the bc epic

On a hot evening in July 2017 I was hanging out in the parking lot of Canmore’s Rebound Cycle at the “neutral aid station” for riders in the Alberta Rockies 700 bikepacking race, about 1/3 of the distance in along the 700km Coleman-to-Hinton route. It was a veritable bikepacker’s oasis  – the BBQ was going, bags of chips floated around and a cold beer greeted riders as they rolled through Canmore at around the 235 km mark of the course. I was there to cheer on some friends who were riding the event and was enjoying watching some of the other racers coming through. I was also enjoying sitting around drinking a cold beer, and not having to contemplate riding on into the night, and doing the same big distance the next day, and the next…

Bikepacking had come onto my radar over the years as every June, racers tackling the Tour Divide – an epic race from Banff to the Mexico border – trickled into the Patagonia Banff store where I worked. In 2016, a colleague from the Patagonia Victoria store connected me with Bikepack Canada founder Ryan Correy, which led to a “Bikepacking 101” presentation in the Banff store and further fuelled my curiosity about loading up my bike and pedalling off somewhere to camp and eat freeze-dried dinners out of a bag. That evening also brought together some folks who I’ve been fortunate to have connected with and done my first few overnight bikepacking excursions in the summer of 2017. A couple of them were riding in the Alberta Rockies 700 race and I was excited to see them roll into Canmore.

We followed the riders’ progress on a tracking website where their little blue dots would occasionally leap forward on the course map every 10 minutes or so, as their tracking device sent a signal. It was an exceptional use of technology as a tool to know when the next burgers should be put on the grill for an approaching rider.  I chatted with Ryan Correy and enjoyed a beer while checking out all the gear-laden bikes. His enthusiasm for all-things-bikepacking steered the conversation towards what races/rides I was going to sign up for.

I mentioned the BC Epic 1000 – the race organizer, Lennard, had given a talk about the ride at the inaugural Bikepack Summit inside a big tent in the same Rebound parking lot in September 2016. The BC Epic course winds through 1000 km of Southern Central BC, passing through lots of towns via old sections of railway and across a wide spectrum of landscapes that sounded pretty cool to see from the seat of a bike. After a few minutes of inspirational chatter with Ryan, I casually stated that “I’d probably sign up for the BC Epic”. Ryan replied, “well, then it’s a binding social contract!” so really, I had just committed to signing up.

And that’s how I found myself in Merritt, BC at 7 AM on June 30 with around 65 other folks, ready to try and ride my bike for 1034 km to Fernie.

There should have been one more with us, though. Ryan Correy, the first name on the rider list for the 2018 Epic and the inspiration for so many of us that were in Merritt that morning setting off on this great adventure, passed away at the age of 35 in April after a heroic fight against cancer.

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the bow valley crew. #rideforryan.
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What Downtown Merritt looked like on a Saturday morning in late June.

As a self-supported race, the BC Epic is guided by an overall principle of finishing the route under your own power and with no outside help. I was excited at the prospect of an adventure, seeing some parts of Canada I’d never been to, and riding with a few friends who’d also signed up. Throughout the winter, thoughts of how I’d be able to ride for 1000 km occupied a lot of my headspace. I mountain bike and had been an avid Banff-Canmore commuter for many years but “racer” was not really in my vocabulary.

In the months leading up to the BC Epic’s June 30 “grand depart”, I geeked out on creating gear lists and engaged in what I thought to be reasonable training activities: spending enjoyable hours on my nordic and tele skis. Riding my fat bike. Hitting the gym and the Pilates mat once in awhile. Watching all the Rocky movies repeatedly. As the snow melted I swapped my bike’s fat tires for a lighter 29″ wheel set-up and started getting out on some longer rides – 50km, 75 km, 90 km and one overnighter – on my loaded bike.

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Highway 68 in the Alberta foothills.
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Home on the range. Overnighter in the Alberta foothills, May 2018.

Back-and-forth texts and emails with race-veteran-friends helped me dial in some decisions on gear. By far my favourite part of prepping was diving deep into the course map and starting to cement a mental image of the route, the towns, the camping options and locations where I’d be ensured of securing a bag of Hawkins Cheezies™ at any hour of the day.

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The Epic route snakes through southern BC, largely following the old track lines of the Kettle Valley, Columbia & Western and Great Northern railroads and some occasional pavement and single-track sections. The rail-grade sections equate to a lot of low-angle ascents and descents – I think the steepest section is the 2.2% climb from Penticton up to Chute Lake – but the drawn-out distances and the often rough and degraded trail surface from ATV and dirtbike use makes the riding experience far from what might be anticipated as an easy pedal on a nice gravel rail-trail. There are also some challenging bits of singletrack, rough forestry road and the geographic apex of the 1034 km route – the long climb up and over Grey Creek Pass from Kootenay Lake to Kimberley.

A few weeks before the June 30 start I was feeling pretty good – I’d ridden just shy of 500 km on my loaded bike, and had all my gear list sorted out and ready to pack.

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Stuff.
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Stuffed.

There were six of us from the Bow Valley who’d signed up for the race and we were fortunate to have one of our gang of merry bikepackers arrange her guiding company’s van and trailer to get us to the start line in Merritt, a 7 hour drive west. We passed time on the drive sharing goals for the ride – mine being to try and ride 150-200 km per day and to finish the route at an injury-free pace that challenged me, which was further motivated by my pledge of donating 50 cents for each kilometre ridden to Two Wheel View, a Calgary-based non-profit that offers kids the opportunity to experience self-reliance and build life skills through bike mechanic workshops and on multi-day cycling tours.

Talk turned to thoughts on gear, what podcasts were good for those inevitable stretches of tedious pedaling and how many 480-calorie Honey Buns we planned on consuming over the next week. One of the fears I’d packed was my lack of repair skills – I felt my tool kit was up to most of the basic tasks but I dreaded tearing a tire sidewall or ripping off my derailleur hanger. I also realized I didn’t have anything to hang food with if I found myself camped out in bear country, i.e. most of the route. But I did have dental floss…and a small carabiner, and a dry bag. Problem solved.

Merritt really rolled out the welcome mat for all the Epic riders. After shaking out our stiff legs from the drive, we hopped on our bikes and rolled over to Central Park for a relaxed evening of meet-and-greet, checking out bikes, a BBQ dinner and some welcoming words from Lennard the race organizer and the mayor of Merritt. Katrina from our Bow Valley crew handed out some Bikepack Canada bookmarks to promote the annual Canada Bikepack Summit in Canmore, the reverse side of which had an elevation profile of the Epic course.

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If you’re staying in Merritt, the Intowner Inn is…umm…well, it’s there. As an option.
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Deep conversations about parallel realities, and chamois butter.

After some groceries and beers and conversation with Jeff & Steve, I settled in to my room at the Intowner Inn for a final night of luxury. Sleep came slowly as my mind raced. I brought too much stuff. Thoughts of not finishing. Did I train enough. I should’ve bought more Belgian waffles.


June 30

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A drizzly morning arrived too soon after a fitful sleep. I futzed about with re-packing my bike while inhaling a quiche, smoothie and a cold brew coffee to provide some initial fuel for the ride out of Merritt. Breathe Bikes (thanks for the free chain lube!) was the meeting spot for the Grand Depart, a buzz of bikes, spandex, last-minute gear-tweaking and nervous energy. Miles from Bikepacking.com took snaps of riders and their steeds for a Rider & Rig story.

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Photo: Bikepacking.com/Miles Arbour   Photobomb: Jeff O’Leary
TIM JOHNSON / AGE 44 / CANMORE, AB (CANADA) Bike: Salsa Mukluk with Jones bars and 29 x 2.6 tires. Bags: Revelate harness up front will have a MEC drybag with tent and sleeping bag, Patagonia Black Hole cube for food. Revelate and Bedrock accessory bags, Revelate frame bag. Green Guru Gear seat bag with a cargo net to strap down comfortable shoes for Naramatta vineyard tours, and possibly a tube of pringles. Favorite gear: Bikepack Canada water bottle & my dad’s circa 1982 official NHL Hartford Whalers wristbands (not pictured).

As 7 AM approached, we all lined up for a group shot. Lennard addressed the crew of riders and asked for a moment of quiet remembrance for Ryan Correy. The clock ticked past seven as the spirit of Ryan rode off to lead the race, our pacesetter and inspiration.

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Lennard Pretorius, the man behind the BC Epic.

And then it was time to go. Everyone was all of a sudden just pedaling away and delivering high-fives to the Mayor of Merritt who stood in the middle of the street. I clipped in and realized that I’d never see most of the people ahead of me for the rest of the ride.

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Give ‘er! Here we go.

When we’d arrived in Merritt the evening prior I’d had a moment of fear about deciding to do this race. Nagging thoughts about my (lack of?) physical prep occupied my brain. Maybe it was the long drive and a perception that I was essentially riding the same distance back to home…Fernie was really not that far off from Canmore in terms of East-West distance. As I started riding though, it all kind of faded away. The hard part was over – now I just had to pedal my bike. Keep moving forward. Smile. Enjoy the ride.

As we climbed out of town I’d catch occasional glimpses of a snaking stream of riders on the road ahead, rolling through the quiet countryside. I caught up to a buddy from Banff, Jeff, and we rolled along together for an hour or so. At 20km in, Jeff mentioned our elapsed distance and suggested that doing that same distance 9 or 10 more times today should be easy…which at that point, yeah, no problem.

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People riding further and further away from me, a recurring theme.

The route so far was pretty straightforward, quietly rolling past farms and pastureland and giant pines. I pressed the wake-up button on my phone and the ride with gps app that I’d be using for navigation filled the screen. The first real junction of the route – leaving the pavement and hitting the Kettle Valley rail trail – was coming up. 200 m, 100 m, 25 m…I listened intently for the sultry female voice of the app to tell me to turn right. Nothing. We rode past the junction. I looked down at a black screen. I’d set it to turn off after 1 minute to conserve the lackluster battery life of my aging iPhone 5. Hit the button, screen on, yup, passed the turn. No sultry-voiced cue. Hit the brakes, turn around, get back on course.

