Saturday, 28 July 2012

Hey Bare

So while riding around Lost Lake Park, I came across this sign which is not one you see back in Tasmania ...

Kind of self explanatory I would have thought ...
I found it kind of amusing at the time, sure in the knowledge that there would be no bears in this busy park, but then 30 or 40 minutes later I came around a corner and was lucky enough to do look up just in time to see a small bear about 30 metres down the track right in front of me. 

Hey bear.

I stopped and calmly talked to the bear like the "bear aware" brochures said I should.  He (or she) didn't seem particularly interested in Tasmanians (maybe he couldn't understand my accent?) and eventually he moved off the path allowing me to take the picture above before continuing on my way (though admittedly I was slightly more careful going around blind corners).

Fast forward another hour and I was cycling around Lost Lake for the second time having become completely disoriented and emerging no where near where I thought I was.  I cycled past this lovely jetty sticking out into the lake which was virtually empty.

Thinking how nice it would be to go out and perhaps have a quick swim, I locked my bike to a nearby tree and wandered out ... about three quarters the way out I realised that they guy in front of me didn't have any clothes on ... nor the guy next to him.  I'd walked out onto a nudists jetty.

Hey Bare.

Just like my previous encounter, I gently and calmly talked to the offending creatures before calmly exiting the area.  This time though I didn't take any photos.  Trust me, you should be thanking me for that.

Lost Lake Park

Oh the luxury of too many trails ...

Look at all those trails
Yep, this sign says it all ...
Lost Lake Park is about 5 minutes ride from the centre of Whistler.  Most of the trails are easy to intermediate, they are all well signed and brilliantly maintained, and there's cafes and even a great bike hire place at one of the entrances.  This is what I was expecting of riding over here in BC.

For these reasons it is very popular with families and XC riders, but most people just seem to concentrated on the main reommended ride, signed with these at every junction:

The upside of having all these riders around was that it became a bit like a race, and I found myself thinking more about how I could bridge up to the next person or group in front of me, and less about that fricking great drop or that seemingly impossible maze of roots I had to get through  ... consequently I went a lot faster than the last few days and rode a lot more obstacles.  This was good.

Once off the main trail, it was easy to find routes which you had pretty much all to yourself, despite the fact there was actually a race taking place whilst I was out there riding.

What I really loved about this park was the number of man made features, some which quite honestly freaked me out and put me at the limit of my skills, but in the end I survived with a big smile on my face so that makes it a good day.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Credit Line

Buoyed by yesterdays explorations, today I decided to tackle another black run - Credit Line

Credit Line chewed me up, spat me out and told me not to come back until I was ready to play with the big boys. 

Thankfully, the ride up to the start of Credit Line was absolutely beautiful as I again found myself turning the pedals up a gently climbing gravel road marvelling at the pine forests, lakes and squirrels.  I've decided I want a squirrel, not in a cage or anything, a live one running around outside.  I mean wallabies and possums are all fine, but squirrels are just cute.

At the top I got to enjoy a great run around Mike's Loop, a nice flat intermediate trail with lots of easy riding and a few bridge features thrown in for good measure, but then I turned off onto Credit Line and although it started out promising, I got munched in the middle by steep, slippery rock sections and deep roots and sharp drops.  I walked lots of the middle section, but still ended up taking a nasty fall coming down some flow stone.  Thankfully just bruises, nothing broken or sprained.


 However, something strange happened near the bottom, I got sick of pushing and being a wimp, so instead of taking things slowly and picking my line, jumping off the bike if I wasn't certain if I could make it over an obstacle, instead I just eased off the brakes and decided to see what would happen ... as I picked up speed I found myself being able to pick better lines, act more decisively on drops, hit root obstacles better ... I was, for the briefest moments, in control and it felt great.

That said, I was still very happy to finally drop out onto Jack's Trail (easy grade) which I followed back up to Alice Lake where I had started. 

