Conquering an Extreme Challenge

Story by Emily Roberts// Photos by James Lissimore and Emily Roberts
December 19 2018

It’s as much about building friendships as it is about tough competition.

Nestled in the interior of British Columbia rests the Okanagan Valley, and as September came to a close, you could find a gathering of a special kind of people. The kind that bleeds adventure, the kind willing to sacrifice their bikes and bodies in search of an adrenalin rush and a great challenge. This gathering was the second annual KTM Adventure Rally Canada 2018, held September 26–30, with riders from Canada and the United States taking part in the events throughout the week. Riders started to arrive as early as Monday to take part in the skills clinics put on by extreme enduro champion Chris Birch and to try out some of the new Austrian machinery at the KTM demo rides before the rally routes started on Thursday. I had packed my things on my street bike in Revelstoke, B.C., and headed two hours southwest to SilverStar Mountain Resort for the rally.

The KTM Adventure Rally happens in six different countries – Italy, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, United States and Canada – and is created to bring riders with all makes of adventure bikes over 600 cc together for a weekend of challenging riding and meeting other like-minded folks.

There were initially three routes for riders to attempt while at the KTM Adventure Rally: R1 – the hardest of the off-road adventure routes, encompassing three days and 1,000 km; R2 – a two-day, 900 km, medium-difficulty adventure-touring route of trails and gravel; and the S route – a two-day, 1,200 km mostly paved route. However, it is an adventure rally, and before it even got started, it was determined the S course be cancelled due to the lack of entries. For the super-competitive riders, there’s also the Ultimate Race, which takes place each morning before the R1 route (see “The Ultimate Goal,” p. 54.)

Teams of two to four riders would navigate through the routes using GPS. Riders participating in the R1 course would ride Thursday, Friday and Saturday, while those opting for the R2 would start on the Friday. If riders rode the R1 course on Thursday and decided it was too difficult, they could then drop into the R2.


Ready, Set, Rally!

Sunrise on the 2019 KTM Adventure RallyAs the sun struggled to break through the heavy mist, riders filtered into the starting area early Thursday morning. Everyone waited patiently to take off from the start line to see what the day would hold for us. However, there were a few surprises throughout the route. Steep, loose, rocky trails put riders and their machines to the test, forcing some to turn around and ride the more manageable R2 route for the next two days. I had opted for an easier route the first day and rode with another female competitor. I was fortunate to be riding one of KTM’s 690 Enduro Rs, but nervous enough on this new-to-me bike to not play too rough with it the first day.

As the day came to a close and the sun sank behind the mountains, riders spoke of the day’s ride – it was tough. That was not to be debated.

Almost half the riders originally in the R1 course dropped into the R2. Many teams scrambled to create new teams based on the intense level of riding that was promised for the next two days. I had decided I’d like to see what the fuss was about on the R1 route, so I started searching for a partner to attempt it with. I met Calvin, who had split ways with his riding partner because they had different competitive goals, and as we chatted, we decided we would make a good team for the next day.


A Tough Day’s Ride

Riding in the 2019 KTM Adventure RallyThe mist hung above the valley as riders waited in the frigid air to attempt the R1 and R2 courses on Friday. Calvin and I took off down the weaving roads that lead us into the valley. We made our way into an expansive trail system that had been carefully planned out to offer plenty of technical riding and lead to breathtaking viewpoints. It was a tough enough task riding through overgrown brush and single track strewn with logs and rocks, but doing so while trying to navigate with your GPS made it near impossible. As we made our way through the thick web of trails and cow paths, we had gotten into what would be the crux of this day’s course – a kilometre-long hill climb of loose, rutted single track winding up through the forest.

Things that are worthwhile often don’t come easy, and this was no exception. As I attempted to make it up the steepest and roughest section, my front wheel washed out, and just like that I was down. I pulled my bike off the trail as more riders came up the hill behind me. The carnage had begun. Within a minute there were nine of us scattered on the hillside. One by one we pulled and pushed every bike – from the lighter 690 to the heavyweight bikes like the 1290 – up the hill. It was no longer about getting ahead, it was about getting everybody out. I understood now why there were so few people continuing on this course after the first day. Showing the true colours of the participants, it’s not about getting to the end in good time, but rather having a good time and building camaraderie with everyone as they attempt to just get to the end.


Mechanical Gremlins

Winners of the 2019 KTM Adventure RallyOnce everyone was up the loose, rutted slope and mildly rested, we continued up the extensive hill. Then disaster struck! Calvin’s clutch blew; we were stuck on the last section of the hill and his bike was missing an important part of its driveline. After some discussion, we decided that it’d be best if he coasted back down the merciless slope. The one we had struggled so hard to achieve – the hardest part of the day – only to turn around and not finish.

We weren’t alone. Defeated by the hill was another group that also had a mechanical issue. Calvin and I rode down with John and Jason, towing the disabled bikes with the working bikes through the flat sections of dirt road. We made it to the road, where we then waited to get a tow back to SilverStar. As we sat watching other riders finish the course, we reminded ourselves that the best memories are of things that don’t go to plan.

A New Team

With Calvin out, I was once again without a partner for the last day of the rally. Fortunately, Tom, Dave and Mike, who had helped me up the hill the day before, were willing to let me tag along with them. We took off into the bitter wind of the morning. Quickly off the tarmac, we got into a loose and wet single track. This was shaping up to be the hardest day, forewarned with tales of muddy, rutted trails with deep creek crossings. However, dry weather and low water levels made for favourable conditions and a more manageable ride through lush, moss-covered forests, ascending to dry desert overlooking Okanagan Lake on the summit where lunch was well deserved. It was a moment of reflection for riders who sat on the lookout, admiring the terrain that we had been lucky enough to ride the past few days.

We descended the mountain on a fast single track with banked berms and rolling terrain. After two days of attempting to finish the course, I finally made it through a full day.

Friendships and Camaraderie

Everyone gathered for what would be the last dinner of the rally. You could look into the crowd and see not only riders in a contained space together, but friendships and lifelong bonds that were created through only three days of riding. With 130 riders in attendance throughout the rally, it’s hard to believe how much work had gone into such a successful weekend.

We ended the night with a ceremony that included awards for the most team spirit, best sweeps and the toughest riders, and, of course, the overall winners for the R1 (Wendell Maki and Cory Hanson ) and R2 (Colin Gage and Lennard Joe) routes and for the Ultimate Race. The top two Ultimate Race riders of the weekend, Vasile Scurtu in first and Radek Burkat in second, will represent Canada in the Ultimate Race at the KTM Merzouga Rally in Morocco in April 2019.

By the end of the rally, there were more than a few riders with broken bikes and fresh cuts and bruises, reminding us of the incredible experience. The next morning, I strapped the last piece of luggage onto my bike as I prepared for my journey home, and rolled out onto the snow-blanketed road. Just like that winter had hit, and it was truly the best way to end the season.

As I rode, my fingers and toes became numb and I thought that this was a small price to pay for such an unforgettable weekend. Everyone should experience a gathering such as this, not just for the riding, but also for the amazing connections that can take place over such a short span of time.


Copyright ©2002-2024 Motorcycle Mojo | Privacy Policy | Built by Gooder Marketing