Friday, September 9, 2016

Jurassic Park Revisited

"Bears seen in campground". "Be bear aware". These are just two of the signs we saw while bikepacking in the Slocan Valley a few weeks ago.

In fact, one morning while walking through the camp at Springer Creek to visit the washroom, there were three bears blocking my path. A mother and two cubs. I slowly backtracked and then advised our neighbours of the problem. They had children scattered amongst the camp sites and a dog wandering around. Quickly the parents gathered the children around them and the dog was tied to a tree.

On our first day of bikepacking, we were stopped by an elderly couple standing beside their bikes off to the side of the trail. They pointed down the path about twenty metres where two bears were shuffling along. Once the bears scooted into the woods, the couple were more than happy to let my son Chris and I lead the way, ringing our bike bells, cans of bear spray in our hands.

It was on the second day of bicycle camping that we spied a large black animal ahead of us. Peering through my binoculars, I determined that what we were seeing was a black cow with three calves behind her. Not knowing what to do, we decided to turn our bikes around and find a way past this small herd.

Just as we began to turn around, another cyclist approached from behind the cow and calves. Shouting "Shoo!" and waving one arm in a dismissive manner, he easily got the cow to move ahead of him and toward us. We got off our bikes and placed them between us and the cow (to act as shields). The cow didn't pay us the slightest attention as she waddled past our position. As he approached, the cyclist commented "I can tell you aren't locals!".

Filled with confidence, we mounted our bikes and started pedaling toward the three calves ahead of us. It was only as the mother began to bellow that we realized we were in the predicament of being between her and her offspring. Chris was in the lead and as he looked over his shoulder he shouted "Dad! That cow is right behind you!".

In my mirror, the cow was framed perfectly by the inscription "Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear". "Holy shit!" I screamed as I bore down on my pedals. I was quickly closing in on Chris whose way was blocked by the nervous calves.

In a scene reminiscent of Jurassic Park where the T Rex is chasing the jeep, I have an angry cow on my heels, my two hundred and forty pound son blocking my way and three calves bucking and squirming all over the trail ahead of us.

We cycled full speed for half a kilometre before the calves discovered a path that led back to their pasture. They raised a cloud of dust as they skidded around the corner to safety. As I ran out of steam, my only hope of salvation was that the pissed off mother would follow them. Being able to write this is proof that she did.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Those crazy guys!

In the next two weeks I'm taking two very different bikepacking trips. One with my long-time friend Roy and the other with my son Chris.
Roy focused
As serious as Chris gets
Bicycle camping can be a sobering experience in that you must always have your wits about you. There are any number of hazards to contend with - wild animals, rocks falling onto you from tall cliffs, poisonous snakes, ticks etc. We have yet to take a bike trip in the woods when we haven't seen bears.

The above paragraph might lead you to think that our trips are hazardous and not all that much fun. Not so. After riding our bikes all day we set up camp and start sipping some hooch. The thing is, our bodies are still revved up from cycling and the drink doesn't seem to have any effect. So we drink more. That's when things change. For example:


You'll notice there are no silly pictures of me because I am the sensible one of our two different pairs. NOT!

Thursday, July 7, 2016


We are pretty serious about bike camping at our house. Several hours were spent on Tuesday night preparing a friend's bike for a bikepacking trip next week. Some people would just take any old bike into the woods but for us it is all about convenience and comfort.
Loaded for bear
A number of modifications needed to be made before we felt that our friend would like the bike. For example, I own many handlebar bags and I selected a couple for her to choose from. She chose a smaller one that I had bought to do the MS Mountain Tour in Hinton. At that time I felt that a bag was still necessary, but I wanted a lower - profile one so that I could easily thread my way through thick trees.
MS Mountain Tour
When riding for several hours every day, day after day, having a comfortable grip on the handlebars can help avoid fatigue in your hands. So on this bike the aim was to swap out the current grips and replace them with specially designed grips that widen out a the palm. As well, we wanted to add handlebar extensions so that the hands would have numerous positions to choose from.

Wide palm grips and handlebar extensions

One of the things we wanted to be sure of was if the panniers would fit her saddlebag rack. Experience had taught us that you can't assume anything. Luckily, the pair I was lending her fit perfectly on the rear rack.

The positioning of the saddlebags on the rack was important as well. It was important to be sure the bags fitted to the rear of the rack to avoid an annoying condition called "heel strike" when the heel of your shoe knocks into the bag with every pedal stroke. Very annoying.

Our friend took the bike out for a spin and very much appreciated the changes. Just watching her, you could tell that the improvements were going to ensure that next week she has an enjoyable bike camping trip.

A properly fitted out bike

Monday, June 20, 2016


After many months absence, our writing group got back together on Friday night to write short stories and then read them aloud to each other. Most of us are cycling enthusiasts and never seem to run out of ideas.
It begins
Each participant is welcome to suggest topics and that night they ranged far and wide. For example, the subjects included: "Sex and Bikes", "Why steal a watch when you can steal a bike?", "Bike Advice" and my favourite - "Do bike racks get lonely in the winter?"
When I was a salesman I learned to answer a question with a question so it seemed obvious to me that this subject needed to be written in the form of questions:

 "Do bike racks get lonely in the winter?"

