The sun rose seven hours ago and we rose with it. It’s high noon now, and we’re scorching, sweating, pushing our bikes up a 40-degree slope. As we coax our metal steeds up switchback after switchback, my mind wanders to the past, to the prospectors’ horse trains that first carved these paths. Toiling upwards, with almost ten hours to go before that glorious sun would set behind the Cadwallader Range to our west, I realize that this is not just another prodigious day out on the bikes. Instead, it’s the longest day of the year, and we are putting our own spin on an ancient global tradition.
Photography & Words :: Ben Haggar
For millennia, cultures around the world have celebrated the summer solstice with rituals ranging from obscure to obscene to nonsensical. Druids and pagans gathered under the rising sun at Stonehenge to get freaky at giant, all-day orgies, while in ancient Greece, the longest day meant the start of a new calendar and a massively hedonistic party to celebrate Cronus, the god of agriculture. Modern-day Scandinavians get wildly drunk on schnapps, devour pickled herring and don flowered head pieces to dance around a Maypole in a quest for fertility. And, in an act of arterial violence, some present-day San Diego residents religiously eat donut Sloppy Joes — yes, a saucy ground beef sandwich made atop a donut. Across Canada, the solstice also doubles as National Aboriginal Day to recognize the culture of our indigenous peoples.
The universal theme is a celebration of abundance, vitality and the fullness of life energy the sun bestows on us at the apex of its annual cycle. And for an increasing number of Sea to Sky mountain bikers, the symbolic ritual to honour the solstice is to ride for each and every one of those sunlit moments. It’s about cleansing our souls with our own orgy of singletrack as we attempt to ride until our legs fall off, or night falls. It’s about earning the burn and fi nishing the day as salty as possible.
For my first solstice ride, I pulled a bit of beta from another Sea to Sky institution — the Chromag Friday ride. I had seen a photo online depicting an early, snow-free alpine paradise with a vaguely familiar lake hundreds of metres below. After a few phone calls, suspicions were confirmed and we had found a grand objective worthy of the longest day of the year. So, as the sun rose on June 21, four of us set off in search of long climbs, big descents, new vistas and solstice solitude.
Two hours, innumerable bug bites, and 800 metres of elevation gain later, we topped out on a sparsely treed, sub-alpine ridgeline that dropped steeply away to a narrow valley and sparkling emerald lake ringed by dense forest. Exhausted from the climb, yet invigorated by new views of familiar peaks stretching off in every direction, we dove into our first wellearned, tight and technical descent.
Our legs found new purpose as we connected to this most sacred of summer days — more than just another big ride, this was a challenge and a connection to the most ancient natural cycle.
The sun seemed to hang endlessly overhead for the rest of the day as we grunted our way past stunted pines dotting the alpine meadow, infinitely cresting summit after summit. Our legs found new purpose as we connected to this most sacred of summer days — more than just another big ride, this was a challenge and a connection to the most ancient natural cycle. And with 16 hours and 23 minutes of continuous sunshine, we pushed ourselves as far as we were able within these rigidly set parameters of daylight.
Instinctively, humans have always worshipped the sun, even before we knew what it actually was, or how important it is to life on earth. (Maybe this explains why we fill our Instagram feeds with cheesy sunset shots we still can’t help but appreciate?) Pedalling to squeeze every last ray of energy from the sun and our bodies, aching legs carried us into terrain less travelled. Isolation brought life to new grasses and wildflowers which gradually obscured the trail, leaving us free to chase our own adventure to the next hilltop, stopping only for the occasional snowball fight. Although the rolling alpine spine continued towards more grandiose objectives, not even the longest day of the year provided enough light for all of this alpine splendour.
As the sun crept behind the mountains, we reluctantly went back the way we came, not wanting the day to end. But on the plus side, we had 1,200 metres of parched roots, loose corners, and maching straight sections to descend before getting back to a truck replete with beer. Satiated by all of the elements of a proper solstice ride — gelatine legs, high fives, childlike grins — we celebrated this new rite of passage into our favourite season and chatted about other alpine ambitions soon to come.
Be it craftily linking together a spider web of favourite trails, dropping into a full-day backcountry adventure, or packing in as many chain slapping bike park laps as humanly possible — everyone has the opportunity to create their own summer solstice celebration and worship the seemingly endless sunlight our Northern Hemisphere provides. We’ve already got a plan (not Stonehenge) and, like always, this year we will try to go bigger than the last.
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