Words by Mark WoodImages
by Dave Silver
In 2009, Pinkbike’s Tyler Maine dropped the hammer on what would be Pinkbike’s first ever Hurtin' for Vert Tour. Big trails and little bikes piloted by a crew of top shelf shredders was the recipe for the perfect storm. The results were undeniably rowdy. This summer, Maine again began assembling a healthy roster of rancorous rippers, and with the help of Johnny Smoke and Bush Pilot Biking, put together a monstrous succession of big mountain trails in BC’s Interior, proving lightning can strike twice, to recreate Pinkbike’s second edition Hurtin' for Vert Tour. Once again, things got rowdy…
“It's all about intent,” Smoke is a man who speaks with conviction, “small bikes and big trails. Lots of vert, but you’ll have to work for it.” Hurtin' for Vert, despite my first assumptions, would be anything but cake-walk shuttles and hot laps on the local circuits to clock as much vert as possible in a day. We would get our vert, but it would be served on anything but a silver platter. It would come via long, tedious drives into the back country, up rough 4 x 4 roads that would bring us far up the backside of 8000-foot ranges, deep into the wild. Despite the shuttle component, our rides would still require long grinding climbs and in some cases shouldering our bikes up steep, craggy ascents before summitting to unveil hidden gems, rarely ridden by anyone, but Smoke and his select disciples. It was single track paradise weaving through ponderosa pines for thousands of feet, but sometimes riotous gnarl that would make us wish for our big bikes. Every ride was an adventure, that was certain, and the juice most definitely worth the squeeze.Day One: Greenstone, Iron Mountain and Windy Canyon
Our trip began just outside Kamloops, on Greenstone Mountain, home of the annual Full Boar DH Challenge held by the legendary Trevor Marshall. Rolling out of Wade’s truck after a six am departure from North Van, we shook off the cobwebs and took in the rolling hills and scrub brush of the interior. “It’s nice to be home.” Schley had a smile on his face, eager to ride again with his old Fro Bro, both of whom were Kamloops' originals. Introductions were made as we suited up and got the shuttles loaded for our first sampling of the adventures Johnny Smoke had in store for the next four days.
It was an impressive roster of riders
Maine had assembled for the tour, starting with Smoke himself, a long time Shore local who had been going deep since the early '90s, plus guys like Matt Ryan, an Enduro tactician who rode like a rabid dingo, or 2002 National DH champ Mike Jones and 2008 Master's National champ Simon Stevenson. Pro riders Dre Hestler, Wade Simmons and Ritchie Schley guaranteed to up the ante. Smoke knew the back woods of the Interior better than anyone, pouring over topo maps for years and scouring google earth to create mega loops that would beat down the weak. The latest and greatest rigs were loaded on top of Smoke’s van, Slayers being the popular favourite, plus some as of yet unreleased head turners, including not one, but two 2013 carbon Enduro Evo’s from Specialized. “I think this is the highest dollar value load this van has ever seen,” Johnny stood atop the van, surveying the harnessed slew of steeds, working the numbers in his head and looking rather impressed.
|I think this is the highest dollar value load this van has ever seen,- Smoke|
It had been over a decade since fires had swept the slopes of Greenstone, and even longer since I’d ridden in the shadow of Trevor Marshall on my one and only trip to the mountain. That ride ended at Kamloops General and a heavy morphine trip after my forearm was torn open
. Once again I was standing at the top of Greenstone with lingering memories and distant echoes of ambulance sirens in my head. I’d be lying if I didn’t say my palms were a bit sweaty.
Smoke handed down our AM machines one by one. “You want to ro sham bo over what trail we take?” Johnny wasn’t exactly inducing confidence on our first ride out. “We’ve got two options, and I’m not sure where that one takes us.” The other he hadn’t ridden “in about seven years.” Deciding on the devil he knew, Smoke dove in with his usual bravado. We followed him as he disappeared over the brink, down the near vertical rock chute, scrubbing our shorts on our rear tires. It was a rude awakening.
|We've got two options, and I'm not sure where that one takes us. - Smoke|
Our light duty bikes would be put to the test on every trail this trip, but this was part of the adventure and we were happy to be pushing our limits. The grade quickly diminished and we were snaking through the pines, roosting through loamy singletrack. But time had not been kind to the mountain and we eventually hit a series of clear cuts, searching for the trail on the other side, struggling through deep moto ruts at times. Finally, although Johnny always seemed to have a bearing, we admittedly became somewhat lost. “We want to be down there.” Standing atop a bluff, Smoke was pointing to a small lake far below. Making for the lake as the crow flies, we soon lost any sort of trail whatsoever making our way through the scrub brush. “That’s the beginnings of Freeriding right there,” Simmons would know. He and Schley began their long journey on two wheels first at the BMX track as local groms, eventually skiing their bikes down grassy slopes like this searching out what little singletrack there was back in the day, finally progressing to meat hucks down the gravel pits in Barnhartvale. In certain respects, we were returning to their roots, back where the trail began.
