bikes canada general

Alberta Rockies 500

Early morning and Canmore was covered in mist. I biked downtown and joined the crew milling around in front of Rebound Cycle, taking the time to eye off my tires and chain dubiously as I drank my coffee. After cleaning my bike thoroughly the day before, I’d realized I was in dire need of a new chain – the links were so stretched out that they no longer sat properly in my narrow-wide chainring, and I was getting crunchy noises as I rode. And the tires were something like seven years old, and almost worn bald. But still, everything should be good for one more ride, right? Right?!

7 am rolled around, and with some final words from route-creator Jonathan, we hit the trail. The pack stuck together for an unofficial neutral start that was good for catching up for random chats. As we made our way out towards Dead Man’s Flats the mist gradually lifted, revealing a beautiful blue sky and snow-capped mountains. Also, a lot of mud. The constant rain of yesterday had mercifully stopped but had left its mark on our route. So much mud.

As I started riding up the paved road towards the Skogan Pass trailhead, I began to notice a weird rubbing noise. Odd. When I looked around my bags seemed fine. And that’s when there was a colossal bang, and my tire exploded, caught fire, and bounced away dramatically down the hill.

Ok, not quite. But my sidewall did blow out in a spectacular fashion (I later ran into other riders who told me they’d thought someone had let off a bear banger). I gave it a look over and decided there was no way it was worth trying to repair – it was ready to blow in a million other places, and the non-exploded tire wasn’t much better. I had a pair of new(ish) tires at home in Canmore that I’d been tossing up putting onto the bike anyway. Time to let go of the idea of holding onto the rest of the race, and to resign myself to everyone riding off over Skogan Pass without me. 

After a substantial amount of messing around, and a slightly desperate attempt to set up at least one of the tires tubeless… maybe once I get back on course and keep riding and pumping air in every 200m it will eventually seal? No, maybe not… I gave in and put my spare inner tube in the rear tire. I now had no spare tubes, no hope of getting an extra spare (or so I thought), filthy hands, sealant everywhere, and an hour and a half that I’d have to make up to catch back up to the pack. Time to get to work!

I started playing Blondie’s ‘One Way or Another’ and The Beatles ‘Get Back’, and began to chase. First, the hikers who had overtaken me as I messed around putting extra air in my “tubeless” tire, trying to convince it to stick. Then came a selection of Alberta Rockies riders, who were either taking it easy or had been struck by misfortune. And then, the snow began! Who put all of this snow here?! Up and up and up I rode, as snow fell on me from the trees and crunched beneath my wheels. Cresting Skogan Pass was almost anti-climactic, and then I was headed downhill through more snow and mud. Careful now, I thought to myself, crashing doesn’t win you any time. And the wrong sort of flat tire could put you out of the race. I mean ride… But with all this chasing, I now felt like I was racing.

It was somewhere on this descent that I managed to lose the safety on my bearspray somehow, as I brushed against undergrowth. Yes, this is the second Chekhov’s gun of the story.  

After climbing the paved road up to Kananaskis Village, I headed straight through onto the single track. Where I was pretty thankful for both my fresh tires and my years of mountain biking, as I blasted over muddy roots for kilometres. It’s a fun piece of singletrack, but only if you can keep the momentum going on a loaded bike. Along the way, I overtook Corrine from Alaska, and found a hat in a stream, that I had a suspicion belonged to Brian Kennelly (the hat, not the stream that is).

Hitting the Hwy 40 there was suddenly fast, fast, paved road. And cell reception! I made the most of it before it disappeared entirely, and checked Trackleaders. Oooh, a bunch more people were not too far ahead. But first, seeing as it was around midday, it seemed a good time to pull out my delicious ziplock bag full of sushi and devour it as I powered along. Then, people! I found Guy, then Greg… and then decided to pull into Fortress gas station, where lo and behold, I found Brian and reunited him with his hat.

