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Lost Horse Creek Winter Overnight

Fiona and I had enjoyed the previous weekend’s trip to Shadow Lake, that Tania suggested we do a quick overnight to the campground at km 7.2, Lost Horse Creek.

Tadhg and I decided to bike, both of us generally prefer biking when it’s one of the options. Tania left herself the option to ski or walk, and Fiona  was planning to either ski or ski with her other pair of skis. At the trail head, Tania opted to take advantage of the packed trail surface and walk.

With the weather above freezing, the way in had us down to our t-shirts in short order. Tadhg did leave his hat on.

Fiona and I decided to sleep under the stars to save time putting up our tarp and in hopes of seeing some Northern Lights (though chances were slim, the northern sky had mountains obstructing the view). We dug out a nice spot in the snow to put the tent up for Tania and Tadhg.

I was proud of getting up at 7:15 to make coffee (a pride that lasted until I found out it was time change weekend in the car home) Winter has the great advantage of being able to bring real milk for Tania’s cappuccinos, and I always feel better about serving real milk than even the whole milk powder that works reasonably well.

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We gave Fiona and Tania a substantial head start while we packed up, but even with that, the bikes speed advantage over Tania’s walking, and the downhill trail meant that we passed them on our way down. It was a fun finish to a very relaxing weekend.

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Shadow Lake Fatbikepacking with Fiona

Every year I try to make it out on a couple of trips alone with each of our kids. The one-on-one time is great bonding for all of us. I try to choose something that will be at least some challenge so the kids can take some pride in it afterward. I have high hopes that I’m providing some opportunity for my kids to learn the freedom that nature provides.

In spite of our local school board’s efforts to instill fear of any cool temperatures in my kids, Fiona enjoys the challenge of a cold weekend. She was disappointed to hear that the forecast low for the weekend was -16ºC. “But I was hoping for cold!” she told me. Personally, I was thinking of how much easier it would be to not have to deal with the extra work that comes with cold. Putting on boots in the morning is so much nicer at -16ºC than -30ºC.

We’ve been on a few ski camping trips this winter, and I’ve been wanting to do some bike trips while the season is here, so I encouraged Fiona to agree to a bike trip. I had had heard good things about the Redearth Creek ride to Shadow Lake. Only the first 10km are open to bikes in summer, but in winter bikes are allowed as far as the lodge. (Shadow Lake Lodge is a beautiful historic backcountry lodge with individual cabins and a wood-fired sauna.)

We left the house on Friday afternoon, and after driving through a snow storm, (past many crashes, one of which I stopped to offer assistance to the driver) we arrived at the trailhead just after 4:45. We were riding by 5, which was good since at this time of year, the lights need to be turned on at about 6:45.

[click photos for larger version]

 

The trail was steadily uphill, but not overly steep, so I could ride almost all of it though conditions were a little loose. Fiona needed to push up many of the hills, the laws of physics dictate that 10 year old girls do not have the favourable power to weight ratio I have.

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Just before we turned on our lights.

We weren’t there to race, so our many snack breaks and slow pace weren’t an annoyance, just a part of our ride. It did turn out to be the longest 7.2km in history though. I started investigating side trails for signs of the campground about 2km back from where the actual campground was. We were thrilled when we finally spotted the sign for the campground in our headlamps.

As per usual, few people had used the campground this winter. We placed a high priority on shoveling out the outhouse door to simplify visits later on. I often wish the National Parks outhouses did not have the front step exactly the same height as the door. It would be much easier to open the door if it were an inch higher so that we didn’t have to scrape every molecule of ice from the step. Since it was snowing hard, we set up our tarp, even though we had an ample tree well to shelter in.

 

 

There was a nice creek water source at the campground, and the approach to it looked very reasonable. I was, however, too lazy to shovel a path in the waist-deep snow to get to it, so we melted snow for our coffee, oatmeal and the day’s drinking water.

 

We took our time, and were riding our bikes by 11AM. Again, we weren’t racing, and since we knew that we had time to backtrack if we missed the campground, we didn’t even need to be vigilant, we just needed to enjoy the ride. We weren’t any faster than the guys on snowshoes who kept stopping to take pictures, but Fiona’s riding had benefited from a good night’s sleep and she was riding up some fairly steep sections of trail.

 

Fortune smiled upon us, and we encountered a woman snowshoeing just as we were to pass by the campground. She was surprised that we would even attempt to camp out in winter, but kindly showed us where the site was.

 

Our early arrival at the campsite left us with plenty of time to go for a short hike up to Shadow Lake proper. There wasn’t much to see on account of the heavily falling snow from overcast skies, but it was worth going for a walk and answering an extensive series of science questions from Fiona. Our discussion of the future of humanity did stray a little toward the preamble to the film “Idiocracy” but she was hoping to direct our evolution toward having 6 fingers per hand – because, “I’d love to have more fingers!”

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We got back to camp in time to prepare supper in the light and then, after some reading by headlamp, we were off to sleep.

I don’t know if it’s the mountain air, the physical exertion, or some other factor, but I always sleep well outside. I awoke feeling refreshed and happy. Fiona had also had a great night, and other than some reluctance on her part to put on her cold boots, she was at her best and helped with breakfast and breaking camp.

 

We decided to start our day with a quick jaunt up to take some pictures at the Lodge. Conveniently, a kind stranger offered to take some “kind stranger” pictures of the two of us.

 

 

The trail back was mostly downhill, which we were looking forward to. We were somewhat concerned about the new snow that had fallen all weekend, but the trail was mostly rideable and with the weather cleared, we enjoyed much better views.

 

An interesting thing had occurred as the snow fell and the supply snowmobile from the lodge had passed up and down the trail, what had been a single trackset on the trail had become several. In a couple of places I’m afraid that we ran out of room and used the 6th or 7th ski track for ourselves, I know that I’d have a tough time being angry if I was on skis and was limited to even 1 set of tracks, so I hope everyone else feels the same.

 

The loose conditions allowed Fiona to practice her control skills. Though she acts modest, she has tremendous talent when it comes to keeping a bike going in snow. Of course, any time we get a chance to put in 3 consecutive days of riding, skills are going to improve. While Fiona had a couple of crashes, it was still a lot of fun.

 

I’d like to encourage others to go out and try this sort of trip with their kids, or on their own. Not only is it a learning experience and healthy physical activity, but it is fundamentally fun. With a little luck, one day we will get to a backcountry campground in winter and the outhouse door will already be shoveled.

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Multi-family Kid-friendly Bikepacking

Our friend Lindsay suggested one day that we should do an overnight bikepacking trip with our families to celebrate the start of the new school year. I never pass up an opportunity to sleep outside, so I was definitely in. We each told a few friends about it, and before long what we had thought would be only be us and another couple of people turned into a full campground. I blame Lindsay for being so famous.

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Side note: Lindsay sent many of you here to read my capture of the energy and essence of the trip. I’ll try not to let her down [pulls out “Writing English for Dummies” book].

Our friends were diverse in experience, backgrounds and ages. We were all experienced cyclists, but some of us had not been bike camping before. A few of us had been on Megan Dunn’s bikepack.ca family bikepacking trip during the summer, a few of us were people we knew from social media and hadn’t met in real life.

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Though I myself like some of the more technical trails, I wanted this trip to be accessible for novices. That way they wouldn’t hate me for my trail selection. I also wanted it to be a not-to-distant drive from Calgary, and to provide enough challenge that the kids and parents could feel that they had accomplished something. Lindsay and Des were planning to bring their cargobikes, so I wanted to pick a trail that would be compatible with them as well.

