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September 22, 2010

Nelson: Paper Bag

Filed under: 2010, BC 2009, MTB Travel — anotherheader @ 9:55 am

The day after the Seven Summits epic we were moving about scarecrow-stiff.  Fortunately this was a moving day.  We’d relocate the Airstream from Rossland to another BC Interior mountain biking hot bed, Nelson.  It wouldn’t exactly be an off day but it would be a day off the bikes.

Paper Bag starts off with some easy slabs

About an hour and a half of driving from Rossland, Nelson is far enough away that single day excursions are unappealing.  Besides, with its attractive location along the west arm of Kootenay Lake, Nelson is worth a visit.

Nelson has around 9,300 full time residents.  It is a small and remote.  For many places, being remote and small means a village studded with abandoned lots and buildings and endless soulless strip malls.  Often a clutch fast food outlets form the core of the dining experience.  For a variety reasons, this did not turn out to be Nelson’s fate.

Nelson’s history dates back to the Silver Rush.  When the rush ended, the buildings were left in decay until a preservation effort rescued the grand historic structures.  Later, as a college town, Nelson was a destination for Vietnam War US draft dodgers.  The town was replanted with a liberal, hippie-oriented seed.  In the modern age, Nelson has become the Santa Cruz of the BC Interior.  There’s a vibrant art and restaurant scene that has somehow avoided having even a single McDonalds.  The town is a tourist destination even for those not seeking out the local mountain biking trails.

Soon the trail will turn steeper

Our schedule gave us two riding days in Nelson.  What trails were we going to ride?  It is always the same question when we get into a new-to-us mountain biking area.   So we did what we usually do.  We went to the bike shops and asked about the trails.  This time we visited two shops, Gerick Cycle and The Sacred Ride.

Bag is definitely steep here

The first person we talked to was the youngest guy in Gerick’s shop.  We’ve learned that talking to the youngest guy in the shop means that we will get the scoop on the most gonzo trails in the area irrespective of our apparent riding abilities.  The downside is that the Young Guy will recommend a gonzo trail regardless of our true riding abilities.  It is good to have the unfiltered feed but you walk away wondering what you are getting yourself into.  In this case, though, it worked out in our favor.  When we told the young guy that we like steep slabs and old school trails he immediately suggested that we try Paper Bag.  Subsequently the three other older and more sensible bike shop employees at Gerick and Sacred Ride attempted to direct us to saner trail choices.  I guess this was the filter.  But there was little chance that we would change our minds.  We had heard steep and slabs in the same description.  All sensible suggestions were rendered impotent.

“People either love it or hate it,” the last voice of reason at The Sacred Ride finally said about Paper Bag.

When we explained that, for us, every good trail has at least a few of sections that we will be walking for the foreseeable future, the final voice of reason acquiesced.  We could ride Paper Bag, it seemed.

The second edition of “Roots Rocks Rhythm:  Your Guide to Nelson BC’s Best Mountain Biking Trails” provides some perspective about Paper Bag:

“Quite possibly thee best, and definitely Nelson’s most notorious trail, the Bag is a good, long fun ride with lots of humbling rock slabs and quick uphills.”

That pretty much settled it.  How could we miss a notorious trail with rock slabs?

The bag is accessed via Svoboda Road.  Per the shop’s advice, we drove a short distance up the hill and parked at the junction between Svoboda and the old railroad grade.  On the bikes we headed up the graveled forest service road.  The climb is long and steep and not pleasant.  (It seems that you can shuttle most of the way up the climb though the absence of parking at the upper gate would be problematic.)  Ultimately we reached the entrance of Paper Bag.

The Bag starts easy.  You roll through a little clear-cut meadow and up a short burst climb onto a rock slab.  The first drops are casual.  Soon enough the lines down the rock require inspection.  Do you take the direct line down the rock face or do you take the bail line around the rock?  Up top, most of the time we just headed down the slab.  It was easier.  In between the rocks, the tread slaloms on loam through tightly spaced trees.

