Day 1: Saturday, June 30; 238 kms; 1465m
This started out as quite a social event this year. There was a large contingent of riders I had met at the two Bikepack Canada Summits I had attended the last two Falls. Most of us who had been there were here at this event at least partly to honour the memory of Ryan Correy, the young founder of BikepackCanada.ca and the organizer of those two Summits. Ryan had passed away just this April having lost a short but hard fought battle with colon cancer. Ryan was an inspirational and accomplished endurance cyclist, and it had been his intention to be tackling this event himself this year.
Our commiseration and commitment to honour Ryan, both tempered our moods and hardened our resolve.
It was a nice touch to remember him at our pre-ride BBQ the night before and again with a moment’s silence before we departed.
I was excited to see so many familiar faces and looked forward to spending some time on the trail with riders I knew. There was a big group gathered for the Grand Depart; a far cry from the 14 of us who stood on the line for the inaugural event in 2016. When we did start turning our wheels it was a pretty laid back and chatty beginning for a few kilometres with lots of visiting and catching up. That was not so much the case with those vying for position at the pointy end of the group. They were off and flying.
The first part of the route from Merritt to Penticton was very familiar to me as I had ridden it twice in 2016, and in reverse last October. I enjoy riding this section through Brookmere, Tulameen and past Otter Lake, as I had spent time in the area having grown up in Princeton. Despite that familiarity, my pace was not any faster and I found myself disappointed early with my progress. I arrived for lunch in Princeton at least an hour off my hoped for pace, and stopped at the Subway just as many other riders were leaving. Being Saturday morning of the July long weekend, there was a long lineup of tourists at the sandwich bar. It took me over 20 minutes to even order my food. I got a footlong, chips, cookies and a coke. Ate half the sandwich, chips and a cookie, and packed the rest for the trail. I loaded up on water and headed off up the long climb over the Jura hills having lost an hour on that inefficient stop.
Being rail trail, the grade is gentle and it is possible to move up a few gears and keep a steady pace. It was hot and made worse by it being at least 2 hours later in the afternoon than I had planned. As one climbs these passes for 40+ kms it is natural to look forward to reaching the summit. That can also be disappointing as the surface that is pretty solid on the grades, becomes soft and broken when the route levels off. It is my unsubstantiated theory that they used more compaction and/or better materials on the grades than they did on the flats. Whatever, the surface of the climbs has stood up over time much better than the flats which have suffered abuse by the quads and other motorized traffic.
Never the less it was good to reach beautiful Osprey Lake where I knew the trail starts it’s downward trend to Summerland and Penticton. I stopped in a gazebo at lakeside to enjoy my leftover sub sandwich and try to get out of a rather strong breeze. When I reached the steeper and fast descent down Trout Creek towards Summerland, daylight was already fading.
As I approached the tourist train station, I saw some bikes and tents set up beside the trail in a clearing. I slowed and a friend, Jeff O’Leary from Banff called out that if I wanted to stop, there was plenty of room and company. I knew that it was not a tough 30 kms to Penticton, so tempting as it was, I decided to carry on. I knew that my pace had not been up to par, so I planned on making up for it by getting to Penticton and 230 kms for the day. I had noted too, that my right knee, with which I had to seek some PT help earlier this year, had started to hurt again, and the miles behind are the good miles.
It was coming on dark as I passed through Summerland and the surprisingly long ride down to Penticton. To make matters worse, I missed the turn off from the rail trail and continued down to the canal which required a little creative route finding and backtracking along the canal. Not what one needs after 16 hrs on the bike. I managed to get into Tim’s just as it was closing and all I could get that I thought I could eat was chili and a bun. I then stopped at the gas station next door to get some supplies for the next morning. There, a few other riders showed up. I then headed through the Saturday night weekend festivities still lngering along the Okanagan beach. Now the plan was to get up the trail above Naramata to a place where I could throw down my bivy and get off the bike. The first 20 kms up the trail is fenced and pretty exposed to the houses and orchards up the slopes. After awhile I began sweeping the trail sides with my headlamp for a suitable spot. I did light up a few other bike campers who had beat me to it. At this point I was riding with Chip Andrus who I hadn’t seen since Merritt so we scanned together. I found a spot that was flat and behind a boulder that I thought would do, but Chip decided to find a better place. It didn’t take me long to throw my bivy out, inflate my mattress, and climb inside. I was asleep with only a brief time to appreciate the starry sky and the lights across the lake below.
