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You’ve hit all the most buzzed-about mountain bike hot-spots in the US… Sedona, Moab, Bentonville, Brevard, and Bend. That nagging feeling has returned and you want to expand your singletrack horizons. While your Instagram feed and its romantic visions of van-life are urging you to give up your day job, sell it all, and spend months exploring BC, for now you need your 9-5 to pay for bikes and beers, plus you truly appreciate a long hot shower. This is it. You’ve carved out a long weekend to make it happen.
Your adventure begins in this sleepy old logging town an hour north of Vancouver. The Alice Lake trails are a perfect introduction to the slabs, roots and loam that lured you here. A word of warning: Canadians have very different standards for green, blue, and black trails so don’t be surprised if you’re in over your head on a slick, rooted fall line that exits on a narrow bridge… on a blue intermediate trail. As you work your way through Rupert, Leave of Absence, and Room with a View, you’ll get more and more confident in the hold of your tires on the steep slabs, find your lines in the messy webs of roots, and see exactly what you and your bike are capable of on these strange, seemingly lawless trails of the North.
British Columbia is known for quirky trail names and your afternoon spin at the Garibaldi Trails will be no different. After refueling at the Locavore food truck, you hop on a shuttle to rip flow trails like Angry Midget, Your Mom, and Half Nelson. These will serve as a reminder that you can, in fact, ride a bike like a boss and give your confidence a boost before ascending further into the sky to one of North America’s most famous biking destinations.
No chairlifts for you today, but nice try! While Whistler-Blackcomb is a world-renowned downhill park, you’re skipping the big rig bike rental, park rats, and lift lines to conquer a ride that’s been seven years in the making. Lord of the Squirrels is one of Whistler’s newest trails, built by WORCA as an alternative to the park and the exceedingly technical trails in the area. With 17 miles and 6,000ft of climbing, this ride is still challenging and requires plenty of snacks and water, plus a swim suit if you’re modest. Take the whole day, enjoy the beautifully built climb trail that, while sometimes curse-worthy steep, is wide and smooth and offers plenty of opportunities to stop for the breath-taking views. It’s the views taking your breath away, promise.
After six to eight false summits, nine alpine lakes (AKA dipping opportunities), and countless wildflowers or snow crossings depending on the season, it’s time to descend four miles back into the woods through blind slab rollers, skinny creek crossings, and quirky rooted switchbacks. You know, everything you just nailed yesterday in Squamish? As the trail mellows and you return to your car, watch for bears and prepare yourself for the most remote backcountry experience yet.
Your lunch is packed, the bikes are loaded, and you’re politely urged by the pilot to avoid head-to-chopper blade collisions. Now it’s time to head straight into the sky to the top of Mount Barbour. Just as briskly you unload, avoid chopper blades, and wave it good bye as it leaves you and your best nine friends to find your way down.
Raw and minimally maintained, this ride is not for the faint of heart. Sliding your way through deep, loose shale that gives way to narrow off-camber sections with high costs should a pedal hit send you off course. With each hard-earned creek- and lake-side break, the memory of the harrowing previous section is erased and the group pushes on to the next challenge.
As you reach the bottom with forearms pumped, reservoir empty, and a huge smile on your dusty face, you realize your trip has come to an end and it’s time to head back to reality.
On the other hand… #vanlife.
Photos: Eric Neely @e.r.i.c.n.e.e.l.y