As told by Team Atmosphere MOMAR’s captain, Pete Cameron.
Square one…the starting point. Often times, one returns to square one to shake off a less than perfect beginning. Once regrouped and refocused, it’s time to get going again. Square one became a familiar place relating to the start to our participation in this year’s Atmoshere Raid the North Extreme
in BC’s West Kootenays.
The first time – Raid the North Extreme ’07 in Haida Gwaii. We were making our way from the mountain top height of CP2, down into a valley and up over the next pass to CP3/TA2, when we got cliffed out again and again. We just didn’t have the mountain experience to overcome this seemingly insurmountable challenge. We were convinced that we would be hearing helicopter blades all night long as team after team got plucked off of the mountain side in rescue…just like we probably needed to be. Nope. It was our problem. Ugh. We pulled the pin and got a boat ride back to the race HQ. Back to square one. We’d need more mountain experience on our team if we were to be competitive in a future race in British Columbia.
The second time – OK, let’s put a team together for RtNX ’11. Strong female?…check. We’ve got Lee. Wrench and strong, mule-like teammate?…check. James is in. Navigator?…check. That’s me…but…what about that whole mountain experience thing? Ugh. I hate finding teammates. Who can we get? Pause for a few weeks while we suss the scene out a little more. Oh, what about Todd Nowack? We were supposed to race together at Explore Sweden a few years ago and he’s from out west. Cool…he’s in.
The third time – 2.5 weeks until go time. Really? Todd’s out? Back injury…yikes…I wish that stuff on no one. Shit. Oh wait, I know…back to square one. After a nutty week of hosting 75 Salomon footwear dealers at Mont Tremblant, I switched focus to finding another teammate. We need someone strong. We need someone with a positive attitude. We need someone who compliments our collective skill set. I became an AR stalker. I spent 48 hours (save the 8 hours of sleep at night) at my laptop and phone, scouring race results, team rosters, facebook, attackpoint, and soliciting feedback from those whom I trust on various candidates. If you’ve ever raced, I likely know of your name now. Then, from out of nowhere, came our saviour – Jean-Yves Dionne. Sure, he sounds like he should be a right winger for the Habs but this guy’s got the AR stuff we need. Can we convince him at such a last minute? Lucky for us, we did. Square one must be in the rearview now.
It seemed like from then on, the AR gawds looked down positively on our foursome, Team Atmosphere MOMAR. All gear to Nelson, BC via Greyhound and Air Canada?…check. Getting James on our Castlegar flight just minutes before it departed, saving him hours of bus riding from Kelowna?…check. Having our shuttle driver offering to run us around Nelson to collect all of our gear bins and get everything to our hotel?…check. Nabbing a little, doored-in corner of the ballroom for our gear-prep and map work?…check. It had to be time for some sh!t to hit a fan somewhere close by…no?
* * *
Adventure Racing has changed over the years. Having been in the sport since 1998, I’ve seen things transform. Backcountry epics slowly morphed into on-trail speed fests where a racecourse design mindset of challenge for the sake of challenge took over. Point-to-point journeys changed into cloverleaf, out-and-back, matrix style racecourses where teams saw the same terrain again and again. True tests of team mental toughness and navigation strategy were replaced by long-distance sprints where physical talents trumped all else. I lamented recently when I realized that before last year’s Wilderness Traverse in Haliburton, I hadn’t done a proper, long-distance bushwhack with a myriad of route options in several seasons. Looking over the maps for the 2011 RtNX, I quickly realized that we were in for a classic, a throwback to the type of racing that hooked me onto the sport all those years ago. This was big land with so many contours. Trails were sporadic on the treks and none of them seemed to go the ‘right’ way. While short in distance at ~500km for a 6-day race, this racecourse was going to punish us both in mind and body.
* * *
‘Blaaaarrrrgghhh’, or some sort of sound to that effect emanated from my throat about 5 times over as we reached to punch ‘OK’ on the SPOT tracker at CP2 atop the pass alongside Whitewater Mountain. I took a knee. ‘Great’, there goes all of my hard fought nutrition I’d worked to get into my stomach throughout the day. Square one again. At least that shitty bush is behind us for the moment.
