A Shared Journey: Trip Of Lies

Sarah sits on wooden step in front of a small grocery store. Next to her is a large ice bin. Her bike, loaded with gear, sits next to the bin.

Photo by Jeff Bartlett

It would be a straightforward gravel grind, or so I thought. Backcountry roads, gorgeous mountain scenery, and pedaling that was simple enough that you could look around to admire it all. Perhaps I should have more seriously considered Ryan’s guidebook note stating, “the main challenge will be navigating a few unsigned links.

The route began in Golden, British Columbia, a laidback outdoor playground nestled in the mountains and surrounded by six national parks. A short but necessary pavement jaunt on the Trans-Canada Highway delivered us to the gravel roads I’d been dreaming of, over the Kootenay River, and a world away from the busy asphalt behind us. My whole being instantly lit up as the first bits of gravel crackled under our tires.

Sarah and three others ride their bikes across a narrow wooden bridge crossing a river. Mountains and evergreen forests are behind them.

Photo by Jeff Bartlett

It was a scorcher of a day, and the sweat was pouring off us, but we made good progress and marveled at how quiet this beautiful area was. Out of cell service and with no sight of cars for hours, we were happily in the backcountry. Still, in the back of my mind, I was aware that there would be a little route finding ahead. I recalled watching Ryan’s SPOT Tracker dot from my computer a few years back when he first scouted this route, his dot wandering back and forth as he hit a dead end and then moseyed around trying to find a way through.

Approximately 75km into our day, we arrived at this point. In writing the guidebook, Ryan carefully avoided a swath of private land with a short push along what was then a “drainage.” But as we cast our eyes on a rushing river, we quickly realized that the water levels were much lower when he scouted the route. There was nowhere to walk here. Perhaps we should have brought a packraft, we laughed.

We decided to embrace the adventure and embark on a bushwhack through the forest that ran alongside the rushing river. We only had a kilometer or two to travel, but it was immediately apparent that this would be no small feat, especially with fully loaded bikes in tow. Our progress was slow. Very, very slow. One needed only to venture a few meters from the group to be completely lost in the tangle of branches and logs.

Sarah and another rider push their bikes through dense trees.

Photo by Jeff Bartlett

Sarah takes a picture with her phone of another rider as they push their bikes through the trees.

Photo by Megan Dunn

Not knowing for sure whether this epic effort would even take us where we needed to go, Megan and I decided to forge ahead on our own, without bikes, to scout out the situation. More tiring bushwhacking ensued. Many leg scratches and nearly-rolled ankles later, the two of us popped out at yet another swollen watercourse.  Here, the water was chest deep and the current swift; there was no way we could safely cross it to continue our route on the other side.

Back we went, carefully retracing our steps with a GPS through the thick, pathless woods to deliver the bad news to our comrades, who were now convinced we’d disappeared into the forest for good. We would have to bail on the bushwhack and go back to the road we had ventured from just an hour or two earlier.

Sarah stands in a shallow river or stream watching two riders lift a bike over fallen logs.

Photo by Megan Dunn

Megan sits next to the water on a rocky shore washing a cut on her leg.

Photo by Megan Dunn

Once there, we investigated our options. We would try our way through some other roads but conceded that we may have to camp out for the night and return to Golden the following morning, having deemed the route “impassable”. Regardless, our spirits were high. The kind of high you experience after you’ve gone through something challenging. Emerging from the forest, we felt we’d moved past the test of our grit. “Glad that’s behind us!” We patted ourselves on the back and looked ahead to easier miles, despite the uncertainty ahead.

We found our way back on track, but that track turned out to be the slowest and gnarliest yet. It took us five hours to cover 15km of lifting, pushing, pulling—and, in one case, throwing—our bikes over massive fallen trees that crisscrossed the trail. A horizontal forest, we called it. Some trees required climbing over. Others we could squeeze under. Some did not even have a discernible passage around. We were lucky to ride a mere 50 meters between log piles—it was often less than that, and sometimes not even worth riding at all. It was obvious that no one had been back there in quite some time.

Two riders are lifting a loaded bike over fallen evergreen trees.

Photo by Megan Dunn

Sarah and another rider drag their bikes under fallen trees that are blocking the trail.