Day 2: Sunday, July 1st; 200 kms; 932 m
When I awoke, I was surprised by how exposed my campsite was to the trail and surrounding residents. As it was after midnight when I arrived and before 6 AM when I departed it didn’t make much difference. A few riders passed me as a broke camp and I passed a couple more when I got underway. A popular decision to camp here, it appeared.
The knee issue which had come on near the end of my ride last evening was still there after my rest. I would monitor it throughout the day. The climb up to Chute Lake is another long one with several switchbacks that keep Okanagan Lake in view until the grade flattens out. Again the flat grades are rougher. Nothing was open at the aging and neglected Chute Lake Resort, but there was an easy-up tent being set up beside the trail and a small group setting up coolers and tables. I remembered there was to be a large group ride from Myra Canyon down past Chute Lake to Penticton this holday Sunday morning. I asked if they had water available, but they told me it was for the paid tourers, then watched me as I filtered the murky lake water. (I heard later that riders who passed by in the afternoon got water and other refreshments from the same aid station.)
Back on the trails towards Myra the road is a beat up, pot-holed mess used by all sorts of vehicles and ATVs. It was about this time that I took some ibuprophen to ease the knee pain. I’ve never done that before on a ride. I was starting to feel a little sorry for myself when a lone cyclist appeared coming the other way. I said “hello” and then realized it was my brother, Brendan. He had driven up to the parking lot at Myra-Bellevue, then cycled down to meet me. It was a welcome break to ride, chat, and catch up. That’s one benefit to displaying one’s progress on Trackleaders.com. He knew where I was and how to meet me.
As we wended our way up through the Rock-Ovens Prov. Park we began to meet the front-runners of the large cycling tour coming down the trail. It meant keeping a lookout and taking care in passing as it became more and more clear, especially with the later riders, that many of them were inexperienced at riding and particularly on rough trails. As we got to the many trestles it was necessary to take turns crossing as many couldn’t or wouldn’t pass on the narrowed paltforms. Eventually we reached the main parking lot and Brendan said good-bye, having put in 80 kms riding to and with me. That was a valuable break as it had taken my mind off my knee for awhile. I took some more ibuprophen at Hydraulic Lake and then began the descent towards Beaverdell. The trail passes through the beautiful Arlington Lake with its well-kept Rec Site, and again I told myself I must come here to camp some time. Would be one of the highlights of touring this route, I’m sure.
To access the resupply at Beaverdell, you have to go briefly off-route, but it’s worth it as there is a very good General Store and a few options for real food. I was looking forward to the Pizza place I’d hit in 2016 when I bailed here, but which was closed when I came through later on that summer during a successful ITT. This time it had changed hands, still had pizza and ice-cream, so it would do. Here I ran into fellow-rider Andy Brinton and we shared our lunch. As we re-supplied at the store, I suggested we stay near one another for the next section because it has so many gates. I thought it would be more efficient if the first rider dismounted to open the gate and the follower did so to reclose them. That proved to be a good method.
As the evening approached, it became time to think about where to camp. After nursing my knee through the day and tolerating its discomfort, I thought it best not to push my luck too far and give it some more rest. I had hoped to get to Midway, but wasn’t sure that I’d find any better accommodation there than anywhere else on the trail. Andy seemed to be on the same wave-length, so as darkness closed in we were on the watch for a suitable site. We ended up just stopping at a spot wide and flat enough for two tents. We weren’t long setting up and settling in.
Day 3: Monday, July 2nd; 178 kms; 1700 m
A fairly early start saw us on the trail to Midway. This was now the holiday Monday and this early in a small hamlet, nothing was open. We went to a service station to at least see if there was a washroom open. We arrived just as an employee arrived who told us he was not opening for a few hours. We did persuade him to let us use the washroom which then made that stop worthwhile. Greenwood was not far down the road and I looked forward to a breakfast at the Copper Eagle. Happily it was open and lived up to my anticipation. It was now off to the short climb up to Eholt and then a long a beautiful descent to Grand Forks.
