Every cyclist has some sort of "bucket list" of events or places they'd like to ride. I've been very lucky to have been able to cross a few off my list over the years - BC Bike Race, the Breck Epic, the Deschutes Cup USGP in Bend, riding in Provence and Nice... making it to these oft daydreamed about cycling races/events and pleasure trips allows one to experience new places in the best way, by bike. However, some trips come about without even making it on your radar beforehand - such was the case with my recent trip up north to Whitehorse to mountain bike and participate in the 24 Hours of Light.
If you are anything thing like me, your initial reaction to the suggestion of Whitehorse, Yukon as the ultimate destination for a mountain bike getaway is skeptical at best. Especially since my only previous exposure to the Yukon was as the lone 12 year old along on a senior citizens' RV driving tour to Alaska way back in the summer of 1989 with my grandma, I didn't really associate the northern Canadian latitudes with "mountain bike mecca". I was assured by my traveling compatriots though this was a under the radar type of find, and sure enough as I started to do a little research on the area's trails (check them out here) and talk to those from or who had visited Whitehorse, it was evident there was certainly some awesome biking to be had to the north.
Our travel plans were loosely scheduled around the scheduling of the 24 Hours of Light, a 24 hour mountain bike race of the standard format where the most laps of the course completed wins, with a few notable rule changes. More on that later. The race was scheduled for Saturday/Sunday, so flights were scheduled to arrive Wednesday and depart Monday to allow for plenty of ride time and relaxation time. I did briefly consider driving up to Whitehorse until Google Maps informed me the drive would be an arduous 3500 km. During the planning stages, there was mention back and forth about camping for the duration of the trip, but being the princess I am, I found a suitable AirBnB listing at a reasonable price and booked it before anyone could protest. A word to the wise here - if you're booking accommodations in the Yukon, descriptors such as "rustic" and "true Yukon experience" should be taken literally; upon reading the fine print when looking through listings, many of the cabins could more truthfully be described as shacks with no running water or electricity. Rustic indeed. Luckily I caught on to this early on, and our rental abode was a nice basement suite right in downtown Whitehorse with everything we could need for a home base during
the trip. We also splurged on a pimped out suburban rental to haul the bikes around and get to the various riding areas outside of Whitehorse.
Hey - I think I saw this listing on AirBnB! (Circus Jim trail) I debated a bit about renting a bike versus taking my own, and in the end I decided to bring along the Thunderbolt since it's always nice to have your own bike and the cost of a rental was about the same as baggage charges. Plus, Brent graciously lent me the fantastic biknd Jetpack (watch for an upcoming review) to keep my bicycle safe from airport gorillas. As for available rentals, which I checked into while flip-flopping about whether to bring my own bike, the local shops Cadence Cycle and Icycle Sport were both super helpful and have a good selection of rental mountain bikes of all shapes and sizes at competitive prices. After a very early flight and horrible customer service from Air Canada at the Edmonton airport (I have since learned from others to choose Air North), I met up with Calgary outbound Shawna and Katy at the Vancouver airport, and we were equally excited about the days ahead. How much daylight would there actually be? What were the trails going to be like? Would our bikes survive Air Canada's not so delicate baggage handling skills? As our flight descended towards Whitehorse, I began to get even more excited. My plane window view of endless rolling hills and lakes and rivers made the riding possibilities come in to focus, and I was able to pick out places I had read about on the interwebs such as the historic mining town of Carcross and the associated riding area of Montana Mountain. Even though it was already mid-afternoon when we landed, we quickly gained an appreciation for the high sun - with the almost never-ending summer daylight there was still plenty of time to unpack, build bikes, grab a snack, and, most importantly, get in a good ride before the day was over. We hit the trails that first day around 8:00pm, which felt like about 3:00pm with the sun still high above us, taking in some of the local trails on Grey Mountain. It was clear right away the trails here were buff and fast and super fun, not to mention well signed and marked. Without too much trouble we easily explored an astounding variety of trails in our first couple of hours, and had to pull over more than a couple of times to take in the views and our surroundings and snap photos. From fast and flowy Boogaloo, to more techy My Trail, and the super fun descent El Camino, this first ride was both satisfying and served to whet our appetites for the days ahead. As we headed out to eat after our ride around 11:00pm in full daylight, we encountered our only real problem of the trip - restaurants and bar kitchens in Whitehorse almost all shut down at 10:00pm, and I found myself eating at a Boston Pizza for the first time in years. Fortunately though, I was so hungry and satisfied with our first ride I didn't even care and picked out something from the textbook-sized menu. The next day we headed an hour's drive south to the quietly famed riding area of Montana Mountain near Carcross. The drive was a scenic one with the stunning Emerald Lake and impressive, yet tiny Carcross Desert. We couldn't help but spend a couple hours poking around the historic town and little shops and watching the classic steam engine go through town until a surprising number of tour coaches from Alaska pulled in, and we decided it was a good time to hit the trails.
