Words by Mark Wood
Images by Dave SilverDay Three: Rainbow, Rock Oven and Cawston Creek
As our quest for vertical continued into our third day, today’s results would be huge, topping out our single day stats on the trip with a healthy dose of descents. Day three would fittingly be a triple crown, accumulating nearly 60km of trail and a collective of nearly 18 000 feet of elevation. It hurt to even say it. At the end of today, it was us who would be Hurtin' from Vert.
Johnny was cracking the whip from the moment the sun rose over Okanagan Lake, shortly after 6am, knowing time was anything but on our side for the monumental journey he had in store today. “We gotta get rollin’!” he bellowed as he loaded the bikes on top of the van. It would be his mantra all day. Today promised an abundance of vert, but a shortage of time.
We were feeling the rust from our two prior days of big vert. So were the bikes. Plus the Pils were flowing hard the night before, as we hunkered around my bike, somewhere round midnight, in what is conceivably one of the largest collective brake bleeds the sport has ever seen. As Simmons initiated Project: Brake Bleed Collective, the miscreants gathered one by one, peering over shoulders, giving tricks and tips on best bleed techniques until a large and rather unruly crowd had gathered. I wobbled over reaching for the brake lever mid bleed. Simmons took one look at my glazed eyes, “Go to bed Woodsy,” This got everyone laughing. Mechanics wasn’t my strong suit and he knew it.
“No, you’ve got to flick it like this,” Dre apparently had his own patented flicking method for XTR levers and began his ritual in earnest. Finally, Matt Ryan, who could bear no more, pushed us all aside “Let a professional handle this one boys!” and despite our attempts at sabotage with a field bleed earlier in the day, which involved dripping tri flow into the reservoir at 5000 feet, Ryan had my brake running perfectly within minutes, after first discarding a set of pads worn down to metal. Good thing, Day three would accumulate nearly 20 000 feet of vert - half of our four-day total.
“Let’s hit it!” Johnny had the van loaded for our first descent on the Naramata bench. Rainbow is an easy access “after school special” that gives stellar vistas over the golden benchland with the shimmering lake below. Out of the gate, Reg’s rear mech admitted defeat and fell into a heap of pieces barely a pedal-stroke from the van. After a quick swap, thanks to Simmons’ comprehensive gear stash, we were again riding the Vert Train through fast, techy trail, following long granite slabs alongside sheer cliffs that kept us sharp. The pot of gold at the end of Rainbow was a section of swoopy singletrack that followed a rolling gully, emptying us into the heart of wine country. It was a great start to the day and about to get better! Under blue skies we pedaled past rows of Cabernet and Grigio, arriving at Misconduct Winery for a row of Big Take’s, a heavenly delight of wine, mango and berries that would freshen our palates before our next descent. It may have been the only moment that Johnny allowed us a chance to breathe today.
“Lets roll!” Finishing the last wine soaked chunks of mango and blueberry, Smoke would wait for no one, once again cracking the whip, pulling away in the van even before the doors were closed. Today it was sink or swim. It was a massive day constructed by BC’s quintessential cartographer. Smoke had linked a series of huge descents contrived from years of sleuthing topos to deliver our maximum vert day of the tour, but we needed to keep the wheels rolling from sun up to sun down if we had any hopes to complete it.Rainbow - 12.9km traveled, 659 feet gained and 3163 feet lost
Our second ride for the day was the Derenzy Downhill, a massive ride in itself. Taking Wright Passage, we would finish on Rock Oven. Smoke often refers to this ride as the Okanagan's Big Eye, which for Shore locals means secret stash single track that would delight the most discerning of adventurers. Starting with a shuttle up Ellis Canyon, it contained some steep and relentless techy climbs with big stretches of fast, loamy ripping through the forest.
