Trans Cascadia starts off just how one might think. Like, any other bike race really. An unloading and loading up of vans. A makeshift parking lot or an empty field filled with characters and their bicycles. There is the usual building of bikes and swapping of tires all while eating gas station egg sandwiches and drinking the dregs of coffee on the go. From an uninitiated perspective everything seems to be going as planned, it is a controlled chaos sure, but everyone is working towards the same goal. Making it to camp. “That’s going to mean we’re going to need everyone to take their one bag and load up into the vans lined up alongside the road.” Alex Gardner is simultaneously pointing out vans for people to get into and handing out donuts from a stack of blue and yellow Heavenly Donuts boxes.
“These are the legit donuts in Portland, just FYI” Nick Gibson says to someone over his shoulder before grabbing two maple bars and helping someone load their bike into the back of a rental van. Nick and Alex are two thirds of the crew behind all this and they will be involved in nearly ever single thing that happens over the course of the weekend. From donut logistics to running point on a tricky medic situation on the mountain. Tommy rounds out the trio, but we’ll meet him, and his mom Becky a bit later.
This was the fourth iteration of the Trans Cascadia and while I have not been at the other three, it seems like they are getting better as they go, smoother. A quick poll of the people in this actual parking lot (and by that I mean asking four people of the nearly 100 people standing near me) and three out of four people have been here before and no matter what happens this week, they say, they’ll be back next year. The sunshine isn’t hurting anything either. A particularly late and glorious summer seems to be still unfolding right out in front of us. It’s also apparent that the weather is creating a particular thirst within it’s participants that seems to only be satiated by the cold cans being drawn from the largest cooler that I’ve ever seen.
Plus, it seems like this year is going deeper into the forest. Again, I wasn’t at the others, but the general vibe among folks in attendance is that the remote location within the National Forests of Washington is maybe more remote than in the past. This seems to be part of the plan. To forcefully disconnect people from the constant looking at their phones and thrust them into a sweet-sweet haven of nature and food and bike riding. The TC Crew have also done an amazing job of rehabilitating trails that were mostly demolished by the Mount St. Helens eruption in 1980. Seems like a long time to be off these trails, because they are that radical.
There were a good number of super “pro’s” there. You know the guys with those rainbow stripes at the edges of their jerseys that denote they have done super cool things in their career. The world champions, that’s who I’m talking about. I think that there were three there this year. Adam Craig counts as one because he’s won those single speed things right? Not sure if he actually raced though or was just on hand to sort of keep the vibe alive.
However, it wasn’t (necessarily) those people that I was that concerned with, or even interested in when I got there. They were fine, they did just about the same amount of partying as everyone else. Maybe even went a little overboard at times. These guys have it tough all year because people are telling them to take it easy and watch their diet and put their legs up and pee into this cup and do your stretches. That type of fun stuff.
But, us mortals, we don’t have to live by those rules so when there’s a huge fire and a bottle of bourbon being passed around — we let loose.
In fact it reminded me a bit of this race we used to have out on the East Coast called the Working Man’s Stage Race. Not sure why, but I kept thinking about this race. It was a traditional Stage Race in the sense that it had all the elements – a time trial, a circuit race, and then a long road race in which all the points were cumulative. The difference was that it all happened after work hours during the week. Wednesday night was the time trial (I tried to use this vintage helmet that my buddy gave me and the officials weren’t having it, but it was SO AERO) and then Thursday was the circuit and and so on and so forth. You get the idea.
I was thinking about this while roaming around the massive bonfires each night at Trans Cascadia. There are a couple of these people that are legit professional cyclists, but what about the rest? Who are the folks that plunk down the cash and are then slogging it out not so much for their time or place in the overall scheme of the race, but more along the lines of…well, you know… life… adventure… experience.
A few of them I knew, and I’m sure you do to, so it was good to catch up, but I’d like to think I made a few new friends as well. So, I figured that this might be a good way to go about things. Maybe even better than a “race recap” anyway (wait, you weren’t looking for race results were you, this was like weeks ago?)
In Some Particular Order
Kelly Nowels – 7th – Amateur Men – Smooth Jazz Lines
Oh man, I felt so bad for Kelly on the first day. He waited for myself and Dan Sharp at the start and just let all the other racers roll on towards the Stage 1 start. Well, to be fair it was a massive climb before you got there, and everyone was encouraged to take their time, but still, he was waiting for us (me) while we fussed with cameras and whether or not we would be too warm with jackets (we were.) And did we have enough extra film? He ditched us pretty quick when he saw that we were going to do nerdy things like look for the light coming through the trees. However, I felt even more bad when I found remembered that he had broken his wrist the year before and had to wait an entire year before getting back out here again.
