CHARACTERS 8: ANDREAS HESTLER Story by Riley McIntosh // Photos by Kari Medig // Video by Connor Macleod
Every man is more than just himself; he also represents the unique, the very special and always significant and remarkable point at which the world's phenomena intersect, only once in this way, and never again - Hermann Hesse
Back when I was in junior high school and riding tons on Mt. Tzouhalem in Duncan, XC racing was in its hey-day. The likes of Roland Green, Alison Sydor, Ryder Hjesdal, and Andreas Hestler were just down the road in Victoria, training like ferocious beasts. Every once in a while we’d see them on the trails, and just be blown away. Andreas was very recognizable. He was a bad-ass, a smiley guy, and of all the different things that stand out I always remember people talking about his biceps! At the 1998 Hornby Island XC I was watching the pros race and when Andreas rode by, this dude beside me turned to his buddy and said “I don’t understand why he lifts weights so much to build up his arms, doesn’t that extra bulk just hold him back on the climbs?” Kind of a random memory I know, but that always just stuck with me because to my young mind back then it meant that you could be a strong XC racer but have the arms of a wrestler; as in: you don’t have to exactly fit the mould to be successful.
Andreas is known as ‘Dre’ and is a true leader in the BC mountain bike world. He competed in the first XC race ever held at the Olympics. He has been going strong for 20+ years, is one of the main dudes in charge of the BC Bike Race, and has been riding for Rocky Mountain Bicycles forever. Before we even really started making a plan for doing a Characters story together, my unconscious mind seemed to have already decided that we should spend several days together and basically just ride as much as possible. I guess without even thinking about it I just assumed Dre would be the type of guy who would just want to go, go, go. I have done lots of ‘super days’ in my time, it has always seemed so logical to ride more than less. Why ride once if you can ride twice? Some of my favourite days have involved multi rides in my former hometown of Nelson, on big trails like Slabblanche, Powerslave, Bedframe, the Vein, the Monster, and Baldface. When I was building the first trail at Retallack Lodge it was customary to build all day and ride all evening. I have always loved to learn new trails and then come up with adventures to ride a bunch of trails in close proximity all in one day. Dre and I figured we’d explore his ‘home’ trails, but in a bit of a rapid fire attack approach. We lined up a pretty dialed-in itinerary: Vancouver Island, North Van, Brittania Beach, Squamish, Whistler, and Pemberton.
We figured that riding trails throughout the entire length of the Sea-to-Sky Corridor would serve as a metaphor for both time and the range of experiences life offers. For instance, Andreas has been riding in BC for more than two decades and has really seen it all. Our time frame was October 2nd to 6th, a moderately dependably awesome time to be riding bikes in the woods. A chance of cold and rain, yes, but also potential for cool fresh air, wet roots, dry rocks, and long sleeves, high speeds, and good times. The plethora of trails we’d be riding would take us on an adventure backwards in time; onto old school trails that harken back to the days of yore, to the time of bandit trail building and rigid frames, but also onto new trails that boast many of the catalysts of the new school: regular upkeep by bike clubs, signage, and well planned efforts to drain water and maintain sustainability. It was important to both of us to spend a day riding on Vancouver Island, because that temperate land of milk and honey is where Dre’s path began. For this trip we recruited my good friend Kari Medig from Nelson, a prolific photographer and world traveler. Several weeks before Kari and I had joined Revelstoke adventure man and photographer Bruno Long on a fairly arduous assault on Mt. Cartier in Revelstoke, which involved a 16.5 km hike a bike, quite a few thousands worth of vertical ascent, and a descent in kind plus more. The downhill went on and on and Kari stomped me out, the guy just didn’t stop all the way down that never ending descent. In other words, a true athlete like Kari would be the perfect guy for this trip. Also coming along for our Sea-To-Sky trails extravaganza was Connor Macleod, a former top end Canadian downhill racer. In recent times Connor has become a videographer and he’d be capturing the trip on film. It was my first time meeting Connor and I was stoked to hang with him, I’d seen lots of his stuff over the years, the highlights for me being his ‘UltraMontane’ film series and going back many years, his ‘Overflow’ trail on Cypress which was one of the first true gnarly flow line trails. It was featured in one of the first Collective movies, maybe even the first one, with Geoff Gulevich doing the riding. We had a great and capable little crew to say the least, and what lay in store was another highlight of the riding season for me. Read on and share the ride with us.