“Over here,” Johnny was hidden in the underbrush, following an overgrown game trail. Keith Ray attacked the loose, near vertical punch climb off the skidder, miraculously cleaning the loose tech, despite the challenge of even walking up it - again, underlining that there wasn’t a weak link in the assemblage. Alder saplings whipped us in the face as we made the climb to our first saddle. Hearing screams just ahead of us, we stopped dead in our tracks. “There’s a hornet nest on the trail!” Mikey Jones got tagged. Dropping his bike and running madly, he now had the challenge of retrieving his bike. Turns out the hornets didn’t want to give it back. We bush whacked into the forest, giving wide berth to the nest, feeling sorry for Mike as his screams echoed through the forest, as he tolerated more stings retrieving his bike.
Our 5000-foot descent came with the price tag of 2000 feet of climbing. As spectacular as the descents and views would be on this trail, it would have some tough climbs before we could reap our rewards. Everyone got stung in their own way on the Derenzy. I broke the record on the trip with three flats in one day. The descent was more down than up, but peppered with some gut-wrenching tech climbs that required you to dig deep. Although most people know Schley and Simmons as the kings of Freeride, what most people don’t see is their capabilities as climbers. Having training partners like Matt Ryan and Dre Hestler helps; these two eat vert like a rabid dingo eats your baby. I watched Schley and Simmons, refusing to quit, cleaning long, steep and sustained climbs all day. The ride finished with a series of rocky steeps and some stunning rock slabs with awesome exposure. Sweet vistas, heavy tech, big climbs and huge descents, the Derenzy gave us everything we wanted in an All Mountain adventure. But Johnny still had more on the menu…Rock Oven - 21.2km traveled, 1976 feet gained and 5010 feet lost
We barely had a moment to reflect after our Derenzy descent when Smoke was mustering the troops once again, loading bikes, herding riders and cracking the whip, vehemently now, convinced we’d run out of time to hit Cawston Creek. “Get in the F*%&ing Van!” Smoke was sure we’d squandered our opportunity, the adventurer in him nevertheless refusing to admit defeat. The best guides are those who abound in tenacity, and Smoke was smouldering with it at this point. Assured we’d run out of time, Johnny put the pedal to the metal, screaming up the gravel road, cresting the shoulder of Cawston as the sun fell low on the horizon. Just as Smoke suspected, our last ride would be a descent into darkness.
“Gentlemen, fire up your double bladed loam saws!” Matt Ryan led the charge with his now famous battle cry, seemingly unaffected by the 27 000 feet we’d already logged. Without lights, it was now a mad dash to the trail head, each of us sprinting across the traverse in the dusk, despite our legs that begged for mercy. As the sun slipped below the horizon and the moon rose, we descended under twilight clouds of pink and gold, the Similkameen River far below. Cawston was classic riding on the Thompson Plateau; tight, high-speed, white clay singletrack through fields of mint coloured sage. Darkness fell and the trail grew steeper until we were surfing through eroded rubble, fighting to stay out of deep rain ruts. Surviving the heinous end of the trail, everyone gathered at the bottom, laughing in the darkness, watching the remaining ski down the unhappy ending. Picking our way through the night, back to the awaiting van, we had logged our biggest day of vert. It was the first time all day Johnny wasn’t after us to load up. Instead, it was like the lid was pulled off the boiling pot, we were cracking Pils and drinking deep. It seemed some sort of solace to fall back into the luxury of a relaxed pace, with no pressure but to drink and smile, a stark contrast to the mounting pressure that gathered in strength throughout the day, building from the break of dawn.
It was days like these that underlined the words of Matt Ryan: “I have a feeling that we are all in the same boat when I say, let's keep this one alive as long as we are still all ripping dirt and not lying in it.” Still above ground, we looked forward to our last day under the tutelage of Smoke. After today, anything evermore would be gravy.Cawston Creek - 8.7km traveled, 355 feet gained and 4617 feet lost
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.
Extra thanks to our drivers today Andrew Drouin of Sweet Singletrack
as well as our talented daily driver Kim. Thanks for the extra guiding as well today to Kurt Flaman from Freedom Bike Shop
Stay tuned for day 4 coming soon.