TransRockies has become an institution in the stage racing world: they have been around since the beginning. In late August, the inaugural Gravel Royale was their first foray into the world of gravel racing. The edition of the truly off-tarmac event makes sense, as the main critique of TransRockies in years past has been riders complaining about too many gravel roads. Sounds like they’ve just been honing the course for a real gravel throw down! After the four stages, Rob Britton of Victoria, BA and Rach McBride of Vancouver, BC took the top step in the Elite Men’s and Women’s categories, respectively. What follows is Barry Wicks‘ rider journal from each of the four days which gives a stream of consciousness account, followed by his interviews with other competitors. Each interview maintained the same format and consisted of just three questions designed to skip the small talk: What is your favorite color? What are you reading right now? What is the meaning of life? Enjoy the ride!
Panorama Mountain Resort: a narrow road clings to the side of a steep mountain, precariously perched above a creek, seemingly daring the laws of physics.
The start line, 81km to ride, 1800m of climbing to go. Two feed zones lay in wait, stacked with treats.
The riders appear over a crest having completed a hot lap around the Grey Wolf golf course, past the orienteering venue and through the horse stables. A lone rider is out front but the others seem content to let him have his moment and hang him out to dry on the 20km “neutral” roll out.
Tim Hortons, a moment of panic, a split second decision not to stop, instant regret, 3km of looking back, but not turning around. Those TimBits would have been sweet.
The race begins in earnest on the Windermere Mine haul road, where every kilometer is marked with a large yellow and black sign seems steeper than the last.
The hike-a-bike section, following an old first nations hunting route, deposits riders into the Kootenay River Basin. A scary, off-camber and rooted descent soon rewards riders with free speed on the lower slopes as the road bed improves and the turns straighten out.
Nipika Mountain Resort, an oasis that’s a heartbreakingly steep climb away from the Kootenay River Crossing. Burgers on the grill, a swimming pond (the creek is good enough for me though), and acres of non-alcoholic tall boys invite guilt-free imbibing.
Racers scamper to shower trucks, to claim camping spots by the creek and to mine more coolers of real beer, as the day’s stories swirl through the din of pressure washers and generators, the second shift of rider support underway.
Then dinner, interviews with the stage winners, more war stories. (47 piles of bear shit counted on the road today.)
Tent sleep under the stars until the thunder rolls through. Scramble for rain flys, sleep soundly in the ruckus, the fatigue of today and anticipation of tomorrow blending dreams into high speed turns, mountain vistas at the top of grueling climbs, all the watermelon in the world you can eat.
Day two is waiting in the phone, set to trill you awake at 5:19am.
Day One Interviews
Day One Stage winner, Rach McBride, interviewed while sitting by the pond.
“My favorite color is purple. More of a blue-ish purple, not like a pink/magenta one.”
“I’m reading a book called Breath. It’s about breathing. I have been taping my mouth shut at night and using a breathe right strip on my nose. It’s all about nose breathing. You don’t want to breathe out of your mouth.”
“For me, the meaning of life is to be happy and of service to others. I get a lot of inspiration from the people I race against. I need to be pushed physically and mentally to find meaning. I want other people to feel a sensation of accomplishment and contentment for themselves. Maybe I can help inspire them to do that.”
Cory Wallace, Day One stage winner, interviewed while building a tiny dam in the creek.
“My favorite color is orange, like pumpkin orange—autumn orange. It used to be green. It changes sometimes.”
“The last thing I read was a Velonews article about the feed zone controversy at SBT GRVL. I thought it was interesting. I did that race last year, but didn’t go back this year because of the feed zones. It’s a gong show. The race needs to do something about it. Keegan didn’t do anything wrong. He was just prepared and knew what was going to happen. The race needs to address the issue.”
“The meaning of life is to have fun. I traveled to Nepal and Africa last year. People in Nepal aren’t wondering what the meaning of life is. They are just trying to survive. They locked down for three months during the start of covid, but then they realized that there was stuff that was more important than lock-downs and covid. Like feeding people. We live easy lives, and should enjoy them.”
