That human beings have relationships with inanimate objects is an odd phenomenon. We're strange that way. We get attached to things. Things that perhaps we shouldn't. You might name your bike, even talk to it when no one is looking. Maybe you love your house, or your canoe, your truck. Odd because these "things" are just that, possessing no life whatsoever. They're dead. In fact, well beyond dead seeing as they were never actually alive in the first place. Just materials, fabricated by hands and processes, assembled to either serve a certain purpose or just be. And that's it. They can't think, nor do they have a soul, retain memories, express themselves, or any of the other things that constitute a living, animate thing. At least, that's what the laws of physics would say.
Yet, we still have relationships with them. Some incredibly powerful for that matter. Relationships that grow and develop over time, that feed on themselves in ways we can't really explain. Even though we can't physically communicate with them, we somehow feel that we share a special bond. These things have become a part of us, and in our mind, we a part of them.
Graham Agassiz drops into one of Slabalanche's gnarlier sections, "The Beefdip"
There is this trail near my home in Nelson, British Columbia called Slabalanche. It was made in 2000 by a local trail builder and bike shop owner Mark Holt. Holt has made over 40 trails in the Nelson area. When he first moved here from Montreal in 1992 and opened his business, he figured he should build a few trails in the area so that people might come here to ride. A few thousand hours of labour later and Nelson is easily one of the most trail rich riding destinations on the planet.
In my opinion, of all the trails Holt has built Slabalanche is his masterpiece. He created the trail in an unlikely location. It would be a downhill trail, nearly 3,000 vertical feet, full of complicated moves mainly of the super sphincter pucker granite slab variety. But it would be accessed by a logging road with a locked gate at the bottom. It seems the access and the terrain had both conspired to create a preserved gem of sorts. A trail that could never be shuttled. One that would never get blown out, trenched or scraped and pulverized by the rushing and skidding of thousands of bike tires over and over again.
With a downhill bike, it takes about an hour and fifteen minutes to walk up the steep, sluggish logging road on what's called the North Shore. You could ride a smaller travel all-mountain bike, and grind granny style to save maybe 15 minutes, but then you might be outgunned on the descent. No matter, along the way the West Arm of Kootenay Lake rapidly falls away as you ascend towards this stunning piece of vertiginous art. On the climb, never once do you go down, even flat for that matter. It's an ascent that doesn't fool around, and it hurts. A test of sorts. With lots of time to think.Pine needle drift
I often say to my friends that Slabalanche is the best downhill trail in the world. And of course, I'm not certified to say that with any authority, but I say it anyway. I tell them how it's the perfect blend of all the nervous energy that comes with complicated drops and consequential riding, joined with the joy and the rush of flow and line. One minute you can be cascading effortlessly through loamy forest-worn singletrack, drifting on larch needles and tiny hemlock pinecones. The next you're heart sinks to the bottom of your stomach as the world drops away, as you creep toward a wild granite spine whose only direction is a incongruous spine between a trench of certain endo doom and a 15 foot cliff to absolute annihilation. One of 20 super sphincter pucker granite slabs
And while it looks and feels hairy, at the fringes anyway, in the center is that blue line of beautiful. You can rail the whole thing. Over granite rollers, down huge, near vertical slabs that spit you out into natural rock kickers to natural rock transitions, a spot of moss in between. Silvered log rides, natural bermed corners through old growth Ponderosa stands, jagged rock gardens with the thinnest of ribbons of rad laced in between.Aggy noses into "the Spine"
It seems I have a relationship with this thing. This trail called Slabalanche. Of all the trails I ride it refuses to take me down. It hasn't required a donation of flesh or blood (which seems a constant for most other trails when it comes to my passage), nor does it demand bike parts-not even a chunk of tire for that matter. So what is it then? I've always revered Slabalanche. I respect the entitity that it is, for lack of a better phrase. Born from the hands of a skilled trailbuilder at the height of his creative force. Dusted from a landscape pushed up from the depths of the earth's core. A line that borders itself for those willing to work, one that seems to have been born for mountain biking itself. Perhaps born just for me.
And of course, this is incredibly selfish to say, but all we have in this world is that which we feel accustomed to. That's what home is. That's what family is. That's what our trail is. That's what defines a relationship. And if it might not be alive, it doesn't really matter. For when I ride it, that's when I feel most alive.