This is a story of dedication and commitment to help a mate in need.
Late last year I decided to embark on a challenge to compete in one of the most gruelling mountain bike races around the world.
The TransRockie's Challenge is regarded as being in the top three most difficult mountain bike races in the world. The race is a 7-day race traversing the Rocky Mountains in Canada.
This has been one of my aspirations for a very long time and my brother-in-law, (Matt Pauli) was foolish to join me in what should surely test my mental and physical abilities to their limit.
As part of doing this ride I wanted to make a difference by helping raise funds for 'The Friends of Bryan Inc.' which is a charitable organisation established to help a local motor cyclist Bryan Flemming meet the ongoing cost of rehabilitation after a training accident.
Bryan suffered injuries to his spinal cord between his C6/C7 vertebrae (Near the base of his skull) and is now an incomplete quadriplegic.
This means Bryan can feel nothing from his chest down, and has only minimal movement in his arms and wrists with no movement in his hands, legs or feet.
According to the Spinal Injuries Association, the current cost for basic support for a person who sustains an injury at age 20 with a life expectancy of 70 is $1.05m for a paraplegic and $8.4m for a quadriplegic. Costs included in these amounts are only initial hospitalisation, personal assistance equipment, home-modifications and doesn’t include costs such as ongoing medical & pharmaceutical, transportation or recreation costs.
You can check out what the Friends of Bryan are up to on http://www.friendsofbryan.com/
After a very long trip Matt, his wife Bekk and I made it to Fernie in one piece. We arrived around 6.00pm and by 10.00pm we crashed for a very well deserved sleep but not before downing a pint of ale at the local ski lodge. Although not part of our training regime it certainly helped me get to sleep on a somewhat confused body clock.
Today is Friday; we both woke up feeling somewhat refreshed and keen to see the local trails. I have always been an advocate of not riding two days before a race but the temptation was too great and we did an easy hour around the ski area, where we are staying.
The trails here are simply amazing and ride better than any other trails that I have ridden. I am sure we will be echoing that sentiment many more times before we go home.
After some lunch we then decided to go for a hike up the ski fields. We caught the lift part way up and hiked a fair distance until a storm rolled in.
A nice Canadian who was manning the top lift tower let us stay in his hut until it passed. We saw a few deer on our walk, ground squirrels and some fresh Bear prints.
Anyway thanks again to everyone’s donations, well wishes and thanks to Luke for the cake, which was gratefully eaten before we left.
Stage 1- 32 km Time Trial
Today we raced the first stage of the race, a 32 km time trial. Doesn't really sound so bad when you look at that distance but it was definitely hard. The time trial starts with a nice 500 vertical metre climb over 5km. This climb was incredibly steep in parts and the GPS device I use got to 38% on one of the sections.
About halfway up the climb Matt got a puncture on his tubeless tyre, which looked like a sharp root tore a big hole in the tire. The liquid designed to fill the hole inside the tyre could not seal it due to it being such a big chunk missing so we ended up putting a normal tube inside the tire, which held up for the rest of the first stage.
After the mammoth climb that wound itself around one of the many hills in the Fernie area finally came to a definite peak with breath taking views, we started the decent other side of the peak and were greeted with even steeper sections than what we had just climbed up.
It was some of the most difficult riding that we have ever done mostly due to the steepness. Canadians have a real fondness for making things steep and scary. We both made it down without any incidents and we checked into checkpoint 1 for some food and water.
After leaving checkpoint 1, I came off the bike riding up a hill section, unfortunately my riding friends will attest is more likely to happen for me going up than down.
I fell on my shoulder and for the rest of the ride had quite a bit of tingling in my left triceps, the constant braking compounded this. After the race I had a massage, which help work out some of the soreness.
The remainder of the race was mostly singletrack that seemed to go up then down then back up again.
There were sections known as Northshore; it consists of a course of bridges, ladders, and trees that are made into rideable objects. These were quite fun and a pleasant distraction from the steep hills that required more effort due to the concentration and constant braking.
We made it back into Fernie in a time of 3 hours and 30 minutes; we are happy with taking into account the mechanical issue we incurred in the stage.
We are now running around midfield but pacing ourselves, as there are still 6 days of racing remaining. Some of the riders doing this are sponsored world-class athletes and it's great to see them in their element (and going twice our speed). For the statisticians, today’s ride was 32km, 1400m of climbing and around 95% singletrack.
Tomorrow’s stage is a bigger stage with 52km of riding and 2000 metres of climbing. The consolation is the climbing is not as steep and mostly on fire road, so in theory a little easier.
Stage 2 - 52 Km
We both woke up feeling strong and refreshed. We had a great breakfast; this meal and our dinners are provided to us by the event organiser’s everyday.
The organisation of this race is phenomenal. The sheer logistics of feeding a few hundred people everyday let alone organise all of the other things required to run a race is quite mind blowing and the event organisers have done a better job than any other race that I have been to.
After breakfast and getting the bikes ready we were lining up again ready for another hard day in the saddle.