Back on the road, I hit my first low point as I had to make my way through Kananaskis Lakes campgrounds. There were people everywhere, and I struggled to find a rhythm. I was also pretty aware that I’d been burning a lot of matches in my chase. Too many? Time would tell. I made the decision to back off a little and take it easy for a while. So at Boulton Creek when I serendipitously found TJ, it was an easy decision to join him for a picnic lunch.

Lunch over, it was time for Elk Pass. I braced myself, but it was over fairly quickly, with a dash of mud to keep things spicy, and wildflowers to amaze me. No bears. The descent was amazingly fun, and I was whooping and hollering until the bottom, where I ran into the Kennelly crew again (I didn’t double-check if that’s the name of his gang, but I’m making assumptions here). They must have overtaken me at Boulton. We ran together for a while, but then I set off on a mission to overtake more victims *cough* I mean riders.

Next up was Neil! I slowly snuck up on him, then we rode the rollers into Elkford together for an hour or so. Cell reception reappeared, and I could see that the guys from Saskatchewan were not far ahead, and the Kennelly gang was chasing us from behind. Time to power on. After some more overtaking and chats, I turned up the singletrack towards Elkford.

After a long singletrack meander into town I was feeling the need for some more downtime, and some decent food, and so my stop wasn’t very speedy. And really the pasta salad from the grocery store wasn’t exactly ‘decent food’, but it definitely had calories and filled me up. I stopped again at the mini-mart to refill water, then set off onto the singletrack towards Sparwood, back and forth-ing with Jeff from Vermont as we rode past ominously witchy green fizzing ponds, cattle standing all over the trail, and unexpectedly beautiful meadow singletrack.

It was in this section that I had to clamber through a few sections of fallen trees across the trail. And where I forgot to worry about the bear spray at my waist that still had no safety clip, after losing it on Skogan Pass. A stray branch pressed the trigger of the spray, and suddenly I was in the middle of a nest of fallen trees, with bear spray burning across my back and drifting out into a cloud surrounding me. I tried to move on as quickly as I could without either inhaling or accidentally flicking the trigger again. My back was burning, and the spray settled in a fine layer on everything, irritating my throat, lungs, nose. For the next few hours, everything I ate tasted of pepper and burning. For the rest of the race, I’d be feeling the warm burn of bear spray on my back.

The sun was dropping as I drew closer to Sparwood, and I struggled finding some of the singletrack connections as the last of the light disappeared from the sky. In the end, I rolled up to Tim Horton’s in Sparwood at 10.03 pm. I hadn’t even thought of the time, assuming I’d be arriving well after 10 pm, and so spent a moment kicking myself for not arriving a few minutes earlier, to catch Timmies before closing. Oh well. Alex had made it in time though, and we said hellos and goodbyes as he headed off on the 700km route. I refuelled again at Husky, not because I really needed more food, but just for the sake of a break (and who turns down a gas station sandwich?). But as I went to pack away the can of Starbucks “coffee” I’d bought, my tired hands failed me, and the thin aluminum punctured immediately on hitting the ground and started spraying sticky drink over everything. Great, the bears will love that, I thought, as I sculled down what was left in the can. 

Leaving Sparwood it was thoroughly night. I listened to a live recording of a My Morning Jacket concert, and Circuital played as the full moon rose over the hills, and it was magical. The moon shone back at me from roadside ponds, and a train noisily kept pace with my bike and I as we rolled along underneath the starry sky.

At midnight I ducked off for a quick kip at the Visitors Information Centre. Curled up on a picnic table, I only got a few minutes sleep but felt more awake as I set off again in the early morning hours. Nearly everyone else seemed to be stopped in Sparwood as I turned off the highway and onto the gravel of Allison Creek Road, with the exception of Neil – the only 500km rider who has followed me out of town, cheekily making a break for it – and some of the 700km riders who were forging on further south.

