Encounter With The Unknown: 2021 BC Epic 1000 (Film + Story)

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This year’s BC Epic 1000 event in British Columbia tested riders with record-breaking temperatures on the challenging 1,000-kilometre route across the province. Find a film by Kenton Gilchrist that follows first-place finisher Meaghan Hackinen’s fastest known time (FKT) attempt here, alongside a written reflection from Meaghan…

Encounter With The Unknown is a new film by Kenton Gilchrist at Blade 9 Films (@blade9films) that follows Meaghan Hackinen’s record-breaking 2021 BC Epic 1000 ride in British Columbia this June. While the majority of riders struggled along the 1,000-kilometre route due to stifling summer temperatures, often as high as 40°C (105°F), Meaghan set the new women’s fastest known time (FKT) and the route’s second-fastest overall time of 2 days, 19 hours, 45 minutes, just a few hours behind Tom Hainisch’s 2019 record. The film includes interviews with Meaghan, inspirational moments during the event, and some impressive footage that gives a great sense of what the route is all about. Watch Encounter With The Unknown below, followed by a reflection from Meaghan.

“There’s something satisfying about doing things that you haven’t done before and finding out what you’re capable of.”

Racing Through a Heat Dome

By Meaghan Hackinen (@meaghanhackinen)

Gravel crunched beneath my tires as I sped toward Myra Canyon along the Kettle Valley Rail Trail. The sun had long since fled by the time I reached the soaring trestles, but my front beam illuminated wooden guard rails meant to prevent visitors like me from pitching hundreds of feet into the canyon’s abyss. After a day of 110+ degree heat, temperatures had finally dipped to a comfortable level. In the distance, Kelowna’s cityscape pulsed in bouquets of silvery light, and I wondered which one of those twinkling specks marked my house. That night it was not my home, but Fernie—some 466 miles east in the Rockies—where I was headed. As I rounded another bend, Kelowna’s lights momentarily dipped out of sight. Soon, they’d be gone for good as the route veered south toward Beaverdell and Rock Creek, and it would just be me and Amelia—my Salsa Cutthroat—rumbling through the silky darkness. Night one of the BC Epic 1000 and I, miraculously, was in the lead.

The BC Epic 1000 is a 1,040-kilometre (646-mile) off-road, self-supported bikepacking event between Merritt and Fernie, British Columbia, roughly following the Trans Canada Trail and gaining around 36,000 feet of elevation along the way. At first glance, the terrain doesn’t appear too formidable: the first two-thirds follow rail trail with grades topping out at two percent, while the final bit is a mashup of forest service roads, singletrack, and rail trail, with some pavement thrown in to link things up. The scenery is spectacular: with tunnels, trestles, and views of spellbindingly blue lakes; from the dry ranchlands and vineyards of the Okanagan to the lush green Kootenays, and further east to the untamed wilderness of the Rocky Mountains (think awe-inspiring peaks, rushing rivers, and grizzly bears). Some of the trail is in pretty rough condition, however, and a few special sections—including the technical, sandy singletrack connecting Castlegar to Trail, a 5,250-foot gravel climb up Gray Creek Pass, and a labyrinth of chunky forest service roads between Elko and the finish that I had the pleasure of navigating in the dark—make the course memorable.

2021 BC Epic 1000
  • 2021 BC Epic 1000
  • 2021 BC Epic 1000

I pulled into a gas station in Grand Forks at 10 a.m. on day two to stock up for the climb to Paulson Pass. To make the most of cooler temperatures I’d pedalled through most of the night, a tactic that served to extend my lead. Already, the thermostat was rising—it was hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk by the time I walked out of the convenience store and into a wall of breath-stifling heat. After stuffing my pockets with gummies for later, I tore into a bag of ice. I dumped most of it into my hydration bag, then stuffed a few handfuls into the pantyhose I’d brought to make an ice sock. Amid curious glances from the locals, I shoved the cooling ice sock down the back of my jersey, chuckling to myself about the ridiculousness of racing through a once-in-a-century heat dome.