The thunder and lightning lacked conviction. So did the rain. The night’s slumber was only lightly interrupted to acknowledge the brief anger of the clouds.
It was still dark on the brief stroll to coffee and eggs. Some industrious soul had parked a vehicle so that its headlights illuminated the breakfast buffet in the predawn hours.
Uncomfortable amounts of eggs and sausage are piled on the plate, eventually consumed at a much slower rate near the end. One of the worst parts of stage racing is all the eating. It’s also one of the best things. But by sausage number seven the jaw muscles and palate begin to protest.
Today’s start line: Nipika Mountain Resort. Out the opposite of the way we came in yesterday. 83km and 1400m will do it today. Get in the corral early, front row start. Own the photo ops.
Careen through the forest, cross the world’s most magical miniature slot canyon. Water rages a cloudy, milky blue in its startling depth.
Shoot the moon—dust—try not to crash!
The firemen bang on their doors in encouragement, truckloads of dreamy Canadian lads, off to dig lines and contain the fire, their work made easier by the dampness overnight.
Rolling mining road, entertained by the yo-yo of riders in front and behind, those strong up, those making use of gravity for their kicks.
Feed zone one, barely even stop. Three Nutella on balloon bread triangles, crust on, two Stroop waffles. It is hard to eat balloon bread and crumbly waffles while breathing so hard on the climb. Practice breathing through my nose. Don’t resort to tape!
The “big” climb over Miller Pass, into the whooping, puckering, bear den descent. Lots of yodels in there! Lots of ditches too. Think about the fireman’s precursors and how they built this overgrown road bed. The rugged explorers and extractors, even in all this space human presence lingers.
Jump the fallen trees, or maybe go through the ditch, spruce trees across the road, toppled by wind, or a muskrat gnawing at its roots, probably both.
Aid two, always a highlight. Watermelon again, can’t get enough. Drinks, candy, banter, back on the bike!
The final 21km, fast, rolling, punches in the gut, then Nipika! Right around a blind crest, a rapid,happy surprise when things are starting to look bleak.
Finish, near-beer, more watermelon. Dunk in the pond, snag a tube before they are gone and be temporary kings of the pool.
More food, hamburgers, a nap, don’t forget to wash the bikes! More lethargy prostrations. Dinner, movie, tomorrow’s day previewed, queued up in the foreground so it will seep back to the subconscious while we again tumble into the sheets, mind jumping potholes and grinding all the gravel into tiny, small rocks in our dreams.
Excited for coffee.
Day Two Interviews
Virginia Sellars and Andrew Sellars Day One and Two Coed Team Winners: Virginia’s answers are first. Interviewed in their cabin at Nipika during a massive thunder burst.
“My favorite color is green. The green of the forest floor when the sunlight filters down through the canopy and lights up the green forest floor. Electric Green”
“My favorite color is Electric Blue. It’s tied to the sky and water and snow, the outside world.”
We were just in England this summer, and I picked up a historical novel in a tiny bookstore called The Boleyn Girl. It’s about Henry VIII and his first true love. I like historical fiction.”
“I am reading a book called Cloud Cuckooland. It follows four separate lives in the past, present and future and how intertwined they all are. It is very well written.”
“I am not a religious or spiritual person. I think my life is on the same cycle as the rabbit out there or any other part of the Earth. I think we should appreciate the brief moments we have, try to experience them fully, and form meaningful, true relationships with as many people as we can.”
“For me, I think that my meaning in life is to find joy, and do my best to spread that joy to others however I can.”
Wait, what day is it? Where are we?
Is there coffee?
Oh yeah, Day Three. Nipika to Canal Flats. 108km, 1500m of climbs. A net downhill today. Probably won’t notice.
Start loop, Battle Royale! Race within the race, get that K/QOM! Ooblek on the road. Just ride it! Don’t ride it! It’s so gooey…
Turn right, don’t look up! This one is steep. Ride as much as possible. Have to get off. Speeeeeeeed walk! Hop back on, 600 more meters! And across the line!