|Dre and I were racing together back at Trans Rockies in 2008. We were halfway into the seven day stage race when I had a massive high speed crash and had to be evacuated by helicopter out of the woods. I was knocked out, concussed, couldn't breathe, couldn't feel my feet, broke my collarbone, and my shoulder blade. I was a total mess. Dre stayed with me and got me settled down and assured me everything was fine, that my legs were indeed working even though I thought they weren't. While I was getting attended to be the medics and having the IV put in my arm and getting strapped into the stretcher, Dre stumbles across, of all things, a crossbow arrow laying at my feet, right where I crashed. Without even hesititating, he holds it up and says, 'Holy shit Kev - someone shot you with a crossbow!' In the middle of nowhere, in the most awful circumstances, there was Dre making everyone laugh, even me, high as a kit on pain killers. - Kevin Colhoun |
So the boys arrived at my house at the scheduled time and the plan was to head down to ride in Victoria. However, it was a super beautiful day: warm and overcast. Since the new trail I’d been working on was literally right above my house, I suggested we just get up there and start riding, and skip the travel time to Victoria. Dre and I agreed that it would’ve been great to showcase some of the trails in Victoria that he’d spent so much time riding, but at the same time, he rode in the Cowichan Valley too so we might as well get to it. The true soul and highlight of mountain biking on Vancouver Island is the fact that you can pretty much ride every day of the year. It’s not uncommon to have temperatures in the double digits in January for god’s sake. That’s what makes Victoria such an ideal training ground for Canada’s top cyclists. I was stoked to show the guys the new trail on Maple Mountain, which was a fresh effort put together by a society I helped start, called the Cowichan Trail Stewards
. Dre has watched all these riding towns on the coast transform into full on destinations with races, events, clubs, tons of new trails and riders. I was excited to show him what we had started on Maple Mountain.
As we made our way up the daunting Maple Mountain climb, I fired some questions Dre’s way to get a better understanding of how things started off for him. His voice is energetic, with a slight bit of gravel tone to it. He has no problem pushing his way up this steep hill and keeping the conversation going. I can’t imagine all the miles upon miles of hills he has climbed in his career, and at speeds much greater than this. He tells me of his past. Dre began mountain biking in high school. Mountain biking was pretty hot at the time and the kids graduating ahead of him were leaving school for tree planting and coming back with new Rocky Mountain Blizzards and Yeti’s equipped with hot Shimano XT, Thomaselli brake Levers, and Cook Bros Cranks. His commuter bike was stolen and he was giving up on skateboarding as a mode of transportation. The insurance for the stolen commuter bike wasn’t much but it was enough for him to choose his first real mountain bike in 1986. Dre moved to Vancouver when uphill, downhill and XC was all done on one rigid bike with toe clips and there was no other option. He was a decent downhiller but couldn’t handle the consequences of shit going sideways in such a short amount of time. He liked the long protracted story of an XC race but he says that if there had been Enduro racing back then he would’ve been all over that. Dre earned his first paycheque and stopped working a regular job in 1995. I asked him about some of the highlights over the years and he tells me the highlights haven’t stopped, and that mountain biking seems to always give and reward every effort he puts into it. However, he lists his first National Title, competing in the Olympics, winning the Cactus Cup in Arizona, a NORBA Super D win, a short track podium over Lance Armstrong and his first ride in the Chilcotins as some of the uppermost memories.
This scene is quite typical of eastern Vancouver Island. Lots of moss, fir trees, and ocean spray, which is the shrub in the background. On Maple Mountain, the stand out features are Arbutus and Garry Oak trees, which are actually pretty specific to southeastern Vancouver Island. The diversity of the riding areas Andreas and I both have experience riding in plays a big part in what makes mountain biking so awesome. Dre is very quick to say that he loves living on the North Shore because of the 'gnar' and the challenging terrain. I agree with him, to be honest I love living on the Island but I wouldn't mind more techy scary rock and rooty stuff. However, it is the year round riding conditions, up down and all around style trails, and multitude of riding areas on southern Vancouver Island that served Dre such an ideal training ground in the glory days of his XC racing background, and keep me riding happy as well.
|I've known Dre for more years than I have not. From idolizing him when I was an aspiring young mountain biker in Victoria to working together as peers for five years at Rocky, he opened up a lot of opportunities for me. As an athlete, he's the quintessential pro. He always has his sponsors in mind and works hard to represent them well. No one I know is more consistently positive and hard-charging than Dre. Whether on death-march rides in the pouring rain, or slaving in 100 degree heat at Dirt Demo, and then laughing about it all over beers, Dre is the guy you want around. -Peter Vallance |
In the the early years, Dre was racing with Canadian XC pioneers Chris Otter, Bruce Spicer, Andy Tout and Jo Jo Buscombe. Later on the group evolved and were referred to as the Canadian Mafia with Roland Green, Ryder Hesjedal, Seamus Macgrath and Chris Sheppard. “It was always a great crew and the vibe was communal. We were doing what we loved, the World Cups were hard but fun and travelling together created some very lasting friendships.” In 1996, Dre raced the first XC race in the history of the Olympics. “I was so proud to represent my country. My father finally recognized that my insane passion for mountain biking had merit and being a ‘bike bum’ like a ‘ski bum’ could be a career choice. Being one of the first Canadians to make history when mountain biking was accepted, as a full medal sport in the Olympics was an honour. During the event I ended up flatting and with the high humidity, wet gloves and dripping sweat my tire change didn’t go well. I stopped to collect myself and even took a bathroom break and re-entered the race dead f*cking last. While many others dropped out from the heat and mechanicals I soldiered on because the story wasn’t about failure, even though it was super, super hard. I ended up passing a few back markers and finished 31st.”
