My initial reaction when I crossed the finish line at the inaugural BWR BC race was “That was HARD!”. Sure, I finished the 136.6 mile race with 12,117 feet of climbing in a total time of 9 hours and 13 minutes, but none of it was easy and all of it was earned. The best part? I had a blast doing it and will be back again next year for round 2 for sure.
The weekend started out well enough: Pack up the car, load in the dogs, keep the wife happy and get on the road at 6am on Thursday (race day was on Sunday). We drove from Portland up to Port Angeles, WA. to catch a 12:45pm ferry to Victoria, BC on Vancouver Island. We then drove one more hour North to Duncan, BC to the house we had rented for the weekend. The location of the house was on Mount Tzouhalem which is home to an AMAZING network of MTB trails that need to be ridden. If I had this trail network in my backyard, and that close to my house, I would never leave my street or neighborhood. During the stay for the weekend, we were joined by fellow Sage Frontier Team riders Brian and Sonja who were competing in their first ever BWR. This was going to be a mind-blowing experience for them to say the least.
With everyone settled in on Thursday, the plan was to get out and do a Friday pre-ride for part of the course. The race bible said that there was a 27.7 mile starter loop that ran right past the house we were staying in. We decided to roll out of the house and follow the course around to the start/ finish area, then start the course as the race planned and drop out after the 2nd dirt sector at our house. Sure, the distance was a little on the long side for a pre-ride two days before the race, but the elevation gain was only 1800 feet of climbing for that distance, so that didn’t seem so bad. Easy spin. Right? Well…. Not so much…
What we found out during our pre-ride was that the elevation profile for the race was off and that we could expect more than the advertised elevation gain which was 8500 feet of climbing. As mentioned above, we did a lot more than that. We did our pre-ride as planned and took it super easy. There were no hard efforts and the beauty of it all was that we got to explore the first three dirt sectors of the course. Two of those sectors were legit MTB trails with jumps, bridges, and plenty of berms to rail. This was not going to be a typical gravel race at all.
By the time we finished the loop, we had 3000 feet of climbing in our legs for a 2.5 hour ride. Definitely longer than we wanted to go, but we felt good and really enjoyed the ride.
Saturday was a truly an easy spin in the morning. Yes, there were rollers, and we did have to climb back up to the house, but there were no misconceptions this time about what we were riding. After the ride we went to packet pickup and then headed off to lunch for some amazing home cooked Italian food at the Italian Kitchen and Deli. We lounged in our chairs after some amazing pizza and gelato, then took some homemade lasagna home for dinner that night. We were in bed early with a 5:15am wakeup the next morning for race day.
Dawn came quickly and we were up before we knew it. Nerves were tense as we got our gear and bikes into the car as my amazing wife drove us to the venue. We arrived at 6:30am with the start at 7am. Brian and Sonja were thinking we would need to warm up before the start, but I told them not to worry about it as there would be a neutral roll out that would give them all of the warmup they would need.
I rolled into the start chute at 6:45am and was about three quarters of the way back on the start line for the Waffle race. There wasn’t much I could do about it as I was operating on “Dave Time” (that’s code speak amongst my friends for “Dave is always late…”) yet I was calm as I had inspected the first loop on Friday and I was feeling good. I figured I could pick my way forward in the neutral area without going to hard and still feel fresh for the first dirt sector where things would string out.
By the time we reached that first dirt sector, the group was still a large pack as we entered the singletrack. Luckily it was an uphill climb for a few miles with pretty much no passing opportunities. Everyone was really polite and recognized that no one was winning the race up here, but you could lose it if you got too aggressive and did something stupid. Thus, we rode up the singletrack climb in an orderly fashion with no yelling/ screaming/ etc. There was a great camaraderie as I chatted with people both in front and behind me. Make no mistake, I was there to race all out, but this wasn’t the section to get crazy with it as I still had over 100 miles to go. Passing finally did happen on the last climb of the sector with a leg burning 12.8% average gradient to help thin out the field. The descent back to the highway was fantastic with a fun elevated wooden bridge and some loose technical singletrack that made you want a MTB with tires that had some real side bit as opposed to gravel tires that wanted to slide on the loose stuff.
