Ganaraska Forest, Ontario.
“Remember, the trees don’t move,” coaches Al Lakas, chief instructor at Trail Tours.
These words offer some solace but little consolation to the confines of singe-track riding.
Claustrophobia is not a regularly referenced noun in my vocabulary, but when the local fauna and flora of the Ganaraska Forest are a hair’s length from your body, and the trail is inches wider than the handlebars of your bike, it’s hard to ignore.
The Medusa-like temptation to fixate on upcoming vegetation must be overcome. If you do happen to focus on them, it could be game over.
“Oh, shoot, there’s a stum…”
There goes the front end of your bike, and probably you.
If you look down, your handlebars might do a jig-like dance, and chances are, that’s where you end up. Down.
Breathing through the anxiety is one way of conquering the trails. Another is a strong foundation in riding. But the most important of them all: vision.
Before heading out onto the over 300 kilometres of trails nestled within the 11,000 acres of Ganaraska Forest, Trail Tours instructor Al gives my riding partner and I a lesson in a much less confining location.
Nestled in the heart of the seemingly limitless dirt biking and motorized vehicle playground is Trail Tours (www.trailtour.com.) It’s just over an hour’s drive east from Toronto and well worth the short-haul journey. After parking the car and walking a few paces through a trail, the world gets a little brighter. Literally and metaphorically.
The sinewy trees – well, in comparison to west coast wood – that lead us to home base doesn’t let in a ton of light, so at the end of the trail, where Trail Tour’s open field training facility stands before me, the sun overflows like a perfectly-iced cake (you can never have too much icing.)
Also, I’m going dirt biking. How could that not brighten your day?
Whether you’re a first timer or an experienced rider, they have a program for you.
Though this wasn’t my first rodeo in terms of dirt riding, it was in regards to single-track.
I could use all the tips and tricks I could get.
Furthermore, I could always use a little more practice riding in the sand. Yikes.
Day 1 of the two-day adventure consisted of making sure the techniques for single-track riding were fresh in our minds.
It’s best just to ignore the trees or whatever hazards engulf you and the bike. Acknowledge them, but don’t stare. Otherwise, your fate will likely be sealed.
After practicing in the various loops – there are different areas of their facility that cater to different techniques – it was off to the practice trail.
Needless to say, I was not setting any speed records but it wasn’t about speed. That comes with time and experience. It was getting used to the fact that I didn’t have a lot of wiggle room and that my mind would want to play tricks on me if I didn’t relax, let the bike and myself breathe, and enjoy the best that machine and Mother Nature have to offer.
Day 2 was a game changer.
I was so happy that I did some basic skills the day before because I embraced the various tones and textures of the perpetually evolving geography around me.
Rocks, gravel, soil, sand (oh, there was a lot of sand), steep inclines, tree stumps, sharp corners, you name it, the Ganaraska Forest has it.
Though I didn’t go at it alone. Groups were organized by skill level and were lead by individuals who know that forest like the back of their hand. Heck, I would have been lost after the first two turns.
If you found that throughout the day you wanted a more advanced riding, or wanted to take it easier, movement between groups was entirely possible. The name of the game there is safety, with fun at an extremely close second.
Challenging yourself, your mind, your body and the bike is all part of the package.
And what an incredible way to do it.
Trail Tours is open from May until the end of October.
Visit www.trailtour.com for more information.