Day 4: Trans-Cascadia 2017

Racers boarded the shuttles this morning knowing that they would be hitting elevations of around 5200 feet on today’s stages and that the freezing line was sitting only 400 feet above that – you had to have a strong layering game to survive!

“They saved the best until last, it was amazing! It was the best day I think.” Chris Johnston, who has worn the leader jersey all week, was still washing the loam off his bike. “The climb was so worth it. I think the weather made it kind of tough, but just going through those old growth forests it was super rad! Scar Mountain was surreal!” Racers experienced nearly every type of weather at they rode along the most exposed ridge of the race on Scar Mountain. The transfer took them to the start of Stage 13; a short, roughly 2 minutes long stage that was described as ‘just a bit of a warm-up’ before the gem of the day on Stage 14. “Stage 1 was pretty tough. Even though it was only a few minutes long – I thought we were in for a smooth warm up – but it was anything but. It was a really tough two minutes.” On his tight race over the last few days with Kabush, Chris said, “I was stoked to have a good day. I rode well and gave it everything I had, so however it goes now I’m stoked either way.”

Gordon Peak trail was a serious project to uncover. It wasn’t even legal to access last year. The team dug way back in the archives for some maps of the area from the 1980’s so that they could identify access points and then worked with the Ranger last August for a walk through. After being granted permission for use, the team cut out over 400 trees. The trail is scrappy and primitive, but pure delight as the mossy singletrack drops you down towards Pyramid Creek.

“Today started out with hula hooping on the most beautiful river and then climbing up a misty mountain; there were mossy trees, snow, rain, sleet, descending the slipperiest, loamiest corners, and then open meadows, changing weather, wind, more rain, more hail, everything.” Skye Schillhammer is a videographer for Transition Bikes and also contributed footage to our daily race videos. “And then angel boners of light through the forest and then loam until you hit the bottom.”

Stage 15 continues your descent to the creek where racers forded the freezing cold waters and climb back up one of the trails they rode down yesterday, to meet the shuttles.

Magnificent is just one of the words that has been used to describe the final stage of the 2017 Trans-Cascadia race. Stage 16 has it all – fall line off the top, meadows, high speed bench-cut, and sightlines that go one forever! The stage is 2.6 miles of one solid shot down and 1,984 feet of descending.

“The last day was so good!” Kathy Pruitt, winner of the Pro Women’s category, said while holding a bottle of whiskey. “The trail that we ended on what exactly where I wanted to be because it was that old-growth-tree-mossy stuff, that epic-adventure-I’m-living-life-out-here-in-the-woods kind of thing. And it was wet and didn’t snow, so that was cool. I definitely liked that last stage. I was stoked that we made it all the way up that last climb because when I got up there I was pretty out of it, like lightheaded tired, I was like ‘wow, I’m more tired that I thought I was.’ And then that descent through all that beautiful terrain was so cool! It was best to fly through all those trees and rocks and stuff doing turns!”

The total numbers for today’s stage were 12.6 miles of riding, 5,371 feet of descending, and 969 feet of climbing.

After dinner the overall podiums were called – no one, not even Geoff or Chris, knew who would take the Pro Men’s win, but with a 28 second lead pulled in on the final day, Geoff Kabush walked away with the top step for one more year!

For the Trans-Cascadia team, Day 4 is always a little bittersweet; it’s the end of a long year of work – or three years for some of the trails – but there are always a lot of smiling faces and stoked people and that’s what it’s all about!

Rachel Walker attend the first Trans-Cascadia two years ago and she summed up this year – “when we arrived I was like ‘wow, it’s grown, like properly grown.’ The first year we rocked up to this secret little camping spot and it was like ‘wow, we’re really here?’ and it was just you in the middle of nowhere, no phone signal or anything, it was like a real close-knit community. Somehow they’ve managed to retain that vibe, just on a little bit of bigger scale now. It’s cool, really good!”

