The Mountain Bike Life

I’m supposed to be working on a post for Monday. I need to get it drafted and shared out to our editors tonight, because I’m leaving in the morning for a weekend away. The thing is, I’m so excited about the weekend away, that that’s all I can think about. I have some ideas of things I want to write down the road – about mountain bike clubs and why they are great; about the particular challenges faced by women in mountain biking and similar adventure sports; about learning and growing and new trails conquered this summer. But tonight, this night before an exciting weekend away, all that’s on my mind is heading west and taking my first surf lesson.

Rolling surf at Chesterman’s Beach – we did NOT try to surf this,

The thing is, as one-track minded as mountain bikers often seem, most of the ones I know actually enjoy a variety of sports. Yes, mountain biking might be their primary choice, but if there’s a chance they can get the same rush of speed and accomplishment from another sport, they are likely to go for it. And in that line, this weekend Rivers and I are going surfing.

I’m a big believer in cross-training (theoretically – in actuality I barely participate in one sport), and I think most experienced and successful mountain bikers would agree with me. It’s important to build core strength, reflexes, flexibility, and, of course, endurance in a variety of ways. I’m also someone who gets bored easily. As a beginning mountain biker, I get really tired of the trails I know already, but am not yet skilled/fit/confident enough to make the next leap. For me, participating in other sports is a great way to build my fitness and to learn to trust my body until my skill level catches up. And, I’m a fish. I LOVE the water. All other things being equal, I will choose water sports over land sports every time.

You can imagine then my excitement when Rivers booked this westcoast surf weekend for us as my (belated) birthday present. I’ve ‘surfed’ once before, but without a lesson what I really did was bounce up and down with an over-sized kick board and do a very little body surfing. It was fun, but it was definitely  not surfing.

NB: The rest of this post was written/re-written after the weekend

For those of you who don’t know, Ucluelet is a village on Vancouver Island’s west coast that borders Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. Ucluelet has not yet been spoiled by development, though it’s certainly in the works. For the most part, it is a friendly, casual, accessible village. The drive up to Ucluelet on Friday was beautiful. West coast spring weather is unpredictable, but Friday was gloriously sunny. We left Victoria about 11 am, meandered north with a stop for necessities at Coombs Country Market and to check out an incredible gluten-free bakery in Whiskey Creek (yes, I did use the words ‘incredible’ and ‘gluten free’ in the same sentence), and were up to Ucluelet and checked into our cozy cabin by four pm.

Lake Kennedy was absolutely stunning! 

For this particular weekend adventure, Rivers and I stayed at Outside Inn Cabins and Lofts on the north edge of Ucluelet. They are a very short walk from either Florencia Beach or Ucluelet inlet. The owners, Kat and Jay, also share teaching duties in their other business, Endless Rides/Endless Fitness. Jay is an O’Neill sponsored pro surfer and generously shares his love of surf with their guests. Kat is a skilled fitness trainer and yoga teacher, and leads beach-side and in-studio yoga and fitness classes (bootcamp on holiday anyone? Ya, no, me neither). Kat also shares the surf teaching load.

I fell in immediate love with Kat – she’s sweet, charming, welcoming and, when asking my height and weight so she could arrange our surf gear for the next day, said I look both taller and lighter than the answers I gave. Well played, Miss Kat. Well played. It turned out Jay was equally charming the next day leading our lessons. After dropping our bags in the cabin, we headed out for a delicious dinner at the Black Rock Resort. The truth is, if you are going for the genuine Ucluelet experience, you could leave the Black Rock off your itinerary, but they have an unbeatable view and we were ready to sit, eat, and stare at the waves.

Our view at dinner – complete with sporadic whale spray

March is grey whale migration season. Although we did not see any of these incredible beasts, I did see five whale plumes over the course of our dinner, and a bald eagle perched at the top of a tree just outside the dining room and was still there when we left. We had hoped to see more wildlife this weekend – there were bear and wolf warnings posted throughout Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, but no such luck.

Friday night the head cold that had been threatening me for the last few days kicked into high gear. We headed to bed early in hopes that it would abated by morning. It didn’t. For the record, Isaak Dinesen was wrong when she wrote “The cure for anything is salt water – tears, sweat, or the sea.” But I’m getting ahead of myself.

One of many upsides of staying with the same people who would be delivering our surf lessons was being greeted Saturday morning with Jay’s happy door-to-door service. Jay was likewise suffering a head cold, so we commiserated over lozenges and headed out. Two other students met us a Wickaninnish Beach, where we all began the arduous task of getting into our wetsuits before we made the short trek to the beach.

Beachside, Jay presented us with a brief lesson on the S.U.R.F of surfing. I helpfully suggested that it stood for Stand Up Really Fast. While that is also apt, Jay had the more useful acronym Safety, Us, Relax, have Fun. A few trial runs getting up and into position on boards drawn in the sand, and we were off into the water.

A few important points about surfing in the North Pacific:

  1. It doesn’t matter that it is March. The temperature of the water is pretty much constant year round.
  2. Because that ‘pretty much constant’ water temperature is pretty much constantly cold, a wet suit is not optional – that unflattering black rubber sausage casing is your new best friend. Until someone whips out a camera.
  3. If you’re really lucky (I think that’s the right term) you might actually be joined by seals and Orcas like these surfers
  4. If you have a head cold the sea water WILL clean out your sinuses, but will also deplete you of all energy and leave you with barely enough strength to get your now wet-and-vacuum-sealed wetsuit off.

While neither Rivers nor I ever got fully to our feet on the boards, we did have an awesome time and a whole lot of fun. I had one or two full rides on my knees in ‘almost there’ position before tumbling giggling onto the beach. Jay assured Rivers that it’s rare for a man of Rivers’ height (6’ 4”) to have an easy time getting up. So we felt pretty good – exhausted but satisfied – when he dropped us back at our cabin door. Outside Inn/Endless Ride has a lesson guarantee that you WILL be able to stand up by the end of the lesson, but I don’t think we’re going to hold them to that promise – they can’t be held responsible for choppy surf,  long extremities, poor fitness and a head cold.

One ‘do not miss spot’ in Tofino, Ucluelet’s more popular village next door, is Tacofino taco truck. Although we were chilled to the bone, food truck tacos sounded great for Saturday dinner. Rivers had a mammoth beef burrito bursting with shredded flank steak, beans, rice and veggies. I had the gluten-free corn tortilla option of shredded beef tacos with veggies and a spicy mayo. And then we headed ‘uptown’ for dessert at the elegantly casual ‘Shelter.’

The delicious Tacofino. It’s even worth sitting in the cold (or in your car) to eat here. 

The weekend ended with Sunday morning breakfast at the very Ucluelet (i.e. casual, friendly, straight-forward) ‘The Blue Room’ and we were on our way home again. In between my cold-medicine induced car naps, Rivers and I discussed summer plans – returns to Silver Star bike part, new trails to explore together, our shared need to work on our fitness – and definite plans to come back to the Outside Inn, to the friendly teaching of Jay and Kat, and to the surf that one day we will ride over rather than rolling through.

Happy, tired, and looking forward to the next time! 

What do you do to cross-train? Do you consider different styles of riding enough of a cross-training experience? Would love to hear all about it in the comments.

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