Me and my Mountain Bike: A Love/Sometimes Hate Story

This winter brought a record dumping of snow in Squamish- It was crazy!
Despite making the best of it and embracing winter I think we all started to grow a little tired of it…Ok…a lot tired of it.

The arrival of spring – FIIIIIINAAAAAAALLY has me thinking more about sunshine, green spaces and getting back on my bike!

Myself and Sue riding Half Nelson, Squamish BC

In the last few years I’ve come along way on the ol’ mountain bike. I bought my first “Big girl bike” as I like to call it, a dual-suspension Norco Sight for those who want to know. I competed in my first race* and have taken some incredible riding trips all over BC.

* By race I mean fun, encouraging, AMAZING womens’ only social-enduro (where only the downhill portions are timed and scantily-clad male volunteers shoot vodka at you from water guns….I know, right?)

Hot on Your Heels (2016) | Photo credit: Adrian C. Armstrong

When I first started mountain biking- which was WAY back in 2008, I legitimately cried my way down the easiest trail on the mountain. It was a women’s night at Whistler Blackcomb Bike Park and I was terrified! After that first experience, I did end up taking a few more group lessons but had mixed feelings about the sport. It was HARD and it was SCARY and there were plenty of perceived and actual risks involved- in fact, there still are- obviously.

I was still am a sllloooowwwww progressor too. But luckily, I had a group of supportive friends and boyfriend that all rode bikes and helped me gain confidence, and skill. It also helped to be living in one of the world’s top mountain biking destinations; where there are limitless trails built for all riding abilities, and where bikes, gear, instructors, guides and enthusiasts abound.

mare bike
Riding my trusty hardtail, “Ramone” | Whistler Valley

In 2011 we moved to North Vancouver so I could attend University and it was then that I bought my first bike, a Commencal hard tail called “Ramone.” You have to really rrrrroooll the R in Ramone, by the way.

Mountain Bike 101 – Start on a Hard Tail
Now- It’s a highly disputed piece of advice to learn to ride on a hardtail- everyone you ask will have a different opinion about this. At the time, however this was the best option for me financially and it was the advice I chose to follow. Riding a hardtail meant a slower progression in terms of ability, but when it came time to finally transition to a bigger bike, I had a solid level of technique that I felt I’d earned (the hard way!).

Allow me to explain: Ramone forced me to become skilled at picking the appropriate lines to ride and made me use my legs A LOT on the downhill and over obstacles, because if you don’t- the bike takes YOU for a ride (and over the bars you go!).

Riding a hard tail also seems to have a secret underground community of supporters- strangers on the trail may shout things at you like, “YA HARDTAIL!” as you ride by- making you feel like a Pro. I miss those days.

I bought my Norco just before my first big trip to the Chilcotins in the summer of 2015. I still have my hardtail though, because ♥♥♥

Southern Chilcotin Region, BC | Photo credit: Peter O’loughlin

The Next Level- “The Chilcotins”  and Pushing my Limits
We went as a group of 7 (4 ladies, 3 gents) and camped at Tyax Resort on Tyaughton lake. We spent our days riding (literally all-f*&$ing-day on the Saturday) and our evenings were filled with BBQ, swimming, cold drinks, mosquitos – and arguing the merits of stand-up paddle boarding as a legitimate sport (the jury’s still out on that one).

This trip was probably the most physically exhausting and emotionally taxing riding trip to date -actual tears were shed, along with gallons of sweat… my only consolation being that everyone -at one point or another- was suffering as much as I was (Yay for togetherness!)

Efforts aside, a riding trip in the Chilcotins’ is like a mountain biker’s right of passage; although there are shorter trails you can shuttle, it’s known best for its long, grueling (to me, anyway) climbs that pay off with spectacular views, world class single-track descents, and an incomparable sense of accomplishment.

Bucket list item – 

Ladies of the Chilcotins (2015) | Photo credit: Mark Hill

The Chilcotin trip was so much fun that it became the catalyst for basically,  all our vacations being about mountain biking. We’ve ridden on Hornby Island, Cumberland, Mt. Washington, Quadra Island and countless amounts of times here in the Sea to Sky Corridor (Pemberton, Whistler, Squamish and North Vancouver).

Hornby Island- Where mediocre-level riders go to feel AWESOME… and experienced riders still have a fabulous time!

Looking across to Denman Island, from Hornby (2015) | Photo credit: Peter O’loughlin

Hornby Island is a tiny island of the coast of another tiny island, off the coast of Vancouver Island (from Squamish=3 ferries, 8 hrs) The trail networks are all the best F’s  (Fun, Fast and Flowy). Camping is a short drive/ride to the trailhead and the climbing is actually not that bad! We had a blast whipping around the tightly-knit network of trails on Hornby- I’ve never seen so much green moss in my life – and I live in a rainforest!

I’m just going to go ahead and take credit for at least partially getting my best friend into biking- and this was our first bike trip together! We brought the boyfriends and dog and shared a cottage in Ford’s Cove. Aside from riding, the four of us checked out the beaches, farmers markets and wineries on the island. Riding on Hornby is proof that riding trips can be fun, relaxed, AND classy.

Me and Pete heading up the lift | Whistler Mountain Bike Park

The Biking Community
One of the greatest things about mountain biking is the community of people who ride. A gathering of like minded, outdoorsy, fun, folks of all ages who will encourage you to try your best, offer you advice, direct you when lost, and not blink an eye when you’re covered in mud with your pants off in the parking lot- in fact, this is to be expected (and in some circles, celebrated).

A lil’ trail building with Pete | Leave of Absence – Squamish

Having a partner who is just as much an avid builder as he is bike rider, I’ve been introduced to the art of trail building.

What makes mountain biking unique is that the majority of riding trails are built and maintained by a dedicated group of volunteers. The amount of time and effort that goes into these trails is never ending! I’ll be the first to admit that my efforts are few and far between, but even mini helpers like me can play their part. Pictured above is the beginning stages of a bridge where Pete did the woodwork while I helped hammer nails, collect rocks and literally swept the forest floor. We brought snacks, a thermos of tea and spent a few hours playing hooky from work contributing to this trail.
* NOT pictured is Pete, or his continued efforts building this bridge which is now finished! 

Becoming a member of your local mountain bike association, like this one in Squamish  provides funding for trail maintenance, advocacy and fun, social activities like Toonie-rides, races and skills clinics. Consider contributing to the riding community by means of volunteering or purchasing a trail membership- it’s cheaper than a night-out’s worth of drinking and you’ll feel MUCH better the morning after!

NOTE: If you have tearful tales from the trail, I would LOVE to sympathize with you! leave your comments below. 

Author: Maré

outdoorsy girl with a thirst for travel, yoga, music, books, food and adventure (and also cats, I love cats)

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