Monday, 6 November 2017

2017 Alberta Rockies 700

Source: Trackleaders

Eleven days after the BC Epic 1000 and I was at the starting line of another race. This one was 740km from Coleman, AB to Hinton, AB.  Kristin drove me to the line at about 6:30 am.  We got some breakfast at the Tim Hortons down the road after a long wait.  The Sinister Six, an ultra-running race was scheduled the same weekend and many of the runners were there for breakfast as well.  We got to the Rum Runner early enough to set up the bike and talk with some of the other riders.  It’s nice to get to know some of the familiar faces at the start.  It seems there are others with the same mental problems of enjoying riding your bike for hours and hours so a lot of the same people do these kinds of races.  The bronchitis I had during the BC Epic seemed to be better for the most part.  I had a small cough, but nothing too serious.  The doctor gave me a steroid inhaler that I took a puff from at the start, but I didn’t use it for the rest of the race.  It didn’t seem to do anything.

Grand Depart at The Rum Runner in Coleman, Alberta

Day 1
We took a group photo and we were off.  I changed my gear ratio to 34:22 because I knew the hills were steep, and there were a lot of them, from my ITT run of the course the previous year. It was going to be an experiment on how slow I was going to be.  On the flats, I would only be able to spin up to about 18-20km/hr, but I should be able to ride all of the hills.  I walked a lot the previous year.  The theory was, if I could stay on my bike most of the race, overall I should be faster. 

Right out of Coleman is a big climb.  Up, and up we rode.  I stayed somewhere near the front and just tried to keep a steady pace.  On one descent, we were speeding down the hill at about 40km/hr.  I looked up and saw a big cloud of dust.  Rabih had flipped over his handlebars and crashed on the gravel at this high speed!  Jonathan and I stopped and helped him pick his stuff up and to see if he was okay.  He had some road rash, but didn’t seem to be in too bad of shape.  He kept encouraging us to go on and keep racing.  It looked like one of the bags on his fork had flipped around and got stuck in his front tire.  His back tire got bent so he was out of the race.  What a shame so early, but it was good he was close to town.  I heard later he got a ride back to Coleman.   I was glad he was okay.

Highwood Pass - the highest paved pass in Canada

The riders spread out as we climbed on the gravel roads toward Highwood Pass.  There was a store at the base of the highest paved pass in Canada so I stopped for a drink and snack.  I didn’t want to stop too long and my plan was just to get water, but the temptation of a sandwich and cold drink was too great on the hot day.  I saw Tim and Katrina leaving just as I rode up and I wondered who was out in front.  I left and started climbing the pass.  The temperature was climbing, but it didn’t seem as hot as the BC Epic the previous week. The views on the climb were great!  At one point near the top some sheep were on the road blocking the oncoming traffic.  They did not seem to care at all that they were right in the middle of the road just standing there blocking all of the cars. Silly sheep.  Richard caught me on the climb and we leapfrogged each other after we crested the pass.  The fast descent was a blast!

At the bottom of the paved pass, the trail went back onto the gravel.  Hot, dusty, dusty, dusty gravel.  There was a fair amount of traffic on the Smith Dorrien Trail all the way into Canmore.  I kept looking back to make sure I wasn’t in the cars' way when they drove past.  Every once in a while I would see Richard up ahead, but I never quite caught him.  The washboards were brutal on this stretch!  At one point near the Goat Creek trailhead I saw a little black bear on the side of the road.  I blew my whistle, but he didn’t even flinch.  He didn’t care about anyone who was around him.  I followed a car down the steep hill into Canmore and got absolutely covered in dust.  It was in my mouth, nose, ears, and eyes.  I was very happy to see the pit stop at Rebound Cycle. 

