Chasing Fall from the Yukon to British Columbia
“That’s gonna roast some brake pads on the way back down,” said Matt putting his bike on the ground, and looking out down at the valley below. We’d just spent the last 2 hours with our bikes on our backs, slogging up a steep ridgeline trail, wondering how a few of the chutes and corners we’d passed were going to work on the way back down. Dave dropped his camera pack with a dusty thud beside our bikes and took in Bennett Lake in the distance, “Now do you see why we suffered all the way up here?” Oh, right. There was also a view. We sat down to catch our breath and absorb a vista of the Yukon in its best Fall dress.
A few weeks earlier we'd been sitting around North Vancouver in the summer heat, covered in dust, sipping some radlers, and hacking down forest fire smoke. The consensus was unanimous: fall is the best season for riding. Spring is muddy, summer is too hot and dusty. We're lucky here on the Shore to be able to ride most of the winter, but its cold and wet. Fall, though? Tacky moist dirt, cool evenings, gorgeous colors, and accessible alpine. But fall is fleeting, and it was still six weeks away.
But did it have to be?
Two weeks later three of us were eating warm chocolate chip cookies on an Air North flight to the Yukon. Matt Beer (good at bikes), Dave Smith (good at cameras), and myself (good at… using two words when one will do?) were greeted by crisp air on the tarmac. Local beta said we were landing right in the heart of fall, which arrives notably earlier in northern latitudes; instead of waiting for fall, we'd catch up with it.
Yukon is vast, but you don’t need to get far from the capital, largest city, and main airport in Whitehorse to see what the place is about. Less than three hours from touchdown and tires were on singletrack. We’d swapped sunbaked dusty greens in B.C. for a vibrant colour palette ripped from a Hallmark Hallowe'en card.
Climbing past the grizzly bears, we were into fun in no time. Alpine ridgeline ripping on Blown Away and Starbucks' Revenge eventually dumped us into the steep, deep loam of Kid Vicious - a trail several years old that wouldn’t withstand three days of Sea to Sky Instagramming. Kid Vicious was so good we forgot the photos. Thanks Contagious Mountain Bike Club, Paul Burbridge, and everyone else who’s volunteered on the trails on this side of Whitehorse!
We quickly settled into a routine. Late nights filled with beers, hot tubs, and northern lights at Boréale Explorers were conveniently followed by mornings well below freezing that imparted no sense of urgency. Yukon time. Communal breakfast at the lodge, a bit of computer time, and we’d work our way to the trails near Carcross or Whitehorse as things warmed up around lunchtime. Trails were widely varied, rocks, loam, jumps, flow, tech, and the berm Dave wouldn’t shoot. Three days deep, we’d confirmed two hypotheses; fall is best, and Yukon kicks serious ass for bikes.
Now it was back to reality; late summer in Metro Vancouver. Back to work, back to the grind, and back to… loading up the bikes, and heading north? As fall was coming south, we’d head up to meet it again. Next stop - Cadwallader Range, BC.
Fuel up, air down, and with the right trucks its a quick trip over the Hurley to Bralorne. B.C.’s terrain is every bit as huge as Yukon if you know where to look, and are willing to get a couple pinstripes on the way.
Riding, shooting, and evening beers around the fire to keep warm. Fall. F*ck yeah. The trails in the Cadwallader are different than their slightly-more-northern cousins in the Chilcotins; instead of all day epic slogs traversing mountain ranges, you can bang out shuttle laps off old forestry and mining roads on trails that bring back memories of the best parts of downhill mountain biking 15 years ago, with modern additions. The low usage means these trails are a time capsule, and despite the rugged fall line nature of some portions they’re in great shape.
The next morning it was apparent we might have issues. A rethink was in order; after standing around drinking coffee and discussing “options” for far too long, we retreated south over the (much whiter) Hurley. The Sunshine Cabin and many of the trails are maintained by the Bridge River Valley Community Association, and the Bralorne Recreation Area - both awesome groups worth your support.
B.C.’s south coast and the North Shore, don’t really experience fall in the same way as other places. We’re a temperate rainforest primarily surrounded by conifers; we get summer and rain. So the three of us rode bikes, and tried to formulate a plan. And came up with nothing.
In one of these sessions, thinking away in the Green Room, it hit us.
Why on Earth were we travelling by plane and automobile, searching for the best dirt, the best colours, the best trails? Our backyard is the Shore. Fall isn’t the best; winter is. Rain, fog, dark greens, and all the ISOs. We didn’t need to go anywhere to find the best - it was all in our backyard the whole time. Maybe that’s why we’d latched on to fall - it was just one step closer to where we wanted to be from the summer dust.
We may have become disenchanted during the hottest, driest bits; but is the Shore really the Shore if the roots aren’t greased daily by Mother Nature, and everything isn’t a deep shade of green?