Newsletter - 2001 Archive

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Viva les Differences!

Doug Latornell


A change is always good to keep one's training rides fresh and interesting. This past weekend Susan and I left our road bikes in the garage and used our mountain bikes to add some verticality to our training. It's amazing how quickly unpaved roads and tracks gain elevation. Friday we rode from Ganges village on Saltspring Island to the top of Mt. Maxwell - a distance of 11 km with an elevation gain of a little over 600 m. Certainly there are paved rides that will give you that kind of climbing workout, but I think that are plenty more opportunities when you trade skinny tires for fat ones.

The grade was pretty relentless, starting at sea level in Ganges and climbing first on the busy main road and then on a quieter, chip-sealed side road. As we ascended we discovered that there is more to Saltspring Island than the galleries and B&Bs of the main roads and the oceanside features of the coastline. The hillsides off the beaten track are speckled with rocky farms where sheep, cattle, and the occasional llama can be seen grazing. When the road changed to hard packed gravel the ascent into the forest began. As we went higher the road grew steeper, muddier, and rougher. But what was really striking was the slow ascent into the cold, wet silence that is the coastal rain forest in winter. The road became a brown ribbon, speckled with dirty snow, winding upward into a pallet of green mosses and undergrowth and grey tree trunks and rocks. At one point Susan startled a yearling eagle from a low perch beside the road. It rose on its huge wings to a branch a few meters directly above the road where it casually watched us with as much interest as we watched it. At the top, the rocky outcrops were bathed in sunshine and we had marvelous views of Mt. Taum and the south part of the island. We could also see Cowichan Bay, Maple Bay, and the foothills and mountains of Vancouver Island where, before long, we'll be riding a 200.

The descent highlighted other differences between road riding and mountain biking. On a mountain bike your upper body isn't just along for the ride! By evening I was thoroughly regretting the number of trips to the weight room I skipped this winter. And speed is a relative thing! The 30 km/hr that our Sunday ride in Richmond happily cruises at is fast enough to really pump adrenaline when I'm trying to keep control of my mountain bike down a rough, muddy, rutted track.