Actually, i didn't make a wrong turn. I paused to look at a funny waterfall thingy, saw a "road closed" sign, so assumed it wasn't the right way. (I glance at the map before leaving and only check it along the way if i'm not sure which turn to take.) So i continued down the hill. And onto the Trans Canada Highway. Aka Highway Of A Thousand RVs. I didn't want to ride the highway, so i pedaled my ass back up the fucking hill again to the road closed sign. There was a local filling up a massive water tank in the back of his truck from the waterfall. Rural life, yo. I asked him if the road was open and he said he didn't know.
So i just fucking went up there, didn't i? If you're following along at home, the road is Kault Hill Road and it is a murderous gravel climb that hits 20% at some points. But, i fucking did it. I had a lot of breaks, but i made it. Then i saw another road closed sign, even more ominous than the first. I kept going because YOLO. There was evidence of a major landslide across the road, with fallen trees and sand about the place, but the route looked clear, so i kept going. Then - thank God - a local came by in his truck. I flagged him down and asked if there was a landslide up ahead. He said "you just passed it". Fuckin a. Roaming like a local. Once i turned the corner it was onto a sealed road lined with hill-top mansions. Guess they're not in any hurry to get the city to change the sign.
Somewhere along the way yesterday i noticed my bike had started squeaking and screeching. Going up and down the hills on the way into Salmon Arm it sounded like the damn thing was about to fall apart underneath me, and i realized i really needed to give my chain some TLC. I'd heard it was wise to bring lube on a bike tour, but i figured that was just bike nerds being bike nerds. No. If you are riding gravel in bone-dry weather, then leaving your bike at a campsite to get condensated on in the morning, you will need lube. Perhaps every couple days.
Coming into Salmon Arm felt completely alien. After a stretch of hobby-lookin' farms where nobody gave me "the wave" any more (country people might know "the wave" - it happens on ranch roads and ass-back backcountry, where you just raise your fingers to the other vehicle as you pass), i passed a fucking gated community. And then there was a stop light. A stop light! And suburbs! The horror!
Fortunately they also had a bike store, where the guy very helpfully taught me how to apply lube. I juiced it up good and slick, and i could just feel my bike breathing a sigh of relief when i got going again. I'm sorry baby! Thank you for hanging in there!
Aside from the bike store, Salmon Arm fucking sucks. It sucks so hard. It was the place i was anticipating spending a night at a motel, but only one motel was available, at something like $280 per night. I wanted to stop in and get a really big, luxurious lunch, but none of the shops had their patios open (perhaps due to the ash that was literally raining from the sky), and to rub salt in the wound, no shops had a place to lock up a bike. It really annoys me when shops have dozens of parking spots for cars out the front but nowhere to park a bike. And when literally everything you own is strapped on the bike, fuck if i'll park it round the corner up some alley where there is an exposed pipe and 27 criminals with bolt cutters lying in wait. For fuck's sake.
I realized i've been spoiled by living in Kamloops, which despite the ubiquitous car culture, is actually a relatively bike-friendly town by Canadian standards.
It's funny, because if i had been there in a car, i might have liked Salmon Arm. It is the main exit off the Trans Canada Highway between Kamloops and Revelstoke, and allegedly it's a very beautiful area. (I couldn't tell because the smoke was so thick that visibility was less than a km). There was a little farmers' market or local artisan thing happening downtown, but with nowhere to lock up my bike i just said fuck it and took the stupidest road ever out of town.
I wanted to take the scenic route around to Canoe, which is a suburb of Salmon Arm where there was a family campsite with wifi and showers. $30 per night. I might be sleeping in my tent again, but at least i'll be clean, right?
You guys. Without any food in my stomach. With only about 300mL of water left, due to my stupid assumption i would refill in Salmon Arm, i went up fucking Lakeshore Road Northeast. There's already a hard slog to get up the section where it briefly turns into 20 Avenue Northeast, but then it's got a hideous kilometer where it climbs at 8-10%. Dead straight, no turns. Maybe i could do it without a load, and maybe i could've done it if i had eaten lunch, but i just died. I pushed my bike for the first time and gave no fucks. Fuck fucking Salmon Arm and all its rich ass, car driving, mansion living, holiday homing, 10% grade building motherfuckers. It's the worst place i have been to in North America after Lake Tahoe. Actually, it's exactly like Lake Tahoe. Hideous.
Going down the hill into Canoe, on the other hand, was great. Road turned to gravel. Smashed it. I asked a delivery driver where was good to eat and he told me to go back to town. Fuck off. He also said there was a beach shack that had good food. I cycled back to the beach. The food was amazing. I had a black bean burger with salsa and guac, and fries. It was so expensive, but so good. The lady at the shack refilled my Nalgenes too. It was glorious, sitting under delightful colored umbrellas, eating overpriced (but surprisingly good) food, on the beach.
