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North to Alaska Road Trip: Williams Lake, BC

Maple syrup on pizza?

The second stop on my road trip north was Williams Lake, British Columbia (BC), Canada. I spent a large portion of my childhood visiting my grandparents in BC, and I’ve passed through many times over the years for one reason or another. But I’ve never actually taken the time to explore any of it, aside from a rafting trip in my youth and the occasional snowboarding trip to Whistler. The highways and mountain roads, including the Alaska-Canada Highway and the Trans-Canada Highway, have become familiar to me over the years in a sleep deprived haze. Each past trip has been exclusively goal oriented. No stops unless the tank needed filling or my bladder needed draining. Even sleep was a secondary concern. This time would be different.

The road to Williams Lake from Bellingham seems pretty straight forward at first, but if there’s one thing I have learned beyond any doubt, it’s that plans involving over 2,500 miles of driving are bound to change. After a lengthy visit with my good friends on the US / Canada border (The usual searching and questioning I’ve grown accustomed to while traveling internationally. I swear I’ve been put on some sort of watch list.) I was on my way. Rolling north on Canada’s highway 1 was smooth and easy. At Cache Creek I merged onto 97 and continued north, only 205km to go. Two hours and I’d be making the rounds to check out the local bike shops and pick up trail maps as well as get any other insider information I could con out of the men and women behind the counters. In the midst of fantasizing over how I could carry the momentum I had cultivated in Bellingham onto the trails I would soon be exploring in Williams Lake I was shut down. After rounding a corner just outside of 70 Mile House I was met with what appeared to be an endless stream of brake lights. Shit! Shit! Shit! I knew this was a possibility but hadn’t anticipated it so soon. After a 45 minute wait word made its way down the line that there was a massive accident and the road would be closed for at least 5 hours. One by one those of us who had gotten out of our cars to stretch and visit with our neighbors, got back into our cars and turned to go right back to where we came from. (This is the point where I will tell you that if you ever decide to make this trip, you will be encountering this numerous times. Between construction, wildlife, wildfires and wild drivers, you will absolutely be delayed. This is also where I will tell you to buy a Milepost guide. The Milepost has been published for 67 years and is the comprehensive guide to driving between Alaska and the western United States. It has nearly every bit of information you will need during your journey. Including a very useful and never out of style giant folded paper map. Remember those? Yeah, in the mountains, it’ll save your bacon.) So after an almost 300km detour and a few hours past my projected arrival I pulled in to town with the last glimpses of daylight. Any riding and visiting shops would have to wait until the next day.

Barking Spider Mountain Bike, Williams Lake, BC

The next day I discovered that one of the two of Williams Lake’s bike shops was less than 500 feet from the front door of my hotel! I would also soon discover that some of the area’s best trails could be accessed through the neighborhood directly behind where I was staying for the next 2 nights. And the other trails I was told I couldn’t miss during my stay could be seen across the lake from the window of my hotel room. The first shop I visited was Barking Spider. Scott, the owner, and Jimmy, the guy who’s been building trails all over Fox Mountain and the South Lakeside area for the last 25 years, both happened to be there when I dropped in. I got all of the beta I could possibly absorb from these guys. I found out that most of the land is either privately owned or under the watchful eye of native organizations and that selling or distributing maps for the local trails is currently frowned upon. Luckily, there are many online resources (Try here and here to start) and a few other ways to get trail information locally if you ask around a bit. The other shop I visited was Red Shreds Bike and Board Shop. Personally, it’s not my style. After well over a decade of outdoor retail experience it always bums me out to get “bro’d” to the point of nausea while some mouth breathing shop dude spits a string of barely intelligible slang as he attempts to woo me with hero stories of this mornings laps. I don’t doubt that the gentleman talking at me can rip it up with the best of ’em, but customer service has been slowly dying in the realm of outdoor retail for many years, and dready patchouli stink shop rats self promoting and offering little reliable product information certainly aren’t helping keep these businesses alive. Unfortunately, most consumers want more than that now and they have way too many options to choose from outside of the shop if they can’t handle the old ways. Harsh toke, I know. On a positive note, the downstairs has an awesome selection of bikes for any and all riding styles. If you have the time it takes to squeeze yourself through all of it it’s worth a look.

Red Shreds Bikes and Boards, Williams Lake, BC
Red Shreds Bikes and Boards, Williams Lake, BC

Enough of that. On to the trails.

