Off season started January 2nd this year and was spent working in Northern Alberta for 37 days. It was a nice break from the bike and a good chance to let out some redneck behavior. My boss’s Lindsay and Daniel at IR S (Integrity Reclamation Seismic) have been great and have given free range to come and go from work to fit it into the racing calendar. “Yeah Cory you need work?, alright get up here asap, bring your chainsaws and quad!” 37 days later I’m back here in Jasper, with a broken quad, 3 broken chainsaws and pockets full of Canadian bacon as well as a couple beaver tails. Once I trade these in I should be financially free to roll for another season on the bike racing circuit.
Trying to make it as professional mountain bike racer isn’t as lucrative as one might hope for in Canada. If a person is on top of an Olympic sport they will more then likely receive government funding as well as financial support from there sporting association. Marathon racing is yet to become an Olympic sport thus there are zero dollars from the government or Canadian Cycling association. Luckily I have great sponsors who are able to provide both gear and financial support to help keep my career alive. They provide the structure to keep this dream going while working up in Northern Alberta as a Slasher/Faller for 2-3 months in the winter keeps food in the jersey pockets.
Working up North was introduced in the fall of 2011 when my friend Daniel Vanderswan from Valemount asked me to join him as a slasher for a seismic job in Whitecourt Alberta. This was a crash course as Daniel was soon upgraded to supervisor and I was out buying a quad so I could get my own crew going for the winter. From there life changed for the good as I now had a way of financing bike racing without having to plant trees in the prime racing months of May and June.
We work in teams of two and set out with a day plan (map) trying to slash as many km of drill lines possible in the daylight provided as the job is production based. Slashing requires us to clean up the mess the mulchers left, cutting pokers, falling any damaged trees and taking down the danger trees in the area which may fall when the drill rigs rumble by later. We basically get paid to make the lines safe and easily passible. Some guys choose to be paid a day rate as they find it less of a risk money wise, but this is a low baller move. Once you and your buddy are on the same page and have the right motivation then you can double or tripple the production of your average day rater, and also your pay. If your going to be up there freezing your nuts off you might as well bust some moves and make it worth the while. This winter I had the chance to work with my younger cousin Sasha which was an added bonus to get in some bro time with him.
Slashing is mixed in with days of falling in which we make the trails and roads where the mulchers cannot go due to steep or soft terrain. Some days are pure joy as we rake in the bacon while getting a great 8-10 hr full body workout as we race through the picturesque Alberta terrain swinging our chainsaws. Other days slap you in the face and keep slapping you in the face all day with -30 to -40 C temps, broken saws, broken quads and bird crap in our lunches. These days you have to put your head down and push through as there is always daylight at the end of the tunnel, although sometimes it can be a realy bugger to get there. Being cold is just part of the job and something you adapt too. You can dress up like frosty the snowman, but when you’re actively moving this much you overheat, get soaked in sweat and then are in real danger of freezing your ass off. Thus we generally dress fairly lightly, start the day off cold and start busting through the trees to increase the body temperatures. This is great motivation to work hard cause as soon as you slow down you start to freeze up again.
Hands are another issue as we still need some agility to run the saw safely and pick up the trees we’ve cut. Wearing thinner gloves is key for this but they are often not enough for the cold temperatures. To deal with this we must let our hands freeze really good, and then use an old ice climbers technique called the “screaming barfies.” This was introduced to me by Dale at Gravity Gear in Jasper. Once the hands are semi-frozen, you put down your saw and swing your arms as fast as you can, sending blood gushing into your finger tips, causing blood vessels to expand and a great deal of pain. This soon relieves and our hands will magically be warm for the rest of the day as the blood will be flowing in there with ease. If we make the mistake and don’t let the hands freeze enough before doing the screaming barfies, there wont be as much pain but the results will not be there either and we will continually have to deal with frozen hands for the day.
The weather was unusual this winter with it starting out at -35 for the first week, then going up to +5 to 10 for a week which essentially shut the job down as all the ice roads melted. Then we returned to work and the temps went straight back to around -25 to -30. Luckily my cousin Sasha is a hardy soul from central Canada (Manitoba) and proved to be a real trooper. The saws weren’t quiet up to the task and 3 of 5 bit the dust, along with the quad. Once the quad tossed in the white flag, we were stuck with an argo for the rest of the shift. It was a show driving an argo around in the -30 temps as we would often have a 20-30 minute drive back to our truck at the end of the day in typically wet and somewhat sweaty work clothes. While driving this, the temp probably dipped towards -40 to -50 with the windchill requiring us to stop every 4-5 minutes and run around in the knee deep snow to warm up again. After this we would defrost our hands with the heat from the muffler, then hop back in and rip towards the truck until we were frozen again, and then repeat. It’s one time in the year I get pissed off at Canada for being a real pain in the ass.
Work provides solid cross training as it works out the upper body which is usually forgotten by bike racers. It’s a full day gym workout packing around the 15lb saw, moving logs, and hiking through knee deep snow. The challenges come with trying to keep training through the work season. I will re-asses next year and try not to book into races right after work ends as it puts an added stress on the daily schedule. With work running 84 hours a week (7am-7pm X 7days a week) there is little downtime outside of sleeping and eating. To keep some sort of training regime going it means awaking at 5:45am, putting in 30-45 minutes between the spirotiger and core excercises and then heading out for the day. At work I have my eyes open for opportunities to get in some cardio, whether that’s running up the nearest hill or running back to the truck at the end of the day. As for biking, it is generally saved for every 3rd or 4th evening in which i’ll try to get in an intense 45 minutes to keep some sort of muscle memory. I really dislike riding the trainer so this typically means bundling up and heading out on the Alberta Range roads for some miles in the dark. Once the toes freeze its time to head back to the hotel.
Last winter work stretched out for nearly 3 months, all of it in camp, with loads of sketchy french camp food around. This lead to a gain of nearly 10 lbs , which was really impressive given how many calories we were burning each day out in the bush. This combined with little training on the bike and it was a slow start to the race year. This season work went for just under a 1.5 months, with most of it hotel based, meaning we cooked our own food. This worked out great with a small loss in body weight thanks to following a better food regime. Still consuming over 4000 calories a day but this was of good nutritional value and clean burning.
The first race of the year is quickly approaching as I will head to Nepal for a 10 day stage race called the Yak Attack from March 3-14th. With just over 2 weeks to properly train it is a race I am looking at as more of a pre-season adventure. Hopefully it will help kick start the year with a solid block of high altitude riding as we’ll be on some epic rides through some amazing countryside. The Nepalese boys have never lost there race so I expect they will be pretty fired up once we hit there high Himalayans. That being said I’m going to be pretty fired up as well to be back ripping around on my Kona after the past few months trudging around the oil patch. Can’t wait for the fun to began!
Here is a link to some 2014 Mongolia Bike Challenge preview action.