Cross on the Rock // Topaz Park

September. The month that signals both the coming of cross and the going of summer. Warm, long days had all but faded and the last few months had seemed to inexplicably blown by. Dreams of grand adventure rides with friends, tough training days in the hills, and sunset cruises to the ice cream shop all found a way of escaping me over that period of time. 

Whiskey Creek Back Country - Nicholas Kupiak

Whiskey Creek Back Country - Nicholas Kupiak

Having moved to a more remote area that offered up much different terrain than what I was used to, settling into a new training routine felt difficult or even impossible some days. Pushing aside the worries of my fitness level I focused on the one thing Whiskey Creek was able to offer me. Technical single track and vast gravel roads. These two things filled most of my evenings as I did my best to dial in my bike handling skills and took the opportunity to view some of my surroundings in a different light. Days were calm, evenings were quiet, most meals were eaten under the trees, and my main source of entertainment was the campfire. Perhaps summer didn't entirely blink passed.

Little Mountain (24% grade training hill) - Nicholas Kupiak

Little Mountain (24% grade training hill) - Nicholas Kupiak

Camp Whiskey Foxtrot - Nicholas Kupiak

Camp Whiskey Foxtrot - Nicholas Kupiak

With feverish anticipation Cross on the Rock finally came into sight on the days of my calender. Topaz Park in Victoria was a huge muddy mess of a success last cyclocross season and it was slated to be this years kick-off event. While my technical skills felt progressed my strength and speed were admittedly feeling a little untested going into the first race of the year. No group rides or competitive Strava segments to gauge what level I may be shredding at.

Topaz Park - Nicholas Kupiak

Topaz Park - Nicholas Kupiak

Taking place much earlier this year than last, the venue offered up a completely different style of race while utilizing a fairly similar course design. No rain, mud, unrideable hills, or winter like temperatures. Racers arrived in droves as COTR once again set an attendance record, and the evidence was out on course with every passing lap. What started the day as firm ground began to form into loose climbs and rutted corners.

Topaz Park - Nicholas Kupiak

Topaz Park - Nicholas Kupiak

With this being the first race of the season and no series points being amassed yet a Le Mans start was chosen to give more people an equal chance at getting out front. It. Was. Mayhem. Sprinting along the first grass straight like a little pinball I could feel shoulders, elbows, and others peoples feet colliding with mine until finally my BOA dial got stepped on and I almost lost my shoe. Managed to hop on the bike close to tenth position and finally got my shoe tightened after a few tries. Grinding up loose climbs with an undone shoe on a single speed was just narrowly avoided.

Topaz Park - Nicholas Kupiak

Topaz Park - Nicholas Kupiak

By the time we hit the single-track on the first lap I had moved my way up to sixth place and unfortunately should've made one more pass before then. Following a wheel that didn't know how to negotiate the soft turns resulted in watching the front four competitors simply ride away within the first half-lap of the race. Not ideal but I kept calm until the next area wide enough to pass and I made my move. 

Topaz Park - Andrew Flowers

Topaz Park - Andrew Flowers

After a few laps I managed to bridge up to the leaders with my teammate Felix in tow and I setup shop as fifth wheel, ready to recover and wait. A few positions were changed throughout the following laps but our lead group of five stuck together as I found places to make up ground on them by taking a different line on the single speed. The pace settled as we were joined by a sixth rider, and as I was gaining confidence in my race strategy I tested a new line that would inevitably signal my demise. One slip of the rear wheel forced a gap that I just couldn't close as I kept them in sight for the remainder of the race. Just one corner ahead.

Topaz Park - Nicholas Kupiak

Topaz Park - Nicholas Kupiak

New season, new lessons, and a reminder why I love cyclocross. That constant process of learning from your mistakes.

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BSC x Caste // Saved by the Bell Kit

While most of us were prying ourselves from the warmth of our homes to accomplish those long, cold, wet winter training miles, Broad Street and Caste Projects were busy in the design shed sitting underneath heat lamps, sipping on Capri Sun while dreaming of the summer months. Reminiscing about simpler times, before the digital age consumed our imaginations, when acid wash jeans were a normality, and chairs were meant to be sat on backwards. They concluded that technology had made us a cold, calculated, and hardened society, and decided to do something about this unwarranted seriousness toward what is fundamentally a joyful habit. Riding our bikes and riding them for fun.

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Just in time to begin cultivating those sought out cyclist tan lines, BSC and Caste bring you the Saved by the Bell summer kit. 

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As intended, this kit had my imagination racing. The letters couldn't appear fast enough as I frantically texted photo ideas to our creative director and daydreamed of neon, summer vacation, evenings down at Loser's Loop, and spiked Slurpees. 

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New kit day always creates a euphoric feeling as you set off to ride, knowing you'll encounter some rubbernecking; but this is a kit that looks just as good streaking past in the 53x11 as it does picking up sour candy at the local 7/11. A suit for every occasion.

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Mid-Season Report

If there's one recurring lesson this season, it's definitely the education of perseverance. That constant drive to continue moving forward despite the immediate setbacks you've faced. This season has already had its fair share of small obstacles while settling for results both up and down. Persevering through a multitude of things and applying that lesson to everything from individual laps, to entire race series, has become my theme in the Elite field. It's aided me beyond my original season goals of first a top ten and then a top five finish. With those checked off the list I still wasn't quite focused on riding for a win just yet but when I found myself in good position at Bear Mountain last weekend I acted accordingly. But first we'll quickly touch on some fantastic events put on by great people.

Burnaby Foreshore 2015 // Nicholas Kupiak

Burnaby Foreshore 2015 // Nicholas Kupiak

Over in Vancouver I've managed to attend three more races since I last wrote a race report and each one has felt better than the one proceeding it. After my mechanicals in Cumberland, and running more than my body is accustomed to, I should have taken some serious time to rest. Instead, my training continued as it always does and my legs suffered for a few weeks after that. Burnaby was first up in Vancouver and, despite getting a fantastic start, there just didn't seem to be anything in me to give. Flat legs, sore back, and a surprising lack of confidence. Just finishing Foreshore was a struggle as I walked away with 9th.

Burnaby Foreshore 2015 // Nicholas Kupiak

Burnaby Foreshore 2015 // Nicholas Kupiak

Tugboat Cross in Ladysmith was up next and with COTR having skipped the venue last year I think most of us were excited for a return to the beach. A huge turn out on a very sunny day made for some great racing and spectating on a grueling course. Lots of technical turns in the woods were followed by sand, gravel, and finally a long uphill drag. Each lap you'd have to convince yourself to keep pushing until the very top of the climb knowing that you'd finally get some reprieve through the downhill cornering. Third row call up wasn't ideal, but I managed to find some openings and move through the field quickly in the first lap. 8th is where I finished and it wound up being an incredibly fun race as I battled it out against Sam and Scott. 

Tugboat Cross // Leif Keithley

Tugboat Cross // Leif Keithley

Lots of grass welcomed us the following weekend back in Vancouver with two races slated to take place in the VCXC series. First was Cloverdale Rodeo CX and it was like no other cross race I've done. Incredibly fast, lots of straights, and almost zero elevation gain. Even with a misty, wet morning the grass dried up quickly and left the corners very tacky as it only became quicker throughout the day. 10th place was waiting for me after having my face collide with my own handlebars and worrying that I'd broken my nose.

Cloverdale Rodeo 2015 // Nicholas Kupiak

Cloverdale Rodeo 2015 // Nicholas Kupiak

Vanier Park is one of those races that carries a lot of weight behind it. Of all the races I've done, this is the mainland event I've heard the most about without ever actually partaking in it. Usually a stand alone competition, it was finally included in the Vancouver series for the first time while still being organized by the crew over at Red Truck. More grass, more straights, and more racers. It was obvious that a large group of people had decided to save themselves for only Sunday instead of racing a double header. This left me a little worried about how fresh I was going to feel in comparison, but as the gun went off and we settled into the race it was obvious that I actually felt better than the previous day. Familiar faces surrounded me as I fought it out for 11th.

Vanier Park 2015 // Nicholas Kupiak

Vanier Park 2015 // Nicholas Kupiak

Cross on the Rock gave us our first taste of real mud with the long awaited return to Topaz Park in Victoria. Lots of people spoke highly of this location and being the closest race to downtown made for a really great atmosphere. One of those events that passersby could stumble into and hang around at after, becoming intrigued by this strange form of cycling. With the land use restrictions given I think Trek Pro City really made the best with what they were permitted and gave us a seriously fun course. Surprisingly, I was handling the slick surfaces much better than I expected to and nabbing a 10th place finish after two bike changes and a weird pit wheel felt like a success.

Topaz Park 2015 // Nicholas Kupiak

Topaz Park 2015 // Nicholas Kupiak

Topaz Park cleanup // Nicholas Kupiak

Topaz Park cleanup // Nicholas Kupiak

Mahon Park is another annual location for VCXC and I'm glad to have had the opportunity to speed around this venue as it sounds like some park upgrades might be the end of its future CX use. It was an interesting race for me because my legs finally felt great, but I could not for the life of me figure out how to corner quickly on the gravely sand that made up a majority of the course. My road speed was evident on each straight, but whenever we'd reach that sand I'd watch my competitors distance me ahead and accordion back to me from behind. Being held up by a few early crashes was the biggest of my frustrations as I watched the usual riders I contend with open a gap on the group I was in and I had to settle for 17th. 

