bikes general

Scotland bound

When I had to pull out of the Tour Divide, I cancelled the leave I’d arranged with work, and we tossed up options for a family bike holiday/vacation in late summer. Mongolia? Cuba? The Maritimes? Israel? The Chilcotins (in BC)? Maybe Scandinavia? Or somewhere in the States?

I left the final choice up to Alex, seeing as I will be claiming a good chunk of time when I finally, hopefully, ride the Tour Divide.

He opted for Scotland. A corner of the UK we never got to when doing our big Euro cycle tour in 2009. Not too far away, reasonable for a shorter trip.

And so now, 3 months later, my knee still isn’t 100 percent. But we’re sorting out gear, trying to remember how to do this multi-day bike touring thing, and trying to strike a balance between comfort and weight as we make our final gear decisions.

In a few days we’ll be jumping on a plane. I hope my knee will be ok.

bikes canada general moosling trip reports

Bikepacking Jumpingpound Ridge

With a couple of sunny days at our disposal, a new set of bike bags for Alex finally complete, it seemed about time for an overnight bike adventure.

We’d been hoping to do a big loop from home and out into K-Country, via the Elbow loop. It’s still in poor shape following the floods though, so instead we opted for good old Jumpingpound Ridge, where the camping is free and the views can’t be beaten.

The road is still closed to cars, hurrah, and so we had a quiet ride out, much like last time.

This time we were riding early enough to hit wildflower season though, which was nice.

Once we hit the trailhead for our path up to the summit though, the flowers disappeared and the boy was kicked out of his trailer to walk up. Some genius had placed geocaches every 200 – 300 metres along the path. Usually this would annoy me, but on this day, it was perfect bait to lure on a small boy who started to get a little fed up with jumping over roots.

The last push up to the ridge over, we settled in just below the summit to cook dinner in the same spot as last time. Last time it was a bit cold, with a wind picking up that was bringing rain with it. This time it was eerily still, and swarming with mosquitos.

We ran around in circles, slapping and stomping as we enjoyed our dinner and the views. The mosquitos weren’t actually terribly bitey, most of them just hovered in confusion, not sure what to do with the vast expanses of delicious food that had turned up before them. They were a good incentive to get the tent set up though, which we did, piece by piece, in between running around in circles to shake off the clouds of mosquitos (except for Alex, who was for too dignified for such behaviour).

We didn’t bother with the fly on the tent, as the forecast was good, and it was easy to keep an eye on any incoming weather from where we were. We lay in the tent, and eventually switched from mosquito hiding and sky watching, to actual sleep.

A few storms rolled around on the far edge of the horizon overnight. We heard low rumbles of thunder, and watched lightning flashing in the distance. But the sky above us stayed clear, and filled with stars, and the temperature dropped enough to scare the mosquitos away.

The next day dawned wonderfully clear and warm. I watched bits and pieces of the sunrise from the tent, occasionally sticking my head up to acknowledge the different colours banding along the horizon.

As tempting as it would have been to keep lying in the tent, the sun was starting to shine on us with intent, and we had a 3.5 year old in there with us, who is quite insistent that if the sun is up, he should be up.

It was still a lazy and meandering sort of disassembly of camp. There was tea to be drunk, and gear to be thoughtfully rearranged in new bags, as we meditated on the optimal arrangement for the future.

On the descent we found just one surprise drift of snow – not too bad if you’re just out for a day trip, but a small challenge to get around with fully loaded bike and trailer. That was nothing to the next challenge though. As I stopped to photograph Alex coasting down a section of trail, and then off into the distance, put the camera down – and then the singletrailer exploded! The wheel bounced off down the hill in a most poetic fashion. Actually, there wasn’t so much an explosion, as just the wheel coming off and bouncing away. Which did cause Alex to stop pretty quickly.

Here the boy looks despondent as Alex re-seats the bearing into the wheel so it could lock on properly. No rocks were harmed in the making of this photograph.

The final hurdle was the fording of the de-bridged river, which was flowing just a little higher than last year. I tried riding it, and ended up falling in. Which was fine, as I’d been riding in sandals all weekend, due to a forgetting-I-had-flat-pedals-on-my-bike-still incident. After seeing my less than stylish crossing, Alex opted to just walk across as well. I went to throw him my sandals for the attempt, and one fell short, and started floating away downstream. Cold footed lurching and squealing ensued, as I rescued the errant sandal and returned it to Alex.