The night was long and the road was slow as I picked my way around muddy potholes, past campers still up drinking by their RVs at 2 am, and then just past trees, trees, and more trees. Climbing and climbing, I finally hit a pass, but my descent was still slow, as it was hard to pick out a clear line. I didn’t really want to be crashing or stopping to fix a pinch flat at 3.30am, bike covered in mud, eyes tired, trees full of potential bears and cougars. 

At 5 am I rolled into the campground on the 40 Forestry Trunk Road and curled up on a bed of pine needles by a picnic table. I’d had no cell reception since midnight or so, and probably wouldn’t have any again until I got within striking distance of Canmore. I had no idea if anyone was chasing me, or how close they might be, but I needed a nap. I fell fast asleep for 20 or 30 minutes and woke up feeling the bear spray burning across my back and side where I’d been lying. At least it felt warm? And it was a good distraction from sore knees and Achilles. I stayed curled up and dozing for another 20 minutes, then hit the road.

The valley that the 40 travels through is wide open at first. The land is flat with many wild camping opportunities: solo campers with tents or pop-up roof tents dominate, compared to the RVs along the Allison Creek road. The road was quiet at first, but with gradually more vehicles and more trees as I got further north. As I climbed the next big hill I felt slow, sluggish, not very awake. My legs didn’t want to go fast, but they kept turning. The kilometres ticked slowly by, like a school clock on a summer afternoon.

I was excited to reach the Highwood House store and find it open. The woman behind the counter seemed far less excited to see me. There were no other customers, but she didn’t seem to hold with people going into her store to purchase things. There were lots of signs everywhere letting me know what I could and couldn’t do. It’s that kind of store. I bought some things then sat outside on a picnic table, having myself a picnic. The store woman glared out resentfully at me. After finishing off my icecream and some chips, I happily left her to find something or someone else to glare at.

But now – oh Highwood Pass, why would you have a headwind? As if the slow 30km of climbing on tired legs wasn’t enough. The fact that it’s a paved road seems to add insult to injury too, because pavement is fast… right? My eyes were drooping, the wind was trying to blow me back down the hill, and I was hitting a low. Time for a roadside nap. I found a spot in the shade, far enough away from the road that people wouldn’t stop to check if I was roadkill, and fell asleep for a few minutes. It helped, and if I wasn’t overjoyed, I was at least re-energized, finding podcasts to listen to, and then music, and I kept climbing. The final kilometres stretched out into a possible infinity, but I made it to the top. Where I was surrounded by the hoards of people setting off to hike from Highwood Pass – them, all full of optimism and smelling of soap, me, a sleep-deprived, bear-sprayed, bloodshot-eyed lunatic.

The descent from the Pass was brilliant, but over too quickly. Onto the old ski trails to cut across to Kananaskis Lakes, I knew where I was going, and quickly rolled along the route to Boulton Creek store. I was just about to head downhill on the final trail to the store when I was confused by a truck parked in the middle of the trail. What’s he doing? I can’t tell. I couldn’t see anyone. I heard a double honk; it sounded to my tired brain like someone locking a vehicle. I’d been wondering if there were bears, but maybe that’s not it. I kept moving slowly, looking around, trying to work out what was going on. Then suddenly I saw movement in the bushes to my right and realized there were three grizzlies sitting in there having dinner. A mama and two large cubs, just three or four metres away.

I stopped. I didn’t want to be running away. I decided to get off my bike and walk away. Except I was tired, and after successfully getting off my bike, I manage to back into it and then drop it. Which made me lose my balance entirely, and so I fell down backwards on top of it. The bears looked over at me, standing on their rear legs and huffing. I gazed up at them and considered the fact that I was an uncoordinated idiot. I was too tired to be at all scared. The bears seem to be viewing me with the derision with which you’d regard an incredibly drunk stranger making a fool of themselves collapsing on the floor of your local bar. The man in the truck hopped out and told me not to panic, and to go back up the hill. I considered the fact that I wasn’t panicking. And that it would have been helpful if he’d actually yelled “Bear” instead of just honking his horn at me. And also the fact that it would be much easier to walk down the hill than up it at this point, seeing as I was already right next to the bears. I could nearly touch them! But I was feeling sheepish enough that walking away from him seemed like a fine idea. At the top of the hill, I found a campsite truck with an apologetic man who was supposed to have been on hand to stop me from going down the trail in the first place. Whoops.

