A parade of bikepackers,
Wandering through the wild.
Challenging their hearts;
However chosen to be styled.
Some madly zig-zagging,
Through the ivory woods.
Savouring all that is good.
Creased and crusted,
Are those at the routes' end.
Trumpeting tunes sung,
For old and new friends.
It’s difficult being away from something you love. For me, I had been missing that feeling of wandering through the trees on my bike. Missing that breeze touching my face, missing that sound of my tires traversing dirt, missing that sunset glow.
Sure, when my meniscus was almost healed, I didn’t need to jump into a 300 kilometre race. Oddly though, pushing the limits of my body and mind seems to be something that I also love.
I coaxed my mind into being excited by the curtailed challenge of doing the shorter Dumbo route instead of the Jumbo route. I’d still get to strategize on the bike and enjoy nature.
Three weeks out from the race, I was back on my bike - my new hardtail. I was slowly adding distance and elevation as I studied my knee’s reaction. However positive my rides were, it still didn’t make up for the fact that my longest ride in these weeks was less than four hours. I am no stranger to long distance on a bike though, so was confident I could pull off 300 kilometres if my knee played nice during the race.
My gear was dialled, nutrition planned. The only thing left to do was to see friends and ride.
And friends I did see! A brief get together the evening before allowed for riders to relax and mingle.
Radiant and nervous smiles perched on faces gathered at the start. I had a mix of emotions — excited to pedal through remote lands but anxious that my knee would let me down.
The clock struck 6 am, and we were off. I was spinning lightly, keeping myself behind the lead group, taking in the scenery until we jutted off the rail trail and down a steep and loose descent. I had little time to choose a line down but rode to the bottom without too much fuss.
We crossed the highway, and all I wanted to do was capture the hazy yet vibrant sunrise filling the sky. I had more important things to do though — like figuring out how to get the correct route on my GPS computer before we went out of service. I had somehow loaded an old Jumbo route in my pre-dawn daze.
Once we finished riding the hydro corridor, I loaded the pinned route without issue. I got to share some kilometres with Logan, another Goldenite, through the light smoke. I stopped to take a few snaps, relishing in the mountain sunrise. Cognizant a wave of riders was approaching — I’d save my detailed compositions for when I was riding solo. There would be plenty of that to come.
Turns out a bunch of the riders were my friends who I thought were in front of me. A pleasant surprise. I soaked up that brief time with everyone before we dispersed.
My heart sang when I found Stephen taking a break at the base of the hike-a-bike. There’s no other racer I’d rather share this elephantine portion of the route with. Two years back, myself, Stephen, and a few other friends were lugging our bikes up Middle Kootenay Pass and I was having a tough time. My emotions from moving across the country had been on the brink of release, and those conditions were enough to free my tears. It felt harmonious that he was here now.
We pitched our bikes up the steep slope with careful footwork and bike maneuvers. There was a false summit with an enchantingly eerie view of tree silhouettes cloaked in forest fire smoke. I pulled out my film camera in haste. I didn’t want to bottleneck those behind us, but there was no way I was missing this snapshot. We crossed the last boulders and remounted into the woods.
We passed Andy shortly after the descent, who was chipper despite having just crashed. He was walking and carrying his bike with a mangled front wheel to the nearest crossroads for a pickup. He didn’t let on that he had also broken his finger.
It’s interesting how some sections of the route are so vivid in my mind, and others meld together. The next 15 kilometres went by fast, chatting with Stephen, Katie, Nathan, and a few others.
We arrived at the pop-up aid station that some riders’ friends assembled. I enjoyed a popsicle, hoping the brain freeze would numb my worries. By the 50 km mark, my knee didn’t feel 100 percent, and I was pondering scratching. I wasn’t in pain but was wondering if this muted feeling would amplify with more pedalling.
I set off through the treed climb with Stephen behind. My first lap of self-doubt creeped in here. Slowly turning my legs, telling myself ‘I can’t do this’ — suffocating words. I stopped, popped some ibuprofen and chose a playlist to amp me up for the Premier Lake climb that I’d tackle with high cadence. I listened to a fraction of a song before Stephen caught up.
We pedalled along, the sky clearing as we made it further from the source of the smoke. My knee somehow found its calm before we made it to the 100 km mark where the Jumbo and Dumbo routes split. One thing Stephen and I have in common is that we sure love to dillydally. We spent some time refuelling and rehydrating on the beachy front of the Kootenay River before parting ways.
Jody had left just as we were arriving, having dipped her jersey in the water. Why I didn’t follow suit, I do not know. As soon as I made the right turn onto the open forest service road, the beaming sun scorched me. I was in my head almost immediately — ‘you can’t do this, it’s too hot’. My GPS computer registered 41 degrees Celsius. I know my body well. I needed to manage this heat at the onset, or it would defeat me.
Every shadow cast on the side of the road, every river crossing, was a welcome stop to let my body temperature drop. I took my time knowing that if I made it through the hottest part of the day, I’d feel revived with the cooling effect of the sinking sun. I am happy to report I kept hydrated, as evidenced by my consistent stops to pee. After 65 kilometres of climbing, I turned onto the Blackfoot FSR — the real climbing was about to begin.