It had been a hot one from the starting gun at 10h00 on Sunday, July 24th. I think I put back almost 4L of water and 10 salt tablets by the time we had completed the 23km gut-busting climb on our bikes from the start line at Marblehead and the first 8km of the trek. I had that awful nauseous feeling where anything less than juicy or moist food made my insides turn sideways. Race starts are always so stressful. Teams are all over the place. Jockeying for position is unrelenting. It’s hard not to get caught up in it. Good or bad, we found ourselves on our own pretty quickly as the gears shifted more and more toward the spokes. Up and up and up some more. There’s no training for this in SW Ontario. A 10 minute hill is a monster back east. That’s not even a warm up out here.
Now what? We started trekking from CP1’s bike drop, the first objective being the intersection of South Cooper Creek and Cooper Creek. There was no ‘right’ way to tackle this. Do we head west for the switchbacks down to McKian Creek, hoping that there’s a worthwhile trail headed to where we want to go? Or, do we bush it due south to cut off a whack of distance and hope we don’t get cliffed out in the process? Are those contours too close together? Gulp. ‘Pull up and shoot, Pete’, I said to myself and steered the team to the bush. Remember, ridges and spurs are your friends…I’d learned that much in my unimpressive mountain racing history. Go with it. And we did. All the way down to a cut block just above a very discernable east/west trail. So far so good. Let’s run!
We moved well on trail, crossed a fast-moving river, and reacquainted ourselves with Mr. Devil’s Club and Mrs. Slide Alder as we got deeper and deeper into our southerly route toward CP2. That couple are real a$$es. One is everywhere and won’t let you take hold of it while the other is a little more sporadically placed but always seems to be lateral to your intended direction. Either way, we were delighted to be wearing our soccer shin pads and full-fingered gloves.
We weren’t sure what place we were in but traveling close to Teams Wild Rose and YogaSlackers made us believe that we were doing alright. The climb to CP2 was a steady one and while we were tempted to cross back and forth across South Cooper Creek to find ‘better’ travel, we knew enough to just bury our heads and get the work done. Thick bush gave way to rocky, alder infested coniferous forest, and eventually to alpine in the fading light. ‘Just stay where the contours are farthest apart’, I kept telling myself. Jean-Yves took over. His Alberta and BC tree planting days came back to him in full effect. We followed obediently as he kicked and foot planted in the snow. I led us too high and we had to come back down to CP2. Ugh…wasted effort. Stupid navigator…shit, that’s me.
* * *
“Just pick up the trail down the valley a little and it will take you right to the TA”, advised the CP2 staff as we warmed ourselves by the fire (read: me wiping stomach contents from my cheek). They had to say it. Now we were jinxed. I could see the trail they were speaking of on our map as I had drawn it in from what Backroad Mapbooks indicated. Of course, we missed the trail’s start. Team Wild Rose had gotten too far ahead to see and the footprints in the snow disappeared after a few rocky bits. There’s nothing worse than moving slowly along with an annoying feeling in your head that there’s a parallel trail close by.
My carbon trekking pole broke in half. ‘Awesome’. We’re moving slowly and I’m now three legged. F^&k it, we’re climbing. Up we went through the bushy mess and in stunningly too quick a time, we hit manna…the trail. We trekked into CP3/TA1 at Retallack Lodge as the sun rose on Day 2 of the race. I had been eating a little more, Lee looked good as always, Jean-Yves seemed in his element, and James…well, James is always strong. We downed some much needed Boost, replenished our food stocks, and headed out on our bikes for…wait for it…more climbing.