Day one was mostly spent exploring Fox Mountain. With around 45km of trail to get lost on I challenge anybody to get bored of the absolutely limitless combinations available to you. With enough info collected to at least get me around the Jimmy’s Fox trail I filled my pack with 3 liters of water and a few peanut butter sandwiches and headed for the woods. The initial powerline trail climb was a great place to start. It acts as a double-track access road for a number of the trails on the mountain as well as a utility road and provides a good pump before the actual singletrack starts. Once in the woods and on the trails there are a number of markers along the way to keep you headed in the right direction. The general surface is a mixture of wicked fast clay-ish soil with the usual smattering of rocks and roots you’d find in any forest in the Pacific Northwest. Every once in a while you’ll come to an easy wooden obstacle or bridge but for the most part it’s pretty steady going. There were enough good tight turns and a few squeezes between trees to keep me engaged and on my toes throughout most of the trails I explored up and onto the ridge of Fox Mountain. Before actually heading east across the ridge, though, you’re likely to cross Mason St. If you do end up at Mason, turn right and follow it to the end where there is a kiosk with a map and a brief description of some of the most popular trails in the area. Take a picture of the map and use it along the way to keep your bearings.

Fox Mountain trail map. Williams Lake, BC
Fox Mountain trail map. Williams Lake, BC

Being new to the area made the ride a bit more difficult than I anticipated. Mostly, the trails are wicked fast. That in itself isn’t a bad thing at all. Actually it’s usually a great thing.

But not knowing for sure what the trail does around the corner while moving fast enough to make my eyes water was a bit hair raising at times. So was the fresh bear scat, deer bones and partially eaten deer leg I passed during my ride.

 

In the end, all things considered, it was a really, really great day on the trail. Without a doubt good enough to bring me back someday.

Today was day two and was spent exploring the South Lakeside Network. Out of everything I rode today, Moose Drop was by far the most fun I’ve had on two wheels in a very long time. Not only did it serve as great access to the goods I was hoping for when I first read about the trails in Williams Lake, but it made me realize why people come here to ride in the first place. It was the icing on yesterday’s cake. After waking up sore and stiff from my long ride on Fox Mountain yesterday, I was honestly a little less than excited to get back out on my bike after breakfast. That all disappeared once I got back to my room and realized I’d be staring out my window at those damn trails across the lake all day and kicking myself for not checking them out while I had the chance. I was rewarded handsomely with a good clean climb up to the ridge followed by excellent trail conditions throughout the rest of my exploring. One thing to take note of if you do venture that way – stay on the lookout for ATV’s. Scattered around the trail network are a series of off-road trails that seem to get pretty heavy quad use. I nearly ran into a few people on horses as well. So if nothing else, keep your eyes front and your head up and everything should be just fine.

One thing that everybody in the bike community that I know has is a staple post-ride indulgence. Usually in the form of seriously calorie dense food. Nine times out of ten I go for pizza. As a matter of fact, I always want pizza, so having a completely valid reason to indulge in what I was told many times during my visit to Williams Lake is “The best pizza in Canada”, I had no choice but to run myself a bath and order one of these legendary pies. That’s right, pizza in the bathtub. What, did you think I was new or something? I used to be a patchouli stinking stoner of a shop rat too. I know how to party. If you come to Williams Lake for any reason at all you have to stop by Red Tomato Pies. It’s the only place I’ve ever even heard of that offers maple syrup as a topping. And before you knock it, at least give it a try. My personal recommendation would be either the Crazy Canuck with; pizza sauce, mozzarella, ham, mushrooms, pepperoni, bacon, and maple syrup. Or, the Lumberjack, which has; pizza sauce, mozzarella, Italian sausage, ham, bacon and maple syrup. I didn’t actually try the Crazy Canuck but I heard many great things from many large individuals. I did, however, enjoy six slices of maple syrup covered Lumberjack pie in the bathtub while writing this little installment. No shame here, that shit was gooooooood!

The Lumberjack with maple syrup. Red Tomato Pies, Williams Lake, BC
The Lumberjack with maple syrup. Red Tomato Pies, Williams Lake, BC

So that’s that. Stop two on the Bend, Oregon to Anchorage, Alaska road trip is in the books. I shove off again tomorrow with no real plan other than to ride more trails and apparently, consume more maple syrup. Stay tuned . . .

 

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