Ive been hunkered down in Lillooet (rhymes with silhouette),
B.C. A home away from home in a stalwart little cottage... Been here
over a week now. A few days to complete some work. (Welcome to telecommuting.)
A few days to let an injury heal. A few days of having my toothbrush
on a shelf instead of in a drawstring bag. Sturdy shelter during a
rainy week. Warm walls when theres been snow in the mountains.
Electricity. Phone. A kitchen with a cutting board shaped like a pig.
All the comforts of home.
I dont really have any sense of discomfort when Im Out
There, but I have to admit that it is easy to roll onto a bed at the
end of a day. Easy to feed myself well with a refrigerator and four-burner
stove. Easy to leave gear and clothes draped over the furniture rather
than packing them up each morning.
Its been a great lull in the adventure storm. I left San Juan
Island on the afternoon ferry and arrived on Vancouver Island not
quite sure of what to expect from Canadian Customs: Not too much.
How long do you plan on staying? Three months, I said.
Three months? Yeah, Im thinking of riding to Alaska,
but I dont know. Its a long way. Okay. Have a nice
I rode to Victoria along a nice rail-to-trails route and spent the
night in a hostel bunk room with several victims of tuberculosis or
some such -- three of them took turns coughing all night. The next
night was in a different hostel, while my days were spent in the museum,
tracking down some camping supplies, and getting the groove of the
city. Nice city as cities go. A touch of European flair. Plentiful
parks. Street performers along the inner harbor. A windswept seashore
cliff with clear views of the islands Id just come from.
I left the city behind on another stretch of rail trail and an ugly
stretch of highway on my way North to Duncan. Near Duncan I stayed
with my friend Doug who had come out to Hawaii with his bike this
winter. My riding buddies and I had taken him out and tortured him
on our Kona bike trails, and hed been looking forward to making
me suffer on his local trails. (This is a traditional mountain bike
We went for one ride with his daughters who are thirteen and ten years
old, and already kicking some serious butt on the trails. The next
day we rode some super sweet trails on Tzouhalem Mountain. Rode up
a fire road to a great view of the bay below. Then hit some singletrack
and did the twist and shout through the trees. Fast banked turns on
tight lines of packed dirt. Some cool toys to play on. Narrow bridges
and ramps. Fallen logs to ride the length of. And some scrappy drop-offs
and launches that I decided not to ride -- my valor being only equal
to my skill, which likes to keep me close to the ground. With my wheels,
not my face.
Grateful for the kind hospitality of Doug, his wife, and his daughters,
I rode Onward on a hot sunny morning. I filled my food bag, headed
West, and almost immediately got misplaced. Thanks to a vague map,
I ended up on the wrong side of the Cowichan River, which was a beautiful
circumstance. Stumbled upon a section of the Trans-Canada Trail that
was built on an old rail-line through thick forest above the river.
Exactly the way Id have come if Id have had any idea that
it was there
I crossed the river on a restored trestle and rode the old highway
into the town of Lake Cowichan. I dillydallied over a late lunch.
Swam in the cool, clear river. Then treated myself to a root beer
float in a frosty mug. Roughing it.
By the time I rode out of town, it was after business hours for the
businesses that werent boarded up. I rode along the South edge
of the lake of Lake Cowichan, away from civilization as we know it,
and into the Industrial Forest.
British Colombia seems to base a large portion of its economy -- and
even much of its identity -- on logging. Logging is the process of
dismantling a forest. As a guy who likes forest -- especially old
interesting forest -- I have some trouble accepting the idea that
its okay to take apart an old one, haul it away, and replace
it with a homogeneous grove of planted trees. But as a guy who frequently
takes shelter under wooden roofs, Im not sure how wide I should
open my mouth to complain.
My immediate fear of logging was of logging trucks. The rumors had
proceeded them, of how they came out of nowhere, wide as the road.
Of how they would crush me like a bug and careen off in a giant cloud
of dust. Signs along the way warned me that the road I was traveling
on was owned by the logging companies and to yield to trucks. I didnt
have to yield that day, since I was traveling late enough to be riding
after trucking hours. (One of the joys of a late start and slow traveling.)