When Tadhg and I had toured the newly-built Romulus campground (it replaced the one that was washed away in the 2013 flood) we thought it was very nicely done, with the hiker section being just as nice as the equestrian side, and the food area being separate from the sleeping area. The trail in met our criteria, and so it was what we recommended.

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The fancy new outhouse at Romulus

We met at the trailhead at 11:00 AM parent time (11:45) and loaded up the bikes. We started riding some time around 12:30. Everyone spent some time getting to know each other as we rolled up the trail.

Bikepacking with kids in tow is best described as slow. Kids like to stop to look at flowers, push bikes up hills, push bikes down hills, have snacks, tell you how tired they are, have more snacks, complain about the lack of snacks, well, you get the idea. Suffice to say that we broke no speed records that day. We did get lots of time for the parents to speak among ourselves (mostly bike talk, this was a pretty bikey crowd).

The stars of the show were the babies. My friends Andy and Ellen had their 8-month-old twin girls along. They towed them in their chariot with their gear distributed between the trailer and their panniers. This was the twins’ first overnight camping trip, so we were pretty excited to have helped indoctrinate encourage them to bring their kids out camping.

The kids all had their usual lines about how tired they were, how far it was, and how steep the hills were, but their energy levels once we got to camp belied the difficulty of the riding. A 10-kid game involving bears, wolves, horses, and a lot of chasing took up most of the camp time, with the exception of all the eating of course. I have been on trips with parents before where there were structured activities for the kids. I am both too lazy to carry items like bored games, and all of the information that I have read shows free play to be valuable for learning and physical development. My kids often play with the toys in the backcountry: rocks and sticks, make crafts with the supplies in the backcountry: rocks and sticks, use the sports equipment in the backcountry: you guessed it, rocks and sticks.

With such a bike crowd, it was no surprise that the kids’ bikes were all good quality light bikes. The parent’s bikes were a quirky assortment. Alex and I had our Krampus 29+ bikes, mine a singlespeed, which were overkill for this section of trail, but are versatile enough that both of us use them as our main bikepacking bikes. Ray earned some cred with his dump-salvaged Trek turn-of-the-millennium hardtail which was in excellent condition, especially considering its $0 cost. There was a fleet of long-tail cargo bikes present, mostly Xtracycles, a couple of MTBs, and Tania, Andy and Ellen brought their fatbikes. The three trailers were a fat-tired Burley, the Chariot child-carrier trailer, and Ray had a salvaged trailer that had seen better days but worked fine to carry their stuff. Arguably, the most suitable bike for this trip was Jeremy’s Surly Big Fat Dummy, a longtail fatbike destined to carry his children and gear across many sandy, snowy, or really any kind of adventure they choose.

This summer has been extremely dry, and so the trail in was quite dusty. Much as we were enjoying hanging out together, we were all glad to have the rain start in earnest around 8:30 PM. Not only would the moisture consolidate the trail for the ride out, but it was a great way to encourage all the kids to bed. The rain on our tarp is a familiar sound to me and so I was quickly lulled to sleep.

There is always a risk of a kid not sleeping on any trip, usually on the first night as they adjust to an unfamiliar setting. This was no exception and one of the twins (we won’t mention which) was reluctant to do any sleeping. The parents were heroically tolerant of this, I suspect they might even take her on another trip.

The ride out is predominantly downhill. Thanks to the rain, the dusty trail had consolidated and was much easier to ride on going out than coming in. Even the least experienced riders had gained some extra confidence, though some of them were more tired than they had been on the trip in.

I am very happy at how well this ride turned out. From meeting new people, to seeing different gear and styles, to enjoying the creativity and open minds of the children, it was a great success. We were talking of more trips even as this one was unfolding. There have been requests to join next year’s ride should we make it an annual event. I am overwhelmed by the positive response this has received. I am flattered that others think that the things I like to do are fun.

Though this was not a major adventure, nor a life-changing experience, it was something that I hope the kids will remember. I feel it has strengthened bonds between the families and given us all new ideas. Thanks to all of you for joining us.

 

 

 

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Piecemeal Bikepacking with Tadhg

We were dropping Tania and Fiona off for a 4-day weekend in Radium and so the logical idea was to challenge ourselves with the Kootenay Gravel Grinder route. We were a week late for the race, and we’d be days off the pace, but it was in the right place, and from what I hear, a nice route.

The forecast 35ºC heat sounded a little discouraging.

Fortunately, the very rad Megan “Evil Moose” Dunn was putting on an overnight family bikepacking trip on behalf of bikepack.ca on our “home trail” the Elbow Loop. Though Tadhg was going to be the only teen on board, I didn’t want to miss a chance to meet other bikepacking families. I figured Tadhg’s babysitting experience would serve him well.

We decided to take the easy way in so that we could leave the car in a good position to follow Megan’s overnighter with another, longer ride.

We always think of the hike up to Elbow Lake as a bit of a slog, but as Tadhg grows, more of it becomes rideable for him. Our 7km ride in to Tombstone campground was done in just under half an hour, I felt like going for an out-and-back ride somewhere just to have been riding my bike for a bit of time.

[click pictures to embiggerate]

We set up our tent, and were just discussing moving it to a more open area to get out of the stench of horse droppings (the campground is used by equestrians, who apparently have no rules or desire to do any cleanup after their horses) when Megan and her gang arrived.

They had made it up the Little Elbow side of the trail in about 5 hours, which sounds slowish but is actually pretty good time for a family. When there are a 4 and 6 year old riding a tandem attachment and their own bike, the speeds drop pretty quickly.

Later in the afternoon another family arrived on foot with their 1-year-old baby in a backpack. This was definitely a hardcore group.

Once the tents were set up in a more open area of the campground, thoughts turned to food (and the kids started playing tag with each other). I had my new “recipe” rice:

  • 2 cups instant rice (with salt from rice instructions)
  • 1/2 cup roasted cashews
  • oil from rice instructions in separate container
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk powder
  • 1 tbs curry powder
  • Add water according to rice instructions and let sit for 5 minutes (10 minutes if above 1500m)

The coconut milk powder really boosts the calorie count and the cashews add some valuable protein to this tasty dish. I plan on adding dehydrated vegetables to future versions.

As we finished dinner, Jeremy and Chris arrived, Chris’s 8-year-old was under her own power on a 24″ wheel fatbike while Jeremy had his Surly Big Fat Dummy with his daughter as cargo (and pusher on steep hills). They had experienced some traffic and other delays, and had come up the much harder Big Elbow side. Their 5 hour time was a substantial accomplishment.

I struggle to find adequate words to describe how much I liked this group. I knew Megan was the real thing in a world of phonies. It turned out that her buddy Katrina is pretty much a force of nature. She and Mike’s son is the kind of kid I like to be around, energetic, patient, intelligent and fun-loving. Jeremy and Chris were justifiably proud of their daughters. It took a lot of effort for them to ride/push in the harder way. It really is easy for me to like bikepacking parents, I hope to do something with them again soon.

For our second day, Tadhg suggested that we do the 40km loop, and since he had bonded with the younger boys, we opted to escort them out and then giv’er back to the campsite for our second night.

 

From experience, I can say that the 5 hours it took us to get out to the trailhead was a very decent speed for a group that included a pregnant woman, a dad with trailer and panniers, a 4-year-old on tandem attachment and a 7-year-old. The level of whine was impressively low as well.

Our trip back up the other side with just the two of us (mostly unladen) was just under the 2.5 hour mark, including a stop for second lunch and investigation of the newly refurbished Romulus campground. This was always our favourite of the loop campgrounds, but the new version has a much improved hiker section, so that the equestrian and hiker sides aren’t the posh equestrian and the rustic hiker sections. I can’t wait for it to open.