The stunning Emerald Lake.
The world's smallest desert. No joke. Wikipedia says so.
Cute, ole Carcross, seconds before it became overrun with tourists from 'merica.
This first time out at Montana Mountain we decided to aim for one of the longer, more epic loops, and after a big gravel road climb up and a bit of picture taking from high up we dove into McDonald Creek Trail to descend back down to lake level on a fantastic 10km singletrack trail that rolled through almost every ecotype you can imagine. Back down at lake level we traversed back on the singletrack of Circus Jim, getting views of the lake and being chased by angry hissing grouse. Shawna's squeals were a definite highlight that I wish I had captured on video. The day's ride left me with that calm glow and happy feeling that comes from a good hard ride, and determined to make it back to Whitehorse before all the restaurants closed, Katy floored it back to Whitehorse, and we ate and drank local Yukon Brewing beer at the tasty Burnt Toast Cafe. After dinner it was still light, and keen to get in some more ride time we headed out at 11:30pm and rode in the dusky daylight with our only trail use encounter a very large, Strava segment-chasing porcupine on El Camino.
Big climb up and a big smile from Shawna. Next day was a bit grey and rainy, so we lounged over breakfast at Baked and played tourist a bit. The local galleries were chalk full of amazing local works, and it was hard not to impulsively buy sculpted goods and prints. When the skies finally cleared at 4:00pm, it still felt like noon with the sun high overhead, and we headed just south of town to check out the Yukon Riverside trail, Juicy trail, and Girlfriend trail, a loop suggested by various locals. The loop was fantastic, again providing a spectrum of trail types and mesmerizing views. We were having so much fun, we ending up rolling in late to the 24 Hours of Light registration, but no one seemed to mind and were just happy to have us there. We weren't quite ready to call it a day with all the daylight, and with our second ride of the day starting at 8:30pm putting our climbing legs and descending skills to good use, we once more found ourselves looking for supper late, ultimately again ending up at Boston Pizza.
Next to the Yukon river - more buff singletrack.
Never a shortage of views when riding. Katy and Shawna hamming it up.
Saturday, the 24 hour race was scheduled to start at noon, and I volunteered to do the first couple of laps before I learned there was a LeMans start involved. Luckily, it was a very short run of only a couple hundred meters or so, and I headed out relieved to ride some laps. The lap was a good one, although not as enjoyable as the other trails we had ridden thus far, so we decided to each do three or four laps and then take off for a more mellow evening. We returned the next morning to put in some more laps before the race ended at noon, and were humored and slightly relieved to hear we had missed seeing all the naked laps that transpired during the night. Apparently, each naked lap counted as two laps, and I'm convinced this inclusion of naked riding is why the race enforces a "no lights allowed" policy. We stuck around for the awards and wrap-up and all agreed what a super-fun and laid back vibe the event had. Completely different from your standard 24 Hours of Adrenalin vibe, and one that I honestly liked way better. The free barbecue and pancake breakfast were also nice touches, and everyone was friendly and great to talk to and happy to talk about what it was like to live and ride in Whitehorse.