Shortly after I turned, I passed a rider sleeping in their tent. They had chosen to rest in a little field where I slept on a solo bikepack last fall. On that bikepack, I had done this climb at sunrise, now I would do it at sunset. I love the way the light plays in the mountains and was excited to see how the sights would differ.
I lightly turned my pedals, finding my groove up the climb in cooler temperatures. A few hours later, I happened upon a group of riders who had set up camp for the night. I paused, chatted for a bit, and brushed my teeth. I would like to have stopped and joined their convoy, but I did not have a sleep system adequate for spending a night comfortably in the mountains. Soon enough, darkness would cloak the sky, and I’d have my nap.
I summited the mountain pass in the dark, intending to get to lower elevation before resting my eyes. I passed a few more people sleeping roadside and wondered if they’d catch up the next day, feeling more rested.
Quinn Creek FSR lived up to its name with a few creek crossings. The first one I took off my socks and shoes for, steadily walking across. The second one seemed to have slippery rocks. I didn’t want to slip and fall, so I stepped through quickly with my shoes still on. This was a huge mistake, considering the temperature had dropped significantly.
I coasted downhill for a short while, yawning and giving into my naptime rather swiftly. I wish I could have made it further into the descent to where it was slightly warmer, but I was exhausted. The caffeine pills I had popped earlier on were not stimulating enough — likely because I took such a small dose.
Around 1:30 am, I found a field, placed my food and garbage in an Opsak in my frame bag, and distanced myself from my bike. I laid out my emergency bivy, tucked myself in, and wrapped my emergency blanket around me like a burrito for extra warmth. Surprisingly, napping with my helmet still on was comfortable. It kept my neck aligned and also meant my headlamp was accessible quickly if I heard anything go bump in the night.
I allotted 90 minutes for my nap. When my alarm clock went off, I did not linger. I was too cold to linger. I’m sure my damp socks had something to do with this. As did my lack of legwarmers. My friends convinced me to ditch them the night before, citing warm temperatures. I should have known better — the temperatures in the mountains almost always have large fluctuations. A spare pair of wool socks would also have been a smart decision.
I mounted my bike in haste and instantly felt nauseous. Perhaps the stifling heat earlier in the day had caught up to me? Or maybe it was the intake of caffeine I wasn’t used to? Or the frigid, short nap? I dismounted my bike to give myself a breather. This was short-lived though, as I heard a great crash in the woods. I yelled out ‘hey bear’ and was out of there.
For hours, I continued to feel nauseous. I had packed mints to help me stay awake riding, however, found their primary use was to help me feel less queasy during this time. My exhaustion also seemed to tap into a weird place as I belted out lyrics seamlessly from songs I have not heard since middle school. Here I was, descending in the dark, reliving some childhood memories with the bears. I couldn’t descend as fast as I’d like without a surge of cold rushing through my body. Post-ride, I noticed that my GPS computer registered a low of 2 degrees Celsius. No wonder I was so cold.
As the sun rose, so did my spirits. The warmth wrapped around me more with each hour of pedalling. Soon I was nibbling on food again and had a smile on my face. I finally hit the Bull River FSR, enamoured by fresh sights. I had never been on this stretch of gravel before, and it was stunning. Cows drew my affection as I passed by.
I broke stride often for photos using my film camera. A race would feel empty to me without capturing the journey — my story. I’ve come to understand that these interludes are appreciated by my body and needed by my heart.
My prediction was correct. Early in the morning, a fellow rider I had passed slumbering came charging by with lots of energy. I continued to take my time and ramp up my battery levels slowly. Technical riding always seems to bring me to life. Weaving through the singletrack down to Bull River was lots of fun.
I refilled my water, dipped my toes in the Bull River, and snacked. Home stretch. Only a small paved climb and the Chief Isadore Trail remained. While crossing the bridge into Wardner, another rider came speeding by with enthusiasm. As I turned onto the Chief Isadore Trail, I noticed yet another rider coming up behind me. Surely they’d catch up on the singletrack. But they never did — turns out they were just a rider out and about. It was exciting to think they were on my tail though.
The climb to the highest point on the Chief Isadore Trail was further than I remembered. I knew it would be worth the flowy descent, though. The descent felt so playful — pumping through small dips and weaving around corners. The final kilometres of rail trail were a tough way for me to finish the race after having such fun. Intuition tells you to put your head down and grind to the finish line along the flat and smooth gravel. I, however, had to stick to light pedal strokes to appease my knee.
What a high it was to make those last turns to where I had departed just the day before. Granden, another Lost Elephant rider, was waiting for me to finish, which was quite sweet. I beelined for the pocket of shade one tree was casting and lied on the pavement feeling delirious with my lack of sleep but accomplished. I had just ridden 316 km and over 4,400 m in elevation gain in 30 hours and 31 minutes with very little saddle time leading up to the race. This happened to land me a spot as the first solo woman.
I love the bikepacking community so much — the shared sense of adventure and camaraderie. It’s easy to make friends that share in the absurdity of loading up a bike to pedal through remote places to challenge themselves.