You know those great ideas you have when you go travelling, those ones that will broaden your horizons and make you appreciate the experience of being there, wherever it is you are? I had one of those in Rossland, BC.
It nearly killed me.
Rossland is a beautiful little mining town turned ski town up in the mountains of south-east BC. I cannot say enough about the beauty of this town nestled into the side of the Monashee Mountains of the West Kootenay region. The main street still has your typical picturesque mining town look with classic storefronts giving way to steep roads climbing up to the dense forests above (and below) and the friendly atmosphere where everyone says hi while passing on the broad sidewalks. It’s the type of town where people still leave their doors unlocked, where people travel through and stop for coffee only to end up staying for 20 years, and where hundreds of Australians come to work for the winter.
It’s also the mountain bike capital of the Canada.
I arrived in Rossland on Monday night after a 7 hour drive from Vancouver. I’m here for the Heritage BC Conference, a somewhat small and out-of-the-way venue for this provincial meeting, and I came a few days early so I could catch a free ride with some of the staff. This meant Tuesday was pretty open for me to explore town, and it turns out there isn’t much to do on a Tuesday in Rossland during the shoulder season! The museum (my usual first stop) was closed, so I decided to hit the trails.
I rented a bike ($45) from Revolution Cycles and was convinced to buy a pair of riding shorts ($58 after a 50% sale discount, but Tyler you were right: it was totally worth it!) and set off up Spokane Street to the start of the trails.
I barely made it. It turns out us coastal folk aren’t great going up hills at altitude (Rossland sits 1023 metres above sea level), especially when we haven’t ridden a bike for a month…or more. I had to take a break after five blocks seemingly straight up, having already finished half a bottle of Powerade. I’ve never ridden a bike with rear suspension, so a lot of my energy was being expended bouncing up the hill. These bikes are best going downhill!
You can see the majority of my route here, from the Kootenay Columbia summit (I went back down the way I came to avoid the advanced section) to the four way intersection, down North Star and Milky Way before heading up Green Door, Roger’s, Cemetery and Happy Valley. I walked back into town via Park St. (off the map). This map of the Milky Way Loop via Kootenay Columbia Trails Society.
After a few minutes I got back in the saddle and set off up the Monte Christo road that connects to the trail leading to the summit of the Kootenay Columbia Mountain (1235m). Halfway up it all went to hell.
I probably shouldn’t have had the amazingly tasty frittata with the chipotle mayo and Sabrosa salsa from the Alpine Grind nor should I have eaten it so fast, because it didn’t taste quite as tasty coming back up… This episode was made a bit more embarrassing by the group of young mom’s who came trekking by with babies strapped to their fronts going about as fast as I had just been on my bike.
I did make it to the top eventually, stopping for a moment at the hanging poetry installation and the stone labyrinth somebody had carefully laid out on the side of the trail (and someone else had not so carefully changed to make it impossible). The view was worth the effort, a spectacular panorama of Rossland and the valley on one side and a glimpse down at Trail, dominated by the Teck Cominco lead and zinc smelter, on the other. I enjoyed a packed lunch at the top and chatted with a hiker who came up and showed me an easy route back down the other side of the mountain.
Heading down always feels better. You go faster, it’s more exciting, and there’s far less peddling to do! The plan was to do a short version of the Milky Way-Happy Valley route (one of the region’s most popular, a 250m drop over about 2km), supposed to be good for ‘letting it rip’ and some classic cross-country before heading back into the top side of town. Most importantly, according to the hiker I met at the summit, it was supposed to be easy and not a lot of peddling.
The way down was lovely, lots of bumps and turns and steep sections that kept me on my toes and made me feel I might be able to actually do mountain biking without throwing up or killing myself in a crash. The trails I had picked were all intermediate rating (perhaps a bit over-ambitious?) but I didn’t find them too difficult. I only had to save myself from going over the handlebars twice, and I wasn’t going too fast so I was ok.
You can see the pros do it (just a bit) faster than I did:
I decided to skip the wooden jumps on Milky Way, but did stop at a little log cabin in the woods and enjoyed a brief pause in a meadow section at the bottom of the trail. I was feeling so good about going downhill, apparently forgetting what happened on the way uphill, that I decided to push the route one loop larger, going down the second half of Milky Way with the intention of cutting back around the mountain on Green Door (300m up over 3.1km) and Roger’s (50m ups and downs over half a kilometre) before reaching town via Cemetery and the Happy Valley Connector (combined 200m up over 3.3km).
It was all great before I reached Green Door, which was at least 3kms of steady uphill gravel trail. I walked most of that. At the top of that trail I got back on the bike and went up and down Roger’s, catching another good look over Trail before…
There goes my back tire. I’m about 4kms from the centre of town, my phone’s battery is under 50%, I’ve never changed a bike tire before, and it’s 3pm. The sun sets at 6pm, but more importantly, my pants, jacket and wallet are back at the bike store, which closes at 5!
I texted my boss saying I might be late for supper, called the store to get a reminder about the tires (they brief you before you leave, so I wasn’t completely blind), and set about replacing the tube. It took me about 20 minutes, but the tube was in, the tire was on the rim, and the wheel was back on the bike!
But it wouldn’t pump…
Sitting on the side of a single track trail with dirty hands, two finished bottles of Powerade, unfamiliar shorts, and your mom texting you saying she’s worried about grizzly bears is not the most fun part of adventure tourism, but it’s all in the experience. I pumped like mad for 20 minutes, getting nowhere. Time to start walking I guess…
As you can tell by reading this, I did make it back out of the woods. I pushed the bike over Roger’s, down most of Cemetery (I rode a bit on the flat-ish tire on the dirt, but didn’t want to wear out the rims on the rocks), and up Happy Valley (wow that’s steep!) before pushing it over the hill and into town. I made it back to the bike shop by 4:30, just in time to grab my pants, borrow the boss’s car, make it back to my billet for a shower, and get back into town before supper!
It turns out the valve on my second tube was too short, so the pump wasn’t able to get any pressure into the tire. I think it was really because I was provided with a 26″ tube for 27.5″ wheels, but the guys at the shop said that should have worked anyways. I’m very thankful for their help on the phone and partial refund for my troubles!
My bike-turned-hike in the woods of Rossland sure was an adventure. While there was a lot going wrong, with pushing myself too hard and the flat tire, I still had fun, saw some great sights, and was glad I gave it a try. Most important, I made it out safe. I don’t think I’ll hit an intermediate trail any time soon, and I might be better suited to biking in the Netherlands (i.e. where it’s flat!), but it all adds to the fun of getting to know Rossland.
My legs were dead, my head was spinning, and my chest was not happy about hyperventilating for half the day, but it didn’t stop me from catching the great Jeremy Fisher concert at the Flying Steamshovel Pub that night. Two nice young ladies who work at the Trail hospital befriended me, which meant I had to get up and ‘dance’ for most of the show. My dancing mainly involved leaning side to side and clapping my hands. Sorry ladies!
They even had a guest birthday harmonica solo!