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
- 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.