Issue Thirty One

FINDING THE FLOW

Kootenay Calling

WORDS x Pete Thomas
PHOTOS x Marc O'Brien

13 February 2018
Part One

Outta Here

Navigating the sea of decisions, planning, and execution of ‘life’ can draw an uncanny parallel to our time in the saddle, whether it’s a slimy root-riddled trail, off-camber outside turn, or a set of immaculate berms, careening pitch perfect through a cedar forest. I’m sure I’m not alone with that thought and a few months ago, I haphazardly agreed to join a few friends up in the Kootenay Rockies of British Columbia, Canada, for a mountain biking escapade. Wedged between a very smoky summer in Montana, USA and a fast-approaching winter, the decision was thrown on the calendar like a spit wad. Sometimes, that’s the most effective way to commit, without overthinking, without hesitation. Somehow, in my belly, I knew this was the right thing to do.

The brainchild of the trip was my good friend, Marc O’Brien, also from Whitefish. My plan was to participate in the ‘pre funk’ portion of the adventure, all the way to Retallack Lodge, where I would sheepishly pull the eject cord and return home, while the others enjoyed their decadent ‘dirtopian’ finale.

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Part Two

Due North

Passport in hand, lugging an overstuffed duffle with exactly 24 cans of beer, I hugged and kissed my wife and kids goodbye. I picked up my pal, Chad Corah, and split town. It takes a bit to settle into road trip mode, but the noise of my busy life slowly faded into the ether, replaced with a light wind out the window and the first of many compelling podcasts Chad had spooled up. I set an intention to really enjoy this time off and to go with the flow, whatever that flow is, because recently, the singletrack of life seemed more like a trials course than a nice smooth berm.

After a successful border crossing and being reminded to sign my passport by the friendly Canadian agent (oops), we headed up to Cranbrook to pick up Ryan Sperry, an expat and old bike buddy of Marc’s from his Oregon days, fresh off the plane from London. We continued to drive north, flanked by a continuous crescendo of peaks all the way to Radium Hot Springs, where we all caught up over beers, tinkered with our bikes and camped for the night.

Part Three

Dropping LSD in Golden

We awakened to a chilly, damp September morn, and quickly hit the road north to Golden. Entering the historic railroad town, we caught glimpses of Kicking Horse Mountain Resort and the opposing pitches of legendary Mount 7, home to the infamous Psychosis Race. Already, the mountains were clearly larger and more glaciated than back home. After hitting up the local bike shop, we learn that a recent blowdown event has rendered the Mount 7 area unrideable. Furthermore, the gondola we were banking on to access the top of the resort was closed. A friendly shop employee picked up on our dilemma and offered to shuttle us. Clearly not the masters of our own destiny, our plan seemed to be shaping itself and we decided to go along – to go with the flow. Several clicks of gravel later and anxious to get rolling, we hop out of the shuttle, pad up and pedal toward our first trail, appropriately named “LSD.”

It suddenly hit me that we were actually riding. All the planning and anticipation that absorbed me for weeks had finally left my brain as I sailed through the thin strip of dirt! I caught up with the squad and we shared our stoke with the first of many group high fives. Eager to continue, we descended the rooted, windy, stunt-riddled trail, like kids entering the gates of an amusement park. The pitch steepened and the technical terrain forced me into an elevated level of attention and immediacy. “I’m right here, right now, and my whole world was only what’s in front of me.” The trail delivered a perfect warm up and we transitioned into the appropriately named Canyon Creek trail, peer into its chasm and meander back to town.

We quickly headed up to our campground overlooking Cedar Lake to enjoy the remaining daylight. The ride had shaken our bones and also a few bolts that needed a little love. I kicked back and enjoyed a cold beer as Marc cooked up some extremely hot burritos. The light went down, replaced with a brilliant starscape, and we ended the evening with a spirited game of dominos. Somehow, Ryan won every game.

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Part Four

Rev'd Up

The next morning was crisp and damp after a middle-of-the-night rain shower. We quickly pack and headed toward British Columbia’s legendary Roger’s Pass on our way to Revelstoke. We drove through several avalanche sheds and tunnels and top out at the formidable Mount Macdonald. Feeling quite small next to the massif, it was clear that the mountains are in charge in this part of Canada. Arriving at our next destination I immediately discovered why Revelstoke is considered such a mountain Mecca. The mighty Columbia River flows through town with ice caps dotting the skyline’s upper reaches, standing sentinel over the valley. Spread out in all directions, the town delivers a host of trail networks and parks to satiate every level of mountain biker. After getting the lowdown from a local bike shop, we headed north out of town (and cell range) and settled in at our campsite on the shores or Lake Revelstoke. We were met by our buddy and professional pseudo-worker, Phil Grove. He’s been riding other hot spots further west for a week and is clearly amped to keep the stoke alive.

We devised our plan: First on our list…Keystone Standard Basin.

