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It's just under 1,000 miles from San Francisco to Squamish but the contrast between the two suggests something further. We catch our international flight to Vancouver immediately, creating confusion with the Department of Homeland Security Officer in the process ("What d'ya mean, you're British and you're coming back to the US the day after tomorrow?"). There's a frisson of excitement as we wonder, briefly, if 'Palosi' suspects we might be a couple of MI5 operatives on a mission or something similarly exotic. The excitement is short-lived however as we realise he's just bored and passing the time of day. As we walk to the gate, I reflect for about the hundredth time on why pretty much all public sector officials in the US have name badges that declare only their surnames. It seems terribly impersonal, but then maybe that's the point.

We arrive in Vancouver as darkness is falling. A billboard proudly proclaims that we have arrived at Vancouver International Airport, voted the best airport in North America for the eighth straight year. By whom isn't clear, but it feels quite an impressive achievement nonetheless and to be fair, the walk through the terminal, though quite long, is jolly pleasant. We head straight to the rental car pick-up and collect our Nissan Sedan. We don't take the Winter Tyre option for $20; it's only 50km to Squamish so that isn't going to be an issue, right? Hmm.

Heading north through Vancouver, Danny and I are grateful for the excellent Google Maps App on his iPhone but anyway the journey is easy enough and we soon find ourselves heading north on the evocatively named "Sea to Sky" Highway. It's pitch black and the sheer rock face to our right suggests something equally dramatic (but so far unseen) to our left. I focus carefully on the highway ahead so as to avoid making a close acquaintance with either Sea or Sky.


Squamish scenery

Squamish

Squamish is not only a place but a language. To be precise it's a Coast Salish language spoken by the people of southwestern British Columbia centred on the reserves of Squamish, North Vancouver and West Vancouver. And the 'correct' spelling of Squamish is Skwxwu7meshsnichim. Which explains the name of the company we are going to visit; 7mesh.

But that's to come. First we've got to find Squamish in the pitch black on what is proving to be an increasingly challenging road. I certainly feel I'd quite like a chat with the person who decided 'highway' was the appropriate label for this twisting and gradient-heavy piece of tarmac. Such thoughts don't last long fortunately because soon enough we are heading steeply down into Squamish itself. We find our hotel and, since it's getting late, grab a bite to eat and hit the hay. Exploring can wait till the morning.

First light arrives and it's cloudy, cold and drizzly. It's winter and it feels as well as looks it. Squamish sits on a flood plain at the north end of Howe Sound in a valley surrounded by steep-sided mountains. This is mountain biking heaven and looking up at the forested slopes of the peaks that loom over Squamish, one can see why. Squamish has a fascinating history too. Growing rapidly in the early part of the 20th century thanks to the railway, the economy was built on forestry and the port. It was prosperous thanks to Western Forest Products Pulp Mill but when that ceased operations in 2006, the future seemed a little uncertain. However, thanks to the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010, the highway from Vancouver to Whistler was upgraded and Squamish is now enjoying a new lease of life as a more cost-effective residential alternative to Vancouver and Whistler. Tourism and the aforementioned mountain biking as well as winter sports are big draws, and the town now feels vibrant and on-the-up, with plenty of new development.


Inside 7Mesh HQ

7mesh

It is to one of the smart industrial units on a new out-of-town development that we now head to meet the 7Mesh team. It turns out to be pretty much the coolest industrial unit we have ever seen but first, a brief history of 7mesh.

Tyler Jordan, 7mesh's founder, (known to pretty much everyone as TJ) had spent 18 years carving a hugely successful career at Vancouver-based outdoor clothing uberbrand Arc'teryx, the latter eight as CEO. He, along with a number of his team, lived in Squamish, had a passion for the outdoors (TJ turns out to be a seriously competent rock climber) and shared a fanatical love of cycling. Perhaps as a result of working at a high-end apparel manufacturer, Jordan realised that there was a dearth of really outstanding technical gear for cycling. And being a serial entrepreneur he decided to do something about it and 7mesh was born. Quite a few of his Squamish-based Arc'teryx crew joined him, and although Jordan speaks with refreshing openness about the challenges facing the industry and starting yet another apparel business in what some might say is an already congested market, the truth is that 7mesh is different and rather special.