I camped that night in a snip of older forest along the shore of Lake
Cowichan with another fear. Should I be hanging my food from a high
branch to keep bears from being attracted to it and to me? Everything
Id read said to never keep food in your tent. But the bright
twilight sky was turning into a bright starry night and I wasnt
planning on using my tent.
I was cooking supper with my little stove on the ground between the
trees, out of the wind when the attack began. Not a bear, but a team
of mice. I say team because they werent just a bunch
of mice. One mouse appeared in front of me, got my attention and then
made an easy few bounces toward my bread. I shouted at it, clapped
my hands, and finally had to reach out and swat at it before it leapt
just out of reach where it stayed until I threw a rock in its general
direction. At that moment I heard a rustle behind me from inside my
food bag where two mice were going for the granola. By the time I
chased them off, the first one was heading back toward the bread.
I only fell for this trick three or four times before I got my guard
up and put away anything that wasnt hot and cooking.
When my delicious prepackaged pasta dish was ready to eat, I moved
away from there to a picnic table where I began to dine. I was immediately
joined by another half-dozen fearless mice who were intent on sharing
my meal. Having fallen for the old herd him toward the picnic
table trick, I closed up all my food and ate my pasta while
standing up, kicking toward any mice that came near my bags.
I wasnt sure how big a chunk of turf a team of mice calls home,
but hoping for the best, I piled everything back onto my bike and
pushed it into the dark forest, away from the dim glow of night at
the edge of the lake. I slept under the trees with my food by my head,
one ear open for the sound of little monsters gnawing holes in my
bags. All fear of bears forgotten.
In the morning -- after a sufficient time of sunning my sleeping bag
and myself at the lakeshore beach -- I started out along logging roads
that had turned to dust in the recent hot weather. I met Matt coming
the other way on his bicycle. He was a dusty mess from long morning
miles, but told me that the logging trucks were no problem since he
could hear them coming. And, as I suspected, the trucks were only
slightly dustier than the regular cars and trucks that passed now
and then. He headed off toward Los Angeles, I headed off toward wherever
I was going, and soon enough I was a dusty mess too.
My lunch break -- which is always kind of late -- got delayed even
further while I waited to find a spot more scenic than the dusty vegetation
at the side of a dusty road. At last I found it: a bridge over a beautiful
tumble of water pouring out of a deep green pool. Ahh! The perfect
remedy for a hot, dusty day. I took a quick dip in the river pool
(It doesnt take me long to be refreshed in water that cold.),
ate my lunch, took pictures of the water and of the logging trucks
knocking dust off the bridge, and happily wasted two hours.
By the time I was rolling again, the day was cooler. I was heading
for the Outer Coast of Vancouver Island, which is the direction that
the weather usually comes from. I guess it can be sunny at the coast,
but thats not the trend. All the moist air from over the Pacific
Ocean runs into that coast, trips, and falls in rain. As I rode, it
got cooler. And cloudier. And darker.
Darker may have been because the end of the day was getting close.
I was looking forward to Panchena Bay where there was a little tent
on my map, and thus hopefully a place to camp. I was zipping down
a hill when I looked ahead and there was a bear in front of me. The
bear saw me at about the same time. I hit the brakes and started flinging
gravel. The bear dove through the tall grass and weeds on the side
of the road and disappeared. My adrenaline kicked in about that time
and I wasnt really sure what else to do with it, so I started
pedaling hard and heard the sound of the bear crashing through undergrowth
on a parallel course with me. Or not quite parallel, because the crashing
faded away until all I could hear were my tires on the dirt again.
When I had relaxed enough to reflect on the matter, I realized two
things. One, that the bear had not been very cuddly -- had been, rather,
long and rangy, and had looked very fast and strong. Two, that if
all the bears I met were as interested in running away from me as
that one, then Id be fine.
