Monday, May 15, 2017

Seven Days in Spring, v.2017

Monday, 11:30AM, somewhere on the Prescott Circle Trail in Arizona amidst the desert sage and beardgrass, Willow Creek Reservoir looks like an inviting oasis in the distance.  We're low on water and just 40km into our 100+km day.  Lunches are "cooking" in our backpacks with a rationed pour of water into freeze dried food packs.  We're testing this preparation strategy and hoping they don't spill. In years past we'd all be on an airplane by now, headed home from the race which took place the day before, the Whiskey 50 Backcountry Race.  This year it was the "Kentucky Derby" of mountain bike marathon races, the first of a triple-crown series with a $50k prize, and the most competitive version in our seven years of attending the event.  None of us are in it for the money, which is good since none of us were fast enough to win any.  That said, our legs are punched, but at least it's not important to go fast during our self-imposed Stage 2 of the trip.  We travel for more than just racing nowadays. We travel for mountain biking and seeing the world and bringing our friends along for the ride.  For some of us this is vacation from work, for others it's an evolution away from the height of our competitive careers, and for a couple it's a route towards the next peak.

Is it lunchtime yet? (PC: Patrick Means)    

The author navigating desert rocks 7hrs in...(PC: Patrick Means)

The day finishes atop a 7,000ft mountain overlooking the Bradshaw Mountains and the Finger of Barry pointing out the desert version of ROYGBIV...we slept well that night...

The day before had been a blistering fast race for 50 miles through the desert where I burned 3,000 calories in just over 3 hours...(PC: Joe Lawwill)

 Hot and greasy in the team van, Wicknasty Advetures LLP, President Sneddon looking on in need of a burrito and a beer...(PC: Patrick Means)

Saturday, 2:30PM, Cultus Lake, British Columbia - Before there were trails at Vedder Mountain, BC there was pizza and mountain biking. The year was 1984 and it was the first “unofficial” Canadian MTB Championships, comprised of a group of cyclists from Deep Cove and the BFJCC, including the eventual co-founder of Kona Bicycles.  The winner was Alex Stieda, who would go on to become a 2-time Olympian and, in 1986, the first North American to lead to Tour de France.  The route began in Yarrow and finished near Cultus Lake with après celebrations planned at Beethoven’s Pizza off the Columbia Valley Highway. 

Mark "Donny" Allison with his eyes on the prize...

Today there is still pizza and mountain biking at Vedder Mountain.  Beethoven’s has endured and the trails have evolved.  In fact, the mountain bike community in the Fraser Valley (Fraser Valley Mountain Bike Association) has grown in the last three decades to create a trail system that may be as timeless and pleasurable as a hot slice of pizza pie.  And so on the weekend of May 6-7, 2017, hundreds of cyclists and their friends flocked to the lakeshore for two days of mountain bike racing.  Day 1 was the Vedder Mountain Classic, a historic marathon cross-country race birthed from the original event held in 1984.  Day 2 was the Fraser Valley Enduro, a multi-stage downhill trail race and part of the more recent BC Enduro Cup and North American Enduro Tour.

Role-playing and rolling with no pre-ride in Sunday's enduro.  (PC: James Lissimore)

During the post-race interview on Saturday, I was asked what is special about racing in this part of world.  My on-the-spot answer spoke plainly to the sense of fun, community and great trails that are so abundant in BC.  After the interview I had a further thought.  I’ve only been racing mountain bikes since 1998, around the time when the Vedder Classic went on a 16-year hiatus.  That said, I’ve raced all around the world since then, and have grown up with this sport and lived and breathed its evolution as a core participant.  What’s special about racing in this part of British Columbia is that there is no nostalgia around it.  The heritage and the heroes are still there, some are still fast as hell, all are still stoked, and some even share podiums with their children.  There’s no pretense to riding or racing here, no matter your skill level, and no need to waste time on reflecting on how it used to be, because in BC, mountain biking and racing just is.  It’s a f*@#% good time!

Saturday's XC podium at the Vedder Mtn Classic (PC: Scott Robarts)

So, thirty-three years after the first event, it seemed fitting that a few of us representing the now globally recognized Kona Bicycles brand could collect a few accolades.  It was worth a few extra slices from Beethoven’s, and with specks of Vedder’s loamy trails and pizza grease on my face, I headed home happy and ready for more. 

Brett Tippie asks how many slices of pizza I'll order with the race winnings. (PC: Scott Robarts)

Monday, 6:30PM, on Highway 542 approaching Glacier and a rendezvous with climbing partner Stephen Ettinger.  Bike is loaded with skis and camping gear for a 24-hour Full Moon excursion on Mt. Baker.  Forty miles of my funny-looking shadow rolled by in a quick 2.5hrs.  When work and weather allow, these days come together in the name of adventures, full moons, and good times with friends.  This season the outings aren't all determined by a race schedule. The new evolution of The Kona Bicycle Co. factory team program includes a special ops branch dedicated to good days outside - The Kona Adventure Team! Fat tires, skinny tires, wide bars or curly bars, mountains, beaches, forests, deserts, urban jungles - they all fit in as long as it's about championing an agenda that includes the extraordinary days amidst the ordinary days.

2.5hrs earlier, loaded up for the ride to the mountain.

Baker-bound. Stay seated while loaded (PC: Stephen Ettinger)

As we approached the flanks of Heliotrope ridge the sun had set and we were shrouded in soupy clouds and fog, hopes of a full moon sighting dwindling...

Racing the dark and waiting for the transition to the blue lux of the moon, the fog lifted as we scampered up a steep ridge.  We eventually jumped out of the slushy snow and onto the recently exposed tussock in order to gain elevation as quickly as possible. 

Atop the ridge, the clouds part and the lights of the Fraser Valley twinkle below.  The juxtaposition of the city lights with the remoteness of our spot create a sense of adventurous clandestine escape. We're surrounded by air and snow on all sides as the clouds behind the mountain illuminate as the moon rises over the horizon.  We never actually see the full moon. 

Camp and two cups of micro-ground coffee awaits in the morning after a deep slumber on the ridge top.  Clock is ticking to an approaching weather system, but before that we'll spend the morning farming corn snow up toward Coleman Peak and the Roman Wall.

We're not in Europe anymore...which is where we have spent the last six years (in Stephen's case, the last eight-or-so) during May, competing in the World Cup of mountain biking, chasing boyhood athletic dreams and the top of Abraham Maslow's pyramid. We're better for it, and now we're even better yet for sharing the sun on the mountain together!

Just ripping...(PC: Stephen Ettinger)

and slushing... (PC: Stephen Ettinger)

Why we do this kind of thing...whether deliberately or unconsciously, I believe it's the project of the pyramid, building it, climbing it, repairing it when needed.  From up here, and from some point along all of these sorts of adventures, I believe it's possible to look out upon my own pyramid and observe how my blocks are set.  

From desert to rainforest to snowy mountain, a special week of heavy lifting put a few more bricks on the top of the pyramid.  Soon it will be time to help someone build a new pyramid of their own from the ground up.  I consider this all training for that ultimate undertaking.  To understand that cryptic concept, stay tuned!

Thanks for reading

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