Fucking rain. Rain is worse than all of those things. I fucking hate rain.
The weather report said there would be a little bit of rain. Like, a drizzle. Nothing to worry about. Being a responsible citizen, i opted not to cycle south toward the towns that are either under evacuation order or evacuation alert. I also opted not to spend another night at the nice campsite in Enderby, because now i'm in the rhythm of cycling, i'd just like to do some cycling every day.
So i chose to go east, away from the fire, and into the backcountry. There is a small community near Mabel Lake, but i thought it would be more fun to go up a logging road to check out a rec site called Hidden Lake. I wasn't sure if i'd be able to find it. Because it's hidden.
Anyway, i figured it was close enough to Enderby that i could easily cycle up there and cycle back if things were sketchy.
Things are fucking sketchy, you guys.
Obviously, there was no phone signal any more halfway up the hill. It kept getting darker, but i figured it might be smoke. Then a lightning strike. Then a thunder clap. Then it fucking started pouring. Not 2mm like the weather report said, but exactly the kind of torrents of misery that i associate with the PNW and exactly the reason why i moved to Kamloops in the first place because fuck rain forever.
It turns out that on forestry roads there is nowhere to get shelter. There are trees all over the place, but it's not like beautiful European forests where there is lots of empty space in between each tree. It's a North American clusterfuck, practically a fucking jungle, with hip-high undergrowth everywhere, and no way to go into it with a bike. So i cowered under one of the roadside pine trees which provide precisely zero fucking shelter from the rain, and got wet. I got my groundsheet out of a pannier to cover up my tent and bum bag on the handlebars and waited.
Eventually the rain tapered back to a drizzle, at which point i had to decide whether to press on or go back. I pressed on, since it was only a couple more km.
I got up to the campsites, and there was nobody there. Not a soul. I thought perhaps because there's 40-something sites up here there'd be someone, but there was not. The lake is beautiful, if you like dank mud holes up the top of a mountain. Oh how i hate rain. And trees. And trees in the rain. This is literally everything i hate about the outdoor lifestyle, and the reason why i try my best to only ever visit arid climates where the only thing you have to worry about is if you brought enough water with you not to die. Fucking rain. You'll die just standing out in it for 10 seconds. I am a wicked witch and i am melting! I'm melting!
I pitched my fucking tent anyway because i didn't want to bike back through it. Before that happened one dude zoomed past in a pickup, so i flagged him down and asked which spot was good. He said there's one just up there, it's really secluded. Who the fuck wants a secluded camping spot when it's raining? Who wants a camping spot at all? I took it anyway. RIP me.
Earlier today, some dude in a pickup flagged me down and said "hey, watch out up there, there's a bear on the side of the road". So. I'm in bear country. All alone. In a tent. It's raining. I'm hungry, but i don't want to go back outside to unpack my Ursack, and if i do, i don't want to eat in my tent in case a bear joins my party. Maybe i will try save some battery on my laptop so i can put music on while i eat inside the fucking vestibule.
It's going to be wet tomorrow, i just know it. I'm going to have to pack up in the rain, and i'm going to be muddy and dirty going down the hill, and then i will be in town and the smoke will still be there and i will quit bike touring because fuck fucking rain for ever and ever amen.
I am feeling marginally better. It's still raining. But it slowed down a bit, so i manned up and put on my long pants and puffy jacket, then headed out for a walk. I found that there are at least long drop toilets here, and i saw a caravan in one site, but no people.
I took a walk along the trail which goes through the woods around the lake. It's exactly the kind of trail i hate - one where you can't see anything because there are fucking trees in the way. Also moss, lichen, ferns, the odd mushroom, just a whole bunch of soggy undergrowth blocking the view. And every step echoes and it's hollow because you're walking over a few generations of dead and hollow tree trunks, which makes me feel like i am walking on rotting corpses. It's the fucking worst. Maybe i overdosed on it going out hiking in Scotland or New Zealand? Either way rainforests suck. It's right there in the name: rain. Rain sucks.
