It’s not that I am lazy, but I had been dealing with some overtraining, burnout, and anxiety that kind of kept me in a shell for a while – hence the lack of updates. With cross coming I knew I had to find my way into the light, and then, the saving adventure arrived.
Barry Wicks asked if I wanted to join the Kona Adventure Team on a ride through British Columbia.
Full disclosure: we had already discussed my joining Kerry Werner on the Kona CX crew, but it makes for a much better story if he just encountered me out of the blue and thought it would be rad for me to tag along.
Let me show you a DIRECT QUOTE from WickNasty himself: “Hey guys, I am working on putting together a little project to use as an intro to the [Team]. Id like to shoot for a 2 day, 200km gravel bike packing trip in Victoria, BC”.
It is important to remember the details of this invitation.
I was a bit anxious for my fitness, level of radness, and just to spend a long period of time with a group of strangers in general. Again, I have not been myself and the full submersion method (with a group of people I should not be letting down, no doubt), seemed a bit drastic. But, I saw no choice but to agree to embark on this great adventure.
And so it began.
Looking back, the adventure started in travel. While it took me a solid 17 hours or so to arrive in Vancouver, at least I arrived with everything. Kerry Werner’s bag simply didn’t. But luckily he was borrowing a bike from a semi-local who was also supposed to be joining us on our adventure, in addition to providing transportation. (actually these might be 2 different people. The itinerary was loose to say the least so I didn’t study too hard). Any who, Kerry did end up getting a bike, but because our ride was a no-show, we rented a car last minute. A Toyota Sonic. No, I do not have a photo of the actual car. But let’s just say there was no room for Kerry’s bag even if it showed up. 3 CX bikes, luggage, and 3 people.
Our ride aligned with Kona launch in Squamish, so Wednesday morning we piled in the car and scooted up to Squamish. The Kona launch is, as far as I can tell, Kona providing all of the new model bikes for Kona dealers and general affiliates to come and see and test ride. There are info sessions, meet and greets, and rad rides. Not to mention some great parties, or so I hear.
Everyone that I met while there, from shop owners and dealers to the Kona staff themselves were so nice! Everyone believes in the brand and what it stands for. I couldn’t find one dud in the bunch!
Wednesday evening we joined up with the people from 7mesh who were presenting that week’s SORCA (Squamish Off-Road Cycling Association) Toonie Race. The Toonie race is a Wednesday Worlds-style mountain bike race. Apparently, they can get crowds of up to 300 people for their more social rides. That is simply incredible!
We had borrowed some brand new 2019 Carbon Processes for the adventure. I was told that for an enduro bike this thing could really pedal, and given our flat ride out and back to the event in conjunction with THE MASSIVE AMOUNT OF CLIMBING during the event, yes, it pedals nicely. It’s downhill capabilities could not be fully unleashed due to my more timid riding style given the situation (new bike, new trails, new people, out-of-offroad-practice me), but let it be a testament to the bike to know that I made it through the Squamish single-track in one piece!
After this wicked ride, we headed to the 7mesh headquarters for steak and potatoes and I got hooked up with some 7mesh threads. 10/10 do recommend.
Thursday Kerry and I went for a run before we hit the road to catch the ferry over to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. Here, we met up with Kris Sneddon and rolled to Norm and Wendy’s house to get ready for the Cross race that they were putting on JUST BECAUSE WE WERE THERE!! It was the summer intro for the Cross On The Rock series, which again, is a fun group of people that are serious about cyclocross.
The start of this race was…. Interesting. Norm gave us randomized start row numbers from 1-4. I was row 2. But there was a hole in front of me so obviously I snuck up into row 1. The interesting part came when the start was initiated. We were to run with our bikes, only about 50 meters, then hop on and take the first turn. And friends, these people do NOT eff around with their Thursday night cross races. There was screeching of brakes and crashes and tape ripped and I heard Kerry yell behind me something about someone’s fault and I just laughed.
The course was a good mix of fast grass, techy single track, a run up, awkward turns, and rouge obstacles. The first lap, none of this mattered because it was a game of Bumper Becca, who could pass or be passed. I could take a page from the Cross On The Rocks Aggression book. Barry was laughing at me from behind as I was struggling through awkward turns when finally, he passed me. Kris passed me at some point, but luckily mechanicaled and I was able to pass him back. It took me a few laps to get warmed up, but I finally found some good flow. We were going to have 8 laps, but Kerry thoughtfully lapped me when I was going in for 2-to-go so I was left with 7. That put me at 52 minutes so was really a proper length for me. But given how this was my first fast effort of the season, it was about 40 minutes too long! Haha
Refueled with ice pops and pizza, the crew hit the sack before we hit the road. To begin our planned bike-packing adventure.
