ACADIAN DRIFTWOOD

PHO­TOG­RA­PHER BRUNO LONG LEFT NEW BRUNSWICK 20 YEARS AGO FOR THE TRAILS OF THE PROMISED WEST. HE RE­TURNS HOME NOW TO FIND IT TEEM­ING WITH SIN­GLE­TRACK AND A RID­ING CUL­TURE ALL ITS OWN.

Bike (USA) - - Contents - —FROM THE SONG “ACADIAN DRIFTWOOD” BY THE BAND

Sleep­less nights, cigar­il­los, 24-inch wheels and su­per­hero capes. New Brunswick may not be known for its sin­gle­track but it more than makes up for it in per­son­al­ity. Writer Matt Coté and se­nior pho­tog­ra­pher Bruno Long visit Long’s home­land.

It’s Septem­ber 26, and the north­ern tip of the Ap­palachian Moun­tains is swel­ter­ing. Push­ing 93-de­grees Fahren­heit with 100-per­cent hu­mid­ity, it feels more like Ten­nessee or Ge­or­gia than it does New Brunswick, some 1,350 miles north in a near iden­ti­cal land­scape. The dis­tin­guish­ing maple trees still have a strong in­ner glow of elec­tric green while shades of auburn tinge their outer canopy. The for­est is des­per­ately try­ing to fall asleep be­fore win­ter, but At­lantic hur­ri­canes are pre­vent­ing this, push­ing hot, damp air up the East Coast.

Pho­tog­ra­pher Bruno Long and I pant like dy­ing ham­sters as we fol­low 47-year-old Brian McKeown over the packed, black soils of Best Bit­ter, onto Wil­son’s Loop, Bunkerama and then Bold­en­weiser in the Marysville Place (MVP) trail net­work out­side the cap­i­tal city of Fred­er­ic­ton. The hu­mid­ity feels like be­ing bun­dled in Saran Wrap. It isn’t the ass-kick­ing we were ex­pect­ing, hav­ing trav­eled from the tem­per­ate wilds of Bri­tish Columbia to a quiet and rolling prov­ince where a nascent rid­ing cul­ture is sup­pos­edly only now tak­ing shape.

“I thought you guys were fit?” McKeown taunts us, spin­ning ef­fort­lessly over the smat­ter­ing of loose stones and thin roots. “We are,” Long an­swers. “You’re just ridicu­lous.”

McKeown, it turns out, is the 2012 Cana­dian masters class cross-coun­try cham­pion. For Long, who was born and raised in New Brunswick but never rode his home prov­ince be­fore leav­ing, ev­ery­thing’s a rev­e­la­tion. Gone west for 20 years, he’s come back to re­dis­cover his na­tive soil as a moun­tain biker, and ev­ery­thing feels new.

THE NEW OLD TOWN

As we pedal down­town, hand­some stone and brick build­ings from the 18th cen­tury line the banks of the Saint John River, many of them re­pur­posed fac­to­ries and Bri­tish mil­i­tary bar­racks. The first colo­nials here were French, called Aca­di­ans. The Bri­tish burned down their cap­i­tal, Fort Nash­waak, in 1759 and ex­pelled them dur­ing the Seven Years’ War. Bri­tish Loy­al­ists came north dur­ing the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion and built Fred­er­ic­ton in its place, now home to just un­der 60,000 peo­ple.

“You don’t look old enough to have a 19-yearold daugh­ter,” Long tells McKeown, whose sinew and mus­cles pop like a su­per­hero’s through his race-tight span­dex.

“That’s what cy­cling will do for you,” the fa­ther of two quips, say­ing his daugh­ter plays bas­ket­ball at Uni­ver­sity of New Brunswick, Long’s alma mater.

“It was like right out of ‘Van Wilder’ when I went to UNB,” Long says with a sin­is­ter laugh. “I don’t know how any of us grad­u­ated.”