But i also know that my mother would've loved it. And that lots and lots of people dream of coming up to this kind of landscape to hike. So even though i hate it, it's all i've got right now, so i tried to appreciate it for what it was.
It wasn't much.
When i got back i had a quick dinner, brushed teeth, rehung the food bag, then harvested about a liter of water from the lake. I still think water filters are amazing. I am pretty sure when i was growing up they didn't exist yet - you had to boil all the water you collected before you drank it, and even that wasn't foolproof. Better to also have special purification tablets too. It just seems miraculous to me that nowadays you can just squeeze dirty water through a gadget smaller than toilet roll and end up with something that's fit to drink. Remarkable.
Anyway, all my shit is wet because there's no space to dry it in a tiny tent. Thank God i got a synthetic sleeping bag because it'll probably get cold tonight too. Before i left civilization i heard that over in the prairies they're expecting snow already. Snow! Fuck this shit. I hope this is just a freak cold/wet snap and we can get back to my beloved dry, sunny, 35 degree days that i hoped to enjoy at least through the end of August.
But, hey, this is real. All those folks doing hashtag vanlife hashtag wanderlust hashtag whatever photo shoots are surely spending at least a couple days a week in shitty conditions. It's the downside of living outside. When the weather sucks, your life sucks. Hooray.
Pop quiz: what's the first thing that goes through your mind after spending a cold and wet night in the bush, with all your gear packed away, moist and muddy? If it was gosh i'd like to go home and have a hot shower, you fail the vagabond test. My first thought was crap, i need to get this tent set back up again somewhere with direct sunlight so it can dry out.
Hidden Lake was a good deal less dismal with a smidgen of sun peeping out, but i was still the only person around and i got the feeling it'd be permanently cloudy up there. It just had that depressing mountain feel to it. So i packed up and went down the hill, which was a blast. You really gotta focus bombing down those logging roads - mud everywhere, big rocks, potholes. You can't just cruise, it's kinda fun to be going fast but also have to stay super alert while you do it. I get why people dig mountain biking.
Down at the Ashton Creek general store i checked my phone and discovered that despite the rain, the evacuation alerts were still in place and the fires were still outta control.
I stopped into the store to get a snack and finally gave in to the sandwich temptation. You see, every gas station and general store has fresh made sandwiches, which always look like the most healthy and delicious thing in there, except for the fact they are all filled with meat and cheese. Well, fuck it. I just spent the night in single digit temperatures with rain pouring down on my tent. I deserve a ham and cheese sandwich. Sorry pig, sorry cow, do know i appreciate your sacrifice. Mustard seed, wheat sheaf, i didn't forget about you! Om nom nom.
I also asked a chick with dreads and a bandana where was a good spot to camp, and she said she was staying at a place called Cooke Creek, which had been my original destination before the orange skies stalled me at Enderby. So i cycled on down, and, folks, it was a beautiful ride. I'm so glad i did.
The road follows Shuswap River, through a valley with steep, wooded sides. There are a few farms along the river. The road goes up and down and left and right just like a country road should. This is exactly the kind of place my mom would've loved.
I pitched my tent in a spot right next to the river where it's exposed enough to catch what few shards of sunlight might peek through the clouds. There are a bunch of caravans down here, but it's a different vibe from in town. It's hippies and anglers, the kinds of folks who are used to using solar panels and water filters and living out in the sticks where there is no mobile signal and no services. Pack in, pack out.
I'm fine with that. This is close enough to civilization i could camp here for a week and just loop up to the general store and back every day, eating ham sandwiches and berry pie fresh from the farm. There's actually a wild apple tree right out beside the river, but it looks sour as heck. A few salmon are running too, you can see them jumping their way upstream. Yeah. This place is more my speed than that full out wilderness joe mountain lake.
Or maybe it's just that it stopped raining.
Hello civilization. I am in a Supernatural motel in Vernon.
As i lay in my sleeping bag last night i checked around for some next steps. I saw that there was a mountain road that went to Lumby, which is in the next valley south, and at a T junction where i could choose to go east to the Kootenays (around the back way) or west to Vernon. I resolved to make a decision in the morning.
