A Double Header of Dispatches from a Canadian Summer

Long tours are often lauded as being the ultimate way to tour but getting out for overnighters, here and there when the schedule allows, can be just as powerful an experience. Amidst general life busyness, photographer and pedaling-enthusiast Pat Valade makes time for a couple overnight bike campouts this summer. It should be no surprise that he packed the camera and we’re stoked to share the following doubleheader photo essay and its myriad glimpses offered into the Canadian summer. 

We had an incredibly cold and wet start to summer here in British Columbia. With the fire season we had last summer, no one, (myself included) had any reason to be very upset about it. I’ll be honest, most of the time, I’m a fair-weather cyclist. I’ll ride in the rain if I have to, or if someone goads me into it. With the weather we were having, it did take more motivation than I could muster, to load the bikes and venture out for some saturated camping.

It’s fine when you’re on a long tour and you have no choice, but when you have coffee and pastries down the road, the couch maintains an obscenely high level of gravity. When more pleasant, sunny weather rolled around, the slow cogs of trip planning started to spin up, and the thought of throwing a leg over the bike, jumping into cool, crisp rivers, started to look much more appealing. Schedules haven’t allowed for long trips this summer, but some of the shorter variety. It’s all about quality, not quantity, no?

You Must Go Up, to Go Up: A Trip into Pinecone Burke Provincial Park

I must admit, the first trip of the year, no matter how big, or how small always has a combination of two things that accompany it. One, is the anticipation and excitement of loading up the bikes, and visiting places both old and familiar. The other is a mild form of frustration as you dig through the various bins of gear, the neglected storage locker, searching for that elusive bug spray, multi tool, or spoon. Of course, the smallest things tend to be the most obscure and often remain elusive in these initial packing hunts.

The soundtrack of searching was accompanied by the sounds of flinging gear, and curses from our respective packing corners. Regardless! An overnight trip was on the horizon, and a much needed one. We were heading deep into our local hills, my partner Alycia fresh off a ludicrously busy semester, and both of us itching to spend a night out in a tent. We were heading for Pinecone Burke Provincial Park, hopefully combining a good ride, with some alpine hiking, right from our back door.

The distance was short, but from our home, it was essentially all uphill to the spot where we guessed and, honestly, hoped that we would be able to set up camp. Packing behind us, and with the beginning of those long, lazy summer days, we left later than we normally might have, and began the climb out of town. The Mamquam Forestry Service Road can be an interesting place for a bike-tourer. Though we’ve ridden it countless times, the dust, traffic and general lack of shade, all add up to a bit of a rude awakening for the start of a ride.

Nevertheless, it felt amazing to be out for a tour, slowly rolling uphill and putting distance between us and town. The weight of the loaded bikes started to become more and more familiar as we settled into our pace, chatting, snacking, and waving at the off-roaders so effortlessly slipping by us.

Starting late, means you get to have dinner earlier, so we filled up bottles, and found a nice log seat to tuck into dinner, and of course, another coffee. From here, a variety of methods propelled us forward to what we hoped would be a good campsite. Pushing the bikes, pulling the bikes, the classic “what are we doing” lean over the handlebars, and of course, the absurd spin of an easy gear.

Did we find what we were looking for? Thanks to a gentle passing driver in an Astro van, we pulled into a small gravel pullout, overlooking a deep valley. As the glowing light faded, we settled in front of a small fire, breathing out a sigh seemingly held in through long busy months, disconnected from the world, as the stars pierced the yawning night sky, and were thankful.

 Over and Under the Mountain: Lakes and Loops on Vancouver Island

The mist swirled around me, and the rain came down in a light spray, soaking bags, bike and human bodies. On a hot day, this would have been a welcome, and refreshing event, but of course I had neglected to look at the forecast before leaving Squamish. The proceeding descent through the mist, left my teeth chattering, and my knees knocking. I had hopped on the ferry over to Vancouver Island, to meet my good friend Geoff Campbell for a weekend of riding, and catching up after a long stint of not riding together or seeing much of each other.

Oblivious to the forecast, I imagined sweating away the kilometres, taking refreshing dips in the swimming holes throughout the days, and relishing the abundance of rivers and lakes along our route. Wrong again. The rain wasn’t all that bad by west coast standards, but it was ever present on our first day as we climbed out of Nanaimo. We were heading towards high, misty passes, catching up as only good friends can, the kilometres slipping by so easily.

The gravel of old logging roads varied from smooth, to chunk as large as a small chihuahua, the steep climbs giving way to even steeper descents. A break came high in a cut block, sitting on a large stump with a hot meal and a warm nip of whiskey to keep out the cold before drifting down to lower elevations. Our first night found us both hiding in our respective tents. A haven from both the moisture, and the blood-sucking companions that joined us on our journey into the forest.

Through the night, I had dreamed the rain stopped, or did it soak through my tent floor? It all seems a bit damp and hazy, but as the alarm that is the unzipping of sleeping bags and tent doors pierced the silence of our mossy acre, we were greeted with lifting clouds. One cup of coffee, two cups of coffee, and we were on our way again, content with the quiet morning and roads devoid of traffic as we made our way toward Nitinat, and a potentially hot meal.

A word of advice, if you ever find yourself in Nitinat on your bike, or at any time at all, honestly, be sure to stop in at the gas station (it’s the only one in town) and see if there are any bacon cheeseburgers left. We managed to score some of the aforementioned burgers, with nothing short of glee, and carried on our merry way as if we’d won the lottery. The rest of our day was ridden with the goal of finding a campsite mentioned to us by the only other rider we saw on that trip (thanks Steve).

Along the way, we explored perfect double track, dried out gear, and had many a laugh. We found that lucky camp spot, and even luckier still, no one was there. As we watched the waves of the Pacific Ocean crash against the shore, far below us and the light faded on another great ride. I was thankful.