A Week with the BC Bike Race
It was Day 1 of the BC Bike Race and to help ease the mad rush for the trails, we were starting in waves. They asked us to seed ourselves in the start chute according to how long we thought it would take us to complete the stage. I put myself near the back in the 4.5-5 hour range, most of the others crammed themselves into the slots further up the chute. Our position in the start chute for the rest of the week would be determined by our time for this stage: placement mattered. After we had sorted ourselves out, the race began with a few minutes between each wave of riders.
It was a festive atmosphere while we waited for our turn. I was among a group of Mexicans who were there celebrating a friend’s 50th birthday. Rumour has it there were 50 of them here for his celebration and 96 racers from Mexico in total. They were singing folk songs and cheering; it was hard not to get caught up in their excitement and it was definitely better than watching the numbers on the clock tick away.
Finally it was our turn to go and we pedalled hard down the main street of Cumberland before veering off to Bevan Road, a gravel road that would take us to our first bit of singletrack. It was a 10 minute pedal and we were well spaced out before we hit the trails. I was looking forward to seeing dirt – it had rained hard the two weeks leading up to the race and the sun was shining. We entered the first set of trails, locally known as the Bevan Trails, and that’s when I realized some of the racers were in for a bit of a shock.
These trails are what we consider our beginner trails; however it was the first time many of them had seen roots this size, let alone ride over them. You could hear swearing as some tried to ride over the wet roots, only to have their rear tire slip off. Others just gave up and decided to walk while watching in amazement as those familiar with roots rode by. I knew some of these racers were in for a very long day while they learned a new style of riding. I also knew it wouldn’t take long for them to figure it out; today would be their hardest day.
After this first bit of singletrack we were back on the road to start our way up to our first Enduro section. I was looking forward to this: to me hills are a necessary evil to get to the fun stuff and I knew the Enduro section was going to be fun! While making the climb up the road I was passed by some of the racers I had gone by on the section of trail below. A team of two men from Wales were still shaking their heads in amazement about how different our trails were from the ones they were familiar with back home but they were grinning from ear to ear. Finally we reached the top of what seemed like an endless climb, but it was really only 6km. It’s a hill I normally shuttle so it probably just seemed much longer to me. I checked in at the Aid Station and made my way towards the trails.
The day had become unexpectedly hot; my Garmin was telling me that it was 32 degrees Celsius in the sun, abnormally hot for Cumberland. When I reached the second Aid Station there was a group cooling off in the lake and I chatted with one of the racers from Puebla, Mexico. He was telling me how he had never seen roots before this day and he seemed in awe of what he had just experienced. Although he could have been a bit frightened of what his week held in store for him – I wasn’t sure – but it was obvious a pep talk was in order. I promised him that by the end of the week he would be riding over the roots like a rock star; I don’t think he believed me.
We were starting to pedal slower as the day got hotter but I could hear the group of Mexicans behind me, singing and cheering. I would continue to hear them as I made my way up the final climb of the day and it made me smile. Brett Tippie greeted me at the start gate for this Enduro stage, it was also the “Cheer Zone”. The crew at the BC Bike Race had arranged shuttles on a few days of the race for locals to come out and cheer us on. We were at the beginning of a trail named Teapot after an old teapot that was found on the trail while it was being built. It also marked the beginning of the end of the Day 1 course; it was literally all downhill from here.
And so began my week with the BC Bike Race. This would end up being a typical day on course for me, so many amazing trails and each day I would look forward to the two Enduro stages. While the trails were pretty sweet, it turned out that the week was more about the people than it was about the riding.
One of the best parts of the week was watching the progression of some of the riders I saw struggling on Day 1. This included the group from Mexico and the team from Wales. When I first ran into them on Day 1 they were wondering what they had signed up for. I stopped seeing them on the trails after Day 3, however I would see them every night at dinner with massive grins on their faces.
I met Susan from New Zealand on Day 2 when I heard a voice at the bottom of a technical downhill section say “wow, that was impressive,” and I looked up and found her standing at the bottom, watching the riders as they came down the trail. She mentioned that I was the first person she had seen ride that section and she was another that wasn’t used to the technical trails in BC. Susan would save my butt, literally, a couple of days later when we were in the start chute and she pointed out a hole in my Lycra shorts that exposed my left butt cheek. Luckily I was able to get some tape to cover it up in time! I later found out Susan came in third in our category.
