It was a hellish climb. But it was less bad than i thought it was going to be. I took two breaks for snacks and made a few shorter stops to catch my breath, which is less than i did on the more aggressive logging road climbs. I don't think it's the grade that's challenging, it's the fact that it just keeps going. After about 15km your legs really kinda want to say "this is dumb, why are you doing this". But i persevered and 4 hours later i popped out at Rock Creek.
The downside of having a hard climb on the highway, and then an extremely fast downhill, is that i couldn't take as many pictures as i wanted. There was one awesome bridge across a place called Rock Canyon, but no stopping, it's the highway. Anarchist Mountain, on the south side at least, is mostly rolling ranch land, which is not what i expected from the Kootenays. I thought with the altitude it was going to be more rainforesty, but perhaps that's coming later. Either way it was a wonderfully scenic ride and i'm glad i did it.
At Rock Creek i stopped at the pub for a pint of beer and a vege burger and fries. My legs were hurting. Everything hurt. But then the bike tourer mentality kicked in and i was like, i can probably make it to the next town. So i cycled to the next town, on the last 20km or so of the KVR. I got to the start of the trail at Midway, then pitched my tent. Hilariously, at the bathrooms i met M again, who arrived just after me. So while she and her riding partner spent 4 days getting here along the KVR, i had a rest day in the Similkameen, then biked to Osoyoos and over Anarchist and still got here before her. Bike tourer! Making those miles!
Anyway, that last section of the KVR was pretty nice, with some singletrack detours around farms, a route through an operating sawmill, and some rough, rocky bits by the river. It's inspired me to take the Columbia and Western line to Castlegar. Maybe.
Tomorrow i hope to get to Grand Forks, where they have a proper grocery store where i can buy supplies and hopefully a laundromat where i can clean my clothes. Then Christina Lake is just a hop, skip and a jump further along. Then comes the toughest section of the trail, an overnight stretch through the backcountry with no roads or settlements, and a 1km long unlit tunnel! The trail is less popular than the KVR so i'm a bit apprehensive, but if i decide not to do that bit then i can still do a stupid hard climb up the mountain on the highway instead. Bike tourer or adventurer? We'll see which one i am when i get there.
My goal is still to try take a scenic and less highwayish route east. Everyone says i should visit Nelson, center of hippies and techno in rural BC, but other than that i don't have any plans except to try get to Milk River. The guy at the campsite yesterday suggested i go up to Fairmont Hot Springs and Radium Hot Springs which would be a big detour north of Cranbrook, but with the way my muscles are feeling right now a hot springs does sound pretty awesome.
I did have a quick hot shower in this campground. We'll see how i feel in the morning.
It's the morning. It's six goddamn degrees. The mountains are fucking freezing. I was only barely comfortable in my 0 degree bag with longjohns and a merino longsleeve. I might start wearing my puffy into bed instead of using it as a pillow.
On the upside, i discovered haskap berries. I think i might've eaten them before but not known what they were. They are a sort of oblong shaped blueberry that grows on an Arctic variant of honeysuckle. They were one of the very few vegan, unsalted things available at the local gas station (after my shower last night i was too late for the grocery store). Freeze dried haskap berries from a local farm up the hill. They are fucking bomb in cold oatmeal. They were so good i am going to buy some more on the way out.
The sun is shining but i feel like it's just shining bolts of freeze ray down on me. My tent is condensated but will not get dry in this feeble heat. I'll wipe it down with a bandana and will be on the road before 9 because i gotta get out of this cold ass place before i turn into an ice sculpture.
The day warmed right up. I am thrilled that i took the Columbia and Western Railway (C&W) route. Aside from a tiny section in Grand Forks where it stops because the track is still used by a lumber train, i graveled all the way to Christina Lake.
I wanted to write a bit about Midway because it has a special meaning for me. Some oldskool pinball afficionados might know it as a company that made a lot of pins, but i know it as the company that birthed Mortal Kombat. MK is a very silly ultra-violent fighting game that takes a lot of influence from Big Trouble in Little China, and to be honest i never really played it very well. But i really liked the aesthetic and the characters. It was adapted to a soundtrack when i was youngish, and a movie a bit later on. The soundtrack is done by Belgian raunchy dance duo Oliver Adams and Praga Khan, and the movie features lots of techno and industrial music of the mid-90s, so it all kinda overlaps with my teenage interests in many ways. And, of course, it's through Mortal Kombat that i met my oldest internet friend jenndolari and (via Praga Khan) my first love/true love/ex-partner T.
