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Castle Wilderness – New to Us Route

I tried to talk Tadhg into bikepacking the Alberta Rockies 700 but he thought that sounded like a 2 week rather than 2 day ride. So, in the tradition of compromise, I scaled back. I may have to do it solo next year. I did want to do a new and hopefully a bit challenging bikepacking route. After communicating with an Instagram Friend, I was inspired to try a route in the Castle Wilderness area. There are several mentioned in Doug Eastcott’s Backcountry Biking in the Canadian Rockies. It is an older book, so some of the routes may have become impassable from floods, avalanches, landslides, and fires.

The plan was to take a route from Castle Mountain Resort to Sage Creek recreation area in BC. The first night we’d random camp somewhere on the Alberta side, and the second night at Sage Creek. I plotted out a route on my GPS and we had a plan.

We had previous plans to go watch the Stampede Parade. So, we did, as usual bringing our stepladder in the cargo bike so we could avoid the hassle of showing up early to get a good spot. We just saunter up and set up the ladder behind the crowd. We have a great view of the show and we can sleep in as well.

After a run to get groceries, we headed off in the van (yes, I did suggest riding there) at around 3:45pm. Since it is over a 3 hour drive to the trailhead, we weren’t riding until 7:30.

I started us off on the right foot by misinterpreting the route I had planned and staying on the wrong side of the river. The trail on that side was much more hilly than I expected. Eventually, it ran out entirely in a maze of game trails, forest, and river. I checked the GPS, and when zoomed in, realized we needed to be on the other side of the river. Rather than backtrack, we forded the river, technically, I forded the river, and I carried Tadhg on my back so he could keep his shoes dry (I wore water sandals). After a hundred meters of bushwacking, we came to a quad trail (a handy thing about quads is that they create a lot of braided trails that you can use to get back to the main trail) and we followed the network of progressively larger quad tracks until we got back to the main trail. The real trail was a hard-packed gravel road and we made good progress to the start of the climb. The climb quickly got steeper, but mostly it got more rutted and rocky. My goal was to make it to the gate about 1.5 km from the top of the pass where there was an unserviced camp spot. We made it before dark fell, set up camp and had a great night’s sleep.

There were a couple of creek crossings to negotiate while climbing the pass, but since I had anticipated having to ford the Castle River, I wasn’t too put out. Again I ferried Tadhg across on my back since I didn’t want him to have to take off his shoes. The non-water parts of the climb were mostly loose, steep, washed-out, and rocky, so we pushed most of the way. I expected this, since this route had been a road designed for motor vehicles and so it was no surprise to find it was steep and rutted.

The view from the top though, was stunning, other than a few unsightly (illegal, rogue) quad trails braiding the pass, the view was quite spectacular. The wind was also quite spectacular. Like many mountain passes, the wind funneled up one side and was ferocious in the pass proper. The frame bag on my bike was catching enough wind to cause the bike to weathervane around the front wheel as I pushed.

The descent was, of course more fun. The highlight was a series of pump-track style bumps near the top. I amn’t sure if they were original, or from or to stop vehicles, but they were fun on the bikes (watch out for the fallen trees!). The next section featured dense bushes that were crisscrossing the trail at about face height. We had to go slowly, or risk not seeing obstacles. One tree leaning across the trail snagged my backpack and almost removed me from my bike. The bushy section was occasionally interrupted by sections of avalanche debris. As we got lower down, the debris from the previous years had been cleared, or a path cut around it, so it was easy to negotiate, even if it wasn’t all rideable.

Our brakes were given some respite as the valley leveled out somewhat. The riding continues to be fun and occasionally interrupted by more debris.

Part of decommissioning a logging road is to remove the drainage pipes and leave the ditch in place as a water bar. These make fun little jumps if you can manage to take them at speed. As we neared the end of the “trail” section toward the logging road we met some folks from BC Fish and Wildlife who were studying wolves in the backcountry. They told me they had seen at least 14 distinct grizzlies on a single wildlife camera. Given the number of berry bushes, I was not surprised, but rather glad that I had arrived out of season for the berries as well as singing heavy metal and punk rock songs on the way down.

There were a couple more creek crossings (shallow enough for pickup trucks) and then we had a section of smooth logging road to our goal, Sage Creek Recreation Area. This flat creekside campground was nothing super special, but it did have an outhouse and picnic tables, and it was clean. We met some folks out on a forest road drive in a quad and a jeep, and they offered me beer from their seemingly infinite supply. I was glad for their hospitality, even if they didn’t seem to understand that I really wanted to eat all of the food I had brought so I wouldn’t have to carry it back over the pass.

