David M. Bird
For the Free Press
The excitement was palpable in the air as no less than 53 intrepid downhill mountain bikers participating in the 14th Annual Dirt Diggler race this past Saturday collected their thoughts, knocked the mud off their front stud tires, and checked their brakes and gears.
Prior to the first rider followed by the others every two minutes, each and every participant took a moment to peer over the 3-metre vertical drop to study the ruts, rocks and ridges and come up with the best plan to avoid a spill right at the beginning of the race in front of their competitors and friends. Within 20 metres after that initial hairy drop comes an immediate 90-degree turn to the right. Some dropped off from a standing start while others elected to take a run at it from 30 metres up the slope. The more experienced riders clearly wanted nothing less than first place on the podium, some would be content with a top fifteen finish, while others merely wanted to get down the 1,000-metre vertical drop as fast as they could without breaking a bone or gashing their body. A fair concern too, with heavy rain drenching the 5-kilometre track the night before and a dense mountaintop mist obscuring the view beyond 50 metres.
Pictured: Derek Bird, found of the annual Dirt Diggler Mountain Bike race near Fernie, sets off at the start. Vince Mo photo
Notable this year was a record number of seven female riders, a 14-year-old named Isaac Hulme, and two Diggler three-peat winners, Luke Nelson and Ross Roseingrave each wanting to be the GOAT in this classic event.
The annual Dirt Diggler DH Fall Classic was founded by Derek Bird, originally from Montreal but now living in Fernie for twenty or so years. While snowboarding originally attracted him to the ski town, he now lives and breathes mountain biking. It then took two years of driving rough and dangerous logging roads in the mountains overlooking Fernie before Bird settled on a start at the Microwave tower on Morrissey Ridge. That was the easy part. Then came hours upon hours of clearing trees and saplings and rocks below the already existing Matador track on various game trails to dig out a competitive track. It took a small army of like-minded volunteers to make Diggler what it is today.
Pictured: Aidan Jones, winner of the Dirt Digger DH MTB Race – September 11, 2021. Vince Mo photo
Five years ago, Bird met the love of his life, Lynn Henderson, who took the event to a whole new level with her smarts, hard-working attitude, and an amazing organizational ability. It was no small feat to set up this year’s event because of Covid; the race was not held in September of 2020.
So, who took home the honours this year? Aidan Jones hit the River Road finish line to take first place with a scorching 9:16.4 time. The top woman was Chandrima Lavoie of Nelson, with an overall 31st placing and a time of 11:46.2. Coming second, third and fourth overall were Cody MacArthur, Kristopher McMechan, and the three-peater Luke Nelson. The youngster, Isaac Hulme, came in at 35th with a time of 12:14.8!
Bird and Henderson did not organize the event alone; they were joined by about 15 keen volunteers. Each racer paid a $50 registration fee, but it would not be an annual success without the many prizes donated by Fernie businesses.