Thinking about coming out for the 2018 Trans-Cascadia? Look for registration opening in February – and for a few surprises throughout the year!

Day 3: Trans-Cascadia 2017

Waking up at our basecamp on the McKenzie River at Belknap Hot Springs was chilly this morning, but the incredible feel of being surround by tall old growth trees and the sound of the rushing river made for a true wilderness camping experience.

All five stages in the Old Cascade Crest Network today were completely new to the event – and required a lot of pedalling. This yearlong project for the Trans-Cascadia crew allowed the race to add the 17.8 miles with 3,667 feet of climbing and 5079 feet of descending.

Stage 8 started with a climb towards Browder Ridge where the mature timber gradually gives way to open meadows along the ridgeline where – had the clouds lifted at all -racers would have had views of the surrounding volcanoes. From there, the stage dropped promptly down Gate Creek Trail for a sporty descent to a challenging final plunge.

After a short shuttle, racers arrived to Crescent Mountain for stages 9 and 10. The South Crescent trailhead required some effort as it was a roughly 1 - 2 hour climb. Racers were promised a reward of sweeping meadow vistas just before the summit, but all were happy with the stunning and misty old growth forest along the way. Stage 9 sent racers down the north side of the mountain. This ‘dark side’ delivered consistently fast speeds into turns that felt handmade for mountain bikes, despite the vintage of the trail. That said, not all the corners were easy to make – at least not a mach speed.

Joe Lawwill was following Mitch Ropelato when things went sideways (literally) – and then down. Mitch describes what happened:

We drop in and I was hauling ass, it was a little bit too fast for the conditions, but it was working out. Then we come into this one section – my glasses are all muddy, and Joe’s catching all the roost off me so he’s double as muddy – and all of a sudden I just see left! I lock it up and slide around the backside of the berm and park it into this tree off the trail and was like ‘saved it!’ Then I go to warn Joe and I look behind me, as soon as I look behind me I just see him on front and rear brake. He can’t go sideways because I’m standing right there – and he probably should have just ploughed me, I would have fallen over into a tree and I would have been fine, but he just locked up the front and rear and skidded off into the trees. He looked like E.T. taking off, it was insane, and he just flew through the trees and out of sight. I was like ‘oh my god, he just died. He’s dead. There are a million logs out there – he must have landed on one and it shanked him and shish kabobbed him and he’s done!’
I was like “Joe, are you okay?” And he yelled back “yeah, I’m fine!” And I was like “no, are you sure? Like are you really okay? That was the gnarliest crash I’ve ever seen.” And he was like “yeah, I’m fine.” So I run down and he’s like trying to hike out and the first thing he says is “well this is really going to hurt my time” and I was like “dude! You almost just died.” So I pulled his bike out and set his levers straight and he kind of shakes it off and he’s asks if his bike is good to go and I was like “everything looks right.” And he just grabs it and takes off sprinting.
The rest of the day, I was like, ‘you know what? I like the slower speeds.’ I made all the turns and just like chilled out. Yeah, it kind of freaked me out.

“I may have scarred Mitch for life,” says Joe showing off what could be bear claw marks in his leg. “I was following him, it was extremely muddy so I could barely see as it was, a switchback came up on us quick, he tried to stop for it and I was too close so I had to go around him, but it turn out that trail turned into a cliff. I went through trees and branches. It went dirt, sky, dirt, sky, and I ended up on my feet. Everything worked, so I started climbing up. And then I got stuck in the tree climbing up so Mitch helped me get the bike. By the time I got up there I was like, well I only lost a minute, I’ll keep going and a few minutes further into the run I was like ‘wow, my leg really hurts’ and I looked down and it was pouring blood down my shin. But I finished so it was okay!”

