Cycling has a cool way of creating community and friendships. When we first had the idea of Bivo, we came to do Rooted VT in what is now our hometown of Richmond. While walking up the stairs to the food area post-race, a fellow cyclist stopped us after seeing our Bivo hats and said “Hey!! I was your 100th follower on Instagram!” That fellow cyclist is now a good friend, Jody Wilson. We owe a lot to Jody – he is an amazing photographer who gives us so many photos for our social content and website, has connected us with a variety of shops and key people in the industry and supports us as we grow. This past April, Jody did The Traka, a 365+ km ride through Spain. Read his recap and see some of the scenery of the ride below. Thanks, Jody, for being such an amazing human.
Riding the Traka, by Jody Wilson
Over the last few years, my wife and I have spent a portion of April in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. Having lived in Girona for 14 months between 2018-2019, we spend most of our time catching up with good friends, riding bikes, drinking coffee and working. At the end of our time, as we pack up to leave, the Traka is typically getting underway. As we head off to the airport in a taxi, I check the dot tracker for my friends. At the airport lounge, I'm watching dots. As we board the plane, I'm watching dots. Even as I switch to airplane mode, the dots remain etched in my mind. Upon arriving in Toronto and taxiing back to the gate, I turn on my iPhone to recheck everyone's status. We drive 2 hours home, stop to pick up some groceries, empty our bags, and get laundry started; I again check the dots. Thirteen hours have passed since we left Girona, and a few of the first dots are finally beginning to cross the line.
Leaving Girona the same day as the Traka has always been hard for me. This year we planned our trip differently; this year, I decided to be one of those dots. In November of 2022, I decided I would commit to riding the Traka 360 in 2023. At the time, several things were running through my mind. I was unsure about riding alone for so long, terrified of the course and the terrain, anxious about the start and end in the dark, freaked out I would not fuel correctly, and very concerned about dehydration and taking in enough fluids. Despite all this, I registered and stepped outside my comfort zone.
My preparation during the winter was simple: I spent a lot of time riding at zone 2 while sitting on a trainer setup in the basement. Unfortunately, where I live in Canada, the snow is too deep, and the air temperatures are too cold to spend much time riding outside in winter. My typical week looked like this: Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday, two hours each; Saturday-Sunday, 3 hours each. This provided me with a total of 12 hours of torturous Zwift riding, perfect training for sitting on my bike for 15+ hours. Was this the right way to train for a ride like this? Maybe, but maybe not; everyone is different.
For my nutrition, I was fortunate enough to have a consult with Colette Vartanian, MS, RD, from Skratch Labs. I was so impressed with her welcoming personality and knowledge. It was an hour well spent as we discussed the Traka course, my riding and my nutritional needs and how to get enough carbs to power me for the day. Ultimately, she helped me put together a straightforward plan for my fueling and hydration. As the event approached, my training, nutrition, tire choice and bike situation lined up, and I began to feel more confident in my decision to tackle the Traka.
By my best estimation, I could ride the event in 16 hours. In my dreams, I saw myself returning to the finish line as the sun set over Girona, but that was a farfetched goal.
Race day, my alarm went off at 4 am. Up and at it, coffee, breakfast one, breakfast two, followed by mentally running through my “don’t forget this” checklist. Double check the weather, hoping it won't rain in the evening as forecasted. As I check to make sure I have both batteries on my bike, I notice I'm actually feeling calm, something I didn’t expect if I'm being honest.
As the day started, I rode with a group as the sun rose; we moved well together through kilometre 90 and the first checkpoint. I had some great advice from a friend: I should attempt to eat and drink as much as possible at the first checkpoint because riding between checkpoints 1 and 2 was the most challenging and most prolonged portion of the day. This was the best advice I received. Anyone you ask would tell you that the second portion of this route was by far the hardest and longest.
