TransRockies 2011: Final Thoughts

Well, it’s been about a week and a half since Mark™ and I rolled over the finish line in Canmore, after 7 very tough days racing in the TransRockies X.   In that time, I’ve had a fabulous week in California to recover and reflect on the race, and I thought I’d put my thoughts down in my last ever blog post…probably (after all, the blog title is rather limiting!).

The Good

  • the organization – despite my grumblings about the lack of information beforehand, everything seemed to run very smoothly, and most things were taken care of for the riders (most…see The Bad below!)
  • the downhills – they were “awesome”!!  Fast, flowing, technically challenging…and just brilliant fun!  The standout ones were Porky Blue on Day 2, Verbotten on Day 3 (and in our warmup ride) and the one off Cox’s Mountain on Day…er….5? 6?
  • my uppy-downy seatpost – get one!!
  • my bike – Trek Fuel EX 9.9…it never let me down, was brilliant to ride and nice and light to push!!  (Mark and I didn’t have any breakdowns or punctures the whole week)
  • the weather and the views – when we did TR09, all we had was rain and mud.  This year, we only had a couple of days of rain, and the rest was brilliant sunshine, stunning views and fast dry trail – well worth going back for
  • the people – from competitors, to volunteers, to supporters, to the TransRockies crew,  it’s the people that make events like this.  It’s great to meet like-minded  folk from around the world, knowing that you can bore each other rigid talking about bikes and biking!  (Big shoutout to Lostboy, Stuey and Racing Raf!!!)

The Bad

  • Um…a bit of a big one this….the route!  For me, a TransRockies without the “Trans” bit is missing something – 3 days in Fernie followed by a 3 hour bus ride and then 2 nights in Little Elbow, we only really went anywhere on 3 days.  Put the “Trans” back in TransRockies!
  • I know the organizers want to give riders as much great singletrack as possible (and they certainly did that!), but for me they’ve gone too far – singletrack climbs are all well and good but as soon as one person in the line starts walking, then everyone behind has to walk too.  Day 3 was particularly bad, with a long unrideable climb straight off the road.
  • Day 3 – I felt like we were riding the downs to get to the next up, rather than the other way round, and the finish at Island Lake Lodge seemed pointless – the views weren’t that great, it was full of mozzies, and we all had to ride back 10km down the road to get back to Fernie!
  • After the finish – all our luggage was in the Radisson, and there was no transport provided to get riders and their bikes and bags from there to the other partner hotels – it was a real pain in the bum, especially after 7 days hard riding!  It was provided in 2009, and I can’t believe it would be much effort or cost to provide, would it?
  • Minor one…I would have a mass start on Day 1, so everyone gets that huge buzz from starting a mass participation event, then have the time trial on Day 2

So, what next?  I can’t see myself doing the TransRockies again – twice is enough I think. BC bike race?  TransAndes?  TransPyr (Pyrenees)?  TransPortugal?  There’s one in Colorado that sounds “challenging” (aka “hideous”)?  Something “self organized”…Mark has some route from the Alps to the Med in mind.  Maybe back to running stuff.  Who knows? One thing’s for sure – I’m going to get some windsurfing done…bring on those Autumnal gales!!

Thanks to my loyal reader (stalker) for reading…I hope you, and anyone else who stumbled across this, has got something out of reading this stuff for the last 8 months…you never know, I might even come back in a new persona, blogging about whatever my next challenge turns out to be!  (On the other hand, maybe you should keep an eye out for a blog about Fat Orangutans on Bikes…..)

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TransRockies Day 7 – The End

Day 7 of TransRockies X was a relatively short (48km) ride from Rafter Six Ranch to Canmore…and “only” 1000m of climbing….but all done at “Last Day Fever” pace! After 6 days of very hard riding, I was feeling pretty sore and tired, so knew it would be quite tough going.

