30 seconds off boil I carefully empty my jetboil into the aeropress, soaking the freshly gound beans and releasing a bright aroma into the forest air that blends into the scent of new leaves, freshly turned soil, and spruce sap. This is the exact moment I anticipated all winter, there have already been countless moments like this in the last month and I’ve made time to enjoy in each one. It’s mostly quiet up here, other than the distant echo of tank trucks climbing their way up the banks of the wapiti river, fortunately the robins are quick with their attempt drown it out with a song of their own.
I often find myself sitting on the structure we call Deputy Enos on the Yom Kippur trail. It’s an ancient bridge with a steep, high-speed drop for a run out, made of spruce cross members fastened 15 feet high to giant poplar trees that gently sway with the breeze. A lot of Grande Prairie’s freeride history is centered around this trail and the network of bridges that were built almost 15 years ago. Enos, like the other bridges, is starting to rot and has been splinted a few times too many. Sadly this may be its last season.
Its been a labor of love bringing these trails back to life. The Yom Kippur trails, as they have been dubbed, were originally built around 2003 and saw plenty of traffic in those early years. They have even played host to an annual Downhill race. I came of age watching the local rippers get sendy out here and it’s what fed my desire to play in the woods. I learned that with basic tools and hard work you can create and ride just about anything you can imagine out here.
When Nitehawk opened a lift accessed bike park about 5 years later, naturally the masses flocked up river. With access to a chairlift, not only is getting uphill drastically easier, it also means we could bang out 15 laps a day instead of 3. Bike parks are a great way to build a riding community, its easy to attract new people and entire families can enjoy a day on the trails. These are great things for the future of mountain biking. The Yom trails, however, became neglected and overgrown.
This summer I made it my goal to bring these trails back to life. Not to detract from the bike park, but as a personal mission. The rebirth of old-school freeride. Sitting on top of Enos, reveling in my trail builders blend coffee, I think about the stories that were born on these trails. Epic tales of first hits, gnarly descents, and gnarlier crashes passed down from the veterans of the original freeride movement. The legendary ‘Collarbone Claimer ‘ was torn down for the same reason it was named. Deputy Enos was erected in its place, which stands now as the last remaining dinosaur from an era many have forgotten.
I feel proud to be a part of Yoms ongoing history, to once again fill these trails with echos of hooting and hollering – the unmistakable sounds of a rowdy session. A party in the woods. There’s no trail society out here, no signage, no standards, and no safety nets. When I enter these woods with a shovel and a chainsaw the only factors limiting these trails is my own imagination. In the old days the trend was to build structures raised off the forest floor that would wind their way through the trees. The challenge back then was to stay on the bridges as they narrow and steepen, a game as mentally difficult as it was physical. Those bridges have all rotted out now and have been torn down, which opens up opportunity to redesign entire sections of the trail. The new challenge is to ride as much natural terrain as possible, to follow the fast single-track that ebbs and flows through steep ravines and between openings in the trees that, at 40+kmh seem impossibly narrow.
The more time I spend up there the more I appreciate the trails for what they are. Machine built flow trails are great in a bike park, but they disconnect you from the natural flow of the single-track. I love roots and rocks and loam, the constantly changing terrain keeps my knuckles white, and braking bumps are a great reminder that the corner is coming a little too quickly. Next time you’re out for a ride hopefully you’ll take a minute to examine the trail that you’re on. Whether it’s a bike park, trail center or privately made, somebody worked hard to make your ride possible that day, and knowing that someone is enjoying that trail is often all the reward a builder needs.
Words and iphone photos by Tim Friesen
Hi Res photos by Shane Wiebe