Inspired by 2021’s Big Rides in the Okanagan, this year I’ve broadened my reach. Unlike 2021 where I explored terrain close to home and in neighbouring US states, this year I racked up 24,000 km in twenty-one countries on two continents (plus many more hours on my indoor trainer). Transitioning to remote, part-time work enabled me to attend training camps in Tucson and Mallorca, take pet sitting gigs in England, Switzerland, and Vancouver Island, and complete several multi-day races and bikepacking adventures. Disregarding a handful of cringeworthy navigational errors during the Transcontinental, my singular mistake was perhaps overbooking myself. Utterly elated about borders opening up, I signed on for *all the things* and whenever life went sideways, the dominos started falling. Still, I can’t consider myself anything but extremely fortunate—read on for Big Rides of 2022! Note: I’m using Hells500 definition of a ride as a single activity with no time limit and no sleep.
Mount Lemmon Hill Climb: Tucson, AZ (Feb 18, 2022)
223 km in 10 h 33 min (3,2566 m)
Mount Lemmon is the highest point on the Santa Catalina mountains and ranked among the most scenic hill climbs in America. It’s also what’s whimsically referred to as a Sky Island: an isolated mountain surrounded by a vastly different climate— in most cases, desert—featuring incredible biodiversity. Over 41 km, the Catalina Highways ascends some 1,600 m with grades topping out at four or five percent—you can tack on some bonus vertical if you bypass Summerhaven and cruise all the way up to the observatory.
I climbed Mount Lemmon on three different occasions while in Tucson, and each journey entailed a different kind of fantastic experience (and yes, I did stop at the Cookie Cabin at least once!). The views are beyond spectacular featuring Sonoran desert, semi-desert grasslands, oak woodland and chaparral, pine-oak woodland, ponderosa-pine forest, and mixed conifer forest. My first Mount Lemmon hill climb remains the most memorable: I started the ascent after a loop of the Oro Valley and listened to the Mount Lemmon Science Tour (highly recommend) on the way up, then descended into Tucson as sunset flamed against the horizon. VIEW ON STRAVA
#NotSoFestive500: Tucson, AZ (March 5, 2022)
500 km in 19 hr 56 min (3,417 m)
Despite successfully completing self-supported 450 km rides (and a sub-24 hr 600 km brevet) between 2019-2021, I just couldn’t motivate myself to tackle “The Big 500” outside of a sanctioned event. 500 km = 20 hours with a 25 km/hr average (hey, I never said I was fast) = an awful long time in the saddle. But when the opportunity to combine a 400 km brevet with a cross-town commute to the start/finish popped up in Tucson, I decided it was time. The Arivaca 400 is mostly flat and rolling, with a long steady rise all the way to Arivaca, south of the city. The route visits the eclectic, artsy town of Tubac, and the border-town of Nogales before winding east into Patagonia and Sonoita’s wine country. A fast descent to Sahuarita is followed by starlit tour though Saguaro National Park to bring riders back into Tucson.
Notes from my ride journal: “North Sandario Road, 6:40 am. Silhouettes of giant saguaro cacti were the first shapes I made out in the dim morning light. I imagined their long erratic limbs as the waving arms of spectators, cheering me on—I’d need all the encouragement I could get that day. Spiny ocotillo and prickly nopales emerged next as the bruised sky transitioned toward daylight, a blinding band of sun briefly scorching the horizon. I bobbed through the band of randonneurs set out on 300 and 400 km rides, fixated on my freezing fingers and toes. I flexed my hands inside my gloves, encouraging blood flow to my digits as I waited for the benevolent, warming sun to lift higher in the sky. When I looked past the rider or two immediately ahead of me, I noticed a gap widening between myself and a handful of folks pulling ahead.
Stay, or go?
I picked up my knees and huffed, chasing down the faster riders.
This could be a huge mistake: conservative pacing is key for such a massive effort. Why not take it easy, make some friends, and enjoy the ride?
But something in me was raring to go. I’d been riding solo for the past three weeks and the opportunity to see if I could keep up proved too irresistible to pass up. I reached the group momentarily out of breath and locked onto the end of the pace line, rewarded for my efforts by the free speed of the draft.”
