The four days of racing and riding and partying at the Trans-Cascadia 2019 look so good we’re tempted to add this to our must do list of events.
2019 Trans-Cascadia: Day 1
“We’ve been out here scaring ourselves since 2013, and I’ve never seen tracks this good. You guys are in for a treat!” ~ Alex Gardner
Racers arrived at basecamp on Wednesday and for those who have never experienced a Trans-Cascadia event, they were in for a bit of a surprise. “In my riding scene, I’m a bit of a ride organizer so I’ll bring a barbeque or whatever and get people organized a little bit,” says freerider Matt Hunter, “and I showed up here and I was like, ‘woah, who did this?’ It was pretty amazing.” Racer tents were set up along the shore of Lake Takhlakh with Mount Adams in the distance, a fire was already lit, and two stocked bars were ready to serve as racers exited their shuttle vans.
During dinner – barbeque pork rib knuckle with chipotle honey butter cornbread and all the fixings – the Trans-Cascadia team welcomed the racers. “We’re here, we’re in it, it’s deep, this is terrain like I’ve never seen,” announced Race Producer Alex Gardner. “We’ve been out here scaring ourselves since 2013, and I’ve never seen tracks this good. You guys are in for a treat!”
Racers lined up at 8:30 the next morning to hop the shuttle to Stage 1 just as the heavy fog turned to proper rain. Ahead of them was a nearly 20-mile day with 4500 feet of climbing and 7700 feet of descending. Most of their day would be spent high up on a cold ridgeline but marshals and timers all had fires lit and to keep them warm as they moved through the four stages.
EWS racer Christina Chapetta is no stranger to enduros but this is her first Trans-Cascadia and her first race back from injury, “I’m just really stoked to ride and to end the season on a good, fun note. For me it’s not all about the racing, it’s just good to be back on the bike – and with a good crew of people.” When asked about any advice she got coming into the race, she said “ to get the liver ready, get the lungs ready, there’s going to be some biking involved – and bring raingear.”
Chris Johnston, who has raced the last four Trans-Cascadias, welcomed the wet weather, “it brings some excitement and adventure to it. I mean, who rides in these conditions normally?” He’s also happy to be back in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. “I am super stoked that it’s back in the same area again, last year’s trails were unreal, and they say there’s about 75% new trails again. That’s pretty frickin’ awesome, I’m really excited to see what they’ve got.”
Chris wasn’t the only one who was thrilled to be back. “There’s so much to explore in these areas,” says Geoff Kabush who has competed at every Trans-Cascadia and won the race twice. “We’re back in the same location but I’m excited to hear that we are going to race a bunch of new stages because that’s the most fun part for me; racing blind and reading the trail. It’s my favourite format and that’s why I keep coming back here.”
Racers began today with a 30-minute pedal from their drop-off point that took them to start of stage one – a massive 2500-foot descent broken up by a neutral zone. Trans-Cascadia introduced neutral zones over the last couple of years to accommodate for those really painful climbs in the middle of a descent that no one wants to race. It is an untimed section in the stage but racers must continue moving forward through it – regardless of whether you are pedalling or walking. “What we’ve seen with this is tighter race times over the four days which makes for more exciting racing,” says Nick Gibson, Race Director.
At the bottom of the first stage, racers found a welcome fire, hydration, and a hot lunch waiting. When they were ready, shuttles dropped them in the same spot as earlier but this time, they headed in a new direction towards Stage 2. The transfer was an elevation gain of roughly 1900 feet over 3 miles.
“The first stage was super wet and mucky, so after Stage 1 there was a lot of managing bike, clothing, and equipment so it made for a long day and a lot of clean up,” says Geoff “Luckily, as we crested the ridge heading towards stage 2, the sun broke out and it turned into a pretty nice day.”
Stage 2 was a short and quick ridgeline descent with a couple of punchy climbs. From the end they had a gnarly hike that was almost 1000 feet elevation gain in less a mile and aptly named The Devil’s Staircase – Nick had (jokingly) assured racers at dinner the previous night “but it’s great, you’ll love it!”
At the top of the hike, Stage 3 was a sweet and speedy 1-mile descent and a favourite of the day for Trans-Cascadia newbie Brooklyn Bell. “It was fast, there was nothing I had to think about or worry about, I could just let go. I also really liked all the alpine and the stunning views on the way to Stage 4.” The gentle climb from the bottom of that stage 3 put racers into some truly unique terrain near Jumbo Peak with incredible fall colours and even the potential to see some mountain goats and views of Mount Adams.
