Jon Gould's idea of a summer vacation is heading up to Canada to ride his mountain bike nonstop for an entire week on some of the world's most demanding single-track trails. Gould is in the midst of training for the 600-kilometer TransRockies Challenge with his racing partner Davey Moore. If the "world's toughest mountain bike race"as its promoters like to refer to itphases Gould at all, his eager expressions and confident tone don't show it. He and Moore will tackle 40,000 vertical feet of climbing through the Canadian Rockies in just seven days. Gould casually refers to this challenge as "a nice combination of an ideal vacation with some mountain bike racing in beautiful, rugged country."
Gould, of course, isn't a casual Sunday afternoon biker. Several years after moving to Idaho, he decided to start getting out on Idaho's excellent trails. "In 2000, I started playing around with it," he says. "I started taking it seriously in 2003." Two years later, Gould placed third nationally in the 40-44 age group at Mammoth Mountain in California. Moore is no amateur either. During the 1990s, he raced professionally with Team Thompson and won two NORBA (National Off-Road Bicycle Association) national titles.
In light of their appreciation for Idaho's extensive trail system, both riders have made great contributions to the state's community of riders. Gould used to teach children bicycle skills through the Boise's Sprockids program. He now leads weekly rides around Boise and Tamarack Resort. Moore founded the Knobby Tire Series in 2003an event that has since grown to attract regional attendance. Gould says that both he and Moore also try to participate in trail maintenance. As members of Team Tamarack, both Gould and Moore serve as ideal representatives of Idaho mountain biking at the TransRockies Challenge.
The challenge emerged in August 2002 as the brainchild of Heinrich Albrecht and Chester Fabricius, who had organized Europe's first ever mountain bike race in the 1980s. They were also responsible for founding the TransRockies' sister event, the TransAlps Challenge, which began in 1998. Both challenges now attract a global following and have reputations as the most difficult long-distance mountain bike rides anywhere. In the TransRockies Challenge, teams ride from early morning until evening each day throughout the wild Kootenay range of the Canadian Rockies and complete nearly 100 kilometers in every stage.
Though Gould has never participated in the TransRockies Challenge before, he is excited for the "real community feel" that he expects the race to have. After each long stage of riding, all participants camp together in the Canadian wilderness. Each team, Gould explains, is given one large duffel bag for holding everything they will need throughout the week. The camps are constructed each evening and taken down each morning by event organizers, and food and shelter are provided. Gould lauds the international atmosphere of the challenge and looks forward to meeting fellow riders from around the world.
While both Gould and Moore have proven themselves to be individually competitive on the national scene, this will be their first team race. All participants in the TransRockies Challenge are two-person teams that are required to stick together throughout the duration of the race. Penalties result when team members separate by distances of two minutes or more. Gould explains, "In team racing it's all about how the team can be faster than the slowest guy. I've tried to educate myself as to what other teams have done historically." He says that some teams in the past have employed tow-ropes when one of the bikers is too exhausted to ride or in instances of mechanical failure. Ultimately, though, Gould says that good communication is key.
The potential dangers of rugged backcountry riding don't worry Gould. "With mountain biking in general, people get hurt," he explains. Though the preparation for the 2006 challenge appears to be moving smoothly, last-minute hazards have created problems in the past. In 2003, for example, wildfires forced event organizers to re-route the first three days of the ride at the last minute. Even bears have posed a threat to the riders, Gould says. However, it's the terrain that he claims will prove to be the greatest challenge.
The TransRockies Challenge will crown one winner from each of the seven age and gender classes, with $20,000 in Canadian dollars distributed among them. While he feels that the Tamarack Team has decent odds of coming out on top, Gould says he "hasn't spent that money yet. I don't know if we expect to win, but that is a goal." He chuckles as he says that it "might turn out to be a tortoise and hare thing," with the steadier riders edging out in front of the faster teams after 600 kilometers. Then Gould drops all talk of winning or losing, and says that he just "really enjoys being in the mountains," and that this ride promises to be one of the most memorable of his life.
Gould and Moore will take part in the TransRockies Challenge from August 6 through August 12. Their progress during training and during the actual race can be followed on Gould's blog at transrockies-pursuit.blogspot.com.