CANA­DIAN EN­DURO EPIC

Mountain Biking UK - - CONTENTS - Noah Wet­zel, Pho­tos: Dane Cronin, Words: Ed Thomsett See­beck Peter Wo­j­nar and Ri­ley

Our Fea­tures Edi­tor, Ed, heads to Canada to take on the most test­ing ride of his life –the Trans BC six-day en­duro

CUR FEA­TURES EDI­TORS ED TAKES ON CANADA'S EPIC SIX-DAY STAGE RACE, THE TRANS BC EN­DURO

The idea of multi-day en­duro rac­ing has al­ways ex­cited and in­tim­i­dated me in equal mea­sure. On the one hand, the al­lure of dis­cov­er­ing world-class trails and the chal­lenge of rac­ing them draws me in. But then I re­mem­ber how knack­ered I feel after one hard day on the bike. How would I ever man­age six? This year though, in a moment of courage, I de­cided, “F**k it!” and jumped in with both feet, se­cur­ing my­self a place in the Trans BC En­duro – a race that’s renowned for chuck­ing com­peti­tors down some of Bri­tish Columbia’s steep­est and most tech­ni­cal trails.

This is how I find my­self, three months later, with def­i­nitely not enough train­ing un­der my belt, sat aboard a tiny twin-pro­pel­ler plane, dron­ing loudly over the snow-capped Koote­nay moun­tains. The town of Ross­land is ap­proach­ing and so is the start line. Ready or not, I’m here, and there’s the small mat­ter of a cou­ple of hun­dred kilo­me­tres and sev­eral thou­sand me­tres of climb­ing and de­scend­ing sep­a­rat­ing me from the fin­ish line.

Big yel­low school buses – the shut­tle ve­hi­cle of choice for the week – de­posit us at the start of the Seven Sum­mits trail. Of­fi­cially des­ig­nated an ‘Epic’ by IMBA (the In­ter­na­tional Moun­tain Bik­ing As­so­ci­a­tion), this feel like an apt way to kick things off. Spir­its are high as we start out. A crew from Colorado have speak­ers in their packs, which are blaz­ing out reg­gae to pro­pel us into our first climb – a ca­sual 800m as­cent to wake up the legs. I’m push­ing the ped­als cau­tiously, fully aware I’ve got well over the height of Ever­est ahead of me this week. But then a rider comes fly­ing past, pump­ing out the watts and breath­ing hard. “She’ll be done by day four,” re­marks the guy in front of me. “More like day two!” his mate laughs.

From lichen-hung pines, we emerge onto a craggy ridge­line, where the rem­nants of the win­ter’s snow still cling be­tween the rocks. It’s here, in front of an end­less back­drop of hazy blue moun­tains, that the rac­ing starts. Right from the off, the tech­ni­cal­ity is ap­par­ent. Con­sec­u­tive hair­pins through alpine scree grad­u­ally widen, al­low­ing us to build speed, be­fore cul­mi­nat­ing in a head­long pin­ball down a dried-up riverbed. If I was feel­ing a lit­tle dull-headed at the top, I’m wide-eyed by the bot­tom.

Stage two changes tack and plunges us into dark, loamy fresh­ness, be­fore stage three mixes things up fur­ther, with a bermed and baked-hard flow trail that snakes be­tween the trees at high speed. Any er­rors of judge­ment re­sult in grazed shoul­ders and skinned knuck­les. From here, things just get steeper, as we’re de­posited into ‘Dread Head’ – a brake­burn­ing plum­met of chute, catch-berm, chute. With no pre-prac­tice al­lowed, this is a bap­tism of fire, and by the end of the fi­nal stage I can see what the Trans BC hype is about. If the next five days are a patch on this, then I’m in for a treat.

I awake at 2am to the sound of rain ham­mer­ing on the tin roof above my win­dow. By morn­ing it’s still un­re­lent­ing and on the start line, at 9am, my head is bowed to shield my gog­gles. While it may not be good for vi­sion, the rain has damp­ened the dirt to per­fec­tion and the low, arc­ing berms we’re greeted with on stage one are prime. Lean, slide, grip, pedal, re­peat. This goes on for close to 10 min­utes, by which point I’m see­ing squint, not just due to my fogged and mud-splat­tered lenses, but my lungs, which feel like they’re try­ing to es­cape my chest. Just as I think my hands are about to drop off the bar, the fin­ish line ap­pears through the mist and I skid across it, gasp­ing. “I just had a bear run across right in front of me!” the guy be­hind me ex­claims. Roots and rocks aren’t the only trail ob­sta­cles here in Canada.

