Whilst I would profess to be more of an aesthete than an athlete I may now
have to change my mind. Many times during and after the TransRockies
Challenge in August this year the 160 competitors were referred to as ‘the
best mountain bikers from North America and Europe’ and ‘top mountain biking
athletes from around the world’. Well I have to confess some of them were,
but not the six of us who travelled from England and Scotland to make
up two mixed teams and one men’s team. Don’t get me wrong we’re not exactly
novices, competent Sunday riders all, and four of us had completed the
TransAlp event the year before, but to describe us as athletes was pushing
Training before the event was sporadic on my behalf to say the least, I cycle to work every day and was part of a team for the Red Bull as well as completing the Kona 100. But apart from that a few Sunday rides and a lame attempt at Turbo training (4 half hour sessions in 2 months!) was about all
I managed. The others were stronger, having more commitment and more time helped. My TransAlp partner from last year decided he was much fitter this year and wanted
to enter the TransRockies with a male friend but I ended up lucky because Andy’s partner had a
knee problem and Andy was happy to join me in the mixed team.
We flew to Calgary three days before the race. I’d like to say my bike flew with me but it only made it to Denver. The next day we transferred to Fernie by the ever efficient TransRockies crew and in the company of Hedda, a female Olympic athlete: Just as I began to worry what I’d taken on my bike turned up! Sh*t.
The race was starting in Fernie and ending up in Canmore 7 days and 618k later, taking in an altitude of 9,200m. At registration we were given the race profile book and our kit bag for everything we would need for the next week, luckily these are ferried from place to place by the organisers. As we met other riders and some old friends from the previous year’s TransAlp, the excitement and trepidation mounted.
The first day’s racing started at 12.00 with a big send off in bright
sunshine from the people of Fernie. We were to arrive in Blairmore by
8pm having completed 94.83k, traversed two mountains and forded many river
crossings. This was the day we first heard from Ward Cameron, course planner
and local mountain guide, he briefed us on the route each day to warn us in
advance of potential hazards, the major one of which seemed to be bears!
Image (c) TransRockies
The first day was tough, some big climbs, mainly on gravel roads, to high
passes and some fast descents through wooded trails. This is when it became apparent that the altitude calculations we were given didn’t take into
account the many undulations along the trail.
There were some sticky situations with some parts of the trail littered with their loggers’ debris which even monster trucks have trouble crossing. At one point there was a truck the
size of small house stuck, wheels spinning, in a deep, muddy log-filled pool. It finally made it out only to chug along behind me as I climbed
the next hill. Well I wasn’t going to jeopardise the climb by pulling over! This first day we staked out our competition, reeling in a few people to pass in the last 20k in that all-important bid not to come last!
At camp that night we were unfortunate to experience the cold showers syndrome: the earlier you finish the better your chances of a hot shower. As for the tents, they were already set up in neat
rows ready for us to dive into them after our pasta dinner and the awards
Andy with the seismic line stretching ahead
Day two dawned, literally, we all rose at 6am to get breakfast (cereal and
bagels) before the 8am start. It was freezing and had been -3 overnight. Today we faced a less daunting 83.63k, but this was the day we met the seismic lines. Seismic lines are blasted straight up mountains by surveyors and there is no way you can ride them so hiking, pushing or carrying the bike is the only
Still, the sun came out and as steep as the trails are up the
mountains, so they are down, so you’re rewarded with some great fast descents. We
crossed the continental divide twice that day and the views from the two passes
were spectacular giving us a full panoramic view of the other mountains we
were to encounter.
The camp that night, in Dutch Creek amongst the trees, had open-air showers with a beautiful view of the valley and mountains, no time for modesty here!
Day three was another 95k day, over three mountains with a seismic line so
unbelievable you almost lost the will to live. Ant-like specks in the
distance pushed up the mountain as we hurtled down the descent to join them. This seismic line came complete with false summits too. Was there anything else they could throw at us? Well yes, a broken chain! All mended, we carried on having to
make up hald and hour on our nearest rivals through a woodchip-floored track
descending through the woods which you could really make some time up on as
it looked such a soft landing. Despite our best efforts we arrived too late at Etherington Creek
campsite for the showers though; no water left. By now Andy and I were
experiencing oozing saddle sores so a trip to the first aid van was in order to get some cream which would hopefully keep them under control.
The next day the weather had turned, it rained and was freezing cold. This was the shortest day at 61k, three early mountains then a long descent into Sandy McNabb.
Everyone anticipated an early arrival at the campsite but it wasn’t to be, mainly because of the deep, sticky mud. While we English riders ploughed on through, being used to the adverse conditions, many were really suffering. The river crossings soaked you through and the rain just kept falling: Hypothermia was a serious possiblity and one rider was
airlifted off the mountain by helicopter with a serious bout of shivering.
