No Rockies, Just Muddies
It all started so well. After a steady road climb out of Elkford, today's stage turned into a great section of single-track that wound its way through the forest. Our progress was only interrupted by the official photographer. Crossing an old wooden bridge on his motorcycle, his front wheel broke the last few slats and the bike was stuck on the bridge. This created a brief bottleneck at the front of the field, and a much longer bottleneck as more and more riders reached the bridge.
Once onto the logging road that took the riders to the first feed-station, the rain began to fall. When it rains in the Rockies, it really rains. With a cold wind in our faces we were chilled to the bone by the time we reached the first check-point. As I pulled my rear brake and crashed into the food table, I realised the pads were down to the metal.
Three teams had already made a break at the front of the field. I was in the chasing group with two American teams as we began the long climb from feed-station one to feed-station two. I decided that the best way to stay warm was to set a strong and steady pace up the climb, which soon left me on my own in "no man's land" between the leading three teams and the chasing group. The remaining 60km of the 101km stage was to prove a very lonely experience. For the next 4 hours I plugged away along muddy logging roads, occasionally interrupted by muddy single-track.
I really missed my partner today. Jon likes to push a big gear along forest roads and the opportunity to sit behind your partner is welcome relief from the elements. Riding along the logging roads from check-point two to check-point three was like riding on a marshmallow. The drag of the mud was evident with every turn of the pedal.
After feed-station three there were three wicked climbs that proved all the more difficult with chain suck in the granny ring and no rear break. While I've ridden many tougher MTB stages in terms of climbing, distance, or technical difficulty, mentally this proved to be the toughest day's mountain biking I've ever encountered. In the battle of mind over body - which was screaming to stop - the mind only just won out. The final descent into Crowsnest Pass came just in time.
For the first time on this year's Trans-Rockies, the post-race organisation left much to be desired. There was no hot water in the showers (later finishers were bussed to the local swimming pool) and there was no hot food (competitors were left to fend for themselves in the local town). After such a tough day in the saddle the prospect of a night's sleep in a wet tent was not especially appealing. One of the benefits of finishing in the top ten each day is that there are still some hotel rooms available. With a good night's sleep I'll be ready to race again tomorrow.
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