Cheering squad: Alberta Rockies 700

Another in the ‘race report from the sidelines’ category, as the Alberta Rockies 700 rolled around, and the two Ryans came up with the plan to set up a neutral support station outside Rebound Cycle for all the AR700 riders  who would be rolling through Canmore.

It’s possible that some of the supporters were a little more biased than others though!

A good crew had assembled and the BBQ had been fired up with Adam and Kyle rolled in, covered in dust and looking hot and hungry. See the death stare that burger is getting?

While we waited for riders to turn up, the kids entertained themselves. Puddles can keep you happy for hours.

Then Kyle and Adam rolled out…

And Kat rolled in, looking magically less dusty than the guys.

Richard wasn’t too far behind her…

Followed by Dean…

Then Katrina headed off, accompanied by Zion – or perhaps she was just going to stock up on food while she waited for some of the guys to keep her company on the 1A out of town.

And then Tim, who was in and out in no time (ok fine, he stopped to chat to Ryan for a bit)

Greg was the first of the riders to take up the offer of a free beer, generously supplied by the Canmore Brewing Company.

As the evening wore on, more supporters wandered by to visit, and the riders coming through seemed more inclined to settle than to push on.

I headed home after 10pm, meaning to just lie down on the sofa for a bit, and then go back out to say hello to the next bunch on in-bound riders. But when I opened my eyes again, it was morning.

I went in hunt of riders, and managed to find Richard outside Rusticana…

And then Brian, with tales of roadside stealth camping, conservation officers, and breakfast beer.

The morning crew was a little more sociable than the evening crew, and there was a lot of standing around and chatting going on.

Then the lanterne rouge crew, Guy, Penny and Tracy rolled into town. Also covered in dust, but still in good spirits.

And so the riders kept heading north towards Hinton along the 40, and the support station packed up for the year. The final results? Adam in first, followed by Dean on his single speed, then Richard and Kyle riding together, Katrina in fifth, followed closely by Tim in sixth. And more still behind them :)

 

Not me riding the Tour Divide

Towards the end of March I started to realise I wouldn’t be able to ride the Tour Divide this year. I still wasn’t sure what was wrong with me, but it didn’t seem to be clearing up any time soon. By mid-April I was certain. And so through April, Alex started thinking about it. Going out on longer rides, testing his setup, building some fitness. In early May he started ordering some big ticket items with the Tour Divide in mind – new dyno hub, new wheel build, and then getting his drive train replaced.

So when Grand Depart rolled around, it was Alex lining up to head to Mexico. He rode into Banff the night before – just so he could say he’d rolled out of the front door of his house and ridden all the way to Mexico.

The morning of the Grand Depart was cool, but at least it wasn’t snowing! The day was set to be full of rain and mud though – pretty much a traditional first day of the Tour Divide.

I tracked down Neil and waved him off too – one of the fine Banff folks who I’d met at the Bikepack Summit last year, and who had since been silly enough to agree to come out and ride bikes and camp in the snow with me.

The traditional start-line shenanigans unfolded – Crazy Larry organised everyone into a group photo, there was a lot of yelling, people look excited and nervous, made last-minute adjustments, and then they were off.

And then Finn and I piled into a car, and with my friend Kate, headed up to Spray Lakes to catch them about 30km into the ride. We managed to arrive about five minutes before the leaders, and then sat in the overcast forest, cheering people on and taking photos and people trickled through in clumps. It was surprising how much the field was starting to spread out already, sometimes five or six people would be riding near each other, then there’d be no-one for a minute or more.

I snapped photos of nearly everyone, including Greg, one of the other Canmore locals:

We stayed up there for about an hour, and cheered over 100 riders through (including the former governer of New Mexico), but then made our break when a suitable gap in the field appeared. Because we had to pack to drive to Fernie! The boy and I were headed down there to spend the weekend staying with friends and cheering on riders some more. Rather conveniently, a bridge wash-out had let the race course to be detoured through Fernie, right past my friend Katya’s house. Perfect!

Late on Friday night I watched the dots of Josh Kato, Ben Steuerbaut and Brian Lucido leapfrog through town. It was tempting to get out of bed and wander down the hill to perform a 7-Eleven stalking and photography session (because that’s the other benefit of Katya’s house, it’s about 100m from the 7-Eleven, which is the only 24-hour service on-route in Fernie), but instead I stayed tucked up in my warm bed.

The next morning was a different matter though. I looked at the tracker when I woke up and saw Per (South Africa), and Nathan and Pete from New Zealand were there re-fuelling. Also, it was sunny out. What the hell – I threw on a jacket and shoes and wandered down to say hello and ask if I could take photos. It turns out Nathan is an old friend of my friend Kat – the world of crazy people is a fairly small one.

As the day progressed we chalked up the road outside the house, and kept an eye out for riders.

Word spread, and more locals got into the Tour Divide rider-spotting spirit. Up the road from us a family was set up with cowbells.