The next two nights I camped in the misty rain at Panchena Bay in
a campground run by the local band of First Nations people. The First
Nations people are descended from the people who were living along
this coast and throughout the Pacific Northwest when the Europeans
came, claimed the land, and turned it into Canada. They seem to live
some of the old ways, some of the new, within small designated scatterings
of their former area of influence. The campground was clean, their
office computerized, and they even had night security guards -- who
didnt seem to stop a group of testosterone-soaked camp rowdies
from parting loudly until two in the morning.
Panchena Bay is at one end of the West Coast Trail which is a 5-8
day hiking adventure along the rugged, wet coast. I strolled down
the muddy trail in the afternoon drizzle, among old Douglas Fir trees,
cedars, hemlocks. Below the crowns of the massive trees there was
a high space that seemed filled with a verticality of bark and mossy
trunks. Below that, the riot of the forest floor, where ferns, moss,
fungi and shade-loving young hemlock trees crowded onto the tumble
of old tree-trunks, rotting and returning their energy to the next
generation of forest.
It was very interesting to see the forest change as I went along.
Here, only the dark rugged trunks of Douglas Fir. Further, mostly
cedar, the grey bark blending with the mist. Then, perhaps, an open
area where a tree had fallen, crowded with berry bushes, salal and
young trees vying for the light.
Id come here to see the coast, but with all the trees in the
way, it was tough. At last I scrambled down a side trail,
clinging to roots on a steep bank, and down to the open grey sky.
The dark ocean surged against house-sized blocks of dark rock, swirled
behind tree-topped towers as the edge of the land crumbled away into
wind and drizzle. I stood and absorbed the feel of the wild coast,
the massive forest behind me, the expanse of unknown ocean. Then,
miles to go and darkness approaching, I turned and nearly ran back
the way I had come, hop-scotching through muddy puddles and dodging
the wet slap of ferns.
In the tiny coast town of Bamfield I boarded the Lady Rose, a small
classic packet freighter and passenger ferry. I did not board easily,
because my wide packs would barely fit between the rails of the gangway.
I pushed and the deckhand pulled. Once my bike and I were aboard,
everything was quite pleasant. The three-and-a-half hour journey on
this small ship from the 1930s was like a journey back to a
slower time. My bike leaned against the rail, and I wandered all over
the deck enjoying conversation with fellow passengers and the slowly
changing view of the long Alberni Inlet. We stopped at a couple settlements
and watched as freight was winched in or out of the hold. Talked to
the captain in a wheelhouse filled with brass and wood. Went below
to the warmth of the small cafe in the cabin, or stood on the deck
as the rain of the coast dropped behind and the sky opened windows
of blue above the steep wooded sides of the inlet.
In Port Alberni I disembarked with another push-pull, and rode up
and over the hill, into more rain, and past the snowy peak of Mount
Arrowsmith. I stopped along the way at Cathedral Grove, where a small
piece of old-growth forest was ironically protected by a wooden fence.
Then on to Coombs where I stopped at the famous (even I had heard
of it) Goats on the Roof.
Having goats grazing on the sod-covered roof of a country market,
ice cream stand, and bakery is a somewhat unusual marketing plan,
but it seems to have worked. Perhaps even spawning the surrounding
collection of tacky tourist shops and attractions. Goats or not, the
food was good. I indulged in ice cream and fresh fruit and chocolaty
baked goods. But the food was not my reason to be there. I was there
to meet Annie, up from San Juan Island via ferry and her car.
We camped for the night and returned to Goats on the Roof in the morning
for more fruit and sugar. Then took the afternoon ferry off Vancouver
Island to the mainland, and drove straight into the thick gridlock
of Friday afternoon North Vancouver (the City, not the Island) traffic.
After creeping along for hours (days?) we made it over the bridge
to Stanley Island where we picked up Grant and Janet -- friends, riding
buddies, and the owners of the bike shop where I often work in Hawaii.
Grant and Janet had been riding around Washington and B.C. for a couple
weeks. Had even ridden in the infamous Seattle to Portland ride. But
theyd just sent their road bikes home because we were all headed
to North to Whistler to do some mountain bike riding. Doug from Duncan
was coming over to ride with us as well.
