We boarded a bus at 7.30am for a 3hr journey from Fernie heading North into Kananaskis Country. We arrived at our destination which was a very unremarkable paddock for what promised to be an easy day on the bike according to the distance and metres of elevations required to climb. The temperature was very warm around 25 degrees at the start line and we were dressed for a summery day. In fact the previous 3 days had all been quite warm so we were not prepared for what lay ahead. After getting our bikes from the transport truck it dawned on us that our bags with our hydration packs and food were on the shuttle heading for the end of the stage. An Australian volunteer whose husband was racing heard of our plight and when she saw one of the rental trucks turn up she asked one of the race organisers to look inside to see if our bags were on board. Luck was on our side and our bag was found, we were both extremely grateful for their help and were feeling more relaxed about the day ahead.
The race kicked off at midday for a very warm start up a very open exposed long hill. I was becoming accustomed to the 30-40 minutes of climbing at the start of each stage. We noticed the pace was much quicker today but this was mostly due to new riders joining the race to complete the 4 day solo event with their fresh legs. After the first long climb the hills became rolling and quite enjoyable to ride. At about 2 hours into the ride we started to hear thunder and a storm was rolling in all around us. About this time, a Deere sprinted across the fire road we were riding on narrowly missing Matt.
Shortly after the Deere incident rain started to pelt down on us closely followed by hail. We continued to ride the rest of the stage in the rain and the temperature started to plummet and was around 8 degrees by the time we crossed the finish line. We were treated to a number of creek crossings during this stage which were meant to be dry but the rain managed to get them flowing and the water was freezing. Just before we finished the stage there was a wide creek crossing that was waist deep which required us to carry our bikes above our heads.
We crossed the finish line just over 4hrs and we washed the bikes and headed for a warm shower.
Today was marked as being the hardest day and it did not disappoint. We both started the day wearing a lot more clothes than the previous day including rain jackets to keep us warm. The morning was cold but not raining. In true Transrockies style we began the stage with a half hour climb. This climb was on a gravel road and steady until we entered the single track which we were greeted with with what we thought was snow. In fact it was about 4 inches of hail but had the same appearance as snow and was very cold to ride through. We rode through the hail for about 5 km.
The next section of single track was great fun and was downhill for quite some time before being greeted by the next climb of the day. We were told to expect a lot of climbing and a lot of steep climbing. After check point one which was about 22km into the stage we started the big climb of the day. It was very steep in parts and toward the top very rocky with lots of tree roots and very difficult to ride. To make matters worse the storm clouds rolled in again and when we were almost at the top, well above 2000 metres above sea level, the rain came down again. This time we had our rain jackets on and thermals on so it was not as demoralising as the previous day. After we reached the top we got to ride an amazing track for what
seemed like a long time. The track was wet at this stage but still very rideable. However this changed when we started climbing again and we entered a section of track that had only recently been built. It was incredibly boggy and was impossible to ride without sliding out, or the bike getting clogged up to the point where it could not move very easily. We then headed into checkpoint two with about 20 kms to go.
For the final leg of this stage we were treated with more mud and rain as well as more climbing. At this point the mud had taken the toll on Matt's bike and both the front and rear brakes had deteriorated to a point where they weren't very effective. Fortunately the last 10kms were on a sealed road which made things easier but this was even tough as we had to climb up a 10% grade for a few kilometres before the final descent. All said and done the stage was the hardest but probably due to the rain. We rode around 68kms and climbed 2200 metres of climbing. We finished in a time of 6hours and 50 minutes. That night it was cold again but the Sky had cleared and the forecast was for a sunny following day.
Before starting the stage there was a last minute course alteration due to a Bear and her cubs being spotted where we were going to be riding. The officials did not want to take the risk so the ride was diverted at the end to finish at the Nipkiska Casino with a shuttle organised to take us up to overnight camp site - Rafter Six Ranch. Seeing a Casino in the middle of nowhere is quite a remarkable site but it had a lot of punters there trying to make their fortunes.
The stage began with a climb around 45 minutes before heading downhill. We rode some single track in reverse from the previous day and then did a stint on some fire roads which was quite a nice change. The sun was out and things were much warmer than the previous two days. Things were going well and then we started the first really big climb which took us up to an elevation of around 2100 metres. The views were amazing from the top which was clear and you could see in every direction as there were no trees. We then headed down some really rocky rough riding we was great fun. This was a short reprieve on our weary legs with the final big climb ahead bringing us up to an altitude of 2400 metres. The view from the final summit was even more spectacular. Then the fun began as we headed down another steep rocky descent. The journey down lasted for what seemed like an eternity and we had lost the feeling in our arms from holding on over the rough terrain. Once at the bottom we rode on a fire road for about 8kms up a long hill into checkpoint two. We were told that it was all downhill for the next 20kms and thankfully it was. It was a much appreciated section of trail which ended with about 5km's on the road. The rain held off and it was a very enjoyable stage. We crossed the line in around 6hours and 20minutes. It was the longest stage around 70km's with a similar amount of climbing to the previous day. The race organisers thought of everything and had frozen slushies ready for us as we waited for our shuttle to Rafter Six Ranch.
