Singletrack 6, Fernie

Back home, I am always loath to waste a day of holiday on travelling. So that means I turn up for most races and events at the last possible moment, a flurry of bags and kit and usually a lack of campsite or accommodation bookings. It felt like real luxury to arrive in the Fernie on Tuesday evening, giving us the chance to scope out the town, do a bit of a hike together on the Sisters Trail and then go out for dinner and live music. On Thursday, I checked into the Raging Elk Hostel, my home for the next four nights (in itself unusual to stay in the same place for so long). After a relaxed morning, I saw Neil off on his Bugaboos adventure and I headed out to reccie some of the trails for the race ahead.

Slogging up the long 'hyperventilation' climb, I was immediately regretting the decision to ride so late in the day. Sweat was pouring into my eyes as I struggled to make it round the steep hairpins. Despite getting off and going back to try to ride them again, some of them were really far beyond my ability and I was feeling a bit worried about having to get off and walk on what I knew was going to be a congested climb at the start of the race. And the climbs are supposed to be my strength...

Next up was Saturday's big descent ('hyper extension') and this didn't exactly restore my faith in my bike riding abilities. Reading blogs in the run up to the race I had realised, too late, that everyone here rides full suspension bikes and it was going to be a full susser kind of race. Oh well, at least I could ride most of it, even if I had to stop several times to rest on the way down. 20 mins later saw me in the bike shop getting a quick release for my seat post and the mechanic doing his best to make my brakes on perfect working order, to give me more confidence.

Just when I was starting to wonder what I'd let myself in for, some really nice messages arrived from friends- Ruth, telling me to enjoy the tough days, because they are the ones you remember most, and Katie reminding me that being a bit rubbish on a practice lap happens all the time in xc racing and isn't anything to worry about.

Friday would probably have been a good day to rest up but instead I went out and rode the trails for the second part of Saturday, which were flowy enough to remind me i can ride a bike after all. Then a gentle swim helped to calm my nerves even further. By now lots of other racers had started arriving and it was a lot of fun to meet everyone. The hostel itself seems to attract adventurers and those not there for the race all had interesting stories to tell about paddling through northern Canada or bike packing the Tour Divide from Mexico to Banff. I was already having a great time and the race hadn't even started yet.

Stage 1: Fernie, 33km, 1500m of climbing, 3hr19

Those stats don't seem like much but riding almost 90% steep singletrack really takes it out of you and my experience from Thursday meant I knew both the climbs and the descents would be challenging. Yet somehow, it all seemed better on race day. Katie was definitely right. I could ride the downhills and actually enjoyed them, even if I had to let a lot of faster riders past. I think I got equal amounts of respect and bemusement for the hardtail choice. Turns out not being able to ride the switchbacks on the climb wasn't an issue either. In the end I had a really fun ride and everyone was super friendly, with no aggressive overtaking, just friendly shouts of 'follow my line, I'm a local and know this one well'. The support from the spectators was also pretty special, people here are so enthusiastic it really lifts your spirits. The middle section was fairly flat and a lot of people seemed to be overtaking me. I couldn't work out whether they were just going too fast (I knew there were some steep and nasty short climbs ahead) or if it was me going to slowly, being used to rambling around trails on my own or long days of cycle touring. Maybe a bit of both as I saw some of them again, pushing on the steep bits, and some of them left me for dust. In the end I finished still feeling like I could have gone a lot further. So now I know for tomorrow- I need to try a bit harder on the singletrack and stop just meandering. I think I am more used to putting the hammer down on long fire road climbs, like they have in a lot of the races back home.


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