Monday’s ride back to the car was uphill, so it was slower than the way in, the plan was to move the car to Sawmill, and then ride the High Rockies Trail to Goat Creek trail and then down to the backcountry campground near Banff town.

I had heard on Friday an interview with the designer of the High Rockies trail in which they discussed how beginner-friendly it was. There was also discussion of how much flow it had. There was even mention of bikepacking, though I was dubious. Previous sections I had ridden were fairly smooth, so I was a little surprised when it became clear how much climbing we were doing.

The reality is that the trail is designed to follow contours and drain well, so it isn’t quite as beginner as I was expecting. Tadhg has no pump track experience, so the constant dips sucked his speed away rather than giving him a chance to pump. The trail flow is also at faster speeds than he could manage with a loaded bike.

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Since we had the car option, I decided that we needn’t suffer quite so much and so we turned around after 45 minutes or so to return to the Sawmill Parking lot. Conveniently, we may have missed a bear closure on the trail just ahead of where we were. The more downhill ride back to the car was much easier than the ride out.

A look at the map and a car ride took us a bit further up the trail. Buller mountain seemed a reasonable place to start and be able to get into the campground by nightfall. The trail was still difficult, but Tadhg was getting the hang of the wavy trail and keeping some of his momentum. After nearly 18km, we came out to a spot near the road and had a good look up the valley. We saw virtually nothing. The smoke was getting quite thick and was obscuring our views of the mountains. We then made the decision to pull the plug on the adventure. Neither of us were in the mood to ride through a smoky mess with the accompanying dry throat and stinging eyes.

On the way back, we did shortcut a section of the trail by taking the road, but the dusty gravel held little appeal, and we were soon back on the trail. All total, we rode roughly 60km for the day which isn’t a bad number for the types of trails.

I do not want to seem like I’m disparaging the High Rockies Trail, it is extremely well-designed, especially given the difficult area it travels through. My main issue with the High Rockies Trail is its lack of campgrounds. There are essentially no campgrounds (a couple of car campgrounds at the south end) for the entire 80km of trail. Since few people (and no beginners) have it in them to ride 160km of the trail as an out-and-back trail in a single day, the lack of campgrounds is a significant oversight. If there were campgrounds at the North end and two other places along the trail, they would go a long way to making the trail bikepacking friendly. I’ve heard that I wouldn’t have this issue if I didn’t have my family to slow me down, but realistically my family don’t move much slower than the average adult, and approximately no hikers will go 80km between campsites.

As it sits, the High Rockies Trail is a great collection of day rides. I might one day ride it as a very long day, but as a hiking or bikepacking trail, it fails miserably until some campgrounds are built along its length. Perhaps making the Mt Rummel campground year-round would be a good start.

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Fatbikepacking Guiding by a 9-Year-Old

Fiona a.k.a. Tonie, at age 9, is a veteran of several fatbikepacking weekends. She loves outdoor winter sports and really does sleep better outside. I was due to take her out for a fatbikepacking weekend without her brother. At the same time, there aren’t that many more winter weekends left. I had promised to take my friend Sean for a winter overnight ride for the past several winters.

I decided to make the most of the weekend by combining family and friends. With the potential for sitcom-like results, I invited several of my middle-aged friends (as well as some families and other kids)  to come along with Fiona and I on an overnight winter fatbike campout. It ended up that the logistics of finding fatbikes for other kids was an obstacle, and so the roster consisted of Sean, my friend Tyler, and I, with Fiona as our guide for the weekend.

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Tyler had some work commitments that kept him from starting with Sean, Fiona, and I, but the three of us set out on the 14km of Goat Creek Trail from near Canmore to Spray River SP6 campground in Banff Park.

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Back when Tadhg was 8, I built up a Salsa Mukluk with shorter cranks, narrower tires (for the lower BB and lighter weight) and put a super-short stem on it. I also switched to a single small chainring since I did not anticipate a need for high gears. Tadhg has gotten good use out of it, and it seems in hindsight like I made some good choices. Now Fiona is tall enough and it has passed on to being her bike.

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Fiona’s bike is almost exactly half her weight.  That, coupled with somewhat challenging conditions and a poor sleep the night before made the uphill portions of the trail difficult for Fiona to ride. I did hand out several snacks on the way, but I can’t really take credit for her making it to the campground, she had to dig deep, but she did not once complain. She did a bunch of pushing her bike, through deep or loose snow on the uphill sections. Though it took us 5 hours, I was still impressed. Her limits are purely her size and if she had been our size, she would have been waiting for us at every bend in the trail.

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[click on pictures to enlarge]

I also have to mention that I was impressed with Sean’s patience. I’m the dad, I have an obligation to care for my daughter, and I was feeling the urge to ride. His restraint was nothing short of remarkable. He also used the relaxed pace to get to know Tonie a little better. As he mentioned, there was no sweating by us adults, and Tonie is really good at shedding layers to manage sweat – she was down to a t-shirt for the warmer parts of the ride.

In the campground, we took our time setting up, Fiona and I had our usual tarp setup and the bag and quilt system that we have been using this winter. We were pretty confident that we’d be comfortable right down to -40º, though the forecast called for a mere -15ºC. Sean had a single person tent that he has used for the last 10 years and he has justifiable confidence in. His sleeping bag system was remarkably similar to our own with a synthetic outer and down inner sleeping bag. It is a well tested combination and makes good sense.

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We were about halfway through setting up our shelters when Tyler arrived. He had started about 2 hours behind us, so he made fairly good time. His total load is heavier than mine, and his narrower rims and tires made some parts of the trail less rideable for him than they were for me.

One of the advantages of the SP6 campground is the eating area is well separated from the sleeping area. I figured this would work to our advantage when Sean and Tyler stayed up to sing campfire punk-rock songs until midnight.

Tonie and I were hoping for a campfire to roast burritos on, so we were glad to find an axe and the fire pit were accessible.  While I put some water and snow on the stove to heat, Fiona went off to find some firewood. I shouldn’t have been, but was, surprised when she dragged back a huge pile of branches from a fallen tree she had found. She knew she had done well, and made a bit of a show of breaking up all her branches so they would fit in the fire. Tyler tried to hire Fiona to work construction for him.

For the record, I had offered to bring an extra burrito for Sean, his foul-tasting dinner was not my fault. The freeze-dried camping meals that are available are hit-and-miss at best, and are expensive mistakes if you get one that tastes bad. For longer hikes, we usually take a few days’ worth, but we do try to avoid them as much as we can. We do have a few dinners that we know that none of us like, I will sometimes choke one down just to reduce the inventory.

Much as I dislike the music of Hank Williams Jr., I am sometimes struck by how à-propos his song “All my Rowdy Friends Have Settled Down” can be. My punk rock sing-along theory was clearly delusional since we were all in bed by 8:30 pm. That was the last we saw of each other until morning. I did have to adjust my sleeping bag to the unzipped mode since I had overestimated how much warmth I wanted and woke up uncomfortably warm at some point. I also was vaguely awakened by the nearly full moon peeking out from the cloud cover to shine very brightly on us.The temperature sat  at -16ºC both before I went to bed and after I woke up.

I was pretty happy and refreshed at 7:30 when I got up. It took me a while to realize that the time change had happened and it was actually 8:30.

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Late rising or not, I got my morning coffee in. Though I had to watch Sean and Tyler sacrilegiously drinking an instant brown liquid product, it did not take away from my enjoyment of my fresh-ground Aeropress coffee. I did have enough coffee to share, but somehow did not succeed in converting the fellows to my side. Oh well, at least I can’t be accused of religious intolerance.

