The kids and I got back recently from our trip to the Chilcotin mountains of BC. We tricked my friend Vik into coming along and carrying some of our heavy food. Our plan was to take from 5 to 7 days to make a loop up Gun Creek, over Deer Pass and down past Spruce Lake and back to our original parking spot. Having kids along meant a lot of extra weight in gear and food since they eat similarly to and adult and sleep in a sleeping bag at night.
We met up with Vik at Mowson pond, a BC recreational area, basically a rough campground with a pit toilet and picnic tables. We did the drive in in two days with a stop in Glaciers National park, so we arrived around dinner time. Vik showed up just as I was heading up to the Tyax lodge to call home, and he agreed to stay with the kids so I could have and adult phone conversation. Though Vik has no kids of his own, he is familiar with their existence and his patience helps him to deal with their unrelenting questions. After dinner and a quick campfire we got to bed and got a good sleep. After a leisurely breakfast, we packed up and headed out to the trailhead. Thus a comedy of misdirection started in which I lead the way past the turnoff to the place where I thought the trailhead might be. A quick look at the map had us head back to the turnoff to what we believed was the correct road. It turned out to be the incorrect road, since it ended before the trailhead. It was apparently passable by bike, but there was another forest service road that led to the actual trailhead. We turned around again, and headed back in the direction we came from. At this point, Fiona started to complain about carsickness. I slowed to a crawl and handed out some gravol. We then stopped for a 10 minute walk along the roadside to get Finny’s tummy settled a little before heading off in the new correct direction. Several wrong turns later, we ended up on the side of a cliff, with a decidedly non-minivan friendly road surface. We made the decision to backtrack to the spot where at least we knew we could park, and just to accept the extra kilometres. Fortunately, on the way we did a quick foot recon of what appeared to be a dead end turnaround and it turned out to be a reasonably good and more importantly correct road to the trailhead. It was the heat of the day when we arrived mid afternoon, and loading my bike went a little slower than ideal, but we weren’t in a hurry.
It was nearly 4pm when we finally hit the trail. We hadn’t gone more than a couple of hundred metres before we arrived at the first substantial obstacle. There was a large portion of washed out trail, with a slippery slide down to the river below the very narrow path that cut its way through. We pushed the bikes through with Fiona hiking along and getting help past the badly washed out spots. Vik helped us get the bikes across the worst bits, and we pushed on. This is where it became apparent to me that this was a more serious bike trail than I was expecting, and also just how heavy my pig of a bike was.
My bike started from a good base, a Salsa Mukluk Ti with 29+ rear wheel and Big Fat Larry on Clownshoes in front. To this I had added Porcelain Rocket front, rear, frame and anything cage bags to make it a pretty competent bikepacking rig. Then I put the Burley Piccolo and a pannier on it and that put it into the realm of the overweight and unwieldy. The Piccolo was never designed to go off road even though it is durably designed and handles very well for a trailer bike. The weight of all the food and Fiona’s gear and the healthy 5.8 year old brought us into the ridiculous zone. Conveniently, Vik had agreed to bring panniers and to carry some of our food. This slowed him down and made it possible for us to push up the big hills. My enormous backpack was filled primarily with our three sleeping bags, so while it was unwieldy, it wasn’t too heavy.
It was hot when we started, and we soon discovered that every time we stopped, swarms of biting flies came around to make off with bits of our flesh. There were several distinct types of flies, but they all bit and they came in unprecedented (for me) numbers. It was not unusual to slay 3 or 4 with a single swat. Fiona and Tadhg seemed much less attractive to them, while Vik and I took the brunt of their assault. As long as we kept moving, however slowly, we seemed to stay relatively fly-free. Since we were going so slowly, Vik had to stop frequently to wait for us to catch up. This meant that Vik got the most flesh stripped from him. He somehow maintained his composure and patience and frequently backtracked to help get Tadhg’s bike and mine up particularly steep sections. Tadhg has pretty limited experience with riding over obstacles, and his bike alone weighs half as much as he does. Add to that his clothes, tools and bags, and he was pushing about 3/4 of his body weight and trying to get it up hills and over roots and rocks.
I felt bad for Vik since he was clearly less outgunned than we were. His technical skills are pretty good from riding the singletrack on the island, and his bike was better set up for the rocks and roots. I really can’t say enough good things about his composure and patience.
The kids seemed to keep their spirits up and though I was in a bit of a blur from the effort. The area we were riding through was stunning. There were tons of wildflowers, the creek and a beautiful milky green tint to it and the forest always puts me in a good mood. I was overwhelmed but happy. Fiona took to getting off the bike and running ahead of me whenever there were sections that she thought I shouldn’t ride, and having her 45 pounds off the bike made it easier to handle.
There were a few sections of flat sandy trail, and the fatbikes were in their element, it is always hard to tell how much of a trail is pushing and how much is riding, on account of how fast you go when the trail is good. Regardless of percentages, we made slow progress and after 4 hours of riding we only made 10km. We did stop for several candy breaks, but our overall progress was in no way fast.
We started looking for a campsite shortly before it got dark, and we decided to stop at a bridge where we could at least get water. Tadhg and Fiona had a good time launching stick “boats” in the creek and watching then roll down the rapids. Vik’s notoriety as a guy who goes to bed early was not dispelled, and all of us went to bed as soon as we had finished our dinners. The sound of the creek and the fresh air meant that we slept deeply until morning.
A rough estimate of my bike weight is as follows:
Bike: 31 pounds
Piccolo: 22 pounds
Pannier with gear and clothes: 30 pounds
Front roll with food and and gear: 30 pounds
Seat bag with tent and mattress: 10 pounds
Frame bag with water, snacks, toiletries: 15 pounds
Fiona: 45 pounds
Vik had an additional 25 pounds of food in his pannier as well as the stove and pot for the whole group.