Noah Allman launches off a boardwalk ramp in front of spectators during the Rumblefest downhill mountain bike race in Port Alice Sunday.

Rumblefest alive, on life-support

Annual downhill mountain bike event comes to Port Alice.

PORT ALICE—The poster for the 20th Rumblefest Downhill mountain bike race — complete with disco imagery— claimed “20 years and stayin’ alive.”

But life in year 21 may hinge on more commitment from the kind of volunteers who stepped up at the last minute to help as Sunday’s event tore up the root- and rock-strewn trail of Rumble Mountain.

“We had great volunteer help, but most of them signed up at the last minute,” said Tanya Spafford, longtime organizer of the wild and popular race. “We had three volunteers Friday morning (for eight course checkpoints).”

Under any measure, last weekend’s event marked something of a transition for the Rumblefest. Previously, the event was made up of a cross-country run on Saturday — populated largely by local, amateur talent — and the Rumble Tumble downhill the following day that draws riders from across the Island and, occasionally, the Lower Mainland.

This year, however, the cross-country race was dropped as Saturday was given over to practice runs for the downhill competitors, the annual salmon barbecue, kids’ bike races and DJ music. On Sunday, the downhill racing began in earnest. But, though Rumblefest served as the final event in the Island Cup downhill series and was a double-points race, only 44 riders competed — down from numbers in the 70s in the last few years as Rumblefest has taken a more prominent position in the Island’s series.

“I love this course,” Tennant said after hoisting the Island Cup belt. “I think it’s one of the best ones on the Island. I love the steep(ness), the roots, the loam and the multiple lines.”

Tennant suggested a dubious weather forecast — actual conditions were overcast and muggy, but free of rain until a light mist touched the post-race awards ceremony —may have scared traveling riders away.

Spafford said low turnout is always a risk in Port Alice due to the substantial travel for most riders, who travel from Victoria, Sooke or Nanaimo. But she said a season beset with troubles across the Island was the more likely culprit.

“There are definitely fewer riders here, but we expected this,” said Spafford. “Other races have been cancelled, because of lack of volunteers or other issues, and we’re only the third downhill. It’s just been a funny year all around.”

But Spafford, Tennant and many other riders credited the volunteers who did show up to staff checkpoints, even if the traditional burger barbecue at the nearby Legion hall was not run due to lack of help.

“It was nice to have the community step up this weekend,” said Spafford. “And we saw a lot of new families that haven’t been out before.”

“I’d like to thank all the organizers and volunteers, including the drivers,” Tennant echoed. “They did a great job. And the salmon barbecue was excellent.

“I’ll definitely be back if they do it again. I hope they do.”

 

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