Additional photo credit: Dean Matthews
This is the 4th year I have organised a trip to Vancouver Island over the Easter long weekend. In my mind this weekend marks the start of the “official” biking season (since biking never really ends for me, I just tend to bike a tad less over the colder months) It is a chance to get a bunch of friends together and pack ourselves off to one of my favorite places to ride; Cumberland. For the past couple of years we have rented a private house that sleeps 10 and has a large garage for bike storage as well as everyone’s guilty little pleasure, a hot tub.
Day 1 – Nanaimo
Packing, I am terrible at packing to go anywhere (I not so secretly think it drives my Jackrabbit a little nuts as he tends to like to be a little more organised pre trip) I tend to pack last minute, no matter how often I plan to be organised earlier it never happens. I have theories about this, the first is that by packing last minute I don’t bring too much stuff that I don’t need. The second theory is that I enjoy a little bit of chaos in my life. Regardless, not only did I need to pack, I also had to partly strip down my new Specialized Camber Comp 29er and rebuild it the way I like.
Leaving things to the last minute means that the last hour before arriving at the ferry (even with a reservation) is pretty hectic, I also had to collect 3 other members of our riding party along the way and fit them and all their gear into the Beast (aka Gina’s truck) we actually arrived at the ferry terminal with plenty of time to spare.
Once we arrived in Nanaimo, we met up with 3 other members of the Easter crew and headed to our first ride location; the Abyss. This is a great loop situated at the base of Mt Benson, it gradually climbs you up then across an old earthquake fault line, you weave your way through an arbutus grove. About halfway through the ride, at the furthest point, the skies opened up and it began to pour on us. There is something fun about ripping down a trial trying to outrun the soaking we were about to receive. We made it back to the cars wet and cold but satisfied with our first ride of the trip.
Day 2 – Cumberland
Also known as, “let’s see how many Cumberland trails we can ride today”. After a quick warm up on the road we hit our first bit of single track; a trail called Two & A Juice, this linked us into Buggered Pig, this later trail is a homage to North Shore woodwork as it is littered with log rides, ladder bridges and skinnies, a lot of which looked to be recently re-built. From here it’s a long pedal up fire-roads, our goal for the day was to reach the highest trails on the map, those that I’ve only ever looked and and wished I could ride in the past but were always under snow, but today, I was confident that we would be able to push through whatever snow remained and make it to the top.
After much pedaling (and a little bit of pushing thru snow) we finally reached our goal. Dropping into the trail called Switchback I was elated to know we had a whole lot of downhill ahead of us, our route was Switchback – PotLuck – Thirsty Beaver, we then decided to pedal back up the road to head into a relatively new trail called Truffle Shuffle; think downhill pumptrack berm trail, then into Slick Rock. For those who don’t know why it was called that, Slick Rock got it’s name from the builder when he discovered a big deposit of bear poo on the only rock feature on the trail (or so I am told). From Slick Rock we headed down That Dam Trail, that funnily enough, finishes at the reservoir. One last climb up sunset strip then down Entrails – Shaker – Black hole – Space nugget – home.
Day 3 – Cumberland & Forbidden Plateau
Today we got to go and ride my current favorite trail in Cumberland. As I am adverse to riding road, and since no one else complained, we shuttled to the gated road that marks the start of the accent for today’s adventure. As you head up the fireroad you look up and see a wall of mountain, with a fire road heading up the side of it, it’s really quite impressive; I also think this was when I got my first dark looks from a couple of my adventure companions. About 20 minutes up the fire road we pass the exit to the trail, I decided to keep that one to myself. Fire road eventually turns into an old moto double track road, that then turns into a “put your bikes on your shoulders and start hiking up” sort of track, after about an hour of this we eventually popped out on the main FSR, at which point I think a couple of people realised we could have taken a far mellower (albeit much longer) approach to getting up the mountain.
