My second attempt to master the BC Epic 1000 didn’t start with a good omen. On my way to my restart point in Merritt, my front tire went flat while sitting on my platform bike rack. Normally not a huge issue, but with special significance in my particular situation.
My initial attempt participating in the Inaugural BC Epic 1000 group start that last week in June saw me riding a bike I had built for gravel touring: basically the Brodie Argus is a 700mm rigid road tourer with the capacity to add bigger tires and wheels. I had installed 40 mm wide tires to facilitate better roll over on rough terrain, but my attempts to run lower air pressures by going tubeless had not succeeded.
On my 2nd day, I had successfully risked airing down my tubed tires to avoid some of the beating and bouncing I had endured on the first day. Buoyed by that, I continued on day 3 with the tires aired down, but part way through, the prevalent “baby-heads”, buried rocks protruding up on the surface, caused a pinch flat on the front. I stopped, unpacked and loosened my front racks to enable removal of the front wheel, and went about replacing the tube. On my way again, only to repeat this time-consuming process 6 more times impacting both front and rear tires even after raising the tire pressures again. Out of tubes and patches,I was forced to push my bike 15 kms to Beaverdell, catch a ride to Kelowna, and await a shop opening in the morning. After the night I had no confidence that this experience would not just repeat if I continued, so I withdrew, fixed my bike and road home to Quesnel on more accommodating back roads.
So back in Merritt for a second attempt in August and with another flat tire, my confidence was somewhat “deflated”. After an encouraging call from Lennard Pretorius, creator of this event, however, I decided to ignore this omen. In the morning the reinflated tire was still aired up so off I went on a 6 AM start. The omen wasn’t destined to leave me entirely unscathed though, as it turned out.
That first day on a now familiar route, I gained back some respect for my first effort. Despite a really rather enjoyable trip over the surfaces that had beat me badly on my road wheels, surprisingly, I really wasn’t gaining a lot of time on my 2.8″ plus tires and wheels over the previous road setup.
Just past Coalmont I had to stop and add air to my front tire as my tubeless setup was leaking around the valve. I added more air on my lunch break in Princeton, and once more after only an hour. My intention to deal with it at night’s camp was not going to work. I stopped part way up the Jura climb, removed the wheel and went through the whole process of adding sealant and resealing the valve stem. The bad news was that the adjusting nut on my front hub came off the threads and wouldn’t reengage without cross-threading. After what seemed an interminable struggle, I gave up and rode the rest of the route with some slop in the front hub. The good news was I never suffered another issue with tires or air from then on.
With the delays, despite greater comfort and pace, I ended up camping in the exact same Chain Lakes rec site I camped at during my 1st attempt. I decided then that my original goal of 150kms a day for 7 days was probably a good pace, especially if I wasn’t going to ride at night. As it was there was at least 2 hours less daylight now than in June.
I also have to add another repetition from that first attempt. That time I began to suffer from saddle sores on the 2nd day. This time they began before I reached Princeton on the first day. The bib shorts I thought were my best, proved to be too large and the looseness caused chafing that even with treatment and care grew worse as time went on. It certainly is a pervasive problem and added a layer of joy-robbing pain to the whole experience. Definitely something that needs to be mitigated in order to continue to enjoy bikepacking. I’ve probably focussed on little else in the week that I’ve been home.
Day 2 saw me in Penticton for lunch, and in the heat, I made time for a quick swim in Okanagan Lake before the long, hot climb up past Chute Lake and through Myra Canyon.
It was a good feeling to ride into Beaverdell on the trail I had pushed over previously, but I was disappointed to find the local coffee, food, and ice-cream parlor closed; although I did have a great breakfast at the other diner. I was happy to reach the Boundary East Provincial Park past Greenwood on that day to stay on pace at over 450kms.
One of the particular characteristics of the KVR section of the Trans-Canada Trail is the prevalence of gates. There has to be hundreds if not a thousand. Every section of farmland has one at each fence, and all of them have their own unique fastening system mostly reflecting the farmer’s attitude to having public access over their land. Of course most of the farmers access their fields with their own ATVs or trucks using the trail. It’s always a treat to get through a set without having to dismount. Farmer’s rule: if you encounter a closed gate, close it behind you; if its open, leave it. By the time one has reached Castlegar and the end of the KVR, you’re ready to give gates a rest. Fortunately they’re less frequent after that.
Passing above Christina Lake, I was saddened to see the extent of algae and milfoil weed invading what in my childhood memory was such a pristine lake. I loved the well-earned descent down through Bull Mountain tunnel although the long flat roll into Castlegar following it was a bit anti-climatic. An aggressive and untrapped bear kept me from camping at Pass Creek Regional Park, but I was luckily referred to another private RV campsite on the other end of my route through town. 600kms!
I had two previous encounters with bears on the trail: a sow and cub west of Beaverdell and a single black bear on Bull Mountain which had all fled the trail when we encountered one another before I had to think about grabbing my bearspray. They were never out of mind though, as their scat was everywhere along the route. At this time of year the mountain berries are gone and they move down to find later fruits.
The Columbia River Trail proved most challenging for me despite having some great single track. Someone has gone to great effort to build a trail through the sandbanks along the river, however, by this time of year the dryness has left them loose, soft, and too eroded in many places to safely traverse on bike even with my wider tires. I found it difficult to balance my bike and find space for both my feet and wheels while pushing over some of the traverses. The city of Trail did come up quickly though, and then comes the odd juxtaposition of single track followed by the only highway section from Trail through to Salmo. I was glad to get off the highway at Salmo and return to the solitude of the trail again. The traffic is not easily forgotten though, as the trail parallels the highway all the way through the pass.