The descent far above the Granby River is a mix of rail trail and FSRs that have usurped some of the trail. It’s a good grade, but can be rough. I was running 2.6″ plus tires that ate up the rough pretty well. I was also riding a full-suspension bike and on stretches like this is was fun to open the shock and let ‘er rip. Andy was on a fully rigid frame with smaller tires, so slower and not as much fun. I lingered a bit on stops to let him catch up and then waited a bit longer when I reached the Station Pub in Grand Forks for lunch.
After Grand Forks there were plenty more gates to contend with and then the long climb up over Christina Lake to the Paulson Pass and Farron before descending to Castlegar. On this long hot climb, I noticed Andy had stopped a few times to let me catch up. I felt bad, and reminded him it was a race and he should go at his own pace. The hot climb changed dramatically as we summited at Farron. It was down to 3 degrees up there and changing between rain and sleet squalls. It was also a little unnerving to pass through a makeshift campsight where a couple of beer-swilling guys were stuffing shells into a shot-gun. Needless to say, I didn’t linger there. The rail trail here had been altered from 2 years previous as more of it had been turned to road; an ominous sign of more to come with that stretch. It was interesting that as I reached the outskirts of Castlegar in the encroaching darkness, I caught Andy again. Between his climbing, and my descending, we had evened out our pace.
My knee had thankfully behaved today and after the chilly weather at the summit and resulting cool descent, I was hoping to treat myself to a motel room for the night. Andy and I decided to share a room and rode into Castlegar (off-route) to find a cheap room. The one we found, though a bit run-down, had two rooms and plenty of space for our bikes and to dry our gear. It was also nice that there was a Tim’s right next door. It was interesting to go online to Trackleaders and see the front runners closing in on the finish. There were also lots of other riders in various accommodations around Castlegar, which was a little surprising, as I hadn’t seen them for two days.
I was pleased that my knee pain had more or less subsided and I was still able to cover 600kms in three days.
Day 4: Tuesday, July 3rd; 170 kms ? m
The morning ride commenced with a very mixed riding experience. The Columbia River trail to Trail has a bit of everything: sweet single-track, overgrown double-track, punchy climbs, soft side-slopes (hike-a-bike for me) and even some pavement. We did encounter fellow-rider and friend Guy Stuart from Canmore. Trackleaders had revealed he had also spent the night in Castlegar. He moved on ahead of us, and even though his pace was similar, I would see him only once more on the route. That 50 kms took me 4 hours and earned a lunch break at Safeway in Trail. A deli sandwich and resupply and it was off on the paved Highway #3 to Salmo. It was good to get off the highway and back on the rail trail even though it is badly worn and full if whoop-de-doos for half its length by ATV traffic (despite being signed Non-motorized. Some of it along the creek is quite fun.
About this time, I became aware that I was having problems with my electrical gear. I had been relying on my dynamo hub to charge a storage battery and through that, my Karoo bike computer, light, phone, and Inreach satellite communicator. Now my devices were running low on power and not recharging from the battery. I was trying to charge my navigation directly from the hub, but the dynamo won’t charge at speeds below 10kph which is often the case when climbimg. Also to charge the Karoo, I really needed to keep the screen display off, but whenever the charging kicked in the screen came on negating the build-up of a charge. (Hammerhead later addressed this issue on the Karoo with one of their many effective software updates.) I was switching the dynamo from device to device to keep my navigation and tracking on as I now realized the battery was not functioning.
I was preoccupied with righting this problem when I rolled down the steep hill to Highway #3A as it winds through Nelson. There was a fellow standing at the service station at the stop sign. He said, “Hi, are you riding the BC Epic?”. I responded, “Yes.” and he opened up a bag containing packages of various chocolates and said,”Pick one.” Apparently, Kurt was from New Brunswick visiting his sister in Nelson, and as a BC Epic fan, had been following the dots. He said he recognized me from the Riders’ Rigs on Bikepacker.com.
I told him I needed to get to Walmart to get a new storage battery and he offered to accompany me. He watched my bike while I went in and bought a new one. (Still using that one 2 years on.) Back on route, we ran into Andy and the trail angel suggested an Italian restaurant on route. We thanked him and went to grab a decent meal and plan our next move. Dinner was delicious and went quickly.