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Part Five

Keystone Standard Basin

It was easy to see the potential for snow in the alpine, so we geared up for variable conditions and being ‘out there’ and drove to the trailhead. Already, the views were breathtaking, with 360 degrees mountains, glaciers and more mountains. We knew two things: we’re going to be racing the waning sun, and, we were aiming to reach Standard Cabin at the end of this out-and-back ride. We saddled up and got going, but our pace was in direct conflict with the steep trail, originally built for hikers. It didn’t take long to break through into the alpine meadows however, and we couldn’t have been more stoked. We were somewhere between The Sound of Music and Braveheart, and I could swear I heard someone yell ‘Freedom’ in a beautiful falsetto. We pedalled, swerved and dipped through the airy expanse of tundra, weaving in and out of the coniferous stands, lightly tinged in white. The colors of autumn stirred the senses and with the abounding grandeur, it was hard to focus on the riding.

We stopped to take it all in – hearts pounding, lungs breathing and mouths smiling. We eyed the thin white strip across the basin to gauge our timing and felt good about reaching the cabin. We agreed to ‘keep it moving’ and amp up our pace. I gripped the bars, pushed my elbows out, pounded the pedals and got into my groove. There are few things in life better than being in that moment, flowing through mountains on bikes with buddies. The grade had now clearly tipped and we descended through a rooted series of turns in a marsh, which led us to the rustic Standard Cabin. It was a classic case of, “I wish we had more time to hang out here,” but we now needed to play that cassette tape backwards, and quickly, as a squall looked to close in. Thirty seconds later I’m fully engulfed in a sunny snowstorm. “I love this!”

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Part Six

A Fishy Diversion

Part of our group peeled out for another ride, so Ryan and I opted to explore a river that we just drove over. From the bridge overhead, we peered down to see red, wavy shapes, organized in groups, everywhere. It hit me -these are Kokanee, which are landlocked sockeye salmon, traveling upstream to their natal waters and spawning grounds to reproduce, and eventually die. The tell tale red hue marked this rite, and really one of the coolest spectacles to witness. We walked the river banks, hopping across rocks, like kids, getting a closer view of the fish. Upstream, we arrived at a deep emerald pool at a bend in the river, flanked by tall rocks and cliffs. We see four or five 3-foot-long torpedo shapes, silver in color. Wow…Steelhead! These fish are sea-run rainbow trout, and fairly rare in these parts. I’m energized by all the fish, their beauty, their unique lifecycle, their place in the ecosystem, and feel blessed by this diversion. An unexpected treat.

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Part Seven

Martha Creek Downhill

I admit it, this ride was the one that had me a bit worried. 5,000ft of descending over 6 miles and according to local reports, the upper portion was blanketed in snow and more was on the way. Added to that, I was only sporting a XC-trail rig where a DH rig was recommended. Gulp.

As we arrived at the summit, and despite it very much being winter at the top, I was pretty stoked to dive in. Marc’s inner-ski-bum rears its ugly head and he poaches fresh tracks down the steep entry. On-by-one, we followed. I took a deep breath, said a quick prayer to the gods, and pushed off. Letting go of fear, I replaced it with a clinical focus on my steering, feathering my brakes to block just the right amount of gravity. I found my sweet spot, with just the right amount of speed to navigate the rock gardens and still roll over the unavoidable obstacles. Everyone was amped and I was grateful of our timing, because we could very well have be the last riders of the season.

We slapped some high fives and pedalled into steeper terrain. The lines get bonier, with staircase drops and classic, tight switchbacks, stitching together a series of blazing sidehills. The pitch was unrelenting, only occasionally interrupted with a berm, manmade stunt, or technical rocks, some I choose to walk. Before long, we were nearing the bottom, weaving through a maze of ginormous fallen cedars left from a recent microburst. And just like that, we exited the bush onto the smooth asphalt of the highway, directly across from our campsite.

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Part Eight

Rounding out our rides in Revelstoke, we decided to hit the lower elevation trail system around Mount Macpherson. Compared to the alpine singletrack, we find ourselves among giant cedars, fir and hemlock within a maze of well-built, well-maintained trails. Our ride was casual and conversational and the uphill climbing kept us mostly together. We crested a vista, where the entire valley splayed out before us, including Revelstoke Mountain Resort and the towering Mount Begbie. I vowed to myself to return, already missing the place I have yet to leave. After traversing an outlying trail, we dived back beneath the canopy into a spirited zone of pitch perfect, bermed out goodness. Riding rat pack style, we hit the gas, chasing each others’ arcs through the forest. I realized in that moment that I had found my flow – I couldn’t have be happier. I let out a cathartic howl and enjoyed the buzz. Smiles filled the faces of the entire crew – Chad, Phil, Marc, Ryan – and we revelled at the moment.

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Part Nine

Natal Waters

From Revelstoke, we headed south to grab the ferry at Shelter Bay. Crossing Arrow Lake, we joked and reminisced about the last few days, but most of the group’s mindset had already shifted to the cherry on top of their adventure at Retallack Lodge, where I left leaving them. The stoke was almost palpable and I was happy for what was ahead for them and enjoyed one last beer and bid farewell.

Solo, I continued the drive south along the rivers and drainages, and I felt good. The trip had allowed me to take a break, breathe, relax, get a bit rowdy, and really enjoy life outside of my real life. I was able to just ‘be’ and recognize how I think, feel and operate, naturally. My bike was instrumental on this journey; the key vehicle enabling the insight and invoking the magic. While it rested in the back of my pickup, I did feel the pull home, to my wife, to my daughters, and to my life, ripe for a new beginning, just as the salmon flows back to its own natal waters.

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The End
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