How do handlebars handle things?
Are pedals selling anything when they pedal?
Is a down tube really down? Or just having a bad day?
If a bike has a fork, where are the knife and spoon?
Do handgrips really have a grip on things?
Do kickstands like to be kicked?
What are saddles saddled with?
Why all the hubbub about hubs?
If your bike is female, is it inappropriate saying she has a nice rack?

The bike I use daily was sitting on my repair stand, transmission pieces scattered about my work area, so I did the sinful act of driving a car to our cycling group! However, after a couple of hours of writing it was gratifying to see two of my friends ride for home on the bikes they had ridden to the event.
Writers riding home

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Mosquito-less Tour

With the recent rains in our area, I have to wonder if the "Mosquito-Less Tour" will actually be mosquito-less? Our campsites were chosen because they have a creek running behind them. Admittedly, they were chosen in very early spring when the creek was just a trickle. On the weekend, I rode over to the camp and discovered that the creek is quite a lot wider and deeper than my last visit.
The creek is behind the bushes
I'm worried for my friend and long-time cycling partner Roy. He grew up in Manitoba and absolutely hates mosquitos! However, I saw a posting on Face Book that included a sure-fire recipe to discourage the pests. The recipe calls for green mouthwash, Epsom salts and some stale beer. Supposedly by spraying this liquid around your outdoor space will eliminate the biting bug. Plus the area will smell of mint.
I don't believe it!

Monday, May 9, 2016


Whole new area to explore
Have you heard of dirtbagging? I always thought that a dirtbag was some slimy character but apparently it is a whole genre of bicycle camping. The idea being that bikepacking is not about the gear but about the experience and a recent issue of Adventure Cycling magazine contained an article promoting this new-to-me genre.

I have been interested in saving weight on my trips and this winter my wife and I sewed a Ray Jardine tarp that will offer shelter at a fraction of the cost of a tent and a fraction of the weight. The warm weather this weekend offered an opportunity to set up the tarp and get a good look at it.
First attempt at setting up
The article mentioned Tyvek as an outdoor material and I like the idea of making equipment from it. The easiest item would be a Tyvek groundsheet and maybe this winter we will sew frame bags from the material. If it is good enough to wrap your house in, then it must be good enough in the wilds.

Hot enough to melt a coin
Penny stoves were featured in the article and it took me only minutes to fashion my own from two beer cans and a jar lid. The thing is light as air and the alcohol fuel burned hot enough to melt the coin that covers the filling holes.

One of the authors of the article wrote about using an automobile sunshade as a sleeping mat - extolling its cheapness and light weight. Mine only cost a buck at a discount store but I worry that it may not be very comfortable.

I would like to try out dirtbagging. I could use my fifteen dollar winter bike, my eighty dollar tarp, the one dollar sleeping pad and the stove which cost nothing to make. By choosing my campsite carefully, I bet I could have a swell time at little expense.

Monday, April 4, 2016

It is about the bike

The bike

That disappointing man Lance Armstrong wrote a book entitled "It's Not About the Bike" but I would disagree. When it comes to bikepacking, it is all about the bike. It is your only source of transportation when bicycle camping.

I have used three different mountain bikes on my numerous trips and each one offered something different to the experience. The first couple of years I rode a bike I called "Furry Lewis" after an obscure bluesman. It had front shocks and disc brakes but it weighed over thirty pounds.
A few years later, I bought my daughter's TREK which was a very fine mountain bike. It weighed sub thirty and had hydraulic disc brakes. I would have kept it but she really wanted it back so I had to find another MTB.
The nameless TREK
My cycling buddy Roy has a Schwinn MOAB that I admired for years and when one my size was donated to BikeWorks, I waited patiently for my chance to buy it.  The bike was being used by a summer student and I would see it around town at different cycling events and inspect it lovingly - hoping it would some day be mine.
Two weeks before I was to leave on another trip, I bought this bike of my dreams. I have ridden the MOAB for years and it still gives me great pleasure when Roy and I bikepack with the very same bikes (although his has a larger frame).

Monday, March 7, 2016

This Summer's Trips Have Already Begun

Here it is the beginning of March and already plans are being formulated for this summer's bicycle camping trips. I say trips because it looks like there will be four bikepacking trips!