The stage started with an easy couple of kilometres that were quite flat. This was short lived and we started up our first hill, coming in around the same elevation as the Toowoomba range.
The hill was not as steep as the hills from yesterday but we were very warm 25 minutes later when we arrived at the top. After the climb we were greeted with the most amazing single track I have ever ridden, we basically went straight back down the elevation that we had just gained.
This was the last bit of fun for next few hours though as the next 35km was almost all climbing including an 1100 metre vertical climb. Parts of the climb were very easy while others quite hard.
We climbed to an elevation of 2000 metres and followed the ridgeline for quite some time. This was when I took a little swim in one of the big bog holes that we tried to ride around.
A rider in front of me stoped abruptly and I was following too closely (It was my own fault) and I had only one direction to go, sideways into the water and mud filled hole.
After more of the same we finally arrived at the summit of the climb 2100 metres in elevation. We then headed down the other side down the track named 'Porky Blue' which is a double diamond run. We had been warned by the race directors the night before to walk the first 200 metres.
We chose to play it safe and follow their advice. After this things got slightly easier but was still very difficult. After about 5 minutes of descending I noticed that I could pull my rear brake lever all the way back to my handlebars without any rear brake what so ever.
The grade was still around 20% so you can imagine the thoughts going through my mind when this happened. I managed to stop and the bike and myself were still all intact.
I pumped the brake several times and got some power back. It turns out that the mechanic that fixed it later on said it is due to the fluid in the brake boiling due to overuse and old hydraulic fluid.
He replaced the fluid and hopefully it will be back on track tomorrow. Anyway after about 5km of downhill it flattened out thankfully as we were suffering from forearm pump to the max from holding onto the brakes.
The next section consisted of flat fire roads for about 5kms, turning into a nice stretch of undulating track. We then entered more single track for around 5kms following the creek line back into town. The single track was a great way to finish. We crossed the line in 5hrs and 19 minutes.
Total distance: 52km
Total climbing: 2000 metres
Tomorrow's stage is shorter but has more climbing.
We boarded a bus at 7.30am for a 3hr journey from Fernie heading North into Kananaskis Country. We arrived at our destination, we were confronted by a very unremarkable paddock for what promised to be an easy day on the bike according to the distance and metres of elevations required to climb.
The temperature was very warm around 25 degrees at the start line and we were dressed for a summery day. In fact the previous 3 days had all been quite warm so we were not prepared for what lay ahead.
After getting our bikes from the transport truck it dawned on us that our bags with our hydration packs and food were on the shuttle heading for the end of the stage.
An Australian volunteer whose husband was racing heard of our plight and when she saw one of the rental trucks turn up she asked one of the race organisers to look inside to see if our bags were on board. Luck was on our side and our bag was found, we were both extremely grateful for their help and were feeling more relaxed about the day ahead.
The race kicked off at midday starting off with a long climb up very open exposed hill. I was becoming accustomed to the 30-40 minutes of climbing at the start of each stage. We noticed the pace was much quicker today but this was mostly due to new riders joining the race to complete the 4-day solo event with their fresh legs.
After the first long climb the hills became rolling and quite enjoyable to ride. At about 2 hours into the ride we started to hear thunder as a storm started rolling in around us.
Our attention was quickly brought back to trail as Matt narrowly misses a Deer that had sprinted across the fire road nearly taking him out.
Shortly after the Deer incident the rain started to pelt down on us closely followed by hail. We continued to ride the rest of the stage in the rain as the temperature started to plummet to a chilly 8 degrees by the time we crossed the finish line.
We were treated to a number of creek crossings along the stage that were meant to be dry but the rain managed to get them flowing and the water was extremely cold. Just before we finished the stage there was a wide creek crossing that was waist deep, which required us to carry our bikes above our heads.
We crossed the finish line in just over 4hrs and we washed the bikes and headed back for a warm shower.
Today was marked as being the hardest day and it did not disappoint. We both decided that we would not be caught out by the weather conditions that we experienced the previous day so we added a few more layers today including rain jackets to keep us warm.
The morning was cold and thankfully it was not raining. In true TransRockie’s style we began the stage with a half hour climb. This climb was on a gravel road and climbed steadily until we encountered the singletrack section of the course.
To our surprise we were greeted with what we thought at first to be snow but on further inspection it turned out to be about 4 inches of hail. We endured the cold hail for the next 5 km of riding.
The next section of single track was great fun consisting of a downhill section that seemed to go on forever. Of course what goes down must go up and we were greeted by the next climb of the day. We were told to expect a lot of climbing and a lot of steep climbing.
After checkpoint one, around 22km into the stage we started the big climb of the day. It was very steep in parts and toward the top very rocky with lots of exposed tree roots making it very precarious accent. To make matters worse the storm clouds rolled in again and as we approached the summit around 2000 metres above sea level, followed by some strong rain to try and dampen our mood.
This time we were ready for it with our rain jackets on and thermals we were feeling pretty happy with our preparation. Upon reaching the summit we were rewarded with some of the best singletrack we have ridden that just seem to never end.
