All the photos in this post were taken by my partner Dave. If you like his stuff, give him a follow on Instagram!
One of the highlights of 2017 was seeing Dave return to riding after a gruelling overuse injury that took him out for a couple years. As a “cycling couple”, the injury taught us to not take our rides together for granted. Training took a major downturn as we prioritized fun, scenic rides that were better classified as adventures and left us with fantastic bike memories. Looking back on the year of riding again together (finally!), here are our top 10 adventure rides:
10: Cypress Challenge
The Cypress Challenge is near and dear to both of our hearts. It’s a fundraiser our team hosts every year, benefiting the Pancreatic Cancer division of the BC Cancer Foundation. Unfortunately, pancreatic cancer is both one of the most underfunded areas of cancer research, while also being one of the deadliest cancers. Climbing Cypress isn’t something new, but climbing Cypress alongside hundreds of other cyclists all working to fundraise for the same heart warming cause is truly something special. Not only are you pretty much guaranteed a PB (this is what happens when you have a mass start hill climb and timing chips involved!), you’ll also be greeted at the top with incredible speeches, lots of snacks, and the camaraderie of the ~700 cyclists you just huffed and puffed up Cypress with. Without a doubt, the Cypress Challenge is one of the top reasons I love our team so much.
9: Fisherman’s trail in the fog
Fisherman’s trail quickly became a favourite route when we got cyclocross bikes. Most years we mention that we’d love to ride there more, but usually end up switching the cx bikes to road tires and fenders too quickly. Not this year! We’ve made a point of heading that way on a regular basis, and each ride is still full of glee and smiles. One especially gorgeous ride involved a group of people we don’t often get to ride with (thank you for joining!), and while it was a not-so-balmy 0 degrees, the fog, and beams of sunlight shining through it, made for a breathtaking day. Two of the three photography aficionados present had a field day, the third was a little bummed he forgot his camera. A fabulous ride any day though!
8: Deep cove with the fall leaves
Typically, fall in Vancouver means rain, and then more rain. This year we got lucky: October was incredible! We had dry days, mild temperatures, sunshine and some incredible fall colours in the trees. We celebrated a gorgeous weekend day with one of my personal favourite road rides in Vancouver: Indian River Rd + the Seymour demo forest. It was the perfect route for that day, and we spent the ride surrounded by red and gold leaves as we rolled through the forested roads in great company. Bonus: both routes are very quiet, they’re good for catching up with friends as you can ride two abreast and enjoy conversation on several stretches.
7: Bellingham Grind Corps: Cascade Fondo
The Bellingham Grind Corps is a low key group of great people organizing some fantastic gravel events, just a stone’s throw across the border for Vancouverites. We already had plans to be in Bellingham July long weekend, found out about the Cascade Fondo later on, and realized the start was only a half hour drive from the home we had already booked for the weekend. Naturally, we signed up and the cross bikes came with us. Such a great impulse decision! The route was fantastic, and included a monster climb with some crazy views from the top. The event was also very well supported, and hanging out with new friends over post ride meals was a highlight. The 2018 events are going straight into our calendar for sure.
6: The October Travis North Shore ride
There have been a lot of Travis-led North Shore rides, with good reason: he knows the roads like the back oh his hand, and always takes us on the quietest, hilliest and most scenic routes. The October ride was special for a few reasons though: 1) Again, we had some incredible weather mid October, and we were able to very comfortably ride to the top of Cypress, and happily zip around on the summer race bikes 2) This was the first big hilly ride Dave was able to do with the team since his injury, so it was a huge personal success! 3) We were all extra stoked to ride alongside Travis during his million feet climbing challenge. If you don’t know what that is, please check out his website http://pinkbartape.com/ for an incredible story, and consider donating to his cause before the end of the year!
5: Gravel Double Crown
We chatted about this ride during the summer, and finally decided to go for it on Thanksgiving weekend – how hard could it be? (famous last words) The plan was a gravel double crown: first riding up BLT, the super steep gravel access road on Cypress mountain. The challenge here is staying on your bike: some sections are so steep that you have no choice but to go all out. Then, some of us kept going to Fromme, heading up Mountain highway to the very top of Grouse mountain. There was some bonking on Grouse, many snacks were purchased, and some very, very tired cyclists were too tired to cook and had curry delivered in lieu of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. No regrets. It was a solid 3000m of climbing, a very long day, and I can’t wait to do it again!
