CHARACTERS 9: LINDEN FENIAK
Story & Interview by Riley McIntosh // Photos by Margus RigaGuest Riders: Mark Wallace and Remi Gauvin
|Come to any gully not real easy to fill and they built a timber trestle of cedar logs. Now let me tell you, coming down a plank road in one of them hard wheeled bastards, sitting out in the open on a board seat, a couple three hundred thousand foot worth of logs jiggling around up behind your head, no bulkhead for protection, that steering wheel just like a bull's hind end in your hands and the mechanical brakes, you were earning your two dollars and eighty cents a day. Those trestles rattling and jumping around, mud squeezing up between the planks, you'd be looking through your floorboards and seeing straight down through seventy feet of clear open space. With the mud and rain you could no more control that truck than you can hold a greasy pig in one hand. - Unknown old time logger, Rain Coast Chronicles, Stories and Histories of the BC Coast |
The Sunshine Coast is a land where the fusion of forest and ocean inlets forms a synthesis between land and sea. Loggers and fishermen came to this area in the 1870’s and began extracting the glittering fish and towering timbers. The gigantic trees were felled on steep slopes where they would tear downwards and plunge into the salt chuck in a gigantic splash. The logs would be lashed together into booms in the protected inlets, to be towed to the huge sorts where they were separated and milled. Camps were set up all over, floating jumbles of salt sprayed cabins perched on huge logs. A mixed company of fallers were employed at a day rate to brave the rain and incredible danger and hardship of the mountains.
The foreman’s whistle would echo over the water, calling the men down from the mountain at the end of the day. Steam powered boats, and later, smoke belching early diesel vessels plied the ocean, pulling logs and transporting men and gear. Sitting on buckets on the docks, the men would roll tobacco and talk wistfully of home, banded together in the remote fjords where they spent months on end. The Coast’s history is tied to the forests, and Linden Feniak’s family is as well. He was brought up by parents who have spent their lives making a living between the woods and sea, and he is a product of his environment. In Coastal logging history, ‘Bull of the Woods’ was the name given to a legendary logging pioneer named Gordon Gibson. He was known for his commanding presence, booming voice, and absolute clout in Coastal timberland operations. To me, Linden Feniak is a ‘Bull of the Woods’ himself, a rider and trail builder who is authentic, genuine, unique, and is completely his own person, unconditional in his love of the woods, shifting dirt and rocks alone in the trees, cutting cedar logs and piecing them together into his own type of ‘trestles’ that cross creeks and obstacles, not unlike the loggers of long ago. Below is the story of how I met the Coastal kid.
The Nelson City Campground in summertime, is often full of mountain bikers. They come from far and wide, looking to camp out, have cookouts, swim in the lake, and ride each and every trail they can. Sometimes my friends and I would ride by, and if there were campers with tons of downhill bikes laying around, we’d shoot up there, and say hi. We knew that we’d be welcome, because the out-of-towners always wanted guides. They would greet us happily, and shoot each other glances. They knew we had the keys to what they sought. We’d make plans to meet them the next morning. They’d provide all the trucks, the shuttle drivers (usually someone’s wife who was sort-of happy to spend her vacation driving the boys up and down the mountains) and lots of food and beer. In that instance my friends and I took on some of the attitude of the dozens of drugged out street urchins wandering Nelson’s downtown core looking for a handout and spare change. The big difference however, was that we were looking for a way to attain big days of riding, and had something to offer: confusion-free guiding straight to the best trails, no getting lost, no poorly planned shuttle pickups, nothing but trail after trail all day long.
The Feniaks were unknown to us, but Alex Pro wasn’t. My best riding buddy, Evan Schwartz and I, had spent plenty of time staying with Alex and his family in Whistler over the years. We’d never had Alex come to stay with us in Nelson, until we got a random call from him. “I’m at the Nelson Campground!” He was with a big group, and they’d all been at a BC Cup DH race and come through Nelson to stay for a few days before heading back to the Coast. We were introduced to the dozen or so new faces, and to the family at the center of the group: The Feniaks. Mom and Pop: Jessica and Doug. Daughter and Son: Holly and Linden. Along with them, another family with teenagers, another old friend of Doug’s, and to our surprise, the enigmatic ‘Smokey,’ the notorious shred dog from Whistler.
As was our duty, we immediately took them for a ride.
We hiked to the top of ‘Slabbalanche’, one of the most definitive Nelson trails. In the late summer evening, the hour and half hike was smoking hot. Alex, in his usual callous style, wore jeans. Smokey’s long stringy hair, bandanna, and goatee kept him in that badass light Evan and I had always regarded him. Smokey was a mysterious figure in mountain bike lore, and we didn’t know what to think of him. He had attitude, and a reputation. Holly was young, pretty, and a bit of an anomaly pushing her bright pink Cove Shocker with a bounce in her step. Linden was quiet, with a huge smile, dirty clothes, no socks on, and an unassuming, serene vibe to him.
