Monthly Archives: August 2008

Gina, owner of All Pro Bicycles, and her husband Phil completed the Trans Rockies race in Canada in 2008. They have put together a journal of the life-changing adventure, recounting the day-by-day highlights of the event. There’s also a selection of photos in our Trans Rockies Gallery


By Phil Kelly

I know my wife is volatile. I knew that when I proposed. What do you expect when you’ve got a mix of Sicilian and Hungarian for your roots? Although I’ve never had the horses head in the bed from her dad, The Don, this could be one of those moments when I have something to answer to when I get back. That’s if I get back.

Right now my wife is saying “Fxxx Fxxx Fxxx” very loudly. She’s literally ripping at her clothing trying to get up but I can see it’s snagged on her handlebar. I can see this as I am still pinned under the bike. I don’t volunteer a solution as I’m too busy wondering if once she is up, and while I’m still pinned underneath the bike, she’s going to put the boot in and teach me a lesson for not listening to her.

Rewind about 30 seconds and we’re entering a section of the Rock garden where it’s steep. We’ve ridden over some massive boulders and have got off on others. We’re tired and I’m getting pissed off with getting off on descents. So we’re riding. Gina is telling me it’s too steep and to stop. I ignore her for a moment too long before trying to bring us to a halt. The front wheel goes left; the rest of the bike goes right. We land. Painfully for Gina.

So how did we end up in this strange predicament? 9 months previously, and in a moment of lunacy, I recruit my wife to do the TransRockies – a 7 day mountain bike race across the Canadian Rockies. Entries are teams of two so as a way to allay my wife’s fears I further suggest that we shall do this on a mountain bike tandem. That way nobody can get left behind….

Between that moment and sometime the afternoon of Day 5 there’s a story to tell…


The race is going to start out of a ski resort called Panorama Village, and it is a lovely panorama. Until your eyes light on the burnt out ruins of some condo where a party obviously got way out of control. Partying though, is the last thing on our mind as we eat our last evening meal before the race start. We’re eating at this last supper with friends, from Canmore and another family from the UK –they are alternating between providing moral support and just outright laughing at how hard the days ahead look.

We are beginning to twig that we have actually bitten off something fairly sizeable here. Or more honestly put, I am realizing I have encouraged my wife to bite off something fairly sizeable which, probably, she would not otherwise have done. I am breaking out in a bit of a cold sweat.

We registered earlier in the day along with 400+ other riders and were fairly aware of the fact that we did not see any other tandems. And that people were giving us some fairly incredulous stares.

Even the check in folk seem to want to impress on us how hard it’s going to be. When asked why we need 4 bags instead of the standard 2 and I respond by saying that one is for my hair products the check in lady responds “That’s very good – you’re going to need that sense of humor over the next few days.” Perhaps also taking the piss by naming the team “We’re too sexy for this ride” has folks rightly labeling us in the clown’s category.

Anyway too late for backing out now. We’re in, we’re here and we’re going to complete it.

Day 1 – Panorama to K2 Ranch. 52.3Km and 2,478M of climbing.

So we’ve got video, we’ve got the camera, we’ve got the camelback, we’ve got the specially made jersey We decided the musical water bottle was maybe taking a bit too much, and ditch it, but we are in the start shoot to the 2008 TransRockies. Most importantly we’ve got the tandem and looking at the other 478 competitors I confirm my suspicions from yesterday that there are, in fact, 0 other tandems.

Too late to worry about it because Highway to Hell is thumping out of the speakers and we’re off on a parade lap around Panorama Mountain resort. I hear our friends offer final shouts of encouragement and then we’re off around the village and all you can hear is the whine of nearly 1000 mountain bike tires on concrete and lots of nervous laughter.

I’m hoping the nervous laughter is with us, not at us. I don’t want to come all this way and not make it. I don’t want to crash my wife. I don’t want our relationship to suffer. This is a bit of a gamble. We both have full time jobs. This event is not an hour up Rocky Peak fire road and back down again. It’s the real deal. They have a helicopter to extract the injured, bear spray and assumedly bears to go with that, slimy rotted massive diagonal tree roots, river crossings, snow, hail, rain and sun.

