BCBR22_Gravel_DSC00108_Stenberg
RACE REPORT

BCBR Gravel Explorer XLT

Words Cooper Quinn
Photos As Noted
Date Nov 10, 2022
Reading time

Let’s get the big question out of the way. I got there. After 5,252 shifts, 7,438 meters of climbing, 366.6 kilometers, one stupid crash, and 15:09:52 on the clock, 'racing the BCBR Gravel Explorer, I crossed the line in 13th place overall, 3rd in Solo 30+ Men, at the BCBR Gravel Explorer XLT. Importantly for me as a Wyoming boy, I got a shiny new belt buckle to take home.

In the lead up to this race, I said I’d like to finish and go “Hey! Alright!” instead of anyone asking "I looked at the results, what happened?" and not embarrass myself. And I’m pleased with how it went, title image self-sabotage not included.

It was hard in the ways I expected it to be hard (I’m soft… where I expected to be literally soft), hard in ways I didn’t expect, and not easy in really any way. It covered all three types of fun, and as much as it's cliché, I had zero desire to do it again on the day I finished, but that thought gets fainter every day.

So, how’d it go, how’d the gear fare, and what’s it like to experience the BCBR Gravel Explorer XLT? Let's talk about the experience first.

BCBR-G-1-10

Step one was getting there. I was, of course, late for registration by a few minutes because I left at the last possible moment, and as it's road construction season here in BC.

BCBR-G-1-12

My body is a temple. Before I wandered off to camp, I made sure to get some health food.

The Okanagan is BC’s wine country. Summer life revolves around the lake and it's entirely too hot for me. Fall is the perfect time of year to be there. Based on Pete’s experience at BCBR last year, I packed a mountain of cool and cold weather riding gear. I arrived in Naramata to t-shirt weather, and needed none of it. Sorry, there are no race photos of everyone's favorite Ralpha vest. Unfortunately, due to COVID, there was no traveling circus and no tent city at this year’s event either. After registration in the park, I enjoyed a beer and dinner with some friends and headed off into the Three Blind Mice mountain bike trail network to camp. I’d spent the rest of the nights camping right in the middle of Naramata. There are campsites throughout the town, a central shower, wifi, and they are 2 minutes from the lake. I’d highly recommend it.

Day 1: Camaraderie! Cramps! Crashing!

I was cognizant on day one of a few things: I had no idea how fast or slow to go for five days of racing, I had no idea where I’d slot into the pack, and there was a stack of folks there for the one-day BCBR Gravel Explorer XL who didn’t have to worry about blowing up on day one.

But off we went, with a neutral rollout, a bit of paved climb, and onto the Kettle Valley Railway. The KVR is an old railway converted to trailway that traverses the Okanagan which would feature in stages throughout the week. It's lovely, and it was awesome to see how many folks young and old were out enjoying it on a beautiful fall Sunday, even if it did present challenges for racing. I didn’t know it yet, but many of the folks around me in the first hour would be the folks I’d see around me for the rest of the event.

Overall, the first day was rough. The climbs were long and the flats had been abused through a dry summer, with enough holes to make drinking and eating challenging. This was offset by the views; we traversed up high with great views of the lake, Kelowna, and wonderful fall Okanagan colors in ideal sunny-yet-cool temperatures. The course was a large figure eight, centered around the aid station. The first descent was rough, loose, and full of large rocks and steeps. I passed a few folks, made a quick stop at the aid station, and headed out on to the roughly 30-kilometer loop at the top of the eight. Descending back to the aid station was long and rough. I passed a bunch more folks, some of whom I'd see again shortly. There was quite a party happening at the aid station with folks who were taking a more leisurely pace hanging out before heading for the second loop but I eschewed stopping and plowed on to the next few kilometers of false flat rail grade descending some of the KVR… and as soon as pedaling started back up, I cramped. Badly. Hamstings and quads - y’know, the two biggest muscles in your body. F*ck. Fortunately, after a few minutes of struggling, and only a few of the folks I’d passed on the main descent cruising past, the cramps abated. The KVR opened up and went from bumpy doubletrack to wide, fresh, ¾” crush, and there was a photographer up ahead in a beautiful wide switchback corner. Let's have some fun!

