Somehow we’re already into the dog days of summer. Darkness is falling faster in the evenings, and there’s a whisper of coolness in the air that is just beginning to hint at the promise of winter to come. So this weekend we packed up the car, picked up our friends R and C, and headed to Sun Peaks for an extended break from everything.
It was a wonderful trip, even though the weather forgot that it still had a few days of summer left and turned abruptly grey and cold. We visited mountain lakes, saw hundreds of tiny frogs, lay in a hot tub and watched shooting stars fall, wandered through wildflowers in alpine meadows, took a late night walk into the deepest darkness we could find to see the Milky Way, and recited Shakespeare and Yeats back and forth on wilderness trails to keep the bears at bay.
And then, of course, there was the riding.
On the first evening I didn’t have much time before dark, so I headed onto the XC trails for a rapid climb up Blue Grouse and En Garde, through the trees and past clearcuts and into a blackened zone where lightning had struck and burned. At the top I paused for a moment to soak it all in, this new place. Traces of music carried up on the breeze from the village, and the last rays of light flared through a scatter of clouds behind the mountains. The rip back down on steep doubletrack was fast and fun and very muddy.
This was enough to get me pretty excited for a longer ride on day two. This time I took the Pack Horse trail all the way to the top of Mount Morrissey, a nice sustained climb that zigzagged back and forth across the ski runs. I reached the summit under gathering clouds, and stopped to watch the views disappear into grey before heading down Holy Cow. This was where I saw my first bear, lumbering slowly across the far side of a meadow before disappearing into the trees.
After exploring the far side of the mountain for a bit I worked my way back to a trail that I later learned was aptly named Bruin Romp. Loamy and fun, it twisted down through the trees and I was having a blast until I suddenly came upon a second bear: very large, very brown, and very close. I could see a cub just a little way into the forest, almost hidden in the undergrowth. Both were focused on their meals and weren’t paying a lot of attention to me, so I made a split-second decision to let momentum carry me past. I figured that if I did attract their attention, at least I’d be moving rapidly downhill instead of pedaling frantically back up the steep trail.
I flew by the mother bear and on downwards, brakes forgotten, whipping through the trees and bouncing off the odd branch and yelling as loudly as I could in case she’d decided to follow me or anyone else was waiting on the trail ahead. The trail was just forgiving enough to let me get away with the speed, right on the edge of control, grinning like a maniac from the rush of the ride in spite of my hammering heart. I eventually popped back out onto Pack Horse and ripped back down to the trailhead, adrenaline still pounding.
After I showed back up at the house covered in mud and ranting about bears there was a collective decision (by everyone else) that I shouldn’t go back out on the XC trails. Fortunately there was an excellent solution to this problem: the Sun Peaks bike park!
My first two runs were in pouring rain, which didn’t make for ideal conditions to get to know new trails (especially not on a 29er; not anticipating the bike park, I hadn’t brought the Flatline with me). I went for some epic slides on Barn Burner, which was steeper and more technical than I was expecting from the trail description. By the time the rain stopped en route to the third run I was head to toe mud, lucky to be in one piece, and it was no longer possible to tell what colour my bike had originally been.
Fortunately the clearing skies led to that most ideal of situations: hero dirt. The next three runs were fantastic, hopping off hits between the brake bumps on Ain’t No Scrubs and rocketing down the singletrack and flowy, curvy turns of Route 66. I finished each run on the bikercross course, leaping over tables and riding high on the sides of huge berms. (“Are you serious?” said a horrified C when she saw a rider hitting the bikercross jumps earlier in the day.) On my final run a young fox popped out to say hello and hung out beside me for a little while, completely unperturbed by my presence.
I wrapped up the last corners with a grin a mile wide, then hosed down the bike and pedaled off to meet J and C for the summer’s end Elliott Brood concert. Sitting at a patio with a beer in hand and Northern Air playing was the perfect end to the day. (Not that it was really the end; there was still a BBQ rib dinner, French 75s and a hot tub to come.)
The biking was actually a pretty small part of the trip compared to all the other fun we had, but having the opportunity to explore some new territory made me exceptionally happy. Next week it will be ten years since the day I turned my back on my entire adult life, got on a plane, and flew toward a completely unknown future. If I’d made a different choice back then I would never had the opportunity to see these things, to be in these places, to have built a life with J and have wonderful people like C and R among my friends. This is why I’m always willing to take the risks, even when they seem ridiculous. Because the biggest risk I ever took was the best thing I ever did, and the rewards have been beyond imagining.