Whistler is a Disney-esque ski town built from the ground up and designed
to look like an actual village. Reminded me of some of the less charming
ski towns back in Colorado. The attraction, though, is not the town,
but the mountains all around. In winter, the skiing is supposed to
be great. Even in summer, there are folks up high, skiing on the glaciers.
But for many people, summer in Whistler is for mountain biking. Why?
Because many people are lazy, I think.
The lift that takes skiers up the mountain in the winter takes bikers
up the mountain in summer. Ive seen these kinds of bikes and
this kind of riding before, but I was astounded at the vast number
of people buckling on armor, strapping on full-face helmets, loading
multi-thousand dollar full suspension bikes onto the lift... Then
bombing down a dusty gravel course of banked turns, jumps, and stunts
-- right back into the lift line. Also surprised by how many of the
riders were women.
Most of the riders didnt seem to have the skills to match the
terrain, and were stuttering down kind of slowly. One rider biffed
in a cloud of dust and limped down to his friends, moaning and in
pain, but apparently only suffering internal injuries. A few riders
were doing justice to the course and were catching air and sweeping
through the turns. Our little group stood with our mouths agape and
watched. Except Doug, who was ready to join their fun.
We sent him up the lift for the day, with his big bike and his armor,
while the four of us headed out of town the other way. We had a great
ride. Nice stiff climb to some great views of the green valley, the
lakes below, the grassy swaths of the ski runs opposite, the high
snowy peaks above. We rode along the flank of the mountain on a rolling
trail, then down steep switchbacks to a creek and waterfall. Back
in the valley bottom, we rode a trail called A River Runs Through
It, which featured: A river (duh) bridged by a narrow fortified log,
plus all kinds of interesting ramps and tricks and toys. Even a teeter
totter. Exactly the kind of constructed trail that B.C. is famous
for, except that -- though it was narrow and tight and dicey in places
-- none of it was very far off the ground. Which made it fun to play
on with very little risk of permanent bodily harm.
Grant and I had a great time trying to ride the stunts, while Janet
and Annie had fun riding the rest of it. It was so fun that we took
Doug back there the next morning before he had to head home. Then
the four of us picnicked and played frisbee in the park by the beach
on Lake Alta. I busted out all my old college frisbee moves (I majored
in frisbee my first year of college -- dont tell my dad.) and
ran and jumped and spun in the air. Which may have been why -- after
Annie and Grant and Janet packed up and drove away to their own further
adventures -- I noticed that my right achilles tendon was sore.
I stayed two more nights in Whistler, though away from the synthetic
village and at a nice hostel on the the shore of Lake Alta. The next
morning my bike broke while I was jumping it over some railroad tracks.
A small part on an expensive rear deraileur. Luckily, I was able to
find the small part in the junk deraileur bin at one of the local
shops, and with some handy tool-work, the bike was ready to go again.
I wasnt sure that my body was ready to go. My tendon was still
sore, despite an easy couple days. Nevertheless, I packed up and headed
Pemberton was hot. Not too far from Whistler and downhill all the
way, it serves as a bedroom community for the Whistler service industry.
And for those who want to be close to all the outdoor opportunities,
but away from the price and plastic of the ski town. In The Bike Co,
the owner John told me that nearby Spruce Lake had The Worlds
Best Singletrack. Er... Some of the best. I thought I should
see that for myself, so -- after sitting out the hot part of the day
in the shade drinking cool drinks -- I started to ride.
Spruce Lake is near Pemberton by car. On my bike it took me two days.
I rode up the wide, flat bottom of the Lillooet River Valley, past
hay meadows, potato patches, fields of oats. I turned right on dirt,
crossed the river, and started up some steep switchbacks that climbed
toward the snowy peaks that rimed the valley.
Eric and Jane were coming the other way on laden bikes. They were
just finishing a long loop ride up Vancouver Island, by ferry across
to Bella Coola, and then a net of forest roads from there to the gravel
where our paths crossed. They gave me some good tips about which roads
were best, where the drinking water was good, which towns had food,
and where the scenery was worth the extra miles. They also gave me
their more detailed map of the road I was riding on, which was very
kind and more than helpful.