The ‘Slabbalanche’ trail is exactly what it sounds like, an avalanche of rock slabs. We pulled most of our punches and charged hard. The skill level of these out-of-towners was evident. The trail was bone dry, the soil a little on the sandy side, and red pine needles covered everything. Our DH bikes ate up the trail. Evan and I were determined to show them what Nelson was all about. We knew Smokey and Alex were world class, but Linden and Holly were dropping in with aplomb as well, surprising us with their speed and skill. Smokey rode behind me, goading me to ride faster. His quest for the gnarl was almost unnerving, I felt scared for him. Rock roll after rock roll was conquered, we rarely stopped, and the sweat poured down on that hot evening. Arriving back to the City Campground, we were greeted by a feast and a fire. Doug, Jessica, and Co. had put out a spread of hot food for us to come home to.
Over the following few days, we showed them the goods. ‘Powerslave’, ‘The Monster’, and my own personal masterpiece, ‘Tunnel Vision,’ hidden above Slocan Lake. The two families even helped us do some trail building on Powerslave, incredibly keen to work with us on our trails. Of course Alex and Linden built a new jump! We shared one of the most beautiful evenings of all time, hanging on a dock on Slocan Lake in golden evening light, after runs on ‘Tunnel Vision.’ I was blown away by the Feniak Family, because not only did they all shred on bikes, they worked as a team to have fun and share the trails and love of riding. All along, Linden was relaxed, and had this authentic, no-bullshit attitude. His shred-levels on his bike were out of control, so fast and aggressive on his bike. I absorbed every word the Feniaks shared with us, listening to snippets of their life on the Sunshine Coast, somewhere I’d heard about but never explored. They left us after a few awesome days, and over the years, I kept in contact with them, always planning to visit but never making it over. Linden came to stay with us for a few weeks one summer a couple years later, helping us build the first big trail at Retallack.
Finally, in October 2013, I made it over to Linden’s. Pulling elite DH racers Mark Wallace and Remi Gauvin in tow, we were treated to two days of perfect weather and absolute shredding on trails Linden had built, and others built years ago by the fore-fathers of Coastal trail building. We hunkered down in the incredible house the Feniaks built with their own hands, had a big bonfire, and ate great food. On our last day, we did a huge ride down snaking single-track straight to the ferry terminal, a perfect conclusion. Not unlike my days with the Feniak family years ago in Nelson, we only scratched the surface of the absurd amount of splendid riding in Linden’s stomping grounds. The Sunshine Coast: so close, yet time consuming to reach. A unique place, remote and beautiful. And home to one of Mountain Biking’s most inspiring families: The Feniaks. I’ll be back many times in the years ahead. Where are you from?
I grew up north of Sechelt in a community called Garden Bay, a very small close knit town. Later on, our family decided to move south down the coast to Sechelt. My mom was working in Forestry at the time and my dad was towing logs. Our new place is situated a lot closer to their work, and there is a lot more happening in Sechelt. It was quite a change from being on an acreage in the middle of the bush to a neighborhood surrounded by houses. 4 years ago we moved again, we now live up the Sechelt inlet on a property overlooking the ocean. We have spent the last three years building the new house. With trails flowing right to the back yard, a pump track, beaches right below us, and year round riding, it really doesn't get much better. Where are your parents from?
My Mom and Dad grew up in Deep Cove, so they were mountain bike shredders way before I was born. But they had no hesitation handing down the sport to my sister and me. I remember seeing my first shore video, and a few hours later, had my first jump built. I guess I really got into riding when we moved to Sechelt, there was a scene happening here and groups of people driving up the hill and riding down! It was so unreal to me. There were other kids that rode too, I think having friends that ride is so beneficial. Our family was part of the most encouraging, supportive mountain bike community. We have been so lucky. When did you get into trail building?
I'm not exactly sure, I was joining in on volunteer trail days with locals on different trails and stuff when I was real little. I was about 10 or 11 at the time. The bylaw officer came by one day asking about the extensive ladder bridge network that had grown from our front lawn, across the ditch, into a jump set, and onto the road. He told me I had to take it down, and I thought for a while, hmmm… why not take it up the mountain and build a trail out of all these ladders that would have otherwise been getting torn down and going to the dump. So my Dad and I hauled them to a zone we liked, and started building. The following year our favourite trail, which was above my first trail, had the upper half logged. It was quite the mess afterwards so my dad and I made our best effort to reclaim the trail through the two feet of dry slash. I think ever since those days, building and riding fresh trails has always been a passion of mine. What did you think of the MBO Program at Capilano College?