All was good with the world as we hit the rail trail, now we were on route and done with pavement for quite a long time, as we’d follow the KVR for the next 190 km or so. The trail was a little overgrown and a bit washboardy in spots but really just…pleasant. Quiet. Shady. We caught up to another rider, Bryan from Red Deer, and the three of us rode together as the route crossed under the Coquihalla Highway and paralleled the Coldwater River.

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Coldwater River, around 40 km into day 1.

I lingered to put on some sunscreen during a snack break as Jeff & Bryan rode off to escape the mosquitoes. I figured I’d catch up to them in a few minutes. I wouldn’t see them again until Princeton at km110.

And so began my solo ride, which was pretty much the theme for the rest of the route. Here and there I’d meet fellow riders, chat for a bit, but for 95% of the time I’d be on my own. Jeff and I had discussed this and agreed that there was no mutual pressure to stop, or keep going. We’d ride our own ride. So down the trail I went, chewing happily on my first of six Belgian waffles, a definite highlight of my race “nutrition”…I am forever indebted to Jeff for discovering these sweet, doughy gems in Save On Foods the evening prior.

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A few minutes later on a long, straight section of the old rail line I spied a speck of a rider far ahead. Figuring it was Bryan or Jeff I picked up the pace, absently neglecting to check my phone every once in awhile to make sure I was still on route. I passed a chewed up ATV track on the right as the rail trail meandered on agreeably alongside the Coldwater.

This was fun stuff. So far so good. Not too hot, some cloud cover. Great day to be out for a ride. After a few minutes of not seeing any riders ahead, I stopped and woke my phone up to find I’d ridden way past a right-hand turn…the ATV track…and again, no verbal cue. Grrrr. I backtracked for 5 minutes, now noticing all the knobby bike tire tracks on the ATV trail. Double grrr. Soon I was off my bike, pushing up a steep section of loose sand and rock and cursing the sultry-voiced woman that lived in my phone for not telling me when to turn.

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The hike-a-bike up turned into an equally steep-and-loose down, and then – why is there only one or two bike tracks? Am I off route again? – up the red dirt of a steep gas line road, on foot and pushing my portly bike. I’d only really gotten off and on my bike a few times so far, but it was dawning on me how much effort was involved in maneuvering a loaded bike up steep, rough trail. The ascent leveled off and I stopped for what would become the normal chores undertaken multiple times each day – refilling my two smaller water bottles from the larger one that lived low down on my frame. Have some food. Stretch a bit.

Back on the bike, I descended to a jumbled intersection of gas line road, gravel road, old rail trail and a bridge.  The KVR is part of the Trans Canada Trail and there were faded signs for both at a junction where the KVR line split to go south towards Hope and north to Merritt. The somewhat vague signage had me checking my RWGPS app to make sure I didn’t repeat what I felt was a frustrating navigational gaffe so early on in the ride.

As I zoomed in on the track, another Banff friend, Penny, rolled up – seemingly from a different road than the gas line I’d been on, which further supported my theory of being off-route. I mumbled something about my navigation woes and she asked about my phone volume (it was cranked) but also the app’s volume (which was decidedly not cranked). I sheepishly re-attached the phone to it’s handlebar mount and we rode off, leaving the Coldwater River and heading southeast towards Brookmere.

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The KVR climbed up to Brookmere and then leveled off before starting to gradually head down towards Tulameen – almost imperceptibly, but it was in fact pleasantly noticeable going from 0% to a -1% grade. I played leapfrog for a bit with an Epic veteran, Chip from Oregon, as we rode on through the quiet settlement of Brookmere, then caught up to a Vancouver rider, RJ, who’d had the misfortune of losing his GPS and had spent the past few hours slowly scouring the ground along long stretches of straight-shot rail line through a broad, pastured valley. I pledged to partake in the search as I rode on, my eyes darting back and forth along the trail edge to look for his missing Garmin.

In hindsight, this focussed searching may have taken my mind off how much rougher the trail had become. In his route descriptions, Lennard notes how the endless rough, degraded sections of washboard, rock and shards of old railway ballast can really take their toll on a rider. My backside was beginning to experience the realities of his cautionary tales of underestimating the Epic route.

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As flat as the trail was, the endless chattery surface grew wearisome. The Brookmere to Tulameen leg dragged on as I began looking for excuses to pull over and take a few minutes off the bike. Horror stories of saddle sores leading to the end of many a rider’s Epic attempt clouded my thoughts just as RJ caught up to me (no luck finding his GPS) and blazed on ahead (eventually finishing 4th). For a half hour or so I could see him steadily lengthening the gap between us as the trail skirted the open shores of Otter Lake. Headwinds and plenty of Canada Day weekend ATV traffic on the trail had me feeling a bit low as I pondered how much longer the rough trails could last. The answer was: quite awhile longer, apparently…lots of ATV and dirt bike use, coupled with some sizeable puddles – small lakes, really – highlighted the section through Tulameen and on past Coalmont.

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A lesson I was learning halfway through day one: as shitty as some sections were or as low as I might be feeling, eventually the trail conditions improved, or a new view would open up around a corner, or a headwind would suddenly die off. Keep moving forward. Eat something. Have a drink. And at that, Tulameen and Coalmont were in the rear-view and I was seated at a shady picnic table on a wide, sandy bend on the Tulameen River, enjoying a big spread of lunch – wraps, banana, nut butter, cheddar, beef jerky and Belgian waffle numero dos.

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With a full belly, the next section of trail on towards Princeton had me spinning along with a smile past steep sandy banks of red rock and pines and savouring the clear rushing flow of the Tulameen.  As I rolled through the long tunnel into Princeton it dawned on me that I’d now ridden farther than I ever had in a single day – 110 km. I pulled into a Subway right on the paved trail through town and realized I’d caught up to Jeff and a Quesnel BC friend, Brian Kennelly, along with a few other folks. Yeehaw…I was still in this race. Self high-five!

Sidebar: riding alone and knowing that I’d been near the back of the pack right from the start, I suspected I was pretty much last or close to it. One of the positives of having a phone with a shitty battery life: I was reluctant to ever take it out of airplane mode, so I never really succumbed to the urge to check the Trackleaders page to see how the TJ dot was doing. But post-race, as I replayed the whole thing and watched the 65 or so dots all racing along the course, for a lot of the first day I was quite close to other folks but never realized it.

By the time I came out of the Subway clutching a veggie footlong with double cheese, a lemonade (which promptly got knocked over in a wind gust and soaked my shorts), and a sack of jalapeno Cheetos, Jeff was saddling up to continue on. We chatted a bit about plans for where we might stop for the night – just west of Summerland seemed to be a decent goal – and he rode off up the trail towards the long climb out of Princeton.

I wolfed down the Cheetos and half of the sub, stuffed the rest into my food pouch on my handlebars, and got back on the bike feeling nicely recharged after reaching a significant milestone in my day 1 plans of making it at least past Princeton. It was 3 PM as I rode off with Bryan from Red Deer, who I’d met that morning, and we began the 2% climb for the next 20 km or so under sunny skies through one of my favorite sections of the whole route across broad, rolling hills up and out of the valley.

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After 45 minutes or so of climbing I stopped for another waffle, and also realized that I had no idea where Bryan had gone to. I hung out in a shady spot for a few minutes, peering back down the long stretch of rail-trail, but didn’t see him and figured that the cold he’d mentioned having when we’d met that morning might be slowing him down. Guiltily, I gloated internally over having jumped up one spot in the race…an odd sentiment that would surface every once in awhile in the coming days and subtly remind me that yes, this was a race, after all.

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That was when I noticed the vultures – they were hanging out in a grove of deadfall up a slope on my right – and a few of them lazily circled overhead, no doubt figuring that any riders coming through this late in the day were surely soon collapse and offer up an easy meal. Not today, vultures! I kept going.

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Here there be vultures.

I was really digging the experience of riding the old rail-grade trails and geeking out on the sheer awesomeness of some of the engineering feats that threaded a rail line through mountainous British Columbia. Around 15km out of Princeton was a series of huge S-turns that kept the rail grade at a manageable 2%. I passed the time envisioning coal and timber-laden trains slowly lumbering up and down the peaks and valleys of the Southern BC landscape. But still probably going faster than I was.

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The open hillsides above Princeton gradually reverted into a more closed-in trail and the surface became rougher again. I plodded onward, feeling some low moods creeping in as the sameness of the surroundings and the long day in the saddle had me questioning my intentions to make it to 200 km. My mood got a reprieve when I caught up to Chip and we enjoyed some trail time together, chatting about our respective trail stewardship work in Kananaskis and Oregon. I was somewhat relieved when I asked the Epic veteran about where the toughest trail conditions were and he felt that we’d passed the worst of it already.

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If you zoom way, way in….that’s Chip through the Tunnel…

I picked up the pace a bit with some vague hopes of catching up to Jeff, which may have contributed to the beginnings of some achy knees and protesting quads around km 150. I kept moving forward but eased off a bit to mitigate wrecking myself on day 1. A short while after reaching Chain Lake – a spot that I’d flagged as potential camping for night 1 – my spirits were buoyed by a spicy tailwind that had me whipping across a vast marshy meadow past Osprey Lake.

Once I was back in the woods I slipped into the doldrums again as my increasingly painful knees and some rough trail had me thinking that was all I had in me for day 1 as I scoured the trailside for potential camp spots. Chip and Bryan passed me as I filtered some water from Trout Creek in the fading twilight. At km 186 a campfire caught my eye, a hundred metres off route at the Trout Creek Crossing Recreation Site. I set up my tent in the dark, downed the second half of my Subway bounty and dropped into a deep snooze as I pondered the wisdom of leaving my food out in the open in my bike bags. Hey bear?