As the day ticked on, I found myself rolling into Checkpoint 2 in Roses, feeling physically ok but mentally exhausted. The climbing was tough, steep, long and into a headwind, but the descending was mentally very hard. Focusing on not puncturing and picking the right lines on the descents was as draining as the climbing. Refueling at checkpoint 3 took too much time. I don't know why; everything seemed foggy, and I wasn't thinking straight.
Back on my bike, I was approaching the 10-hour mark, and my Hammerhead had dropped to 33% life. The following 80km of riding was very flat on traditional gravel roads, so I plugged in my head unit and fully charged it for the final portion of the route. There was one interesting interaction that occurred in this section. A rider asked me for the SRAM battery on my front derailleur; he was on a 1X, and his had died because he had forgotten to charge it. He was stuck mid-cassette on the back. He was in a good gear for the flat riding, but it would be an issue when he needed to climb. Unfortunately, I did not know what was up the road, and I couldn't fully help him. Let that be a reminder to charge your battery and carry a spare if you run a 1X SRAM setup.
I arrived at the 3rd checkpoint feeling ok. At this point, I realized it was vital to ride my own pace rather than try to burn matches, keeping up with smaller groups. Once again, I spent way too much time fussing around. This is where our "life bag" was. I had packed a rain vest, a few peanut butter sandwiches, a second pair of gloves, a second light for the evening and my Skratch and gels for the final portion of the day. I'm unsure of how 40 minutes passed while I fussed around. Time wasted instead of riding. If you're standing around, you might as well be riding.
As the evening arrived, surprisingly, I felt great. I was at 13 hours of ride time, hadn't bonked or cramped and was still stopping for nature breaks (hydration!). The next section of the ride was up and over Els Metges, which was the final long climb of the day. It is steep at times, but the descent is smooth and wonderful compared to others earlier in the day.
At the 4th checkpoint, I filled my hydration vest with clean water, topped up and loaded my Bivos with the final bit of Skratch and charged forward. The brutal climbs were behind me, but little did I know that the evening wildlife had a heart-stopping surprise in store. As the sun dipped below the horizon, I found myself on a country lane sandwiched between grassy banks when suddenly, an adult wild boar leaped across my path, startled by my presence. A cacophony of squeals ensued; from the boar, myself, and the screeching of my bike brakes. It was a hair-raising near miss, injecting a jolt of adrenaline to brace me for the next thrilling encounters. I bunny hopped over a snoozing snake enjoying the warmth of the toasty road, and just when I thought the excitement had peaked, a bat swooped down for a mosquito feast and smacked me right in the face. Talk about getting up close and personal with nature!
Things were exciting, and I could feel the home stretch. The weather was very unstable for the last few hours of the ride, with a few raindrops here and there, some light rain, and some heavy winds. Passing by the last checkpoint without stopping, I was excited about this last section as I heard it was mostly single track. Unfortunately, I didn't get to pre-ride this section in the week leading up to the event. In hindsight, that was a mistake. Navigating the trails through the woods in the dark for the first time was slow and difficult.
I approached the Nescafe plant on the outskirts of Girona; I knew I had made it home. I could feel the smile on my face. It was a weird feeling. I remember thinking, "No one should ever do this." However, I also truly loved it. I rode across the finish line just as the rain came down hard. My wife and a good friend welcomed me with a pizza from Bartali Pizza Co and a can of Coke. That pizza and Coke was the best finishing combo anyone could ever ask for.
I learned a lot that day about myself, my bike, my nutritional needs and how much I love being on a bike for an entire day. I was constantly amazed by the changing landscapes the Traka had to offer and the challenges that came with that. I had taken a pair of corded earbuds just in case I felt bored, but I never thought of them once.
The Traka boasts 365+ km and 5500 m of climbing on some of Catalonia's most challenging and beautiful gravel. It passes through rich farmlands, meanders past small quiet villages, climbs through a national park and eventually returns to Girona after a full day (or two) of riding. I'm definitely returning in 2024; I have unfinished business with this ride. Next year, I'm coming in as the sun sets.