So rising panic successfully bottled, the bottle smashes about 10 seconds later when we hit our first hill. Hill is an understatement – it’s like a wall. It is ridiculously, laughably, steep. Its extremely difficult to stay up as bikes are all over the place, folk are clipping out, pushing their bikes, trying to remount, lifting their front ends high in the air and then falling off again. I’d be laughing my socks off if I were a spectator. But I’m not and the thought of another 300+ miles of this is a little daunting. The tandem though, is ready. Despite the fact we are going really really slow, because the wheelbase is so long, we’re stable and so can keep chugging where others are losing control and having to walk.

So we go up, and up, and up. And it gets colder and colder and colder. The sky gets darker and darker and darker. Our mood seemingly follows but our mood lightens as we meet Simon, a 6 time TR vet who gave us some pointers when we started posting maydays to the forum about tandem entrants. Simon gave us the link to another couple who did the TR02 on a tandem. They advised us to practice taking our bike out for a hill walk, similar to taking your dog out for a walk, as training. I thought that pretty amusing and laughed it off until the gradient lurched upwards once again and we started our Trans Rockies hiking experience.

But to be fair, it is virtually all rideable up to the first aid station. And having got there, we start across an incredible ridge route. We ride for about 100 yards or so and then have like 10-15 ft rock ledges to get up. I could see ultra confident, ultra skilled riders throwing their bikes, at these steps and making it. But a tandem, with that low cross bar and fragile timing chain? We hop off and I wish those GPS devices could record the number of times we were to do this over the next few days.

I also wish I was a bit more flexible because it’s easy for Gina to hop off the back but every time I try to raise my leg it hits Gina’s handlebar. So the mount/dismount process is our first weakness and I should really be honest and say having ridden the bike together perhaps 6 times before the race start could also be classified a weakness. Due to a fire at the Ellsworth factory the frame was delayed and then having put it together yours truly promptly crashed it (thankfully Gina was not on the back) badly enough to need a replacement fork.

So at this point the Gods are not smiling and to cap things off it starts to hail. And then snow. At one point however we pass a pristine lake and optimistically stop and another team takes a photo for us. It will be our last photo other than at the start/finishes – at this point we’re blissfully unaware just how close we’re going to be each day to the cutoff times.

After the lake I’m thinking it can’t get worse as we should be heading down the mountain. At least that’s what I think until we hit a monstrous uphill hike a bike section. We’re part of a long line of tail enders quietly pushing their bikes around the Canadian Rockies. My GPS thing beeps irritatingly to remind me that I’m going so slow it thinks I’ve stopped. Over and over again. I consider tossing it but then realize I’m just being mentally soft and it’s not a big deal. I try to convince myself of that until the guy in front turns around and, in pretty blunt terms, suggest I silence it.

Finally we start to go down consistently and we’re definitely struggling on the descent. Being, say the 240th place team at this point, means that the trail has become a slippery black serpent. I’m feeling too high on the tandem and the front end feels like it just doesn’t have enough weight on it. The mud fills any gaps between the knobbies on the tread so I feel like I’m riding a gigantic inner tube down the mountain. Add to that “input” from the wife and both our nerves are a bit fried when we finally exit onto a fire road.

The tandem though will fly down hill and with the reality dawning that we might miss the first cutoff we start hauling. And we are flying as validated by “input” suggesting that I “slow down, Slow down, SLOW DOWN”. Remembering my philosophy that I do not want the TR experience AND a divorce I back off. It’s the right decision because about 30 seconds later the front goes flat fast and I just have time to haul us to a stop before it could have gotten ugly.

A quick change and one expired CO2 cartridge later we’re off. Since my wife and her partner actually own a bike shop the folk who pass must think I’m a total asshole for letting my wife change the tube. But I have to admit that she’s way better and changed it way faster than me.

As we get charging down the hill we’re breathing easier thinking that we should make it in with 30-45 minutes to spare. It’s amazing what 20 minutes of speeds in the double, as opposed to single digits, will do for your confidence. But then, I can’t believe it, the rear goes flat too. We change it and I am now definitely stressing about the cutoff.

This is magnified as we turn off our delightful fire road, or logging road over here I suppose, and go back uphill again. Damn it. I though we were done with uphill. It’s grassy and wet – I guess the early finishers did so in the rain. At that point we were still on the top of the mountain in the snow and hail. But we grind over the last crest and start running it down the hill to the finish.