Super awesome vibe at the 24HOL After the ceremonies wrapped up, we couldn't help but to head back to Montana Mountain to experience more of its trails. Once again we peddled up the gravel road, and once again we were rewarded for our efforts with amazing singletrack and views all the way down the mountain. Riding the trails Nares View, Caribou, Beaver, Porcupine, Black Bear, and AlaskaDnD, once more I was astounded by the variety of terrain and different styles of singletrack that could be combined into one area - from buff forest floor to rock slabs to man-made wood feaures, the trails we rode on this last day were singletrack heaven, and I actually remarked outloud in one awestruck moment how boring my life would be without mountain biking. The day finished off perfectly with some super delicious poutine in Carcross at the Bistro on Bennett, where we ogled at the burgers coming out of the kitchen. Definitely getting one of those bad boys next time.
View from Nares View Trail
Katy and Shawna rolling a fun section of Nares View Trail Coming out of Nares View was kinda like descending from heaven.
Shawna shows her skillz on a slab.
It felt like we had barely scratched the surface of all the riding that was in and around Whitehorse, and I wasn't ready to head home. As the plane lifted off, I gazed out the window at the immense landscape, which I now knew to be a mountain biker's paradise, and began secretly scheming how and when I could return to mountain bike mecca.
My trusted steed performed flawlessly on everything the Yukon served up - even at 11:30pm.
Permagrins at Montana Mount
I'll be back to ride you again Whitehorse.
With the Canada Day holiday on a Wednesday this year, it only made sense to make bookend cycling trips to maximize the holiday time. At least that is the perfect justification to take a week off and going mountain biking in Fernie, Coleman and Jasper.
Multi-day stage races has been hosted in Fernie by the TransRockies racing series, Furious 3 and now the Fernie 3, and there is good reason for this as the trails are challenging, varied and right in and around the townsite. Fernie 3 is in its second year, and it has some problems with its inaugural race last year that has been somewhat resolved, but new ones had developed in this year’s race (I will discuss more about this later). I crashed pretty heavily on my left shoulder last year and I was still healing up from a broken right elbow so I was disappointed with my race. I even didn’t start the third day because I felt like I couldn’t ride effectively or safely in my condition. As it turned out, they didn’t count the third day due to most of the field getting lost because of poor course marking. While I actually got a finishing time and placement for the race, it didn’t assuage my disappointment that I abandoned from the race.
This year, I wanted to make amends and have a solid showing at the Fernie3 so I started by getting a bike specifically for the race. I chose the Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt BC Edition because it had the Rock Shox Pike 130mm travel fork that I needed for the long and rough descents in Fernie as the downhill portions is where I lose time. I don’t fancy myself as a climber so this makes me very sad. I put on a set of gossamer Beard built Enve/Tune/Extralite wheels to help with the grueling climbs (F-you HyperVentilation).
With a proper gun heading to a gun fight, Brad picked me up Friday afternoon and headed to Mike V’s house, but we got delayed by a fellow cyclist with a huge bike trailer taking up an entire lane. Was this prescient for things to come this weekend? Anyways, once we were on the road we were surrounded by montage painted RV’s on Highway 2. My favorite one was this Lion King themed portrait on the back of a huge RV going 140km/h. We didn’t get to the condo till 1:00am so instead of going right to bed, we drank beer till 2:30am. How else would you reward yourself after a 6 hour drive in a lowered Subaru Forrester with floodlights attached to the roof.