As we were getting to sleep around 10, Tadhg started pestering me about how we would make it back over the  pass the following day. I really wasn’t that concerned, and I probably should have spent more time calming him down before going to sleep.

Getting a teenager up at 8:30 AM is not easy, and of course, since this one had been worrying all night about the pass, he didn’t get the great sleep I did, and he felt sick. This translated to possibly the slowest riding I’ve ever witnessed, with me riding ahead at just fast enough to balance my bike, waiting, and him catching up at practically trackstand speed. I soon decided that taking the other, possibly harder, route back would be a mistake.

Since we were going so slowly, had the chance to observe more around me, so I took more pictures of roadkill than I usually would.

In spite of Tadhg’s lack of energy, we eventually made it back to the top of the pass. Though the downhill on the far side was not always rideable, it was at least downhill. Once we hit the bottom of the hill, Tadhg’s energy returned and he found himself able to keep up with my fastest pedaling.

In hindsight, I would probably chose to climb the pass and then proceed to one of the lakes near the top of the pass to camp. Another good possibility would be to attach this to another route such as heading through Cabin Pass and the Wigwam Valley to Fernie. Either way, I’m glad to have seen it and I’ll definitely be back to see more of the Castle area.

For those that are into these things, I posted my ride track on Ride With GPS.

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My Path to Cargobike Nirvana

I think if someone was carving a gravestone for me the epitaph might read, “You got here by bike?” It’s certainly a phrase I hear a lot. I sometimes let it slip into the background as I bike off to the store.

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Though I may not think much about it now, there have been times when I needed to deliberately structure my life to bring biking back in to it.

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When I first became a stay-at-home parent, I knew that I didn’t want my days to be a series of car rides. Not only did I not want to live in a rolling metal box, but I didn’t want my child’s first interactions with me to be with the back of my head.

Back then, I hadn’t even heard of bakfietsen, nor of cargo bikes of any description. I wasn’t sure that my Chariot trailer was the smoothest way to transport my delicate baby. While I used the Chariot a lot, it wasn’t quite the experience I wanted. So, I walked. I walked a lot. I pushed the stroller around town, some trips were as far as 20km each way. Any distance is walking distance if you have the time, and with a 10-month-old baby who didn’t nap, I wanted to fill our days with fun, and I had lots of time to fill.

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I knew that transportation by bike was great for saving money, fitness, and fun, but I hadn’t really solved the child transport piece of the puzzle. As Tadhg grew, I would carry him in the trailer or on a rear-mounted seat on my bike, but it felt like we were missing out on some of the fun. I would often revert to walking, and if pressed for time, I would take my car.

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I do not endorse these poor fashion choices by me.

By the time our second baby came along, I had heard of bakfietsen being imported into Canada. I showed my friend an article, and she immediately ordered one. I have to admit, while I thought the concept was great, I wasn’t 100% convinced that they would work here. I suspected they were too heavy for our hills, over-geared for our hills, and too big to work well with our lack of infrastructure.

When my friend was put on bed rest, she “forced” me to borrow her bike. It was surprisingly practical. Though the brakes were underwhelming (some might say terrifying) and the gearing was too high, and the riding position too upright for my spine, I found myself using it a lot. I grew to appreciate it as a way to return the speed of the bike to my car-lite lifestyle.

After returning the bakfiets I went back to the trailer for a while, but it was clearly insufficient. I had been spoiled.

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I started looking for cargo bike options. I tried out a couple of longtails, I liked them, but I had been spoiled by the kids being where I could talk to them. I tried a few of the front-load options that were available at the time. I even tried a trike that separated into a stroller.

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I was weighing my options, when I saw on the bike forums that there was a guy in Eugene Oregon starting to build a new cargo bike that offered many advantages. The significant option for me was that it had a longer, less upright cockpit than the Dutch bikes. The geometry was much better for climbing. It was steel, which theoretically meant a bit of springiness and therefore comfort. It had a flatbed to which the sides of the box were added which gave it more versatility.

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I bought the bike on a leap of faith based on a video that he took of himself riding the bike. I got the bike in May of 2009, and have been riding it ever since.

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Now, 9 years later, I am still happy with that decision. I’ve taken the Cetma on tour, around town, on singletrack trails, and in every type of weather. Though my kids don’t ride very often anymore, it is still handy for shuttling them to friend’s houses and other short trips. We sometimes even use it for date night.

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My friend Lindsay, a “newbie” after just 2 years has just written a review of her Cetma. She has much more information about it, and much less rambling prose.

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When the passenger becomes the rider.