Lined with pubs and brew­eries, Fred­er­ic­ton is a fa­mous stu­dent party town. Just what a fa­ther wants to hear. McKeown leads us back to his sports store on West­mor­land Street with a fur­rowed brow. The Radical Edge’s cy­cling-fo­cused sec­ond store, where we rally to, is seven years old now, and thriv­ing.

“I didn’t know any of this rid­ing was here,” Long says as we go for lunch at Gray­stone Brew­ing, a block over, where tat­tooed wait­resses serve thick-bearded young men in plaid and give ev­i­dence to other re­cent cul­tural shifts.

“Ten years ago, things re­ally started to ramp up with a lot of trail­build­ing spe­cific for moun­tain bik­ing,” McKeown ex­plains. “Es­pe­cially in the MVP zone. Back 20 years ago, things were prob­a­bly at a low for us in the area. So­cial me­dia played a large part in be­ing the thread that con­nects us all.”

River Val­ley Cy­cling, the lo­cal club, is up to 350 mem­bers, and fat bik­ing is more pop­u­lar even than Nordic ski­ing. For McKeown, who’s also en­joy­ing the city’s evo­lu­tion, things are bet­ter than ever. We watch him down a Ridge­back IPA with im­pres­sive gusto—the calo­ries no doubt dis­ap­pear­ing into a per­pet­ual deficit.

JUN­GLE BOO­GIE

At day­break, we drive 30 miles north­east to the 2,000-per­son ham­let of Minto. The vil­lage sur­vived the Great De­pres­sion through an open pol­icy on coal min­ing. To­day it’s sur­rounded by strange ridge­lines of tail­ings. In be­tween the bizarre fea­tures, sur­real green and blue ponds vi­brantly glow like nu­clear waste. The col­ors ac­tu­ally stem from al­gae, and beavers swim hap­pily in it.

McKeown steers us through twisted spin­dles of birch grown into a strange and de­formed jun­gle. The wet air and yel­low­ing leaves smell like malt, and it feels like we’re in a Sal­vador Dalí paint­ing. Tab­ula Rasa con­nects us to Sco­tia Banks—a se­ries of punchy cor­ners that dive sharply in and out of the pump-track-like trail. McKeown carves mas­ter­fully with his fixed seat­post all the way up. On a brief break, he ad­mits to Long he doesn’t get the ap­peal of the West. He views it as too far from fam­ily, busy and ex­pen­sive. In Bri­tish Columbia, the av­er­age home price is $503,100. In New Brunswick, it’s $174,000, and gen­er­a­tions of rel­a­tives are often only walk­ing dis­tance apart.

Back in Fred­er­ic­ton that night, the city’s mod­est sky­line shim­mers off the river. At a pub next to it, dark brews pile onto a table fac­ing two six-

foot-six-inch twins named Chris and Tim Beatty. The broth­ers—with iden­ti­cal hair­cuts—shared a frat house with Long in uni­ver­sity and re­main dear to him. They’re both mar­ried now, work in IT and also ride bikes. The tech and tourism in­dus­tries are strong in Fred­er­ic­ton, they tell me. While the rest of the Mar­itimes are eco­nom­i­cally de­pressed, this city’s un­em­ploy­ment rate is bet­ter than the na­tional av­er­age. But the con­ver­sa­tion soon veers into de­viant rem­i­nis­cences of ear­lier days. “So who did that poop, any­way?” Chris darts at Long.

DOWN BY THE SEA

The Cana­dian High­lands crum­ble into fall­ing brown bluffs at the sea­side vil­lage of Alma. The Bay of Fundy has the high­est tide in the world at 50 feet. The hoodoos along its At­lantic shore­line are strik­ing. It’s the same land­scape the Aca­di­ans crossed when they fled south to the then-French colony of Louisiane, which later be­came Amer­ica’s Ca­juns. Here in Alma, stub­born frag­ments of the first colo­nial lan­guage still re­main on signs and in fam­ily names. Que­bec may be Canada’s only Fran­co­phone prov­ince, but New Brunswick is its only of­fi­cially bilin­gual one. At the edge of Fundy Na­tional Park, lob­ster fishermen bark at each other in mixed tongues, and Parks Canada em­ploy­ees gab in both lan­guages. Mark Ma­honey is one of them, su­per­vis­ing the con­struc­tion and up­grade of 38 miles of multi-pur­pose trail that, im­pres­sively, now in­cludes rid­ing.