Despite being cold and wet, Brooklyn was still all smiles. “It’s so fun, it’s so community-based and so different from any race I’ve ever done. And it’s hard and hard in a different way. Today was so cool, we had no idea what kind of trails we would be riding and to go up into the high alpine and do this adventure ride and then descend through really fast flowy and a little bit more of moto-style trails was really cool. High alpine, adventure rides, and fast downhill flow don’t always really go together. It’s cool to see the thought that’s been put into the what people would like riding.”
The last stage of Day 1 was a huge descent with a flat-but-downward-trending section in the middle and a couple of creek crossings. The stage ended on the far side of one of the deeper crossing and racers had been advised by Nick to “either go fast or walk.”
“Dark Meadow, new for this year and an incredible piece of trail with three different sections” describes racer Lars Sternberg. “Fun flowy, perfect dirt with full moto turns up top and then a creek crossing section and then super rocky and toothy down towards the bottom. Pretty mind-blowing.” There was a steady chorus of cheers as racers exited the bottom of the dark forested section. A mellow transfer out with a couple of rolling climbs brought racers back to the vans where a fire was roaring, and beverages were being served.
World Cup XC racer, Kaysee Armstrong, felt a little out of her element in the morning when she realized in the shuttled that the tags were still on her knee pads but that didn’t stop her from having an incredible day. “What got me into mountain biking is not racing, it’s adventures with friends,” she said. “Being dragged into the woods with a bunch of guys telling me ‘you can do this!’ It felt a lot like that today, the hike-a-bikes were tough but worth it. Getting up there and those beautiful views, we basically got to go on a big adventure tour and go to places that an XC race never gets to go to. And everyone is drinking beers and hanging out, talking, you just don’t do that anymore in the races that I go to. It’s nice to come here with a bunch of people, make friends, and enjoy it.”
Back at camp heated drying tents, hot showers, campfires, and a gourmet meal – locally foraged spaghetti with seasonal pork ragu – were waiting. Neither wet nor cold could dampen the revelry and spirit of this community as they cheered the podiums after dinner.
Here on the advice of Steve Peat, Loris Vergier, and the rest of the Santa Cruz Syndicate team who were at the race last year, Romain Paulhan took the top step on the podium at the end of the first day. “[They said] you’re going to love it, the trails are amazing, and the dirt is so good – and it was definitely so good!”
Ingrid Larouche was in the lead for the pro women after Day 1, “This is very cool, this area because you feel really deep and far and you never really know what to expect with the weather and these elements that add to the whole experience. I feel like everyone who comes here comes in with this idea of having such a great time so if you go anywhere, like over by the fire, everybody is so fun to hang out with!”
Trans-Cascadia 2019: Day 2
“I think it was probably my best day ever on mountain bike trails. Stage 6 and 7 were unreal; perfect flow, sweeper corners, and hero dirt. It was amazing. I was smiling all the way down!” ~ Romain Paulhan
“It’s not going to be warm and it’s going to be wet.” The weather report that Tommy Magrath delivered the night before was still ringing in the ears of the racers as they rolled out of basecamp on Day 2. Headed for stages 5, 6, and 7, they were promised cold temperatures, mixed precipitation, and more incredible trails.
From basecamp to the start of Stage 5, racers had a 5.5-mile transfer to the top of Council Bluff that included 1300 feet of elevation – the majority of their climbing for the day – and a sweet little untimed descent into Council Lake. Stage 5 offered 1000 feet of descending with 45 feet of climbing on a gnarly track similar to Day 1, however not quite as steep.
“Stage 5 had a lot of floating roots, that one was super spicy because you would be coming to this little mini stepdown and then just land in a pile of roots,” says Christina Chapetta. “But still, super fun!”
Following Stage 5, racers traversed the ridgeline for 1.5-2 hours to the start of Stage 6. This stage was a solid moto trail with a huge descent, a few punchy climbs, and plenty of line interpretation to be had.
“It was the best party train of the day, there were 6-9 of us, and that one was super good,” says Christina. “Through all the switchbacks you could hear the hooting and hollering up the trail. It started to rain partway down that one and that just added to the fun. It was raining hard enough to clear the mud off my glasses.”
Race Director, Nick Gibson, addressed the subject of party trains the first night at camp. “If you want to ride behind somebody do it. It doesn’t matter if you are in first place or second place, just do whatever you want and have fun. Our rules are peer-reviewed, if your peers are going to tell you it’s not cool, then it’s not cool and you’ll be tarred and feathered. Otherwise, it’s a race but have fun.”