We wandered to Tim Horton’s for lunch, which looked to be about the time Alex was going to be hitting it too. The night before he and a bunch of six had pushed to the pass atop the Coco Claims reroute, which by all accounts looked to be hike-a-bike straight up a scree-filled waterfall. They had a pretty cold night out (which I guess is what you get when you camp on top of a pass).

We chatted to a few riders rolling through Tim Horton’s, including some who seemed pretty reluctant to leave (always a bad sign).

Ross and Alex had camped together last night – Ross is one of the Aussie crew we’d met in Banff before the Grand Depart, and they ended up settling into a similar pace, riding near each other most of the way to Butte, MT, where Ross unfortunately ended up scratching.

Finn spent most of the next month telling anyone who would listen that his Dad was riding his bike to Mexico. I had some confused parents asking me whether Alex was really riding his bike to Australia – well, it’s definitely far.

Willow might have been the most adorable member of our cheering squad though.

I caught Stefan Maertens rolling through town too – his race was plagued with mechanical issues. He went from being a top contender, to struggling with a broken rear derailleur out of Elkford on Friday (followed by a very long hike to get it fixed) and then later his fork snapped. Sometimes things just don’t work out.

But while all this biking excitement was going on, the kids played.

After some indecision I decided to take the border loop to get home from Fernie. Driving that direction isn’t actually much longer, it means less familiar terrain, and we could try for some last minute border photography.

In the end we parked near the bottom of Galton Pass, within 5km of the US border, and saw:

Colleen

Maayan Gil (Israel)

Ross “the Aussie Ninja” Burrage

Alex

and Martin (USA)

Of the five of them who had camped together near Butt’s Cabin on Saturday night, only Alex and Colleen made it to Antelope Wells.

There our adventure was over, and Finn and I returned to Canmore to become dot-watchers for the coming weeks. If I’d had passports with us I’d have been very tempted to keep driving – the energy of the race, and the racers, is infectious. It’s easy to get drawn into and want to be a part of it, even if I can’t ride right now. Instead I became an official stalker of all the Canadian riders, writing race summaries every few days to post to the Bikepack Canada facebook page.

Alex finished in about 24 days, averaging just over 180km/day. Every day. In mud and heat and vicious hike-a-bike. But he can tell that story.

Salty Dog V – The one where I didn’t ride my bike

When you’ve got so much fatigue swimming about in your system that you can’t really ride a bike… well, that’s still no excuse to not go on a biking road trip!

Especially not when you get to ride in this sweet van:

We stopped in Golden on the way over; first for a ride – well my role in the trip was largely chilling in the van reading books, listening to podcasts, and painting watercolours while everyone else rode bikes. So I didn’t go for a ride. But I did join everyone in checking out the Whitetooth Brewery after.  The beers were tasty, but very hoppy.

We were staying in the lap of luxury outside of Salmon Arm, in an Air BnB so fancy it had a birdhouse inside it!

I am aware that birdhouses aren’t necessarily a mark of high sophistication for many. I stand by them as the mark of a house that is delightfully whimsical, and thankfully still had a decent kitchen. And now I can say I’ve slept inside a birdhouse.

For the actual race I was a course marshall, stationed out near the end of the loop. I’ve raced the last four years, so it was odd not to be on my bike. But it was also pretty fun to be hanging out on course cheering everyone on, especially as so many Canmore-ites make the pilgrimage out to race each May.

To keep myself entertained, I acted as course photographer too – so here’s shots of all the road trip crew:

As you can see, it got a little wet and muddy out there. For a while I was hiding under a tree as it hailed like crazy.

Most people say you should wear a jersey with bib shorts. But what do they know?! Life would be boring if everyone did what most people thought was the normal thing to do.

Everyone should have this facial expression when riding their bike up a hill.

Kat was there! She was racing solo again, and she won a thing too.

Danika got a woodallion!

Then it was back to the birdhouse for ludicrous amounts of food. I’m pretty sure we had roasted brie, apple pie, and icecream sandwiches made from fresh-baked cookies, and that was all on top of a big dinner!

Bikes were washed.

Men cooked manly things on the BBQ.

And we also spent some time soaking in the hot tub, of which there are no photos because cameras and hot tubs do not get along.

On the way home we went to Golden to do a run down one of the easier trails on Mount Seven. The guys shuttled me up and I actually got to ride my bike which was sort of fun, but also made me very aware of how wrong my body was feeling. And photos were taken, but I can’t seem to find them anywhere.

Easter at Wheeler Hut

*** First up, the disclaimer… I’m finally updating here after months of no posts. I’ve been dealing with some pretty nasty fatigue issues for most of this year, which have turned out to be related to a reactivation of mono/glandular fever in my system. So adventures have been few and far between, and I’m still not feeling great, but I’m going to try and catch up on telling some stories and sharing photos.***

So, although I wasn’t feeling great, we had a family hut trip booked at Easter, and I figured I should be able to manage the ski in. It’s only about 1km from the road in to Wheeler Hut after all.

