Bike's Kip Mikler, racing the seven-stage, 324-mile B.C. Bike Race, is checking in with occasional updates from the trail of suffering in British Columbia. Typing and drinking a beer with three-time TransRockies winner Andreas Hestler, he sent this update from Cumberland, a woodsy mountain town on Vancouver Island.
Greetings from the mountain bike paradise known as Cumberland, British Columbia. Our digs for the night are a cool, comfy spot called the Riding Fool Hostel, Jeremy Grasby's crash pad for tourists who come to recreate in Cumberland.
Grasby is the mountain bike mayor of this town. He came to Cumberland, then a depressed logging town, in 2002, with the idea of building a scene for mountain bikers. The Riding Fool is in a building that was constructed in 1898 and was previously a hardware store for three generations. It's an open, comfortable and funky joint with room for 30. One of my bunkmate's tonight is Trek-Volkswagen pro Chris Eatough, who along with his teammate Jeff Schalk is leading the race.
I'm hoping that since I'm rooming with the fast guys, I'll get a little sleep tonight; as I write this, there's beer flowing among event staffers and others including Bike publisher Derek DeJonge, who arrived at the B.C. Bike Race today in rock-star treatment via a helicopter ride from Vancouer.
But those of us who have to race tomorrow will have another big day. It starts with a 5 a.m. wake-up, followed by a ride on B.C. Ferry back over to the mainland. The race starts at 11 a.m.
Grasby, who in addition to creating the hostel also played a big role in developing the trails here, was naturally selected as the course director of Tuesday's stage, an 83-kilometer jaunt from rainy Port Alberni to Cumberland. We rode some tasty nuggets, including Bucket of Blood, Soggy Biscuit, Black Hole and, yes, one called Space Nugget. It's classic B.C. stuff: tight and twisty with river crossings, bridges, unruly roots and mossy, off-camber rocks that have about as much traction as a tilted ice rink.
Now imagine tackling this slimy labyrinth after redlining it for more than four hours, pushing your bike up a 2,700-foot climb for an hour and a half, and grinding over rocky logging roads, and you have an idea of what we experienced today. I ate it a couple of times, including one full-body submersion in a river that was way deeper than it looked when I careened into it full-speed. But at least I fared better than VeloNews correspondent Jason Sumner, who also sampled some Bucket of Blood cruelty and had to take a little trip to the local clinic. Just a few stitches in the leg, he'll be back to ride another day here.
Tuesday's stage three race opened up with a 26-kilometer hammerfest on the mostly straight, flat and muddy Log Train Trail. It was like riding through a carwash of Douglas Firs and ferns; the lack of sunlight mixed with mud splatter made visibility tough while flying along at 30 kilometer per hour, staring at the wheel in front of you and steering around puddles.
After exiting the Log Train Trail, the climbing began, and it didn't end for a very long time. We climbed out of the Comox Valley on logging roads, and my two-man team of Mark Sevenoff—who runs the Western Spirit tour guide outfit and has been tagged with the nickname "Moab" by the Canadians here—and I duked it out with our mid-pack rivals. I had a tough go, struggling at times to keep Sevy in my sights on the big climb as he disappeared ahead of me into the clouds of the high peaks. But we managed to salvage our top-10 placing, sitting 10th overall with four days to go.
Every day gets harder. When I woke up this morning, my heart rate was still racing, so I guess I might not actually recover until a week after we finish this thing in Whistler. I have some cuts and scrapes from my forest dives and my legs hurt in ways they've never hurt before. But somehow you just get on the bike every morning and start pedaling. And when you see the breathtaking beauty of B.C., and experience some of the best mountain biking trails on earth while sharing the experience with a couple hundred other riders, the pain goes away. Sort of.
After this beer, I'm going to find Eatough. Four days to go, maybe he can give me some words of advice.