iN VIDEO: Kelowna cyclist nearly broke B.C. race record during heat dome | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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iN VIDEO: Kelowna cyclist nearly broke B.C. race record during heat dome

At the finish in Fernie.
Image Credit: Submitted/Laur Hackinen

When last June’s heat dome pushed Thompson and Okanagan temperatures past 45 Celsius, everyone who could stayed indoors in front of their air conditioners.

Not Meaghan Hackinen and about 70 other avid cyclists who headed out of Merritt on the B.C. Epic 1000. That’s a 1,000 km, mostly off-road, self-supporting bike race to Fernie.

All but 13 dropped out because of the heat but Hackinen kept going, finishing the race in first place in record time.

“I didn’t ever think the heat would get me after that first day,” she told “The time when I was pulling into the lead, that’s when I worried a little bit. I was, like: ‘Are you sure this is the right thing Meaghan? You’re pulling in front of everyone on this really hot, hot day. Are they just going to find you passed out on the trail an hour later? Are you just going to blow up?’”

She didn’t blow up, finishing with the second fastest time ever in two days, 19 hours and 45 minutes, about three hours slower than the all-time men’s record.

“Once I made it to the summit, before heading down into Summerland, I felt like I was going to be OK from then on,” Hackinen said. “I thought it was a test and I passed and I could keep going.”

READ MORE: iN PHOTOS: Racers try to finish this 1,000-km KVR trail ride from Merritt to Fernie in 3 days

But, there were many more tests to come.

One was at the summit of the Kettle Valley Railway before heading down into the Kootenays. She stopped to freshen up. And to wait.

“I didn’t love the idea of riding all the way to Rock Creek by myself though black bear country,” Hackinen said. “I was going to wait for one of the lead riders to catch up to me so we could ride together through the night and have that company. I waited maybe 40 minutes. I checked the tracker and they were still way behind be so I said: ‘OK Meaghan, this is the point where you split off. There’s no waiting for anyone. From this point on you are on your own, you and the bears. You just go and do it.’

“I sang my ‘hey bear song.’ It was a Saturday night so there were a lot of people in the bush having bonfires and partying so it was kind of weirdly reassuring to see and hear them because I knew I wasn’t completely alone and, hopefully, their noises would scare off the bears and not bring them in with the smell of hot dogs.”

There were other challenges, like the three different bear encounters on the way down into Castlegar and the final “hellacious 50-kilometre” climb towards the finish line.

Image Credit: Submitted/Blade 9 Productions

In all, she slept a total of 2.5 to three hours, including only two hours in a motel room, using tricks she had learned in other ultra-cycling events.

Those included staying caffeinated, avoiding tunnelling by always looking around her, shouting ‘hey bear’ every 30 seconds, listening to music and pinching herself until it hurt.

“If I get real tired, I pull over and nap for 20 minutes, then get back on the bike,” she said.

So what inspired this Surrey-born woman, who now lives in Kelowna, to push to such extremes as to race across the U.S. in 24 days in 2017 or set a world 24-hour time trial women’s record of 460.8 miles in Borrego Springs, CA in 2019?

Most simply put, the answer is her grandmother.

“She’s the kind of person who would just try anything,” Hackinen said. “If you were to say, let’s go swim across the lake, she’d go: ‘OK. If you’re going to do it, I should be fine. I’m a competent strong person. I don’t actually know what drew her to cycling. I think probably the same things that draw me, being self-sufficient and the challenge of it. You get the reward but you have to work to get your reward at the top of that hill.”

Hackinen grew up playing sports like rugby and roller derby but, after two knee surgeries, she decided cycling would be a wiser sport while at the University of Saskatchewan where she earned a Masters of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing.

Image Credit: Submitted/Blade 9 Productions

She started off serious cycling doing short (200 to 600 km) non-competitive ultra-cycling rides with a local club in 2016.