The weather fairies were smiling on us again and it was a beautiful morning – clear blue skies, and already much warmer than the previous day. After a less than ideal breakfast (the Rafter Six people seemed to think that all an athelete needs is protein…), we set about the routine of getting ourselves and our bikes ready one last time – chamois cream (very much needed now….don’t believe anyone who says you don’t need it!), cycling kit on, suncream, gels and bars counted, camelback filled, energy drink bottle filled, kit packed up and bags dropped off for transport, and then check in at the start line….for the last time.
As predicted, the pace off the start was frantic…a bit of twisty turny stuff around the camp and we hit the TransCanada Highway – and there was a lane closed off, just for us…how cool is that? That’s like someone closing off a lane of the M4 so a bunch of mountainbikers can get to their next bit of singletrack! Anyway, the 4 or 5 km of road was horrible…it was soooo windy!! We got ourselves a little train going (train? More like a clapped out tram, but it helped) taking turns on the front, though I could only hold the front for about a minute at a time – it was such a relief to get off the road and onto some trail.

As usual, it all blurs a bit, but there was some lovely singletrack through the woods, and some horrible singletrack through the woods! Luckily, most of it was rideable, bar a few flights of stairs and rooty rocky sections. After a few kms of nicely made trail through a new housing development, we hit the final checkpoint…”just” 10km to go! Just to make sure we were well and truly knackered, the course headed steeply up here for a few km and a few hundred metres climb. We had to work extra hard on the climb to get past a biker with a bear bell on his bike…do you have any idea how f***ing annoying those things are?!? Those km from 38 to 40 seemed to take forever…why wouldn’t the trail start dropping? After a few false starts we hit some really good track dropping steeply down through the fact, Mark and I enjoyed it so much we decided to do one section twice (trying to get us to follow arrows was always doomed)…and when we recovered from that, we found ourselves behind BearBell Man again!! Luckily, we managed to pass him again, and dropped quickly down to Canmore.

After a few more corners, we hit the main street – crowds cheering, cameras flashing, a man riding a skateboard while holding a video camera – and there was the finish line right in front of us…we’d done it! Our second TransRockies, finished…how good did that feel?!?
We ended up 19th overall in the 80+ Mens category (strangely, exactly the same position as two years ago); 35-ish hours of riding (52-ish last time); no punctures, no bike failures, no injuries. Oh and no bears!!

Where's my beer?!??!

I’ll post again sometime during the week with my final thoughts on this year’s TransRockies, but right now I need to head to California to rest and recover, and not ride my bike.

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Day 6 – Little Elbow to Rafter Six Ranch

It was flipping freezing when we woke up in Little Elbow this morning…really, really cold.   But the sky was clear, and it looked like we might at least start the day in the dry – just as well, as this was the longest distance of this year (71km), with 1900m of climbing, with a big climb up to the top of Cox Mountain.

Just before the start, the sun rose over the surrounding mountains, and its heat got clouds of steam rising off all the wet packs and shoes that everyone was struggling into.  From the course briefing, we knew that today started with the same horrible fireroad climb as yesterday – yuck.  Strangely tho’, my legs felt much better than yesterday, and the whole climb seemed much easier – I even managed to stay in the middle chainring, unlike yesterday!

We then had a long-ish climb/hike-a-bike section before dropping down a long doubletrack , and then rode up the river valley that we’d come down the day before…I can honestly say, almost none of it looked even vaguely familiar!  At this point, I was feeling pretty rotten…not sure why, but I felt really nauseous, and found it all pretty tough going.. and we hadn’t even started the real climb of the day yet!!

Leaving the first feed station, we started the long, long, long climb to the top of Cox Mountain, with over 500m vertical ascent.  About 2 minutes after leaving the feed station, I realized that I’d filled my Camelbak with Ultima energy drink, not water…really not a good move with probably an hour and half of hot work ahead of me – yes, the sun was still out!!  The climb went on and on up through the woods, up tight switcbacks, rooty and rocky sections and forever upwards – for a while I was completely alone, which is a strange sensation when in you’re in a race with 350 other bikers!!

