Saturday, August 23, 2008

My Trans Rockies Story

My Race

Stage 1; Panorama to K2 Ranch
Distance; 55 km (34 mi)
Elevation; 2200 m (7217 ft)

I lined up with trepidation after finding that the tough but steady climb from last years start had been swapped with a decision for the race to go right up the snow cat trail. It was clear that this would sort out the hammerheads from the mere mortals before the single track appeared – and so it did. Carrie rode strong and I just rode conservatively, believing that this was not to be the short day advertised in last years race. When we got to the single track, it was great, for about 200 meters…and then it turned into a torturous hike-a-bike with isolated rideble stretches. Carrie had a sore ankle that didn’t make the ratio of bike carrying and pushing any more pleasant. We groveled through and finished in well over 5 hours, and more than a half hour down on the two lead teams in our 80+ mixed division, and also a few minutes behind the third place team, thus knocking us off the podium. We arrived at bike camp and my reward for the day was to find that my full glass jar of grape jam had exploded in my camp bag, and that jelly and glass was distributed through all my possessions. So while everyone else hit the showers and the bike wash, I spent a goodly amount of time doing laundry. I had just enough energy to hear the description of the next day – touted as the most climbing and possibly toughest stage.

Stage 2; K2 Ranch to Nipika Resort
Distance; 74 km (46 mi)
Elevation; 3000 m (9842 ft)

Because we weren’t in the top three of our category we started in the second gate (but near the front). The reason this mattered was that there was going to be about 15km of flat open dirt and even paved terrain before we got to the first of three big climbs for the day. Carrie’s race experience meant that we moved up during the few km of double track at the start of the race. She rode super strong and got us well into the top quarter of teams. Once we hit the flats, we chilled and let some fast flat rolling groups by. When the climging started, Carrie was definitely strong and started drifting up the climb ahead of me while I just tooled along, not feeling great but not feeling horrid. Once again we had a heap of hike-a-bike and it was kicking my arse worse than the prior day. We saw our buddies Mark and Craig at checkpoint 2 and they headed out just before us on the second big climb of the day – which looking up was just a string of hike-a-bikers putting one foot in front of the next, trying not to kick rocks off on the sleep slope. We joined in, but soon found the line stopped and shouts going up and down the mountain as to whether anyone could see any trail markers. Evidently everyone ahead had missed the turn (as had we) because we were so focused on the next step rather than looking to the right for some ribbons in the woods. Adventure racers Mark and Craig were the first to break ranks and start heading off to the right on the precept that they would intercept the actual race route. They were right, and soon everyone started to follow. Alas, some of the strongest riders were now the furthest behind – including all the top pro teams. This made life interesting as they now had to blow by us to make up time. As for Carrie and I, we just kept it steady and were rewarded with easier/fast riding during the last 10km of the day. Carrie paid for all her super strong riding through the day with a near bonk with just a kilometer to go. We had no idea how we finished overall for our category having taken nearly eight hours to complete the stage. As it would turn out, we’d win the stage by sixteen seconds. Alas, while our podium places were recognized, all the times were neutralized because of the route confusion, so all the time we made up was nullified and we were relegated back to our original time deficit of the first day. L

Stage 3; Nipika Resort to Nipika Resort
Distance; 44.2 km (27 mi)
Elevation; 1514 m (4967 ft)

