We caught up with Troy Hopwood on Wednesday May 24th, a few days after he finished the race he created, the XWA. We asked him a couple of questions that should help you understand this route and race that crosses the Evergreen State.
What is the XWA bike race?
The XWA is a self-supported bikepacking race along the newly released Cross-Washington Mountain Bike Route. The route starts on the Pacific coast in La Push, Washington and works its way east across the state to the Idaho border. It is a 700 mile mostly off-road route that features some of the most amazing and diverse scenery across the state. I like to think of it as Divide by 4. It is ¼ the length of the Tour Divide with ¼ the climbing as well, but XWA offers all the same terrain plus even more. XWA does have more singletrack though.
Who is it for?
XWA is for anyone looking to take on a self-supported mountain biking adventure. The start line had everything from experienced world-class racers to folks planning a more casual tour.
How long did it take this year?
Adam Hale was the first rider to reach Idaho. He finished after 5 days and 11 hours. 10 days in, there are still a few riders on course and will likely take a few more days to reach the finish.
What type of weather did riders deal with this year?
Weather proved to be the big story this year. Washington has had record rain and snowfall and spring really hasn’t sprung. For the first three days riders encountered heavy rain, temperatures in the mid-30s and hours of hike-a-bike through deep snow. Once east of the Cascade Mountains, the temperatures quickly climbed into the 80s. This was an abrupt and challenging transition for many. Crossing the Cascades was no small feat either. As we approached, there was a winter storm warning and white-out conditions were reported. We were already soaked to the bone and freezing. Crossing Snoqualmie Pass in this storm could quickly become a life or death decision. Blake and I opted to stop early and hang out in North Bend while Adam, Chip, Lennard, and Allan all charged head first into the storm.
What’s the ideal bike for this route?
This is the golden question. People ask this repeatedly for every event, but the diversity of the terrain makes it impossible to answer. It’s mostly a matter of personal preference. Hardtail mountain bikes seemed to be the most popular choice for those riding near the front. A fully rigid bike will be fast for much of the route but the rider will take a pounding on some extremely rough sections that are brutal even with suspension.
What type of terrain and surfaces did riders endure? Any HAB?
Most of the route is on smooth dirt roads and trails. However, it wasn’t all easy and hike-a-aike was very abundant. In addition to the afore mentioned snow, there were a lot of steep sections that forced even the strongest riders to get off and push. The suburban segment follows a pipeline trail which is either going straight up or straight down much of the time. This took a toll on riders who didn’t heed the warnings here.
The Collockum Pass area featured some extremely rough terrain with steep climbs as well. Some of the roads had seen little use in years which added to the challenge. Due to the weather, there were also an abundance of deep stream crossings that posed challenges for riders.
How far were resupply locations apart from each other? Any long difficult stretches?
The largest gaps without resupply were around 100 miles. Port Angeles is just over 100 miles from the start. Normally, this would be a great place to resupply before pushing on. But the weather had almost everyone scrambling for a hotel room to dry out before pushing on.
The push to the finish is the other long stretch. From Ritzville to near the finish it is extremely dry and desolate. There is no sign of shade or civilization for miles. This section can be extremely hot as well making it critical to load up on as much water as you can carry in Ritzville.
What are some unique stops along the way?
The route hits a lot of cool small towns that don’t get a lot of visitors. However, we all enjoyed stopping in North Bend. This features Twede’s café which was made famous in the TV show Twin Peaks for their cherry pie. All the participants in the inaugural ride were treated to a free piece of pie (as close as we could get to Pie Town).
There are also a ton of breweries directly on the route up until Ellensburg. The tour de breweries was a popular plan for some of the folks touring the route.
The town of Tekoa which is 5 miles from the finish has been hugely supportive. This was the unofficial gathering place after finishing the race. Local residents bought food and drinks for all the finishers making sure everyone had a good time.
What was your inspiration in making this race happen?
The idea for the route started out with me simply tired from needing to travel for every bikepacking race. Washington has such amazing riding, I felt there was a great opportunity to showcase the state. As the route evolved, it became an opportunity to promote trail advocacy. The last 170 miles are on the eastern portion of the John Wayne Pioneer trail which some shady politicians tried to give away to adjacent landowners. Fortunately they had a typo that saved the trail. But this section of trail is in significant need of improvement to be a viable trail for all users. XWA is just part of the plan to showcase what could be.
How long did it take to develop, did you have any help from others?
The route started just as a bunch of my personal training rides for the Tour Divide. I started stringing things together a few years ago and did a test run of the route last spring. The route today is dramatically different as there were a lot of kinks to be worked out. Over the past year, I focused a lot of reducing pavement, working around land access issues, and adding as much diverse scenery as possible.
How many folks participated in this first annual event?
There were 25 riders at the start. It was cool seeing bikepackers take over the small town of La Push. We were everywhere.
Can people ride the route anytime they want?
Absolutely. Building a route that anyone can ride any time was the primary goal. This is a route for everyone. The best times to ride are spring and fall to get optimal weather. The route is impassible in the winter due to snow and the eastern portion can get quite hot in the summer. People are encouraged to ride all or part of it any time. I especially encourage riding the eastern portion to build awareness of the opportunities the John Wayne Pioneer trail presents.