Words by Barry Wicks
Editor’s Note: In an effort to help you aspiring summer stage racers prepare for your singletrack challenges, Kona XC/Marathon racer Barry Wicks gives some key tips on how to survive—and hopefully enjoy—the races you set out to slay. In this episode, Wicks—who is the athlete ambassador for the new Singletrack 6 race through Western Canada (the world-famous TransRockies Challenge that is reinventing itself with a new focus on some of Western Canada’s prime singletrack destinations)—unveils the substantial contents of his riding pack.
The rain had started falling sometime in the night. When I wake up in the foggy morning, I can hear it on the rainfly of my tent. It smells different this morning. Most mornings when my eyes flutter open I smell stale farts, sweat and the musky scent of a damp sleeping bag stored for too long in a dusty attic. The smell on this rainy morning is a bit crisp with an evergreen bite.
I unzip my sleeping bag and touch the valve on my Thermarest, lying flat and still on my back as the air hisses out, feeling my body sink slowly into the ground. I am trying to feel the connection with the earth and rocks under the floor of my tent, trying to make peace with the mountains.
I have been riding my mountain bike across the Rocky Mountains, traversing the Continental Divide on the way from Fernie, British Columbia to Canmore, Alberta. My back and legs ache, my hands are torn raw in places from rocks and berms and roots echoing up through my wheels and handlebars into my body as we press onward each day.
I pack my tent and damp sleeping bag, wad my space-age nanotech sleeping pad into a tight ball and cram it all into a red duffle bag. I pull on my soggy bike shoes and lug the duffle over to the waiting cargo truck on my way to the breakfast tent.
The smell of coffee, bacon and eggs in huge pans greets me as I pull back the tent door flaps and enter. The smell is homey and comfortable. Soft voices sleepily murmuring about the weather and rain and the day ahead drift through the tent.
There in uncertainty in the air, but also excitement—and hope and fear. Today we are supposed to ride over the highest point in the race, across the true Divide, and the weather has made a turn for the worse.
Today will be the day to remember. It will be the day people will talk about when they speak of this race in the years to come. It is the day the weather turned. The day the Belgians wore only arm warmers and vests and had to huddle together under a tree naked for warmth after they got a flat tire at a bad moment. The day Oibaf almost set his hair on fire in the back of the cargo truck warming up with a propane heater at a rest stop. The day I had to watch my fingers on the brake levers to make sure they were pulling in the right spot, my digits too numb to feel anything. This was the day of legends.
The Singletrack 6 mountain bike race will take place this July, traversing the trails and mountains in western Alberta and Eastern British Columbia. I plan to be there. I am searching for that next legendary day. I don’t know the specific factor that will make it legendary, only that something will happen that will alter me in some way. It always does.
I have participated in 15 separate mountain bike stage races in the past five years, and in each and every one, something happens that burns itself so deeply into my mind that it becomes part of the story of my life. I do these events to experience these moments.
I want to share my experiences with you and bring you along for the ride. So let’s have some fun, and hopefully I can help you get what you’re looking for from the race. All you have to do is be ready to ride—and open to the adventure.