Cyclists gear up for summer in Cariboo Chilcotin's biking mecca

Vancouver-area mountain-bike enthusiasts head to the Cariboo Chilcotin for miles of single-track trails to explore over a long, dry season

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      Mountain-bike season is about to start for Derek Page.

      This means that from May into summer, the 48-year-old executive with Oxford Properties in Vancouver will be riding in the Chilcotin backcountry on as many weekends as he can. At some point, he’ll take time off from work and disappear into the wilderness for days.

      It’s something that he’s done for the past 15 years, following the trails left behind by miners and packhorses in southwest B.C. during the gold-rush era of the 1860s.

      “They’re these beautiful single-track trails,” Page said in an interview with the Georgia Straight at a Vancouver café. “What mountain bikers look for is what’s called single track, which are these really narrow trails. There’s only one track to ride on. Up there, what you have is a gem. It’s a series of trails that you can ride for hours.”

      For Page, much of the former Spruce Lake Protected Area that was established in 2010 as South Chilcotin Mountains Provincial Park is “world-calibre the way a place like Moab in Utah is considered a mountain-biking mecca”.

      “There aren’t a lot of places in the world where you can mountain-bike up on ridge tops and over mountain passes on a smooth trail, and this is a place you can do it,” Page said. “And you can do it for miles and miles and miles.”

      According to the provincial parks service, South Chilcotin Mountains Provincial Park has about 200 kilometres of trails that lead to alpine meadows, valleys, and lakes. The trails are maintained by users and shared by cyclists, hikers, and horseback riders, although cyclists are required to yield to all other trail users and stick to established paths in alpine and grassland areas because of sensitive ecosystems.

      Like Page, Chris Glew is also looking forward to mountain-bike season.

      Glew owns Joystick Bicycle Components, a North Vancouver company that makes high-end parts. Some of these are sold east of the Chilcotin in the Cariboo region, where he has gone mountain biking for almost 15 years.

      Glew rides mostly in Williams Lake, often referred to as the Shangri-La of mountain biking in B.C. It has more than 200 kilometres of single track within city limits, and another 100 kilometres of trails a half-hour drive from town.

      “It’s got a really awesome variety of trails…[from] beginners…to intermediate to extremely advanced riding,” Glew told the Straight in a phone interview. “In the course of the day, it’s easy to ride a massive variety of terrains, and there’s multiple areas to ride in. Whatever type of riding you want to get yourself into, they’ve got it.”

      Williams Lake businessman Mark Savard distributes some of Glew’s bike parts through his Red Shreds Bike and Board Shed. According to him, the Cariboo’s weather is ideal for mountain biking.

      “We don’t get the rain that the coast does,” Savard told the Straight by phone, “so we get a really nice, long, dry riding season.”

      According to Savard, the season usually lasts through the fall until early December.

      From May 17 to 19, Williams Lake will have its fifth annual Peel Out Mountain Bike Festival, bringing together racers from many places. One of the event’s sponsors is the Cariboo Mountain Bike Consortium, an organization formed in 2010 to promote the communities of 100 Mile House, Williams Lake, Quesnel, and Wells as destinations for adventure travellers who are into mountain biking.

      “People coming from the city are always kind of surprised that you could be riding in the morning and you could be fishing around a lake in the afternoon and sitting around a campfire at night,” association executive director Justin Calof told the Straight in a phone interview.

      It’s the same outdoors experience that Dale Douglas offers through his Tyax Adventures, which operates on the shores of Tyaughton Lake at the foot of the South Chilcotin Mountains, about a five-hour drive from North Vancouver.

      Douglas has put together a network of camps in South Chilcotin Mountains Provincial Park that are connected by bike trails. His company provides guided tours that can go from half a day to as long as one week.

      “We have the only place that you could use floatplanes to fly into the wilderness with your bikes,” Douglas told the Straight in a phone interview.

      Among his long-time clients is his old friend Page. Douglas and Page grew up together in the Lower Mainland, and they were among the first to go mountain biking on the North Shore’s Mount Seymour, which still bears the trails they built as young adults.

      During his short break away from his downtown Vancouver office, Page related that Dale’s Trail was named after Douglas, and Ned’s Trail honours another friend.

      “And there’s actually a trail called the Dirty Diapers that was named after my son, who was on my back when we built the trail,” Page said, laughing. “I won’t go into the story about how it got named, but you can guess.”

      Access: For information on biking in the region, see the Cariboo Mountain Bike Consortium’s website. To get a free travel and touring guide to the region, call 1-800-663-5885 or see the Land Without Limits website.