I'd seen photos of it for years. Dark, steep slope silhouettes with riders barely visible within the frame, specs--ants really. And it always looked like the mountainside was overshadowed by a never-ending sea of larger, distant ridgelines. Waves waiting to crest, building. Rugged, rock, alpine ridgeopia. Overbearing, hungry black-and-whites in the day's color. Ominous.
Then I heard rumblings as friends went to RockShox's Lyrik launch. But it wasn't wincing wails that warbled my way, it was sheer unabashed joy. They had fun. A shit ton it sounded like.
And I began to wonder what Retallack was all about. Where was this impacted land of disheveled tectonic uplift? I only knew that jammed within B.C.'s ranges perched a lodge that housed a helicopter, Unimog-looking shuttle rigs and legend of exhaustive tech lines plummeting downward. It seemed to carry with it that surfer-esque hidden rite of passage feel, but stories continued to surface of long nights and endless laughter. How did you even get there?
Leading up to Bike's Pilgrimage was a blur. Helping put the September issue to bed--with a heavy emphasis on editing, piling into a pickup with six long-travel rigs for Mammoth testing, rewriting a supporting feature for a collaborative piece we were very fortunate to take part in, then boarding a plane bound for Bellingham, with no idea what to expect. I needed a full-face and DH casings, that was it.
The truck tiptoed off the two-lane and bumbled its way to a rest in the parking lot. We were there.
And before I had time to wonder why the lodge was so accessible--why wasn't it a black castle, poised over a cliff, forever being struck by lightning--music casually wafted my way over green grass. Easy ’80s tunes lulled in the foreground. This was Retallack. It was a palace, not a dungeon.
The casual ease of the soundtrack carried over into everything we did. We ate, at our own pace, on our own time--an 8am breakfast, a 7pm dinner--no need to get up too early, we drank--it's unavoidable there--though we had our sober soldiers who survived fine too, and we rode. And that's all we had to worry about.
Everything else was seamless, so easy it almost hurt. The RockShox-branded military shuttle rig, a M1078 LMTV would shudder awake, bikes, guides and guests would board and away we'd hoist. Upward, grunting and clawing at logging roads, brushing past foliage.
At each junction, we'd gather and learn what we'd encounter down trail. Kiara, our lead guide would explain where to line our wheel, what to expect on the other side, how much speed to carry, all in a calmly sensible manner with phrases I'd never heard that made complete sense, like "on-sighting." Shredder or DH bike first timer, the sermon made sense, equally appreciated.
Our group of varying prowess but equal devotion had no trouble staying together. Everybody moved along quickly, everybody pushed it, nobody outrode his or her abilities. It was eerily simple, and a direct result of Kiara and Louis' guiding expertise.
We spent a day on the treed, tight twisty trails lower down, snapping machine-built berms together gaining a sense of speed, flow and familiarity for roots and duff before heading up the second day onto the upper reaches of Reco Peak's flank. Open-meadow singletrack sputtered over stone while adjacent palisades formed a not-so-distant watchful guard.
As the M1078 kept rumbling and blaring, our appetite for trails grew, even as our stamina waned. Fortunately, this isn't Retallack Lodge's first go of things. Politely, though assertively, they cut us off early our second night, pulling the karaoke machine's plug. A heli drop was in order.
As a kid in high school watching VHS tapes of bikes dangling beneath whirring blades, I never thought heli-assisted riding would ever be attainable, much less affordable or even viable. It was reserved for James Bond only. Regardless of it still being quite expensive, it's more within reach every passing day, you can read more about its impact and accessibility here.
Standing precariously atop Texas Peak is a humbling experience. Earth and rock hopelessly resist gravity's freefall, mountains somehow thrust upward despite chasm-like valleys etching into their flanks. It's unsettling. Slate slabs clanked beneath my straddling feet as I surveyed a purview of inexhaustible peaks. As vertigo subsided, it was time for the rock chute.
I really didn't know what to expect. We were atop a mountain, would there even be trails? As we shimmied down the chute, pulled off camber with a sense of magnetic attraction, things felt real. We traversed a ridge and turns fell beneath our tires in fall lines. This was steep, committed riding but catch berms lateralled us onward. It was a contradictory feeling: raw and natural buttressed with head-high berms, later transitioning to long setup tables. Man meeting mountain in agreement over scale.
All good things do come to an end, even if it feels like the party's only hitting its high note and I think each rider let out somewhat of a sigh as we skidded to a stop in front of the shuttle truck. Safe, no injuries, all smiles. After a few lower laps, battling lethargy that heavily settled where anxiety previously welled, we were done. Time to settle bar tabs and follow the double yellow, nine hours back to Bellingham.
Retallack Lodge is a special place. It confirms that a backcountry lodge cat-skiing business plan shamelessly built around fun makes nothing but sense for riding bikes. And Bike couldn't be more fortunate to have it host the inaugural Pilgrimage. A huge thank you to all who attended--you know who you are--and the sponsors that made it possible and kept us looking fresh: 100%, Giro and CamelBak.
Here's to next year's Pilgrimage. We can't wait.