Leaving my ego laying on the ground, I grabbed a big helping of humble pie, hustled up on my bike, and four of us worked the downhill to the finish. My saddle was crooked for those last 18 kilometers. Miraculously the rest of the bike was fine. The final kilometers were a bit interesting - a very popular section of KVR with beautiful views of the lake, on a lovely Sunday afternoon filled with very casual cyclists, as we worked a paceline at 40 km/h through it all. Fortunately, no one made any erratic moves, and we avoided what would have effectively been a car crash to make it across the line.

And that was it. Day one done and dusted, and I finished way better than I thought I should have. So I had some beer and pizza, worried I’d overshot and failed on pacing on day one, and rolled back to my new campsite in Naramata to hammer out some emails before dinner.

Day 2: The Hardest Day (Type Three Fun)

Starting in the rodeo grounds by a steam train... Are we in Wyoming?! No, we’re in Summerland, and a couple things started to set in as we turned off the KVR and up the big climb of the day: one, I was pleased with where I was stacking up in the group, two, it was going to be hard to stay there, and three, good lord I hope I don't cramp again. With the field cut in half as the One Day Wonders had left, I also started to recognize the people around me, and know who I was racing. The climbs were long, and occasionally technical, as the course took the KVR onto logging roads to a plateau where it meandered around some hills, some ups, some downs, and some views. I’d been swapping places with John and his 50+ leader's jersey all day until the aid station where I stopped, and he didn’t… I wouldn’t make that mistake again.

The most memorable part of the day was dropping off the plateau back to the KVR. Fast, very rough, and long, this was my least favorite stretch of the entire race. Gravel bikes don’t have the traction or braking power of mountain bikes, and this descent was littered with sections of big rocks that were at best a flat tire, at worst a broken rim or massive accident. Attempting to keep race pace and not get caught out was successful for me but caused multiple mechanicals for others. This stretch dipped me pretty deep into the “what the hell am I even doing here, this sucks” hole of type 3 fun. My arms were f-cked, I was rattled to the bone, and the riding was borderline scary at speed. But then it was over!

20+ kilometers of rail grade descending on the KVR along the river, across old wooden bridges, and looking at the fall colors while taking turns at the front with a partner, wound up being a great way to end the day. Just as I decided I couldn’t keep the pace anymore and dropped off the back, the two of us rounded a bend and came across the finish line, sans cramps.

I had a routine now – back to camp, clean up my bike, get everything charging, shower, and spend the afternoon doing work on my laptop by the creek until my camp mate showed up later and it was time to have some beers and plink away at cans with a pellet gun. It was good living.

BCBR-G-1-02

I took recovery seriously. After those cramps on day one, I worked hard to ensure I had enough salts and hydration each evening. Photo: Cooper Quinn

Day 3 – Okanagan Falls. THIS is Gravel.

Up until this point, much of the riding had been the ‘gravel’ I usually wind up riding… which isn’t really gravel at all. It was rough, loose, steep, and technical. Day three shifted gears onto wide expanses of ¾” crush, where the only rough bits were occasional washboard. It also meant a bit of technical skill couldn’t make up for differences in fitness; this was a day to just keep your head down and grind it out to the top, watching as you painstakingly made gains on someone in front. Or, despite your best efforts, slowly fall into the clutches of someone behind. I'd been trading places with someone for the latter 1/3rd of the climb, so I blasted past the aid station around the halfway mark – done with climbing – and away we went down the hill. Halfway through the day, halfway through the BCBR Gravel Explorer XLT, and about to hit warp speed.

That's all for now but we'll pick it up from here in another instalment shortly...

BCBR22_Gravel_DSC02084_Stenberg

Past the halfway point, and really hitting our stride now. Or at least having fun at maximum attack. Photo: Chris Stenberg

Related Stories

Trending on NSMB

Comments

danithemechanic
danithemechanic
2 weeks, 3 days ago
+11 Niels van Kampenhout Vik Banerjee Cy Whitling Lu Kz Nick Maffei Cooper Quinn shenzhe Pete Roggeman Matt L. Mike Ferrentino AlanB

I've come to the point where an event report without watercolor paintings seems weird.

Spoiled, i guess.

Reply

cooperquinn
Cooper Quinn
2 weeks, 3 days ago
+4 Cy Whitling Pete Roggeman danithemechanic AlanB

Well Cy liked this comment so I'll see what we can do for round two.

Reply

pete@nsmb.com
Pete Roggeman
2 weeks, 2 days ago
+1 Cy Whitling

I guess Cy's going to be busy next year!

