The fourth annual Samurai of Singletrack put more than 100 riders through the ringer last Saturday, with periods of heavy rain turning the already wet trails into slippery mush. Almost everybody experienced a crash or two over the 51 kilometre epic, and some riders took more than 13 hours to complete the course a record long time, despite the fact that the course was actually shorter than it has been for the past two years.
Still, an amazing 112 of 114 starters finished the Samurai this year, with fewer people pulling out because of exhaustion and bike problems than other years.
The goal of the ride has always been to challenge local singletrack riders to complete an epic course of some of our most difficult bike trails. Mission accomplished, says Tony Horn, who organizes the Samurai along with Ru Mehta.
"This was the hardest race so far, no question," Horn said. "The rain did make it more difficult, but even if it was dry I think a lot of people would have still been walking a lot of sections. The whole Section 102, Gargamel, Big Kahuna, Anal Intruder, section was just tough, any way you look at it those are hard trails. Cheap Thrills was also pretty rough thats a steep trail, even when its dry."
The entire Samurai of Singletrack course included sections of 22 bike trails: Section 102, Gargamel, Big Kahuna, Anal Intruder, Shit Happens, Ricks Roost, Cat Scratch Fever, Mandatory Suicide, Mels Dilemma, Emerald Forest, A River runs Through It, Barts Dark Trail, the Sproatt Flank Trail, Cheap Thrills, 99er, Danimal, Riverside Trail, Trash, Highline Trail, Tunnel Vision, Love Canal and B.C. "Boyds" Trail.
"There were crashes, ripped off derailleurs, chains stuck, flat tires, broken frames we havent even heard all the stories yet, but it was rough," said Horn.
Horn himself finished the course in 10 hours and two minutes, although he started well back in the pack after helping to sweep Gargamel.
After that he said he had a strong ride, at least until he got to the climb up Riverside to the Highline Trail. "That should have been the easy part, but after coming off of Trash I was just punched, and I never recovered for the rest of the way," said Horn.
"It was the funnest day any of us have ever had on a bike, and some people were pretty upset by the end of it, but I thing that people will look back on it as one of the funnest days, once they put it in a bit of perspective."
Horn and Mehta created the Samurai of Singletrack back in 2001 as an epic for riders who have bigger bikes, dont wear Spandex, and arent into the long cross-country races like B.C. Cups and the Cheakamus Challenge. Instead, they created a long ride for people who love technical singletrack. The goal from the beginning was not to win, although some riders do race, but to finish.
They only wanted to host seven events over seven years, and the riders that finished all of them would be crowned as Ultimate Samurais after the final year. Since then the race has become a local legend, with people staying up all night to snap up the few entries that werent already claimed by people who participated in previous years.
After every race, Horn and Mehta pick a few riders out of the group and give them special awards.
This year the award for Oldest Samurai went to GNOD (Gnarly Old Dude), who is 63 years old.
The Keenest Samurai was Jannie Grobler "who bugged me every day since last year to get a space, he wanted to race so bad," said Horn.
The most Helpful Samurai was Chris Hammons, who stopped several times to help other riders with their bike problems, and "made Dave Pauls day" by coming up with a new derailleur.
The Most Determined Samuria was Johnny I. (Inglis). "He had tons of mechanicals. I passed him on Gargamel and everything was off his bike, the cranks, the chain rings, the back wheel. He had to borrow an Italian penny from Bob Lessard to get his crank off, and he had to ride River Runs Through It and Emerald Forest with just his middle ring," said Horn.
The award for Hottest Samurai went to Shelly Webster, who lost her bike the week before on a trip to Spruce Lake when her truck caught fire. She did the course on a rental.
The Ride of the Day / Big Kahuna award went to Joe Hertz, who finished 20 th despite the fact that he had been away all summer and had barely any days on his bike.
The Strongest Samurai Award, including a new memorial trophy dedicated to Chris "Beeker" Romeskie, went to Rachelle Johnson, who went back to Tunnel Vision after she finished the race to ride the last section of the course a second time with last place Samurai Brian Pardoe.
This year Matt Ryan posted the fastest Samurai ride, coming in at five hours and 30 minutes. Although he was the first rider out of the Emerald trails this year, he got a boost early on with Yoshi Tsuji hot on his heels.
"I looked back at one point on the road (to Ricks Roost), gagging on a Power Bar, and I was like oh no, here comes the Yoshi attack. We actually rode together, did River together, did the climb (up Sproatt/Flank) together. I lost him on Cheap Thrills, and was on my own after that," said Ryan. "I expected him to catch up with me again, so got that me going a bit."
