To raise money for Bowel Cancer Research, Andy and Steve successfully completed the toughest mountain bike race on earth-the TransRockies Challenge. The TrransRockies Challenge is a seven day wilderness race covering over 370 miles and 40,000ft in elevation through the Canadian Rockies: steep hills; rough gravel roads and mountain passes (parts are only manageable by carrying the bikes up and down).
Andy and Steve were the only UK team entry and raised well over £10,000 for further research into bowel cancer. Andy has given us a day-by-day diary of the race, including pictures, which makes for exhilarating reading: forest fires, broken limbs, coyotes and bears!
It was in September 2002 when Steve and I first got to hear about the Transrockies Challenge. We have both taken part in 'charity rides' in India and China over the last few years but we are only weekend riders taking part in a few endurance races for fun. We were both looking for an ultimate challenge to test us phisically and mentally. Mid life crisis?? No not really, however we did enter our team as 'Mud Life Crisis!. We became involved in Bowel Cancer research through a work colleague. Our registration was accepted in |December 2002 and our training programme commenced in the New Year. Trying to balance family, work and training was probably the hardest part. Getting up on a cold wet Sunday morning, dragging yourself out of bed and onto the bike was not fun.
Altogether 82 teams started the race in Fernie. Our aim all along was to complete the race regardless of position. 68 teams crossed the line in Canmore. We finished in 63rd place however there were an additional 14 individual riders that finished the race, but unofficially, as as they finished without their partners. It was a mixed feeling of achievemt and exitement as we crossed the line. Such an achievement to have finished the toughest mountain bike race in the world! The race was a great success. It was not without challenges as befits its name. The cycling itself was the greatest challenge followed closely by the dreadful forest fires that caused the re-routing of the first three days and almost the final day to be cancelled.
There was a great reception waiting at the finish and the celebrations continued well into the night. We made some great friends during the race and have kept in touch with many since returning to the UK. We have to congratulate the organisers and volunteers who made the event such a success. Will we be taking part next year? We would both like to but in reality with the training and the cost of such an event I don't think it will be possible, however anyone out there that likes a challenge and adventure, then jump at the chance to take part, it's a week you will remember for the rest of your lives.......................
Woke up early again as I have done the last few days. It's been hard to concentrate on anything else. Have we got all the right equipment, are we going to be able to do it? I have been nervous over the past few days and today is even worse.
The flight from Edinburgh to London is on time and I meet up with Steve. The flight to Calgary is full an leaves on time at 3.00pm. A few beers and the 9hr flight seems to pass quickly. We arrive in Calgary at 5.15pm local time (12.15am UK) and it's good to be reunited with our bikes and confirm that they are in good order. Waiting for the bus to the Hotel we meet Loise from California who is also taking part in the race. We ask her if she's done many events before. She depresses us as her muscles are bigger that our's and she's as lean as a racehourse. It's only later we find out it was Loise Cobin one of the top women riders in the world! We arrive at the Hotel at about 7.30pm (2.30am UK) and we meet Jim from Sheffield who is travelling around the world after losing his wife to cancer. We and tell him about our fundraising and eventually end up in 'Bobs What's Up Bar' where Steve sings his version of 'Angels' to the suprised regulars . Eventually we get to bed at 1.00am (8.00am UK) didn't sleep well-is this the correct preparation for the toughest mountain bike race in the world?
We are up at 7.00am for breakfast of waffles, pancakes, ham and eggs before catching the "C-train" (tram) to downtown Calgary. Walked arouind and soaked up the atmosphere-great place and everywhere is so clean. Went up the Calgary tower. At lunchtime we go back to the airport to meet up with the bus to Fernie. There are about 10 others waiting for the bus with bike boxes of various shapes. People from Mexico, Switzerland, USA and Canada. They seem a good bunch and we were relieved they looked like us (not super fit). Steve even thought one of them was actually fatter and older than him!
The bus to Fernie takes a good 5hrs and we pass through ever increasing mountainous scenery. As we get nearer to Fernie and pass through Crowsnest Pass we can see the large forest fires burning with helecopters flying overhead carrying water. We could now see why the first three days of the race has been re-routed around this area. We arrive at Fernie School at about 7.oopm and off load our gear. We register and collect our race numbers and bags. Lots of work to do: we assemble our bikes and pack all our essentials for the week. We are only allowed to take one bag. The remaining bags will be transported directly to the finish, so it's important we don't forget anything. We meet Greg one of the volunteer helpers for the week and he comes for a beer and pizza with us before weretire for a night on the gym floor. Don't sleep well as the horns from the passing trainswake us every 2 hrs!