Huge thanks to Mike Sturgill and the Arizona Randonneurs for helping me tick an item off my bucket list, and offering a warm welcome into the Tucson long-distance cycling scene. VIEW ON STRAVA
Mallorca 312: Playa de Muro, Spain (April 30, 2022)
312 km in 11 Hr 02 Min (4,600 m)
The Mallorca 312 is among the most famous sportives in Europe: starting in Playa de Muro on the northeast coast, it charts a 312-kilometre loop of the Serra de Tramuntana mountains, accumulating nearly 5,000 metres of elevation along the way. As I lined up among eight thousand other riders vying for a spot near the front of the starting gate, I did briefly consider wearing a mask until everyone dispersed: this was the biggest crowd I’d seen since pre-pandemic days, and I had a disposable mask tucked away in my jersey pocket. Then, unexpectedly, one of the two zip ties holding my front nameplate/timing chip snapped and I sacrificed my mask strings to secure the nameplate. Three days later, I came down with Covid-19 and spent the following week hacking my lungs out as I self-isolated in my hotel room.
I reflect on the Mallorca 312 in a ride report, which I’ll excerpt here: “We reached the base of Coll de Femenia in a tidal wave rush, but by the first switchback the crowd started to splinter as the quicker climbers danced up the grade and everyone else dug in for the long ascent. I found myself going out much harder than anticipated. Again and again, I glanced at my power numbers and told myself to dial it back. But I ignored my instincts and kept the watts high. Adrenaline surging through my veins, I felt strong, and more than anything I was curious about where the day would take me. I strategized that the descents would provide brief intervals of rest, while my big endurance base would power me though the final flatter miles to the finish. The early morning light played off the rocky outcroppings and woods around us. Swept up in the sea of colourful jerseys flowing up the mountainside, my heart sang. Overcome with sheer, giddy joy in being part of the crowd.” VIEW ON STRAVA
RAD 400 Experience: Aarhus, Denmark (May 27, 2022)
403 km in 14 Hr 21 Min (2,958 m)
After a bout of Covid-19, the Race Around Denmark (RAD) 400 tested my fitness. While not quite the race I signed up for—I’d wanted to compete in the full-length 1,600 km version—after dealing with a frustratingly slow recovery, I was just happy to be there. Despite terrible headwinds that plagued riders for the first half of the race, I remained upbeat and focused—bouyed with relief that I could manage full inhalations without rattling phlegm or coughing fits.
To make the short race just a little more challenging, I pedalled the 100 km between my host Morten’s place and the start/finish line, raking up a total of 600 km.
From Covid-19 Comeback: My RAD 400 Experience: “I should be approaching Denmark’s west coast, but under an overcast night sky, the midnight darkness swallows me whole. An inky landscape reveals few hints to my whereabouts, however the steady marching progress of my navigational track indicates that I’m due to butt up against the ocean any minute now. 200 kilometres into the RAD 400 Experience, a—no surprise—400-kilometre loop that begins in a quiet bay north of Aarhus on Jutland’s east coast and takes riders across the peninsula and back again, and my stamina is faltering. Grasses whip and snap along the narrow road like the skirts of frenzied hula dancers; the masts of wind turbines tower ominously overhead like metallic tree trunks in a robot planet. Somewhere past the realm of my bike lights, I conjure the sea: white-water frothing against sheer stony cliffs.” VIEW ON STRAVA
Parallels: Herefordshire, England (June 18, 2022)
508 km in 23 Hr 51 Min (10,035 m)
I used Apidura’s Parallels long distance cycling challenge over summer solstice weekend as an excuse to explore an unfamiliar location. Housesitting in Clehonger at the time, a little village outside Hereford, England, I covered 508 km in three loops of 170 km so I could check in on Lili the dog, climbing 10,035 meters in a ride time of 22 hours and 15 minutes. The ride also counted as an Everesting ROAM.