The final stage on paper, was the easiest due to the smaller climbs and smaller race distance. We started the stage with a short section of single trail before heading out onto the highway for around 3 kilometres of bitumen. The pace was fast with a massive headwind making the conditions difficult. We tried to ride in packs to be protected by the wind. We had a great start and stayed toward the front of the pack on the road before heading into the single track. The singeltrack was great fun and maybe knowing this was the last day made it all that much sweeter. There were short sharp climbs but nothing that could not be ridden except for a series of steep staircases. We charged into checkpoint 1 just over an hour into the ride and we knew today would be over quite quickly. We were then treated with more of the same style tracks and after checkpoint 2 there was an easy climb up 150 metres which gave us enough elevation to finish with a 5 kilometre downhilll descent to the finish line. Before we got to this point we encountered a few recreational riders out on the tracks, which Canmore has around 100km's of trails at it's disposal. The first chap we met followed us for around 2 kilometres and at first I thought he was racing with us. I noticed after a while he did not have a number plate on the front of his bike. He was pushing up our Tempo and he finally asked us how long our race was. We remarked that it was 7 days long and today was our last day. At this point he promptly discontinued the chase and wished us well.
We rolled into the main street of Canmore which was absolutely packed in a time of 3hours and 20 minutes. The stage was 45 kilometres and only 1300 metres of climbing. It was an amazing feeling coming across the finish line knowing that we had achieved only what around 3000 riders before us have done. We were given a finishers T-shirt, Medal and certificate to prove that we had completed the race. We finished 13th overall out of 20 teams in the Open Men's category. We were very happy with our result given the calibre of riders we competed against.
Thank you to everyone who supported our journey and we really appreciated your well wishes and emails which helped keep us motivated. Thank you to everyone who donated to the Friends of Bryan which I am sure will be gratefully appreciated. We are looking forward to a bit of a break from riding to let the legs recover.
Finally for me personally, I would like to thank my wife for supporting me through this amazing journey. From the 4.30am early morning alarm clock rings (which also woke her up each day), through to the long weekend rides that took me away from my family. I only wish that our children had been slightly older so I could have shared this amazing experience with my family. I promise not to tick off my other Bucket List ambition (Everest) any time soon.
We both woke up feeling strong and refreshed. We had a great breakfast which along with our dinners is provided to us by the event organisers everyday. The organisation of this race is phenomenal. The sheer logistics of feeding a few hundred people everyday let alone organise all of the other things required to run a race is quite mind blowing and the event organisers have done a better job than any other race that I have been to. After breakfast and getting the bikes ready we were lining up again ready for another hard day in the saddle.
The stage started with an easy couple of kilometres which were quite flat. This was short lived and we started up our first hill which was the same height as the Toowoomba range. The hill was not as steep as the hills from yesterday but we were very warm 25 minutes later when we got to the top. After the climb we were greeted with the most amazing single track I have ever ridden, which went straight back down the elevation we had just gained. This was the last bit of fun for next few hours. The next 35km was almost all climbing including a 1100 metre vertical climb. Parts of the climb were very easy while others quite hard. We climbed to an elevation of 2000 metres and followed the ridge line for quite some time. This was when I took a little swim in one of the big bog holes that we tried to ride around. A rider in front of me stop very abruptly and I was following too closely (It was my own fault) and I had only one direction to go which was sideways which is where the water and mud filled hole was.
After more of the same we finally got to the summit of the climb 2100 metres in elevation which we have attached an image to give you perspective of the height we had reached. We then headed down the other side down the track named 'Porky Blue' which is a double diamond run. We had been warned by the race directors the night before to walk the first 200 metres. We chose to play it safe and follow their advice. After this things got slightly easier but was still very difficult. After about 5 minutes of descending I noticed that I could pull my rear brake lever all the way back to my frame without any rear brake what so ever. The grade was still around 20% so you can imagine the thoughts going through my mind when this happened. I managed to stop and the brake was still all intact. I pumped the brake several times and got some power back. It turns out that the mechanic that fixed it later on said it is due to the fluid in the brake boiling due to overuse and old oil. He replaced the oil and hopefully it will be back on track tomorrow. Anyway after about 5km's of downhill it flattened out thankfully as our arms were aching from holding onto the brakes.
The next section was flat fire roads for about 5kms which rolled up and down. We then entered more single track for around 5kms following the creek line back into town. The single track was a great way to finish. We crossed the line in 5hrs and 19 minutes.
Total distance 52km
Total climbing 2000 metres.
Tomorrow's stage is shorter but has more climbing.
We are now back online and the race is over. Below is a summary of the last four days which were exhilarating but exhausting.
Today saw us leave the main street of Fernie for the 3rd day in a row. As we rode off from the start line the AC DC song highway to hell was blaring from the stereo which at the end of the stage I couldn't help but think how appropriate. Today's ride was in my opinion by far the hardest ride of the three days due to the amount of walking up step hills involved.