As we came around an exposed rocky bluff offering up most righteous views of Mt. Richards and Mt. Prevost, we discovered four cans of beer perched on the moss shouting ‘drink us!’ It doesn’t get much better than that, 70% of the way down the mountain, good views, and a serendipitous find of trail treasure. They must've been left behind after a recent volunteer trail work day. Brew in hand, we chatted about Dre’s past and I got some more insight. He first moved to Vancouver in 1989 for a year and immersed himself in the early mountain biking scene. Over the next 10 years he was based out of Victoria and it was full on training with the National Team and World Cup racing. He returned to the North Shore in 1999 and has been there ever since. As a mountain biker who was always seeking out the burliest trails it felt natural for him to move closer to the home of gnar-gnar, the North Shore. Since his three Trans-Rockies wins and his first ride in the Chilcotins he naturally began to switch gears to epic adventures, and road trips with the bro’s to explore new-fangled trails. Trips such as the Rocky team trip to Argentina and the Pink Bike Hurtin’ for Vert stories have embodied the spirit of mountain bike adventure he has always sought out. It’s inspiring to stand there and have a beer mid trail, and listen to Dre talk about his years upon years of riding. His level of enthusiasm borders on boisterous. Not on the level of Brett Tippie per se, but Dre’s obvious love of bikes and trails is addictive and definitely got me excited for the days ahead.
After we finished up on Maple Mountain we headed back to my house and were treated to a feast of chili prepared by my lovely lady. The boys tidied up and headed for the ferry. The plan was for me to catch the early boat first thing the next morning and meet them in Horseshoe Bay. From there we'd head straight up Cypress to hit some of the legendary trails I'd been hearing about for years. Connor is a Cypress wizard, having grown up in West Vancouver, and Kari has also done his share of North Shore riding. All went according to plan, I met Dre at 8:30 a.m. the next morning and we drove over to the pickup spot. I was surprised by how close it was to Horseshoe Bay. We met up with Connor and Kari who were piloting our badass Ford F250 rental truck which we had the honor of using, supplied by Vancouver Tourism. The weather was dandy and our pal Margus Riga showed up to join in the fun.
|Once he said to me 'A virus can't live in a place this hostile.' He was speaking of his body. That night I watched him ring out about 12 beers then drop me like a hot coal on the next morning's ride. Also, I told him one time I was going to quit drinking coffee. He said that he did that and life was not better in any way and on top of that he rode slower than he ever had. He said the small things are what make the big difference. Don't cheat yourself the things you feel you deserve. - Mark Weir |
Here we are asserting our 'double bladed loam saws' deep into the soft forgiving earth. Dre is a hard charging master rider, really forcing and directing his bike ahead of me with authority. This upper section of the trail is neat because there is a deep canyon on the rider's right as you speed downwards. It offers a sense of vertical relief and also sporadic views of the ocean. The ecosystem is more sub-alpine style, with lots of hemlock, and scrubby yellow cedar. Up here, the feeling is much different than the trails of Maple Mountain from the day before, and that diversity adds to the fun.
The sheer organic mass of the North Shore's forests is incredible. Our tires float over the sponge of decaying cedar logs that have become partially buried beneath untold quantities of forest matter that has been literally falling apart for centuries. As we leave the pristine world of the upper trails, the forest begins to change. The trees increase in size, and we enter the land of the big cedars. At any moment I expect to see a tall skinny blue creature go flitting through the branches above me. But Avatar thoughts dissolve as I fight to stay close behind Dre. He doesn't seem to want to take prisoners and rides fast. He masterfully crosses a mud pool on a stupidly skinny and slippery cedar plank and drops me. I am left behind, tri-poding my way through the bog like an awkward giraffe. Lucky for me, he waits ahead, on a rise in the trail, his breath steaming in the cold air.
As we got closer to the entrance of the lower trail, we were treated to some of the more stand-out 'Jesus light' I'd seen in awhile. At this point the pathway really started to pick up speed and we were truly in some of the most awe inspiring forest anywhere. The dirt was moist and those classic slimy cedar roots glistened up at us, grinning their slippery grin. On more than a few occasions my rear tire was thrown out behind me in that sudden uncontrollable flash that only the greasiest of roots can provide.
Suddenly our story turned into a thriller. We said screw it to taking more photos and pretty much non-stopped it all the way down. For the first bit it was loamy, but gradually transformed into full on burl-gnar root and rock radness. I bet if you hiked up that trail you'd be gaping at all the boulder strewn madness going 'How the hell do we ride this?' Following Dre was definitely pushing it for me, considering I'd never ridden the trail before and was now chasing Mr. Trail Slayer down some of the most chunky trail-bed I'd ridden all season. However, I have often thought that the first time down a trail can be the best, when you have no notion of what lies ahead, no fear of some scary jump or steep part. You just let the trail take you where it wants and give in to the moment. I had a good few of those close calls when you enter something a bit sketchy and are carrying enough speed and it's steep enough that you just kind of have to 'let it run.' I've spent plenty of time riding behind some of the world's best and I was very impressed with how Dre shredded the crap out of that jumble of earth matter we were calling a route. I was totally elated by that ride. As Dre said, he wanted to show me his home trails and interpretation of what the 'Shore' is all about. And that experience made it pretty clear.