The rest of the ride passed without incident, and we even made it back in town in time for the Canada Day parade (which was apparently too noisy, so we didn’t stay for the whole thing anyway).

Total trip distance: 33km (Day 1: 18km, Day 2: 15km)
Total elevation gain: 860m (807m of that on Day 1)
More details: We started and finished at the Dawson Recreation/Camping Area, where the Cox Hill trail joins the road. The road is currently closed to public vehicles beyond that point. And we took the trail directly beneath the summit to reach the ridge. Our packing list was much the same as last year, but with no diapers and more spare clothes/underpants for the boy. We did take less water, and now we both have fancy Porcelain Rocket bike bags, everything is much easier to carry.

bikes canada general trip reports

Part 2: Riding Kananaskis Lakes to Fernie! (Or “Everything is awesome!”)

I woke around 4.30am to the sound of birds. I’m not sure why birds are always so excited about the impending sunrise, but for half an hour or so there, they just wouldn’t shut up about it. At least I wasn’t in a tent in Australia, where the birds really know how to make a convincing racket.

Some more sleep, and more sliding around in the tent, and off the short sleeping mat, and over to one side of the tent, then the other, and it was after 6am. A quick snack and then packing up and hitting the road. I was due at Elk Pass around 7am – or maybe 6.30am – to meet Kate, who would be riding to Elkford with me.

After a few kilometres on the road, I was stomping about in the misty carpark at the trailhead, eating a little more food and trying to keep warm in the cool damp air. Kate was dropped off, there was a flurry of activity and excitement, and then we set off up the frozen earth and snow of the Hydroline trail at around 7.30am.

Climbing up and up to reach the open section of trail under the powerlines at Elk Pass was basically the only steep climb of the day, and it didn’t take anywhere near so long as I was worried it might. A lot more snow had melted off in the last week, and the snow that was there was mostly solid enough to be quite rideable.

We came across our only set of bear prints there – what I think was a black bear, that had definitely been heading in the opposite direction on the trail for a while.

By the time we reached the Elk Pass picnic table, we were actually feeling awake! Then sun was out, we snacked some more, then were nearly trampled to death by an enormous herd of backpacking teenagers.

The far side of the pass was already getting muddier in the full sunlight. And there was more snow! How rude. But the valley was opening up in front of us, and there were new mountains to see!

We turned out onto the road near Elk Lakes and were astonished to find that we were in a beautiful wide open valley with a really nice well packed gravel road. The weather was looking great, the day was warming up, and the road started trending downhill. It all seemed a little too good to be true.

The route we were following was along the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. Which means it is where the Tour Divide bike race travels each year. Which means this was also a little bit of a scouting mission, because I’m planning to try and race the Tour Divide next year, which is an exciting and alarming prospect.

On the gear testing side of things, my bike was holding up well, the load was easy to pedal along, and I love my Porcelain Rocket bags.

As we pedalled along, gradually losing altitude, the Elk River got bigger and bigger. And the road kept disappearing off into the distance, wonderful and car-free, with no bears, gorgeous views, and the occasional elk or squirrel.

Eventually, we did start standing up on our pedals a little more often. Behinds that aren’t used to long days in the saddle do eventually complain. My knees got a little sore. And we finally saw a couple of cars. But then somehow it was 3pm, and we were in Elkford!

There isn’t an awful lot in Elkford. Kate wasn’t due to be picked up for a while yet, so we decided to just keep riding together on the highway to Sparwood. It’s a small highway, with a lot of mine traffic (there are mines in both Elkford and Sparwood), but everyone was very polite, and gave us lots of room. Which was good, because we were beginning to feel the distance at that point. And once you’re back in civilisation, it’s hard to re-gain the “cycling forever through an isolated wonderland” feeling. So 35km couldn’t be over quick enough – although it was interrupted at one point by Alex, who found us, offered to take a couple of my bags, and to give Kate a lift to Sparwood if she wanted – tempting, but no, we kept riding.

And we made it!

The Sparwood truck is an awesome landmark, and everything is awesome.

But I still wasn’t done – my friend Kat met me in Sparwood, and after farewelling Kate, we set off towards Fernie. Thankfully Kat is a strong rider, experienced cycle tourer, and apparently also a super-domestique. She pulled me along to Fernie easily, and I nearly collapsed with relief when I saw the Fernie welcome sign. Not too soon though, because we were staying in the provincial campground – out the other side of town and up an enormous hill!

But I made it!

