Cyclocross on Hornby Island
Island hopping is a big reason why Gradient ever began, and somehow this is my first post about doing just that. Within a two-hour drive from my house are more than ten different islands waiting to be explored by any means. Some of these land masses are better than others for riding, and Hornby in particular is where the mountain bikes go. Conquering the Saltspring Triple Crown has always been in the back of my mind as a must-do trip, but with trails beckoning, I opted for Hornby.
On short notice I sent off a few e-mails about places to ride and stay if making it to the island was a possibility for the coming weekend. The local bike shop was advertised as closed until February, but that didn't stop Owner/Operator Lucie Lemay from getting back to me in a prompt manner with trail information. With the excitement of knowledge guiding me, it was on to lodging. Thankfully Shayle and Sanae came to my rescue with a last-minute booking of their Yellow Plum Cottage through Airbnb and I was all set. Aside from these two things, I decided just to let the weekend happen without much planning.
The cottage itself was divided into three cells and, after spending a weekend, the layout really began to grow on me. In the main structure, a bedroom, kitchen, and living area were all housed, while an additional bedroom and bathroom each had their own out building just a few steps away. This format really allowed for a weekend away with friends, but offered the luxury of a little privacy if needed.
Despite being on my own and not needing any additional distance from peers, the dislocated bedroom was calling my name. It's large comfortable bed was perfect recovery after a terribly rainy and cold Saturday ride. Aesthetically, the cottage was exactly as I expected for being on Hornby: unique build features and small homely touches, all while offering a huge backyard and any amenity you might need.
With check-in time being 3:00pm I decided that I'd arrive on the island early enough to grab coffee, a map, and get my first ride underway. Armed with the suggested trail names I plotted a course for what I hoped would offer me a little of everything. A casual road start to limber up the legs, followed by a more inviting wide open trail before pulling up my big boy shorts and ascending Mount Geoffrey using some single track.
Defining something as a mountain bike trail is a process that's open to interpretation. Comparing the definition to places I've ridden left me a little weary as to what I'd encounter on the island and if my handling skills would be up to the task. The only certain thing I knew was that my favourite MTB trail memories always coincide with physical features. If I cleared a section of rock smoothly or if I finally found the proper line through a loose chicane. With these thoughts in mind, my personal definition would revolve around obstacles.
Climbing into the fog that worry quickly dissipated as the trails ahead of me were remarkably smooth and only became technical if approached with speed. In a spat of disbelief, I spent most of the first hour anticipating my first dismount and expecting some form of epic rock jump or root bonk. That moment never came. In fact, the entire first ride was smooth sailing aside from needing to check the map at every trail marker to ensure I was headed in the right direction.
Clouds were sitting up around the 150-meter mark which meant cycling around the summit trails didn't offer any sort of scenic views, but eerily calm forests instead. With no wind and fog so thick it appeared to flow like water around my streaking presence, all senses began to dull. Nothing moved or made a sound as I was alone on the trails this day just taking my time and setting up photographs. The dense haze also offered protection from anyone who may have a fear of heights, as the Outer Ridge Trail kissed the steep mountain edge numerous times and all that could be seen below was a blanket of white.
When I finally broke through the bottom of the cloud cover things were so clear and vibrant that I thought vertigo might set in. Suddenly the forest had depth and life again as the trail ahead of me twisted into the distance.
Lazily I made my way back to the cottage for check-in after a successful first day on the trails. It wasn't long after getting settled that the sky shifted from a light drizzle to a full downpour that lasted the duration of the night. Listening to the rain dance on the roof was calming and after a long day of travel, bed engulfed me quickly.
Clear skies greeted me in the morning and my make shift drying set-up had all of my kit toasty for a new adventure. The effects of heavy rain weren't immediately obvious as I started with a few small road sections, but once I turned onto the trails it hit me like a bucket of water. (That bit might have to do with riding through a puddle up to the hubs of my wheels, but that's beside the point.) What was once trails had become small creeks as any liquid rushed towards the easiest way down the mountain. Without discouragement I pressed on and hoped it wouldn't last long as I set my sights on higher ground.
Wind had accompanied the rain over night bringing down lots of debris on the trails. Mostly just small branches of pine, and, on the odd occasion, full trees had fallen across their neighbouring paths. Shouldering practice wasn't quite what I had in mind, but it was all part of the adventure as I carried on. Pun intended.
After a second full day of riding I could easily see myself returning to Hornby for trip after trip on my cyclocross bike. Bringing a mountain bike to the island does make sense and I can understand how much fun it would be, but if all you're working with is a CX bike, it's more than enough. Descending from the summit on the second day I even found myself on a trail that was deemed difficult with the name of "Devils Kitchen" by accident, but was able to handle the steep slopes just fine with a bit of extra care.
I didn't manage to cover every single trail and I'm sure there's some places with increased difficulty, but I didn't find them. Perhaps that isn't what makes this such a destination for cyclists. Nothing huge or epic to ride, but instead just fast, clean, and fun trails.