Fred Gietz and Bernie Pulsifer

I attended my first Fernie Mountain Bike Club (FMBC) meeting over ten years ago. Just getting into the sport, I was a little insecure entering a packed Freshies (where the meeting was held) but immediately was engaged as Bernie Pulsifer discussed things I had never really considered, such as land use agreements, legitimizing trails and trail maintenance.

At that meeting I saw Fred Gietz, whom I’ve known since Chemistry classes at Fernie Secondary School. I had no idea that one of my favourite teachers was so passionate about mountain biking! On a day not long after, I was painfully climbing Hyper Extension (there was no Hyper Ventilation at the time) and voila, there’s Mr. Gietz in all of his hard-core mountain bike glory. For some reason, it shocked me. Perhaps it was the lack of a lab coat.

Mountain biking immediately became a summer-time passion for me, so it was easy for me to understand why these two, alongside Gerry George, were so involved with the sport and decided to form the Fernie Mountain Bike Club in 1990, which then became incorporated in 1998.

“It was all about getting together, and cleaning things up. The original Sidewinder was logged over, so we had to fix that. Gerry suggested we have a meeting to become a society under the Government Society Act, and to make the group official,” Bernie tells me over a cold beer at the Fernie Brewing Co. tasting room. (“If we’re having a meeting, there needs to be beer,” they had said when they apprehensively agreed to being featured.)

One of the most enjoyable interviews I’ve ever given became one of the hardest features I’ve had to piece together. You see, these two are not only great friends; they have had many, many great adventures!

The routes they’ve ridden have my mouth watering. (“Yes, I’ll have another Honey Kolsch, Mr. Gietz!”) By far the best story involves Mr. Vallance (Jimmy), another one of my FSS teachers. Supposedly, Jimmy wanted to be among the first to ride Heiko’s Trail. Bernie was on board, and Fred reluctantly. They set the date a few weeks later to prepare for the challenge. “I heard some young guys talking about riding it, and called Jimmy and Fred and said… we need to go now,” says Bernie. And they did, biking from town to Hartley Lake to Island Lake and back. I can hardly respond, as I had rode this route for the first time last summer and experienced many moments of terror… and can only imagine 1. The bikes they were riding at the time and 2. The condition of the trail in comparison to now. Legends.

“You just put your head down and just go and go and you get there. What occurs to me, as we chat here, when we did Iron Pass etc., there weren’t many trails… roots, deadfall… a lot of the older guys would start at Cameron Lake in Waterton and come back. Or Bernie gave me the challenge to go over the Highway to the Sun… Fernie to Waterton,” says Fred. My jaw is basically on the table at this point, and I’m mentally adding routes to my bucket-rides list.

Outside the long-time involvement and love for the sport, mountain biking has a special significance to Bernie. “I realized after riding the trails with Fred and Don (Vinge) that I needed a better bike. How do I let Sandy know I want to spend $2500 on a mountain bike? I’ll put 1000 km into this bike and then I’ll buy a new one. I bought an odometer and bought my first real mountain bike from Troy Maclachlan at the Guide’s Hut,” says Bernie.

“What he’s not telling you,” Fred proudly adds “is that it was a big part of him fighting cancer. The ‘New Bike’ was basically his road to recovery.” Bernie smiles and says that he used a quote from Lance Armstrong as a personal motivator. If I’m moving I’m alive.

These two have been dedicated to the advancement of Fernie’s trail network for over 25 years, and not surprisingly are being honoured by the Fernie Mountain Bike Club this May. While Fred “retired” from his position with the FBMBC last year (although is still involved), Bernie remains a board member and also sits on the Fernie Trails Alliance Board. They have seen the trails go from a few to a few hundred. While it used to take a few days to remove a tree from a trail, now it is removed seemingly minutes after being reported. And from a handful of members, FMBC is 800 and growing.

“We’ve stuck with our mandate. Events and having fun, and that’s why there is a good membership. We officially had 25-30 members in the beginning, probably not even that,” Bernie recalls. He also adds that a big change has been the addition of the Fernie Trails Alliance as an umbrella organization, taking on the administration portion of trail management and use.

“The community has gotten behind the sport,” they say. “We predicted years ago that it would be bigger than skiing. And it is happening.”

When asked why they feel it’s important to be involved as citizens, they say “If everyone sat on their ass every night of the week, it wouldn’t be the same town. Fernie has to be one of the most active towns in this country.”

From the bottom of our mountain bike-loving hearts, thank you! Your involvement is inspiring and has allowed us all the opportunity to get off our butts and onto the trails!

1. When did you first arrive in Fernie and what brought you here? 
B. 1986 and I came here working for Nohels on a construction job. Was going to be here in six months. We didn’t have kids yet, so thought we’ll travel the world… then one of the foremen said there’s a house in West Fernie for sale and we bought it for $13,000. It sold last year for $360,000. And we’ve been here ever since.
F. I think in 1982. We left up north. Kim had a job as a teacher and I had already been down here working for the mines. We figured two years… 30 odd years later still looking for adventures.

2. Where did you first live in town?
B. West Fernie.
F. When we came, the house prices were inflated and mortgages had 21.3/4 per cent interest… there were no houses available. But we found a place to live in Ridgemont.

3. What was your first impression?
B. Well, when we moved here we were in Sparwood, and I was working seven days a week. Sandy bought a mountain bike and biked into Fernie. We loved the valley, and ate supper at the Old Elevator for our first anniversary and we thought Fernie was a pretty neat place.
F. I was living here before Kim came down and at the time, everybody thought that town was the highway. So many people still think the highway is Fernie.

4. What keeps you in Fernie?
B. Friends. It’s a big part of it. And it’s grown into a nice town. It’s home, I’ve lived here longer than any place else.
F. I can’t argue with that. Even if I do have to put up with him.

5. Do you have a favourite Fernie memory? B. Oh God. You go first. F. Fernie was the smallest town to host the BC Winter Games and I think the stats were that there was not a single family in Fernie that didn’t have one person involved as a volunteer. It gives you an idea of the potential this town had. B. We’re living in a town in southern BC, with unlimited access to the outdoors… and Calgary is 2.5 hours away.

6. What is your favourite time of the year in Fernie and why? B. When we moved here, it was definitely winter. But I have to say fall now. I love the change of seasons, biking on the larch needles and being outdoors. F. I can’t answer that one. We have such special times throughout the year. There’s always something to discover.

7. Where do you see Fernie in 5 to 10 years? B. Pretty much the same I think. I mean it’s going to grow somewhat. We’ll have a few more restaurants. F. I’d like to see the city’s fathers and mothers take a breather. So many things have changed so fast, the city needs to get itself together again. And then we can see what the new possibilities are. It applies to bike trails, the city, expansion…

8. How do you start your day or what is one of your daily rituals? F. Since retiring, now I can have that second cup of coffee in the morning. B. Ditto ditto. I am addicted to coffee. I need it before anything.

9. Tell us something people might be surprised to learn about you. B. I’m a proud grandfather to two grandchildren. Ever and Ira. F. Even though all of my buddies tease me about being a German, I’m a proud French Canadian.

10. Quote to live by: B. Never ever ever ever give up. ~ Winston Churchill. F. 1. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting change is the definition of insanity. ~ Albert Einstein. 2. Challenging authority to see changes. Frank Zappa