I started out at midnight in a drizzle and reached the highlight of my loop—a climb over Gospel Pass in the Black Mountains (the highest road in Wales)—just before first light. The opportunity to experience every part of the route three times over the course of a 24-hour period made this ride uniquely special. A sheep road lit by a solitary bike light in the wee hours of the morning feels very different than with the sun on your back, tourists milling about with ice cream, and endless views of emerald-green farms stretching out on the horizon. Riding around the clock gave me an opportunity to appreciate the full transition of activities and light between night and day and night again. VIEW ON STRAVA
Emmental 5000: Switzerland (July 12, 2022)
205 km in 11 Hr 14 Min (5,017 m)
One of the best things when travelling is having local connections to tap into as ride buddies and route builders. The Emmental 5000 is a diabolically difficult (but gorgeous) loop in the Emmental region in west-central Switzerland. Put together by my friend Urs from Bern, this route features an abundance of double-digit grade climbs in the hilly dairy farming region—home of Swiss cheese!—on narrow, nearly car-free roads with many lovely views of rolling green hills, well-kept farm houses, and the distant looming Alps.
TCR Day #1: Geerardsburgen, Belgium to Eisenach, Germany
540 km in 24 Hr (4,500 m approx)
An excerpt from Midnight Reflections from the Transcontinental: “By midnight, I am roaring through Brussels. The fiery, jubilant send off up the cobbled Muur in Geraardsbergen already a distant memory. After a stretch of dark countryside, the night glows bright with streetlights, redlights, and taxicabs combing the city for late night fares. Fluorescent signs advertise kebab shops and convenience stores, whatever is open. I spent three nights in Brussels but tonight it’s different. I am not tucked into bed but questing eastward, chasing green lights though never losing sight of the snaking tram tracks that threaten to pitch me over the bars on the very first eve of the Transcontinental.”
If you read my entire reflection, you get some sense for my tech failures: I couldn’t keep anything charged and both my computers kept crashing, dumping unwelcome stress on an already challenging cross-continental sojourn. The first 24 hours of the race are tracked on two separate devices (here & here) with a gap between Maastricht and somewhere east of Cologne where I navigated using Komoot on my phone. The TCR was the ride of a lifetime, but I was a hot mess right from the get-go. Looking back, I have no idea how I managed to reach the Black Sea finish.
Two Biggies: MT Baldy & MT Kobau, Oliver, BC (Sept 15, 2022)
186 km in 12 Hr 09 Min (4,139 m)
I dreamed up this south Okanagan mixed-surface route years before I even owned an adventure bike, and convinced James to undertake this formidable double whammy hill climb challenge with me in preparation for the upcoming Big Lonely bikepacking race in Bend, Oregon. Mount Baldy is a local ski area, and Mount Kobau is a popular star gazing destination; both are HC climbs with over 1,100 m of elevation gain.
We parked in Oliver and headed east toward Mount Baldy first, easing into the effort as the day warmed. About a third of the way up the climb, the pavement turned to hard-pack gravel, intermittent ranch houses replaced by deep woods. After a quick lap of the ski village and a few selfies, we layered up for the long descent along Mt Baldy Rd to Crowsnest Highway, then looped west into the summer vacation hotspot of Osoyoos via Anarchist Pass. After lunch, James and I set out on some rugged exploratory terrain that we hoped would spit us out on top of Richter Pass, near the turnout for Mount Kobau. Over the course of just a few kilometres, the quad trail took us from dry desert and sagebrush into shaded alder forest; the terrain proved steep, rough, and slow going, involving several hike-a-bikes. When we encountered a curious black bear blocking our path on the narrow trail—entirely nonplussed by loud noise or our pathetic attempts to “look big”—we hauled an abrupt u-turn to take the Crowsnest Highway instead. From the highway, the service road up Mount Kobau ascends some 19 km of washboard gravel for incredible (albeit smoky) views of both the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys. A rewarding climb, but I definitely wished for wider tires or a full suspension for the bone-hammering descent. VIEW ON STRAVA
The Big Lonely, Bend, OR (October 7-8, 2022)
561 km in 33 Hr 35 Min (8,173 m)
If I were to define my dream event, I’d say “an adventurous mixed surface race between 500 and 1,000 km with epic climbs and spectacular scenery—bonus points for low-traffic routing.” Starting in the beer and bike mecca of Bend and exploring 560+ km of the diverse and expansive Central Oregon region on a mix of 30% singletrack, 50% gravel/doubletrack, and 20% paved scenic byways, the Big Lonely fits perfectly within those criteria, and I was stoked to be lining up in the 6:00 am darkness with a handful of fellow Northwest Competitive Adventure athletes.