Sunday 9th August 2003. Stage 1-Fernie to Fernie Alpine Resort- 50km, 7,500ft
This is it! This is what all those early Sunday mornings have been about! Racing starts today! Help!
Up early again at 6.30am feeling very nervous. I read the route maps during the night by torch. Today ride is sending us off the normal route because of the forest fires that are still burning. we have breakfast of bagels, jam, yogurt and coffee before packing bags onto the lorries. we check our backpacks and fill the bladders with water before heading off downtown for today's route breifing at 10.00am before the start at noon. The main street is lined with shops; the old brick buildings are a stark contrast to the blue sky and mountain peaks. The start is laid out along the whole street with barriers and sponsor's banners. We are interviewed on camera- we are the only UK team taking part and we joke that we have been selected to represent the UK!
The streets are lined with chearing people as the 82 teams start at noon. Leading the race through the streets of Fernie is the Mayor sitting astride an old fire engine. At the end of Main Street it turns off and the leading riders speed off into the distance. The first day is only 50km so we thought it would be a gentle introduction- how wrong we were! After leaving Fernie we move onto rough tracks that quickly gain height. We made a decision to start at the back and we soon pass a number of teams as we gained height. The teams towards the back would become our good friends as the week progressed. Some of the tracks are great; fast singletrack, however we start to climb 'power line tracks' which are so steep we have to walk. It goes on and on, km after km, only broken by the odd equally steep downhill. It is on one of the steep downhill tracks that we see the first casualty, the classic bikers broken collarbone. The 'hike and bike' sections really start to pull the muscles on the back of the legs. Later in the day we have a similar ascent up 'Baldy Mountain' which is quite apt for me and Steve. We are relieved we are not climbing the adjacent mountain appropriately called 'Steep Mother Mountain'. The temp on the bike computer is 38 C as we pass a number of people suffering from dehydration. Descending Baldy Mountain we both fall of without injury. Approaching 10km from the end we pass another shoulder injury who is being airlifted to safety. His partner from Germany rides with us to the finish. We come into the finish at Fernie Alpine Resort with a time of 6hrs 30min. Not bad. We later find out that the temperature was 44 C and 15 people had been airlifted or rescued from the course with injuries or dehydration. We manage to avoid a night in the tents after booking a room in the ski lodge. The room was very hot all night and it wasn't until we were leaving the next morning we realised the heater had been on full all night- just the job when you are already dehydrated!
It was while climbing Baldy Mountain that we first met Phil and Cheryl (Phil was shouting "ride it Cheryl"). Over the week we became friends and raced them on one or two days. If I had £1 for every time we shouted "ride it Cheryl" over the following week................... This became one of our wilderness shouts along with "it's all rideable". They were often shouted to raise our spirits when we were at our lowest ebb.
A long day today and we are up at 6.15am and start our usual morning routine- pack our bag, load them on the truck, eat as much breakfast as possible, pick up the bikes from the secure store, fill up bladders, grab handfuls of energy bars and make our way to the start for 8.00am. At the start everyone has to check in with their team member. As the start time arrives the atmosphere is tremendous. Music playing, PA system announces the teams, TV cameras and helecopters flying overhead.
Unfortunately today we are running late and don't leave enough time to pump up tyres and the race starts about a minute before we arrived. Starting from the back again! The first 20km is on singletrack and we manage to pass a couple of teams. Up - down - up - down. Today's climb is 9,000ft and we have already started sections of h'hike-a-bike'. By 12 noon we are doing well and have passed 6 teams. Coming down the last hill before we hit the logging road Steve comes off cutting his knee and shorts. We turn onto Bull River logging road and are able to gain some speed and over the next 2 hours we pass a further 6 teams. We have to be careful with water. The temperature is 36 C and there is a long distance between checkpoints. We have already seen one girl with dehydration being airlifted. We pass a number of other teams struggling including Shane and Roger. Shane if from Calgart and Roger from Barcalona. They had not met until a week before the race and had organised to ride together over the internet. Shane is seriously struggling. He is not able to keep any food down. Eventually he has to stop at the side of the track and wait for medical assistance. After ensuring he had help, Roger catches us up. Steve and I have run out of water by now and share Roger's remaining water. The second checkpoint is supposed to be at 105km. We pass the distance and curse at every corner, as there is no sign of refreshment.