After a swim in the lake, I headed up to Whistler, 50kms up the road, where I've booked myself three nights accommodation.  I figure I'll explore those trails for a couple of days, maybe have a day off to put my feet up or do something different, and then decide where to spend my last couple of days in Canada.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Squamish - tales of trails

Each time we point our tyres down a new trail, we begin a new adventure with all the uncertainty, excitement and expectations that that entails.
Very few of these adventures turn out anything like we may have planned or expected, but for me that's one of the main reasons why we should ride ... just to find out.

I set off  to ride a route called Wonderland this morning.  It was just one of what looked like hundreds of options I could have ridden.  The only reason I was here and not somewhere else was that I found this one listed on a website as a 'must ride'.  So I pointed my wheel down the path and rode.
This is just one very small section of a very large map.
All those lines are adventures.
... and this is what it looks like on the ground.
I expected this to be an easy ride ... it was just 3kms, and I planned to knock it over before getting something for breakfast.  However, this was not to be how today's adventure worked out. 

I quickly found myself being thrown around by slippery roots, stopped by rocks, mud and sharp technical corners and as I lost my confidence, I lost my momentum and suddenly every small challenge was insurmountable.  I became scared, I felt out of place, dwarfed by the challenge of this easy trail.  I wondered what I was doing here.  I didn't want to be there and so I stopped and took some photos.  This is what I do, it reminds me that I don't have to ride for the challenge, I can ride for the beauty that is around me, the beauty I wouldn't see if I weren't on this trail, riding.

Notice the small bridge, mid-picture which I'd just ridden over.
Wonderland became a bit easier as I got into the lower sections, but it was still a slow ride, and as I crossed the highway, I almost almost took the option of just riding up the pathway alongside the highway to get back to my car, but fortunately my heart knew that I would not likely come this way again, so when I got to the junction, my heart turned my bike left back onto the intermediate trails, and I started what I expected to be a slow, agonising return to my car ... just this time it would all be uphill.

Instead I got my first taste of just how wonderful these trails could be.  Somehow on this side of the road, the roots seemed like fun, the climbs were a breeze and the views remained amazing ...

I actually passed a few other cyclists in this forest, and it dawned on me that wonderland was perhaps overused and suffering from it as people like myself, not knowing where to go, went where we were told.  We followed other peoples trails, and in doing so, we missed the joys of the road less travelled.

I pulled back up to my car about an hour after setting off, feeling a bit humbled, a bit exhilarated and yes, still a bit uncertain.

After a late and lazy brunch, I then headed off to another part of the trail network to ride the half nelson.  I had no idea what this trail was, except it wasn't yet on my map, so I knew it was new, and I was also intrigued by a description I'd found of it which said something like "this trail has something for everyone from the beginner to the advanced".  A bold claim.

As I didn't have anyone to do a car shuffle with, I actually had to do the full nelson which basically means I had to first ride the 3.5kms up to the start of the track (along gravel roads) before getting to enjoy the downhill run.  Turns out this wasn't such a chore ... in fact it was downright magnificent climbing.  The views and forest were sublime, and the road grade ranged from easy to thigh busting ... but it never got into push, push territory, and it was nice to feel my body working to get up the hill.

Views on the way up to the Half Nelson
In what seemed like no time at all, I found myself at the top of the run, and I nearly had kittens ... it was a black run which equals "most difficult"".

Having barely survived a blue (intermediate) run this morning, this was not what I wanted to see, and I confess for the briefest of moments I actually considered riding back down the way I had come up. A thought that was more fleeting than the flap of a butterflies wing.  I knew in my heart, that worst case scenario I could just push my bike down, and so I released my suspension and set off down the trail ...

There are no pictures of the trail.  There couldn't be ... it was such a beautiful ride that I couldn't capture it on camera, unless perhaps I took a photo of my big grin when I reached the bottom ... that plus the twinkle in my eye as I considered riding back up and doing it again.  Maybe they could begin to capture how wonderful this ride is ... maybe.