4: Painted Hills
Painted Hills had been on our roadtrip list for awhile, and this summer we finally made the drive down and set up camp in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Every trip to Oregon makes me fall in love with this state just a little bit more. We brought our cross bikes with us, which were the perfect tools for adventuring across the mix of paved and unpaved roads in the national monument (plus a trail and boardwalk or two). We stopped for pie at a diner, in a town that could easily have been a set in a cowboy movie, filled with wonderful people who were stoked on the upcoming eclipse. And of course, checked out every information point along the way. Fun fact: John Day was some guy who got robbed, including all of his clothes, along what is now called the John Day river. Naked John was rescued and eventually settled in Astoria. He never even set foot in the hills!
3: Walla Walla gravel ride
Having travelled to the Tour of Walla Walla stage race before, we already knew there was some great road riding in the area. Wandering into the local bike shop with our CX bikes, we were pretty thrilled to be greeted by staff who had plenty of local gravel route recommendations. My face lit up when the mechanic asked if I liked long climbs, and thus we found ourselves on a big ride, including a 25km unpaved climb through the fields and cow pastures of northern Oregon. The descent was along a quiet highway back into Washington, along which we stopped at a small roadside hut where a local farmer was selling homemade (and enormous!) huckleberry cinnamon rolls and cold water. A very hot, dusty day and an almost 5h ride meant one more stop in the next town, this time for granitas :).
We found out about Yolomites5000 through Jered Gruber’s Instagram. We were planning to be in the Dolomites as part of our honeymoon, and the invitation to join was open, so we booked some rental road bikes and timed our trip to be able to join some fellow bike enthusiasts. The idea: Climb 5000m in a single ride, in the Italian Dolomites. If you’ve ever been to the Dolomites, you’ll know it isn’t (that) hard to rack up 5000m in a ride as that place is seriously steep! The catch: Most of the riding was done on tiny back roads, or no roads at all.
In between trying to get our road bikes up a mix of slippery, steep hiking trails and tiny side roads, we regrouped at a fantastic mountain top hut for the most incredible spinach and cheese bread dumplings, and some much needed coffee. Everything about this day was just amazing: the people we met, the food, the roads, the views, the photos, and that wonderful gleeful feeling of very much being on an adventure. Dave and I cut the ride a bit short, but at 80km and 4000m of climbing, we both felt like this was a solid achievement already.
You can check out some of the photos from the other riders here: https://www.instagram.com/explore/tags/yolomites5000/
And yes, we are very much scheming to go back next year :).
1: The Gillbot gravel grinder
When we decided to get married, the question was how to celebrate in a way that felt authentic to our personalities. So naturally we ended up on a bike ride instead of in a church, wearing skinsuits instead of corsets. And it was perfect! We headed to Fisherman’s trail, as a gravel grinder seemed safest for a large group. And brought champagne in ours packs to spray and share. Being on one of our favourites cycling routes, surrounded by so many friends who came together to celebrate with us, was one of the most heart warming and fun things we ever got to do. It turns out getting married can be a really great time 🙂
So what makes an amazing ride? It boiled down to a few factors:
- Company. We’re lucky to have some incredible friends and riding partners. Without a doubt, the right company can make a ride.
- Mountains. We really like to climb OK.
- Rivers, forests, mountains, fall leaves, wide open fields, hay stacks, cow pastures. Roads (and paths) that are so quiet you can hear each other talk without being drowned out by the sound of hundreds of motors. Air that’s clean and not clogged with the pollution of car exhaust. Being able to look around and ahead, without nervously shoulder checking for the next episode of road rage. Every one of these rides involved getting away from cars, and the pervasive North American car culture.
- Good weather. Not a surprise really, but hot summer weather will always put a smile on my face. Same goes for unexpectedly above average weather in any other season, like the incredible month of October we were treated to in Vancouver.
What does this mean for 2018? Undoubtedly, more gravel. And less racing. Stay tuned for more incredible Gillam-pics, because we’re not done scoping out all the beautiful, quiet and often unpaved rides BC, Washington and Oregon have to offer. If you’re reading this and your heart started beating a little faster, you’re invited!