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day 1. Merritt > Trout Creek Crossing Rec Site. 186 km. About 14 hrs?

July 1 Happy Canada Day!

Happy Birthday, Canada. Feeling incredibly rested, I picked up my phone to check the time, as it seemed really bright out for being so early. It wasn’t early. It was 8:40 and my plans to wake at 5 and be riding before 6 had been thwarted by the burly plastic weather cover on my phone. I raised it to my ear and could just hear the faint pinging of the alarm, which had now been ringing for 3 1/2 hours. Dang. I should have been well on my way up the long climb out of Penticton to Chute Lake. I rushed around packing up my tent and chowed down on a Clif bar as I loaded my bike. The four gals next to me who’d been in their tents when I rolled in the night before offered to brew me up a coffee. Morning Tim was saying yes, but Racing Tim said no, get going. I sheepishly thanked them for letting me share what I saw now to be their campsite that I’d set up on and headed off towards…Beaverdell? Rock Creek? My goal for the day was TBD but hoped to do 200 km.Screen Shot 2018-08-12 at 11.19.02 AM

Back on the trail around 9:30 feeling pretty darn happy once I finally got rolling. It was cool and sunny and the riding along Trout Creek was lovely, until I hit a washed-out section that required some detouring. Then another. And another. And then a big rockslide debris field to hike over. It made for a bit of a slow go, but eventually I was rolling along a smooth gravel path with grand views over the rolling hills around Summerland.

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Our route veered off the KVR line for a little while, which in this area was still in use for a tourist steam train that took people out onto the enormously high Trout Creek trestle bridge, the highest steel trestle bridge of its type in North America…thanks, Wikimedia! As I admired the bridge a big black lab sauntered over, hung around for some pats, and delivered some enthusiastic face licks to my no-doubt deliciously salty-tasting beard.

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Trout Creek Trestle

The route in the Summerland area meandered on local roads through vineyard country and then reverted to railgrade for a long downhill towards Penticton, with sweet views over Okanagan Lake. After once again missing a turn and backtracking for a half km or so, I rolled into downtown Penticton mid-morning on a beautiful Canada Day.

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First stop: food shopping for the upcoming climb from Penticton up to Chute Lake and on to the Myra Canyon trestles. Second stop: a packed Tim Hortons for a BLT – took forever. Third stop – the visitors centre, to charge batteries and eat my BLT. Lessons learned this morning: I was not very efficient at my stops…my time in Penticton stretched out to over an hour. I also stopped a lot en route to snap photos – no regrets, but it really does add up over the course of a day.

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The route rolled along the Penticton lake front, a buzzing hive of Canada Day activity and traffic, then connected back to the KVR on the very popular stretch of trail that climbs out of Penticton through the Naramatta bench and it’s dozens of wineries. As the most-traveled section of the KVR, the riding surface was great and the scenery fantastic, rolling hills of vineyards backdropped by ever-expanding views of the lake as the elevation increased with each turn of the cranks. Well-fed and hydrated, I was embracing my inner racer and flying up the 2% grade, waving (but not smiling…I was a serious competitor…) to the endless stream of riders heading in the opposite direction on the annual 80 km “Okanagan Trestles Tour” ride that starts in Myra Canyon and rolls steadily downhill to Penticton.

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Rolling into Naramatta wine country.

DSCF4131By late morning, my knees started protesting, a bit concerning considering it was still fairly early in the day. I recalled a Bikepack Canada podcast, where Ryan and guest Josh Kato talked about the Tour Divide. Remembering Josh saying something about moving his saddle height up and down at various times on the Divide to help alleviate knee soreness, I pulled over and raised my seat a bit and carried on, pleasantly surprised when the knees started feeling significantly better after about 5 minutes. It was a nice little mental boost and I resumed my race pace* as an endless parade of Trestle-to-Trail riders happily zipped past me on their long descent towards Penticton. (*I will note with a profound sense of awe and, really, unbelieving laughter, that the race leader, Evan Deutsch, was at this point at 550 km on a section of course that I wouldn’t reach till the late morning of day 4).

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Little Tunnel.

The rail line climb up to Chute Lake was another impressive bit of railway engineering, with a few giant switchbacks and a 2.2% grade allowing trains to make the 850 metre ascent. After a few steady hours of climbing though, the “easy” grade became a bit wearisome, as did the descending hordes of Canada Day riders who by this time were the back-of-the-pack and generally seemed to be folks for whom being on a bike was not part of their day-to-day routine. The trail tread grew looser and more gravelly and I was having a greater frequency of encounters with people descending the same bits of smooth trail that I was ascending.

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These people are enjoying a lovely downhill coast. Jerks.

Their panicky, spastic changes of direction when they suddenly noticed me (if they actually did see me – I had to shout a few times to get someone’s attention) was mildly amusing as I’d watch them negotiate a high-speed lane change over the soft, washed out middle section of trail on hybrid bikes in various states of neglect. It took my mind off the grind of the long climb, but by this point my goal to wave-and-smile-to-everyone had fallen by the wayside. I passed the last few folks near the Adra tunnel bypass and from there it was a lonely, sandy, boring slog to Chute Lake.

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Having heard stories about its somewhat grumpy, aging caretakers, and delicious pie, I had to stop in to check out the quirky-retro Chute Lake “Resort”. The old couple running the place were only mildly grouchy and I buttered them up with praise about the authentic and rustic character of the place. A few minutes later I was in a rickety chair outside and savouring a giant slab of strawberry rhubarb pie a la mode and their last cold Coke (their supply of sugary snacks and drinks had been decimated by the Trestle-to-Trails hordes, and the Epic riders who’d rolled through before me). I lolled about on the grassy lawn in the sun and mentally mapped out the next stretch of route, excited to be soon crossing the amazing trestles of Myra Canyon.

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The Last Coke of Chute Lake

The trail on towards the canyon was fairly level, sandy and rough with some grand views of Okanagan Lake and Kelowna far below. I had anticipated an easy few kilometres of riding and grew a bit dismayed as the trail seemed to go on and on. Eventually I passed a forest service road junction that I recognized from 10 years prior, when my wife and I had ridden it as a more interesting route back to the Myra parking area, far above the trestles and through vast tracts of burnt hillside from the 2003 fires.

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Kelowna, down yonder.

Feeling that the trestles weren’t far off I picked up the pace and kept riding and riding, and riding. Yawn. Where were the trestles? I eventually passed the actual logging ride I’d ridden, and soon crossed the first of the trestles. The Canada Day crowds had dissipated as I rolled across the huge chasms of Myra Canyon…such a cool stretch of trail and engineering awe, made all the more enjoyable by a calm, sunny evening and an utter lack of people. 18 trestles and 2 tunnels were needed to bypass the steep canyon; 12 of them burned in the 2003 forest fire but have been since restored and are an amazing feat of engineering…and pretty awesome to pedal across!

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Had to stop to ad-Myra these amazing trestles. Yuk yuk.

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The hot day had transitioned to a chilly dusk at 1265 metres when I paused for some bike TLC at the Myra parking lot – lubed up some squeaky cleats, cleaned the drivetrain, re-centred brake callipers, and some rider TLC – beef jerky, coconut water, Belgian waffle. A big multi-generational Indian family spilled out of two minivans and asked me about the trestles. I did my best to give them a Coles notes version of the KVR and the amazing  engineering to bring trains through these canyons, but struggled to answer their main question of “But what is the point of the trail, what is there to see?” I rode away as they argued about whether or not they should walk the few hundred metres to check things out. Feeling inspired by a full belly and reaching the second-highest point of the whole Epic route, I was psyched for some fast sections of trail. I yelled loud “hey-bear”‘s through the dusky, quiet forest and sped along towards Hydraulic Lake and the old McCulloch station site, named after Andrew McCulloch, the railway’s chief architect.

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Hydraulic Lake. Tasty water, if slightly metallic.

By  now I’d decided that Beaverdell would be a good destination, both in terms of mileage and factoring in my lack of enthusiasm for riding in the dark, but as I continued past McCulloch the kilometres were ticking past pretty quickly on a decent trail and I thought of maybe pressing on to get closer to Rock Creek. The surrounding geography was conforming nicely to what I’d pictured in my head as I’d studied the route in the months prior – denser, darker forest, and the red Epic route line on the map running roughly north to south equating to fast, downhill trail. For the most part it was, and I was feeling good as I reached an infamously swampy bit of trail and, surprisingly, another Epic rider – my friend Penny from Banff, who was wading through the whole mess sporting some stylish plastic-bag-boots. For some reason I decided it would be wise to pedal through, so tally-ho! I was immediately wallowing in a deep, muddy stew, but somehow managed to make it to the far side with no damage other than being soaked from the knees down.

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It was awesome to catch up with Penny and share some trail time. She’d ridden past me the evening before but had a pretty big late-night crash at one of the washouts outside Summerland and was sporting a fairly ugly-looking knee injury. On down the trail we rode towards Beaverdell, swapping tales of our experiences so far – what was achy, what we’d eaten, where we’d stopped – and it was nice to have each other’s company as the gloom of night closed in on the trail.

Lights were powered on and our exhaustion at the end of a long day manifested itself in lots of shadow-creatures and mystery trail features – a few times we both let out sighs of dismay, as an uphill loomed ahead in our lights but then would suddenly morph back into level rail-grade as the shadows and perspective shifted. We seemed to pedal forever past Arlington Lakes, the old settlement of Carmi in pitch-black and on to Beaverdell where we sniffed out its small RV park and campground. Hesitant to wake anyone, we ended up pitching our tents around 11:30 on a hard gravelly patch of scrubby grass that seemed to be a parking lot for long-term RV storage, figuring we’d pay our fees in the morning. Starving, I crawled into my tent and cobbled together a cheddar cheese and avocado wrap on some crumbling tortillas and tried to sleep, kept awake by aching knees and a damp chill through the night.