So, obviously i had to go to Midway. Even though it is admittedly a fairly boring town.
Midway is also the start of the C&W, which is the eastern stretch of what starts in the west as the KVR.
The rail trail was sandy and rocky close to town. I am starting to think that this is a result of ATV riders and dirtbikers and other motorized vehicles using the trail, because the further you get from town (and active logging roads) the more it turns into fairly respectable packed gravel or dirt. This stretch took me through a bunch of farmer's fields, so there were a lot of gates to open and close. It reminded me of England, and having a right to roam. I've never really seen that in North America, because people here are so adamant about "no trespassing" signs and not letting humans travel across "their" land. It was nice.
I zoomed past Greenwood and the trail kept climbing, eventually leaving the highway behind. Just at the peak someone opened a gate for me. That was rare because i had only seen one other person on the trail so far - a husband heading out from Greenwood on an unladen bike while his wife drove to Grand Forks to meet him. Oh, and a roadtripping couple at a highway crossing who offered to take the very first photo of me on my bike. Anyway, i pulled up to have a chat, and it turns out i had run into someone who works at Trail Society of BC plus a summer intern - they were out cleaning up the trail and improving signage and so on. We had a long chat, and she recommended me a number of different routes around BC. In particular she advised i download GPS routes and not just rely on OpenStreetMap, since they are more exact and will help lead me through the maze of logging roads.
On the other hand, she also said to check out the BC Epic 1000 route, which is something M talked about too, and it just seems like some kind of mountain bike nerd ultramarathon whatever thing. I really don't like this sport-ifying of travel. To me what makes travel fun is just hearing tips from whoever you meet and going there, not following some kind of designated itinerary that was all planned out in advance, and then updating your times on some website like you're showing off how fast you did it, or whatever dumb competitive shit. I like the illusion that i'm going down a road nobody ever did before, or at least finding my own way, even though i know secretly that thousands of people have gone exactly the same way.
It's like that whole box-ticking tourist thing. "Did you do the XYZ?" "Oh yeah, i did the XYZ last year, have you done the ABC yet?" "Yeah the ABC is epic, did you hear about the DEF, i'm doing the DEF next year." "Oh, make sure to bring an extra tube, doing the DEF is brutal on your tires..." Bla bla fucking bla. I always want to punch people who say they "do" a place instead of just go there or travel through it.
That said, i find myself adopting the lingo with these people the more i talk to them, so i've caught myself saying i "did" Anarchist and then i want to kill myself.
Rant aside, C was a really cool lady and inspired me to consider tackling some more challenging logging roads and simple singletrack that my hybrid might be able to manage. She said i should be able to handle the C&W from Christina Lake to Castlegar no problem.
Then i bombed down the hill. She very cleverly did not tell me what was to come, because it would've ruined the surprise. After going downhill in a frustratingly tree-filled area where i could tell there was an awesome view but couldn't actually see it because the trees were in the way, i went through a tunnel. Yes, a fucking tunnel. You need a light on these trails because it is pitch black in there. Then i came out the tunnel and i was on the edge of a cliff looking down on the valley. It was... fucking epic. And it just kept hugging the cliff all the way down. Second tunnel. Then there's a goddamn hut on the edge of the cliff. I haven't seen huts since Europe. We used to call them "ski huts" growing up - basically just a cabin on top of a trail with a couple of bunk beds and a table and chairs and guestbook. No water, no toilet, just somewhere to hide from the weather and spend the night. I always wanted to spend the night in one.
But i carried on. Down the hill, all the way into Grand Forks, where i knew there was a Save-On-Foods. Save-On-Foods is a grocery store here in BC that always has a bulk section, and i've discovered that shopping in the bulk section is far and away the best place to shop when you are cycle touring. It is endlessly frustrating going to the regular sections and finding that food only exists in massive 1kg bags, or in tiny 100g bags, or in 15 layers of individually-wrapped garbage. It's ridiculous. Just give me exactly the amount of food i need, thank you very much. I bought some more quick oats for porridge and some banana chips and walnuts and tortillas. I unfortunately forgot to buy more coffee, but i think i have for a few more days.
