Words by Seb Kemp
Photos by Union Production Co.
Sunrise was a gem today. Pink, wispy clouds hung over the water while a huge colony of sea lions barked, bald eagles swooped low over the sea to snatch fish, and a family of river otters cruised by on their commute to work/play/whatever otters do on a Wednesday morning in February.
We shared a fantastic breakfast with Jeremy and Martin, basking in the smell of coffee, porridge and sausages, until we spotted the time and realized we had to hustle in order to catch the ferry back to Vancouver Island. Most mornings have been slow to start, then build to a crescendo of chaos where bags are thrown onto the trailers, chains lubed, still-damp chamois are donned, and then we sprint out of the door, hoping that the piano string-tight tissues in our legs don't ping.
It feels like a stage race to be honest. We have set out to do a lot and all of it on a rather tight schedule. It gets hectic at times, exhausting at others. The fatigue is kicking in. Our legs aren't as snappy as they were, eyes feel heavy, and we cannot possibly eat too much now.
Today was a mad dash to Errington from Denman Island – 65 kilometers at a good clip – so Dave could phone-in a job interview and we could still get in a trail ride at the Hammerfest area near Coombs, something I did not think was going to be physically possible as we hummed down the highway with fat BOBs trailing us.
However, something peculiar happened once we arrived: I got a second wind.
I'm sure that this was entirely due to the people who came out to ride with us at Hammerfest. We were greeted by Paul Connor and Roy Kregosky, two bright-eyed gentlemen who are old enough to probably know better, but seem better for doing it anyway.
Roy is 70-years old, but the way he moved up the climbs and around the trails you wouldn't have guessed it. He has won the Test Of Metal race in his age category for the last four years. He is part of a subgroup called the Van-sortium – a group of six riders of this age who all chipped in for a fifteen-seat passenger van just so they could make big road trips to Moab, Durango, Oregon, or wherever they choose. They usually get away once in the spring and then twice in the fall, driving to the destination in one go, taking two-hour shifts behind the wheel.
Paul is a dentist who probably rides his bike more than just about anyone. On Sunday there is a regular social ride, on Wednesday nights there is a night ride (which happens 52 weeks a year, whatever the weather), and on Friday there is usually a meaty all-day ride. Then on Mondays and Thursdays Paul joins the local road cycling and triathlon clubs. Paul only got into mountain biking a few years ago, but now, with the regularly scheduled group rides, the tight knit nature of the local riding community, and camaraderie of his riding companions, mountain biking has become an essential component of his life.
We also met with Kebble Sheaff, the owner of Arrowsmith Bikes [http://arrowsmithbikes.com/] and also one of the main men behind the Hammerfest area of trails we were about to ride. Kebble opened his shop in 1994 and, around that time, also decided to start up a local mountain bike event. Back then, most mountain bike events (certainly on Vancouver Island) were weekend affairs that incorporated a downhill race, a cross-country race, maybe a trials or dual slalom event, music, and a bit of a party atmosphere – they were festivals rather than just races so someone came up with the name Hammerfest for this event. Kebble had been building a few trails in the area under Mount Arrowsmith, an area that didn't really have a name at the time, but after the first Hammerfest was held, the area just organically took on the name too. Kebble has been a major player in the Arrowsmith Mountain Bike Club ever since, including its formation.
We were also joined by Tam Crawford and his seventeen-year-old son, Takoda. Both father and son started riding about three years ago; they go to downhill races together (Tam raced for a season, but prefers to just let Takoda do the racing for the family now) and get out on the Hammerfest trails together a lot.
It's fair to say we had great people to show us the trails and help reinvigorate us.
We climbed to the power lines, taking in a snaking, skirting line of singletrack that never felt like we were climbing, except for the one or two spots that Roy and Paul would put the hammer down and scale the steepest sections as quick as rats up a drainpipe.
The view from the top afforded us views of almost all of our eight-day-long route up to this point. There was the Sea-to-Sky to the east, the massive stretch from Roberts Creek to Powell River (hidden by Texada Island but the rising steam from the pulp mill located it), and Hornby Island afloat in the Salish Sea. It was a good moment to reflect on our journey so far and understand why our legs felt as heavy as lead. But I didn't feel tired anymore. I felt recharged and energized. I started the day feeling drained and had felt utterly pooped as I approached the trailhead, but from the moment we shook hands with all the riders I felt entirely different. Like a new man.
Which is good because "Jughead" trail was another highlight of the trip. Perfectly sculpted turns, almost natural rollers, and effortless flow; it was the kind of trail that has everyone, absolutely everyone, grinning and hollering like half-witted schoolchildren who have just eaten their way through a giant bag of Skittles.
As I rode Jughead I thought I could profile the trail builder: presumably some late 20s, ex-downhiller with a BMX background, who has at least one tattoo. However, it turns out that the man responsible for the most recent incarnation of this trail is a 60-year-old lawyer.
Yeah, mind blown.
We shared a parking lot beer with the assembled riders following the ride, but Paul and Roy were keen to keep going. They didn't want to miss out on the Wednesday night ride, so they hustled their lights together, said farewell, and blasted back into the trails like two teenagers. I looked down at my odometer and it read 82 kilometers. I should have felt tired, but seeing the vigor of Paul and Roy made me want to join them for more laps and loops.
Instead, we showered and joined our host for the night, Hugh Fletcher, for dinner. Hugh has probably been responsible for getting and keeping more people on bikes than anyone (particularly himself) would be keen to count. Hugh simply says, "As a doctor, I like to promote healthy living," but it obviously goes further than that.
Hugh was responsible for getting a BMX track built in Nanaimo back in 1994, he helped get a school mountain bike program going (now they have 80 kids in the program, with teachers and parents falling over themselves to be involved), he was the local club president for ten years, put together the Island Cup, which pulled together local communities into cooperating for a larger good. Last, but not least, Hugh orchestrated the legendary Rowbottom Ramble—an epic, distance race that had three enforced five-minute rest stops where racers where entertained by buxom girls serving tea and scones, a string quartet, amplified rock music, and girl guides handing out cookies and coke. The finish line was at a hot tub.
Hugh says he just wanted to encourage participation, community, and accessibility. Judging from the things people have said about him, I think he succeeded.
Reflecting on all the people we met today (and everyone we have met on this trip) it makes me wonder why we, as a mountain bike community, celebrate the celebrities. Professional athletes, and the fast and brave riders are revered, while we overlook the people who really make mountain biking happen. The trail builders, the event organizers, the shop employees, the guides, the guys working on trail advocacy, the guys who turn up to every club meeting, who volunteer at events, drive their buddies when they are injured, the fathers and mothers who support their kids, and the people who take someone out for their first ride. These people are the true core of our sport and community and I feel we have taken them for granted, everywhere, for too long.
Meeting these people – the real cogs that make mountain biking go around – is what fuels us on our trip now. Our bodies might be tired, but our spirits keep rising because we are being invited to see into the heart of mountain biking. And if Roy and Paul can keep going late into the night, then we can too.