All the rac­ing is blind, but pinned up by the start of each stage is a card de­tail­ing what to ex­pect. I quickly learn that th­ese must be taken with sev­eral pinches of salt. “A flowy, well-built trail” the next one reads, de­clin­ing to men­tion the tan­gled messes of steep roots and slimy lad­der bridges that lurk over ev­ery crest. Who­ever thought rac­ing along wet skin­nies would be fun is a sicko, but hey, it wouldn’t be Canada with­out a bit of North Shore, right? This trail is just the warm-up though, as the real test is yet to come on ‘Flume’, a dou­ble-black down­hill that’s ru­moured to be one of the tough­est of the week.

A throng of rac­ers line the first craggy rock sec­tion, and their good­na­tured heck­ling high­lights one of the best things about Trans BC – the ca­ma­raderie be­tween rid­ers. There are guys and girls here from as far afield as New Zealand, Brazil, Ice­land and Den­mark, and, yes, the days are big and the rid­ing is hard, but you’re all in

it together and a kin­ship of sorts is formed when you’re half­way up a 1,000m climb and feel­ing ready to keel over.

Go­ing fast on this de­scent is all about com­mit­ting to some bold rock and root lines, and the overnight del­uge doesn’t seem to have im­proved the grip. If the hairy chutes around ev­ery cor­ner don’t get you, then the sheer length of the trail will, as I find out. Two-thirds deep, my arms are pumped to hell and I’m hang­ing so badly that I mis­judge a flat turn and – Bam! – I’m on the floor. A rock to the chest knocks the wind out of me. As I scrabble to un­twist my­self from the tan­gle of bike, I think to my­self, for the sec­ond time to­day, “This is the tough­est thing I’ve ever done on a bike.”

I don’t think my fore­arms and tri­ceps have ever been this sore. Add yes­ter­day’s crash, and I’m feel­ing slightly ap­pre­hen­sive about the 10-minute mon­ster that’s kick­ing off the day. Thirty min­utes north of Ross­land, on the shores of the Columbia River, yes­ter­day’s rain soak­ing seems like a dis­tant mem­ory. The deep dust does a good job of fill­ing in the holes, but I quickly dis­cover they’re very much still there, for as soon as I lay off the brakes, the gra­di­ent takes hold and the crum­pling of my T-Rex arms into an un­seen com­pres­sion has me grab­bing for the an­chors to avert dis­as­ter.

Some aren’t so lucky, and mid­way down I pass the race leader, Cory Sul­li­van, down and out with a bro­ken col­lar­bone. Stage one’s pum­melling is fol­lowed by a much-needed short and sweet con­fi­dence booster filled with deep, in­ter­link­ing tal­cumpow­der turns, where you can just drop a foot, chuck it in­side and en­joy the sound of your roost cloud blast­ing the bushes. My over­con­fi­dent bar-drag­ging comes to an end soon after though.

Bears and cougars may be the most fear­some wildlife in the BC back­coun­try, but I’d like to add mos­qui­tos and wasps to the list too. Hav­ing al­ready walked over a wasps’ nest and been stung to­day (my fault en­tirely), I’m rail­ing a berm mid­way down stage three when I brush my hand through the grass and one of the lit­tle yel­low-and-black­striped f**kers de­cides to avenge his brethren. He stings me on my brake fin­ger and then hangs onto my glove and keeps stab­bing me as I drop into the next high-speed straight. By the time I get to the bot­tom and pull off my glove, my fin­ger has swollen up like a sausage. In ret­ro­spect, this may have played to my ad­van­tage, as my in­abil­ity to pull hard on the front brake means I’m forced to just point, shoot and pray down the huge moto-rut­ted dust chute that leads back to the river and rounds out day three.

Yes­ter­day I was re­ally ques­tion­ing how my body would man­age the re­main­ing three days, but now I feel like I’ve fallen into a groove. There’s a deep resid­ual tired­ness in my legs but they seem to know what’s re­quired and ev­ery slow turn of the cranks pro­pels me that bit closer to the top of the next enor­mous de­scent. “It’s all rol­lable,” I’m told by the mar­shal at the top of the rock-slabin­fested stage four.

