Written by: Amy Thomas (Team Yeti Beti)
There are much cheaper ways to get a Dakine wheelie bag. But the only way to get one with the BC BIKE RACE logo embroidered on it, is to sign up for the BC Bike Race. For the 4th year in a row, the Dakine wheelie bag carries everything you need for seven amazing days of riding. The bag unfortunately (or fortunately) gets a short cut. Every morning, the Dakine bag gets loaded on a truck and/or ferry to the next night's sleep while you are out ripping around on some of the sweetest singletrack that British Columbia's Coast has to offer.
Yeti Beti's Chelsea and I left Colorado on June 23 for what would become a trip of a lifetime. We had somewhat of an idea what we were getting ourselves into before the start on June 26-- 7 long stages on technical terrain with lots of climbing, without any luxuries of home. What we didn't expect was the racing itself wouldn't be the highlight.
The BC Bike Race prides itself with over 70% singletrack and it didn't disappoint. They design very purposeful courses that not only challenge each racer, but showcases the very technical riding that is BC. Each locale differs with geographical beauty between coastal mountains and rainforest backdrops. Coming from landlocked and dry Colorado, the ocean was a pleasant diversion from our usual scenery and sea level offered an abundance of oxygen.
With 500 racers from 21 countries and almost 20% female participants, it was a flurry of languages, bikes, and multi-colored spandex at registration. With so many people coming to race from outside of BC, the organizers started on us a friendly introduction to North Shore riding. Everyone raced a 3.7km prologue with a little bit of climbing followed by a twisty, rooty, rocky section. The real racing would commence on Stage 1 after a BC Ferry ride from Horseshoe Bay over to Victoria Island's Nanaimo. 67km with 500 racers on singletrack certainly had it's moments of congestion on the trails. We quickly learned that getting quicker starts meant better technical riders around us and less walking. Any woman that we met along the way rode with amazing finesse and we trusted all their lines. The same could not be said for mid-pack men. We concluded that many had never been "chicked" before. Overall, trail etiquette improved as eventually they accepted us simply as good riders.
When we weren't riding, we found ourselves socializing with lots of new friends instead of actually trying to recover. We met Trent and Brian from Canada, Suzanne and Elliot from Australia, Barry and Bill from Canada, Alan and Garrett from Australia, Brent and Matt from Canada, Ian from Australia, Jill and Tami from Canada, Lizzy from South Africa, Brenda from Atlanta, Sarah from Whistler, Colleen and Mary from Vancouver. Every day we chatted with people before, during and after the race. What's impressive is that we all converged to the same race for the same reason-- to find the elation after those effort-filled moments after cleaning a technical section you never imagined possible. By day 7, most racers were riding with new found confidence that had been revealed during the crash course of racing BCBR.
As a two person team, you ride with your partner for long periods of time. Luckily, Chelsea and I went through bad spells separately and were able to support each other easily since one of us always felt good. Thanks to Dr. Colin Wilson who tapped up several riders every morning, including Chelsea, and she was able to ride pain free after day 1. Each successive stage offered different technical singletrack and a lot of it blurred together. Mostly what I remember is that initially I hated riding roots. But I had to quickly get over that since there are just so many trees in the rainforest! We sat solidly in 4th place most of the week but were being chased by Jill and Tami from Canada. The racing itself would wax and wain because most of the time we couldn't actually see our competition. When we did see our competition on course, we'd step it up for a few kilometers and try to finish strong.
Having dry, sunny weather in a rainforest through four days seemed to good to be true. Day 5 at Sechelt, we awoke to a light drizzle that turned to a steady rain by the 8am start. We were feeling our 3rd place effort from the day before and had a slower than usual start. When we hit steep uphill singletrack, many riders ahead were simply walking as the trail was greasy slick and treacherous for our abilities to ride wet spiderweb roots. We lost time overall but enjoyed yet another BC Ferry ride after the race literally ended at Langdale ferry terminal. We were off to Squamish and looking forward to the next stage. We chatted with Sarah, who frequently rides Squamish trails, and she said we'd really enjoy the next stage with more rideable terrain.
Neither Sarah nor Squamish disappointed on Day 6. We awoke to clearing skies over an amazing backdrop similar to Telluride with jetting snowy peaks from the valley floor and some of the most famous rock faces in the world. As a mountain biker, to not ride in Squamish is to not truly experience the best singletrack on the planet. Day 6 was absolutely the highlight of the week for us. After a 12k climb, racers were treated to the newly built 3.4km downhill pump track, Half Nelson. It's refreshing to learn that some areas, like Squamish, actually embrace mountain biking and financially support the trails. The City of Squamish gave $100k grant to SOCRA (www.sorca.ca) and Half Nelson is the product of the goodness that can happen. Half Nelson was pure elation. Riding that trail made the ENTIRE trip worth every mile trained and every dollar spent. I will forever remember the sense of flying through the rainforest on a trail built for mountain bikers with perfect burrms and kickers scattered through out the descent. I was so high on adrenaline, I don't even remember climbing again before another amazing descent. My day ended with me seeing Alex in the medical tent cleaning out my elbow after crashing 1/2 hour before the finish. Luckily it was just a minor flesh wound, little bandaid, vitamin-I, and off to bed for day 7.
We were bussed up to Whistler from Squamish and I got a chance to randomly meet the unicyclist Kris Holm. He was so unassuming I didn't realize who I was sitting next to until he mentioned, "finding his bike every morning was easy with one wheel". Kris is a super cool guy and he really inspired people on the trail with his epic skill. In my wildest dreams I can't imagine the skill he posses after having barely survived riding everything on TWO wheels.
Another thing we learned over the course of the week was that the shorter distance days didn't necessarily mean an easy day. Day 7 race designer Grant Lamont has a bit of a reputation up in Whistler (so we were warned) and I wasn't expecting anything short of a 3 hour day for the 20km. The race started right at the base of Blackcomb Mountain at the host hotel Fairmont Chateu. We would be treated to a very Colorado-esque race. Fire road climb on the ski hill, followed by singletrack climb, followed by fun downhill. The second half had us riding rocky, twisty trails that everyone seemed to be blazing through. We hit a bit a pavement at 18k and thought we were surly nearing the finish. NO! Like most days, "2k to go", loosely translates in Canadian to 5k to go with a hellacious climb before a downhill finish. We suffered a bit on reserve energy but finally finished in 2:12. Every racer was awarded a hard earned BC Bike Race belt buckle, a handshake and THANK YOU from Race President Dean Payne, a pound of coffee from Kicking Horse Coffee, and an official finisher's tee shirt.
How amazing the race was really can't be described well enough in this post. The logistics alone that BC Bike Race pours into this race is unsurpassed and they continue to strive to constantly keep everyone racing AND happy. We are finding ourselves longing to start another stage and wanting to pack up the Dakine Wheelie with the simple essentials for happiness. The adventure only lasted 8 days, but the experience we're taking back to Colorado to spread the love of the BC Bike Race. Dean Payne's vision of the BC BIke Race was really not that crazy as we all just want to ride our bikes through the woods. Thank you Dean and to all your amazing BC BIKE RACE staff and volunteers.