Garett Buehler is deeply introspective. In the dark hours of the night, when worries creep unbidden to the front of the brain, he wonders: what am I doing? Why am I risking my blood and bones for a job with no pension, no safety net? Should I be in school? Am I missing out on other, richer, life experiences? It’s a delicate question to answer, and one that provokes a ‘’stop whining, you have the best job in the world!’’- type gut level response from weekend warriors. But riding this close to The Edge comes with severe consequences; one needs to be calculated in order to stay healthy and keep riding at this level. If you’re hitting big moves with no regard for your own safety, you won’t be a professional rider for long. Doubt is necessary for self-preservation. Riders like Buehler are confident, not madmen.
Garett Buehler going huge in Nelson. Photo: Margus Riga
Aaron Chase was paralyzed from the waist down. A stupid error, really, his back wheel slipped from a ladder bridge and he landed on his tailbone. He heard his spine compress, but there was no pain, there was no feeling at all. It happened in 2007 while riding at the Nissan Qashqai Challenge in Newcastle, England. This was Chase at the height of his powers, only two years removed from winning the Red Bull District Ride; he was a podium threat anywhere he rode. The fall compressed his spine and fractured his L1 vertebrae. The L, for lumbar, vertebrae form the base of the spine and are used structurally, for protection, and for movement. The spinal cord, which runs through the vertebrae, is as thin and delicate as al dente spaghetti. It is responsible for carrying the electrical impulses that allow someone to walk, run, or ride a bike.
Chase was strapped to a spine board and rushed to the hospital. Sometime during the ambulance ride, feeling returned to his legs, he could wiggle his toes again. After testing, surgeons implanted a medieval-looking collection of rods and screws to stabilize his spine. It looked as if a metallic spider clung tightly to his spinal column, locking bone into place and preventing further damage. The hardware from England would remain in Chase’s back for seven years; it was there during our shoot for Builder, a constant source of pain until specialists at DISC Sports and Spine Centre removed the metal in October 2014.
James Doerfling is 27 years old, he lives with his girlfriend Julie and their dogs Sarge and Chewy (short for Chewbacca), in a house he bought not far from downtown Williams Lake and the Tolko Industries lumber yard. His neighbourhood is quiet, except for the roar of lifted diesel trucks, seemingly a prerequisite for any red blooded male living here. You’d never guess that a big mountain superstar lives in the house on the left. His porch holds water bowls for his dogs and a collection of muddy shoes stacked neatly in a rack. His living room and kitchen are bereft of mountain bike imagery, he’s modest to the point of anonymity, but there’s a bear pelt mounted on the wall for decoration.
It’s not until you enter his garage that you get a sense of the man. The garage is grimy with dust, grease, and oil; there are beers in the mini fridge, and a couple empty tins of Copenhagen Smokeless Tobacco in the trash. You can see his Red Bull Rampage number plates in a place of honour above his workbench, beside a row of battle-scarred helmets. The other walls feature a scantily clad pin up girl and a shot of Doerfling airing into the sunset on the Gobi Desert while filming for Where the Trail Ends. There’s enough room here for a car, but instead the garage houses a dirt bike, a quad, and a quiver of Knolly bikes. The garage has the understated elegance of functionality – everything from the tools on the workbench, to the two-wheeled toys, is designed for the pursuit of fun in the mountains. James Doerfling is an outdoorsman and an adrenaline junkie; this is all he needs.