North by North West - Part 1
ReadNorth by North West - Part 1
Outside 7mesh HQ
Chatting with 7mesh

After being fortified with superb coffee and pastries from a local deli, we spend a number of hours discussing the challenges of the cycling sector, the differences (and similarities) between North America, the UK and the rest of Europe, new products and new opportunities. Chief among the new opportunities for 7Mesh is their recent deal with cool, on-trend active leisure wear brand Lululemon.

We spend a significant amount of the time discussing new products with Bobby, 7mesh's Sales Director. Bobby spent time at Assos before joining up with TJ at the early stages of 7mesh and is one of the most knowledgeable guys out there when it comes to fabrics and cycling apparel. Having seen some of what's planned for later this year, 7mesh are going to be one of the go-to brands for 2018.

All the while, the atmosphere is relaxed - informal but incredibly professional. This is a team who clearly share a common vision and get on incredibly well together but there's structure and discipline to the whole operation. When we finally break towards the end of the afternoon, Danny and I are both left with exactly the same view; 7Mesh are fantastic hosts, the products are absolutely superb and this is a business that will go from strength to strength.

We're not done yet though. Tyler, Bobby, Steph and Brian announce that as we are visiting Squamish, we must sample their favourite eatery and watering hole; the Backcountry Brewery. We arrange to meet a little later after having popped back to the hotel to freshen up.


Backcountry Brewery - the place to be in Squamish

Backcountry Brewing

Backcountry Brewing is a perfect example of Squamish's renaissance and new-found confidence. It's a micro-brewery making a wide range of beers from wheat beers and IPAs through to stouts and porters - plus they serve the most superb pizzas. It's simple but incredibly effective and the place is heaving when we arrive. It's full of affluent young Canadians wearing achingly cool gear and all looking like they could run a marathon or ride an ultra-MTB trail (or both) without breaking too much of a sweat.

But here's the thing: it doesn't feel forced, contrived or self conscious. The bar has a relaxed, happy and healthy vibe - notwithstanding the delicious beer and pizzas which would do bad things for my waist line if I lived here! And live here is something both Danny and I realise we could do quite easily. The scenery is stunning, Squamish is only an hour from Vancouver one way and from Whistler the other, the people are relaxed and friendly and the bar's pretty good too! It's the perfect end to a perfect visit.


Backcountry Brewing, Squamish, Canada - John Folinsbee, Header Brewer
Backcountry Brewing, Squamish, Canada - team

Back Home

But all good things do come to an end and the following morning we rise early to drive back to Vancouver. Snow is falling when we walk out to the car and we wonder whether the lack of winter tyres will come back to haunt us. But it doesn't, because the roads are gritted and we just take it easy, allowing ourselves plenty of time to get to the airport and check in for the short flight to Portland.

Arriving back in Portland feels curiously like coming home. We spend the day saying goodbye to the various bike shops, cafes and bars we'd got to know earlier during the week and realise that this will be au revoir rather than goodbye. Our trip to the Pacific North West has been a resounding success. We've met some great people, talked about some of the best cycling products in the world with the talented and wonderful people who make them, eaten well, drank even better and seen some amazing sights. We're pleased to be heading home to our families but equally, can't wait for the next time we get to visit this unique part of North America.

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About the Rider: Richard Bowker
Usually to be found working on Always Riding's strategy and finances, Richard loves his Bianchi bike and is often to be heard muttering Passione Celeste around the office. However, he is also frequently to be found slipping on a pair of Nike Air Pegasus trainers at lunchtime and, as a committed numbers guy, is a believer in the maxim that if it ain’t on Strava, it never happened.
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