An Escape. In Wilderness.

October 22, 2020

Matt Decore is a beauty. His nickname, “Hardcore” couldn’t be more fitting - after all, he survived 10+ years as a professional cyclist (arguably one of the toughest sports on the planet). Matt has an insatiable thirst for speed, suffering, friendship and adventure - he revels in sharing his passion with anyone willing to jump on a bike, and he has made a mark on organizations like The Stollery Children’s Foundation and CASA - supporting big rides with philanthropists and cyclists from across Canada.

One of these annual cycling-inspired fundraisers’ biggest supporters was Ben Davidson. A member of the Raven-clan - Ben was famous for his work as a Haida Gwaii wood carver and artist. His collection is inspiring, and so was he. Ben’s contributions on and off the bike were remarkable. His smile was contagious. His generosity was enormous. And at 44, he died too soon.

When Matt Decore invited me to join him and his rag-tag crew of eclectic misfits (aka phenomenal friends) on a back-country mountain bike adventure in honour of Ben, I jumped at the chance. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. Truth is - I hesitated - big-time. Because when Hardcore says: “adventure”, “follow my line” or, “get on my wheel” - his friends have all learned (the hard way) that you should... well... hesitate. But kidding aside, I was grateful and honoured to be asked. This was going to be special.

The game-plan was to do a little prep-ride (which turned into a 48km hammerfest “following his wheel” on the Overlander Trail near Jasper) followed by another 60+km in the back-country over the following 2 days on the infamous North Boundary Trail. An outfitter with horses would pack in our gear. Our bikes would do the rest.

The North Boundary stretches out over 200km along the North edge of Jasper National Park. Over the past 100+ years the trail has offered Indigenous tribes, settlers, bears and back-country cowboys a (relatively) passable route through the Rocky Mountains along the Snake Indian River.

For two days, our crew trudged, clambered and biked through deadfall, horse ruts, mud, wine, ponds, rocks, rivers, roots, rum, streams, branches and trees. Lots of trees. Plenty of rum. Under. Over. Through. We snapped chains. We lost bolts. We crashed. It wasn’t easy. We loved every minute of it.

The truth is, we needed it. Life hasn’t been easy. Collectively, this crew of fast-friends has been through our fair share of troubles, heartache, and loss. And this heavy layer of pandemic induced anxiety hasn’t helped. A few days of back-country mountain adventure was exactly what we needed. An escape. In wilderness. Away from it all.

We carried Ben in our minds and in our hearts over every log and up every hill. Or, I should say, he carried us. In those big, gentle arms. When we stopped at Snake Indian Falls his spirit felt present and real. And staring at the rush and power of the falls I swear I could see images of his totem carvings in the mist... the eyes of eagles and bears looking back at us. Watching over us. Smiling.

On the first evening in the back-country we arrived at camp after a long, challenging day. I stripped down and lay in the stream rushing past our site. The water was breath stealing and frigid. Fully submerged in that rush of cold panic I thought of Ben. I thought of his wife Tawny and their five children. I raised my head, gasping for air. I know their pain too well.

That night, we raised our glasses in a toast to Ben. And to my Dad. And I raised one quietly to my sister. All gone too soon. Looking up at big evergreens and mountains towering overhead, I noticed the stars. Deep breath. Deep sigh. Silent tears.... Tomorrow, we’ll ride again. Tonight, we’ll rest under the moon.