I am receiving “input” again that I am going too fast but I’ve got finish line fever. I’ve also got a really hard front tire, probably 60psi having used an entire Co2 a few minutes ago. I’ve also got a nice grassy rut that I’m running us into. And finally I’ve got that lack of weight on the front end.

All this becomes immediately and starkly obvious as the front starts to turn and the back end just continues to push it. We go down on our left sides and at a good clip. I can hear the screech of Gina’s bars twisting as they dig into the ground. My thigh smacks the ground at about the same time and I think I yell out like a soft lad (which I am.) But thankfully we come to a quick stop and most importantly Gina is up like a cat.

Obviously this is not one of my finer moments but Gina is patient enough to let me collect my thoughts and apologize before we quietly set off for the finish which we can see in the distance. I am very pissed off because I should have listened and I know my wife is pissed off because she knows I didn’t listen. Not exactly a perfect start to our TR experience.

Crossing the finish line, we’re very quiet and realize we need to:

  • Find a mechanic who can look the bike over – we’re too knackered
  • Find our bags, a tent, unpack
  • Eat
  • Shower and attend the slideshow/next day briefing.

We manage 1-3 but are running so late that neither of us gets to 4 and it’s definitely not a night for me to be suggesting a little tent romance.

Still – we made the cutoff.

Day 2 – K2 Ranch to Nipika: 73.7Km and 3,813m of climbing.

Brrr – it’s cold and damp and I don’t smell particularly pleasant but we can hear folk stirring and figure we should do likewise. We know today is a monstrous elevation gain and figure that if the wheels are going to come off, at least more than yesterday, this will be the day.

We see that the pack is now seeded for the start and take up our designated spot in the last group. Before we’ve had too much time to wonder about what the day will hold, we’re off. We wind around the K2 Ranch and I’m definitely a bit tentative after yesterday’s performance. Gina is pretty quiet which is not the best sign. She’s also wearing about 30 layers of clothes. Being a California girl she is suffering big time, leaving me as the only one to sport our “We’re too sexy for this ride jersey”

Still the fact that we actually completed the first day is a surprise to some and that encourages us. For a short while at least, because we break out onto a tarmac road and the pack just takes off. Literally. There is no nice social, “we’ve got 72.7km to go – let’s take it easy” mentality. Instead we’re pretty quickly consigned to a lonely ride along the tarmac.

But all is not what it seems and as we get closer to the first real climb we join back up with folk who probably had one cup too many of the amazingly strong coffee they serve at the mess tent, the effect of which is now wearing off.

So it’s a steep long long climb to the first aid station and it is cold. But its double track and manageable so we’re pretty content. Even after the first aid station it gets steeper but we’re still riding. Slowly, admittedly, but we are riding.

Eventually though, even the long wheelbase of the tandem, is not going to get us up this hill. Everybody is walking now. This poses another question of our preparation. What now? Do I carry the front triangle and Gina the rear? Clearly this is a non starter so we begin the first of many miles with me pushing the handlebars and/or putting one hand behind my saddle and kind of pull/drag while Gina pushes on her saddle.

It must be comical to watch. But that’s what we do. And the damn hill gets steeper and steeper and steeper. I mean like scrambling steep where folk are taking a few paces and then stopping to rest. And we’re talking about fairly fit people here. We’re doing everything we can to push, heave, drag and bounce the tandem up this scree face.

After what seems like an eternity we come off the face of the scree slope and walk our bike up a very narrow trail to the top of the pass.

So we’re hoping for a decent ride down but unfortunately there are so many log crossings that we’re back to hopping on and off every few meters. Sometimes we don’t bother to hop back on and walk around the next curve thinking that there will be an unrideable section only to find it fairly manageable. Then when we do the reverse we immediately get to a section we have to dismount on again.

It’s really frustrating plus I’m managing to smack my shins repeatedly as we walk the tandem. Not really hard but repeatedly. As in over and over again. As in making me want to grab the tandem and if it was human strangle it – slowly, to prolong the payback.

It’s taking us forever to get down. We haven’t seen any other riders for ages. And then we hit the bloody stream crossings. Going over the stream once or twice is pretty cool but after the twentieth time of crossing the same bloody stream we are done. We have to try to lift the tandem with Gina lifting the back wheel. Sometimes I’m trying to roll the tandem while Gina is trying to lift it. Other times it’s the opposite.