Mitch and Joe weren’t the only ones who got hung upon the quick left after the neutral zone. Brian Lopes took a tumble there and Geoff Kabush managed to park into a tree to avoid going over the side. “The section was really high speed” says Geoff, “and I was just having fun – those switchbacks come up quick and I wasn’t able to quite get it slowed down to turn so I ran into a tree a few feet off the trail that stopped me and I was able to climb back up. I lost about 10 or 15 seconds – no big deal, we got a lot of time out there on the trail today.”

After a mid-mountain pause – which was needed for most to gather their composure by the sounds of it, Stage 10 was a playful rip down to the creek.

Stages 11 and 12 were off the mountain on South Pyramid Creek Tail. The course meandered down the creek with a short neutral climb for a chance to regain any lost composure before dropping back in. Following a quick transfer up road, racers continued on the quite physical South Pyramid Creek Trail through an ever-changing landscape and finally onto the fast bench-cut section to end the day!  

“It’s nice to do some new trail again” Geoff is the returning 2016 Trans-Cascadia champ. We got out there! I’m interested to look at a map afterwards to see where we actually rode. It’s amazing these trails feel like we are in the middle of nowhere, but they are so buff.” Geoff’s strength with pedalling came into play today as he closed the gap between him and Chris Johnston; who is currently in first place.

“I still have the lead by seven seconds,” Chris said at dinner. “Today had some really pedally stages. They were super physical, lots of ups and downs. Today was super wet and the conditions made it really hard to go fast; just sort of hanging it all out there to try and stay on the track to go fast. It was awesome just to keep that margin small because I knew Geoff would have a strong day with those two long stages and it’s awesome to still be at the front!” And while Chris was focused on keeping that lead, the beauty of these stages wasn’t lost on him. “It was amazing, the forest in there and the climates you go through, different forest, just incredible, so cool to ride out there.”

For Josh ‘Loosedog’ Lewis Trans-Cascadia is a completely different event than anything he’s done before. “It’s wicked laid back – exploring America in it’s autumn colours is so nice, it’s like the perfect picture. It’s a whole different experience. It’s so sick, I must say everyone behind the event is killing it. There has not been one upset – like the food and everything is dialled, fires at all the starts. It’s like convenience all the time. If you ever thing ‘I need’ or ‘this would be nice’ it’s already there.”

Racers experienced some true northwest weather yesterday, but at the end of the day there were nothing but smiling – albeit tired – faces and loamy bikes.

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.

Day 1: Trans-Cascadia 2017

There were plenty of hugs and high-fives as some of the international mountain bike community came together for another year of Trans-Cascadia.

Lots of laughs were had at registration as memories of past events were shared and new attendees got some insight into what to expect for the next few days.

After a successful two years of of the race, the spirit of the event remains the same, however a few key changes have made for an even better racer experience. This year each participant was given an Oakley customized roller bag for their gear, as well as, an MSR plate, utensils, and cup as part of the event’s waste reduction program. And in what became known as ‘the party pocket’ of the suitcase everyone could find a can of beer and a pre-roll (don’t worry, it’s legal in Oregon).  

After loading into shuttles and making the two-hour drive to our fist basecamp near Oakridge, racers settled into their pre-setup tents complete with sleeping mats and enjoyed a gourmet dinner by the executive chef at Jack Rabbit in Portland, Chris Dimino.

Following dinner, the event organizers – Alex Gardner, Nick Gibson, and Tommy Magrath – gave racers the run down on what to expect for their first four stages. With prime fall riding conditions, Day One offered up a gentle, but still exhausting, introduction to the race with four stages in the Oakridge area. While the colourful description of the next day’s trails had everyone excited, one descriptor had a few people asking – “what exactly does ice-clay feel like?” Slippery?

This year Trans-Cascadia has introduced ‘Neutral Zones' – these sections are not timed, but are still part of the race. Racers must stay on their bikes and keep riding, but can use the short section to catch their breath and save some energy. As far as rules go, the event organizers simply advised that racers to “try not to dick around too much in the these zones.” The course is minimally signed with only starts and finishes, neutral zones, junctions, and danger areas marked. Everyone was reminded, however, that danger is subjective and to use their heads while racing.

