Last week, Meaghan Hackinen set a new fastest known time (FKT) on The Big Lonely, a self-supported bikepacking adventure through Central Oregon. She was the first woman and third overall finisher with the time of 33 hours and 35 minutes, breaking the record previously held by Lauren Brownlee. Find out more about Meaghan and her record-setting race in the Q&A below.
Tell us about your background as a cyclist. What’s your experience with ultra racing?
I bought my first adult bicycle for a cool $50 in 2008. In 2009, I decided I wanted to do something big and embarked on my first major tour with my sister—you can read all about that in my travel memoir South Away: The Pacific Coast on Two Wheels (NeWest Press, 2019). In 2014, after my second knee surgery, I moved to the Canadian Prairies to complete an MFA in Writing and discovered the little-known sport of randonneur cycling and in 2017 I bought a road bike with curly bars and registered for my first self-supported ultra: the Trans norAm Bike Race. From then on, I’ve managed to do a couple of events a year, even winning occasionally! One of my favourite activities is to create a really challenging training ride and see if I can complete it within 24 hours. Other than the Trans Am, my event highlights include the Transcontinental Race, NorthCape4000, BC Epic 1000, AlbertaRockies700, and Paris-Brest-Paris brevet.
What does life look like for you outside of riding bikes?
I live in Kelowna, BC with my parents and their adorable Whoodle named Sadie. I work part-time and remotely for a provincial arts non-profit, so I’m able to travel to train and compete as much as my budget permits. I have an MFA in Writing and dedicate a significant chunk of my life to writing/creative work. Other than cycling, I enjoy hiking and snowshoeing, and one of these winters hope to try cross-country skiing.
What inspired you to sign up for The Big Lonely?
I love seeing places by bike and it looked like Jesse Blough put together a pretty stellar route in Central Oregon—which isn’t too far from my home in Canada. I’d already toured the Oregon coast and through Bend (the start/finish) during a trip down the Sierra Cascades, however most of my experience was limited to asphalt. The fact that The Big Lonely linked up pavement, singletrack, gravel, and doubletrack really intrigued me: the variety in surfaces makes it more difficult to estimate your time, but also ensures that the sights never get dull.
What bike were you riding? Is there any other gear you’d like to highlight?
I used a 2018 Salsa Cutthroat Force (named Amelia) with Light Bicycle wheels and a Redshift Sports Shockstop Suspension stem, equipped with Apidura Backcountry series bags (including a 3-liter frame pack hydration bladder).
Did you have any goals or intentions going into the race?
I wanted to break the previous women’s FKT (set by Lauren Brownlee under some tough weather conditions in 2021) and race competitively. To me, being competitive means challenging myself, pushing my limits, and doing my best to stay ahead of the dots around me, wherever I am in the field. It was rad to meet Lauren at the pre-race party and receive her blessing and encouragement to go after the record!
Tell us a little bit about the course. Did you have a favorite and least favorite part of the route?
The Big Lonely is a 350+ mile unsupported bikepacking adventure hosted by Northwest Competitive that starts and ends in beautiful beer and bike paradise: Bend, Oregon. The route ascends 25,000 feet and explores the diverse and expansive Central Oregon region on a mix 30% singletrack, 50% gravel/doubletrack, and 20% paved scenic bikeways: you climb the iconic Mrazek trail in the Skyline Forest, ride along the Metolius and Crooked Rivers, summit the relentless Ochoco mountains, and cross the high desert on a 30-mile ribbon of smooth singletrack. Resupply is limited to Sisters, Madras, Ashwood, and Prineville. The route travels through land once held sacred and no longer solely occupied by these indigenous peoples: Northern Paiute, Yahooskin, Tenino, Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, Molalla, and Klamath.
What was the most difficult part of your race? Did you face any unexpected challenges?
The final singletrack descent was definitely the hardest part for me. I mistakenly thought it would be an easy rip to the finish, but the downhill was much slower and more technical that I was prepared for (I should also know better by now than to think that any race director would ever give away an easy finish). My mantra was just “keep moving” and I’m not ashamed to admit that I walked a lot of the trail. The course itself is challenging because of the variable surface which can include washboard, deep gravel, chunky rock, sand, and in some conditions (not this year thankfully) peanut butter mud; distance between resupply can also be an issue. Though I underfuelled my effort, I never ran low on food. But because I skipped the Magic Fridge in Ashwood, I did run out of water on top of the Ochocos. It was nighttime by then, so I wasn’t drinking as much anyways. But I was pretty miserable by the time I resupplied at a campground an hour or so later.
What’s one of your favorite moments from your race?
Riding along the Crooked River by moonlight. I don’t think I encountered a single vehicle and so the entire time I felt like I’d discovered this glorious secret: the imposing canyon walls and a churning river reflecting slivers of light for me alone.
Did you sleep during your effort? Did you bring a full sleep kit?
Jesse Blough, the race director, does a fantastic job of outlining mandatory equipment requirements in the Adventure Manual—this included a waterproof sleep system with a 32-degree Fahrenheit sleeping bag. At the last minute, however, he removed the requirement for the sleeping bag since the weather was so nice, so I opted to only bring along an SOL bivvy. Deciding against a full sleep kit mean that I had less options for stopping, but it was my intention to ride through the night anyways and I wanted to remain fast and light. I did pause for a 15-minute catnap in the dirt sometime around 2:00 a.m. in the high desert after I started experiencing mild hallucinations. Around this time, I also skipped ahead of two other riders who had laid down for longer rests, so I think my strategy paid off.
Is there anything you would change about your ride?
I would have put my aerobars on! Because it was a short course with loads of elevation gain, I didn’t think I’d use them, but there turned out to be several long flattish stretches—some on pavement—where I could have laid into the aerobars to give my poor hands and wrists a break.
What was your first meal after you were done?
A toddler-sized burrito from Chipotle
What’s your next bike adventure?
I’m going to lay low for a while and spend some time addressing the issues I’ve been having in my knees, and improving my overall strength and mobility. I stopped going to the gym when Covid hit and now, a couple years later, the gaps in my fitness are starting to show. I look forward to mulling over 2023 possibilities during the winter while I tackle other aspects of my fitness, and coming back a stronger and more well-rounded athlete!
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