While descending through the thickest of the black and the grey, an intricate whirlwind of smoke and cloud spiraled away from the wing of my plane. Portions of the heavy midday sky began tearing apart and exposing small pockets of a city long lost in my memory. The tall thin trees, the deep gray rock and the glowing green leaves. The emerald tone lakes, the short city streets, and the long roads to nowhere. Everything looked inviting. This was the town where I grew up. The town where I started pedaling and never let my wheels stop turning. I stepped off the aircraft, through the incandescent noise of another cluttered airport and into the wild I've always known as Whitehorse.
The Yukon's capital city is home to a wealth of single track and trail riding far beyond the realm of what most people will experience in their entire lives. Among my fondest memories are vivid flashbacks of rapid rolling hills and the dark skinny trails that weave their way throughout them. Both the never ending trails and the people who ride them are truly unique to Whitehorse. Unique Yukon gold nuggets that have been forever kept a secret to the world by lengthy winters and even longer highways. Fortunately for anyone born or raised in places south of the midnight sun, someone has taken on the task of not only exploiting the Yukon's best kept secrets, but molding a full travel experience from them. Borealé Biking has created something nearly as unique as the Yukon itself, a fully catered adventure leaving a guest with absolutely nothing to worry about. Foot loose, fancy free and open to embrace the true feeling of being "On Yukon Time."
When Borealé Biking invited me to return to the Yukon for a week I fell victim to a cluster-cuss of fascination. Admittedly, I left the Yukon as an eager young boy with a head full of crazy ideas, in search of greater riding. I wanted to find the legendary trails and massive stunts that made freeriding famous. Immerse myself in the world of chairlifts and big travel bikes that force the industry forward. After all, I am a freerider and Whitehorse isn't an iconic freeride town. But with my Borealé invitation came the realization of the most amazing opportunity I've seen laid out before me. If I were to travel back to the Yukon I could bring my big travel bike, my chairlift hot-lap style and everything I've learned from those legendary trails and apply it to all my childhood memories. There were sandy hills and cliff banks, sketchy hip jumps and jagged carved wall rides that I'd left behind. I could go back and attack those old features in a manner previously inconceivable to the little Yukon boy I once was. I could really have a look at how I've grown as a rider and how my life has changed since I moved away to Kamloops. Everything appeared to be a once in a lifetime opportunity that people are rarely fortunate enough to encounter. Once my friend Dan Barham decided he wanted to make the trip to shoot me traveling back in time it was everything I could do to keep from shaking in my own excitement.
From the moment I took my first foot steps in the summer solstice midnight shine, something simply felt right. Between being greeted by growers of amazing beer I'd not yet tasted and the smiling faces I'd not seen for years, I really felt like I was at home. People I'd known for only a few short hours spoke with the affection of age old friends and it wasn't long before they grew eager to show me their new trails. I was more than impressed with the fast and fluid descents the locals had carved into the mountains since my departure and I couldn't have been happier with living in a classy little yurt, drinking high-end Yukon Brew and eating fancy feasts. Borealé Biking was blowing my mind with their hospitality and knowledge of the local scene. I was beginning to feel like they were really showing me what the Yukon was all about. But then I remembered I was there on my own mission, to show something of my own. Something different than Borealé has had the chance to show anyone. It was the way I remembered the Yukon. Of course I remembered the trails, the endless flowing turns and ever rolling riverbanks. The soft loam lying in every turn anxiously awaiting a tire's disruption. But I also remembered a rugged landscape riddled with shale rock and quiet dusty clay. One that could easily be interpreted and sculpted however a rider saw fit. When I was younger I never understood how special that landscape was, but now I had a strong appreciation for something so easy to cut to my taste.
So away we went to work in the light of the Yukon's never ending days. Hunting down old lines I had built when I was much younger and crawling along ridge-lines in search of new obstacles to tackle. It was much to my surprise that some of my shovel work still stood strong after all these years, although it was nowhere near as intimidating or as aesthetically pleasing as it once seemed to be. This was my first trip dedicated to scoping out lines to ride in places where people never ride bikes and it turned out to be a great deal more challenging than I'd anticipated. Building my own sketchy cliff lines and hoping they work well enough to make a photo proved to be not only intimidating but also extremely exhausting. For the most part our mission worked out very well and a lot of what we discovered produced some very unique to the Yukon imagery. But I would feel dishonest in failing to mention taking a few hard hits in the process of making things work. Between slashing through narrow rock walls and over rotating three-sixty cliff drops I managed to create myself a fair bit of chaos. Every failed line was a massive attack on my confidence and after a few hard slams it was getting difficult to keep my chin up.
