No One Wants To Be Last: My First Bikepacking Race
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When Miles signed up for this year’s BC Epic 1000 grand depart, he was set on taking his time for photos and side trips, and got strange looks when sharing his plan to finish in ten days. So it came as a major surprise, to both Miles and his family, when a mix of trackleaders peer pressure and some encouragement from a fellow rider led to riding over 1,000 km in 5 days, 10 hours. Here is his story…
After making the decision to move from Ontario to B.C, I knew I wanted to take on a bigger bikepacking trip to see parts of the province I’d likely never visit otherwise. The BC Epic 1000, which follows a good portion of the The BC Trail route, seemed like the obvious choice. It was long, it was new, and there was the group start aspect that I had yet to experience. I planned to tour the route, not race it, averaging somewhere around 100 km / day. Well, at about 100 km into the 1,040 km route, my original plan dissolved and was replaced with thoughts of bigger and longer days. I mean, no one wants to be last… right?
The Decision to Ride
I was well aware that a handful of riders would race the route, and that people like Lennard Pretorius, Dean Anderson, and Dion Clark would be competing for nothing more than bragging rights. The BC Epic 1000 is set up similar to the Tour Divide in that there are a set of rules, a grand depart each year, and most riders use SPOT trackers to relay their progress to friends, family, and fans. This seemed fine to me, and I figured there would be a group racing (under 4 days), a group pushing themselves (around 5 days), and those with no real agenda (6 to 10 days). I had this idea that I’d link up with a few other riders who would appreciate riding realistic distances, stopping often for good food, and sleeping more than 5 hours at a time. I couldn’t have been further from the truth.
The Grand Depart
At the pre-start in Merritt, I shared a motel room with a fellow rider, Dace Simpson. As expected, one of the first conversations we had surrounded our goals for the trip, finish times, and the gear we decided to take along with us. Dace was quick to acknowledge his plan to finish in 5 to 6 days, and the side goal to ride a 200km day. I think I surprised him when I shared my expected finish time, as I wanted to tour the route, take plenty of photos, and soak it all in. Dace would chuckle at this, and on several occasions before the grand depart he would say things like “just you wait and see” and “you’re just going to sit around and get eaten by mosquitos all afternoon?” I politely shrugged these comments off, and even as we rode together to the group start location at Rotary Park in Merritt, I was confident that packing several extra camera batteries, SD cards, and other charging equipment and electronics would be necessary for what I was about to do.
The grand depart was a unique experience for a rider who usually rides solo. It was welcoming to chat a bit with other cyclists who had been bikepacking for several years, their entire lives, or never before this trip. There was a significant lack of plus sized tires, which surprised me, knowing the sandy and consistently chunky, semi-maintained trails we would encounter. Lennard, the organizer, did a great job meeting all the riders and gave a quick group briefing before our short ride out of town to the where the first climb of the trip began.
For the first 25km or so, the group stayed relatively close together on the paved section leaving Merritt. Some of us continued to chat during this portion, but the group really started to spread out after hitting the double track leading towards Princeton. The leaders would never be seen again, the guys at the front of the pack would sling shot back and forth over the next 5 days. And I realized after checking the trackleaders standings, that I would be cruising in the back. It was that first glance of my tiny initials on the live tracking map, at the back of the group, that sparked a little competitive edge in me.
I arrived in Princeton around 100km, close to 2:00pm. After devouring a sub, pop, and chips I decided to continue riding out towards Chain Lake Rec Site. My longest day had been 130km this year, only partially loaded, but I pushed on for another 58 km to the rec site. This is when I finally ran into another rider, Carl Miiller, on the climb out of Princeton with a damaged sidewall and a flat. I stopped briefly to see if I could help at all, and let him know where I’d be that evening. I was pleasantly surprised to see Carl roll in later that night, and we made plans to ride together early the next morning. He needed to be done in 6 days to ensure a ride was available back to his home in Calgary. I entertained the idea of trying to keep up with him. At around 5:00am on day 2, we began to race.
Beast Mode, Engage.