Sean had some commitments back in town, so he packed up and hit the trail as soon as breakfast was done while Tyler stayed with Tonie and I for the ride out. We had heard the grooming sled go by, and we though that had good potential to leave us with a nice rideable trail, but we did have 360m of elevation to gain before we reached the parking lot. The forecast also called for the weather to warm up which can make trails soft and unrideable.

Apparently the sleep had done Fiona good because she was riding all but the steepest hills and was riding well. I kept the snacks and drinks flowing, but I was concerned that she would fatigue, or that the trail would soften to unrideable mush.

I needn’t have worried. Fiona rode almost everything and rode it well. The trail did become softer, but it was still very rideable. As the weather warmed, Fiona shed layers until she was complaining about being too hot in her t-shirt. She kept riding though and that made all the difference. We made it back to the car in just under 4.5 hours, quicker on the uphill direction than we had been downhill. Fiona did take a break to pull out a wiggly tooth and of course for apple chips, brie cheese and some candy.

I could not be a prouder dad. Through the magic of never complaining and hard work, Fiona impressed and endeared herself to my friends. She showed determination and strength, and did it while having fun. I am lucky to be dad to such a wonderful person.

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Winter Elbow Loop Successful Attempt.

We had some trouble deciding where to go on our father and son fatbikepacking trip. We’ve had some warm weather and some of our favourite trails are an icy mess. We debated trying a few new routes, but some of them were likely to be 90% what Scott refers to as, “hiking with an awkward cart.”

We were pretty confident that our old favourite, the Elbow Loop would be mostly free of the kind of ice that forms from lots of foot traffic, and since it is re-opened to snowmobiles this year, we had high hopes that a grooming crew had passed at least once. Tadhg’s main reluctance was the 12km of closed road that we would have to ride to get to the trailhead. Steep and varying between deep snow and treacherous ice, it is not our favourite.

[as always, click pictures to enlarge]

This variant of the road was bumpy hard snow followed by an exhilarating descent on 4km of bare asphalt. Once past it, we were on to the real riding.

The North side (Little Elbow) has a new bridge on it since September, and so we knew there would be no major obstacles. Tadhg was feeling pretty tired, but I encouraged him to dig deep in our attempt to get to the Tombstone campground where we had booked the night. The trail was mostly rideable with snow cover and not too much ice. Some spots were a little punchy, but we could still mostly ride. Tadhg was walking some of the steeper sections since he felt like his energy was low.

We passed the wreckage of Mt Romulus campground around 6pm, after sunset, but with enough twilight to see where we were going. Unfortunately, with the greater snow and steady climbing (and only 2 snowmobiles traffic this year) as it got dark, it became increasingly difficult to ride. Tadhg could ride some of the trail, but I was walking most of it. Eventually, we decided to stop for the night since we weren’t likely to make it to Tombstone before 10pm.

Since our camp spot was of questionable nature, we had no fire to roast our burritos. I was pretty certain that we would not be in any trouble since we were our usual no-trace selves and there were not likely to be anyone coming by anyway.

While the wind may have blown over both our bikes during the night, we were snug and warm in our tent. Tadhg was tired enough to get to sleep by about 9:30 and slept right through until I woke him after 9 in the morning. I knew the day ahead could be hard, and I wanted him in good shape to tackle it. I fed him some more burritos for breakfast, and we were on our way. The food and sleep had done its job and Tadhg’s energy and attitude were both refreshed. He was optimistic about the rideability of Tombstone pass.

What had been unrideable for us at night turned out to be mostly rideable when we had a better look at it. We were down to less air pressure in our tires than most people use, but still, we were riding [Mike Curiak explains fatbiketire pressure here]. Some of the steep uphill parts needed some walking, but that is often the case in summer as well.

Through Tombstone Pass was equally mostly rideable, there were some drifted in sections, but even some of those we managed to power through.

The descent from the pass was a combination of drifted in trail and crust hiding unknown depths of snow. We began the descent with Tadhg able to ride more than me due to his light weight, but even for me most of the trail was rideable. Where we punched through the crust, we came to a sudden stop in sometimes waist deep snow, but we were having a ton of fun. Our only concern was that we might have to push the bikes back up if there was no packed trail when we reached the bottom.

2017-01-28 14-21-34 1031.jpgAs we approached the Tombstone junction, my fears were confirmed when I could see no tracks heading in the Big Elbow direction. I was dreading the climb back over the pass. Fortunately, it was only a large snowdrift hiding the first 10m or so of the tracks and my stress was for naught.

The trail leading toward Big Elbow had not seen much traffic, maybe one or two snowmobiles, but it was nearly 100% rideable with the exception of the hills on the snowmobile route. In the summer, the bike route follows a different trail than the winter snowmobile route and since snowmobiles require almost no extra effort to climb grades that leave people on bikes pushing, the snowmobile hills can be steep and involve much more climbing and descending. I distracted myself from the brutal climb by trying to get Tadhg to swear, (he doesn’t)  but the most I could get from him was, “stupid hill!”

Though steep, the descents on the snowmobile portion of the trail were tremendous fun. The snowmobile route also avoided the double river crossing or cliff climb that is part of the bike route.

Once back on the main route, we found a feature that was normally a small stream crossing in summer, was in fact a treacherous ice flow at least this winter. As I looked back to take some pictures of Tadhg crossing the ice, I stepped poorly and started sliding quickly down the cascades of ice. By using my bike pedal  as an ice axe, I stopped my descent after about 20m. Tadhg wanted to go for a fun slide after he got his bike across, until we investigated where the cascade ended and it was the river.

A while later on, we came to the first of the missing bridges from the ’13 flood. It has not been replaced, but there was a convenient natural ice bridge across the river.

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After the short climb and descent on the far side we came to the bridge that several people, including a park ranger told me had been replaced. It was in no way replaced, and the ice bridge that happened to be nearby seemed on its last legs. I had brought my overboots in case there were water crossings, so even if there hadn’t been ice bridges, we would likely have made it across with dry feet.

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This is not the new bridge we were told about.

The Big Elbow campground is a familiar haunt for us, and we settled in for some dinner. I read to Tadhg for over an hour since we had gotten to the campground so early and we slept through a very windy night.

The wind continued in the morning, and though it made coffee and breakfast preparation a little more difficult, it was in the direction we were headed, so we had high hopes of tailwind for our ride back to the car.

The wind, being a Chinook, was warm and dry and had visibly sublimated some of the snow on the trail out as well as the road. The tailwind was strong enough that we pedaled up the road hill with ease (except for getting blown off once). We were somewhat fearful that the downhill side of the road would be a bumpy sheet of ice, but it turned out to be treacherous in only a few spots, and though it was teeth-rattling bumpy, we were at least riding.

 

 

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New Years 2017 fatbikepacking campout

[click pictures to enlarge]

There are 3 nights of the year that connoisseurs refer to as “amateur night” at the bar, Saint Patrick’s day, Halloween, and New Year’s Eve.

Even though we don’t go to the bar very often, we avoid those nights at all costs. This year I talked Tania into joining me and the kids for a fatbikepacking camp from the 30th of December to January 1st, thus putting us into our favourite place, the wilderness, instead of well, anywhere else.

Since Tania lacks my passion for bikes on snow, we decided on spot with a short ride in, the Spray River in Banff National park has just 6 km of trail before the campground. To make things even better, the trail is now signed and groomed for shared-use between fatbikes, walkers and skiers.

I foolishly decided to shoehorn our 4 fatbikes into our 3 fatbike minivan and so I had more work than I should have to assemble the bikes at the trailhead. I had all but two wheels removed from the bikes, and all the bags and pogies had to be installed as well as strapping on extra gear to my bike since this was our first winter bike adventure with the whole family and I was carrying more than usual. I ended up with a 25 pound backpack in addition to an 85 pound bike. While this could limit me if trail conditions were marginal, I was anticipating reasonable conditions and wasn’t worried.

