A huge part of doing this race was the logistics. Getting 600 people to Vancouver and then moving them all around the province is no small task. Each racer has their own personal logistical battle to fight through as well.
Our trip began with a 4 AM wakeup call for the early flight out of Atlanta. My girlfriend Susan was awesome enough to drive Christopher and me to the airport at this ungodly hour. We had a two hour layover in Toronto which was a good thing since we had to walk the entire length of the airport and go through customs.
Once we landed in Vancouver, we hopped on a train to take us to North Vancouver where check in for the race was taking place and where our hotel was. After dropping our stuff off at the hotel, we took a cab over to the offices of Rocky Mountain to pick up the bikes they were graciously loaning us for the week. Our driver warned us that traffic would likely be bad at this time of day, and he was right. We actually got out of the car and ended up walking the last ¾ of a mile because it was backed up so badly.
Rocky set us both up with their Instinct model which is a 130mm travel 29er. Christopher was on their top-spec 999 MSL and I rode the (very slightly) down spec’d 970 MSL model. We had brought tires with us for the race, but my bike had a new set of High Roller II tires on it and I decided to just go with those. Christopher’s bike had some Continental tires on it, which just wouldn’t do. We swapped those out for an Ardent Race (2.20) in the rear and an Ardent (2.40) in the front.
After we put our pedals on and made some minor adjustments, we were ready to ride. We thanked Brandon at Rocky profusely and rode our bikes back to the hotel. Of course, we had to stop for a six-pack since every new bike (even if you aren’t keeping it) deserves to be christened.
Our breakfast at the hotel was the one place in Canada where people seemed not to grasp the understanding of lines and how they work. It was an absolute shit show free-for-all with little kids dumping cereal on the floor, over-filling their juice cups, and little old ladies snaking me on my efforts to get a pancake.
After breakfast, Christopher and I hit up a couple bike shops for some last minute items. We went to the North Shore Bike Shop first which was tiny, but extremely well stocked. I’ve never seen so many bikes in such a small space. The guys seemed to be working where ever they could find the space. Two were behind the counter, another was sitting on a stool in the front working on a wheel, and a young kid was putting together a bike on the floor. All of them were really friendly and wished us good luck in the race.
One thing they didn’t have much room for was apparel and with Christopher wanting a pair of baggies for the week, we headed a few blocks down the road to Obsession: Bikes. Obsession is in a cool old corner building very close to the Vancouver Harbor. It was a hive of activity as Obsession was getting prepped for the race as well. Their mechanics would be traveling with the race all week and offering full repair services at base camp each day. Those guys pulled all-nighters for a week straight to make sure all bikes were finished before breakfast the next morning.
While I was waiting for Christopher, I met the owner of the shop and I asked him if he knew the best way to get to the school where registration was happening. He had a couple of employees headed that way and offered us a ride with them. Sweet!
We signed in, got tagged with our wristbands that we’d have to keep on all week, and picked up our racer bag. This is a big, red, rolling bag branded with the BC Bike Race logo. The rule is: If it doesn’t fit in the racer bag, it’s not going with you. Anything extra had to be dropped off on the first day and it would meet you in Whistler at the end of the race.
The racer meeting was awesome. You could feel the nervous excitement of all 600 riders around you. People from each segment of the race spoke, but by the most entertaining by far was the head of the medical team. He must moonlight as a stand-up comedian because he had the place rolling.
After the presentations we were free to spend the next several hours nervously awaiting the first stage.
Sunday – North Vancouver
The race start was at 8 AM, so I requested a van to pick us up at 6:30. When our taxi arrived in the morning, it wasn’t a van. It was a Prius. A fucking Prius. As calmly as I could, I explained to the driver that there was no way we were going to fit two bikes, two big-ass bags, and two people in his Prius. He said, “Let me see the bikes.” When I rolled mine out he laughed and said, “Haha, that won’t fit in here!” Uh yeah, no shit! He told me he would make a call and I returned to the room to update Christopher on the situation. When I turned around, the guy had driven off!
