Day Four, the final day. Ever since the courses and format was announced it was Day Four that was on everyone’s lips. For one it was to be held not in Whistler but in Pemberton, the spiritual home of steep and deep biking, big climbs and descents that take man balls. Another thing, it was called the Lady Macbeth “Pemberton Tragedy” which is a pretty ominous name if ever I’ve heard one.
Even though the pre-4Queens banter was pretty thin on the ground this year (if compared to last years natter fest and tire talk frenzy), whenever the 4Queens was muttered in conversation the topic was always about Day Four. It was going to be a long one that was taken as a granted, but having it in Pemberton meant two things. Firstly that is was likely to be bloody hot, f-ing dry, and nun pocket dusty. Then secondly, it meant that the descents were going to be hairball. Then when the course was announced the scare talk turned into overdrive as it had being announced that the ascents weren’t going to take in just the 131 switchbacks of Nimby and Happy trails but do this several times over.
Then the course was altered to make it more fun. This was one of Tony’s jokes as he changed the course to go up to the top of Nimby but then it was going to go way way way higher up a brand new trail called Middle Earth to the top of GRAVITRON!!! WTF?!?!
Gravitron is a near mystical beast of a trail. Renown throughout the Sea-To-Sky Corridor as one of the most awesomely obnoxious creations of a diseased mind. Starting somewhere near the Sun it plummets like a broken elevator straight to the basement of hell. Imagine a f-ing steep ski line in the trees, but instead of soft fluffy powder snow, imagine dust, rock, roots, and a one way ticket to a soiled pair of underpants.
So Tony had turned day four into not just a soul-destroying pedal fest with the usual BCXC tech fest, but he had added the fear factor into it.
Oh, and if you were thinking it was simply a leisurely pedal up a freaking mountain face then just one hellevator ride back down to the finish line then you would be wrong, because that was just the first three fifths. After that it would climb back up to the top of the Government Stimulus Package Spoils, down that hella fun ride, then along the river and back up to Mosquito Lakes for a dip in the lake to sooth the saddle rash, gravel rash. And possibly clean the skid marks from the chamois.
I hope i’ve done justice to the kind of fear and trepidation that many were experiencing leading up to Day Four. So now lets move on to the biting reality of the imagined foe…
The night before the nightmare day was spent drinking lots and lots of water, fretting about what combo of gels and food aids to pack, and whether or not to don lycra again. These were answered eventually when I decided to just pack plenty of shiny packets of expensive aids, to wear the lycra again because my grandmother always told me to wear clean underwear in case you got run over by a bus. Her explanation was that if you got run over by a bus when they got you to hospital the doctor and nurses would make a lasting judgement on the character of the pavement pizza before them based solely on the quality of the knickers. My Grandmother didn’t believe in patient confidentiality and feared that the whole of her village would remember her and her family to be a bunch of scuzzy pant wearing scrubber, so always made sure I wore fresh undies. My reason for using this reasoning is that I expected to feel like a bus had run me over after Day Four so I may as well go out wearing a pair of tight (read revealing) white spandex shorts that said “Tasty Salty Pork Products” on the sides, and “Powered by Pork” on the arse. I figured if you’re gonna end up in hospital you may as well end up giving the doctors and nurses something to laugh about.
My other conundrum was whether I should just hang with some friends and cruise around the course taking in the sites, waving to the flowers, and smelling the cougar shit along the way, or try to go hard and keep a good position in the overall (by some fortune and luck I had found my way to 6th overall coming into the last day). I really just wanted to have fun and not bother at trying hard, but there’s always that weak little molecule in my body that tells me I should try harder at events and races. I sometimes wonder if successful racers are successful simply because they have more of these molecules in their bodies (or minds) than us normal chaps. I don’t seem to have a very loud or powerful competitive race molecule because it gets over powered by the ‘Just do a sick silly skid for the crowd’ or ‘I bet if you did that slower line you’d make yourself laugh alot more’ molecule.
Instead I decided to use my ‘Im mature enough to embrace my immaturity’ molecule so I started on the back row of the starting grid, knowing that this would force me to have fun chirping to friends as I picked my way through the pack. If I started on the front row I would get carried away by the mutant leg tearing fiends who survive primarily in the darkest of their pain caves. If I got carried away with keeping up with these maniacs then I could find myself exploded in a pile of sweat and energy gels on the side of the course with a pair of very homosexual undies on. Not a good look, even I wouldn’t laugh at that one. My fitness is really not what I had last year when I trained and prepared for the 4Jacks (translate as rode my xc bike alot more over longer distances and on the specific courses for the race at hand), but somehow I had got this far. I knew I hadn’t got what it took to keep up so I needed to ride my own ride and be sensible about things. Another first for me.
