Every cyclist has some sort of “bucket list” of events or places they’d like to ride. I’ve been very lucky to have been able to cross a few off my list over the years – BC Bike Race, the Breck Epic, the Deschutes Cup USGP in Bend, riding in Provence and Nice… making it to these oft daydreamed about cycling races/events and pleasure trips allows one to experience new places in the best way, by bike. However, some trips come about without even making it on your radar beforehand – such was the case with my recent trip up north to Whitehorse to mountain bike and participate in the 24 Hours of Light.If you are anything thing like me, your initial reaction to the suggestion of Whitehorse, Yukon as the ultimate destination for a mountain bike getaway is skeptical at best. Especially since my only previous exposure to the Yukon was as the lone 12 year old along on a senior citizens’ RV driving tour to Alaska way back in the summer of 1989 with my grandma, I didn’t really associate the northern Canadian latitudes with “mountain bike mecca”. I was assured by my traveling compatriots though this was a under the radar type of find, and sure enough as I started to do a little research on the area’s trails (check them out here) and talk to those from or who had visited Whitehorse, it was evident there was certainly some awesome biking to be had to the north. Our travel plans were loosely scheduled around the scheduling of the 24 Hours of Light, a 24 hour mountain bike race of the standard format where the most laps of the course completed wins, with a few notable rule changes. More on that later. The race was scheduled for Saturday/Sunday, so flights were scheduled to arrive Wednesday and depart Monday to allow for plenty of ride time and relaxation time. I did briefly consider driving up to Whitehorse until Google Maps informed me the drive would be an arduous 3500 km.
During the planning stages, there was mention back and forth about camping for the duration of the trip, but being the princess I am, I found a suitable AirBnB listing at a reasonable price and booked it before anyone could protest. A word to the wise here – if you’re booking accomadations in the Yukon, descriptors such as “rustic” and “true Yukon experience” should be taken literally; upon reading the fine print when looking through listings, many of the cabins could more truthfully be described as shacks with no running water or electricity. Rustic indeed. Luckily I caught on to this early on, and our rental abode was a nice basement suite right in downtown Whitehorse with everything we could need for a home base during the trip. We also splurged on a pimped out suburban rental to haul the bikes around and get to the various riding areas outside of Whitehorse.
I debated a bit about renting a bike versus taking my own, and in the end I decided to bring along the Thunderbolt since it’s always nice to have your own bike and the cost of a rental was about the same as baggage charges. Plus, Brent graciously lent me the fantastic biknd Jetpack (watch for an upcoming review) to keep my bicycle safe from airport gorillas. As for available rentals, which I checked into while flip-flopping about whether to bring my own bike, the local shops Cadence Cycle and Icycle Sport were both super helpful and have a good selection of rental mountain bikes of all shapes and sizes at competitive prices. After a very early flight and horrible customer service from Air Canada at the Edmonton airport (I have since learned from others to choose Air North), I met up with Calgary outbound Shawna and Katy at the Vancouver airport, and we were equally excited about the days ahead. How much daylight would there actually be? What were the trails going to be like? Would our bikes survive Air Canada’s not so delicate baggage handling skills? As our flight descended towards Whitehorse, I began to get even more excited. My plane window view of endless rolling hills and lakes and rivers made the riding possibilities come in to focus, and I was able to pick out places I had read about on the interwebs such as the historic mining town of Carcross and the associated riding area of Montana Mountain. Even though it was already mid-afternoon when we landed, we quickly gained an appreciation for the high sun – with the almost never-ending summer daylight there was still plenty of time to unpack, build bikes, grab a snack, and, most importantly, get in a good ride before the day was over. We hit the trails that first day around 8:00pm, which felt like about 3:00pm with the sun still high above us, taking in some of the local trails on Grey Mountain. It was clear right away the trails here were buff and fast and super fun, not to mention well signed and marked. Without too much trouble we easily explored an astounding variety of trails in our first couple of hours, and had to pull over more than a couple of times to take in the views and our surroundings and snap photos. From fast and flowy Boogaloo, to more techy My Trail, and the super fun descent El Camino, this first ride was both satisfying and served to whet our appetites for the days ahead. As we headed out to eat after our ride around 11:00pm in full daylight, we encountered our only real problem of the trip – restaurants and bar kitchens in Whitehorse almost all shut down at 10:00pm, and I found myself eating at a Boston Pizza for the first time in years. Fortunately though, I was so hungry and satisfied with our first ride I didn’t even care and picked out something from the textbook-sized menu. The next day we headed an hour’s drive south to the quietly famed riding area of Montana Mountain near Carcross. The drive was a scenic one with the stunning Emerald Lake and impressive, yet tiny Carcross Desert. We couldn’t help but spend a couple hours poking around the historic town and little shops and watching the classic steam engine go through town until a surprising number of tour coaches from Alaska pulled in, and we decided it was a good time to hit the trails.
