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Aside from the rats in his ‘campsite,’ the trench foot, the stress of the ferry schedule, punctured rim tape at 2 a.m., and a case of horrific chafing, Rob Britton had a really good ride.
So good, in fact, that the Canadian set a new fastest known time on the BC Epic 1000 route last week, completing the 1000-ish kilometer off-road route (+ 10,000 meters of climbing) in two days, nine hours, and 24 minutes.
It’s hard to believe, but after 13 years of the luxury-laden life of a pro roadie, this is exactly the kind of experience Britton, 37, has been looking forward to.
“This is the type of stuff I got in trouble for trying to do on the team,” Britton told VeloNews. “It was like, you guys train to race. I race to get paid so I can do cool stuff like this. Now that I have the freedom I can do more of it. It was a big catalyst for stopping road. There was so much I wanted to do that I couldn’t do as a road racer. I’m not sure how I’ll get paid, but I’m making hay while I can. For me it’s a win across the board.”
Britton retired from the road, where he’d spent the last six years with Rally Cycling, last year, and one of the first things on his retirement bucket list was a go at the self-supported BC Epic 1000 route. He’d first toyed with the idea during the initial Covid lockdown, a period that saw activities like FKTs and chasing Strava segment records skyrocket.
“I think I messaged a friend, ‘I’m gonna break the BC Epic record one of these days,'” Britton said. “I think I said something stupid like, ‘I think I can break two days.’ Last year when I decided no more road racing, that was a big target in my head.”
The BC Epic 1000 is a 1,066k traverse across south-central British Columbia starting in Merritt and ending in Fernie. It takes in 10,000m of elevation gain and mostly follows the Trans Canada Trail. Roughly 80-90 percent of the route is off-road, and about 100k is singletrack.
Every year around the summer’s solstice, there is a ‘grand depart’ similar to the Tour Divide for those who want treat the route like a self-supported bikepacking race. Britton did his run of the route about a week before the grand depart, and lingering snow forced him to follow a slight reroute, adding about 40k.
He still broke the existing record by seven hours.
Britton had a few reasons for his timing.
One, he wanted to do the ride before wildfire season began. He also wanted to maximize daylight. He set off on his ride just 10 days after Unbound Gravel (where he finished an impressive 6th place) “because I knew if I was fit for 200 miles, that’s about as fit as you’ll get for ultra endurance.”
Most importantly, however, Britton wanted his ride to fall into the lull between Unbound and the Tour de France so its fundraising message might have more a chance of being heard. He launched his FKT effort alongside a fundraiser for the Wirth Hats counseling program which provides up to four free counseling sessions for those who are unable to afford it.
Thus far, Britton has raised nearly $6,000 for the organization.
Britton began his ride at 9 p.m. in hopes that he’d finish around 48 hours later, before night fell for the third time. He was also trying to catch a morning ferry (ferries stress Britton out, ask any of his friends), so that he could do the back end of the ride in the daylight.
For as little of a ‘plan’ as he had, things mostly went according to plan. Temps on the first night were very cold, but Britton never lost feeling in his fingers and toes. He “ate to appetite, which was fun.” His battery pack kept his head unit, phone, and lights charged through til the end.
In fact, Britton’s only real dramas happened at night, when he was already vulnerable.
First, there were the rats. Britton didn’t sleep during the first night, figuring he’d save the precious rest time for when he needed it. On the second night, he planned to sleep in an old railway tunnel — much of the Trans Canada Trail is a converted rail line — because he didn’t bring a tent or bivvy. He wasn’t the only one.
“The rats had the same idea, and they were big so not a fucking chance,” Britton said.
Somewhere in the recesses of his mind, Britton dug up a memory of bikepacking part of the route in 2018 and recalled picnic shelters nearby. He was falling asleep at that point, “which is terrifying, I’ve never been that tired ever,” but around 1 a.m. a shelter appeared. Britton laid his sleeping pad on a picnic table, changed into a fresh chamois and shirt and put a Red Bull beside him. He set his timer for an hour and ten minutes and woke up to the sound of the alarm. Crisis averted.
On the third night — the one Britton hadn’t planned on riding through – he had his first and only mechanical. He has no complaints about his chosen tire setup — Schwalbe G-One RS 45c’s with CushCore inserts — but at the time, he was in dire straits. A broken spoke had poked upward through the rim, puncturing the rim tape. He needed the CushCore out.
“CushCore let me run a little lower pressure, but the only catch is that if you ever get a legit flat that you have to put a tube in it’s a little bit of a pickle,” Britton said. “As I was standing over my bike at about 2 a.m. on night three, I was pushing the limits of my mental acuity and mechanical ability. It’s not a difficult thing to solve when you’re fresh and it’s daylight. But on the side of road, looking at the battery life being minimal on every device with a catastrophic failure on my rim . . . I was just sitting there for five minutes, thinking, ‘maybe I could just ride last the last 60k like this.'”
Eventually, Britton was able use a tire lever and the screwdriver on his Leatherman to solve the problem. He patched the hole in the rim tape with some gorilla glue, put in his only tube, and was much happier than he would have been riding on his rim.
“The last bit was pretty rocky and chundery,” he said.
As to be expected, Britton’s body began to protest in the final hours of his ride. He had bad chafing due to a constantly wet chamois. This made sitting difficult.
“Then, standing was also a problem because my knees exploded and my achilles blew up,” he said.
Still though, Britton never thought about stopping or quitting, although he did wonder how he was going to finish. He talked to himself so much in the last 10 hours that he lost his voice. He experienced the ubiquitous hallucinations that ultra bikepackers are familiar with.
“I was like, ‘I know I’m not seeing this, but WTF is that elephant doing in that bush? Elephant, why are you in the tree?’ But I knew it was rocks and a tree. That was the peak of seeing things. You’re aware you’re not seeing an elephant in the middle of the forest but you’re still seeing it.”
Although many people would consider the busted body and unreliable mind reason enough to abort the mission or at least never do anything like it again, for Britton the temporary damage was proof that he’d pushed to, and perhaps past, his limit.
In addition to the fundraising and the FKT, that had been the goal. After a life spent training for bike races, racing, and being at the peak of his physical performance, Britton knew his limits when it came to those familiar places. He wanted to go somewhere unfamiliar. Attempting a fastest known time on the BC Epic 1000 would deliver him there.
“I wanted to find out what my limits were,” he said. “After so many years of racing it’s cool that there’s still an unknown on a bike.”