Tadhg had his usual complement of gear, mostly mittens for his chronically cold hands, and of course his sleeping kit and the pole for the tent. I also snuck a toque of Fiona’s in there as well.

Fiona brought her backpack with chips for the family for the weekend, as well as a flashlight. I was impressed with her wise choices. Her bike frame bag contained her booties as well as one of her sleeping mats being strapped to the handlebars.

Other than the trail having been trodden by many people in (apparently high-heeled) shoes and more than a little bumpy, conditions were excellent. A fatbike was almost certainly necessary, but no heroic measures were required to be able to ride. As keen skiers, we were disappointed that at least one group had used the ski track preferentially as a walking track – the track was not usable for skiing.

We achieved our goal of getting to the campground in time to set up before the sun went down (at this time of the year, about 5:30pm). Fiona decided that we were sleeping in the tent with the rest of the family so I only had one structure to set up, but had carried an extra two pounds of tarp and groundsheet. After setting up, we went back to the campground eating area (about 200m up the trail) and set to building a fire and making dinner. As usual, we had fire-roasted burritos with home-made re-fried beans.

 

Sitting around the campfire is a sure way to slow down the blood circulation and get chilled before bed, so Tania had the great idea to go for a post-dinner walk.  Not only did it get our blood pumping, but it padded out the time between our supper and a reasonable bedtime. We all got into the tent around 9 and after some reading, went off to sleep.

I’ve grown accustomed to sleeping under the tarp, so the warmth of the four of us in the tent was an interesting change. It was certainly warm, and I found myself removing clothes and pulling off a quilt to cool down. The morning temperature outside was -18°C so it wasn’t just the mild weather that had our tent so warm. There was no shortage of frost inside the tent though, so any jostling resulted in an indoor snowstorm.

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For our second day excursion, we split up with me and Fiona bringing our bikes while Tadhg and Tania walked up the Goat Creek trail. Since Fiona is nine, and Tania can walk pretty quickly, a head start for the walkers left us pretty well matched for the uphill portion of the trail, and we met up for snacks so we could hang out together.

We saw very few people, and fewer still were on bikes. The snow cover was a little thin for skiing, but great for hiking and biking. We did see some tracks from someone with either over-inflated fatbike tires or 3″ plus tires that were clearly floundering on the trail and were sinking deeply, so the fatbikes were serving their purpose.

We also ran into Evil Moose Megan on the trail on her way to and from Banff while racking up over a hundred km for the day to exceed a 500km holiday challenge.

Our ride back to camp was mostly downhill, so even with several stops for putting clothing on or off, eating snacks, taking pictures, etc, we were substantially faster than the walkers and so we were well into melting snow and boiling water for dinner when they got back. Melting snow is definitely not the fastest way to get water, but the river access was a little treacherous near the campground so I opted not to get river water for cooking.

Another nice evening walk and an even warmer sleep led to another -18ºC morning. It had snowed overnight, so we had a nice coating of insulation on the tent and a bit of padding for the footprints on the trail.

Coffee is an important part of all our mornings, and I made Tania her usual cappuccinos and my own Aeropress espressos to start our day. I do not scrimp on the camping coffee since it makes for such a luxurious experience.

Our ride out was mostly downhill, though Tania found she was pedaling hard the whole way – mostly because we were moving pretty briskly. Our ride out was well under an hour, even with several stops along the way.

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2011 KVR tour

[This is the original writeup from our KVR trip in the summer of 2011, I have transposed it here to make it easier to access and to avoid accidentally seeming like I endorse Spot. In the years since this trip took place, I have lightened my setup substantially, but I would still consider the Cetma  a viable option for a rail-trail tour like this]

We set out on July 30, 2011, our 17th wedding anniversary, from Midway BC, Mile 0 of the Kettle Valley Railroad (KVR) trail.  My wife Tania and I had decided to bring our children on a bike tour of the  KVR from Midway to Osoyoos, a 270km trip mostly on abandoned rail bed.

Our plan was to avoid most of the hottest parts of the day by starting our riding in the early morning.  When we started from  Midway, it was about 12C and so we started out in fleece jackets to keep us warm.

Our 7-year-old son Tadhg was riding his own bike, a 15 pound BMX race bike.  In order to help him succeed, we had him carrying his water bottle and nothing else.

Tania was riding her own bike which I had fitted with 2.35 inch tires in anticipation of loose trail.  She carried her own clothes and sleeping bag and her water bottle and things.

I was riding my CETMA cargo bike with our family food, tents, hammock, cooking equipment, fuel, 15 litres of water, sleeping pads, 3 sleeping bags and tools and repair equipment.  In among our gear sat our 3.75 year old daughter Fiona (aka Finny).

I also had a Follow-Me Tandem attachment so that if Tadhg had trouble with the distances or the trail, I had the possibility of towing him on his bike.

The morning temperature in Midway was a pleasant 12C as we set out, making us glad to have brought some warm layers even though we were anticipating heat later in the day.

The trail doesn’t go far before detouring around a sawmill on a short singletrack trail.  In spite of the lack of signage, we managed to keep on track easily enough.  Early in the day we passed through a number of farm fields with gates and in one of them, a donkey and a horse befriended Tadhg.  The donkey was particularly fond of Tadhg’s hydration pack and seemed to be trying to eat it, although it was probably just trying to extract salt from the fabric.

Much of the trail had very substantial weeds growing on it and at some points all that was visible of Tadhg was the top of his helmet moving through 4-foot-tall grass and weeds.

At one of the farms between Midway and Rock Creek, the farmer had plowed under the rail bed and there was a detour around the farm field.  The detour consisted of soft soil and tall plants and an almost indiscernible trail through them.  None of us were impressed with the rough ride.

Later in the morning, there were a few road detours (none of which were signed) and we passed by a large fairground style campground full of leather-clad bikers and their harleys.  I had originally thought the Rock Creek campground might be a possible bail-out campsite if we were struggling on our first day.  It made for a rather noisy road and we were glad to return to the trail a couple of kilometres later.

Conveniently for us, just as we pulled in to the Kettle River provincial park campground, we greeted the park ranger and he guided us to an available site.  It was the last single site available and our other choices would have been half-double sites or continuing on and finding another alternative.  Continuing would have been difficult since sore bums were starting to set in.

Fiona and Tadhg were thrilled to get to spend the afternoon swimming in the river.  There was a fairly constant parade of people floating on inflatable stuff going by on the river and it seems to be the main pastime at this campground.

Tania was somewhat concerned that our first day had required substantial effort to reach only the 24km mark on the trail and it was definitely a substantial effort  to ride the erratic trail surface.

For our second day we started out early with plans to stop for coffee and oatmeal sometime midmorning.  Unfortunately, our breakfast break ended up being more than an hour long.  We did get to eat some trailside raspberries and prepared some delicious coffee, but it wasted a great deal of precious cool morning air and by the time we reached Paul Lautard’s KVR cyclists’ rest stop, it was 11AM and we were into the heat of the day.

To compound the heat, the trail after the rest stop is loose, sandy and washboard from substantial quad use.

A family on motorcycles and quads passed us in this section.  A shout of “get off the trail and out of my my way!” was what these folks though was a greeting as they blasted noisily past smelling of unburned gasoline, exhaust and raising a cloud of dust.  The ATV association should find that family and thank them for setting their advocacy efforts back so effectively.   We passed several gates clearly labelled “no motorized vehicles”, each of which had quad tracks circumventing it through the ditch. Many of these “no motorized vehicles” type signs throughout our trip had bullet holes decorating them.

