Wednesday, August 17, 2011


Our next stop was identified scant seconds after our trip was conceived over a year and a half ago. Whistler's Bike Park is world renowned, and the quality of the downhill trails there are the inspiration for other bike parks the world over. I've been dreaming of testing my mettle on that mountain for years.
The drive up from Surrey was beautiful once we broke free of the traffic and congestion around Vancouver. The highway, cut into the steep coast mountains, passed by Lions Bay and Furry Creek, turquoise waters dotted with white sails. The landscape called to mind the fjords of Norway. Along the way we puzzled over the signs for Squamish and Whistler. How do you pronounce the letter 7?

Our campground was perched high above the valley floor, giving us a commanding view of Whistler Mountain and it's neighbors:

After getting settled in we drove up to Whistler Village to pay too much for groceries and check out the resort scene. The place was hopping, crawling with an eclectic mix of tourists, those there to be seen and to shop, and those there to partake in the plethora of outdoor sports. The do-ers and the posers. Also to be seen were the young action sports crowd, most of whom work in the shops to pay for their Ramen noodles, lift tickets and bike parts.

The next day was cool and mostly cloudy, so I postponed the downhill riding a day. The rain held off, so I headed in to town to check out some of the many, many miles of single track. I had a great ride on the excellent trails accessible right from the Village. Trails with great names including "The Torture Never Stops", "Johnny Can't Read", "Pinocchio's Furniture" (awesome), "Donkey Puncher" and "Gee I Like Your Pants". An amusing trail name somehow adds to the pleasure of a ride. Reminds me of some trails back home which we call "Puke Hill", "MegaWatt's Rampage", "Broken Toe", and, of course, "Don's Left Nut".

Here I am on some of Pinocchio's Furniture:

Okay, those of you who are un-enlightened to the pure joy and overall well being that mountain biking has to offer, who stay inside on sunny days and take on the pasty hue of a computer monitor, consider yourself warned that the balance of the rest of this post will enthusiastically describe my experience downhill mountain bike riding at Whistler.

I aired up my tires, topped off the shocks, checked the brake pads, dropped the seat and angled it back. The Remedy was as ready for Whistler as it could be. Then I donned my full-face helmet, goggles, full-finger gloves, elbow/forearm pads and knee/shin pads. I was as ready for Whistler as I could be. Grabbed a lift pass and map and headed to the top of the Fitzsimmons Zone, Whistler's lower and drier half.

I skipped the easiest trails, although I appreciate that they exist as they make the mountain fun for riders of all levels. I chose for my first run the intermediate level upper and lower Crank It Up trails. Wow! After just a couple of turns down hard-packed washboard, around high banked turns and over tabletop jumps I knew that intermediate was My Level! It took most of that descent to re-learn how to set up for these big features, to guide the bike through its airborn arc, to lean with confidence and speed along the wall of a nearly vertical banked turn... Heart pounding I made it safely back to the bottom. Here I am on one of the elevated wooden sections of trail:

My next few runs I kept to the intermediate trails: B-Line, Karate Monkey, Ninja Cougar and Samurai Pizza Cat. My confidence grew and I began to clear some of the tabletop jumps. My speed through the turns went up as I honed my entry and exit technique. The Remedy and I came to an understanding and we pushed harder, spending less and less time in contact with mother earth. And then, it was time: A-Line. Here I am about to take the plunge on this world-famous black diamond flow trail:

Well, uh, gee, how do I describe...Okay, I can't really describe how it feels to ride A-Line, but I can say that I understand why this trail is so famous. It was a bit out of my league, but an adrenaline rush and total blast to ride nonetheless. Whatever skills I thought I'd reacquired on Crank It Up and B-Line weren't enough for me to do justice to A-Line. The tabletops and gap jumps were much bigger, the turns banked higher and demanding a faster rate of speed. That my all-mountain Remedy stood up to that kind of abuse is impressive. I rode this trail several times, but I was hanging on for dear life every second. I had a few of those hair-raising landings, too much on the front wheel, visions of imminent bloody impact flashing, miraculously avoided... More skilled riders on big-travel bikes would overtake me, I'd pull over to let them pass, and watch them sail past, touching ground just long enough to set up the next air. Amazing. If I am ever lucky enough to ride Whistler again I'd like to take on A-Line on a full-blown downhill rig. But hot-damn, that there was a crazy overstuffed big ol' bag-o-fun! Watch this video of A-Line.

Here are some other riders carving up the last few turns at the bottom:

And some other guys showboating the imposing jumps for all to see:

Never did see anyone take on that monster drop through the chalet on the left.

It was a good thing that I took to the single track on the day before I rode downhill, because a full day of Whistler downhill and I feel like I got hit by a truck. I hobble around like an old man, my gluts and thighs in pain, my shoulders aching, my triceps and forearms sore. It's gonna take a week to recover from those runs. An amazing experience, though, one I wish I could have shared with my two-wheeled friends back home. (Especially Captain & The Goat - we gotta ride there together someday. Soon - while at least one of us is young!)

Lastly, camp life was enhanced by several visits from denizens of the great north woods:

Mostly we saw black bears at a comfortable distance, but while walking Toby down a forest road right near camp we were startled by a low bark and looked up to see a young bear clinging to the trunk of a tree just off the track. Obviously upset by our proximity, it was warning us to stay away. We backed away and it dropped to the ground and ran away. Nice.

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