PROLOGUE AND DAY 1
No race report is complete without including significant details leading up to the event. In the case of the Intermontane Challenge, in Kamloops, British Columbia, the days leading up to the race were almost as telling as the race itself.
Saturday was spent at my cousin’s wedding and reception where I was playing bridesmaid. The party was raging at midnight when I forced myself to bed and to try and sleep for a couple of hours. I was up at 3:30 to drive to the airport where I was to catch a flight to Vancouver via Phoenix. Waiting for the boarding call, I noticed no plane in our little gate. Hmmm, a bit concerning…. in actuality, my heart sank just a little, because I had a feeling what was going to come from this situation. Forty minutes later, when we were supposed to be boarding, the plane showed up and started preparations for our flight.
Between the late arrival of the plane and traffic on the tarmac, we were delayed about an hour beyond our original flight time. My calculations had us arriving just in time to zip over to my connecting flight and get on. The flight attendants had assured us that agents on the ground were doing everything possible to inform our connecting flights of the delay and to rebook us if necessary. When we landed, I could see my flight in the gate and breathed a sigh of relief that I would be on my way to Vancouver with no problem. Wrong, Rebecca, no sauce for you.
We sat on the ground for at least 10 minutes waiting for our gate to open, and by the time we pulled in and deplaned, I could see my Vancouver bound flight pulling away from the gate. I couldn’t believe it. There were four other people on my flight that were supposed to catch the one to Vancouver, and they didn’t hold the plane for the couple of minutes it would have taken to get us on. Tears welled up in my eyes and I willed myself not to cry. The agents taking care of the 90% of us who missed connecting flights rebooked me to fly to Vancouver at 7:30 at night, putting me in near 11:00, and with no way to reach Kamloops without renting a car and driving for 3-3½ hours. I would have gotten into Kamloops at 3:00 a.m., if everything went really smoothly!!
I was livid and had the agents rebook me to go through Seattle and arrive in Vancouver at 7:15, thinking forward progress was better than none at all. Fortunately these flights went off timely enough and I got through customs in Vancouver quickly. I took off through the terminal to get a ticket to Kamloops where I got lucky for the first time all day. The last ticket on the last flight of the night had my name on it…whew! I breathed a sigh of relief and was grateful that at least I was going to be able to start the race in the morning.
I arrived at the hotel at 12 midnight, PST, after having traveled for 23½ hours. I was dehydrated, hungry, thirsty, and exhausted. At that point, I should have had the wherewithal to know that my race was in jeopardy, and to get out my single speed. I didn’t, of course, get that smart until Friday.
Warming up before the race, I felt,….sort of all right….I guess. I could tell that I was going to have difficulties going fast off the start. My legs felt okay, but overall I was blech, and I sensed that my spring was going to be a bit more like fall. I rationed that having a slow start to a stage race was a good thing. Better to ride into form than lose it, right??
The race began with a parade lap around town. It was actually kind of fun (and a good warm-up) until we suddenly started going back up the hill we had come down at the beginning…what?? It was weird to be climbing this hill “not racing,” and trying to pretend like it wasn’t bothering me, which it was. At the top of this extended paved road climb, the dirt road, aka start of the race official, splintered off to the right, and the pace picked up. I did not.
I felt like someone was choking me, at altitude, and forcing me to ride my bike all at once. It was horrible. The pain was unbelievable, but oddly, my legs felt all right. Looking back I can see it was because I wasn’t able to go fast enough to make my legs hurt at all! I kept telling myself not to worry, that the race was 5 days long, and that if I could give myself a little time to warm up, I would ride into form and be able to make up a fair amount of time. With these thoughts, I was able to keep my head in the game, even though my body was ready to throw it in and go swimming for a week.
About ¾ of the way through the course, I was bombing down some magnificent singletrack when I started noticing a lack of course markings. Now, the yellow-green tape that was being used to this point had not been particularly plentiful, but it was still present, and suddenly I wasn’t seeing any at all. I kept going a bit further until I dumped out onto a dirt road and spied a piece of tape dangling from a nearby tree. Sweet, I thought, I am on track. A little bit later, though, I started noticing some oddities. I was catching up to people who were walking where I was riding and the trail seemed awfully familiar. I paused to evaluate the situation for a few minutes and was caught by Jonathan Nutbrown, who was walking his bike due to a broken off derailleur. Wait a minute…I passed Jonathan Nutbrown walking his broken off derailleur bike hours ago …..something is really wrong. I called out to another guy who I had been riding off and on with, “haven’t we done this part already??” As he whizzed by his joyful response, “YEAH!!” hit me with disbelief. Dude, you really didn’t care, did you??
I promptly turned around and started back up the trail I had just come down, for the second time. On the way back up the trail, I ran into several other people who had apparently made the same mistake I had, and were grateful to be corrected before they got too far off course. When we finally rectified the mis-turn and got back on track, 24-25 minutes had gone by and what mental edge I had left was starting to dull.
Did I mention that it was HOT?? Apparently, the locals who heard the race announcement responded with, “July?? In Kamloops??” Everyone thought we were nuts, and I started agreeing with them. You would think that Canada means cool, chilly, heck, downright cold. Not Kamloops, where winter sees 20 below and summer sees over 100. Temperatures hit and exceeded 100 degrees every day we were on the bike and it was stifling. Being in the sun was like riding with someone towing on your Camelback while wearing a garter around your ribs; it was nearly impossible to breathe and push the body in the heat. The shade, thankfully, was easily 15-20 degrees cooler, and when there was a breeze, it made all the difference in the world.
Anyway, between the heat, the day-before travel, the dehydration, the disappointment, and the getting lost, I can honestly say I had one of the worst days on my bike I’ve had in years. I knew coming into the race that I would be going up against girls who would likely be faster than me, but I also knew that if I was on my game, I would race competitively, and that a stage race means anything can happen. After coming in over an hour behind the leaders on day 1, and feeling completely helpless over the factors contributing to my situation, my race felt doomed to enjoying salt and vinegar potato chips and cokes at the finish. I soon realized I wasn’t the only one who had had a rough day of it.
All around the race venue, stories were piling in of racers going off course and losing anywhere from 10 to 50 minutes. People (myself included) had run out of water due to these mis-turns and were suffering from the effects of the heat. Attitudes ranged from livid to laughing, but the majority of people had stories to tell of losing their way and dealing with the elements. I started feeling my fairness radar going off, as I learned that, not only had the leaders not gotten lost, but most people behind them had, and at a host of different places on the course. This was not a case of 1 or 2 racers getting turned around in one spot (probably rider error), but the majority of racers getting lost in multiple areas, indicating a very poorly marked course.
The only other stage race I’ve done (TransGermany, 07) was a point-to-point race in its’ first year as well. It was organized beautifully, and marked expertly. In the 8 days that hundreds of us raced, I heard not one single report of getting turned around or misled, and it ended up being one of the best experiences I’ve ever had on a bike. First year syndrome was no excuse for what was going on in Kamloops, and I was concerned.