Amusingly, in the Save-On-Foods parking lot, i met the wife of the guy who was cycling the same leg. She had lost him and asked if i had seen him. I said i had, actually right here in Grand Forks, cycling around looking lost. I hope they ended up finding one another! I think it's a really sweet thing to go holidaying together, let the active one do their dream ride, let the more chill one hang out at a coffee shop waiting for their partner to arrive. It's cute.
Then i ate a fantastic pulled jackfruit salad. And then i went back on the road. I was originally going to spend the night in Grand Forks, but Christina Lake is only 20km further, and it seemed like it'd be better to start there, because whichever route i take to Castlegar it's going to be a tough one, so best to start as close to the climb as possible.
That was an excellent decision. Turns out the route between Grand Forks and Christina Lake is along the south face of a mountain that gets a ton of sun, and it's protected grasslands, so i got to see some of that buffalo-lookin' country that i wasn't expecting to see much of till the prairies. Lots of grasshoppers and butterflies, and because it was late in the day the sun was behind me, turning everything a beautiful golden color.
Two trestle bridges - one over an epic gorge with rapids - and a steady climb back into the hills, i arrived at Christina Lake. Actually, i arrived 100m above Christina Lake, and had to descend off the rail trail to get to it. D'oh. That's gonna make tomorrow morning suck.
Checked into a family campsite with a laundromat so i can clean all my clothes, and met another bike tourer. We're everywhere! This was a traditional bike tourer, with drop handlebars and panniers out the ass and a Tour de France top. He was actually more helpful to speak to than the mountain bike guys because mountain bike guys tend to be a bit like hardcore train hoppers - they just see the world in stretches of their chosen mode of transport without much info about the connections. Like, to the guys who just hop trains and nothing else, they only know Kamloops and Revelstoke and Field and Calgary. The towns between the crew changes don't count. To a mountain biker they know all the rail trails and "epic" logging roads, but talk about taking a highway or even a farm road to get there and they look at you like you're nuts. I suppose they all have cars, or friends who will drive them to the trail head, or some damn thing.
Anyway, it was excellent to talk to the bike tourer. He gave some great tips about different ways i could get into Alberta, both on gravel and on sealed roads. He is going the "tough guy" route and heading down to Trail then to Salmo and over the murderous Kootenay pass, before pedaling up to Radium Hot Springs and back to Calgary through Banff. He said Nelson and the Balfour ferry is the more relaxed way, and that cycling down the highway on the east side of Kootenay Lake is beautiful. But he also said if i could make it over Anarchist, i'd have no problem at all taking Crowsnest (highway 3) over the Rockies and down into Alberta. That was a really reassuring comment, and it made me feel even prouder i made it over Anarchist.
Ah, so many chats today. It was an atom smasher of a ride, i loved it. Grand Forks was cool too, it reminded me a lot of "home", which is to say Kamloops. There's a sawmill. There's a train (although only lumber racks, probably only runs once a week). There are homeless people camped up along the river and sadly some people walking around obviously struggling with addiction. But the restaurant i went to was solid, plenty of vegan options, and it felt cozy, nestled in a little valley with trees on south side and gravel and scrub on the north side. I think it's the most livable of all the places i visited so far. Maybe less cosmopolitan than Penticton, but more comfortable.
So, i'm posting today as my safety check. Tomorrow i will either try to crush the highway climb to Castlegar, or (more likely) i will take the C&W trail north past Paulson and into the backcountry. Then i will camp on the side of the trail, hopefully somewhere i can find a water source (they are apparently rare), then the day after - if i didn't get mauled by a bear or die of dehydration - i will continue through the 1km long tunnel to Castlegar. I should be there Friday, but don't anyone worry till Saturday.
Saturday is also my mom's birthday. I really hope i can either stay in a place or travel through a route she would have loved.
Boom. Two weeks on the road. I'll try to make a picture post before i collapse into my sleeping bag.