When the pace is slow but technical, and the forest trail has tapered down to a hiker’s width, Nancy Irwin is in her happy place.
It was autumn, and the Sunday I had planned for a ride was supposed to be grey, rainy and cold. Imagine my joy when I woke to find a sunny sky and unseasonably warm weather! Every ride could be our last, but when the days get longer and the nights colder, we feel it even more. These days we cherish, because we know our riding time is short.
I rode the old BMW I call Casper to the Ganaraska Forest northeast of Toronto without benefit of a second cup of tea, and after only four hours sleep, due to a party the night before. Tough squeezing various pleasures into one lifetime. Something’s got to give. In my case: sleep, housework, television. I place a high priority on pleasure. Those who know me will attest.
So, dressed in my dirtbike boots, dirt pants, knee pads, shirt, chest protector, elbow guards, gloves and my old riding jacket, I headed down the highway, riding my big enduro into the rising sun. I found my way to a white pickup truck with two dirtbikes loaded on the back. And that’s where the real fun began.
I call it The Day of Single Track. It was my best day so far this season.
I’ve gone riding a number of times with my new dirtbiking buddy and his friends. We’ve done fire roads, old train lines, double track and precious little single track. My other bike, a KTM, would overheat in 33F heat when going slow, and I can’t help that slow is my favourite kind of dirt riding. I love single track!
It also happened that the others weren’t as drawn to the tight, technical stuff as I was. And some trails we found were a bit over-stimulating. (That’s a nice term for too difficult.) So for one reason or another, we’d make our way back to the double track or wider, to get some cool speed for the engines and a break for the bod’. Thinking back to the hot, dry summer, there was a lot of deep sand that was tough for me to get comfortable speed in. Sometimes pleasure is a challenge. A good adrenaline rush comes with moments of panic or sustained fear. Does this sound like a good time? Ask anyone who keeps going back for more.
Single track. Twisty mountain roads. These are my two favourite kinds of riding. Fighting rush hour traffic in the city doesn’t do it for me. I try to avoid travel at times when it’s going to be frustrating, but sometimes I need to go to the dentist, the theatre, or meet friends downtown for tea during rush hour. Then my bike becomes transportation, but fighting traffic is irritating. I never find forest riding irritating, nor riding in mountains, nor on trails. Such places excite and challenge me, and come with delightful scenery.
In both cases, I ride as fast as I safely can. But mountain roads are a long way from my home. Last weekend I found a section of the forest I hadn’t explored before, that I call perfect beginner single track. It felt like I could ride at a reasonable speed indefinitely. The trails had all the required features, but were designed for beginners, not experts. Yeah!
One of the things I enjoy most about this riding is being in the forest. Like mountain riding, my eye is drawn away from where I’m going long enough to swallow a moment of scenery before focusing on what’s ahead, be it dirt, rocks, roots, logs, detours, inclines, drops and more. Last weekend I felt entirely in sync. I made my way around trees, amazed that I wasn’t hitting the bars, let alone the single mirror that stuck out but made the bike street legal. I found myself wondering if I was doing it “right” because I felt like I was dancing, moving the bike with my hands, my arms, my knees, my hips … and my feet. There was no part of me not involved in following the twisty trail that wove through the forest, covered in a blanket of dappling sunlight that will soon be a bed of coloured autumn leaves. Doesn’t this sound perfect?
Did I mention I like slow? Single track is a trail as wide as one person could hike along. There are places one could go fast, but my favourite parts are where I ride five or 10 kilometres in an hour, maybe fifteen. It can be tricky. For someone who thinks Trials riding is the ultimate in balance and control, slow speed technical trail riding is the best I can hope to achieve, because my five minutes of Trials riding let me know it’s much harder than it looks.
My grin is the default between all sorts of other expressions that pass across my face, hidden behind my helmet and goggles as I pass time joyfully. These newly discovered trails were exactly what I wanted, not too difficult, with a few challenges thrown in, and they provided an opportunity for me to feel really confident as I dodged trees, jumped roots and splashed through puddles. And this came with occasional breaks on double track or fire roads, so the bikes air out and I could get a rest, while moving. And there were moments I just had to stop and relax all my muscles and feel the forest breathe. But every time, my answer to the question was the same: more single track please!
Eventually my muscles wore out. But my desire did not. After three and a half hours, I had to stop. Compare this to other favoured activities and you’ll understand.
We’re coming to that time of year when people think about what they can do. How about a day at dirtbike school? Or track class? Or motocross school? It’s a gift that keeps on giving, because education is forever. After 30 years of riding, I’m still learning.
Right now I’m smiling. My muscles are aching the morning after. But I’m not on the couch. And I’m not too old. Neither are the others who are out there doing it. If you’re reading this, I trust you don’t spend your entire life on the couch—even if you’re sitting there now. One thing that separates us from others is a sense of adventure. Find me at the intersection of pleasure and adventure. Perhaps I’ll see you there.