The first day of racing at the Fernie3 started at The Cedars, which is a new development on the resort side of Fernie, and the reported high that day was 34 C so managing the heat and hydration was paramount. I took a risk and took only one waterbottle with me as I knew there was going to be a lot of initial climbing and there were two aid stations-or so we were told. After the massive dustbowl that was created at the start due to the dry conditions and a twig stuck in my rear derailleur, we started the singletrack climb right away. Perhaps it was the one bottle strategy or the new Giro Synthe helmet keeping me cool, but I felt strong behind Steve Martins. We passed numerous racers who started faster than they should have so I knew we were in the top 20 at that point. At the first aid station, I filled up my bottle and continued on with Neil as he rode by. Similar to the early ride with Steve, we set up a good pace together and caught and passed more racers. The three of us were riding well together, but then came the downhills-my nemesis. This time, while I did lose contact with Steve and Neil, I didn’t lose any spots from racers coming from behind me. The Thunderbolt allowed me to keep my speed up and take the faster, more technical lines. “Blue Thunder” kept me upright and smooth on the downhills without any crashes. I finished the day not getting lost which a significant number of other racers did due to a tricky turn in the Dark Forest trail. Overall, the first day was full of long and steep climbs, and with the heat, it was a day of sadistic attrition where racers had to show their mettle. The big bonus was that the race organizers had free beer at the end of the race; the rest of the day was a blur.
The second day started at the Aquatic Center, and the race organizer promised us more cross-country trails despite starting us up HyperVentilation, which is an infamous switchback climb with a fantastic view that you can’t actually enjoy due to your heart rate hitting its max. But, after the climb, we rode Kush and The Coal Discovery Trail which were fast and flowing and added a fantastic sense of ease during the pain. This is why Fernie is known for their mountain biking trails. Continuing with the sadistic tendencies, just before you hit the finish line, you have to climb Sidewinder up for almost no other reason than for added suffering. Brad was quite upset about the emotional let down of that climb and the boring descent so close to the end, but I was just glad it was the last climb. The second day was significantly more enjoyable than the first day due to the sheer amount of amazing singletrack riding. I got mesmerized at one point in Kush and didn’t go race pace and I kinda didn’t care. At the finish line, most of us were wondering why the race organizer didn’t make the single day racers race the second day instead of the first. There was almost as much elevation, but the course was mostly singletrack instead of the loose gravel trail on the first day and the climbs were more steady.
The third day was like a classic XCO race as the climbs were shorter and the course had some long stretches of flat trail-it was absolutely a pisser of a race. Great steady switchback climbs, flowing downhill, punchy singletrack. It had everything a mountain biker would want. It suited some racers really well as Jason R and Bob W rode with me that day and looked very strong. I was also mesmerized by Bob’s luscious blonde hair blowing in the wind behind him. At the finish line, everyone was very happy with the day as it was the finishing one and the most fun. The race was so fast the times were very close from group to group. We even had some secret beer at the finishing area for those of us in the know.
Without the egregious course marking from last year, people were significantly more celebratory at the end of this year’s race. There were some obvious criticisms that the Fernie3 race organizers should seriously take as sage advice. We were not impressed with the cheap paper number plates and the twist ties they gave us to fasten the plates to our bikes. They didn’t have enough marshals, properly stocked aid stations, ambassadors or EMS on the course. First aid was non-existent at the finishing area, there were no timed downhill sections and they ran out of jerseys. I know that putting on a race is onerous, stressful and ultimately thankless, but hopefully they will make the appropriate changes for next year. The one thing they got right was having free beer at the finishing banquet. Things got slightly out of hand.
We finished the weekend with a guided tour of the Coleman trails by locals Troy and Lance. It was another hot day, but the trails were worth it because they were technical and rough. I didn’t bring enough water or food so I bonked on a very long climb to the top, but thank goodness Trevor is always prepared and saved me from being left in the woods to die.
Now it’s off to Jasper for two days of more climbing and descending.
During the draw prize announcements at this year’s Devon River Raid XC race, the well loved and respected Stu Hutchings from United Cycle and the Devon Bicycle Association was commenting on how he was confused about the difference between Kokanee redbike and redbike racers. He was surely being facetious, but it was a comment I’ve frequently been asked over the past three years since the Kokanee redbike raceteam inception, and I wish to answer that question the best I can.