Anyway, after endless climbing we eventually topped out…to be greeted by this:

well worth the trip

The views were stunning, and as we rode the long traverse across the saddle, it was hard to keep your eyes on the trail!  And seeing as I annoyed Mark by constantly stopping to take photos, here’s another!

The descent down was “awesome” really was.  It went on for miles, a twisty, rocky, rooty trail down the side of the mountain…by the time we hit the road at the bottom, I was exhausted…thighs burning from being off the saddle the whole time, and hands and forearms aching from the hard braking!   Now there was an endless gravel road to feed station 2…I’d had enough by now, and just wanted to stop…I’d decided to give up mountain biking and take up flying radio controlled planes instead (I have no idea why!).  A quick look at the course profile at the feed station showed we only had 250m of climbing over the next 20km….and I didn’t really notice much of it!  It turned out to be fast, flowing track dropping down slowly before hitting dirt road, then tarmac for 7km to the finish…6:40 something after starting.  I’ve never been more pleased to see the finish…possibly!

So, we’re now in Rafter Six Ranch campsite, looking forward to the LAST DAY!!  I can’t wait to finish now….enough is enough!  Hopefully the weather will hold, and it will be a fast and not too exhausting 45km into Canmore…and beer!!!

Here’s a couple of photos of the camp tonight….probably the nicest spot I’ve stopped at in a TransRockies…much helped by great weather and great food (but have you tried cutting a big slab of beef with a plastic knife?!?!).

the view....

yep, I’ve found the panorama mode on my camera!
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Day 5 – Little Elbow to Little Elbow

Day 5 done…and what a day. 68km in 7hrs 10 mins, and we’re both exhausted. I’m sitting in the drying tent – a big gas barbecue burning in the middle, with about a million bits of smelly, wet cycling gear drying all around me. And I paid money to do this.
We woke to grey, cold, rain-filled skies and everyone was dressed in wet weather gear for the start. ..the forecast wasn’t good. As usual the day started with a long fire-road climb…it’s taking longer and longer for my legs and head to wake up in the mornings, as I get more and more worn down, so these big climbs are really painful. It didn’t help that it was only 7C.
After the fire-road, we turned onto a nice long singletrack descent through the woods, covered in “snow” (actually all the hail from overnight that hadn’t melted). It made the downhill more exciting…you really had to stay on line! As we popped out of the woods, ti looked and felt like biking in the UK in January, with a watery sun peeking through the cloud and snow on the ground.
After some more stuff that I can’t really remember (other than passing LostBoy, my internet stalker, who was fixing the first of his 3 punctures of the day), we hit the big climb of the day…it started off as a nice rideable single track twisting up through the forest. Towards the top, it got less and less rideable – this must be the “gnarly” bit they mentioned. And it started raining. By the time we got the top, there was nothing to see except really was like TransRockies 2009 again!
The descent from the top was fantastic…steep and rocky at the top, and big, bermed switchbacks all the way to the bottom….really great fun. Sadly, that’s where the fun ended for a while. The next thousand miles through the woods was horrible…totally boggy, rooty, up and down crap cut to a swamp by the all the riders. By now, Mark was having a serious sense of humour failure…chainsuck on his bike was causing him real problems (not that it would have made much difference, ‘cos it wasn’t rideable anyway). The last 2km to the checkpoint took forever!
After that, to be honest, the day turns into a bit of a blur…I knew we were going to be out for at least 7 hours, so it became a bit of a survival day after that. I seem to remember some pretty good singletrack stuff, but mostly I remember Mark’s many “useless piece of ****” moments, and the 12km road section at the end…it just seemed like an endless climb…maybe because it was! We finally got the end of the climb, and dropped down the final road section back to camp…completely exhausted. We’re in serious recovery mode now…tomorrow is the longest day of the 7, and with all the rain we’ve had (and our still having) it’s going to be a long, exhausting day.

