Lessons in Pain in British Columbia|
Tuesday, September 07, 2004
"Does anyone here think we may have bitten off more than we can chew?" said one of the riders. "Keep chewing, I mean moving, the pain won't end until the ride is over. Stopping won't get you any closer to the end," I thought to myself.
Ironically, in the days leading up to this epic we had been trying to put a definition on 'suffering'. I was pretty sure I had found it!
It actually began last summer when my husband, Ian, guided a group of guys along the route over a three-day period. The new trails he found in British Columbiaís southern Chilcotin Mountains coupled with the fun flow of familiar ones formed the idea of a beautiful one-day epic in his mind.
The idea resurfaced a couple of times at random through the winter and early spring. The summer equinox came and went and the days slowly but surely started to get shorter. It had to be done now. The group was small and the mission kept quiet. Of course there were lots of capable friends but more friends equal more everything; more mechanicals, more delays, more bonking, and more hangovers from the night before!
So there were three of us, Ian, myself and our partner in all things epic, D'Arcy. D'Arcy and his girlfriend, Jenette (who was looking forward to a day of solitude around the cabin after we left), arrived the evening before. Over gin and tonics the route was discussed. The boys said, "Oh, it will be easy, eight hours, no problem." I said to Jenette, "Don't worry if we're not home tonight, give us till noon the next day before you call anyone." The last epic had gone from an estimated 12 hours to 16 with no problems encountered other than a difficult route. And remember, this route was only done over three days before - eight hours my ass!
The morning arrived sooner than expected with a loud ringing in the ears that turned out to be the alarm. As the coffee perked, D'Arcy crawled through the door into the cabin looking a pale shade of green. We watched the day's stage of the Tour de France for inspiration as D'Arcy disappeared to the deck. Ian looked up just in time to see D'Arcy adding his personal compost to the plants below! He looked much better from then on!
Loaded down with peanut butter sandwiches, chocolate and trail mix our ride began at 9am. Only two hours behind schedule! The epic form was a little lacking right from the start as we all went through our own personal 'spots of bother' in the warm up process. The single-track dipped and rolled at a beautiful grade as we climbed along the banks of Relay Creek and we soon developed a nice all day pace. Wildflowers of every color flanked us as we climbed up the valley surrounded by the tall, rounded red peaks of the Chilcotin Mountains. We passed by a 100 year old remote ranching cabin as we left the trees for the open meadows. The scorching power of the sun hit us like a wall. Every creek was a gift as I dunked my head into the icy water. Five minutes later I would be dry.
We encountered a group traveling by horseback. They asked us where we were coming from and going to. Our route description made their eyes bug out. All they said was, "So I guess you do this for exercise, not the scenery!" We do it for the challenge. We had traveled in two and a half hours what had taken them a day and a half!
A little while later we reached a second old cabin with a thick head of grass growing on the roof. I stumbled over the leg of a deer that had been sucked clean by something! We sat a little ways away and had lunch. Riding out of the cabin I gave a little cry as I almost rode over the hide of the deer, licked clean as well! Moving right along...
Crossing over another delicious creek we re-entered some open pine forest and had a minor respite from the midday heat. Again the single-track climbed at a beautiful grade and we made good time, calling out as we went so as not to surprise anything hot, grumpy and bigger than us. We were headed towards a huge grassy plain surrounded by an amphitheater of mountains known as Graveyard Valley. Over a hundred years ago there was a great and bloody battle between the Staltmic and Chilcotin Indian bands. There are many that are buried there and every year the bands return to honor their history peacefully. It is easy to imagine the great battle that took place here. There is a very powerful feeling in this valley. The spirits are still there and I, for one, was happy to move through and up towards the pass. Avalanche debris covered the trail at the base of the pass and the easiest travel was to hike up the creek. My feet were never happier! For an hour and a half in the oppressive, dry 35 Celsius degree heat of the day we traveled across the valley and hiked up to the top of Graveyard pass. There was not a breath of wind to save us. I once saw a wolf hunting a marmot up this pass from my vantage on top a nearby peak. In this hot, desert-like mountain landscape I too would be easy prey.
At 3pm we reached the pass with not a leaf of shade. Six hours into the journey and as far away from anywhere as we could be. My legs still felt good but my stomach did not. I was having trouble eating, my stomach not interested in digesting anything in the heat. For the next two hours I repeated my mantra "keep riding, the pain will not end until the ride is over." Suffering was being defined!
From the pass we descended a twisty ribbon of single-track, side-hilling, skipping over marmot holes and splashing through small creeks. It only got hotter as we descended but there was shade from the trees and six mid-thigh creek crossings to negotiate. I had to fight to resist my body's urge to sit right down in the middle of the creek with my bike and all. The thought of a wet, rubbing chamois for the next six hours kept me upright. We stopped for a break under a bush and I thought of the horse people, how chipper we had been back then!
I made myself eat an energy bar that tasted like sawdust. Ironically, this is when Ian thought to ask if anyone thought we had bitten off more than we could chew! As the sun started its 'decent from its' all access position in the sky I started to feel better. My core cooled out of the red zone and at the final creek crossing I felt human. Total meltdown had been avoided, barely!
After an hour of climbing and pushing we reached the smooth in-run to Spruce Lake. Whooping it up, we cruised with a breeze in our faces to the familiar lake. Still 30 km of single-track away from our destination we felt like we were home! Ian got a stick in his wheel and broke some spokes. After securing the broken spokes he pushed off to have the chain sucked in to the wheel. Broken free hub body! "Just leave me", he said, "I know the way out." At 7pm, 30 km from home all of a sudden we weren't so close! We rode around the lake and waited at a junction for Ian. A few minutes later he cruised up grinning. It wasn't the free hub body, just pieces of spoke caught in the cassette, problem fixed!
Energy renewed, we descended open grassy meadows in the evening sun. We crossed creeks and climbed the short steep sandy hills, every pedal stroke getting closer to home. We arrived in the fading light at the trail head, 11.5 hours after we began. We knew we'd be getting home tonight!
Fourteen km of logging road lay between us, dinner, hot showers and Jenette who would feed us! Over half of those kilometers climbed, the journey continued. As we climbed up past a beautiful lookout, moments from home, a family stood beside their car watching the sunset. We climbed past, looking battered and beat, still wearing sunglasses even though it was almost dark. "How long have you been riding?" they asked. "Over 12 hours now," we replied. "That's a good ride, eh?" said the dad.
After the food, the shower, sitting on the deck under the stars, after 85 km of single-track, that's what we said too.
That's a good ride, eh.
Editorís Note: Erin and Ian Heintzman operate Hair Straight Back Guiding, which provide hiking and biking guide services in the southern Chilcotin Mountains of British Columbia. They are located four hours north of Vancouver and two hours north of Whistler. To find out out more about them, email email@example.com