Elevation: The End 19 octobre
Out here in BC the end of the riding season is quickly approaching. Just a few more riding weeks left, temperatures are dropping, mornings are crispy and the first frost is forming on the high elevation trails. A couple of wet weather fronts and we'll be done for the year. Talk changes from big ride plans and forthcoming adventures into misty eyed conversation about the season, best days of the year, highlights etc.
I had the pleasure of organizing a big mountain ride, my first time organizing such an escapade. The pressure increases, the sense of foreboding, unknown terrain, higher risks, considerations of skill level, fitness, emergency preparedness, all that serious stuff filters through my brain. What's the cell reception like out there ? How do I contact Search and Rescue ? Got my GPS ? Quickest egress points ? Truck all good to go ? Bikes checked, pre-ride (and I mean every single nut bolt and component checked over rigorously, with spares aplenty). This is serious business, for no bike park patrollers ride here and a first aid kit full of plasters isn't a whole lot of use.
We're talking serious exposure. Miles away from civilization. Risk and potential exposure increases exponentially, and the last thing I want is anyone in my group to fail to understand the dangers, or for me not to have a plan, or to have thought this through. Thankfully I shouldn't have worried. I always do my prep. My friends know the score. I can sense it in the truck heading out of town, the frequency increasing as we get closer - an undercurrent, a tingle in the atmosphere, a sense of anticipation, electricity, but with a touch of foreboding.
The mood changes even more with a 45 minute uplift via a steep rugged forest service road that beats any uplift I've ever experienced. Driving a road that hugs the edge of a mountain, the valley and lake dropping away below until we breach another corner and the lake is there, sitting literally directly below us. It keeps going, this access road to something that we know is going to be impressive. "Not like any shuttle I've experienced" I hear. "The shuttle drive itself is worth the trip" someone else says.
We think we've got to the top, but it keeps on climbing. We're in the alpine now. Barren. Tough gnarly brittle little heathers fight for survival in this harsh landscape. Higher and higher, we drive past rock boulders the size of monster trucks (or a normal sized truck, if you're from the BC Interior). Barely a word from our crew. We reach the top, everyone jumps out wandering around on a solo mission to take in this incredible view. We're at 7,000 feet elevation, looking across from a mountain top vista to other vast mountain ranges. Glancing in one direction I see a glacier, and I'm looking directly across at it - not up. I look around and see below me, turquoise alpine lakes shimmering in the sunshine.
It's 24 degrees down in the valley. Up here in the thin atmosphere at 7,000 feet, the gentle wind cuts a harsh line through our summer clothing. I doubt if we're into double digits. It's formidable, and we've not even dropped in yet. I hear nothing. We're walking around, individually, in our own private place, taking photo's, breathing in the air, admiring the views, which are truly majestic. Just silence, and vast walls of natural beauty in every direction. I'm sure that on a bad weather day, with enough imagination, or if you ingested the wrong type of mushrooms, this could be your Mordor, if you read enough Lord of the Rings.
It's simply mind blowing. We drop our first run with no mechanicals and no rider errors and no "situations". I'm pleased. The pressure is off. Lap one is always the hardest, getting a feel for the terrain, the bike, assessing your own body and state of mind on the day. We reload and head up for lap two. The uplift still amazes us. Of course, we've just dropped 5,000 feet and we're bang up for the next run. The driver of lap one is energized. Thankfully, someone else is happy to sit out a lap, which avoids a minor war or "discussion". The talk is of stoke and it gets the blood pumping on the way back up, but despite the buoyant swagger, there's still that little bit of foreboding at the back of the mind. Playing with our heads, a giddy and potentially dangerous mix of caution and adrenalin. It's the second lap for three of us; has that taken the edge of anyone's game ? Does the risk of injury or technical problem rise exponentially ? I feel like I'm playing with fire here. Taking my experience into a whole new dimension.
I shouldn't have worried. My group is hand picked for their passion, and positive mental attitude, but balanced with common sense and a calm head. Everyone's playing a mix of caution and yet, somehow on lap two, we're throwing caution to the wind when we get chance. Controlled adrenalin. Unfamiliar lines that we previously had the brakes on, body tight and on edge, now we simply let loose and the bike gets into a new level of performance. All is well with lap two. At the bottom, it's beer time. Basking in the late summer heat, our crew are simply speechless. We've dropped 10,000 feet of prime downhill singletrack in less time than it takes my neighbour to trim his lawn. People spend more time than that wandering the mall, ambling around mindlessly wondering what to spend their money (or credit card limit) on.
And we're done. 10,000' of prime riding.
They say that in BC, nature is our religion. These vast natural cathedrals - our mountains - are our churches. It's where we go to worship what we love. I'm part mountain biker, part nature lover. It's what I came here for, this vast amazing land perched out on the edge of a continent, sparsely populated. A land that seems to be overwhelmed by the incredible natural features of our environment. Sometimes it feels like we're a million miles away from the troubles and hassles of the rest of the world. And that's not a complaint.
I've had an amazing riding season. I got my head around an amazing new bike, which I love. Banged off a 17-lap day at Silver Star Bike Park. Dropped 550,000' of vert. Over 60 days on the bike. Met some great new friends and riding buddies. Rode some amazing new trails. Stayed injury free all year. But I'm drawing a line under things right now. This is the best experience I've ever had on a bike. In fact it's the best experience of my 6 years living in BC. It's taken me five years to get where I am now. But big mountain is where I'm at. It's a spiritual thing. This is the real deal. This is serious shit. For the last half decade, I've always pushed myself and sought the next new, big challenge. Sometimes forced progression, sometimes just a natural evolution of my riding style and capability. But this ? This day ? With everything in perfect alignment. It is just, simply, mind blowing.
This is The End. This is the New Beginning. Big mountain. Big vert.
Thanks to my friends at Sovereign Cycle, Lama Cycles, and Kali Protectives, for your support, encouragement, and energy. Thanks to Morewood Bikes for making cool shit that just, well, works. Many people got me to where I am now, through advice, and guidance, and sharing their passion for mountain biking. Sincere thanks, in no particular order, to:
Rich, Russ, Justin M, Ben, Sean, Tim, Justin E, AJ, Barry, Scott, Rob, Brian, Chris, Jeff, Geoff, Jack, Graham, Dean, Dave, Andrew, Jonny, Smoke, and Brant. And many many others. My apologies if I missed you.
But most importantly, thanks to my wife who has gone through this whole shenanigans with me with the same amount of gritty determination and evolved into a competent, confident, mountain biker who has overcome the same challenges I did.
Mountain biking - it's a blast.