I’ve been a fan of the project to develop the Trans-Canada Trail for a while now. The trail strings together some rail trails and dirt roads through endless breathtaking scenery. So when Lennard Pretorius first announced he was plotting a race route along a 1000k portion of the Trans-Canada Trail, I was immediately intrigued.
My work/life schedule worked out so I found myself in B.C. on June 25th for the inaugural running of the race.There were a dozen of us at the start with goals from the ambitious to the relaxed. Being the first run, nobody really knew what to expect. The uncertainty lead to a wide variety of gear choices from full suspension to full rigid, from trailers to paniers and everything in between. Nobody knew what would be the winning combination.
The race started out with a 20k paved ride out of Merritt. Three or four of us quickly pulled ahead as the fast riders showed their hands early. This was the first ultra-endurance race where I set my goal to hang out at the pointy end of the race and I was pretty excited as the race was going exactly to plan. I felt strong and the miles (or kilometers) ticked away at rapid succession.
Shortly after hitting the first stretch of trail, there was a glitch in the route and I found myself riding in circles trying to find the route. Fortunately, Lennard, the mastermind behind the route, showed up quickly and pointed the way.
Much of the route is on rail trails. This was the most misleading aspect of the entire race. These rail trails weren’t easy by any stretch of the imagination. Years of ATV use left the trails extremely rough, loose and all-around challenging. Add in the fact that nothing is flat in this section of Canada and most riders, including myself, were caught off guard. There’s no such thing as easy riding in Canada. My rigid bike was not the best choice.
After a few hours my stomach started feeling a little off. It’s not unusual for me to battle nausea early in races so I didn’t think much of it. But the feeling just kept getting worse. Soon, I as unable to eat any solid foods at all. I was staying well hydrated sucking down water from my hydration pack and energy drink from my bottle, but food wasn’t working.
I thought something other than packaged food would help so I made an unplanned stop. I pulled into A&W in Princeton just 100k into the ride and right on the route. (I’m fascinated that A&W is still a thing in Canada). I took a bite of my burger and spent the next 10 minutes trying to swallow it. No luck so I hopped back on the bike as the first rider out of Princeton.
Because I have had minor stomach issues in the past, I was prepared. I packed a couple bottles of Ensure. This high calorie meal replacement drink is designed for the infirmed so it is usually a way I can get calories when I can’t stomach actual food. I was able to get it down and then spent the next hour expending a lot of energy trying to keep it down.
After another 100k I managed to hit some railroad tracks just wrong and burp most of the air out of my rear tire. How it didn’t go completely flat, I have no idea. My bike got pretty squirrely with only a few PSI in the tire, but I really didn’t want to stop. I knew pumping it up with my mini pump would take a long time. I managed to limp into Summerland where I saw a house with a bunch of bikes in the garage and people working in the front yard so I stopped and asked to borrow a floor pump. It turned out these folks had just finished watching Inspired to Ride, a movie about bikepack racing across the U.S. on the TransAM route, so they fully understood my level of crazy and were eager to help.
At this point I was still in the lead so I just kept pedaling. I was bound to feel better soon. At 130k, I rolled into Penticton. I still felt like I was going to throw up any second but still believed it was only temporary. I told myself as long as I stayed hydrated, I’d be fine.
In Penticton I ordered some food and stared at it for 20 minutes. Then I rode a few miles off route to a grocery store to replenish my supply of Ensure.
At this point, I was bonking hard. I was in extreme calorie deficit and expecting the few calories I had consumed earlier that morning to re-emerge in a violent eruption. I convinced myself it will pass as I rode out of town through Penticton’s bucolic wine country and headed up into the mountains again. On the lower slopes of the climb, a couple racers passed by and I realized just how slow I was going. This was the first time I really admitted to myself just how bad I was feeling. My mantra of “just keep moving” was now being replaced with “Just keep it down” so I called it a night early and was in my bivvy by 9:00 struggling to sleep through the battle raging in my belly.
The next morning, I managed to eat a banana so I thought I was making progress. I loaded up my gear and took off on the climb with new energy. I soon realized I wasn’t doing as well as I thought and the extreme nausea was back with a vengeance.
The entire duration of the climb I debated each and every pedal stroke. Should I continue? Should I stop? I made it to the summit of the climb and my mind was consumed processing the possible bail out options. Getting out of a race of this caliber can be as hard as the race itself. I knew I was about to head into a long stretch of 300k before the next major city. After a long deliberation with myself of relentless flip flopping, I finally had to make the tough call to quit. This was my first DNF since I started bikepacking. Finishing every event had been a point of pride, but it just wasn’t worth it. I had lost the mental battle and my body was in full-on revolt.
With a heavy heart and a light stomach, I turned back and rode down the hill I had just painstakingly climbed and made it into Penticton for a scratch.
I feel surprisingly incomplete. I’m still haunted by my decision. I can’t wait to go back and finish what I started.