Sunday, December 29, 2013

More Two-Wheeled Tales From Cumberland B.C.

Our Bike Gang - Stoked.
One good ride deserves another so off we went to get another day of frothing on primo B.C. singletrack. Special guest Myrosha joined us this time making it that much more merry.

He borrowed his bike and gear from Galyn – a local trail builder, racer and good friend of Myrosha’s. We met Galyn briefly in the parking lot before the dots all came together. The day before, Gerhard and I had met some riders from the Dodge City Cycles ("The highest bike shop on Vancouver Island") out on the trails. They told us we had to try out the new trail “Truffle Shuffle,” fresh cut and apparently totally awesome. It’s also been reviewed in some media, with the press calling it “the best climb in Cumberland.”  They raved about the trail, and its builder who they said was “awesome,” “a bit of a wood worker” (hence its beautifully crafted sign at the trailhead) and “an amazing part of the community.” So we followed them to this not-to-miss singletrack and loved it, as predicted.

Turns out Truffle Shuffle is none other than Galyn’s handiwork. What a small world. Hopefully Myrosha passed on our enthusiasm for this masterpiece. It is definitely a tremendous trail.

Myrosha also let us know that Galyn is not alone in his trail-building efforts. In fact, most of the network in the Cumberland area has been cut by a 60-year-old former logger – I didn't catch his name but he’s a local legend. He has a special talent for seeing the natural contours of the terrain and finding the most radical way over it. He puts his years of experience as a logger to use by removing the trees skillfully, and then using whatever he removes to build ladder bridges and trail features that make the riding here truly stand out. He builds a trail, rides it, and then moves on to the next so that now, the network is so enormous you’d need a week to properly rip all of it.

It is amazing to enjoy these singletracks and then think of the amount of work that only a handful of people have done in the name of their passion. That’s why mountain biking is amazing. Individuals like “the logger” and Galyn, and every rider we meet, reflecting our ear-to-ear grins back at us as we do our small part to help work in the trails.

Another observation about Cumberland: It is full of ladies who rip! The ratio of men to women I saw on the trails and in the parking lots was AT LEAST 50:50. Amazing. So ladies, if you’re looking for a riding destination where you’re sure to meet other women on bikes, Cumberland should be on your short list.

As for our ride, you can follow along using Cumberland's handy online map! Gerhard got a new bike - A 2013 Norco alloy RANGE - from Trail Bicycles today. We rode over to Cumberland and decided to try Buggered Pig in the other direction (up) and had a great time challenging ourselves on the MANY skinnies and bridges built up through the lower section. We popped back out onto the fire road and got a taste of how that section might feel on race day as we pedaled up up up to the turn off for Sykes Bridge and Tea Pot beyond that. Feeling a little more peppy than expected, we decided to continue climbing past Tea Pot, past Truffle Shuffle (not yet
on the online version of the map, but you can see it on the printed versions, which are $4 and available in local shops) and on to the lower section of Thirsty Beaver.

AMAZING. So glad we didn’t miss Thirsty Beaver. Its main feature is ladder bridges of consequence over cold creeks and sometimes pretty high off the ground. The wooden bridges were wet for good measure, so braking was out of the question, which was fine, because the bridges were narrow enough that stopping was kind of out of the question too. We loved it!

We could have just dropped straight into Tea Pot from there, but we couldn’t pass up another round of Truffle Shuffle so we climbed back up that fire road again and then up Galyn's “best climb in Cumblerland” before descending through the tight berms and steeps of the second half. Then it was straight into Tea Pot and on my third ride though this section – and with exponential growth in comfort on my borrowed Sight – I was feeling pretty shredtacular. So much fun and flow.

Rather than turn off to That Dam Trail as we did yesterday, we kept heading towards the reservoir and then went around the other side, which was new territory for all of us. We caught the Rail Road singletrack and rode that all the way to Crafty Butcher, which featured even more ladder bridges into rock drops and then EVEN A TEETER TOTTER section that just plain made my day.