At least this descent is very fun. Watch out for the cross ditches! And the slippery ruts! Yikes, that Spanish guy went down hard. That one is going to leave a mark.
Aid one, cram a large stack of sandwich squares in the fanny pack, then another stack the same size! Napoleon Dynamite. Fill the bottles, out quick!
Yikes, this part hurt yesterday. It’s not as hard as yesterday! Oh, look Nipika! Only 63km more to go! Oh no, 63 more kilometers to go.
Long rolling road. Cows! Channel inner superdomestique, spin circles, even effort. Feather the hills, super tuck the downs, tick off the kilometers. Look at the views!
Aid two, in and out quick! Wait, I gotta pee! Okay, out quick! Get in the group, share the effort. Tailwind!
It’s getting hot. This last climb feels hard! Oh, phew, the top. I can see roofs! Canal Flats! We’re almost done!
Right, left, right, and across the line! Watermelon, then banana Nutella sandwich, then chips. Ice cold near-beers. Sit in the chair, bask in the fatigue.
But not too long! Wash the bikes, wash the chamois. Find snacks, lay in the shade of a willow tree. Listen to the murmurs of the day’s stories, staring at the clouds and sky through the leaves. Breathe deep.
Day Three Interviews
Mario Roma, Founder of Brasil Ride. Interviewed in the grass under a tree.
“My favorite color is cobalt blue. In Portugal, where I am from, all the buildings are painted white. All the holes in the houses, like the doors and windows, are surrounded by blue cobalt. It is to keep the bad spirits out of the house. This is why I like cobalt blue.”
“I am reading a book about a very famous Brazilian guy, actually he is Swiss, but lives in Brazil. His name is Jorge Paulo Lemann. He started a stock brokerage in Brazil with a bunch of crazy guys, like surfers, and other crazy guys who smoked grass and stuff, and said, ‘We are going to work, but not to make money. We are going to do it to build something we are proud of.’ They became the biggest bank in Brazil and are very, very rich. One day they all went into a Ferrari dealership and bought 27 Ferraris. It is the biggest sale of Ferraris at any dealership in one day ever.”
“For me, the meaning of life is to live. Your health and your time are the most valuable things you have. There’s a story in Portugal about a man fishing by the sea. A rich man watches him catch fish after fish, and goes up to him and says, ‘You should start a fishing company’. The fisherman says, ‘Why?’ and the rich man replies, ‘So you can buy a helicopter.’ The fisherman again asks ‘Why?’ and the rich guy replies, ‘So you can travel somewhere nice.’ The fisherman looks around, then looks at the rich guy and says, ‘Somewhere like this?’ and goes back to catching fish. Life is what we choose for it to be. Living it is the reward.”
Raquel Lisbona, a doctor from Barcelona, Spain. Interviewed at a picnic table after dinner.
“My favorite color is blue, like the blue of your rivers here. Turquoise? I like it very much. The rivers in Spain are much more brown.”
“I am reading the Michelle Obama book. I am in the first quarter, right when Michelle Obama is falling in love. It is very nice.”
“When I think about existential things it makes me very nervous so I don’t think about that very much. I think maybe the meaning of life is to be happy, have good experiences and meet good people. That is maybe not the meaning, but it is what I try to do with my life.”
Wake up 17 seconds before the alarm goes off. Excellent timing. Only way out of bed, open the sleeping pad valve. A long hiss precludes pinecone intrusion. Time for coffee!
Muffin, croissant, charcuterie! Love the Euro style breakfast. Three cups of coffee should do it. Plus another one across the street at the Cafe. Do people know about the Cafe? Better get there early!
Chat with the old timers. Sit on the stool. Listen for weather beta. Osmotically absorb local wizardry info. Get to the start line!
Startline. Canal Flats to Fernie, 130km, 1900m of climbing! Yikes.
Holeshot, because why not? Ouch, oh yeah, that’s why not. Start climbing. Do a wheelie for the Spanish TV show film crew! Sing a Spanish metal song with the Spanish e-bike masters. I’m going to be famous!
