Photos by Union Production Co.
Words by Dave Roth
Over the past seven days, we’ve covered more than 260 miles to reach Denman Island following our departure from Whistler, BC. It’s been go-go-go in an attempt to see as much as we could and that’s meant not wasting a minute of the day. Tonight we have chosen to slow down, and yet keep going, by kicking back with a few suds in what can only be described as the Canadian dream: a cabin, on the waterfront, with a fire roaring.
We’re staying on Denman tonight, but the reason for our visit to this zone was to experience the trails on neighboring Hornby Island. On any other day, we’d hardly bat an eye at the small punchy climbs on Hornby’s flowing trails. Today though, every slight, short incline was a brutal reminder of the cumulative hours we’ve spent on the road reaching this island. Despite the pain, we found good (and weird) times on Hornby with the assistance of local Cumberland riders Jeremy Grasby, proprietor of the Riding Fool Hostel, and Martin Ready, of Island Mountain Rides .
Hornby Island juts out of the Georgia Straight with a wall of trees and rock that are visible from nearby Denman Island. Hornby, largely settled decades ago by American draft dodgers, is home to about a thousand year-round residents and a huge network of fast and flowy singletrack that covers much of the island’s 11.5 square miles. The atmosphere on the island is rural and clearly left-leaning; sightings of grey beards, dreadlocks and tie die are the norm. Really though, you might never guess what is hidden on this island.
Our day began with a quick, pre-dawn ride downhill from Cumberland’s Riding Fool hostel towards Buckley Bay where we’d caught the ferry to Denman Island. Joining us on the day’s adventure was Martin Ready of Cumberland’s Island Mountain Rides. Fueled only by coffee, we made the hour-long ride just in time to grab a quick bite to eat and roll our bikes onto the 10:00 a.m. ferry.
We dropped the trailers at our accommodations for the night and with only a few minutes to catch the ferry over to Hornby, the four of us set out for some exploration and sampling of Hornby’s finest. Martin and Jeremy have been riding these trails for more than a decade, and were happy to share their knowledge.
A steep twenty-minute gravel road climb straight from the ferry took us to the beginnings of the vast network. From the entrance, you continue climbing a mellow cliffside trail with spectacular views of the Georgia Straight. Today, sea mist and a brisk wind created constantly changing light and contrast. It didn’t take long to reach the 1000-foot summit where the top is demarcated by a collection of Nepalese prayer flags and a rocky cairn.
We turned the bikes around pointing them downhill, temporarily forgetting our tired and aching legs, and began the first of several swoopy and perfectly flowing trails. As has been the case with much of the riding on this trip, it was all a blur of green as we booked on down to the bottom of the hill.
Jeremy and Martin suggested ending the ride with a visit to Tribune Bay Provincial Park. This time of year, the beach is deserted yet still stunningly beautiful. In the summer, it’s packed with holiday beach goers and sun seekers. The view was a fitting end to our descent.
With another hour ride back to the ferry at Gravelly Bay, we made a quick stop to refuel at the local food co-op. We picked up more food than we could possibly eat, devoured much of it on the patio, and met a friendly golden retriever who’d just received an application of mascara by a middle-aged woman who was, to use a technical term, clearly tripping balls.
A ferry hop and a quick pedal and we were back to the cabin. Although our group was largely made up of new and unfamiliar folks, the ride, a great meal and malty beverages made it feel like we were old friends.
We are past our halfway point now, a way marker that means things can only get easier, and yet harder still, from this point on. Thankfully, when our legs tire, the proximity of good folk keeps us smiling at our surroundings.