Reference the earlier Blog entry, Lone Tandem Takes on TransRockies: Way To Go Team Weiss where we celebrated Ted & Sandy’s conquest of the TransRockies tandem category… well OK, they were the only tandem. However, that does nothing to diminish the magnitude of the accomplishment. Anyway, I included a few of Sandy’s comments as posted to the DoubleForte discussion list and since then Ted has shared his view. Nay, not just a view… an epic account that’s as epic as the event itself!!!!
Therefore, DON’T EVEN think about trying to read this one during a less than exciting meeting at work, as it demands far more attention and time than can be achieved in a room filled with other people: they’ll truly notice that you’ve ‘checked-out’. Instead, reserve this one for the first cup of Java, a lunch time read, or one of those far too long, far too frequent commercials during an NFL broadcast on one those network stations. As to my DF brethren and sisters who have already seen Ted’s account, sorry for the re-run… but at least the â€™ characters that took the place of apostrophes, etc. in Ted’s post to DF are gone! I’ve also added some photos of the TR that I found using a simple Google search of images, but they’re just eye-candy and don’t really sync up with the various stages, as some are from TR-’07, some are from TR-’08 and so on. While I’ve cited my sources, I have no idea who actually owns each of the images and my apologies in advance if I’ve pinched a commercial photo.
This is Ted chiming in to give my less brief “captain’s perspective” synopsis of our TransRockies experience for those who want more of the gory details. Delete now if you don’t want details!!! I’d put it on a blog but I don’t blog. Hoping to give anyone interested in doing this a good idea about what’s involved. We competed in the mixed 80+ year old field which included 9 teams.
Stage 1: 19 mi time trial, 4200 ft climbing, finish time: 4:07, 6th pl.
Start in rain and ~60 degrees F on Main St in Fernie. Within 3 minutes, we’re on very muddy “dirt” road starting hour long (or maybe 2 hr?) ascent to high point on course. Top half of climb changed to single track. Many sections of hike a bike on single track due to (a) steeps, (b) loss of traction, and (c) tight switch backs. However, we had surprisingly better climbing traction in wet mud than we get in Midwest US, even with relatively small-treaded WTB Wolverine 2.3 on rear wheel. At/near top, astounding views through low clouds and rain to see valleys far below! Major descent from high point was very steep and loose damp soil rich in peat. Mostly a controlled slide for 20-30 min with rear wheel locked most of time – especially when needed to “wiggle” between trees. One occurrence of Ted going over the bars (first time for me!) on very steep section when muddy cleats unintentionally released from pedals (XTR spd). Both of us landed in soft grass with no injuries. Rain stopped after 2-3 hours but the course remained wet, muddy, slippery. At control point 2, we accepted staff offering to rinse mud from drive train with water – ironically, this likely initiated chain suck problems (even with a brand new small chain ring: Middleburn 22t) – probably b/c we didn’t lube afterward. Rode remainder of stage in middle ring. Overall this prologue time trail was an epic ride by our standards. Note the finishing time: a lot of runners finish 26 mile marathons in 4 hrs (though not on this kind of terrain).
Stage 2: 44 mi, 6250 ft climbing, finish time: 5:25, 4th pl.
Sunny day with perfect temps. Started immediately with 18 mile climb which started on high-quality gravel road which got progressively smaller with large full road-width mud holes. Arrive at top of climb with line of riders slowly progressing toward an opening in the pine trees. As we get turn, we approach the opening to see a spectacular view of our starting town in the valley 3000 feet below with a trail that would essentially have us falling off of the mountain side. Likely still have a few pucker marks on the saddles. Most riders walked down initially – others started on bike but mostly intentionally fell off on the uphill side of mountain in fear – there were a lot of nervous riders up there! After getting past first few hundred meters of the descent (Sandy walking, Ted riding tripod with one foot down), back on bike to descend the 3000 vertical feet in 3 miles (average grade of 20% over 3 miles: lots of sections much steeper than 20%). Fast and furious on the straights with with burning brakes into the swich backs. We smelled like a semi descending a mountain highway – another rider even claimed to have seen smoke. The Magura Louise brakes worked well – though a little minor fade of front brake near bottom of descent. Braking power was sufficient and I never ran into limitation of hand fatigue. The long wheelbase of the tandem handled the steep sections well as we passed may singles walking down steeps. Had one more occurrence of Ted going over the bars (yes – only second time ever). This time due to a mismanaged, too fast entry into a switch back. This time landed on hard pack dirt/gravel right on my bear spray container located near chest/shoulder. Not to much trouble with shoulder pain initially but it gradually worsened throughout subsequent stages and seems to somehow have progressed to a strain of pectoralis minor. Remainder of stage was gravel road or mild single track – nice long stretch of mild downhill on gravel road allowed us to eat up a few competitors.