An otherwise good day of travel was marred by my stupidity. When I stopped at a bridge to refill my water and eat, I inadvertently forgot to fasten my phone/GPS, really my lifeline, into its holder. As I was conserving battery and the route was obvious, I didn’t look at my phone screen for some time until I came to a highway crossing. Even though I had to backtrack 8 kms (adding 16kms to an already long day) I was lucky enough to find my phone lying in the track not far from where I had stopped. As a result, I reached the descent into Nelson at sunset. I put my headlight on strobe as I roared down the lovely trail into Nelson and encountered more recreational cyclists and walkers on an obviously popular trail.
Although Sunday evening found lots of tourists on Baker St., most eateries were closed. I did find a pub open and enjoyed a beer and a meal on the patio while connecting with a couple of classic Nelson characters. Then it was a nice warm evening ride with head and tail lights out to Kootenay Bay Provincial Park for the night.
I have to interject a little rant here on the sad state our Provincial Parks have fallen into. The park employee at the gate took great delight in telling me I had arrived in time for their night of free camping. He then seemed to take just as much delight in telling me I couldn’t camp there where there was access to a power source, water, and even showers, but I would have to go back a kilometre to where the overflow campsite had a “Bikers’ and Hikers'” shelter just for the likes of me. It was my turn for “delight” when I arrived and found, yes a shelter, but one consisting of nothing more than a roof, bare floor, and a stove with no wood. There were about 4 picnic tables scattered around the rough bush surrounding this structure, but not what I would recognize as tent sites. I did locate a single outhouse, one garbage can, and a food locker, but I never did find a water tap. Oh, and of the 4 sites, 1 was occupied by motorcyclists, and 2 were used by people with cars parked in the nearby lot. I don’t know what they normally charge for the privilege of using this designated shelter area, but why treat Bikers and Hikers so poorly? If parks are to promote healthy lifestyles and green practices, shouldn’t they cater a little to those whose mode of travel meet that ideal? Who needs water and showers more than bikers and Hikers? Just sayin.
Okay, next morning was a rush to pack up and make the Balfour ferry’s first sailing at 6:30 or be forced to wait until 8:10 to head over to Crawford Bay. I rolled in just as the barrier was rising and pedalled directly onto the boat. Phew! I only took a coffee and cinnamon bun on the boat thinking of getting more food at Gray Creek.
I arrived at Gray Creek in good time to head up the pass. Unfortunately it was too early to access any store to resupply. Now up the mountain. I have to note here that the 5000′ climb up to Gray Pass summit is something that gets in your head and stays there from the very first time you read about the route. I know that climbing is a given with mountain biking, but truth be told, I don’t like unrelenting hills, so this was in my mind perhaps more than it should have been.
Anyway up we go because, well really, what choice was to be had? Head down, determined, I pedalled up and right past the first main intersection on Gray Creek Road instead of Gray Pass FSR. Because the roads were parallel on each side of the creek, it took over a kilometre for my GPS to alert me I was off course and even longer for me to believe it. Imagine my delight in having to head back down and redo one of the first kilometres of this 17 km climb!
I had allowed 4 hours to summit this pass but really hoped I could manage it in 3. I thought I’d be able to pedal about 50% of it and only push the bike the other half. It turned out my strength and the range of my 2×10 gearing just wouldn’t let me keep the pedals turning. I’m thinking I only pedalled 10% of that climb and it took me all of that 4 hours and more by the time I cooked some lunch at the summit as a squall came in and it hailed. I was grateful to use the outhouse for shelter as I ate my lunch. Boy was I glad to point the wheels down the other side!
Here’s where I boast a little. My Sherpa with full suspension and 2.8″ plus tires allowed some freewheeling fun down that mountain. Whooee! By the time I’d reached Kimberly my spirits were restored even if my energy was sapped. A good meal in Marysville, a quick 29kms down a paved path with headlight and I rolled into the trailside RV park in Cranbrook. A welcome hot shower, some power for my phone and battery and 930kms behind me. Even with my now unignorable saddle sores, I could make Fernie tomorrow!
Okay. This should be the last day and just over 100km to go. Bright idea: My bib shorts (remember day one?) haven’t been worn for days and the chamois should be in good shape and add some cushion. Just slap on some more Bag Balm and lets go. Well the ride through Wardner and Kanusa is fairly enjoyable except the pain felt every time I resettled onto the saddle. Two breakfast sandwiches and two mochas at Kanusa campsite and then a change back to my better fitting but well worn shorts (so much for bright ideas) and I’m back on the trail.
Now it was a ride through Kikomun Park on trails familiar from a stay there 2 years ago, and past the turtle ponds we had enjoyed. Okay down this short hill, but wait! My erratic GPS alerts I’m off course again. Getting tired of this – sometimes it alerts and I’m not off course and other times it doesn’t alert until I’m at least 500 m past the turn. Okay back up the hill and lets see what’s happening. There is no other course to be on. I need to go back down the hill and catch the trail I can see beside the lake. I’m tired of backtracking, I’m going down this bank. Oops! Splat! What the hell? I just did an endo over the bars and the bike’s on top of me. Lift it off without doing anymore damage. Assess – no sharp pains, everything moves, bike looks okay. Lucky! A log hidden in the long grass had tripped me up. No harm done, but lesson learned; things can quickly go awry if careless, even on the last day.
The long route along the Elko river seems interminable but it is far too beautiful to resent even with the anticipated end in mind. The pavement that comes next is a far more welcome sight than those previous as it promises an end to the adventure and now, more pertinently, relief from the saddle.
Suddenly I’m there. All at once, my spouse, Shealagh, and our dog, Sylvie and the steps of the Fernie City Hall are in front of me. I’m done! And really, I’m done in. It was great, but it would take more than a little motivation to have carried on even another day. It may sound strange, but it is a unique sense of accomplishment to feel both satisfied and drained at the same time.