Riding past the section of Shuswap Road that i knew and into new lands for me, i kept having these moments where i'd make it up a rise or go round a turn and there was this flash of a feeling, a feeling of finally getting to do something i've wanted to do for so long, travel across Turtle Island on my own pace, not having to worry about Greyhound schedules or rental car return dates or whatever itinerary someone else wanted to do.
But then i'd turn a corner again, and it was gone.
Just before getting to Chase i took the advice of my roommates to go up the hill to Niskonlith Lake, which is a provincial park just 8km out of town. The worst kilometer is where it climbs 150m. At 2pm, 32 degrees, after already being on the road for 4 hours or so, it really fucking sucked. I stopped at every switchback. Sometimes between them. At one spot, a guy came down the hill and said he saw me cycling from Kamloops. He asked if i wanted a beer and i said sure.
About an hour later, after setting up my tent and paying for the site, i sat with my feet in the lake and drank that beer, and it was incredible.
I tell you one thing. Camping on your own, without a powered vehicle, it definitely gets you over fear of the wilderness quicksmart.
Everyone who has been camping before is familiar with the creepy sounds at night. They're different everywhere in the world, but they're always a little disconcerting when all that stands between you and them is a thin sheet of canvas. Frogs croaking. Fish splashing. Grasshoppers singing. Bees buzzing. Dragonflies thuddering. Birds flapping. Birds cawing. Birds squealing like they have just had their legs bitten off. Wolves howling. Chipmunks chattering. Raccoons ambling. Deer trotting. I don't know what bears sound like but i hope i never find out.
This is the first time i have camped without a vehicle, so i dutifully bagged up my food and hung it on a nearby tree. Which, by the way, is extremely hard to find. I can't even imagine how difficult it'd be to hang an old fashioned bear bag that needs to loop over a branch 12 feet in the air. The trees around here don't have many branches.
Anyway, i hung my food because i didn't have a car to put it in. I think when you are car camping there is this (not always correct) sense that you have a safety zone, one right next to your tent, that you can escape to at any time. Hide your food in there. Your valuables. If you get real cold overnight, you know there is a warm and dry little hut you can retire to. You can hide from the wildlife behind metal and glass, you can scare them off with bright lights and a horn, and worst case you can just drive away.
But when it's just you and a tent and a bike. You need to put a lot more faith in animals (and fellow campers) not being assholes. You gotta trust that even if they drop by to investigate, they're not deliberately going to fuck with you.
You know this intellectually, of course. People have been walking and camping in the wilderness since we first evolved from the muck. But it's still kinda different to do it the first time.
Of course, literally as i was typing this, i saw a snake slither out from the rocks just a couple feet away and snap a frog up from out of a hole. Animals give no mercy. Snakes are bad ass motherfuckers, man. Best land animal for sure.
Today was an awesome and tough day. Instead of going back down the hill to Chase, i decided to keep going up Loakin Bear Creek Road, which is all gravel and bounces around some of the hills and hollows up close to the backcountry. Still no cell phone signal out there. There were a couple of ranches, and a spooky, entirely empty rec area at Skmana Lake. Pretty sure i saw bear prints, but i'm not sure. The giant berry-filled poops looked suspiciously bear-y. (Ho ho.) It was dead quiet out there, nobody around, and cycling up to the picnic table and fishing pier, you'd have trouble getting down there without a 4WD. Add another bonus of bike touring, you can go places that might be a bit iffy in a regular car.
After a brief stop at the lake, with my finger on the bear spray trigger, i dipped past a few more ranches, then had an epic downhill run with a cliff on one side. I rejoined a couple of main roads, which seemed thick with RVers by comparison. I ended up continuing my "gravel" experience by cycling on the dirt next to the road, because there was no shoulder and people with caravans and RVs are scarier when they blast past you than locals in dually trucks. (Who are already scary.)
So far the kindest drivers have been locals in regular cars, standard-sized trucks and SUVs. They'll give a wide berth, and sometimes even a motivational thumbs up.
I stopped at the gas station in Squilax, ate a pot noodle for lunch, and also picked up a small bag of salty snacks because i felt guilty filling up my water in the toilet and only buying a pot noodle. Gas stations have the dirt worst food of all time. Seriously, who the fuck goes traveling and just eats Doritos and Jack Link's the whole way? Can't they sell even one piece of fruit? Or at least staples that haven't been flavored to the point that they're barely even recognizable as the original thing? What is the point of selling "nuts" that are 99% flavoring and 1% nut? Or "healthy" crackers that still have 10% of your daily sodium in one handful? Sigh.
Anyway, i crossed the highway and the CP main line, then started the climb up to Turtle Valley. Gravel again. 35 degrees out. It is so much more pleasant to cycle on gravel than sealed roads, especially going uphill. It might just be my imagination, but i get the sense there is more grip. It might also help that gravel roads only have locals on them, so that means like one car every 15 minutes - or even less frequently - so it's easy to just take up the whole road, finding the least steep line around every corner.
Don't get me wrong, i still stopped a bunch of times. It was brutal. But then i got to the top, and i felt like i was in Scotland. Not because of the weather, because it was hot as hell. But because thistles were growing on the side of the road and the smoke was so thick i kept hearing Mark Knopfler sing "these mist-covered mountains / are a home now for me". Turns out Turtle Valley actually has turtles! There are "turtles crossing" signs all over the place!
I did not see a turtle.
I would love to see a turtle.
Somewhere over the bumpy, bumpy gravel zooming past these weird "lakes" completely full of bulrushes, i lost a flip-flop. Goddamnit.
I am now posted up in the back corner of an absolutely massive dry RV site. Like, this campsite is bigger than a fucking double wide mobile home. I wanted to camp closer to the lake, but the wind was too strong. The dirt is way too dry to hold a tent peg and even using rocks or strapping shit to my bike the fly flapped around too much, so i went into a more woody area.
The rec site is Skimikin Lake. There are two caravans, one RV and a bunch of tent campers with their cars. It's a very different vibe from the provincial park up near the backcountry. Music blasting. Gennies running. Beer cans and cigarette butts and food waste all over the show. People are fucking BBQing, despite the fire ban. I'ma guess it's not worth hanging up my Ursack tonight. Hopefully these clowns don't burn the forest down. Either way, it's cheaper than getting a motel down the hill in Salmon Arm. I haven't spotted any obvious campsites on my route south after this, so might as well make the most of it.
There is cell reception here. So while the caravan over yonder blasts their tunes, i will update LiveJournal. I don't want to blow my data plan uploading pictures, so this one will just be text.
I have dirty feet because i do not have flip-flops. It's fine.
TLDR, day two - safe and sound. Gravel roads rule. People driving massive vehicles very fast down narrow roads suck. My Sawyer Squeeze is worth more than its weight in gold. It's literally a life-saving device. Oh. The smoke. The smoke FUCKING sucks. It's probably taking years off my life. But i feel like biking around Canada is adding them back, somehow.