“This is prob­a­bly the nicest pumptrack I’ve ever seen!” Long tells him while watch­ing crews pack the last bit of the newly in­stalled amenity at the Chignecto Camp­ground. Sam Piché, a BMX-track builder from Que­bec, of­fers to demo it, and Long breaks into near-per­fect French to co­or­di­nate pho­tos—a se­cret lan­guage I’ve never heard him use.

Af­ter the pumptrack ses­sion, Sus­sex rider John McNair joins Ma­honey to shep­herd us into the camp­ground’s trails. Ma­honey smashes along in his Parks Canada uni­form and skate hel­met, su­per­fan­ning over the En­duro World Se­ries when­ever we stop and talk. The two main lines we fol­low are White Tail and Tip­pen, weav­ing at low grades through a conif­er­ous for­est laced in in­can­des­cent moss and trippy mush­rooms. The fed­er­ally sanc­tioned braids drop lengthily down to the sea be­fore we pedal up for an hour on pave­ment and dou­ble­track. Be­ing multi-pur­pose, it’s more about flow than tech­ni­cal­ity. The trails have very lit­tle cam­ber, but trace an in­com­pa­ra­ble ocean vista.

“What I re­ally want is A-Line,” Ma­honey says later at din­ner, ref­er­enc­ing Whistler’s most fa­mous trail. We im­bibe in deep dirt talk, and he points out the Holy Whale Brew­ery, a church-turned­pub where the Parks Canada staff party is hap­pen­ing that night. In true East Coast spirit, we drop in and make many new friends. Long trades broth­erly barbs with the lo­cals like a long­shore­man, and I can al­most hear a buried Wis­con­sin-es­que Mar­itime ac­cent emerge.

THE BIG SMOKE

The city of Saint John’s stern brick façade feels im­pos­ingly in­dus­trial, with Canada’s largest oil re­fin­ery dom­i­nat­ing it. But with more than 60,000 peo­ple, it also has a metropoli­tan bus­tle that’s en­er­giz­ing. Rock­wood Park walls in its north­west corner, de­signed in the mid19th cen­tury by Calvert Vaux, who also drew up New York City’s Cen­tral Park. We fol­low the prac­ticed wheel of a steel sin­gle­speed into it, over grippy in­ner-city rock slabs.

Ge­off Slater, a 48-year-old pro­fes­sional artist, per­fectly times each stroke through pedal-strike treach­ery on Si­mon Says, Pumptrack Pow­er­line, Rock­pile Road and Bunny Ram­page. Each links through pris­tine lakes, con­nect­ing re­mark­ably mod­ern trail that could be out of a western moun­tain town.

“I get my best ideas out on the trails,” he tells us, ref­er­enc­ing his sig­na­ture paint­ing style, which uses just one con­nected line—like the neb­ula of a trail map—to por­tray any­thing from flow­ers to land­scape. Af­ter rid­ing, he takes us to the ad­ja­cent and Dis­neyesque town of St. An­drews, where he’s an artist-in-res­i­dence at Kings­brae Gar­den. His paint­ings would look at home next to a Van Gogh or Signac, but Slater in­sists he’s not im­pres­sion­ist, he’s part of

the moun­tain bike move­ment.

“The most cre­ative peo­ple are bik­ers,” he in­sists. “Peo­ple used to have board meet­ings at golf cour­ses, now they do it on bikes.”

Long re­counts his own artis­tic as­cen­dancy: a drunk crash on his townie bike that gave him the pre­mo­ni­tion to stick with moun­tain bike photography right when he thought he should quit. “All of the sud­den peo­ple were say­ing they’d never seen pho­tos like mine,” he re­mem­bers.