I did the MBO program (Mountain Bike Operations) in 2011/2012. It is such an awesome program, I mean what cooler thing can you go to school for? It really prepares someone to work in the Mountain bike industry on a broad scale, there is a dose of everything in the program. Trail building is taught by the one and only Jay Hoots, you have Darren and Kelly from Endless biking teaching guiding and instructing, two marketing classes, two tourism classes, risk management, communications, and wilderness first aid. I would highly recommend the MBO course for anyone wanting to work in the mountain bike industry. You did a lot of DH racing right?
Yeah, I raced for quite a while, and always traveled with my family and friends from race to race. We had so many good times and so many good trips, we met most of our close friends this way. In the BC Cup circuit it was real cool because you get to see all your buds from all over the Province at every race so you would never be like ''Okay hopefully see you soon!'' You knew you would see them in a few weeks or so, at the next race. The year I was going to University I broke my back, so I didn't do much training through the winter and decided to take a break from the racing scene, to focus on other aspects of riding my bike. I wouldn't say I don't race anymore but it gets to be an expensive hobby for a young dirt bag like me. This year I am planning to hit a few smaller races, and maybe head out to Fernie for their race, and to check out the bike park there. What about your sister (2012 Junior World DH Champion, Holly Feniak), do you ride with her much?
I’m always here if she needs help but Holly is a big girl now, she knows what she needs to do to succeed in racing and she is working very hard at it. Holly is training constantly, at the level she is at now it’s crucial for her to stay in peak condition. Training in Whistler is really awesome for her, especially because the terrain and trail type varies so much just like the tracks she races on. Occasionally we get out for laps. Holly has been so busy for a while now, our family isn’t getting enough rides in together, but when we do get out for family rides it’s always guaranteed to be good shredding! Your dad, Doug, is one of the coolest guys ever. What’s he all about?
Good old Ranch Dog. He definitely is one stoked guy, just killing it at his age. He rides any crazy steep stuff I do, no air time for him though, he's old school. He works on Tug boats that go up and down the West Coast. He also drives Zamboni part time when he's home, and is pretty much employed full time by the house we built, constantly working on it and making it better. What’s the deal with the Coast Gravity Park?
Everyone working up there has put their backs into it since it started, and there has been a lot of progress made so far. I was invited by the Coast Gravity crew to come build at the park last year. What a cool experience it’s been, words can’t describe how unbelievable of a place it is, as well as the quantity and quality of work that goes into an operation like that. Growing up I could only imagine something like this happening around here, I mean a full on bike park right above town! In the future it will really benefit our community. Who inspires your trail building?
Builders like Mark Holt and yourself. You guys have put some ludicrous hours into building some well-known gems. Also, trail builders that are pushing for more legalized zones to drop trails in, and people who are working with local groups to create agreements within community forests, crown land, and even private land. The security of our trails lies in legalizing and authorizing them. So is your family doing your annual riding road trip in 2014?
Of course. We are planning a trip with some close friends, exploring more of BC this summer. We’ll hit new trails, and familiar ones. We will just make a list of trails and bang them off! We will probably spend a good chunk of it floating around the Kootenays hitting different trails, there are so many good ones out there. You have done some riding in Mexico, what’s the story with that?
Yes I’ve done some epic riding down in Puerto Vallarta. Some family friends of ours own a guiding company and rental shop down there and have been running it for many years. Riding around there is pretty awesome, usually we would take local buses way up into the mountains with bikes and people hanging out the sides. Then we’d just hop off when we reached the top of the mountain. This one ride we did we were up pretty high, pretty much Mexican style alpine. We rode down for thousands of feet on these cattle ranchero trails that just endlessly snaked down these steep ridgelines like a never ending luge track. On the way down you descend from dry cacti covered mountains, to open light forest to thick lush jungle. It was a cool experience riding down through three different climates in a couple hours. So you used to go to work with your parents?
Well, both of my parents used to have long commutes and long days, my dad has worked on the water most of his life, from fishing to towing logs to towing barges. My mom used to work in forestry and silviculture. I have thought often of following in her footsteps working in forestry. I used to go on trips on the boat with my dad when there was no one to watch me at home, and got to see a lot of the west coast that way. Not too long ago I got the chance to work as a deckhand on the tug boat with my dad on a trip to Seattle. Turns out we ended up pulling into the port of Seattle right as the Seahawks won the Superbowl, we got to see the whole city light up and go wild from our vantage point on the ocean. It was unreal! What’s your favorite mountain bike moment?