I rode onward and got to thinking that I should have asked them about
the bear issue. What did they do with their food at night? How careful
did I need to be? Ive heard that you should cook a quarter mile
away from where you camp and to not sleep in the clothes you cook
in. I didnt have that many clothes. Ive heard other advice
to simply not camp where others camp and to keep your food by your
head. I had to let circumstances choose for me.
It took me three hours and about a gallon of water to get up the switchbacks
to the top of The Hurley. The hours I used were from 7 to 10. The
water came straight from the stream. It was almost black dark by the
time I got past the steep forest to a place flat enough to camp. I
followed a trace of trail off the road to a dry spot amid a marshy
area. Thousands of mosquitoes joined me for dinner. I dipped more
water straight from the stream and drank it, something I havent
done in Colorado since the 70s. Something I felt a little uncomfortable
doing. But everyone Id asked about the availability of water
to filter had looked at me kind of funny. They just drank it out of
the stream. Not any old stream, with a cow pasture above, or a horse
trail beside it. But anywhere the melted snow ran right down the hillside
into the forest, crystal and cold. Plenty water like that on The Hurley.
I cooked a good thirty feet from where I slept, I wore the same clothes,
and --lacking a tree big enough to hold my food a bears-arm
out of reach -- I slept on the ground under the stars and moon with
my food by my head.
In the morning I was still there. So was my food. No claw marks in
anything. My achilles tendon was a little more sore, but I didnt
think that had anything to do with bears. I ate breakfast The mosquitoes
and black flies chased me out of camp.
The road followed the stream, which grew quickly as little tributaries
spilled down to join it from high snow fields and blue glacier ice.
Orange-red paintbrush, blue lupines, red columbines and other wildflowers
lined the road and filled open places. Any time I stopped to enjoy
the scenery, black flies carted off small bits of me.
It was hot by early afternoon when I arrived in Gold Bridge, population
47. The happening place seemed to be a little trailer with an awning
where I sat and ate lunch and creamsicle ice cream (for heat-regulation
purposes). Road signage and my map were only mediocre, so I got a
couple different opinions of the best way to get to the Spruce Lake
trailhead. The way I chose took me way downhill and then back up on
a rough, steep gravel road. It was hot and I was whimpering and complaining
to myself a little bit. Plus I had to ask directions a couple more
times from passing cars. You cant miss it. I missed
it twice, got back on track. When I finally made it to the camp at
the trailhead, the sun was close to setting and my achilles was aching.
The camp spot was just across a walking bridge over the frothy tumult
of Gun Creek, which looked to me like a river. As I rinsed off the
dust and sweat of the day, I let my sore heel soak in the cold water
until it was slightly numb. For dinner I shared a picnic table with
three young ladies who had ditched their menfolk and driven up for
a couple days of riding. We had a polite conversation, but Im
not exactly sure what any of us said, since the roar of the river
made it necessary to shout to be misunderstood. They were, however,
kind enough to allow me to keep my food bag in their truck as proof
In the morning, one of the ladies shouted to me that she had seen
a huge bear snuffling around outside her tent in the night. Which
made me glad I had set my tent up a little way away from the main
camping area. And also glad that I hadnt kept my food by my
head. Of course if a bear had decided to tear down my tent and eat
the meat off my bones, I wouldnt have heard a thing over the
The morning sky was bright and sunny. I packed my lunch, raincoat,
and camera rode out of camp, away from the ladies and their coffee,
and up the trail toward Spruce Lake. I was almost immediately surprised
by how much walking and how little riding I was able to do on The
Worlds Best Singletrack. Singletrack is a term used by mountain bikers
to describe the thin line of travel that a hiker would call a trail.
I expected that The Worlds Best Singletrack would be, well, ridable.
This however was not the case. I was willing to forgive the occasional
section of unavoidably steep or rocky terrain, but even the regular
pieces of trail -- the easy sections -- were difficult. Primarily
because they had been pummeled into a trough of dust by horses and
cyclists during the recent dry weather.