Except, i could not see the sea. Or the lake. Or the river. Or whatever is there. It went: white sand, slight vague line where some kids were paddling, white water, slight vague line where i think there should be a horizon, whitish-gray expanse, slightly fuzzy line which i'm not sure what it is, bright white. Oh, so that gray expanse must be a mountain on the other side of the lake. The smoke is the worst. The worst worst.
But i didn't care because i had my burger.
I cycled to the campsite and set up camp, then unloaded most of my shit and cycled back to the convenience store to buy oats. Oh, how i overestimated small town convenience stores. It was essentially a gas station. Dear North America, you need to get your fucking shit together when it comes to small town shopping. These food deserts are abysmal. Being able to buy Coke and Doritos walking distance from your house doesn't mean you have food nearby, it means you are going to die of heart disease or diabetes before your time. Because to get to the next shop i had to cycle 6km along the goddamn Trans Canada Highway that i swore i wouldn't cycle along. And that shop sucked too.
I mean, it was a full-size grocery store with many aisles and a deli counter and all that stuff. But the contrast with Kamloops was stark. They had all the staples you need to make great food, but only in packages way, way too big to bring on a bike. And in smaller packages the choices were much less, usually being extremely expensive "gluten free" or other fad diet versions of the thing i actually wanted to buy. (Gluten free oats? Seriously?)
Salmon Arm. Fucking sucks. The end.
Anyway, i bought some fruit, cycled home, drank a White Claw, and ate my peanut butter.
Now i am standing up near the entrance where there is an exposed power socket to charge my computer and battery. There is no wifi here, but there is power. The vast majority of sites here are powered RV sites, but there are a few campsites too. It's actually a wonderful campground, it reminds me of the best ones we went to when i was a kid growing up. Super family oriented. No loud music. Just oldies watching old sitcoms with laugh tracks, and kids biking around and playing and having a good time. I don't mind staying in a place like this, it gives me oldskool family holiday vibes. My site is in the middle of some trees by a babbling brook. It's so nice i could stay another day.
Honestly, with the amount of energy-sapping backtracking and horrible hills i had to face today, a rest day might be just the ticket.
Avoiding the Trans Canada Highway going back means climbing up another hellish hill just to get out of town. Then climbing a hill of doom to take a back road to Grindrod and coast into Enderby. But i might call ahead to figure out the camping sitch, because places are crazy full booked.
The people checking in before me were on evacuation order for the fires. Must be nice to have a spare RV floating around in your front driveway, eh? Load 'er up and go camping for a week. I guess there is some stress that their house might burn down too, but at least they're not camped out on the powwow grounds or billeted on someone's couch.
There's definitely worse spots to evacuate to.
Out of the frying pan into the fire.
It was snowing ash yesterday already, but things were about to get worse. After brushing all the ash off my tent, i resolved to head south to a rec area about 20km out of Enderby. I wore an N95 for the first time, to avoid breathing in mouthfuls of ash.
The hills i expected to be hellish were, indeed, hellish. At the bottom of Park Hill Road some dude in Tour de France clothes riding a carbon fiber race bike zoomed past me. Then he slowed way the fuck down trying to climb the hill. If he was struggling, what hope would i have? The answer is none. None more hope.
I tried, i really tried. But i tried, i gave up. These fucking ramrod-straight, stupendously steep hills suck all of the balls. I suspect this is a holdover from the old days where colonizers partitioned up Canada (and the US, for that matter) into square "sections" of about one square mile. In Canada they were often checkerboarded so that the railroad owned every second section around its tracks as some kind of government handout to big business. Shit's been going on a long time. Homesteaders came out here and got a quarter section, only to realize that the ground is too arid to live off, so they got screwed. But they didn't really get screwed, because who really got screwed was the native people whose lands got sliced up into squares and given away. And to this day we have these dumb Roman-ass roads that shoot dead-straight through whatever terrain there is, because God forbid you route a road through "private" (stolen) property. Tolerable in the prairies. Fucking stupid in the mountains.
Anyway, that is my ill-informed rant about sections, half-remembered from wikiholes in days of yore.
It's all that was going through my mind when i got off to push my bike, made it to the top of the hill, started pedaling again, and then went down 30 Street Northeast and there was another fucking hill. And another one. And another one. Every time i had the blissful downhill, another hill appeared. Salmon Arm. Fucking. Sucks.