Not to worry though, he’s a crusher, and it turns out he caught up to nearly everyone anyway and by the end of the first day he was all smiles.
He also designs websites for the likes of Swift Industries out of Seattle. He and his wife Mal were one of their first “models” (read: real people that ride the crap out of, and real world test their bike bags) and then turned that in to a full time thing for them. What a dude.
Jacob Dudek – 2nd – Amateur Men
“Dudek! I found Dudek!” This was photographer Dan Sharp shouting back to me on the trail. He was a few bends in and I couldn’t see him yet, but I could hear him. The night before we had been given our media assignments from head wrangler Dylan VanWeelden. “Someone find Dudek! Apparently Backcountry needs shots of him.” So, that became our mantra the next morning. Did Backcountry get their shots?
We scoped through the rider list and kept an eye out for him at the breakfast table. “Does anyone here know a Jake Dudek?” we asked anyone who would listen. I guess it’s just good to have something to latch on to, someone to be on the hunt for and well, Backcountry wasn’t asking for anyone else, so that seemed like something. We didn’t find him in time for the roll out, so we figured that we would find him around the fire that night, could make the connection and the follow him a bit the next day.
We had gone out and then fully turned around and were heading back towards camp when I heard Dan shouting up ahead. By the time I got there he was already snapping shots of Jake trailside. But, wait a second, everyone else was gone. Like, 30 minutes in the other direction.
“Yeah, I broke my seat dropper just as we rolled out of camp. It’s pretty effed.” He looked a little forlorn at this point as the trip out here (in the broader sense) is enough to wear a normal person down. “I’ll just keep pedaling along and see how the day goes.”
He was so far off the back that we had sort of written him off as a bust. Sorry Backcountry.
Then, on the final night we were standing around waiting for the podium to happen and we heard the darndest thing… “In second place Jacob Dudek!” Dan and I grabbed each other and howled with laughter… “he did it, he pulled it together!”
Way to go Dudek.
Riley Jondle – 37th – Amateur Men
This guy was cool and had a rad blonde mustache. He was hanging around with Ty the first night and then told me about when they met at Trans Provence. “I have friends that I talk to all the time that I met at that race. I don’t even talk to my high school friends that much. That’s hoe close you become on these things.” He then ticked off a list of the true “Trans” races that he had done. The Alps, Provence (of course) and maybe there was one down in South or Central America more recently.
He’s a medic up in Mammoth, so there’s that as well and one morning as they were all getting shuttles sorted for the day I overheard him telling how he had saved more than a few asses up there on the mountains. Now, that’s someone that you want on your side. Guaranteed.
Eliot Jackson – 15th – Pro Men – Giant Bicycles
“That guy is smooth. He’s really fun to ride with.” Not a bad quote coming from the legend himself — Steve Peat. But then, in the same conversation he said “He lives in LA, this is kind of different thing for him. I’m not surprised that he doesn’t know how to put up a tent.”
Sheffield Steel and I were talking about the previous night as I drove him to the airport during the final day. The transfer vans were late, therefore the racers had to put up their own tents and I moved in to help when I noticed that Eliot and a few of the younger racers on the Santa Cruz Syndicate team were struggling with their one person tents. Jackson in particular looked confused, holding his criss crossed tent poles pointing in every direction.
Just as I started to show him what was going on with the tent the hornets set upon us. He got one in the leg and myself I got stung on the chin.
“Wait, come back here, don’t go, you’re still going to need your tent. And the best way to move it is if it’s actually together. Put the ends in the holes over there and… shit, zip that front door the hornets are already going in.” It was a mess.
However, he did wear this hawaiian two piece outfit, so I’ll give him best dressed and look the other way on the tent front.
Aaron Bradford – 10th – Pro Men – Shimano/Moda Sport/ People’s Champion
I have to remind Aaron who I am every time I meet him. He parties that hard I think. Anyway, at Grinduro a couple years back a whole mess of us were standing around and on top of a big boulder with a big fat joint but no lighter. Good job guys. Then, out of nowhere we hear this loud whooping and screeching and Aaron comes skidding around the corner and stops right next to us.
“What’s going on here?” He asks casually eyes darting from rider to joint.
“You don’t happen to have a lighter do you?” We retort.
“Uh, of course I do.”
Whew. Just like that our day was saved.
He’s kind of journeyman for this industry as well as one of its most notorious bike shredders. There might be a couple Rock Lobsters or an Evil hanging around in his closet, though word is that he’s now actually working for Shimano and the Modus Sports Group (the brains and brawn behind Trans Cascadia) so maybe he really does have some kind of competitive advantage when it comes to these races?