This area had been clear-cut in the recent past so it was open to the light with shorter new-growth trees and bushes framing an epic view of the snowy mountaintops and the ocean in the distance.  It felt like heaven. It felt like we were all drunk with it.

We continued our downhill singletrack assault on crowd pleasers like Brat and Black Hole and then finished off our ride with the whoops and berms of Space Nugget.

With heavy hearts (and quads!!), we left the trailhead, asked a stranger to take our picture, said farewell to Myrosha, rolled back to Courtenay and returned our rented weaponry. Thanks again to Ryan at TrailBicycles – you helped make this trip a really amazing time and we will definitely be visiting again.

More photos from Day 2!

A Beautiful "Sight" - Norco Carbon Sight 7.1 on Truffle Shuffle

Myrosha multi tasking

Gerhard and Myrosha finishing up Truffle Shuffle

On to Tea Pot!
Gerhard and I riding rocks and ladders on Crafty Butcher (Myrosha photo)

Trail Art

Friday, December 27, 2013

BC Bike Race Reconnaissance

Gerhard on "Tea Pot" 
Usually when we come to see my in-laws (though after a certain Christmas tree debacle, I think I’ll start calling them the “out-laws”) we make a point of heading over to Mount Washington to get some holiday turns in. But with warmer than usual weather on Canada’s west coast … or at least Vancouver Island … we have found activities even more to my liking!

With base miles season wrapping up, I am determined to cram in as many as possible. So I borrowed my mother-in-law’s grocery getter and took myself on a little tour (photos below!). It’s a Norco “Wolverine” circa 2002ish with a super-riser bar and a side-view mirror. It did a fantastic job and it made me smile like crazy, especially when waving to "real" mountain bikers getting ready at the many trail heads I passed.

However, in my Boxing Day travels, I was surprised to see signs indicating the proximity of Cumberland – home to Stage 2 of the upcoming BC Bike Race. In my mind it was some ways away, but here was this sign saying "Cumberland - 7" – and then I realized I’m back in Canada so 7 was actually kilometres, not miles. A stone’s throw! We were already planning on renting mountain bikes for the following day, but unsure how we would transport Gerhard, me and our bikes to the trail without monopolizing the family vehicle for hours (or how everything would fit, anyway).  So this was an excellent realization: We can easily access the famous trails of Cumberland by riding out of our own driveway. Cumberland, by the way, is mountain biker mecca. Just CRAWLING with riders and amenities geared for riders. I think I may have even spotted Canadian Olympian Geoff Kabush (whose hometown is Courtenay) on my little trip. Can't be sure.

So today, we headed over to the amazing Trail Bicycles shop (thank you for all your help, Ryan!) which is literally a five minute walk from the out-law’s place. I traded in my Norco Wolverine for something a little more burly, and modern: The 2014 Sight Carbon 7.1 “Killer B”. Gerhard got an enviable Trek Remedy to rip around on.

Notes on my demo Norco: It has a dropper post. I’ve never tried one before today, but after our ride, I would say they are mandatory for the riding here in BC. It also came equipped with some SRAM 1x11 (32 in the front but we were wondering if a 30 might be better … more testing required). It rode wonderfully, it’s a TON of fun, but I’m not convinced of its raciness yet. Even in carbon, I absolutely felt the added pounds over my beloved Top Fuel on the climbs, but man, it crushed the descents and floated over rocks and roots alike. I would love to have one of these in my quiver … if only my Top Fuel would fit in my camelback for the uphills. Decisions, decisions.