Stage 3: 37 mi, 5500 ft climbing, finish time: 5:37, 4th pl.
This stage billed by promoter as having the most remote/back-country areas for the whole week long race. It also gave us our first taste of multiple (5-10) crossings of crystal clear, glacier cold streams and rivers that make your feet so cold they burn within seconds: Sandy called it excellent “cold therapy” for inflamed tendons/ligaments (she’s a PT). Big feature of this stage was a 1-2 hour long, 4-5 mile “death march” (as I liked to call them) up a very steep trail in deep overgrown alder bushes (this is why our ankles/feet needed cold therapy). This was a single file line of “bike racers” hiking their bikes straight up the mountain side – occasionally you could see the line a mile or two ahead which was very discouraging but the only option was to trudge onward. I typically pushed the tandem with my left hand while pulling the stoker bar with my right. Sandy stayed directly behind the bike pushing on the stoker saddle. Everyone kept asking, “how much does that thing weigh?” Eventually we hiked above the tree line and the trail deteriorated to huge rocks (mostly 1-2 feet in diameter) – this was very tough on the tandem as we had to lift the tandem up one rock at a time – fortunately this was only the last quarter mile of the climb or so before we reached one of the most beautiful high mountain passes imaginable and crossed the continental divide from BC into Alberta. Rode for a little while on trail made of 100% loose shot rock (and zero dirt) before a very technically difficult descent on wet rocks/roots, often with drop offs too big for the tandem to clear – had to dismount frequently. Saw two injured riders being taken out by the medics on motocross motorcycles – later to learn the injuries were a broken wrist and a broken collar bone. Couldn’t have been an easy ride but cheaper than the $3000 helicopter medic. End of day – front brake pads were metal on metal and rear pads not far off (replaced both using the Magura “performance” pads for more braking power though they obviously wear quicker than the “endurance” pads). Near end of stage, we had a major river crossing – a rider in front of us tried crossing in a deep section, lost his footing, submerged to chin (bike completely under) in the icy water and was being pulled downstream unable to get footing – Sandy ended up pulling him out. This was the last day for the TR3 3-day individual competitors (maybe 1/3rd of total field) so traffic was lighter from here on.
Stage 4: 37 mi, 5550 ft climbing, finish time: 6:27, 4th pl.
Started quickly into single track and had major wait as everyone filed into the trail. This stage included two “death marches” but neither had as much overgrown alder bushes as mentioned before and we could actually ride a lot of it. Middle of stage had gorgeous high-mountain pastures surrounded by rocky mountain tops and occasional vistas of the valleys below. Sandy struggled with major/unexplained nausea problems during large part of stage – certainly a damper! As that subsided, we entered what most would consider the most miserable and mentally challenging part of the whole race – 6 or so miles of shin- to knee-deep , completely unrideable mud. The trail had been rained on excessively in the prior week and was used as a path to herd cows to pastures. You can’t imagine how hard this was to drag the long-bike through for hours. Finally a short stretch on pavement to finish.
Stage 5: 54 mi, 4950 ft climbing, finish time: 6:21, 5th pl.
Probably one of the best flowing stages for the tandem. Though still in the high mountains, we had more pastures, several aspen forests, and rolling terrain. We had solid position during first third of distance, though we were probably “juicing the take off.” During middle third, we slowed as Sandy and I had tense “discussions” of goals for stage – race hard vs. pace ourselves, skip the aid station or stop to take on important food and liquid, clean the drive train or leave it mudded up, etc. Needless to say, at this point in the race, general fatigue and the challenges we had been through were creating new emotional tensions. But fortunately, all it took was thunder, black clouds, a 10 degree instant drop in temperature, and a solid hail storm to put these “discussions” to rest. We rode like kamikazes down wet rocky eroded single track almost all the way to the end of stage, breathing down the neck of a single bike in front of us. In a gratifying way, we made the single guy push himself until he became error prone with several near crashes and started yelling in German what I’d like to think were profanities (actually I think he was yelling for his teammate who was far behind us). Anyway, lots of fun despite the hail, etc. – some of the most aggressive and fast riding we did all week!