As a road cyclist, it was the opportunity to explore a sizable chunk of the province off-road that landed me on the start line of the BC Epic. That most of my 2020-2021 races had been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic was also a decisive factor. Days before the event kicked off, the forecast began calling for unseasonably hot temperatures. As Environment Canada warned everyone to stay indoors, 70-odd eastbound riders (and a handful of westbound folks) rolled out into record-smashing heat in the 2021 Grand Depart of the BC Epic. More than 75% would eventually scratch.

2021 BC Epic 1000

I went in with the goal of establishing a new women’s Fastest Known Time (FKT). When, early on, I found myself not only on track to nab the FKT, but pulling away from the pack, I reconsidered my strategy: I could take it down a notch, enjoy a cold shower and some downtime inside air-conditioned spaces, and still set a new women’s FKT. Or I could go full throttle until I reached the finish and see what I was truly capable of.

I chose the latter.

I kept my refuel stops brief and scored bags of ice at every opportunity. When the temperatures shot above 100 degrees and it felt like my face was melting into my jersey, I stripped naked and leapt into a stream. Stomaching solid food was a constant struggle, yet in my twisted, heat-addled brain, I envisioned myself as the Terminator: I would not stop, would not sleep, would not rest until I reached my target.

But by nightfall on the second day, I realized that I actually did need sleep, and stopped for a few hours in a motel room in Fruitvale. I shot out again at half past midnight to catch the first ferry from Balfour and start my ascent of Gray Creek Pass in the cool morning hours. The panoramic views of snowy peaks from the summit more than made up for the punishing 8.6% grade, but unfortunately, I couldn’t get my legs back after the climb. My bum hurt, my hands hurt, and my eyes were full of bugs because I’d lost both my sunglasses and my clear night lenses. But I still had my lead, and so I grit my teeth with what I hoped was Terminator-like determination and powered through. The end was finally in sight… or so I thought.

Nobody tells you about Elko.

  • 2021 BC Epic 1000
  • 2021 BC Epic 1000
2021 BC Epic 1000
  • 2021 BC Epic 1000
  • 2021 BC Epic 1000

Or perhaps I had conveniently forgotten those warnings about the hellacious 50 kilometres (31 miles) to the finish. Instead of an easy homestretch, I found myself hauling poor Amelia over steep, rough pitches in disorienting darkness as I skirted around Mount Broadwood, certain I was lost forever in this strange Nowhere-land pieced together from eerie fragments of my headlamp. I was in rough shape, and when my bike handling skills were put to the test on the tricky terrain, I eventually failed: a clumsy wipeout dislodged my eTrex and left me with a sprained pinky. But as I clawed through the bushes in search of the lost device, I reminded myself that things could be worse. At least I wasn’t staggering around under the unbearable sun; at least I didn’t have a massive sidewall cut in my tubeless tire; at least I wasn’t being stalked through the night by a ravenous mountain lion. I was also grateful I had the forethought to download backup maps on Ride with GPS, and so when I gave up on finding my navigation unit, I knew I could rely on my phone to see me through those final miles of unnamed forest roads.

I rolled over the finish line at city hall just after 3 a.m. I reached Fernie in 2 days, 19 hours, and 19 minutes, cutting more than a day off the women’s FKT, taking the overall win by nearly 17 hours, and managing the second-fastest time in BC Epic history. My father, who had accompanied me on training rides, as well as Lennard Pretorius, the route planner and architect behind the BC Epic, were there to pop a bottle of bubbly in celebration. I raised my plastic cup and felt what was left of my cyborg persona fade as the welcome tide of finisher’s euphoria took over. I’d made it. At last.

Leaning into my competitive side to go hard had been a gamble—especially in the unprecedented heat wave—but it had paid off, both in the satisfaction gained by pushing my own limits and in securing the overall race win. I smiled down at Amelia, my trusty two-wheeled companion in adventure, already looking forward to the places we were going to explore next.

Results

  • 1st Place (Women’s FKT): Meaghan Hackinen (2D:19H:45M)
  • 2nd Place (Men’s): Cory Ostertag (3D:12H:13M)
  • 3rd Place (Men’s): Graham Suffield (3D:21H:57M)
  • 2nd Place (Women’s): Lucy Eykamp (4D:10H:53M)

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