Eventually at 110km and 5.30pm we come into the 2nd and final checkpoint. There are more people there than normal and as we pull in we are told that we cannot proceed any further because of the danger of not being able to finish before nightfall. The final 20km was turning out to be tougher than expected with a steep climb and rocky descent. Even some of the lead riders were taking up to 3 hours. The race for us today would finish here. About 100 riders had made it through. Initially we protest and insist we want to continue, which just shows how fired up we are to complete the whole distance. After sitting down and reflecting for 30 minutes we realise how stupid and irresponsible it would be to continue. We wait 3hrs for a bus and then suffer a 3hr journey to Elkford camp. We arrive at 11.45pm, go straight in to eat, shower and fall into our tents. Today could have been worse. Other riders that retired before the 2nd checkpoint were picked up in a seperate bus, which subsequently broke down and suffered a puncture! They arrived at Elkford at 1.30am!
During the week we get to know the Fernie woman's team of Kim Spencer and Pepper Stirling. Today we learned that Kim was struck down with dehydration and heat exhaustion and was airlifted to Elkford before being forwarded to Calgary hospital. Pepper continued by like us was stopped at checkpoint 2.
We purposely wake up early this morning. Yesterday morning was too much of a rush and we need to be ready todat, it's going to be a long day- 140km. We are still disappointed after yesterday not being able to continue the final 20km. Last night it was difficult to sleep. We find out that Hal and Tim from Calgary who were also on the bus to Fernie with us, were in the next tent. It was Tim doing the snoring!
Breakfast is over the road in the community centre. We make up a picnic for lunch. Rush, rush, rush. The weather again is clear blue sky but there is a chill at this time in the morning. Today we make the start on time and are waved off by the town. We ride out of town and straight onto a logging road. The helecopter, as usual, speeds off with the leaders. Logging trucks leave us in giant clouds of dust as they pass. Only 72 teams start out this morning and we manage to pass 4 of them in the first hour. Greg our 'adopted' volunteer is at the first checkpoint at 50km. Great guy. We always have a laugh when we see him and he's always good with encouragement. The checkpoints are always good with plenty of water,bananas, energy bars, and drinks. We climb steeply over the hill and see heavy clouds of smoke in the distance. There are fires covering the peaks. At the top of the next hill Bruce is sitting down next to his motorbike. Although hot, at 32 C it's not as hot as the last few days. Bruce is one of the medics patrolling the course. We've got to know him as he patrols the back end of the race! He has picked some wild strawberries for us. As we leave he says, "be careful on the next downhill"- there had been a number of accidents there already today. 10 minutes later I hear a 'thump' behind me. I look back to see Steve in a heap. It's the third day running he has come off. This time he's hurt and stays down (long enough for me to catch the event on film). His knees are cut again and his right hand is bad and starts to swell almost immediately. The next checkpoint is only 1km further on so we freewheel down the hill to get treatment. The next 40km are on highway as we climb over Highwood Pass, the highest drive-able pass in Canada, and cross the continental divide between British Columbia and Alberta.
As we start to climb up the pass the sun is totally covered by smoke. Ash is falling like snow. The summit is 7,200ft and we stop to take some pictures but it's more like night than day due to the smoke. We know there are 4 teams behind us as we start the 25km descent cycling hard. The final 8km are on gravel tracks and we enter the finish at 6.30pm to the usual loud cheers. The final team is 2 hours behind us. The leading team finished at 1.00pm! We find our tent and shower using a bag suspended from a piece of wood-the water is freezing! The pasta food is very welcome tonight after a long days riding. We are told that tomorrows ride is one of the hardest days and caused problems for last years riders with 2 large climbs. For that reason there will be a cut off for the slower riders at checkpoint 1 after 25km. They won't say what time the cut off will be so we are worried we may get cut off. With Steve's hand it would be difficult. Walking back to our tent the temperature is dropping so I sleep in fleece and leggings.
