By Duncan Purvis
A couple of friends and I decided that this year we would head to Fernie for the Fernie 3 All Mountain Stage Race. This is one of those decisions that sounds better in February than it does trying to drag oneself out of bed on the third day of the “race” (by “race”, I mean ride). The Fernie 3 was held on June 27, 28 and 29th. Since I signed up I think I was worried most about whether or not it would rain while we were there, which often happens in Fernie. What I did not worry about was record high temperatures in the +35 range. It hit 36 on Saturday, 37 on Sunday and “only” 30 on Monday.
The first stage was a 28 km course with 1,300 metres of vertical. The start was a new subdivision just off the highway on the way to the ski hill. When we arrived at 8:45 for the briefing, it was already in the mid 20’s. The race (ride) started at 9:30 on a beautiful, newly paved road. For the first 5 minutes of my day I quite enjoyed myself.
The course quickly veered off to a fire road that I can only describe as being covered in about 3 inches of finely powdered dirt. 150 mountain bikers churning up the silt turned it very dusty, very quickly. As I was not winning the race (ride) at that point, I was behind a number of other dirt churning machines so as if the heat wasn’t enough, a few mouthfuls of dirt really added to ambience. After about 10 minutes in the dustbowl, the course mercifully veered off into some single track. For about 30 seconds, I was again somewhat happy. Then the trail started going up. Then it went up some more. Then a bit more. Then a few seconds of rooted, rocky downhill and then up again. I think there might have been an aid station and some watermelon. Then up, and up and up some more. At one point the climb broke out of the trees into the baking sun. I think I was suffering a little bit from the heat. (as well as suffering from the fact I had not mountain biked in the actual mountains since June of 2014). There was some point in time that I had just decided I was never going to be cold ever again in my life. That I had absorbed and created so much heat that I was just going to exude warmth for the next 40 years. Mercifully, my thoughts kept my mind from the pain my legs were suffering from, and after a few grueling hours I had reached peak elevation.
I thought to myself that I had made it. Just a nice downhill, and I could cruise across the finish line and drink some more . I was wrong. The next 20 minutes was a hair raising (if I had any) descent. Chock full of steep drops, roots, rocks and trees it was almost harder than the uphill. No rest for the arms, or braking fingers, my upper body was sore by the time I finished. So while it was a relief to hit level ground, it lasted about a minute because the course sent us back up a hill again. I think there might have been an aid station and some watermelon.I thought to myself that I had made it. Just a nice downhill, and I could cruise across the finish line and drink some more Slingshot IPA from FBC. I was wrong. The next 20 minutes was a hair raising (if I had any) descent. Chock full of steep drops, roots, rocks and trees it was almost harder than the uphill. No rest for the arms, or braking fingers, my upper body was sore by the time I finished. So while it was a relief to hit level ground, it lasted about a minute because the course sent us back up a hill again. I think there might have been an aid station and some watermelon.
This time, the climb took us up some singletrack to meet up with a fire road that came out of the trees at the bottom of the cedar bowl at the ski hill. By now it was about 12:30. It was hotter than it was when we came out of the trees the last time. I cursed the fast riders who were probably done by now and drinking all the cold beer. I again contemplated my fate as the human furnace. I finally came around the corner of the climb and saw the trail disappear into the darkness of the trees (Shade!), a fittingly named downhill called “Dark Forest”. While it was somewhat cooler in the trees, this trail was another steep downhill in soft black dirt that I can only assume came from the burning fires of Mordor. Or perhaps I was in a heat induced hallucination. I really was suffering from the heat. A bit dizzy… I remember thinking that I was probably a bit of a danger to any other riders around me, but luckily I remembered everyone was probably already finished by now and they had likely packed up and gone home. I was only a danger to myself. Only a small spill in sooty black soot of the dark forest, and I was back out on “powdered dust road”, headed for the finish. That’s when the muscles in my right quad seized up in a gnarled spasm. Sigh. A few stops to stretch it out and I was back on the glorious new asphalt, headed for the finish.