The Half Nelson is a free flowing descent with beautifully cambered switchbacks, jumps, jumps and more jumps.  Sure it has a few sections where you just throw all your weight back and say a prayer to the gods that your front wheel keeps rolling when it hits the bottom of whatever drop you're going down, but this was high standard track building at its best, and you knew that if you rode it right, you'd come out OK.

It's almost ludicrous as I sit here typing this to think that I almost didn't go down there because someone had decided to put a little black sign at the top of it.

No, trails are adventures, and they need to be explored.  Sometimes, maybe even often, they won't turn out to be the adventure you expect, so my advice is to stop expecting, just enjoy.  Ride.  Sometimes you have to plan things, but with trails, sometimes you can just point your tyre down a squiggly red line on a map and see where it takes you.  Even if it's not the journey you expected, it may still be a journey you wanted to take, and if Wonderland taught me anything today it's that even if the trail turns rough, goes bad and throws you around, well just get back up and keep going as you never know what's around the next corner.  It might just be the perfect trail.

From wherever you are standing, enjoy the view, and follow your trail.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012


I arrived in Squamish today and headed straight for my first mountain bike trails

Typical "green"(easy) trail ...
Squamish has over 250km of mountain bike trails (at least I think I read that somewhere), which as far as I can figure out is more than we've got in all of Tasmania ... with about 200kms to spare.

With this background I am sure you can understand how it came to be that I got lost  before I even found the first trail head.

My getting lost may also have something to do with a new subdivision which (much to my amusement) was being sold as being "for those that loved the outdoor lifestyle".  Meanwhile it seemed that half the trail network has been closed so the subdivision could be built.

I spent a lot of time today being lost, and I have no real idea where I went as there are no signs out there.  I only saw two other riders the whole time I was exploring and I pushed my bike along lots of track that was way beyond my skill and confidence level.  As far as I can sort of figure out I accidentally wandered into a black diamond area ... at least I hope I did, otherwise this is going to be more of a walking than cycling holiday.

After getting very lost, I ended up following this powerline back to civilisation.
love the road sign.
Found a nice section of track along the river
These aren't the groomed IMBA standard trails I was expecting - they're rough, muddy, narrow and covered in slippery roots.

Yay ... can't wait to get back out there tomorrow and have another look around.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Here Mr Orca ...

A long time ago I read a magazine article about paddling with Orcas off Vancouver Island and I thought “I have to do that”.

However, unlike the thousands of other times where I’ve thought “I have to do that” and then promptly forgot about it, this time the thought stuck around. It rose and fell in my priorities until a couple of months ago when I started thinking about coming to Canada to go mountain biking and suddenly I found myself organizing my mountain biking trip around the chance to go paddling with Orcas.

You have to of course understand that when I say “plan” I use this word very, very loosely. For example, I planned to fly into Vancouver to go to Banff, which in the world map on my atlas looked right next to each other ... turns out it’s a two day drive to Banff from Vancouver … something I finally figured out about two weeks before flying out here. Also turns out that I’m not going to Banff this trip.

Anyway, there’s a pretty bewildering array of companies and tours if you ever google “sea kayaking with orcas on Vancouver Island”, but eventually I realized after reading and re-reading all the options that until you went and did it you won’t know if you picked the ‘right’ one, so the only thing to do was to book and hope.

I chose a four day “Orca Lite” trip with a company called Spirit of the West.

So firstly let me tell you some of the negatives (and why if I ever came back here I probably wouldn’t go with this particular company again). Firstly although I kind of guessed from the blurb that there wouldn’t be too much paddling on the first and last days and that it would be pretty cruisy paddling all around, I was still let down by just how little distance we actually covered.

We didn’t get onto the water until 3.30pm on the first day, and then only paddled 5kms down the coast to our camp. Little did I know that that was pretty close to the furthest I would get from Telegraph Cove (where we launched) in the whole trip.

The second day we paddled over to Hanson’s Island and then spent the day playing around in a maze of little islands called the Plumper Islands. It was great fun, and I’ll come back to that later, but in 5-6 hours of paddling we covered just 12kms. We ended up camping at the companies base camp on the second and third nights, which is directly across the channel from Telegraph Cove - probably 3 kms in a straight line.

