The Epic Pandemic Project

The very same day that COVID cancelled our house-sitting soiree, we found ourselves standing barefoot on a blue shag rug in the middle of a bright, white living room talking about how fortunate we were to have such good people in our lives.

The beautiful, bright, white living room where we would pass the first few months of the pandemic working on the almighty basement demolition project.

On account of the pandemic, our dear friends sought after AirBnB now stood empty, with no signs of bookings for the foreseeable future. Not the type to sulk, they quickly saw the silver lining. It was an opportunity to revive the dark, dungeon of a basement below the BnB into a beautiful and modern, long-term dwelling that they could offer to the limited rental market in Nelson, BC.

Busy as they were, they needed a few extra bodies to help with the task at hand and being that our schedules were newly cleared of any and all responsibilities, we were happy to help with the project. In return, they granted us the flexibility to make our own schedule, offered up a tidy sum of money and gave us a stunning place to call home while we worked on the new demolition site that lay below our feet. Everything was falling into place. 

“It’s my gas axe,” said Mat as he connected the garden hose to the insert at the end of the concrete saw and revved it up. Water sprayed out the front, coating the blade and covering the floor, turning the dirt to mud. “I’ll leave you to it,” I said, knowing I was unable to handle the saw, the fumes or the noise. I cranked up the window fans and headed outside to watch from a safer, quieter place. 

Every few minutes, I peered my head through the hole where a door once stood, making sure his limbs were all intact and reminding him to take a break. He’d retreat to the sunlight for some gulps of water and deep draws of fresh air, then back to the dungeon to drag the blade across the basement floor.

The plan for the project was to increase the ceilings to a finished eight feet from their current height of seven. Taking into consideration that there would be in-ground plumbing, a heaping pile of radon rock and a new concrete slab poured where the existing one lay now, we knew we needed to dig the ground down at least two feet.

In a matter of days, Mat had saw-cut the entire 4-inch thick concrete basement slab, gridding out an absurd amount of 12” by 12” squares from the 25’ by 35’ foot floor plan. When he finished the task, I joined in the fun. Together, we pried up every single square of cement with a pickaxe and a crowbar, heaving each big block onto the metal wagon and wheeling them up a makeshift wooden ramp and out into the yard where we piled them neatly on the grass. 

The beginnings of what would become an entire lawn covered in big, heavy blocks ready to become someones new art project during the pandemic.

Beside the stack of blocks, we propped up a giant wooden sign with ‘FREE’ spray painted in thick black letters and posted a corresponding ad on Facebook. Within three days the entire heap of heavy concrete chunks were as good as gone.

Like many of the aged homes in the area, the house was quite literally built on boulders and the foundation was made up almost entirely of rocks. There were big rocks and small rocks and sometimes even gigantic rocks, all tightly bound together by the power of hard packed sand and dirt.

Mat finessing the walk-behind Bobcat like a pro!

Thankful for the extra help of a few strong friends, a walk-behind Bobcat and Mat’s finesse, we rammed, shovelled, pried and dug up each and every one of those rocks and carted them outside onto the lawn where neighbours collected them for artsy rock wall projects and god only knows what else. 

A few weeks later, we had moved out all the rocks, smashed up all the concrete and dug the dirt down to where it needed to be. We levelled the ground, praised the high heavens that we didn’t collapse the house and called our job done. Now, to bring in the professionals. 

At the end of our work days, we celebrated every inch of progress by taking ourselves out on an adventure. We would grind our bikes up the steady slope behind the house and get lost in the network of trails that lay beyond the limits of town. Huffing, puffing and pedalling to our hearts content rejuvenated our souls, cleared our minds and kept us dreaming about the infinite possibilities that lay ahead. 

We laughed to think how truly upside down the world was, the irony that of all people, we were the ones working while so many others had been temporarily pardoned of their jobs. These were strange times, indeed.  

Mat standing proudly atop one of the bigger boulders we removed from the basement demolition project. Not the biggest, nor the smallest, but one of the thousands we hauled out.

Two months before the pandemic struck and closed the borders to international travel, we had had a change of heart. Instead of our original plan to cycle south down the Continental Divide towards the border of Mexico before carrying on through Latin America to the southern tip of Argentina, something inside us had said to stay. 

We had long lusted over a network of remote routes that would link local British Columbia bike trails to backroads to gravel grinds to logging roads and beyond, traversing us quite literally from the back door of our temporary home to the far reaches of the Sunshine Coast. 

We plotted and planned and scouted and routed and pieced together what we thought would be the best little bike trip through B.C that we could come up with at the time. We could hardly contain ourselves long enough for the provincial government to open up BC Rec Sites and non-essential travel before we would take to the trail. The anticipation was rumbling in our psyche.

In the meantime, we took some of that hard earned cash and invested it into some much needed gear upgrades. We treated ourselves to the fattest tires that would fit in our frames, softer saddles and high-end handlebars that would give us an array of options for steering our steeds. We upgraded our living quarters to a stormproof shelter, far superior to the tent that we previously owned. 

Mat’s ’96 Specialized RockHopper, loaded with upgrades like his Brooks C17 saddle, Jones Loop handlebars and Surly Extra Terrestrial Tires. We are ready to roll.

We bought brighter headlamps, thicker airpads, warmer jackets and took adulting to a whole new level by purchasing a satellite communications device in case we (or someone else) needed SOS help in the backcountry. We were ready for action. 

The most exciting upgrade of all came to us in the form of an idea. We loved biking beyond a doubt but we also loved getting lost on backcountry hiking trips. Doing so much of one left little time for the other. Perhaps we could rectify this? Could we, should we, would we, consider combining the two, finally unifying our love for long distance biking and our love for long distance hiking? 

The answer was obviously, yes.

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