Mahon Superprestige 2015 // Nicholas Kupiak

Mahon Superprestige 2015 // Nicholas Kupiak

Last, but definitely not least, on this accidentally long list is Bear Crossing. I geared up to race my SSCXWC Romax for the first time on a fast, punchy course through the driving range on Bear Mountain. By no means did I have an accident free race as I flew over the bars exiting the sand, almost lost my bike over the barriers, and let myself get gapped by the leaders while following slower wheels. As I did when I used to play hockey, I brushed myself off and got back in the play each time before our front group remained intact for the last few laps. 

Bear Crossing 2015 // Leif Keithley

Bear Crossing 2015 // Leif Keithley

Having never spent any time that close to the front of a COTR race I really had to convince myself not to attack early despite feeling strong and able. Smart had to be the key factor in my riding and after testing out a good passing point earlier in the race my body jumped at the opportunity as Drew opted for the same last lap move. He took the outside of Raph, I shot straight through the inside and narrowly beat them both to the climb. I overshot the first corner after the crest, but hoped that if I kept the power down I could leave them behind me. Most of the remaining turns were a little bit of a blur, but thankfully my continued effort managed to hold my charging competitors at bay until I could finally see the line. I fist pumped, screamed a bit, and honestly couldn't believe the company in which I had just raced. Experienced competitors whom I've looked up to since starting with Cross on the Rock. I always wondered if I could arrive at their level someday. 

Celebratory Hydration // Leif Keithley

Celebratory Hydration // Leif Keithley

Brodie SSCXWC Edition Romax

If you live in the Pacific Northwest and race CX then you're probably already aware of the Single Speed Cyclocross World Championships taking place in Victoria this November. Thanks to some great work by the boys from Naked and their compatriots Drew and Andrew they managed to secure the event almost one calender year ago at the 2014 edition of the race. Slated to take place at one of my favourite COTR venues, I knew that looking into a SS build would finally be on the horizon for me. 

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Single speed cross bikes have intrigued me  for their pure and simplistic nature since first taking up the discipline a few years ago, with hopes of putting one together for both racing and running around town. It wasn't until SSCXWC got announced that I knew I couldn't wait any longer. Just as the metaphoric wheels began to turn I got a text from Matt and we met that same cold, rainy spring evening inside a weird Irish pub in downtown Nanaimo. 

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Brodie had decided to put out a limited edition frame for the prestigious partying ev.... I mean racing event and after being very apparent about the love for my Ti Romax they wanted to know if I'd have interest in a single speed version of the bike. With sausage casing stuck between my molars and mashed potato in my beard I gave a very enthusiastic, "YES!". Receiving this information so early in the year also gave me the opportunity to finally build up a truly brand new and custom bicycle. My Ti version was close but there were a few parts that were brought over from past bikes to get it complete in time for race season.

Onto the Shred Vessel!

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Utilizing 7046 Kinesium Aluminum instead of Titanium has already proven to make for an incredibly stiff ride, but in all the ways you'd like a bike to be rigid. My usual "grind it out" style of cadence selection is complemented well by such a characteristic, as the bike feels very responsive to any watts thrown at the pedals. A useful feature after exiting out of the slower technical turns when it's time to pick up the pace for a straight. Zero flex. This iteration of Romax also happens to have internal cable routing which has already become a highlight in my eyes as it doesn't matter how awkwardly I grab it for a run up, I'm never worried about fubbing my cable tension.

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TRP was selected for the fork and braking system as they've recently released their carbon disc front end. Not only is the fork colour matched to the frame but it shares the tidy cabling theme of the Brodie as it internally routes the hydro hose through the rear of the left blade. If you decide to use the TRP levers my only suggestion would be to size down the length of your stem since the hoods are much longer than anything I've used in the past.  An interesting design choice, but the added real estate seems to offer a more secure hand grip while really laying into the throttle. Confidence inspiring.

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Constantly wanting to show support for local builders, just as they show support for GRADIENT as a project, I reached out to a friend who had decided to take his passion for wheel building to the next level. Repechage Wheel Works is the name and as someone who wrenches for humans way faster than me including his better half, he knew what I was after more than I did. The result was a 45mm deep, 25mm wide disc specific carbon rim that would be set up for tubeless riding. Purple Thru Axle Hope Pro 2 Evo hubs were laced to the hoops in anticipation for an outlandishly bright build. These wheels will be getting their very own write up in the coming weeks so stay tuned.

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Everything else was chosen to set the new bike up as closely to my Ti Romax as possible leaving them indistinguishable while pitting mid race at both COTR and VCXC events. Completing the project includes parts from 3T, Thomson, Fizik, Shimano, and SRAM.  The final build definitely got a little out of hand as the outcome became so much more than a single speed grocery getter, and instead evolved into a full on race ready cyclocross bike, a World Championship caliber SHRED VESSEL!

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Parts Break Down

  • Frame: Brodie SSCXWC Edition Romax
  • Fork: TRP Carbon Thru Axle Disc
  • Hoops: Repechage Wheel Works 45
  • Hubs: Hope Pro 2 Evo
  • Tires: 700x33 Specialized Tracer (Tubeless Ready)
  • Crank: 170mm SRAM Force CX1
  • Chainring: 38t Blackspire SnaggleTooth n/w
  • Chain: KMC 8spd w/ quicklink
  • Cog: 17t Surly
  • Pedals: Shimano XT
  • Levers: TRP Hylex
  • Calipers: TRP Hylex
  • Rotors: TRP
  • Post: Thomson Elite
  • Saddle: Fizik Antares
  • Bar: 3T Erganova
  • Stem: 3T Arx II Team 90mm / -17d

Build made possible by:

Brodie Bikes | Repechage Wheel Works | Broad Street Cycles | _meat_ | CURBWZRD  

Season Opener(s)

Last year I was lucky enough to write about every COTR event, and not only did it allow me to share my own perspective of how my race unfolded but the post reflection opened my eyes to some major lessons that I'd be able to apply in the next race. This season I will be aiming for a similar format, but with each post I will be including two weekends instead of one. Thanks to some great scheduling, we as racers have the opportunity to compete in both Cross on the Rock and VCXC this year as every competition is on its own weekend. Our trips south of the border last fall for double headers were a lot of fun and filled our quiet weekends with exciting new people and places, but I'm not sure my wallet appreciated the memories as much as I did.

Aldor Acres / VCXC - Matt Lazzarotto

Aldor Acres / VCXC - Matt Lazzarotto

With the season introduction out of the way, it's on to the first race report of 2015 which takes us to Aldor Acres in Langley, British Columbia. Like COTR, the Vancouver series has a number of annual venues and I'd definitely seen photographs from years passed which made the course seem similar to what we race here on the island. Once on location and having my pre-race lap out of the way, that sentiment was a little true and a little false which left me very intrigued to see which of my strengths would come to the fore. 

Aldor Acres / VCXC - Nicholas Kupiak

Aldor Acres / VCXC - Nicholas Kupiak

Aldor Acres / VCXC - Nicholas Kupiak

Aldor Acres / VCXC - Nicholas Kupiak

We set off shortly after noon as the second race of the day with 18 starters and only a couple familiar faces in the field. Two from home, two from road provincial championships, and one from the top step of every cross race I've seen him at. Craig took the holeshot into the first corner without much of a fight and along the second straight most riders formed into a pace line, content to grab a wheel. Instead of sitting in I continued my acceleration and used my extra speed to move up the field along the more rutted surfaces. Once we dropped into the back section I had placed myself in the sixth spot and was prepared to sit in and see how the race unfolded. 

Aldor Acres / VCXC - Nicholas Kupiak

Aldor Acres / VCXC - Nicholas Kupiak

Throughout the next few laps the front of the race spread out as racers put in digs to get some distance between other competitors. My legs felt good and with each acceleration I was able to pass the rider ahead of me and jump to the wheel of whomever was upping the pace. By the fourth lap I finally decided to make my own attack which would mean finding my own speed to ride at since Richey had left us all behind long ago. Once on my own I found a rhythm and slowly opened up my lead over the chasers while leaving a little bit of regret in my mind as to why I hadn't attempted to hold Craigs wheel right from the start. At this point I still wasn't entirely confident that I was in second place but after some course side confirmation from Parker (He unfortunately flatted on the first lap), I knew all that needed to be done was to keep steady. 

Elite Mens Podium - VCXC

Elite Mens Podium - VCXC

After taking 2nd place on the mainland I admittedly headed for Cumberland with an unwavering confidence. My handling skills had come a long way from last year and I was excited to see how I'd do in familiar territory. The Waverly CX Crit was the first test of the weekend as a large group of Expert Men and Women peeled rubber off the line in an obviously false start. It left me pretty far back off the gun but I think my smile was bigger than the gap to the front.  

CX Crit - Nicholas Kupiak

CX Crit - Nicholas Kupiak

CX Crit - Nicholas Kupiak

CX Crit - Nicholas Kupiak

UROC does so much for the cycling community and this event is such a fantastic way to kick off cyclocross on the island. Before you began to take the race too seriously you're suddenly riding through a pub, along the dance floor, and flying out the front door. Pure fun lap after lap for a quick twenty-five minutes and the costumes made for some interesting heckles. Once the dust settled I had managed to move up the field to 3rd place behind two well known competitors, Justin Mark and Parker Bloom. Arms were raised, food was eaten, and drinks were had shortly after the course was torn down as we all relaxed in preparation for Coal Cross the following morning.

CX Crit

CX Crit

CX Crit - Nicholas Kupiak

CX Crit - Nicholas Kupiak

Three words could easily describe how the true season opener went for me.

Holeshot. Puncture. Jogging.