Right from the start, I planned to ride through the night without stopping. James and I had camped in the Ochocos, and I knew exactly how quickly temperatures plummeted in the mountains after sundown. The singletrack challenged me, however I laid down fast, consistent miles along the Metolius and Crooked Rivers, and when I stopped to resupply in Prineville just before midnight I discovered I was was fifth place—on track to break the women’s FKT. By the time the sun rose I’d snuck into third, but my resolve was cracking: I kept finding excuses to rest, though didn’t stop when I should have to refill my hydration reservoir and ended up rationing water for the final hours, increasingly ornery as the singletrack descent proved more technical than my sleep-deprived body could safely manage, and I was reduced to pushing my bike like a shopping cart. My mood picked up again once I hit the pavement, however, and I was brimming with finisher’s delight by the time I huffed up Pilot Butte to bask in the celebratory back slaps and hugs of friends and dotwatchers. (Check out this interview in The Town Bicycle.) VIEW ON STRAVA
World 24-Hour Time Trial Championships: Borrego Springs, CA (Nov 4-5, 2022)
770.5 km in 23 Hr 51 Min (2,423 m)
This was my third crack at the World’s, and until August, I was pumped. I’d deferred my entry twice already: we all know how 2020 went down and in 2021, James contracted Covid-19 so instead of competing, we self-isolated in his tiny Portland apartment, opting for a self-supported 24-hour ITT attempt on Sauvie Island once his lungs cleared—things could definitely have gone better.
Despite the prolonged buildup, by the time the 2022 race rolled around I was already beat: I’d been through a bout of Covid-19 myself this season, plus a knee injury, and I’d already pedalled my little heart out across Europe in the TCR. Verging on burnout, I had no interest in undertaking all the necessary preparations—or scraping together enough cash from my seriously-depleted saving account for flights, hotels, bike maintenance, etc.
On the other hand, my recent performance at the Big Lonely proved that my endurance base was still intact, and so with just two weeks of dedicated training (plus a taper), I headed down to Borrego Springs to line up at the 5:00 pm start. I raced the first half completely in the dark—both literally and figuratively—sticking to my pre-determined .65 IF pace without a sense of where I stood in the rankings. Turning inward and settling into a flow state enabled me to remain relaxed, and conserve mental energy so that in the second half—despite twelve hours of fatigue in my legs—I could tap into my competitive edge. When, at sunrise, I learned that I’d just pulled ahead of Swiss ultra-cyclist Isa Pulver as lead female, I asked who else was up front.
“Tell me their names,” I said. “I’m gonna hunt them down like a great white shark.”
My crew laughed.
“No, I’m serious,” I insisted. “I’ll pick’em off one by one.”
And that’s how I went from tenth place to second, beating out every man, woman, and two-person team except one: Philipp Kaider—I don’t stand a chance against the Austrians. Read more on Canadian Cycling. VIEW ON STRAVA
That’s a wrap! I covered enough ground this year to fill a book (now if only I could commit the time to write it down). Several substantial rides—like Kitt Peak via Gates Pass or Madera Canyon in Tucson, as well non-competitive bikepacking tours—didn’t make the cut. And despite this post’s title, many of my most memorable rides have actually been shorter ones: a quick rip to Cap Formentor lighthouse from Port de Pollença in Mallorca; five days of full-gas racing amid Okanagan’s glorious autumn colours during BCBR’s Gravel Explorer; ten-mile TT’s with the Hereford Wheelers, unfailingly followed by a social cup of tea and Jaffa Cakes.
I’m not sure what’s in store yet for 2023, but I’m excited to see where the road takes me.