Another 20 minutes of pedaling, a little bit of snow and we hit the last bit of double track that takes us to the beginning of the single track climb, after another 20 minutes we finally hit the trail head sign. There were lots of smiles and even a few murmurs of “must be downhill from here” After the sign we descended around 20 meters and then began climbing again (yes, there is a theme here) after another 10 minutes or so we finally reached the high point of the trail. From here we began our descent, and this is what I love about this trail, it’s technical, it’s rocky, it’s rooty and it flows well. It also has a whole bunch of punchy climbs thrown in to keep you honest. If you’ve just completed a big descent you know there is gonna be a nasty little punch back up to a ridge-line to hit another descent. Just before the exit you ride onto a rock bluff overlooking the Comox Lake.
After the mornings adventure, which some referred to as a sufferfest (also dubbed a “Jac-Venture” ) We decided an afternoon of shuttle assisted riding on Forbidden plateau was in order. I should probably point out that just because you get a ride up the road, doesn’t mean it’s all downhill. The two laps we rode on Forbidden, were long, mostly downhill, but with a good amount of up thrown in for good measure and were a lot of fun.
Day 4 – Cumberland & Forbidden Plateau (Again!)
Another day, another planned ride. I began today’s ride informing everyone that it was pretty much one big climb followed by one big descent (I think I forgot to mention the second small climb) Nikkei Mountain is the Eastern side of the Cumberland trails, and again we had two options to get up the mountain. Option A, straight up including a hike-a-bike or Option B, a more meandering route along interconnecting fire roads; I of course chose Option A for us.
Once you get to the top of Nikkei Mt I think my crew appreciated the views, I know they also appreciated the descent! The first trail Rhizome is through a clear cut and it’s fast and flowy with lots of little hits, once you cross the road the trails started to get a little steep and a little more technical, we also re-entered the forest. Unfortunately all good things must come to an end and we finally hit the low point, luckily I knew what trails to take to get us back up the mountain a ways so we could enjoy a second descent.
I will note there were a couple of objections based on the previous years experience where, once reaching the top of the second climb we discovered that where the trail should have been there was a recent clear cut, the fact I then made everyone put their bikes on their shoulders and hike through the clear cut seems to have not been forgotten (or forgiven). I should also point out that there was a trail at the other side of the clear cut that eventually dropped us back down to the house. This year the trail had been re-establish through the clear cut so all was forgiven and we enjoyed our second descent back to the house.
That afternoon the rain that had been threatening all weekend finally decided to make good on it’s threat and began to fall. Not stopping a very small group of brave souls who chose to slip in a single lap on Forbidden before deciding that a hot tub and cold beer was more appealing than wet and cold mountain bike trails
Day 5 – Maple Mountain
Another early morning! Although today was our last day, it was by no means any less action packed! We loaded up our trucks and said farwell to Cumberland and made our way south heading towards Cowichan to what was until recently a little known trail on Maple Mountain. Maple Syrup is my favorite trail on Vancouver Island, and it’s one of my top 10 favorite trails. You climb 5km up the main fire road to a radio tower, from here you drop into the trail. Maple Syrup & Solar Coaster are around 9km of single track, so when you start doing that math in your head, yes you climb back down the mountain.
I know I’ve gone on about Maple before, but let me go on about it again. I’ve ridden both iterations of the trail, the original underground for those in the know only trail (that unfortunately dropped into a very cranky lady’s private property) and the new version that is fully legit and on the map. The new version of the trail keeps much of the flavour of the old, it’s still crazy technical at times, in both the uphill and the down, but it is also incredibly new school at times. You find yourself climbing up a tech rock section to drop down a gnarly shoot only to be catapulted into smooth fast berms.
Maple Syrup connects into Solar Coaster which is more of an XC style trail. It is also the perfect way to get back to the vehicles after your amazing ride on Maple.
Once we returned to the trucks we quickly opted to change out of our damp gear, no one joked about doing a second lap and it was evident we were all beat. Our last task for the day, try and make the 3pm ferry! That was the only fail of the weekend, which turned out alright as BC Ferries was good enough to add another ferry to the route so we were on a boat only an hour after we had originally planned. I am already stoked for next year.