Just about everywhere in British Columbia there are stories of a mysterious being in the forest. We hear plenty of them on our riding road trip across British Columbia's Yellowhead Highway: gold rush ghosts, First Nation spirits, Big Foot, Sasquatch. On the mountain bike trails of Prince George, it's Barry Hagen.
"I know what his van looks like," Glenn King tells us as we pedal uphill from the parking lot at Pidernhy Recreation Area, one of three main riding areas in town. "It's always in the parking lot. But I have never actually seen the guy."
It seems odd because King has lived in Prince George, the largest city in northern B.C., for most of his life. He rides almost daily, is an integral part of the riding community and has even made films about the mountain biking here. Meanwhile, Hagen is the most devoted, passionate and prodigious trailbuilder in the north, maybe even the whole province. A rough estimate tallies up 20 miles of trail he built at Pidherny and Otway, the other main riding area. He built most of it solo, some with his wife Thelma. In his spare time from his full-time duties as a doctor. And a grandfather. Oh, and he's 79.
"He's out there all the time, even in the shittiest weather," says Mark Trumphour, a busy trailbuilder in his own right and owner of Ruckus, the main mountain bike shop in town. "No one works harder. And he does phenomenal work."
King leads us on a tour of Hagen's efforts. After an initial steep climb, the terrain levels off and we twist and turn through the spruce, pine and birch forest. At the top we link onto Macleod, a Hagen classic. King takes off, setting a screaming pace on the basically flat terrain. The soil is sandy, packed hard, smooth and fast. The trail swings around a tree, through a hollow, up a quick climb, a short straight and then more turns back and forth through the woods. Partway along we jump onto Pulawski for more of the same—natural, fast single track that's just fun to ride.
Hagen started building in 1994 and hasn't stopped. His trails trend toward mellow, maintaining flow without built-up features, jumps or berms. Plenty of that patiently awaits nearby. Later, King leads us higher into the network’s known new-school terrain—Papa Woods, President's Choice and Kitchen Sink, boasting long and interesting wooden features, a variety of jumps and endless banked corners. The trailbuilders here know how to milk PG's limited vertical.
But it's Hagen's skill for turning nothing into something that puts a smile on everyone's face that morning. It's a reminder that you don't need much aside from space, dirt and muscle to turn forest into riding fun. I try to connect with the elusive Hagen before we leave town, but he never returns my calls or emails. Maybe he'd rather stay anonymous. More likely he's just too busy to talk.
Trails: Find maps for all the trails at Prince George Cycling Club’s website.
Stay: The newest hotel in PG, Marriott Courtyard Prince George, is centrally located within walking distance of the best coffee, food and brewery and serves an awesome breakfast.
Coffee: On your way to the trails grab a cup at Ritual Coffee Bar.
Beer: Crossroads Brewing not only has a diverse line up of internationally inspired beers, but also serves deadly pizza.
Food: Share platters are the way to go at the Copper Pig BBQ. Not only are they filling but $1 from every order goes to community projects.
Bike Shop: Just about everyone at Ruckus is involved in trail development and mountain biking in some way.