Reco Pass, ghost towns of Cody and Sandon, Idaho Peak, Wakefield Trail, and switchback after switchback. Our legs burned. I drank so much water and still I felt like a-s-s. Lee, James, and Jean-Yves climbed like maniacs. VJ from Team Wild Rose climbed even better as her and her team went by us with smiles on their faces. Damn Western Canadian-based teams and their VO2 max. What impressed us more was their skill and reckless abandon on the Wakefield Trail. Picture a 60cm wide trail with a wall on your left and certain death on your right. Sound like something you’re going to travel quickly on? Nope, not us. As for Team Wild Rose, they took off and only the sounds of their laughter and ‘woo-hoos’ were left behind. Very impressive.
“POP”….”Ssssssssssssssssssssssssss”. Shit. Lee’s got a flat. What? The sidewall’s busted through? It was at this moment when I realized how long we’ve been doing this AR stuff for. Simply patch the tire up with a boot, replace the tube, CO2 this sucker back up to the right PSI…and we’re off. Once in the TA, replace the tire altogether with the spare 29”, pump it up quickly with the floor pump, and we’re good as new. Not too long ago, this would have gone something like this: try hopelessly to patch up sidewall with PowerBar wrapper (who eats those things?), futz about with and likely snap all tire levers but one, realize that the one pump we brought is a piece of sh!t and can’t get the tube beyond 22 PSI, scooter bike at 10-15 kph for the rest of the ride, and beg for a replacement tire at the next TA.
* * *
Paddling south on Slocan Lake from Silverton’s CP6/TA2 to CP7/TA3 in Slocan, was kind of like the warm up match before the big title fight. The Valhalla Range lay off to our west. This was going to be the BIG trek. If we could get through that without too much damage, then perhaps we had a chance to finish this racecourse with the big boys and girls. We paddled by the point where a trail that we would later take heads due west, climbing 3,000’ to Beatrice Lake. Those mountains looked big. Very big. Then, of course, the skies turned grey and opened right up with a deluge of rain. Mother Nature was laughing at us. I think my stomach growled for food for the first time since yesterday morning’s pre-race breakfast. The silver lining…my appetite is back!
While the rain poured down, we slept soundly in a small cabin at TA3. I didn’t hear much as I had jammed ear plugs in nice and deep. When we awoke, Team Wild Rose had left but Tecnu had arrived and had bedded down the same as us. It was dark now but we weren’t worried about that as the first ~18km of this trek were on trail. We focused on eating and drinking, trying to gain some much needed strength for what lay before us – a likely 35 hour epic through the crux point of this entire racecourse. Heading west, we couldn’t believe how much water was coming down the drainages. We’d never seen so much white water hurtling downhill so hard and so fast. I hoped that we’d never be forced to cross something like this. Out of nowhere, we bumped into Team Custom Cellular who was headed back to the TA as one of their teammates was suffering from asthma attacks. Having a very mild form of that myself, I wish it upon no one and hoped she’d be okay.
* * *
About 2.5–3 kph, I figured. That was the speed we were going on our little sneaky route strategy at Raid the North in French River, Ontario back in 2005. Our team sat in little pack rafts and bobbed along the wide open lake as others trudged through the thick bush. By the end of the lake and after a run into the TA, we found ourselves in 5th place, having left the previous TA in 12th. Yes! It had worked. Fast forward to 2011 while bushwhacking alongside Beatrice Lake and I had never wanted for a local Canadian Tire and a $15 inflatable pool toy more. We even contemplated a freezing cold 3km swim as this vegetation and rocky terrain was brutal. While only 4km long, this little section took us 5 hours+ to get through. At times, we moved at 500m per hour. James and Jean-Yves led us west, hardly stopping for anything. That’s just what needed to be done. Don’t think, just go. Thinking or complaining takes too much time and wastes energy. Eat. Drink. Bushwhack. That’s the successful recipe for sections like this in my view.
Hitting the Demers Lakes chain was such a welcomed reprieve…right up until we saw what had to be climbed next. It was a freakin’ wall. My heart sunk as I looked at it from afar – 1,000’ straight up. Nowhere else to go. A waterfall cascaded down from the next lake higher up. A chute full of snow edged its way up to the top. Rocky ledges were everywhere else. There was only one thing to do. Stop and watch what Teams DART-nuun and Wild Rose do. ‘Thank you AR gawds for allowing us to be here in the daylight when these two teams are. We are only a meager Eastern Canadian team. Take pity on us.’