Apologies for not posting this yesterday…no interweb available! 

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TransRockies Day 4: Middle of nowhere to Little Elbow

Well, our luck had to end….we’re sitting in our little tent, huddled in our sleeping bags, listening to the rain beating down outside.  We’ve had thunder and lightening and hail and rain and mud to contend with today.  But at least we’re going somewhere, rather than going round and round in circles in Fernie!  Today was much more like a “proper” TransRockies stage.

The day started with a 3 hour bus ride from Fernie to a field in the middle of nowhere, where we started racing.  Today’s stage was a relatively easy 48km, with 1200m of climbing, so in theory a bit of a recovery day after yesterday.  I can’t say it was exactly a gentle start, with a 4 or 5km gravel road climb, before your legs had the chance to wake up…not nice.  A bit of meandering along gravel road before the only really big climb of the day….when I say “climb”, I mean “walk” pushing a bike.  It did go on a bit, and Mark got overtaken by a butterfly, which has to be a first!

After a few false dawns we eventually reached the top, and were greeted by a fantastic, though slightly threatening view.

Not a bad view really...

We rolled into a long, long rolling descent, just as it started to rain, mixed with hail…with thunder and lightening crashing round the mountains above us.  (It did make me wonder whether a carbon-framed bike was a sensible thing to be out on in a thunderstorm….).

Eventually, we hit the feed station, and were forced, for the first time in this TransRockies, to put our waterproofs on…boo hiss!!!  It rained or hailed pretty hard for the rest of the ride, and the course quickly got pretty muddy in places….the last 3 or 4km descent would have been fantastic in the dry, but I was riding pretty much blind…if I took my glasses off, I got mud in my eyes, if I kept them on, they got so wet and muddy I couldn’t see anyway!!!

After a quick wade through a river (my bike started floating away..a disadvantage of a light bike?!), we hit gravel road, then proper road for a few kms into the campsite.  I was pretty cold by now, so Mark washed the bikes (thankyou!) while I rescued our slightly damp bags from the baggage truck.  I’m now finally warm again after a great dinner and wrapping myself in my sleeping bag!

I think tomorrow is a circular 60-something km around a big day.  On the plus side, we’ve done more days than there are left to do…on the not-so-plus side, we’re only at the halfway point mileage-wise!  Friday is the biggest stage of all…75km.

(It’s a bit weird being seemingly in the middle of nowhere with no phone access, but having web-access..even if it is a bit shaky….maybe the rain is disturbing the satellite signal.)

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Day 3 – Last day in Fernie…um..why did we have to do that last climb???

Today was a long, hot, dusty and slightly frustrating day in the saddle – 43km (ish) from Fernie to Island Lake Lodge. 6 and a half  big climbs, with 5 and half descents.  Can you see the problem with that?  Yep, that meant we finished with a long, tough and pointless climb!!  There were some great singletrack descents, but it just didn’t work for me.

Just for a change, I’m not going to write much today…Mark™ is going to guest-post instead:

Hello! First off apologies to those who know me and my ‘writing’ style (Hi Nic!), there’s a reason I’m a scientist and not a writer…

We thought today was going to be pretty brutal from the route description, and we were not to be disappointed, unfortunately. I think the course designer just tried to put ‘too much’ into today. There’s only so much going up and down the same hillsides (all be it on different tracks) that you can take, and then the rather silly non Fernie finish (island lake lodge) or midge-lodge as it should be called up at the trailhead, was very much an ascent too far, for no good reason.

OK, so the view is OK....but not worth the work!!

Despite this we climbed about 3/4 of it and I reckon that Richard is getting his biking legs back after a bad start

Most of that is dirt, not tan!

Just look at the pic to see the state of his current cycling tan!  So 3 days gone 4 to go… And good-bye Fernie.. 




