There were two events during the Victoria Day long weekend (a.k.a. May long) that I wish I were present for in Whistler; the bike park's opening day and the ever-awesome Gaper Day. Both mean a lot to me and gave me pangs of FOMO when I saw the celebrations on social media, but I had my own fish to fry for what is now—in this sweltering heat we call "spring"— the first long weekend of the summer.
Weeks ago, a good friend threw out the call to see who wanted to jump in for a May long weekend road trip to bike. Knowing full well that the high-summer weekends tend to evaporate faster than spilled Gaper Juice, I made the call to forego Whistler's colourful May-long crowds and get out of town. We began to brainstorm a few regional riding destinations: Cumberland on Vancouver Island, Leavenworth in Washington, Roberts Creek on the Sunshine Coast ... We even considered driving all the way to Revelstoke for our two-wheeled mini vacation. But already making the conscious decision to escape Whistler's traffic and road blocks, we didn't want to end up in another lineup of cars at the U.S. border or the BC Ferries terminal.
"How about Williams Lake?" I suggested. "I know a guy who can give us the grand tour."
Landon Pinette, a friend of mine for almost a decade, grew up on the local Williams Lake mountain bike trails before moving down to Vancouver and later Whistler. He loves nothing more than showing friends and fellow mountain bikers the unique terrain that surrounds his childhood home, so before we knew it we had room and board organized at his parents' house for the entire weekend.
Williams Lake lies in the middle of B.C.'s Interior Plateau, the largest urban centre between Kamloops and Prince George. Nicknamed affectionately "The Puddle" by locals, this rural town is more or less known for three things: the Williams Lake Stampede (one of the largest rodeos in Canada after Calgary), a timber industry that was decimated over the last 20 years by the mountain pine beetle infestation and a mountain biking trail network that rivals most riding destinations in the province.
I have visited Williams Lake a half-dozen times over the years, and every time I'm blown away by the variety of terrain and trails. To the discerning Sea to Sky mountain biker, it seems unconscionably flat at first, but once you are on the fall line, things can get very steep very quickly. South Lakeside has excellent cross-country gradient with smooth climbs and fast descents, the perfect warm-up for a day of pedalling, especially with groups of mixed ability and fitness. The Westsyde (sic) is a bit more advanced with a smattering of blue and black trails, steep descents down into the river valley and home to the 25-kilometre XC epic Box Trail. Fox Mountain is the most accessible with perfectly graded climbs and paved roads for efficient shuttles, with everything from mellow flow trails to road gap stunts.
About a half-hour out of town, Desous Mountain steps up the difficulty significantly. The black and double black trails are fast up top before steepening into steep and loose, brake-burning technical descents that measure up to 900 metres of elevation loss. Shuttling is the best way to ride Desous efficiently, but with a long approach up its frontside and descents on the backside, vehicle logistics become challenging. Even further out of town, the not-so-legal trails of Farwell Canyon get even steeper and looser, a former hot spot for freeride mountain bike films of the early 2000s.
I never leave Williams Lake without a few scars. That's partly due to the endemic gnarliness of the trails, but also due to a healthy dose of peer pressure and desire to challenge myself on new terrain. The May-long trip was probably the most challenging yet, dancing with mental mind games while wrestling control of my bike in a two-wheeled drift over exposure that most sane people would classify as "severe."
But that's the beauty of Williams Lake. There's real variety amongst the gnar, not just a handful of token intermediate trails to boost its accessibility appeal to a wider mountain bike audience.
It's a longer drive than the island or stateside, but if you're looking for some fresh terrain with no difficulty ceiling, try your hand at biking Williams Lake.
Vince Shuley will return to the Puddle. For questions, comments or suggestions for The Outsider email email@example.com or Instagram @whis_vince.