For the next 4 days, Carl and I averaged 180 km / day, pushing 230 km on one of those to make a crucial step that would get us that much closer to the guys and gals up front. As we started to meet up with other riders, there was an odd mix of comradery and silent competition that sparked some interesting conversations on the trail. No riders I met would admit they were racing the route and would often lean on phrases such as ‘just wanting to finish’. Even so, almost everyone I spoke to was aware of the rules that existed and would abide by them religiously. My thought was if we weren’t racing, why the heck are there rules? Sure, for the guys aiming to set new records, but for the rest of the group? Were we too nervous to admit we were racing? It certainly felt like a race to me, and that’s partly due to that goddamn Trackleaders website that I’d check every few hours – it was the source for the majority of my exhaustion, and I was starting to crave it.
The last 2 days of riding were huge for Carl and I. We settled into an efficient riding pattern, taking turns leading, stopping often for large meals and drinking more coke than I care to admit. We rode alongside Diella S. from Abbotsford for a good chunk of the trip, but put some distance in during the huge Grey Creek Pass climb. This was also where we passed Corrine L. from Alaska. As we rode faster and harder, the leaders up front like Dace and Fred slowly got closer. It wasn’t until after the race that Dace admitted they made sure to wake up extra early on the final day to ensure we didn’t catch up – it felt great knowing the underdogs that were once at the back of the pack were putting pressure on some of the faster riders.
An Invisible Line
It turned out I managed to keep up with Carl the entire time. I finished the route in 5 days, 10 hours; just a few hours shy some of the riders that had once been impossible to imagine catching up to. Reaching the end of the long GPS track was no extravagant ordeal. Rather, we were greeted by Bart Slotman and Rod Dagneau, two riders who had finished earlier enough to not be threatened by our quickened pace. A few handshakes, maybe a cold beer if you were lucky, and the race was over. All that was left was to take the finishers’ photos outside the government office building, get cleaned up, eat something big, and keep an eye out for the next riders coming in to fulfill welcoming duties. I’m not even to sure what place I came in or if I will ever see any of those riders again, but it was truly an eye opening experience. There were definitely a few jokes tossed around based on the fact that I was the youngest rider, and some of the earlier finishers started offering up places to sleep, snacks, or a sip of a beer; as if I was a just a young child in comparison to some of them. Of course, they weren’t that far from the truth.
Impressions from my first bikepacking race:
Some surprises, opinions, and food for thought.
1. In both the 2016 and 2017 grand departs, saddle sores were often one of the primary reasons for riders calling it quits.
This is because of the constant rough and bumpy terrain accompanied by 10+ hours of riding per day. It’s a dangerous combination. I switched to a Selle Anatomica saddle right before the ride for some added comfort, and although I didn’t wear my chamois for the first day, I wore it for the remainder of the race and washed it once as well on day 3. I avoided developing any physical sores, and I think that was due to a good saddle, a high quality (and clean) chamois, and plenty of anti-chaffing cream… I had good luck with Filzer’s Happy Chamois Cream.
2. Being comfortable means nothing if you are not clean.
Although I was using plenty of chamois cream 2-3 times per day, I would also give myself a good cleaning with wet naps halfway through the day and at night. Things are bound to get sweaty and a bit disgusting down there, so even 10 minutes off the saddle to let things dry out is a good idea. I was a bit sore on the first 3 days, but I had no issues at all on days 4 and 5. Other riders were not so lucky, and we all still looked like zombies dragging ourselves down the streets of Fernie on the way to the bar.
3. Riders were predominantly in their 40’s and 50’s, and I was the youngest by a decade.
After chatting with some of the older participants, they all agreed that in some way they were doing it now as part of their last minute bucket list or as part of a bigger goal to maintain good health. They also all agreed that I should be up at the front, as the youngest rider, but I’m a firm believer that age has nothing to do with performance in these kinds of races.
4. The competitive side that was most definitely present in each of the riders vanished abruptly upon completion of the route.
Although I wasn’t up at the front of the pack, there was still an obvious but oddly silent sense of competitiveness that lurked between the riders. Carl and I got into a groove and made sure not to lose it… even if it meant not sharing all of the details regarding wakeup times and stops along the route with the others. Did we have a top secret plan to ride further and harder than everyone we met along the way? Nope. Did we wait up for others? Sometimes, but not for long. Even after all of that it soon became a collective celebration of one common goal – to finish the route. Beer never tasted so good.
5. I camped less and ate way more than I planned to.
I was averaging around 180 km / day, so hobbling into a motel late at night became something I looked forward to… as well as eating entire pizzas for lunch. It was quite a different experience compared to what traditional bikepacking is all about; there is a greater emphasis on the race and less so on the bikepacking, although still both incredibly rewarding in their own ways. Next time I race I’ll likely be packing lighter, moving more efficiently, and spending less.