I tried not to lose it. I went to the front desk and asked them to get us a van to the hotel ASAP. When the front desk called the cab company, they told him we should have just requested a van in the first place. Thing is, we did. I saw the guy write it down in his log book at the front desk the night before!
There were other people at our hotel who were going to the race, so I rolled around the parking trying to bum a ride. Unfortunately, no one had any room. This is not how I wanted Stage 1 to start. Luckily, there actually was a van close by and we were on our way with only a 15 minute delay.
Since this was the first stage, they asked us to “self-seed,” meaning we would line up in the pack about where we thought we would finish. Christopher and I settled a little ahead of mid pack and shortly after 8 AM, we were racing!
The race start was at a high school so we rode through the ball fields and out into the neighborhood. We were on pavement for the first little bit with some fairly punchy climbs. It was tough to settle down with the excitement of the race finally being a reality and the unknown of the trails that lay ahead.
The North Shore is famous for being big, technical, steep, wet, rocky, rooty, and unforgiving. If you’ve opened a mountain bike magazine in the past 15 years, you’ve seen the North Shore. As soon as we hit the first bit of single track, we came to a grinding halt. The trail began with a super steep descent with very tricky switchbacks that was compounded by the overnight rain. A long train of riders waited as everyone dropped in, some more successfully than others. A couple of locals sat on a large boulder, surveying the chaos below. I heard one of them say, “Ahh, the Shore will eat people for breakfast, I love it!”
Eventually, it was my turn to drop in and after totally blowing the first switchback, I made it down unscathed. The Shore lived up to its reputation without a doubt. There were steep climbs on loose crushed gravel, greasy roots and rocks aching to fling you to the ground, wooden bridges that dared you to tap your brakes, and even a 45 minute fire road slog. The enduro section went down a classic North Shore trail named Expresso. The trail used to be a straight shot down the mountain, but in the lead-up to the race it had received a makeover which transformed it into a much longer trail with smaller features.
This was the highlight of the day. There were tons of bridges and rock rolls and the woods were filled with locals urging you not to chicken out. There was only one feature I had to walk and that was only because the rider in front of me panic-stopped at the top of it and there was no way to safely restart. Once I made my way around him, it was a ripping descent.
We finished with just a bit of pavement, rolling in around 3.5 hours for the day. Once across the finish line volunteers would put a colored sticker on your number plate to designate which wave you would start with for the remainder of the week. Christopher and I would be in the yellow or third wave of the day.
We cleaned up, ate lunch, washed our bikes and got them loaded in the trailer. After that we hopped on a bus to take us to Horseshoe Bay for our ferry ride to Vancouver Island. The ferry ride would be our first of many. This was the longest one, taking over two hours to land in Nanaimo on the Island.
Once in Nanaimo we boarded another bus which drove us north to Cumberland. It ended up being a very long travel day with us not arriving to camp until nearly 10 PM.
Monday – Cumberland
The race started on Main Street in “downtown” Cumberland, a place which has been reborn as a mountain bike destination after a rough-and-tumble existence as a logging town. After a short stint on pavement, there was an extremely long and steep gravel grind. Christopher and I did well, holding our position in the long line of riders. I expected us to get strung out, but the wave stayed mostly together.
The first single track we hit is a brand new trail, a theme of the week. Many of the host towns had cut new trail specifically for the race. It was a steep loamy climb for a bit before turning down the mountain and also turning wetter. The mud here was something special though as it was squishy but somehow didn’t fling up and stick to anything, even our tires.
I would have my only crash of the week on this stage. A rider in front of Christopher stalled out on tricky root which caused all three of us to stop. The rider in front got to the side of the trail to let us by. Christopher went on without incident, but when I tried to restart, I neglected to notice the big root just in front of my tire. Without enough speed to get over it, I effectively front-flipped over the bars and launched myself down the hill. Luckily, the rider who had stopped to get out of the way saw it happen, pulled my bike off of me and helped me back onto the trail. Thankfully, all I had to show for it was a smattering of bruises.
This stage had us roll though base camp halfway through before starting the second loop. By this time it was hot and I realized that I hadn’t been eating or drinking enough that morning. I tried to cram as much food and water in as I could muster. It was a good thing I did, because we had a long, exposed gravel climb ahead of us.
