounding, hang on by the skin of your teeth serious fun! I’d love to go back. As the trees cleared at the bottom, Fernie came into view and I have to say this was an emotional moment. Relief swelled through me as I caught up to Ken and we started the ride through the town. When the finish line came into view it was a seriously beautiful sight! In the excitement we both stood out of our saddles and hammered down the home stretch and glided across the line in 5 hours 53 mins as Transrockies Finishers!!!!
Big hats off the TR and the town of Fernie for the party they put on at the finish. I was taken aback when I saw the set up, the number of people, the tents, the beer gardens. It was just awesome to ride into that kind of welcome. It was more than I’d expected and it really finished the race off on a high note for everyone. It was really fantastic! I have to say thank you to Mitch and Laura for coming down and cheering us in, and a huge thanks to my bro Darryl and my dad for following us through the week – it really meant a lot to have you guys there. Most of all though thank you to our wives, who supported Ken and I all week and put up with everything that week threw at us weather wise. I can’t tell you how important it was to have you two there – thank so, so much!
Last but not least, of course, Ken Hurd, my teammate extraordinaire! What can I say… I couldn’t have imagined a better teammate. We rode all 7 stages, never missed a cut off and had blast. You got me through, brother. You have lungs like sails of a ship, and the legs of a Clydesdale my friend, haha… Thank you Ken! That was 7 days I’ll never want to forget; I’d ride it all again in a second if I had you to ride it with.