If I’ve had a harder day on the mountain bike I’d have to think back to day 3 of the transrockies where I had walk most of the way up Cox hill in the pouring rain. But hey, at least that day I was cool. Of course Im referring to the “temperature” sense, as I never, ever feel like I’m “cool” in the I’m awesome sense, in a race like this.
Obviously, my greatest fear was that the free keg of beer donated by the FBC at the finish was gone, or worse yet, warm. Happily there was some nice cold stuff still left when I got there.
You know that feeling when your friend books the accommodation (for 3 people) and it turns out to NOT be three bedrooms, but two bedrooms and one crappy short leather couch on the top floor of an non-air conditioned apartment complex that was built as close to the railroad tracks as any building code would possibly allow?
I wouldn’t call “sleep” what I did that night. More like a series of short naps in a sauna with a train.
Just to make sure my worst fears from the day before did not come true, I decided to make sure I had my free beer BEFORE the race started, and before those fast guys got it. I showed them. Hiccup.
Day 2 was a 32 km course with 1225 of vertical. After the horror show of the day before, this day was almost pleasant. Maybe it was the pre race beers. Or maybe I had recognized that I needed some electrolytes in my water to stave off any leg crampsIt started out in town with a km or so of pavement. The group hit the trail, but thankfully it wasn’t as dusty. As usual, it just went up and up. I think the first climb was about 500 m over 5 km. I kept telling myself it was just like all the hills in the River Valley back in Edmonton. The corresponding first downhill was a really nice piece of trail nice flowing, fast turns and not too steep. This downhill led into a nice section of smaller up hills and smaller down hills, faster sections of up down, versus big climbs and big descents. It was fun…
As the course turned and started heading back into town, my garmin was reading about 30 km. the single track gave way to a gravel path which appeared to me to lead us straight back to the finish line. I felt good. I forgot that apparently this weekend was about suffering, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise when I came around a corner and instead of course markings pointing straight down the gravel path to the beer, they pointed up a steep hill into the trees. I thought about stopping and arguing with the course marshall that my garmin said I had gone 32 km, and that’s what the course was supposed to be, but if I was honest with myself, I did demonstrate some willfull blindness as the elevation gain was on my garmin was only reading about 1000 m. Cursing the organizers I headed up the hill. Maybe it was the power of negative thinking, but my leg cramps came back again despite my electrolyte precautions. Another few breaks with precious seconds between me and cold beer ticking away, I eventually hit the top. Again, not sure if it was my bad attitude but I managed to slide out on the gravel road going down the hill. Just to add a little road rash to my hip in case I was feeling too good about myself. Finally, the finish line came into view some 35 (an extra 3!!) km into the day.
Train,Sauna, sticky leather couch etc. And honestly, if all that wasn’t bad enough, the building fire alarm decided that it needed to go off at 3 am. I was merrily sleeping right through it before one of my friends woke me up to tell me they were going downstairs until the fire dept. came. I told him I felt safe in my bed and to text me if there actually was a fire. I tried to go back to sleep but the fireman came barging in to the apartment looking for the fire. He didnt find it, and he also didnt tell me to get out, so I went back to bed.
We awoke, (or were still awake) for day three to some overcast skies! It only hit 31 that day. This day was a 30 km course with about 1100 meters of climbing. We rode a lot of the trails we did on day 2, but in reverse direction. They were fun, but served to simply show me that anything I was going fast on the day before was in fact a net downhill. Another excellent blow to the ego. On the plus side, there were some times when I was actually pushing it, as opposed to just surviving. felt good enough to try and chase some people as opposed to hating the world and everything in it. For brief moments it was “race” not a “ride”.
I finished, no significant injuries or bike damage. Day 1 gets more and more enjoyable in my memory, the further back in time it goes. We stuck around for the banquet on Monday night and sure enough, the FBC had some more cold beer. All in all, fun weekend. Already thinking about registering for next year! Have to say I was impressed with Fernie and the number of trails they have. Its obvious they have done a lot of work on trail maintenance and have built the requisite structures to ensure smooth riding. Obviously they need to work on filling the valley floor or shaving the tops off the mountains so their climbs are more like the Edmonton River Valley, but I’ll give them some time for that.
In summary, Fernie Brewing Company makes good beer.