This short staged was billed as a time trial – a first for one of these seven day stage race formats. Riders would be sent off every 20 seconds in order of their times (faster riders first). The top third of the field would go in the afternoon, and since we weren’t in that group based on the first days results, we were relegated to near the top of the second group, starting behind a dozen or so teams. I’ve got to give it to Carrie – she started smoothly hammering right out of the start blocks and we picked off team after team in front of us. I was just hanging on to our teams “diesel engine.” Also, Carrie gave me some great advice about how to more aggressively tackle steep technical downhill. She said its not enough to just get my butt back off the seat….but that my belly button had to actually touch the back of the seat – implying that my butt would nearly drag on the rear tire. Added to this was the observation was that from this position one would never go over the bars and if one had to bail, you could just release the bike in front of you and more or less just shuffle yourself out of harms way. This worked like a charm and I was able to descend steep slippery slopes like never before. Damned fun. Also fun was riding along the several hundred foot drop-offs above the river. Not bad as long as one didn’t look down. Just as we were nearing the two thirds point in the figure 8 course, I felt the back of my bike get laterally soft. Anytime I pushed hard, my read tire rubbed – which was demoralizing. I signaled for Carrie to wait up but when I/we looked there was nothing obvious loose or out of adjustment. The problem persisted and I made a bit stop at the mechanics in the middle of the course, costing us time. All I could communicate was that the bike felt loose and the wheel dragged if I put much pressure on the pedals. Not good. But after Carrie offered to ride the bike for me, I just put my lame ass back on and slogged around the final 15km – which beat me up from trying to compensate for flex in the back end. While only one team passed us, we clearly stopped making time as Carrie had to wait often for me after certain stretches in which the looseness was most pronounced. Alas, shortly after the finish line, someone pointed out that the problem had nothing to do with the suspension system (whew as that would be major). Double alas, the problem was even more major as the carbon fiber chainstay was broken clean through and was un-repairable. Unless I borrowed or bought a bike, my race would be over. I chose the later as the mechanics had a Rocky Mountain in my size right on site. Of course that meant I’d be on a bike I’d never ridden before the next day, but at least we could continue….and we didn’t loose too much time on the time trial.

Stage 4; Nipika Resort to Whiteswan Lake
Distance; 109.7 km (68 mi)
Elevation; 2567 m (8421 ft)

This was built as a long day with a lot of climbing and not too much hike a bike. Carrie started strong again this day and we were further up in the group than we’d been on previous days. We caught glimpses of Morgan and Mathias (who’d been relegated the previous day for getting off-course) and Craig and Mark (the later of whom was having a rough day). I felt “steady as she goes” and the clock just ticked away with us finding us over the top of the two big climbs of the day. We were well ahead of the team directly ahead of us so that made us feel good as we started the long gentle descent to the finish line. The only technical hurdles left were some drainage ditches on the wide open fireroad. We were only 2km from the final check point of the day when Carrie had zoomed by me. My new bike was working well on the technical stuff – better than anything I’d ridden before as I was enjoying a full 4 inches of front and rear travel in my suspension. And I was, for the first time in the race, relaxing and looking around at the spectacular scenery. Which is probably why I completely botched one of the not particularly challenging drainage ditches, and was immediately over my handle bars, out of position to take a rolling tumble, and instead landed cleanly on my right shoulder, busting my clavicle into three piece (a classic butterfly fracture. Carrie was just out of sight and didn’t know, and then happened to bust her crank on a ditch just up the road and couldn’t ride back. There was no doubt in my mind that my race was over as any movement of my shoulder was excruciating. I was very lucky that almost immediately after the fall came a team with first aid skills and then a full on EMT/fireman who even had a mini space blanket to help keep me from going into shock from the cold. It also kept the ants off (because of course on top of busting my bones, I had to land on an ant hill). Folks flagged down a motor bike that had a GPS radio and they wired the coordinated for a helicopter evac, and then zoom, 40 minutes from impact, I was out of there and on the way to a local Canadian hospital. Because this might require surgery and I was an American, they were worried about law suits so it became clear to me that I needed to be braced up and hop a puddle jumper to Vancouver and then the next commercial flight back to SF. By 9.30 the next morn I was in a SF hospital getting xrays and a CT scan. Good news – despite the breaks being bad, the alignment is good, so hopefully no surgery and I’ll be out of this brace in 3-4 weeks.

Carrie did finish the stage when miraculously someone came by the control station with a replacement part for what she broke. And she did get new partners to ride with. How? One of the leaders of the 100+ race crashed badly just back up the road from me was out, leaving his partner in the same position as Carrie. And on the very same day, the lead team in our group cracked so badly that their woman teammate dropped out of the race, leaving her partner in need of some other folks to ride with. Because of the remoteness of the race, you aren’t allowed to ride alone. Also, my understanding is that on the second to last day of the race, the overall pro leading team from Italy also broke their bike and asked if they could use my bike to finish out stage 7. I believe they did, and despite having their own tough day on the final still won the Trans Rockies overall.

I’m glad for everyone who raced – both those that finished and those that dropped out but were super in providing support to everyone else along the way. Hats off to Carrie and everyone who helped make this possible. I learned heaps even if I ended up getting airlifted out due to a lapse of taking a moment to smell the roses.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home