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Leaving Home: Victoria, BC to Naramata, BC (526km/4309m)

I was told that the first few days of my trip would be emotional and they certainly were, but not for the reasons I expected. 

The day before I left was a whirlwind of excitement and nerves. It was hard to discern one from the other. Months of preparationphysically, emotionally, and logisticallyhad created a massive buildup of anticipation for the adventure I’d finally be embarking on the following day. 

As I did my final round of errands, stopping at the outdoor store and grocery store in Victoria, my anxiety was palpable. It was difficult to make decisions about what I did and didn’t need and I found myself reaching for unplanned items on the shelves in an attempt to gain comfort and control of what would be an unpredictable few months on the road. I held back and stuck to what was already on my shopping list.

I was caught off guard by an overwhelming wave of emotions that hit me when I stopped for a moment and read, on social media, about my ex-partner’s success in her new relationship. Old resentments and regrets that I thought I had left behind instantaneously flooded back into consciousness, and I found it difficult to pull my anxious mind away from thoughts of helplessness and inadequacy. 

Later that evening I sat and had dinner on the beach with friends I’d be leaving behind in Victoria. We talked about my excitement for the trip, how prepared I was, and what my major concerns were. I told them about my fears of being stopped and questioned about whether my travel was essential. With a fully loaded bike, it would be clear that I was going somewhere, but unclear that I was returning to my primary residence in the Kootenays. I mentioned that I wanted to spend my first night at a campground instead of wild-camping in Metro-Vancouver, and wasn’t sure if they’d let me because of the travel restrictions. And, I also admitted that if I woke up to a bear in camp, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to sleep for the rest of the trip. They offered words of reassurance, and we ate and played spike ball. Afterward, I left to go home to put everything into my pannier bags, and they sent me off with best wishes, a card, and a gift card to use if I was in dire need of a warm meal.

Day 1: Victoria to Abbotsford (148km/670m)

Saturday 15 May 2021

I woke up at 6:00 on Saturday morning to make sure I’d be on the road by 7:00 and make it on the 9:00 sailing from Swartz Bay to Tsawwassen. A good friend, Jerram, who I frequently cycle within Victoria, met me en route and pedaled out of Victoria with me. Half an hour later he relayed the words of wisdom his dad had given him when he left for his own cycle tour to me and turned around to go to work.

To my surprise, I boarded the ferry without a single question about whether my travel was essential. When I got off, I cycled along Mud Bay and made an attempt to say a meaningful goodbye to the Pacific Ocean before I turned north to navigate through Delta and Surrey. 

As I climbed the hills of the lower mainland, I thought about how I was only a few hours into a three-month adventure, what I was leaving behind, and how my life on the road would shape up. The energy I wasn’t putting into my pedals was used to hold my mind back from perseverating on the past. When my energy dwindled mid-way through the day, I couldn’t hold it back any longer and was consumed again by cyclical analysis about what I could have done differently. A few tears slipped past my eyelids and down my cheeks.

By the time I got to the Surrey-Langley border, I sat down for lunch and began thinking about where I’d spend the night. A family friend sent me a message saying she had a relative in Abbotsford whose yard I could stay in. I decided to get in touch, but also to cycle past Derby Reach just to see if I could camp there. The campground was full so I committed to laying down the extra kilometers to get to the yard in Abbotsford, where I could pitch my tent. 

I was alarmed by the steepness of the hills past Fort Langley but pushed on. When I got to Jason and Sasha’s house, I was greeted warmly and offered a shower and ice cream—an excellent end to a long first day on the road.

Day 2: Abbotsford to Hope (121km/790m)

Sunday 16 May 2021

I left Abbotsford at 8:30 after saying goodbye to my gracious hosts. Knowing I wanted to see Harrison Lake, but unresolved on whether I’d be satisfied by the distance I’d cover getting there, I crossed the Mission Bridge to the north of me.

For the third day in a row, I tried to steer my mind away from the sadness that consumed me when my mind revisited treasured memories. Even more so than on the previous day, I lost grip of the wheel a few times. I even got off my bike for a few minutes and allowed myself to fully indulge in rumination. When I got back on, I cycled all the way into Harrison Hotsprings.