I had already decided not to buy anything at Boulton store, and so just quickly refilled my water bottles and checked for wi-fi. Any wi-fi? No wi-fi. I kept going, and tried again at the Visitors Centre. Still no wi-fi. Oh well, Trackleaders and the general state of the world would continue to be a mystery. Stopping for a snack break before launching onto the High Rockies Trail, a Conservation Officer turned up and started ticketing a couple for an off-leash dog. I listened awkwardly to their protests that their dog was on-leash, and her retort that she has credible witnesses of it being off-leash. It was the unpleasant icing on my Kananaskis Lakes cake, and I was happy to escape onto the High Rockies singletrack, even if my body wasn’t.

I could sit, and my butt protested, or stand, and my legs protested. I tried to stand more, as my legs felt like they had more to give. But there were just constant punchy little uphills – I could ride them all, but they all required a grind. Again and again. But I was alone in the late afternoon on a beautiful trail, and I started to grab moments of enjoyment. The kilometres passed. It was beautiful. There was no-one to care if I was playing music in the peaceful forest, and so I started to blast music from my phone. Then somehow I was at Sawmill already. Time to hit the road!

I was happy to be able to spin faster and have stronger legs, but then I started to suffer from car-rage. Why, why, did cars insist on not slowing down?! They all threw up so much dust. I breathed the dust and tried not to seethe resentfully. Even cars that were in a queue of other cars, they all just sat on the speed limit and drove along in a dust cloud! I glared at them. A couple of cars slowed right down for me as they passed. There was no dust, and I grinned and waved at them. I hoped they realized how much I appreciated it. 

My water was all gone again, and I refilled in a roadside creek. It was a beautiful warm afternoon, and I was starting to speed up. I had finish-line fever. Past Engadine Lodge, and now it was nearly all downhill, and the traffic was diminishing. I powered along. Potholes? I didn’t mind the potholes, as long as I didn’t have to breathe dust. And at this rate, I should make it home by dark. 

I optimistically turned my phone on, but there was only a glimpse of reception, enough for me to get a pile of messages, but not to send anything. As I was drawing near Driftwood, a blue truck pulled up next – Sheldon and Kim! They knew what I was up to, and cheered me along, marvelling at the fact I’ve not really slept. The interaction was enough to boost my mood from good into wildly over-excitable, and from that point, it was on. 

I flew along the Driftwood singletrack, trying to be careful to stay in control, but blasting along as fast as I could. Over the dam wall, pedal, pedal, then flying along the rest of the High Rockies Trail. Music blaring, no other people, I stood on my pedals and hammered. At this point, I didn’t really want to sit anymore, and my legs seemed ok with giving it all. Up onto the Goat Creek Trail, I walked my bike up the final hill to the trailhead. Phone reception! Still no Trackleaders. Oh well, it didn’t matter at this point. I flew down the hill from the pass, probably faster than I should have, but having so much fun. 

Hitting Main Street, I sprinted to make it through an orange light. I didn’t want to wait! And then rolled into the finish line at the barracks, dirty, bear sprayed and sore, but happy, 37 hours and 15 minutes after leaving town. I enjoyed the sensation of sitting, finding out I’d won, and seeing that Robin B had been chasing me since leaving Sparwood that morning (he made it into Canmore a few hours later). Then, to eat all of the food, and finally, wash off that bear spray.

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Recovering in Revelstoke

The Singletrack6 madness was followed by four days of relative relaxation in the Revelstoke campgorund. Suffering from the after effects of heat exhaustion (walking hurt my stomach?) I didn’t get an awful lot of riding done. There was a lot of lazing and reading. But of course a little riding.

