The Journey

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Key: Completed Cycling Route, Planned Cycling Route, Public Transportation

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    Wednesday, July 23, 2008

    Skutz Falls Provincial Park, Vancouver Island, BC

    Holy shit!!! I almost died today. Today was the most dangerous, crazy, intense, demanding, hellish, scary, regettable, unlucky, shitty, exhausting, I-don't-think-I'm-to-live days I've ever had in my life.

    I awoke early in the morning at Goldstream Provincial Park to the ironic, joyous laughter of Trevor's kids playing in the tent nearby. I collapsed the tent, packed the sleeping bag, rolled the sleeping pad, and otherwise packed all my gear on my bicycle. I said a heartfelt goodbye to Trevor, a neighboring camper I had met two days and with whom, I had become a good friend.
    At around 11:00am, I departed the beautiful Goldstream Park on southern Vancouver Island. It was going to be a long journey -- I was hoping to make up for an entire day's lost time by traveling close to double the distance my trail book called for, cycling all the way to Crofton by a roundabout scenic tour. On my way out, I stopped by the general store. I bought and ate two bananas and two egg & ham sandwiches, and topped off my two water bottles. I knew I was going to need more food and water along the bike ride, but since the store had no quality dried foods and I was lacking in extra space to store water, I decided that I would pick up provisions along the bike route, as I was sure there would be a few stores and water taps along the way.

    The beginning of my ride was a steep, arduous climb up "The Malahat" -- a busy, multi-lane highway that serves as the main truck route to the populated city of Victoria. After stopping about three times to catch my breath and sucking on my water bottle like a worried baby, I finally made it up the 10 km grind to the top. By this time, my water bottles were empty, and the only food I had was a plastic bag of dried lentil peas, deep within one of my rear panniers.

    The next part of the ride was a huge relief: I flew down a steep downhill road for about 8 km, spreading my arms out fully to immerse myself in the joy of ultimate freedom --wind blowing in my face, flying at about 45 km/hr, experiencing an intense and long feeling of existential pleasure.

    When I got to the bottom, I found myself in a hot valley, on a dirt construction road. After 20 minutes of up and down climbing on loose dirt, I briefly became lost looking for the next turn-off. After another 20 minutes of searching for my turn-off, I hailed one of the few passing trucks and asked for directions to the Cowichan River Valley Trail. He pointed towards some train tracks about 100 meters away, but added, "There's a six-foot cat in there-- somewhere in there...Craps on my porch. I'm dead serious. Pisses me right off."
    Ha. I kind of laughed it off. Then I got to the trail: a narrow, loose gravel trail, surrounded on both sides by thick forest, and not a person in sight. And 30 km of this? Wow. What a great place to be ambushed by a cougar. Or to come upon a predatory black bear, of which my travel book warned me about in this area.

    I cycled through that trail as fast as I could, figuring that anytime I sat stopped was the time I was most vulnerable. I blazed through this 30 km stretch, often hitting deep loose gravel patches that I had to stop pedaling and just glide my bike through, trying to maintain balance as to avoid getting caught and tipping over.

    I exhausted myself, and begged my water bottle to drip relief into my dry mouth, but being completely empty, did not comply. Luckily, Kovinich River Provincial Park was only 10 km ahead, and I knew there would be water there, and if I was lucky, a store with food.

    When I got to Kovinich River Park, I was crushed. It was a dry, empty, and deserted campground. There was one tent on the entire premises; scattered newspapers, a broken, tipped-over cooler, and a card that said "These things belong to Chris Pucker: 250-452-0850" were strewn in the parking lot.

    I was dying of thirst. I was aching of hunger. I was beat by exhaustion. And this park, 40 km at the bottom of a mountain, was the only hope I had for relief. And yet, there was no turning back. I had to move on.

    I looked at my trail book. The next pass was over an old bridge, 2 km up a gravel road, and then 6.4 km through a temporary detour route it cautioned was "challenging for cyclists". After negotiating my bike through the restrictive gate at the bridge (removing and reloading all my panniers in the process), climbing my way up an extremely steep, loose gravel logging road, biking right by a snake basking in the sun, I came to the detour entrance.

    The sign at the detour trail entrance said "This is a rough, uneven, single-track hiking trail. Not recommended for cyclists or equestrians." Not recommended? My trail book was FOR cyclists (ones loaded with touring bags at that), and it told me to go through this route! I dismounted my bike, and walked down the trail. Yup. It was rough, extremely uneven, and there was no way even a professional mountain biker could go through this thing.

    Crap. I was screwed. To go back at this point would mean a 40 km expedition on a loose gravel road, through a cougar and bear laden forest, and uphill for about two additional hours to a busy highway. To go forward would mean a 6.4 km arduous hike, carrying an 80 lb. bike at my side over rough, uneven dirt trail in the middle of a cougar and bear laden rain forest, without food or water, and probably not seeing a soul until I got to the other side. And then -- traveling up to 30 more km until I got to the next park, that might have water. I chose to go forward.

    I hiked my bike through the rough forested terrain for probably two hours, holding a switchblade at my side and my mini airhorn (to scare a bear or cougar if we met). At one point along the trail, I came to a downhill patch that looked actually ridable. I hopped on my bike and went flying downhill. Unbeknown to me, there was a giant branch sticking straight out into the middle of the trail ahead. It caught under the strapping on my front right pannier and brought my bike to a screeching halt, throwing me over the handlebars.

    I was hurt. Hobbling on one leg and in the middle of a forest. I hadn't seen a person in hours. I got up, righted the bike, and attempted to continue on. But my bike wouldn't move. Something was jamming the wheels. I found that my front rack and been bent wickedly out of shape in the crash, and was now pinning my front wheel. I took my hands and bent the frame back to shape, and was able to continue on.

    I traveled for another several km through the forest, still scared as shit that I would come upon a bear or cougar at any turn. And exhausted, dehydrated, and hungry as ever. At one point, I came to an area of the trail that again I could ride -- and I tried again, only to be thrown over the handlebars another time when the front rack collapsed on it's own accord. I bent the rack back to shape and continued on.

    I finally made it out of the forest.
    [Sorry -- this is a long ass story. There's more to it -- I just need another day or so to finish it.]

    1 comment:

    Anonymous said...

    jesus christ you are a champ.