“The other riders really held my hand and taught me to figure out how to make my stops quick and how to navigate, how to ride through the night safely and know where that point is that you’re just too tired and have to stop and have to lie down, even if it’s on a pullout area where it’s not a place you want to spend the night but to just lie down for 5 or 10 minutes and get your head straight and hop back on and they taught me about the constant fueling and eating and the personal maintenance that has to go on,” she said.

That was the same year Lael Wilcox, an American woman, won the 7,000 km Trans Am Bike Race across America in 17 days and 10 minutes, the second fastest time ever.

“To see my gender reflected in the race winner was super inspiring and I was: ‘Oh, maybe I could compete as well,’” Hackinen said. “I didn’t have delusions of grandeur. I didn’t think I was going to come into the race and win it, like she did, but just seeing someone like me compete at a really high level was really inspiring. I had never thought about competing in the sport before. I just thought it was kind of cool to go out and make some crazy long rides on the weekends.”

Image Credit: Submitted/Meaghan Hackinen

The next year, in 2017, Hackinen completed the Trans Am Bike Race in 24 days and 22 hours. Not a course record but she was the third fastest woman and 24th overall out of 123 racers that year.

Hackinen moved to Kelowna in 2019 and bought her off-road bike last year since she found the highway routes in the Okanagan somewhat limited for an ultra-cyclist. Getting off the paved roads opened up a whole different world to explore.

With COVID and limited opportunities, the B.C. Epic 1000 seemed an ideal challenge, even in the heat.

Hackinen is a writer and blogger and her website has extensive information on how to prepare and manage such rides, especially in the heat.

READ MORE: One more day of the heat wave pushes Okanagan and Canadian records even higher

One of her secrets is extensive use of “ice socks,” which are “knotted off pantyhose stuffed with handfuls of ice, and then shoved down the back of your jersey.”

It worked well when she did “supported” events like the 24-hour time trial where she had a crew to fill her ice socks for her.

In the B.C. Epic 1000, however, no such supports are allowed. That meant she had to stop at gas stations, buy ice and stuff it in the socks and in her three-litre “hydration bag” secured between the rails of her bike.

“Ice socks really do help you keep cool,” she wrote on her webpage. “They’re nice and chilly on your back and, as the sun melts the ice, the breeze comes in contact with your wet skin. The effect is refreshing, and helps keep your core temperature down.”

Lots of fluids are essential as well. For her, that was about one litre per hour. On the B.C. Epic 1000 there are lots of creeks but sometimes she had to wait half an hour before drinking so the purifying tablets could do their work.

Jumping into ice-cold creeks also helped her cool down as did a “sun cap” that shielded her head and neck from the sun.

Meaghan Hackinen
Meaghan Hackinen
Image Credit: Submitted/Blade 9 Productions

Regardless, a ride like that takes the mental as well as physical stamina to keep going to the end.

“I think it’s knowing I’m competing and this is my one shot at that competition and I know that I’ll feel worse if I throw it away than if I keep going, in most circumstances,” Hackinen said. “And knowing that line between an irritating pain and a pain that needs attention or it’s going to cause a lasting injury. I train to push myself through those moments of doubt because I know it’s going to be worth it in the end.”

She won’t be doing the Epic 1000 this year since she’s crewing for her friend and coach who is riding the Trans Am Bike Race. Still, she has a busy season ahead, including a 1,600-km race around Denmark and, if all goes well in Europe, a race across that continent. That's one that's very hard to get into. She was accepted into this year's edition in 2020.

At 37, she’s feels like she’s just getting started in ultra-cycling.

“One of the things I love about this sport is that I don’t know what my potential is and it’s really exciting trying to find out,” Hackinen

For more on the B.C. Epic 1000, go here.

For more on Hackinen herself, go here.

See more of her B.C. Epic 1000 ride on this video called: Encounter With The Unknown by Kenton Gilchrist at Blade 9 Films

Credit: Blade 9 Films

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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