First on Frisby Ridge…

Then I took the boy out on the Macpherson Trails while the others actually went for a proper ride. He’s still riding pedal-free, but is getting better and better on his run-bike. He’s quite the cautious descender though – no madcap rolls down anything and everything for this boy.

Then there was an aborted attempt at Keystone Standard Basin. I’d finally recovered from the heat exhaustion, but bonked on the first hill and couldn’t understand what was wrong with me. Struggling on, eventually it got so bad that I could barely walk my bike along, and had to have a lie down. Once it occurred to me to eat the rest of the food I had with me, I magically felt fine, but decided heading back to the car probably wasn’t a bad idea. Apparently my body wanted about 10 times the calories I’d fed to it (although I’d spent most of the morning eating).

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Singletrack6 – Day 5 & 6

Day Five – Moonraker Trails, Golden. 58km, 1460m.
Waking up cranky and hungry – never a good sign! Catching the bus downtown, getting ready…. maybe raiding the breakfast buffet for some extra food, because I was feeling ravenous… then downtown to the start line.

We had a neutral start with the police car leading us out of town again, but this time in the other direction. And once we hit the single track it was pretty obvious I wasn’t feeling it. Didn’t feel like racing, just wanted to relax and enjoy the trails. Because they were fun!

I tried to convince my legs that they should keep spinning. And jockeyed for position as we climbed up CBT.

Things got a little flowy for a while, with me riding in my own little bubble. I’d zone out and slow down, then remember I was supposed to be racing and try and hurry up.

Hurrying up was easier once we settled into the final big climb, up to the edge of the canyon. It was warm out as we climbed, but there’s something gloriously simple about a task so straight-forward as just riding up a hill, and I settled into a happy climbing rhythm. But then the climbing ended! And the canyon-side descending began!

The descent wasn’t feeling great right from the start. Then there were a few steep switchbacks in a row. I hesitated at the start of the second one, then instead of riding it, or making the decision to jump off and run down it, I overbalanced and bounced down, bike landing on top of me. Ow. I cleared the landing zone, and a team riding past yelled out to check I was ok. I thought I probably was, at least for now, so jumped back on my bike and kept going.

My thigh had taken a decent hit from something, and was feeling pretty sore, but otherwise I seemed ok. But was now feeling even more cautious about descending. But the trails were fun, and mostly shady, and I managed to settle into something resembling an ok pace.

After the timed descent (down Gold Rush I think?) where I was overtaken a lot (not a great descending day for me today) our final bit of singletrack was Take It Easy. Which we did. I don’t know if the others were thinking the same thing, but I knew we had a few kilometres of paved road back into town, and sticking with a little group would mean we could form some kind of paceline, and cover the distance way faster than I’d be able to do on my own. This was a great plan, and worked brilliantly (hurrah, something going according to plan!)

Despite not having a great day, there was still the nice cold Kicking Horse River to soak in. And another recovery caesar. And somehow I’d made it into 6th place overall in open women! (Out of about 45 or so in total, the below results were just a printout of results in progress). So hurrah.

Following yesterdays epic, I didn’t even bother trying to get back up to the hotel. Instead I napped out by the rec centre (fully stocked with nice comfortable mats), before wandering back into town for dinner (mmm, Whitetooth Bistro), and back with plenty of time to catch the presentations for the day, and my bus back up the hill. And that all worked out perfectly as well!

Day Six – Macpherson Trails, Revelstoke. 47km, 1340m.
I caught a ride to Revelstoke, ready for the final day of riding. Sort of. I was feeling about as energetic as an overcooked bowl of spaghetti, and we were going to be starting LATE today. And it was going to be unpleasantly warm. And my thigh was coming up with all sorts of wonderful bruises and soreness after yesterdays crash. So, as you can see, I had a good set of excuses ready to roll right off the bat.