After Cypress we hit up Seymour's Pub, which is never a bad call after a great ride of course. We all drained our first beer in seconds and since Dre says, 'The first beer doesn't count,' we all swiftly ordered another. After good grub and conversation, Connor and Dre headed home and Kari and I hunkered down at the Holiday Inn. We left early the next morning to meet my new pal Roland Benesocky at Galileo's Coffee in Brittania Beach. I'd met Roland through a mutual friend, Chris Heynen, in August and he'd toured me around his hometown of Squamish for a couple very outstanding rides. Roland is about as smiley of a guy as they come and a high end rider for sure. I think he finished top 30 in the BC Bike Race this year, and is also very involved with maintaining the Squamish trails. Back in August, Chris Heynen and I had discovered a trail called 'Half Whip' up above Brittania that I had quickly fallen in love with. It reminded me a lot of one of my favorite trails in Nelson, 'Spacejunk.' Dre had never ridden it before so I was eager to show him, Kari, and Connor. The plan for the day was rather ambitious because we also wanted to do another ride in Squamish before heading to the Scandanave Spa up in Whistler.
The climb up to Half Whip takes about an hour and a half and is not too bad. You have to ride on pavement for a bit, and there is one sustained steep uphill on the logging road about 70% of the way up that is fairly hard on the legs. Roland and I led the way up and Dre was accusing us of 'setting a fast pace.' I couldn't help but laugh because this was coming from a guy who had beat Lance Armstrong in an XC race. As we pedal our way upwards, that mist indicative of the coast drifting above us, I ask him what it was like to beat Lance. He tells me it was only in retrospect that standing on the podium above Lance became increasingly amazing. At that point Mr. Cheaty Pants had just won his first Tour De France. But Dre said he wasn't going to let some dumb roadie beat him in the mud on a short track course! It was a tough race, pissing rain with a big booter in the middle of the course, a true bike handlers’ nightmare and Lance did make the podium. But he couldn't defeat the Dre-man. So Roland and I have been climbing the hill at a 'fast pace' according to Dre. But after he finishes telling me about crushing Armstrong, I realize just how strong Dre was in his XC racing career. It's a humbling moment.
|I've been riding, racing and travelling with Andreas for about 20 years now. He was one of the first Canadians to hit it big on the international racing scene. He inspired a generation of younger riders, including myself, to set our sights on a professional racing career. Beyond the racing, Andreas has been a great ambassador for the sport of mountain biking. He enjoys it to the fullest every time he is out on the bike. Other than that, he's also a great family man and fun to hang out with post ride! - Seamus McGrath |
Half Whip has got that 'old school' or 'hiking trail' vibe going on. I think it's actually an old trials motor bike trail, but I'm not sure. It certainly isn't tracked out and fresh dirt is plentiful. It goes through some incredibly sweet wide open forest. You can see through the trees for a long way and there is almost zero undergrowth. 'Grey Ghosts' which are long dead but still standing Cedar snags stand guard along the trail like silent sentinels. Roland leads the way and we flicker through the forest at high speed. We don't spend a lot of time taking photos, mostly because the trail is so damn good but also because we have lots on the agenda for today.
Half Whip is not a short trail, but it is certainly in a hurry to get you down. The trail is precipitous, it is sheer and we had our brake pads about as hot as they get I'm sure. My favorite part of this trail is near the middle: You enter a big open area with a unique ridge feature running like a spine along this bench, it's flat on either side below the spine, but eventually heads sharply down into a creek ravine on the left and to a towering cliff band on the right. A steep, rooty and hard-to-make climb gets you up onto the spine, which is perhaps sixty vertical feet higher than the forest floor on either side. The trail follows along the middle of it, a dark strip of milk chocolate bordered on either side by sickly, puke colored moss. Eventually the spine terminates into more fall-line slant, the earth soft and forgiving to the tires. Many of the steep sections shoot you into side-hills that invite the opportunity to spring off of roots and gap upwards; landing above the trail on the up-slope, sending you diving back onto the trail. The utmost care is required to avoid going for a willy-nilly dive into the stratosphere off the left hand side, where certain doom awaits. Daring jumps aside, I focused on Dre's pale jacket ahead, trying as always to remember to look where I'm going, not where I am. On trails with a lot of downward-ness, but also lots of rocks and lumps, I often find myself stuck on staring at what immediately lies ahead of my front wheel. The trick is certainly to look much farther down the trail, and watching for changes in Dre and Roland's progress ahead helped me to get a better sense of what was to come. On the switch side of that, riding right behind Dre and Roland does make the actual upcoming trail surface blinder, and put me in a position of having to trust and focus on the rider ahead. That is what Half Whip was all about for me that day, bouncing downwards, trusting Dre and Roland to stay on the trail and keep me safe!