HOMECOMING

“Oh, we hated this town,” Long tells me, pass­ing by old high-school bas­ket­ball ri­val­ries en route to Grand Falls, his 5,000-per­son home­town. “These are all potato fields,” he adds. “Ev­ery fall we’d get a week off school to go pick pota­toes. We called it potato week.” I burst into laugh­ter, and he ex­plains McCain Foods is one of the big­gest em­ploy­ers in the prov­ince, next to Irv­ing Oil—a New Brunswick com­pany that’s also qui­etly the sixth largest landowner in the U.S.

It’s dark as we cruise down Chapel Street to a big house where a sil­ver-haired man paces out­side. We park, and Rino throws his arms around his son, speak­ing French at him a mile a minute. Long an­swers back in English, but nei­ther misses a beat. It’s like lis­ten­ing to Han Solo and Chew­bacca.

In­side, Long’s mom, Beatrice, gives him a hug and kiss on the cheek, tak­ing our stinky laun­dry. “Ev­ery­thing in here is syn­thetic!” she com­ments. Rino gives me an im­me­di­ate tour of the house, show­ing off ev­ery­thing from a plain white mug he’s had for 30 years to their 1960s dryer.

“Did you know Ron Tur­cotte is from here?” he asks me. “I don’t know who that is,” I an­swer apolo­get­i­cally. “Come on,” he says, “he rode Sec­re­tariat!”

The re­tired cou­ple’s liv­ing room is full of pho­tos of fam­ily. Long’s sib­lings also moved west. At 38, he’s the only one left with­out kids; his globe-trotting ex­ploits hav­ing taken pri­or­ity. He hasn’t been back in five years, but is still close. His older sis­ter, Julie, sadly passed away from can­cer a year ear­lier in Edmonton, Al­berta, and ev­ery­one came to­gether.

“So you’re head­ing to Camp­bell­ton to­mor­row?” Beatrice asks, in­ter­rupt­ing my gaze around the mu­seum-like room. She gave Long the idea to come home af­ter see­ing an article that rated Su­gar­loaf Bike Park as the best in the East. “Camp­bell­ton’s where Bruno was born, you know,” she winks.

THE SWEET SPOT

Su­gar­loaf Bike Park’s hard­wood for­est rises sub­tly above the 7,000-per­son city of Camp­bell­ton at the con­flu­ence of the St. Lawrence and Res­tigouche Rivers. It’s fi­nally cold out, and the fall col­ors drape the soft-black hills like a woolen

PEO­PLE USED TO HAVE BOARD MEET­INGS ON GOLF COUR­SES, NOW THEY DO IT ON BIKES.

sweater. We pass Atholville, which Long jokes is full of “Athols,” while he be­grudg­ingly stops to take a por­trait at his child­hood house. His dad also coaxed him into a sim­i­lar por­trait with his vin­tage Di­a­mond­back hardtail the night be­fore.

Up at the bike park, it’s clos­ing week­end. Its trails are built to ex­act­ing stan­dards by Grav­ity Logic—the same crew that built Whistler’s. Riders have come from 200 miles away for Su­gar­loaf’s 507 ver­ti­cal feet. At $25 a day, it makes rid­ing DH an ev­eryper­son sport. Fam­i­lies and peo­ple of mod­est means are all around, and it just feels right. Pa­troller Justin Au­bie wel­comes us while fes­tiv­i­ties rage. They in­clude an Acadian folk band play­ing the spoons and teach­ing tra­di­tional step danc­ing.

Even­tu­ally, Au­bie passes us off to Chris Phillips, a clean-cut 29-year-old lo­cal with a floor­ing com­pany who han­dles all the moun­tain’s so­cial me­dia. Josh Car­rier stands flop­pily be­side him in stark con­trast, wear­ing an old cardi­gan, beat-up Carhartt pants, skate shoes with holes in them and con­struc­tion gloves. He’s been awake for 24 hours, par­ty­ing with a woman from Las Ve­gas he met on­line.