They both skillfully maneuvered their way over to the waterfall and Spiderman’ed their way up the alder and coniferous vegetation alongside it to the top. Perfect, let’s get going! Our luck ran out soon thereafter a few kilometres further west. CP8 was located at the Ice Creek Lodge in a bowl alongside a small lake. It was quite a descent to get down to it from the most westerly Demers Lake. For the top teams, I’m willing to bet that there wasn’t much delay as they simply picked their way down over the rocky terrain. However, with images of being cliffed out dancing in my head, we paused a little and eventually found our friendly spur to descend on. The only problem was that our idiot navigator (sh!t, me again) wasn’t diligent enough in the elevation calculation. The result? We descended right by the CP to 700’ below the intended target. I felt so stupid and badly that I had added this extra work onto our already challenging trek. Admittedly, I was really tired but that’s no solace to the rest of the team. At the CP, we learned that they had watched us go right by…not literally, however…digitally, as they watched our little SPOT tracker on their laptop. At least we added a little comedic relief to their day.
“You can have a sauna if you want”, announced the CP staff at Ice Creek Lodge. We were losing light and in hindsight, we likely should have slept for a couple of hours, but instead, we trudged on. There was still 18km left on this trek and Teams Wild Rose and DART-nuun had left not too long ago. In addition, Teams YogaSlackers and Tecnu had arrived and looked hungry to put us behind them. So, we climbed the 1,800’ to Urd Pass in the fading light with 8 other headlamps bobbing close by along with us.
We were ‘experts’ now. I felt buoyed by the mountainous challenges that we had overcome and now behind us. Jean-Yves and James surged forward, glissading down the snowy hills while Leanne filmed one of the longer descents as she slid down on her bum. We had to be careful, though, because rocks peaked out from underneath the snowpack and every once in a while, you’d hit a hole and sink up to your thigh. In the pitch black, save for the 8 other headlamps, we aimed to negotiate the Hird and Rocky Lakes before making our assault on the Lucifer Peak pass. Sounds ominous, huh? Try out its adjacent peaks named Devil’s Dome, Mount Diablo, Satan’s Peak, and Banshee Peak. Real uplifting stuff. Team DART-nuun seemed to take off on us while we continued to cross paths with YogaSlackers. The sleepmonsters took over us now a little but at the risk of pumping my own tires a little, I was pretty focused. We kept moving east until I was happy with our position and so began the long slog up. Water rushed by us all around and underneath the snowpack we walked on from time to time. More and more rock became exposed and we used that, too, in order to get higher and higher. Lee had seen this all before. Her déjà vu was crystal clear. She whispered to James that she knew we were on the right path because she’d been here before and all had worked out a-okay. As a last joke played on us by the land, we hit what we thought was the apex of the pass when we were confronted with a small lake. ‘What the f^&*?’ A lot can happen between 100’ contours I kept telling myself between hallucinations. Just keep climbing! And so we did, to the top of the pass and down the sketchy rock-strewn fields on the other side, right to the welcomed reprieve of CP9’s campsite at Gwillim Lakes. We had done it!
I don’t remember much about the 9km downhill trail walk/shuffle thereafter to CP10/TA4 as I drifted in and out of sleep. Why did these other three people keep asking me where we were or how long did we still have to go? I honestly didn’t understand. After all, James had been here before, right? Didn’t he bike this stuff during TransRockies or something? James kept us on the main trail, although I’m not entirely sure how in reality he knew where to go, and through my dreamy state, we were spit out onto the access road at daylight…and for the record, James had NOT ever been there before.
“Sorry guys, you seriously have to keep trekking to the original TA location”, we were informed by a volunteer at what was no longer a switch to bikes. Our feet pulsed at the thought of it – 18km on a gravel road. Already close to hamburger status, having been on them for 33 hours during the BIG trek, we set off gingerly toward a nice sleep at CP11/TA4. There was a lot of tip-toeing and grimacing as our wet and battered feet took more punishment. ‘I’ll take 500m per hour in the bush over this road crap anytime’, I said silently to myself. As a sadistic form of torture, each KM was nicely marked alongside the road and we slowly watched the number tick down as we death marched south.
