A Soggy S24O

5 07 2012

Sometimes, I just have to be outside. And with summer underway, I want to savour every moment, including the warm summer rain. On this evening, all I wanted was to sleep in the forest away from other humanity and let the gentle percussion of rain drops on the fly of my hammock lull me to sleep. So with little daylight left, and a brief break in the rain, I headed out to a little place I know that’s off the map but not too far from home.

In the home of the deer & coyotes.

Part of the reason I wanted to go was that I wanted to test out my gear in the rain before heading out on a longer trip, and I knew that the destination I selected would allow me to head home without too much trouble if anything failed.

My wet camp in the misty woods.

Getting there wasn’t as simple as I thought. There once was a gravel road leading into the area, but all the gravel has been removed and only the clay road base remains. I suppose this was to aid in the “naturalization” process and keep domesticated animals (specifically humans & dogs) from bothering the local wildlife, and it wouldn’t have been a problem if it hadn’t already turned into a soupy, slippery mess from the day’s rains. As I powered through the mud on my fully loaded bike, the clay just stuck to it, enveloping my brakes, clogging my fenders, plastering the backsides of my panniers.

This is what my bike looked like after riding through a quarter section of hay fields and another section of game trails in the bush, which was my strategy for trying to knock the muck off.

I ended up having to drag my bike through some of the mud, and had to grab sticks to poke out the mud & rocks that were preventing my wheels from moving. After finally passing the horrible used-to-be-road, it started to rain again, and I realized that I’d passed the point of no return. I managed to set up camp and retreat to my hammock with, literally, seconds to spare before the sky completely opened up. Dry and cozy, I curled up and listened to the rain and thunder and the runoff rushing underneath while gently swaying with the trees. And between showers, I could hear the coyotes howling and slinking through the forest.

While my stay was refreshing, it wasn’t exactly restful, and I was up (for me) freakishly early. Eager for a hot drink and to try out my new toy, I broke out the Trangia to make some tea.

A Trangia is a super lightweight alcohol fueled camp stove. It took a few minutes to boil 2 cups of water.

The rain stopped just long enough for me to have some breakfast & break camp, and I was re-energized by the hot drink & fuel. After trying to poke what mud I could out of my wheels, I started the return journey. Unfortunately, the only way in or out of this place with a loaded bike is the non-road that I took on the way in. Because it had been raining all night, it was even more of a mess.

I would ride until my wheels wouldn’t turn (about 10-50 feet) and then poke out as much clay as I could with a stick and try again. I’d get off the bike and drag it, all the time barely keeping my own footing in the greasy mud. By the time I made it through that half mile of hell, I was exhausted and felt like I didn’t save any energy by not going much further afield.

Nearing home. To quote a friend, “at least my skin is waterproof.”

My upper body was sore for days after, but the worst casualty of the day was my bike. A couple of days later, when I took the Globe to EBC to chisel off the caked on mud remains, it took me 5 hours to clean it, and when I swept up the pile of dried mud under the bike stand it weighed more than 3 pounds. Come to think about it, I still haven’t cleaned the mud off of the backs of my front panniers – better get on that before the next trip.





Country Roads

14 07 2010

On a hot summer weekend, what options do city weary, vacation deprived, car free folk have, except to load down the bikes and head for the hills?

Alex can see for miles. Miles & miles of canola and hay.

The biggest problem is where to go. What’s the point of going on a car free camping trip just to end up in a campground full of all-night-drinking-car-campers, RVs with massive noisy generators and ATVs ripping up the back-roads? Camping in a “non-sanctioned” area is a possibility because the bikes can access places cars can’t and a bike campsite can be easily concealed and leave no trace. However, there is almost no crown land within a day’s ride of the city, which leaves the option of finding a place to stay where you won’t be noticed or bother anyone. When we left the city, we had such a place in mind: an abandoned ski resort with a sketchy absentee landlord.

The snags started before we even left home. My companion’s derailleur imploded after a late end to the night before we departed, leaving him unable to get home and pack until right before we were supposed to leave. We ended up leaving several hours late and did at least 20km in wrong turn extra riding, mostly on roads with no shoulders and cars going uncomfortably fast. The previously mentioned vegan restaurant was closed by the time we got there (small town hours), but I was happy just to verify with my own eyes that it was actually there. The sun had already set when we turned off the highway towards our intended campsite, and we were both grumpy & tired from the long ride (75km – personal record!)  but we were still facing the stress, uncertainty and growing desperation of finding a place to sleep.

The old resort turned out to be not as abandoned as we thought it would be, and we anxiously rolled our bikes through the mud in stealth mode before being swallowed by the evening mist.  On arriving at the former chalet, we hurriedly pulled our bikes inside and hunkered down for fear of being followed. All the windows had been smashed, and every surface inside was covered in broken glass, ceramic, fluorescent tubes, really anything that was smashable had been smashed. And we weren’t alone – the place was full of bats (and bat guano). It was about the same time I realized that I didn’t want to camp anywhere near this building that I realized that the layer of mud on my bike tires was now completely coated in broken glass like sprinkles on ice cream.

My companion calmed me down and cleaned my tires, and we set off to find a better campsite nearby, setting up in the dark, and hoping to at least get a full nights sleep before any possible rude awakenings. Then the loons started to call, and when I heard their manic, bone chilling cries, I knew that this trip was worth the trouble. They called through the night and into the morning.

Waking up to a place being reclaimed by nature was both disorienting and glorious after the previous night’s misadventure.

Campsite by daylight.

With daylight, tracks revealed that we did have a night time visitor – a deer had wandered through camp, and I also found I had hung my hammock over a large pile of moose turds (which were everywhere). Daylight also afforded an opportunity to check out what was left of the ski resort, so we packed up, stashed the bikes, and set off exploring.

Overgrown T-bar lift.

Poplars have begun to grow into the chair lift seats that have hung in place for the last decade and a half.

The remains of the ski chalet, now home to many, many bats. The place looked like it was once pretty nice. There are even little hearts carved into the shutters.

Down on the lake, the family of loons swam and cooed. It was encouraging to see so much wildlife thriving in this former human playground, and it makes me hope that it doesn’t get redeveloped, just forgotten and reclaimed by nature.

With the temperature rising and our water dwindling we hit the road, on the hunt for water, both the swimmable and the drinkable kind, and coffee for my companion. There are many little private beaches on the lakes in the area, but no public ones, at least not since the last one was bought by a developer intent on building a bunch of condos and turning it into a beachside privatopia. Some pre-trip research revealed that said developer’s plan was denied permission by the county, and that the beach was still in good shape for swimming, so we figured it was worth checking out.

Research, curiosity and audacity is rewarded with a swim at a nearly perfect beach, all to ourselves. Also, check out the front lowrider rack, FTW!

Refreshed from our swim, we headed back towards town. We decided to take the major highway back into the city, as even though it had more traffic and a higher speed limit, it had wide, freshly paved shoulders and was more direct than the meandering backroads. I can’t really call all the highway riding pleasant, but it wasn’t really that unpleasant either, with drivers giving us lots of space and not being assholes like they are in the city. I preferred the main highway to the shoulderless secondary highways of the previous day by far (though the empty country roads were the best).

As we were riding through the inner suburbs of Edmonton, almost home, a woman in an SUV stopped and yelled at us, “I saw you guys riding way out there! Wow you’re fast!” Wow indeed.