Words and Photo by Danielle Baker
Bamfield is not a city. It is more of a small town or village. You can not pass through it to go anywhere and you are lucky to arrive there, over the logging road, with your car intact. This is where I grew up. It is where I learned the value of being a part of a community. Our commonality was our location and, as a result, we also shared the desire to survive the winters of isolation, power outages and harsh west coast storms. Some of us are drawn to Bamfield, some driven to it. Some long for a simpler existence, some are social outcasts, others are retired, or entrepreneurs, and still others have been there for many generations; the reasons that their families originally called it home, long since forgotten.
We form a motley and mismatched extended family. All ages, ethnicities, denominations, opinions (of which there are many), and abilities exist within our community and because of that we function and we have identity. I grew up learning from people I may never otherwise have had the opportunity to meet and I enjoyed a sense of safety that came from many caring eyes, which was great unless you were trying to get into the community hall dance underage.
When I left home, mostly to find work and to date someone I wasn’t related to, I left my community behind. I was lost. I had friends and family, but something was missing. It wasn’t until I found mountain biking and the people who make mountain biking happen that I felt at home again. My community was no longer a physical location. It was a common interest with no fixed address.
For many, mountain biking, itself, is our small town; we have nothing in common but our love of riding. This passion for riding allows us to connect outside of our every day peer groups. Sometimes we will find ourselves climbing next to someone thirty years our senior and hearing about their time devoted to building the trails we are now riding. Coaching kids camps puts our skill set in perspective and allows us to feel the pride of investing in someone else’s future. Communities support each other, local talent, local business, local people. And contrary to what some may think, most contributions to our community happen off the bike.
I recently spent some time back in Bamfield and I could see a shift in the community dynamic; fishing has slowed down and many of the ‘old-timers’ who set the tone in our town have passed away. Recent generations have left to find work elsewhere. Houses are being bought by summer residents; people who aren’t fortunate enough to have weathered the storms and power outages of coastal winters. These are people who have not bailed a neighbor’s sinking boat or delivered a full propane tank to a family in need. With the transition to part-time residents who are less invested in community initiatives, there comes more division, more ‘no moorage’ and ‘private property’ signs, fewer friendly smiles and hellos and lower attendance at community fundraisers and events.
Irma, who is 97, has seen Bamfield grow from a tiny coastal community of fisherman and homesteaders to a booming summer metropolis of sports fisherman, gas docks, corner stores and tourists, and now transition yet again to a quiet small community where, even at the height of summer, the harbor feels empty. Over a cup of coffee she said. “Bamfield hasn’t changed, the people have. When I sit here in the evening the light still hits the trees across the harbor the same way it did when I was kid.”
Maybe we can’t wax quite so poetic about mountain biking as Irma can about the changing Bamfield harbour, but even in this instance, everything I need to know about community, I learned in Bamfield. The culture of our biking community is a living thing and has developed over the years along with mountain biking styles, interests, politics and contributors. With mountain biking expanding and becoming more mainstream and accessible, our communities may start to become diluted. We will have more riders with less ‘off-the-bike’ participation, less interest in being involved and less understanding of our culture. We will start to have ‘summer residents.’ But while our mountain biking community may evolve, our passion for bikes will remain unchanged. Bikes are bikes and it is just mountain biking.
We can look forward to and take pride in the children who are growing up in our culture. We are just starting to see the first generation of children growing up in our industry, the families that mountain biking feeds. Just like any small community, these kids might hitchhike out of town as fast as they can. They might rebel by joining the circus or never taking off their training wheels and signing up for synchronized swimming instead of slopestyle. But here’s the important thing: because they will have grown up in our community, they will take it everywhere they go and will recognize a community when they find it, whether they are drawn to it by interest or geographic location.
We invest in our community to grow our community… and when we are really good at it, we are actually investing in communities everywhere.