The trails varied between dark and loamy in the forest to dry and dusty where the woods had been clear cut. It was an interesting combination that kept you on your toes. After a touch more gravel we finished around 4 hours.
After the finish it was time for another bus and ferry ride. In a moment of exuberance getting to the bus, I hopped over a little wall, totally ripping the crotch of my shorts open. It made for a “breezy” ride on the ferry.
When we landed in Powell River, a couple hundred locals were there at the dock to greet us. They were cheering and ringing cowbells while a band of bag pipers played. This was a truly incredible moment and had us all grinning from ear to ear.
The campsite in Powell River was right on the water and we arrived at sunset, across the Strait of Georgia we could see the snow-capped peaks on Vancouver Island where we had been earlier in the day.
Tuesday – Powell River
The race start is delayed because of issues with the timing chips, but I think everyone appreciates the relaxed schedule. Christopher was talking to a local woman and she asked what he thought of the trails so far. He told her there were a lot of roots in BC and she replied that we hadn’t seen roots yet. Both of us doubted her claim. How could there possibly be that many more roots in Powell River? Well, I’m not sure how they did it, but they were there. Mile after mile of them spider-webbing across the trail. Non-stop, relentless. Roots.
As it turns out, much of the trail was built on old railroad bed, so there would be long stretches of flat, straight trail. The only thing keeping you from going Mach-chicken was the roots. We were catching a lot of people in the roots. You could see folks fighting their bikes, pinging off of each root and bouncing across the trail. Luckily, we have plenty of roots at home so we just stayed loose and motored on through.
One of the plus sides to the flat parts was it really allowed you the chance to take in your surroundings. Everything was impossibly green and lush. If it didn’t have moss growing on it, it was a leafy fern. Powell River is truly a magical place.
As with all the stages, there were a lot of bridges. Probably the coolest of the week was the Aloha Bridge. It came on a climb and first you rode underneath it and then looped around to it, finally riding over the trail you just came up. They even had hula dancers and Hawaiian music playing for the full effect.
It was a fast stage (for us) at just over 3 hours for the 49 km.
Wednesday – Earls Cove to Sechelt
I was in store for a special treat on the morning of Stage 4; I had been one of the lucky racers that received a ticket for a float plane ride. While everyone else would take a ferry to the start, a select few would be taking to the skies.
I had never been on a float plane before, so I was excited for the experience. The plane held 12 of us plus the pilot and took us on a short tour of the coast. All too soon, we were descending back to the water.
The race start was delayed once again, this time due to the ferry. With this being the longest stage and also the most exposed, everyone was anxious to get going. We finally rolled out around noon.
As with most days, there was a bit of road to get us going. When the road turned to gravel the carnage started. The gravel was loose and mixing 600 riders with the dry conditions created quite the dust cloud. There were also lots of big, sharp chunks of gravel wreaking havoc on people’s tires. Christopher and I reminded each other to ride smart to avoid puncturing.
When we did finally hit the trails it seemed like everyone had forgotten how to ride in the woods. People were fumbling all over the place in the not so technical terrain. It seemed everyone was in a bit of a sour mood as well. I’ll chalk that up to the heat.
This was definitely the toughest stage. The heat combined with the dust and the seemingly limited single track made for a long day. There was a sustained descent near the end of the stage, but at this point in the day I was just hanging on for dear life instead of pushing it and really enjoying it.
Christopher and I were both happy just to get the day behind us, finishing just under 5 hours.
Thursday – Sechelt to Langdale
Stage 5 totally redeemed the Sunshine Coast for me. After the kick in the nuts the previous day had been, the cooler weather and amazing trails made for a much more enjoyable day on the bike.
A short but steep climb was the first order of the day followed by a quick descent and then a longer, much more gradual climb. Once past the first aid station there was still more climbing before some rolling trail.
I honestly don’t remember a whole lot about this day other than the final descent which was 7 km of flowy descending on the Hwy 102 trail. It reminded me a lot of the Bomb Dog trail at Coldwater Mountain in Alabama. The soil was nice and loamy in BC, unlike the loose over hard of AL.
