Summer is coming and it’s got me thinking about sleeping under the stars, hiking and heading out on long bike rides in the sunshine. Hiking is one of those things that resets the soul and clears your head, it’s great to set off into the middle of nowhere and enjoy some peace and quiet. For me the only downside to backpacking is having to carry all your gear on your back and the distinct lack of mountain biking involved.
A few years ago I started hearing about a mountain biking niche known as Bikepacking, essentially this combines the essence of backpacking by being self supported and carrying your own gear with the joys of mountain biking and exploration.
Since then it has exploded in popularity with well known routes such as the Tour Divide (http://tourdivide.org/), an incredible 4418km route from Banff, AB all the way along the spine of North America to Antelope Wells, NM.
More recently local events have been popping up including the BC Epic 1000; A 1000km race/ride from Merrit to Fernie utilizing part of the recently finished Great Trail.
Back in 2015 I was Inspired by these event’s and I thought it was about time I tried out this niche for myself. I started hunting through Backroad Mapbooks and scouring Google Earth (both fantastic research tools) looking for a reasonable trip I could pull off within a 24hour time period. After much deliberation I settled on something I could do starting and ending at my house, biking from Squamish up through Valleycliffe and onto the Indian Arm forest service road up and over the ridge and down all the way to the northern tip of the Indian Arm inlet. This route is approximately 75km round trip with about 1600m of climbing and, being only a modestly fit mountain biker this seamed like a reasonable challenge to take on.
I asked pretty much everyone I knew if they wanted to join but people thought I was a little crazy to do this, “Why not just go ride our awesome trails and sleep in your own bed?” was a pretty common one and “75km of un-maintained dirt road sounds terrible!” I tried explaining that it’s more about the adventure but nobody bought it. Unperturbed I decided to go it alone…
There’s a lot to think about heading out on a trip like this, being only a maximum of 37.5km away from my house doesn’t sound that daunting but also being completely isolated with no cell reception, no back up and only what little supplies you can carry to get you through, adds some difficulties; what do I do if I crash, what’s my plan if things go sideways, what if I get eaten by a bear?? All serious considerations but with a bit of forethought and a comprehensive trip plan left with a loved one I felt comfortable about heading out alone. Oh wait, I mean terrified, not comfortable.
The other thing I had to work out was how to carry my gear on the bike. I really didn’t want to ride that far with a heavy pack on my back but I also couldn’t drop hundreds of dollars on fancy frame and saddle bags.
Nowadays there’s plenty of options that are far more reasonably priced from the likes of Blackburn, but I had to rig up something with what I had kicking around.
I settled on a drybag strapped under my saddle and one strapped to the bars leaving the space inside my frame to carry 2 water bottles.
Heading off from my house included the mandatory ‘potential last photo of Rob alive’ and much double checking of gear, water and food. I was as ready as I could be.
With all my route explorations I thought this would be quite a reasonable bike ride, maybe a bit steep to begin with but completely rideable. I was in for a bit of a shock, the FSR went uphill for the first 10kms with little break and several spots that were too steep or too chunky and washed out for riding with a loaded bike, boy did my legs burn.
Luckily, it was a beautiful sunny day at the end of May, I had all day to get to my camping spot so I wasn’t too put off and relished in the sunshine and incredible views
of the backside of Sky Pilot and Habrich with the entire area to myself.
After several hours alternating between spinning the easiest gear I had and pushing my bike I made it to the top, hungry, sweaty, disheveled and pretty damn exhausted.
So far, the only other person I had met was ripping past on a dirt bike, my cell phone bars had rapidly dropped away and I felt the freedom and exhilaration that comes from stepping outside of your comfort zone.
The view from the top was worth it alone, I ate lunch looking south all the way down the valley toward the Indian Arm Inlet, marvelling in the beauty of the mountains that surround us and excited for the long awaited descent.
What goes up must come down, 10km of brutal climbing were all worth it for the 20km of descending the other side. The FSR was in pretty good shape at this end interspersed with sections of chunky baby-head rocks and large water bars that gave me a refreshing soaking when ripping through them.
Now I was picking up speed I started to realise my front handlebar bag was far from secure and every time I hit a hard compression it would rub on my front tire! I cinched down the straps and hoped it would hold until I made it back.
When things started levelling out beside the river at the bottom I was startled out of my sunny day haze by a large bear running out onto the FSR in front of me, luckily after a couple of minutes stand off and a strong exchange of profanities he carried on his way.
This interaction did bring me back down to earth and made me realise I’m far from the top of the food chain out here.
This wasn’t helped by an interaction I had shortly afterwards with a local hunter. He was in a side by side dragging what looked like the remains of a very large animal off the road and into the bush. We chatted for a few minutes and he pleasantly informed me that there’s a very active cougar in the area and that I should take care if I’m camping near by. Turns out the carcass was the remains of a several hundred pound bear that presumably got ripped apart (before or after it died I’m not sure) by this hungry cougar!
A little past this, I found the perfect camping spot right at the head of the Indian Arm Inlet, there’s a small beach and fire pit set up that’s obviously used quite frequently. I had packed as light as possible for this trip so I set up my tarp and camping mat to make my home for the evening.
When unpacking my gear I discovered all the bottom outs of my bag onto my front tire had not only worn a hole through my bag but also into my water bladder stored inside!
When planning the trip I didn’t have access to a water filter and seeing as it was just overnight I had decided to carry enough water with me. Luckily it hadn’t all leaked out so I had enough for my dinner but tomorrow would be a thirsty day.
I had an erratic sleep, woken by many noises that all sounded like hungry cougars but I was tired enough to get a little rest. Waking up in this spot the following morning was a treat, nothing but bird song and pristinely calm water. Before getting out of my sleeping bag I started to think about the prospect of doing the same ride I did yesterday but in reverse, that meant 20km’s of uphill but at least it would be all rideable.
After a pleasant breakfast I packed up my gear and headed back the way I had come, it felt easier today. There’s about 7km’s of flat gravel road winding along the river before the elevation kicks in so I had a good warm up. All my gear was lighter, I had eaten most of my food and drank/lost most of my water. I felt refreshed.
The return trip was far less eventful, I knew the route, I saw a bear but this one was far enough away to observe without worry and I was happy to be out enjoying the world.
My only concern was water, I had one bottle left for the entire return trip and I’m normally a very thirsty guy! I considered filling it up from a stream but I’ve had too many friends get giardia that way so I decided to ration it. My parched throat wasn’t helped by all the dry snacks I had, beef jerky and dried mango are my go to trail food.
After the long climb I relished in the steep and fast descent, what took me hours on the way up was minutes on the way down! I got back into town mid afternoon, ending back at my house I was tired, ready for a shower and happy to have a massive glass of water to quench my thirst.
This kind of mini adventure is a great way to lift the spirits, explore somewhere new and just to relish in the amazing mountains that surround us. Roll on summer!