Haida Gwaii mountain biking gets in gear

The frost was gone, but the iced puddles on Mac Blo Road were still crunchy when Benson Hilgemann set out from Queen Charlotte last Saturday morning.

After a short drive, Hilgemann stopped at the base of an old skidder road and walked into the woods with a couple things to keep warm: a mountain bike and a rake.

Together with Bill Broadhead, who he grew up riding BMX bikes with at the Q.C. skate park, Hilgemann has turned some overgrown skidder roads east of the Honna River into what they hope will be a set of lasting mountain-bike trails.

“This is where the fun part starts,” Hilgemann said as he came to the top of a hill.

Branching off from a larger skidder that is wide enough for riders to cycle side-by-side, Hilgemann pointed to a rolling single-track section where he and Broadhead dug in small jumps and berms for rounding corners at speed.

Hilgemann hadn’t worked on the trails since the Dec. 15 windstorm that gusted 161 km/h at Cumshewa Head and toppled dozens of trees everywhere else.

But aside from a few alder branches across the widest section, most of the trails under the canopy were just about ready to ride. Unlike Mac Blo Road, the well-drained trails were puddle-free.

Wearing a helmet and a grin, Hilgemann flew down the single track, caught air off a jump, then rolled around a corner berm with ease.

“Flow is what we want to build for this trail — lots of corners like this so you can keep your speed up,” he said later.

“It’s a pretty amazing feeling.”

Hilgemann got into road and BMX bikes growing up on Haida Gwaii, but got his first mountain bike in Kelowna, which has about 800 mountain bike trails nearby.

A bicycle mechanic, Hilgemann also did a cycle tour from Kelowna to San Fransisco — a three-month ride he started one October when most campsites along the way were empty.

“I love that way of travelling, being self-contained,” Hilgemann said.

“You’re very out there — to all the elements, all the people. You’re very vulnerable, but at the same time, you’re very free.”

While they would love to ride a super challenging, double-black diamond trail on Haida Gwaii some day, Hilgemann and Broadhead designed the Honna Loop trails as “blues” — medium-difficulty trails where all the steepest sections are optional so that they’re inviting to beginners and intermediate riders.

“I’d like to start with a youth program at the high school, and get kids coming out,” Hilgemann said.

“It’s all just starting to build up. Hopefully in the spring we can start to explore that.”

In the first week of March, Hilgemann, Broadhead and fellow mountain biker Nick Ames will host what will likely be the first official meeting of the Haida Gwaii Mountain Bike Society.

Speaking before Queen Charlotte council late last year, Hilgemann pointed out how northern B.C. mountain biking has evolved from unsanctioned, volunteer-built trails to well-coordinated, sustainable trail systems such as the Boer Mountain trails outside Burns Lake.

Designed to International Mountain Bike Association standards, the Boer Mountain trails have sparked a local club with over 230 members and a First Nations youth team. The trails also draw hundreds of tourists to Burns Lake for contests and sold-out summer cycling camps (in summer, the main trail spits dusty riders out to a lake with a swimming dock and campsites).

Terrace, Smithers, Houston, the Xat’sull First Nation and the Simpcw First Nation have also developed trails in recent years, adding more northern B.C. destinations for some of the quarter million riders who live or visit each year.

Thinking about the big picture, Hilgemann would one day like to see Haida Gwaii host a mountain bike race on a northwest circuit. There is already some interest in developing trails near Masset and Sandspit, too.

In Queen Charlotte, Hilgemann said guides could take visitors on cycling day tours that go from the village out to Kagan Bay and then up to the trails, including a new one a little higher in the Tarundl watershed that would lead to a treeless hill with an epic view over Skidegate Inlet.

Speaking with local forestry staff, Hilgemann said the slopes where they’ve built trails so far do not have known archaeological sites, nor any upcoming logging plans — the hope is to protect them as a future recreation site much like Spirit Lake Trail.

“There’s so much here, you’ve just got to put in the time,” said Hilgemann, pointed out that he and Broadhead are mainly clearing up existing skidder roads, and they do most of their work with rakes, shovels, and a hand saw.

Once the society gets off the ground and they have a few more riders on board, Hilgemann imagines hosting races on the Honna Loop trails this summer, complete with an opening-day barbecue. Updates will go up on the Haida Gwaii Mountain Bike Society Facebook page.

“This is the single most rewarding thing you can do,” Hilgemann said.

“I feel really happy just being able to build trails and share them — to ride them myself, but also with my friends to get people stoked on mountain biking.”

Benson Hilgemann flies down part of the Honna Loop trails that he and fellow mountain bikers are building a short ride west of Queen Charlotte in what old-timers might know as the “burn zone.” With about 2.5 km of trail built so far on well-drained skidder roads, Hilgemann hopes the Honna Loop will inspire new and experienced mountain bikers to join a new Haida Gwaii mountain bike society this March. (Andrew Hudson/Haida Gwaii Observer)
(Andrew Hudson/Haida Gwaii Observer)
By using old log-skidder roads, Hilgemann said much of the trail work can be done with hand tools. (Andrew Hudson/Haida Gwaii Observer)
(Andrew Hudson/Haida Gwaii Observer)
A map shows the extent of the Honna Loop trails, which feature a figure-eight loop and a connecting trail to the Village of Queen Charlotte that is still in the works. (Benson Hilgemann)

Just Posted

B.C. First Nations’ intake of essential nutrients to drop by 31 per cent: study

Professors project the nutrient decrease by 2050 if climate change mitigation continues as is

B.C. minister says rural internet is ‘railroad of the 21st century’

Jinny Sims talks details about the $50-million provincial and possible $750-million federal funds

Arts funding for Haida Gwaii and Rupert societies

North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice announced $320,643 in funding from the BC Arts Council Grant

North Coast social worker advocated for behaviour analysis service

Haida Gwaii and Prince Rupert received the new service last year

Masset students stage school walkout as part of global protest

Students of Gudangaay Tlaats’gaa Naay Secondary marched for climate justice on March 14

Five highlights in the 2019 federal budget

Latest budget includes a sprinkling of money for voters across a wide spectrum

Facebook to overhaul ad targeting to prevent discrimination

The company is also paying about $5 million to cover plaintiffs’ legal fees and other costs

B.C. mosque part of open-house effort launched in wake of New Zealand shootings

The ‘Visit a Mosque’ campaign aims to combat Islamophobia

‘That’s a load of crap’: Dog poop conspiracy spreads in White Rock

Allegation picked up steam through a Facebook page run by a city councillor

Explosives unit brought in after suspicious boxes left at B.C. RCMP detachment

Nanaimo RCMP issues all clear after packages were found on lawn earlier in the day

Newfoundland man caught after posting photo of himself drinking and driving

The 19-year-old took a photo of himself holding a beer bottle and cigarette while at the wheel

2019 BUDGET: As deficit grows, feds spend on job retraining, home incentives

Stronger economy last year delivered unexpected revenue bump of an extra $27.8 billion over six years

Carfentanil found in 15% of overdose deaths in January: B.C. coroner

Carfentanil is 100 times more powerful than illicit fentanyl and used to tranquilize elephants

Kids found playing darts with syringes in Vancouver Island park

Saanich police is urging people to throw out their syringes properly and safely

Most Read