We stopped for a bit of lunch at the Living Room Restaurant in Squamish before heading out for one of Roland's 'Go-to after work loops.' I could see why it's perfect for him since we were hitting the dirt only minutes from his house. Dre has spent a lot of time riding in Squamish, between being a veteran of the Test of Metal and hosting the BC Bike Race on Squamish's finest trails. He seemed super fired up to ride so that is a testament to the longevity and worthiness of this town at the Head of Howe Sound! After my three days of learning more of Squamish's trails back in August, I have thought of them often. I'd say Squamish might have the strongest network of mountain bike trails anywhere. Especially when you look at them from the perspective of being really user friendly and accessible to the public. In this shot we are on a particularly tricky side-hill section of Entrails, which has lots of pedal grabber rocks and a couple semi awkward short little up and overs. Roland gave me an important tip about the first tough tight spot, which almost didn't appear to have enough room to make it through but surprise, surprise, worked perfectly. We paused for a bit at Edith Lake which is the site of an old logging camp. We were talking about our 'bucket list' for places in the world we want to ride. Dre had this to say: "For me there are so many places and events on my bucket list and time is so precious these days with two young kids. Switzerland on the Big Mountain 'Cloudraker' trip, Madagascar and the Reunion Islands for the Mega, China, Nepal, anywhere there are high mountains and wicked trails, back to the Chilcotins, Northern BC and Sun Valley Idaho to name just a very few. Currently Rocky is working on a video project with Mountain Bike Tourism BC, this has allowed me to travel extensively around the province. There are so many amazing places and we are only half way through the project with a whole year yet to go - ask me that again at the end of the year and I'll be able to say I've been all over the province. However, I’m pretty sure I will still only have scratched the surface!"
I'm not sure exactly what the Squamish locals call this section of Entrails, but I'm pretty sure Roland was calling it the 'Whale's Back.' The first rock roll is a totally bare and clean rock spine that rolls over pretty steep, and there is only a short section of dirt before you have to turn slightly right into the second rock roll. This section is steeper than it looks in this photo but is also something that most intermediate riders could work up to or even ride with no problems every time. The trails we rode in Squamish are such a good representation of what the industry nowadays is calling 'All Mountain.' To keep fancy terms like enduro and what not simple, Squamish offers awesome mountain bike trails for those riders who like to pedal up and explore a huge myriad of trails on the way back down. Some highlights for me back in August were Angry Midget, Half Nelson, the Legacy Climbing Trail, Guauranga, Cheshire Cat, Treasure Trail, and Entrails. We finished this ride on a trail called Roller Coaster which is super fast and smooth. Roland and Dre were charging hard and really smashing the pedals. Once again we mostly just took pictures and filmed a bit in a few spots and then enjoyed the ride, so it gave Kari and Connor lots of opportunity to shred just as freely as Dre, Roland, and I. Arriving at the truck, we were a loud bunch of happy rascals, and happier still when Roland invited us down to his place for some beers.
3:30 pm, downtown Squamish BC, October 4th, 2013. Apres ride beers at Roland's. The conversation turned to meeting new people, and how moments on the bike become lasting memories when new friends are there to share the moment. Here's an excerpt from Dre's take on the subject: "Some of the raddest people I have ever ridden with have to be my biking friends here in BC but that’s because we all understand each other and the style of riding we share. The global cycling community is so full of 'Rad' people and the moments shared sometimes are so brief but so poignant: On the side of a mountain in Costa Rica crawling up a hill, sharing misery but sharing a 'moment'. Or in a short track race watching someone nearly crash and die but save it and giving them a little quip 'nice save.' Things like that, those moments stand out more than any others. Those intense, perhaps unexpected seconds of high emotion." For us, a quick loop of Mashiter, to Tracks from Hell, up past Edith Lake to Mike's Loop, to Upper 50 Shades of Green and finishing with Entrails to Roller Coaster filled the mountain bike moments spank bank for another day.
|It is day six of the gruelling, seven-day BC Bike Race. We're all huddled together, including Dre (the media crew boss), in the BCBR media trailer, looking over the days' photos. It's 10pm, and we're all beat and ready for bed, except Dre. He's bright and chipper, casually sipping on beers and choosing photos for the day's media post. Nothing really strange about that, except that Dre had been out there all day racing the BCBR in the Open Pro Men category, and holding his own amongst a field of mountain biking royalty. The guy is an animal. The perfect yin and yang of party monster, and pro athlete. I have no idea where he gets his energy from, but it's not human. Dre will always be someone to look up to for me, and a humbling gauge as to how healthy and motivated I 'think' I really am. - Margus Riga |
We'd heard about the Scandanave Spa in Whistler too many times to not go, especially after a double ride day. We booted it up to Whistler after saying good bye to Roland, and were treated to a couple hours of chilling out. We met up with local ultra-shredder Matt Ryan, but since there is a no-talking rule when in the Spa we didn't get much of a chance to catch up with him. The Spa is laid out on a terraced hill side with a pretty fancy vibe and various artfully crafted outbuildings containing saunas, steam rooms, and hot tubs. We snuck some conversation in down by this fireplace and of course all we talked about was how rad the riding had been the last few days. Maple Mountain, Sagermatha, Half Whip, and a Squamish loop........the force was with us.