On the third day we went for a short (3km) paddle down the coast of Hansons Island, before turning around and paddling back to a cove right next to our camp for a walk through the islands forest, and then on day 4, we paddled back to Telegraph Cove, which was about an hour and a half on the water. Our longest day was therefore 12kms, we never got more than 5kms from where we launched and most days we only covered 6-10kms paddling.

To put this in perspective, even on what I’d consider a fairly leisurely paddling trip, I would have covered the area we covered in four days in a single day, and by myself would have covered most days paddling in a hour or two.

Humpback Whale

I should also mention that the we never came closer than six nautical miles to the actual Orca Reserve where the resident Orca families congregate, which is where I really wanted to go.So yea, if I ever came back I think I'd look at just hiring a kayak and doing my own thing.

On the plus side, we were lucky with our guides …. our chief guide, Meredith, had just finished a 60 day paddle from Alaska to BC, so she was pretty awesome, and our other guide, Robyn, had worked the previous year educating boaters on being ‘whale wise’ (ie. keeping a minimum distance etc.) so between them they had a wealth of knowledge and experience, so this was pretty cool.

But I flew half way around the world to see Orcas, and it became pretty clear from the very first briefing that this wasn’t likely to happen. Out of the last three trips that Meredith had taken, only one had seen any Orcas, and she later admitted that this was on the water taxi on the way back to Telegraph Cove after the trip.

Later (on the water) they informed us that only 2 of the 16 resident families had returned to Johnstone Strait this year, and so all the talk was about ‘putting ourselves in the best position possible to see them” (by coming to Johnstone Strait) and then we had to let nature take its course. To me this was code for “we have buckleys chance of seeing an Orca”.

But here's the upside ... day ones paddling was beautiful. This is not country where the beauty is subtle or sneaky. You just look up or out and it slaps you in the face and says “here I am, you know it”. We had a small pod of porpoises head past us even before we were out of the marina, and just paddling a few metres off shore in amongst the kelp, clear water and rainforest was enchanting. It was somewhere around this point that I decided to forgive the company for their little lack of information about Orcas, because this was worth coming to see.

As we had very little paddling to do each day, we didn’t usually get onto the water until 10 or 11am, so I was chaffing at the bit on the second day to get out and paddle, but it was a case of I’d paddle 50 strokes and in that short time I’d move from the back of the pack to being 20 or 30 metres in front of the next paddler so would have to stop and wait 2 or 3 minutes for them to catch up again.

This was mildly frustrating as we set off to cross the channel, but then half way across it became evident that there was actually a pod of Orcas moving up the strait on the other side and if we moved quickly we would actually get to see them up close (well from 100 metres which is the closest distance we're allowed to go) ... somehow this message didn't seem to get through to a few of our group, who seemed to meander along at a glacial pace, stopping every time we saw the Orcas surface in the distance to ooh and aah.

I sat out as far in front of the group as I could without being rude or getting called back hoping that we might, just might, get to see these guys up close, although as they moved further and further up the strait it became apparent that this was looking less likely.  Then, the gods smiled ... the Orcas suddenly veered off course and just as we were rafting up into a single group, they veered right towards us, surfaced about 50-100 metres out and then dived and swam just under the surface ... so close that we could see the ripple of their fins causing a wave on the water surface right towards and then under us in a blur of black and white before all emerging out of the water together just on the other side of us.  It was pretty darn amazing.

It took a little while to come off that high, especially as the rest of the day was almost as brilliant.  We had morning tea with seals swimming around our boats in near crystal clear water, then after a lazy lunch on the beach watching the amazing tidal changes, we got to taste the power of the ebb tide first hand as we paddled up against it as it channeled between the islands hugging the shore whilst watching a strange sea mist pass through.

After a quick ride back down another channel, this time with the flow, we then emerged out into a mixing pot of currents where we came across a humpback whale feeding in the area.  This whale was to stay in the area for the next two days and we could sit in our camp at night and watch it moving around the bay in the distance.  Again, pretty cool.

