The pedal of my bike is in one hand, my front fork in the other, my bike swung over my back with the weight resting on my shoulders. My lungs are burning as if the tall evergreen trees towering over me are sucking the oxygen out of the air. The trail is faint; a few muddy footsteps lead me. The deep breaths of Jacqueline close behind me push me forward. The sun lances through the breaks in foliage acting as a canopy above us. We have been hiking for 40 minutes. It feels like four hours. We pause for a moment and I ask myself, “why I can’t be a person who is satisfied with bus tours and city trips?”
Our guide tells us only 20 more minutes. I take another step forward, upwards. The coastline is kilometres away, but I swear I can hear the crashing of the waves on the old, abandoned ships that act as a seawall around the small forestry town of Powell River. I see a break in the trees and the terrain begins to transform from moss covered forest floor to a raw, rocky pathway. We emerge above the tree line, the spectacular view greets our eyes and smiles break across our faces. It is in this moment I am reminded why I love the challenge and the reward of going where few others have gone.
To understand how I got here, I have to first take you back to the Swiss Alps in the fall of 2015. I was fresh off the plane from Kamloops to Chur to study Tourism Management. Two weeks before hopping on the plane, I bought my first mountain bike after months of borrowing my older brother’s. I joined in on the Twin’s Women Only Mountain Bike Camp hosted by friends and enduro pros, Caro and Anita Gehrig. It was here where I met Jacqueline Odermatt. She studied at the same university and we quickly became fast friends, sharing a love for anything that brought us to the mountains.
Now the roles are reversed. Jacqueline is on her way to Canada to bike for a month after being selected as the lucky winner of Mountain Biking BC’s 7-Day Giveaway Contest. A truly unique opportunity to spend a full week riding some of British Columbia’s legendary trails along with professional guides and a media crew to capture the adventure. When Jacqueline chose me to join her for the trip, I jumped at the chance!
As I returned home—sad, as I had to leave the Alps—my spirits were buoyed by the thought of rediscovering home on my bike. I had learned the world renowned reputation of British Columbia as a bike destination and was motivated by the number of foreign riders I had met who knew my home better than me.
To start the trip, Jacqueline and I flew north up the Sunshine Coast with Geoff Gulevich and Margus Riga to meet with the rest of our team for the week: Kelli Sherbinin and Darren Butler from Endless Biking (our guides for the week), Ambrose Weingart, our videographer, and Martin Littlejohn, founder of Mountain Biking BC. We were welcomed to Powell River in true small-town BC style and headed out on the trails within an hour, all of us eager to see what the locals had to show us.
I have to admit, I was nervous. Although my riding had come a long way, I knew that I was the weakest link. We set up the bikes and headed out on the trails around the pristine and protected Duck Lake, a local favourite and perfect for an evening ride. In the words of Geoff, “It looked about as green as the carpet in your crazy auntie’s basement, who went to one too many music festivals.” The terrain was different than what I was used to in Switzerland.
Ask any Powell River local and they will tell you, “all the downhill tracks are really 30% uphill.”
We experienced this first hand after an epic adventure to a trail that had been ridden less than 100 times called Civic Disobedience. The effort just to get to it was testing (see introduction paragraph) but the ride made it all worthwhile. It was loamy and creative, like a roller coaster through the forest. Best of all, the trail builder John Rapp rode it with us. We were treated to a beautiful sunset when we reached the top and landed at a lake on the way down. It was dark by the time we made it out and with only 20 minutes to closing time at Townsite Brewing, the local brewery, the race was on! Luckily for us, we made it just in time for last call.
