Olympic Skier and mountain biker Brittany Phelan shares about her friendship with the late Mikayla "Miki" Martin, and the inspiration for the "Four Corners Ride" done in her honour.

Words By: Brittany Phelan

Photos By: Robin Oneill

Often times rides can be just for the adventure, the fitness, or the fun, but other times, a ride can go much farther than that.

With the Sea to Sky being home to many amazing people, it goes without saying that Squamish-born Mikayla Martin still stood out amongst the crowd. As a prolific Canadian alpine and ski-cross athlete by winter, and mountain biker by summer, Mikayla not only holds numerous national and international awards to her name, but was well-loved by those around her for her adventurous personality.

Tragically, Mikayla passed away after a riding accident around Squamish in 2019, leaving a hole felt throughout the community. In the years since, the community has rallied around Mikayla's legacy here by creating "Miki's Magic", a beautiful jump trail in the Alice Lake network that has become a staple for post-work laps or weekend rides with friends.

But for people who knew Mikayla like Canadian Ski Team teammate Brittany Phelan did, there are countless memories that will continue to be reflected on, and for her, that's where the "Four Corners Ride" comes into things - her way of honouring Mikayla's memory.

"This is a story of my late friend Mikayla Martin, who continues to inspire so many people everyday from everything she did and who she was. This is a look into the big bike ride we do every year to honour our great friend.

I first met Mikayla, who we all called Miki, during my first full summer living in Whistler in 2016. Miki was on the BC Alpine ski team, and was going to be training all summer at the same facility as my team in Whistler. I was in my second year racing for the Canadian Ski Cross team, having switched over from Alpine the year prior. 

I immediately became friends with Mikayla. I think I saw a lot of my younger self in her.  Miki ended up moving in with me for a month during that summer, meaning she didn’t need to commute back and forth from her home in Squamish. We both connected over our love for skiing and biking and all things outdoors, as well as our interest in pushing ourselves and learning new things."

We’d do our separate training sessions with our respective teams in the morning, and then reconvene back at my place to plan the rest of our day. Every day either Miki or I would have some trail or idea of what we wanted to ride. It was exciting for me to have someone that was always keen on any dumb idea I had, and a little scary not having one of us be the voice of reason. I tried to acknowledge that role should lie with me, being quite a bit older and having had more years of experience but was excited to coast on this new found friendship and have someone on the same page as me. 

That’s how I got to know Miki and how I’ll always remember her. She was keen, excited, eager to learn, laugh, and overall, a kind and caring person. 

We both went on separate ways for the winter of racing; Miki still racing in Alpine skiing and myself in Ski Cross. 

A year later, Miki ended up joining ski cross and I couldn’t imagine a better suited athlete for our sport. I knew it wouldn’t be long before she’d be making her mark and Miki thrived from the get go. She had a quick ascent to the National Team, becoming World Junior Champion in 2018, qualifying for the World Champs team in 2019, finishing 8th among other great World Cup and Europe cup results. 

The summer of 2019 Miki had talked about doing some crazy big bike ride, ‘The Four Corners of Whistler’. A ride that would be around 4000 metres of climbing and 100kms total distance. I remember brushing it off and telling her that would be awesome, but we would wreck our legs for weeks. I didn’t know that for a fact or have any idea really of what it would do physically, but it was way beyond any big ride I’d done so surely it shouldn’t be done for two winter athletes trying to stay in their prime.

My good friend Tristan Rodgers had also talked to Miki about the big ride. I think he was much more encouraging and supportive to do it with her than I had been. Unfortunately, they never got to follow through with it. 

On October 1st, 2019, Miki tragically passed away riding her bike in Squamish. Losing my friend and teammate, doing something we both mutually loved and something that brought us so much joy, is something to this day I have a hard time accepting and understanding. The acute grief with lots of time fades, but the loss of Miki will always be there. It’s been special to see her world and the people in it celebrate her in such an amazing way every year. Witnessing the positive  impact her life had on so many to this day, holds comfort, and keeps the memory of our friend always present.  

I don’t remember deciding or discussing with Tristan about doing Mikis ‘Four Corners ride’, every year in her memory, but it just seemed like something we had to do and it went without saying. 

