Riding a bike today holds the same joy that it did as I shed my training wheels two decades ago. In my three-foot-tall world, riding a bike was new found independence; it was something that I could be in control of. My bike was a glimpse into the world beyond fences, doors, parents and rules. My bike was my first taste of freedom.
Today life is different. Gone are the worry-free days of childhood, replaced with the rigors of responsibility and the daily struggles and routines of grown-up life. While challenges have shifted away from worrying about being picked last in gym class to paying bills and staying ahead at my job, the solution to today’s problems remains the same. My bicycle is my escape, my carefree source of exhilaration. I have moved beyond the sidewalks and playgrounds, past the city streets and local hills of my youth and into the backcountry. When I am away from the rustle-bustle of life and deep in the wilderness — that is where I feel truly free. I am free to explore, free to sort out the troubles of my mind and free to ride! My local riding spots may be a daily reminder of what is important and what can be forgotten, but escaping into a distant backcountry adventure can be the perfect way to get a clear view of the road ahead. One place that provides such an experience is the Chilcotin mountain range of British Columbia; it serves up a childlike sense of exhilaration in adult-sized portions. Taking off for an extended weekend with friends is an excellent way to forget about our First World problems and get back to the basics, back to freedom. A couple of months ago this was the ideal backdrop for a well-needed recharge and escape from the everyday, so a couple of friends and I decided to get back in touch with what is important.
Accessing the Chilcotin area via floatplane, we embarked on a three day journey through this remote, beautiful and challenging terrain. The access alone was a step into the dark. Once the plane slipped over the horizon and the sun faded into the evening sky we were on our own. Life went back in time, leaving us with a starlit sky, our friendship and our bikes. Ripe with anticipation over the next days’ adventure, we called it an early night and tried to get some sleep.
The next morning I awoke to a frost-laden bivy, and the crisp mountain air was refreshing as I drew in a lungful. It was peaceful and serene as the sun crested over the surrounding mountains and we started the day off with a cup of hot java to warm our spirits and insides. As the line of sunlight made its way down the hills and into camp, the air warmed, the ground thawed and we packed up for our first day of adventure. We set out at a lazy pace to warm up. The mountains were tall and the valleys deep, making our travel slow and methodical. Throughout a 10-hour day we traveled through snow and rivers, over high passes and across lush valleys, rarely witnessing any signs of civilization. It was just us: three friends and three bikes travelling through the wilderness, experiencing childlike freedom and awe at the world around us.
As the day wore on, the promise of camp was a carrot on a string: dangling just over the next rise, down the next hillside, out of reach and out of sight. After what seemed like forever we finally reached camp. With the sun sinking into the horizon, a fire replaced the warmth and light from above. The cold evening air settled in and we gathered closely around the fire as the stars made their appearance in the sky above. A dinner of dehydrated chili and some warming whiskey seemed oddly elegant in this rustic, sparse setting. Our rations may well have been filet mignon as we huddled around the fire talking about the day’s adventure and savouring each and every bite of our meals. My legs ached and my mind buzzed with the thought of the next day’s journey. I slipped back into my bivy home for a second night and sleep rushed over me instantly.
The next morning the sun climbed over the hills, chasing the shadows away and the cool air bit hard. Our legs feeling the fatigue of the previous day’s long work, we started with a hike, a steep ascent over a shale slope towards our destination. As we pushed onwards we thought about the looming journey through an unknown region of wilderness.
We aimed to crest through Castle Pass, an area where the wind, rain, ice and snow had chipped away at the ancient peak, shaping it into a massive tower that overlooks the entire range like an ancient sentinel. On the final ascent to the pass, breathing was deep in the thin mountain air and our concentration was firmly focused on our goals. The weight of my pack added to the fatigue in my legs, making them feel heavy and awkward as every step was a challenge. This was the joy; the torture is what drove me. I was here to push myself, try new things and experience that same freedom I remembered from my childhood. Knowing that the vicious climb would be rewarded with a gluttonous, seemingly endless descent on the other side kept me going.As we approached the summit of Castle Pass, we saw the horizon slowly emerge, giving a sense of scale not only to the location but also the accomplishment of conquering this climb. Exhaustion gave way to elation – this was the freedom I came for. We stopped to reflect on the magnitude of our achievements and serenity of the moment. It didn’t matter if this was my local trails or a multi-day journey — cycling is about freedom, adventure and achievement. Riding my bike is where I can focus on what is truly important and forget the rest. Without my bicycle I would not have the clarity in other aspects of my life I require on a daily basis. This is where I find my clarity.
Cresting this pass was the moment where my mind was able to free itself from the shackles of daily life. This was by no means the end of our ride but it represented the pinnacle of freedom. At this point, life was simple and focused on what matters: friends, nature, my bike and me. This is where I felt freedom and the same simple sense of bliss that my bike introduced me to so many years ago.
May your bike be your inspiration.