THE HELLRACER 250

WORDS BY
Bobby Howell

The biggest reason we ride, and the common thread that brings us all together, is because riding offers us a sense of adventure that few other things can.

At 7mesh, cycling means more to us than just racing.  That’s not to say that we don’t race, rather that we do so much more with our bikes than merely compete.  We ride because it’s fun, because it’s convenient.  Because there are places to be explored, and places to be discovered.  The biggest reason we ride, and the common thread that brings us all together, is because riding offers us a sense of adventure that few other things can.

We live quite a distance from the road races in Vancouver so it always requires a drive to participate.  One of the most appealing aspects of cycling is that you can do it off of your doorstep. While the road riding in Squamish leaves a little to be desired, the views offered by the Sea to Sky are more than enough to keep me running laps up and down the highway. The roads are smooth, the terrain is undulating and interesting, and there are scenic and challenging climbs not too far away.  When we tire of the road riding, there is a lifetime of world-class mountain biking as a more than equal substitute.   Squamish is a great jumping off point for riders looking to experience some of BC’s most beautiful and inviting terrain.  You can go on an infinite number of adventures without so much as a glance towards your car.

So if we’re going to drive anywhere to ride our bikes, the riding better be good.

Enter the Hellracer – a 250 km (155 mi) loop of mixed gravel and pavement, with 4600m (15,000 ft) of climbing along the way.  The ride starts in Pemberton and meanders its way north on rolling pavement to D’Arcy, before continuing on challenging BC Hydro gravel roads all the way to Lillooet.  It then follows the paved Highway south past Duffy Lake and ultimately returns us back to where we started. When the Hellracer appeared on our radar, it seemed less like a race and more like an adventure.  This was the adventure we were waiting for.

 

The day started off with cool conditions, providing exactly what we needed to conserve energy early on.  The 7mesh team was willing to drive the SAG vehicle, giving us water food, and the occasional heckling. Locals Steve Murray and Dave Heisler and myself set an easy pace to keep our legs fresh for the steep roads ahead.

It wasn’t long before we hit the gravel climbs, some averaging close to 20% for 200m, forcing us off the bike and onto our feet as our bikes struggled to maintain traction.  These gradients were short-lived, however, as most of the terrain was moderate and rolling on reasonably well-maintained gravel.

 

After about 80 km (50 mi) of riding we approached what we thought would be the crux of the day, a 900m (3000 ft) gravel climb averaging 14%. While our cadence would reach new lows, the views offered from up high were nothing short of spectacular.  As we neared the top, the lakes below glowed a vibrant turquoise against an increasingly violent sun, foreshadowing what was to come.

At the top we hydrated, refueled and splashed our faces with ice-cold water.  The team even brought along super soakers, which they were more than willing to unload on us at every turn.  Truth be told, these would come in handy for the next leg of the race…

Even though the descent was steep, loose and sometimes soggy we quickly arrived at the bottom and were at Carpenter Lake before we knew it .  The temperature was soaring, but the lake offered a buffer as we started the 60 km (37 mi) leg to Lillooet.

 

Before long, we had left the lake behind and entered a narrow canyon with sheer walls of deteriorating rock 300 m (1000 ft) high.  For the week prior to this race had experienced a record breaking heat wave – and Mother Nature saved her best effort for the Hellracer.  The terrain was rolling and on any other day would seem easy.  The heat, however, changed things entirely.  It engulfed us.  It felt like we were standing next to an open oven set to broil.  To make matters worse gusts of winds did nothing to help, sending huge swaths of billowing, dusty canyon breath at us.  We had to drink our ice water immediately after receiving it or it became a tasteless soup within 10 minutes.  This was the most uncomfortable I had ever felt on a bike.  There was no escaping the intensity of the sun’s piercing stare.  The message was clear: “You shouldn’t be here.”

We continued along at our not-so-urgent pace, genuinely afraid of overheating.  The team had given us several showers of ice-cold water and a few super-soaker attacks that proved crucial.  After what felt like an eternity we arrived in Lillooet to change clothes and cool off.  Only two more steep climbs to go and we would be rewarded with mellow, rolling terrain and some much cooler alpine temperatures.

 

As soon as we left Lillooet we felt our bodies immediately reject our renewed effort.  My 38-27 drivetrain crushed my noodly legs like a frat guy smashing a beer can on his forehead.  Steve’s breathing became laboured and quite loud.  Something wasn’t right.  We pulled over in the shade, realizing that we were overheating.  Something had to be done or we would not make it to the end.  Dave had the brilliant idea to fill Ziploc bags with ice and stuff them down our backs.  This was absolutely what we needed.  We were a couple of pounds heavier but several degrees happier.

 

After we finished the last steep climb of the day, we rolled through the remaining alpine terrain up to Duffy Lake, enjoying the outstanding wilderness so picturesque it seemed as if it was celebrating our arrival.  The temperature had cooled dramatically.  We watched as the previously angry, belligerent sun unclenched its gaze.  Realizing we could not be broken it cast a faint, weakened glance as if it wasn’t quite ready to admit defeat.  The previously inhospitable conditions were a mere memory, replaced with comforting breezes and hues of gold and orange dancing across the trees, lakes and mountains.

 

As we neared the finish, I reflected briefly on the day.  The guys had offered an unbelievable level of support.  Meeting us at every stop with enthusiasm.  Offering us water, food, anything and everything we needed.  Without their support, I don’t know how we could have finished the day.

The team had grabbed a dirty rope to use as the finish line in Pemberton.  As we crossed it, we were all smiles but I couldn’t help feel a slight bit of sadness.  Sure, we were tired, dehydrated, and hungry, but this unbelievable day of adventure, beauty and friendship was coming to an end.  Part of me wanted to keep riding – not to tick another 10 km, not to even say I did it, but just to stay on the bike for as long as I could.

After the race, Steve told me the temperatures we had experienced on the day.  For the 60 km leg from Carpenter Lake to Lillooet, it averaged 43C (110F), spiking to 46C (115F) several times.  I realized then that I was right.  This wasn’t a race at all.  This was an adventure.  And we can’t wait for the next one.

 

We’d like to give a special shout out to Chad Coates for dreaming up the Hellracer 250 and putting it all together, Jamie May for event support out on the course and all the riders for showing up.