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Nova Scotians catching the mountain biking bug and making it a family affair

Carolyn Benvie and Noah Benvie at Keppoch Mountain for a fun bike ride in Antigonish, N.S., in 2017. CONTRIBUTED
Carolyn Benvie and Noah Benvie at Keppoch Mountain for a fun bike ride in Antigonish, N.S., in 2017. CONTRIBUTED - Contributed

By Ayah Victoria McKhail

As a nature lover and biking enthusiast, Carolyn Benvie of Brookfield, N.S., is in her element when she’s mountain biking.

“It feels great to be out in the woods; each trail is unique and offers different features. I particularly like trails with lots of roots and finding the best lines to ride. Mountain biking takes focus, persistence and a positive and growth-centred mindset to overcome challenges and obstacles on the trail; just like in life,” explains the forestry technician, who works for the Nova Scotia’s Department of Lands and Forestry.

She first caught the mountain biking bug in 2000 when she was living in Jasper, Alta.

“I was keen on exploring the natural beauty in my surroundings, such as the mountains, forests and lakes, so I bought a used rental bike and began sightseeing.”

Carolyn Benvie at a biking race called 'The Swashbuckler' in Bridgewater, N.S., in 2017. BRIANNE STEINMAN PHOTO
Carolyn Benvie at a biking race called 'The Swashbuckler' in Bridgewater, N.S., in 2017. BRIANNE STEINMAN PHOTO

And when she moved to Victoria, B.C., she joined a cycling group called The Dirty Girlz Bike Club.

“It was a great way to learn mountain biking and how to ride different trails in a social and supportive way,” she says, adding that she also pursued downhill cycling.

In 2007, when she returned to Nova Scotia, she continued to seek out new adventures throughout the province.

“Some of my favourite places to bike include The Gorge in Kentville; The Keppoch Mountain in Antigonish; The Empire Trials in Gore; and Victoria Park in Truro.

And as luck would have it, her hobby led her to find love along the way.

“I met Isaac in 2012 at the Fitz of Fury mountain bike race in Scotsburn, Pictou County.”

As the biking duo attended races together, a romance began to blossom and they got engaged in 2016.

Carolyn and Isaac Benvie gear up for the 'Across the Highlands' mountain bike challenge in Ch├ęticamp, Cape Breton, N.S., in 2014.  - Contributed
Carolyn and Isaac Benvie gear up for the 'Across the Highlands' mountain bike challenge in Chéticamp, Cape Breton, N.S., in 2014. - Contributed

So when it came to planning her bachelorette party, which was held in Wittenburg, N.S., the following year, she wanted to steer clear of conventional norms, such as going to an upscale restaurant or spa. “I didn’t want to do something prissy; I wanted to do something outdoors, where we could have a lot of fun.”

And while your average mud mask might be the norm at some bachelorette parties, there was a specialty to be experienced at Benvie’s. Leading up to the unique day, it had rained, so it was already quite damp as the enthusiastic party set off.

While they were biking, drops began to fall once again. As they forged onward, they came across a section of gaping muddy terrain and the organizer, Tracey MacNeil, fell and landed right into the marsh.

“Falling in the muck is part of the experience. It’s exciting when you come across a large mud hole and you’re unsure if you’ll make it. Whether you go through, or around it is a risk you take; you know full well you might be going down in it, depending on how deep it is. It was an absolute blast,” she reminisces.

“It was a full body mud soak,” Benvie adds, laughing.

The summit was reached on June 10, 2017, when the Benvies got married. Currently, the couple enjoys cycling with their sons, Noah, 15, and Jasper, who is discovering the world of cycling as he nears his second birthday.

“I can see my bike hobby expanding and changing to adapt to Jasper’s needs.”

Benvie has also competed in races organized by Bicycle Nova Scotia. That same year, her greatest accomplishment took place when she completed The Elgin 120, a mountain bike race held in Elgin, N.B., which took her just over nine hours.

“It was amazing and toward the end, I felt a wave of emotion and even shed some tears of joy from pushing myself so hard and from the happiness of accomplishing what I had set out to do.” She was the first place ‘overall’ winner of the season with all races added up and was given an award at the year-end banquet.

Throughout the East Coast, communities are awash with families going out in full force and the Simms of Truro, N.S. are among them. They’ve cycled together in all three of the Maritime Provinces ,and Jeff Simms is the owner and operator of Bike Monkey, a popular cycling shop in town.

Donning a neon green helmet, Jasper Benvie braces himself for his very first chariot ride at Caddell Rapids Lookoff Provincial Park, near Stewiacke, N.S., earlier this year.  - Contributed
Donning a neon green helmet, Jasper Benvie braces himself for his very first chariot ride at Caddell Rapids Lookoff Provincial Park, near Stewiacke, N.S., earlier this year. - Contributed

As the province moved into lockdown due to COVID-19, operations at the shop kicked into high gear in order to accommodate the surge in demand for bicycles and service requests.

“Given all the restrictions that were in place, cycling provided people with an opportunity to get some fresh air and physical activity. Some of our customers were regulars, whereas others were new and decided to take up a new hobby,” states Jeff’s wife, Grace Simms.

The Simms have also imparted their love for biking to their children, Peaka, 8, and Max, 6. Peaka excels at challenging herself and reaching the peak is always special.

“My favourite place to ride my bike is Wentworth, N.S., I love the look off on top of the valley.” As for Max, it’s the ease of mobility that makes cycling a favourite pastime for him. “You can travel places,” he enthuses.

Max would also like to share some advice for people looking to start cycling, in addition to offering a friendly reminder to those who do. Stressing the importance of being a courteous and conscientious cycler, he says, “Cyclists should be aware of who’s on the trails. Please make sure you’re travelling in the right direction. The faster cyclists who are riding ahead should wait for the others to catch up to offer encouragement so no one gets lost.”

A downpour put a damper on Carolyn Benvie, left, and Amelia Butler's spirits at the Coal Miner's Lung race Minto, N.B., in 2016. CONTRIBUTED - Contributed
A downpour put a damper on Carolyn Benvie, left, and Amelia Butler's spirits at the Coal Miner's Lung race Minto, N.B., in 2016. CONTRIBUTED - Contributed

The Simms try to get out for a family ride at least once a week. “Now that the kids are rolling slightly bigger wheels, it makes these rides much more manageable and enjoyable,” comments Grace.

In addition to that, she also revels in her adventures with a group of women cyclists, whom she bikes with regularly.

“We mostly ride cross-country style in Truro’s Victoria Park. Recently, I’ve taken more to endure-style riding, which is biking uphill, to be able to do some fun downhill. We do this at Keppoch and Wentworth.”

The sense of camaraderie she feels serves to motivate her.

“Sometimes, when I’m climbing uphill, I feel as though there’s lead in my legs, but we continue to push and encourage each other to reach higher skill levels and set new goals. You see big improvements fast and that makes me feel really good.”

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