A tasty cupcake lifted my spirits a little. Excess cupcakes are one of the additional bonuses to multi-day racing.

But as we lined up in downtown Revelstoke, I was not feeling stoked. I was feeling overheated, and already looking forward to finishing the next 47km. Worried about the heat, I’d changed my usual plan, carrying a pack instead of my usual 2 bottles on the bike. I don’t know if this was a good plan.

We set off, and there was an awful lot of racing through the powerline clearcut. I started to melt. We’d head into the shady trees for a while, then out again into the blazing sun. My gears started to play up. My rear wheel came off again. My seat bag worked itself open and I had to stop and pick up tools that had fallen out. I slammed into a piece of wood and my front tyre burped. My water was no longer cool, but unpleasantly warm, and not at all refreshing. My legs had no energy, and I wasn’t enjoying the trails that I knew should have been fun.

But I kept going. And going. It was a bit of a slog. Sorry Macpherson trails, I know you can be fun, it’s not you, it’s me.

Eventually, after riding my bike through a scorching hot desert for a thousand years, it was finally time for Flowdown! And the timed descent! And Flowdown meant we were nearly back into town, so just one more long slog in the sun to go. And that last long slog seemed to last forever though. Although I did manage to catch another rider, and hang onto his rear wheel for a little while at least.

I collapsed over the finish line. There were sprinklers. There was a finishers medal. Some food. Grass. Family. Icecream.

My super slow day had knocked me back into 8th in open women. Oh well. Much better than I’d expected going into the race. Although it was a little anticlimactic. But my first MTB stage race was complete! I really need to do another one now…

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Singletrack6 – Day 3 & 4

Day Three – Invermere. 46km, 1200m.

Riding in Invermere is all about the excitement and anticipation of early season riding with friends, and the joy of being back on a bike on dirt after a long, long winter. Trails there are dry and dusty when the Canmore trails are still packed with ice and snow, and 15oC in Invermere seems more like 20oC… while 15oC in Canmore seems closer to 10oC. It’s like a little magical mountain bike world we can escape to while winter still has Canmore in its icy grip. So I enjoy riding the trails there, and after Nipika I was really looking forward to racing something a little smoother with a little more flow.

We caught the bus out from Radium to a staging area just past Lilian Lake. The start today was in waves as well – six waves this time? I think I was in the second. Later in the day we were going to be riding my old friends, Kloosifier and the Johnson, but first up was a mix of newly built singletrack, and re-purposed dirt bike trails. It was dusty, and a little rough, but I was having a great time!

There were some steep, sandy hike-a-bike climbs (here’s hoping the guys at the front couldn’t ride them all, they were tough!). But the skies were wide open and blue, and the views were fantastic, and I just love the Invermere riding for some reason.

After a good 20km or so on the new trails, we ended up on roads for a while, cutting through a small town before climbing up and up and up on a dirt road. Past the scene of some nefarious course tampering – thankfully it was all properly marked again by the time I got there – and onto the Kloosifier. Except we were doing it backwards! Oh well, still fun. Just… not quite as much fun as it should have been. Also my gears were getting a little weird. I stopped and checked my rear skewer. Nope, still good, wheel not about to fall off. Oh well.

I was flying along and having a great time as we hit the Johnson, and was really looking forward to hammering the final 10km of fun and familiar trail. And then I didn’t have any gears all of a sudden. What?! I stopped and looked. My rear derailleur cable was snapped. This had never happened before, and I wasn’t sure if there was anything I could do to improve the situation. I tried manually pushing my chain over onto an easier gear, but thanks to the lack of cable tension, it just flopped right back onto my hardest gear. Damn. If only I was a better bike mechanic! Oh well, looks like I’m single speeding the rest of this. Damn damn damn! Could be worse.