Shortly after I met Susan, I met Stuart. He also rode that same section of trail that had Susan in awe and it was no surprise to discover he was from West Vancouver. We became riding buddies after he witnessed my most embarrassing crash of the week shortly after we met. I set off down a small rock bluff, except I wasn’t fully clipped in and ended up being sexually assaulted by my bike. Knowing there was no real graceful way out of this fall, I casually turned around, looked at Stuart and said, “Apparently the bike works better if you clip in first.”
To his credit, he didn’t start to laugh until after he realized I was fine and I started joking about it. Thankfully, that was my last crash of the week and the bruises were well hidden under my shorts! Explaining nasty bruises in awkward spots is always a bit of a challenge when you’re a female mountain biker; so many people assume the worst… Needless to say, I skipped the pool for a few days when the bruises started to appear in Technicolor. (Some of the basecamp locations were near the local recreation centres with pool access.)
Then there was Carlos from Denver. I originally met Carlos on Day 1 and we rode together off and on throughout the week. On Day 4 he came up next to me in the start chute announced that he was going to be stuck to me like glue for the rest of the day. We all knew Day 4 was going to be our hardest day, it was midweek, we were starting to get tired, and it was also our longest day. The race started at noon after we travelled from Powell River to Earl’s Cove and we had over 60km of riding ahead of us. Carlos and I knew we needed to partner up to keep each other going.
The goal for Day 4 was to stay consistent, well hydrated (a good portion of Day 4 is out in the sun), and just get to the finish line, which sounded great when we came up with that plan and it worked well until we were just past Aid Station 2. That’s when I started to hit the wall. My body was done and I was ready to pull out. A couple of others were also tired and feeling drained so the four of us pulled each other through to the first Enduro stage which was at the top of the “Mile-High Climb”. By this point I was beyond tired and barely had the gas to pedal, Carlos was upbeat and still going strong – it was his energy that pulled me through to the finish line. When I thanked him later on, he just smiled and said it was his way of thanking me for getting him through Day 2.
The BC Bike Race volunteers were pretty amazing too. Just when we were starting to get tired, they seemed to perk up. From Brett Tippie who seemed to have endless energy cheering the racers on at the Enduro stages all seven days, to Dave Norona who is known for his practical jokes, and of course, Lance Fryling who served up bacon from the back of his ATV! Mmmmm… Bacon!
Some of the true heroes of the BC Bike Race ride with the pack, they are known as the Bike Patrol and Moto Team. I lost count of how many people I saw them helping on the trails. One was a guy from Edmonton whose chain broke and took the derailleur with it; he was saved by a member of the Moto Team who just happened to have the right derailleur hanger in his pack. When I saw him and his partner afterwards, they were pretty sure they just won the lottery!
Feeling a bit broken yourself? No problem! The BC Bike Race also had a team of massage therapists, physiotherapists, chiropractors and a naturopath along with their regular medical personnel. The massage therapists were awesome at keeping that muscle soreness at bay while the naturopath helped get me through a nasty cold I was suffering from during race week. There were also daily yoga sessions with Ryan Leech to help stretch those muscles at the end of your ride.
By the time we reached Whistler on Day 7 we were feeling pretty tired after six solid days of riding but spirits were high. As we rode down Crank It Up there was Brett Tippie, cheering us on with just as much energy as he had on Day 1 but it was the group at the end of the course that made me smile the most. Just as I began the last descent before reaching the finish line in Whistler Village I could hear cheering. The trail snaked down the hill and when I rounded the corner, I was greeted by the team of massage therapists who had been with the race all week, cowbells in hand. I quickly glanced up and there in front of me was a giant hash brown! By this time I was tired and hungry so I started to wonder if I was seeing things, I did a double take and it grinned at me, it was Andre, one of the massage therapists. I laughed all the way to the finish line.
I’ve heard others refer to the BC Bike Race as a bike camp for adults and it’s true. It seems they thought of everything to make sure you had the best experience possible whether you were racing competitively or just there for the experience. If you had asked me on Day 3 if I would do the race again, I probably would have said no, I was looking at my week as a once in a lifetime experience. Now that the BC Bike Race is over and the pain is a distant memory, all I can think of is doing it again! I can see why so many come back year after year and why it quickly sells out.
I originally wrote this in 2013, just after I participated in the BC Bike Race. The BC Bike Race has moved the course to the interior of British Columbia since then, but I’m sure the atmosphere remains the same!
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