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Luxury camping in Beaverdell.
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Day 2. Trout Creek Rec Site to Beaverdell. 183 km. Another 14 hour day.

July 2 – Day 3

I’d gone to great lengths to make sure I heard my alarm so I could have an earlier start on day 3 and ended up not even needing it. Intermittent rain on my tent fly kept me up through much of the night and I was fully awake by 4 when I heard the rustle of Penny’s sleeping bag and sounds of packing. Her air mattress valve had broken in her crash and she’d had no sleep on the cold gravel of the Beaverdell RV Park storage lot. I lay on my air mattress with achy knees, feeling pretty exhausted from only a few hours of restless slumber and was having trouble motivating myself to crawl outside and pack up my tent in the rain. Penny said bye around 5 and headed off; after the rain let up a bit I decided to speed-pack and get the hell out of Dodge before the campground owners were up.

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By 5:45 my Mukluk was loaded and I beat it on down the line, a scofflaw on the run after a night of free camping. The route followed pavement for a few km before reverting to the KVR rail trail. Like the day before, those first few moments of riding had me feeling pretty good – achy knees aside, it was a lovely misty morning as I munched on a Clif bar and pedalled past farmland and quiet forest. A few patchy spots of early morning light warmed the damp aches in my joints, and after numerous dismounts to open and close gates as the trail bisected private property, I was warmed up enough to embrace the prospect of being able to spend another day on my bike.

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The first of many, many fences and gates on day 3.

I really had no idea where I was in the race standings. Aside from Penny, I hadn’t seen anyone since Chute Lake but had an inkling that I was definitely far towards the back of the pack. I hadn’t checked in on the Trackleaders site since Penticton and wondered how far ahead the fastest riders were. After an hour or so I spotted a lone cyclist way ahead and figured it’d be Penny. I eventually caught up to Chris from Nelson and we chatted a bit about how much further Rock Creek was. “Can’t be much farther”, I vaguely offered, based on the map in my head. We parted ways and my eager anticipation of finding Rock Creek around every bend eventually waned as the trail went on and on. Some lovely bits paralleling the Kettle River kept my spirits up, eventually crossing Highway 3 at Westbridge.

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Rhone, BC.
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Ye olde Mukluk. Aside from some squeaky cleats, she didn’t complain.
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The lovely Kettle River.

I passed on through a stark but beautiful stretch of burnt pines and explosions of wildflowers  – the whole area had experienced some bad fires the summer prior – and caught up to Penny, who was a bit shaken from a somewhat close encounter with a black bear on the trail…chances were good that I’d likely just ridden right past it as well without even knowing it. She was wired from the encounter but fighting exhaustion from her lousy sleep as we continued on together through a mix of charred trees, more gates and overgrown trail crossing vast farm acreages. As we rolled into the Kettle River campground around 9:30, I decided to stop for some food when I realized it’d been 3 and a half hours since my Clif bar. Penny pressed onward towards Rock Creek, keen on a more substantial breakfast.

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dscf4177A half hour off the bike at the campground was a nice reset. I took advantage of the facilities to get cleaned up, give my bike some attention, refill water bottles and chow down on a random mix of beef jerky, wraps, nut butter and corn chips. So far the day had been quite pleasant…cool temps, a variety of scenery to keep things interesting, beautiful wildflowers through the burn areas and lush green farmland. Feeling recharged, I was keen to make up some kilometres to reach Mile Zero of the KVR at Midway. I skipped by Rock Creek and enjoyed the mixed terrain – overgrown trail through farmland, a few more paved bits, rattlesnake warnings, more fields along the Kettle River and finally a giant lumberyard – as my time on the Kettle Valley Rail trail wound down to mile zero.

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kvr mile 0

I’d envisioned a leisurely second-breakfast stop in Midway but decided to press on, partly because I knew I definitely wanted to stop in another 15 km or so to visit Greenwood’s Deadwood Junction Cafe. It was a place that a friend of my wife’s had recommended, so with thoughts of coffee and pastries occupying my thoughts I rode on past Midway – now on the Columbia & Western Rail Trail – and began the steady climb up towards Greenwood. In the distance ahead was another rider, a flash of a bright orange vest sometimes visible as the trail meandered along an open hillside, but my chase was in vain. Greenwood, “Canada’s smallest city”, arrived sooner than expected and I detoured off route to the main street in the once-booming-now-quiet-mining town that holds on to it’s city status, peaking at over 3000 residents before the closure of its copper smelter at the run of the century marked the beginning of it’s decline.

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Arriving at the Deadwood Junction cafe, I met another Epic veteran, Diella, who unfortunately was pulling the plug on her race. It was great connecting with other riders, the shared experiences creating an instant bond and reminding me of how lucky I was to be out there enjoying this amazing experience on two wheels. So much of the course still lay ahead, but my mindset today was simply enjoying every metre of progress I made, content to be moving forward under my own power and experiencing new landscapes from the saddle. The pleasantly quirky crew running the cafe fueled me up with a delicious sandwich, a gigantic lemon square and a perfect double latte as I relaxed on the wood porch and charged up my phone and battery pack.

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Covfefe at Deadwood Jct,

I felt like a million bucks as I rode away from Greenwood for the steady climb up to Eholt, another apex on the rail line that would signal the beginning of a long descent down to Grand Forks. The wonderful coffee buzz stayed with me as I passed through beautiful open meadows accompanied by a nice tailwind under sunny skies.

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Climbin’ up to Eholt.

A few minutes later I was once again negotiating multiple gates as the trail passed through various tracts of private land, one of which must have been a llama farm. A thundering of hooves announced the presence of a decent sized herd, which ran down from an adjacent meadow and barrelled down the rail trail away from me. Apparently there was a gate ahead, as I once again heard the cacophony of the stampeding llamas, only now they were running back in my direction. Of course, I decided the best course of action was to try and snap a photo. The herd galloped past and back up into their open pasture as I stood there shaken but grateful that they at least had the courtesy to not run me over.

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Llamas at 12 o’clock, comin’ in hot!

My afternoon wildlife excitement was not yet complete. A few minutes after parting ways with the marauding llamas, I passed some low shrubs that were alive with the chirp of fledgling birds; just as I pondered if one of the parents was nearby, I heard the loud frantic beating of wings and a mildly-terrifying throaty-chest-heave-breathing of a rather large grouse that was unquestionably pursuing me down the trail. My ability to accelerate expediently on a 55 pound bike was less successful than I’d hoped as the grouse maintained an aggressive pace along the trail behind me, no doubt fed up with the 50-odd cyclists who’d likely passed the same spot over recent days. I mashed down on the pedals, eventually leaving the agitated bird squawking away behind me as I rode the last few kilometres of the steady climb to the old Eholt townsite.

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eholt yore
Eholt of yesteryear.
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Eholt of today.
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Eholt of yore.

Eholt had been a CPR hub for the nearby Phoenix copper mine, peaking at around 300 residents and hanging on until 1949 when the post office closed and it’s 17 residents moved on. Similar to reaching McCulloch station the evening prior, after passing Eholt the trail tilted slightly but definitively downward, all the way to Grand Forks. For 15 km or so the riding was fast, sometimes rough on sizeable rocks and shale, highlighted by occasional expansive views over the Granby River valley far below.

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Granby Shelter en route to a cheeseburger in paradise. Paradise being Grand Forks.

I sped past the Granby tunnel & shelter and enjoyed the long, fast descent towards the Grand Forks Station Pub. According to a fellow I’d chatted with at Deadwood Junction, it was cheeseburger night and that was sounding a-ok to me after 11 or so hours of riding. The Station pub was indeed housed in the old railroad station and I inhaled a delicious burger, salad, fries and a cold pint of 1516 lager as I recharged devices and plotted out the remainder of my day. I finally checked in on the Trackleaders site and saw that Jeff was pressing on past Christina Lake, on the long ascent up to Farron Summit and on to Castlegar. As I savoured my burger I debated my next moves: head on for a few hours to Christina Lake and call it a day? Or try and get closer to Castlegar? Jeff’s dot was moving pretty slowly after Christina Lake…I fired off a quick text inquiring about the riding conditions heading north up towards Farron and waited to hear from him.

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Cheeseburger night in Grand Forks.

My Belgian waffle supply was perilously low, so I paid for my burger/salad/fries/pint: $16.95…thumbs-up…and went to find the Grand Forks Save On Foods, which thankfully had the same waffles, and then figured I’d ride on towards Christina Lake and make a decision there pending Jeff’s reply as to what lay between Christina Lake and Castlegar. The trail out of Grand Forks was packed gravel alongside the evening light-dappled Kettle River. Paired with my burger-beer afterglow, I was enjoying life and felt like I had at least a few more hours in me, until the knees started protesting.

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I tried the saddle-height-adjustment-trick again with no luck and by the time I crossed over the Kettle River on a huge trestle and got closer to Christina Lake as the sun set, my knees were strongly suggesting that should probably be my destination for the evening. Regrettably, my lack of research into this part of the route threw a bit of a wrench into my plans – as I continued to follow the Columbia & Western rail trail, it climbed steadily while Christina Lake receded further and further away below me.

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Climbing further and further above my planned campground. Oops.

By the time I reached Fife Station and Fife Road – my planned road to head off-route to find a campground for the night – I was hundreds of metres above the lake and cursing my lack of foresight. If I descended down to the lake, I’d have a monster climb to start the next day to get back on route. As the last bits of daylight died, I hemmed and hawed and stared up the trail which I knew to be a long climb up towards Paulson and Farron Summit. I stared at my phone and willed a reply to come through from Jeff – nothing – but I did flick off airplane mode to check Trackleaders and noticed he was still quite a ways from reaching Castlegar.

