Day Two / Lumby to Lindsey Lake FSR, British Columbia / Tuesday, November 19, 2019
Mat and I were packing up our tent in the crisp morning air on a small patch of grass next to a trickling creek in Lumby, British Columbia when we noticed a little old man waddling towards us. “Where are you folks from?” he asked, aware that we weren’t part of his small community. “And where are you off to?”
We had left Lake Country later than anticipated on day one, choosing to pedal north along the beautifully crafted Okanagan Rail Trail that caresses the sparkling, turquoise waters of Kalamalka Lake. When the gravel met the road at the junction of Westkal and Kalamalka, we turned eastbound until we met the Vernon-Slocan Highway bound for the Kootenays.
With the days growing gradually shorter, it wasn’t long before last light fell in the mountains and we felt unsafe being on the shoulder of the darkening road. We had pulled over at the first sight of a meandering trail on the south side of the highway. Here we were, by the light of day, on the far more popular than we realized, Salmon Walking Trail.
“We started in Winfield and we’re heading for Winlaw,” I told him, “but that’s a few days away.” He smiled knowingly, looking over our bikes and then over us, as if to decipher if we were capable of the task at hand. “That’s ambitious,” he replied, still smiling, “you know, there’s probably going to be snow up there.”
“Probably.” I responded quickly, leaving no room for debate. There was silence. Reading my social cues, the man waved his hand, wished us luck and waddled away.
“Up where?” I said to Mat when the man was out of earshot.
After years of getting unsolicited, incorrect and unpractical route advice from locals, I suppose I had become a bit jaded. Instead of patiently allowing people to share their opinions with the understanding that they just wanted to help, I could sometimes be cold and unengaging. At times, I let my stubbornness get in the way of the potential for a deeper connection, for really hearing people’s perspectives.
Mat shrugged, “Maybe there’s a mountain pass coming up?”
We’ve adopted a relatively care-free approach when it comes to bike travelling in Canada, especially when we end up on the predictability of a highway. As long as we have enough food and a well stocked tool kit, we know we can get through just about anything. Thus, we don’t spend too much time worrying about the specifics, like whether or not we’re going to be ascending over a mountain pass or not. We think it’s more fun to discover as we go.
As we headed east out of town, the familiar telltale signs of a mountain climb presented themselves. “Oct 1 – April 30 – Must Use Winter Tires, Carry Chains”, “Expect Sudden Weather Changes” and the classic semi-truck chain up area. Mat and I laughed. “Yep, there might be snow up there.”
As we crested the summit of the Monashee Pass (1,189m / 3, 901 ft) we decided to pull in at the Lost Lake Rest Area for a breather. The old man was right, there was definitely snow ‘up there’ – but it was stunning (and passable) all the same. It was also far too chilly to spend the night at Lost Lake, so we threw back a snack, mounted our steel steeds and headed for the well deserved downhill descent.
Day Three / Lindsey Lake FSR to MacDonald Creek, British Columbia / Wednesday, November 20, 2019
We grind to a halt in front of the quirky Mushroom Addition restaurant that stands just past the ferry landing in Fauquier, British Columbia. Propping our bikes out front, we hug each other in celebration of our good timing and their being open. It’s always easy to appreciate the warmth of an indoor space when you’ve spent the last three days outside in the cold.
“Three over easy eggs, four pieces of bacon, two sausages, extra hashbrowns and some sourdough toast,” the server repeats back to us before hurrying off to the kitchen to start our order. We rub our hands together vigorously and then wrap them around the heat coming off our ceramic coffee mugs. It’s a beautiful thing.
We’re the only people here besides a seemingly local lady who is arguing with the chef/server on a first name basis about her hesitation towards trusting Elon Musk while the presidential debate blares out in the background. “He’s disrupting the industry,” he explains, “and it’s a good thing.”
We do our best to avoid eye contact in an effort to avoid getting roped into the heated debate and god forbid, having to discuss US politics. We talk amongst ourselves about the day’s events. We know of a great little campground a few hours ride up the road that will be closed for the season and void of much activity. We’ll have our pick of camp spots for sure.
The smell of hot, grilling bacon wafts out of the kitchen, leaving us full of watering mouths by the time our food arrives. We devour every morsel in record time and grab a few extra items for the road. “Thanks for your patronage, we appreciate it,” he says and we’re off.
