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Remembering Al Presidenté

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Former WORCA president and mountain bike visionary Al Grey honoured at bridge dedication

What: Al Presidenté Bridge dedication

Where: Bridge over Wedge Creek, Comfortably Numb trail

When: Sunday, Sept. 28, at 10:30 a.m.

The consensus is that Al Gray would have loved Comfortably Numb.

A teacher, athlete, and avid outdoor educator and enthusiast, Grey spent his winters in the mountains and his summers in the saddle of his mountain bike.

He loved mountain biking so much that he served as president of WORCA from 1994 to 1999, promoting trail advocacy, youth development, and strong ties to municipality.

Still, few people understand just how much of a contribution Grey had on mountain biking in Whistler, says long-time friend Bob Lorriman.

"Before he became president, WORCA membership was literally about 20 people. During Al’s stewardship it grew from the 20 to more than a thousand members," said Lorriman.

"That was important, but it was only part of it. He really helped shape WORCA into what it is today, and that’s a serious political force in the valley. Before, we were just a group of riders, who liked to race and drink beer.

"The muni really took notice of what WORCA was doing."

Grey died in December of 2000 at the age of 46, following a two-year battle with Colitis.

He moved to Whistler when he was in his early 20s, after playing competitive rugby and soccer in the Lower Mainland. He quickly earned a reputation as a strong skier and mountain biker, and was a natural leader. He earned the nickname "Al Presidenté" because he had served so many years as president of WORCA.

Grey lived in Whistler for 14 years before moving to Pemberton, where he taught at Pemberton Secondary School.

After undergoing numerous surgeries and appearing to make a recovery, Grey contracted a blood clot while ski touring in the Cayoosh Valley and died almost instantly. His friends and family consoled themselves with the fact that Grey was doing what he loved at the time.

Lorriman was working with the municipality on a plan to build a bridge over a bike trail at the time of Grey’s death, and suggested naming it ‘Al Presidenté’s Bridge’ as a memorial to Grey and his mountain bike legacy.

The bridge crosses Comfortably Numb, the final name for an epic mountain bike trail that links up the trails formerly known North Secret Trail and Foreplay.

Keeping in with the Pink Floyd motif, the memorial on the bridge will read "Wish You Were Here."

Comfortably Numb is one of a handful of bike trails in Whistler to receive official Section 102 status with the provincial government, something that helped trail builder Chris Markle to receive funding and municipal support for the completion of the project.

Markle estimates that he has put more than 3,000 hours into Comfortably Numb over more than five years, including most of the past two summers. The trail is all single-track, and although it has yet to be officially measured, it is estimated to be approximately 23 kilometres in length.

The funding has come from the developers of the BCR lands off Alta Lake Road to compensate for the loss of trails in that area due to construction projects. Funding has also come from WORCA.

While the funding falls way short of compensating Markle for his time, he says he appreciates any support he can get.

It was Grey who laid the groundwork for these kinds of partnerships, says Lorriman, as the bike club adopted trails and took responsibility for their upkeep.

"There was a lot of rogue trail building going on at the time, and we had to decide where we stood on the issue. Under Grey, WORCA took a stand and said we will only maintain existing trails, like Dan Swanstrom’s River Runs Through It – we will put those trails under our wing, and make sure they are maintained and looked after and environmentally-friendly," said Lorriman.

"He showed we could be responsible. Al was such an effective mediator between the mountain bike community and the municipality and property owners, and he really helped to shape the good relationship we still have today."

The bridge dedication ceremony will take place at approximately 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, followed by the grand opening celebration for Comfortably Numb. A group ride will leave Wedge parking lot at 9 a.m.

Be prepared to ride for four to six hours if you plan on riding the whole trail.

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