The Mountain Bike Life

In Canada we have our Thanksgiving long weekend the 2nd Monday in October, and this year instead of gobbling down huge amounts of food I decided to hit the road in my new (to me) Honda Element. The plan was to hit three of the best riding spots on Vancouver Island one each day , while sleeping in the back of my new ride. I didn’t even know I was going to actually go through with it as the weather for the weekend was less than desirable, but s the week went on my excitement grew and I decided that no matter the weather I am going.

Chillin in the Element

Chillin’ in my Element before I go to sleep | Photo: Rivers Mitchell

After work on Friday I packed up and drove from my apartment in Victoria up to Campbell River. I had no real plans on where to stay, maybe at the side of a road maybe in a campground, we’ll see where the road takes me. After driving around a bit in the dark around the outskirts of Campbell River I did finally find an open campground. A few minutes of moving stuff around in the vehicle and I was ready for bed…no tent to set up and I stayed dry, I think this is going to work out.

As I wake up I see that the sun is out and it’s a beautiful day, the campground has that fall haze, and the air is fresh….not a bad start to Dirtsgiving if I do say so myself. I set the vehicle back up into travel mode and head out to Swicked Cycles in Campbell River to pick up a map. The ladies in the shop were super nice and even showed me a good route to ride! After a bite to eat I pointed my sweet ride to the trailhead.

You know that feeling you have before riding new trails, especially solo? A little nervous, a lot excited and just pumped to be exploring new dirt! That’s how I was feeling and after looking at the map to look at a suitable route I decided I want more info on the local trails. I remembered that Bike Pirate wrote a great post on these trails a while back…thank god I still had a connection. At the end of the post they pointed out a recommended loop and I basically stuck to that.

The trails in Campbell River are more Technical XC, lots of roots and rocks and they keep you on your toes. One of my favourite things about the trail system I rode is that really anyone from beginner to seasoned veteran can ride there and have a good time. There are a bunch of loops you can do, some keep you on pretty mellow trails while others will test your endurance and handling. if you are wanting to push your legs they even have a 50k route that is well marked, I hear one of the locals can do it in 4.5 hours….wow. The other great thing about these trails is how well they are mapped out, I did have one or two little issues trying to find the linking trails but after some backtracking or exploring I did find them.

Halfway though my ride the weather decided to change and the clouds did their best to dampen my spirits…and I admit…I had some less than happy moments but then I thought…wtf, I am out riding my bike in one of the most beautiful places in the world, a little rain does not change that…so I kept on spinning and was rewarded a bit later when the sun came back out to warm me up as I pedaled back to the parking lot.

After packing up and drying off it was time to hit the road again and find more trails, To Cumberland!

The Riding Fool Hostel

The Riding Fool, the best hostel ever!

From Campbell River I drove down to Cumberland, I decided that I needed a shower and a comfy bed would not be a bad thing, so I pulled into Cumby and went straight to the Riding Fool Hostel. If you have stayed at other hostels you may wonder why I would consider going to one, well…the Riding Fool is not just any Hostel…it is awesome! It’s clean, the people are super nice and a few pedal strokes down the road is the trailhead…yeah, it’s good. Actually Cumberland as a town is amazing, I have seen it go from this dumpy little island town with tons of charm to a town that has really embraced mountain biking and picked it’self up…tons of cute little shops now and just a great vibe to the place.

After a much needed shower and sleep I met with Grant who I met through the V.I.M.B. Facebook group, he was kind enough to show me around the amazing Cumberland trail system. I was a bit worried, he loves adventure racing and I love burritos and ice cream…but he was really good and stuck with me all day to make sure I didn’t get lost. Unlike Campbell River where there is not much elevation gain, you really have to work for your turns in Cumberland, but believe me….it’s worth it!

After climbing and climbing we finally reached our destination. You can keep going higher, but my legs were feeling it and Grant had a Thanksgiving dinner to get to so we stopped for a bit to get ready for the trail ahead of us. A few pedal strokes later and my tires were digging into some of the most amazing trails they have ever rolled on, turn after turn of well built fun flowy trail…I was grinning like a school kid who just got his first kiss. The feeling of euphoria and joy were dancing through my spine as we rolled faster and faster down the trails. The really interesting thing about Cumberland is when other riding areas are pulling out wood bridges and technical trail features they are putting them in, they are well built and amazing amounts of fun. Long bridges that are wide enough to enjoy and not feel like you are going to fall off any moment, teeters and interesting routes through old stumps….the character of these trails is just amazing. You can tell that the local trail builders love what they do, If Mozart or Monet built trails as good as their art…they would look like the trails in Cumberland.

Down and down we rolled, and just as my body was saying no more we were at the bottom of the mountain. Spent, happy and muddy….after thanking Grant for the awesome tour I went down to the local pizza place picked up a pizza and went back to the hostel to shower and then head off to my next destination. the HammerFest trails in Parksville.

About to pin it down Jughead

Derek about to take me down the crazy flowy Jughead trail in Parksville

On Day three of Dirtsgiving I wake up to the rain pounding down on the roof of the Element and my legs were sore. Right away I started making up excuses in my head all ready to launch at Derek, my guide for the day. We met for breakfast at a local diner and as I pull in the rain stops, well…damn, there goes my excuse. My body was tired but I knew I needed to finish my quest. Derek recently moved to Parksville from Victoria where we had ridden together before. As you can see, he rides a fatbike, not just when it snows…but all year around, and he is hella fast and that damn thing too! Don’t listen to people when they say fatbikes are slow, he is constantly surprising people on that bike and all with a big smile, one of the nicest most genuine people I have ever met.

As we pull into the trail head and I start to gear up I can feel my body rejecting it….one more ride then we can rest! There is one trail I keep on hearing about, even Darren Bearrecloth names it as his favourite trail…so I told my body to shut up we started pedaling up the mountain. The dirt here is different from any other place I have ridden on the Island, it’s sandy and even on the wet trails things are grippy…very nice. It’s not a super long ride up (not compared to the day before thank goodness) and at the top you are treated to an amazing view of the land and ocean below.

After a little rest we point our trusty steeds down the mountain. I really had no idea what I was getting myself into but soon found myself on one of the flowiest trails I have ever ridden. Nothing really technical on it, just this trail that winds it’s way down the mountain in the most amazing way…finding every little crest you pump your way down, just going faster and faster…whizzing past the trees that I almost hit a few times with my super wide bars. Jughead is the longest pumptrack ever…giggling all the way down the trail. Then, before you know it you are at the bottom high fiving your friends. Derek said that he wants to come up and explore the other trails up here, but every time he does Jughead just pulls him in, it’s so much fun, whoever built that trail is a magician. Just amazing.

All packed up and ready to go home to rest

Happy, sore and ready to drive home. An awesome end to Dirtsgiving

Derek has to head off to do another ride later that day so he heads off and I am left thankful. Thankful for the amazing people I met along the way. Thankful for all the work that has gone into making Vancouver Island such an amazing place to ride, Thankful to the amazing trail builders and those who support them.

When I get home, unpack and think about my weekend I am most thankful for this thing we call the mountain bike life, not this site…but the lives that we are lucky enough to live. Without it I have no idea what I would be doing, or if I would even be alive today. Thank you to everyone who has made my life amazing, to all our readers and to my family and friends who support my crazy love affair with this sport, you are all awesome!

What are you thankful for?

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