North of the Border: Cycling with Sasquatch
My husband and I have dipped our toes into cycle touring several times over the past eight years. With the exception of two trips, someone else has always carried our gear, leaving us free to ride unencumbered through beautiful landscapes. Recently, we decided to add the element of Willie-Weir-inspired adventure that comes only when you’re self-sufficient. Our destination: Harrison Hot Springs, British Columbia. Our modus operandi: carry what we would need to camp overnight, worry about where we would sleep when we got there, and enjoy the ride.
We drove to Mission, BC, found just the right parking spot at Canadian Tire near the start of our route, and loaded up. All told, I think my bike and gear weighed around 60 pounds. Knowing we had about 40 miles ahead of us, we made the first great decision of the weekend: Timbits for lunch!
Before we’d even placed our order, a gaggle of about ten recreational cyclists from Vancouver mobbed the restaurant. My husband answered questions about his racing team kit while the group eyed us suspiciously. Apparently, panniers loaded with granola and underwear do not mix with carbon-fiber Euro-faux-pro.
Once we were sufficiently amped on powdered sugar, we hit the road -- and, coincidentally, our first bump in the road. My husband’s rack system, which had worked well supporting two panniers on previous trips, wasn’t up to the job of carrying the added weight of a drybag with tent and sleeping bag. Every time he hit a big bump, the rack would rotate backwards and start rubbing on his tire. After a couple of quick-fix attempts, we pulled over in Dewdney, got out the tools, and showed the rack who was boss.
Thankfully, whatever bike-whispering he did seemed to work for the rest of the trip. We did make a mental note, however, that on the list of upgrades before our next trip would be a new bike for him with eyelets for attaching a rack properly to the bike frame.
The rest of the day we felt like we were flying with the gods, thanks to a brisk tailwind and mostly flat road. Views of various lakes and rivers kept opening up to keep us entertained.
We pulled into the town of Harrison Hot Springs at around three o’clock. Given the late hour and the fact that we didn’t have a campsite reservation for the night, we decided to forgo exploring the town and head out to Sasquatch Provincial Park. Four hilly miles later, we got to the park entrance and the sign that said all campsites were full. We debated whether to go check out the sites anyway. Chief among the arguments against this was fact that it was another four miles uphill on a dirt road to reach them. On the other hand, turning around surely meant camping in an RV park or spending a lot of money on an overpriced hotel back in town. With the remote possibility of sharing a campsite with a nice couple or finding a sympathetic ranger who would let us camp on a spare patch of grass, we continued on.
The gods must have still been with us, because about two miles in, we flagged down a ranger who was able to direct us to an open campsite near Deer Lake. The people who were supposed to be staying there were evicted the previous night when their drunken party got out of hand. Their bad, our luck. British Columbia provincial campgrounds don’t have showers, but they do often have lakes. So, after setting up the tent, we rode a mile or so down the road and washed off the day’s hard work. When we got back, our neighbors from Ontario had fired up their camp stove and invited us to share the corn they'd bought earlier that day. Of course we said yes, and that led to an evening of telling tall tales about our road adventures, swatting mosquitoes, and drinking cherry wine (it’s as bad as it sounds). When we finally crawled into bed, sleep came easily.
The following morning, we packed up and headed back into town. Morning light on Harrison Lake was beautiful.
All good lake vacation towns have a beachside promenade, and Harrison Hot Springs didn’t disappoint.
We picked up some sandwiches, Okanogan cherries, and roasted hazelnuts grown in orchards just down the road. We also paused to greet the local wildlife.
I wish I could say that the ride back to Mission, BC, was as pleasant as the previous day’s, but headwinds make for a pretty miserable ride when your bike is shaped like a refrigerator box. I kept glancing down at my odometer, watching the tenths of a mile slide by at a geologically slow pace. “Let’s see,” I’d say to myself, “we’ve covered one mile point three, which means we have only sixty point …” About then, a car would whoosh past, and I’d lose my train of thought and have to start my calculations all over again. Thankfully, there were all sorts of interesting things to see on the second leg of our trip, including happy looking cows, and several drive-through corn stands.
Around lunchtime, we found a beautiful roadside park where we practiced the fine art of cycle-lingering. Whenever we’ve been on group bike tours, I’ve always been amazed at the number of riders who hop on their bikes at the crack of dawn and zoom to the day’s destination. As far as I know, there is no podium at the end of a day’s bike tour. As Willie Weir is famous for conveying: Taking time to stop forward motion, pause, and soak up your surroundings … that’s what bike touring is all about.
As we continued on, the winds got stronger, and our strength wilted. Downshift and spin was about all we could do. But when we finally made it back to the Mission Bridge near our car, we mustered big smiles, knowing we’d had one heck of an adventure.
Here are links to maps for the two days:
Tips for this adventure: 1) Rather than chance finding a campsite like we did, you can make reservations at Sasquatch Provincial Park. We did notice several large open grassy areas. Rumor was that bike campers wouldn’t be turned away if the campground was full, but would be given a spot on the grass. 2) Although we didn’t stop for a soak, Harrison Hot Springs public pool is centrally located at the junction of Hot Springs Road and the Esplanade, and accessible by all visitors to Harrison Hot Springs. There is a charge to use this indoor facility, open seven days a week (9am to 8pm Sunday through Thursday and 9am to 9pm Friday and Saturday). Lockers, towels, and suits are available.