|Neil's dot still bounces to this day|
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This was the third race in the Canadian Triple Crown: the Hurt’n Albert’n 550 (HA550). The first two races were the BC Epic 1000 and the Alberta Rockies 700 (AR700). Tom DeVries was the first to complete these three races in 2016 and that was my goal this year. My knees took a bit of a beating after the steep climbs in the AR700 and it took a few weeks to recover…mostly. James at Active Physioworks in St. Albert said that I strained my tendons at the front of my quads and they were still sore from time to time. That was my biggest concern for this race. I wasn’t sure how my knees would feel after a big effort. We’ll see!
Justin and Trevor, the organisers, determined the campsite at Beiseker was going to be the start, mid-point, and finish of the race and it worked out great! We arrived the night before the start and were able to catch up with some of the other racers while we set up our tent. They also planned on having a BBQ for the riders after they finished the first loop of about 320km. Squirt the skunk was the start and end point. It was fantastic having a place to park your vehicle for the duration of the race. My family was with me, but there were others that were riding alone. It would be a big relief to finish the race with your vehicle waiting at the end instead of having to shuttle back to the start. We set up our tent and got to sleep. My goal for this race was to be efficient as possible and keep my stopping time to a minimum.
The night’s sleep was pretty good in the tent. There was a moment when a train went rambling by. I heard it from a ways away and it just kept getting louder and louder. It sounded like it was going right through the campsite. In the morning, I saw the tracks and they did go right beside the campsite. Other than that little intrusion, sleep was good. I wanted to sleep well because I planned on riding the whole route straight through. I got up and started getting ready. Justin and Trevor made some wonderful breakfast burritos so I had a couple of those. I got my bike ready to go the night before so I just had to get dressed and eat.
All the racers lined up at the skunk for some photos.
It was good seeing Mike at the start line. I met Mike at the 24 hours of Adrenalin a few years ago and this was his first bikepacking race. He was a strong rider so I knew he would do well.
We rolled out of the campsite on the pavement on a neutral start. It was a chilly, foggy, and very beautiful morning. I had a chance to talk to Adam, who won the AR700 a month or so earlier. We turned the corner onto the gravel and the race was on! Adam took off like a shot! It wasn’t too long that I couldn’t see him anymore. I wanted to ride at a steady pace to stay near the front of the pack, but not too hard to burn out. It was nice, fast riding all the way up to the foothills. I brought enough snacks to sustain me for the whole ride. I was trying to avoid stopping at stores, but when the store at Water Valley appeared in the distance, I succumbed to the temptation of a cold drink and stopped. I also bought some cold water to refill my dromedary in my frame bag. Mike and Ryan were there too. It was a quick stop and we were off again. Ryan left first and Mike and I rode together for a short while until he pulled away on the hills. He is a strong hill climber!
The temperature started to increase and I settled into my “forever pace”. Not too hard, but hard enough that I didn’t feel like I was slacking. As I rounded the corner to turn onto the Trunk 40, I saw Justin and he had some ice-cold Cokes! I happily grabbed one and kept on riding. Best Coke ever! Just after I got the Coke, one of my hamstrings started to cramp. That had never happened before! I had to stop and let it relax. I decided to take some old electrolyte pills I got in Salida on the 2016 Tour Divide. I kept riding trying not to activate the cramp in my hamstring.
I stopped for water at the Waiparous Campground. There was a sign saying the water had to be treated so I put in some tablets. As I continued, my stomach didn’t feel right. Nausea. Another new thing to happen to add to the cramps. Maybe it was the really old electrolyte pills. I knew it would pass eventually so I kept on riding. Lows always give way to highs on these rides. I made sure I kept eating and drinking even though I didn’t feel like it and pushed through the bad feeling. I started to lose energy, but kept on pedalling, although at a slower pace. On the paved section around Waiparous Village, I saw Megan taking pictures. It was nice to see someone who knew about the race and lifted my spirits.
After Waiparous Village, I continued to feel nauseated so at one point, I stopped to take a quick nap to see if that would help. It helped a bit and I felt things were coming around. The organisers left a water cache at a creek and I made sure to take advantage of that. I filled up and continued on, happy that my nausea had for the most part gone away. Low gone, on to the high! The sun started to fall and the sunset was beautiful. Sunrise and sunset are my favorite times during these rides. I approached HWY2 and saw on Trackleaders that Adam and Niels had stopped nearby. I crossed the highway, but didn’t see them as I rode on past the construction and back onto the gravel towards Beiseker. As the darkness set in I saw some strange animals for the area. First was a family of racoons! I didn’t think there were racoons in AB. Then I saw a dark lizard on the gravel. Strange, but cool. I pedalled on waiting for Beiseker to get closer, thinking about the burgers on the grill.