North Vancouver native, Thomas Vanderham, loved Stage 6. “It was everything you look for in a trail; highspeed and lots of line options. Where I live on the North Shore there’s not that much sustain speed. I think that was an 11-minute trail and it just felt like you were going mach speed the whole time. It’s something I don’t get to ride very often, and I was just loving it!”
Chris Johnston, who is in second place overall in the pro men’s category after two days of racing, also loved the stage. “Stage 6 today was phenomenal, perfect dirt, I don’t even think there were any rocks out there, just corner, after corner, after corner,” he says. “We were treated to some quality trails out there today and that was really run.”
Racers were greeted at the bottom of Stage 6 with a hot lunch and beverages. From there, they loaded into shuttles and got a lift part of the way to Stage 7. From the drop off point, they had a 20-minute hike-a-bike followed by roughly an hour of trail riding to the start of the next stage. Stage 7 was a massive descent that felt like a downhill track; wide, rooty, steep and fun.
While many of the racers favored Stage 6 today, Deb Motcsh from France was partial to Stage 7. “I like when it’s a bit technical,” she says. “I’m not used to riding flowy and fast tracks, so when it’s slow and technical, I like it. It was really long, and it had perfect dirt and it was really fun to play on this trail.”
A past winner of Trans-Cascadia and also the first person to ever earn the coveted Go Hard jersey, Aaron Bradford, woke up in the wee hours of the morning in a chair near the fire. “Well the fire was being put out at that point – so I knew it was my time to go to bed.” That didn’t stop him from having an incredible day on course and enjoying Stage 7 in particular. “It was a little cold out there, but we huddle around fires and had a good time. The dirt was incredible. Party trains – it’s just ridiculous how much fun that is – just hooting and hollering with your buddies, just ridiculous! I dropped in with Adam [Craig], Matthew [Slaven], [Matt] Hunter, and [Thomas] Vanderham – we had a good crew and that was a spectacular stage. Even the transfer after that was a highlight. It was nice not racing it, just being seeing the beautiful, awesome, massive trees everywhere. We are out in the thick of it, it’s so good!”
Back at camp, the weather cleared long enough for everyone to gather by a big fire and warm up. The music was playing, Hot Toddy’s were being served, and everyone was sharing stories from their day.
“Today’s stages are definitely the reason why people are coming out here,” says Trans-Cascadia veteran Joe Lawwill. “Yesterday was pretty challenging; it has its own charm and we like it but today was just incredible trails and the transfers were actually so amazing. I had to keep pinching myself. I was distracted by all the fall colours, the dirt, the trees, and the mushrooms. The stages all had awesome flow; they were great to ride with your buddies. You could end the event right now and people would go home happy.”
“We took a super mellow pace and just ripped it,” says Kelend Hawks. “We had a party train every lap and it was great, just having good times out there. The dirt was just unreal, it’s the only way to describe it, it was like riding on a sandy beach all day.”
After a gourmet dinner that included Fire Roast Beef Shoulder, Wok-Fried Green Beans, Aromatic Jasmine Rice, Herb Salad, and Tomatillo Sambal, racers cheered as the top three were announced in each category. “We got some really fun riding, even between the stages, the liaison after the last stage was probably the most fun section to ride with some friends; fun, fast, flowy sections,” says Geoff Kabush who is currently in third place. “I had a good day out there! I think I was a half-second ahead of Romain today, so 90 more days and I’ll catch up. Funny to see that me, Chris, and Romain were within seconds on each stage, I’m sure we are definitely interpreting the trails very differently, but the end result is some close racing, which is fun!”
Just as the Day 3 maps were handed out and details of the course were being shared it began to snow. . .
Trans-Cascadia 2019: Day 3
Saturday, Day 3, was move day. The plan was for racers to pedal out of camp from Takhlakh Lake and to pedal into camp at Green River Horse Camp at the end of the day – Mother Nature had other plans. The night before, as Race Director Nick Gibson delivered the details for the following day’s race, it had begun to snow.
The day started out as planned with a short pedal from camp to the singletrack and a 1000 foot climb featuring some incredible views of Mount Adam on the way to the start of the first stage. Stage 8 was an 1100-foot descent over 1.2 miles of super-fast gravity-fed flow.