So, as Mark says, today’s stage is our last in Fernie, and our last night living in the lap of luxury (sort of) in a hotel…it’s the tent village from tomorrow evening, right through to Canmore.  But then, that’s what TransRockies is about…getting something of a wilderness experience, and the next 4 days should provide that (tough luck if you’re doing TR3…you just get Fernie).  I’m not sure what, if any, interweb access I’ll have until Canmore, so if you don’t hear from me, you know why!

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TransRockies Day 2 – the longest descent in the world…probably!

Another day done…and what a day!  The first mass start of the week, with the Fernie vintage fire engine leading out 300-odd (very odd) riders to the TransRockies soundtrack – Highway to Hell.

The route started off much more like the “old” TransRockies…a huge long fireroad climb!   Over the course of 3.5 hours we wound our way up a mixture of doubletrack, singletrack and probably 20km of fireroad to the top of the world   I was getting serious flashbacks to 2009, with one major difference…it was dry!  And sunny!  And warm!   The last 5km of gently climbing doubletrack was punctuated with big mud pools, we’d been warned that some were deep enough to drown in!  3 of us decided to test that out – we rode in side by side, got to the middle and stopped dead in knee deep water!  Now it really was TR2009 all over again…wet and muddy!  Another few kms of singletrack climbing and we got to the top of the descent we’d all been waiting for…1100m drop over just 5km!!

Me staggering the last 30m to the top. Yes, I's dead flat...I was tired, OK?

This was just a bonkers descent…steep dusty singletrack going on and on and on, with tight switchbacks, roots, rocks and trees to keep you on your toes!  At the race briefing on Sunday night, we’d been told that only proper double-black diamond riders would be able to ride the first 500m….well, Mark and I must be proper double-black diamond riders, ‘cos we rode it all!  We both wiped out a couple of times, but nothing major…though one of mine was right in front of the videographer, so I may get to see it on the big screen this evening!!

With brake pads down to the metal and disks practically glowing red, we popped out at the final food station, grinning like idiots!  Then a quick 10km mix of fireroad and more sweet flowing singletrack and we were back on Main Street in Fernie, crossing the line in 4:53.  A much better day for me…heart rate was much more sensible!!   Tomorrow promises to be a killer day…43km with 2,200m of climbing…and none of your namby pamby fireroad climbs…all punishing, steep singletrack like day 1.  Methinks this calls for an “eek”!

Day 2 track and profile..check out that drop!


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TransRockies Day 1

So that’s Day 1 of TransRockies 2011 done…just 6 more to go. And I’ve got to say, if the rest of the days are as hard as today, I’m in big trouble…worryingly, today was the shortest day of the 7!
Today was time trial day…no mass start, instead riders going off at 1 minute intervals, with the start time depending on where you think you’re going to finish in the overall standings. Basically the fast ones start early, the slow ones start late…we had a start time of 10:56, so had plenty of time to fettle, hydrate, hang out and generally get more and more nervous as the morning wore on!
At about 10:45 our number was called, and we shuffled nervously towards the start…then our 10 second countdown, and we were off!

And it all started so well!

The thing about having people starting at 1 minute intervals is that you have a target…catch the people who started 1 min ahead of you and stop the people who started after you catching you. Within about 5km, we caught and passed two guys who started ahead of us, and I was feeling OK. Then the wheels fell off…or my legs…or both (not literally, tho’ there were times when I wished they would, and I could have got this whole crazy race over and done with). I was really struggling – it really was a punishing climb – the 500m ascent over 8.5km was just killing me. My heart rate was through the roof, way over what I can sustain for any distance and my legs felt dead. I couldn’t even ride in a straight line! The two guys we passed earlier cruised pass, then another team…and another …and another.