I set off con­fi­dently, un­til the sec­ond cor­ner, where I’m faced with a head­height shelf that most cer­tainly isn’t the afore­men­tioned. My ‘emer­gency pull-up and hope’ ap­proach just about gets me through though, and a barely-con­trolled white-knuckle ride en­sues, with split-sec­ond line choices around ev­ery turn, down dusty, boul­der-filled chutes. Sev­eral times I find my­self bang­ing down a route that’s so rugged I’m sure I’m about to get sent fly­ing over the bars. How I stay on my bike, I don’t know.

‘The day of the steeps’ is how the fifth day’s rac­ing is ex­plained to us, at our nightly brief­ing. A crack-of-dawn start sees the whole race con­voy board a ferry across Koote­nay Lake – rid­ers in buses, bikes rammed into box vans, and an as­sort­ment of campers, trucks and dirt-bag­gers in pur­suit. It turns out the or­gan­is­ers weren’t ly­ing, and the first two stages drop a cu­mu­la­tive 1,268m over 4.6km. That equates to an av­er­age gra­di­ent of 27 per cent! I’ve rid­den some bum-on-back-tyre stuff in my time, but noth­ing as pro­longed as this. What’s even more hum­bling is that the trail we're rid­ing, ‘Jur­gen­meis­ter’, was built by two 60-year-olds! And th­ese gnarlov­ing old-timers are rev­el­ling in the spec­ta­cle of the whole field skid­ding down their hand­i­work on the very edge of control.

You could prob­a­bly cook a roast din­ner with the heat com­ing off my ro­tors and all I’m think­ing is, “If you crash, stay the hell away from those discs!” It’s not just the brakes that are boil­ing to­day though. Tem­per­a­tures are the high­est they’ve been all week and shade is min­i­mal, mak­ing the up­hill fireroad grinds seem never-end­ing, as sweat drips in our eyes and the sun beats down

on our backs. This is the morale tester, but we all know in­side that the suf­fer­ing will make those ice-cold beers at the fin­ish line taste all the sweeter.

There’s a col­lec­tive ex­cite­ment as the fi­nal day dawns. The fin­ish is within reach and our bat­tered bikes and bod­ies only have to sur­vive five more stages. Not that we’re wish­ing the time away, when the trails are of this cal­i­bre. The city of Nel­son is a melt­ing pot, filled with all sorts of hip­pies and left­field types, and the lofty forested slopes that rise di­rectly up from the streets are filled with trails. A proper clas­sic kicks off the first stage – in­fa­mous trail builder Ri­ley McIn­tosh’s master­piece, ‘Pow­er­slave’. Switch­back turns, off-cam­bers, lad­der bridges and loam – this trail has got it all. If my arms weren’t in dan­ger of fall­ing out of their sock­ets, I’d wish it could go on for­ever.

By noon, I can al­most taste the sat­is­fac­tion of fin­ish­ing, but just as I start men­tally re­lax­ing, the Trans BC re­minds me it ain’t over yet. An eight-minute gnar-fest of roots and rocks is still to come, and if that weren’t test­ing enough, then the mid­way fire road sprint is sure to rid any­one’s legs of any re­main­ing en­ergy. It’s a de­scent of mixed emo­tions for me. I’m rid­ing in a blur of tired­ness, barely hang­ing onto the bar, but at the same time I’m cher­ish­ing it, know­ing that the end of my BC rid­ing ex­pe­ri­ence is near.

Although for my bat­tered body the fin­ish line can’t come soon enough, its even­tual ar­rival sig­nals the end of one of the tough­est but best weeks I’ve ever had on a bike. Time will no doubt blur the mem­o­ries of ex­haus­tion, crash­ing and de­hy­dra­tion, and leave me with last­ing fond­ness for an epic – yes, this event is fully de­serv­ing of that overused ad­jec­tive – week of rid­ing and rac­ing in the Koote­nays. I’ve sipped enough luke­warm elec­trolyte drinks to last a life­time, so pass me that beer. Oh yeah, and where do I sign up for next year?

To race blind on trails like th­ese, you've got to have your wits about you!

Ed, with his eyes on the prize and his hands on the bar (just)

Post-race cool-down done right!

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