* * *
As I lay down to sleep in the cool shade at TA4, my last thought was hoping that my swollen feet would be able to fit into my bike shoes…Zzzzzzzz. It always amazes me how much faster, relatively speaking of course, we move after a couple hours of sleep. The smart teams like WildernessTraverse.com know this phenomenon all to well and had likely gotten double our sleep count so far. They were also 15 hours ahead of us. How do they do it?
We jumped onto our bikes, giving chase to Team YogaSlackers and trying to stay ahead of Tecnu, who had arrived while we slept. The tyrolean traverse over Koch River was pretty uneventful but in a gorgeous location. From there, we climbed toward what I believed would be a navigational crux point in the race. Just north of Mount Lequereux, the northerly mapped trail ended and then picked up again 15km later, leading us right to TA5 in Burton. We had scoured Google Earth and Backroads Mapbook for over an hour on this little section alone, trying to sort out how to connect the two road systems. There were basically two options: 1) stay on the due north heading and chancing that there was an ATV trail that wound its way through the pass and then down the other side along Cony Creek; or, 2) hook west to a cut block and cross our fingers that an ATV trail snaked through and eventually to Burton Creek. Coin flip? Nope, let’s stay conservative and head to the cut block. Skidders and trucks would HAVE to have gotten there from the north when this area was being actively logged. All of what I drew onto the map matched up perfectly and we joined up with Team YogaSlackers in the cut block. They looked as though they’d been searching for a bit and we did the same for a while…to no avail. After some more searching, we cut bait and headed back to take the other route. We passed Team Tecnu en route and were curious as to what they would ultimately do. As for us, we successfully negotiated the ATV trail across the pass and screamed down the other side on wide logging roads. However, our hearts sank when we learned that Team YogaSlackers had in fact found a passable route and had gotten here 1.5 hours ago. Of course we now wished that we had looked just a little longer in the cut block for a navigable trail. That’s racing, I guess.
* * *
“Yup, you’ve got to paddle with your bikes in your canoes”
“I’m just asking because you also mentioned that we’ll be paddling through class II and III rapids”
“Maybe up in Canada you’re not used to this but down here, this is pretty standard”
…or something like that was how my conversation went with a race director when I learned that the event in the USA we’d signed up for had us paddling with our bikes in the bloody canoes. I was not happy. My brand new 29” frame hardly fit in the canoe to begin with and now with water splashing everywhere for hours on end, we would all be compromising the hubs, bottom brackets, and drive trains on our bikes. After the last rapid, featuring a 1.5m drop, where we somehow managed not to dump (almost all teams thereafter did), I vowed that I wouldn’t do a race again where they forced us to do this. Leanne’s ruined fork agreed with me.
So, yeah, I broke my little rule as we had to take our bikes apart and secure them inside each boat for our 70km paddle on Arrow Lake at RtNX ’11. What made it ‘better’ was that the rear triangle of my bike and derailleur jutted toward my nether regions and took up all sorts of space that my (now) cramping legs needed.
“Let’s sing a song”, chirped Leanne.
‘Let’s swear really loud and pout about my extreme discomfort instead’, I thought to myself but started to belt out verse one of The Tragically Hip’s ‘Nautical Disaster’ instead. Our two boats took turns towing the other as we made our way in the darkness to CP14, about ½ way through the paddle.
“I’ve got a dog who won’t shut up and two kids who you’ve now woken up so stop shining your lights everywhere”, the family matriarch firmly explained to us as we searched in vain for CP14 marked by a glow stick. Hopped up on caffeine pills since a little lakeside nap and a bike part firmly placed uncomfortably against my groin, I wasn’t feeling much sympathy and asked Lee to get out and find the CP staff. I’m a bad person, I know.
