Our guides promised life would get easier after lunch—and for a while, it looked like they were right. We’d spent the morning crunching through swaths of snow as we pushed our bikes up Lorna Pass. Now, all that stood between us and our destination were a few hours of rollicking trails along Tyaughton Creek. We peeled off our arm warmers and clicked in as the crisp air warmed in the afternoon sun. Pedaling through meadows of tall grass, it seemed as if nothing could sap our momentum.
Nothing except the grizzly bear someone spotted crossing the trail up ahead.
Chris Winter, our guide, stopped us to strategize. “If the shit hits the fan, I’ll use the bear banger,” he said as he twirled a noisemaker cartridge in his hand. “If the shit really hits the fan, pick up your bike and use it as a shield.”
Here in the wild Chilcotins Mountains of Canada’s British Columbia, those are the sorts of things you expect. Still, over beers that evening, we gave Chris props for the cool composure he’d displayed as we tempo-rode out of harm’s way. Indeed, there were many reasons our guides would be tipped well at the end of our trip. They led us along the best trails crisscrossing this remote landscape, ferried our gear to a different campsite each night, fed us well and kept the libations flowing.
The pampering had begun the previous afternoon, moments after touching down on the turquoise water Lorna Lake in a 1947 De Havilland Beaver. We stepped out of the floatplane to find happy-hour Coronas chilling beside the dock. Then there was the backcountry feast Chris and another guide, Claire Kendrick, prepared that evening: gemelli alfredo, spicy Greek salad, peppery crackers with hummus and artisan cheeses, washed down with mugs of red wine.
I know you’re thinking: Isn’t the point of mountain biking to be self-sufficient? To get dirt-spattered and a little less civilized? Dropping in by air almost seemed like cheating. But in a world where vacation time is limited, I’d rather spend my free hours riding the best trails a place has to offer than poring over topo maps, lining up gear drops and hauling a 50-pound pack stuffed with enough freeze-dried chili for a week in the wild.
So I signed up for a three-day trip in the Chilcotins, home to one of the most impressive trail networks on the planet. A 2.5-hour drive (or 35-minute flight) north of Whistler, the region is relatively arid compared to British Columbia’s more famous North Shore. The terrain is less technical, too—instead of rooty fall-line trails, you’ll find fast, sinuous singletrack and majestic alpine peaks.
That’s not to say the riding is easy. The trails were built by nomadic Tsilhquot’in First Nation hunters and fishermen, and were later traversed by fur traders and gold prospectors. Many of our days include portages of knee-high streams and long hike-a-bikes. But for every hardship, there was a glorious payoff, like the time we ripped through a field of Queen Ann’s Lace for what seemed like an hour.
One evening, as we lounged on a sun-baked dock to toast a hard day’s effort, not even the glacial waters of Spruce Lake could prevent soreness from seeping into my muscles. My face was a salty mask; my calves felt like they’d been filled with sand. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to stand—but I knew I’d be back on the bike the next morning. We had more ground to cover, new trails to explore, and yet another quiet lake to soak in.
Sign Up: Tyax, tyaxair.com
Length of trip: 1/2 to 5 days Cost: $75 to $2,320
Best Time to Go: July and August
Bonus Option: Big Mountain Adventures (ridebig.com) offers a guided trip around Whistler, B.C. with a Chilcotins extension.