The first one will be here in my home city to celebrate the Adventure Cycling Association's 40th anniversary by spending the whole weekend travelling by bike. The trip I'm organizing has two other cyclists joining me in our city's River valley riding the trails all day and then camping in the valley itself. One extra event that weekend will be to cycle to the symphony on the Saturday night.
Cycling to the Symphony
The next cycling trip involves going with my son to southern British Columbia where we will warm up by cycling the easy-to-ride Slocan Valley and then we will do the tougher route from Castlegar to Grand Forks. One of the most scenic bikepacking trips in B.C. It has the added feature of cycling through the Bulldog Tunnel - the longest tunnel along that section of railbed.
The Bulldog
My niece's husband David wants to experience bikepacking and he and I will follow the same route that I had done with my son a couple of weeks previously. I don't know David well and I have no idea of his conditioning however, he is at least twenty years younger than me so I expect this excursion will not be that difficult for him. He will experience the mountains like he has never done before and I'm confident that he will remember this trip for a long time. Perhaps he will become hooked on bicycle camping the way I have been for the last ten years.
One of the views awaiting David
The fourth trip will be with my cycling buddy Roy and we will enjoy ourselves wherever we go. One place we have always liked is Grand Forks. If we go west from there we will be able to eat pie at the Copper Eagle Cafe in Greenwood and if we go east from Grand Forks, we can have a burger, a beer and fries at the motel at Christina Lake.
Pie at the Copper Eagle

All told, it will be an exciting summer of doing the most bikepacking that I have ever done in one season. I can't wait.
Burger, fries and a beer - ten bucks

Monday, February 22, 2016

Movin' and a Shakin'

My commute by bicycle to work is much longer now that our company has moved us to the south side of the city. We have gone from the "Ice District" to what we call the "Hub Cap District". Adjoining our parking lot is a business that has thousands of hubcaps stacked in every conceivable spot. In years past, I have shopped there myself looking to have four hubcaps on my vehicle that matched.

What the longer commute means is that I have had to find a new way to keep my extremities warm during these winter months. In years past I have tried a number of methods but they proved to be impractical. This time, I think I have finally found a workable solution. Electric mitts and electric socks.
That's the ticket

Mitt out cold
As I write this blog, a train passes by the window not 5 meters away from where I sit. Having grown up near railway tracks, I enjoy seeing trains and feeling the deep rumble of their diesel motors. In fact, this train is close enough to feel my desk shake as it passes by on its journey along the steel highway. Maybe we are in the "Rail District".

Monday, February 8, 2016

Crappy Tire

Needing some parts for a project for my daughter, I rode up to the hardware store. My first choice was Canadian Tire since I love that paper money they distribute. My son loves it even more than I do and I save it throughout the year for him.

One problem with Canadian Tire is that there is no bike rack to lock up your bike. I managed to secure my bike to a no parking sign and went inside to try to lobby the manager to install a rack. Our conversation went like this:
"I'm a bicycle commuter and I'd like to know why there is no bike rack in front of your store."
"Our head office has done studies and they have shown that very few cyclists ride here."
"But you even sell bikes here! Isn't that a little hypocritical?"
"Our customers drive automobiles and carry the bikes in their cars."
"Wouldn't you like to increase your business? I'm buying a hundred bucks worth of stuff today and I'd rather give it to your store than the competition."
"Where is your bike now?"
"Locked to a no parking sign - probably illegally."
"Since you're here, let me help you find the things you want."
"No way. I'm going over to Home Depot!"

I got a warmer reception at Home Depot when a customer approached me from the parking lot and jokingly asked me how I planned to strap two sheets of plywood to my bike. I laughed and knew I'd made the right decision to come here. It was a snap to lock my bike to the convenient rack and in minutes I was out of the store and back at my bike.

I didn't need to buy anything that was strapped to my bike at Home Depot and I didn't really need a hundred dollars worth of parts. Over the course of a year, we might spend that much at Canadian Tire, I just wanted to see if the manager really gave a crap about my business and the business of other cyclists. You can be sure though that I won't be recommending buying a bike at Crappy Tire.

Monday, January 25, 2016

BikePacking Begins

It is minus twenty outside as I write this and the heat from a summer's sun couldn't be further away. An overcast sky diffuses the winter sun and a wind is driving snow against the windows. This seems like a perfect time to get into the kitchen and practice drying food so that I won't have to lug a huge amount of weight this summer.
Carrying a lot of crap (Christina Lake down there)
The idea of dehydrating food comes from discovering an ultra - lightweight camper named Ray Jardine. His name was briefly mentioned in the movie "Wild" and I was curious to know more about his system of lightweight camping.
The man himself
One thing that Mr. Jardine does is to take all the moisture out of his food and then by rehydration at camp, the food becomes edible. My daughter has a sophisticated dehydrator that I am allowed to use but only with organic and vegan food.
Very sophisticated
Sitting in the fridge was a huge bunch of purple grapes which I knew I could not finish before they spoilt so it was a no-brainer that I would start my dehydrating with them. What I wanted to make was fruit leather. A healthy, chewy, light treat for the trail.
Doing the reverse

The Vitamix got a slight workout grinding up the grapes into a glop that spread easily onto the dehydrator tray and within a couple of hours, I was able to turn over the "leather" to dry it on its reverse side.
The end result
I surprised myself that I could make fruit leather so easily and in so little time. Maybe I will be toting a lot less weight this summer on one of my bike camping trips.
Look at all the crap
While I will continue making dried foods (spaghetti sauce is next), I next want to try eliminating my three and a half pound tent using Ray Jardine's kit for a tarp that offers shelter for mere ounces!
Here it is