I got to the campsite about 11:30 PM and headed straight to the bathroom to clean up. I felt great, nausea was gone, my face was clean from the sweat, and I was going to have a burger! I stuck around for about half an hour. I stuck my head in my family’s tent and said hello and enjoyed a burger. One regret I have is not having some of Trevor’s microgreens on the burger. He was offering a salad, but I never thought to put the green on the burger until I was back on the road. I found out Adam and Niels had to pull out of the race so I was in second! Ryan had taken off so I was motivated to ride on as quick as I could. I rolled off into the night in good spirits.
As I rode on, the wind started to pick up. It was a SE wind so it wasn’t directly a headwind, but it was a challenge at points. I started to get a bit tired as I do after having a big meal so I laid down at the side of the road for a short nap. It didn’t take long before I felt sleepy again so I had to take a couple more naps over the next couple of hours. After those, I felt more awake. I had cell reception so I was able to check Trackleaders to see where Ryan was. It’s nice to check, but it can also be a distraction that slows you down. That’s what happed to me. Every 20 minutes or so, I would stop and check. I started to force myself to just ride and not concern myself with where Ryan was.
When dawn appeared, I checked Trackleaders and found I had passed Ryan in the night while he slept. I was out front! My mind now shifted to how I could stay there. The wind was getting stronger so when travelling East, it was a big headwind and when travelling North, it was a big tailwind. Since I was on a single speed, I knew the geared bike would be an advantage on the flatter sections with no wind or a tailwind. All I could do was keep moving and be as efficient as possible with stops.
The sun was rising and the badlands appeared. The scenery was cool with the river valleys cutting big troughs through the flatlands. When I rolled into Wayne, I needed some water. I saw a campsite and asked some of the campers where I could find some. They offered bottles, but I wanted to stay true to the rules and find the commercially available water. The stores were still closed, but I found a spigot to fill up with. I filled up, dumped some garbage, refilled the feedbags and was ready to finish the ride. I hoped it was a quick enough stop to stay ahead of Ryan. As I crossed the North Saskatchewan River, and got up on the flatlands, the wind really started to howl. Sometimes it was a nice tailwind, and others, it was a sidewind where I had to lean my bike to go straight. At one point heading to Drumheller, I lost sight of the gpx track. It didn’t follow where the road was. I tried several roads, and ditches trying to find the intended trail, and eventually got back on track.
Off to Drumheller I rode.
I was looking forward to buying some cold water since the temperature was increasing. I stopped in a store and checked Trackleaders. I saw Ryan had taken the highway straight into Drumheller and skipped part of the route. I hoped he was okay. I had mixed feelings. I was happy that I probably would keep the first place position but was enjoying the challenge of staying out front. I accepted the circumstances and kept pedalling on. Along one section, my Etrex was zoomed out a bit far and I found I was riding on the highway when I should have been riding on the frontage road. I turned around and rode to the frontage road to make sure I stayed on course. I wasn’t too far and the day was nice so it was no big deal.
I reached the end of the river valley and started the climb (or walk) up the steep hill to the flatlands again. The home stretch. As I pedalled along I didn’t have that sense of urgency of Ryan chasing me so my mind wandered. The heat increased and I started to feel tired. I had been riding for about 30 hours so I was eager for the race to be over. I was looking forward to having the SE wind become a tailwind, but around noon, the wind changed direction to a SW wind. Now it was a headwind again. Great. All I could do was pedal and wait for the finish to come. I started to get really hot so when I saw a slimy green lake of water, I decided to dip my jersey in it to cool down. I tried to find the least slimy water, soaked the jersey and put it on. It was a nice relief from the heat.
Eventually, I came to the last really long straight stretch of road to the finish. 40km of rolling hills covered in deep, freshly laid gravel. The downhills were nice, but with the loose gravel, my momentum died before reaching the uphill. I had to start pedalling and many times, I was walking the section near the top. Mentally, this was the toughest part of the race. I was tired, the hills never seemed to end, there was a headwind, and I wanted to be done. What else is there to do but keep pedalling…slowly. It felt like the longest 40km of my life. But like every low, it ends. I reached a corner! That meant I was almost done. I upped the pace in excitement of being able to finish the ride. As I approached the finish there was my family and a group of others. So often in these races, the end is anticlimactic with few or no people at the end so this was great! The Triple Crown was done and I actually got a first place finish!
2017 Hurt'n Albert'n 550: 1 day 11 hours, 57 minutes
1st place over all; 1st place single speed
Canadian Triple Crown Men's Record: 7 days 15 hours 35 minutes
|Photo credit: Brian Kennelly|