Thursday, March 5, 2015

Chillooet - Elevated Experiences




Words by P Bloom, images by CURBWZRD


Lillooet sits in a high valley on the far side of the Duffy Lake Road, a serpentine pass that winds north & east of Pemberton. Once you cross the Duffy, the coastal mountain climate gives way to an arid one, populating glacial-cut valleys with scrub, sage, and cedar trees. 
The predictably dry weather, and undulating, challenging roads has made this the site of a series of training camps hosted by Vancouver's Mighty Riders/ Pirates cycling team. Pioneered by Pirates patriarch, and hulking powerhouse Shane Savage, these retreats to the high mountains have been used for years to tune pre-season race fitness, to forge team affinity, and explore the backroads of BC. 

In the search for fresh blood, a few wildcard invites to the camps are extended. This winter, the Stuckylife and Funeral Cycling crews were foolish enough to accept. 



Curbwizard and myself shredded ourselves on a Lillooet camp last June, and were eager to join the fun again. 
With lightweight pannier racks fitted to our road racing bikes, we set out Thursday morning for a Malahat mission en route to the Nanaimo/ Horsehoe Bay ferry. Five and a half hours of drizzle, and some hilly backroads broke in the Wizard's freshly built Wildwood road frame. Thoughtfully, he hit the frame with some clear-coat as he was building the new bike late the night before we left.
Needless to say, the steel tubing started to patina nicely by the time we caught our ferry to the mainland and were scooped by Funeral Cycling's Derek Dix. 







A stop in squamish for supplies, and the three of us continued the drive past Whistler, Pemberton and over a bone-dry Duffy Lake Road. The warm weather and favourable conditions were a high point, offering an easy drive to Lillooet and the chance to run race bikes, no fenders and minimal winter gear over the course of the weekend. 





The Four Pines motel in Lillooet is the staging ground for these Mighty winter camps. Wood panelling, threadbare carpet and stunning limestone vistas make for a rugged base camp. The lack of wireless service in Lillooet, combined with a healthy stockpile of good beer, and whisky meant that downtime at Mighty Camp was a social affair.





 


Lillooet doesn't have much on offer other than outdoor access. The town is a handful of roads running on a bench above the Fraser river. A few perpetually closed department stores, some nearly abandoned watering holes and a couple of dusty hotels. The main feature in the town is a public works yard, and the lack of a McDonald's.




We did three big days. The guys and girls that come out to these riding weekends are an incredibly strong bunch. Typically cat 2s, 3s, with a smattering of CX'ers and Elite MTB riders, the skill set is as strong and varied as the fitness levels. 
The typical four hour Lillooet ride starts mellow, with a double-paceline along the steadily climbing valley roads. A selection is typically forced an hour in, with full on carnage ensuing until the sprint and turnaround point. Regroup, shed layers, gulp back Clif bars, and do it again back to the hotel.


After decades of riding these roads twice or more a year, the Mighty crew know the rolling climbs, road-side sprints and steep grades inside and out. It's a tactical challenge for the interloper to follow the right wheels on the grinding climbs, to anticipate whose attack might cause a gap to open or split apart the dozen riders.
The hills and descents are all named after the Mighty team members that have previously won KOMs, blown through corners and crashed, or characteristically attack and fizzle before the real sprint point.
This high mountain terrain is their natural turf.


The third of three riding days is the queen stage. Heading north from Lillooet along the Bridge river valley, the highway climbs steadily along a road cut into the mountain. The busted pavement turns to gravel, and rolls along above the river, dipping, switchbacking, and rising to our first real re-grouping point at the Carpenter Lake/ Yalakom intersection. Plunging down a couple of switchbacks, we rode along the spillway to the Carpenter Lake Dam, our turn around point and gravel sprint spot.




A huge thanks to Meat, Shane and the Mighty crew for having us along on another of their ridiculous weekends. As well, to Derek & Funeral for the nutrition, transportation and general hilarity. 




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