I finally made it out of that wretched town, only to end up at the Trans Canada Highway (97 fork) and my planned route to avoid it: Black Road. Another epic hill. But this was a hill i actually wanted to climb, because it was a back road, and it had switchbacks. Sure enough, i climbed it all on my bike. With many, many breaks, but i did it. When i got to the top it was the greatest feeling ever. It was all gravel switchbacks going back down.
I could've taken some photos on the way down, but i was just enjoying the ride so much you'll have to imagine it. Think a picture-perfect postcard of rural farmland in a flat-bottomed valley with tall hills on both side. Now imagine it completely filled with smoke, so nothing is clear, and you can only barely make out vague suggestions of what was there.
Yeah. My main reason for taking Black Road is because my map app showed that there was a bar in a small community called Grindrod on the other side. There was, indeed, a bar. With a half-dozen Harleys out the front. The bar staff was pretty unfriendly, but i figured out later that was because they had bad hangovers. I forgot it was Sunday. They cheered up by the time i ordered a second beer. I got a garden salad and sweet potato fries. The salad tasted like heaven. When you haven't had fresh vegetables in 3-4 days, a garden salad suddenly doesn't seem like the sad option.
The bartender suggested i push down to Armstrong. She had nothing to say about Enderby, which i take to be the typical rural thing of hating the next town over, but not hating the next-next town over. On the other hand, Enderby is surrounded by the rez, so it could've been a racist thing. I saw some dude with an iron cross tattoo which could either be a Nazi thing or a German thing, but you know... biker bar. It is what it is.
The ride to Enderby was my favorite stretch since Shuswap Road. It was flat, it was straight, and it was desolate. There were corn fields on both sides, yellow line down the middle, beautiful North American emptiness. But as i went, the weather got progressively more grim. When i got onto the Splatsin te Sewépemc reserve i was like, okay, fuck this. Not going to the rec area. Not going to Armstrong. I stopped at an RV park on native land.
I ummed and ahhed for a bit, but nah. The sky was turning orange. I booked a camping site for the night. Still no motels available. Our silently agreed-upon pact to "don't mention the smoke" broke, because these orange skies are straight-up apocalyptic. Everyone was talking about it. Turns out this is the same damn fire that was burning east of Kamloops. I've cycled probably 200km - higgledy piggledy, to be fair - and i am still caught in the smoke and ash of the same damn fire. But now it's even more out of control than it was a week ago.
There's nothing can be done. Talking to some RVers they say it's like this everywhere. A couple last night said they came up from the Kootenays and it was a disaster. Here on the Enderby rez some full-timers are saying it's the worst day yet, and family members up in the hills to the west are likely to lose their homes. Meanwhile the news - even the Canadian news - is all about Afghanistan, Haiti and the upcoming election that Trudeau just called. I get it. I love world news too. But this is some fucking climate apocalypse here. Yeah, it's the same fires that were burning since June. But, on the other hand, it's the same fires that were burning since June!
Anyway, i cycled across the river into town, but everything was closing down it was so dark and ominous out. I got some Chinese take out and a beer and came back to eat black bean vegetable tofu and rice with extra added ash flavoring for dinner.
You guys. It's brutal out there. Right now i am sitting in the laundry room of the campground charging my phone, battery and tablet. They all had "some" charge, but i figure might as well top it off while the air outside is like one of the circles of hell.
I think i found a cheap motel in Armstrong tomorrow, and i might head over there, even though it's only like a half hour bike ride from here. Vernon is a bigger town with way more places to stay, but there is a risk that it will end up under evacuation alert again if this fire spreads. And further south is Kelowna, epicenter of BC's latest COVID outbreak, so i plan to skip over it altogether, if i can.
Or i could stay here. It is a really pleasant campsite - beside the river, two beaches, friendly "woke" owner, they even sell dehydrated vegan meals in the office! I wish i had more room in my Ursack! Dehydrated vegan meals is something i never expected to find outside of ultra camping nerd websites.
My phone can't get wifi in the laundry, or at my campsite, so my photos haven't all synced yet. Y'all saw the bridge shot uploaded from my phone. The ones from yesterday and earlier today aren't as dramatic, but they're still awesome. (I mean that in the classic sense.) I'll see if i can post them tomorrow.
Here i am, in a laundry room in Enderby, listening to classic rock. I burned my tongue scoffing Chinese food. I still don't have flip-flops. I am covered in ash.
Oh, fuck. I just heard that Armstrong is now on evacuation alert too. Okanagan Indian Band has settlements that are likely to get burned (they were already on evacuation order, i think). Thank God for local classic rock radio, bringing us the real news.
Well, i guess i better take a look outside. Still not supposed to be sunset for half an hour yet, but i guess it's going to be a smoggy, acrid tangerine out there. The radio is playing Welcome To The Jungle. Cha!