As we passed over the Rhone canyon bridge, we started looking for the swimming hole which was listed in the guidebook as 300m after the bridge.  A km or two passed and we ended up backtracking, convinced that we had missed the swimming hole.  We were hot and cranky and we didn’t need to ride any extra distance.

Finally we gave up looking (after at least half an hour) and just continued down the trail.  Several km later, an outhouse on the side of the trail marked the location of the swimming hole.  The swimming hole was indeed a nice spot and Tania got all the way into the creek in spite of the cold water.

After a refreshing swim, we got back on the bikes and headed further up the trail before stopping at a flat spot where we stopped to camp for the night.  The constant washboard, the riding in the heat and the long day on the trail had taken their toll and we all felt worn out.  (and Tania felt like throwing up). We needed lots of food and a good night’s sleep.

We ate our supper and we were just getting ready for bed when Fiona announced that she had found a snake.  I was very concerned that she was unwilling to back away from it until I could confirm that it was not a rattlesnake.  I grabbed her and pulled her back until I could have a look and I confirmed that it was not a rattler, but Finny was very angry that I had grabbed her and I needed to have a long discussion with her about staying away from snakes.

As I was hanging our food bag to keep it away from squirrels and bears, the mosquitos came out.  The quantity of mosquitos was astonishing, on par with northern BC and substantially worse than the Amazon.  Of course the following day we found that our campsite was about 200m from a mosquito hatchery, a large swampy area ideally suited to mosquitos. Tania was feeling defeated after this long, hot, hard day with not a lot of mileage to show for it.

After the questionable trail on the second day, it was apparent to me that Tadhg was probably capable of riding the entire trail under his own power unless we had to deal with traffic or injury.  We actively encouraged him to take pride in this ability, partially to avoid having to pull him but mostly to build up his sense of accomplishment.

In the morning, we deferred coffee again in order to make it to Beaverdell, our last food supply store before Penticton.  We purchased the entire produce section from the Beaverdell store, consisting of 3 watermelon slices, 5 apples, 3 oranges and 2 pears.  We had also hoped to find beer, but unfortunately the beer selection consisted of Canadian, Kokanee and a few other equally unpalatable choices.  For either of us to carry it on a bike, beer needs to be high quality and flavourful – and not in heavy glass bottles.

After reading the chocolate milk chapter in “Mud, Sweat and Gears” by Joe Kurmaskie, we were eager to try out its magical energy-giving powers on Tadhg.  Although we got him to drink some, it was definitely not something that he would ask for.  It did give Tania and me a great energy boost. (Tania normally HATES chocolate milk but drank it to try out the magic – it was magical)

The trail out of Beaverdell is completely unlabelled and so it took a bit of asking for directions and some trial and error before we found the bypass around a small missing section of rail bed.

Once back on the trail, we made reasonable progress.  The trail slowly climbed up a huge switchback and we travelled North, West and East at various times during the day.  We witnessed the collection of stuffed bears attached to the shed and around the yard of the house where Carmi station once was.

Tania was feeling particularly good and so we stopped at Wilkinson Creek to fill our solar shower and she strapped it to her bike to warm up as we rode.

We decided to either camp at Arlington Lakes or to continue up the trail and random camp if we found it unsuitable.

The trail was climbing steadily and made a large switchback up the side of a mountain giving us great views of the valley below us whenever the forest opened up into meadows.  We came across a huge field of daisies which stretched out in front of us like a beautiful carpet.  The daisy field had a huge number of butterflies of several different types in it and I amused Fiona for a while by having her hold out her hand so that butterflies could land on it.  Of course there were no butterfly landings, but there was  one that touched her hand and that gave her a thrill.

Tadhg astutely observed that the air around us was hot, and when Tania asked how he knew, he said, “When I look across the field of daisies, I can see the air shaking.”

Our initial choice of spots at Arlington lake was nothing special but it was good enough for the night.  Fortunately we asked Archie the ranger if there was a good place to access the lake for swimming and he pointed us to the walk-in sites on a peninsula in  the lake.  Once we moved, our campsite was secluded, quiet and surrounded by water.  The lake was warm enough for me to get in for a swim and for a guy who needed a wetsuit in Hawaii, that says a lot.

Tania’s plan for showering worked admirably, the water was warm by the time she got off the bike in our campsite, and a bit of extra time in the sun topped it off enough to give her a truly hot shower.

Having made about 50km of progress in a single day, we were now ahead of schedule and we decided to sleep in and ride a mere 21km to McCulloch lake where we hoped to find as nice a campground.  We weren’t sure if we could find many places to camp beyond McCulloch lake and before entering the provincial park at Myra canyon so it seemed the most sensible place to stop.

For a portion of the morning we had the privilege of riding through an area where the predominant ground cover was lupins.  They were in full bloom and some of the sections were amazingly fragrant and smelled wonderful even from the seats of our bikes.

There were a couple of sections of the trail where quad barriers required me to unload my bike and portage it through, but it was a small price to pay for smooth, unchurned trail.

The main highlight of the day was finding a couple of patches of wild strawberries.  Tadhg was absolutely thrilled and crawled along searching for more “jackpots” of berries.  Few treats can compare to freshly picked wild strawberries.

Unfortunately, the campground at McCulloch lake was not as nice and could have used some tidying of cigarette butts.  The lake itself was nice enough and we spent most of our time down there since there were far fewer mosquitos at the lake than at our campsite.  The mosquitos at the campsite were serious enough for us to need our mosquito shirts to keep them off us.  Of course, mosquito shirts are not so comfortable in the hot summer, so we traded millions of mosquitos for substantial heat.

When we first arrived at the campground we purchased some Gatorade from the campground attendant.  I was thinking that it might be a great way to help keep Tadhg hydrated.  Unfortunately, he liked it about not at all – oh well, good thing he likes water.

Back down at the lake, the kids decided it was time for some playground time.  Since there was none, they did what kids do and built their own.  A log that took both of them to lift and a rock that was on the beach made a fine teeter-totter and the kids were as happy as if the playground were made just for them.

The campground attendant very kindly provided us with some water (for free) from his personal supply.  We were anticipating another night of wild camping and we thought it would be a good idea to have a full water supply as we made our way into the arid Okanagan valley.  We were carrying a water filter, and by this time it had become apparent that we had enough fuel to allow us to boil our drinking water but it was a lot more convenient to just pour 10 L into our water storage bag.

We had planned the next day to take us through the Myra Canyon to a small backcountry camping spot just off the trail near the Bellevue trestle.

Morning at McCullogh lake was a little chilly and we started out around 7:30 with espresso in our bellies and fleece layers on our bodies.  After an awful rough, rocky , sandy and loose first kilometre, the trail smoothed out and other than a few washed out sections and a 75metre long puddle, we made great progress.

Fiona was very much in the mood to take many breaks and so she asked to pee, poop or stop to eat every 30 seconds or so.  Finally, I pointed out a sign (4 year olds conveniently can’t read) that said “no stopping”.

The Myra Canyon is frequently touted as the highlight of the trip and we were pretty excited when we came to a ridge that overlooked Kelowna and shortly thereafter the parking lot for the Myra Canyon. (Doug was pretty excited because in the Myra Canyon parking lot – the van that rented day trip bike rentals also sold chips – he bought a few bags of each flavour).

In order to keep the rail grade at 2.2%, the rails performed a series of contortions across trestles and through tunnels to get over and around the steep Myra Canyon and the creek below.  Now a provincial park, the trestles are famous both for the trestles themselves and the views available from them.

Being a provincial park, it is actively patrolled and quads are kept off the trail.  The trail surface is also regularly maintained.  All of a sudden, our average speed doubled as we pedalled easily down smooth trails.

