The excited energy at basecamp this morning was palpable. Not only was a massive day of blind racing on the horizon for the participants, but it was a completely new course for the event team as well. Today’s stages represented the essence of why Trans-Cascadia was created. “It’s exciting,” said Rosara Joseph, wearing her leader jersey. “New trails are always cool – and I’ve heard only good things about today from people in the know!”
A planned 20 miles of pedalling and 15.5 miles of racing took racers from the trails around Oakridge to their new basecamp on the outside of MacKenzie. Stage 12 and 13 ran down Lawler on Hardesty Mountain, a trail that local Trail Boss, Derrick Bell, has been riding for over 20 years. Over the last two years Trans-Cascadia has been working with Derrick, the Eugene Trail Club; Disciples of Dirt, Kevin Rowell with the Forest Service, and Dirt Mechanics; a recreational excavation company, to extend the trail to the bottom of the mountain. “You used to pop out on the top of this gravel road and descend on it for about three miles; it was always kind of a buzz-kill,” explains Derrick. Money raised by the Disciples of Dirt and Trans-Cascadia paid for the necessary environmental study to green-light the project. The trail was officially opened today and contains a mix of machine and hand built sections. “That’s been a 20-year dream for quite a few of us. And today it’s being ridden on and rained on – perfect!”
Racers shuttled back up to the top of Hardesty Mountain to descend Eula Ridge for Stage 14. The finish line was full of a mix of exclamations of love for the trail to cursing its punchy climbs. Chris Johnston thoroughly enjoyed the stage, "there were two amazing descents. The stage could have been broken in two as there was quite a substantial climb in the middle, but there were some really cool steeper rocky descents. It was really loose and down the bottom there was lots of flow. Man it was rad!”
Stage 15 on Grasshopper Ridge was another Trans-Cascadia supported initiative by Derrick. The backcountry, 16-mile trail had a two-hour traverse up and down the ridgeline, through seven wide-open meadows, and ended with a 5.1-mile descent. Native Americans and pioneers used the original game trail before equestrians adopted it, but in recent years there had been little use and much of it was overgrown and difficult to find. Working with both the Oakridge and MacKenzie Forest Services, Derrick was able to secure permission to revamp it as a mountain bike accessible route. “This year the trail got completely cleared. Trans-Cascadia did a couple campouts and work parties on Grasshopper with the Santa Cruz crew; they did good solid work,” says Derrick. “Opening Grasshopper trail to me is huge, this year with the help of Trans-Cascadia, we opened 18 miles of trail in a short amount of time.”
Unfortunately, Nick Hardin went down on Stage 14; breaking his collarbone, and had to be extracted from the course. Mark Weir acted quickly, giving up his race run to help Nick – and serving as a reminder that when it comes to backcountry racing, people come first.
Due to the course hold of nearly an hour, the last bus of racers missed the cut-off for Stage 15. The results for this stage weren’t counted in the overall – but everyone was in agreement that the right decision was made in respect to everyone’s safety.
Those racers who did ride the stage experienced everything from rain to sleet and snow – but a warm fire at the top helped keep spirits high. Geoff Kabush was one of the racers who rode Grasshopper, “it was beautiful up there! It was fun putting the ‘trans’ in Trans-Cascadia. At the end of the day I think [cancelling the stage] was a good call; everyone was getting pretty tired and it was getting dark. And I got some bonus fitness in there.”
Geoff’s strength in pedaling on today’s long stages earned him a further lead over Chris Johnson. “There is some amazing descending, some really good sections, but the climbs just far outweigh the technical sections and I find it really challenging to attack on the climbs and keep competitive,” said Chris. Peter Ostroski held on to 3rd place. And Rosara continued her winning streak, taking home her 8th straight finisher jersey.
Despite some logistical challenges and injuries today, the field of racers settled into their new basecamp tonight – tired and happy.