“Have you guys known each other for a long time?” I ask the cu­ri­ous duo. “Best friends since grade 2!” Phillips an­nounces proudly. They’re also the two main mem­bers of North Shore Shred­der, their own club, named for the North Shore of New Brunswick.

They lead us first down Sugar Daddy, a blue jump line that milks the outer flank of the area at sur­pris­ing length. The dirt is per­fect: packed with mois­ture and held to­gether by a de­cid­u­ous root sys­tem and an­cient smooth rock—there’s not so much as a brake bump. Supa Sweet is a sim­i­larly well-cal­i­brated line

fol­low­ing the op­po­site side of the moun­tain. Phillips greases each table while Car­rier bounces along like an Oompa Loompa be­hind, nar­rowly grip­ping his old Spe­cial­ized Big Hit Grom—a kids’ bike with 24-inch wheels. His full-face hel­met’s chin strap flaps un­done in the wind, con­nected to his bike park pass. Long and I hold our breath, watch­ing him on the lofty black jump line, L’Aca­di­enne, but he nails it.

“Is that bike go­ing to hold up?” Long asks, lis­ten­ing to it bot­tom out over and again.

“Oh yah,” Car­rier an­swers. “This one’s good, eh. My last one was pretty bad though. I hit a jump once and I lost my front wheel midair. I did not do well, boy!”

De­cid­ing not to cross the bridge to go party in Pointe-à-la-Croix, Que­bec, that night, we show up early the next morn­ing to find Phillips right on time with Car­rier, who still hasn’t slept, and now wears a red cape that says “su­per­hero.”

“I bought this cape at the fair off a drunk car­ney,” he says, smoking a se­ries of cigar­il­los. Phillips doesn’t miss a beat through­out, cheer­fully chat­ting and end­ing each sen­tence with ‘there’—a re­gional nu­ance car­ried over from the French Cana­dian ten­dency to end each thought with ‘là.’ Car­rier presents Long with a photo book of pic­tures his mom took. “See, she re­ally likes flow­ers. She’s a pretty good pho­tog­ra­pher, eh!” Long nods agree­ably.

We fol­low the lo­cals into the steeper runs now; tech­ni­cal and scary in places. They burn ver­ti­cal fast, and Car­rier rides shirt­less in his cape by mid­day, ter­ri­fy­ing us. We cross back along one of the low-an­gle ski runs, and he stands up at full speed for sev­eral hun­dred feet with his seat pinched be­tween his legs and arms out­stretched—like on the bow of the Ti­tanic.

“Holy shit, dude!” Long says pulling up be­side him. “What the hell was that?”

“That’s my trick,” Car­rier says. “One day I’m go­ing to ride the park in a straight­jacket!”

We’ve never seen any­thing like it—or met any­one like these two.

As the sun crashes into the western hori­zon hours later, the bel­lied laughs and gob­s­mack­ing rid­ing sul­lenly come to an end. We load up for the 3,000-mile trip back to Bri­tish Columbia wide-eyed and hum­bled.

“I can’t be­lieve this was only three hours away from home this whole time,” Long says, for­get­ting for a brief mo­ment where ex­actly that is.

THE DIRT IS PER­FECT: PACKED WITH MOIS­TURE AND HELD TO­GETHER BY A DE­CID­U­OUS ROOT SYS­TEM AND AN­CIENT SMOOTH ROCK—THERE’S NOT SO MUCH AS A BRAKE BUMP.

The au­thor en­joys Fundy Na­tional Park—yes, proper trail within a Cana­dian Na­tional Park. Thank you Canada.

Ge­off Slater, mas­ter of trail-in­spired artistry. Rock with a view.

Big fish, small pond: At $25 a day, Su­gar­loaf brings real rid­ing to the masses, milk­ing true tech fall lines and man­i­cured flow out of 507 ver­ti­cal feet.

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