We were quite a contrast with most of the Myra Canyon riders.  While we were carrying our camping equipment and food, most of the folks in the canyon were out for the day with a water bottle and lunch or even less.  We could certainly see the appeal of the day trip as the scenery was breathtaking and the trestles impressive.

After the provincial park, the trail became shared with a logging road and there was occasional traffic but the trail conditions remained reasonable for riding.  As we came to where we had intended to camp, we were feeling good enough that Chute Lake Lodge seemed attainable.  We had heard from several trail users that beyond the Bellevue trestle, the trail deteriorated badly, but the promise of a lake and a campground with toilets and showers sounded like a good enough incentive.

As we rode the next section, the trail/road did in fact deteriorate into wheel sucking coarse sand,  Tania discovered why I had insisted on replacing her perfectly good tires with ridiculously wide ones.  Tadhg, unfortunately, had no such option and I was seriously considering hooking him up to my bike and towing him.  Tadhg was really having to pedal hard even to make slow progress and he even had to dismount and push for 100m a couple of times.

In spite of Tadhg’s troubles, we were keeping up with some folks who were out for a day trip on their unladen bikes.  They later admitted that they were pushing themselves to avoid being slower than a 7 year old and us with our fully loaded bikes.  Little did they know that I could probably have doubled my speed and Tania could have tripled hers.

If we hadn’t been warned, we would have had a hard time coping with this section of trail.  As it was, the bleak post forest-fire scenery and the evil trail surface were demoralizing and energy-sucking.

After a couple of hours of riding the road through hell, we came to the oasis.  Chute lake is a small lake on the edge of the trail and beside it is Chute Lake Lodge.  Although it has seen better days, the Lodge has a small restaurant which makes delicious pies and excellent fries.  After a tasty meal of french fries, pie and beer, we set up our tent in the (expensive) campground.  Tadhg made friends with a girl his age who was on a road trip with her family.  We had encountered them on the trail earlier in the day.  The girl had crashed her bike a little after we had met them and scraped her leg pretty substantially.

Tadhg’s friend and her family invited us to have marshmallows with them by the campfire.  After supper we went up and met with them.  Tadhg was pretty happy about the marshmallows until he tasted one.  He said, “I like cooking them, but I really don’t like the taste.”  Yet another junk food that he doesn’t like.

Beyond Chute Lake, we were expecting more rough trail.  We heard from some people that there was a lot of walking for them going uphill.  I dropped the pressure in everyone’s tires to see if we could gain a little more flotation in the sand.  As soon as we left, we realized that we were not in for the same kind of trouble as the previous day.  Although the trail was intermittently sandy, there was a noticeable downhill grade that had been missing the day before.  Also, the landscape changed from skeletal burnt forest to actual forest.

Now that we were in the Okanagan valley, the weather warmed up quickly and it was approaching 30 C by 9 AM.  Nonetheless, we enjoyed ourself immensely as we quickly rolled down through the forest in Rock Ovens Municipal park.  The rock ovens were built for the railway construction crews by the same Italian masons that built the dry-stacked retaining walls and approaches to the trestles.  The rock ovens allowed the camp cooks to prepare fresh bread for the railway construction crews.  The ovens themselves were igloo shaped dry-stacked (no mortar) rock ovens similar to the type seen in pizza restaurants.

We rode through the small Adra tunnel but the large Adra tunnel (which makes a U turn through a mountain) is bypassed due to an unstable roof and water accumulation in the lower end.  A project is underway to restore the large tunnel and they have opened the first 100m to the public.  The approach to the tunnel is an impressive rock cut surrounded by forest, making it feel like approaching a cave through a canyon.

We were all feeling great as we rolled out of the forest into more arid scenery punctuated by vineyards and orchards.  We had a great view of the Okanagan valley below us and the riding was easy enough that we kept relatively cool in the heat.

The last section into Penticton rolled through the middle of orchards and vineyards. Since the original rail bed had mostly been reclaimed by the farmers of the area, there were more hills and valleys than the usual rail trail.  Still, the predominant direction was downhill and the riding was nice.

Once in Penticton proper, the trail transforms into a municipal multi-use trail.  After wandering through the city for a few kilometres, the trail suddenly ends at a shopping centre parking lot.  Suddenly we were left with major roads to navigate and traffic to contend with.

We hooked Tadhg’s bike to mine for the first time in the trip, not because he lacked strength or stamina, but because we needed to navigate significant urban roadways with abundant traffic.  Fortunately, it was not for long and we soon found ourself on the canal pathway to make our way toward hotels where we hoped to find accommodation.

We arrived at the Ramada, which featured a pub with KVR memorabilia and so we checked in to a room.

Unfortunately, the pub was not opened to minors (even though it was calm, friendly and served food) and so we were directed to the poolside restaurant.   We could not see any good reason for this since the poolside restaurant had a much bigger bar than the pub.  Unbeknownst to us, we had arrived during Peachfest, when the town of  Penticton is remade into a version of the movie “Animal House”.  Several large, intoxicated, 19 to 25 year old men arrived at the bar just as we had ordered and proceeded to get loudly more drunk.  We ate and went back to our room.

The kids immediately changed into their swimming gear and asked to head down to the pool.  Although I was somewhat concerned about the drunks, I thought that the hotel would provide a safe enough environment for us to enjoy a bit of pool time.

The kids did indeed enjoy the pool, although I was chastised by one of the other patrons for protecting my children from the sun (they wear long-sleeve sunwear and hats).  I however was somewhat traumatized when one of the drunks came up to the pool next to us and dove in to knee-deep water.  Fortunately for him, the heavy steroid use protected his neck from breaking and he only bashed his head on the bottom of the pool.  After getting him out of the pool and getting a towel to apply pressure to the bleeding, I asked the bartender to call an ambulance.  The drunken friends talked the bartender out of the ambulance and one of them volunteered to drive the injured one to the hospital.

They were back in 15 minutes since there had been a long wait at the hospital and it would have interfered with their drinking time.  They were very upset to hear that they had been cut off at the bar and they started to threaten the bartender loudly.  They alternated between threats of lawsuits and violence until the police arrived to escort them from the hotel.

We were anxious to get away from Penticton the next morning.  We started with a trip to Starbucks and a return trip to the hotel to retrieve forgotten items.  At Starbucks we encountered a man who had cycled extensively in the area and who confirmed what the guidebook told us, that the trail out of Penticton was missing and that we needed to travel the highway until past Okanagan Falls.  We took the municipal path South to the intersection with the highway and pulled out on to the highway.  It was 8:30 in the morning and it was already over 30 C, so much for our cool morning riding.

As we pulled on to the highway shoulder, Tania got a look at the hill that we were facing.  There were several km of  6-7% climbing ahead of us and Tania did not like it.  We stopped for a while to discuss the alternatives, but it was obvious that what we needed to do was climb the hill.  I hooked up Tadhg behind me so that he wouldn’t wander into the traffic lane and we set off.  Tania quickly left us in the dust as she channelled her displeasure into climbing energy.  We plodded along behind, the loaded cargo bike feeling like a bit of a whale on the steep hill.

As we reached the first crest, it became apparent that Tania was going to not only make it to the top of the hill, but that she was going to make great time.  Many other cyclists were passing us on the road, but none of them was carrying more than 2 water bottles of weight on their sub-20 pound triathlon bikes.

We stopped at a roadside fruit stand for some peaches, apricots and cherries.  We still had a long climb ahead of us, but it seemed less like certain doom and more like a challenge.

