TR2011: Day 6: Little Elbow to Rafter Six ranch: The Queen stage. 72km, 2600m elevation
If today is the Queen stage, yesterday was the joker. Not supposed to be as grueling as it turned out, we were shattered by the almost 8 hours in the saddle. The mechanics took my bike for some TLC, we tried to turn in early at8:45pm, but our bodies are in constant turmoil now and sleep is fitful. The RV is full of farting (Danny), dude comments (Marty) and giggles (me). We dragged our tired selves to breakfast through the damp tents, glad that we were roughing it a few feet off the dewy ground. Huddled in the cool mountain air of the catering tent, we went through the morning rituals of stuffing as much food down our throats as possible. My morning’s tally; 4 pancakes, ½ cup maple syrup, ½ cup scrambled eggs, 1 banana 1 slice of whole-wheat bread, 2 tsp peanut butter, 1 chocolate chip muffin. Double-fisting the Kicking Horse coffee through the campsite, I retrieved my bike from the night-owl mechanics. All night they cleaned, lubed, greased, and loved our bikes back into shape. Each night, we handed over these mud-encased monsters, creaking, groaning and clanking, and in the dawn, we retrieved them spinning, shifting, ready to roll. This morning’s stage was of significance for Dennis and I, since last year, we couldn’t complete it and had to bail after 25k. In TR2010, It was 40 degrees and raining on the start line, we had been wet all week, and the hail storms on the first climb were the final straw. I was soaked through, and was becoming colder by the minute, eventually becoming near hypothermic before quitting the stage, in tears, in the back of the Budget rental trucks with 50 other bummed racers. This year, the sun was shining over the mountains this morning in Little Elbow, and the forecast was for a clear, sunny day, with limited likelihood of thunderstorms. Loaded up with full raingear, we were taking no chances. We started out with the lads as usual, but after the first aid station, the terrain kicked up further and we split, finding our own paces for the hike-a-bike and technical climbs. We climbed for almost 3 hours, relentless elevation through switchbacks, steep scrabbly pitches, rock gardens that stretched for miles. But what a reward at the top! The ridge of the mountain seemed to traverse forever, rolling, dropping, rising further into the Rockies, a thin trail wound its way below us, then above us, tiny cyclists dotting the landscape, surrounded by blue peaks as far as we could see. We paused to take it in, had a congratulatory kiss at the top, then fully opened the shocks for the craggy rocky descent. We ripped it up, down drop offs, sliding into corners, working the switchbacks, eyes open, firm hands, soft elbows, every muscle, brain and nerve cell on edge as we rattled and rolled our way down. The woods enveloped us again, we climbed, this time for shorter runs, and faster descents as we wound our way down the contours. We opened out onto dry, dusty fast doubletrack, and tag-tailed it to the finishline in 6 hours, 20 minutes, with wide smiles the whole way. We had made it through the Queen stage, our nemesis from last year. Dinner at Rafter Six Ranch was served up by the cattlehands and horsehandlers, Kananaskis beef barbequed in the open range for a hoarde of hungry cyclists.
Karen and Clint, our singlespeed friends were due to get married at 7:30pm with an open invitation to 300 somewhat clean, new and old friends, mechanics, volunteers, medics, officials, race photographers. Having made it through the prior year’s stage intact, they understood that the hardships endured racing together in such a stage race were good metaphors for a lifetime of marriage, the ups, the downs, the highs and lows, the total teamwork. The queen stage was the setting for their wedding, officiated by Stan the ranch owner, and they were fabulous, Karen, radiant in a knee length sequined gown and platforms, Clint, in a tuxedo jacket and mountain bike baggies, flip flops and shades. They got roars of support from the crowd as they exchanged vows, all of us placing ourselves in their shoes, in their skins, tied to our teammates through hail and shine, mud, sweat and tears, thick and thin.
With a few brews to end the evening, the deeply weary retired to their tents and campers. Final stage tomorrow, Rafter six to Canmore, the last leg, figuratively and literally.