Folks who live in the interior of B.C. like to joke that this month is “Junuary.” One day, it can be scorching hot and the next day can be deathly cold.
Knowing you are at the mercy of the weather can be a pretty abstract concept until you live it up close and personal in the valleys and mountains of this fickle province.
In the past few days, we’ve experienced extremes of weather that seemed to show us no mercy at all.
The first test was an arduous ride out of the desert-like Osoyoos district during a heat wave that drove mid-day temperatures to 36 C. That day, we climbed about 870 metres in elevation over a distance of about 20 kilometres.
For those who haven’t done this on a bicycle, those numbers probably won’t mean a lot. Let me help you picture it – imagine doing a spin class at the gym, and the instructor is yelling at you to go harder and harder. Then, imagine that instead of a five-minute burst followed by a cool-down, you do that extreme exertion for four, five or six hours.
We left Osoyoos on our bikes – each loaded with full camping gear and enough food and water for the day – shortly after 7 a.m. Our plan was to ride the toughest part of the hill on Hwy 3 east in the coolest part of the day. On a long, continuous ride, the secret to success is the so-called “granny gear” – the lowest gear on your bike which moves you ahead slowly but with the least amount of effort possible. Anyone who tries to climb faster than that is doomed to collapse in exhaustion long before the summit is in sight.
Our challenge was Mount Anarchist, which seemed like such an appropriate name for the looming monster ahead of us. Although we had only a few days of riding to build strength and stamina, we were determined to slay the beast.
By the time we broke for lunch at around 2 p.m., we had made great progress, but still had kilometres to go.
Eventually, we cracked the summit, only to discover after a few kilometres of relatively easy riding that we had another 100-metre climb. By then, fatigue and heat-exhaustion were taking their toll and our water supply was running dangerously low.
But we made it – reaching another summit which, somewhat anticlimatically, just gently rolls into a downhill slope. After a joyous downhilll cruise, we rolled into Midway for a cold smoothie and then made camp at the municipal Riverside Campground. There – as in almost every place we stopped – the people who greeted us almost universally said, “You’re riding to where?”
St. John’s, NL. Most days, I still can’t believe it myself.
Two days later, we faced an even bigger challenge under even more onerous weather conditions.
Leaving Grand Forks, we rode out of town with Rick’s friend Wayne, and then carried on to the resort town of Christina Lake, where we stopped for a coffee and snack at the friendly Visitors’ Centre.
All of us were trying not to talk about what awaited us – an 1,100-metre climb up over a summit and then down the road a few kilometres to Nancy Greene Provincial Park.
After a road-side break for lunch, we noticed the sky clouding over and felt a light sprinkle. We threw on our rain jackets, but all of us – in retrospect – were in denial about what we were about to encounter.
The light rain settled into a steady downpour and we quickly realized we were too late getting into our full rain gear. By then, we were chilled and still faced a couple hours of steady climbing. Transport trucks, cars and 4x4s roared by us, some so close we were showered in road spray and rocked by the wind gusts.
I thought to myself, “If only some of those drivers could see the world from the seat of a bicycle right now.”
By the time we reached the summit, we were all deeply chilled – almost unable to squeeze our brakes – on the descent to the campsite at Nancy Greene. Lisa and I were so cold, we took refuge in a rest stop washroom, the only place we could find that allowed us to warm up our hands and add every last piece of clothing we could find.
By the time we finally made the campsite, a couple in a Subaru pulled up to make sure Lisa and I weren’t in serious trouble. Just another in a growing number of strangers who regularly show kindness and generosity. Fortunately, at the campsite there was an old lodge where we sheltered until the chill died down. Annie, who was camping there for the night, got out her screwdriver and opened the bolted shut door so we could light the wood stove and take the chill off. Bill and Elaine, who were camping in their RV, a few spots away, chopped some wood for us and gave us a pile, enough to keep the fire going all evening.
Rick, ever the organized traveller, had set up the campsite and lit a campfire and had hot tea ready. As the day’s rain gave way to a late afternoon sun, we set up for a cozy night.
Lisa and I were so thankful for our resourceful co-travellers who were there to greet us and help us recover from a day that truly tested our stamina and resolve.