Ryan says the Samurai was the toughest race of the year by a large margin.
"It was just consistently technical, so you couldnt let up at all," he said. "It was a wicked course, super challenging, super wet everybody thought it would get easier after Gargamel, but Gargamel wasnt even the gnarliest part. Some of the other trails, with all the wet roots, were a lot harder."
Ryan crashed hard just once, on Tunnel Vision.
"I just came into this one tight turn a little hot and completely lost it, went over the bars. It sucked, but it happened pretty fast so I didnt even have time to think about it until I was back on my bike. It made the last part exciting, thats for sure," he said.
Ryan, an Australian, says he wanted to win this year after placing second in last years race.
"Im leaving Whistler at the end of October, and this was the one race Ive always wanted to win, so it takes the sting out of leaving a bit. Hopefully Ill be coming back next summer, but this is a pretty good memory for me.
"Im so stoked to have finished first, but I always thought that this was more of a ride than a race, just a chance to go out and celebrate with your buddies. The riders out here are really the best in the world at these kinds of trails. It really was a privilege to ride with all these guys."
Ryan was followed by Tsuji, who came in at 5:37. Matt Bodkin was third in 5:51, followed by Eric Crowe at 6:01. The most exciting finish of the day belonged to Kevin Phelps and Tony Routley, who finished the race within seconds of each other in 6:03.
Phelps, who has ridden all four Samurai races now, said this years course was the hardest.
"I dont know if it was more difficult, but the fact it was raining made it the most difficult so far. Stuff you wouldnt even look twice at when its dry was so slippery that you were constantly looking at the ground, evaluating every single route. It was tough mentally," he said.
"I actually had a bunch of crashes, but it was actually a good thing. When I get all excited and start losing focus, a good crash puts it all into perspective, it calms you down a little."
Routley had a hard day as well, starting the day by blowing his front forks and flatting out. He rode the entire first section with a fully-rigid bike, switching to an older bike after coming out of Shit Happens.
"After that I had a little suspension up front, but all that bike had were some old v-brakes, which basically means no brakes on the downhill," said Routley.
"The rain threw another element into this, no question, but Im happy with my ride considering everything that went wrong at the start. A lot of stuff I normally would have ridden I walked today, but that was to be expected."
The top woman in the race was Brandi Heisterman, who finished in 7:31. Lesley Clements was in at 7:50 and Sylvie Allen at 8:02.
"It was tough," said Clements. "The trails were technical enough, but the rain really added to the difficulty. I was off and on, off and on, my bike all day. I did a lot of running, put it that way."
Clements raced in the provincial Marathon mountain bike racing series this summer, finishing fourth overall after missing the last event due to an illness. She says her body used to long rides, although it did help to have Sylvie Allen on her tail for most of the race.
"She pushed me, thats for sure. I knew the technical goddess was coming up behind me so I really had to go full out when it wasnt technical, and I tried not to look too hard at the rocks and roots in some sections because I didnt want to give her a chance to catch up. I just knew I had to move," she said.
Sylvie Allen, a former Canadian downhill champion, says she didnt mind the technical riding or the wet rocks and roots, and tried to ride everything on Gargamel.
"I felt pretty good actually. There was a lot of stuff I didnt even try to ride up that I would usually ride, but after six hours I just didnt care anymore," she said. "The one thing that kept me going on the climbs was the descent on the other side.
"I actually wanted it to keep raining. When the sun did come out it got pretty warm because of all the clothes I was wearing."
This was Allens second year riding the Samurai, and she says she actually found it easier than last year.
"I just remember seeing all of these people just lost and wandering around Comfortably Numb, totally out of it, and you really didnt see that this year. It was hard, definitely, but it was a little shorter as well and people werent as tired as they were last year," she said.
Brian Pardo was the last rider in, coming out of the pouring rain at 9:45 p.m., more than 13 hours after he started.
Horn would like to thank all of the volunteers, some of whom stayed outside for the entire day. He would also like to thank Adie from Ruby Tuesday for taking times at the finish line, Chromag and Evolution for the barbecue and bike repair station, and Tyler Morland for all of his work on Gargamel and for helping out with the barbecue.
In the next few weeks Horn is hoping to have a Samurai Trail Day to do some work on trails that were chewed up during the race.
"With the rain and everything it was a hard day on the trails," he said.
More details in the coming weeks.