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Alberni Autumn Adventure - day1 reconnaissance

The summer is marching by and the October event in Port Alberni is in advanced planning.

Last Sunday, myself, Stuart and Tim had a day in the hills setting out the first day's route for the 14 and 15th October event.

I had pre-planned a route that began with a road I hadn't ridden before but was shown as "present and correct" on Gaia and Google Earth/Rally Navigator. The roads are the ones shown in the map screenshot above, the red and blue roads running south from Stirling Arm Rd.

You will be aware I keep the routes secret until shortly before each event to maintain the element of sporting challenge. As it turns out, neither of these roads "go", and so I am opening this report with details of where you can't go so you don't waste any of your efforts in the future...

Both these roads appear to offer the prospect of joining the south shore of Sproat Lake with the north shore of the Alberni Inlet by going pretty much up and over the high ground in between. A highly suitable route option for a VIME event you might agree...? Sadly, both of these "roads" have been long since decommissioned by having culverts dug out (not a problem on bikes) and both roads have had the first bridges over dismantled or allowed to collapse. Determined hikers and intrepid souls on all wheel drive ATVs may be able to force a way through, but for us, too much! We turned around.

This left my carefully laid plans in tatters. Over a rest stop with libations the route for the day and the event was reformulated. The opening gambit of the steep and the loose in the back end of the backcountry continued to be the design brief and once the burping and the rude limericks had finished, the new route had been formulated!

Before I totally finish with these two roads (called 302 and 302B on Gaia) it is worth pointing out these are the only two roads that once led north from the high ground surrounding Arbutus Summit and access to and from the Alberni Inlet to the southeast. Travel in this direction for us is not possible - even though all the other "through routes" remain passable.

Back to the description of the day.

We proceeded to ride the new route using roads that were familiar to myself and Stuart, dropping Richta Rally Timing pins as we went.

The route retains all the features of the abandoned route - some wide, easy "Mains" linking the steep, loose, bushy climbs and descents. In nature, the route is very similar to the steep route elements of the GR300, loose gravel, river pebbles and crushed blast-rock with gradients as steep as any FSR you may come across. If the weather is wet in October there may be puddles and waterfalls...

Me, Stu and Tim got round without any mishaps on DR650's and a DRZ400 with MT21/D606 tyre combinations. If these roads are passable by 4wd logging vehicles they should be passable by competent riders on adventure bikes, shouldn't they? Perhaps the largest adventure bikes might be a handful in the steepest sections - I don't know as I haven't ridden a litre-plus "off road bike". Road oriented tyres won't be a good idea in my humble opinion....

If you were able to get round the GR300 routes you will get round these Alberni routes!

The route is 120km long, has a time-neutralised lunch stop halfway round, no fuel, no shops or pubs (so bring a packed lunch).

Importantly, there is no cellphone signal in these mountains. Rescue and recovery of injured bikes and riders will be difficult. There will be event staff out on the course, keeping an eye on what is going on and counting riders through census points, but riders will have to take responsibility for their own safety. Expect oncoming traffic around every bend in the road, ride with the awareness that a fall or a crash is something to avoid at all costs. Carry an InReach or Zoleo SOS device, ride in pairs if you wish.

I have written the roadbook, set the Richta Control Points, set the speeds according to what I was able to comfortably ride at and the Saturday route is now ready to go!

Words of advice for navigating the course by roadbook.

  • Read my previous blog post about the difficulties measuring distances over steep ground. There are systematic differences between measuring distance by GPS/map projections and by wheel driven odometers when the going gets steep. The roadbook has distances measured by GPS/map projection. Use the same technology:

  • Use a GPS-driven speedometer and odometer - do not rely on a wheel driven device.

  • The Rally Roadbook Reader app has a GPS speedo and odo that you can calibrate.

  • Calibrate your odometer before you come to the event!

  • Use an iPhone to run the Richta Rally Timing app, android phones have proved to be unreliable!

  • Do not expect the roadbook distance information to correspond exactly with your instrument information, see previous blog post!

  • Correct your odometer to the roadbook distance measurements every time you pass a "waypoint of significance".

  • Navigate from waypoint to waypoint.

  • The leg speeds are AVERAGE speeds, not maximum speed limits (as opposed RallyPro events). There is not a Richta GPS measurement of your speed, instead Richta measures your TIME between the control points (CPs).

  • In order to average a given speed over a leg, for example a leg that starts off flat and easy then gets steep and technical, you will have to ride faster than the average over the easy bits then slow down over the harder technical bits. Often legs are like this.

  • Study the roadbook before you come to the event, there are clues within....

  • You won't know exactly where the Richta timing marks are (to prevent any gaming of the system). You will know where the average speeds change - ride to those and you won't be very far out.

  • Each leg (between one CP and the next) is timed as a stand-alone entity. Mess up one leg and be horribly late and you will not be able to recover your lost time on subsequent legs. There is no benefit to be gained from trying to ride fast.

  • The event winner is the rider who accumulates the fewest number of time penalties over the whole course.

  • This motosport is a test of your navigation and speed management skills as well as your technical skill riding your bike over difficult terrain. It is not a test of how fast you can ride, or how you can ride fast.

I look forwards to seeing you in October.


"There was a young man from Madras

Who fashioned his balls out of brass

In stormy weather

He'd bang them together

And have lightning shoot out of his arse."

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