Getting a good jump off the line put me right out front as we rounded the first corner to the base of the climb and as I put the power down out of the saddle I felt it. That disgusting feeling of nothing but rim underneath me. Disbelief struck like a ton of bricks as I cursed and pulled to the side. My shoulder then greeted the bike with fresh arms as they knew it would be a long day together. It wasn't until the third lap that I finally got to mount my own bike again and with teeth caked in dust I bit the bullet and hammered away.

Finishing a lap down was inevitable on this day but once the results were posted I was able to find some positivity amongst all the frustration. Within the final five laps on my Romax I was able to claw back 17 positions and was still gaining by the end. A great performance in my own mind and further proof that I've come a long way since last season as I caught up to and passed the riders I used to battle against. On to Burnaby.

Photo Albums:

Matt Lazzarotto - VCXC | Patrick Burnham - CX CritPatrick Burnham - COTR

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Cyclocross on Hornby Island

Island hopping is a big reason why Gradient ever began, and somehow this is my first post about doing just that. Within a two-hour drive from my house are more than ten different islands waiting to be explored by any means. Some of these land masses are better than others for riding, and Hornby in particular is where the mountain bikes go. Conquering the Saltspring Triple Crown has always been in the back of my mind as a must-do trip, but with trails beckoning, I opted for Hornby. 

On short notice I sent off a few e-mails about places to ride and stay if making it to the island was a possibility for the coming weekend. The local bike shop was advertised as closed until February, but that didn't stop Owner/Operator Lucie Lemay from getting back to me in a prompt manner with trail information. With the excitement of knowledge guiding me, it was on to lodging. Thankfully Shayle and Sanae came to my rescue with a last-minute booking of their Yellow Plum Cottage through Airbnb and I was all set. Aside from these two things, I decided just to let the weekend happen without much planning.

Yellow Plum Cottage // Hornby Island, B.C // Nicholas Kupiak

Yellow Plum Cottage // Hornby Island, B.C // Nicholas Kupiak

Yellow Plum Cottage // Hornby Island, B.C // Nicholas Kupiak

Yellow Plum Cottage // Hornby Island, B.C // Nicholas Kupiak

The cottage itself was divided into three cells and, after spending a weekend, the layout really began to grow on me. In the main structure, a bedroom, kitchen, and living area were all housed, while an additional bedroom and bathroom each had their own out building just a few steps away. This format really allowed for a weekend away with friends, but offered the luxury of a little privacy if needed.

Despite being on my own and not needing any additional distance from peers, the dislocated bedroom was calling my name. It's large comfortable bed was perfect recovery after a terribly rainy and cold Saturday ride. Aesthetically, the cottage was exactly as I expected for being on Hornby: unique build features and small homely touches, all while offering a huge backyard and any amenity you might need.

 

Yellow Plum Cottage // Hornby Island, B.C // Nicholas Kupiak

Yellow Plum Cottage // Hornby Island, B.C // Nicholas Kupiak

With check-in time being 3:00pm I decided that I'd arrive on the island early enough to grab coffee, a map, and get my first ride underway. Armed with the suggested trail names I plotted a course for what I hoped would offer me a little of everything. A casual road start to limber up the legs, followed by a more inviting wide open trail before pulling up my big boy shorts and ascending Mount Geoffrey using some single track.

$5.00 Trail Map from Gas Station // Hornby Island // Nicholas Kupiak

$5.00 Trail Map from Gas Station // Hornby Island // Nicholas Kupiak

Defining something as a mountain bike trail is a process that's open to interpretation. Comparing the definition to places I've ridden left me a little weary as to what I'd encounter on the island and if my handling skills would be up to the task. The only certain thing I knew was that my favourite MTB trail memories always coincide with physical features. If I cleared a section of rock smoothly or if I finally found the proper line through a loose chicane. With these thoughts in mind, my personal definition would revolve around obstacles. 

Outer Ridge Trail // Hornby Island // Nicholas Kupiak

Outer Ridge Trail // Hornby Island // Nicholas Kupiak

Climbing into the fog that worry quickly dissipated as the trails ahead of me were remarkably smooth and only became technical if approached with speed. In a spat of disbelief, I spent most of the first hour anticipating my first dismount and expecting some form of epic rock jump or root bonk. That moment never came. In fact, the entire first ride was smooth sailing aside from needing to check the map at every trail marker to ensure I was headed in the right direction.

Four Dead Aliens Trail // Hornby Island // Nicholas Kupiak

Four Dead Aliens Trail // Hornby Island // Nicholas Kupiak

Clouds were sitting up around the 150-meter mark which meant cycling around the summit trails didn't offer any sort of scenic views, but eerily calm forests instead. With no wind and fog so thick it appeared to flow like water around my streaking presence, all senses began to dull. Nothing moved or made a sound as I was alone on the trails this day just taking my time and setting up photographs. The dense haze also offered protection from anyone who may have a fear of heights, as the Outer Ridge Trail kissed the steep mountain edge numerous times and all that could be seen below was a blanket of white.

Outer Ridge Trail // Hornby Island // Nicholas Kupiak

Outer Ridge Trail // Hornby Island // Nicholas Kupiak

When I finally broke through the bottom of the cloud cover things were so clear and vibrant that I thought vertigo might set in. Suddenly the forest had depth and life again as the trail ahead of me twisted into the distance.

Inner Ridge Trail // Hornby Island // Nicholas Kupiak

Inner Ridge Trail // Hornby Island // Nicholas Kupiak

Lazily I made my way back to the cottage for check-in after a successful first day on the trails. It wasn't long after getting settled that the sky shifted from a light drizzle to a full downpour that lasted the duration of the night. Listening to the rain dance on the roof was calming and after a long day of travel, bed engulfed me quickly.

Central Road // Hornby Island // Nicholas Kupiak

Central Road // Hornby Island // Nicholas Kupiak

Clear skies greeted me in the morning and my make shift drying set-up had all of my kit toasty for a new adventure. The effects of heavy rain weren't immediately obvious as I started with a few small road sections, but once I turned onto the trails it hit me like a bucket of water. (That bit might have to do with riding through a puddle up to the hubs of my wheels, but that's beside the point.) What was once trails had become small creeks as any liquid rushed towards the easiest way down the mountain. Without discouragement I pressed on and hoped it wouldn't last long as I set my sights on higher ground.

Summit Trail // Hornby Island // Nicholas Kupiak

Summit Trail // Hornby Island // Nicholas Kupiak

Wind had accompanied the rain over night bringing down lots of debris on the trails. Mostly just small branches of pine, and, on the odd occasion, full trees had fallen across their neighbouring paths. Shouldering practice wasn't quite what I had in mind, but it was all part of the adventure as I carried on. Pun intended. 

Test Tube Trail // Hornby Island // Nicholas Kupiak

Test Tube Trail // Hornby Island // Nicholas Kupiak

After a second full day of riding I could easily see myself returning to Hornby for trip after trip on my cyclocross bike. Bringing a mountain bike to the island does make sense and I can understand how much fun it would be, but if all you're working with is a CX bike, it's more than enough. Descending from the summit on the second day I even found myself on a trail that was deemed difficult with the name of "Devils Kitchen" by accident, but was able to handle the steep slopes just fine with a bit of extra care. 

Ford Cove to Shingle Spit Trail // Hornby Island // Nicholas Kupiak

Ford Cove to Shingle Spit Trail // Hornby Island // Nicholas Kupiak

I didn't manage to cover every single trail and I'm sure there's some places with increased difficulty, but I didn't find them. Perhaps that isn't what makes this such a destination for cyclists. Nothing huge or epic to ride, but instead just fast, clean, and fun trails. 

View from Middle Bench Trail // Hornby Island // Nicholas Kupiak

View from Middle Bench Trail // Hornby Island // Nicholas Kupiak

Cross on the Rock // Series Finale

When the opportunity came up to volunteer at the final cyclocross race of the series I couldn't say no. The people behind the scenes for Cross on the Rock put in so much hard work and do an incredible job with every event. Handwritten statistics converted to digital results get online within a few hours of the last cyclist crossing the line, set-up and take down seems to be the work of CX wizards, as there's never any sign of course work being done the day of, and most importantly these superstars all find the energy to race, too. With all of that in mind, it was a no-brainer to get my hands dirty. One advantage we had over the other venues was the ability to set-up the day before rather than the morning of. Getting to see a concept turn into a physical course was a much more creative process than I had imagined as stakes were hammered, pulled back out, re-imagined, and hammered once again. One valuable lesson I walked away with is how weak my arms actually are after spending close to half an hour pounding metal rebar into the firm parking lot ground to create a start chute. Note to self: Improve Arm Watts.

My Little Pony Cross 2014 // photo: Nicholas Kupiak

My Little Pony Cross 2014 // photo: Nicholas Kupiak

We received the aforementioned rain over night, but the skies were clear by sunrise and the course conditions were pretty ideal. Deep sticky mud, hard packed trails, rutted firm grass, loose gravel, sand that would have built the best castle, and warm enough weather for short sleeves. Factor in the soul-sucking straights that connected all of these sections and we were in for a true test.

The parking lot filled up a little more slowly than usual, which is why I was surprised to find out we surpassed the previous years attendance by close to one hundred entrants. Hearing a statistic like that made any work I put in feel worth it and gave me a little insight as to why the series' organizers might be willing to do what they do year in and year out. If it's not clear yet, I'm trying to say thank you to everyone who puts on these awesome events as they've been the highlight of this years race calender. 

