The third annual Kootenay Gravel Grinder, a gruelling, mountain bike excursion through over 500 kilometres of rugged terrain with 11,000 metres of elevation, commenced on July 22. This year’s route was even more intense than the previous two according to some of the riders we spoke with.
“Truly it was a brutal, in the good sense of the word, course,” rider Nathan Siemens said. “There were multiple kilometres of pushing your bike up things because it was just to steep, but all that being said it’s definitely an adventure not just a ride in the woods.”
This was the first Gravel Grinder for Siemens, 37, though he’s no stranger to endurance biking. At 16 he biked across Canada and more recently, he, his wife and five-year-old daughter did a three week bike excursion in Alaska.
Described as more of an event than a race, the riders are driven not by the prospect of a reward but purely for the sense of satisfaction upon completing such a monumental and difficult journey.
“There’s no entrance fee, no prize besides besides I guess bragging rights and a sense of personal accomplishment really,” Siemens said.
In total 13 riders left from Cranbrook, and of them only one actually completed the course in its entirety. Siemens, for example, had to miss Brewer Pass due to a shredded tire that forced him to divert from the path and go into Invermere to get it repaired.
“If you were gunning for actual official time status or to win you would actually have to go back to the exact point where you left the route and start again there,” he explained. “But by this time a group of us had sort of taken a bit of a more social approach to it and it was still physically gruelling. It was more important for me to rejoin that group than it was to complete the whole route.”
The group he reunited with were exhausted by the pass that he had to miss due to his bike malady and so they reached a consensus to pass on the next one.
Although he said it was the most physically taxing thing he’s ever done, Siemens said he felt really good after returning home to Cranbrook and has been staring at back roads map books every night since, looking for new adventurous paths and will in fact be going on another two day ride this weekend.
47-year-old Andrew McLeod has participated in the Gravel Grinder each of its three years and said that he tends to not follow the exact rules of the event, preferring to have fun and enjoy the company of his friends along the way.
“If you’re a purist you go a certain way and you don’t accept any help and you’re always self-supported,” McLeod said. “I’m not really racing it so I take some liberties with the route on occasion and usually pre-place some food and beer along the way so I don’t have to carry everything all the time.”
Eric Ross, 50, was the only one to complete the entire track as it was originally mapped out. The others that completed the trek, but bypassed certain sections of it did it in three nights, and he did the whole thing in two. He rode for 14 hours the first day, then 16 the next and 17 the last.
“I kinda like climbing hills and I find a mindset, you just sort of just start grinding away and don’t get to caught up on the exhaustion or anything,” Ross said. “I never really considered skipping a section.”
He said that many of the paths are made more for hiking than biking, and pushing the bike was a reality for parts of the trek.
“The sections you could ride were pretty epic, and just so peaceful and quiet you didn’t see any sign of people,” he said.
One of the most fun parts of the trek for him was coming down a black diamond single track ride down the Panorama ski hill.
“Some people pay to do that, doing the chairlift up Panorama but we get to do it for free, but doing it on a loaded touring bike is a little different than on a downhill bike though,” Ross said.
He said that his quads were quite sore the following day for just a few hours after, but felt that he was “in a daze” afterwards.
“It takes a few days to get your head back into reality and not just sort of thinking about just pedalling and where your next meal is coming from or where you’re going to camp at night.”