We realized we had enough time if we hustled to make the Balfour Ferry’s last sailing. That would put us in good shape to start up Gray’s Pass tomorrow so off we went at top speed. We made it, and met Nigel from Cranbrook on the ferry who had scoped out Crawford’s bay and planned on camping at the large sign kiosk beside the ferry slip.
It was a great place, with no traffic until the first sailing in the morning and an open fully serviced washroom right there. The three of us set up camps in the cubicles formed by the signs and fell asleep to the sounds of Kootenay Lake.
Day 5: Wednesday, July 4th; 142 kms; 2546 m
I was a little perplexed in the morning. I would have liked something real to eat and some coffee before heading up the 5000′ climb to Gray’s pass, as the next resupply point was at Kimberley, a hard 100 kms away. But nothing was open early and it wasn’t worth waiting hours. Andy had left before me, and I was wondering if Nigel was going to head off, but he did not appear to be ready, so off I went.
The 5000′ climb is done in 17 kms without any real relief until the summit. I had hoped to ride much more of it than I had last time I was up it, but that really didn’t happen and it was four hours before I crossed over the pass. Along the way I encountered Tom de Vries, who I knew was riding the route Westbound. A quick hello and that was that.
It was fun again to open up the suspension and ride back down the other side at speeds that were probably unwise. On the long route down St. Mary’s River, I again came across Guy who was refilling his water at the lake. I stopped in the Plaza at Kimberley to enjoy another Italian dinner and a beer. Even though it was on the outside patio, I was aware of my state and tried to allow some space between me and the other patrons.
Then it was off down the paved bikepath to Cranbrook in the waning light. I probably should have ridden further in the dark to reduce the last day’s ride even more, but I was pretty pleased with having accomplished Gray’s Pass without too much fuss. I started to watch for a picnic site just above the trail through here as Nigel had told me about it being one of the very few places for getting off the trail. I half expected to see him drop by, but that didn’t happen and soon I drifted off in my bivy for what I hoped would be the last time on this route.
Day 6: Thursday, July 5th; 130 kms; 1532 m
This was meant to be a comparatively easy day. 130 kms to go without any major climbs. But, in truth, I was more tired than I expected to be, so the length was a good thing. This is a varied section of the route. Relatively flat through Wardner and down the Kootenay River as it turns into Lake Koocanusa and then over to the Elk and Wigwam Rivers past Elko before climbing over to Fernie. There are some punchy climbs and for most of us, even some hlke-a-bike sections. As tired as one is through here, it is hard not to appreciate the beauty of your surroundings with the amazing vistas over the rivers.
I should point out here that it was my original intention to finish this route on the Wednesday in Fernie and then have 2 days off before starting on the AR700 on the Saturday from Coleman. Finshing on Thursday would still let me have one day to recover, but it was becoming clearer to me that it would not be enough. As I approached Fernie, I did some evaluating. I had no particular physical issues after my knee resolved itself. I did not have problematic saddle sores or any other sprains or strains, either, but I was fatigued. I decided that I would take 24 hrs off the bike and then decide if I wanted to tackle the four more days the AR700 could take. So reaching the Courthouse steps in Fernie wasn’t the culmination it could have been.
It’s always good to finish and I enjoyed a post race dinner with some riders: Fred Menu, Dan Yancey, Andy Brinton and their spouses. I missed Jeff O’Leary’s finish but waited with him and Anne St. Clair for the route’s elder, Darch Oborne, to arrive on Friday. Well done, everyone.
I had some leg swelling become evident on Friday afternoon and decided then not to take on the AR700. Good decision because by Saturday morning my legs swoll even more requiring me to purchase some compression socks. They worked and the swelling subsided in another 24 hrs. Strange, as that phenomenon has not occurred before or since.
The other good thing about that decision was, after seeing the 11 AR700 riders off from Coleman on Saturday, I was able to spend a few hours with my daughter, Bevin, and her women’s relay team from Regina as they tackled, and won their division, in the Sinister Seven ultra-distance mountain relay.
All in all, a great time!