Paper Bag is easier near the top

The slab step-downs come frequently.  They vary from super steep and short three to five footers with questionable transitions to much higher and seriously committing lines with more comfortable profiles.  And, of course, there are a few optional lines that are so far over the top that they are difficult to even contemplate.  (A particular steep drop on a razor edge rock comes to mind.)  The rock we were riding on seemed to be some sort of sedimentary composite with sharp small rocks embedded in the matrix.  The traction was unparalleled.  We’ve ridden down many a rock and Paper Bag’s slab is the best, traction-wise, that we’ve seen.  The Young Guy was right on.  Paper Bag was exactly the type of trail that we were looking for.

As usual, on first time down a trail of this sort, our progress was deliberate.  With a late start there was concern about making it out before dark.

When I rode down a seemingly casual three-foot drop, I took a particularly hard hit on the front of the bike on an abrupt and hard-to-judge transition.

“Watch it, the transition on this one is vicious.”

(Note to self:  Becky always ignores anything I say that starts with “Watch it.”  Try another phrase.)

Even blurry the form looks good but this drop would not finish well

The message shouldn’t have mattered.  Becky rode down the drop in good form.  Next thing I knew the bike bounced at the bottom and she laid down the bike in a slide into a tree.  Her nether regions had taken the brunt of the deceleration force and the collision jammed the gravity droppers projecting rear facing cable attachment point into her body.  That was pretty much the end of the ride and our Nelson riding.

Becky was hurt.  At first it seemed that we’d have to call in search and rescue to get her off the hill.  She could not move without excruciating pain.  Eventually, Becky was able to creep down the trail.  There was a lot of the Bag left ahead of us.  While Becky inched her way, I shuttled the two bikes down the hill.  The light was fading fast when we finally reached the gently sloped rail grade trail that would take us back to the parking area.  This section went faster as Becky was able to ride the gentle climb the last 3 miles out.

Yep, it's definitely singletrack

The emergency room was the next stop.  Becky displayed all her wounds from the trip one-by-one to the attending physician.  Each wound was examined by the doctor and determined to be a mere flesh wound.  The deep bruises were particularly painful but were nothing that should require further medical attention.  Rest, ice, and heavy medication were all that was needed.

At least the ER visit educated us about the Canadian socialized medical system.  If this one visit is any comparison, Canadian emergency rooms are twice as fast and half the price of their United States counterparts.  The only surprise was that it took us so long to figure this out.  An emergency room visit for one of us during our BC riding adventures was long overdue.

You might think that our experience on Paper Bag would put us firmly in the “hate it” category.  On the contrary, we’d go back to Nelson just to ride The Bag.  For us, the trail has the “Love it” check box emphatically darkened.

That’s not to say that Paper Bag is perfect.  Lower down, there were a number of loose blown out sections that we’d have most likely walked even if Becky’s off had not occurred higher up.  A different season with more rain and these sections might have been challenging but passable on the bike.

A high traction committing drop is ahead

When we do return, Becky might just need to turn up the rebound dampening on her front fork.  On big slab drops, the bike’s suspension typically takes one massive hit.  As Becky has demonstrated a couple of times on this trip, there can be control issues if the suspension rebounds like a pogo stick at the bottom.  A high rebound setting seems particular to this type of terrain.  Trust me, it does not work well elsewhere.  Unfortunately, this type of bike set-up issue is hard to work out without the right type of terrain for a test ride.

We’ve always liked high traction committing drops.  It is the terrain that we dream of when we think of riding our bikes.  Early on as we were learning to ride in El Corte de Madera, we’d watch in awe as riders did the step down on Devil’s Staircase.  Today, with better bikes and practice, the Devil’s Staircase drop would pass unnoticed.  The drops we ride now are so much bigger and gnarlier than we ever imagined we might attempt.  But there is a limit to what we can do.  We just hope it won’t be too painful when we find out exactly what is too much for us to ride.  And we won’t find our limit this season.  Our riding time in British Columbia has passed.  We’d soon start on the slow road back home.

Nelson's historic district lit up by the setting sun


Aside from the Nelson City Campground (90 High Street, 250 352-7618) conveniently located near the central district, Nelson has many other lodging options including a plethora of B&Bs.

It took work to level the Airstream at Nelson's City Campground


We didn’t get much of a chance to eat out in Nelson though the town offers numerous interesting and vibrant restaurants.  Places we tried and can recommend are Twisted Tomato and the quirky yellow gourmet food truck, Bite. Bite is always located near the Extra Foods grocery store on Baker Street and is a must try for a Nelson food experience.

Find out more about Nelson here.


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