The clock ticked the seconds by slower than usual this past Thursday. It's always that way when you've got somewhere awesome to be. My expectations then fell far short of the paradise awaiting me on the left coast this time.
One last blast out west for winter/spring 09 took me to Squamish -- but I left the skis behind and packed up the new bike to test its mettle offroad instead. At the aiport, it was still clearly ski season -- at least judging by all the families lugging boot bags and ski sacks around -- and I was starting to wonder if I was pushing mother nature. Especially considering the Squamish weather report forecasted rain/snow mix and higher temperatures in Toronto.
The journey was blessedly uneventful. That's how I like my flights. We arrived without any delays and I had a smooth connection to the Whistler bus. I'd recommend it as a means to the goods if you're wondering how to get around from YVR. You can book through Perimeter Reservations and it was $70 round trip from Vancouver to Squamish. Turns out you can't leave Vancouver airport for less than that. Cabs downtown are about $70 bucks too. Rental cars even have a bonus $70 "location surcharge" there. So I was happy about the bus, for once.
After grabbing a sub to curb my angry appetite, I met a nice man who didn't seem to mind that I was chatting his head off. We shared a laugh at the ridiculous cash grab that follows cyclists around. "What's in the box? A massage table?" asked the bus reservations clerk. "A massage table would be nice about now," I answered, thinking seriously about a massage after lugging the thing around the airport. He didn't ask any follow up questions because he had to take a phone call. I was just about to get away with my luggage tag when he asked again. "It's a bike," I say quietly. He put the usual apologetic face on and informed me it would be an extra fee. "What if it was a massage table?" I asked. "It's just our policy" he replied, but what he was really saying was, "next time, just say it is a massage table."
Anyway, once on the bus, the full impact of my stoke combined with the winding roads to make me feel pretty carsick. Thank goodness what's-his-name let me yack away or else I might have had to throw up from the excitement.
I was the only one to get off in Squamish and spent an agonizing twenty minutes in the dark at the Adventure Centre waiting for the cab ... or wolves to drag me into the forest. Finally he arrived and I got paid-back for my chattiness earlier as he yabbered on about where the cops hide and stories of drunk drivers. Next thing I know, we're in a road block and the RCMP officer is asking for his license and wouldn't you know it? It's nowhere to be found. So close and yet so far!! Once we got that out of the way, I arrived at last to Cottonwood Road and the welcoming arms of my charming and handsome host for the weekend. Plus he had a cheese-board so I couldn't have been happier.
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With the bike built, it was time for bed. I knew that even with the late hour the jet lag and my own ridiculous excitement would have me up plenty early. What I didn't expect was sun in my eyes! Practically frantic with excitement, I loaded up my camelback and set out. It wasn't long before I met another couple dudes out for a sunny ride. They were headed the opposite way on the trail I was on ... Wonderland. How appropriate. They stopped to say hello and asked, "hey, are you that racer from Ontario?" Wow, famous already! Turns out the bike shop where I'd stopped, Republic, is run by a super nice guy who knows a bunch of the same people I know, including Sweet Pete. MTB is such a small world. He helped me get sorted out and gave some fabulous directions. Anyway, he told them I'd been in the shop that morning. I stood out on day-one anyway. For some reason I decided to geek-out in our new kits which I think are pretty dope, but also very ... lycra. And heckleable if you're just out for a trail ride. Still, I wanted to feel racy so I dressed the part.
Next thing I know, I'm in a peleton anyway. I was the 18th rider to join a Good-Friday group ride which became "The Blob". By the end, we were just a couple short of 30 riders. They treated me to quite an adventure. It was my first day really riding offroad, and my first day in BC and I swear it was the gnarliest trail I have ever seen -- including the time I went downhilling at Mont Ste Anne. And so the "girl from Ontario" continued to make a name for herself as she cheerily hiked-a-bike over drops and crags she'd think twice about on foot, let alone with only four inches in the front. It was fantastic!! We ripped around Alice Lake for four hours in a combo of freeride, XC and straight up DH trails including Jack's Trail, Marc My Words, and others whose names I can't remember.
Here are some shots from sunny day one (click the image to make it bigger):
The second day of riding ended up being -- no word of a lie -- the best ride of my life. I was discouraged because it was wet and grey out when I woke up. More along the lines of what the forecaster predicted. But with Matt and Joe on their way in from Vancouver, it was do or die. I knew Joe was coming, but I'd never met him before -- or so I thought. Turns out he was on the ride with the Blob the day before as well. See? Small world. We hopped into the Kona van and visited Tantalus bike shop to get advice on where to go. Then we headed up to Garibaldi Highlands behind Quest University for the goods. We climbed a logging road for an hour and 15 minutes ... even past the snow line ... before we ducked into Recycle. Along the way, the road narrowed into double track and pink ribbons began appearing with BC Bike Race marked. My heart was all aflutter.
Recycle ended up being some of the flowiest, whoop-worthy single track I've ever rode. It was perfect pitch for an XC bike and even though it was wet, it was tacky as hell. I could have done that all day. The three of us were hollering all the way and grinning like idiots. Best of all, as I got to know the limits of my bike, I found that she just kept on surprising me. I think this is definitely the start of a beautiful friendship. It hung onto the tightest switchbacks, descended like a champ without making me feel like I was on my way ass over tea kettle. The suspension did indeed stay active even as I grabbed fistfuls of back brake to get around the next glorious corner.
And so it went all the way back down into Squamish. Along the way, we visited a famed pump track just emerging from the forest floor. We ran into some guys out with chainsaws working on trail features and clearing. Obviously the builders in the area take a lot of pride in their work. Which I would like to take this opportunity to comment on. Everyone I met this weekend clearly considered themselves not only riders, but members of a community. It seemed that most of the conversations around me were about where to build next, trails being cut and sharing everything from homemade energy bars to best training techniques. Maybe it's just me but in Ontario/Toronto it sometimes feels like people keep their cards close to their chest until it's time to squabble over dirt jumps, the Don Valley or dog walkers. It was great being in a such a positive setting and it's no wonder the sport is thriving in Squamish. All the trails I saw (and I saw a lot by the end of the weekend) were beautifully maintained. There was no trash to pick up and everyone smiled at each other whether on bikes, walking dogs, or hiking with their families. It's a network to be proud of.
So here are some photos from day two:
Day three was the wettest day yet and the rain looked more like what we're used to in Ontario rather than the friendly mist you get on the west coast. Nonetheless, my friends from the first day promised to meet for a 10 am ride so I got suited up and headed out half expecting to ride alone. To my surprise, I had some company afterall! Mikhail (I think that was his name and apologize if I missed it!) was my Easter bunny and pushed my tired legs through precisely the workout I had hoped for. Tight, twisty singletrack with a few long falseflat efforts. Everything was emerald green from the moisture and the air was sweet and fresh, cooling my lungs with every breath. Although we didn't stay out long I was satisfied. We found ourselves back on Wonderland. Close by return!
So a huge thank you to everyone who helped me find my way this weekend. It was unforgettable and I can't wait to come back again. Test of Metal? Gearjammer? I'd even come for a twoonie race.