After arriving one hour north of Jay Peak Mountain at Bromont, Canada’s National Cycling Center, we took the task to sort our bags. Saturday we swapped the snow pants for technical bike pants and boards for bikes. My friend Evan and I had spent that Friday skiing at Jay Peak, which we followed with Le Grand Fat Tour’s 4th installment of their winter bike festival.
There was no need to try doing the Fahrenheit/Celsius conversion. Frost covered garments that appeared like the finest of winter beards greeted us as we weaved through the intestines of the festival’s pits. The smell of warming fryer oil infused with freshly brewed Kicking Horse Coffee gave us a little energy to close our eyes on the days cold.
After stumbling over French with the women at registration, we zipped our coats returning to the cold. Exiting the building the race bell had sounded, and we watched the brigade of insulated riders wobble by to mount their bicycles. A group of four took the lead as I grabbed my bike from the car. After a lap I decided to chase them throwing myself into the race with no number. With no negative feed back from the race announcer, and positive feed back from playful geometry of Xprezo’s Grossbig I continued on the courses blue taped route.
Weary that people were racing I’d franticly point the tires to unpacked trail so as not to obscure their races. Making one revolution of the course, I took a break to warm my hands. I tried to swing blood into the tips of my fingers—oh yeah, here it comes I began thinking. It slowly infiltrated my hands as a memory not so slowly flashed in my head. Screaming barfies they’re called—at least that’s what my ice-climbing friends called it when the blood quickly infiltrates your fingers with throbbing attack. How do these guys do it?
After the pro class had finished 5 laps Evan demoed a bike from one of the vendors, and we chased each other around the short course. Considering its length the trail offered everything from buffed berms and jumps, to twisting single track through maple forests. The crowd surrounding the local food vendor sucked us in after a few laps.
Low expectations were squished with fat tires as Canada’s local food pride became evident. Seeing a few people in front of us exchange their lunch ticket for a steaming pile of pulled pork and cheese curd nestled in a bird’s nest weave of French fries tempted us to take their food and run. We dove in after receiving our food just in time for an old friend to approach me and tell me about the group ride. Sebastian, a tall fellow wearing a bomber hat that flowed into a full three quarter length coat, approached us from behind. “Fifty not fifteen minutes, we will meet,” he said with a toothy grin. “If time allows we will ride the mountain.” Raising a hand he pointed to the bulge across the valley laden with wide white ski trails.
Sure enough forty-five minutes later with a belly full of Poutine, and a chewy local porter, we departed in a group of 50-100 individuals suspecting to return within the hour and a half. Little did I know that three hours later I would be rolling back into the same driveway. Slithering out of the parking lot we followed the flashing lights of a police officer that escorted us through town to Bromont’s main trail network.
Veering off the network’s truncated corridor we wandered up switchbacks. It was all about the saddle dance; something like the maneuvers Wild Bill Hickock executed while navigating the Oregon Trail. Everyone had their own technique trying to gain traction, moving from front to back on their seats, as we gained elevation. At the intersections we would regroup in anticipation for the next piece of white ribbon.
Every stop was a reminder that we were in Canada. Being the only kid from the U.S. in our group—Evan couldn’t lock down a bike of his own so he continued to demo at the venue—made the ride flow in a different manor. I would sit quietly after regrouping watching faces with a smile. “Shit, well that was a good section now we need to climb for half an hour, and only get a two minute downhill before another climb.” I could only imagine what people were talking about from their expressions.
This continued when we would stop. Sometimes I would speak, but the trail’s surprises were worth every silent moment. Sebastian had come on the ride so he would explain what was going on at times, but beside that my French would not suffice. The lingual communication that existed between us was all the hooting that ricocheted through the spacious maple forest every time we descended.
The only information I got with what to expect for the rest of the ride was when I asked about how much we had left. My college legs, only having the weekend endeavors of lifting 30 racks, were beginning to get tired, and Evan had probably gotten bored of twiddling his thumbs back at the venue. Christian, one of the men leading the group, said, “we have approximately one hour, the best hour. We will go three quarters up the mountain and descend.” His eyes lit up as he gestured quickly from left to right with his hands signifying the dizzying parts of the trail.
Charging past a sign labeled: Le Grande Douce we began our decent. Ten of us slid around switchbacks whooping loudly. The trail was nothing short of an exhilarating toilet paper fight you would have in middle school on Halloween. Recreational snowshoers, and this rogue group of fat bikers packed most of the trail. Following Sebastian the Xprezo delivered a reactive ride. With flat pedals the turns could be accomplished with a quick drag of the foot before the tires hooked up and accelerated. Coming across a fallen tree it took the slightest pop to preload and launch over the obstacle.
Reaching the bottom the language barrier didn’t exist. High fives and pounds were exchanged with quick surfaced words like: sweet, wild, whoaaa. The trail had blended the two languages with its’ flowy characteristics. Christian gave me a set of hand warmers; we took a group picture, and headed back to the venue’s warmth.