Distance: 154km
Elevation gain: 1123m

And in honour of the song that was stuck in our heads all day… now it can be stuck in your head too:

bikes canada general trip reports

Part 1: Riding Canmore to Kananaskis Lakes – solo!

My very first solo overnight trip! For all that I’ve done plenty of solo daytrip adventuring, I’ve never headed out to sleep alone somewhere. Because the night is dark and scary, and full of wolves and axe murderers.

The plan was to ride my bike on Thursday evening from Canmore to Kananaskis Lakes – about 70km, mainly on dirt roads.

I left work early, with my gear nearly all organised, and got on the road around 5pm. Of course, then my bike bags started rubbing and misbehaving, so I spent some time organising them and redistributing my load. And then riding up the enormous hill of enormousness. It’s much smaller and easier when you’re on an unloaded bike, with friends, on a still and sunny day with clear blue skies. This day was not still and sunny. The wind kept gusting up, and there were dark patches of threatening weather lurking around the mountains. The weather forecast had been threatening showers, and before I left, people had been making helpful suggestions like “Why don’t you put it off for a day?”.

But I made it to the top! This was goodbye to cell reception for the next 20 hours, so with farewell messages and photos of myself looking slightly concerned, I rode up and over the pass, and into the relative wilds of the well-travelled roads of K-Country.

With a dubious forecast and threatening clouds, I had all of my rain gear handy. This conveniently seemed to repel the worst of the weather. I was caught in a couple of brief snow-showers, but they never lasted long, and were very much in the ‘easy to brush the snow off and forget about’ category. Obviously my weather girl powers have not yet failed me entirely.

Soon enough I hit the Spray Lakes Reservoir, and it was snack and photo time. Travel was fast and easy, and there was very little traffic around to throw dust in my eyes. I hadn’t seen any bears, and the whole thing was starting to settle into standard bike riding rhythm, instead of panicked “Help, I’m alone and going to be eaten by a bear” rhythm.

The clouds that had been atmospherically winding themselves around the mountain tops began to dissipate, and the patches of blue sky were multiplying. It was actually turning into a nice evening!

I even managed to take a photo of myself riding without dropping the camera. Still looking worried, but that’s mainly because I was concentrating on not dropping the camera.

Then, my 70km nearly complete, I arrived at the final hill which would drop me down to Kananaskis Lakes. Still with plenty of daylight to spare! I’d seen an elk (my designated spirit animal of the trip), a few deers, and a few squirrels, but no bears. So I carefully picked my way down the stony road, keeping an eye on the speed to avoid silly crashes within a couple of kilometres of finishing for the night.

I pulled onto the asphalt of Kananaskis Lakes after safely negotiating the loose and stony hill of doom. Winding my way into the complex of campsites there, I tried riding the cyclist pathway for a while. The still-closed campsites towards the northern end of the lakes were a bit spooky though, so I opted to pick my way a few kilometres further south, into the relative civilization of the handful of other campers who were about.

After wolfing down some cold leftovers (quiche, mmmm) I put up my little tent, and dived in for a good nights sleep. Phase one of Mission Ride To Fernie was a success!

bikes canada gear general

Monkey metamorphosis

Well, my Monkey is finally beginning to turn into a proper touring bike. I installed the Rohloff, and then some time last year I sent Scott from Porcelain Rocket the sketch below, with a request to make me some bike bags:

In November, he finished them up, and I got an awesome early Christmas present. Which I have finally gotten around to photographing! As you can see, he rather awesomely brought my dreams to life.

The bags have had a bit of use already, as they’re really handy for longer day trips, and for just biking around town when you need some extra storage capacity. But what I’m really looking forward to is doing some overnight trips in summer. Without having to ride the final couple of kilometres to the camp site with one hand behind me, desperately trying to hold my thermarest in place as it tries to unravel and tangle in my spokes.

The next phase of the transformation is also underway. I have a front wheel built up with an SP PD-8 dynohub. I have a Exposure Revo light, designed to run off the hub. And I have an E-Werk usb charger, also designed to run off the hub, for the charging of GPS, phone, iPod, camera, satellite dish, portable microwave etcetera. All the necessary trappings of life as a modern cycle tourer/ bike packer.

The only tricky part is that all of these pieces are still in pieces, and I’m terrible at electronics. I’ve tried glaring at them, but so far no luck, they haven’t spontaneously self-assembled. I’m thinking of buying some sort of micro-switch, so I can build up a box that will let me switch between the light and the charger. And then somehow blackmailing an engineer to assemble the whole thing for me.

In the meantime though – look at the pretty bags!