When Karen Stark turned 40, she wanted to celebrate with a monumental achievement – and like many she wanted that achievement to be finishing the seven-day stage race, BC Bike Race. The only hitch in her plan was that Karen is the Retail and Marketing Manager for the race and therefore she is more than a little busy during the one-week a year that the competition is held. Not to be deterred Karen set out to capture the essence of the event with her own ‘inspired-by BC Bike Race’ birthday adventure.
Karen planned to incorporated most of the seven BC Bike Race stages excluding her backyard; the North Shore. But the logistics were stressful. Scheduling ferries, rides, people, and locations, left Karen feeling frustrated after spending too much time on the computer thinking about it. “I just wanted to ride my bike for five days and I didn’t care where at that point.”
That’s when she decided to hire local guides who also work for BC Bike Race to help her put it all together. “Also,” she half jokingly notes, “I wanted to go into the woods for five days and I didn’t trust my friends to not get us lost.”
With a guide they could ride longer, cover more ground, and see more. They were able to depend on him knowing the trail networks, the perfect lunch spots, and making it so that they didn’t have to worry about stopping to check maps, missing signs, or – being lost.
Karen and three of her friends set out for Cumberland on the first day, and met up with Martin Ready of Island Mountain Rides who would be their guide for the majority of the trip. While this group of independent and confident mountain bikers weren’t sure what it would be like to play follow-the-leader in the woods for a few days, it didn’t take long before their anxieties were eased. “Martin was just another buddy, he was part of the group and it was awesome!”
Martin fit in with this gaggle of celebratory ladies so well that he would also join them for dinner, thrift store shopping, and even had his dad out shuttling! “Martin knew that we wanted to session things like this long log ride that we came across in Cumberland. He walked everyone through it; some tried it, some didn’t. I tried it and fell off a few times. But a few days later I got to come back to my nemesis and I got it,” she said grinning ear to ear, “I felt really accomplished!”
The group quickly settled into a daily routine of riding 30-35 kilometers and finishing up each ‘stage’ with craft cider and beer and a couple bags of salty Ms. Vickie’s chips. Splitting their time between the Riding Fool Hostel in Cumberland, where they enjoyed tacos and the local culture, and the nearby Kingfisher Resort and Spa, where they embraced the hot-tub-by-the-ocean-life-style, allowed them to reach a variety of riding areas as day trips. They rode Cumberland, Hornby Island, and Campbell River before being joined by four more friends and returning for more riding in Cumberland. “All the riding was so different,” says Karen. “ Hornby is beautiful with flowy, non-stop singletrack and unexpected hills. Cumberland offered more challenging trails and Campbell River had good descents and great climbs!”
A highlight of the trip was swimming in the lakes in Campbell River and the ocean on Hornby Island. And also picking trailside chanterelle mushrooms for their omelettes the next morning.
Leaving Vancouver Island for the mainland the group swelled to twelve friends for the ride in Squamish with their new guide; Jeff Riemer. “Everyone met at Jeff’s house and it was chaos with people borrowing warm socks, helmets and taking over his kitchen and bathroom.”
The big group changed the dynamic of the ride and slowed down the pace a little but while Jeff had big plans, he was also able to easily shorten the ride on the fly to accommodate everyone and get them to the Watershed Bar and Grill in time to enjoy après!
After wrapping up her adventure with a final ‘stage’ at the Scandinav Spa and a night in Whistler, Karen reflected on her birthday adventure; which she has now deemed an annual trip. “I loved the mix-and-match adventure that allowed all of my friends to join in as much as was possible for each of them.”
And perhaps the most incredible part of the whole trip was that in all that riding, with all those people, they only had one broken chain!
When it comes to big birthdays in the age of social media it can be hard not to feel the pressures to keep up with the Jones’, but when it came to her own, the only thing that Karen knew was that she wanted to be in the forest with friends.
“I had an amazing trip, but I still need to do BC Bike Race one day.”
Danielle Baker is a writer and photographer who enjoys long walks in the rain, riding her bike, and shots of tequila. Growing up without electricity or running water helped her to find a great appreciation for all things in nature and, eventually, led to her love of mountain biking and fear of whales.