Our main focus for today’s ride was the “Teapot” trail which will be run as an Enduro section on race day so we did that one twice, while also checking out “Quacker,” “Truffle Shuffle,” “That Dam Trail,” “Buggered Pig,” and “Mama Bear.” It was so nice to be riding on loamy, rooty, dirty, green, rocky, flowy trails again. I was losing my mind. But that might have been the Expresso Clif Snot I inhaled before we hit our first singletrack. Check out all Cumberland has to offer by visiting

Best of all is enjoying my favourite activity with my favourite person, Gerhard. So thank to my amazing husband for suiting up and putting up with my full-on frothing all day. You guys have to see Gerhard ride to believe it. He has no business being as skilled a rider as he is for how little he does it. Technical descents? Waits for me at the bottom while I pick my way through what he describes as “like powder, in dirt.” Super long skinnies? Convinces me to try by showing me how ‘easy’ it is, first. Insanely steep and long fire road climb (which it turned out was unnecessary because I can’t read a map or follow other riders’ directions)? He cleans it then says, “that was a little tough,” like it wasn’t very tough at all.  I am so proud. Most of all, I’m super excited he’s agreed to come do it again tomorrow!

And now the pictures from yesterday and today:

Riding with a rear view.

The amazing Norco Wolverine! Gets groceries and base miles like a champ. 

Entering Cumberland! So easy! 

The most amazing fence in the world. 

Real life holly 

Downtown Cumberland

Peace on Earth (or at least on Comox Lake)

Looking out to sea

Indulging in my dirty habit with my favourite guy

Gerhard riding over Sykes Bridge

Me in my ninja position on "Tea Pot" trail

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

That Time We Drove Across The USA

Back about a month ago, my Dad and I drove across the United States, roughly following Route 66. This was the best idea I could come up with for getting my junk out of my parents' basement. You see, it's been kind of a big year -- closed a career, relocated to San Diego from Toronto, got married and everything in between. So we loaded up Dad's Tundra with my TV, boxes of books and other sentimental stuff and Mom, Dad and I set off moving-to-university style for Buffalo.

Once we made it across the border without incident we headed for the Buffalo airport to pick up a one-way minivan rental. We transferred all the stuff into a lovely silver Dodge Caravan (seriously, I can't say enough about minivans ... so useful!) and Mom headed back home with the truck but NOT before stopping at our first Denny's of the adventure.

I remember feeling excited and horrified about the number of miles ahead, but right from the start, we found a good rhythm and pushed all the way into the evening before stopping at a lovely motel for all of about 7 hours. Dad is a real road warrior. Waking up at the crack of dawn is sleeping in.

Our first full day on the road with "Dorothy" -- the winning entry in our van's nickname contest -- is the one I will probably remember most fondly. We were caught completely unprepared in the late-season tornadoes that ripped through Illinois and surrounding states. I found myself looking up what to do if you're on the road and spot a twister. Apparently hiding under an overpass is *not* recommended, but thanks anyway for that advice "Man of Steel." (1:06).  (Best bet: find a ditch).

Anyway, I was only half sarcastic at my use of the word fondly because honestly, coming out the other side of those storms unscathed and seeing the destruction, injury and death reported in their wake gave both Dad and I a really deep sense of gratitude. We were very lucky.

The rest of the trip continued under the sun and big blue skies. We met interesting people in Stetsons, heard every kind of accent, tried some truly horrendous coffees, saw some things for the first time, and best of all, got to know each other a little better. (For example - my dad was his student president back in his Ryerson days! I had no idea campaigning is actually in my blood!! Also, he believes aliens walk among us ... didn't see that one coming.)

We were pretty gung ho to get those miles under our belts so we didn't do a lot of stopping, but one stop we did make, which I highly recommend, is the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert National Park in Arizona. Below you can see some instagrams and daily updates I took at the time. To see those colourful deserts now and compare them to the lush, green riverlands they once were is mind boggling. We loved it.

Road trip stats! 

  • Origin: Port Elgin, ON
  • Destination: Carlsbad, CA
  • States crossed: New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California
  • Days on the road: four
  • Kilometres travelled: 4,130 (2,566 miles)

Dad stayed with us in SoCal for a few days to "recover" before flying back home. We went surfing, lobster diving, we built an Ikea TV stand for my freshly delivered flatscreen (Dad has NEVER been to Ikea before! Wonders never cease!) and we even got in some road riding.

