Into The Mystic

"Is it open yet?"

The frequency with which this question was asked in the last few weeks/months became a running joke on local MTB channels. It's not like there's a shortage of other riding options around here, but I get it; I've been religiously checking TrailForks every week, waiting for the magical day when the full ascent into the alpine would open.

And then, last Thursday, it did:


The next question I had to ask was "can my body do this?" Specifically, my left hand. For the past three weeks, I've been dealing with a sprained thumb and index/middle fingers from going OTB. If you've ever played volleyball, you probably know the feeling that accompanies your fingers being jammed backwards after botching an attempt at setting the ball. It's taken three weeks to be able to make a fist again and I still didn't have full grip strength back, but I figured a rudimentary taping job would let me get through the day.

This is a ride I've wanted to do since I fully embraced the knobby-tire life last summer, but the province got smoked out from the wildfires and by the time I felt comfortable enough with my own skill level, the descent down Lord of the Squirrels would have been torn to shreds.

So, with a few days notice, a small crew was gathered for an all-day adventure into the alpine. We parked near a lake at the bottom and began our slow-but-steady slog across the flank of Mt. Sproat for about an hour before even getting to the ascent trail proper. Everybody came well stocked with plenty of fluid and snacks, so it was just a matter of making steady progress upward, punctuated with a few short downward traverses to give the legs a bit of a break.

We really couldn't have asked for a better day; temps were warm enough to be pleasant without being stifling and most of the climb was done under tree cover, and once we reached the sub-alpine and things started to thin out, variable cloud cover and a nice breeze kept things manageable and the worst of the bugs away. There were still patches of snow left high up, incredibly useful for stuffing into my helmet vents and down my back for nice refreshing time.

There are a few grunty sections where I would have appreciated a lower crawl gear, but nothing is overly technical. My injury mostly held up, but the constant jarring of the bar into the web of my hand over 45 minutes of descending, along with the accumulated effect of arm pump was not ideal. Also, 45 minutes of descending is a long time. Think you've got strong legs? Do you like doing wall sits? Well, this is kind of like doing wall sits while you're getting bounced around during a really long earthquake.

If you're considering this, just be prepared for a long day. The view up top is worth the effort.


Two team camps in one year!? If this keeps up, we’re going to run out of things that rhyme with Lillooet in short order.

It’s only been two months since #nofrillooet, but a lot of things have changed since then; the snows have melted, bare arms and legs have come out to play, camping has become a viable alternative to our usual motel accommodations, and everybody has come with skinny go-fast tires this time around. What hasn’t changed is the fact that camp is always hard. The particular brand of pain that gets inflicted upon you varies with each iteration, but at least all the routes are out-and-back, so if/when you get spat out the back, at least you get some recovery time before getting swept up by the group on the return.

In all honesty, the most difficult part of Mighty Camp is being able to capture decent photos. The folks who opt to make the trek north are usually looking to put some hard mileage in and aren’t really into noodling around. Case in point: after stopping at the top of a switchback descent to get some snaps, I watched the group roll away and ended up chasing for 17km solo over some pretty washboard-y dirt to make it to the turnaround. It didn’t help that I ripped open one of my few remaining gels, managing to get more of it on my hands, shifters, bibs, and legs than actually into my mouth hole. The most fun parts of the ride also happen to be the fast/twisty bits and the last thing I want is to cause a pileup in the name of snagging something for the ‘gram.

So, enjoy these brief glimpses into some of the chiller moments from the weekend.

Ride for Water Recon: Part Deuce

I had the opportunity to head back out to Chilliwack last weekend to take a look at the two climbs we didn't get to from the weekend previous. The weather had taken a glorious 180 and we set out at 8AM when it was still a bit brisk, but knew that things would quickly warm up. If you missed part one, last weekend's recap can be found here.

First up, Tamihi to Cultus Lake, which will pop up at about 100km into the long course. The most important note about this climb is probably how chunky the terrain is. The entire way is liberally sprinkled with protruding rocks and there's a nice runoff trench in the middle. You'll want to exercise some care if you're changing lines to overtake other riders. The descent on the other side is still bumpy and will have you rolling over loose rock/shale in spots. Given the summer-like conditions we've seen this week, it's highly unlikely that any of the puddles will still be there, but the craters they leave behind will be. If you're running tubed, this is a section where the danger of flatting increases. Keep your eyes up!


The highlight of the day, without a doubt, was the singletrack climb up Vedder. The dirt conditions were just about perfect and once you get into a rhythm, everything just flows. Do keep in mind that it does get kind of tight in here, so please be courteous/patient if you're passing/being passed. If you're "racing" the event, it's worth burning a match to be first into this section, but otherwise, take a moment and enjoy the scenery. The switchbacks should be wide enough for passing as long as you announce your intention to pass and whether you're going to go inside or outside line. Try and keep a bit in reserve since you'll still have some service road to climb after you exit the singletrack and it does get violently steep for a few pitches and this will be coming towards the tail end of a 150km day. Traversing the road (aka doing the "paperboy") is a perfectly appropriate technique to get you over this last hurdle.