At that point, three Epic riders doing the race from East to West rolled up, two of whom were some Bow Valley chaps, Eric from Banff and Mark from Canmore. They’d run into Jeff a few hours earlier and confirmed my suspicions that the trail ahead was a steady climb through dark forest, with not really any camping opportunities aside from a few clearings with picnic tables 15 or so km ahead. By this time it was nearly full dark; they headed on to Grand Forks and I reluctantly headed down the steep, winding Fife Road to find a campground.

Christina Lake is a bustling spot in the summer – apparently BC’s warmest lake – and as I neared the lake it was a full-on classic summer evening, with families lining up at burger and ice cream stands and teenagers on bikes trolling around. I found the Park Lane Resort & Motel and checked in to a grassy tent spot. As a post-script to my day (which up until that point had been great in terms of the variety of terrain and just generally enjoying everything that came my way along the route, llamas and angry grouses notwithstanding), Jeffrey the campground owner listened keenly to my tales of adventure-by-bike and kindly offered to give me a ride in his pickup back to the rail-trail the following morning…at 9 AM. So, I’d miss out on an early start to the day, but wouldn’t have to slug my way up the steep switchbacks of Fife Road. I set up the tent, grabbed a hot shower, ate a mango and the rest of a veggie sub, organized my food supplies and hit the hay on a lovely spread of green grass.

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Day 3. Beaverdell to Christina Lake. 151 km. 15 hrs?

July 3 – Day 4

Jeffrey the campground owner arrived promptly at 9 and I heaved my bike into the bed of his pickup. The drive up Fife Road took only a few minutes but would have been a long walk given the early-morning ache of my swollen knees. I thanked him again for getting my day off to a good start and was just setting off down the trail when Merritt-local and elder of the Epic, Darch Oborne, rolled up behind me after a long morning already, having spent the night in the trailside shelter near the Granby tunnel on the long descent into Grand Forks. He went off in search of a water fill-up at a nearby house and I began the slow and steady grind up towards Paulson and Farron, hoping to get as far as Salmo today.

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The dense trailside forest made me somewhat glad to have decided to abort my plan of riding on into the dark the night prior. The morning was gray and drizzly and eventually raining pretty steadily, really the first time that I’d needed my rain pants and jacket. I tired of yelling heybear so turned to belting out songs I knew by heart – lots of Tragically Hip, American Pie and pretty much all of Simon & Garfunkel’s The Concert In Central Park, a musical staple in my house when I was a kid…I think I even nailed all the between-song banter. My terrible voice seemed to keep any curious bears or cougars at bay and helped pass the time as the trail climbed away from Christina Lake and wound along the deeply forested flank of Mt St. Thomas to my first milestone of the day, the Highway 3 bridge at Paulson.

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Climbing up from Christina Lake

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Highway 3 crossing at Paulson

A few hours into my day, the knees felt a bit better and my mood lifted as I chomped away on a cheddar cheese wrap as the trail widened into more of a road for the final ascent to Farron, the summit station on the Columbia and Western Railway between Castlegar and Christina Lake. I passed the small statue commemorating the victims of what may have been Canada’s first terrorist attack – the explosion of a CPR train in 1924, possibly from a bomb, that killed Doukhobor leader Peter Verigin and eight others. At 1239 metres, it was pretty chilly with a stiff wind and rain, but the swirling clouds and towering mist-shrouded cedars made for an invigorating setting to be riding through and kept me moving forward, appreciating the quiet on this remote stretch of trail. At Farron Summit, the rail grade begins its tilt downward for a long stretch across the Monashees and high above Lower Arrow Lake as it trends southwards towards Castlegar.

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Farron Summit

The 1.2 km Bulldog Tunnel was a highlight of my day…it’s slight lazy-L shape meant that the first few hundred metres were pitch-black before it bends right, at which point you can see a tiny pinprick of light marking the exit. I took advantage of the long downhill grades to make up some time and snack away on beef jerky and cheezies, hoping to reach Castlegar and push on through the Columbia River singletrack section to Trail and beyond to Salmo.

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The old faithful steed high above Lower Arrow Lk.
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Thanks, Costco, for your industrial-sized bags of jerky.

The map in my head was not exactly to scale, as the stretch to Castlegar became a long plod that was taking way longer than I’d envisioned. By the time the dirt turned to pavement at the massive Hugh Keenleyside dam complex, the rain had returned, my knees were feeling worse than at the start of the day and a steady stream of traffic from the dam and a huge pulp mill made for a gloomy final few kilometres into town. My first stop was at a pharmacy for, finally, some Advil and a tube of Voltaren cream which I slathered on at stop # 2, Subway. The rain continued and I was feeling pretty uninspired to keep rolling, but logistically was thinking that I needed to at least make it to Salmo so that I could try and push for a bigger day 5 to be in Fernie by day 6.

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En route to Castlegar.

The logistics of the whole race were an ongoing puzzle, as each day brought unknowns of weather, trail grade & conditions, and physical considerations. Going into the race I’d had aspirations of a 5-6 day finish, with 200+ km days if I was feeling good, 150-200 km days if I was moving slower than hoped. Over my first three days I’d logged 186-183-151 kilometre days so I was kind of where I wanted to be, but as I checked in on Trackleaders and the RWGPS maps while munching away on a tuna sub I was a bit more realistic with planning how the next few days might play out.

The combo of rain, some short but busy paved sections got me in a right foul mood leaving Castlegar and a dead phone made for some frustrating route-finding. I stopped, half-sheltered from a steady rain under a trailhead kiosk, and waited for the phone to power back on after I’d plugged it in to the battery pack. My wet fingers were useless on the wet screen once it finally came back to life and further blackened my mood as I swatted at mosquitoes and felt myself overheating in my gore-tex shell. Once I got moving I stopped, again, to shed raingear in favour of just my wind jacket, which was quickly soaked when the rain re-intensified. I missed a few turns on the bits of trail that wound through the Selkirk College campus due to not hearing the cues from the RWGPS app due to the rain cover on my phone, at one point finding myself off route on a rocky goat-path at river level and having to clamber up a steep bank back to the trail.

The rain let up but the humidity had my glasses totally fogged over, so I stuffed them in a handlebar bag as I tried to pick up the pace on a stretch of suburban Castlegar pavement before starting the challenging 18km bit of singletrack along the Columbia River that would take me to Trail. And that’s when I got the bug in my eye…normally not a big deal, but it was in there and I couldn’t get it out, my grimy fingers pulling and rubbing at my eyelid to no avail. Throw in some still-achy knees and frustration that the Advil and voltaren wasn’t doing anything, drenched from the rain, hot and sticky from the post-storm humidity and sun, the late hour, and now the stinging irritated eye and I was less than enthused to be setting out on an 18 km stretch of singletrack that probably would be quite fun on an unloaded mountain bike.

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My “the Advil is finally working” smile.

After riding almost unknowingly past a black bear foraging near the Ootischenia landfill, the pavement ended and the historic trail began and I noticed that my knees were a bit less achy. I did my best to talk myself into appreciating the moment – I was alone on a very quiet stretch of trail, riding my bike alongside one of North America’s most storied waterways, plenty of food and water, lush fern groves, a bench with some inspiring words from John Muir, huge patches of raspberries, some short-but-sweet downhills and challenging loose, sandy sidehills. After all, it was my choice to be out here and if worse came to worse I could just pitch my tent somewhere and press the reset button when the next day dawned.

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hey bear!

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The singletrack was tough on a heavy gear-laden bike – there were a few sections of hike-a-bike up some steeper climbs and through some rock gardens –  but not without it’s charm, and before I knew it I was out of the dark woods and climbing up some sandy jeep tracks slowly closing in on Trail. My phone pinged with some messages as I came back into cell range. Jeff in Nelson, enjoying a pizza and a beer. My wife Kristen, welcoming me to Trail. Never have I been so happy to see a hulking, noisy smelter as I rolled into Trail’s nicely-manicured eastern suburbs.

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I pulled over in Gyro Park to Google motel options for the night…by now it was 9 and I wasn’t keen to ride the next section of Highway 3 to Salmo in the dark, a bit disappointed at coming up quite short on my plans for the day but heeding Jeff’s comments about it being a fairly busy road with some questionable shoulders in a few spots. A couple came up and asked if I was doing the BC Epic…chatted a bit with them about the route and felt vaguely proud that some random strangers had seen my anonymous dot moving along the race route. By 9:30 I was inhaling a kale caesar and a pizza in the cozy confines of room 29 of the Glenwood Inn & Suites.

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Day 4. Christina Lake to Trail. 124 km. 11 1/2 hours.

July 4 – Day 5

My sleep in the Glenwood Inn was restless, which I will fully attribute to my consumption of 7/8 of a large pizza at 10 o’clock at night. Nevertheless it was a nice mental reset to wake up in a quiet room and not have to break camp and repack my Mukluk. The forecast was for some hotter temps over the next few days and the morning was heating up quickly as I gave my bike’s drivetrain a thorough once-over in a shady spot and thought ahead to my day’s route – I’d be hard pressed to make it across the Kootenay Lake ferry and over Grey Creek Pass, so figured I’d pull up short at Crawford Bay and attack the pass at first light on July 5.

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“Hello! You doing the Epic?” I looked up to meet Ray from Vernon. It was always a treat to put a face to the Trackleaders dot. I’d noticed his “RP” dot also camped out at the Glenwood when I’d visited the race tracking site the night before and thought I’d might have had the opportunity to share some trail time with another rider today, but he was pulling the plug on his race due to some “undercarriage issues”. It’s also worth mentioning that at this point at the start of my day 5, the race winner, Evan Deutsch from Oregon, had already finished a day and half prior, having covered the 1034 km course in 2 days 19 hours.