Sushi Village is a bit of a 'must' when visiting Whistler. I hadn't spent much time around Matt Ryan before this and it's official: He is the funniest guy I have been around all year, stealing Kenny Smith's spot. Matt is an Aussie and has been in Whistler for years. He is a plumber by trade but works at Fanatyk Co and rides non stop. While chowing on Sushi he schooled us in his belief that he is finely in tune with the Peregrine Falcon; that his 'Spirit Animal' guides him safely along the bike trails at break-neck speeds. He educated us on the Peregrine's most awesome features: The air pressure from a 200 mph (320 km/h) dive could possibly damage the bird's lungs, but small bony tubercles (which Matt referred to as 'Nasal Diffusers') on the falcon's nostrils guide the powerful airflow away from the nostrils, enabling the bird to breathe more easily while diving at mach speed. To protect their eyes, the falcons use their nictitating membranes (third eyelids) to spread tears and clear debris from their eyes while maintaining vision. Mr. Ryan made a theatrical display of 'engaging eye shields' for maximum vision while shredding his bike at unruly speeds. He had us all laughing our heads off which made for a flawless end to a solid day of riding bikes in the woods, with a touch of luxury added to the mix once we hit Whistler. Eventually we retired to the 'biker's retreat,' The Aava Hotel.
The plan for day four was to participate in 'Lumpy's Epic,' a memorial race for a legendary rider, Geoff Leidel. The morning dawned about as misty and damp as it gets, and the socked in, rainy drizzle spelled winter in bold words. The Fitzsimmons chairlift hung empty, dead in the fog. The craziness of summertime Whistler was long gone. However, there is much, much more to Whistler's mountain bike prospects than just the bike park. We hit up a local joint for coffee and bagels, and ran into hot shit freerider Mike Hopkins, who was just about to drive to Vancouver to hop a plane to the Redbull Rampage. We wished him the best, and piled into the truck, headed to the Stonebridge Development just outside of town. Climbing up the Flank Trail, the rain tinkled down and the pebbly surface and occasional wet root slowed us to a crawl. The steep climb took it's toll, but we grinned and laughed our way upwards. The knowledge that we were signed up for an XC race entailing roughly 3,000 vertical feet of climbing, which started in a few hours, was scoffed at as a thing of the future, not to be worried about. Reaching the top, the sky was a gray pea soup and the rain a constant. We dove into Korova Milk Bar and Rockwork Orange, two trails that totally blew my mind. I was really impressed with the gnarl-factor, and as usual, Dre ground the trail to bits with his hard hitting riding style. Connor showed us his rock solid bike handling skills, negotiating tough terrain with a fifty pound camera pack on his back.
I don't know who built the West Side trails we rode but they did a kick ass job. Rockwork Orange is a new trail and it's pretty obvious the builders are burly riders. Rockwork lives up to its name and is a perilous route along terraced ridges of stone. There is exposure, technical moves a plenty, and provides a challenging and full on ride far out of the realm of the bike park. Dre has spent most of the year on a Rocky Altitude 27.5, which he says is an amazing bike that can do anything, from the Enduro World Series to Triple Crown all day rides. With 150 mm of travel and adjustable geometry, it's a true 'Do it all' bike. Interestingly, Dre says that his "riding is only getting better." When he said that my mind instantly flashed to the savage frothing XC beast he once was. How could he be a better rider now than then? However, I suppose back then he was peaking more on fitness compared to handling ultra rugged terrain. Therefore, at 42 years of age, the fact that Dre says his skills are only getting better both makes sense and is pretty inspiring. Thanks to the new bikes, it is easy to see why even the most seasoned riders can just keep progressing their aptitude, if the body holds out. Dre is truly a 'Trail Blazer' for all of us mountain bikers. But, he is also still one of the most dyed-in-the-wool single track hounds anywhere, and that is what makes him exceptional.
Whistler's woods have a very distinct look to them. The sub alpine forest extends from an elevation of approximately 3000 to 6000 vertical feet. Considering the Whistler Village sits at 2200 hundred feet, we were probably riding at a peak elevation of perhaps 3500 feet. This forest type typically has poorer, less developed soil and is generally covered in snow much earlier in the fall than the lower elevation rainforest and stays buried well into the spring and early summer. Mountain Hemlock and Subalpine Fir dominate, with some scrubby cedars scratching out a living where they can. That mix of poor soil and rocky ground seems to encourage a slick grid of roots to protrude from the trail. On our ride, the greasy levels were through the roof and it made for loose and sketchy riding. As we pinned down the rock strewn pitches, I cheered on my Kona Process 111, a machine that lets me do pretty damn fun stuff. With 4 inches of travel, twenty niner wheels, Sram XO brakes, Hans Dampf tires, a reverb seat post, and geometry that raises your spirits, there is no excuse to not shred. Not long ago, trails like this would've been total 'DH' runs. The fact that the four of us had pedaled up there on 30 pound (or less) bikes, which is awesome,
We barely made it to One Mile Lake in Pemberton in time for Lumpy's Epic. Dre drove at top speed and the words flew out of his mouth as we careened along the highway. Dre ruminated on his XC racing Career: "An XC race for me begins with a number of variables, starting with over extending at the beginning, or if I'm lucky, getting that huge effort close to correct. Once the elbows have been essentially put away and you are settled down with a group, then it's about managing the razors edge, and mentally assessing what's in the legs for that day. That is always relevant to how the year is going and then pushing yourself like a dog, digging deep and sitting in the pain cave for as long as you can. We all have slightly different strengths: Flats, steeps, descending, technical, altitude; the list goes on. So playing to you own strength, knowing the personalities around you and their abilities is important. It's quite mental in the finesse and chess required, not as calculating as road racing, but it's there. What I like about the longer stage races is the increase in mental gymnastics, as they say the strongest doesn't always win. When everything comes together and your year is supporting already good legs, then you can smash on your legs as hard as you want and feel nothing, it becomes all about the pain cave. That is such a rewarding feeling to know that all the work you have done in the rain, snow, gym and the sacrifices given up will let your legs fly and give you wings. Those golden days are few and far between but like a gift you wait patiently for. Another issue is what level you are racing at, whether it's Provincial, National, North American or World Cup, the pacing changes and it takes a long time to figure out your body and how to maximize it. Racing a BC Cup or Test of Metal, I knew I'd be running at the front, at the National level top 5 and World Cup I'd have to battle my way through the season to get positioning in the top 30-50. To have a crack at a top World Cup result, that takes years to position for and achieve, so patience is essential. I always felt like I was like going into battle, a Spartan Warrior from 300, and I would spin each weekends race into an epic saga and regale my friends at home with how each chapter or lap unfolded, right down to the exciting climactic sprint at the end. XC Racing for me is absolutely an experience, a process, there may be a reward or a podium at the end, but that isn't the essential goal.