Ben Suttlemyre on the medical team addressed the racers with the wizened tone of backcountry experience that you might expect from a character in an old western film, “if you want to hang it out on that hairy ragged line – just realize it might be the rest of the day before you see a doctor. You’ve gotta have your bike in one piece, you’ve gotta have yourself in one piece, and you’ll have a good time.”

Racers loaded up on shuttles this morning and departed for Lawler. This Oakridge classic is split into two stages to allow riders a moment of reflection on ‘what the hell just happened’ before carrying on. The ride offered up two big descents and a variety of technical features laced through an old growth forest before racers got to finally answer the question – ‘what is ice-clay?’

“It was a very accurate description.” Brian Lopes had forgotten which trail the organizers had warned about, but after hitting the first berm, it all came back to him. “I almost laid it down, my backend came around on me and I was like ‘oh shit, I think this is that icy-clay section they were talking about.’ And it all came to light pretty quick. After hitting that first turn, I was definitely on cautious mode after that. I was very tentative in the rest of the turns.”

A shuttle took racers from the end of Stage 2 to Eula Ridge which some considered to be the best trail in Oakridge. Racers dropped straight into steeps before a neutralized 3-minute climb led them into a flowy and rugged pumptrack style finish.

Kathy Pruitt, who took the overall win today in the Pro Women’s category, experience a bit of a technical issue after dropping into Stage 3. “I started Eula, which is a really steep stage and had a lot of opportunity for me to gain time using my downhill background – and my chain snapped coming out of the first turn. I kind of was like ‘oh my god, this is awful, maybe my race is over,’ and then I realized I could keep coasting.” So she did, and Kathy scooted, ran, and walked the last two stages of the race to take the top step on the podium tonight.  “I haven’t snapped a chain in ten years, I don’t know what happened! It added a little spice to my day.”

Larison Rock was the final stage of the day and is a sustained gravity fed run on steep bench-cut trail with fade-away corners. “Love! Capital L O V E. It was just pure fun!" Spencer Paxson was still stoked at the end of the day. "Just like everyone else I liked Stage 3, but Stage 4 surprised me because of the low expectations that people set. A lot of people were saying that it’s skittery and you don’t want to lose your bike because you’ll be looking for it all day, but it was really fast and smooth. Low expectations are the secret to happiness anyway!”

All in, today had nearly 14 miles of shuttle assisted riding and 8773 feet of descending with only 830 feet of climbing.

But racers still felt the effects of the physical style of riding that this area is known for. Returning racer, Rachel Walker, wasn’t expecting to feel so worked – “it felt quite hard today, given that we were on a shuttle day. I’ve spoken to a few of the people who I’m here with and they’re tired. I didn’t expect to be that tired today. The stages were just quite physical and quite long.”

Chris Johnston took the lead in Pro Men, followed by Geoff Kabush; 2016 winner, and Brian Lopes. “I’m super happy to ride and just have a clean day,” says Chris. “The neutral zone definitely helped me out this year, last year was out of my realm of training. And I think it’s a really cool concept having the neutral zones just to coast through and then carry on the stage to make it super long still.” In 2016 Chris chased Geoff Kabush for the entire event, but ended up in 3rd place overall when Peter Ostroski came from behind on the final day and took 2nd place by about two seconds. “It was super fun and a tight competition. I’m sure it will be this year too; it’s only Day One.”

It is Mitch Ropelato’s first year here at Trans-Cascadia and on his first night he managed to earn the elusive Go-Hard jersey. “I felt like I was leading some kind of series,” says Mitch about his early lead. And when asked what he planned to do to maintain his lead, he replied, “I don’t think you can try, one of these nights I’m going to have to got to bed early and I’m going to lose the jersey, but we’ll see. Definitely Sunday though, I’ll be saving up for a good party after this!”

The racing will continue in the Oakridge area tomorrow before the event heads on to its next basecamp.