A number of other riders had also rolled into the Fernie Town Hall finish by this point and a look at the string of dots on the Trackleaders map gave me some perspective on the vast spread of rider abilities and a willingness to suffer far more than I had. There were a few dots behind me, but I was definitely bringing up the rear of the pack and thought back to Miles Arbour’s great write-up No One Wants To Finish Last, about his experience the year prior. As I rolled out of Trail after a nice motel buffet breakfast chat with Ray I found my mindset shifting to constant assessment of where I was on the map, where I wanted to get to, and the logistics of making that happen. I knew I was going to finish this thing.

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Later, Trail.
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The mighty Columbia.

I rode for a bit then switched to walk mode on the long uphill on Highway 3 out of Trail, not wanting to push the sore knees first thing in the morning. This was one of the few paved stretches on the route, with a steady stream of cars and logging trucks rushing past as I marched up the shoulder. Once the grade leveled it was steady pedaling under sunny skies on through the small town of Fruitvale and down the highway to Salmo. The Advil and Voltaren were kicking in by the time I’d finished an americano and a plate-sized brownie at the Dragonfly Cafe and I was feeling a-ok as I started in on the final grizzly-bear-prone stretch of rail trail, the Great Northern, for the northbound push to Nelson and Kootenay Lake.

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Bustling downtown Salmo.
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If I were a griz, I’d probably hang out here.

Post-race, a few friends would comment that the Salmo-Nelson stretch was one of their least-favourite parts of the course. I hit it mid-day on a pleasant afternoon and it was one of the most enjoyable sections of the route for me. I met a German couple with two young boys who were a few weeks in to a 4-month Canadian cycling adventure. My week-long ramble across Southern BC with only myself to worry about seemed a tad less Epic. They peeled off onto the highway after suffering through a few kilometres of rough, chewed-up trail; the trail tread condition improved eventually, in part thanks to some more robust vehicle barriers (complete with signage indicating “No Vechiles”) that made it a bit more difficult for quad and dirt bikers to rip along the rail trail.

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Eventually I rolled into the old mining town of Ymir, a quiet little burg today but at one time the epicentre of a burgeoning mining economy in this part of the Kootenays. I kicked back in the shade on a well-worn sofa on the front porch of the Ymir Store and enjoyed a 25 cent apple, my last hunk of Merritt-bought cheddar cheese and a club soda while the shopkeep and assorted locals smoked endless joints at a picnic table.

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This whole stretch of trail was closed for a lot of the Spring due to it’s prime grizzly habitat and was by far the one section of the route where I was most certain I’d see a bear. I upped the frequency of my hey-bear’s, fought back a short spell of feeling like I might want to puke (maybe the 5-day old un-refrigerated cheddar?) and quietly pedaled the long stretches of lush Kootenay forest, overgrown meadows and thigh-high wildflowers, all the while slowly climbing.

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My nausea faded as the trail passed the old Porto Rico summit station site then crossed Highway 6,  where traffic was at a standstill as emergency crews hosed down the last smouldering remains of what looked to be a pretty substantial truck fire. At the apex of the rail trail in the midst of a beautiful sun-dappled meadow I finished the last few slices of last nights pizza and sped off down the 14 km downhill into Nelson.

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Just outside Nelson, I had the pleasure of running into Tom DeVries, in the midst of an East-West Epic run… after he’d done the Alberta Rockies 700 route from Hinton to Coleman, AB and on to Fernie…on a singlespeed. Legend. Go Tom go! He filled me in on key upcoming features of the route – namely, a Dairy Queen strategically positioned right near the Big Orange Bridge that leaves Nelson for the paved stretch to the Kootenay Lake ferry at Balfour. I bid Tom godspeed and continued on, soon zipping past the backyards of the highest of Nelson’s homes that rose steeply up from the downtown. While stopped at a clearing for a vantage point over town to check the map to find a grocery store, two local gals, lifelong Nelsonites, filled me in on exactly which brewery I should go to for a cold beer.

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So, lulled by the ambience of a great little mountain town on a sunny summer afternoon, any notions of racing fell by the wayside as I rode off-route to the main drag, Baker Street, and enjoyed a deliciously refreshing pint of Backroads Brewery’s saison before re-stocking on groceries at the awesome Kootenay Co-op store. Final stop before rolling across the B.O.B. – Dairy Queen for a Skor blizzard, which I enjoyed in the company of a young Nelson mom and her son who were in the midst of discussing what they’d do if they won the lottery. The 11-year old felt the best thing would be to give most of it to people who needed money, and save a little bit for a bike for himself. Awesome.

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Leaving Nelson, the Epic route followed the pavement of Highway 3A for about 30 km to Balfour where you can catch Canada’s longest free ferry across Kootenay Lake. I knew I had plenty of time till the next ferry but was feeling good from the 1-2 punch of a beer and a blizzard and enjoyed a speedy hour or so of scenic riding along the lake. I rode onto the half-full Osprey 2000 for the 7:50 departure over to Crawford Bay.

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‘Twas a lovely evening out on the water as I stared eastward at the long ridge of mountains on the far side of the lake, picking out what I guessed was Grey Creek Pass – a 17 km climb up an average grade of 9% to the highest point on the entire route, followed by a long remote descent into the St Mary’s valley and on to Kimberley. After the ferry docked I had a short stretch of climbing and then descending on the paved road to Crawford Bay and my home for the night at the skunk-scented Crawford Bay RV Park.

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First glimpse of Grey Creek Pass from across the lake.
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Look at all that campfire wood!
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Day 5. Trail to Crawford Bay. 127 km. 12-ish hours?

July 5 – Day 6 Crawford Bay to Cranbrook

The Crawford Bay RV Park was a pretty quiet place at 4:30 AM. I hazily went through the usual morning routines – get dressed in the cold pre-dawn, deflate the air mattress, stuff clothes and sleeping bag into various sacks. Chuck everything out the door of the tent. Pull pegs, unclip fly, take down the tent and stuff it in with the sleeping bag. I wandered over to the laundry room where I’d left my food bag for the night, based on the sage wisdom of the campground owners… “we don’t see many bears, but some of the skunks might be interested.” I fuelled up for day 6 with a soggy Indonesian rice wrap from Nelson, a Clif bar, some slabs of jerky and one of four remaining Belgian waffles. By 6:30 I was on my bike and rolling down Highway 3A on a chilly morning to the forest service road that would take me up and over Grey Creek Pass.

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Often snowbound well into July, I was fortunate to experience the pass in pretty ideal conditions – totally dry, cool early morning, no bugs to speak of. The dirt road started it’s climb just past the Grey Creek General Store, steeply at first, then the grade mellowing slightly but always climbing steadily. The road is open to the public and I’d meet a few people on motorbikes, 4 x 4’s and even a run-of-the-mill Hyundai Santa Fe taking the direct route up and over the divide between the East & West Kootenays. I was thankful for the early start and able to stick to shady patches for about 3/4 of my ascent – about a 50/50 split of pedalling and walking, pretty much at the exact same speed – before the sun peaked high enough over the surrounding peaks to necessitate full deployment of my sun hoody.

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Tim, the Santa Fe driver, was quite interested in the Epic and had followed the race tracking site most years. He mentioned an “old dude” just ahead – had to be Darch, my 73 year-old hero from Merritt, who I’d last seen on Day 4 above Christina Lake. Good on him for hammering out the km’s. I’d later learn that he’d camped somewhere on the road to the pass and started super early after a freezing cold night up high. My other chat was with a hiker en route from Edmonton to Victoria, who’d spent the night just below the pass at a BC Forest Rec Site. Otherwise, I was on my own for the 4 1/4 hour climb. It was quiet and incredibly clear. Occasional glances back over my shoulder provided glimpses of the snaking road falling away to the valley, and eventually I was high enough to see across Kootenay Lake to the snow-capped heights of Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park.

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“Grey Creek With Bicycle”. Oil on canvas, 2018. Artist unknown.

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This was the most remote section of the Epic course, 80 km of forest service road. I passed the time by replaying the details of my ride up to that point, remembering views, emotions, trail conditions, what I’d eaten. I couldn’t recall the last time I’d been anywhere with absolutely no sound other than the roar of a creek, the crunch of a dirt road under my tires (and shoes…I was walking a lot) and soft rushes of warm wind.

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Water refill, almost at the top of the climb!

It took me four and a quarter hours to reach the pass, which lacked any sort of signage to truly confirm I was at the top. The road began dropping, fast, and I finally let out a whoop of excitement as I pictured my little Trackleaders dot slowly cresting the pointy apex of the highest point on the entire route, then moving spiritedly along the map as I started the long descent towards Kimberley.

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My best “I think this is the pass?” face.

The descent was a blast – ripping down a lonely backcountry road on a bluebird day is pretty awesome – and exhausting in totally different ways from the climb. Hands, wrists, arms and shoulders engaged in constant braking and absorbing every shock from the chewed-up road. Quads and hamstrings protesting from my extended semi-standing position as I tried to absorb the rough terrain. My slightly beefier 2.6 tires helped a little bit but being on a rigid aluminum bike ensured I got the full experience of feeling every rock and rut.

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The grade of the descent eventually eased as I pressed onward towards St Mary’s Lake, the surroundings alternating between densely forested ridges and bald expanses of logging tracts. The day had warmed up considerably and the heat and headwind conspired to slow my pace. Mileage markers passed slowly, frequent reminders that I was still a long ways from Kimberley, but the lows were offset by thinking about why I was there, and, remembering Ryan Correy’s inspirational energy, I’d smile and keep moving forward and focus on the present moment of simply being there on my bike. The rough Grey Creek road morphed into a proper gravel road and eventually pavement as I passed by St. Mary’s Lake towards my next way-point, where the route would cut through the Kimberley Nature Park for an 8 km stretch into Canada’s highest city.

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Mountain goats near St Mary’s Lake.

