Above: Biking the Lake Minnewanka Trail
It seems almost foolish sometimes to be in a hurry around here when so often the landscape deserves to be just stared at. Be that as it may, we still enjoy mountain biking! This season, which is now officially over, was fantastic. Suz was biking all summer after making a great recovery from her knee surgery. I decided to reward myself after my summer work and upgraded to a new, full suspension bike.
Posing at Lake Minnewanka is my new ride, a Rocky Mountain Altitude 730. The big changes from my old bike are more travel on the front suspension plus a full suspension in the rear. Another big difference from my old bike is hydraulic disc brakes which give even greater stopping power on the big slopes. I moved from 29 inch to a 27.5 inch diameter tire as a good compromise tire that climbs well over obstacles and doesn’t give too much momentum on the downhills. I tried out a few frames that I found too big even though they were the recommended size so I’m riding a slightly small frame which makes me feel like my centre of gravity is lower and I’m in much greater control of the bike. It also has dispensed with the large chain ring as it assumes you are only using the bike on a trail and not pavement where you actually might use the big ring. With the Seven Summits in just a few weeks, I was excited to put some miles on it.
Mountain Biking in Revelstoke
Above: Heading to Revy on a ferry in the heart of BC with floating log booms in the background. Dim light, fast-moving subject and no tripod made for some blurry pictures. Too bad as the Endor-like trails were pretty amazing to bomb through.
The Seven Summits
We enjoyed our experience at the Seven Summits last year but knowing what lay ahead this time around made me just a little more nervous. It’s a toss-up sometimes which is scarier; the unknown, or an awful known! This time around, we brought some Bow Valley folks with us. Our regular ski and bike friends Randy, Hugo and Mark came out and we all went in on a condo at Red Mountain in Rossland. Comfortable accommodations which made the trip pretty cheap.
We had decided to ride independently though Mark generously suggested we probably wouldn’t be too far apart. Mark does a few races each year and is pretty fast and I couldn’t really imagine keeping up. Still, it’s nice to have support on the long and demanding trail. I was nervous the night before as last year seemed a bit over my head at times. But another year of experience and a bike better suited to the technically demanding trail eased my mind a bit.
Above: The whole Bow Valley gang. Mark, Randy and Hugo waited just a few minutes at a checkpoint for me and Suz so we got this group picture. As you can see, the large loose rock can present a challenge. At least this section is flat. Large, loose rock on the downhills really test your reflexes, balance and technique. Suz and I decorated our helmets and Randy and Mark wore some Hawaiian shirts as a nod to the locals who all tend to make a token dress-up effort for some reason. It really serves to remind you that riding is supposed to be fun.
I found the trail difficult as always but there were many places last year that I had to get off the bike and climb down whereas this year I rode right over. There are still spots that most people have to get off and scramble. One of the things that make this course so great is that after a few hours, you start to get very tired and are presented with dozens of small opportunities to prove yourself. There are so many small steep sections that you can decide “Okay, I’m really tired, but I’m climbing this!” Or you can see the same feature and concede that it’s too hard and you’re going to get off and walk it and fight the trail somewhere else down the line. But the main thing is that you have an unending supply of these possible little victories and defeats. You may be exhausted and feeling the trail is beating you up but you can always look ahead at the next obstacle and say “I’m going to beat THIS hill.” Suz and I ride together so we would be communicating these intentions. If I was in front facing a steep obstacle that I couldn’t do, I would have to quickly get off the trail if she was going to try and beat it. Not always easy to get out of the way on a narrow, mountain trail but I wouldn’t want her to lose any momentum (climbers always have right of way over downhillers for this reason.)
Both of us felt much better this time around and our wristwatches were telling us as much as we were ahead of last year’s time. With just the last of the seven mountains to descend, we were pretty excited. Last year, on this massive and tricky downhill, I pretty much melted my brake rotors. This year I found it easier to let the wheels run and let the suspension bounce under me. Suzanne attacked the tight downhill corners with so much more confidence than last year. I recal so many spots on this downhill that she had to get off last year and yet rode this year. An admirable accomplishment on its own and more so after her knee surgery.
We crossed the finish line at the highway in 7 hours 18 minutes beating last year by a full 42 minutes. We were super proud of each other and only one small fall each! After enjoying the cheers and finish line chaos, we rode the shuttle bus back to town for food and awards. Randy had a wipeout somewhere near kilometer 5 and had the honour of being the first person at a checkpoint to be covered in blood. He was fine as it was just skin loss and not anything more than a bloody mess, but it earned him a nice prize at the awards: a brand new set of body armour pads.
Last year I thought we might be back. This year we can safely say we will be back next year!
The Seven Summits wasn’t our only rushing around this fall. For some reason we signed up for the Banff Burner, a foot race up Sulphur Mt in Banff. The trail rises 742m vertical over 5.5km. Your number is logged at the bottom and top so you can start any time within a four hour window and have the trail to yourself. Here’s a GoolgeEarth view of the trail:
The hiking guide suggests up to 5 hours for this trail so I didn’t mind my time of 56 minutes. It felt slow as I hadn’t done much running this fall but I was pleased with the numbers. At the top, I rehydrated, stretched and chatted with the timer as I thought I would have to wait a while for Suz. Low and behold just a few minutes later she gave a holler from below and crossed the line in 64 minutes! I was so impressed as Suz doesn’t do much running to speak of. For the rest of the day I just had to stammer my praise. Our times were good enough for second place for me and second for Suz on the women’s side!
For our efforts, we both won 2 free passes for the Banff gondola, 2 passes for the Minnewanka Lake boat cruise and 2 passes for the Athabasca Glacier tour. There’s a lot of people I know who could have cleaned my clock on that race but who didn’t take part. I’ll try and remember that when Suz and I take our boat cruise!