Finally we get to a place where I have to let go to get across the stream. I suggest to Gina that the grip she has on the bike won’t stop the front wheel from trying to get away. But rather than suggesting up an alternative I go forwards anyway and then Gina nearly lands on her ass in the stream. Helpfully I pipe up with “I told you that was going to happen” to which I deservedly get the retort that it was not Gina’s idea to do this. “Well done, Phil”, I say to myself “What happened to staying conscious about how hard this is for both of us?”

Luckily after our little spat we come around the corner and there’s the course designer bloke. I forget his name (and he is a genuinely great guy) but he comes out with a magnificent one liner that enables us both to channel our frustration in his, and the organizers, general direction. He says; wait for it, “There’s a bit around the corner where you’re going to have to walk”

“Ha ha ha ha ha” If only he knew. I am totally incredulous and dumbfounded and speechless that I can’t even get my mouth to work. I think I just stare at him like I’ve got rabies or something. Gina though, does us proud, and demands to know the distance to the checkpoint. It’s like 3km or something but I could forgive the course designer saying 2km under Gina’s take no prisoner’s tone. We know we’re desperately close to the cutoff time. We kind of do an ungainly run down the hill with the tandem and all of a sudden we can see the timing tent not 30 ft away. We take a couple steps and Gina just sinks into the mud right up beyond her ankles. I continue running with the tandem until I realize my wife is nearly knee deep in mud and 15 ft behind me.

Luckily I can tell she’s past caring at this point and she manages to ooze her way out of the mud and join me as walk the tandem to the timing tent and a very desirable fire road pointing downhill.

We are literally at the cut off time and we yell our number out.

One of the guys makes a motion that we should wait for the truck to the finish while the other has made eye contact with my mud wrestling wife and is gently shooing us off down the trail. Surprisingly enough, I’m sure I can detect a German accent on the young man suggesting we are outside the time limit. Typical, why couldn’t he be English – nothing ever runs on time there.

Anyway we scoot, over his protestations, and it’s just a joy to be riding instead of walking. I really push and Gina does likewise. We go down and down onto a gravel road and we are hauling. We curve around a beautiful river and then up a vicious little climb and we’re suddenly in the Nipika grounds.

We have to pass the folk who have been in for a while as the tents line the course and their encouragement gets us the last 50 yards to the finish line. This time I reach out and hold my wife’s hand as we cross the finish line and she’s smiling as we come to a stop.

We make it in 9hrs and 40mins. I think the cutoff is 10 hours. Two days and no time penalties.

Maybe even time for a shower tonight although odds on tent romance are still very long.

Day 3 – Nipika to Nipika: 44.2Km and 1,514m of climbing.

“That was Heinous. Absolutely heinous. I have no idea how you got through that stage. I was thinking of you as I was carrying my bike yesterday.” So says Linda when she sees us at breakfast. Linda is an absolutely amazing rider, and get this, with her partner are attempting it on single speeds. Single speed? At least we have gears, and suspension. Anyway the point is that those kind words are very inspirational and more importantly Linda lets on that the terrain does open up from here once we start heading south again tomorrow. This is very heartening.

But first we have today’s time trial to contend with. We’re both dog tired after those first 2 harrowing days and mentally we are looking at this as a bit of a recovery day. Baaaaad move. Very bad. A little voice is saying inside my head that although the elevation change is fairly small relative to the other days the ride seems similar to one we have been doing back home on Sundays. And we’re knackered when we finish that ride. Hmmm…

Anyway, pushing the bad thoughts to one side I even conjure up some whipping (with my imaginary whip) of my wife as we hurtle out of the start block. Not sure if she found it particularly amusing, or anyone else for that matter, but that’s the best I was capable of humor wise. There had been a real comical moment at the start line when, given that we are a tandem and it only takes one of us to hold us up, my wife proceeded to clip in ready for the start. I guess the starter really was taking it seriously and immediately ordered my wife to put one foot on the ground so as not to have an unfair advantage….

Anyways it is nice to take off on some fun single track which does not require us to get off every 15 seconds. It’s an amazing place and we’re really enjoying the ride. We even take a photo over an amazing gorge. The scenery is just absolutely stunning.

