Day 2: Trans-Cascadia 2017

Day 2 was a long day that saw racers up at the crack of dawn – maybe a few rolled out of their tents a little later – and settling into their new basecamp at Belknap Hot Springs after dark.

They awoke to dreary skies this morning and were just about loaded on the shuttle buses before the first drops of rain fell.

The first stage of the day took them to into the true wilderness on Grasshopper; an 8-mile traverse through alpine meadows and along a ridgeline (described at the racer meeting as ‘the longest 8 miles of your life.’) This is followed by a rugged ride off the ridge and a creek-side neutral climb before finishing on Box Canyon Trail for a total of 3907 feet of descending.

This is somewhat of a special stage for Trans-Cascadia in that the team has spent three years working on uncovering it. Originally the area was a trade route for Native Americans who used controlled burns along the ridgelines to keep the meadows open as they travelled from the high summer grasslands down to the valley for winters. In the late 1920’s and early 1930’s the Civilian Conservation Core (CCC) built trails as part of their labour creation program after the Great Depression. “These trails became the only way for people to get around these mountains until the ‘50s when mechanized logging really became profitable,” explains Adam Craig who spent many days over the last few years on the Trans-Cascadia work crew. The trail had been all but forgotten when the project to uncover it began. “It started with a major log-out effort; there were hundreds of trees down across that trail. The trail kind of needed to be moved around some trees that couldn’t be cut out of the way, but for the most part the tread was intact and the trail was pretty healthy, it just needed to be uncovered.” After clearing the logs the first year, the crew went back in and had to find their way through the meadows to the next trail entrance because the tread was completely gone in this area. “We recut tread in a couple of meadows to address some erosion issues, but for the most part you’re just riding through the meadows following flagging tape — and it’s amazing, it’s beautiful up there!”

Alex Gardner, one of the Event Directors, expressed why working on this trail project was so important to the event – “The Forest Service, Derrick Bell and Kevin Rowell, talked to us about Grasshopper and what they wanted to get done – you could see in their eyes how dear it was to them.” The amount of work that has gone into uncovering Grasshopper made today’s stage all that much sweeter for many of the people involved. “When I think about how many hours I’ve put in personally and then multiply it by all our volunteers; it’s been hundreds.” While working on the trail the team coined the phrase, ‘hella liaise’ to describe the long traverse. “That was all we would talk about when we were out there marking it or working on it. It’s such a long journey to get there and then you race down this hill and it’s worth it!”

And it was worth it – every racer finished the stage with a smile on their face! Joe Lawwill of Shimano had the unique perspective of being both on the trail crew and a racer. “It was definitely gratifying – especially the structure of the sponsors putting in the time and helping make this happen. Once I rode it through clean, it just was so amazing how different it was. Without these guys doing this, there would be so much amazing trail out there that no one would get to enjoy.”

Following this epic racers headed back into Oakridge for two more classics through the old growth. The sixth stage was on Tire Mountain; offering a backcountry feel with a large amount of narrow-tread sections this stage is deep in a drainage area which means there was a bit of a steep climb to stage seven.

The last stage of the day was Cloverpatch. Named for the lush green clover at the start of the trail, it quickly changes and becomes rocky and steep with plenty of switchbacks.

Chris Johnston managed to hold on to his lead for a second day over Geoff Kabush, which was a relief to him as he was afraid he was going to repeat history. “Last year I won the first day so I was like ‘oh man, I’ve repeated myself, I’m the target and I’ve done it, it’s the same again.’ So it’s nice to hold him back another day at least this year!”

Geoff felt like he finally found his rhythm today – even if he did drop a chain and have to scoot part of the way. “I definitely lost some time, but it was nice to see the splits with Chris; we’ve been battling and I think I clawed back a few seconds so I’m just excited it’s still a race and I’m excited to see what trails we ride in the next couple of days.

Rumour has it that tomorrow’s stages have a lot more pedalling; undoubtedly it will be an even tighter race at the end of the day.

On the women’s side of the race, Kathy Pruitt held on to her lead over Bekah Rottenberg and Ingrid Larouche. The Amateur Women saw photographer, Robin O’Neil take the lead for the second day. Her inspiration for doing the event had very little to do with competition however. “I love riding new trails and I really love our bike community, so any chance I can get to be involved, I like to be involved. And I do love being on my bike and not always behind the lens. I just love seeing new trail and riding new trail!”

For Adrienne Schofhaus, also racing in the Amateur Women’s category, this is her first enduro race ever. “I will say it really is just like riding with a bunch of your friends. What I’ve been really impressed with is that the transfer stations have felt just like backcountry riding, like I’m just out in the wilderness with my friends pedalling up and then shredding down fresh loamy trails! So it’s really been a raw, rugged experience and then you have to keep in mind that you’re actually racing and you’ve got to stay focused.”

Speaking of staying focused, for those of you wondering, Mitch Ropelato was last seen tonight saying, “I think we’re going hard tonight. I didn’t really choose it, but I got handed a few beers and called a sissy, so I was like ‘I’ll show you guys!’”

The racers have another early morning wake-up tomorrow and it’s anyone’s guess who will come away with the fabled Go-Hard jersey.