Christopher and I finished in 3:45 and luckily made it back just in time to catch the first ferry. If we had been 10 minutes later we would have had to sit around for several hours before the next one left.
We got out of our sweaty kits as quick as we could on hopped on the boat. There was a huge line in the cafeteria for hot food so I elected to grab a cold sandwich out of the case. Christopher did the same, but as it turned out, his tuna sandwich was a bit past its prime. He spent the rest of the evening sweating in the tent or running to the bathroom.
Our camp for this night and the next was at a recreation center in Squamish. It was a gorgeous setting. We were surrounded by mountains and we could clearly see The Chief, a huge chunk of bare granite just to the south.
Friday – Squamish
Christopher had a rough night and couldn’t stomach more than a banana at breakfast. It was looking like it was going to be a rough day for him. I, however, was feeling great and was anxious to check out the trails I had heard so much about. Squamish is the “Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada” which sounded to me like a pretty bold claim.
Many of the athletes my company sponsors call this small town home though and I have been told by all of them that, “Dude, you have to come ride here!” Well, they were right. Squamish turned out to be my favorite stage by far. It had a little bit of everything.
It was the Fourth of July and to send us off in style, there was guitarist doing a rough copy of Jimi Hendrix’s “Star-Spangled Banner.” I wore my red, white, and blue gloves along with my Western shirt jersey in honor of the day.
Again we started on some steep pavement, but this quickly gave way to trail. The trails were running through neighborhoods at first and the locals had come out to cheer us on. We climbed for a while on one of their “green” trails. It was certainly devoid of technical features, but man was it steep! There were a ton of switchbacks on the trail which made for a great view of the snaking line of riders. Look up and you’ll see riders above you, look down and you see them below. All of us creeping to the top of the first descent.
That first descent came on a new trail called Rupert. This trail was punctuated by big, steep rock rolls and lots and lots of woodwork. I knew the trail was coming so I pushed hard to get around the riders in front of me before we headed down. My plan worked and I got a good gap on the guys behind me, only once I reached Rupert there was a traffic jam. Every feature had a chicken line if you didn’t want to take it, but some riders were chickening out at the top of the features.
I pleaded with people to let me by but most of them tried clumsily to remount and keep riding. Finally, fed up with how things were going, I barged my way through riders shouting, “If you’re not riding the trail, don’t stand in the trail!” over and over. This technique seemed to work and once I popped out on the fire road at the end the guy riding behind me thanked me for bull-dozing a path for him.
None of the people riding in my group were in any way battling for a podium spot, but we all were there to challenge ourselves. I didn’t come to BC to walk my bike through the woods. If someone comes up from behind you and is still on their bike, there’s a reason for it. Let them through.
Even the fire roads on this day had the best views, Squamish is all-around awesome! The only other bummer of the day was seeing an injured rider. At the start of the famous Half Nelson trail, a guy had flown headfirst into a tree, knocking himself unconscious for several minutes. When he woke up he had no idea who he was or where he was. Scary stuff for sure and not what you want to see before some of the rowdiest descending of the week.
Half Nelson is a machine built jump trail that you can ride just as fast as you’re comfortable with. I cleared a tiny fraction of the jumps, deciding to play it safe and keep it low on the majority of them. The fun continued on Pseudotsuga before an extended gravel climb.
After the climb it was down the Powerhouse Plunge trail which was one of the most technical of the week. There were a lot of sharp, pointy rocks just waiting for you to pick the wrong line and rip off your derailleur. Long, off-camber, chunky sections of granite pushed me and my bike to the limits. Amazingly I made it through without so much as having to come unclipped!
I waited for Christopher throughout the day and it was clear he was just surviving. I hated to see that, especially since I was having such a damn good time! At the last aid station I gave him a little pep talk before the final stretch. We rode together for a little bit, but he kept sliding back on the climb. I rolled into the finish a couple minutes before him at 4:45.
Saturday – Whistler
The final day. We woke up in Squamish and boarded a bus that would take us to Whistler. It was overcast and drizzly, making for the chilliest morning of the week.