Not that it would have changed her mind, but I still feel odd and sad about discouraging her. When Miki decided to do something, she did it. 

We’ve done the ride 3 times now and every year has been a bit different due to some trail restrictions or closures. 

The general idea has been one trail in each corner of Whistler. Ideally, we want our route to be Top of the World, Lord of The Squirrels, Howler, ending on Blackcomb with Dark Crystal. 

This year we started with Lord of the Squirrels, before heading to a new trail called Four Eyes, that leads into Kashmir as we couldn’t get permission to ride Top of the World before sunrise, for liability reasons. It’s nice to get the biggest climb done first and switch up the usual route. 

We started a bit after 5am which is a later start than usual but earlier in the season meant more daylight so we could ride a little later into the evening. 

Tristan and I spoke often of our plan and expressed our concerns that we’re not as fit as we’d like to be for the ride. Knowing each other though it was no question that we’d complete it as always, whether one of us had to pull the other.  That being said, I don’t know that I could ever be fit enough to make that day feel easy. I think the feeling of being absolutely exhausted and keep pushing and riding is one of my favourite parts of the ride. I can’t speak for Tristan, but I think he feels the same. I often feel every day of my life has a certain dedication to the next day, where I’m always holding onto some energy and time to put towards being ready for tomorrow. 

However, Mikis ride always feels right to not worry about tomorrow and leave all my energy and legs on the trails that day.

After 3 years, the flow of the day has become expected and slightly easier. The biggest thing we’ve learned is to stay ahead of the ‘Bonk’. This means eating and drinking constantly. If you wait until you’re hungry or thirsty, it’s too late. Another part is to keep moving. Tristan is better at breaks than I am. He’s the kind of guy that can sprint off the couch. I work into my legs a bit more, so balancing a pace and breaks that works for both of us has had some trial and error. I think we’ve found a balance that works, and no matter different paces we seem to climb and descend in a way that works and keeps us together. 

After Lord of the Squirrels and Kashmir, we stop at Creekside Market for a quick lunch, before heading to the last half of the day, Howler and Dark Crystal. Normally the goal is to ride Top Of The World off Whistler peak, but park issues this year had us change our plan to just Four Eyes and Kashmir. 

Howler is always a hard climb. It’s relentless and progressively gets a bit steeper as you go. I’ve always loved the perspective and view of Whistler Blackcomb from up there, and being able to see exactly where our next and last objective of the day is, Blackcomb. 

A quick valley trail pedal including a water stop and snack from Alpine, over to the base of Blackcomb, and it’s back to climbing. The last climb always feels easy to me. Maybe it being the final one with the end in sight, or just knowing it so well it goes by quick. 

It’s always a good feeling getting to the top of Dark Crystal, and I often think of Miki up there. 

The first time I rode Dark Crystal was with Miki. I got 2 flat tires and it took me so long to put a tube in she actually took a nap in the forest. I ended up flatting again and had to walk out, and she biked home to get my car to come get me. 

The great feelings come at the bottom, knowing dinner and an easy pedal home with a huge feeling of accomplishment is all that remains. The pedal home after dinner is always a bit euphoric. Biking home in the dark after a big ride is where everything is peaceful and quiet; a satisfied and happy feeling. A big day like that is fulfilling in itself, but it feels even more so being a day dedicated to Miki. I still think of her and am reminded of her daily, but it’s been nice to dedicate a big ride to her memory and have that to always look forward to.

Doing a day like this with Tristan, is something I’ll always cherish. I’ve learned a lot from Tristan, and I value our conversations and time together more than I could ever express to him. We’ve spent many years riding bikes on ridiculous big days, and sometimes it feels like we’ve solved a lot of our tribulations by discussing and talking it through, while passing the time on long climbs. Tristan is someone I feel so comfortable with, easy to be around and that I can just be me. There’s never any pressure to be more of who I am on any given day. 

Thank you, Tristan for being there through it all. Thank you for celebrating our late friend every year and making it an experience I look forward to. 

Thank you, Miki, for the continued inspiration, for living your life in a way that you wanted to. Thank you for doing the things you did because you loved them, and they felt right. 

I’ll forever miss you, celebrate you, and be grateful for the time I got to spend with you."