Photo by Megan Dunn

As night set in, so too did the restlessness that came with not knowing how much longer we’d be out there. Would it ever end? Any thoughts of stopping short to camp, however, were quickly dismissed by the numerous piles of bear scat that dotted the remote trail. More than I’d ever seen. The only option, we agreed, was to keep going.

Sarah and another rider trying to carry their bikes over several fallen trees.

Photo by Megan Dunn

Sarah and other riders walk their bikes along the trail. More fallen trees block the trail.

Photo by Megan Dunn

When we finally emerged from the backcountry to a road leading to our campsite, we bowed down and kissed the pavement. It was after 10 pm. Our legs were marred with scrapes and gashes and we were borderline delirious, but we put our heads down and cranked out a speedy effort to get to our camping spot 20km away, with dreams of a hot meal spurring us on.

Sarah and the other riders kneel down and kiss the paved road they’ve reached. Snowy mountains and evergreens are in the background.

Photo by Jeff Bartlett

The days ahead were more straightforward. More gravel. Fewer downed trees. Some doubletrack and singletrack. Still, there were long hours in the saddle and the temperatures were hot—near 30 degrees Celsius—often in exposed, direct sunlight. There were some stretches when we all felt quite spent and weary, and couldn’t help but dream of that milkshake at that diner that may or not be open in that town that we might be going through later. Pipe dreams. Water sources were plentiful, though, and we were able to fill our bottles at the many mountain streams along the way.

The four riders are biking down a gravel road amongst tall evergreens.

Photo by Jeff Bartlett

A rider rides on a wide gravel road with a river below her on one side and hills climbing up on the other. The sky is an intense blue with large clouds overhead.

Photo by Megan Dunn

This adventure was a lesson in expectations. How they can challenge your mindset both positively and negatively. We affectionately called it the “trip of lies,” having on many occasions foolishly promised ourselves things that could not be guaranteed. I learned that smooth sailing could not be taken for granted on these backcountry adventures. Trails, watercourses, and conditions are constantly in flux. I’m learning to stop anticipating and instead embrace the present moment, whatever it might be throwing at me; accepting the uncertainty that comes with it; realizing that the milkshake might never come to be (spoiler alert: it didn’t).

The rider bikes along the same gravel road. The mountain range is in front of her in the distance.

Photo by Megan Dunn

Two riders are riding on a gravel road. Mountains and evergreen forests are in front of them in the distance.

Photo by Jeff Bartlett

What we did get, though, was a true adventure. One that tested us but rewarded us in greater measure. It wasn’t long before our foray in the horizontal forest was recalled fondly, with laughs and smiles and perhaps rose-tinted glasses. We rode on an impressive network of quiet gravel roads, admired beautiful landscapes of sparkling rivers, hoodoos, and mountains, spent a night at a picturesque lake, and enjoyed the occasional jaunt into civilization to load up on snacks. I also spent this bikepacking adventure with some new riding companions, and it was even a first outing for Ainsley (who thankfully missed that fateful first day).

The riders taking a break in front of a grocery store, eating snacks. Their bikes are lined up behind them leaning against the store.

Photo by Jeff Bartlett

Two riders are setting up their bivvys along a river, under tall evergreens.

Photo by Jeff Bartlett

Arriving back in Golden on the fourth night, dirty and gritty and in need of a shower, it was as though we’d been gone for much longer. The intensity at which you experience life through these kinds of adventures always impresses me. You pack so much in. Highs. Lows. Ups. Downs. Instant friendships. Lasting memories. Enriching experiences and moments that truly test your mettle.  It really feels like living.

Thanks, Ryan, for another awesome one.

Three riders are sitting at the end of a wooden dock looking out over a lake. There are evergreens on the far shoreline and a beautiful blue sky with purple clouds above. The sky, trees and clouds are all reflected on the surface of the lake.

Photo by Jeff Bartlett

This post filed under topics: Bikepacking Guest Blogger Overnighter Sarah Hornby

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lured to the west by the beauty and lifestyle of the mountains, I transplanted myself to the Canadian Rockies to live, work, and play in this gorgeous corner of the world. Here, a casual interest in cycling has grown into a passion my life seems to, quite happily, revolve around. No matter how big or small the two-wheeled adventure, it's the freedom, friendship, and simplicity that always has me dreaming about what’s next.

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