It is a gloriously warm mid-August morning as I crest the last hill on Highway 29, ahead of the welcome long descent into Tumbler Ridge; a town of around 2500 fortunate souls who call this beautiful town in Canada’s North Eastern British Columbia their home.
For me it has been many months since time and inclination last aligned for me to get the cog wheels on my road bike turning in earnest. It would be fair to say that earlier on the outward ride from Tumbler Ridge in the direction of stunning Gwillim Lake Provincial Park, the effort I expended in ascending the multiple vehicle free hills was barely outweighed by my shameful forward momentum.
The route I am following is a portion of that which a month ago challenged the rather more accomplished cyclists in the Tumbler Ridge Gran Fondo road race event. This was a prestigious event for the town, held in the same year as it came to world wide attention as the site chosen by the television series Game Of Thrones, for one of six iron thrones to be hidden adjacent to one of the region’s dramatic forty plus waterfalls as a part of a global contest.
As my bicycle wheels begin to spin faster, released from the rigours of the uphill grade, the highway ahead straightens to a perfect and even downward incline, like the mirror image of an airplane’s vapour trail across the sky; save that this dark hued trail is bisected along its length by the double yellow central lines of the highway; a paved divide through mixed deciduous and evergreen bush, aimed unerringly towards the town still some way distant.
From my viewpoint the idyllic haven that is Tumbler Ridge appears cocooned from the outside world, its pristine nature safeguarded by the encircling ancient forests which themselves were parted to enable the construction of this well planned and liveable mining town, now enjoying its deserved renaissance as a BC in miniature, like a mountain town in a bottle for adventurous outdoor enthusiasts prepared to look beyond the more frequented and familiar parks and sites elsewhere in the province, in favour of this place where wilderness remains to be experienced, and solitude to be enjoyed.
Concluding my leisurely freewheel I pedal over the bridge across the Murray River, the broadest and most significant of the town’s three waterways which side by side share the broad valley between enveloping ridges; the Murray providing the outflow from the most famous of the region’s cascades, Kinuseo Falls.
I push hard on the pedals as I regain altitude to finally enter Tumbler Ridge, which has now been my adopted home for just over a month, since moving from northern England with our dog Rev, to rejoin my wife who travelled there a month earlier to work as a nurse.
I have no doubt that the world is home to many forty-somethings who entertain mid-career thoughts of ”travel before you unravel,” or so the apt phrase went on the rear of an ageing motorhome when a few years earlier it trundled nonchalantly past my wife and I as we enjoyed a ”Ploughmans’ Lunch” in the beer garden of a quaint English pub, near our then home in Lancashire, a county of northern England.
It must be said that thinking such thoughts and acting upon them are very different things, even for folks like my wife and I who are blessed with a circle of wonderful friends for whom extended travels and mid-life interludes are attractive aspirations.
In spite of this it took a no doubt quite innocent comment by one dear friend in the UK before the dollar as it were dropped, and a firm decision was reached to pursue the opportunity to live and work outside our home country, and indeed our comfort zone.
”We feel as if we are just waiting to retire” said our then forty eight year old friend as we uncorked a second shared bottle of Pinot Grigio that Sunday evening; an utterance which for us would begin a chain of thoughts, then decisions, then events which would lead far less unerringly than the arrow straight highway described above, but nevertheless would similarly come to rest amid the orderly streets of Tumbler Ridge; a place at least six hours drive further north than we had been before on any of our combined twenty or so sojourns to Western Canada.
Even as a great advocate of travel in Western Canada it would be a falsehood for me to claim that before moving to Tumbler Ridge I had heard much, or indeed anything of the town, save I recall a glancing view in a holiday brochure of Kinuseo Falls as one of Canada’s greatest. I couldn’t however claim to have realised where the town was, except as I then thought somewhere too far into the great white north to venture on vacation.
Well, a small number of years on here I am in that great white north, and yes it is great, but this sun-baked day it certainly isn’t white. Sure enough the justifiably proud and incredibly friendly townsfolk who have taken us reassuringly under their wing, point excitedly to the street signage marking out winter snowshoe and cross-country ski trails with adjacent fire pits; sled routes, tobogganing hills, outdoor and indoor ice rinks, and the regions’ signature waterfalls; many of which in winter stand by all accounts like sculptured drapes of ice, drawing climbers to challenge their skills by day, ahead of nights gazing in awe to the pure ink skies across which the northern Aurora gloriously shimmers.
However all that is to come and can be written of when daytime shadows have lengthened and the heartening warmth of summer has faded, leaving the deciduous trees of the valleys to stand silhouetted and greyed against the snow bowed greens of their perennial cousins.
Back in the present I have already experienced how the deciduous trees of the lower elevations have loaned their shades of green to the verdant canopy topping the wildlife rich forests encasing Tumbler Ridge, and standing sentinel like soldiers securing the riches within from the march of excessive footfall, yet through which an entire network of impressively clear and well maintained trails braid its way, ensuring that no cascade or cliff, no valley or creek, no vista of jutting Rocky Mountain pinnacles, and no alpine floral colour pallet of reds, whites, oranges and blues is overlooked and beyond exploration, as the region flamboyantly flaunts its superlative natural wealth.
As I stand astride the crossbar of my bicycle in the centre of Tumbler Ridge, I look around at the orderly central business district about me. I have brought by bike to a halt outside the town’s facility rich Recreation Centre which provides sporting sanctuary on the more inclement of days, and in sight of the ruggedly impressive and welcoming log framed Visitor Centre; the font of all knowledge for that which crowns Tumbler Ridge’s glory and singularity; its status as a UNESCO Global Geopark.
In the area encircled by Canada’s 243,000 kilometres of multi-faceted coastline there are presently only three regions deemed sufficiently unique of geology, human and industrial history, geography and culture to have been admitted to the UNESCO family of Geoparks; the other two being Stonehammer in New Brunswick, and Percé, in Quebec (link). Tumbler Ridge Global Geopark has since 2014 proudly worn its coveted status, since its scenic and historic attributes were recognised alongside, and thrown into unique sharp focus by the extraordinary and ongoing discovery that Grizzly Bears do not produce the largest footprints to be found on and beneath the surface of this region.
In fact since the year 2000 the trackways and fossil relics of many Dinosaurs have been found within the Tumbler Ridge region, from the banks of valley bottom creeks to the shattered rocky crests of the foothills of the Rocky Mountains fringing the town; many of the fossils and trackways being dramatically displayed at The Tumbler Dinosaur Discovery Gallery.
As I sat on the threadbare swivel chair in my UK law office over the last two years, contemplating the benefits and challenges inherent in a move overseas, nowhere did my thought process compute the likelihood of a future with an everyday vocabulary broadened to include words like Ankylosaur, Ornithopod and Crocodilians; or of ”bushwhacking” through virgin Canadian wilderness, and forging waist deep up ice cold, chilblain inducing rivers to secure the viability of newly discovered Dinosaur trackways revealed by water erosion of the river bank; but these are the things of reality for those choosing like us to immerse themselves, not necessarily in the chilly snowmelt of Flatbed Creek, but certainly in the dream haunt of the outdoor enthusiast or nature lover, that is Tumbler Ridge.
In that vain join me as I tread the trails of Tumbler Ridge and I invite the region to reveal to me its secrets and wonders; including why the town and its UNESCO Global Geopark is the perfect antidote to city life, and the ideal awe inspiring destination in all seasons for lovers of the outdoors, both active and less so, to place their footprints beside those rather larger ones which have gone prehistorically before.