This first time out at Montana Mountain we decided to aim for one of the longer, more epic loops, and after a big gravel road climb up and a bit of picture taking from high up we dove into McDonald Creek Trail to descend back down to lake level on a fantastic 10km singletrack trail that rolled through almost every ecotype you can imagine. Back down at lake level we traversed back on the singletrack of Circus Jim, getting views of the lake and being chased by angry hissing grouse. Shawna’s squeals were a definite highlight that I wish I had captured on video. The day’s ride left me with that calm glow and happy feeling that comes from a good hard ride, and determined to make it back to Whitehorse before all the restaurants closed, Katy floored it back to Whitehorse, and we ate and drank local Yukon Brewing beer at the tasty Burnt Toast Cafe. After dinner it was still light, and keen to get in some more ride time we headed out at 11:30pm and rode in the dusky daylight with our only trail use encounter a very large, Strava segment-chasing porcupine on El Camino.
Next day was a bit grey and rainy, so we lounged over breakfast at Baked and played tourist a bit. The local galleries were chalk full of amazing local works, and it was hard not to impulsively buy sculpted goods and prints. When the skies finally cleared at 4:00pm, it still felt like noon with the sun high overhead, and we headed just south of town to check out the Yukon Riverside trail, Juicy trail, and Girlfriend trail, a loop suggested by various locals. The loop was fantastic, again providing a spectrum of trail types and mesmerizing views. We were having so much fun, we ending up rolling in late to the 24 Hours of Light registration, but no one seemed to mind and were just happy to have us there. We weren’t quite ready to call it a day with all the daylight, and with our second ride of the day starting at 8:30pm putting our climbing legs and descending skills to good use, we once more found ourselves looking for supper late, ultimately again ending up at Boston Pizza.
Saturday, the 24 hour race was scheduled to start at noon, and I volunteered to do the first couple of laps before I learned there was a LeMans start involved. Luckily, it was a very short run of only a couple hundred meters or so, and I headed out relieved to ride some laps. The lap was a good one, although not as enjoyable as the other trails we had ridden thus far, so we decided to each do three or four laps and then take off for a more mellow evening. We returned the next morning to put in some more laps before the race ended at noon, and were humored and slightly relieved to hear we had missed seeing all the naked laps that transpired during the night. Apparently, each naked lap counted as two laps, and I’m convinced this inclusion of naked riding is why the race enforces a “no lights allowed” policy. We stuck around for the awards and wrap-up and all agreed what a super-fun and laid back vibe the event had. Completely different from your standard 24 Hours of Adrenalin vibe, and one that I honestly liked way better. The free barbecue and pancake breakfast were also nice touches, and everyone was friendly and great to talk to and happy to talk about what it was like to live and ride in Whitehorse.
After the ceremonies wrapped up, we couldn’t help but to head back to Montana Mountain to experience more of its trails. Once again we peddled up the gravel road, and once again we were rewarded for our efforts with amazing singletrack and views all the way down the mountain. Riding the trails Nares View, Caribou, Beaver, Porcupine, Black Bear, and AlaskaDnD, once more I was astounded by the variety of terrain and different styles of singletrack that could be combined into one area – from buff forest floor to rock slabs to man-made wood feaures, the trails we rode on this last day were singletrack heaven, and I actually remarked outloud in one awestruck moment how boring my life would be without mountain biking. The day finished off perfectly with some super delicious poutine in Carcross at the Bistro on Bennett, where we ogled at the burgers coming out of the kitchen. Definitely getting one of those bad boys next time.
I was sad to see Monday morning come, as it meant it was time to pack up the bikes and head to the airport. It felt like we had barely scratched the surface of all the riding that was in and around Whitehorse, and I wasn’t ready to head home. As the plane lifted off, I gazed out the window at the immense landscape, which I now knew to be a mountain biker’s paradise, and began secretly scheming how and when I could return to mountain bike mecca.