Roger’s Pass was fairly warm, and after getting all sorted we set off up the steep climb up from the road. Once you’re up this it’s basically flat the whole way. The first bit is definitely pretty steep though.

We were trying out new AT conversion attachments on Finn’s skis. They clip into the downhill bindings on a pair of kid-size skis, converting them into something that lets him lift his heel. But – they also end up being fairly heavy, and he’s quite high off the ground. He was also in a bit of a cranky mood. And so the attempt to get him to try them out didn’t go so well.

In the end we took them off and he did just as well just using his downhill skis with climbing skins on the base. Adorable tiny climbing skins that Alex had made by cutting down an old pair for skis he didn’t own any more.

I struggled more on that 1.2km ski in than I have on 50km trail runs. Finn wasn’t having a great time either. But we made it – slowly, very very slowly!

Once we reached the hut, everything got better. Most of the crew we’d met before on previous Tanya trips, but there were also new people to meet. I was feeling exhausted though, and curled up in the corner and read, and napped, as around me games were played, pokemon cards were battled, drawings were coloured, snow balls made, people went skiing…

Finn convinced people to play Settlers of Catan…

toboggan tracks were built…

and crafts were made, meals were cooked, brie was eaten (I definitely helped with that), fires were stoked, and the kids played and played.

It bucketed down snow.

The Easter bunny got busy and there were eggs hidden everywhere surrounding the hut. On Easter morning the troops assembled and ready to hunt for eggs first thing, mostly still wearing pyjamas under down jackets.

Kids climbed onto the roof of the hut…

And teamed up to try and get to the top…

By the last day the roof had melted off a lot.

We skied out on a beautifully sunny and warm morning, and discovered that the flat ski in was one of those pernicious slight uphills. It was much more pleasant in the other direction, and with company to boot.

And Finn’s years of skiing are apparently paying off – he flew down the sketchy icy descent and had a blast

Although not as much fun as he had afterwards, playing on the snowy cliff by the trailhead with the other kids. They would have happily played there all day. Who needs to go skiing when you have a snowy slope to play on?

It’s yurterrific!

Thanks to the excellent Tanya at Canadian Rockies Family Adventures I won a stay in the Mount Engadine yurt! I might have a thing for yurts. I’ve spent more time than strictly necessary browsing yurt websites and looking at photos on pinterest. I’ve only stayed in one once before though, in Bend, Oregon.

Winter yurting was a bit of a different experience – this yurt is tucked away 100 metres or so past the rest of the Mount Engadine lodge accommodation. A little packed snowy trail winds through the trees and deposits you at the little yurt.

The outside was all piles of snow and exciting icicles. But inside was cozy, snug and warm (although not so warm we weren’t wearing our down booties). There’s a little propane heater that runs to keep it nice and warm inside.

With just two bunk beds and some chairs, this was smaller than the other yurt I’d stayed in – a bit small for comfortable full-time yurt-life, but great for a weekend.

The boys loved playing on the bunks, and in the yurt, but then it was time to get outside – and attempt to get a toboggan run happening in the ridiculously deep fresh snow.

In the end we gave up on tobogganing and just cavorted in the snow.

And then it was off to the lodge for afternoon tea! We decided to take the low way along the meadows to get there. Which seemed like a great idea until Kat and I started post-holing up to our thighs. I ended up crawling/swimming up to the lodge. Swimming through snow is a great workout.

In the lodge we set the boys down with some lego, and enjoyed the delicious charcuterie. This is where I admit this trip was as much about the food as anything.

Which is where I also break down and admit I turned into one of those people who take photos of food. When it came to dinner, I was so distracted with eating it that I got half way through before thinking to take a photo. My mouth is watering again just looking at this photo. Suffice to say it was delicious.

A late dinner, we sat around and chatted, the boys played with cars and watched some videos. I reveled in the little station with tea.  Then we wandered slowly back out to the yurt. The snow had stopped falling and it was a beautiful clear starry moonlit night.

The yurt was warm from the heater, and we had a cozy night’s sleep. The only tricky thing about the warm yurt was the ice that ended up building up in the door frame sometimes, making the door tricky to close well.

Waking in the middle of the night at one point, I wandered out to take a hand-held night shot. Thanks to the bright moonlight, this was actually possible. Downside? When I went to quietly sneak back into the yurt, I just couldn’t get the door to close well. Worried about making a noise, I just stealthily tied the door knob to the wall, so at least it would stay roughly closed.

The next morning I took more photos of food, and we put in our orders for our packed lunches.  As we ate breakfast, the packed lunches appeared on a counter, with our names written on the bags (aww, adorable).

Back at the yurt, Zion napped while we finished our game of Catan. Kat had never played before! Finn was astonished.

Then it was off to ski at Mount Shark, in the gloriously warm inversion. In fresh snow. All in all it wasn’t a very successful ski (we managed 2.4km in two hours), but no children were strangled, and the sun was out and it was wonderfully warm.

Sadly, we discovered that it was about 15oC colder in Canmore. Always sad news. But the Engadine yurt is awesome!