On we paddled through the remaining darkness, grabbed some more food and dry clothes from CP15/TA6 at Deer Park Mountain, were greeted at Renata by food-and-water-toting locals (such a great oasis!), and continued to be chased by Team Tecnu. Those guys just won’t disappear! We weren’t sure where YogaSlackers were…perhaps they were smarter than us and slept a little more than we did. Bulldog Mountain lay before us, a 3,000’ climb. Awesome (he said in jest). Leanne was feeling pretty low. However, James and I had learned a little trick with Leanne. When she gets like this, let her lead. She gets so pissed off with herself and it manifests as increased speed. As a result, she hammers and we have a hell of a time keeping up with her. I might have sworn a couple of times when she rode up some ascents that my legs would have rather walked. That’s what great teammates are for! Our final push on this ride took us through an abandoned train tunnel (a welcomed reprieve of chilly air) and then 17km along a rail trail which, of course, felt ever so slightly uphill the whole way.
* * *
I was nervous. We had a sneaky little navigation plan on the trek ahead of us but if it didn’t work, it meant extra punishment on our already broken feet. Let Team Tecnu go ahead so they don’t catch wind of our scheme…off they went. Here was the rule, “Travel on HWY 3 is strictly forbidden”. Okay, what about ‘underneath’ HWY 3? I asked Geoff Langford, the Race Director, the day before the start of the race and he confirmed that ‘underneath’ was okay. In short, we had to travel 5km south on the rail trail from TA7 to a waypoint. Once there, teams traveled east overland to CP18 at a junction of two forest service roads. Sounds easy enough except for a few obstacles: massively steep drainages running perpendicular to the line of travel; cut blocks; unmapped logging roads and XC ski trails; and, a switch in contour interval from 100’ to 40m. We wanted to be as navigationally clean and safe as possible. When I saw the large drainage just to the north of where HWY 3 crossed the rail trail when we first saw the maps, I had a little ‘eureka!’ moment. There had to be a culvert there to flush out all of the water. There just had to be.
My heart was in my throat as we shuffled the 3km back up the rail trail to the drainage. We hated doing the extra distance but each waypoint was mandatory to reach so there was little choice. Here we go, let’s see what the AR gawds have for us this time. This was certainly a significant waterway…the runoff HAD to go underneath the highway from the other side…oh wait, what if there is a culvert but it’s barred off?…please be passable! And there it was. I climbed the last of the rocks and sure enough, there was a 5.5’ tall culvert going from west to east, 100’ underneath the highway. There was a steady stream of water flowing through and falling away to the rocks below. We just have to get into that sucker. I clambered up and Jean-Yves, our climber extraordinaire, monkeyed his way into it and showed us where to step. All in, we turned the headlamps on and soaked our feet in the ankle deep water as we walked through it. YES! We had done it. We figured we just saved ourselves a few thousand feet of climbing and maybe even a couple of hours. Was DART-nuun catchable? They left TA7 three hours before we did and we were both travelling eastbound in the darkness. I love this about a well-designed trek. Anything can happen with different route strategies.
I felt so buoyed by our good fortune and ate ravenously as we followed Jean-Yves up some steep climbs, into cut blocks that we wanted to see, and eventually on a road system that headed generally east. It was soon time to bushwhack and I set the compass to 90°, in hopes of hitting the next road system on the other side of a VERY steep drainage. Nailed it. There was our north/south road…just keep travelling east on it and we should…oh no…this is bending far too far north. Must sleep. No, must keep trekking. What about this route? Nope, dead end. That dirt pile looks really comfy. No, focus! ‘Seal Creek Trail’ sign. Maybe this goes where we need it? Screw it, the team smartly informed me, we needed sleep.
