Photos by Dan Barham
Words by Seb Kemp
A little fluff was falling from the sky, barely penetrating the forest canopy, but sure enough, it was snowing somewhere up high. Underneath the pine umbrella the brown pow was ripe: forgiving, gluey, and still zippy.
The Sunshine Coast dirt, made famous by the Coastal Crew, is the stuff mountain bikers’ dreams are made of. But beyond the bounty of gold dirt, the thing that makes this place so special to ride is that there are trails: carved-and-cared-for-by-mountain bikers trails. And while this can be the case in any locale with a core community of bikers, on the Sunshine Coast there are soome rather unique factors at play as well.
We started the day off at the Sprockids Mountain Bike Park, just a stone’s throw from the ferry terminal. Skills parks are popping up in communities all over the globe these days, but it was this particular park that led the way for every single one one of them.
Sprockids was developed In 1990 as a self-esteem/anger management program by local school teacher, Doug Detwiller. The idea behind it was, in Doug's words, "To involve young people in the lifelong healthy sport of mountain biking, while teaching them the skills, values and strategies to succeed in school and in life."
Young people are readily empowered to be the greatest and most powerful advocacy group in trail conservation. For a generation of riders, it was Sprockids that helped them form a personal relationship with their surroundings and to take ownership of the environment, ensuring its care well into the future.
Through the sport of mountain biking, students develop a strong sense of self-esteem, and hopefully discover the potential within themselves. The Sprockids program has expanded to 17 countries and operates through schools, community centers, boys and girls clubs, and cycling clubs. Each Sprockids program serves as a template for other communities that want to build a community teaching park of their own.
For the past twenty years Sprockids has made a huge impact on young people growing up here. The Coastal Crew's Dylan Dunkerton and Curtis Robinson, Katherine Short, Kris Snedden and the UCI Junior World Champion Downhiller Holly Feniak were all part of this program. The dedication that Doug Detwiller has shown in helping young people to mold their own lives, both personally and athletically, is considerable.
In 1993, 54 hectares of land was secured by the Sunshine Coast Regional District through the Crown Land tenure for the use of the Sprockids youth skills development project. Doug, in essence, created North America's first officially recognized skills park.
These days there are numerous skills features that progress in difficulty, a pump track, a range of dirt jumps, and freeride features. But that is just the beginning. Beyond all those features, there are some of the funnest, most flowy trails in British Columbia. Buff singletrack is something of a rarity in this corner of the mountain biking world, which is better represented by the hellish and unfriendly North Shore trails in Vancouver, just a forty-minute ferry ride away.
Some of these trails are built by volunteers, some by commercial trail-building agencies, and some by the local youth community. Students from Capilano University in Sechelt also pitch in–the university offers the only accredited course in Mountain Biking Management in Canada, and the Bike Park is the ongoing teaching site for their students.
We started off the day here, at Sprockids - having the whole day to ride just singletrack in a single spot was a welcome break, even if we are barely into the journey yet. Sure, it tried snowing, but after leaving the mainland we feel less intimidated by the weather. Instead, we could enjoy the damp dirt and fine traction.
In the afternoon we rode in the BNK "zone" (a BC term which vaguely denotes everything and nothing). Here the gradient still favors the trail bike, even if the easy access fire road also often attracts shuttlers as well. Fast and flowy, the trails here move the rider through lush, green forest undergrowth and wind around the forest monsters that were left by foresters and the pecker poles that have arisen since regrowth.
It really is hard to have a bad day here. Once we started to run out of daylight in the woods (happy to call it a day after enough brown pow to choke an elephant), we noticed the impressionist-style sunset that was forming ahead of us, so down to the beach it was.
After some time at the beach, it was time to hit the hob and hot tub for the night. Fortunately, Up The Creek hostel in Robert's Creek boasted a practical kitchen and a readied jacuzzi. Tomorrow we have a very big day on the road - 103 kilometers to Powell River, including a tight ferry connection - so thankfully we can rest well tonight before that burner.
Interview With Martin Prestage, Up The Creek Hostel Owner
Up The Creek is perhaps the homiest of all hostels. In fact, calling it a hostel doesn't even do it justice. It's more of a domicile that the owner, Martin Prestage, opens to the public.
I've stayed at UTC several times before, and I've always enjoyed speaking with Martin, a man who clearly knows himself and has seen more of the world than most people have seen of their own town.
Nine years ago Martin opened Up The Creek hostel in Robert's Creek. He'd moved to B.C. twelve years ago after five years spent cycling the world.
One day, while out racing with a friend, on the back straight of the last lap, the idea of just pedaling on after the finish line struck him. It was a radical moment, but it was enough to make the changes to see that happen. "I sold or gave everything I owned away. I really didn't think I'd ever need it again. I maybe glamorized the idea of being murdered in the middle of nowhere but really, there was a real danger that might happen."
Martin rode from Britain to Australia, via the length of Africa, India, and Asia. That was his life for three and half years - often camping on the side of the road for three out of four days - until he started running out of money. Broke, he went to Hong Kong, worked in a pub for six weeks ("I never thought I'd be able to work for anyone again so it was a soft job.") and then after trying to restart his life in the UK, he flew to Calgary and tried to ride to South America. Martin, however, was derailed by love and only made it to Costa Rica, after which he moved to B.C. and started a new life.
"Starting the hostel was really to combine my two passions in life: cycle and travel. I suppose I started it because wanted to give something back. After traveling for five years it felt like giving something back. While traveling I had always been given free nights in peoples houses or beds for the night in hostels, so I felt like giving back."
To fit in with this ethos Martin has created a welcoming environment that feels like you are welcomed into his home. "I never lock the doors. I lend people my car. I don't need to shave, I can cook in the kitchen and have a chat with people. I think, as a society, we have too many possessions, so I like to share what we have.
Nowadays, it's like the world comes to Martin, "I live vicariously through people even though I don't travel now. It's the people that make it. I get a constant flow of people through and that's why I love doing this now."
But the hostel isn't Martin's only daily motivation. He owns and co-directs Life Cycle, an organization that teaches cycle safety to young children, and he also sits on the board of TRAC (Transportation Choices), a non-profit organization that aims to promote sustainable transportation, such as bicycle lanes and car pooling.
Cycle tourism makes up 30-40 percent of UTC's business, something Martin could only have dreamt was possible when he opened the doors. "Cycling, and particularly mountain biking, is certainly growing here. Every year something adds on and gives this place a little lift."
With people like Martin, Doug and many others who make this such a dynamic community for change, I can only imagine what the Sunshine Coast will look like in years to come. I know the smiles on the faces of the riders will look just as shit eating as ours after today.