24-hour pit stop at Rebound Cycle
Photo by @bikepackcan

I had a burger, drink and got cleaned up at the pit stop.  I wanted to make my stop quick, but again, the temptation to take it easy and talk to the people there was too great so I hung around for a bit.  I rode out with Katrina and we stopped at a store on the way out of town to get some food.  The ride out of Canmore to the Ghost Lake campground was all paved and pretty flat.  Katrina stayed with me and I felt like I was slowing her down.  With the easy gear ratio that I chose for the hills, flat pavement was pretty slow going.  We ran into Richard again and he passed us and rode off into the dark.  We got to the Ghost Lake campground around midnight and we were both ready to stop for the night.  We cruised around the campsite and it was full of loud and drunk RV campers.  I didn’t want to stay there since I thought it would be quieter on the side of the road somewhere so I moved on.
Later I found out that Katrina moved on as well since it was too loud and rowdy.  I stopped on the side of the road a few kilometers up and made camp.  It was a hot, humid night and I managed to get a good night’s sleep.  I was in bed by 1am and set my alarm for 4am hoping to get a jump on the other riders.

The bivy spot

Day 2/3
I woke up to a beautiful, clear, foggy morning.  The sunrise was awesome.  The road was pretty flat and paved for the first while and then turned into gravel.  I stopped for water at a creek and Kyle rolled up.  He mentioned that he heard me ride by in the morning and rushed to catch up.  Ugh!  I have to remember to camp ahead of other racers in the future!  We rode the gravel together for a short while and then he started to slowly pull away.  Richard approached from behind as well and started to ride away with Kyle.  Their paces were similar and they ended up finishing the race together. 
I kept plugging along at my pace wondering if anyone else was going to catch us. I knew this stretch was a lot of steep climbs so I was happy with my gear ratio.  It was, however, too easy to stand and pedal.  Whenever I stood, it felt too easy and my speed dropped.  Most of the climbs consisted of sitting and grinding out slow rpm.  The day went on and it got hotter.   Trucks and RVs would pass every so often.  It was nice when they would give a little honk to let me know they were approaching.  I would have a chance to get to the side and let them pass.  Cooperation goes a long way to keeping everyone happy on the road.

At one point in the afternoon on a climb I started to doze off.  I stopped to take a quick nap and thought I would check to see if I had service so I could check Trackleaders.  I did have service and saw that Katrina was only a few kms behind!  That woke me up out of my stupor so no nap needed!  I got on the bike and started climbing again.  I saw Kyle and Richard were a few kms ahead and I wondered if I would catch them.  There was a bit of a break in the climbing and I came into a flatter section.  I was riding into a bit of a headwind and all of the sudden there was Kyle and Richard.  They were on the side of the road getting water.  I happily gave them a wave as I rode by.  When would they catch up to me, I wondered.  After a short while nature started to call.  I was approaching the campsite that I stayed at in 2016 and decided to stop.  Actually, it was more of a necessity than a decision.  I got of the bike and frantically rushed to make a deposit.  I figured Kyle and Richard would pass me, and after I got back on the road, I saw they did when I spotted their tire tracks.  The climbing started up again and for some strange reason I was really enjoying myself.  It must have been the scenery and cooler temperatures later in the day.  I started counting summits to climbs.  I remembered the steepest climbs were south of the North Saskatchewan River so getting past the river was my small goal for the next while. 

After riding for a while, I stopped seeing Kyle and Richard’s tire tracks.  I wondered if I passed them.  It became a game in the dimming light to try to see tire tracks in the road.  Sometimes I thought I did, and others I didn’t.  The doubt was dispelled when they rode up behind me.  They stopped for a few minutes at one point and I rode past.  Just as I got a bit ahead, I heard an expletive and crash.  Richard had gotten his foot stuck in his shoe and fell over.  I looked back and checked if he was okay.  He seemed fine so I kept riding.  I found out later that he was wearing road cycling shoes.  I just got a road bike this summer and the only crashes and scrapes I got were from falling over trying to get out of those tight cleats. 