We roll up to the first checkpoint fairly content. And it’s from here things seem to go a little harder than they should. There is some great single track back through the forest and down to the cliff tops overlooking the river. We’re riding just about everything that the regular bikes are managing but it seems like the second checkpoint which is back at the start finish just seems to be taking an awful long time to get to.

I can tell Gina is getting quite uncomfortable in the back because she has to constantly shift her position and I can feel every movement. When you ride a tandem if you’re both working together it’s a dream. When you’re not it is a nightmare. The person in back can inadvertently steer by countering the captain’s inputs – either consciously or unconsciously but when this happens the tandem behaves more like an out of control semi than a bicycle. The same thing happens if you’ve got a wriggler on the back and today my wife is wriggling big time. About this time I also realize the folly of not having a lock out in the rear shock. I can dial down the front so there is very little springing at the front if I stand up to ease my booty but the back starts boinging up and down and its irritating for Gina when I do. In addition I am starting to twig that because Gina starts boinging up and down when she stands, she’s not standing. At all. And that means pressure you know where.

Anyway all this malfunction plus the growing realization that we’re not even at the second checkpoint is making us realize this is not a rest day. Not even a recovery day. And unfortunately both of our heads are not really in the game for a hard day.

To top it off rolling back into the start finish the chain breaks and we have to spend a few minutes relinking it. Well, as I mentioned on Day 1, that would be the royal we. I actually watch my wife mend the chain while I helpfully hold the bike upright.

When we get going again we have to go through the start finish on another loop. The organizers helpfully route us past the pond and folk who have finished are already lying out in the sun with their legs in the water. Lucky bastards. More negative feedback for our deteriorating mindset.

The final loop is psychological torture. We know we are heading away from the finish and are waiting for the turn around to come. And waiting. And waiting until we start second guessing if we’ve even gone off course. We have a second spat somewhere on this section but finally we realize we are making turns that will put us back in the direction of Nipika so we both take a deep breath.

And then the bastard Italians pass us. They’re not really bastards, they’re probably really nice folk, but they must have started at least 3 hours after us and they’ve bloody caught us. And passed us like we were standing still. Actually I think we were standing still because we’d heard shouts behind us and pulled off the trail. But you get my point about why, in our state, you might think of them as bastards.

We drag our tails the last 2 or 3 miles back to the start finish and make it across the finish line. As we pull ourselves off the bike I take a look at my wife’s saddle and my mind simply can not comprehend what I am seeing. The saddle has deformed completely and is nearly a perfect mold for my wife’s butt cheeks. No wonder she was wriggling like a worm on a hook – that must have been excruciatingly painful to ride on and I can see she’s really really hurting.

As luck would have it when we did our final raid on the bike shop back home we’d pulled a spare saddle just in case. And since I like nice padded saddles, not the razor blade SLT thing my wife rides, we’ve got one with plenty of padding. So we had a replacement for tomorrow but we needed one more lucky break as the damage had already been done and my wife could easily have fit in with a pack of baboons. (If you are a cyclist this is enough detail.) And by lucky break I mean verging on the miraculous if we are to continue. Surprisingly enough we got one – and that was our decision to go to the medic’s tent and get some of his magic monkey butt potion.

I have no idea what was in it as I didn’t become a user until the fifth day but when I did I was hooked. I think its probably safe to say that the spare saddle and the monkey butt potion saved our race.

Still, when the dust had settled and showers had been had we noticed that we’d beat the cut off again. For comparison, our time – 5hrs 36mins. Italians – 2hrs 20mins.

Day 4 – Nipika to Whiteswan. 110Km and 2,567M of climbing.

The next morning we’re both feeling a little better. Being able to sit down and get some relaxing time in has definitely helped us and we’re in much better spirits. The sun is out and it is a cold start to the day but we’re thinking that if we can make today we’ll definitely make the whole thing.

I’m a bit wary about the fact they’re going to ride us around Nipika for starters again. We both have definitely had enough of the on again/off again routine. But given the length of the stage plus the fact that we open with a decent fire road section means we’re not going to get shelled from the start. In fact we do have chance to have some fun conversation with fellow competitors while we’re actually riding. We’re digging on the fact that there’s a young man from Glasgow, Allie, and his father, Chris riding. Allie’s 18 and boy, is he going to have some fun stories to tell when he goes away to University in the fall. For us tail enders, these kind of moments are hugely positive, they lead to a kind of shared determination to make it to the finish.

