Mountain bikers, by and large, approach vacations differently than the general population. Our breed tends to place traditional activities like relaxing, drinking frozen cocktails by a pool and taking guided scenic tours low on our list of desirable vacation activities. Meanwhile, hitting that new jump line in the bike park or finding a sweet new loamer from the latest viral video are typically at the top of the list.
We choose destinations based on the number of trails, not climate or nightlife. Trip planning usually involves creating an unrealistically tight itinerary, based around fitting in the maximum number of new trails and riding takes precedent over sleeping. An average Joe might return from vacation a little sun-burnt but well rested. We often return covered in fresh scabs, possibly with one or more limbs in a cast, and more exhausted than when we left.
This June, our crew abandoned this typical mountain biker mindset and took an approach more akin to that of a suburban family of five. The drought and corresponding heatwave in British Columbia were sucking any semblance of energy from us and making it hard to think about much besides getting out of the dust and submerging ourselves in water. So, we decided to do what a typical group of 20-somethings without serious bike riding addictions would do.
“You guys want to go to the beach?”
None of us had been to Quadra or Hornby Islands, or spent much time on the eastern side of Vancouver Island. We knew next to nothing about the riding in these places, and for once, this wasn’t the major draw of our trip. In fact, we knew very little in general about these destinations, but based on our understanding of the word island, we were pretty sure there would be beaches. Watching our t-shirts soak through with sweat was the deciding factor.
These coastal islands proved to be an ideal locale for our foray into a more traditional vacation. An atmosphere of supreme tranquility hit us in the face as soon as we got off the ferry in Nanaimo, and a few days into the trip, we were so relaxed that we were almost asleep. This island phenomenon can be hard to explain but is immediately noticeable to anyone who visits. As hip-hop artist 2 Chainz would say, it’s a vibe.
At first, figuring out what to do with ourselves between naps was a challenge. Without our usual tick list of must-hit trails and a carefully planned riding agenda, we felt a bit aimless. This freedom, however, allowed us to explore the trails and communities at a much more casual rate.
The riding we found throughout our trip was surprisingly good and was made all the more enjoyable by our lack of expectations. Each naturally-formed trail double and perfectly shaped corner that we came upon provided a pleasant surprise. Most trails were relatively short, climbs were mellow and lines were less committing than what we are used to at home, leaving us with plenty of energy to slice through turns and pedal back up for as many or as few laps as we pleased. The fact that we weren’t riding ourselves into a hole with an overly-aggressive riding schedule meant that we woke up each day rested and ready for more.
After ten days of island hopping, we came to the conclusion that taking a normal-person vacation every once in a while is a recommended maneuver. For a mountain biker, the islands off the coast of British Columbia are a great location to dip one’s toes in the waters of such vacations, so to speak, because they offer a compromise between relaxation and enough trails to keep you from going stir crazy.
The beaches though? It turns out that in BC the shore is generally pretty rocky and the water is pretty cold. You can still set up a beach chair, enjoy the views and get a sunburn.