Ride Crappy Trails
Good trails. What the hell are good trails? This is the consummate question for mountain bikers. Particularly when beer is involved. Your favourite trail might be hated by most – and even by your riding buddies. Some trails are as popular as toast, but as Justin Bieber continues to prove, the most popular thing is rarely the best thing.
This is not a conversation about that. It’s about riding the trails you don’t like. Not the ones that go in straight lines and have no character. I’m talking about the ones you don’t like because they are frustrating because they don’t mesh with your skills. Or because they make you feel like you’ve forgotten everything.
North of Whistler, behind Emerald Estates, you’ll find some of the oldest mountain biking trails in the area. With names like Shit Happens, No Girlie Man, White Knuckles and (my favourite) Anal Intruder, they aren’t sugar coating it. The area has been given a name for the bony nature of its trails; the No Flow Zone. Riders make sour faces when you mention the NFZ, and most try to avoid it.
I did my first NFZ loop with my friend Pedro Chambré at the beginning of Crankworx. We picked our way through and both got flats. It had its moments, and there are some fun and satisfying slab moves, but I didn’t love it.
Roots seem to be placed so front and rear wheels strike them simultaneously, or consecutively if that’s worse for the move at hand. The rocks are angry and sharp and plentiful and much of the line is spiked with short choppy climbs. The plentiful slabs are the only smooth sections – and even some of those are rough. To ice the cake I made some rookie errors and ended up walking back to the cabin with my flat. And I rarely get flats.
The granite-clad landscape is sparsely shaded with gnarled pines and much of the rock is carpeted with moss. The beauty of the area numbs the sting of moves missed and shins smacked. It wasn’t the sort of fun you thought you’d left in childhood, the way mountain biking can be, but for me it still beat all but the most perfect road ride.
For the rest of the week of Crankworx I rode a little bike park, some of our favourite lines in the Valley – like Crazy Train – and then I talked Tim and Pete into joining me for some no flow on the Saturday before Slopestyle.
Shit Happens toward One Duck Lake is unremarkable. We climbed until we arrived at the promontory that marks the beginning of Anal Intruder. This is one of the longest short trails anywhere. Trail Forks pegs it as only 1.5km long. But for 1500 metres the trail winds and twists back on itself in order to take full advantage of every interesting rock and high point. Enough to give it a double black rating. With Pedro I was learning the trail and leading, but I kept tentatively picking my way through and we stopped too often – for beer and our flats..
Tim rips. He’s a much faster and more skilled rider than I and he was on my tail when things started to tip down on my second NFZ loop. Not wanting to slow him too much I began to point it and the trail began to make sense. Moves linked up with a little more speed and the line worked surprisingly well. It was that kind of fun.
The chunky moves earlier in the trail made this faster section sweeter. And then I flatted for the second time in the NFZ. In the middle of the one FZ. I swear I don’t flat often. I managed a quick repair this time but it was getting dark. We did a few more steep climbs and slabby chutes down, and then bailed out early when we lost the light completely.
I rode mountain bikes before I started riding the Shore, but before that I wasn’t really a mountain biker. I can deal with less flow than some but I find myself gravitating more and more towards smoother, faster and loamier lines. And yet there is a satisfaction to chunky trails that can’t be replaced. The NFZ dusts off long forgotten techniques. You have to thrust your bike up and over short rocky ups and place your rear wheel to slip it through narrow slots of root and rock. The NFZ reminds me what it’s like to be a beginner. And that seems to make me better.
Of course, you may be the kind of rider who hates flow. That rare breed who calls anything with berms boring. Like I used to. Learning to like those trails also made me better. Or at least less mediocre. And that’s made the whole thing better.
Keep hating trails. And talking about them. But maybe consider riding them sometimes as well.
Note – there are times when a title gets readers up in arms. I am NOT saying the trails in the NFZ are crappy. They were well built and fun and I’m keen to ride them some more. Hats off to WORCA and the amazing trail builders in Whistler!
What trails do you avoid?