Geoff 'Lumpy' Leidal was a mountain biker originally from Deep Cove who eventually gravitated to Whistler. What I have always heard about him is that "He was the strongest guy out there." Lumpy was part of the first true group of North Shore mountain bikers, and from what I have heard, was an absolute Lion on a bike. Ramin Sherkat, an original North Shore local and the owner of NRG Enterprises in Nelson, once told me that Lumpy was "The kind of guy whose personality was just as strong as his legs. He was a clown, an athlete, and everbody's best friend." Ramin told me that during a full moon ride deep in a hidden nook of the Kootenay Mountains, in 2007. Guys like Ramin and Mike Seniak, who also knew Lumpy, are guys of the true 'Original School' and have told me about lots of their exploits: 10 hour rides with thousands of vertical feet of climbing, mind-bending night missions, and hard-man mountain bike rides that embodied the spirit of adventure. For me, even though I never knew him, Lumpy has always represented a feeling of how bad-ass those guys were and how I wish I could've been there to see it and ride with them! Tragically, Lumpy died in an avalanche on the Woodbury Glacier near Nelson in January of 1998. Since his death, his name has resonated throughout the trails and forests of the Sea to Sky Corridor, and throughout all of BC. Gone but not forgotten, as they say.
The event for Geoff Leidel was called the 'Lumpy's Trifecta' and consisted of 3 laps above One Mile Lake, using the uphill climbing trail that Lumpy built many years ago. It's truly a 'Hellavator' of uphill discomfort, and perhaps says something about Lumpy's personality. "Why build it flat and long when you can build it short and straight up?" Perhaps that was Lumpy's train of thought. The event was organized by Dean Linnell, Russ Wood, and Terry Evans. These locals put this event together with the intention of honouring Lumpy, and bringing riders together to celebrate. The day was overcast and grey, and about 60 of us tackled the course. Kari and I started at the very back and picked our way upwards. Kari, being the soldier from hell he truly is, dropped me like a bad habit. On the second lap a hard compression on the rocky outcroppings of the top of the course shredded a three inch hole in the side of my tire that put me out of the race. Dre did one lap with the race leaders and then called it quits to enjoy the comraderie and swap tales. The course was super cool, especially since I had never ridden on that side of Pemberton before. The terrain was bony as a dinosaur's spine and covered in tons of pine needles. The dirt and rock was very much like what we'd been riding earlier in the day in Whistler, but now that that we had moved Northeast to Pemberton the landscape had gotten drier. Pemberton is a valley in the truest sense, with a huge flat bottom of top shelf farmland shielded by massive mountains, Mt. Currie being the most upfront and obvious. Whistler local Fanny Paquette dominated the women and the Peregrine Falcon, Matt Ryan, absolutely destroyed the men with a fourteen minute lead. They shared the Lumpy trophy, although I think Matt tucked it under his wing and dive bombed back to Whistler.
The group social that happens after the race and the natural high that comes from burning your legs to smithereens on challenging trails is a welcome finale. After hours of mud, sweat, and tires flicking mud into your face, elbow to elbow with comrades, battling gravity both up and down, reaching the finish line is like the end of a quest. The scenario changes from mountain bike action to loudly and laughingly reliving exploits with brew in hand. Elbow to elbow once again, but this time around a fire-pit, smoke billowing into the air as dogs and children run between everyone's feet. The entire gaggle of people are feeling that euphoria that arrives once a hard effort has been completed. Whistler local Todd Hellinga was the only rider to successfully tackle a slick uphill rock face of unreasonable proportions, earning himself a time discount and mad street cred. That's what events like Lumpy's are all about, it's all about the ride, but maybe even more about the group of people. The vibe of a large tribe all buzzing off the same energy is intoxicating. Dre is adamant that this culture is the supreme aspect of mountain biking for him. He says that events wrap everything together; the trails, the bikes, the people, in one big soup pot. They get stirred together to create a homogeneous concoction that is better for all it's elements. That night, after the fire pit was extinguished and everyone went their own ways, our crew headed to the One Mile Cafe, where we ran into mountain bike scholar Seb Kemp and Co. He and his crew had just been in Lillooet, riding the infamous Della Creek Trail. We had all heard of Della Creek but only Connor had ridden it before. The original plan for our final day was to ride 'Jack the Ripper' above Pemberton, which I have heard is 'The sickest trail ever', but after listening to Seb wax poetic on Della Creek's finest attributes, we caught the adventure bug and threw our beer mugs into the air in a toast to untasted realms. Tomorrow, we would mount up and make a heading for Lillooet, to unleash Excalibur and chase dragons in a wild hunt down tacky, never ending single-track.
