by Kurt Turchan ... |
Extreme, that’s the only way to describe it. Air supply on the North Shore of Vancouver, is a combination of gap jumping with big air, high-altitude log and ladder rides, a smattering of wheelie drops, and, a few sheer rock faces to play on. And then there is the swivel-teeter-totter from hell, a cross between a medieval swing bridge and a mechanical horse. If you’re not into extreme riding, avoid this trail. Most riders don’t actually belong on it – trails like this are an outlet for some of the Shore’s best riders.
Our group first rode Upper Oilcan which is a wonderful trail, extremely well-built, with lots of inlaid stone. The bulk of us knew we wouldn’t be flying through the air on “Air Supply”, so, Upper Oilcan was our chance to ride. Upper Oilcan is a joy, and, has something for everyone including a few nice log rides. It is still considered black-diamond, with a few double-black features.
After Upper Oilcan, our group collected at the trailhead to Air Supply, eagerly awaiting the upcoming aerial display by Eric, Trevor, and “Pilgrim” (visiting from Washington). It partly felt like a camera club outing, as the 35mm cameras came out of the bags and were readied for what was next to come. You can see a few pictures for "Air Supply" here.
Air Supply starts with a deceivingly easy entrance to a rather non-descript trail, not even steep. The builders say they are working on fixing that – this is after all, “air supply”. There are some gap jumps under construction (another 5!), but currently a series of 3 gravity defying gap jumps have been built. The first, marked with an album cover of the namesake 70’s band, allows riders to take advantage of the long runway, as they speed to the first incline that shoots them up into the air much like a human cannon ball from a circus act. Only one difference, there is no net, and you have to land on a bike, and keep moving.
The trail was crowded that day, so, the shouts and hollers of “clear” were repeated up and down the line to announce the next rider. Launching over 10 feet into the air, riders land a similar distance down the trail and quickly gain speed for the next gap, and then another. After that insanity, most riders stop to take a breath, and, prepare for the teeter-totter from hell – a very unique invention which swivels as you reach the point where it also begins to tilt down. Most riders teeter off in the opposite horizontal direction – Newton’s Second law of Physics I believe. Very crafty. We saw only two riders complete that stunt, one of which was the trail builder himself. Again this brings up the issue of safety, you should pretty much already know if you can complete a stunt, if you have to really think about it, best to move on.
Eric Anderson, our wheelie jump loving friend from Coquitlam B.C., was like a kid in a candy store. He had finally met his match, and was ear-to-ear grin as he repeated stunt after stunt. Good riders like Eric don’t always complete their tricks, and in doing so, demonstrate that they are equally good at “recovery”, which might include, “dismounting” the bike in mid air to land on both feet. Another common trick is to kick a leg out in a violent spasm in an attempt to keep a bike balanced on a 6 inch wide ladder some 10 feet in the air. If you don’t already have these skills, even more reason to move on.
The builders of air-supply have done some interesting things, firstly many of their stunts have a pre-requisite 4-inch wide rail to ride for 4 or 5 feet. The ladders usually widen out after that, to all of perhaps 6 or 10 inches. Riders who can’t complete the pre-requisite rail should think twice before ascending to the top of the ladder, many of which lead to a 7 or 8 foot wheelie drop. If you get to air supply, you get there because you ride with a certain group of people of a certain ability. That’s the way mountain biking works, if you get to this level of ability, your own network of friends will usually guide you to a trail of this type. Usually, but not always, so we've taken the middle ground - write it up, but leave out the specific directions.
Air Supply, as in most North Shore trails, have some special artifacts built into the trail. In this case, an old car sits rotting on the side, and quietly watches riders scream past and down the rocks for the next part of the trail. This very car has given up a few of it’s pieces to assist the trail builders, and what a more fitting way for the car to decompose and give back to the forest. This is after all the rain-forest, which ultimately devours all elements which are not themselves growing or competing for space. Just after the car, there is a rock entrance to some long ladders, and some semi-circular wooden bridges reminiscent of the wooden bridges that botanical gardens place over small streams. Only this bridge has no hand-rails, is six-inches wide and six feet off the ground. It ain't no picnic. It is simply another obstacle placed on top of a long ladder ride – which would be hard enough without this barnacle.
I asked how long Trevor had been working on the trail, and he indicated on and off for a year and a half, but clearly he and his trail-building partners have invested a lot into the trail, and, all riders should respect the fact that the trails they ride on are built and repaired week after week by their loyal builders. Trevor is up three or four times a week, departing the high-school in Richmond where he teaches to get up the Shore after work, and, often times working into the night. If you can’t donate time helping maintain or build a trail somewhere, you should definitely be donating cash to the cause, as trail maintenance requires materials, wood (i.e. not stripped from the forest), shovels, hammers, etc. We spend a lot on bikes, but we just assume that these world class facilities are free. This is one of the few sports where entry to the facility does not cost anything. So think about giving some of your time to local trail-building efforts.