7-1-07 // Day One Report from B.C. Bike Race

Bike‘s managing editor just finished the first stage of the B.C. Bike Race.

His first day sounds pretty far from a lazy Sunday. His dispatch was apparently sent from a bar in Lake Cowichan, the only establishment in town with an interweb connection. Without further ado, here’s the report from our own intrepid Kip Mikler:

Greetings from the trail of suffering. Here’s a little blogorama from the BC Bike Race. I’d post it directly, but I’m so cross-eyed I can’t tell if it makes any sense….

Today was hard. Harder than I thought it’d be. I’m totally worked, hope I can manage tomorrow. Oh, and the only place in Lake Cowichan that has internet is a bar. Nice.

B.C. Bike Race Start, photo courtesy Jason Sumner

The first edition of the B.C. Bike Race got underway July 1, Canada Day, and the opening stage of the seven-day endurance event went to the Trek-Volkswagen duo of Chris Eatough and Jeff Schalk. The Trekkies outsprinted Andreas Hestler and Kevin Calhoun (Rocky Mountain) at the end of 108 kilometers of classic B.C. terrain on Vancouver Island, taking the win by five seconds. That foursome of pros pinned it on the second-longest stage of the race, which began on the outskirts of Victoria in the town of Sooke, and finished in Lake Cowichan.

The Trek boys’ winning time was four hours, 22 minutes and 32 seconds, and I’m here to tell you that’s fast. I know because I had a backseat, way backseat, view of their feat; I’m one of the other 200 or so amateur racers just trying to survive seven days of ungodly miles through big, bad, burly B.C.

Racers’ times on Sunday ranged from the superhuman digits posted by Eatough and Schalk to the Oh-God-is-this-torture-ever-going-to-end eight hours plus by the back-of-the packers. As I file this story at 6 p.m., people are still rolling in.

If you’ve never done one of these endurance races, and you’re wondering what it’s like, here’s a little insight from a rookie. First of all, the numbers don’t lie. One hundred and eight kilometers is a long time to be racing, no matter what. Even though the final 35 kilometers of Sunday’s stage were on a lovely old railroad grade through old-growth forests and bridges offering breathtaking views of deep river gorges, that little path felt like it might never end.

Here’s an admission: Sunday’s opening stage was the longest mountain bike ride I’ve ever done. Yes, it was only the first of seven straight days, and yes it appears that stage two will make stage one look easy, and yes we’re heading toward Whistler with its mega climbs and fearsome, technical descents—and yes, all this makes me appear a bit foolhardy. But it’s not like I didn’t train. I did hard four-hour rides, and even some five-hour rides on the weekends over the past couple months. But it’s not easy to ride your mountain bike more than 100 kilometers on training rides; I’d have to do about 20 laps on my local training loop to match that kind of meat. The best way to prepare for these endurance races, it seems, is to do endurance races. So here I am.

Aside from the pain in my legs, it was a smooth, trouble-free day for my teammate Mark Sevenoff and me. Yeah, we were nearly an hour behind Eatough and Schalk, but we didn’t crash, flat or yell at each other, and we clocked a pretty solid time of five hours and 23 minutes. We duked it out with some fast mid-packers, made some friends, and saw some spectacular scenery.

I lucked out in picking Sevy as a teammate. He, along with his wife Ashley Korenblat, run the Western Spirit guide outfit out of Moab—Sevy’s a super-solid rider and a great guy. We had only ridden together for about an hour before jumping into this cauldron, but, hell, he’s a professional guide—who better to pick as a teammate?

I’ll end with a few random rookie observations from day one on the B.C. Bike Race:

1. So far the event has been incredibly well-organized. The logistics of overseeing and taking care of a couple hundred racers in the B.C. Backcountry is mind-boggling. There are bikes and bike boxes to deal with, tons of luggage and tents. Sevy and I zipped through the registration process, and the most time-consuming task was signing enough waivers to make you think you’re buying a house. Sunday’s stage was well marked with the race’s pink course ribbons, and our bags were neatly waiting for us when we finished at the Cowichan Lake Sports Arena on Sunday afternoon. The aid stations were stocked with Clif Bloks, Cytomax gels, water and all kinds of sugary energy drinks. Showers were easily accessible at the finish, and the crew was busily readying meals to feed an army. (I’ll report on the food after I’ve gorged myself on it.)

2. There were plenty of pre-race warnings about bears and mountain lions (they call ’em cougars in these parts). We didn’t see any, but a team of racers that were just behind us saw three bearcubs scurrying in the brush.

3. The 2008 Giant Trance XO is a beauty bike. More on that later, but thanks to my pals at Giant for allowing me to get a sneak preview of this 5-inch-travel gem. Other riders were ogling over it at the start, and with good reason. I’m racing in British Columbia and I’m riding an incredibly sweet bike that can’t yet be bought—how can you not love this job?

4. I like baggy shorts as much as the next guy, but even though I packed one pair for this trip, they’ll never leave my pack. What you need for this sort of party is sausage casing Lycra, a nice thick chamois and a tub of chamois butter.

5. The Garmin Edge 305 is a nifty toy for a race like this. To avoid obsessing over mileage, I find it best to just choose time, speed and average speed on the display screen.

6. Though Friday night’s local news up here predicted “100 percent rain” on Sunday, conditions turned out to be perfect: dry, with intermittent cloud cover. The trails were mostly dry, save for some mud amidst the stunning old-growth treeforests and some puddles along the logging road section.

Check back later this week for more rookie endurance-race blogging from the wilds of B.C.