Another challenging Lost Elephant bike packing race in the books

Another Lost Elephant Race has come and gone and a few of the riders took some time to share their experience of its punishing trails; after giving themselves a day or two to rest up and consume some high-calorie meals.

This year Andrew McLeod, had a large hand in designing this year’s “Dumbo Route”, which is, at 300 kilometres, the shorter of the two paths participants may take, the other being the 500-km Jumbo Route.

Last year, the event was renamed the race from the Kootenay Gravel Grinder to Lost Elephant, and 2018 was also the first year a shorter route was added. The plan is to continue re-jigging the “Dumbo Route” each year giving riders something fresh.

READ MORE: The grueling 2017 Kootenay Gravel Grinder

“I think first and foremost is trying to make it interesting to ride, in terms of the roads and trails it goes over,” explained McLeod. “Trying to use underused roads and visit some seldom-visited spots — areas that perhaps people wouldn’t get to if they weren’t participating in an event like this.”

Lisa Barnes participated in the Lost Elephant last year as her first-ever bike-backing trip. As the Dumbo Route was changed this year, it became a whole new experience, and she can certainly attest to both its beauty and its challenges.

This year’s Dumbo left the Cranbrook Chamber office at 7 a.m. on Saturday, July 27 and headed down the Isadore Trail, with Barnes riding with a group of six. After “cat and mousing” throughout the day over a couple mountain passes, they stopped in for celebratory ice cream at Two Scoop Steve’s in Yahk, before moving on to Kitchener, up the Kid Creek FSR to set up camp for the first night.

READ MORE: The race formerly known as Gravel Grinder, Lost Elephant just as grueling

“Then we were lulled into a false sense of a great ride with the first day Saturday was some pretty awesome grades and it was all ride-able and beautiful sweeping views,” Barnes recalled, “and then the second day was all of the treacherous, hike-a-bike, super steep 15 per cent grade climbs and it was the make-it-or-break-it day for sure.”

The first day saw Barnes ride about 13 hours, with a following 12 on the Sunday, rolling back into Cranbrook at about 6:30 p.m. She said that though this year and last’s Dumbos were about the same distance of 300 km, this one was a lot more challenging, with the last push into Cranbrook challenging riders to their limits.

“It was still about 300 km, but this year was a lot more climbing and there were a lot more way outs when you got closer to Cranbrook, which was a tough mental game when you know you still have 100 metres of climbing to do but there’s a highway out, a shortcut you could take there to skip out and bail early,” she said. “But it was a good new route to have for sure.”

McLeod said it was satisfying to see people riding the route that he had planned out for this year’s race.

“This year there was the conscious decision to make it harder,” he explained, “so it got a little bit longer, but the amount of climbing and the quality of the trails we were riding — the climbing was a lot more difficult and the roads were a lot rougher and slower and so it was definitely a very demanding 300 kilometres that the dumbo traversed this year.”

He added that though it was tough, seeing a lot of people finish it was really encouraging.

“I think that maybe at the end of this week once they’ve recovered a smile will return to their face and they’ll want to do it again next year.”

Last year the route took them through Canal Flats and they were able to stop for a big calorie burger, fries and milkshake kind of meal at the Fire Valley Restaurant, but this time round, there wasn’t any restaurants along the way, so food was more of a focus as well.

“Last year I was all over the bars and the dried foods and the biggest lesson I learned is that real food is a real good thing. As I saw other people eating their fresh apples and so this year my biggest focus was food and making sure that I had water.”

While her focus was on the sandwich end of things, she observed another rider bring about 14 hot dogs, another had 14 wraps. Factoring in that much food while also packing your tent, sleeping bad, sleeping bag, first aid kit and emergency repair kit is all part of the preparation process for a ride of this length. Additionally, the biggest thing to do to prepare, according to both Barnes and McLeod, is simply getting as many kilometres on your bike beforehand as possible. Barnes had completed the 7 Summits Race the week before and did extended rides the previous weekend before that.

“Yeah you need to have the kilometres in your legs that’s for sure, and have hard kilometres in your legs,” McLeod said. “This isn’t like riding the Rails to Trails to Kimberley and back, it’s more like going up and over Mount Baker multiple times.”

McLeod added that being self-reliant and a good navigator who is able to take care of yourself and your bike while out in the wilderness are all also important traits for one who may be considering trying the Lost Elephant next year.

The event is less a race against other competitors and more a challenge of one’s own personal dexterity and resolve. Eric Ross, for example, was the only one to complete the Jumbo Route this year. He explained he set out with four others.

One got part of the way in and opted out of the Jumbo and did last year’s Dumbo Route. Another, Rob Haynes who had the best time last year and was on a mission to beat his own record, had a mechanical issue with his bike he couldn’t resolve and had to quit. Another rider had to quit due to issues with his knee.

Last year, Ross completed the ride in an astonishing fashion — opting to do it on a single-speed bike.

“It was as hard as every year. I rode it single speed last year and then I rode it gears on a plus-size bike with three-inch tires and I think I only was about three hours faster with gears than with single speed. I guess I ride at sort of the same speed whether I have gears or just one gear and take the same amount of stops.”

Beyond that, Ross said he had a fairly uneventful, although challenging and beautiful ride.

Barnes, who said she will definitely be participating in next year’s race summed it the whole idea of bike-packing nicely, saying:

“You can travel so much farther on your bike obviously than you can hiking, but you can also get into spots on your bike that you wouldn’t be able to get to in your vehicle or an ATV and it’s just neat, as you’re doing these climbs, all I had to do on Saturday and Sunday was pedal. I had no idea what time it was, I had no idea how long we’d been riding for, I wasn’t trying to keep tabs on where I was and how far. It was just pedal and get up this hill and then go down the next one, and get up the next hill and that’s all that you had to do that day.”

For more information on the Lost Elephant, visit their website here.

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