The organizers must have figured they could never get the entire race, so near the start, down the Nipika single track so they route us on some grassy double track and then out onto a fire road. We actually do re-ride some of the stuff from yesterday and it amazes me how hard it was yesterday compared to now. Its not even really uphill. I guess it just goes to show that if you’re not there mentally this race is going to beat you up and then spit you out.

It is genuinely enjoyable today. The fire road is great fun and when we do start to climb its not insanely steep and we’re riding well together. Gina is repeatedly thanking the seat and is consistently cranking out the watts to keep us moving forwards.

We have our first encounter with “water bars” as we start the descent to the first checkpoint. These are great big dips in the deactivated logging roads where the drainage has been taken out and a big ditch left behind. If you pile into these too fast you will literally get ejected out the other side. So deciding how much speed to loose is what’s occupying my mind. Slow down too much and you have to crank to get moving again but going in too fast could blow the fork, and/or, visions of my wife being ejected and catapulting over my head are not good. Since the tandem picks up speed downhill pretty fast anyway we go cautiously and enjoy our ride to the first aid station. I think we’re dead happy because we’re riding with other folk today and that’s a huge motivator.

From the first aid station its uphill with the conditions going from fire road to single track. The single track is cool though, its up and down but doesn’t have lots and lots of slimy logs to contend with.

Soon enough we’re at the 2nd aid station and there is a proper river to fight our way across. Its about knee deep and the current is moving pretty swiftly. We’re careful to keep as much of the tandem as we can out of the water but it does still try to drag us downstream. When we reach the other side and look back at where we entered the river we’re a good 30ft downstream.

Now we know there is a very very long climb to come so we just settle in and take it steady. We even have the energy to joke around with the motorcycle camera guy and demand a tandem category. This is most definitely a good day.

I was hacking away coughing last night and as we get towards the 2/3rds mark I’m definitely feeling a bit under the weather. But the scenery is spectacular and we have a beautiful glacier view as we climb up and back onto a single track section that crests us over another mountain pass.

We’re not really that conscious that we’re close to the time cut off again as there are a good few folk in sight today. But as we head down and down we do begin to wonder where the last checkpoint is. We pal up with Ian and his partner plus the “Pink girls” as we rush down to the final checkpoint. I’m getting a little too enthusiastic and we’re heading over some rollers at a good rate of knots. Gina is suggesting that I’m getting a bit too competitive but before I can really acknowledge this I treat her to what we call the “Superman” position for the rest of the week.

Basically we barrel into a dip way too fast and as we come over the other side and come over the crest the rear wheel stays fairly planted but my wife does not. She has her arms completely stretched out and the only thing preventing the catapulting I talked about earlier is the fact she is clipped in. Her legs are totally stretched out too. Obviously I can’t see this but I do tone it down a bit and the other guys ride on ahead of us.

Still, better safe than sorry. A couple minutes later we see an awesome piece of helicopter flying as they take out a rider who we later learn did something similar, but really ejected himself and I think, broke his collar bone in the process. Not what we want to do and not what I want to be responsible for either so we do go a little bit easier.

We get down to the checkpoint with 15 minutes or so to the cutoff and we break back out to fire road. There’s still a fair way to go but because its gradually downhill we can really motor. As we catch the guys we motion them to get on our wheel but there is an incredible amount of momentum that we’re generating and we gradually loose our pace line. We hold up a few times to allow folk to get back on our wheel but the cord keeps snapping so we just let ourselves roll. The speed we’re going means that all of us should get in pretty comfortably today.

There’s one final climb up around a beautiful river gorge and then we’re at the finish with the weather being just perfect. What an incredible day of riding. Just incredible. And our riding skills are definitely improving each day.

So even though I go to bed early because I’m not feeling too clever I’m confident that we’ve got this thing under control.

For comparisons – Team “We’re too sexy for this ride” – 8:14:44; Italian Stallions 4:36:12.

Day 5 – Whiteswan to Elkford. 88.5Km and 2147M of climbing.

Its almost routine now – the waking up to the slamming of porter potty doors, the search for the torch so that we can do the sun cream, warm up cream and bum cream before the fill your face breakfast. The overdosing on the kick ass coffee before curling a huge….ok, ok, lets not go there….