After a quick 2km on bitumen which was very misleading we then entered the first of 7 climbs all the same height as the Toowoomba Range. The first one was particularly nasty and almost all of the riders walked a very large part of it. When we got to the top we were greated with a small reprieve down for about 100metres of vertical drop and then went back up again another 200 metres to finish the first climb. By this stage I was thinking how silly doing this race was and wondered why anyone would punish themselves in this way. Matt on the other hand with his ostrich long legs seemed to be well suited to the hike a bike that would invariably dominate the stage. To his credit when I was getting very tired from the walking he would come back and help me out by pushing my bike like a true team mate would. I probably did not heed the warnings of the organisers to practice hiking with my bike enough and given my anatomically challanged limbs I was never really going to practice anyway it as I hate walking up hills. I would prefer to ride up them.
Anyway the first descent was named 'Swine Flu' and we both enjoyed the trail with the big wide berms. It was over almost as fast as it started and we were climbing again. This pattern of up then down repeated itself 6 more times. The trails in general were littered with more tree roots than the tracks we had already ridden which made things hard to ride up and down. There was a large amount of bridges and ladders to ride over which in some cases were a couple of metres off of the ground.
Anyway the stage finished at Island lake lodge which is about 1600 metres above sea level. Our time was 5hours and 40 minutes. We actually moved up two places today which is great considering how much I was suffering.
After the race we were told that we could catch a shuttle back to Fernie which was about 8km's downhill from our finish location. We waited for about 45 minutes and decided to ride back down. A lady who was with us coined the term 'Polish Massage' to describe riding back to your hotel room after a race. About a third of the way down the hill I heard a big bang and my rear tyre went flat. I looked down and I had a nice big nail in my tyre. About this time the shutltle passed us and I think we were both thinking we should have waited. After a quick tyre change we got to the bottom of the hill without too much fuss until we turned the wrong way on the highway thinking we were heading back into Fernie which in actual fact we were going futher South toward America. It took us about 2 km to realise and by this time our legs had certainly received their Polish Massage.
Anyway this may be our last update unitl we get to Canmore for the final stage as we are going into the wilderness for the next 4 stages. I will give a wrap up on the final stage if we do not get a wireless connection.
Today we raced the first stage of the race which was a 32 km time trial. Doesn't really sound so bad when you look at that distance but it was definately hard. The time trial starts with a nice 500 vertical metre climb over 5km's. This climb was incredibly steep in parts and the GPS device I use got to 38% on one of the sections. About half-way up the climb Matt got a puncture on his tubless tyre which looked like a sharp root tore a big hole in the tyre. The liquid designed to fill the hole inside the tyre could not seal it due to it being such a big chunk missing so we ended up putting a normal tube inside the tyre which held up for the rest of the first stage.
After the mammoth climb which wound itself around one of the many hills in the Fernie area and came to a definate peak with amazing views, we headed down the hill on the other side and were greated with even steeper sections than what we had just climbed up. It was some of the most difficult riding that we have ever done mostly due to the steepness. Canadians have a real fondness for making things steep and scary. We both made it down without any incidents and we checked into checkpoint 1 for some food and water.
After leaving checkpoint 1, I came off the bike riding up a hill section, which my riding friends will attest is more likely to happen for me going up than down. I fell on my shoulder and for the rest of the ride had quite a bit of tingling in my left triceps which was made worse by the constant braking. After the race I had a massage which help work out some of the soreness.
The remainder of the race was mostly singletrack that seemed to go up then down then back up again. There were sections of what they call northshore which is bridges, ladders and trees that are made into rideable objects. These were quite fun and a pleasant distraction from the steep hills which required more effort due to the concentration and braking.
Anyway we made it back into fernie in a time of 3 hours and 30 minutes which would have been around 15 minutes quicker without our mechanical issues. We are placed around half-way but we took it fairly easy today due to the remaining 6 days to come. Some of the riders doing this are sponsored worldclass athletes and it's great to see them in their element (and going twice our speed).
For the statisticians today’s ride was 32km, 1400m of climbing and around 95% singletrack.
Tommorrow's stage is a bigger stage with 52km of riding and 2000 metres of climbing. The consolation is the climbing is not as steep and mostly on fireroad which should make it easier.
Ryan and Matt
Progress Update 1
After a very long trip Matt, his wife Bekk and I made it to Fernie in one piece. We arrived around 6.00pm and by 10.00pm we crashed for a very well deserved sleep only before having a pint of ale at the local ski lodge. Although not part of our training regime it certainly helped me get to sleep on a somewhat confused body clock.
Today which is Friday here, we both woke up feeling somewhat refreshed and keen to see the local trails. I have always been an advocate of not riding two days before a race but the temptation was too great and we did an easy hour around the ski area which we are staying. The trails here are simply amazing and ride better than any other trails that I have ridden. I am sure we will be echoing that sentiment many more times before we go home.
After some lunch we then decided to go for a hike up the ski fileds. We caught the lift part way up and hiked a fair distance until a storm rolled in. A nice Canadian who was manning the top lift tower let us stay in his hut until it passed. We saw a few deer on our walk, ground squrrels and some fresh Bear prints.
Anyway thanks again to everyones donations, wellwishes and thanks to Luke for the cake which was greatfully eaten before we left.
Ryan and Matt