It was a great trip, and a wonderful adventure. Thanks Dad!

Here are those instagrams:

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Whistler: Booked!

Pretty excited to hear that we've booked our first campsite in the BCBR adventure!

We're apparently working our way backwards, and booked the last stop first. So, home sweet home for the final stage (and hopefully a few days afterwards!) is the lovely Riverside Resort in Whistler.

It's got prime real estate right next to the disc golf course so we are STOKED!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Race Report: Racers and Chasers Winter XC Series #1

Balboa Park is home to Ninja Mountain Bike Skills clinics and the famous Tuesday Night Workouts led by USAC Coach Richard La China, so it's no wonder the newly minted TEAM NINJA was out in such good force.

Richard La China Photo
And check out our home base pop-up tent! Thanks to all the Ninjas who came to cheer each other on and show off those black and pink jerseys. It was really exciting to see all those great results. Special congrats to Aaron Hauck who won his category AND the overall fastest time.

And speaking of results, I didn't have a bad day out there considering this event is a bit of an anomaly in the training schedule. Nothing like throwing in a race at the last minute to shake up base miles. As you can see from the photo, the weather was a bit unpredictable today so maybe that kept the ladies away but overall, I was a little disappointed in the female turn out, weather or not. Bea Dormoy and I had the expert category all to ourselves, and we were lonely.

Bea leads it out. Gerhard Gross photo.
The start was kind of funny -- I didn't realize we were starting with the men but in hindsight that probably should have been obvious. So I was off the back from the beginning, but quickly made up some ground and hopped into a pretty blue train of dudes in the expert category.

The lesson today: If you find yourself in a moving train, stay in the train. Don't try to do your part to push the pace, like I did, and then get blown out the back, like I did. Oh well, c'est la vie. They dropped me on a climb and as I watched my HR soar into zone "6" I was happy to them go.

I spent the rest of the race mostly alone, except for fellow Ninjas hollering from the sidelines. Had every kind of weather, including a good soaking for my final lap. Also finally discovered what everyone down here is talking about when they say "Pershings" -- the name of a lovely long climb out of each of the five laps on the menu today.

Gerhard and my teammates were waiting at the end in great spirits despite being cold and wet -- such a nice way to end the race. And I got to stand on the box with Bea so that was also a plus. Thanks Racers and Chasers for a fun event to benefit high school mountain bikers. Thanks Gerhard and all the Ninjas for making racing that much more fun.

The entire women's field in Expert class! Bea Dormoy and Me.  RLC Photo. 
Team Ninja's Ryan Brown and Aaron Hauck. Noel Tabor Photo. 

(And thanks in advance to whoever finds my Road ID Bracelet, which I think I dropped at the start area, or maybe by the podium.)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


An Interview With Head Coach Steve Stuart
Cow Pie Classic, 2013 - Photo by Phil Beckman, PB Creative

By Kristen Gross

“High school athletics, in my opinion, is probably the most fun a kid’s ever going to have in sports,” said Steve Stuart, who has taught at El Camino High School in Oceanside the past 25 years, and now coaches its newest team: mountain biking.

A former physics teacher, Steve is now an educator in the physical education department. Knowing his history of coaching in the water swimming and water polo I asked Steve what drew him to the “dirt side.” He answered passionately on the benefits of mountain biking both for the athletes and their coaches.

“I wanted to do something with the kids that gets them outside, and keeps them active for a lifetime. This is still a relatively new sport, it’s a lot of fun, and one that I can participate in when I’m coaching,” he said with the hint of a smile. “Someone has to go out and ride with the kids.”

Steve’s own mountain biking experience goes back to the80s, almost to the sport’s birth. In college, he worked at a trade show where one of the first off-road bikes was on display: the “Mountain Goat.” “In 1981, I was a part-time event attendant at Long Beach Convention Center while going to Cal State Long Beach. One evening I was on the cleanup crew at the Long Beach Bike show. I walked into the exhibit hall and for the first time at my job there, I didn't get a lot of work done. I remember staring at the Mountain Goat bicycle and thinking ‘Wow! What can you do with that? Would that be fun or what?’ Of course it was 11 p.m. at night and nobody was there to answer my questions except the security guard.”