Yesterday we were 24th and we’re pretty pleased with that. Obviously we’re not yet ready for the 2nd starting paddock, and I don’t see the Italians looking nervously over their shoulders at us, but 24th of 29 is a whole lot better than 27th of 29 on Day 3.

We’re rolling out on a logging road again which is great. And slightly downhill again therefore also great. The uphill is steady and being around folk again is such a lift. A couple of times we’re riding with guys who have some kind of physical disadvantage. There’s a team called 15 toes, a rider with a prosthetic below the elbow, a guy recovering from cancer (whose buddy only took up mountain biking a few months back) and I’m sure there are others who should be mentioned. These guys really blow us away; they expect no special treatment, and, ride like they stole their bikes. Truly incredible people and motivation to get to the finish line and have a beer with them.

We seem to go up for an awful long time and my arse is also joining Gina’s in the land of uncomfort. But we finally make the top and it’s a great descent back down. We’ve got our water bar approach fairly well dialed in and no more superman moments occur.

Its funny how our technique is improving. I’m doing a better job telling Gina when she has to get up off the saddle if we’ve got something really large coming up and on steep angled traverses where the trail just slants away beneath us we’ve even got our “clip one leg out and dab against the side of the trail” technique developing. It is still really hard to pedal backwards and forwards on command but the locals probably think an Iditarod team is coming through when they hear me yelling “Easy, easy, hold it, hold it, now drive, drive drive”. My wife is yelling back how many gears we’ve got left in the rear “ Three left, Two left, One left”. It’s a long way back to the rear sprockets from up front so having the information coming through really helps me to figure out if I’m going to need to drop to the granny or not, or if I’ve got the chain sufficiently aligned to start lifting the chain onto the 44 tooth front chain wheel.

Getting to the second stop is another milestone and we’re back riding with Ian and his partner. They tell us this last section before the descent to the rock garden is brutal and they’re right. Its back to walking and I’m finding it really tough with nothing in my legs. Gina notices and even spells me a period pushing the tandem so I can get rid of the lightheadedness. What a trooper.

We get to the top of the ridge and then its wickedly steep downhill followed by wickedly steep uphill and I’m just not contributing enough power to drive us up the other sides. So we’re doing a lot of exhausting walking. Sometime we get a roll going and catch up with Ian and then he gets a roll going and we see him move off into the distance.

Ian lets us know we’re entering the rock garden. To be fair, before I biff it, we’ve been riding probably a good half of the rock garden but there are sections that are beyond my skill level and I should have taken the sensible decision and got us off earlier.

Which leads me to the predicament I open our account with. Its just a combination of exhaustion and stupidity on my part that lead us to go down and luckily, as Gina breaks free of the tandem, her boots do not target my ribcage!! But I am most definitely in the dog house and we are most definitely walking the rest of the rock garden. And I am, most definitely walking the tandem down on my own, with my wife following at a distance just inside the maximum allowable distance for a team member to be apart from their partner.

In fact there is a comical video moment when the guy filming does a double take as I appear walking the tandem and my wife is a good way in the distance. He should be a diplomat as he says nothing and I plod onwards for a ways more.

Eventually Gina decides I’ve done my penance and we hop back on. Team player that she is, she acknowledges it wasn’t a deliberate decision on my part to put us down. We were lucky in that we went down in the grass at the side of the trail but we’re pretty done with the day’s stage and cruise into a very hot Elkford in 27th of 29th place. So much for lofty ambitions at the start of the day.

USA 7hrs, 47mins – Italy 4Hrs,11mins.

Day 6 – Elkford to Crowsnest Pass. 102Km and 2998m of climbing.

So a little bit chastened we’re on the start line in Elkford. But the weather is absolutely amazing and I think we’re both determined to leave yesterdays crash behind us. The route looks stupid hard again and I’m dreading the 3 * 200M elevation changes right before the finish. Those are going to be brutal.

But we do know now that if we do today, we’ll do tomorrow, so we set off in a pretty positive frame of mind. For a change we actually get some tarmac road to start on. Naturally its steep uphill but who would expect anything different? Actually, if you’ve got 478 mountain bikes (and one tandem) you do have to figure out a way to get the field split up or it just becomes gridlock. So its not just total cruelty on the organizers parts, only partially. And it does become a bit of a traffic nightmare in the first single track section as we are backed up on top of each other. But the views down into the gorge are amazing and initially we’re not that fussed.