My Little Pony Cross // photo: Nicholas Kupiak

My Little Pony Cross // photo: Nicholas Kupiak

My Little Pony Cross 2014 // photo: Nicholas Kupiak

My Little Pony Cross 2014 // photo: Nicholas Kupiak

Podium positions for the overall standings were still mostly undecided in the categories which really ramped up the excitement of watching each bout before we took to the course. Doughnut hand-ups accompanied me to the venue and, making them a higher priority than my own nutrition, I regrettably forgot to bring my bag of food. Racers too fixated on their own result blew passed the delicious pastries without even a glance leaving much of what I arrived with intact. What a unique opportunity I suddenly had before me, can mini-crullers power a cyclist to a personal best placing? With my race soon approaching, I "fueled" up.

My Little Pony Cross // photo: Nicholas Kupiak

My Little Pony Cross // photo: Nicholas Kupiak

Earlier in the week my chain broke during an interval session and it continued to do so in the days following. Six times over four rides as I waited for Broad Street Cycles to arrive on race day with a new chain for my Romax. Cutting it close, and I somewhat paid for it as the chain skipped from cog to cog throughout the holeshot leaving me hesitant to put the power down. Despite this I found a good position and rhythm once the race settled in pitting me against a similar group to the Shawnigan Lake race. 

My Little Pony Cross // photo: Patrick Burnham

My Little Pony Cross // photo: Patrick Burnham

The four of us traded positions constantly throughout each lap as it seemed we all had different strengths on such a course. Racing with competitors so closely really animated the race for me as we all reacted to any slight mistake the leader at the time would make. I saw an opportunity with three laps remaining and tried to open a gap as we hit the muddy section but the added speed led to a mistake on my part opening the door for two of them to ride away.

My Little Pony Cross 2014 // photo: Patrick Burnham

My Little Pony Cross 2014 // photo: Patrick Burnham

At this point it was down to Trevor MacKenzie and myself as we kept our heads down and hoped to catch back up to our earlier compatriots. We pushed hard but once I knew the race was between the two of us with one lap remaining I admittedly got a little intimidated. If you know him then you're well aware of his daunting stature that just kind of screams "power". The last thing I wanted was for it to come down to a close race since Trevor looks like he could outsprint a horse. Once again it was the mud where I bobbled, and a quick dismount had me off and running. The light was low at this point in the afternoon and I could see my mistake had forced him off his bike too as his long shadow ran behind mine. Slowly the figure started to fade out of my peripheral and I knew I could hang on until the end.

Until next year.

Event Galleries:

Patrick Burnham - flickr

Lorne Collicutt - facebook

Dee Montie Zurek - facebook

Cross on the Rock // Ronde Van Hogwarts

It's difficult not looking forward to a race venue that brought you your best result in a previous season. Shawnigan Lake School played host to the series finale last year where double points were on the line, and after just three previous races I came through with my best finish of the season. Though the school wasn't chosen to close out the year this time around, the good memories tied to the event had me excited, albeit nervous since I was racing in Expert this year.

Ronde Van Hogwarts 2014 // photo: Nicholas Kupiak

Ronde Van Hogwarts 2014 // photo: Nicholas Kupiak

Earlier in the week most of the area had been battered by windstorms, knocking out power, downing trees, and diminishing the potential of a similar course to last year. Even with these factors, the same formula seemed to present itself into a comparable circuit utilizing long power straights, a dip through a creek, muddy off camber, tight woodland trails and a long dirt descent pushing race speeds over 50km/h. That last factor might be the closest I'll ever come to feeling like a mountain biker.

Ronde Van Hogwarts 2014 // photo: Nicholas Kupiak

Ronde Van Hogwarts 2014 // photo: Nicholas Kupiak

It was raining in Nanaimo as we left in the morning but the sun didn't take long to show itself after leaving the city limits. Cloud cover and sun swapped places throughout the day while the rain withheld and left the course in an almost stagnant state for the duration of our race. A few ruts formed and lines became evident, but the messy bits didn't get much worse as it had in past races when the sky was falling.

Ronde Van Hogwarts 2014 // photo: Nicholas Kupiak

Ronde Van Hogwarts 2014 // photo: Nicholas Kupiak

The race start was a congested one and the loose gravel seemed to throw people from side to side unexpectedly. Before the race even started I had already planned to run as early as possible after the hole shot corner, which I think offered me great benefit once put to practice. Passing numerous cyclists opting to slog through the deep mud pushed me into the top twenty almost immediately and once I remounted it was just a game of closing each gap ahead of me.  

Ronde Van Hogwarts 2014 // photo: Nicholas Kupiak

Ronde Van Hogwarts 2014 // photo: Nicholas Kupiak

A few of the descending corners were fast and transferred through a multitude of surfaces while on edge. Those were the only things on the whole course I couldn't really find comfort in. Once the race had settled into its paces I found myself battling amongst a few racers who I knew were strong, and just being there gave me confidence in the race I was having. On a course like Shawnigan it was evident where each riders' strengths lay. Long straights and stair run-ups helped me close any gap that would form over the technical portions of track. Following the wheel of a mountain biker into the fast corners gave me a great show as he slashed his back tire into the loose dirt that welcomed our tires halfway through each bend.

Ronde Van Hogwarts 2014 // photo: Nicholas Kupiak

Ronde Van Hogwarts 2014 // photo: Nicholas Kupiak

By the end there were two positions I knew I could have closed but thanks to all the running tactics, my pedals had finally clogged with enough mud to prevent clipping in. With only a quarter lap left I had to watch them ride away from me as I kicked my pedals anxiously to dislodge the wet earth. In comparison to some contestants out there this was incredibly minor in terms of "mechanicals" and I didn't let it dampen my spirits. I'd had a great race, competing head to head against some great cyclists who just last year I was photographing from the sidelines. With only one race remaining in the series I've felt improved after every showing and only have one more goal to meet for my first season in Expert. Once again double points will be up for grabs and encouraged is an understatement.

Ronde Van Hogwarts 2014 // photo: Nicholas Kupiak

Ronde Van Hogwarts 2014 // photo: Nicholas Kupiak

Ronde Van Hogwarts 2014 // photo: Amanda Oliver

Ronde Van Hogwarts 2014 // photo: Amanda Oliver

Ronde Van Hogwarts 2014 // photo: Amanda Oliver

Ronde Van Hogwarts 2014 // photo: Amanda Oliver

Adventure Week

When plans fell through for a road trip to Nationals, my adventure wheels started turning. The local race scene took a break on the same weekend in case any usual entrants might be making the trip to Winnipeg, so there was no need to prep for an impending race. Training intervals were stuffed into the black duffel that contains my race lycra, and baggier casual shorts were pulled out with a head full of anticipation. 

I'll admit to frequenting the same loops in recent months as I've been attempting to carry form through the end of road season and into the cyclocross months. Routes that pass over concrete and dirt, through thick trails and open fields. Along these little strips of path I quite often come across side shoots or even full forks in the road, yet never seem to make the turn. With ambitious plans for the weekend, I decided that the next few days would be the perfect opportunity to dive in head first.

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Day 01: I loaded up the pack with anything heavy that I could find to test riding comfort with such bulk. Climbed into the clouds to get an idea of what the added weight might do to my ascending abilities.

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Day 02: Similar pack load, but I took on some trails that were a little more technical in nature. Even without a bag I'm still working on my single track handling skills, so the learning curve felt a tad steep.

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Day 03: Attempted to connect every short trail I knew of in the Northern end of Nanaimo. Combining paths I've discovered on my own with those that were taught to me last winter.

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Day 04: Took it pretty easy with the main ride waiting for me the following morning.

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Day 05: As a precaution I decided to wear two waterproof jackets with the intention of keeping myself warm. Never did I think I'd be calling upon both layers to actually keep rain out.

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Precipitation continued to fall and there were major portions of trail that I could only walk the bike through. Wet moss living on wet rocks turns out the be a slippery combination.

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After three hours in the rain, my camera began showing signs of water damage as the focus started to soften, the burst mode took on a life of its own, and my rear LCD shone a corrupted card message I'd never seen before. Without hesitation I shut everything down and stuffed the equipment safely into the confines of my pack where the interior was still bone dry. 

Trying to keep the idea of a ruined camera out of my mind, I continued on the trail I'd chosen in hopes of knowing where I was going. It only took an additional fifteen minutes to finally emerge out of the dense brush onto familiar roads and Timberland Lake sitting in the distance. Giving myself a much needed lakeside break allowed me a mental breath as the calm water pinged with rain drops and resonated like pennies falling from pockets. Not a soul was around and the only sign of past life was the bright pink spray paint in an accusatory fashion labelling the trees "sluts". My faith in humanity is now restored... 

Shortly after departing from the lake I came around a corner to see a man and his dog in the distance. On closer inspection I noticed that running across his biceps and shoulders sat a rifle. He strutted down the centre of the service road as if crucified to the firearm while his waist high wolf dog circled him. Thinking it best to warn him early of my presence, I called out with a jovial, "Hello!", and watched the figure spin and point the barrel straight at me with the confidence bestowed upon a comic book villain. 

A second passed that felt like ten before he pointed the gun towards the sky with the same speed he had turned the gun on me. He let a long sigh of relief out as he began to say he thought I was a speaking buck. Slowly I started to roll in his direction again with a slight grin as if I hadn't just soiled my bibs. Once next to him I asked about the area just to make sure I was on the right track and we spoke for quite some time. A kind man, just out to retrieve his hat from the day before when a cougar got between him and his belongings. Reasons for carrying a rifle began to make more sense as he described the large population of oversized cats in the region.