The lesson here is that The Worlds Best Singletrack is a seasonal
thing. If I had arrived after slightly more moist weather, the trails
probably would have been fine. If, on the other hand, I had arrived
in February, the trails would have been even less ridable on account
of being under many feet of snow. So I did the best with the dust
that I had been given and had a great day.
The trail chased the creek up the valley and through the forest. Then
it climbed up through aspen trees and out into wide alpine meadows
filled with flowers. Soon I was following it up a high ridge overlooking
the lake, skipping over the vibrant colors and watching the dazzling
drip of snow clad mountains spill from a sky of brightest blue. At
each new viewpoint there seemed to be the promise of another higher
one. Dazzled by the sweet smell of blossoms, I pedaled or pushed up
the steep mountainside through my trough of deep wallowing dust.
All this rugged use was making my heel very sore. And at the rate
it was getting sore, I wasnt exactly sure that Id even
make it back to camp. Which almost kept me from riding just a few
tough miles further to some splendid views. (But not quite.) At last,
I turned around -- maybe because of my injury, but maybe because the
sun was slanting off toward the horizon. I rode down, down through
the warm light of the meadows. Down between the white bars of aspen-tree
trunks. Down into the dark pine forest, past fresh bear tracks in
the dust, and down, down the river trail toward camp.
All this down was easy on my riding muscles, but didnt seem
to be easy on my achilles tendon, which was getting more and more
sore. When I had to push through big dust puddles or rocky sections,
my limp was pronounced. I began to have wild fantasies in which the
three ladies at camp were all massage therapists, nurses, or orthopedic
surgeons. I even had practical fantasies in which they let me have
When I limped back into camp, the ladies had packed up and gone --
apparently afraid that the bear would return. Theyd left my
food bag with some hikers who taught me to hang it from the bridge
over the water where the smell would be swept away, and where any
bear trying to get to it would be swept away as well.
The next day was an unplanned day off. All I did was hang out in the
sun, read, write, eat. And limp to the river to ice my
heel in the cold water. I took my last three ibuoprofen. I smashed
the flies that were biting me and took photos of their bloody fangs.
I sang at the top of my lungs, which was nowhere near as loud as the
river. At the end of the day I couldnt tell if my heel felt
any better, because it mostly felt cold and numb from the water. But
it was still swollen. Still sore. And I was still limping severely,
though probably just for dramatic effect.
After my day of rest, I only had enough food for one more day. At
the end of the day Id have to be somewhere. The nearest town
in the direction I was going was over a hill and 60 miles. But there
was Gold Bridge, back the way Id come, which wasnt much
of a town, but where I could get something to eat. It was also uphill
almost all the way back.
I decided to try the 60 miles. I stuck a stack of leaves behind my
lower heel to keep the pressure of my shoe off my swollen tendon,
then I took off. I hadnt ridden more than thirty feet when I
stopped and ate a couple big handfuls of fresh raspberries from the
bushes along the road. I rode up out of the valley nice and easy,
making sure I didnt dig in hard or put other undue strain on
my heel. I passed fresh bear tracks in the dust of the road and hoped
I wouldnt have to run. I got to the paved main road and only
had 50 miles left to go. My heel didnt seem to feel any worse,
so I kept on going. Mile after easy mile.
I stopped to soak my foot in a couple streams along the way. Rode
long miles along Carpenter Lake while osprey flew past. Rode through
a canyon with huge vertical rock walls. Rode out of the dense high
mountain pine and into a drier land of ponderosa pine and sagebrush.
Rode past First Nations men fixing their fish-drying racks for the
upcoming salmon runs.
When at last I rode into Lillooet (rhymes with silhouette), past horseback
riders, past empty shops, past old high-octane 8-cylinder cars, past
hard worked old men and provocative teenagers, past the New Beginnings
Thrift Shop and on down to where the main street bent like a hockey
stick... I was ready for a warm shower and a comfortable bed.