But it does seem like an age before we break out onto a fire road and by then I am a bit worried that it took us so long, with all the traffic, to do the first few miles. We’re rewarded though with a decent downhill section and we’re motoring. We pass a ton of folk which is really rare and get to the first stop with a whole crowd of people. This is more like it. We even get a chance to talk to the friendly video guy. We don’t stop for too long because it just feels right today and we’re both going really well. I don’t want to do anything to upset our rhythm.

All too soon though its back to the uphill grind. We must though have pushed through some kind of pain barrier as we’re making solid progress and arrive at the second aid station in pretty good shape. Even my wife is showing her arms now it’s more than 90F. Still got the heavy black leggings on though- amazing.

Another hysterical moment as I grab a piece of water melon for my wife and hand it to her to take. Instead she just face plants into the melon and half ends up in her mouth and half all over her face. Once I’m satisfied I don’t need to rename the team “15 fingers” and that they are not about to spurt blood everywhere we both wet ourselves laughing.

After we pull ourselves together its back on the bike and up and up again. I think we’re walking again but so is everyone else and we have to do this for a while before we can ride up and over the continental divide. It’s a brutal pull up and over but the views are worth it. And we know we have some massive down to come so are feeling very pleased with ourselves.

Its fast coming off the continental divide with a lot of shale fields to cross. Most of them have a rough line across them but the thought of going down on this super sharp stuff does make me slow it down a bit.

We must make a turn into a different valley somewhere because although the direction is still downwards there is a huge headwind. The 2 person teams are really struggling here. We see folk holding onto one another’s camelback as the stronger person leads into the wind. We figure we might have a bit of an unfair advantage but given Days 1-3 we probably don’t feel overly concerned. In fact, we get absolutely rocking and the surface is great, so nothing to really worry about. We’re absolutely spun out and we’re both ducking down to be as aero as possible. We yell to folk as we come up on them to pedal like crazy and get on the back but its just not possible. We spit folk out of our slipstream like a wood chipper. Of all the folk we pass on that long wonderful section there’s only a couple of crazy English Clydesdales that are able to get on and stay there. Respect my crazy friends, respect.

As the saying goes “all good things come to an end” and we turn up at the last aid station in the knowledge that we’ve got the last 3 power climbs to endure. Still we get the best complement possible, and it’s good to keep us going over at least one of the last three climbs, when one of the teams goes bug eyed and says “What are you doing here?” The fact that we’re this far up the field (remember this is relative to Days 1-5 – the Italians need not worry) amazes us and we are a couple of happy campers (literally I guess).

Anyway as we leave the last aid station the 3 climbs are everything they were described as. Basically just get off and push. Brutal, just brutal. The descents are similar but they tend to be in the shade and they are incredibly steep. Throughout the last 5 days I’ve never worried about keeping the tandem’s speed under control but these downhills are the ultimate brake tests. I have absolutely everything yanked on as hard as possible and I actually breathe a sigh of relief as we start back up the next col.

At one point it gets a bit slick and I’ve got Gina suddenly appearing in my peripheral vision as the whole back end travels independently along a slimy root as if it was a rail. I get off the front brake just quick enough to get Gina back into her rightful place behind me. Talk about an adrenalin rush. I can tell Gina is either confident in what I’m doing or getting tired and not caring because she simply says “Did we get totally sideways then?” to which I reply “yes, dear” and leave it at that.

At the third col the bike demon is having his say telling us that our tires are going flat and that the brakes are stuck on. But we manage to keep the demon at bay and make it onto the run in to Elkford. It is proper scorching as we cross the finish line but we are both just so thrilled to have had such an amazing day. My wife says she refused to think about how far it was to go because she’d been asking the previous few stages and had only been disappointed when “just around the corner” turned out to be a couple hours away. Today, she says, “I didn’t even allow myself to think the ride had started until the third checkpoint.” Wow. Whatever the reason that was our best day on a tandem. Ever.

Day 7 – 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….


Tuesday – Friday: 10:00am to 7:00pm
Saturday: 10:00am to 5:00pm
Sunday: 11:00am to 4:00pm
Monday: Closed


Tuesday – Friday: 10:00am to 7:00pm
Saturday: 10:00am to 5:00pm
Sunday: 11:00am to 4:00pm
Monday: Closed