Stage 6: 45 mi, 7400 ft climbing, finish time: DNF but given 11 hour finish time,
7th place based on time of arrival at check point where we and others withdrew from
Sandy outlined this stage in a previous DF post pretty well. In short, 40 degrees F with solid rain all day — reported sub-freezing temps at high points on course with “horizontal rain” (we didn’t make it that far). It took us 3 hours to cover 14 mile due to my shoulder problem, the hypothermia and hand/feet numbness that developed because of the cold and rain. Of course there are a lot of “what ifs” but we suspect that my shoulder pain (probably worsened substantially from very aggressive ride at end of previous stage) slowed us to a low enough level that we couldn’t produce heat to stay warm. At the time, it was an easy decision to withdraw but it’s emotionally difficult to think about it now. But; given the circumstances, we were fairly certain that both of us were well on our way to severe hypothermia and it was best to withdraw and get help: we don’t regret it. There were many other teams in the same situation – the organizers did a wonderful job at arranging a make-shift warming station in a U-Haul truck and evacuation plan to get 40-50 hypothermic riders to safety from the middle of nowhere. We were in very good hands!
Stage 7: 29 mi, 4450 ft climbing, finish time: 4:10, 5th pl.
Beautiful weather for final stage! Slight downhill gravel road start – perfect to put the tandem in high position in the field. Unfortunately, shortly after starting into single track, we followed a long line of 30 or so riders down the wrong trail that dead ended in the middle of a field. It took quite a while to get back on course – maybe 10-15 minutes. Because this was early in the race, this delay put us behind many of the slower riders for long section of single track – if we had a good chance for making the podium, this might have been one of them but that went out the window with the navigation error. Eventually we got through the traffic for the last half of the race. A lot of time on trails along very steep drop offs next to us (like cliffs) and these also included a lot of planks, skinnys, bridges, and jumps for the huckers. Closer to the finish, we rode ~5 miles of killer single track though a nordic ski center before finally descending into Canmore for the finale.
We finished 5th in our field of 9 teams (I think one DNF’d) and were very happy with this. Among the teams in front of us, some of the women were stronger than the men: one woman had ridden the Great Divide Race (3000 miles from Banf to Mexico along continental divide trail — unsupported) this year and last year. Another woman was a former road/cyclocross/MTB pro cyclist who rode for Aquafina. Good but tough company, and now friends!
The dual suspension 29’er was just the right “weapon” for these very brutal rough trails. However, I’d also say there were very few, if any parts of this course that favor a tandem over singles. The bike held up wonderfully with only minor problems: limited chain suck, bent sprocket on rear cassette (SRAM 11-34) probably due to abusive shifting habits, and worn out brake pads (Magura Louise). The rear tire (2.4 WTB Wolverine) has a modest cut in the side wall that I didn’t see until we got home. I’d definitely go the beefier tread next time to better handle mud and big loose rocks. The front tire (2.4 Continental Mountain King) is still perfect and really worked well in the loose stuff (though high rolling resistance and loose feeling on road). The wheels are still true, the freehub sounds perfect and clean, the chain never broke (Wipperman Connex: officially my favorite now since we have frequently broken all other brands we’ve tried). The shifting (SRAM X9) astounded us, as it worked well even when completely packed with mud. Linkage chainrings (Middleburn) are shot but never caused problems.
Final comments for future racers:
Anyone thinking of doing this should be fully physically prepared but also mentally prepared for difficult times even when off the course. Tent camping was pretty rough with leaky tents, sometimes set up within inches of hugh cow pies. Our duffel bags got water in them so we had wet clothes for several mornings — especially tough for cold mornings. Bike wash station was always a very wet cold muddy ordeal. Not that there’s a good solution for a lot of this but you need to anticipate loads of non-racing challenges that will push you to the brink. There are many times when we considered this event a joke and a very bad overall experience. But I think we all get bitter when the going gets tough.
On the bright side, as we look back, we both look at this as a wonderful experience and are very glad we did it. The catered meals were amazingly top notch with abundant veggie and omnivore food, showers were hot, toilets were plentiful, and despite the complaints about tents, we always slept very well at night. The later starting times (9 am) made the mornings pleasant and unrushed (“sure… I’ll have another cup of coffee”). The staff was friendly and extremely helpful: they had to deal with their own challenges of pulling this event off in the middle of nowhere in rain, cold, hail, etc. If you decide to do this race, prepare for the worst but expect a huge rewarding feeling when you reach the end. Then collapse for 2 weeks like I’m doing now. And of course, this race will allow you to see and experience what I’m now considering the most beautiful place in the world!