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By the time I got to the Nature Park, I was feeling pretty low – I’d blown through my water and some confusing navigation when I started onto the nature park trails had me walking my bike up a long uphill, weaving across the trail in an attempt to follow the shady patches. “Aren’t you hot?” A voice behind startled me…with my sun hood on, I hadn’t heard the rider approaching, a local gal out for an afternoon mountain bike ride. Admittedly I looked somewhat overdressed for a 30+ degree day – long-sleeved hoody, black Pearl Izumi sun legs below my shorts – but it kept my sunscreen needs to a minimum.

As the grade slackened I got back on my bike and enjoyed her company as we rode together for a few kilometres, the conversation taking my mind off how low I was feeling after the past few hours of headwinds and heat. She was a recent Kimberley transplant, having lived in my hometown of Canmore previously, and gushed positively about the slightly more relaxed pace of life coupled with lots of great rec opportunities – rivers, lakes, biking, and decent skiing. We parted ways as she continued on her singletrack ride, my course taking me down the double-track Army Road trail on a long, fun descent into Kimberley – more whooping as I reveled in reaching another milestone of the route and looking forward to a burger and a beer after 11 or so hours of riding.

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I paused the ride with gps app and found the platzl, the inviting pedestrian plaza that is the heart of Kimberley. The appropriately-themed Pedal & Tap seemed like the obvious choice for dinner. I grabbed a seat at the bar, admiring the bike-part decor (wall-mounted chainring-crank-pedal coat hangers) and quaffing a cold amber ale while contemplating my next moves. The trail from Kimberley to Cranbrook promised easy cycling on the Northstar Trail, a paved 25 km path along old rail grade that linked the two Kootenay towns. Cranbrook promised a resupply of provisions for what I knew would be my final day into Fernie tomorrow.

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ze Platzl.

While mindlessly inhaling an amazing burger and flipping through Google maps looking at Cranbrook campground options, I was only mildly aware that someone had occupied the adjacent bar stool. After a good 10 minutes I heard his voice ask, “Tim Johnson?” Lo and behold, it was a friend and former Patagonia Banff colleague Jeff, also a recent Kimberley transplant. We shared some laughs at the utterly random encounter and caught up for awhile but I was feeling the pull to get back on the bike and resisted the very strong urge for a second pint.

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Zipping along the Northstar trail towards Cranbrook.

As I savoured some very pleasurable riding out of Kimberley – a beautiful evening, belly full of food and a downhill paved grade – I mulled over a text from my Canmore friend Guy, (who’d reached the finish line that day) that had me mildly concerned about the Cranbrook to Fernie section. His mention of some rough sections of hike-a-bike after Elko, paired with the forecasted hot weather, got me thinking that I should press on past Cranbrook towards Wardner on the Kootenay River to rack up some extra distance tonight while I was feeling pretty good.

It was about 8PM when I decided to call my wife Kristen to fill me in on what lay ahead so I could keep pedalling while she zoomed in on the route from the comfort of our couch at home. Wardner, 30-ish kilometres past Cranbrook, promised a picnic area but in the end I rationalized that getting some food and crashing early in Cranbrook for a well-rested pre-dawn start would be my plan. I wrapped up my long day of riding with some Superstore shopping and found the Regency Park RV Resort, right next to the highway into town. I was the only tent in a sea of RV’s, most of which looked to be permanent homes for the somewhat sketchy-looking denizens of the campground. I set up sans-fly and had a restless sleep punctuated by the noise of 18-wheelers braking as they rolled into Cranbrook, a streetlamp shining through my mesh ceiling, and dreading a tough final day to reach Fernie City Hall.

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Day 6. Crawford Bay to Cranbrook. 126 km. Around 15hrs?

July 6 – Day 7 – Cranbrook to Fernie

4 AM. I don’t think I really slept much in anticipation of my final day on the trail. I moved slowly through the methodical morning routine – slathering on some chamois butter, stuffing clothes and tent into dry bags, firing up RWGPS and my InReach, load the bike. I ate a banana and nut-butter wrap and rolled slowly away at 5 am into the pre-dawn. The morning’s riding was pleasant enough along the gravely trail of the Chief Isadore Rail Trail but I was feeling sluggish and achy and it took me awhile to wake up as I passed quietly through long, dark stretches of pine before the route took to Highway 3 for an 8 km stretch.

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The Chief Isadore Rail Trail heading out of Cranbrook.

The sun was still hidden behind the ramparts of the Lizard Range to the east, enhancing the morning with a lovely orange tint. I left the highway and started down the Ha Ha Creek Road. I was thinking a lot about the past 6 days and really enjoying that final early morning on the trail, winding quietly past fields and ponds and farms. I watched a giant bald eagle take flight over a glassy marsh and minutes later spied an even larger eagle perched on the fence post aside a freshly-mowed field. The sky ahead glowed over the Kootenay River as I passed through the early moments of the day on my bike.

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Ha Ha Creek Road, heading towards the Kootenay River.

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I passed through sleepy Wardner and made a mental note of some basic camping options, for next time…I remember being mildly amused that thoughts of repeating the Epic were already bouncing around in my head. The short climb out of Wardner led to a pleasant stretch of rural gravel past more quiet pastures, eventually passing the last icons of civilization as the homes ended and the trail became a simple dirt road winding through the woods of Lake Koocanusa country (Kootenay + Canada + USA = Koocanusa…the giant lake straddles the BC/Montana border).

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After some fast downhill bits and a few confusing trail junctions I reached Koocanusa Landing and was glad for a big shady deck in front of the marina store, where I ingested a giant ice cream cone, a 7 Up and a bag of bacon chips. The lake was a greeny-blue sheet of glass and the good ‘ol sun was doing a great job at making the day as hot as possible. I slipped my sun hoody on and rode the dam-bridge crossing the lake on a short stretch of pavement before the route snaked randomly through the giant Kikomun campground and on to the scenic, cottage-y Baynes Lake.  By now it was pretty hot; I felt like I was making decent time but as the day heated up I felt myself slowing a bit through the long stretches of dirt track through dry pine country.

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In the back of my mind I was aware that Jeff & Guy were waiting for me in Fernie, the plan being to head back home together. Eric, the Banff rider I’d met above Christina Lake a few days prior on his east-to-west Epic ride, had hoped that one of us Bow Valley folk would be able to drive his truck from Fernie back to Banff. As the day heated up though, my stops for water and shade increased and my speed decreased – especially when my phone died and my navigating reverted to searching for the little “Trans Canada Trail” signs at each junction. My reliable Costco battery pack was also dead – I’d plugged everything in the night before at my “powered” tent site, but now realized that I hadn’t actually checked that morning – when I would have realized that the power outlet didn’t actually work.

Thankfully I’d been through this part of BC on lots of ski trips over the years and knew roughly where I was in relation to highway 3 and Elko, so a few of my guessed turns where the TCT signage was missing ended up seeing me through to the end of the dirt track for a short paved uphill to Elko. The gas station convenience store gave me a chance to get plugged in to re-charge the phone and battery pack for the next section of trail around Mt Broadwood and the home stretch to Fernie. I stood in line behind a fellow buying a full camouflage rain suit and paid for a coke and a muffin and sat at a worn table under a giant wall of photos of hunters kneeling proudly over their kills. It was high noon when I unplugged and got back on the bike under a scorching midday sun and headed across the highway to get back on route.

Past the modest homes of what I guess was Elko proper, the road then dropped down to cross the Elk River before reverting to dusty double-track and the start of a fairly taxing section of climbing on loose, baseball-sized rocks. I rode as much as I could before reverting to hike-a-bike mode, slowly making headway up the steep track and sweating like a hog. Figuring this was the “brutal” section Guy had mentioned in his text the evening prior, I settled in for what I expected to be a long, hot multi-hour slog. The trail occasionally levelled off to ride-able grades, and even some downhill in spots, but then I’d be back to walking and pushing up steep, rough, degraded double-track. The Elk River receded from view as the route climbed up and around the southern flank of Mt Broadwood.

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In hindsight, I think this was one of my favourite sections of the route. I’d anticipated the worst to such a degree that even though it was tough, it seemed to all go by pretty quickly. The steep uphill trail turned into a rolling track through a huge open plateau of meadow grasses interspersed with stands of pine and rock. The going was rough and rocky, but it was really fun riding – a game of weaving and dodging the endless rocks to find the cleanest line down the trail. I stopped a lot, just to look around and take in the surroundings, knowing that the journey was winding down. I was grateful to have had the opportunity to experience the simple routine of ride-eat-sleep-repeat for the past week. Somewhat unbelievably, it dawned on me that I’d made it almost 1000 km. Huge expanses of mountains and valleys occupied every view, and I was out on my bike traversing lonely, beautiful terrain.

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A long stretch of choppy downhill brought me to the Wigwam River forest service road, a name I recognized from following the Tour Divide race every year. I was still stoked from the past hour or so of riding, but every time I powered up my phone to check on my progress, the RWPGS app showed one final steep ascent before I’d be able to savor the final stretches of “easy logging road” into Fernie. Friends, beer and food were only a few hours away.

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I celebrated the 1000 km mark of the Epic route with a snack break in a nice patch of shade, devouring my final bag of cheezies as I readied myself for the tough climb ahead. The level doubletrack trail slowly started ascending…”here we go”, and I downshifted into an easy gear to conserve energy and minimize my exertion in the smouldering heat of the afternoon. After a kilometre or so of easy spinning I dropped down into a harder gear…still climbing, but not really that steep.

The grade flattened at a junction. I found myself on a wide, level logging road. “That can’t be it?”, I thought, warily riding onward and expecting a wall of a climb to materialize at any moment. But it never did. I cruised the logging road into a good headwind, still suffering a bit in the heat but feeling pretty good. A glance at my phone showed my little dot well past the apex of the climb that never really seemed to materialize, and approaching a long downhill.

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I love you, hawkins cheezies.

