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Riding the trail less travelled

Whistler couple premieres film capturing Central American mountain bike trip

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Like most great adventures, Steve Storey and Justa Jeskovas' mountain biking trip through three Central American nations got started by accident.

While on a surfing trip to El Salvador three years ago, Storey and his pals decided to set off on a little road trip after the weather turned sour and the waves had dried up. Crammed into a pickup truck, Storey eventually ended up in the bustling capital of San Salvador.

"I ended up seeing a kid on a dilapidated mountain bike wearing some homemade pads riding down the street, and realized there must be trails somewhere," Storey says.

A year later, Storey and his SheGNARnigans crew, a Whistler-based collective of riders, filmmakers and trail builders, were back in El Salvador tearing it up with the locals.

They had stumbled upon a fiercely passionate mountain biking community that sparked their next adventure two years later: an epic expedition through the tiny coastal nation as well as Guatemala and Honduras, a trip that would be captured in the 14-minute Vaya Bien, premiering next week at the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival.

"The mountain bike scene (in El Salvador) and all the passion the riders have blew me away," says Storey. "How passionate they are about the sport, it makes everyone in Whistler look like we just kind of like to ride bikes, but they obsess over it."

Storey and Jeskova, a couple, both played crucial roles in getting the film made; Jeskova, a veteran of the Deep Sumer Photo Challenge, shot the trip, while Storey worked in front of the screen as an athlete, as well as organizing many of the behind-the-scene details beforehand.

While Central America isn't the first place you think about for mountain biking, Storey says the infrastructure is mostly already in place, and the diverse terrain in each country means the region is primed for the sport to flourish.

"The riding was different in each country," he recalls.

With a healthy biking scene and top-class bike park, he says El Salvador is a no-brainer for riders, while Honduras, which doesn't have the same tourism infrastructure in place after years of political corruption and high rates of urban violence, is packed with high-speed ridgeline riding similar to what you'd find in the Interior B.C.

Riding in Guatemala, he says, is as diverse as its natural terrain.

"You'd be in a jungly, clouded forest, and it would be cold and 12 degrees (C), and then you might be in a desert the next day," he says.

The group from Whistler made a conscious effort to engage and give back to the locals on their trip, Storey says, and that good karma was paid back in full one day when they were caught in a torrential downpour in Guatemala.

"We had our gear out, the camera was getting wet and literally within 10 seconds you felt like you had just come out of the shower," Jeskova says.

Then, out of nowhere, a woman started calling out for the group of seven to come into her tiny, one-room mud house to get out of the rain.

"She offered us her husband's dry clothes and to sit down inside," recalls Jeskova. "She had literally nothing and she still offered everything to us, so it was really nice and very humbling."

Vaya Bien plays at the Rio Theatre in Vancouver on Monday, Feb. 16 at 7:30 p.m. Visit www.vimff.org for more information.

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