He also had the best gold chain adorned outfit at the party on the final night.
Gifford Pinchot – 28th Governor of Pennsylvania
Ok, that one was kind of a trick. He didn’t really do the race. He WAS the race. The whole thing took place in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest up here in Washington. Race Director Nick Gibson told a bit of the tale of Pinchot to everyone in their first evening race brief, because, without Pinchot there wouldn’t be a Forest Service or a place to espouse a race like this.
The terrain in Gifford P. is lush and rocky all at the same time. Cliff faces jump up out of the greenery to surprise you at every turn. It is safe to say that it makes an amazing backdrop for a race like this. Combine that with the ability to get up on a ridge and look back over the areas that were once the top of Mount St. Helens and basically you’re in for a visual treat. It’s that good and even though I did a little trash talking by way of our photographers, they did an awesome job balancing both the terroir and the folks interacting with it. That’s French by the way — terroir.
Emily Slaco – 1st – Pro Women – Julianna Free Agent
It’s safe to say that Emily likes Champagne. Being on the top step of the podium doesn’t hurt that craving either. It really was a spectacle to witness. While the second and third placed women were busy wasting that delicious bubbly by spraying each other, Emily was full tilt guzzling it from the bottle. Talk about baller status.
“You going to finish that podium champagne?”
The Pemberton, B.C. native also doesn’t like socks. She made that much abundantly clear by walking around all week in flip flops. Freezing cold in the morning when everyone is going to breakfast and frosty dew is hanging from the plants? Flip flops. Chilly night inching towards the huge toasty fire with not only logs falling out of it, but people tossing logs into it. Flip flops. How about a pair of socks that we designed for Trans Cascadia and are wooly warm and toasty? No thanks, flip flops.
It’s only fitting the that she possibly drank a little too much bubbly on the final night and lost her flip flops. Whoops.
However, it was super cool to hang out with her and shoot the shit. We talked about Wade Davis (I didn’t realize until I got home that he’s actually the guy that wrote “The Serpent and The Rainbow” a legit anthropology book that was turned into a Bill Pullman zombie flick. Lol. Check it out) and how it’s important to look outside your industry and read cool books by cool people. And her love for flip flops. Somehow it all came back to that.
Also, she won the whole thing and when I asked her about which other races she had done this year or how the EWS Circuit went, she looked at me and laughed. “I don’t do the circuit bud, I’m a mountain bike guide.” Ok, sheesh.
Corinne Prevot – 5th – Pro Women – Skida
This was one of those introductions that happened by the fire. Emily was like “holy crap, you need to meet Corinne, she has her own soft goods company too!” Turns out that she totally does and has been running her brand Skida Headwear for 10 years now. That takes a sort of intense focus that people don’t even know (kind of like hurtling down a mountain on a bike).
She immediately started firing away inquiring about supply chain logistics and how we keep costs down and where we make our goods. And what about employees? So, I knew instantly that she was a good one. How else are small business supposed to thrive if they don’t talk about these things to each other? And they rarely have time to, so, yeah, let’s do it around the fire in the woods.
Greg Minnaar – 13th – Pro Men – Santa Cruz Syndicate
Ok, I’ll be honest here. This guy is a pro, but when else am I going to be able to put out a photo that I took of a World Champion jumping over a bonfire? Probably never is the correct answer.
I was sitting near the fire and the guy who built the jump over the fire was also there. Minnaar and Co. had rolled up and were sort of milling around waiting for the rest of the field to come in and notices the jump over the fire and rolls back around to get a run at it.
“Wait, that’s the wrong end of the jump!”
Didn’t seem to matter to this WC who, incidentally, ordered the wrong size jersey for the week and ended up with something that looked more like a skinsuit than a DH jersey. He made the fire jump look like an easy thing from any direction. Tight. Like that jersey.
He also gave up one of his wheels on the final day. The thing with this style of “Trans” racing is that while out on course you’ve got to do all the mechanic work yourself, with the caveat of being able to rely on the other racers that are there. We’re all in this together is a good way to live your life in general and when eventual 2nd place finisher Francois Bailly-Maitre broke his wheel Minaar was there to offer his as a fix.
It should also be noted that while he is a former World Champion, a fire pit jumper and all around good guy, he cannot put up a tent to save his life.
Ty Hathaway – 19th Pro Men – Golden Saddle Cyclery
I noted to Ty that it had been exactly one year since we had hung out together and this time I wanted him to be safe about it. He overcooked a turn at last years Grinduro (to be fair he was shredding the fuck out of a totally stock Specialized Sequoia) and broke a couple bones. Considering that Trans Cascadia was on the same weekend one year later, I was a littler nervous for our guy, but he was having none of it.
