I blame Andreas Hestler for getting me into this mess. I’ve never met anyone who makes something so hard sound so easy.
Hestler is the public face and co-founder of the BC Bike Race and when I met him last year it tipped me over the edge into full commitment.
“Ha don't be nervous,” he told me. “It's just riding a bike - and you have all day (summer time) to cover the distance, you will crush it, I'm sure!”
This is a classic Hestler response when you express nervouseness at the prospect of riding for seven consecutive days, an average 40km a day, mostly on technical Canadian singletrack and – oh yes – climbing about 10,000m across the course of the week.
For ‘Dre’ as he is universally known, “riding a bike” means something entirely different to me. He is a multiple cross country mountain biking national champion and Olympic representative … from a country where riding a mountain bike and trail-building has been taken to art-form level.
Last northern summer I was lucky enough to be visiting British Columbia on business and he was happy to catch up, give me some pointers, even loan me a bike and send me off to some trails which would give me an idea of what I would be up against in the race.
“This is not a cross country stage race, this is a trail bike stage race,” he told me. “We are in a unique place in that way in the world. The Cape Epic is pure cross country, the Trans Provence is pure enduro, we’re somewhere in between.”
He sent me off to Squamish, which is an hour up the road from Vancouver and will be the final gut-busting day of the 2018 race (53.7km and 2645m of climbing! Nuts!) with a list of trails to ride; Half Nelson, Pseudotsuga, Hoods in the Woods, Powerhouse Plunge, Roller-coaster, Lumberjacks, Leave of Absence, 50 Shades of Green.
“If you can ride Hoods and the Plunge then you can ride just about anything in the race,” Dre told me.
Well, encouragingly, I could ride those trails. But, I have to admit, I did have a few second looks at some of the technical features and struggled on some of them.
The BCBR dos not tackle the gnarliest of the region’s trails. I know that because I got lost a couple of times during my Squamish recce and ended up on singletrack I simply could not ride. Man, was I pleased when I hauled out Trailforks and realised I’d gone wrong.
Even on the stuff I rode, the more challenging A-line technical sections, such as some of the slab riding on Leave of Absence, are roped off in the BCBR once the elite riders go through. When you’ve got 600 riders traversing a trail and someone spends five minutes at the top of a rock pondering ‘will I or wont I’ that can cause all sorts of issues.
But even saying that Hoods in the Woods and the Plunge showed me there will be plenty of challenges. As Dre pointed out, the level of technical challenge itself isn’t that extreme, but combine it with steep downs and ups then its gets harder.
Yep steep; steep with roots, steep with rocks and – unexpectedly – steep and blown out in places where the dry summer had broken up the loam and loosened rocks from the soil.
But it was a positive enough experience for me to think, just maybe I could do this. Predictably, Dre reinforced that when I dropped his bike back to him.
“You know the technical is something you are going to get better at as you go through the week, so ease yourself into it, have your bike properly prepared for the adventure in BC and then patiently build your skills.
“Don’t throw yourself on day one down trails you don’t know. Mountain biking is about walking, there is always some walking, we are all in over our heads at some point.”
At some point? More often me than you, Dre, I reckon!