Natural Flight Path
Words: Mike Berard
Photos: Brian Goldstone
Dale Douglas’ love of mountain biking and aviation come together at Tyax Adventures, where wilderness and wildlife shape an experience unlike any other
If we’re lucky, the trails we ride begin in our own neighbourhood. For many though, the singletrack we truly lust after is not close enough. For Dale Douglas—owner/operator of South Chilcotin’s Tyax Adventures—the trails he loves begin wherever he parks his plane. Specifically, his de Havilland Beaver floatplane, the iconic aircraft that has allowed access to remote areas for miners, mountaineers and explorers for decades. “The Beaver is designed for the challenges of the Canadian environment,” Douglas says. “It is reliable, safe, and comfortable with cargo like mountain bikes.” It can also be parked just about anywhere there’s water.
Photo by Mattias Fredriksson.
Raised on the flanks of North Vancouver’s Mount Seymour, Douglas grew up in a house that backed directly onto the forest. It allowed for easy access to all things two-wheeled. “If I wasn’t riding my bicycle around the neighbourhood or my motorbikes offroad, I was building trails in my backyard.” He road cycled too, climbing the steep roads to the top of the North Shore mountains. And then, sometime in the early 80s, the wheels took him to new territory.
“When I was 16 or 17, mountain bikes entered the world,” he recalls. “I already knew where all the great trails were, so all of a sudden we’re riding these old motorbike trails on these modified beach cruisers.” Douglas was quick to share his excitement for the burgeoning sport. “In grade 12, I took a community recreation class and and we were given an assignment to create an event. I put together a race. I think it was probably the first high school mountain bike race in B.C., if not North America.”
When high school ended, Douglas headed north on a trajectory that would change his life. “I got a job out at a fishing lodge up north,” he says. “The owner had an airplane.” The hook was set. “The float plane seemed like such a cool way to get around and see the province. It just made sense to me.” He had earned his pilot’s license by 20, and soon found himself being mentored by some of the most seasoned veterans of the West Coast bush pilot scene. Douglas quickly earned the respect of his peers and wrangled a coveted spot flying corporate jets. “It was a really good job based out of Vancouver,” he recalls. ”I flew all over North America.” He did this while simultaneously competing at an elite level of cycling, with a career high result as national veteran cross country champion in 1998.
The wilds of British Columbia would eventually lure him away from Vancouver. “I wanted to get further from the city, and I ended up at Tyaughton Lake,” he says. “Tyax Adventures seemed like a really cool way to combine my aviation and mountain biking skills.”
Mountain biking in the South Chilcotins is not a manicured experience; the trails are rugged, cut first from the land by wildlife and then by First Nations, before being expanded by the gold rush of ranchers over the past century. For the past 15 years, trail maintenance in the area has largely fallen on the Tyax team. Each spring, as the snow melts, Douglas and his staff clear deadfall to prepare for four months of mountain biking tourism that brings in the bulk of his business, while also offering hiking and horseback tours.
Douglas has also pushed Tyax Adventures to be a leader in sustainability and stewardship, working closely with First Nations and other land user groups to ensure mountain biking in the South Chilcotins remains responsible. “This kind of riding, in the backcountry, in the middle of nowhere, requires a more focused style of riding,” he says. “You have to slow down, yield to animals, and not go off trail.”
A typical trip lasts three to four days, with each night spent in a comfortable camp hosted by Tyax guides. “It’s pretty great. You can ride with a light pack and just enjoy the ride. You don’t even have to worry about lunch because we take care of it all.” Wildlife is a common sight, with bears and goats being especially common. “You can be hike-a-biking up over a pass and a herd of goats will be looking down on you from the ridge, or you’ll see grizzly bears just lounging in a field, munching dandelions. It’s pretty amazing.”
If we’re lucky, the trails in our backyards take us to amazing places. For Dale Douglas, the singletrack he first rode lifted him to great heights, and has allowed this pilot and adventurer to carve out his own slice of heaven in the Chilcotins. We should all be so lucky.