Once out on the highway, the strategy became clear: Get in with a group and stay together for as long as possible. There was enough pavement in the beginning of the race, and even the flatter gravel sectors, where a group was going to be beneficial as opposed to riding solo. We hit a few more dirt sectors with one more of those being a super fun MTB jump trail that I wished I had my new Powerline to ride (smooth berms to rail and perfect landings on a beautiful flow trail). After that dirt sector, it was all amazing gravel until the last mountain climb and descent of the day.
It is worth noting that the spectators, traffic control people, and volunteers working the aid stations were amazing! The enthusiasm was high and there were a lot of cheers on the side of the road. A few people dressed up in blow-up costumes (dinosaurs, and even an alien kidnapping a human) as it made for a really fun atmosphere. The scenery was gorgeous, and the weather was perfect as we really lucked out on that for sure.
There was a climb at the 77 mile marker for almost 7 miles that was a beast with a max grade of 22.2% and ramps of over 15% at different points. It was a brutal thing to have in the middle of the race, but the downhill was totally worth it.
The final climb of the day was at mile 122 and the start of Mount Prevost. This 8.7 mile climb gained 1829 feet of elevation with an average grade of 5.2% and a max grade of 17.3%. I had been riding strong all day with a few groups on the road and trails. I took my fair share of pulls and helped keep the tempo high. Unfortunately, I started to hit my wall as the climb really got going about 1 mile in when the grade hung around 11% for a little while. I decided the best thing to do was back off and ride my pace to the top and hope that my descending skills could pick up some spots that would be lost on the climb. As I neared the summit, I cramped up a bit and had to pull over to let the cramp fade away. Luckily, that was it for the climbing and onto the descent I rode.
The descent was mostly fire road with fresh gravel that was both chunky and loose. Luckily, I had my Fox TaperCast 40mm gravel suspension fork on my Storm King GP and I was able to cut loose on the descent. While I could not hear anyone say it, I am pretty sure that every person I picked off was either thinking:
- What the heck was that just passed me so fast?
- That guy is totally NUTS to go at that speed!
- I REALLY wish I had a suspension fork on my bike like that guy right now!
I bombed the descent with reckless abandon thinking to myself do I have enough brake pads left to stop if I need to? The short answer was yes, I did, and if I didn’t I am sure I could have found a soft landing spot down the exposed side of the mountain if needed.
The final bit of singletrack was pretty gnarly and would have been great on a DH bike. For a gravel bike and rider at the end of 134 miles (still had a few miles to go to the finish), it was asking a bit much. I swallowed my pride and walked the last few meters down the trail as there was no point in getting hurt so close to the finish.
I hopped on to the pavement with another rider and pulled hard to make it back to the finish with a ride time that was sub 9 hours. While my total time was 9:13, my actual ride time was 8:59 which is pretty crazy to think that I only stopped for less than 14 minutes total on a 136.6 mile ride. I stopped just beyond the finish line after crossing it and stared at the beer tent thinking a cold beer is a just reward for the effort put out, but then I noticed straight ahead of me was my true calling: The Ice Cream Truck!!! I rode my bike right over to the ice cream truck and with my helmet still on ordered up a double scoop of homemade chocolate ice cream. I love beer, but this was heaven in a cup!
The cut-off time for the race to make it into the official results is 12 hours- 7am to 7pm. Brian and Sonja were still on course at 6:15pm and climbing up Mt. Prevost. My wife and I anxiously awaited their arrival as we tracked their GPS coordinates as they got closer and closer. Finally with about 7 minutes to spare, they crossed the line together. Both of them were smiling and thankfully no crashes or bonks. They rode with some fun people and had a great day all around. It was a positive experience for them and while they would not commit to coming back next year just yet, they were already talking about coming with me to BWR California for next year as I think it is easier than BWR BC… but that is just my crazy opinion.
All in all, the race was amazing. Everything from the course layout to the scenery, to the aid stations and volunteers, to the whole atmosphere was perfect. Add on the most amazing weather conditions (high of 72 degrees with blue skies) and you had the recipe for a fantastic day. If a little bit of pain, a lot of gravel riding, and general fun are what you like to do, I HIGHLY recommend this race for 2024. I will be back for sure.