Waking up with a throat full of smoke again made my decision for me. Staying by the river was fine, but if i'm going to be choking down smoke anyway, might as well be choking it down in the direction i want to be going.
The traveler at the general store had let me know that if i walked halfway up the nearby logging road i could get one, maybe two bars of signal, so i biked up straight after breakfast to check the fire situation. Still largely unchanged. They're saying White Rock Lake (the main one i'm worried about) and Sparks Lake (the big one on the other side of Kamloops) will probably both burn through the winter. I can't stay stuck, especially with night-time temperatures already dropping into the single digits, so i went back down the hill with a plan to go to Lumby.
Just as i was packing up, a woman in a pickup pulled over and we struck up a conversation. She said she thought it was cool what i was doing, and shared that she left the Okanagan as a kid all "fuck the authorities" and traveled across Canada on a shoestring, but then she had a pretty poor time of it and realized that BC was the best place in Canada after all. She also said the Yukon was worth visiting, and that she drove for three straight days through the wilderness, some of the most beautiful scenery she ever saw.
We talked about the fires and she said one of the buildings that burned down on the Okanagan rez was a general store slash gas station, so that was a big fireball that made things worse, and that her uncle's place was the last place with a water source where the fire fighters could take a stand - if it passes there then there's not much stopping it.
She also told me not to take the mountain road to Lumby.
I knew it'd be a gravel road and it was steep, but it didn't seem all that much worse than the other ones i've done, just a bit longer (like 20-30km climbing then back down the other side). She said i'd probably need to get off and push through a few sections, but that's not the main problem. She said she thinks there'll be too many cougars and bears up there to go on a bike, specifically because of the fires. With their old territory burning down, some of them would've headed east, and when wildlife is in new territory they'll be more aggressive to protect it.
I was still a bit gung-ho about going up there, but the more we talked and the more i thought about it i decided, okay, no. I am reasonably well-prepared, but when someone who camps out all over the backcountry ("my husband hates it, but i don't care, i just go up there alone, i was born in the mountains and i'll die there" - she was dying, by the way, i didn't ask of what, but with the oxygen i guess it might've been lung cancer) gives me a warning, i figure they're not joking.
She said it'd be better to hit the mountain roads around Aberdeen Lake, Grizzly Lake, but that's a hella big climb south of Lavington. Wouldn't be surprised if it was snowing up there soon.
Anyway when i mentioned the Okanagan Rail Trail she's like, do that. Blast through to Vernon and do that. All the bullshit on the radio about evacuation panic is just radio bullshit, Vernon's fine, power through and go slow through Kalamalka Lake, skip through Kelowna and you're golden. I messaged my bud who is still working on a farm down in the Similkameen and he sent me a beautiful photo of almost-blue sky, told me to get my ass down there for a potluck.
So, fuck it, back on schedule, i rode directly toward the White Rock Lake wildfire. Zoomed back through Enderby, then took farm roads down past Otter Lake and Swan Lake to here.
Not gonna lie, it was like music to my ears hearing those grasshoppers and crickets and weird clicky clacky insects that roam the dry plains of the Thompson Okanagan. Finally, i can see for miles and miles again. Salmon is great, but peaches are better. I stopped at the first fruit stand i saw and bought two. Actually, they were given to me free because i wanted such a modest amount, but i tipped anyway, and they were awesome. Sweet, juicy, fresh... The best.
Checked into the motel, showered, washed my socks, and now i'm hoping to find some really delicious vegan food for dinner. (Don't like my chances, but who knows.) The wifi here sucks, so no pictures for now, but consider this my (overdue) safety check-in. Now i'm in Okanagan proper there are millions of people and tourists everywhere - despite the COVID outbreak and despite the wildfires. I'll probably have mobile signal all the way through.
I am already missing the peace and quiet, though. Tonight i might try to plot a way around Kelowna. This is farm country so every "back road" is just a parade of vineyards and B&Bs and douchebags in Porsches driving between them, but i'm sure there's something to see in between the mega-touristy areas and the wildfires burning just up the hill. We'll see.
It will be nice to sleep in a bed.