I turned 40 years old in 2011. In my mind, 40 is the gateway to middle age and all the unfortunate things that can come with that: getting slower, fatter, less adventurous, opting out of a big pedal because it’s too much effort, spending more time on your golf game than cruising trails. Sure, not everyone is going to go down that path but we can all think of people who have raised their own white flag on a lifestyle that was once so important to them.
I was determined not to let that happen to me, so I made it my mission that year to do as many of the challenging, crazy, awesome things that I simply hadn’t made time for in the past. FU 40, as it were. So I skied more days in a season than ever before. Tried kite boarding. Rode an IMBA epic. Signed up for the BC Bike Race (BCBR). I wanted to challenge myself physically and ride some sweet singletrack in the process. I treated the BCBR like a week-long tour, and it ended up being one of the most amazing adventures I’ve ever had on two wheels.
So many experiences from the race are forever embedded in my mind. Things like riding under the iconic inflatable BCBR arch. Having hundreds of people in small-town BC cheering us on. Cruising singletrack that’s worth revisiting on a holiday. The woman who realized that the forests in BC really are as green as they appear in magazines. Learning that signs saying “10km to go” were generally lying. Eating everything I could get my hands on as soon as I crossed the finish line. Camping on the beach.
And then there was Mark Weir hammering by me in his big ring while I struggled to keep it spinning in my middle. Dining in the antique community hall. Passing dozens of people coming down the back side of Comfortably Numb. Waking up so stiff that I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get on my bike. Wondering why we were hiking up what seemed like a shuttle trail. Cleaning technical sections that scared flat-landers. Talking to people from several different countries each day. Salt rings on the straps of my hydration pack. That feeling of elation and relief when I knew that I was going to get the coveted finisher’s belt buckle. Placing respectably in my (new) age category.
In order to put some semblance of structure into the organized chaos that goes hand in hand with an event like the BCBR, there have to be rules. A big one for riders was that all of your gear had to fit into the 90L Dakine roller duffle bag that was part of each racer package.
These bags were things of beauty, glossy black and proudly bearing the distinctive BCBR logo embroidered in red and white stitching. When I first saw the bags at racer sign-in, I had a flashback to that scene in Full Metal Jacket: “This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine. Without my rifle, I am nothing. Without me, my rifle is nothing.” My rifle was standing smartly in line with the others, with my rider number displayed on the back. I have a great affinity for shiny new gear, and I fell madly in love with my bag as soon as I got my hands on it.
Over the course of the next seven days, the cavernous bag was my companion, my source of comfort, a treasure trove and my lifeline to the outside world. It held everything I needed: post-ride clothes, the cream to massage my legs, my soap and towel so I could clean up from the day’s efforts, my bedding, my iPod, my phone, energy gels and chocolate bars, a jar of peanut butter, bagels and riding gear for just about every possible weather scenario you could imagine.
It was my one constant in the ever-changing world of the BCBR, and apart from the finisher’s belt buckle and a cavalcade of amazing memories, my bag is the most important souvenir of that experience. It’s a tangible reminder of all that I saw, smelled, endured and accomplished in that one week, and it brings back a flood of memories every time I see it.
Fast-forward to spring 2014. I’m heading to Thailand and Japan for a month of R&R. What bag should I take? My BCBR bag! Lots of space, durable, sturdy handle, smooth-rolling wheels. Perfect. I filled it up and headed out, with Bangkok as my first stop. I arrived in Thailand after something like 24 hours in transit, went through customs and gathered up my bag. Added bonus of the BCBR bag: chances of grabbing someone else’s bag off the luggage carousel by mistake are pretty damn slim. And if you do, it’s a happy coincidence, because you can reminisce about your BCBR experience.
I rolled out of the terminal and got on the train heading downtown. I got off at my stop and started walking towards my hotel, which looked like it was about six or seven blocks from the train station on the map. Within two blocks of the train station, however, I realized that I’ve brought the wrong goddamn bag to Asia.
It turns out that the sidewalks in Bangkok are part small-scale disaster zone, part jungle gym and part obstacle course. Add to that the sheer volume of people in a city of 8 million, throngs of street vendors, food carts and street-front restaurant seating and the fact it was actually more like four kilometers than seven blocks to the hotel, and it was a royal pain in the ass to be dragging this large suitcase behind me.
My beloved bag bumped, bounced, wobbled, dropped, rocked back and forth, got jostled, spun around on one wheel and generally did everything possible to make me hate it. In very short order, it was succeeding. After a rest, a few beers and some food, I knew what I had to do: buy a new backpack so I could travel without going insane and send my beloved BCBR bag back to Canada – damn the cost.
Buying a backpack in Bangkok involved a long train ride to a shopping centre that specialized in shoes, Buddha statues, scarves and what I have to assume passes for the latest in Western fashion. I found the largest bag the shop had, looked at the price, did a quick mental currency conversion and had a minor stroke. It’s twice the North American retail. Ouch. But I’m committed to the plan.
Next stop, the FexEx store to ship my bag home. The guy behind the counter came up with an ingenious solution: tape two of his largest shipping boxes together to make one even larger one. Then it was time to calculate shipping costs. He looked at me and said with great concern, “This be very expensive.”
“That’s okay,” I say. “I have to send it. The bag is important to me.” Explaining the sentimental value of a suitcase seemed like a fruitless endeavour, so I let it go at that. After about a minute of keys clicking, he swivelled his screen towards me. Ouch, for the second time in less than two hours. Apparently, sentimentality does have a price.
At this point, I already had a new backpack and my BCBR bag was boxed up, so the only thing left to do was give the man my credit card. I punched in my PIN and with that, made a clear statement on just how much one suitcase was worth.
I thought about the whole experience on the walk back to my hotel, lighter in the wallet but feeling solid. Yeah, this wasn’t the smartest thing I’ve ever done. And yes, there were things that I would rather spend the money on. But some things in life are more important than money. Like a suitcase that represents a defining experience in my life, and by association, my ongoing aversion to getting old and boring. How could I possibly give up something that was such a fundamental part of that?
It’s now BCBR week again, three years on from my own experience. I think about the riders lining up every morning, with tired legs and a stiff body. Hoping that yesterday’s skipping derailleur doesn’t turn into today’s major mechanical. Wondering if the stage is going to be as tough as it looks on the course profile. Determined not to let that guy who snaked them on the inside line beat them again. Wishing they’d had just one more pancake for breakfast. Diving into their bag at the end of the stage for some dry, clean clothes and their phone to tell loved ones how they fared. I’m jealous, of all of it.
And in case you’re wondering, my new backpack and I had an awesome time travelling around Asia.
Aw, crap. Now I’ve got an attachment to a second piece of luggage.
Have you ridden BCBR? Have you ever wanted to? Tell us about it below.