Meaghan Hackinen: Individual Time Trial vs Grand Depart

Most of us are familiar with grand depart-style bikepacking events such as Badlands and The Transcontinental, but how does an Individual Time Trial (ITT) compare? Discover Meaghan Hackinen’s take following her most recent Log Driver’s Waltz adventure. 

Reading time: 5 min
Mergen Hackinen with her full bike setup

My goal on the Log Driver’s Waltz was to establish a new women’s Fastest Known Time (FKT), my stretch goal to beat the overall FKT. I used these targets to draft my pacing plan and motivate my effort. What makes an ITT special is that it’s an experience undertaken entirely on your own—even more so than self-supported grand depart-style racing.

-Meaghan Hackinen

Halfway into my first-ever bikepacking Individual Time Trial (ITT) I began to question my motives. Picture being chased by a scourge of hungry mosquitoes along the rugged gravel roads winding through North Frontenac Highlands, Eastern Ontario. I was 400km into the Log Driver’s Waltz, an 800km loop that accumulates roughly 9,500 metres of elevation on mostly unpaved surfaces, including gravel road, rail trail, and forested singletrack.

Since sunset, I’d been pedalling through a (supposedly) scenic landscape of rocky granite outcrops, maple sugar shacks, and dense woods. Seeing little in the dark, I had to take the route guide’s word for it. What I did know was that, twenty hours in, the excitement of the preceding day was wearing thin. My feet were soggy from wading through swamp puddles and I’d lost my precious bug spray. With no cell service or threat of being passed by the competition, I felt increasingly adrift—my mind gapped out. Unable to ramp up my effort unless the steep pitch of a climb forced me from the saddle.

Then, sunrise. With the first ephemeral light of day, sun-gold energy coursed back in my veins. A hit of adrenaline. As if someone flipped a switch inside of me. Re-entering cell service, my phone buzzed louder than the swarming mosquitoes with encouraging messages, and I laid into the pedals with renewed determination.

 

Mergen Hackinen with bike and family

Advantages of Going Alone


An ITT offers more control. Instead of a race director, you
(the rider) set the date and time, which can better align with your training cycle and peak fitness. It also opens up competitive opportunities that might not fit within the grand depart race calendar.

In my case, factors of convenience made an ITT more accessible: the Log Driver’s Waltz grand depart takes place in July, but I would be visiting the region in June. When choosing specific dates, I scrutinized the weather reports, picking the best window available.

Then a few days before my attempt, wildfire smoke blew in. Luckily, I was able to push my start date back until the air quality improved, and take advantage of optimal conditions. As a habitual night owl, I decided to begin at the luxurious hour of 9:00 am to ensure I’d be fully rested with eight hours of pillow time. Since my intention was to ride through the first (and possibly second) night without sleep, starting out fully charged was critical. 

Whatever the circumstances, be sure to explore every option, play to your strengths, and consider what implications adjusting the start time might have on hours of resupply, sleep strategy, etc.

Finally, without other competitors in the mix, it becomes easier to race your own race. If you’ve lined up at a bikepacking race, you know what it’s like: everyone bursting from the starting gates like racehorses in a one-mile sprint. And while it can be exhilarating to push the pace, riding at one’s limit is not always in everyone’s best interest in the long run. In the case of my ITT, I avoided the trap of going out too hard, and actually rode faster than expected in the second half—probably because my legs weren’t cooked from trying to keep up with the racehorses.

Challenges to Consider


As rewarding as undertaking an ITT is, it’s also an intimidating endeavour: being the only dot on the tracker can be tough. Plus, there are some extra aspects to consider when preparing to race outside of a sanctioned event. For instance, in addition to route research and the logistics of getting to and from the start/finish, you will also need to contact the race director to announce your ITT and consult with them about any specific requirements.  

Forest

An ITT can feel like a lonely affair if you’re someone who thrives on camaraderie or competition, or struggles with motivation. To get around these pitfalls, I visualized my competition—the men’s and women’s course record holders—which helped me feel less alone. I also assembled a virtual cheerleading squad of friends and family to send me uplifting messages. Whenever my motivation flagged, all I had to do was look at my phone for a quick pick me up.

Bike with red bridge in the background

Tips for Getting Started 

  • Start planning your ITT well ahead of time: read the rulebook, research the route, consider bike setup and gear choices, and follow up with the race director if you still have unaddressed questions. 
  • Connect with the race director at least two weeks ahead of time to share your intent and find out if there are any route changes.
  • Create a ride or race plan: this is your chance to dial things in and get specific (if you want). While you certainly can’t prepare for everything, why not set yourself up for success?
  • Consult with others who have undertaken the route. Whether online or in person, connecting with others in the bikepacking community to discuss specific technical aspects like kit choices, terrain, as well as general impressions, can bring back some of the camaraderie that’s missing from an ITT—while also giving you a leg up.
  • Create a social support network: share your attempt on social media and let everyone know where to follow your dot.

Endings Never Come Easy


I held strong until the 36-hour mark, around sunset. From there on out, I had to harness every ounce of inner strength to get through the final hilly climbs, walking my bike more than I’d care to admit. I stopped eating, dropped the charging cable for my Wahoo, and delayed putting my rain jacket on in a downpour until I was soaked to the bone after midnight.

Despite all that, I reached the finish in a record time of 43 hours and 33 minutes, shaving more than six hours of the previous overall FKT and coming in ahead of even my best projections. It was 4:33 am. No one was around to hand me a finishing beer or acknowledge my accomplishment. So I ended my track, snapped a selfie, and in what can only be described as the most quintessentially Canadian celebratory act, pedalled to the nearest Tim Horton’s drive-thru for a Double Double and Timbits.

 

Mergen Hackinen 2024 Bike Rig