Coast Gravity Park & Roberts Creek
Our next destination was the Coast Gravity Park (CGP) and after a gruelling previous day, none of us were opposed to a little shuttling. Jacqueline and I were excited to experience the park and it definitely delivered. The love that goes into those trails is evident everywhere you look. A close second to the trails is the people. CGP isn’t just for “park rats” and big bikes. You’ll meet everyone from funky dressed Belgian riders to little shredder girls who are barely taller than your handlebars. We were exhausted, though, and it showed. Jacqueline took a few tumbles (like a champ, of course), but what struck me the most was the trust that was built from these unfortunate situations. Seconds after falling, Geoff, Kelli, and Darren were on scene and had Jacqueline back feeling stable and ready for another try. There is no doubt that mountain biking can be dangerous—and at times you feel very exposed—but who you choose to surround yourself with is key.
A visit to the Sunshine Coast isn’t complete without a stop at Roberts Creek – or so my Swiss friends tell me; they seem to know far more about my province than I do! It’s well known and for good reason. A few more shuttles later and a trip down Mach Chicken and we are cheering our way down the trail. Spirits were high. So high that I gave a gap jump a go. Coming into the trip, I knew that Kelli and Darren would be there as our guides, but both went above and beyond by coaching and encouraging us to try things outside our comfort zone.
Next up was the Fraser Valley (AKA farmland and highway). What could be here for riding? Tyler Maine—our guide for the day—assured us there was plenty, so Vedder Mountain and Sumas Mountain were up! On Vedder, we found a gem called Black Hawk Down. Loose dirt, long steep, loamy chutes, and plenty of hooting and hollering! Later in the day, we headed over to Sumas Mountain for some classic Fraser Valley riding and found Squid Line. Ambrose—once a Fraser Valley local was grinning ear-to-ear on one of his favourite trails. For years, I had driven past these mountains on my way between Kamloops and the coast, unaware of what they offered. Never again!
Bear Mountain was next and Darren told us about the old days of the original downhill track called Super Bear that had taken out its fair share of riders. We hit Super Bear, Bobsled, and Lorax and then I hit a tree. My intuition had warned me that a crash was coming. Unexpectedly, I was ejected shoulder first into a tree – shaken up and a little short of breath but nothing critical. Now I really felt like one of the team, and with the scars to prove it!
That evening we headed back into Vancouver. Kelli and Darren rounded up cruiser bikes for the lot of us and we headed for a ride along the seawall where we were treated to a beautiful September sunset along the water.
It’s the second to last day of the trip and we made our way to Squamish. As this was the only place on the trip where I had ridden before, I was eager knowing that Jacqueline would love the terrain here. We had local Rob Phoenix lead us on the trails Rupert and Tazar. From rock rollers to wooden corners, these trails had creativity and flow built into their DNA. We were honoured to be able to ride them and hear the story of they came to be from the trail builder himself. After a visit to the local Farmer’s Market, we headed up to Angry Midget which led us to the freshly revamped and famous Half Nelson. The improvements were significant and Jacqueline understood my love affair.
All week Jacqueline and I progressed with the help of the crew, and it’s a good thing because Friday was left for the legendary North Shore. I was not sure how I would fare on the technical trails but I was surprised by their rideability. It is clear that the North Shore has transformed over time to offer a variety of trails catering to all riding levels while never losing its character.
For me, Friday is the day that continues to resonate weeks after the trip ended. Yes, the trails were wicked and it was powerful to see where so much of freeride mountain biking has come from, but the true reason is because the day embodied what I love most about mountain biking: community. The crew was 12 strong, including bike legends Wade Simmons, Brett Tippie, and Andreas Hestler, some foreign friends, and our group from the week. Although we come from varying backgrounds, live in different places, and are at different stages of life, biking is the equalizer allowing us to forget our pressures and stress and connecting us through a shared passion.
Michelle grew up in small town BC and studies Sport Event and Tourism Management at Thompson Rivers University. Before moving to Switzerland to study, she bought a mountain bike and fell in love with riding on the trails of the Swiss Alps. Upon returning to BC, she has been rediscovering home thanks to her bike. Fresh air, a solid challenge and a cold IPA fuel her love for adventure and the opportunity to encourage women to get outside and try something new.