The twist came in that now we had a rental car that could not fit all of our stuff or people, but we had to move the car and all of us. So, in a turn of events, our casual transfer day became a 70 mile journey from Nanaimo to Victoria. Barry was the support car driver, Kris the (bad) navigator, Kerry the photographer, and me the confused tag-along. The ride was by no means hard, but you couldn’t convince my legs otherwise after the past 2 days of mtb climbing and cx racing. This transfer day did include a short-cut ferry ride, yay!
We reached Victoria and our destination of Cory Wallace’s (brother’s) house, where we were greeted with 3-pound burgers and plentiful beers. Cory seems to like big food because for breakfast before our departure he made pancakes that could have passed for actual cakes.
Our 3-day warm up behind us, we were ready to load up the bikes and head out. I had never been bike packing so Barry brought me all of the things I would need including some sweet Blackburn bags, a tent and sleeping bag. Frankly, I had no idea how to pack anything, so I ended up leaving the tent. No one else was bringing a tent, except for Kris. I decided the lack of extra weight would only help me anyways.
The Kona Super Jake, from cyclocross race to multi day gravel grind in a matter of hours. I also used the Maxxis Ramblers mounted up tubeless for the entire trip, which I doubted on the CX day, but I found I had no troubles at all! Grip to rip! (I still don’t recommend the ramblers for muddy conditions, but they are great all-around dry condition tires)
Can I remind you that this whole time, Kerry is making due with one set of clothes!?? He ended up borrowing a lot of what he needed, and buying a little. Check out his medias or blogs for more info on his grand adventure.
And we’re off!!!
We immediately hit a super dumb climb to a park. The park was nice – the climb out of the gate was not. Barry was struggling and snapped shortly into the climb. Okay, not his body or spirit, but his rear derailleur hanger. Likely damaged in the car-stuffing. Luckily we were still in town, and Cory and his brother, Dustin, led us to the nearest Kona dealer to grab a replacement. Mostly Dustin led, dropping us all. He had ridden out with us only planning to drop us off at the park. After we retrieved the hanger and were set to go again, Dustin again joined us through our ride through Victoria. He hit the bike path with us. And soon, he was well into his longest ride ever. He didn’t make it the whole day before getting a ride home, but he made it well into it! How often does a non cyclist just join a band of merry riders on a near death-march??
Our ride took us on a mix of surfaces, but there was a nice gravel rail trail that apparently ended at some point just passed something called the PotHoles. Well. I never saw these promised swimming holes. We rode right passed and to a very non-swimming conducive part of the river, and here we were to cross. Oregon Trail style river fording, hoping to not lose our oxen. I was worried about getting my sleeping bag soaked with I am sure is a step into getting dysentery. (only a very small group of people will get these references)
Kris broke trail down the steep, dense and rocky slope to the roaring river. Kerry followed, then me, then Cory. Barry took the steeper yet clearer way. I think his longer legs makes him braver. I was worried about the cycling shoe traction on the rocks. It was slow going and Cory had to help me out of some sticky situations. With the bags covering my whole frame it was hard for me to get a good grasp on the bike. Not to mention the noodle arms and the added weight.
Somehow, we made it through the river without incident. Or proper swimming. Mixed feelings there.
After this we hit some bombing fire road until the final (long) stretch of pavement before a lunch stop at a place with a barista on some sort of drugs, then more pavement to head to Port Renfrew.
Rolling in to Port Renfrew, in theory we should have been at about 100km, because this trip was to be 200 km. I am forgiving the bonus 100+ km of the day before. However, as we rolled into town, I watched my mileage tick to just over 100 miles for the day. I’m not complaining, but let’s be real, that’s literally 100 km longer than anticipated. The good news was that this should mean there is only about 50 km left in the trip!
Port Renfrew, where everything closes before 7PM on a Saturday. We went all the way down the road to the pub, which was actually quite swanky with nice views of the water. We stopped to eat before pitching te.. er… sleeping bags on the beach.
Sitting on the deck, cold, wrapped in blankets, we ate our meal and joked about getting a hotel room instead of going to the cold beach. Frankly, I love hot showers and have only a little to prove regarding my general bad-assery, so I was totally okay with a hotel. Some of the others were a little wishy-washy. KRIS CARRIED A TENT THIS WHOLE WAY!!!! After checking prices and availability, the group was leaning heavily towards the hotel room. To solidify the decision, I went FULL DIVA and claimed that since it was my BIRTHDAY we had to get the room for my upmost comfort.