Once you pass Duffy Lake, Highway 99 begins to drop in a long winding descent to Lillooet. The terrain becomes arid. The mountains are lofty and the Fraser river plunges through the center of it all. After a night at the Pemberton Valley Lodge, we hit the road and wasted no time ripping up to the drop in point of Della. The wind was blowing hard and the landscape long and wide open. We were in a new place. I would love to know the back story to the Della Creek trail. It descends at least 3,000 vertical feet of wide open ridge-line terrain. It is extremely well trodden, and obviously has been there a long time. I suspect it originates from horse riders, but I don't know.
Our quest had taken us to the temperate, mossy terrain of Vancouver Island, to the dank and dripping rainforests of North Vancouver, and into the expansive woods heading up towards Whistler. We rode the misty climb up above Brittania. Our tires gave up some rubber while skidding on the granite slabs of Squamish. Whistler offered up wet roots and old man's beard hanging from tree branches. Pemberton showed us the importance of community and how incredible the mountain bike tribe is. Lillooet offered something completely different. At the top of the trail, we were in t-shirts. The wind blew hard but was warm. Lillooet is one of the southernmost communities in North America where indigenous people form the majority. Over half of the people in Lillooet are members of the St'at'imc Nation. It is considered to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited locations on the continent. The immediate area of the town attracted large populations of native peoples because of the confluence of several main tributaries of the Fraser River. It was an obvious place to fish Salmon, especially due to a rock shelf that posed a barrier to migrating Salmon, who became trapped and were easily caught. We came to Lillooet not for Salmon, but for single-track. Compared to the dark depths of the North Shore ride we had done just a few days previous, riding the Della trail was like climbing out of a slow rambling 4x4 truck and stepping into an F-1 race car. Speeds were high, the trees were widely spaced, and the world smiled on us and said: "Just out for a rip are ya bud?"
As we sped downwards on our second lap, I noticed that time was getting on, and if I was going to make the last ferry in Horseshoe Bay, time was looking very tight. However, when I voiced my concern, Dre was adamant that we'd be fine. In my mind, I was like 'How will we be fine?' But Dre was rock solid. His positivity and assurance was absolute. He knew that we could continue to enjoy the trail and still make the ferry. What I'm getting at is that Dre emits a feeling of confidence that is omnipresent. I let my worries fade and didn't worry about it any more. Besides, it was October. I wouldn't be riding on a huge-ass high elevation mountain like this one in a T-shirt again for a long time, not until Summer.
Riding Della Creek with Matt, Dre, Kari and Connor was some of the only dry, desert style riding I'd done all year. It was beyond fun. We barely clung to the edge of the mountain, our traction tenuous in the loose soil. We crushed steep sections. We pulverised corners. Matt engaged his 'nasal diffusers'. Dre rode with his elbows out, his pedal strokes churning his tires into the ground. Due to various clunks, Kari decided that he needed a new bike soon, but regardless, rode like a champ as always. Connor blew by us at mach velocity and veered off the trail to absolutely detonate a pile of pine needles into high flying shrapnel. We hit jumps that sent us shooting down the mountainside, landing on the narrow trail in a rush of wind. In the distance, far below, we saw wild horses from afar. The sky was wide open, the river long and bendy. We were experiencing the last moments of riding our bikes on an expedition that had taken us through many diverse zones and down different trails. Our journey through these changing landscapes served as a metaphor to Andreas Hestler's voyage through the years as a 'Trail Blazer.' He has been an ambassador to an entire generation of mountain bikers, and continues to inspire. There doesn't seem to be any chance his fire will go out.
The final laughs at the bottom of the trip-closing trail. The sweat drips, the bikes fall to the wayside, and icy beers are pulled from the cooler. The adventure is complete. Riding with Dre for five days was upbeat and stirring beyond words. Wade Simmons perhaps does the best job of describing Sir Dre: “I would be hard pressed to say if I knew somebody more stoked to ride a bike than Dre. He defines "live to ride, ride to live". This benefits his friends, the ones who are lucky enough to take advantage of that stoke and passion to explore, race, shred, discover, organize, hammer, socialize, drink and debate anything mountain bike. People like him are the cohesion behind the sport, bridging the gap between racer and recreational rider.” All that remained for us was a race car rush to Horseshoe Bay. A fitting conclusion, flashing backwards through time, back down the Sea to Sky Corridor from whence we came. High fives all around.
Riley McIntosh is a mountain biker from Maple Bay on Vancouver Island. After a decade of living in Nelson, he returned home to the land of year round riding conditions. He loves meeting new people and exploring fresh trails, which the Characters series
helps him do. Riley sincerely hopes the readers of Pinkbike enjoy Characters and would like to thank everyone involved for their participation.