Compass points danced in my head and a faux CP staff called out as I faded in and out of fitful sleep. Shivering kept me awake, too. As it turns out, we were short of our CP18 objective by a mere 2.5km after only 6.5 hours of trekking from TA7. We had had a great route but just couldn’t finish the job on such little sleep and no daylight to guide us. Team DART-nuun had hit CP18 90 minutes before us by the time we emerged from the bush, a scant 50m from the staff. 3rd place just didn’t seem to be in the cards for us. What about Team Tecnu? Were they through yet? Thankfully not but we didn’t think we had too much time before they started to chase us down yet again. We moved as quickly as we could on Glenmerry Creek Rd and into Nancy Greene Provincial Park before hitting TA8, the start of the final bike. The scratchy voice over the radio informed us that Team Tecnu had in fact reached CP18 and were likely about 2 hours behind us. Great.
* * *
The final push. One more bike ride. Could we catch Team DART-nuun? Or, would this turn into a head-to-head race with Team Tecnu to the finish line? We gave it what we had up the climb to the pass between Mounts Neptune and Crowe. Sure enough, the riding turned into bikewhacking about 1km short of the top. How did my bike get so heavy? Lee and James led us through the tough undergrowth. The ride down the other side shook my body to the very core. My wrists hurt. My fingers had a hard time clenching the brakes. My whole chest cavity ached. Crossroads ahead. Right, I remember now, this ride was going to be a b!tch with no seemingly obvious route to Strawberry Pass and the waypoint marking the start of the Seven Summits Trail. None of us felt like taking on extra mental challenge at this point in the race. Keep it simple. So, we climbed back up on a road that ran adjacent to Mount Crowe, bushwhacked down to another road, and took it right to the waypoint. Holy sh!t. It worked!
I was fried. My mind turned to Jell-o and I just couldn’t think anymore. Evidence of this was the circular tour we did on the Seven Summits Trail which cost us over an hour. I felt so badly but I was out of intellectual horsepower. Just climb back up and keep going south. Team Tecnu would surely be on us now. Ugh. My teammates climbed so well and I did what I could to keep pace. Hitting CP20 beside Old Glory Mountain, we were supposed to leave our bikes and climb up and down it on foot for a total of just over 2km. Hmmm, let’s check the racecourse instructions. It was 18h45 on Friday, July 29th and the cut-off for the out-and-back climb was 18h00. While there was no CP staff at CP20 to police it, we made the decision to keep riding in accordance with the rules. We were not disappointed in the least…in fact, as Leanne described, we were elated.
The Seven Summits Trail is said to be one of the most epic rides in Canada. I don’t think I can agree or disagree with this moniker because we pushed our bikes for 40% of it. Our legs were trashed. We’d climbed so much over the last 5 days that we were almost officially on fumes. The downhills were fun but we were in survival mode at this point. Hitting Granite Mountain amongst Red Mountain Resort was a great relief…except for the fact that getting down to the bottom was unclear. We re-read the racecourse instructions, surveyed the land in the dusk light, and finally found the rocky road that led us to the Resort. If our upper bodies hurt before, they were screaming now. It was 4,500’ of descent down to the finish line at the Waterfront Park in Trail. Jean-Yves bailed hard in a rocky rut in the road. Careful boys and girls, we’re almost home. We raced through Rossland as quickly as we could and onto a matrix of rocky downhill trails that were to lead us into Warfield. I just followed my instincts for what felt the right direction as I knew the team was on a knife edge of patience should we have gotten on the wrong one and needed to climb back up at some point. Luck was on our side as we spit out into Warfield, jumped on HWY 22, crossed the bridge over the Columbia River, and headed due north for the finish line.
As always, finish lines are anti-climactic. All we knew after 5.5 days of racing was ‘one foot in front of the other’, ‘just keep pedaling’, ‘continue to put the paddle in the water’, eat, drink, repeat. Now we were done. Team DART-nuun had nabbed 3rd
and we had somehow staved off Team Tecnu’s unrelenting forward surges to earn 4th
. Given that we had almost not even reached the start line, we were elated with our result. We had ‘slayed the dragon’ that was our DNF or Unranked at RtNX’07. Square one had moved a little now as 500km of unforgiving terrain were behind us. Our feet were hamburger meat, our upper bodies were spent, we looked terrible, but there was no better feeling than reaching our objective as a unified and complete team.