The lake was backed by beautiful, jagged, snow-capped mountains. I found a place on the waterfront to swim and bask in the sun. After a short break from riding, I toweled myself off, put on some clean clothes, and got back on my bike.

I knew that when I got to Hope, I’d have to make a decision about whether to rely on the Great Canadian Trail, which I’d planned on using or to ride Highway 3 to Princeton. In the back of my mind, I knew it would be better to go over Manning park where cycling on Pavement would be the easiest way to get over the pass. Still, I called friends and family when I arrived in Hope to share my thoughts about getting stuck on the trail due to early-season conditions, or going through a COVID-19 roadblock in Manning Park and hear what they had to say. After filling up my water, I locked in my decision by starting the ascent up Highway 3 and stopping at Nicolum River Provincial Park for the night.

It was my first night away from people, and the magnitude of the journey that lay in front of me hit home as I quietly set up camp and cooked dinner. I made sure I cooked away from my tent and hung my food even further. After dinner, I sat and took in the sounds of my surroundings: the river next to camp that overflowed with spring run-off, the birds, and the occasional commercial vehicle that passed the park as it began its ascent over the pass. 

That night I woke up a few times and rolled over, covered my head with my sleeping bag, and fell back asleep again as quickly as I could in an attempt not to dwell too much on the noises outside my tent. 

Day 3: Hope to Princeton (121km/1940m)

Monday 17 May 2021

I left my wild campsite outside Hope at 8:00, unsure of how the climb over the pass would be with so much weight. Would I have to throw food out to reduce my load? Would I be stopping to push my bike on steep pitches? And, it started to rain.

The cool weather was actually a nice contrast from the sun that had already burnt my calves, ears, and lips during the first two days of my tour.

I made slow, but steady, progress as I climbed up Highway 3. When I made a left turn to look at the Hope Slide, a lone car swerved on the road, surprised by the unusual sight of a bike in the rain on the pass. Slightly shocked by how close the driver had come to me, I stopped and ate a snack under the limited cover of an information sign. I squinted hard, trying to force my vision to cut through rain and clouds to see the amount of dirt and rock that had slid down the mountain in ‘65. Before long, I got cold and returned to the relentless climbing. 

As I ascended, lingering self-doubt crept back into my mind. It pushed me to question, once again, what I was doing and the integrity of my character. It was better today, though. Having three days of my trip behind me, I felt a resurgence in strength and a new empowering sense of independence. My body was adjusting to the routine of six or seven hours in the saddle and it became easier to manage my thoughts and emotions in solitude. I also recognized a need to demonstrate self-respect by claiming the experience of my trip for myself instead of giving it away with distracted thought and rumination.

The next time I stopped on the side of the road, a few oncoming cars slowed to tell me that there was a black bear on the road in front of me. This was the moment I’d been waiting for: the moment I’d be confronted with one of my primary concerns for the trip. I got my wildlife horn out of my handlebar bag and put it in my right hand, and got my bear spray out of the holster on my belt, and put it in my left hand. Fully armed, I built up a steady pace as I rounded the corner. There it was, a small black bear on the other side of the road staring back at its onlookers who sat in their RV. Then it turned its head to look at me, and everything I read about bears reacting differently to cyclists than cars flashed before my eyes. I blasted the air horn and the bear didn’t move. So, I kept cycling until I thought I was a safe distance away. 

The bear’s onlookers said “that was scary, hey!?” from the window of their RV. 

“Yeah!” I responded as I came to halt. 

I pulled out my camera and took a few photos before leaving. 

I arrived at Manning Park before noon, and stopped for coffee, satisfied by the distance I’d covered for the day. The woman in the shop handed me the coffee saying it was on the house for cyclists. She told me that they were expecting five to six centimeters of snow that night and urged me to see if I could stay at Copper Creek Campground, which was at a lower elevation. Having weighed her advice, I decided to descend all the way to Princeton instead. There, I found a place to camp on the side of the road behind the local water reservoir.

