It's pouring rain on a cold February morning somewhere on Vancouver Island. In the middle of a BC coastal forest, at this time of year, there’s no escaping the moisture.
The resulting mud forms sludge-filled rivers and flows down the steep slope, pooling against the boots of Alex Volokhov, who is slowly working his way upstream. He trudges, step by step up against the steep, muddy slope, careful to keep his weight centred. Despite the cold temperatures, sweat pours off his face, as on his back sits a 100 lb wooden ramp which he has driven in his truck to the base of the mountain. Now, in this torrential rainstorm, he must carry the giant wooden structure over his head for 1.5 km to get it to its final resting place on a new trail he’s been working on for the past two months.
Despite the seemingly miserable conditions, this time of year is actually ideal for this type of work. The coastal temperatures are (relatively) mild enough to deal with, the dirt is wet and easy to move around, and during the Winter, Alex doesn’t have too many competing obligations for his professional time. While the following two weeks may be plagued with a stiff neck due to the awkward load, it’s a measured cost in the pursuit of creative freedom.
The dreariness of winter weather also provides the perfect ingredients for digging.
The lip of a jump is the last place you want to lose traction.
Born into a Russian household, Alex Volokhov grew up in Nelson, British Columbia. During this time in BC, a trail-building revolution in the early 2000s had launched some of the most prominent freeriders of that generation. Wade Simmons, Darren Berrecloth and Jordie Lunn (to name just a few) were/ are iconic names associated with hand-built features integrated into BC’s forests.
Alex remembers the film premieres that would accompany the latest “New World Disorder” movies. It felt like the whole city would show up for the night to cheer on these larger-than-life superstars of the sport. As a kid living in the town where these movies were made, the riding and accompanying freeride trail builds showcased each year were a constant source of inspiration for an up-and-coming bike kid.
The particular style of riding and trail-building seen in those early mountain bike films had since expanded globally, and freeriding became a viable alternative to racing and contests, spawning a new generation of athletes who could create their own riding worlds and careers.
The dense fog is a familiar sight around BC's coastal forests, and with it brings it's own magic.
When the rider is reaching new heights, sometimes it's important to try and get on their level.
As part of that next wave, Alex especially found mentorship in the late Jordie Lunn, whose own riding limits were only restricted by what he could build himself. When Alex moved to Vancouver Island in 2017, the two began spending a considerable amount of time together. Alex remembers how “Jordie would roll up in his Range Rover with low-profile tires and a Pit-bull in the passenger seat, covered head to toe in tattoos, and your initial impression would be ‘Oh shit, I’m afraid to look this guy in the eye.’ But of course, anyone who knew Jordie knew he was the kindest, most caring dude.”
Alex would spend days with Jordie shaping jumps, exchanging ‘bush carpentry’ tips, and generally sharing stories about traveling the world on and off two wheels. Jordie had his own stringent self-discipline, which along with many other facets of his life, he applied to his trail building. Jordie wouldn’t film something someone else had built - he made it a point to conceive of, build and ride every single feature himself.
“He would call me up-it would be just me, Jord and his dog, and we would go out into the middle of the woods and he’d ask me to film the ‘guinea pig’ of a giant canyon gap he had just finished building- and then he would just send it,” Alex recalls. “That self-motivation was really inspiring.”
Jordie’s work ethic towards trail-building made an impression, and Alex maintained an affinity for the old school mentality of wandering through a forest, figuring out what might look and ride cool, and then spending countless hours putting in the labour to make it happen. The result could be cumulative months spent completely alone in the pouring rain, hauling loads of dirt, or digging through difficult roots, but the idea of bringing an idea to life from the ground up justified the physical exhaustion. Volokhov would admit that he judges himself at equal weight on the builds he finishes, along with his riding.
“With this being my last year living in Vancouver Island, I wanted to spend the time building something that represented my view of freedom on a bike using this terrain. Especially with so much of my time spent on the island being with Jordie, it was nice to incorporate some of the styles of building I had learned from him as a final send-off.”
It’s arguably true that the genre of “Mountain Bike Freeride” may have had a bit of an existential crisis in the past ten years, but Alex feels it has made a full resurgence as of late. More and more all-mountain bikes, which previously would have been scoffed at by a freeride-centric crowd, have become so well-built, that riders no longer need the 45-pound monster they did 15 years ago to go big.
“I feel like freeride is going in a positive direction. More events, more support. As new waves of people continue to get into riding, there’s going to be natural interest in exploring genres outside of racing.”
Will this flood of new people with capable bikes result in a full-fledged freeride revolution? Maybe not- but in the meantime, Alex is proud to help carry the torch. Watch Alex Volokhov in Svoboda here.Project Support:
Schwalbe Tires, Rocky Mountain, Suntour SR, FSA Components