I was dead…Mark was doing all he could to encourage me, but I was having very dark thoughts – was my training all wrong? Where had my fitness gone? How the heck I could do 7 days of this crap when I couldn’t even finish one?? After about 3 days of climbing, we crested the top…Mark tells me it was a great view…sorry, no pictures – I couldn’t see ‘cos my eyeballs were bleeding. Thankfully, we then had about a 3.5km descent dropping down nearly the full 500m we’d just gained…pretty tough and techie at the top, then easing into lovely rolling singletrack.

I couldn’t believe it had taken us 1.5hrs to get to the first checkpoint, only 10km in…I had visions of us being out there for 4-5 hours on what was supposed to be a relatively short day. It did get a bit easier after that…more short sharp climbs, but lots of rolling, fun singletrack…and I even started to enjoy it! (I did have to stop to let some guy pass who had the loudest bear bell in the world on his bike…it was either let him pass or kill him!!) The second checkpoint seemed to come up pretty quickly, and then it was fast (ish) rolling singletrack (with the inevitable nasty little climbs), all the way home.
We crossed the line in 3:23 (the winner finished in 1:48!!!!) – average speed 10kph…average heart rate – 157!!!  It’s nice to finish early…lots of time to recover, re-hydrate (it was very hot out there today) and rest, ready for Day 2 – 52km, 2000m of ascent – I guess 5+ hours.

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Deja Vu All Over Again

Uh oh….just 2 more sleeps until TransRockies 2011 starts, and it’s raining….eek!  We’ve gone from this:

Hardly a cloud in the sky.....

To this: the clouds

I’m very glad I didn’t go for the little walk I thought about…heavy rain and thunder and lightening are catching a lot of people out right now!!  The forecast for the rest of the week is still good, so hopefully this won’t turn into the 2009 mudfest!

Luckily, Mark™ and I got our ride in this morning in beautiful sunshine – an hour and half on a part of Day 3’s trails – really good fun, hard singletrack climbing followed by a steep technical descent – I reckon the three days around Fernie are really going to test our riding skills!

Wildlife count: 1 deer, 1 chipmunk.

The author, bear-spotting (not very successfully)

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Checking in from Fernie

So, after 22 hours of travelling, Mark™ and I arrived in Fernie for TransRockies 2011 just after midnight last night.  Somehow, we seem to have managed to book into the wrong hotel, but apart from that, it all went very smoothly.  (And actually, the hotel we’ve booked into is closer to the middle of Fernie, so actually makes more sense than the one we thought we’d booked into!!).

We entertained ourselves over breakfast by playing the “Make the Waitress Say You’re  Welcome As Many Times As Possible” game.  As a polite, well-brought up Brit, this is too shooting fish in a barrel.  Basically, when the waitress does anything at all near you or you table, say “thankyou”…she is then duty bound to say “You’re welcome”..ours added a flourish by saying “Sure…you’re welcome!” every single time.   Oh those long nights are just going to fly by!

Our bikes seem to have both survived the flight unscathed, so we took them out for a acclimatization ride this afternoon.

I'm pretty sure that's not the North Downs...

As you can see, the weather is awesome, and the trails are dry and very, very dusty….something my Bontrager summer tyres didn’t cope with too well.  The result was an almost inevitable wipe out…no injuries, just dust everywhere!!  The ride today took us up part of Day 3’s ride, with a climb of about 1000ft over about 9km – so far, the legendary Fernie singletrack has lived up to it’s reputation…testing singletrack climbing followed by a fast, flowing, technical descent..great fun..even if I couldn’t stop!  We were both noticing the altitude a bit, with heart-rates a lot higher than normal – hopefully, a couple of days of warm up riding should sort that out.

Fernie is as cool as I remember it, and it looks like the TransRockies is pretty much going to take it over for a few days – there is definitely a buzz around the place!  We’re off to meet one of my blog readers for dinner shortly, then another ride tomorrow…more altitude training, plus trying out my new tyres..did I mention my new tyres??!!

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