That’s like the hardest question you could have asked! There are so many favorites! Probably would have to be the first time we dropped into Powerslave that day we helped you dig. It was so memorable to have the whole family on the trail shredding together! Along with that, some other top tier moments include shredding in Mexico and testing freshly built trails at the Coast Gravity Park. What does trail building mean to you?
Building trails is sort of an outlet for me i guess. If I need to blow off some steam, or if I really need to think about something, or just hang out with friends, that’s the way to do it. It's a great way to channel your strength, emotions, creativeness, exploration and need for something new to ride all in one. I wish there was some way I could just build all the time, there is so much damn potential where I live that hasn't been tapped. What are the most important aspects of a trail you are thinking of building? Big vertical? Bridges? Gnarl? Flow? Low grade fast stuff or steep grade? I mean, obviously having a bit of everything in one trail is the best, but what are some of the main terrain features and ideals you look for in a potential line choice?
Well it all depends on the geography of where it is exactly, as well as the type of feel I want to have throughout your ride. I keep an open mind and try to be versatile, because I will change my building style depending what the earth gives me and what kind of zone I’m in. It depends on what my goal is for trail sections too like I may just spend a few days opening up an old road to make an XC type loop that much better or longer or something. Or I may keep coming back to work on something for months, even years. You know the stuff that's a little more epic. Ideally the first thing I look for is a good shuttle road that climbs as much as possible, but still staying in the general area so that the ride can finish up roughly where it started. I would say I'm pretty stoked on trying to build steeper and big vertical type trails, it's kind of the only thing we are lacking a bit on the Coast here. We have the roads and mountains. I just wish I had more arms... Tell me about some of the riders and trail builders who influenced you on the Sunshine Coast? Who are the original riders? Who built the cabin?
Well of course I definitely can't name them all, but builders like Glen Illingsworth, Paul Cooper, and Brad Proctor are high on my list. There are a lot of riders and builders an entire generation before me, some that I have never met, some that still kill it just as they used to. Glen built the cabin up in Sprockids Park, I’m pretty sure when he was building the trail ‘102’. That is pretty inspiring I would say. To build a sick cabin and live in it while you work on a masterpiece trail! So in the Capilano University Mountain Bike Operations course did you guys actually build a trail? Who were the instructors? What kind of jobs have other people who took the course with you gone on to?
Yeah we actually built two. One in the first semester and another in the second. The first was in a trail network in Sechelt, all very mellow and multi-purpose/mixed use style. By doing this I guess it acts as an introductory to trail construction and dealing with community trails and parks, as well as a chance for people to practice some of the building practices expected. From what I've seen people who have done the course have had opportunities for lots of jobs in the retail industry, tourism, guiding and instructing is pretty big, marketing, and a lot of people spur off into getting degrees. Trail building is a funny one. I know a few people who work as full time builders. Trail building jobs are a bit harder to come by. Really it's up to the person having the initiative to go out and find what they want. What are your essentials for trail building? Vehicle? Food? Maps? Which tools? What kind of clothing? Dogs? Always truck access or big hikes too?
Truck? For rough stuff most likely my Ford F250 7.3L. She pretty much gets me everywhere. Always been a good runner and is the first vehicle I ever bought. Food? Anything that is edible basically. Some days it's like I can eat 10 sandwiches, a box of granola bars, and more. You really burn a lot of calories out there, and not to mention like 4-8 litres of water in the summer. Maps? Nah, more just scouting and planning when I'm at home is when I use maps. It helps to see old roads and trails, and to look at grades. But when I go out in the forest my bearings get me by. Tools? I favour a Pulaski, rake, flat shovel, nice mattock or pick, and my power saw. Clothes? T-shirt year round and rain shell when needed. I wear my chain saw pants the most, they are so durable it's unreal, any jeans would have worn thin and tore up long ago put up against the saw pants. I like to take my two dogs with me. They both love being in the bush. When I go somewhere I think there might be cougars or elk I might leave them home or just take my bigger dog, Enzo. They chase and bark at anything out there. If I can get close to the building spot with the truck it's nice but I don't mind hiking at all. A lot of the zones around here have old roads and skid trails everywhere so it's pretty easy going. Scouting the trail from the start usually involves a bit of hiking though, that’s for sure.
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.
Characters #1 - Thomas Schoen
Characters #2 - Bill McLane
Characters #3 - Tig Cross and Sasha LeBaron
Characters #4 - Mark Holt
Characters #5 - Kevin Eskelin
Characters #6 - James Doerfling and Kenny Smith
Characters #7 - Tara Llanes
Characters #8 - Andreas Hestler