In order to make me feel better about myself, the BC provincial government placed a weigh scale at the top of the hill to measure just how much I had just lugged up.  It turned out that my rig weighed 200kg (440 lbs) with our gear, food, (less 7 days that we had eaten) water, Finny and me.  Tadhg and his bike were another 30kg (66 lbs).  That meant that we were carrying over 150 lbs of gear and food.

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230kg (over 500 pounds)

After the weigh scale, we had  a stretch of rolling hills, followed by a steep descent into Okanagan Falls.  We stopped for snacks and to browse a shop.  We moved on and rolled along the now much flatter highway toward the next section of trail which would take us through Oliver.  We got held up by road construction part of the way there, and the heat was oppressive, but we made reasonable time.  In a quirk of BC highway construction, (the other is misleading signage)  the highway narrowed for every sharp curve, so that whenever there was a blind corner, there would be no shoulder and we would be forced dangerously close to speeding traffic who couldn’t see us.

We stopped at a gas station just before the trail to pick up some chocolate milk and Gatorade.  We discovered that Tadhg liked lemon flavour Gatorade almost as much as he disliked orange flavour.  From there on, he pointed out the Gatorade logo whenever he saw it.  It’s probably a good thing for him to have at least one junk food that he likes.

Passing through the Oliver area from about half way between Okanagan Falls and Oliver to Halfway between Oliver and Osoyoos is a bike path that uses partly the KVR bed and partly alternate routes.  The important part is that it is shady and flat and after the highway climb and descent, it was really nice to ride on dedicated cycling facility.  We made great time to Oliver where we stopped at the former train station which has been converted to a tourist information office.

The super helpful folks at the tourist information office went out of their way to help us to find suitable accommodations for two nights in Oliver.

Somehow, in a stroke of incredible good fortune, we lucked into the Retreat By the Lake B&B near lake Tuc-el-Nuit.  The room was huge and tasteful and for a modest price, a second room was available for the kids.  Included in the room was wine, fruit and the use of the fabulous outdoor pool.  The real gem though, was the couple who owned and operated the B&B.  Patricia and Bob went out of their way to help us and make us comfortable.  From driving us to get takeout from the local indian restaurant to inviting us to a barbecue with their friends and family, their hospitality was as good as it gets.

After a hearty breakfast, we set out on our last day of riding with mixed feelings about leaving, but with the confidence that we could make the 30 km remaining without too much trouble.

The ride through desert valley with vineyards surrounding us, was beautiful and fairly quick for the all-too-short rest of the bike path.  There is more bike path under construction after the end of the existing bike path, but we were not at all sure if it would end in the middle of somewhere and it was not yet signed, so we did not take it.

The last 15 or so km to Haynes Point (campground in the town of Osoyoos) was on the highway again, and the ride was less enjoyable than path, but we managed the last few hills in reasonable comfort in spite of the heat.  We unhooked Tadhg once we were off the highway so that he could finish his ride under his own power.

My parents had kindly offered to shuttle our car from Midway, so they arrived in the early afternoon for a swim and to visit.

The busy campground at Haynes Point, with its blaring televisions and generators was a big change from the peaceful quiet of the more remote campgrounds.

THINGS WE WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY NEXT TIME:

It was dumb of me not to pack a bunch of toys for Fiona to play with in the bin of the cargo bike.  For the next trip that we take, she will be big enough that we can put her on a tag-along type of bike so that she can feel like she is riding herself.  We will also bring some toys along.

Sandy sections of the trail were difficult to navigate with Tadhg’s skinny-tire bike and he might be better off with wider tires, especially as he grows heavier.  There is a lot to be said for his bike being under 20 pounds though.

The two man tent, three man tent and the hammock added up to a substantial weight, although this was not a huge problem on the shallow-grade rail bed.

Tadhg did not like the parts where we stopped to read the guidebook or the map, perhaps we will involve him more with the navigation process on future trips.

Ideally, we would avoid stopping in bigger towns during party seasons.  Unfortunately, a bike tour such as this cannot be rigidly scheduled as it is difficult to adhere to distance and time schedules with children involved.  The weather for our trip was ideal, but there was every possibility of extreme weather delaying us by a day or more.

Further research into the details of supposedly missing trail sections would be beneficial.  Knowing that there was a trail along the shore of Skaha lake to OK Falls would have substantially changed our experience.

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Wet, Cold Bikepacking Weekend.

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A very sodden bikepacker.

It isn’t every day that you line up three consecutive days for bikepacking with your son, so when it happens – you take it, even if the weather calls for a very wet and cold start to the trip.

We have done the Elbow loop as a day trip, hiking trip and bikepacking trip a number of times now.  It was time to move on to something a little more challenging.  I cobbled together a potential route that had a large number of alternates in case of troubles.  I thought it was going to be a stretch, but might be possible.

Thursday evening we set out from the parking lot in moderate rain.  Tadhg wasn’t feeling his best and felt sluggish on the climbs, but was happy enough.  The rain wasn’t excessive, but there was a consistent drizzle.  We had planned to make Tombstone pass by sundown but ended up only halfway, near where the Romulus campground used to be before the ’13 floods.

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Watching the very camouflaged pheasant round up her chicks

As we set up the tent, the rain got serious.  Then it got worse.

By morning, the rain had tapered down to a steady shower.  Neither of us were in a big hurry to get out into it, so we stretched breakfast and coffee till nearly 11 and hit the trail around 11:30.  The plan was to get 45km further down a couple of trails before settling down for the night.

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Deep in a washout with a wet camera.
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Squishy trail.

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I often say that single digit temperatures and rain are much colder than temperatures below freezing and this was no exception.  We struggled with rain-softened trail and low energy.  Tadhg wasn’t hungry, which is usually a sure sign of trouble.

By 5pm, we had made it less than 20km and had crossed only the smallest passes – hardly worthy of their name.  We came to a river crossing and decided to look for a place to camp – conveniently, there was an old horse camp exactly where we were.

The rain let up as we were setting up camp and things started to look up.  I revised our route plan to remove the second half so as to avoid getting too far away from the car to be able to get back on Sunday.  We left the camp better than when we started by burning the garbage that had been left in the fire pit and surrounding area.

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Saturday morning started sunny and warm with about half a dozen river or creek crossings and then a major washout.  I scouted the trail and there was a clear way through, it was just going to take time.  If we had been able to estimate how much time, we would have continued.  I just didn’t think it was prudent to move away from the car down an unknown trail to possibly put us out of reach of our sunday evening deadline.  We thought about it for a while and even though we were both in a better mood and Tadhg had energy, we decided to turn back the way we had come and ride out the remainder of the Elbow loop as a very easy 2 days.

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Sun really improves the mood

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Though we were taking it easy, it was early when we got back to Tombstone campground.  We filtered water and ate a bunch of candy.  Then we met up with a couple of fatbikers out on a day trip.  We set out down the Big Elbow side of the trail knowing that the washouts would slow us down by quite a bit, and thinking we would ride for a couple of hours and then camp for the night.  The washouts weren’t as bad as we expected, and Tadhg was riding really well – easily clearing the many rock gardens and rough trail patches.  We took lots of breaks and stopped frequently to chat with the fatbikers, but we were running out of trail.

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As we started to set up camp, Tadhg pointed out the futility of camping less than an hour from our car and so we re-packed and hit the trail.  We rode full out on the last section, passing some unladen bikers on full suspension rigs (much to their dismay). We were home shortly.

Overall it was a very successful bikepack even though we got less than a third of the planned route completed.  This was the first time I had my Krampus with the suspension fork out for bikepacking and it was close to ideal.  The miserable weather at the beginning let me us have a taste for hardship, and was a great gear test.  By not forcing Tadhg to continue we managed to keep the ride fun and improve the chances of his coming back for another attempt.