Humpback diving in the distance.
Even despite my initial grumblings, it really was a brilliant trip, including campfires and wine at night watching the sunset with a wonderful group of people ...

Yep, if it's not already there, put it on your bucket list ... and take me with you as your guide.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Coast to coast.

So here's something that's not very funny at a campsite with bear warnings ... waking up in a tent and hearing something very large moving around outside at night.  My solution, admittedly after a momentary panic, was to roll back over and go to sleep.  It seemed to do the trick as I woke up in the morning alive and well.

The beautiful blue skies of the day before had gone, and today was overcast and my tent was wet when I took it down.

I therefore decided to retire to a late breakfast at the golf club where I fought with their internet connection for nearly an hour to get the last post out, before finally deciding to go and greet the day around mid morning.

I tootled off down to the nearby national park which basically straddles the coast for around 20kms or so, and once there, I looked to see where everyone else was, and then wandered off in the opposite direction.  I was looking for nature, not company, today.

This didn't really work out as it turned out there were people everywhere, but ignoring them, I have to say that my love affair with Vancouver Island is just deepening.   The shoreline here was just one continuous long, flat, beach littered with debris from storms whose fury I couldn't comprehend (at one point I was walking by a rock that was about 5 metres tall, and it had huge logs tossed up on top of it).  The forests come right down to the shore, standing there like bulwarks to the sea, and all along the coast there are these headlands and islands with bases of hard, sharp rock, yet they are all covered in dense forest.  It was just gorgeous, and I couldn't help but see myself coming back and cycling and paddling these shores in years to come ...


Unfortunately, the combination of beauty and my accidentally setting my camera time one hour too slow meant that I did stay too long ... and on returning to my car at what I thought was about 11.30am, found it was actually 12.30am.  Frick.  I had a ferry to catch 250kms away, and I now had an hour less to get there than I thought.  Did I mention frick.

I set off back to the east side of the island with all due haste, adopting the Canadian driving habit of completely ignoring the speed limit and just driving at the pace that everyone else does (I will be bankrupt if there are actually speed cameras over here). 

Anyway, in this time of panic and recalculation of route times in my head to see if I would make it to Campbell River in time for the ferry to Quadra Island, I of course got about half way back across the island (it's about 150km across) when GyPSy kindly tells me to turn left up a frickin' logging track.  Frick, frick, frick, frick, frick.  She's as useless over here as she is back in Australia and I think that GyPSy may be getting dropped into the Pacific Ocean on my way back home ... if I can figure out how to open a plane window mid-flight.

Anyway, despite her many attempts to turn me around and send me up that dead end logging track, I steadfastly ignored her route suggestions and still managed to make it to Campbell River at just after 4pm ... 30 minutes early for my ferry.  Somewhat relieved, I drove into the terminal, paid for my ticket and then just as I was about to drive forward the lovely lady in the tool booth told me to "Drive into Lane 8, you'll be on the 5.35pm ferry as the 4.30 is full."  How many times can you say frick in one blog before it becomes repetitious?

Turns out that after all that I was 3 minutes and 5 cars too late to make the 4.30pm ferry.  Still that then gave me an hour and a half to re-arrange my accommodation and kayak group arrival times, all of which proved to be unnecessary as I still managed to get over in time for the 6pm kayak tour briefing anyway (I had 3 whole minutes to spare).  Then again, I kind of wish I'd missed the briefing in the end because the news is that they haven't seen any Orcas in the last few trips ... something you think you would mention to someone booking an Orca tour one week ago from half way around the world, or am I just too honest?

So tonight I'm staying in a very swish B&B in the 'sunset room' which overlooks the water and mountains on mainland British Columbia.  I like my room ... not only does it have gorgeous views, it also has its own spa and walk in closet with fresh clean dressing gowns ... this is so much better than lying in a tent ... something I will be doing for the next three nights as I paddle around not seeing any Orcas ...