If there is one thing I really love about mountain biking, it’s the “mountain” part, so over the last couple of years I had been researching mountain towns and daydreaming about living in the mountains, starting each day with a hike or ride, and generally changing my lifestyle. This dream was further fueled by doing the BC Bike Race last year, spending a week riding awesome trails throughout British Columbia and meeting some really great people along the way. So this past April, I packed up my Jeep and headed west.
Whistler is a beautiful, amazing place for so many reasons. If you’re passionate about mountain biking like I am, the primary reason is that there are miles and miles of awesome, impeccably maintained, breathtakingly gorgeous trails right at your doorstep. There are even more trails if you don’t mind hopping in the car (or pedaling) 20 miles north to Pemberton or 30 miles south to Squamish.
I arrived just as race season was getting started and was immediately more than a little intimidated. The trails here definitely require some serious technical skills, and, as a result, everyone knows how to ride really, really well. I decided to dive right in with a couple of “toonies” – local weekly (in Whistler) or bi-weekly (in Squamish) races that cost two bucks to enter, bring out a ton of riders and end with some good food and beer from a local sponsor.
First up was a Squamish toonie, which took us up a fairly long fire road climb before dropping (literally) into some classic BC singletrack – rooty, rocky with plenty of drops and twists thrown in for fun. My primary strategy for this terrain has been two fistfuls of brake, all the way down. I know the people behind me love that! One of the things that is particularly crazy about these races is that they send everyone (200-400 riders) off at once, and there are a lot of skilled descenders, so I’m often pulling over to let one (or twenty) riders blow by.
The next evening was the Whistler toonie, organized by WORCA, which claims to be the world’s largest mountain bike club. In a town of only 10,000 people. Needless to say, turnout was huge, over 350 riders. This week’s course would be on the Lost Lake trails – basically Whistler’s easiest XC trails – which equate to something between Fountainhead and Gambrill in terms of difficulty.
I ended that week with a real XC race on Saturday, the Ore Crusher in Squamish. From what I had heard, this was an easy, mostly flat, pedally course. Sounded great! But after sliding out during my warm-up (and giving myself some pretty serious road rash) and starting tentatively, I ended up finishing about 15 minutes slower than I thought I would, which was a bummer. I ended up 3 rd out of 3 elite female racers and 5 th overall out of 35 or so women. Not horrible but a little discouraging.
That’s when I decided to turn my focus from racing to just learning to ride the terrain comfortably and confidently.
So, I spent the next couple of months Just Riding . No plan, no structure, no intervals…just exploring new trails, trying challenging obstacles over and over and over again, and generally having an awesome time on my bike.
The time flew by! I mostly rode alone, climbing forest roads and non-technical singletrack on my hardtail. When I wanted to ride some of the more technical trails, I headed to the north side of Whistler, alternating between Comfortably Numb , Kill Me Thrill Me and the trails in the Emerald neighborhood, known locally as the “no-flow zone” due to the rocky and pedally nature of the trails – kind of like the Shed or the rocky trails in Pennsylvania. So fun!
By late July I felt like I was ready to give it a go with racing again. I signed up for Gearjammer, a 28-mile point-to-point XC race billed as a “mountain biker’s race” due to almost 80% of the course being comprised of Squamish’s best trails. Unfortunately, I went out too hard, so by 90 minutes in I was in full cramp management mode and had to settle into a more leisurely pace. While a little discouraged after several women passed me, I realized I enjoyed the rest of the ride even though I was going slow.
After my first season of BC-style XC racing, I’m starting to think Just Riding is way more fun than bike racing. -Pam
Editors Note: We are sad to see Pam leave the DC area but very happy for her, especially since we get to go visit!