The Road Ahead: Giving it the old college Tri

Trent Ernst, Editor


I miscalculated.

Not much, but enough.

From Tumbler Ridge to Tumbler Ridge via Chetwynd and Dawson Creek is 266 km.

At about 20 kph, my average biking speed, that’s about 13 hours of riding. With the sun getting up at 6 and going to bed at 8, that’s 14 hours of daylight, which should have been enough time for me to ride the entire triangle.


Except for three factors.

  1. It was really foggy in the morning, and was still dark at 6, so I didn’t leave until 6:30 when it started getting at least a hair lighter.
  2. If you stop for five or ten minutes for a rest every couple of hours, that adds nearly an hour onto travel time over 12 hours.
  3. The ride from Dawson Creek to Tumbler Ridge is insane when you’ve just ridden 180 km, and your average speed drops the longer you’ve been on the bike.

I figure out my mistake as I am biking past the Old Fellers Road turnoff. From here it is 62 km to Tumbler Ridge, or about three hours of riding. But there is only two and a half hours of daylight left at most. While I have nothing against riding in the twilight, Highway 52 has little or no shoulder, and images of a vehicle plowing into me from behind keep flashing through my head. I’ve got a flashing light and a reflective vest, but still.

I pull out my phone and go to turn it on. Even though I’ve had it in airplane mode for the entire ride, the phone was at ten percent charge a few hours ago, so I turned it off.

Or at least, I thought I turned it off. Turns out, I didn’t. And I’ve got one percent of battery left. Whoops. I turn off Airplane mode and quickly tap out a text to my wife “Not sure I’m going to make it before dark,” I type, then hit send. “If you were able to head out to pick me up when you start thinking it’s getting a bit dark for riding,” I type, then hit send again. A green bubble pops onto the screen for a second, then, before I get the confirmation saying “sent”, my phone dies.

Oh. Crap. This could get interesting.

I was actually ahead of schedule when I got to Chetwynd, or at least, I got there faster than I thought, covering the distance in less than four hours in the saddle. My average speed is 24.3 kph.

This is a bit of a watershed moment for me. I don’t have any issues with riding long hours, but I’m still not convinced that I’ll be able to keep up with the projected tour speed of 27 kph. “If you are able to ride 25 kph on your own,” says Tour Coordinator Erin Reynolds, “You’ll have no trouble riding 27 kph in the peloton.”

My average speed so far has been closer to 21 kph. But I’m convinced that it’s because I’ve been spending so much time practicing riding uphill that I haven’t really spent a lot of time on the more typical rolling terrain that we will be encountering along the ride. Oh sure, there’s going to be some killer hills (coming out of Hudson’s Hope, for instance, or climbing up to Powder King), but there’s going to be a lot of riding that isn’t all uphill and downhill.

So, back when I agreed to do the Tour de North, I decided early on that one of my goals was to ride the triangle.

Why? Well, there’s a couple reasons. One, it just seems like a decent challenge. 266 km in one day. If I can ride the triangle, I can ride anything the tour can toss at me.

But there’s another, most selfish reason. Back when I moved to town, one of my first jobs was as trail boss, building a number of the now classic Tumbler Ridge trails: Flatbed Dinosaur Tracks, Teepee Falls, the Boulder Gardens.

I was working with a group of high energy teens who ran circles around me. The type who would go out after work for a ten hour hike to explore a newfound cave. They told me one day that they were planning on biking the triangle one weekend, just for fun. They made it one leg of the route. Ever since then, the idea of completing the route has fascinated me, if only just to prove something to myself.

I stop to pull off a pair of black long johns I’ve been wearing over my cycling shorts. It was freaking cold when I left this morning. I’m wearing my standard biking gear (shoes, socks, cycling shorts, cycling jersey and helmet), plus the thermal underwear (both bottom and top), a wind break, and a hoodie. I rode for the first hour with the hood up. Because the hood trapped the warm moist air of my breath and my sweat near my face, it caused my glasses to fog up, and, because it was so cold, the fog then turned to ice. After two hours of riding, I had made it to Gwillim, the sun had come out, my glasses were no longer sheets of ice, and everything is going brilliantly.

There’s a fairly steep climb out of Chetwynd, but after that, the ride is, quite frankly, a bit of a dawdle. A third of the way to the Highway 52 junction, the road drops about 200 m down to the Pine River, then climbs back up.

I make good time through this section, too, though I’m not paying as much attention as I should to the time. This means that when I stop for lunch, I spend perhaps a bit too long sitting at the side of the road, watching the traffic flow by.

While this section of the route has the largest shoulders, it’s also, conversely, one of the scariest. On the drive from Tumbler to Chetwynd, the shoulder is two or three feet wide. When vehicles pass, they typically pull well over to give me clearance. Here, the shoulder is about six feet wide, but the vehicles don’t pull over at all, and logging trucks and loaded semis blast by at 100 kph, only feet off my left shoulder.

Every time a big truck goes by, my sphincter contracts. A moment later, the truck’s draft hits, sucking me along, bumping my average speed up by five kph. All in all, a mixed blessing.

My niece Jade, who lives about five minutes from the Dawson Corner, meets me with iced tea, water, and another bag of peanut butter sandwiches. I eat a sandwich, drink some iced tea, and then head out again.

At the corner, I’m pretty sure I should be able to make it to Tumbler. I covered the 94 km from Tumbler to Chetwynd in four hours, but after 3.5 km, the hills begin. They’re not huge, less than 200 m of elevation gained for each one, but they’re steep and, after nearly 200 km of biking, they are kicking my butt all over the place. I crawl up the hills, then coast down, then do it again. When I finally get over the third hill, I find even a moderate uphill is slowing me down to a pitiful 10 kph. By the time I hit the Old Fellers Road, I know I’m not going to make it before the sun sets.

And that’s when my phone dies.

Nothing to do but to keep going on, I tell myself, knowing that in about an hour I’m going to hit the last, worst hill of this section, climbing nearly 500 m over the course of about 25 km, much of that in a long, sustained climb about ten minutes past the rest area.

As I’m biking, my mind is racing. Did my wife get my text? Will she come and pick me up? Or will I have to bike all the way home in the dark? I begin to fantasize about friends driving home from Dawson stopping to ask how things are going. “Good,” I say to them in my mind. “But I’m running a little behind. Any chance of a lift to the top of this hill?”

But while a few vehicles have looked familiar, nobody has stopped. I come around the final corner before the hill starts in earnest. I stop. I look up. I don’t know if I have the energy to get up there, but my mouth rebels at the thought of another peanut butter sandwich. I’ve had about ten so far today, and the last one I literally had to choke down.

I listen for the sound of Ray or Blaine or Pam coming up from behind, but there’s no sound. Standing here isn’t getting me any closer to home, and is only making my final arrival later, so I climb back in the saddle and begin the grunt up the hill.

Less than two minutes into the ride up, a vehicle crests the hill and begins coming down towards me. It’s my vehicle. My wife. She got my text.

And thus, my attempted ride comes to an end, 38.7 km from town. If I had tried a couple weeks earlier, there probably would have been enough daylight. If I hadn’t taken so many breaks, or stopped so long for lunch, or left earlier, I probably would have made it. Oh well, you live, you learn. And even though I didn’t make it all the way, 230 km is not too shabby.

Editor Trent Ernst is the media rider for this year’s Cops for Cancer Tour de North to raise money for kids with Cancer. You can support him in his mission at Trent started riding on Tuesday from Dawson Creek, and will be winding up in William’s Lake next Monday. You can follow his adventures at