In my experience, it is important to have things in life that you are passionate about. Activities that drive you to see new places, try new things, and sustain you through good times and bad. One of the great passions in my life that provides all three is mountain biking.
Mountain biking is at times a near-transcendent experience where you always feel like you are discovering brand new places, even when there’s a well-worn trail in front of you. It’s like being an explorer, all while getting some of the best exercise a person can get!
Then there’s the breathtaking beauty of nature itself. Mountain biking allows you to appreciate the sounds and smells of the countryside, and the changes to the day that occur over the course of a long ride. I always notice how air that felt too chilly on the morning of a ride transforms into a relieving cool down as you work your way along the trail, because of how hot your body gets during the trip.
There’s lots of little things to appreciate beyond the ride itself; stopping under a tree to rest. Realizing just how isolated you are, truly in the heart of nature. Reaching the end of a trail, and feeling like you’ve actually earned it.
Prep For Where You’re Going, and Who You’re Bringing
It may not be the first thing that comes to mind as a family activity, but mountain biking can be fun for both kids and adults. The most obvious and important part of planning a family trip is selecting the right trail. Trips with kids are more focused on day routes and shorter trails, not the multiple days some longer treks require.
Our family makes a few other basic accommodations when the kids come along. This includes selecting appropriate bikes and gear for the kids’ age and size, and regularly checking that they’re riding safely. Depending on how experienced your kids are, they may need more frequent breaks for snacks and rest.
It’s important to remember that the rigorous, almost punishing trails that many adult mountain bikers enjoy are nowhere near what children would want to ride. If you’re trying to foster a love of the sport in your kids, it’s best to ease them into it.
Luckily, there are quite a few choices across Canada for both challenging and family-friendly treks. Prince Edward Island offers a number of looping, easygoing trails on red dirt that a younger rider with only a little experience can handle. New Brunswick offers some more technical tracks for those looking for a challenge.
What I want my kids to experience are the same exciting, invigorating things that I experience through mountain biking. I want to take them on trails we have never been on, and share the new sights and sound together. I want us to get caught in the driving rain on a hot summer ride. I want them to see the challenge of the sport, and take it on. Part of mountain biking is becoming more resourceful as you deal with the unexpected, which is something every kid should learn.
Location, Location, Location
Canada has such a wide range and variety of choices for serious mountain bikers that when people ask for trip recommendations I’m tempted to just say “British Columbia”. I’m always interested in traveling and exploring new trails, so my favorites are as much about where I want to go as where I’ve been.
Anse à Beaufils in Percé, for example, has a particularly strenuous mountain trail, with some 45 degree slopes. I think it’s important to challenge yourself with difficult trails. This includes dealing with changes in elevation, steep angles and difficult terrain, or simply picking an especially long trail as a test of endurance.
If you happen to be the only one in the family interested in mountain biking, or you don’t want that to be your only activity, many of the parks on the Atlantic Coast of Canada have excellent hiking options. One in particular is the park at Gaspésie, an excellent option for non-biker members of the family, and for those looking to mix things up.
And any family that finds themselves near Gaspésie must travel to the very end of its eastern coast for Île-Bonaventure. It features a moderate-difficulty loop of around five miles that is less heavily trafficked than other popular hikes, and contains nature trails, bird watching, and a ferry that circles the island, allowing visitors to observe the sea seals, whales, and other sea life in the clear, cold water.
Trips Far Afield
If you’re serious about mountain biking as a passion and not just a pastime, then you should open yourself up to a much wider range of available treks and trails. Many choices offer longer-term options that are best taken with a group of serious mountain bikers. Some of these trips require their own regime of exercise and preparatory treks to ensure that you are ready for their rigors.
For a hardcore, multi-day trip that challenges even veteran bikers, options like those found in the South Chilcotin Mountains Provincial Park are great. With over 200km of trails and spectacular mountain views, the park is very rugged. Trails aren’t regularly maintained and there isn’t much signage, so this one is for experienced riders only.
That there are plenty of ways to get into mountain biking. You don’t have to be the madman rocketing down a bumpy hill. Enjoying a more leisurely, family-friendly trail is just as fun, and many parks allow you to rent bikes and other equipment for the day. Whatever way you do it, you’re still getting exercise and diving into nature, which is what makes mountain biking great.