We wake up cold and to a heavy frost. It's -3 C and the towel I have left outside is as stiff as aboard. The smoke and ash have cleared and the sky is clear blue. No wash or shave this morning- too cold. We put on more clothes and go for a great breakfast of scambled eggs and hot coffee. The talk is about last year's race when today's stage caused so many problems. Rain, sleet and freezing temperatures plauged riders until the organisers began to worry about their safety. That wasn't going to be the case today, but there was still a cut off point at checkpoint 1. We pull on leggings and coats for the start. It seems funny putting on sun cream when the temperature is below freezing but we know it will warm up quickly. At the start we are determined to reach checkpoint 1 as quickly as we can despite Steve's hand, which has swelled up even more. The start is great, mountains, forest, blue sky, helecopter circling above and off we go. Afetr 5km we are too hot and stop to remove some layers. We are passing quite a few teams and move fast, encouraging each other. We are determined and focused on reaching that checkpoint.
After 15km Steve says he wants to get me to the checkpoint even if he can't continue and doesn't want to let me down. I reach the checkpoint moving fast, a minute in front of Steve. Have we made it, can we continue? Yes, the cut off is 10.30am and we arrive at 9.15am more than an hour inside the time! We relax foe a while relieved we can continue. Leaving we start the first main climb of the day, Grass Hill a 'hike a bike' push of over an hour. After reaching the summit we gradually drop down to Wildman's Creek before starting to climb again over Sullivan Pass. Teams pass us as Steve is suffering with his hand. We talk to Jim the rear motorcycle rider. We know we are at the rear when Jim starts collecting the orange flagging used to mark the course. He knows Steve has a bad hand and virtually stops with us the rest of the day. We reach the summit of Sullivan Pass and are rewarded with great views all around. We can still see the smoke from the fires in British Columbia in the distance. The path starts ti disappear as it becomes overgrown with Elders, which scratch and cut arms and legs. Steve is getting slower and slower. His hand is causing problems but I also think he is very tired. We arrive at the 2nd checkpoint in last place although a number of teams have pulled out.
The smoke has again moved in and the ash is falling everywhere. The last 15km are great singletrack down Coal Creek Trail. Fantastic, just what I like, but not ideal for Steve's hand. I whiz around and wait for Steve every few miles. Coming around one corner I come across a Coyote standing on the trail. It quickly runs off into the trees. We reach Sheep River and can see the camp and finish at the other side. The water is deep and cold as we carry our bikes across. We enter the finish with a time of 9hrs 14 mins-much cheering from the tents. Ash continues to fall on tents and bags as we move into evening mode: bikes, shower, food, video and bed. We don't have any spare time at all. We later find out Pepper from team Fernie was taken off the course today afetr suffering an asma attack shortly after checkpoint 1 with all the ash and smoke. Hope it's not too cold tonight.
We open the tent to find a TV camera pointed at us. The morning is frosty again. I must remember to wear a hat in bed tonight! Pulling on wet frozen boots in a morning is not a nice feeling! We put on coats and go for breakfast. Porridge great! Hot with lots of sugar. As usual we make up bagels for lunch. The starts are the best time for atmosphere with the cameras, music, countdown, helecopter etc. Only 67 of the original 82 teams start this morning as the race takes it's toll. Off we go. The first 30km is on roads and tracks and we set a fast pace with about 10 other riders. Silly really as Steve's hand is very swollen, our legs are like lead and by back is hurting bad. After the first checkpoint we slow down. The volunteers at the checkpoints always seem pleased to see us:we are 'The Brits', jokers, always having a laugh. The first big climb of the day is pretty painful as every gradient makes our legs ache. We hear some teams have already pulled out. As we cross Elbow River and reach the next water stop we start to climb Powderface Ridge. We get off and push the final 2km. It's really hat again about 32 C. The descent is very steep and we take our time. We find out that all the teams behind us have pulled out and we are the last team. We are determined to finish and carry on. After the 2nd checkpoint we have 22km of up-down singletrack.
The final 8km is on road and we pick up speed as we pull into the town of Bragg Creek. We are relieved as we cross the line in a time of 11hrs 15mins. We know we are last when the finish line is dismantled as soon as we cross. The time is 7.15pm and we drop our bikes off with the mechanics before going straight into the comunity centre for dinner, which has already started. The hall is packed with racers and locals. The food is very good, lasagne, garlic bread, past and cakes to finish. Still in our dirty sweaty clothes we have second helpings before watching the awards and video of today's race. We even have abeer in a local bar before getting a lift to the town school gym where we were spending the night. Warm and dry! Bodies are spread out over the floor. To ensure we have a good nights sleep we pull down from the wall a 2ft thick vaulting mat to sleep on. It was so thick we would have broken a bone if we had rolled off in the night!
