There I was, standing at the top of the trail we had just pedalled up in Valleycliffe, the enigma of the Squamish mountain biking scene. There was nothing left to do but feel pretty awesome about myself given that my new local Squamish friends were struggling more than I was on the climb. Climbing my mountain bike uphill is my jam after all, being an Ontario transplant to British Columbia. As I took in the views, my group began pulling up their pads and converting their bikes into what has quintessentially become known as “party” mode, by lowering their saddles, opening up their suspension and donning their ever colourful enduro goggles. I took a moment to look around my peak of accomplishment, cliffs surrounding us at every turn and found myself pondering “Where is the trail?”
Moments later my new found friends, who were clearly suffering from a lapse of mental sanity began throwing themselves and their bicycles down what looked to be a bottomless abyss from which there was no escape. My very first instinct was to scream, but my amazement left me speechless. Alone now at the top of what appeared to be certain death with nothing but the echoing hoots and hollers of the psychopaths I had decided to team up with for the day, my predicament began to slowly sink in. How am I possibly going to get down from here? So began my education on “Squamish Normal”
Re-Learning How to Ride My Bike
Having spent a number of years coaching riders of all ages and from all walks of life back in Ontario, it seemed ridiculous that I was standing at the top of my first descent in my new hometown and could not comprehend how to ride down it. My self preservation skill kicked into high gear and I opted to scramble and side step down the first nearly vertical pitch only to find myself standing at the top of a long, steep, off-camber and un-walkable slab of granite in the XC racing style shoes I was wearing. To say I was terrified would be the understatement of the century. I quickly realized the only safe way off this rock was to ride it, but somehow in the last few terrifying minutes of my life I had completely forgotten how to ride a bike.
From the bottom I could hear my friends yelling all sorts of gibberish which was meant to be construed as advice. In between the obligatory “You’ve got this!” and “It’s not as bad as it looks!” commentary, a few of my coaching memories were being triggered by a local Squamish coach encouraging me with “Remember your Ready position” and “Slow and Controlled”. I hopped up on my bike, knees and teeth chattering with fear and began my first real Squamish descent. I kept repeating the coaching points in my head as I crept down the seemingly endless rock slab.
My body position was good, my speed was in check and I also suddenly remembered my husband telling me that Squamish slabs were about weighting your front wheel and using more front brake than you could ever possibly imagine. Also a coach back in Ontario, he had travelled out a month before I arrived and was taught a hard and fast lesson by taking a huge, now famous crash on similarly terrifying rock slab in the Alice Lake area of Squamish.
Slowly I continued down and eventually reached the end of my rocky ordeal, and found myself hooting and hollering along with my maniacal riding partners . It is difficult to describe all of the emotions one goes through when you are convinced that something really bad is going to happen, but you manage to escape unscathed. It’s a mix of terror, stoke and the completely absurd notion that you want to try it again – on another day of course.
Still riding the high from my first successful “social ride”, I began to feel like a kid in a candy store. I wanted to try everything that Squamish had to offer and took no time trying to do so.
My elation didn’t last long.
I suffered my first and then second inevitable crashes in the following weeks and suddenly I found myself and my self-esteem completely deflated. I was pushing myself to ride advanced trails that were frankly beyond my current abilities. The peer pressure was mounting more and more everyday and I would feel embarrassed if I had to get off my bike and walk around difficult sections. I stopped having fun and it became a real task to muster the courage to throw a leg over my bike and go for a ride. I was always worried I was holding my friends back on group rides and I was terrified to ride alone in the event I had a bad crash.
Fast forward a few months and things started to slowly turn around after some pretty simple advice from a neighbor who had moved here a couple of years before us. “Take it easy, start by making riding fun again”. Apparently, what happened to me, happens to a lot of riders that move to Squamish or anywhere else in British Columbia. We seem to forget the people in these mountain bike towns have been riding those trails for years. They suffered the same crashes, the same stress and the same hesitation. But after a couple of years of riding those trails, it has become their “normal” and their past trail riding experiences are nothing but a distant memory.
Over the past year I have received some amazing coaching from RideHub’s lead instructor Matthew Trotter, who also happens to be my husband. Needless to say, what I never thought possible is now my normal. My ride warm ups start on the trail that absolutely terrified me. The trail that I gave my blood, sweat and tears to. I now can’t wait to rip on, riding the rolls that once terrified me now make me smile from ear to ear. Hell, I even ride the trail on my hard tail.
Wondering how you can get comfortable with the Squamish Normal level of mountain bike riding? I have two tips – get out on trails that challenge you, but are not discouraging or dangerous. You want to stay positive and in love with riding. Second, take a guided tour/hire a coach to show you the best trails for your level and give you tips along the way. You
“Squamish Normal” is being in a community where your average rider is a shredder. In most cases in most places, what riders do here on a casual afternoon spin will blow your mind. A blue trail here is on par with a black diamond anywhere else. The kids in this town are hitting gap jumps by 9, and the mom’s rides are not just a casual pedal, these ladies crush it! You can’t help be feel proud and inspired and oh so lucky to call Squamish your local ride spot.