And so I sadly stopped then fun game I’d been having of gradually reeling people in and overtaking them (these trails really suit my riding apparently … or perhaps it’s the advantage of a familiar course … or more likely I was just riding strong because I was enjoying myself so much). I rode up what I could, and ran my bike up what I couldn’t. And there’s nothing like restricted gear options to stop you from braking too much on the downhills.

I rolled into the finish line a little disappointed, but glad my bike had still been able to keep going – there were worse mechanical issues I could have had.

From there it was straight to Lilian Lake for a soak. Chatting and hanging out with other fellow bike freaks. Then lazing on the grass in the shade. Then hopping back into the lake again. Life is hard.

That evening I dropped my bike off to the race mechanics, had a nap, then icecream, and caught up with an old friend for some tasty Mexican in Radium (who would have thought it?). Fun times.

Day Four – Golden, Mountain Shadows. 28km, 1000m.

I caught a ride with some of the support crew to get from Radium to Golden this morning – no coach rides for me today! We pottered around Golden, I helped unload bikes from the truck, then gradually got organised and rolled the couple of kilometres over to the starting line in the middle of town. My bike was fixed, and today was a short one, on trails I’d never ridden before. With a timed descent that sounded potentially epic. I was a little afraid, but what could possible go wrong?

The tunes of Highway to Hell played us out of town, as our police car escort led us to the base of the climb. Oooh, a climb! I wasn’t feeling warm, but that changed pretty quickly. Every day so far had been reaching 30 – 35oC, and it was warming up as we slogged our way uphill in the sun. Pleasantly we occasionally dived off onto tracks in the trees, before re-emerging to keep climbing on the baking hot road. Brief conversations of few syllables as we climbed. Dust. Sun. Sweat. More climbing.

And then it was descent time! It was all pretty rideable, nice. But a proper descent this time, in a rugged, sandy, rocky, rooty kind of way. There were a few moments of doubt, and some things that I might have walked if I wasn’t racing, and was feeling more timid. I was overtaken by some… overtook others… and then a few of us reached a knocked over course marker. Which way do we go? No idea. We yelled out, and a photographer lurking downhill a little told us to head left. Right. But 20 seconds or so of indecision meant that a big group of us had formed, and so we all headed off downhill together in a pack. Oh well.

From there it was onto the Mountain Shadows trails – which were kind of rocky, rooty, technical and fun! I was enjoying the riding, gradually catching and overtaking some of the downhill speedsters. Past an aid station with bacon (I didn’t partake). A too-sharp turn off double track onto single track, and I ended up side-swiping a stump, which gouged my leg. Blood!

It wasn’t a long day though, and before long we were heading back into town. Spectactors were hanging around, someone sprayed water on me – oh thank you! It was getting warm by then. A final swoopy descent through lovely cool deep forest, and then out onto the river trail through town, trying to reconcile racing as fast as I could with avoiding being too much of a menace on a public trail… then done! And into the river to soak.

I settled in at one of the bistros downtown, joining a Canadian couple who were racing as a team, having a delicious lunch and a very tasty recovery caesar.

It was after that everything started to go pear-shaped. I caught the bus up to the Glacier Mountain Lodge, along with a few other racers. We’d arrived 15 minutes before official check-in, and found the lobby strewn with Singletrack6 folk who were waiting to check-in. Apparently they were short-staffed, and were still cleaning the rooms. I settled in to wait. Tired and hungry. Apparently my room would be about 40 minutes. 2 hours later, I finally got into my room. I’d missed the first bus back down to town, but made the second which was running late.

Now, the downfall of not signing up for meals was that I was then stuck a 25 minute walk from most of the restaurants in town, and the bus driver had said he’d be back in an hour to run us back up the hill. Still tired, still hungry, not thinking clearly, I just walked to the supermarket for food. Nearly melting in the heat. I panic bought a few random items, then headed back to catch the bus. Which wasn’t going to leave for ages yet. Argh!