“We woke up to snow in our campground and frozen bikes and frozen tents and then it was just clear and cold,” says Thomas Vanderham. “When we were riding there was no problem with temperature, we were nice and warm. The approach to the first trail was incredible. It was really misty with the sun coming through it was so beautiful up on this ridgeline.”
Less than a mile of traversing along a road took them to the top of Stage 9; 1200 feet of descending over 1.5 miles with a little rolling climb – and easy grind – in the middle. At the bottom of Stage 9, a big fire and a hot lunch were waiting for racers.
From there, racers got a big bump up in the shuttles to the ridgeline on the non-motorized side of the Gifford Pinchot. This is the area where Trans-Cascadia has spent the last two years cutting out over 500 logs and brushing over 100 miles of trail. From the drop-off point, racers had a 1-1.5-hour pedal with a couple of playful descents to the top of Stage 10.
Depicted on the map the racers were given, the Stage 10 descent had both a drooling and a mind exploding emoji. No other stage description has featured these. Nick had described it at the meeting the night before as “an insane descent with a neutral in the middle, deep loam, 12/10, best ever.” Expectations were high and it did not disappoint.
Blake Ramsden was even reminded at the top of the stage that it was going to be the best “and it was bonkers,” he says. “Literally loam was flying off my rear tire, I could feel it on my helmet, I was in a party train with three of my pals from North Vancouver and it was just incredible!”
“We started in the snow and it was this ribbon of dark dirt and then the snow melted, and it turned to moss with a ribbon of dark dirt,” Corinne Prevot describes Stage 10. “And then the ribbons just kept getting longer and longer with these really long side cuts that you could see the very bottom of into a hairpin. So, you haul ass and then you see the hairpin getting closer and you’re like ‘shut it down!’ And then you’re riding this really soft rut, and everything just holds, it’s just such hero dirt. It was just really screaming fast!”
“The snow made Strawberry Mountain extra exciting at the top,” says Geoff Kabush. “Riding through a track of snow, just holding on because you didn’t know what was going to be in the corners, and loose but it got better and better as we got down and out of the snow. Everyone was super psyched at the bottom of that one.”
The stage ended on a double track road that took racers back to shuttles. The plan had been to shuttle everyone back up to the same drop off spot and head north to the start of Stage 11 which would drop everyone back into camp. Only about a dozen racers made it through this stage before it had to be canceled due to steadily increasing snowfall.
“It’s as simple as the health of our racers and our volunteers,” explained Racer Producer, Alex Gardner about their decision to cut the last stage. “Our doctors made the decision and we support it.”
“The whole day was incredible right until the end, we got cut off the last stage because a big snowstorm rolled in,” says Thomas Vanderham. “[Before that was] some of the best riding I’ve done – I don’t even know really how to put it into words.”
After Day 3, the top Pro Women were Alex Pavon (3rd), Christina Chapetta (2nd), and Ingrid Larouche (1st). And the top Pro Men’s podium has Myles Trainer (3rd), Chris Johnston (2nd), and Romain Paulhan (1st).
Despite cutting the day a little short, racers were still smiling around the campfire. “[Trans-Cascadia] is much, much more than I expected, and I heard that it was great but it’s so much more,” says Karen Eller. “The riding is the best riding I’ve done in my whole mountain bike life. Today especially, the third stage was so amazing, I wanted to stop and have more time on the trail. And what the team does to keep the riders feeling comfortable, it starts with the food, the lunch, the showers, the drinks, everything, they are working their asses off for us to have a good week and this is so much more than I expected!”
The weather held long enough at camp for people to dry out and warm up with hot showers, Hot Buttered Rum, and hot fires. And before bed, the crew reminded everyone not to get cold in the night, “we have extra sleeping bags, warm places to put you, and lots of options to make you more comfortable. Don’t suffer – you do enough of that on your bike!”
Trans-Cascadia 2019: Day 4
When racers woke up on the morning of Day 4, snow could be seen on the ridgelines just barely above camp. Racer Director, Nick Gibson, and Lead Medic, Nick Hall, headed up the hill and quickly realized that there would be no racing. It was a beautiful snowy landscape, but they weren’t the conditions that would allow the organizers to send timers, start gates, and volunteers out on course all day long. And the overcast skies would prevent a helicopter from aiding with any emergency medical extractions.