The conversation turned to my own reasons for being out on such a day, and as I told him that I'd ridden all the way from town his brows seemed to perk. One quick scan of my attire and bike choice lead to the remark, "You fully intended to be out here. In this kind of weather... In no way did you get trapped in this weather like most would think. Right?!". He goes on to inform me of his past mountain bike exploits on those very trails, getting his first bike with suspension, and that he also had a great touring bike waiting for him in the garage. Listening to a stranger reminisce about such happy memories and having him compare them to my own adventures reminded me of why I keep working on this blog, and what keeps inspiring me to seek new roads. A refresher I didn't know I needed. 

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Day 06: Worked out the mechanicals from day five and after letting my camera sleep in a rice bath it came back to life. It's still doing some odd things, but it's usable. Sunday also turned out to be a beautiful day.

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If you find yourself in Nanaimo looking for routes, here's the links to each adventure day.

Day 01 - STRAVA

Day 02 - STRAVA

Day 03 - STRAVA

Day 04 - STRAVA

Day 05 - STRAVA

Day 06 - STRAVA

 

 

Cross on the Rock // Bear Crossing

Two things come to mind when you hear "Bear Mountain", and neither of them have anything to do with cycling. Most people will tell you of the world class golf course, or five star resorts that reside in this scenic area of Victoria. A location that tends to draw in a very specific type of human, and I don't think any of us quite fit the description. With back to back weekends of cycling events being held in the hills of the driving range, there's a hint of change in the air and hopefully another reason for the prestigious mountain to be brought into conversation.

For most of the week leading up to Bear Crossing, rain had been dominating the forecast and it almost looked like it would hold through the weekend. Saturday arrived, and so did the sun as it dried up the course leaving it slightly tacky with no trace of dust. 

Bear Crossing 2014 // Victoria, B.C. // photo: Nicholas Kupiak

Bear Crossing 2014 // Victoria, B.C. // photo: Nicholas Kupiak

Cross on the Rock is known for its slightly unconventional course design, pitting it's racers through barns, single track trails, and sometimes BMX parks. Bear Crossing on the other hand fit right in with the more standard layouts seen in other cross races, making it one of the more unique events we get to experience here on the island. I'm also not sure of the next opportunity I'll have to race through a golf course sand trap.

Bear Crossing 2014 // Victoria, B.C. // photo: Nicholas Kupiak

Bear Crossing 2014 // Victoria, B.C. // photo: Nicholas Kupiak

With 270 registered participants it was a packed day of racing for all categories, offering some exciting battles to watch as we waited for our later start. There was a definite shuffle on the Intermediate podium as Mark Nelson took an impressive win riding away from the field quite early in the race. Meanwhile the successful single speeds of Cumberland finished with well deserved top 10 finishes and kept us on the edge of our seat with a hard fought race.

Bear Crossing 2014 // Victoria, B.C. // photo: Nicholas Kupiak

Bear Crossing 2014 // Victoria, B.C. // photo: Nicholas Kupiak

Bear Crossing 2014 // Victoria, B.C. // photo: Nicholas Kupiak

Bear Crossing 2014 // Victoria, B.C. // photo: Nicholas Kupiak

Expert Women, Masters, and Super Masters raced at similar times between the Intermediate and Expert events on the daily schedule which made it tough to watch any of those bouts if I wanted a proper warm-up. Of all the fields, those three contain the most riders I'm familiar with and house some common podium finishers who have taken the time to really help me along in this sport. Little tips and tricks shared as we battled rain and snow during weekly group rides last winter and, with this new season underway, they continue to educate others and myself by means of weekly cyclocross practice. I might not have been on the sidelines to cheer them on, but I was definitely keeping a close watch every chance I had.

Bear Crossing 2014 // Victoria, B.C. // photo: Nicholas Kupiak

Bear Crossing 2014 // Victoria, B.C. // photo: Nicholas Kupiak

Pre-riding is one thing, but finally getting the chance to race this course was everything I'd thought it would be. Thanks to the firm ground, ruts or grooves never really formed throughout the day giving riders the chance to attack different lines on each passing lap. Starting with a less than desired call-up meant following a lot of people, and after tagging behind a few excellent bike handlers I was able to move on with greater confidence having thieved their entry and exit points.

By the end of the race I'd managed to exact more things I need to work on, while crossing the line ahead of the few cyclists that were acting as my reference from last season. Coming away from events like this with a specific objective for the next race is always revered as a success in my books, and if that lesson ever simply becomes "ride faster", than I'm probably doing something wrong. 

Bear Crossing 2014 // Victoria, B.C. // photo: Patrick Burnham

Bear Crossing 2014 // Victoria, B.C. // photo: Patrick Burnham

Bear Crossing 2014 // Victoria, B.C. // photo: Brad Head

Bear Crossing 2014 // Victoria, B.C. // photo: Brad Head

Bear Crossing 2014 // Victoria, B.C. // photo: Brad Head

Bear Crossing 2014 // Victoria, B.C. // photo: Brad Head

Bear Crossing 2014 // Victoria, B.C. // photo: Brad Head

Bear Crossing 2014 // Victoria, B.C. // photo: Brad Head

Cross on the Rock // Coal Cross

Last weekend marked the first race of the COTR (Cross on the Rock) Series, and like past years it was held in one of my favourite little towns, Cumberland. One year ago the riders were treated to some horrific, but perfect cyclocross weather as nearly all day it poured on the competitors and really showcased what cross was about. A perfect introduction for someone thinking about taking up the sport. Needless to say, I purchased a pair of Challenger Limus tyres three weeks prior to the event with the anticipation of mud, only to be greeted by what most would classify as summer.

Coal Cross 2013 // Cumberland, B.C. // photo: Nicholas Kupiak

Coal Cross 2013 // Cumberland, B.C. // photo: Nicholas Kupiak

One exciting thing about this years iteration of the event, was the accompaniment of a "CX Crit" the night before the official cross race. Yes, a CX Crit. The only thing criteriumesque about this race was the length of the laps which only took slightly over a minute to complete. Within this minute of racing the organizers managed to squeeze in pavement, gravel, grass, alleyways, curb bunny-hops, and finally, hardwood flooring. That last one is what made this event truly unique as halfway through each lap, you'd enter the back door of The Waverley Pub, zip across their dance, and or dining area, before shooting out the front door and dropping off the front steps. Patrons sat inside with food and drinks cheering on the cyclists with every pass, while many more spectators lined the outdoor sections.

Waverley CX Crit 2014 // Cumberland, B.C. // photo: Nicholas Kupiak

Waverley CX Crit 2014 // Cumberland, B.C. // photo: Nicholas Kupiak

By the end of the race nearly half the field had flatted, if not once, but twice. Many thoughts skipped through my mind as I tried to narrow down as to why I double-flatted. But soon after I began noticing the mountain bikes and fat bikes also losing air, which helped convince me not to take it personally.

Waverley CX Crit 2014 // Cumberland, B.C. // photo: Nicholas Kupiak

Waverley CX Crit 2014 // Cumberland, B.C. // photo: Nicholas Kupiak

Waverley CX Crit 2014 // Cumberland, B.C. // photo: Nicholas Kupiak

Waverley CX Crit 2014 // Cumberland, B.C. // photo: Nicholas Kupiak

Spent most of the evening at the Waverley chatting over drinks before taking the conversation down to No. 6 Mine as a sold out live performance took over the venue. It was nice to catch up with riders from other towns and I did my best to get an early night. I did my best.

Another scorching September day greeted the racers as everyone slowly filed into the dusty parking lot. I grabbed my repair kit, bike, and chair before hitting the sidelines to cheer on friends racing the Intermediate category. Fixing my flats from the night before didn't take my attention away from the stellar race that was brewing. As usual it started off as a bunch, but within a few laps a theme had emerged. Single speeds. By the third and fourth lap, there was a handful of SSCX racers in the top 5 and that's where they would stay for the remainder of the day. The order shuffled around a few times until ultimately Isaac Leblanc found his rhythm and pulled off an impressive win. Justin Bailey rolled across the line in second place with fellow Broad Street / Stuckylife rider, Clayton Webb taking third.

Coal Cross 2014 // Cumberland, B.C. // photo: Nicholas Kupiak

Coal Cross 2014 // Cumberland, B.C. // photo: Nicholas Kupiak

Coal Cross 2014 // Cumberland, B.C. // photo: Nicholas Kupiak

Coal Cross 2014 // Cumberland, B.C. // photo: Nicholas Kupiak

Despite getting a decent call-up, the start of my race wasn't particularly strong. One rear cog larger would have been just right for the quick acceleration of such a dry day and it definitely could have set me up a little better for the whirly section of the course. Just as the pack neared the turn around, the outside rider fell onto the middle rider, which in turn fell on to me. For a few seconds I stood there motionless like an odd lean-to as the two other riders sorted themselves out. Finally we were free, back in the race, and I was thanked for my literal "support". 

Only a few moments of chasing got me back up to the next pack, and from there it was all about finding a groove. Over the next three to four laps Mark Karau and I managed to slowly leave behind anything remaining of the group we were in, as we slowly chased down new riders ahead. Lots of work, but it felt great to be gaining ground. 

Flat. It's cross, it happens, and it happened to me. Now on my wishlist, a set of pit wheels.

Coal Cross 2014 // Cumberland, B.C. // photo: Leif Keithley

Coal Cross 2014 // Cumberland, B.C. // photo: Leif Keithley

Dont need mud to get messy.

Photoset - Leif Keithley

Hurricane Ridge

Sitting on the beach in Victoria it's not a strange sight to see the looming mountains of the Olympic National Park in the distance. From this vantage point the mountain range resembles something of a forested wall, visually creating a disconnect between two countries, as if America put their binder on its side in class to hide the contents of its school desk from neighboring eyes.