We traverse north towards Nakusp along the Upper Arrows Lake, flickering in and out of the sun’s shadow, feeling grateful for whatever heat it can muster. The breeze off the water is brisk but the light makes it manageable.
Just as suspected, the frigid temps have drawn away the tourists and the campground is all ours. We roll the silent grounds in search of the perfect place to pitch our tent and cook up some evening grub. Settling on a soft spot a stone’s throw from the shoreline, we nestle ourselves among the fallen pine needles, in the coverage of the overhanging trees, just in time to watch the bold colours of the alpine sunset spread across the sky.
Day Four / MacDonald Creek to Rosebery, British Columbia / Thursday, November 21, 2019
We are absolutely freezing when we wake up Wednesday morning by the beach. In hindsight, it would have been warmer further from the water, but alas, here we are. As we zip open the front door to our tent, we’re greeted with a dusting of freshly fallen snow, alive with the tracks from last night’s wilderness visitors.
It’s indefinitely harder to get out of bed in conditions like these, but the promise of fresh coffee prys us from the covers. We slowly sip the hot brown brew from our silicone cups, savoring every ounce of heat as it permeates through our being.
As Mat tears down the tent, I attempt to stir the delicious contents of our salted caramel peanut butter jar before adding it to the warmth of our oatmeal, only to discover that it’s as frozen as my toes. I improvise, cutting the nut butter into chunks with a knife and watching it slowly turn to goo in my bowl.
Fed and caffeinated, we get out onto the road hoping for a stiff morning climb to warm us up, but alas, it’s mostly flat, downhill even, instead of up. It’s a rare occurrence in these parts. “My fingers are so cold I can barely shift my gears,” I yell ahead to Mat, knowing he’s in the same situation. Somehow our shared misery makes it easier. We both laugh to endure the pain as windswept tears run down our cheeks.
When we finally make it to the village of Nakusp, we fulfill our morning pact to stop at the small town General Store to purchase some warm, winter gloves to layer atop our existing pair. We both let out a sigh of relief as we pull them onto our hands.
From Nakusp, we’re able to cycle along the historic Nakusp & Slocan Railway Trail avoiding the busy stretch of Highway 6 that heads southbound for Slocan.
We’ll do anything to escape the fossil fuel fumes of the paved roads, if even for a minute. As we meander our way along the northern edge of Summit Lake, I tell Mat how excited I am to be off the road.
No sooner have the words left my mouth than we’re stopped dead in our tracks by a massive frozen beaver dam that has cut off the remaining kilometre of trail that would reconnect us with the roadway.
Nature’s obstruction forces us to turn around and repeat the last handful of kilometers that got us here. Mat can sense me pouting behind him as we double back on our tracks.
“That’s the nature of bike travel,” he reminds me, “you just have to accept what is.”
Day Five / Rosebery to Winlaw, British Columbia / Friday, November 22, 2019
More snow graces the ground as we wake up along the eastern shores of Slocan Lake just south of Rosebery, British Columbia on the Galena Trail. The cold in my bones feels like permafrost and I find myself feeling extra grateful to know that our day will end with a hot shower at our friend’s house in Winlaw, BC.
Staring out across the lake at the sharp, snow-crusted peaks of the Valhalla Mountains helps reignite my spirits towards the effort that lay ahead, I breathe in the energy of the elements.
In front of us lies a forty kilometre stretch of winding mountain highway that climbs high above the deep blue majesty of Slocan Lake, pinned up against loose, rocky bluffs next to steep, sheer drop offs down to the waters shore. It’s sure to wake us up and warm us up, too.
After surviving each twist and turn of the trip thus far, we sail down a mellow sidehill track that emerges out onto the Old Slocan Highway, scrambling ourselves through the mostly collapsed rock tunnel and pedalling across town to the safety and serenity of the Slocan Valley Rail Trail.
Allowing ourselves to revel in the rays of the afternoon sun, we roll effortlessly down the well-trodden dirt path towards our days end destination. Alas, the mountains had called, we had listened and now we were being reminded of our profound reverence for this sacred place.
All that was left to do now was find somewhere to call home in order to pass the coming months of another cold, Canadian winter.