The Trans-Cascadia was my biggest step yet into blind backcountry enduro racing, and it was one I won't forget anytime soon. Here are a few of my takeaways.1. A bit of creativity can go far when it comes to tech fixes.
The Trans-Cascadia is the real deal in terms of remote backcountry riding. The venue was remote - at one of the rider briefings, we were told to "manage our lives" because the following day's course would have no place to land a helicopter, should an evac be required. (The following day was also the day that I crashed on my already-injured wrist, so I'm not one to talk.) Personal problems aside, bike failure was a very real concern on those long days, as often the only way out was out via the course, so when Ivan Valdez crashed on the second day and fully broke off his brake lever, things looked pretty grim for him and the rest of his day. It was only with a bit of creativity that he, with some help from some friends, made his bike rideable for the rest of the day.
Praise the plastic lever. Ivan figured out he could zip tie a tire lever in place of his brake lever. While it likely wasn't a confidence-inspiring stopper, it seemed to do the job well enough for him to finish the day. Thankfully, Shimano was back at camp to offer neutral tech support for all the racers, so the life-saving Shimano dudes got Ivan back up and rolling again, well enough for him to take 12th in the burly amateur men's field.2. It would be great to see more women at these events.
It's hard to figure out how to get more women into mountain biking. At nearly every race since the dawn of mountain bike racing, the racing scene has remained notably male-dominated. The Trans-Cascadia field was roughly 7% women. I'm not a social scientist or an expert in any way other than being a woman and also a person who rides bikes, but I have a few hunches as to why.
If the bike culture at large generally tells women that the sport is too hard for them, that racing is too gnarly, that enduro is too brutal, what are women who've internalized that message to do when they hear that a race like the Trans-Cascadia will likely be the hardest, gnarliest, most brutal race they've ever done?
Sure, you can say, no one actually tells women that biking is too hard, but the message is there each time a women's bike comes spec'd with lesser components than the equivalent men's version or each time a dudebro reassures me that every feature has a B-line. I just think we can do better.
For more women to show up, especially at the "hard" races, we need to change the implicit messaging from "it'll be hard so you shouldn't try to do it" to "it'll be hard and that's the point."
It's not Trans-Cascadia's fault that the women's field was small, especially since the race is meant to be burly. The organizers did a great job of creating a warm, welcoming atmosphere and it seems like all the women who raced had a fantastic time. I think if more women showed up, they'd have a blast, too.
Now, I do want to acknowledge the women who did make up the small but mighty field. Jill Kintner absolutely dominated, crushing her two closest competitors (Corinne Prevot and myself) by 10 minutes over nearly two hours of racing time. Corinne seemed to have a smile on her face for the entirety of all four days, which was an achievement in itself before you even realize she was on the podium. Alex Pavon, a Juliana rider, former ski racer, and all-around badass battled back and forth with me all race, which was a great time. Morgan Kurz won her entry through a Grow Cycling Foundation contest and is the first person I've met who handmakes wool bike clothing - hopefully more on that in a future article. Briana Valerosi held down the fort for the amateur women's category and was a joy to be around. Freeskiing legend Michelle Parker chose the Trans-Cascadia to be her first ever
mountain bike race, which is just mind-boggling. After those four monster days, most other races will likely feel pretty tame. And maybe less fun.3. Try to arrive with your body in decent condition.
Okay, this one should be obvious for any race, especially a massive backcountry race, but I say this because I wasn't ready. I've had a weird summer that's led to more time off the bike than in several years, leaving me objectively not mentally or physically ready to race, and a poorly-timed wrist injury just a couple weeks before the event didn't help things. I was on the fence about whether I could race until the day before the event started... and then clearly made the right decision to go, a choice that I'm endlessly thankful for. Still, I keep saying that the week couldn't possibly have been better, but I'll add the subtext that technically it would have been better if I was feeling a little fitter and a little less injured.
That said, even the injured folks had a great time. I was lucky enough to come out relatively unscathed, but plenty of riders fell victim to the tough course, with a full 13% of the riders joining the DNF list by the end of the race.
The race organizers did warn the riders beforehand that the race would include about 5,000' (1500 m) of climbing each day and even more descending, but the numbers barely did justice to the actual effort, given that most of the climbing was hiking and most of the descending was not cruisey. RIP my right shoe, which began to disintegrate in protest halfway through the race.4. I finally get the blind racing thing.
Every time someone comes back from a Trans-Cascadia / BC / New England / New Zealand / Madeira / Somewhere Else Cool style race, they come back acting like it's the best thing they've ever done. I think I finally get it. There's nothing like spending that much time out in the woods, meeting fantastic people from all over who are all beyond stoked to be there, having essentially no phone service for six days, and building camaraderie through long days of riding and recapping by the bonfire at night. And, assuming you love bike racing and feel that bike racing makes everything better, it's also a race. There are so many wins.
The culture surrounding the Trans-Cascadia is largely what makes it so special, so of course it's all about the people - people who pour (likely) blood, (definitely) sweat, and (also probably) tears into making an event with so little certainty about whether the pandemic and forest fires would let the race happen. While it felt good, on some level, to reach the end of the last day, it was sad because we wouldn't all be getting on our bikes to ride together again the next day.
And that's all without mentioning the trails. Reading a trail for the first time is totally different from riding something you've practiced, GoPro'd, and visualized in preparation of that final race run like at other enduro races. Blind racing is raw, it strips the riding down to just the essential pieces, and it forces all of us to have some fun and take ourselves just a little less seriously. The discovery of something new, unexpected, and awesome is part of what makes the experience so cool.
I can't write about the race without at least mentioning the steep entry fee, since that tends to get some raised eyebrows, but that the entry fee subsidizes the nonprofit organization's trail work and has contributed to 500 miles of trail that Trans-Cascadia has worked on helps to bring things into perspective. That, plus riders don't have to think about travel logistics or much of anything besides riding bikes, eating good food, and drinking unlimited beverages, which makes for a decent vacation.
Throughout the race, after a bit of suffering on the first day, things just kept feeling better and better. I got to know the people around me, I had an absurd amount of fun surfing the steep, loose trails, and I enjoyed the crisp, bittersweet feeling of watching the trees yellow with the arrival of fall. The event was the perfect way to celebrate the end of summer, and it was a special kind of magic.5. The fact that the race happened is a testament to resilience.
Just weeks before the planned race was scheduled to take place, the forest burned, taking with it half of the anticipated course. After months of scouting, planning, and clearing trail, the race crew had to come up with a backup plan, and they had to come up with it quickly.
As we sat around the bonfire after the first day of racing, we were told that the trail crews had just finished working on the next day's course. The same would be true for day three. When there were few options left and almost no time, the people responsible for trail work didn't have the option to quit when they were tired and pick back up where they left off another day. They worked relentlessly to make sure we had rideable courses, and they're the real unsung heroes of the event. More on that in an article to come.
All in all, I showed up to the Trans-Cascadia having done very little blind enduro racing before and tried to arrive with as few expectations as possible, to just let the event unfold as it would. It's out-there, it's hard, and it's a party. It's safe to say that Trans-Cascadia is doing good things for our sport.