Ascending these peaks has alluded me since I first began road biking, and every passing year I seem to meet another cyclist who can't recommend this climb enough. Now that I've completed it, I see why. It offers scenery and roadways like I've never experienced, while leaving me nearly speechless. Words about valleys, mountains, forests, and desolate roads can't come close to explaining what was seen on this ride. Thankfully my Canon WP-1 accompanied me to the top so I can share these photographs of what you could possibly expect while doing the ride yourself.

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6:10AM Ferry ride from Victoria to Port Angeles.

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The sleepy seaside town awaiting our arrival.

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Just a quick 550m climb from the docks to the toll-booth.

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Completing the climb quicker than most offered an uninterrupted view for some photo-ops.

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Every corner seemed to offer a view, and a cliff.

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Sights from the start of the descent.

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Plans for a slow descent and photographs went out the window when I hit 85km/h with a camera hanging from my teeth.

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The lead group blew by.

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One of three tunnels.

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12:45PM Ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria. 

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Ready for coffee and a cookie.

Canada Day // Hurricane Ridge - on Strava

Brodie Ti Romax

Utilitarian. I've touched on this topic in a previous post and how form must always follow function for something to be worth its weight. Yet here I am, looking at and writing about a frame that brings both together in the best way. 

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A few cyclists I hold in high regard have always raved about their own titanium frames and, when combined with my own childhood definition of the material (comparable to gold from Mars, wrapped in kevlar because of its durability and scarcity), it was a no brainer once I came across my first Ti Romax. There it was, tearing up a cyclocross race and being wielded like a mythical sword... between the legs of a racer. 

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A new bike needed to be race worthy, while also comfortable enough for entire days in the saddle while exploring the back roads and trails of Vancouver Island. This frames geometry makes for an agile but stable ride and is close enough to a road frame that it could act as a multi-discipline bike for any cyclist. Ideal for my own intended uses.

Discs were a must after having some bad luck with rim brakes over this past season, and a single ring set-up seemed the most logical after watching a few mechanical tragedies unfold before my eyes at pivotal races.

The partial Shimano groupset has been paired with a Race Face 40T Narrow/Wide ring for a 1X10 set-up, and after the first few rides it has run flawlessly. Using a rear derailleur with no clutch had me a little worried about chain slap and even dropping the chain altogether, but the narrow / wide technology has proved very effective so far. 

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I've never owned anything better than the standard hoops supplied with a build, so the prospect of having something a little more custom was pretty exciting. ZED Wheelworks out of Victoria does a lot for the cyclocross community here on Vancouver Island and after seeing him build up some wheels for prizing at Cross on the Rock, I knew I wanted to approach him about this project. After a few emails we decided on a set of H Plus Son Archetype rims that would be laced to Hope Pro 2 EVO hubs. Even with the added weight of the rotors, this combination ended up lighter than my road wheels and offers a ride quality unlike any I've experienced.

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An Easton EC90 XD fork was on the first Romax build I saw and it seemed like such a good pairing to the frame that I needed to compliment the oversized head tube in the same manner. Not only is it the burliest fork I've ever ridden, but it's so light I thought I was sent an empty box in the mail. There's fine line writing on the inner of the Easton fork that perfectly matches Brodies own branding on the frame. Accidental aesthetic jack pot.

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With just 150 kilometers logged on the new ride, I already feel more comfortable on this bike than I ever did my last CX set-up. These may just be a few initial thoughts, but plans are already in the works to give this thing a true shakedown on every road or trail surface imaginable.

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Riding Fool Hostel

After sitting down to plan a few spring adventure rides, I started to notice a resounding fact about each trip. They almost all involved taking a ferry to either the mainland, or one of the many surrounding islands. This got me thinking about how often cyclists must do the opposite of me and take the ferry to ride on Vancouver Island. With the next long weekend on it's way, I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to set out on a route that could potentially inspire these sea-faring riders to new locations and roads.

Just over 100km's North-West of Departure Bay, lies Cumberland. If you're a Mountain Biker then you've most likely heard of the small town thanks to it's constantly expanding network of trails. A community that's very involved in the sport and incredibly welcoming to anyone on two wheels. Naturally my destination became The Riding Fool Hostel and a big thank you goes to Jeremy for booking me in on such short notice. 

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Residing on the main drag of the little village, The Riding Fool shares a building with two other business' that couldn't be a better fit to a riding themed hostel. Directly below is Dodge City Cycles, and to its right is Tarbells Cafe & Deli. Shortly after arriving and noticing that I had some time to kill before check-in, the employees of DCC directed me to the bike wash behind the premises which was severely needed after those salty spring roads had their way with my Cervelo.

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Bike cleaned and street clothes thrown on, it was time to refuel with some coffee and food as I cruised my way into Tarbells. I ordered an americano and breakfast sandwich before taking a seat next to the large front windows. Having a few quiet moments after the ride was a great chance to look up and down the street of the main drag through the pains of glass that were slowly being stained with moisture from the rain. It appeared I'd beaten the storm by just a matter of minutes.

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Once check-in time arrived, I received the grand tour around an almost empty hostel. Great natural light, a large variety of room types ranging from private to communal, multiple socializing areas, a kitchen filled with anything you would need for food prep, and even a designated quiet area made the space feel well rounded and accommodating. Some of the decorating even paid homage to the hardware store it once was.

Within the hour, people started filing into the empty rooms. Some arrived alone, others as groups, and even a family showed up. Not long after, the visitors made their way into the more social areas of the hostel and it was evident that most guests were seeking similar thrills. Talks of past adventures, trails in far off towns, and shared stories of other extreme sports that had taken them halfway around the world. 

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With big evening plans ahead, some afternoon rest was on my mind. Eerily enough, the bed was almost indistinguishably as comfortable as my own at home, bringing up thoughts such as, "If I lay down, will I just continue to hit the snooze button?". With that notion in my mind, I hit the showers instead and began the rest of my afternoon.

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Being located in the heart of town made it incredibly easy to visit other amenities one might need. In my case I was able to purchase a thrifted Buffalo Sabres sweatshirt, pick-up a Cronut from the bakery, have dinner at the Waverly, and catch a few cover songs from a live band all within a few minutes walk of the front door. 

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But, if you've arrived and still haven't received your fix of riding, Dodge City Cycles has MTB rentals and trail recommendations for every skill level or adventure. Hitting the trails would offer a great blend between the road rides that bring you to and from this tiny gem of a town. 

Depending on which route you decide to take, expect a distance anywhere between 105km to 120km as it boils down to a choose your own adventure once you've left Nanaimo. In the case of my own ride, I opted for the quiet and slow pace of the Old Island Highway while taking small detours to reconnect with the shoreline.

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I remember being a child in the back seat of my parents blazer cruising these roads, stuck behind old station wagons and hatchbacks. Passing opportunities were rare and traffic was lined up, but it was the only way from A to B when traveling either North or South. 

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Since the induction of the Inland Highway, all of these problems have almost been forgotten just like the business' that line the once bustling strip of concrete. Restaurants, cafes, gas stations, and even a few mini-golf venues lay in wait for traffic that never seems to arrive. It was hard not to think back on how busy some of these establishments must have been in their prime, and how many others don't even exist anymore. What does remain seems to be supported by the local "usuals" and thankfully, the odd cyclist who takes joy in exhausting themselves on the bike.

 

From time to time I'd get a glimpse of the newer, and faster highway that was almost always perched at a higher elevation. Sitting there with it's speeding traffic, as if the terrain had a smugness about itself, looking down on the inferior single lane roads. Little did it know that not everyone enjoys the quicker of two options.

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As for the riding itself, it was an easy day in the saddle. Soft climbs, gentle curves, minimal traffic, and some far off mountains to chase made for a relaxing morning. Even with the small amount of effort put into my pace, I was able to make the 115km journey in three hours, thirty-eight minutes and had no doubt that if pressed for time a group could hammer to town in under three hours.

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Even if you're after an epic weekend of riding, there's more than a handful of road rides to be planned around the Comox Valley that would fill your quota including a trip up Mt. Washington, or some gravel grinds on the logging roads that seem to lace the countryside like a baseball. 

Strava Ride Data:

Nanaimo to The Riding Fool Hostel

Additional links: 

The Riding Fool Hostel - Availability

Dodge City Cycles - Rentals 

Clothing and pack by:

ACRE Supply 

ACRE Hauser TrailPack

Lightweight, well balanced, comfortable, aero (can't believe I'm bringing this up about a backpack), waterproof, and perfectly functional. Most roll-top bags I've used in the past kept my items entirely dry, but they always came with the inherent wings sitting just behind the tops of my shoulders. Hooking on branches or small trees, scooping up headwinds like two large pterodactyl arms, and leaving me constantly uneasy of my immediate surroundings. In short, they've rivaled the feeling of my niece hanging off my back like a small chimpanzee at a family event.

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I've always believed that form should follow function, if form is ever considered in a product. With that in mind, it's easy to see why I've kept an eye on Mission Workshop and their MTB division that is ACRE Supply. Living in such a wet climate means that there's lots of criteria that a bag needs to meet in order to work properly in our conditions.

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Coming in a 10L or 14L size, I opted for the latter to ensure that I'd be able to fit all the normal camera equipment I lug around. There's multiple ways to fasten the top flap, which is perfect for those days you may need to tote around an extra lunch, or spare camera body. A large tool-roll housed within the main exterior pocket is perfect for those spare tubes, film, memory cards and any other small accessories you don't want bouncing around aimlessly inside the pack. 