Today’s bikes have come a long way, but for many kids they are still just shiny objects of desire, rather than attainment. The cost of even a used mountain bike is a barrier to access for students. That’s why Steve’s primary focus for the growing team is to track down support in the form of loaner bikes. “We want to introduce the sport to as many kids as we can,” said Steve. “If they come out for a season, and they love it, they’ll find a way to save up for a bike of their own – but until then, we could use a little help.”

So far, the team’s roster includes a young woman ready to race, and a Chinese exchange student looking to experience all he can while he’s here. There are some BMX racers interested and even some members of the wrestling team are thinking about committing later in the season, once their bouts are wrapped up.

Though the team has already started training together, the official race season starts in February and goes through the end of April, or the second week of May if a racer qualifies for the State Championships to be held in NorCal.

The El Camino High School team is part of the SoCal High School Mountain Bike League. Every school competing is set up as a “club” but the league has hopes to become as ubiquitous as traditional sports like football, baseball and basketball have been.

The League, governed by the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA), is working to encourage participation, especially for female riders. Points are awarded to every rider who finishes the race so no matter where an athlete places, they’re contributing to their team’s point total. The girls’ points are weighted even more heavily. “Basically the point system is set up to encourage lots of riders, not just the best riders. And it’s also set up to encourage girls. It’s very difficult for a team to be a top contender unless you have girls racing,” said Steve.

Most teams do two to four workouts together a week. Parents are also tremendously involved, helping to make sure bikes and riders get to school for practices, home again, then of course weekend rides.

But races are the biggest commitment for parents and volunteers. They help out with set up, tear down and course marking. They volunteer in the pit, to direct traffic or supervise the athletes. Events run five or six weekends, sometimes in the middle of nowhere, sometimes in a county park.

One could interpret it as pretty challenging stuff, but Steve easily lays out the benefits: it’s a chance to help out, give some kids a meaningful experience, ride some new terrain with the athletes, make new friends and spend the weekend camping, enjoying the outdoors.

“High school mountain biking is truly family oriented which is something I really like,” explains Steve. “My son played volleyball so as parents, we’d go up to Anaheim and hang out in a gym I-don’t-know-how many times a year. We got to know the other parents pretty well, and we got along really well but with mountain biking it’s even more. They’ll have a blow up screen to show movies, bonfires and a festive, fun atmosphere the stuff memories are made of. We’re outside, camping, having a really fun time.”

The team is supported by eight volunteer coaches some are teachers at the school, some are experienced mountain bike coaches and all are excited to give back to the sport they love by helping to introduce it to the next generation of riders. Mountain biking teaches friendship, leadership, believing in yourself and surprising yourself. It comes with obvious health benefits, respect for the outdoors and a deeper sense of connection to it and of course, a lot of fun.

“I coached swimming and I was very competitive,” said Steve. “At the same time, as I get older, I realize, you know what? There’s one winner. And there are a whole lot of people who work just as hard, who don’t win. So you’d better enjoy the sport you’re in.”

The team is looking for help and is always open to donations of used bicycles, or the time of volunteers. The priority is to lower the barriers of access and to spread the word that El Camino High School has got a new mountain bike team with room for lots of members to get involved. For the kids, the mountain bike can be a tool for independence and discovery. And when they’re adults, it will be there to remind them of how it feels to be a kid. 

“Being out there, cruising through the trees and the bushes is very therapeutic,” said Steve. Before we finished our chat, I asked him what mountain biking has taught him for life:  “Learn to roll with it,” he laughed. “Any kid that comes out, who’s willing to put in the time, we’re going to find a way to get them on the team,” he continues. “We don’t want to deny any kid the experience, and lifelong enjoyment of mountain biking.”