I have always loved the act of being in motion from the time I was a small girl on skis at 18 months, through my teen years as a competitive speed skater and now as a multi-sport athlete. The drive to go higher, faster, longer is never fully quenched, and neither is my love for beautiful views and natural landscapes. My foray into mountain biking started in my late teens. I wasn’t a natural at biking, going out for the first time with my brother when I was 15 years old because my mom made him take me. The ride started with some convincing, midway through tears, and ended with me determined to improve! As I practiced, I caught glimpses of that magical flow state you feel on a mountain bike when everything lines up just right and you’re ripping effortlessly down the trail. Sometimes a passion is built out of love at first pedal and sometimes it’s built out of persistence, dedication and sweat. Regardless of its origin, its effect is the same: pure joy in the pursuit.
My passion for mountain biking led me to team up with one of my friends, fellow Osprey Ambassador and pro mountain biker, Lorraine Blancher. We wanted to do something that combined our love for mountain biking, respect for the environment and a journey. Since we’re both originally from the province of British Columbia which incidentally has some of the best mountain biking in Canada, the Purcell mountain range was an obvious fit for our trip. We both spend a considerable amount of time in the alpine – myself trail running, scrambling and skiing while Lorraine prefers hiking and mountain biking. Since becoming a mom of two little boys, aged four and six, stewardship of the environment has become even more important to me. I want my children and grandchildren to be able to see the sights I have seen, run the trails I have run, ski the slopes I’ve skied and breathe the clean, fresh mountain air I love so much. Lorraine and I both share this respect for the environment so the goal on our trip was to use only sustainable forms of leave no trace riding and camping.
To access the terrain near Purcell Lodge which is rarely ridden by mountain bikers, we used a heli bump in. Seeing our bikes dangling 100’s of feet below the helicopter solidified both the remoteness and uniqueness of our adventure. One of the highlights and unique aspects of the trip was riding through terrain that is usually only hiked. It was challenging to navigate terrain that isn’t a purpose built mountain biking trail, especially with the diverse topography in the alpine that ranged from meadow grasslands, to loose rock and boulders. We also got our fair share of “hike-a-bike” terrain.
As with any adventure, group dynamics and weather seem to play a pivotal role in whether a journey is either fun or futile. We were dished our share of adversity on the trip but I have to say the team was one of the most cohesive groups I have spent time with on the trails. Our team was made up of Kent Toth and Robb Thompson, the videographer and photographer from Studio Dialog, and Berne Broudy, the journalist. To get to our bike-fort campsite, we had to descend some technical single track loaded up like mules with camera gear, food and overnight provisions. As an ACMG hiking guide, Lorraine was excellent at taking the lead in planning and executing our meals, first aid and bike repair. I learned a lot from her about overnight bike packing, improvised bike repair, packing techniques and body positioning on the bike. After the rather steep descent to the valley below, it quickly became apparent we had to hike a bike approximately 1,900 feet to our campsite. It was 86 degrees and the sweat started flowing almost immediately. This would seemingly be the perfect time for people to start withering like flowers in the hot sun, but the opposite seemed to occur. Motivated by the views and encouraged by the adventure ahead, we sweat, drank from streams, ate energy bars, swatted black flies and eventually got to our campsite.
Two of the most memorable moments on the trip were the sunrise after our first night of camping and the stormy, snowy sunset on the last night. I think it is no coincidence that those moments represented the two bookends to the day. Both seemed to be supercharged with beauty and human extremes. For sunrise, Lorraine and I hike our bikes up the ridge of a mountain to time the descent perfectly with first light. We dropped into the flowy trail as the light was peaking over the mountaintops; it was nothing short of magic to be fully immersed in that moment.
The sunset on the last night was ominous with the onset of looming thunderstorm clouds. We could see the front moving toward us as the sun lowered, splattering the sky in dramatic red, orange and yellow hues. As we reached the top of the ridge, there was an eerie calm before the air and wind shifted from warm to cool. We all looked at each other and knew that the trip was coming to an end; we had captured magical moments but it was time to physically and metaphorically descend and wrap up our time together. We literally raced away from the storm down the side of the mountain as icy winds started blasting, chasing one another and the last rays of light. It was one of the most intensely real moments of the trip for me.
I learned a lot on this trip as an athlete about taking chances, being receptive to constructive criticism and checking pride at the door. Lorraine is an exceptional mountain biker, one of the best I have ever met. Her expertise in jumping and bike handling has led her to be one of the top female riders in the world with podium finishes at many Crankworx mountain biking competitions. As a multi-sport athlete, I have always been more proficient at endurance, fitness and power sports. I am primarily a ski athlete and so putting myself in a position with a pro mountain biker who has a very different skill set from me was both exciting and very intimidating. I went into the trip with the intention of embracing the challenge and doing my absolute best. Lorraine was a great friend and mentor on this trip for bike skills, tips and advice while I brought the fitness and high energy component. This trip only further confirmed that if you want to progress as an athlete and person, pushing your limits is a key ingredient. It isn’t easy – it’s humbling, even embarrassing at times, but until you take those steps, you will never know what you are capable of. I truly believe people are capable of so much more than they could ever imagine. I think it helps that I remember being that 15 year old girl who was anything but proficient at mountain biking and pushed through. I have learned as a competitive athlete to remember how far you have come when you get discouraged and look to athletes who are more proficient than you at certain skills as motivators to keep working hard and not a discouragement.
We had many different passions and personalities on our trip. A key ingredient to our success was replacing competition with encouragement. Extending grace and space to each other when we needed it and realizing our own humanness. In situations that we were hot, hungry, tired or cold, we tried to help each other out but if we couldn’t solve the problem, I saw each person choose not to complain, own the situation and push on. Perhaps this is what it takes to pursue a passion; it’s not always easy but to each of us, we have our own reason why, our own life experiences and motivators that keep propelling us forward. So keep pushing those limits – you never know what you’re capable of until you try!
Written by: Kylee Toth Ohler