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One of my favourite features of this bag is it's adjustability. Since receiving this from ACRE I've used it for a number of different activities both on and off the bike, which it managed perfectly. The multiple lower mounting points make it extremely customizable for different body types, or even the same body, during different uses. When hiking I've found the lower eyelets to be more appropriate, but when cycling, the upper eyelets sit in a more comfortable position for my waist while in the saddle. Something I never would have thought of, but am thankful someone did. 

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Tofino Brew Co. Gran Fondo

Pre-ride thoughts: 

Plans for this ride have been bouncing around in my head for a little over a year, but I realistically never thought it would take place. With Graeme living in Ucluelet, I had daydreamed of doing the trip on my bike every time I travelled west for a visit. To some, it's the distance that seems insurmountable, but to me it was the inherent dangers of the roadway itself that left hesitance in my mind. Then everything just kind of fell into place. In an attempt to reimburse me for a favour involving sixteen hours, four cities and two letter presses, Blair offered to drive my FJ Cruiser as a pseudo support vehicle to become the final piece to the puzzle.

Our destination became the Tofino Brewing Company, as Blair (an incredibly talented designer) had just finished doing an overhaul on their beer labels. This would be the first time he'd get to see his work plastered on the dark glass bottles of the small town brewery. I can't remember the last time I visited the west coast without stopping in to fill up a growler and hear of local happenings. Only getting to see the space every three or four months over the passed few years has made the growth of the company more obvious than if I was a regular. Subtle changes each time, but expansion nonetheless. 

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After spending the afternoon there and talking with a number of different employees, a common theme of people enjoying what they're doing was evident. They have big plans in the works for 2014 and everyone seems ready and excited for what comes next at the brewery. If you find yourself in Tofino or Ucluelet, Tofino Brewery should really be on your list of places to stop, and even if you can't make it west for a weekend, the delicious beer has found it's way into stores as far south as Victoria.

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Parksville to Tofino Brewing Co. 

Find the ride on Strava: GRADIENT // TofinoBrewCo Gran Fondo

It was nine o'clock in the morning, and I'd taken the Friday off work. The departure time had been carefully chosen based on the amount of daylight, and the idea that roads would be quieter for the duration of my ride. Starting any later could have easily resulted in experiencing increased traffic through the narrowest portions of the trip. Garmin was ready, my rear light was rhythmically flashing and Blairs hand gave me a firm handshake accompanied with some encouraging words. I was off.

For this time of year, it's no surprise that the roads were damp and extremely filthy. No precipitation had fallen all week, but if you're from the west coast, you're well aware of the moisture that comes paired with our dense fog. This first leg of the ride took me through awfully familiar territory and mainly just taught me how to avoid getting dirt and mud in my eyes when the road let me pick up speed. Coombs offers long straight stretches and very gradual grades that leave you feeling in peak physical form as you propel past the farmers fields at race speeds. My steady pace soon became realized as I hit the false flats of climbing back out of the country side feeling barely warmed up from the coasting. 

Rounding the corners of Cameron Lake was the first part of the ride that brought nervousness into play. It started well with scenic views that ran the length of the lake and showed off the valley in which this body of water was nestled in. Steep mountainsides shot straight up from the frigid, "bottomless" Cameron, and disappeared into the low hanging clouds. These mountains forced the road to stick quite closely to the shore of the lake as it narrowed towards Angel Rock. A chunk of road with a history of rock slides and close calls, a sliver of concrete I didn't particularly want to ride, a slab of highway with no shoulder, a tin can guard rail and a devious drop off to the hungry waves below. 

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Multiple shoulder checks and getting into a sprinting position prepped me for a quick time around this dangerous bit of history. To my relief, the plan of setting out early had already paid off as not a single car, van, truck, or semi was in sight as I made my way passed the steep drop off. I stopped holding my breath and continued on my way towards Cathedral Grove.

Never before had I ridden through this collection of massive trees and as I expected, I felt dwarfed. The road itself I know quite well, but for some reason I thought there would be more room to ride and it created an unfamiliarity for me, struggling between riding in the way of traffic, or on the rumble strips to my right. Vehicles were still cruising passed at an infrequent rate, so I took my chances in the lane. 

Before this day had even started, mentally I had created checkpoints for myself. Smaller, more immediate goals that would hopefully keep me motivated throughout the duration of my travels. The first of these points was The Hump, a mountain pass reaching 411m above sea level that sat within the opening thirty-five kilometers of my ride. Pacing myself, I slowly ascended into the clouds which blanketed everything in sight. With the passing lane working in my favor as I climbed the category 4 hill, I remained on top of the white line to avoid the dirt, mud and glass on the shoulder. Only one person passed by as I conquered this feat, and he thought it was a good idea to get so close to me in his tractor-trailer that the wind and shock almost knocked me over. 

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Less than pleased by this display of chivalry, I was prepared to give him a piece of my mind at the quickly approaching brake check on the summit. But as luck would have it, he skipped the pull-out all together and began his descent in an unlawful manner.

At first I couldn't figure out why the descent from the top of the pass seemed to last so long, but as I reached the bottom of Port Alberni it dawned on me. This was the first time I'd ever dropped all the way from the mountains, back down to sea level in a single downhill section. There were a few places where the road almost flattened out, but for the most part had a downward slope the entire time until the odor of salt and salmon bombarded my senses. On the cusp of starting to shiver from all the high speed coasting, my legs finally got the chance to pump again as I rode parallel to the river on the flat section that would take me in the direction of Sproat Lake. 

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Rolling hills that took me passed the final few homes was the last feeling of true civilization before the road became surrounded by denser forests. Those small climbs and quick negative grades lasted for quite some time as the road naturally brought me back to the edge of the lake. By now I was three quarters of the way down Taylor Arm and the concrete barriers that separate the vehicles from the cliffs below was blocking any view that may have been possible. I kept standing on the pedals any chance I'd get, in hopes of sneaking a solid glimpse of the beautiful lake.

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 This area always brought back memories from when I was a kid and living on the lake in the summer time. Everyone in my family would quickly pile into our boat when the Mars Water Bombers came out to play. The bloated looking air tankers would lazily taxi down the arm every week or so to check the planes instruments and engines before turning around for a full throttle return back to base. Close to a hundred other boats would follow suit to get a view of these monstrous planes in action. The roar of the engines, the smell of the fuel, the tsunami-esque wake it would create. Every feature about the experience felt exaggerated, but really it wasn't. You just had to be there.

Finally, I'd made it to Taylor River. One of my favourite places to stop whenever I'm driving out west, for a little break from staring out the windshield. An expansive river filled with water that makes you feel cold just by looking at it, and mountains framing the opposing shore as if they were painted in for dramatic effect. A location that's best visited in the winter.

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Realistically I had been focusing on these beautiful scenes more intently than usual to keep my mind off the next checkpoint of my ride. Sutton Pass. Sitting around the eighty-five kilometer mark of my ride, I had started to dread the idea of climbing it. On normal rides I wouldn't have thought twice about ascending the 2.2km long up-hill section, but as someone who's better suited as a sprinter, I needed to be careful with my efforts. Not pedaling in an economical fashion with almost a hundred kilometers still remaining started to plague my mind. "I'm going to be gassed after this, there's no way I'll have enough legs for Tofino if this grade is too steep." I kept thinking. 

When I could finally see it, I couldn't see it. Only the first two-hundred meters were visible as the fog engulfed the road just as it had on The Hump, but this time even thicker, which perfectly hid the road ahead of me. I stopped thinking about how much further I needed to go, or if the next section would be steeper than the one that proceeded it. The hills were dark, and quiet which settled my rampant thoughts. Another checkpoint was now complete.

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The mood couldn't have been more different on the backside of the hill. Trees that had been standing still all day were now swaying in the wind and sun light was hitting mostly everything. Mentally, I felt refreshed and physically my muscles seemed ready to take on the rest of the ride as I quickly descended towards eight to ten kilometers of flat sections. If legs could smile, that's what they would have been doing at this point in my day. 

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Not sure I was thinking of much after Sutton Pass, but I do remember the words "cozy cadence" (can I trademark that?) in my mind. If there's one thing I know about my style of cycling, it's that pushing a larger ring than I should be, is a prevailing theme for most rides. Concentrated on keeping my revolutions per minute at a quicker pace, I found a nice rhythm with good form as I crossed bridges, met rivers, and truly started to enjoy the ride. 

Another thing that changed once over the pass, was the traffic. Suddenly I wasn't just seen as an inconvenient cyclist who was doing a ride from Port Alberni, to the summit, and back. Drivers seemed to realize that I was going all the way as they greeted me with friendly honks, waves, and encouragement. Their habits became more courteous and accepting of me sharing the road with them while making me feel relieved. At ease from something I hadn't thought I was still worried about. Even as the route approached the high-flying roads that sat above Kennedy Lake, there was an odd sense of comfort in my pedal stroke.

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Kennedy is one of those lakes that's so big, you could almost mistake it for the ocean. Some sort of expansive inlet, or bay with arms heading in all directions. The ride now brought me around the tightest sections of road that I'd seen all day as I looked over the eerily calm body of water from what felt like a goat path. Over hanging rock faces that jutted into the road forced all traffic to slow for safety and suddenly I was the faster mode of transportation.

Sharp turns awaited me after leaving the sight of Kennedy that would last all the way until the junction. I knew the road well enough to be aware of my fast approaching final checkpoint.

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By the time I reached the junction, I was only six kilometers shy of the longest ride I'd ever done. There'd been a few around this distance, and almost always involved some sort of group effort. Going this far with no one else to take a pull was going to take it's toll on me at some point, I just wasn't sure when. 

