GRAVEL GRINDING, BURNT-OUT BRAKES and SHUTTERED SHOPS
Scenes of SUFFERING on the ALBERTA ROCKIES 700
As Jasper’s Chris Peel pedalled over Kananaskis Country’s Highwood Pass on June 20, the long distance cyclist was looking for a resupply. He was out of water and he only had eight energy gels left in his emergency food supply.
In two-and-a-half days since leaving Hinton, the start of the first ever Alberta Rockies 700 bike packing event, Peel had pedalled more than 590 kilometres and climbed thousands of vertical metres along the province’s forestry trunk road. He had rested for a couple of hour-long spurts along the side of the gravel road until he woke from shivering, but basically he had not slept. His feet were so swollen he had taken to dunking them in creeks and as a result of the constant pressure on his hands, the ulnar nerve on his right side was fried; he could barely shift. To make matters worse, somewhere along the way he lost his chamois cream, so even though he had biked the last 50 km standing on his pedals, his ass was killing him. As such, when Peel limped his bike into the general store that he knew would be his place of refuge and instead discovered that the shop was closed, he nearly wept. “I seriously considered breaking the window,” he said. “I had the rock picked out.” His better judgement prevailed, however. With a little more than 110 km to go, he got back on his bike and suffered through.
Meanwhile, somewhere near where the Red Deer River flows underneath Highway 40, fellow racer Matt Staneland was eating a cheeseburger and slurping down a pale ale. “It was a blast,” Staneland said of his 700 km, four day tour across the east slopes of the Rockies. “It was a bit of a man-cation.” Staneland and a former work buddy from Ontario decided to do the Alberta Rockies 700 in four days. Although they were still putting in close to 200 km per day, they approached the ride as a tour, pitching camp at 8 p.m. while Peel and a significant portion of the pack were entering their personal pain caves. “It was a good pace, we were tired but we weren’t completely smashed at the end of each day,” Staneland said.
Greg Van Tighem had a…different take. Jasper’s fire chief had to work on the morning of the event’s group start, which may have had something to do with his 80 km off-route detour near Robb, mere hours into the journey. “There were a lot of swear words when I realized my mistake,” said the province’s top MS fundraiser. “And there was no one around to hear them.” After he did a U-turn, Van Tighem pushed hard to make up lost time, biking well into the night and not setting up camp until 1:30 a.m. Unfortunately, the sandwich he scarfed earlier was also making a U-turn. He woke up at dawn, shivering from the frost and watching the world spin. Not long after he mounted his bike for day two’s sadistic climbs and hair-raising descents, he was leaning over his handlebars, getting sick. “It was a long, hard day,” he said. “I pushed my bike up the steep hills.” So did a lot of the group. Of more than 40 people who started the event, a little more than half finished.
Two Jasper cyclists were among those dealing with long distance tribulations. By Nordegg, Derek Anderson had worn out his bike’s brake pads and decided proceeding any further would be unsafe, while Jeff Bartlett’s ankle started acting up; after riding more than half the route, each pedal stroke was causing excruciating pain. “It went from a nagging ache to an extremely swollen mess over the last few hours yesterday,” he said on June 21. “A night of ice and rest increased swelling and pain rather than decreased it, so my hand is forced.”
As the youngest Jasper rider, the longest distance that 26-year-old Josh Blomfield had ever ridden was 120 km. The UK-born cyclist said he was preoccupied with not only making the correct turns along the route, but ensuring he was consuming enough calories, rationing his water until the next creek crossing and keeping his pace as he switched layers when the weather turned. At one point his layering system was somewhat unorthodox: he’d cut his emergency blanket so he could wear it as leggings and was sitting in his extra jersey to retain heat. The coldest Blomfield got, however, was after he’d finished the race. After 68 hours of biking and getting into Coleman at 2:30 a.m. he texted Peel, who had finished only two hours beforehand. Peel told him he’d be right over. Unfortunately, after binging on 7-Eleven “food” and smashing a beer, Peel promptly fell asleep.
“He was shivering when I eventually picked him up,” Peel said. “I felt bad.” Peel might have felt bad, but when Van Tighem got into Coleman, he was downright disappointed. Not because there was no fanfare awaiting him and not because his finishing time (3.5 days) was slower than he’d hoped. He was choked because the one thing he was looking forward to after finishing was tipping back an IPA at the local watering hole. A final spate of bad luck meant he got to the bar five minutes after last call. “My headlamp had died and I had to take the last eight kilometres of downhill really slow,” he said. “This was going to be the best beer of my life, and when I went to try the door it was locked.” Staneland, meanwhile, was by that time sound asleep, having shown up in Coleman eight hours earlier with lots of time for celebratory refreshments. “What a slacker,” Peel said.