6. It was an incredibly humbling experience to be challenged alongside so many complete strangers.
By the end of the race and during the two days we relaxed in Fernie afterwards, we all shared stories of struggles and joy along the route together. I think the small group that finishes the route each year as part of the grand depart will always share such respect for eachother, no matter their age, physical condition, or bikepacking experience.
In Krampus We Trust
The Surly Krampus proved to be a great choice for the race. No mechanical issues, no flats, not a single squeak or clunk that I can remember. Sure the build is probably fairly heavy, although I’ll never weigh a steel bike, but it was incredibly comfortable and that was what I was aiming for. Here are some of the details on my bike and packlist.
- Frame: Surly Krampus
- Fork: Surly Steel
- Headset: Cane Creek
- Handlebar: Jones H-Bar
- Stem: Salsa Guide
- Seatpost: Kalloy SP-324
- Saddle: Selle Anatomica X1
- Grips: ESI Extra Chunky
- Crank Arm Set: Shimano ZEE
- Pedals: Shimano XT SPD
- Bottom Bracket: Shimano XT
- Chainring: Race Face Narrow Wide 32T
- Chain: Shimano
- Cassette: Shimano M8000 11/42
- Shifter: Shimano XT
- Rear Derailleur: Shimano XT
- Brakes: Shimano XT
- Brake Levers: Shimano XT
- Rear Wheel: Shimano FH-M529, Quick Release, Rabbit Hole
- Front Wheel: SP PD-8 Dyno, Quick Release, Rabbit Hole
- Tires: Surly Knard 29×3
Porcelain Rocket MCA Handlebar Bag
– Sea To Summit Spark SP I sleeping bag
– Thermarest Neo Air X-Lite sleeping pad
– Light Riding Tights
– Wool Socks
– Merino Wool Long-sleeve
Porcelain Rocket MCA Pocket (3L)
– Plenty of tiny snacks
– Crankbrothers M19 Multi-tool
– Chamois Cream
– BioLite Charge 20 USB Powerbank
– Chain Oil
– Spare AA / AAA Batteries
– Small First Aid Kit
– Nuun Tablets
– Bear Spray
Andrew The Maker Snack Sack
– 750ml Water Bottle
– SOG single-blade knife
Porcelain Rocket Slinger
– Olympus Mirrorless Camera
– Outdoor Research Versaliner Gloves
On Bike and Me
OVEJA NEGRA Snack Sack Large
– iPhone 5S
– Charging Cables
King Cage Anything Cage (downtube)
– Klean Kanteen 1.18L Wide Mouth Bottle
Mounted On Bike
– Fenix BC21R USB LED Front Light
– Planet Bike Shiner Rear Light
– Garmin eTrex 20x GPS
– SPOT Device
– The PLUG USB Dyno Charger
– Crankbrothers Sterling S Pump
– Tent Poles / Pegs
– Optimus Crux Stove
– Vargo BOT 700
– MSR Canister Fuel 227g
– Room for dinner and lunch
– Spare Tube
– 11-speed chain link
– Tire Boots
– Patch Kit
– Zip Ties
– Tire Levers
– Nemo Hornet Elite 2P Tent with fly
– Outdoor Research Helium Jacket
– Outdoor Research Helium Pants (cut into knickers)
– Outdoor Research Cathode Jacket
– Riding Socks
– Teva Original Sandals
– Porcelain Rocket Tootsie Roll Hip Bag
– Pearl Izumi Escape ELITE Short
– MEC Crankum Short (womens, that’s right)
– Thin Wool Socks
– Sombrio Ridgeline Jersey
– Specialized Helmet
– Giro Terraduro Shoes
– Pearl Izumi Gloves
I accidentally raced the BC Epic 1000. I had no plans to ride so far in so little time, and to be honest I ended up having a drastically different experience than I intended to. I’m much more used to taking it slow and stopping at every bakery I see. I’ve never raced on a bike. With that said, I thoroughly enjoyed it and was actually starting to get used to waking up at 5:00am and not stopping until 16 hours later. It was an alien feeling to me, an addicting one, and I think I’m starting to understand all the hype around these self-supported races. It all comes back to the title of this reflection, and why I think any bikepacker could get hooked… no one wants to be last.