Eagles soar overhead, and I fixate on countless coves I wish to build my dream cabin in as we sail across the scenic Strait of Georgia to the isolated northern Sunshine Coast on the BC Ferries Queen of Burnaby. Powell River is a town that has ridden the tumultuous wave of boom and bust for years, starting when the first pulp mill was built there in 1908. With the last downturn in BC’s forestry industry, the town saw significant job cuts, and another cycle of depression. More recently Powell River has turned to other forms of industry, such as eco-tourism. The BC Bike Race is the perfect fit, as evidenced by our reception upon arrival. We depart the ferry on foot, walking up the main street towards the start line, crowds of locals cheering us on. Tiny cheerleading squads toss each other in the air while teenage boys smash out rhythms on drums. Storeowners hand out watermelon to racers, while bagpipers stand at attention on a street corner. We make our way to the start line, which is also our campsite for the evening, located right beside the ocean on the green grass of the town park.
The singletrack of the day’s stage proves to be equally welcoming. We quickly dive into flowy singletrack winding through the temperate rainforest surrounding Powell River. The riding demands full concentration, but whenever I raise my focus from the task at hand I am rewarded with a beautiful view of a pristine lake, river or some other natural wonder. The community spirit overflows onto the trails as well. On the first of two timed Enduro sections of the day, hundreds of people line the freshly-built track called Death Rattle, yelling encouragement and smashing cowbells. There’s even one fellow railing out rock anthems on his guitar and battery-powered amp. The energy is electric as I rail turns down the mountain, carving up berms of dark coastal dirt, cascading my way through some of the most enjoyable trail I have ever ridden. The stage ends right where it began, next to the ocean, and many racers take advantage of that fact, soaking tired muscles in the cool waters of the Pacific.
That evening we convene for dinner at the local sports complex. The hockey rink is devoid of ice, and now features cloth-covered tables and silverware, complete with candles and decorative white lights adorning the sides of the rink. Girls on rollerskates float around serving local craft beer and wine while we dig into barbequed pork roast, shrimp and asparagus pasta, local organic veggies and caramel-glazed cake for dessert. While we loosen our belts and sit groaning from the herculean amounts of food we have just ingested, local talents hit the stage for the evening’s entertainment. The night is capped off when an awkward, chubby teenager shuffles on stage to sing. He starts off with Cee Lo Green’s “Forget You” and has the crowd on its feet cheering incredulously after the first few pitch-perfect notes, like a scene out of an American Idol audition. Later, as the sun sets over the ocean, and I fall asleep to the sound of waves on the shore, I marvel over how this was just one of seven amazing days of this race. Each day is an experience unto itself, and the whole week an incredible adventure.