It worked pretty well because I got to see what a bottle neck really looked like as the 120 rider strong pack entered Sphincter Rock, but this helped keep my tepid beast tamed. I began just picking off riders slowly then once the big climb came I settled into a rhythm and kept my legs spinning and my heartbeat down low. The climb went on and on. Something like two hours I believe! By the time we came out at the top of it I was ready to lay down some hammer on the descents just to change up the muscle groups that were being splintered. Of course the descent in question was The Descent. Seat down, man up.
There is a new alternative trail that weaves in and out of Gravitron called Gravitrout that still retains the character of the former (steep as silly) but isn’t as sustained in its death drop. Of course, I missed the turning for this new masterpiece and ended up on a 29 inch flaming bullet ride to the core of the earth. Gravitron deserves its reputation because once you fall into it the speed just keeps picking up and up and no amount of braking can help you. Your eyeballs feel like they are being simultaneously being pushed into the back of your head with the speed at the same time they are sticking out on stalks.
I actually though I had taken a really bad wrong turn and the race would be over for me when I found myself shooting out into Mount Currie at way above the speed limit, but amazingly just as I thought I was about to die alone in the hills as my body burnt up on reentry into the atmosphere, there was one of Tony’s little red course signs. Boom! Race back on and with adrenalin surging through my veins I charged into a big gear and started the motor revving hard back up the next climb. I picked off a few riders on the road and got sight of Julian Hine (not hard to spot on his lazer beam coloured bike) and knew that I must have made alot of good time and was up where I would be had I had any endurance. And then before I knew it we were slipping seats back down for the descent on Stimulus (go ride this trail, so fun is you get to figure where all the catches are and the handy pops and doubles over the chunder). We passed a bunch more riders either struggling with flat tires or with the looseness of the descent. I think me and Julian were in our element and finding fun where some were finding fear. After Gravitron almost any descent would feel fun and easy. Again, by the bottom the adrenalin was surging and the pedal along the river raced by in a whirl of pedal turning ferocity, only to be eventually halted by the last ‘little’ climb back up Happy trail and Waco to the finish line. Julian had the legs and sprinted for the line, I looked back and saw no one and was happy to let him go and just bask in the soul enriching light of knowing that it was over and I had raced a solid and relatively clever race.
14th on the day was way above expectations for me and helped me stay in the top ten for 8th place overall.This helped to set my personal records straight for last years result where 7 punctures on the last two days cost me a top ten spot (11th stung like sun cream and sweat in the eyes). It’s amazing what having little expectations and preparation can do when coupled with just setting out to have some stupid fun. It does make my little ‘what if’ molecule tingle wondering if whether I hadn’t prated around on every stage so much then what would have happened. All the tenths of a second I could have saved if I hadn’t being pointing at friends on the sidelines, or going back to stubbornly ride a line again, or pulling wheelies when I could of being pulling in competitors. If I hadn’t smiled as much I could have saved all that energy it takes to smile and used it to crush the competition…
Thank Dog I rode the fun monster truck Tallboy which kept the fun levels high, and made up for my crappy fitness in this event. And as for 29ers not having a home in Whistgnar, well I think having two Tallboys finish top ten overall shouts that fear mongering down…
Chris Clarke monstered around the course to take the stage win with Dylan Wolsky in second, followed by Kevin Phelps, Chris Johnston, and Chad Miles. This meant that despite leading for the first three days Kiwi Chris Johnston couldn’t quite take the overall win. He was shrugged out by Dylan Wolsky by just 0.75 points. A heartbreakingly close race but Chris and Dylan are good friends and were very happy for each other.
Other notable stories from the day include Dave Burch who got a fatal mechanical very early in the race so DROVE BACK TO WHISTLER, SWAPPED BIKES, THEN RESTARTED THE RACE! Talk about never giving up.
At the finish line the racers all settled in the shade to watch friends come past the line and self medicate the pain away, be it water, donuts or other means. Then it was off to the lake for a dip in the warm lake to sooth the bitter lactic burn, a few beers to celebrate then on to Lornes house for the apres celebration…
This really is the ultimate race. It simply goes to find the ultimate all round rider in the Sea-To-Sky Corridor. Next year I’d love to race Downieville, the Megavalanche, the BC Bike Race etc to experience their challenges, but i’m convinced I could still race them all and still boldly claim that the ultimate and truest test of the modern mountain biker would be the 4Queens (or will it be the 4Kings next year as last year was the 4Jacks).
It’s a race that couldn’t happen anywhere else. There variety and the the total insanity of the trails included in this madmans odyssey can not be found anywhere else. But moreso, as Tony Horn said in his closing speech “This race is only possibly because freaks like you live here”. The friends, the camaraderie, and the mellow non combative competitive atmosphere is what makes this event something that people will talk about for years and years to come.
Thank you to all the sponsors, volunteers, competitors, and friends who made this event possible.
Thanks to Matthew Mallory of CCN for letting me use his photos for these posts.