It was then remembered that is was my birthday and we cheerfully decided to get the room, in addition to more drinks and DESSERTS!!!
Properly caloried-up, chilled to the bone, and stiff as boards, we hobbled back on our bikes to roll to the room of the motel. Someone went up the stairs to the second floor to check out our room, because we saw a light was on. They said the room looked used and un-made. Cory tossed the key so whoever was up there could get in (Barry?). Cory tossed the key, ONTO THE ROOF. With reception closed for the night, it was looking like camping right about now.
Until, HARK! The door was OPEN! But… the room was indeed used and unmade. So we ended up using what resources we had, camp towels, sleeping bags, our own toiletries, so really it was like glamping! How festive.
Because we knew we were staying in the town of Port Renfrew and were promised plentiful food, we did not pack breakfast. We then found out that nothing opened until 9AM, which was too late for us to start our day. So that night, Kerry and Cory had got morning provisions of chips and salsa and Clif bars. Breakfast of Champions.
On a few tortilla chips and a Clif bar, those last 50km were gonna be MINT!!! (Remember, we are 160ish km into our 200km bike trip). Well, closer to 60km we did reach a destination. Of proper breakfast at Lake Cowichan. Then we hit a pretty awesome trail that really tested my ability to follow wheels in an off-road setting. I am wondering what these guys thought of following me, because I know most people hate that I am a gap-maker. But I can make gaps as I know I can close them. I am usually more worried about following too close, hitting a rock or stick and then going down and bringing everyone else down with me!
Pushing well passed the 50km mark for the day, we stopped at a bakery in Duncan where we met up with another friend of the group, Power Pole Pete. Pete rode with us until a very smart point.
The trail was a very fine gravel. There were interestingly placed turns that made skidding the proper way to take them. I do not skid. CORRECTION, I could not upon entering this trail. My skid turns are so on their way. I can’t really aim them, but I can slow down while turning. Maybe Kerry got some footy!
Anywho, Pete turned around. After leading us up some VERY steep path. See, I was starting to crack a little. The near fasting morning ride followed by a lot of food made me unable to snack through the afternoon. I had a bag of chips on the back of my saddle and I was really dreaming about them. As we were climbing, Barry pushed me over and I took it as a welcomed opportunity to walk up the hill. Oh well, I was almost a badass! Just one little walk. I ate my chips when Pete turned around. But then after that climb, there was another, and another, and another, and another. Looking at my strava, these climbs were hitting 25%. This is on gravel with loaded bikes and a LOT of miles in the legs. The gateway walk up the hill got me walking up a few, but I think I only dismounted 3 or 4 times. But there were a gazillion hills. I mustered the strength to push up some. Especially if I didn’t look to the top but just stared at my stem.
This useless trail of hell was never ending. We were out of water and baking in the sun. When we were out of that trail, there was some bombing downhill on a fire road. I was cracked and taking it slow but Kerry was bounding ahead. When we got to the bottom he lamented that he must climb back up: he dropped his GoPro. I offered to go help but seeing my sadness Kerry passed. Cory went with him. Barry ended up finding the GoPro right where we were stopped but the boys were gone, up the hill. They had already been gone for well over 10-15 minutes. I tried riding up to get them but my legs wouldn’t turn over. Finally they came back down, and Kerry was happy to have the GoPro and its footage back with him!
We were promised cold beverages at the bottom of that hill, but instead, we encountered more of that hellish gravel path with too-steep climbs.
The best part about the entirety of this last day, was that my lack of saddle time this summer in combination with extreme dampness left me with a less than ideal chamois-region situation. You remember that hemorrhoid commercial where someone tried to ride but there was barbed wire on their saddle? Essentially me. I tried to stand as much as possible, which essentially led to my quads seizing up for the last half of the ride.
Once we finally hit a town, we passed dozens of potential watering holes, until we came to the promise land: a shitty grocery store in the blazing sun with no shade.
From there, it was only a short hop on the bike path to get back to Cory’s house and thus the car, which we quickly packed up to hit the ferry back to Vancouver so we could fly out the next day.
So. This “200 km” trip I was invited on turned into: 12 miles of mtb race, 5 mile run, 10 miles of CX race, 73 miles of “transfer” and 216 miles of bikepacking. For a sum total of 316 miles. 508 kms.
Trust. No One.
Yet, I would do it all again. This trip, these people, that place, was exactly what I needed to be reminded why I love this sport. I could take or leave the racing. Grueling hours in the saddle is really what I love. I feel really recharged and ready to take on this last month of training before I start the CX season. Thanks for the ride, boys.
More to come on the season and a little bit about my summer coming in the next blog!