“We’ve hired the best medical field we can find,” says Director of Logistic, Tommy Magrath. “We’ve got a diverse experienced crew of mountain rescue, flight nurses, docs, surgeons, everything and we lean to them – that’s why we hired them. So, when we’ve got a consensus that they don’t feel like it’s safe to race but they are comfortable with a casual group ride and taking the racing element out of it, then it’s a no brainer for us.”
After another amazing breakfast at basecamp the organizers rallied the troops and provided shuttles for anyone who wanted to go home. To their surprise, nearly 90% of the racers chose to stay.
“We took off for the ride as a group and everyone was asked to bring a piece of wood,” says Racer Director, Nick Gibson, “and when we got to the top there were over 100 pieces of wood for a bonfire. I think that was a pretty good example of the community. It was a good bonding moment.”
One hundred and four racers carried wood for the fire and beverages to the top of the snow-covered ridgeline to celebrate their new Trans-Cascadia community before dropping in to ride some sweet trail back to camp.
“I actually was not upset [about not racing today] at all,” says John Ramsden. “It was obviously going to be a pretty difficult day for everybody involved whether you were racing or trying to organize the race, but the fact that they then came together and said let’s go for this group ride – I thought it was an outstanding idea. It was very, very difficult getting up to the top of that mountain but when we finally got up there it was absolutely cool to be on the top of a ridgeline in a completely covered snowfield with a fire going and everyone carrying up two or three pieces of wood and we had an absolutely wicked party up there.”
While not racing felt bittersweet for Christina Chappetta, it didn’t stop her from embracing the adventure. “The fire was really awesome, it was crucial; it was really cold up there. You didn’t realize how cold it was until you stepped away from the fire and you were just checking out the area and then you were like ‘oh dang, it’s below freezing, better get back to that fire.’ But it was impressive having the fire and beverages at the top and then watching everyone drop in. It was a pretty special moment.”
If anyone was going to be upset about the lack of racing, it should have been Chris Johnston who ended Day 3 only 2 seconds back from Kabush and 2nd place. “Part of me was pretty disappointed that the race was cancelled and that I couldn’t put up a fight another day. But the bonus was that we went for one of the best trail rides that I’ve been on. It was just perfect conditions, fresh snow, just a real treat. We got spoiled.”
Chris joined a small group of racers and volunteers split from the main group and rode the designated racecourse to remove all the marking tape and signage. “We had a group of 18 and it was just a really, really good time to go shred, have fun, hang out, hoot and holler. I had only taken beer and wood to that point, so I was very underprepared for the rest of the ride. It was 20-something miles, and everyone contributed a little snack for me and away we went.”
“Today is the perfect example of Trans-Cascadia, and the people surrounding it,” says Lars Sternberg. “The vibe was awesome, nobody was bummed, and I think that’s one of the coolest things about this event. It really attracts the type of people who are able to adapt and deal with adversity.”
Back at camp racers were treated to a photo slideshow and videos from the race, champagne showers from the podiums, and truly heartfelt gratitude and recognition that spread from the organizers to the racers and volunteers and back in rounds of cheers and clapping.
The final standings for Pro Women were Alex Pavon (3rd), Christina Chapetta (2nd), and Ingrid Larouche (1st). And the Pro Men’s podium has Chris Johnston (3rd), Geoff Kabush (2nd), and Romain Paulhan (1st).
Morgan Gerhart and Lauren Jacobson won for the most time on course and were awarded sleeping bags and full riding kits from Patagonia.
New this year as the Spirit Award which went to Jameson Florence who not only has raced all five years and attended all three work parties this year but also was a constant source of positivity and smiles on course. “It’s unreal,” says Jameson about winning the award. “I couldn’t be more pumped to be part of this thing out in the woods with these guys, I just come out here and play and it’s super fun.”
Locals, Remy Aucoin and Sarah Schmidt were recognized for their massive contribution of time and knowledge to help make Trans-Cascadia in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest possible. “Alex and I got to this new area and we called up these locals and [Remy and Sarah] met us at the trailhead,” says Nick Gibson. “We spent our first day in the woods cutting out this crazy jammed up system full of logs and clearing out this sweet descent. They’ve provided us with guidance on what trails to use and even on the Wednesday when racers arrived, Remi was up on the ridgeline brushing our trails. They have been amazing, and we couldn’t have done this without them.” As a thank-you, Remy and Sarah were given workwear from Patagonia.
When the speeches and awards came to an end the stoke carried on around the fire. “Trans-Cascadia was 100 times better than what I was expecting,” says Christina Chapetta. “It was amazing – and it’s still going. Anything can happen!”