I’ve known Mike Sarnecki for many years now, but it was not initially related to cycling as most people would presume. He and his lovely wife (who I will refer to as L as she has a complicated Dutch name which I will not attempt to pronounce or spell) would come into my chiropractic office to get massaged from Lorne. He would bring his bike into the office (without asking by the way) and we would talk about bikes occasionally. Of course in due time, we would forge an acquaintance over the next 10 years as I would see him at races and events which he either organized or participated in. As I involved myself with the fledgling redbike cycling club, I started to realize the importance of supporting the sport I love at a grassroots or an organized level. I suppose my dirtbag days of mountain biking in baggy shorts with SNFU T-Shirts just didn’t do enough for me anymore. Club rides, racing promotion and media exposure deemed to me as important aspects of promoting the sport of cycling.
So when Mike S approached redbike and myself with the idea of a collaboration with Kokanee to start a cycling race team, I was both excited and incredulous about the idea of having a corporate sponsor. Sure, I like getting free stuff like everyone else, but would I be guilty of the well-loathed corporate sellout? Am I Wayne and Garth wearing my Reebok sneakers? Will I be coerced to promote a product I don’t believe in? What would Lloyd Dobler say? (Please watch Say Anything if you don’t get the reference)
Mike simply stated that I like beer and I like bikes so lets put those together to race bikes, write about it and hang out. Well, it was more elegant than that, but the essential ideas were there. My concern was the possible exclusion of the redbike club members and racers. I wanted to make it clear that although we will have separate kits (which in my not so humble option are just lovely and tasteful. You should check out our new Synthe helmet and Giro Empire shoes), we would all be considered to be under the redbike banner when it comes to resources and recognition. Mike was acquiescent about my requests and he’s been intensely supportive of the redbike club members and racers at the Tuesday night Fattire races and the ABA races.
What redbike and subsequently Kokanee redbike has turned into these past three years is a group of avid cyclists who wishes to bike together, help others to discover new aspects of cycling, promote cycling at all different aspects and encourage each other to buy new bike shit. Like any other purported family-type group, we’ve had our share of arguments and disagreements. Shantel and I were not too fond with the way we looked in our Hi-Vis Giro helmets as my fat face was exaggerated by the shape of the visor. I looked like Jong Il Kim wearing The Great Gazoo’s helmet. Of course it looks great on Mike and Brad for some reason. We would always argue about who would paint the best arrows on the trail for the Tuesday night races (I drew the best arrows. Suck it Koenig). But this year, to placate us, Mike ordered the new Giro Synthe helmet and the Empire VR90 shoes. He really is a magnanimous leader as he also got us a portable change booth so we can get out of our chamois immediately after racing. I promised everyone that I wouldn’t use it as an outhouse as that would have been a fantastic dual function.
The bottom-line is that if you’ve seen us at races, you would know and understand that we genuinely enjoy each other’s company and that the Kokanee redbike race team is not some fabricated, contrived, insincere corporate team, but a group of buddies who like beer and love cycling. Except for Sheldon; he’s a horrible person.
As I get older, time seems to get more unpredictably relative. Despite the usual overbearing and longwinded Edmonton winter, I found myself going from reveling in the Sedona Red Rock during a February cycling trip to overheating and recovering in the late May sun from the Devon ABA race. I feel like Matthew McConaughey in Interstellar going through that wormhole or John Cusack going back in time in Hot Tub Time Machine; how did three months go by so quickly?
So at this point, I’ve done two ABA races and a handful of local Tuesday Fattire races along with countless redbike group rides and it’s barely June. Hopefully, I don’t sound too dour or unappreciative of the hot and dry weather allowing me hours upon hours of ride time. I do love mountain biking, but under most circumstances I can rely on the occasional rain-out days where I can relax, catch up on some reading, see some of my non-cycling friends, work on my ceramic pottery and dust underneath my bed. Luckily, at Kokanee redbike, we have a great cast of characters who help out with organizing the weekly rides and races so I have been able to keep my semblance of sanity. Barely.