We began with a big climb right out of the gate, 1,200 feet in just 3 miles. First we were on a gravel access road, and then we climbed up one of the green DH trails in Whistler Bike Park. Once we reached the top, it was a screaming descent down B-Line, Ninja Cougar, and Ho Chi Minh. Sadly there was a wreck on the first bridge down B-Line and rider ate it pretty hard. This stacked us up and forced us to walk through the woods around him.
After we popped out of the bike park we connected with the trails of Lost Lake. I tried to ride here once before, but I had no idea where I was going so the loop I was making up wasn’t very fun. The loop they had laid out for us was a blast though. The Lost Lake trails are bad ass! There were tons of tricky technical sections and punchy climbs to test your skills and fitness.
Since this was a short stage (only 20km) our group was as tight as ever. One slip-up and you were going to be blocking a lot of people. The only thing I wasn’t able to make it up was a steep wooden bridge immediately following a sharp left hand turn. No one ahead of me made it either so we all walked up the bridge. From behind I heard two riders coming. I grabbed my bike, ran, and literally leapt to the neighboring granite to get out of their way. Both of them made it the whole way up.
I retook my place in line behind these two riders and continued on. We climbed some ridiculously steep granite and went down the backside. There was another tricky left turn followed by a steep climb; this was on loose soil though. I made the turn and was making up the climb and called out “rider back” to the guys in front of me. The guy turned around, looked at me, and then kept walking. I called out again. And again. Finally he turned around and said, “Dude, where do you want me to go?”
So I said, “Uh, how about either slightly to the left or slightly to the right?” He finally relented and stepped ever so slightly to the side, but he continued grumbling as I passed him. Something about everyone else walking the climb.
I said, “Are you serious? I literally just ran up a bridge and jumped out of the way so you and your buddy could get by. Now you’re giving me shit?!”
Someone who had overheard the interaction chimed in and said, “Yeah dude, he’s got a point.”
The last little bit of trail went by quickly and before we knew it, Christopher and I were crossing the line with our hands in the air.
We got our finisher belt buckles, took some victory shots and got into some dry clothes. After returning the bikes to Rocky Mountain we headed to the pub for some much needed brews. We had a couple beers, ate, and then crashed out at the hotel for a couple of hours before the final banquet. Little did I know, that would be the only good sleep I’d get that night.
Whistler – The Secret Stage
The banquet was a lot of fun. They gave away some amazing prizes (Fox forks, anyone?) to some lucky racers. There was a video recap of the week along with an excellent slideshow. The BC Bike Race is a media machine that turns out excellent content all week long. I enjoyed seeing the trails we rode from a different perspective.
The banquet didn’t end too late so Christopher and I went to the store and grabbed a six pack. After a couple beers, we were both out, exhausted from the long week of riding and traveling.
I woke up around 1 AM sweating. Not good. I went to the bathroom and proceeded to puke my brains out. This is how the rest of my night would go: lay in bed sweating, get up, puke. Repeat. It was all I could do to get up and pack my stuff in the morning. My whole body ached.
It was raining in Whistler and since I felt like shit, Christopher agreed to take an early shuttle bus to Vancouver and stay in a hotel for the night. We got to the hotel around 4 PM and I slept through the night until we got up for our flight at 5:30 the next morning.
A couple plane rides and a layover later, we were back in Atlanta. I was exhausted from the trip and glad to be home.
Writing this now, it seems like it happened a long time ago in a far off place, even though it was just last week. I am extremely grateful to be in a position where I could have this experience. Big “thank yous” go out to my girlfriend for putting up with all the training in preparation for the race; to Christopher for being an excellent partner (even though we didn’t end up racing in the team category we still rode together all week); and to Brandon and his crew at Rocky Mountain for lending us some truly amazing machines and keeping them clicking through the week.
Would I do this race again? Maybe, but not for a long time. I’d like to be in a position where I was really competitive and also had enough money to stay in a hotel every night. As much as I enjoy camping, seven nights of sleeping on the ground is too much for me. One thing is for sure, my days of riding in BC are far from over. You could spend a week in each of the towns we went to and barely scratch the surface.
Maybe that’s what I’ll plan on for the next big riding trip.