Though the track was wet it was still very rideable making it very pleasant section and reminded us why we ride. However this was short lived as around the corner another climb loomed with a new section of track that had only recently been built.
It was incredibly boggy and was impossible to ride without sliding out, with the tyres clogging up to the point where it would not move through the frame this section was a real struggle and tested our fitness and patience.
Making it through we then headed into checkpoint two still with 20 km to go.
For the final leg of this stage we were treated with more mud and rain as well as more climbing. At this point the mud had taken the toll on Matt's bike and both the front and rear brakes had deteriorated to a point where they weren't very effective.
Fortunately for us the last 10kms were on a sealed road, what we thought would be a welcome reprieve from the climbing and muddy singletrack was soon dismissed as we headed up a 10% climb for a couple of Km before we got the final descent.
All said and done the stage was by far the hardest mainly due to the rain making conditions tougher. We rode around 68kms and climbed 2200 metres of climbing.
We finished in a time of 6hours and 50 minutes. It was another cold night but the forecast warmed us up for the next day. Sunny!
Before starting the stage there was a last minute course alteration due to a Bear and her cubs being spotted where we were going to be riding.
The officials did not want to take the risk so the ride was diverted at the end to finish at the Nipkiska Casino with a shuttle organised to take us up to overnight campsite - Rafter Six Ranch. Seeing a Casino in the middle of nowhere is quite a remarkable site and we noticed quite a few punters trying to make their fortunes.
The stage began with a climb around 45 minutes before heading downhill. We rode some single track in reverse from the previous day and then did a stint on some fire roads making for a pleasant change.
The sun was out and things were much warmer than the previous two days. Things were going well as we started the first really big climb that took us up to an elevation of around 2,100 metres.
The uninterrupted views from the summit were simply amazing as you could see in every direction due to the lack of trees present on the summit. After briefly taking in the spectacular views we headed down to tackle a section of rocky trails that tested our skill levels but were thoroughly enjoyable.
This was a short reprieve on our weary legs with the final big climb ahead bringing us up to an altitude of 2400 metres. The view from the final summit was even more spectacular.
Then the fun began as we headed down another steep rocky descent. The journey down lasted for what seemed like an eternity and we had lost the feeling in our arms from holding on over the rough terrain. Once at the bottom we rode the fire road for about 8kms up a long hill into checkpoint two.
We were told that it was pretty much all downhill for the next 20km thankfully they were correct. We appreciated this section of trail that ended with about 5km left to ride along the road.
The rain held off and it was a very enjoyable stage. We crossed the line in around 6hours and 20minutes. It was the longest stage around 70km with a similar amount of climbing to the previous day.
The race organizers thought of everything and had frozen slushies ready for us as we waited for our shuttle to Rafter Six Ranch.
The final stage on paper was the easiest due to the smaller climbs and smaller race distance. We started the stage with a short section of single trail before heading out onto the highway for around 3 kilometres of bitumen. The pace was fast with a massive headwind making the conditions difficult. We tried to ride in packs to be protected by the wind.
We had a great start and stayed toward the front of the pack on the road before heading into the single track. The singletrack was great fun and maybe knowing this was the last day made it all that much sweeter.
There were short sharp climbs but nothing that could not be ridden except for a series of steep staircases. We charged into checkpoint 1 just over an hour into the ride and we knew today would be over quite quickly. We were then treated with more of the same style tracks.
After reaching checkpoint 2 we climbed for around 150 metres that in return treated us to a 5 km section of downhill descent to the finish line.
Before we got to this point we encountered a few recreational riders out on the tracks. Canmore has around 100km of trails at its disposal. The first chap we met followed us for around 2 kilometres and at first I thought he was racing with us.
I noticed after a while he did not have a number plate on the front of his bike. He was pushing up our Tempo and he finally asked us how long our race was. We remarked that it was 7 days long and today was our last day. At this point he promptly discontinued the chase and wished us well.
We rolled into the main street of Canmore in a time of 3hours and 20 minutes. The stage was 45 kilometres and only 1,300 metres of climbing.
It was an amazing feeling coming across the finish line knowing that we had achieved only what around 3000 riders before us have done. We were given a finishers T-shirt, Medal and certificate to prove that we had completed the race.
We finished 13th overall out of 20 teams in the Open Men's category. We were very happy with our result given the calibre of riders we competed against.
Thank you to everyone who supported our journey and we really appreciated your well wishes and emails that helped keep us motivated. Thank you to everyone who donated to the Friends of Bryan that I am sure will be gratefully appreciated. We are looking forward to a bit of a break from riding to let the legs recover.
Finally for me personally, I would like to thank my wife for supporting me through this amazing journey. From the 4.30am early morning alarm clock rings (which also woke her up each day), through to the long weekend rides that took me away from my family. I only wish that our children had been slightly older so I could have shared this amazing experience with my family.
I promise not to tick off my other Bucket List ambition (Everest) any time soon.
BikeRoar was a proud sponsor for the Ride For Bryan.