Photos by Union Production Co.
Words by Seb Kemp
The forest around Powell River is covered in a carpet of moss. Actually, scrap that, it’s covered in tablecloths, drapes, and valances of moss. It’s like a mountain biker’s green room and you get the feeling that if you stand around too long, it will start growing on you too. The only thing that seems not to be green is the 430 kilometers of brown snaking trail that winds on and on around the forests here.
The town of Powell River is here precisely because of all the forest. Logging camps were established in the Powell River area in the 1880s and became a regular stop for the Union Steamship Company. Then in 1910, construction of a pulp and paper mill on the waterfront began. By 1912 the first roll of newsprint went off Number One paper machine. By 1930, the mill employed more than 2,000 workers, and had become the largest newsprint mill in the world.
The logging, the paper pulp mill, and the nearby sawmill meant the town was tied very closely to the forests. However, these days Powell River isn’t the boomtown it used to be.
These days the town is shifting its focus a little, though that focus is still tied to the forests. The mild climate and huge swathes of mountain and forest wilderness make Powell River an attractive proposition for mountain bikers and other outdoorsy types.
Today we were met at our hotel (the Old Courthouse Inn ) by members of the Powell River Cycling Association and taken on a tour of the trails. The group was made up of Lyle, Hugo, Mike, Ron and Linda. While on our ride, we were also joined by father and son Sunday shredders, Robert and Thomas.
The group’s age and experience spanned the spectrum, but one thing that was clear was that everyone had a passion for the trails they help care for and the town they call home.
We rode with Lyle (apologies to everyone that I never got your last names), a young music teacher who moved away from Powell River for several years but is more than a little pleased to be back in his hometown, working and making a life for himself. Mike and Hugo were both local professionals who moved here because of the work available, but also the quality of life that their family’s could enjoy.
Robert and Thomas were out on a Sunday loop. Last fall Robert was buying a new mountain bike from local bike shop, Suncoast Cycles, when he figured that he should bargain a little harder for the late season deals and be able to purchase a fresh bike for his son, too. Now they get to spend time in the forest together, sharing the thrills and experience of the trails.
Ron Diprose is recently retired but spends much of his time maintaining or building trails. Ron estimates that between himself and a few others they have put in 100 hours of work on the trails already this year. Last year PRCA contributed around 1,700 hours of trail care, with perhaps 600 put in by Ron himself. Linda is a member of the Wild Women, a group of riders – all of the fairer sex – who banded together to create some regularly-scheduled rides (Monday and Wednesday from spring to fall) that give each other a little support in a testosterone-free environment and provide a sense of community.
What struck me after the third or fourth hour of pedaling was that these people seemed so utterly distanced from the hype, hoopla, and nonsense that all too often crowds mountain biking. No one asked about kit, discussed their latest gear purchases, or speculated as to what new innovation would be better for their riding. Most riders rode bikes that were well used but well looked after. No one wore the latest fluro-jazz clothing. No one discussed what bike Aaron Gwin was riding. Instead, it was simple, pure, grassroots, honest mountain biking. It was a bullshit-free zone, and we greatly enjoyed that.
We spent most of the day looping the green and gold treasures that wind through the forests, but the real riches we discovered were the down-to-earth people who seem to experience mountain biking sremoved from the baloney that distracts us from what really got us into mountain biking in the first place: time spent communing with our surroundings and the people we share that space and time with.