Written by Warren Gerow Thursday, 15 October 2015 17:07
"This is a New Brunswick Exit" my buddy says as he slows the Subaru from 75mph. We make a right hand turn off the four lane Trans Canada Highway down an ATV trail, through puddles, and up on to broken asphalt. It was a shortcut as we head to the Elgin 120 in southeast New Brunswick. He has been telling me about this race for several years. It is notorious for having terrible weather and tough terrain. The completion rate is somewhere around 60%. Race attendance in Atlantic Canada is low in comparison to New England races, but the caliber of racers can be high. National Champions, 8 hour Leadville finishers; this day would be no exception.
The race is 120 km with somewhere around 8,000 feet of climbing. It consists of three different 40 km loops. At the end of each loop you return to downtown Elgin, which is a four-way intersection with a store on one corner and a fire station on another.
At the start, the temperature was in the mid 40s, it was raining, and very foggy. To get things started there is a four mile climb immediately off the start line. Considering the weather, there was no pre-race warm-up. I found this to be quite painful and had a difficult time getting settled in. This loop would have the most climbing of the three. The first three quarters consisted of grassy and mud sucking climbs up old woods roads, muddy dirt roads, and rudimentary single track. The last quarter consisted of a steep 2.5 mile dirt road climb before a fast descent back into town. I struggled on the first lap; it was hard, wet, and I felt slow. I also took a header off a bridge landing squarely on my head, which got my attention. While I was collecting myself some other riders came along. I was able to jump on with them and settle in, which helped the mental component.
I rolled into town after loop one, thinking loop 2 wouldn't be as bad. It too, started with legitimate climbing soon followed by an ATV trail climb. This was the highlight of the loop as it consisted of loose rocks and inches of flowing water thanks to heavy rain two days prior. It was like riding up a stream for what seemed to be miles. I had been riding with Alan from Nova Scotia, he thought we were in the top 10-13. He had good course knowledge as this was his 5th Elgin 120, but he slipped off the back in this section. After the uphill stream riding I knew the remainder of the loop consisted of dirt roads. At the halfway aid station I stopped briefly to grab water. I looked back and surprisingly Alan was right there. He rolled through and said the next section will have a big headwind and we need to work together. I was all for it. We rolled through the second half of the loop, working together. By now the wind had kicked up and the sky was clearing as we crested exposed blueberry fields. I knew there was a lot of work left but I was finally feeling okay and knew I would finish.
The third loop contains less climbing and a lot of singletrack. I was looking forward to less climbing but wasn't sure how the fatigued body would like all the singletrack; especially since it wasn't going to be "smooth and flowy". Some of the trail was actually purpose built for mountain biking and rode well. Within the first mile Alan told me to go if I had the chance, he was beat. He also warned me to watch for turns as there would be many. I was by myself for the entire loop. There were dozens of turns, sections of double track, singletrack, dirt roads, and more turns. The loop ended with several miles of good singletrack descending, which was a great way to end the race. Not knowing the course I was psyched to pop out of the last section of singletrack and see pavement. I knew the finish line was just up the road.
I ended up finishing 9th overall. There aren't any age groups or categories. Its all or nothing. More importantly I was in the top 25 which meant I got a belt buckle. This is somewhat of a copy-cat award from that other famous race, but not getting a buckle would be disappointing. Post race festivities consist of a buffet style, down-home cooking meal prepared by locals at the community hall. During the meal they raffle off jars of home made pickles and maple syrup. You don't get much more grass roots than this. Big thanks to Bikeman for going through my Sram drivetrain a few days before the race. It worked flawlessly in all the muck and mire. Also grateful for performance of Smith Forefront helmet with MIPS.
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