Johnny got us down to that lake, insisting we were never lost, simply misplaced. More importantly, Smoke got us back to base camp (Steven and Hillary Patterson's place) to an awaiting cooler full of Pillys
, complements of Reg Mullett and the Moose Mountain Bike Trail Society
. A shining example of positive attitude for the duration of the trip, Mullett was always smiling and eternally optimistic, even riding 20k this trip without a saddle when his reverb crapped out at full extension. Plus he rips. Any tour of duty is as much about the people you ride with as it is about the trails and Hurtin' for Vert was no different. Our first run on the slopes of Greenstone was perhaps not the kind of ride we’d been expecting out of the gate, but it set the tone for the trip. Things wouldn’t be easy and it would most certainly be an adventure. Thankfully everyone took it in stride and fortunately, there was no need for morphine.
After our retrieval on Greenstone, we loaded our bikes for Merritt. “No rest for the wicked!” I said to Simmons as we hopped into his truck. “Even less for us!” he replied, laughing as only he does. Next stop was Iron Mountain. We were met at the base of Iron by locals Chris Post and his crew, who’d cleared out the awaiting trail explicitly for our passage. Loading up Post’s Monster Diesel, we made the long shuttle to the top. At the peak, the wind was howling and the temperature hovered around 5C despite being August. As we dove into the 98 trail, we were happy to get into the trees and out of the wind. Steep chutes and chunky rock faces meant things were quickly getting out of hand after two quick flats. One of Post’s cohorts warned me of the upcoming nastiness. “Take a deep breath and follow my line,” were his exact words. And so I did, bouncing down loose chutes and gripping the bars as if my life depended on it, which at times it very much did.
|Take a deep breath and follow my line, - Jeremy Tenisch|
After the survival ‘pucker’ section as Ryan dubbed it, the trail opened up for some high speed bermage with the last few kms following a rocky gulley for a game of high speed technical chess weaving through boulders and humping over rocks. Cracking beers at the bottom, we were quite stoked with the 98 as we watched the sun begin to slip beyond the horizon. “You should really ride Windy Canyon while you’re here.” Johnny spoke up. “What’s it like?” I had to ask, considering light was waning. He began explaining the open fast sections, followed by the tight canyon that swallowed the trail, but finished with “I can’t explain it, you just need to ride it, see for yourself.” With that, we were off like a shot. Sun up to sun down, milking every last drop. Knocking back what was left in my Pilsner, we made for the drop in on Windy Canyon as though there were hell hounds on our heels.
Windy Canyon is classic high-speed desert singletrack through the sage brush. Peppered with hits and hips, the trail made its way into a tight canyon with uphill berms and multiple G-outs. Emerging from the Canyon at the end of the trail Simmons pointed out a 25-foot step down, dropping off the Canyon lip above. “That’s where Gully shot a cover for Decline.” It was enough to make your stomach turn. Making our way back to the waiting coolers on the flats, Matt Ryan was clearly stoked, shralping deep on the flat road, pushing it with every turn until he inevitably high sided and was flung from his bike, much to the applause of the crowd. Getting up and dusting himself Ryan had a big smile on his face “I went a little deep on that last one!” Things were starting to gel. We were in the zone where confidence was up and we were pushing the pace. We were in a good place going into day two. Injury free and mechanically sound, we were eager to see what tomorrow would bring. Going 'a little deep' would be a good way to put it for what Johnny had in store for the rest of the trip.
Trips like Pinkbike's Hurtin' for Vert can't happen without a great group of riders and an equally amazing support group like Specialized Bikes, Bush Pilot Biking, Rocky Mountain Bikes, Pilsner and Pinkbike.com. Thanks a ton for your support in making this year's adventure all time, we all appreciated it.
Thanks to the Bicycle Cafe in Kamloops for helping us with our shipping logistics too - it's great to know your local bike shops, where ever you are. Thanks to Steven and Hilary Patterson for the sleeping space and ground zero for all of us to meet. And to Chris Post in Merritt for the personal guiding of our crew through the trails you and your friends work so hard on.
Stay tuned for day two, coming shortly.