Reply

Jotegir
Lu Kz
2 weeks, 2 days ago
+3 Pete Roggeman kcy4130 Cooper Quinn

I don't have anything to add to the discussion beyond noting that I've really enjoyed reading about your journey to- and now journey at- the BCBR gravel. It's been both familiar and different to the normal NSMB content and in my opinion, a great addition.

Just in case anyone accuses me of bias with this comment, I do not own a gravel or road bike.

Reply

cooperquinn
Cooper Quinn
2 weeks, 1 day ago
0

Thanks! And thanks to Pete and Cam for letting me run with the gravel stuff a bit here - its nice to hear its interesting even if you don't have anything resembling a gravel bike.

Reply

Jotegir
Lu Kz
1 week, 6 days ago
+1 Cooper Quinn

This user is obviously a fake account plant by Big Gravel!

Reply

mmayo
mmayo
1 week, 2 days ago
0

my theory is that there are way more gravel loving mtb'ers out there than anyone wants to admit.  (raises hand tentatively..)

Reply

cooperquinn
Cooper Quinn
1 week, 2 days ago
0

Having now done a few gravel-related writeups here on a "mountain bike" website, I'd say you're correct.

Reply

kos
Kos
2 weeks, 3 days ago
+2 Cooper Quinn Pete Roggeman

Great report. Sounds tough, and plenty rough!

Nice job getting on the box.

Numbers that racers like: 1, 3, 5, 10.

Numbers that kinda suck rocks: 2, 4, 11.

Reply

Cydwhit
Cy Whitling
2 weeks, 3 days ago
+2 Cooper Quinn Pete Roggeman

Man, this looks so rad! Makes me want to race more gravel!

Reply

cooperquinn
Cooper Quinn
2 weeks, 3 days ago
+1 Cy Whitling

There's never enough time to do everything!

Reply

kcy4130
kcy4130
2 weeks, 2 days ago
+1 Pete Roggeman

There's something about a camera coming out that makes me find the ground fairly quickly.

Nice write up, btw.

Reply

pete@nsmb.com
Pete Roggeman
2 weeks, 2 days ago
+3 Todd Hellinga fartymarty AlanB

On one hand, I want to laugh at Cooper for racing a drop bar event and needing to write "thanks to the medical staff for patching me up". On the other, that sequence of photos is so good, and Cooper, your commitment to that drift was so complete, that I can only tip my cap and thank you for sacrificing the skin on your hand so we could have a few chuckles.

Reply

cooperquinn
Cooper Quinn
2 weeks, 2 days ago
+2 taprider AlanB

I didn't get any photos of it, but thanks to Liam on the med team for cleaning my leg out - I took a pretty good patch of skin off there. In an identical place to the spot from a crash earlier in the year. 

It was also a good reminder of why roadies shave - its got nothing to do with aerodynamics and everything to do with how much more it hurts to get a wound clean that's covered in hair.

Reply

pete@nsmb.com
Pete Roggeman
2 weeks, 2 days ago
+1 taprider

Well, and the fact that serious ones get massages almost daily and sports massages hurt like a bitch with hairy legs. See also: soccer, rugby, etc.

Reply

cooperquinn
Cooper Quinn
2 weeks, 2 days ago
+2 kcy4130 Tjaard Breeuwer

Kodak courage?

Reply

olrustybones
olrustybones
2 weeks, 1 day ago
+1 Tjaard Breeuwer

But what about the Ralpha vest?

Reply

Tjaardbreeuwer
Tjaard Breeuwer
2 weeks ago
0

@Cooper Quinn, great write up. Another piece of good story telling on NSMB.com.

I do have to wonder who thought it would be ok to send a race along a lakeside bikepath, on a Sunday no less?

I often use the lakeside bikepath for commuting here in town, and even that can be an issue, and I am going well below 30km/h solo.

I know, the ethos of gravel races is: ‘no closed courses’ , but that doesn’t mean you choose something like that.

If that’s the only way into and out of town, adjust the finish, have a neutral rollout, what ever it takes. Sending a paceline of racers down a path at 40 km/h, where an old couple is out for a stroll, a toddler is running around their parents, and a 4 year old is learning to ride their bike?

Big negative props to the organizers for that.

Reply

cooperquinn
Cooper Quinn
1 week, 5 days ago
0

To be clear there wasn't TOO much of that. The finish line was right around a tunnel on the KVR, if that puts it in perspective for you? I assume it has a name but I don't know it, haha. 

It was neutral from there back to Naramata. 

Same with the Summerland days, most of the early/close kilometers of KVR were neutral.

Reply

Please log in to leave a comment.