Hot springs, babes headed up the trail! Probably should stop! Definitely next time. Take a big pull along the deep blue lake. If it wasn’t so cold I’d stop for a dip.
Aid one, why can’t I fit as many sandwiches in my Fanny pack as yesterday? Good grief, what a mess. I won’t care later as shoveling commences. Start climbing again. Epic low point out of nowhere. Get yourself together! Commence sandwich square shoveling! Okay, that’s better. Climb faster.
Roads get more interesting. Are those cows or bears? Did I remember my bear spray? Keep climbing. Check out that creek! Holy shit, look at those mountains! It’s raining. Rain coat? No, keep climbing! It stopped raining!
Best descent of the week. Middle of nowhere, beside a raging creek. Dodge the rancher and his hay wagon! Maybe those were just cows back there. Shovel more sandwich squares!
Not annoying but almost rolling downhill for a long time. The landscape changes. No, the fauna changes. Cedar trees now, no more spruce or white bark pine, still some larches though. I like larch trees. The needles are so soft!
Aid two? Nope, not yet, keep pedaling! Ah, aid two. Finally. Watermelon. With GU salt, and salted watermelon GU. Gross! Actually, maybe not? Fill the bottles quick, the Battle Royale section starts now!
Don’t go too hard and blow up! Why does it smell like rotten eggs? Are those hot springs over there? Oh man, really should stop! Can’t do it! Battle Royale! Oh hey, look at that, rain! Proper glorious rain. This is epic. I am Andy Hampsten in the 1988 Giro! I am Wout Van Aert dropping Tadej Pogačar on stage 18 at the Tour De France! Ouch. Not quite. Just get to the top! There it is!
And across the line!
That was awesome.
I better put on my raincoat.
Watch out for potholes and ruts on the descent! Bunnyhop!
Follow the signs back to town. Oh hey, singletrack. Sweet! If it was warmer I’d go jump in that river. Left, right, under the bridge, onto the trail behind the shopping mall, right, left, hey we are in downtown! I hear Drew! We’re almost done!
And across the line!
Oh hey, crêpes! I’ll have seven, s’il vous plaît.
Snag the finish shirt and medal, go find the duffle. Hot shower!
Cocktail hour, final banquet! Linger long at dinner. Talk to all those new friends again. Get those numbers or Instagrams or whatever people exchange now. Find a few more new friends! Last night!
Best party ever.
Best bike race in the world.
Day Four Interviews
Owen Vermeulen, Assistant CEO at Vandal Merch House and Cyclist for Lanyachtz bikes, Vancouver BC. Interviewed on the deck at the Raging Elk Lodge in Fernie.
“My favorite color right now is purple. I am a screen printer, and my head is full of pantones, but you know, just regular purple. It has power.”
“I am reading a book by an Indigenous Canadian author named Cherie Dimaline called The Marrow Thieves. It is about a post apocalyptic time when the only people who can still dream are Indigenous people. There are other people hunting them and trying to steal their bone marrow because they think that is where the dreams live.”`
“To me the meaning of life—and it sounds totally cliche—is to love everyone, find happiness, and spread that to other people. I have had what some would consider a pretty rough life, and have had a lot of experiences. Loving everyone and finding happiness are the things that last for me. And meeting really fucking good people. They are hard to find, but they are the ones worth meeting.”
Emma Scott, “Dory”, like the fish. Australian, living in Ponoka, Alberta. Interviewed at the dinner tables after the final awards presentation.
“My favorite color used to be purple, back when I was a kid. Now, based on my wardrobe, I think it is olive green. There are a lot of olive green things in there.”
“I am reading Malcom Gladwell’s, Talking to Strangers. I am always having conversations with lots of strangers, and it is a good reminder of how conversations are different to each person. Each person has a different experience with the same conversation and that is important to consider.”
“The meaning of life. Wow, that’s really deep. I’m not sure I have an answer. I think living life, really experiencing things, fully committing to things, is the way to go. I was planning to move to Canada for one year. I’ve been here five. Life is full of forks in the road. Enjoy the one you are on the best you can, and choose another one when the time comes, and enjoy that one as best you can.”