Regardless of growing weary toward tapping into uncharted territories I still wanted to accomplish what I had traveled all the way to the Yukon to do, and I had just the zone in mind. Nestled in a far off corner of the city stood a few tall rows of hoodoo-like escarpments that we, as children, cleverly named "The Clay Cliffs." These dry and dusty, pale brown banks were once the apple of my eye and perhaps the only thing that kept me riding. Everyday after school I ran home to grab my bike and sprint to the end of Klondike Road, where I knew the never ending challenge of riding new things would never die. At that point in time a lot of the terrain at the clay cliffs seemed impossibly steep and simply too big to ride. During my initial investigation of the zone I was almost overwhelmed to see that so many of my childhood daydreams could now become a reality. The moment my shovel took its first dive into the Yukon dirt I knew these clay cliffs that made my childhood worthwhile would be the same place that made this trip worth traveling for. After roughing in some lines and talking about some photos I had my bike on my back and a hike in the sand.
Standing atop the sandy clay banks with my faded foot planted firmly between the blooming borealé flowers that shimmer in the afternoon breeze, I could barely believe I was there again. After all these years I was back in the same place I grew up, the same place I learned to ride my bike, and riding the same cliffs that once scared the living day lights out of me. A few lines appeared before me that I would never have imagined when I was younger. Hipping over a gully and into the steepest cliff I would never think of using as a landing, skidding through cliff walls only inches wider than my handlebars, and wall-riding to the top of massive clay faces. Things were taking shape in ways I never new possible. In the midst of all the clay formations and the tricky to tackle lines, one row of cliffs in particular stood out in my memories, the "Tonka Drops." They were the epitome of amplitude and airtime when I was a young boy and I will never forget the day I first sized them up. Creeping off the edge I fell for all of eternity into a long soft hill and reaching the bottom I completely exploded. An explosion of accomplishment that after all these years has still not been rivaled. I tossed my helmet to the sky and let out a battle winning cry from the bottom of my little lungs and that moment shaped my entire 12 year old summer.
When Dan's English accent exclaimed his readied position I dropped out of my daydream and began rolling to the edge of those same old Tonka Drops. As my tires pushed me away from the ground I felt myself drift slowly into a circle, touching down moments later into the tire-deep silt that had greeted me so many times before. Skidding to a stop I felt a calming sense of accomplishment, but I didn't really feel a need to toss my helmet or scream at the top of my lungs. Spinning that old drop didn't feel nearly as uplifting or life altering as the wheelie-drop straight air I had sent off it nearly ten years ago. And that was when it hit me. Outside of any sketchy lines gone wrong and hopeful plans that didn't pan out, I had accomplished my goal for this trip. I went back to my childhood memories, conquered my old rides with a whole new style and came out with a head full of new perspectives on possibility. I did exactly what I wanted to do, and whether or not I could have done any more was completely beside me.
On my last night in the Yukon I went for a walk to the top of a small sand hill that I used to ride when I was little. It didn't look as steep and dangerous as it used to. I sat there in the sand thinking about my trip and I felt the same fearful feeling creep up in my stomach as I had felt when I first left the Yukon four years ago. When I left the first time I had a clouded vision of all the things I might be able to do and the kind of person I could grow up to be. And I thought it was really funny that it took traveling back to the Yukon and living a week in my memories to realize that I had the chance to do all those things and that I grew up to be exactly who I wanted to be. I watched the midnight sun drag along the gray rock backdrop of the city as it refused to set. There is something about the Yukon, its landscape and its people. It feels inspiring. I traced a few circles in the sand and looked down the trail beside me. This patch of trail was where I went for my first ride when I was 11 years old. This was where I let my imagination really begin to wander and just in that moment I realized it had never come back. My imagination was still wandering around the Yukon ten years later. Up and down river valleys, over untouched mountainsides and weaving its way in and out of the tightly spaced trees. Walking back down from that hill I started to feel kind of sad, but I knew that wouldn't be the last time I went for a walk in the midnight sun.
for making this trip possible.