Crowsnest Pass to Fernie. 78.8Km and 2101M of climbing.
We’re in the starting paddock for the last time. We get a photo of the two of us – it’s a beautiful morning and it’s definitely going to get hot for the last day. The prospect of starting out over 2 or 3 of the 200M near verticals is not something that really has us motivated. If the truth is known we’re both dog tired and yesterday’s euphoria is a thing of the past. We would have loved for some kind of processional ride into Fernie. Still, we know we’re going to make it so are not overly dejected. Both our arses are proper uncomfortable. Yesterday was the day when I went to the “Stuff the Dr recommended dose” mode in relation to the taking of Tylenol. No doubt my liver will repay me in a few years time with some kind of spectacular seizure.
I was going to say we take off from the start line but we don’t – really we just roll forwards without much of a sense of urgency. Just outside the town limit we start on a recently oiled fire road. It’s ok but is densely packed. There’s a bit of joviality but it’s tempered by the fact that today is still long and hard. We’re heartened by the sight of Chris and Alli riding in kilts.
The 2 or 3 200M verticals piss us off. We’re on the bike and off the bike then on it then off it. We do get to catch the names of the 15 toes team. One of the riders has a prosthetic leg from the knee down. I love the black humor in the team name. I’m looking forward to getting completely shedded tonight with these guys – they’re just a set of guys who we have the ultimate respect for.
After doing the verticals the field is well spread out. We catch the Pink girls just as we hit a short tarmac section so we get a little pace line going. Paceline is probably a bit generous of a description. In fact there probably wasn’t any aerodynamic advantage at all for the pink girls come to think of it, I think they were just humoring us!!
I’m thinking its going to be an easy run to the 2nd rest stop but it’s the hardest of the entire race. Gina is really hurting. She’s picked up my sickness and I can tell she is struggling to stay positive. I’m riding as hard as I can – Gina’s like I was earlier – just nothing left. On the other hand I’m not able to get my heart rate up, no matter how much I try to. And we’re back into darn verticals – just super short but still enough to have to get off and push. We break out onto a fire road and it just seems to go on and on and on. My Garmin is off, I have no idea how far to the next checkpoint, and we’re crawling, really crawling. And then we start to climb. And climb some more. We’re all suffering at the back; nobody seems to know where the next checkpoint is. Luckily the head medic – the cowboy guy – comes by in the truck – it gives me a lift, I don’t know why – maybe just the words, whatever they were that he yelled out of the window.
I figure we must be getting close to the checkpoint as I see the tree line start to thin out. We do come across it but it’s not really a sense of elation. Just kind of dumb recognition – sort of glazed over as if we’re a bit concussed. As usual they do an awesome job but man, it is hot, and the promise of 15K all downhill just isn’t received with the rapture it should be. We’re pretty much done and the last hill that I heard them describing last night fills me with dread.
Still we push off and it is fun. We’re doing our traditional haul down the fire roads and pass a few folk. We get some nice tandem friendly single track but I can actually hear Gina let out little moans of pain. Her Achilles is starting to seize and to say monkey butt is just a huge understatement. When we compare ass bruises hers are actually fully formed and then burst blisters. How she kept riding is truly beyond me – I’d have quit or at least had some kind of massive childish temper tantrum. Still, it’s pretty unpleasant when you know that if you slow down your partner is going to have to bear pain for longer and if you speed up the pain is going to be more intense.
So we’re not in the best of moods when we come to the final climb. It should be easy but it’s roasting. In my heart I know this is the last uphill but I tell Gina we have one more to go after this. I just don’t want to disappoint if I’m wrong. We’re so dog tired that if I am wrong I don’t know what the reaction will be. We’re walking like we just crossed a desert or something.
Eventually though, I get utterly pissed off knowing we should be riding it. I say “Fxxx it”. We get on and ride regardless of the sweat literally dripping off of us, regardless of a couple guys sat in the shade and regardless of Stu – who on the top of the hill is still just walking. It’s completely flat so I can’t fathom why he’s not riding. His bike looks fine but I wonder if he’s suffering from heat exhaustion. I think I ask him if he’s ok but I honestly can’t remember.
There’s a curve then all of a sudden we drop into a forest – we actually hop off for a second because the contrast is so dark. I’m so happy to be in the shade. My gut tells me this is the famous Fernie single track and sure enough we start maneuvering around really tightly packed trees. Every time we change pace or direction I can hear my wife grunt with pain. It’s a dilemma as to just getting off and walking to the finish line or to keep putting her through this pain.
I decide we just go for it. Normally there would be input from the back as to when it’s too much or too risky and whether the FXXXing timing chain is going to ground or not. But it’s silent other than the grunts of pain. So we ride everything. And I mean everything. We miss trees by inches. I’m like a bit semi making wide right and left turns. I brush Gina’s bar against a tree – she’s ominously quiet. We head down a super steep section where 2 other guys are walking their bikes down – they look at us in amazement. At one point we have to get onto a log bridge and I know the back wheel is not possibly going to make it so I ride up the bank on the uphill side of the ridge and pray that when our momentum fails us, and the front wheel falls back onto the bridge, that the back will have had time to get in line. It does and I don’t even think Gina is aware of how risky that one was. I call out with glee when I actually pop the front wheel over a particularly challenging log but it’s like I have a zombie in back. I’m really really concerned at this point.
We swing around with these super marginal calls and actually catch up to the pink girls. I know generally we’re going down but don’t know where the finish is. Gina stops us and says she doesn’t know if she can make any kind of last hill with her Achilles hurting her like it is. She says her right hand is numb. I ponder what to do and as we roll off I do see a field below us. I yell it out to Gina who doesn’t get the meaning. We roll a bit more then suddenly hit a 1K to go sign. Gina questions me on 1KM to what, we break out of the forest and pass one of the support crew – 1KM to the finish. We’re both in tears. Mine of concern, Gina’s of pain and then we drop onto tarmac turn a corner and we’re in main street Fernie coasting across the finish line.
I reach back to hold Gina’s hand and the tears really come then. We get pictures with the TransRockies logo in back and we both look emotional and just worn out. There’s a good shot of the tandem frame – it says Witness on it.
Witnessing what we’d just done is what this diary is about. It was the hardest but probably most fulfilling seven days we could possibly have had together. The fellow competitors were hugely inspirational and we’ve both got a deep sense of respect for every single one of them – they’re welcome in our home any time.
But the person this account is for, more than anybody is my wife, Gina. Firstly in just being willing to give it a go, she amazed me. And as a result of sharing 7 days of the most incredible highs and lows our relationship is stronger, more focused on the things that matter and more respectful of each other. I love you Gina. Thank you.
Will we be back? You’ll have to check the Team Names for that….