On the bus ride home, the driver had played us some music from the band of the bus owner. From the poster on the bus wall it looked like death metal. In reality, it was more like the ‘Sesame Street on acid’ that the driver described. Thoroughly hippy, wildly bizarre lyrics, it lent the evening a perfectly surreal tone, as we sat on a school bus, driving up a mountain at 9pm, listening to music that told me that I shouldn’t cut trees down because the squirrels needed them. I really wish I could remember the name of the band, just so I could confirm with myself the whole incident wasn’t just a hallucination.

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Singletrack6 – Day 1 & 2

Back in the middle of winter, I entered into a competition by Tourism Golden, to win entry into the Singletrack6 MTB stage race. It was going to be the replacement for the old epic Transrockies bike race from Fernie to Canmore. Just with a lot more sleeping in town, a lot less mud, shorter days, and much much more singletrack. But still six days of bike racing.

Then when we were on holiday down in Bend, I found out I’d won it. And I was a little bit scared, but quite a lot excited.

Day One – West Bragg Creek. 42km, 1500m gain
The event started over on the West Bragg trails. We arrived super early, so I’d have plenty of time to check in. Checking in took 30 seconds. So we spent some time throwing rocks in a creek, and messed around, until all of a sudden it was time to be getting into the starting corale, and I had left it a little late, and crammed in somewhere towards the back of the mid-pack.

The customary ACDC Highway to Hell played over the speakers, and then I spent a lot of the first ten minutes trying to overtake as many people as I could before we hit the singletrack. Where I was stuck. In a slooow slooow singletrack train. It did eventually thin out though – especially once we started climbing up Pneuma!

Things were going pretty smoothly, except I’d started to lose my lower gears – the chain just wouldn’t want to sit in granny gear. I wondered what could be wrong, and whether I’d be able to get my bike seen by a mechanic that afternoon, until somewhere along Strange Brew, my back wheel fell off. Ah. So apparently that’s a thing with the new hollow axles – they can be too dry, and they’ll work their way out, until your wheel will drop out. Fitting my wheel back on fixed the issue with the gears though – hurrah!

I’d lost some time messing around though, and was overtaken by another solo female – although I could out-climb her, she totally outclassed me on the descents, and so as we dropped back down towards the finish line, I didn’t have a hope of catching her. Especially after I ran into a tree with one kilometre to go. Well, the end of my right handlebar ran into a tree. My bike took this as a sign that I wanted to hug the tree. So I did, before picking us both up and continuing.

Day 1 down – that wasn’t so bad! I’d tried to take it as easy as I could – my first real multi-day event, who knows how it would go.

Day Two – Nipika. 42km, 800m gain
Ah, Nipika, my old nemesis. Actually I’d only ridden here once before. Although my memories of it were vague, I was haunted by a sense of not wishing to return. Once we started racing it all came flooding back to me. Nipika is rough! If it’s not rooty it’s rocky. And if there are no roots or rocks, there is constantly uneven ground, so you can never just easily sit and spin to cover distance – you have to fight for Every Single Metre. And for my spinners legs, it’s a challenge. They’re not great at pushing over that kind of terrain.

On the plus side, it is beautiful though.

We started this day in waves of 10, based on the results of the previous day. I was in around the ninth wave, so got to watch some of the fast kids taking off before I set off – and met someone who rode the same awesome bike that I do! She was riding in a mixed pair, and they were the beginning of a collection of riders I ended up getting to know, just because we kept a pretty similar pace each day.

Things got warm, legs kept spinning. I spent most of the last 20km just dreaming of the nice cool pond back at the finish line.

Once I hit the finish line, it was straight to the pond, feeling a little in need of a hug. I’d caught the ST6 bus out to Nipika that morning – just me, my bike and my duffle bag, out to take on the world on our own, while my menfolk stayed home. But it’s a little lonely, doing a big multi-day race on your own. Although I ended up meeting a whole lot of awesome people, it would be really fun to do a race like this with some friends you knew beforehand too.