#LetsModo: Mountain biking in Burnt Bridge and Beyond
We all have a list of things we want to experience, but haven’t yet. Items on the list date back to childhood stories told by a special uncle, school courses about early explorers and their adventures, or – in this day and age – the myriad Instagram images of places exotic and compelling, far from home and near. Our to-experience lists are all long (and growing); our challenge is how to check off as many items as possible within the constraints of our real world lives.
You recently met our friend and WILD:life co-founder, Naomi, when she shared her story of Gulf Island-hopping from Modo’s new second home – our one and only – Victoria, BC. WILD:life’s mission is to help folks find, share and conserve wild places close to their hearts and close to their homes, so an alignment with Modo – which offers a solution to one of the key constraints to farther-flung outdoor exploration – was a natural fit.
Jennie and I spend as much time as possible within the bounds of work, the scale of adventures accessible to her girls at their young age, and the rest, to explore and share wild places and microadventures from the Vancouver Island home we love passionately. But there’s never enough time to fully satisfy our exploratory zeal, and there are always places we’ve heard about driving us to want to get outside and add to our bank of stories and memories.
Our friends don’t help. They share our love of adventures outside and keep coming home with memory cards full of enviable experiences, Cheshire Cat grins and the words, “Wish you coulda been there…” Ross and Lisa are a case in point. Passionate about their mountain biking, for the past couple of years they’ve been making the 50-kilometre drive north of Victoria to Koksilah Provincial Park and the area outside the park known as Burnt Bridge, in the hills to the northeast of Shawnigan Lake. A life-long Islander, Ross remembered riding dirt bikes in the area in his youth and, now more of a human-powered adventure kinda guy, wondered whether the Burnt Bridge trails could still be found around the logging clearcuts inexorably encroaching on the area. A few times during each of the past years’ riding seasons Ross and Lis would fill their vehicle with bikes, snacks and an appetite for exploration and head into the hilly woods that form the southern extremity of the Cowichan Valley. Each time, they’d come back with stories of getting a little bit lost, but a whole lotta happy, in the quiet trails and old growth that they found remaining around the cut blocks.
They kept telling us that we had to see these trails and vista for ourselves – to cash in on the routes they’d discovered through their willingness to explore without promise of outcome, banking time poking around dead-end logging roads, long climbs that might lead nowhere and trails no one’s ever mapped – but the timing and logistics never worked out, so this experience they were selling so hard remained yet to be cashed-in.
Victoria kicks ass. Not unlike in Vancouver, nature comes to us here; there is no shortage of parks and relatively wild places just outside our urban door. Mount Work Regional Park – Hartland, the main mountain biking area in the region, can be reached from town by bike, largely off-road along multi-use trails, within about an hour. So you can ride MTB here without driving.
But you can’t ride at Burnt Bridge – or Mt. Tzouhalem or Mt. Prevost or Maple Mountain or … – north of town without a car. And, having recently sold my truck in the interest of streamlining our little family’s existence, when word came again from Ross that an up-Island excursion was in the making, we needed a set of wheels to make it happen.
Not willing to give up our farther-flung adventures, a Modo membership fits perfectly with our lifestyle in which urban living defines our weeks, but wanderlust drives our weekends. So we said yes to our friends’ invite and clicked open bookit.modo.com to find a ride.
I do still have a set of wheels. But they’re just two wheels. And they hang on either side of a 1203cc Buell XB12Ss Lightning engine. Translation: My wheels are way low on the cargo capacity, but way high on the fun factor. I really like high performance vehicles (And also, apparently, if that linked Independent article is to be believed, chocolate lingerie. But I digress.). So when I hit the Modo Victoria site it will come as no surprise that my eyes were drawn like the proverbial bees to honey towards the fleet’s fire engine red Scion FR-S. “Rumon,” Jennie interrupted my reverie, “three words: Two. Mountain. Bikes. Get your tongue off the ground and book something with cargo capacity.” But I was already lost to the car’s home page…“Powering Passion”… where I was watching the video of the guy pulling up to the trailhead and then pulling his – you got it – mountain bike out of the back of FR-S.
I told Ross we had our ride sorted. We’d meet him at his shop at 9 for a coffee (where Lisa mounted a disbelieving “What. On. Earth?!” as we pulled up with two bikes successfully on-board inside the Scion’s physics-betraying trunk) before hitting the twisty backroads north. With a stop at the big trees of Goldstream Provincial Park on the way, by 10:30 we were on the Cowichan Valley Trail section of the TransCanada Trail to start our ride. Across the bridge into the zone and up logging roads to our first views of Shawnigan Lake, the Southern Island and the Salish Sea. Up the continuing moderate grade, we paired off by gender to chat and get caught up. Riding under the mossy neon green of spring on Vancouver Island, Ross offered the thought that formed the theme of the day: “It’s only a 45-drive, but it feels like a world away from Victoria. Sure, it’s not the Southern Chilcotins, but it feels like it in ways: exotic trails, and no one else on them.” Weak April legs, early season mud, swooping singletrack and whooping giddy calls through the forest told the story of our ride back to its end at the famous historic Kinsol Trestle, back on the TransCanada Trail. (Which, for the walkers in the audience, can be accessed a short 1km from the main parking lot.)
Post-ride, over a late lunch at Unsworth Vineyards – one of many stellar wineries and eateries to be found in the Cowichan Valley – Jennie and I thanked Ross and Lisa for their being explorers of the undiscovered country of the nearby, and for then sharing with us the payout of the time they’ve invested in getting to know the region.
We’ll be back. Now that we’ve found out how best to get there.
Along with Naomi, Jennie and Rumon are co-founders of outdoor exploration and advocacy start-up, WILD:life. Longtime explorers of the backroads and backcountry of Vancouver Island and beyond, they’ve recently begun sharing their shared stories at A State of Wild.