Long straights with hardly any incline gave me confidence to end my ride strong, but now that I was close to the coast, the ocean winds had begun to play their part. Somehow this innocent strip of road became the toughest portion of the entire ride. Thirty-two kilometers of road that I felt would never end, a food bonk during the only time in the trip that the support vehicle wasn't within minutes. Every corner I came around seemed to have a straight stretch longer than the last, hiding around it's curve. Vehicles seemed to consider this bit of asphalt their very own Bonneville Salt Flats as they rocketed past. Still no food, a numbness had taken over that left me worried, "If I stop pedaling, will I be able to start again?". My legs pumped with a mind of their own, not tired, but not strong at the same time, just churning to mimic what they'd been doing for the last five hours. Finally Blair and the vehicle came into sight around one of the repeating bends, allowing me to snag half a clif bar to help with the rest of my ride. 

The Brewery was in striking distance at this point, and I gave it everything I had. Who knows if getting food really made a difference or if it was the knowledge of being within minutes of my destination that helped me along. Whatever it was, I felt good again, and I made it.

One-hundred sixty-four kilometers and almost five and a half hours later, I could see the industrial park that houses that delicious beer. Not a soul was in the parking lot when I arrived which felt incredibly anti-climactic. I rolled up to my vehicle, parked my bike, and mentally patted myself on the back. Ride to Tofino, checked off the bucket list.

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- Thanks

2013 CX Nationals

Up at 5:20AM to catch the first ferry, we cruised through a sleepy downtown Vancouver, and arrived with barely enough time to register the two racers I had been sharing a ride with. Cutting it so close meant both cyclists competed without seeing or pre-riding the course. It's just the Nationals, who needs to be prepared?

To show my appreciation for getting a ride to Vancouver I volunteered to be the pit crew for both riders, and by pit crew, I mean that I walked their spare wheels over to the pit area before the race started and was far too lazy to retrieve them after the race had finished. Job well done, sir.

POW! Or, uhm. CRACK! I don't know. The starting gun sounded, that's what I'm getting at.

Within the first thirty-four feet, the chain twisted and snapped the rear derailleur clean off our drivers bike. He never made it passed the holeshot line, so later we debated if he'd receive a DNS or a DNF. Needless to say, I wasn't sure how to console someone who'd made all the effort to get there, only to be denied the ability to race because of a mechanical issue. On the plus side, the cheering section for our remaining racer had grown by one. Unfortunately, he was up against Peter Lawrence in a very competitive Masters category.

Mud, stairs, sand three times, off-camber, grass, and puddles. Truthfully, the course was put together well and proved to be a real test for all riders. Exactly what you want when trying to find a National Champion. 

Time for the "heartbreak" of the day. After spending some time in the middle of the pack, Matt Staneland made a surge for the leaders that would prove to be successful. Not only did he catch the front of the race, but he managed to pass the rider in top spot and continue on. As the exciting last lap was coming to a close, they vanished behind a small patch of trees just before the final corner. To my surprise, Chris McNeil appeared first onto the final straight away, pedaling with an ecstatic strength, while Staneland showed up a few seconds later with his head hung low. The national title came down to the very last corner, and it was unfortunately Stanelands to lose with one simple fall.

Rain had been coming down all morning, but nothing too severe. Just enough to keep the ground wet and races interesting. Everything changed once the U19's and Elite Women took to the course. I stood out there, doing my best hunchback impression in hopes of shielding my camera from the onslaught of precipitation. But who am I to complain? I'm photographing humans trying to race in these conditions. 

Sections that were already tough to negotiate in earlier races became almost impossible to ride thanks to the additional rain on the course. Juniors and women alike opted to run instead of ride, just to save themselves from the possibility of going down, while a select few rode the same lines with a questionable ease. Experience? Confidence? A combination of the two? Whatever the case may be, it was quite impressive to watch them ride off-camber mud that shared traction characteristics with ice.

Admittedly, there was a lull between the Elite Women / U19 race, and the Elite Men / U23 race. An amount of time long enough to draw attention to itself, and even lose some peoples interest in the event. During a period of the year when daylight needs to be used sparingly, I think the final race should have immediately followed the one proceeding it. Even at the start line, the light began to fade unlike the relentless rain.

After the first few laps, it became obvious who the main contenders would be with a small group sticking together. Then, without notice Geoff Kabush showed why he has so many titles to his name and opened a gap on the other riders. Using his strength and bike handling skills, he made tough sections look like a cakewalk.

Snapped a few more photographs before having to leave in hopes of catching the 5:00PM back to Vancouver Island. We followed how the race progressed via twitter while stuck in downtown traffic, which ultimately prevented us from making the five o'clock boat in the end. More photos on flickr

 

 

Mt. Arrowsmith

The wind was howling through the bottom of my front door, and it acted as a better alarm clock than I could have hoped for. Waking up with a sense of doubt seems to render you far more aware than rising with a clear mind. For a moment I pretended that the blankets had me trapped, and every time the wind voiced itself, the blankets grasp would cinch a little tighter. Still wide awake, the second alarm went off and I've never noticed how irritating the sound is when you're entirely coherent. All right, I was up. Breakfast was quick, the coffee was made, and I was out the door.

Trying to convince myself that it would be a quick, enjoyable ride, went out the window the second I stepped outside. This was easily the coldest morning we've had this fall. Clear skies, and that bully they call the wind, had joined forces to leave frost on mostly everything. This, is exactly what GRADIENT is all about though. Accomplishing rides through any conditions, so let's quit being a baby and get on with the adventure.

An hour later, I was parked at the top of the Hump in an area that's generally reserved for people unloading their dirtbikes, or atvs. Instead, I unloaded my human powered pedal bike with only a raccoon as my audience. Luckily he didn't offer much criticism about my choice of off-road transportation and continued to pillage the Wendys bag that had been thrown out the window of a passing vehicle. Next was to load up the jersey pockets with a pretty standard selection of items: a pump, tire levers, two additional tubes, Garmin, Banana, Nanaimo Bar, water bottle, and an Opinel No. 08. That last item to be packed was my form of protection in the event that a cougar or bear were to find me in the woods. Drawn in by the scent of a Nanaimo Bar. No a small knife is not going to offer me much physical protection, but it keeps my mental stability in check and convinces me that I may stand a fighting chance... Right.

Only the mountain tops were being greeted by the sun at this point as I left the vehicle, splashed through some puddles, and slowly began the descent into the valley that would transport me the rest of the way. Thanks to the false flats of the valley floor, I was going slow enough that I could listen to every small creek or river that passed underneath the road. Quiet. Realizing that any and all wind had left my company, travels to the base of Mt. Arrowsmith, were deathly silent. Then I rounded a corner, and could finally get a clear visual of the feat in which I was about to undertake. My mind was quiet no more.

Steep grades awaited me once veering LEFT at the Mt. Arrowsmith junction. This was a perfect opportunity to discover that I actually couldn't shift into the largest rear cog, and that I'd be slow spinning it for most of this section. Joy. That's not something I felt during the first 20 minutes, as I stopped twice in hopes of repairing my derraileur. With no success coming from my second attempt, I summoned the angriest thought I could, and pedaled with a maddened strength towards the hill's first slight plateau. 

As I climbed the first switch back, it was accompanied by frost so thick, some would consider it ice. From here on out, the climb became a seated one just to keep traction as every time I got out of the saddle, I was reminded of the Bill Nye episode about friction. The second switch back arrived shortly after, and the tree line became a little thinner. Being a logging road, it wasn't built to give views, but was very successful at teasing with the tiny openings that were now visible. 

Finishing the switchbacks, I started up the kind of straight section that leaves you yearning for the mystery of the corners you'd just completed. Being able to stare up a climb for more than a few kilometers or so can sometimes come as mental disaster. Fortunately I still had lots of legs left, and wasn't going to let anything discourage me.

Almost forgetting to look around and take in the beauty of where I was, the first true sights snuck up on me.

The valley was filled with cloud, and as someone who travels to Port Alberni quite often, it was nice to see an alternate perspective of that foggy place. Towering mountains on the opposite side of town gave me a real sense of how high up I had already climbed, but it came as a reminder that I was only half way there.

Frost had turned to snow, and snow had turned to ice, all while trying to think of metaphors to explain how tiny I felt on that mountain side. Just as my inner Bill Shakespeare was about to voice himself, my bike suddenly jolted into a 45 degree Tokyo drift, forcing me to get back to concentrating on the ride.

Nanaimo seems to house a lot of men in big trucks, who get a kick out of harassing us spandex clad cyclists on the road. Bring that cyclist to a place where the challenge is more obviously measurable, then suddenly the thrown beer cans, and black diesel smoke transform into verbal kudos and waves. This radical change in behavior made me wish I had a beer can to throw at the slow moving trucks. You know, to retain the balance in the relationship.

Just as I was getting sick of that horrendous valley view, the route made a sweeping turn into the heart of the mountain range to save me from having to look at it anymore. With the surface flattening out as it passed through the old rusted gates, I took the opportunity to inhale my Nanaimo Bar. This proved to be a wise decision, because the road at this point was a mixture of short descents and climbs until I reached my final destination. High sugar content kept me focused as I carried all the speed I could up the small frozen hills until I finally saw that big dirt clearing. Surprisingly, but not really, it was mud instead of snow because of people doing donuts in their big trucks. 

Made it.

(On the last corner I was admiring some leg hair and wound up on a sheet of ice that would rival an Olympic sized Hockey rink. Needless to say, I met the ground quite quickly.)