I was an hour or so outside of Fernie and pushing hard into the wind along the gravel Cokato Road. Inevitably, this stretch was of course more difficult than anticipated with a few climbs sprinkled in but I got a little boost when I started recognizing some of the peaks across the valley and knew that Fernie was not too far off. The ski hill came into view on my left and I listened to the crunch of my tires on the last few metres of dirt before the route turned to pavement and rolled past homes on the outskirts of town.

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Cokato Road. Are we there yet?
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Fernie ski resort, and a very salty, disgusting shirt.

My goal for the past few hours was to get to Fernie by 4 PM. My last track pinged at 3:41 as I crossed the tracks and rolled a few blocks down the main street before a left turn and then a right, and there was City Hall, the official finish line. A guy standing on the corner gave me a “way to go” and followed me to the steps of city hall. It was Dace, who’d finished the day day prior. He offered a congratulatory handshake and a smoothie…amazing. Thanks Dace! No sign of Jeff or Guy. I figured they were enjoying a sunny patio nearby and I rationalized that maybe they weren’t expecting my “fast” pace of the past few hours. A few moments later, their absence was explained when my wife Kristen appeared suddenly in the small park in front of city hall, having driven down to meet me. Jeff was already home by now. Kristen’s surprise finish line presence capped off an amazing day as she bravely moved in for a sweaty hug and a salty kiss.

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A few other riders, Dan & Fred from Kamloops, appeared, warmly welcoming me to Fernie. The BC Epic, like many self-supported bikepacking races, is almost an anti-race…no entry fees, no prizes, no fanfare, no real finish line. Over the coming days, I’d reconnect with friends who’d ridden and heard the stories of their experiences, of rolling up to city hall in the dead of night with no one around, utterly gassed. I’d spent the past 7 days pushing myself, challenged by the landscape, the long hours, and I have to say, it was awesome to have a small but enthusiastic welcoming crew at the finish line. I think I was the second-last of the grand depart riders to make it to Fernie. I watched my little blue TJ icon bouncing at the finish on the Trackleaders page for a few seconds then shut ‘er down. Ten minutes later we were gathered around a table in the Brickhouse pub, enjoying cold beers and swapping stories. It was nice to be off the bike. Over 1034 km the highs far outweighed the lows and I was already thinking back on each day and how I could do it faster “next time”.

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A tired steed.
Race Status Finished
Last Update Rec'd 03:41:00 PM (PDT) 07/06/18
Current speed 0.2 kph
Route mile 1034.0 km
Route average speed 6.8 kph
Route distance per day 162.5 km
Moving Time 3:13:10
Stopped Time 2:19:28
Moving Average Speed 12.1 kph
Current Elevation 1012 m
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Day 7. Cranbrook to Fernie. 133 km. Just under 11 hours.

Afterthoughts

It’s September as I finish writing this. Quite often I still find my mind wandering back to a random moment of the race. Being able to be part of, and finish, the BC Epic was an opportunity and experience for which I’ll forever be grateful.

Some miscellaneous bits…

The Trackleaders site is pretty cool to replay the whole race. It really gave me some insight on to how close I was at certain points to other riders, how long some of my overnight stops were (watching my dot sitting there motionless while dozens of others swarm forward along the route is frustrating), and how fast some of the other riders were! Amazing. Hit the Play button in the “Replay Route” box at the bottom left of the map and watch the fun!  http://trackleaders.com/bcepic18

Overall, I felt pretty good physically most of the time. Low mental points were few, and aside from my achy knees and some sore sit bones for an hour or so in the mornings I felt good when I reached Fernie. The knee pain was frustrating and slowed me down. I can say that I did train with some focus, but probably could have done more – gym, pilates, stretching, strengthening. Other thoughts: a bike fit? Would that have made a difference?  Or, would more on-the-bike-time in my training have helped? Were the achy knees simply a result of riding the longest days I’d ever ridden before, for 7 days in a row? Another thought that occupied my mind: using my fat bike, with it’s wider bottom bracket to accommodate a wider rim & tire, makes for a higher ‘Q factor’ – the distance between the pedal attachment points on the cranks (The “Q” stands for “quack”, a reference to the wide stance and waddling gait of ducks). Bike ergonomics dictate that a wider Q factor can be ergonomically inferior because the pedalling motion strays outward from the nearly-inline track of human footsteps, potentially increasing knee variability and risk of injury.

Technology for the most part worked ok. I kept it fairly simple, opting for the Ride With GPS app on my iPhone instead of a separate GPS unit. For the most part this was more than adequate to keep me on track, although I never took the time to figure out why the turn-prompt voice function didn’t seem to work. The Achilles heel of my technology was an older phone with poor battery life. The constant worry about draining the battery kept me offline much of the time, hence I was never too engaged in checking in regularly on Trackleaders to see where everyone else was, or listening to any music or podcasts – although I don’t remember ever having the urge to.

I also had a small camera instead of using my phone for the 200+ photos I took – until the camera battery died on day 4, after which I maybe spent a bit too much time wrestling my iPhone on and off it’s handlebar mount every time I spied a photo op. The $20 battery pack from Costco was great to charge up the phone – I was probably being a little too rigid on not touching my phone – when I likely had plenty of juice in the battery pack to charge my Iphone at least 4 or 5 times.

My bike is a 2015 Salsa Mukluk fat bike. It’s pretty much stock with the exception of a 29″ set of wheels and 2.6″ tires – Scwhalbe Nobby Nics – for a bit of cushion and stability on loose or rocky terrain, and Jones bars which I love for the comfort and lots of places to strap bags, lights and phone. Overall the bike ran really well. I was lazy about playing with tire pressure and could’ve alleviated some pavement sluggishness with a bit more air.

Food choices seemed to work well. No digestive issues. Having a variety of food was good – different flavours of Clif bars & Kind bars, some Fruit bars, some salty corn chips or cheezies, a giant bag of jerky, wraps, a hunk of cheddar, lots of nut butters…the route also passed through enough towns to take advantage of making sure I always had plenty of food, and to enjoy a sit-down meal. I probably could have done better with some more protein, especially at the end of the long days.I think I only had 2 coffees over the 7 days of riding. I enjoy my morning coffee and wondered about caffeine withdrawal issues…nothing.

Water was fairly easy to come by and I don’t think I ever got low. I used my filter only once, purification tabs 3 times and the rest came from taps in campgrounds or towns. I carried 3.5 L of water and was pretty good at keeping hydrated – alternating between 1 bottle with water and 1 with water with a Nuun electrolyte tablet. On a hotter year, my comments here might be quite different…some of the stretches could have been taxing had the temperatures been higher.

Stop and smell the flowers was a goal for my ride. I hadn’t seen much of this part of BC and I stopped quite a lot…for photos, to take in a view, to have a snack and stretch a bit…and I’m sure all these little stops took their toll on my pace…see below. I also chose not to ride into the dark of night if possible, mainly cause I wanted to see the route. This principle may have kept me from pushing further on 1 or 2 occasions, but generally my stop time each day jived pretty well with how I was feeling and/or where I was on the route (i.e. not wanting to continue on past Trail on Highway 3 at 9 at night).

Don’t stop too much. I stopped, a lot. Even for half a minute, the time spent going 0 km/h adds up over a 160 km day and the effort to get a 55 pound bike rolling again was likely not insignificant. What would my days have looked like had I stopped only half as much? Efficiency and multi-tasking at stops is key.

Would I do it again? I’d like to think so. Who wouldn’t want to have a week to ride their bike and eat anything you want and see some cool country! But it’s a lot of prep, and a significant time commitment. I think I’d like to experience the route in reverse, see everything from a different angle. I rode alone for most of my time this year, and it’d be awesome to meet all the grand depart riders coming from the west. I’d probably regret missing out on the experience and camaraderie of a grand depart? And potentially riding into prevailing winds traveling east to west. And arriving at a finish line that’s quite far from home. The weather this year, for me, was pretty great…not hot at all till the last 2 days, minimal rain, no snow on the high points of the route. I think the folks at the front of the pack ran into quite a bit more wet weather and mud.

Aside from a few moments of pure terror – riding head-on into the llamas near Eholt, running perilously low on waffles, being chased by an angry grouse – the entire week of riding was an incredible grand adventure! Big high-fives to all the Epic riders & a huge thanks to Lennard Pretorius for putting together an awesome route. Stoked to have made it to the finish in support of Two Wheel View. My 50-cents-a-km pledge amounted to just over $500 donated for their programs.

Thx…The good folks at Rebound Cycle helped the Mukluk run like a dream. Katrina R. @katrinatheexplorer thanks for getting us to Merritt in comfort & style. Ryan Correy…for the inspiration…his memory lives on with all those lucky to have known him. And to my amazing wife Kristen for the support and surprising me at the finish 🙂

#rideforryan #bikepackcan #ilovewaffles #bikepacking #bcepic1000

 

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11 thoughts on “the bc epic

  1. Great read and wonderful pictures. Thanks for taking the time to create this, both during and after. FYI there is a group of Epic “veterans” intending to do an WB grand depart from Fernie next year and travel to Merritt at a touring pace. Brian

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  2. Great write up Tim. Each time I do this race I always spend the next year remembering the days on the bike. You do miss a lot when you ride through the night. I would recommend doing it in reverse. It is a quite a different beast and you at least have good knowledge of where you can stop and camp now = a faster time. The downside of reverse for me was that most Grand Departs riders passed by me on the downhill into Grand Forks on Day 3 and they did not want to lose their momentum so most did not stop. Also, once past the riders the route gets very lonely and the finish is…just an end of the ride.

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      1. Hi Tim, I am doing my BCEpic write up and would like to use the picture you took of the pond on the trail just below McCullough Lake. Can I use your picture if I provide a link to this report and credit to yourself?

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  3. Great write up. Thanks for this. I only made it to Crawford Bay and had to bow out due to knee issues, but this write up makes me hungry to give it another go next year.

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    1. Cheers Nathan, thx for having a read! Hope to see you out there again next year! (I might touch base too to pick your brain on how you had your fat bike set up for the Epic)

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