Inaugural Transrockies Gravel Royale 2022; A 4-day Stage Race in British Columbia, Canada
Hi. I’m a fairly new Sorella member so I have not had the pleasure of meeting most of you. I enjoy the recaps others offer on their epic rides and thought you might enjoy hearing about the Inaugural Transrockies Gravel Royal event.
A friend asked if I would be interested in being her teammate at a gravel stage race up in Canada. I had never competed in a stage race, and it looked like the distances and elevations are similar to what I have at home (summer = Connecticut), so I said sure and we signed up in the Open/Master’s Women’s Team Category. To be clear though, we’re not racers. I turned 64 the week before the race, and my friend turned 60 earlier this year. We’ve been riding gravel for about 4-years, coming from a road background. I’ve entered a few races in the past few years for ha-ha’s, but I don’t consider myself a “racer”. We are just two competitive gals with a knack for adventure and have been known to do some crazy stuff. My husband “doesn’t” camp, so she knew if I went he’d be staying home and I’d be free to be a teammate. So, this was one of our crazy trips.
We made our way to Calgary on Friday, 8/19, giving us a day to tour around Calgary. The following evening the event bus picked a group of us up at the airport and brought us to the Panorama Resort in BC, about 4-hours away. Sunday was race check-in and prep, buying bear spray, and the race began Monday morning, 8/22.
Stage 1: Panorama Resort to Nipika over Tegarts Pass (HC category). 48-miles with 6100’ elevation. Every stage had one segment that was basically the nastiest climb on the course. Bear with me, because this was the most intense stage.
We were warned about a potential and one definite “hike a bike” sections going up the segment and one potential one going down just after the segment. The race began with a neutral start to and through town, about 16-paved miles. The timer started on our first gravel road with a gentle climb to Check Point 1 (CP1). Immediately after CP1 the segment started; single track with thick large loose rock, averaging 10% to 18%. Some hike a bike, so we thought we had accomplished the difficult section. Then we turned a corner and found a large group of riders dismounting and shouldering their bikes to start hiking up about a mile in a very deep and narrow single track, 15% - 28%, through lush green forest with moss, rocks and big slippery roots.
When we reached the top vista the view was stunning! Well, until you rode to the edge of the first downhill and saw people walking, sliding, & crashing down the hill on a single track of loose rock with a 90-degree turn at the bottom. Yup, hike a bike, so we dismounted and slid down.
At the bottom we started a 10-mile downhill with some switchbacks that led to CP2 and the last 7-miles of gentle rollers. You had to watch for avalanche debris around corners, avoid the bear scat and the range cattle (my god they are huge). The Stage ended in Nipika Resort, which caters to campers, cross country skiers, fat and mountain bikers.
Our tents were all set up for us, as well as a bike repair & cleaning area, a shower truck, refreshment center, dining tent, massage tent, medic tent, and a “chill tent” to hang out at to get to know the other racers. There was a little pond to cool off in and access to a glacial river for “leg therapy”. However, after this stage I was seriously questioning if this was a gravel race.
Stage 2: Nipika to Nipika Loop over Miller Pass. 50-miles with 5100’ elevation. This was a beautiful ride that first went up above the tree line on nice gravel roads. The primary decent was a very long
single track, about 8-miles, like the day prior (but downhill) with about 8-creek crossings. Challenging, but fun and beautiful with dense forest. We were muddy but having fun! The road back to Nipika was rollers with good gravel. My faith was restored that this was a gravel race!
Stage 3: Nipika to Canal Flats over Miller Pass: 67-miles, 5100’ elevation. Stage 3 began with a silt/mud slide obstacle, about 100-yards that nearly sucked my shoes off! At the 6-mile mark the segment began; a loose stone climb that varying from 6% to 18% at any given point and brought you just to the top of the tree line. Not bad, but unfortunately my teammate had a horrible asthma attack halfway up. Thankfully she carried what she needed and she was able to get over the climb and down to CP1 where she had to scratch. I was now riding solo for the next 55-miles. The remainder of the course was wide rolling gravel logging roads that followed the river. I was able to pass several small groups of riders, but was alone most of the time. Well, until I came upon an extremely large bull standing in the middle of rode. Just me and the bull. Just a wee bit concerning, but thankfully he didn’t seem to mind and I made it to Canal Flats. Our new Campsite was at a hockey rink, same set up, but we had real shower rooms and bathrooms. Ah, it’s the simple things!
Stage 4: Canal Flats to Fernie over Hartley Pass. 83-miles, 7100’ elevation. I was still riding solo, but I was able to connect with various groups of my new friends as I went. We started with great gravel roads with a gentle climb 23-miles up to CP1. Then a 17-mile steep double track climb, bringing us above the tree line with incredible views followed by a rolling downhill for 23-miles over very chopped up double track, some muddy single track and 8 or 9 creek crossings to CP2. The stage segment and the last 9-miles of the race began here. It was another steep chopped up double track with the last 1.8-mile kicker at 18%-20%. The race finished at to top of the mountain at mile 72! Well, except for the 10-mile neutralized, agonizing, ride down a muddy, steep, crater ridden road into town! I honestly think the last 9-miles into town were the hardest! And finally, wash & pack the bike, shower, pack, dinner and closing ceremonies. I tried to stay longer at the after party to watch the Spanish team break loose, but darn, I was just too exhausted and the bus to the airport was leaving at 9:00 a.m.
After the fact: After the first stage I was truly muttering bad things about MTB’ers organizing Gravel rides; I’m not a mountain biker. But as I learned more about the race, I realized that the only way to get from point A to point B on a gravel bike in the BC Rockies is to go through what we did on day one. This is their gravel. All is forgiven. I finished completely drained but unscathed & happy, and, with zero mechanicals! I can’t compliment this group enough; the event staff, caterers, medics, mechanics and volunteers were incredible; A+ for logistics!
35% of the riders this year were women! Most came to race, but there was a small group of “party in the back” folks just there to enjoy the scenery & comradery. Oh, and Delta has a non-stop from Atlanta to Calgary! So, next year ladies? Registration opens on September 28th and half of all early registration spots are reserved for women!