The long course will see some alterations in the coming week. The original plan was to descend Duck Farm trail, but that section is going to be removed and likely replaced with a mellower descent down a service road. The trail is properly gnarly, rocky, and heavily trenched out in the middle. It's exhilarating in its own way, but would not be a pleasant experience at the end of an already long day. Enjoy these photos, secure in the knowledge that you won't have to hurl yourself down this


Ride for Water Recon

Gravel/all-road/under-biking is de rigeur these days, for a multitude of reasons. Whether you're looking for escape from the hazards of dealing with cagers on open roads, a way of exploring terrain that you'd previously ignored, a reason to keep the 'cross bike rolling during the "off-season," or whatever your desired rationale, it's nice to see more options popping up in the lower Mainland. For those who are looking for something other than the familiar Fisherman's Trail loop, the off-road ascents to Cypress, Grouse, or Seymour in North Vancouver, or any of the many dyke paths, this is going to be a worthy challenge.

Mark May 5th on your calendars for the Ride for Water. The course has been set by Matt Scott, the devious mind behind the great ValleyCX series, and has plenty in store for both fledgling and veteran gravel grinders. The ride will feature both long and short courses, with aid/water stations and multiple time-cuts/bailout points that will give riders the option of taking paved roads back into town should they find themselves biting off more than their legs can chew. The ride will start and end at Old Yale Brewing, who will be setting up a beer garden in collaboration with a few other craft brewers from the Fraser Valley and hosting a wrap-up party with live music. PS: your event entry comes with a post-ride meal and beer ticket.

A few of us had the opportunity to pre-ride parts of the course last weekend. I've put together a little preview for ya'll, but the incessant rain and dirt jammed my camera about halfway through, so I wasn't able to get everything. Anyway, here goes:

Everything starts off nice and mellow. Riders will be on dyke paths and a brief paved road section before things start getting vertical on Slesse Rd. The lower grade is pretty chill, but the climb will feature several kicks into the mid-to-upper double digit gradients, so pacing (and gearing) is going to be key. Remember, you're still going to have a full day ahead of you.


We topped out on the bench just below the snow line and were treated to a majestic view of the valley below, even covered in fog. A brief photo op and it was time to descend on a forest service road. It was nice and wide and recently graded, but the seemingly non-stop rain the PNW has experienced over the last little bit made things a wee bit sloppy. As usual, you'll want to keep your eyes up and make good line choices to avoid the occasional ruts, divots, and rocks.


It was around here that the blades of camera's lens cover jammed as I tried to handle it with gloves covered in grit, so there's a good chunk of terrain that I wasn't able to capture because I was hesitant to keep pulling it out while it was still drizzling and my rear tire was kicking up a steady stream of brown muck. We traversed a flat section of dirt service road next to the Chilliwack River that had turned into a sodden, muddy, mess from the rain. If it dries out, it should prove to be a fast section of the ride, but if conditions stay wet, it'll be like riding a mud section at a 'cross race, requiring your legs to turn a big(ger) gear at high torque to make it through efficiently.

For the sake of time (and beer!), we skipped the last two climbs of the long course and headed back to town. Instead of rolling straight back via pavement, however, Matt has saved the best (in my opinion) for last; the final leg of the day will take riders through some single and double track on the Trans Canada Trail. It was quite a shock to the senses to come down from the gritty greys and browns at higher elevations and drop into the lush green foliage. Things may get a bit congested on event day with 100+ riders coming through here, so you'll want to exercise some courtesy when passing or being passed. On Sunday, however, it was just a half dozen of us. I quickly gave up on trying to keep up with Canadian CX champ Michael van den Ham and the others who had an MTB background and tried to focus on not spilling it over the incredibly slick wet roots. 


Hopefully this gives you a tantalizing taste of what's coming up in a few weeks. For those of you who are wondering about gearing and tire choices, I ran the following setup:

  • SRAM 1x. I'm geared 40 x 11-42. You'll definitely want something approaching a 1:1 ratio (or lower!) so you're not slogging it out at 40-50 RPM up these climbs. This will be especially important for the Vedder Mountain climb at the end of the day when you've already been in the saddle for 6+ hours and you come around a switchback to see the road still going up. I'm still considering dropping down to a 38 ring up front.

    If you don't have/want an MTB cassette in the back, I would highly recommend prioritizing a low climbing gear over optimizing for the brief road sections and dropping your front chainring size. A 36 chainring paired with an 11-36 cassette that most folks are running on a CX rig should be fine. 36x11 @ 90 RPM will still get you 38.6km/h on the road on a 35c tire. Will you find yourself spinning out on the paved sections? Maybe, but it's probably better hitting your shifter and having your rear derailleur not move when you're on an 18% grade.
  • 35mm Panaracer GravelKing SK tires, tubeless. They inflate to about 38mm on my rims. For me, these are a good balance between durability, volume, rolling resistance, weight, and traction on the terrain for this ride. If you're riding a CX bike and don't want to bother getting dedicated "gravel" tires, any of the 33mm intermediate treads you probably already have will fine. Depending on how much precipitation comes in the days leading up to the event, you may even be able to get away with a file tread. A full mud tread is overkill and not necessary. If you can fit fatter rubber, by all means, go for it and enjoy the cushier ride that a lower pressure will bring. Personally, I find 35-38mm to be the sweet spot between having enough volume to take the edge off some of the gnarlier stuff without feeling bogged down by all that extra rubber. But hey, you do you.

    If you're still running tubed, bring spares (minimum 2 recommended) and a mini pump instead of/in addition to Co2 and be prepared to be self-reliant since most of the course will be out of cellular coverage. There'll be 100+ riders there with you so somebody will inevitably stop and help, but it sucks to be that person who double flats with only one spare. Also, please don't dump your empty gas cartridges (or any other trash for that matter) on the course. Pack it in, pack it out.

Part two of the ride can be found here.