Loving the dirt

Every chance I’ve had this summer, I’ve swapped the road bike for the big heavy tractor of a downhill bike and gone out riding on the dirt. I’m still a terrible downhill rider, but it doesn’t matter; I’ve found secret singletrack loops in local parks and pounded them over and over and over until I can either clean them or at least know that there are certain spots where I’m always going to have to walk around the obstacles. But fun though this has been, it was time to get out on the established trails for some sustained riding. So last Monday we headed up to Alice Lake and spent a baking hot afternoon on a dirt bashing mission.

Rob's Corners

It was insanely fun. We cycled up the bumpy access road to the beautiful, spongy loam of the Bob Mackintosh Memorial Trail, where the bikes literally seemed to sigh with pleasure as their wheels hit the dirt. From there we hammered through the woods on the rooty, technical Dead End Loop. I’m still not great at climbing over stuff on the bike – I don’t time my wheel lifts well which means I have a tendency to bash into larger obstacles and fall off – but it was excellent practice, and by the time we broke out onto the fun downhill stretch of the trail I was doing much better.

Wall riding at Alice Lake

Hydro clearcutting had taken out the route that we knew to the upper trails. We ended up doing a brutal hike-a-bike up Made in the Shade, which I wouldn’t recommend to anyone. But from there it was onto the open, flowing stretches of Rob’s Corners and Cliff’s Corners, and it couldn’t have been any more fun.

Hike-a-bike

We ripped down the curves and berms under the BC Hydro line, rattling over roots and finding little jumps here and there amid the sandy dirt and wildflowers. Every now and then we’d pop out onto the clearcut, with the scarred landscape and piles of brush a jarring contrast to the trail. Eventually we flew out onto the rocky creekbed that swept us around and sharply down to Jack’s Trail, where we took our time pedalling through the shady trees back to our starting point. We were tired by this time, but not so much that we didn’t agree that it was a great idea to ride the whole loop again. It was definitely a challenging day given my limited technical skills, but it was also a ridiculous amount of fun. The sections where I struggled were more than made up for by the awesome flowing fun of the trails in the Hydro cut and the shady green light on the final stretch back to Alice Lake.

Jack's Trail

The only problem is that I had so much fun that I really don’t want to ride my road bike right now. There’s a lot to be said for the smooth, fast slickness of road riding, but it doesn’t have that elemental connection with the landscape that you get when your tires are kicking up dirt and you’re ripping over roots and rocks. It’s like the difference between resort skiing and backcountry skiing. Skiing the resort feels so cool until you understand what it’s like to conquer the mountain with nothing but your own power, and have untouched snow under your skis all the way down. It’s not the same. It’s not even comparable. And regardless of how bad I am at it, this is the kind of riding I most want to be doing.

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