The ride described here traverses the territory of the Ktunaxa Amakis Nation.
The sky had an orange tinge and the sun was a dull glow in the evening sky as we all converged on a forested park in Cranbrook, British Columbia. It was the pre-race meeting for the Lost Elephant Ultra Bike race and. we all had two things on our minds: fires and smoke.
Nathan Siemens, the selfless race organizer, said he’d hoped to see 40 riders, but there were only 10 or 12. Most riders bailed before the race even began. The Lost Elephant has two different lengths. This year, the Dumbo was 344 kilometres with 4,670 metres of climbing. The Jumbo is what I came for, and this year the route developers had masterfully interwoven the two courses. I finished the 2020 race in 52+ hours and hoped to do this year in a similar time. The Jumbo course was 546 kilometres, up from 520 the previous year. However, it had 7,673 metres of climbing, down 1,000, though it had 16% singletrack, up from 2020.
In the morning, the smoke hadn’t subsided as forecasted. At 6 a.m. we all rode off and I found myself at the front chatting with Dave Cleveland, and soon we blew by the first major turn. Mistake #1.
Fort Steele RV Park marked the beginning of the 1,200-metre Wildhorse Pass. Dave was pushing me hard and I didn’t want him to drop me. The first 80% of Wildhorse is forestry road and its upper reaches turn into a steep quad track that’s dominated by baby-head rocks that needed to be hike-a-biked. Dave took off down the descent as I stopped to filter water. The descent started out steep and loose. Descending is my strength, so after a few kilometres, I zipped past him. The long descent took us past Top of the World Provincial Park. At the bottom, we rode along two stunning lakes.
Near the end of Whiteswan Lake, I spotted an outhouse and pulled off the road. This changed the race, as Dave did not see me and blew past me. He was obviously going hard, trying to catch me. Soon we began the second big climb of the day, where I spotted him in the distance for the last time. He had put the hurt into me on Wildhorse Pass and I could not catch him. At the top, I followed some huge grizzly tracks. Were they laid down an hour ago? Or a week ago? A pile of steaming partially digested berries soon answered my question.
Within a few hours, I turned up towards the notorious Crossing Creek, aka Koko Claims. Either direction involves hike-a-bike. At the top of the descent, I ran into two Dumbo racers who had seen Dave and informed him that no one was ahead of them. Somehow, I managed to ride the full descent. The last six kilometres coming into the coal town of Elkford was flowy singletrack. I pulled in at 8:15 p.m. I had planned to ride until dark, but the local pizza joint and motel were calling my name. Dave rode on to a motel in Sparwood.
By 2:45 a.m., I was on the trail with my belly full of oatmeal and lousy coffee. My goal was to hit Sparwood’s Tim Hortons when it opened at 5 a.m. This section was a challenge to navigate in the dark, as it was a maze of cattle trails and doubletrack. I missed plenty of turns. Before I knew it,I was enjoying coffee and muffins. The next section to Fernie is the Coal Discovery Trail, which is mostly great singletrack. As I rode, I determined I had enough food to make it to Elko’s gas station that closes at 10 p.m. I figured the other racers would resupply in Fernie. Dave was two hours behind me, but as a strong climber, he could reel me in on the big climbs ahead.
The singletrack after Fernie did not disappoint. I was soon back on gravel roads and climbing towards the Flathead Valley, so I checked Trackleaders before losing cell signal. Oh no! Dave had scratched. Was he Okay? Unfortunately, the cat and mouse game I had been playing in my head was now over.
The Lost Elephant legend, Eric Ross, who was now in second place, had mentioned at the pre-race meeting, “The Flathead, aka Grizzly Alley, is where all the problem bears are released.” The next few hours were a blur of dusty heat, but thankfully no bears. Eventually I got off the big forestry roads and was climbing on a minimally travelled road.
As I began the descent, I thought I would make Elko by 7 p.m. (mistake #?). Eventually, I was blasting down doubletrack, following along a river that flowed to Elko. Suddenly it ended. I glanced down at my GPS to discover the route wasn’t even on the screen. Five minutes later, I was back on track, but now I was hike-a-biking up a small mountain that stood in my way. The final descent into Elko was a blast. I rolled into the gas station by 9:15 p.m. and grabbed all the calories I would need to get me to the end of the race the next day. I spent the night in a field outside of Elko.
The last day was mostly rolling doubletrack and forestry roads. The final 40-kilometre stretch was on the Chief Isadore Trail, a rail trail interspersed with plenty of fun and flowy singletrack. I rolled into the finish after 2 days, 5 hours, and 43 minutes.
- 1ST PLACE (JUMBO): JUSTIN HETTINGA (2D:5H:43M)
- 2ND PLACE (JUMBO / SINGLESPEED): ERIC ROSS (2D:9H:05M)
- 1ST PLACE (DUMBO): CHRISTINE WARREN, BEVERLEE MURDOCH, JENNY BATEMAN (1D:18H:30M)
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