Ty’s girlfriend Julia came with him on this adventure and she volunteered for the week. She’s the real champion here as she washed everyone’s dishes and shuttled injured riders back to camp and was just generally smiley and awesome the whole time. Even when she had to convince a couple construction workers that they needed to let her through with some injured riders. Come on guys!
It’s great to hang out with Ty in this environment. He always has great insight into the other riders that he’s met from doing all these events over the years. There are generally two types of people when it comes to events like this — ones that are in over their heads and are freaking out the whole time — over their gear, other riders, what to eat and when — and then there are the ones who’s naturally abilities are a step (or two) higher than those and they are then allowed the ability to observe and report. Ty is in the second category for sure.
Will Cadham – 18th – The Free Radicals
Now, these guys were funny. Will and his friend Matt and his other friend Mark. I think that’s how it went. We bonded over a love for a Hamilton Morris interview I was raving about, at the first van stop on the very first day. No idea how I knew that they were going to be into that guy, but they certainly were. They were also into partying a little bit.
On that same van ride Will made a bet with Mark that he could ingest ONLY alcohol for the entirety of the race. No big deal. Think tequila in a camelback for for days straight and then beers at night to rehydrate. Seems fine, I had a couple questions:
Me: How do you feel right now at the end of day two?
Will: Pretty terrible actually.
Me: Right. That’s a pretty gross thing you’re doing. What does he have to do if you win?
Will: Well, he has to dye his hair blonde I think. We haven’t told him yet.
Me: That’s it? You’re wrecking your body and that’s all he has to do?
Me: Ok, one more. How are your poops with this “diet.”
Will: Why does everyone keep asking me that? Everything is terrible right now.
But, he did it. He really did it. I’m not sure if that’s something to be proud of. But it is something.
One of the medic’s had gotten wind of the situation and was there to assist at the end of the race. He was kind to wait so long. “You ready for this?” After administering an IV to Will he hung it up on a nearby pop up tent. It was the right thing to do.
One of the other things that Will mentioned was that their crew – The Free Radicals – were going to be doing a bike raffle later in the year with their team bike sponsor Specialized. The cool thing was that they’re donating all the proceeds straight back to Trans Cascadia for their trail advocacy. Pretty cool if you ask me.
Plus, they like to mix in film with their videos, so that wins me over as well.
Now, these were just a few snippets of the folks that were shredding their sleds down, and pushing them up, the mountains out here. That effectively leaves out a whole swath of really important people. Chef’s, bartenders, sponsors on hand with extra sunglasses. A person to refill the gas that powers the nicest outdoor toilets and showers that anyone has ever seen. That all has to happen while the riders are out doing their riding.
Some of the real hero’s are the ones that go unmentioned. Except for Becky, Tommy’s mother. She shall be mentioned again and again because she’s literally everywhere throughout the week. Nagging Tommy, sure, but also insuring that the things that no one else wants to do (taping off the course, getting people their registration packets, keeping people in line) happen effectively and efficiently.
There was a scene near the end of the first race day. I watched silently and in awe as the entire Trans Cascadia team prepped for an emergency evacuation off the mountain. One of the riders — Sam Shultz we found out later — had laid it down in a fashion that prevented him from getting back up all too quickly. A part that we know is part and parcel with this sport, but we avoid speaking of if we can because of it’s severity. But, it had happened and they were dealing with it.
A small group of us stood by and watched as Nick, Alex and Tommy went into action. Nick and Alex had just ridden the entirety of the course ahead of the racers (the only real way to insure that there were no last minute course problems) and as he slipped from mountain bike clothes into his moto suit he stuffed a few errant pieces of food into his mouth and simultaneously checked that the batteries in his radio were charged.
In a matter of minutes all three were back on course and making their way toward the downed rider.
Those of us that were left standing nearby sort of looked at each other in awe and anticipation for what these guys would find out there. Then, a short while later (which I’m sure seemed like a an eternity to them as they gingerly placed Sam on their motor bike and rode him out) they were back, changed out of their moto clothes (probably in some cool shearling lined jackets with flappy hats) and regaling us with stories of the day.
They had pulled together the whole thing, this Trans Cascadia in the same fashion as their rescue mission — with a seriousness for the entire situation, a trust and reliance in their peers and volunteers, and with an enviable quickness. Everyone working together towards the same goal. It’s not really like that, of course, but when you’re standing there in the thick of it all, next to a few new friends and that same bourbon bottle that’s getting passed around, everything is going as planned.