Kaitlyn Shikaze makes her own stage race: Ontario Singletrack Challenge
Faced with a cancelled season, Oakville junior mountain biker gets creativePhoto by: via Kaitlyn Shikaze
When this year’s racing calendar was wiped clean, Kaitlyn Shikaze needed a new goal to replace her planned events.
“Like most racers, I had a tough time finding the motivation to ride with no races in the calendar and not knowing when they would resume,” says the Oakville, Ont. cross country racer. “I found motivation in challenging myself in another creative way other than racing.”
Ontario Singletrack Challenge
Shikaze came up with the Ontario Singletrack Challenge. The 18-year-old set out to ride as many local southern Ontario trails as she could in seven days.
“The first day was in the Durham Region, my dad and I rode just over 100km all over Durham Forest, Dagmar, Glen Major, Walker Woods and Skyloft,” recalls Shikaze. “The trails were amazing, super flowy and a good amount of climbing, over the 6.5h ride we climbed 1,800m.”
Shizake kept up that pace, riding with family or a couple Durham Shredders teammates and friends for seven days straight. She ended up logging 600 kilometres, with over 9,000 metres of vertical elevation gain. That meant averaging a huge six hours in the saddle.
“It was definitely my biggest week on a bike, riding for over 40 hours on amazing local trails,” says Shikaze. “Mentally, the last couple of days were a bit rough. The heat amped up at the end of the week. Riding for 6 hours in almost 40-degrees Celsius was taxing, to say the least.”
As the kilometres added up and the temperature continued to climb, the 18-year-old said she briefly considered changing it to a five day challenge. Instead, she kept going.
“Looking back I’m stoked to have had the support and encouragement to keep going and finish off the week the way I had planned it,” says Shikaze, adding that she wouldn’t have made it through without support. “I am so grateful for those who joined me on my rides, as riding these long days isn’t for everyone,” Shikaze adds. “Sharing these adventures with other awesome riders not only motivated me but made the challenge that much more fun.”
At the end of the seventh day, Shikaze had covered 16 different nearby trail networks. The route included Durham Forest (and surrounding networks, Dagmar, Glenn Major, Walker Woods and Skyloft), Albion Hills, Palgrave, Puslinch, the Hydrocut, the Don Valley, Simcoe Forest, Copeland Forest, Kelso, Hilton Falls, Agreement Forest and Turkey Point.
Bringing adventure back home
Shikaze said the inspiration for her Ontario Singletrack Challenge came from two sources. First, watching other Canadian’s pull off similar challenges across the country, from Everesting to 100 km Don Valley challenges or Elevation streaks.
“It’s been amazing to see so many racers take different approaches to this unique season to keep their competitive edge.” As the race cancellations and long days of solo miles added up, Shikaze says seeing other riders’ challenges made helped her shift focus. “I reflected on the reasons I loved cycling other than racing: riding trails and riding for an adventure. So I wanted to make my own experience that would challenge and motivate me while targeting the reasons I love cycling!”
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Two years ago, the Oakville xc racer had headed west to race the Singletrack 6 stage race in B.C.
“I remembered how amazing the experience was doing big mountain bike rides in different places everyday and I wanted to do a similar week locally.” As the local trail networks started opening, decided to plan a similar adventure, closer to home. “I realised that I hadn’t actually ridden many of the local trail networks as much in recent years due to a lot of travelling in the summer months for races.”
While Shikaze misses the adventure of national and international racing, she say’s the time spent exploring closer to home has helped her regain focus on the bike.
“I often learn the best lessons from being on my bike. I think the best take away from the week was gratitude and focusing on the controllables,” says the Oakville racer. “This year has been challenging in different ways for many people, as cyclists, we are so fortunate to still be able to go out and ride even if it’s not racing which is definitely something that drove my motivation and I focused on in the recent past.”
The challenge also helped her bring a sense of adventure closer to home, and reconnect with the cycling community across the country.
“Another thing I missed most about racing was the adventure and travel, exploring new venues, courses and trail networks. Not being able to do that was out of my control. What was in my control, was how I could spend this time locally, and still push my limits and have fun,” Shikaze relates.
“Another thing that stood out to me during this challenge was the incredible support of the cycling community even from afar. I was sharing my rides every day on social media and it was motivating and humbling to receive encouragement and chat with everyone I’ve been missing from the race scene. It definitely got me through the last couple of days of the challenge.”
Reconnecting with riding turns around a disrupted year and uncertain future
Coming into 2020, Shikaze had big race plans. Dabbling in road with her Queens University Cycling team and racing internationally with the Durham Shredders Development team was set to keep her calendar packed through spring and into the fall.
“Coming off an awesome final year in Junior and starting my first year in Elite U23, I was super stoked for 2020,” Shikaze says. “Even though the 2020 season may not have tuned out how anyone had planned, it has been an opportunity to learn how to embrace the uncontrollable which is something that athletes experience often. Hopefully when the time is right we’ll be back to racing!”
With the university season gone, Canada Cup series and Sea Otter both cancelled, Shikaze says she’s happy for now focusing on local challenges and finding more creative ways to hone her competitive edge.
“I think the most important thing is to focus on keeping riding fun, and stay connected to the cycling community. There are a lot of things to enjoy about cycling, and as a racer, it’s been important to realize that racing is only one part about cycling that I love. Although it has been a different and unexpected season this year, it’s been a good opportunity to refocus the other aspects of why we love cycling.”
Day by Day: Breaking down the Ontario Singletrack Challenge
“It was definitely my biggest mountain bike week, I have never set distance goals on a mountain bike as the distance is much harder in singletrack but it was a good unique challenge.”
Day 1: Durham Region
“The first day was in the Durham Region, my dad and I rode just over 100km all over Durham Forest, Dagmar, Glen Major, Walker Woods and Skyloft. The trails were amazing, super flowy and a good amount of climbing, over the 6.5h ride we climbed 1,800m.”
Day 2: Albion Hills
“For Day 2 I met a friend at Albion Hills and we rode 82km and 1,530m on the trails at Albion and we headed over to Palgrave as well for some more awesome flowy trails!”
Day 3: Puslinch Lake and the Hydrocut
“The third day was a bit unique, first I stopped at Puslinch Lake and rode 46km and 650m of elevation on slightly more technical trails, then headed over to the Hydrocut for another 47km and 620m to finish off another epic day.”
Day 4: Don Valley
“On Day 4 I met up with another friend and rode the Don Valley for the first time, finished off 61km and 970m on an impressive trail network in downtown Toronto.”
Day 5: Simcoe and Copeland Forest
“I think Day 5 might have been the toughest as I headed up with a couple of riders to Simcoe and Copeland forest for another 100km mountain bike ride with 1,840m of elevation.”
Day 6: Hilton Falls, Agreement Forest and Kelso
“At that point, I was close to changing my challenge to a Five-day stage race. 430km of singletrack in five days was already pretty epic and a huge personal best. But my dad, like always, convinced me I was capable of more. So I set out for Day 6 with my sister. We rode 66km and 790m at Hilton Falls, the Agreement Forest and Kelso”
Day 7: Turkey Point
“For the 7th and final day, a couple of riders join me for a final 101 km and 930m at Turkey Point. The last day felt long, but we kept the morale up and I was very motivated to finish off the week strong”