This is Part Two, to read Jay’s post about the same trails, go HERE … ok, this is a longer than usual post, but there’s a great surprise ending if you can stick with it….
I had looked forward to mountain biking in Fernie, BC because I had seen an advertisement for a Women’s Only mountain biking clinic run by Sacred Rides on Fernie’s local trails. The ad did not actually say that the trails were easy or great practice trails, but I was hoping that is what it implied.
It turns out that Fernie is a great place for a mountain bike clinic because there are a lots of local trails with a lot of different types of obstacles to practice on. There are in fact ZERO trails that are marked as “easy” in the guidebook we picked up. The starting point for Fernie is “intermediate”. Reviewing the guide book was only one of the many factors that led me to be practically trembling with anxiety as Jay and I arrived at the bike park to set out on an afternoon ride.
It wasn’t until I could turn my anxiety into self-deprecating humor for strangers’ amusement that I was able to move past the fear and start pedaling. In an odd coincidence, I struck up conversation with some other bicyclists at the park, only to find out they were there for a Sacred Rides bike clinic that weekend. Since they were novice riders, also nervous about the trails that awaited them, I was able to relieve the aura of tension that surrounded us by cracking jokes at my own expense.
Still acting as my own personal confidence buster, we pedalled around misguidedly, unable to find the old cemetery which was supposed to mark the start of the trail system. I took this as a bad sign. After looping around a few more times, we eventually saw the gates, separating the living from the dead, or in this case, smooth asphalt from rocks, roots, steep ascents, and terrifying descents.
I stopped every few yards for the first couple kilometers of trail. If it wasn’t a log across the trail, it was a steep stretch which I lacked any momentum to summit. Also, having rained earlier in the day, the trail was muddy, with a thick dark brown surface that would eat your tire and throw off your balance. One of the keys to mountain biking is to maintain momentum, momentum carries you through almost all challenges and most obstacles are infinitely more difficult with little to no momentum. With a steady uphill grade and intermediate-level single track, I lacked opportunity to build the momentum I needed to stay on the bike.
As we were reaching a less technical section that I was actually able to ride, I noticed a few women from the Sacred Rides class ahead of me, stopped on the side of the trail. I perform better in front of an audience of my peers and I challenged myself to pedal as far past them as possible. It was my longest stretch yet and I was ridiculously proud of myself. It made it less embarrassing to walk my bike the final few yards to the intersection with a gravel road where the rest of the Sacred Rides class was waiting.
I kept working at it that afternoon for over 3 hours. Jay and I wound our way through several trails with names like Broken Derailleur and Deadfall, a few of which I was even able to ride in short chunks. Without the motivation and inspiration of the Sacred Rides group ahead of us, I would not have kept going as long. Being surrounded by people who bike with Jay, I sometimes forget that there are novice mountain bikers. It was great to watch the new riders and to realize how far I have already come in my riding.
By the end of the ride I was encouraged enough to try riding again the next morning. For the second day of riding, I set off on the Continental Heritage Trail because I thought it might be easier. It was, at first … sort of. It was smooth enough that I could stop and start every minute or so, setting small goals to ride as far as I could see. I was riding by myself, letting Jay take on the big trails that he described in this earlier post. My goals for the day were to just keep trying for a couple of hours, riding as much of the trail as I could. I had the guidebook with me and figured I would ride the Continental Heritage Trail as far as I could and then bail off onto either the powerline road or the Ridgeline Road.
Somehow I managed to get past all of the easy connector trails without realizing it and ended up pushing my bike up steeper and steeper pitches. I knew that I had to be pretty close to the road, it was basically paralleling the trail to my right, further up the mountain. But I wasn’t sure the best way to get there. I came to a steep narrow unmarked trail and figured that even if I had to push the bike the whole way, it would be better than backtracking. This decision led to at least 30 minutes of full body workout, pushing the bike up rooted and rocky social trail (unofficial trail). At one point I actually had to completely lift the bike over a large obstacle and then scramble up after it using my hands and feet. After that I left the bike lying on the hillside to scout out ahead of me and make sure I wasn’t backing myself into a corner I could not climb down from. Reassured that this narrow social trail met up with a wider smoother actual trail up ahead, I went back to pushing.
Finally I spotted a line of sunlight on the mountainside above me, indicating a break in the trees which I hoped was the road. I summoned the last of my energy, reassured by the thought that I would stop for a rest and a snack at the intersection. Sure enough I came up and onto a level, wide gravel road. I took a huge sigh of relief before I spotted it… a black bear. The bear was in the road about 3 car lengths away, it spotted me before I saw it and had frozen, staring at me trying to make out whether I was predator or prey.
As regular readers know, we’ve been in bear country for weeks and the only bears I have seen have been from the safety of the car. I have read countless guides on how to handle a bear encounter and they are universally NOT reassuring. The one that stayed with me was the comedian, Mike Birbiglia’s account of what he was instructed to do: Announce yourself to the bear, let him know that you see him. Of course at that point the bear is supposed to turn and run. If this is not what happens, the guidelines get very confusing, alternating between “play dead” (which seems pretty ridiculous after having just announced yourself) and “go on the offensive”, either spraying the bear with bear spray (which I didn’t have) or entering into a physical altercation with the bear (which I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t win).
So I announced myself, “Hello Bear! I’m Sharon, and I see you.” The bear processed that for a second and then must have checked his own human encounter guidebook and thought “oh! she announced herself, I’m supposed to turn and run now”. He took off up the mountain in the opposite direction, and I yelled after him, “Thank you!”. I also got right back on my bike with a surprising amount of renewed energy, and pedaled away to relative safety.
Part of Mike Birbiglia’s sketch about bear encounters … skip to the end if you just want to see the part I referenced.