Richard's stuck shoe

We started the descent to the North Saskatchewan River when it was getting dark.  The road was sandy gravel on switchbacks so it was kind of slow going for a steep descent.  I pulled away from Kyle and Richard and crossed the river.  I was hoping they were going to camp at the campsite there, but as I climbed out of the river valley, they pulled up beside me.  We stayed within a close distance of each other until we reached Nordegg at about 12:30am.  I was happy they were looking for a place to bivy and was wondering if they needed to resupply in the morning.  I brought enough snacks for the whole ride when I started to avoid stopping for resupply so I was good until the finish. 

As I rode down the gravel toward Robb, their lights eventually stopped following me.  I was on my own for the evening.  I didn’t feel too tired for the first while, but after an hour of riding or so, I started to nod off.  My rule is to never ride while nodding off so I stopped for a quick nap on side of the road.  After a five minute nap, I was on my way.  This process continued for the next 3-4 hours where I would need a nap every hour or so.  Staring at a light on gravel lulls me to sleep I guess.  My big light started to blink whenever things got bumpy too.  It might be getting worn out after 1000’s of kms of bumpy roads.  Eventually the sun came up and the road started to get smoother.  With the smoother road came lots of logging trucks.  I had to keep looking back to get out of the way when they came rolling along. 

Then the hallucinations started big time.  I had a few riding in the dark when I imagined someone riding beside me, but they weren’t too vivid.  This time they were very vivid.  I felt alert.  I wasn’t nodding off at all, but I started seeing things in the trees.  Different wooden shacks would appear and I even saw an RV with a guy under his canopy doing something.  Full colour images!  I would stare at them and I knew they weren’t real, but they sure looked like it.  Oh well, just keep riding I would tell myself. 

I stopped to take a quick nap with about 100km to go.  After my nap, I got cell reception and was able to check Trackleaders.  Kyle and Richard were about 40km behind and on their way.  I decided I had better keep moving as much as possible.  I decided to try keeping my riding intensity up and count down the kms.  Keeping my mind busy and heart rate up seemed to work!  I rode the smooth downhill pavement into Robb with no nodding off.  Good thing because I was on a busy highway. 

I didn’t stop at Robb and turned onto the last stretch of gravel to the finish.  The sleep monster hit one more time and I napped for about 10 min in some tall grass.  After that, I was able to continue to the finish.  I kept pushing hard and counting kms.  My knees had started to hurt over the last 24 hours and I was taking ibuprophen every 4-6 hours to keep the pain down.  It’s pretty normal for different things to hurt in this kind of racing so I wasn’t too worried.  Eventually the drugs stopped working and by this point now, my knees were protesting heavily.  Keep moving, almost done.  The road was mostly rolling hills that weren’t too steep so the riding was pretty good.  There was one spot near the end where they were wetting and grading the road which made it soupy and hard to ride through, but it didn’t last long.  I counted my kms until about 15kms to go and then it was all downhill.  I screamed down the road into Hinton happy I was about to be done.  I followed the pink line to the end and then it disappeared.  The strange thing was I was in the middle of the road…somewhere.  I knew the end was at the Hinton Visitor Centre, but didn’t know where it was.  I rode in circles for a while checking Google maps with my phone, but I was too disoriented to figure out where to go for a while.  Eventually I found it and was greeted by my wonderful family.  They drove in that morning to pick me up.  Adam, the first place rider, was waiting as well!  It was great to meet him and awesome that he stuck around (for 6 hours!) to see me finish.  Done!  

The finish line in Hinton, Alberta

2nd place

"Dean the Machine (Daddy)"
Photo by Carlene Anderson

With 1st Place finisher,
Adam Hooson

With Kyle and single-shoe Richard


  1. Excellent write up Dean, fantastic ride! Well done!

  2. Really enjoyed your commentary and pictures Dean. Congratulations on an outstanding ride and Triple Crown season!!! Cheers ... Guy

  3. Thanks Tom and Guy!! I look forward to riding with you guys again in the future!