It's so nice to wake up in a warm gym. We pack up and take the short bus ride back to the community centre for breakfast. The best breakfast so far: porridge, muffins, danish pastries, cakes and coffee. The race start is in the main shopping centre car park and again we arrive in the start are with 15 seconds to go. Today's route covers some of the best mountain biking in Alberta, climbing Jumping Pound Summit and Cox Hill with some of the best technical downhill of the race so far. The first 20km is on gravel roads and we go fast again. It's a cold start again but warming up fast. We move onto 6km of singletrack before reaching the first checkpoint. After filling up on water we start to climb up powderface Trail. It starts to get hot (32 C) and a few teams pass us. We aren't bothered as we are tired and stiff. At the 2nd checkpoint Greg filled our bladders and we chat as we eat bananas before setting off on two big climbs. Steve becomes dehydrated as soon as we start to climb. He is having cold sweats and can hardly walk. I take his bike and push the 2 bikes to the top of Jumping Pound Ridge before returning to check on Steve. He has taken a few energy gels, dextros tablets and plenty of water. By the time he reaches the top he
is feeling better. The views are fantastic and we can see Cox Hill in the distance with a dusty trail weaving it's way to the top. That's our next challenge. Down we ride into the valley below. It was steep and rocky before we start the second climb up Cox Hill. Pushing the bikes we are swetting like mad. A hour later we reach the top to the cheers of Bruce (motorcycle medic). We chat for a while and Bruce takes a picture of us on the summit. We set off down and about an hour later we reach the base of Cox Hill. After a short section of singletrack and road we enter Pine Grove Camp at about 6.00pm. As we ride in everyone has lined up and give us a 'Mexican Wave'. The atmosphere in camp is good. Tomorrow is the last day and hotel, bed, red meat and beer await. The videeo highlights that night are amazing with some great helecopter shots of Jumping Pound Ridge and Cox Hill. "Did we really cycle over that?" Due to the serious risk of fire all the parks through which we will be riding tomorrow have been closed and it is only at 8.00pm that permission is granted at the last moment for the race to continue. We will be the only people allowed in the parks tomorrow.
Well this is it, the last day. There is a relaxed atmosphere around camp like the last day of term.
We are very happy to have reached the last day and we know now that barring accidents or mechanical failure we will finish. We even arrive at the start early - 3 minutes - and decide to race today. With a large crowd expected in Canmore we didn't want to be one of the last teams to finish. Right from the start we race and cycle with people we haven't seen all week. We keep up the pace and our legs don't seem as heavy. All I can think about is the finish and cold beer! As we complete 15km we appear from undergrowth to see Bruce sitting on his motorbike at the track side "holy shit, what are you guy's doing up here" he says. At the first checkpoint we see Sandra, one of the volunteers we have become friends with. A few days earlier she told us the leaders don't exchange greeting with the volunteers,"they just shout banana, banana,banana". This time we joke and shout "banana, banana" at her and stuff them in our mouths laughing.
We move on and ride alongside the Trans Canada Highway as some trucks blow their horns. As we move back into the trees, the singletrack crosses some deep gullies with wooden steps up steep sides. We are moving fast but are soon stopped as Steve has a flat. We repair it as quickly as we can and continue. As we approach Canmore we start to race harder nd are aware of a couple of teams diectly behind us. The final 10km is around the Canmore Nordic Centre used for the cross country skiing in the 1988 Olimpics. We can hear the music from the finish as we ride as fast as we can We don't want to be passed in the last few km's. As we come down the final hill someone shouts at us to "stop". "Why are we going the wrong way?". "No there is a bear 10m to your right!" I looked around to see him disappear into the trees. I'm more relieved we wern't going the wrong way. Continuing we ride down the hill and enter Main Street and can see the finish at the far end. We ride down together. As we enter the finish th PA announces, "Team 23, these guy's shouldn't be here yet!" We stop on the finish line before crossing together. The sence of achievement is overwhelming: lots of congratulations. Someone finds a couple of beers, which we soon drink. Interviews on TV and radio follow as we are on a high. We have completed the toughest mountain bike race in the world.