Then there were the alder bushes, tough bushes about 4 feet high with the
strongest branches you’ve ever come across. Over 100 riders had passed
through the Alder bush-ridden singletrack in front of us but there were no signs
of any damage and it didn’t stop them lashing arms and legs like deadly triffids and in my case pulling me off to lie there,
bike on top of me, wondering whether to just surrender and die! Well I got up and carried on to arrive at the campsite just as the sun
began to shine and a double rainbow appeared. It had turned out to be another 9-hour day and now the
bikes needed a wash. I now fully appreciate disc brakes – no
stopping to unclog those v-brakes today!
Image (c) TransRockies
Day five was the longest distance day with 118k and the highest altitude gain
of 1,918m. The weather was still unpredictable, torrential rain then
The big climb of the day came after about 70k just after a hip-deep, very wide river crossing. At this point the rain was so torrential and
it was so cold that riders were huddled in the vans at the checkpoints
desperately trying to get warm.
Minutes before Andy and I started the big climb we were pulled off the course by a race official who feared people
would get lost up there in the mist, at this point
even the front riders hadn’t emerged from the top of the mountain and the officials were getting
worried. So instead of the big climb we now had a 35km road ride over undulating terrain to the finish in Bragg Creek. We rode this but many people just pulled out and got lifts
in the vans.
That day we finished 12th overall and felt like
complete charlatans doing it!
Fortunately everyone survived the day but the race times where somewhat
skewed because of the varying courses people had completed. At night we
were in a lovely warm gym equipped with gym mats which made for a very
comfortable night’s sleep despite the fire alarm that rang incessantly for 2
hours until the local police came to disable it. I was so tired I barely
Day six and the rumour at 6am was that it was snowing. Well confirmation of
this came on the way to breakfast with a snowman out front and a good 6
inches of snow covering the ground and our bikes. Sh*t, we had 88k
to do in
this. It was a lovely day though and as we set off the sun was just coming out. We started with a fast ride on the road then fantastic singletrack
through pine forest which was totally covered in snow, we’re talking Christams cards here. People were sliding about all over the place and getting hit by
massive snow balls melting from the pine trees but it was great riding and
made for one of the fastest days of the race.
We ended up on a gravel road cycling past a stunning glacial green lake – mist rising from the snow-capped mountains which by now were surrounding us for the finish at the
Kananaskis Mountain Lodge, home a few years ago of the G7 summit.
This place was plush; bathrobes, hot showers, giant TV and really comfy
beds. We even had tablecloths and wine with dinner which was great. Unfortunately this fooled me into thinking the race was now over and getting up for the last day proved difficult!
The final day at just 75k was starting at 9am to finish at 3. The course was intended to go over a pass but the permit for this was withheld by the Canadian authorities because the race would have to enter a national park. So we ended up with a 40km road race at the start along the Transcanadian
Highway – the most traffic we’d seen all week. This along with the head wind
made for a horrible start but the leaders set off at a frighteningly fast
The next trail followed the road through a forest and was technical
singletrack some of which would rival Northshore stuff! Miles and miles on
undulating trails following electricity pylons brought us to Canmore and the
Nordic centre where we completed the race with a loop of the Olympic
World Cup downhill course. Just what you need after 7 days riding, really
technical stuff fortunately interspersed with some lovely sweeping descents.
Happy finishers Andy and Julie
of spectators and happy faces of the riders who’d finished. We felt great and we weren’t last by any means! The
fastest team had completed the race in 31hr 37 minutes overall, with us
managing a much slower 56hr 45 minutes.
There were lots of congratulations all round,
photos of new friends, then off to the hotel to get ready for the finishers’
party and that all-important finishers t-shirt, only
given to people who compete and finish every day. 34 teams had dropped out
along the way and unfortunately they were not to get a shirt.
This is one race I would have to recommend to any mountain biker who doesn’t
mind the hardship and the endless hiking with the bike. It’s unavoidable on a course like this because to traverse these distances any
other way would probably take weeks.
Get a good partner, Andy was great,
really supportive and encouraging when things got really tough. He also made
sure I ate plenty, believe me it’s hard trying to get yet another energy bar
down sometimes but without them you’d be in serious trouble.
Make sure you’re well equipped for any weather and mechanical trouble: There are
people to fix the bikes up at the end of every race but when you’re on the
trail it’s up to you. Most of all, go with the stamina to enjoy it, it’s
probably the equivalent of a Kona 100 every day for seven days, and whilst I
didn’t do a lot of pre-race training I knew I had the stamina in reserve.
The TransRockies couldn’t have had any better organisation, these people
know what they’re doing and do it brilliantly, catering to your every need.
Go on do it, the terrain is beautiful!
For more info go to www.transrockies.de.