Day 4: Princeton to Naramata (136km/909m)

Tuesday 18 May 2021

After packing up camp, I finished my descent into downtown and stopped for a coffee that I felt I deserved having crossed all of Allison Pass the day before. I asked a few of the locals there what the condition of the Great Canadian Trail was leaving Princeton in order to gain more assurance about the decision I’d made to ride it the night before. They said parts were good.

After coffee, I set out to make it to Naramata by the end of the day. Kiah, a friend from the triathlon club in Victoria, had reached out asking if I was going through the Okanagan since she was back home and willing to host me.

The trail made a gradual climb over the first half of the day and a gradual descent over the second half. When it got sandy and windy enough, I switched to the road and was relieved by the speed and ease of cycling there. Then, the road unexpectedly turned to gravel and the sign at the transition point informed me that it would stay that way for 26 more kilometers. It was still easier to ride than the trail. I did switch back and forth a few times to assess whether my evaluation still held up. Eventually, the trail got better and maintained a downhill pitch, so I followed it into Summerland. However, that part of the trail was not without obstacles. I had to make one river crossing climb over a tree and dodge some rocks, but the views of the Okanagan Valley as I descended were well worth it. 

Courtney, who was staying with Kiah in Naramata, met me in Penticton and rode the last 15 kilometers into Naramata with me. The company was welcomed after a long, bumpy day in the saddle. We arrived at Kiah’s around 5:30 and were greeted warmly by Kiah, Kaileen, and the rest of Kiah’s family. Dinner, a warm shower, and familiar company were an enjoyable end to the first leg of my journey.

Day 5: Rest Day in Naramata

Wednesday 19 May 2021

On Wednesday morning, I woke up to the sun illuminating the walls of my tent. Unzipping the door, I marveled at Okanagan Lake, which was only a few meters from where I slept. Slowly I climbed out and took my journal down to the dock. I sat in silence for a while, meditating and taking in the vineyard-covered, desert-like scenery that surrounded the lake. Then I reviewed and organized my notes from the first few days of my trip.

After breakfast with my hosts, I spent the rest of the morning working on processing images and writing up the first stage of my trip. Then, at 1:00, we all packed into three cars and drove to Lake Breeze for lunch, a vineyard where Kiah and her sisters had spent summers working. Kiah’s mom, Laurie, very generously treated all her guests. 

In the afternoon, I cleaned my bike, assessed the forecast, and made the decision to start the quintessential section of the Kettle Valley Rail Trail between Maramata and Midway the following day. People told me it would be sandy, rutted out, and have deep puddles in sections, but I knew I had to do it, otherwise, I’d regret it.

Re-experiencing difficult emotions which proved to be un-resolved was possibly the most painful place I could have ended up starting my journey. I felt prepared to deal with the emotions of cycling away from home and adapting to a new, unfamiliar routine, but was not expecting to be transported back in time. During the first few days of my trip, it took all my energy to hold my mind back from negative, pervasive thoughts. As the routine of packing up camp, cycling, and setting camp back up became more familiar, I regained the strength I needed to ride out painful emotions.

Before I left, I told some of my close friends that I am committed to connecting with my inner purpose and taking ownership of my emotional wellbeing. I believe being re-confronted with emotions that followed my breakup was a natural growing pain as I shift away from approval-seeking tendencies, towards a self-motivated summer of adventure. It has been important for me to cultivate the ability to recognize helpful and harmful thoughts and to respect myself by filtering out the negative unhelpful ones. Instead of ruminating on the past, I am learning to choose to appreciate the experience of the journey I choose for myself.

Gratitudes

I’d like to express my thanks, during the first stage of my trip, to

  • my brother Ben who hosted me for the first two weeks of May while I made final preparations for my trip,
  • my triathlon club friends who had dinner on the beach with me before I left and sent me off with a lovely card and $50 gift card to buy a warm meal,
  • my good friend Jerram who cycled out of Victoria with me on the morning of my departure,
  • Fiona who reached out to friends and family regarding a place for me to stay in the lower mainland,
  • Jason and Sasha in Abbotsford who let me camp in their yard and offered me a warm shower and ice cream,
  • Kiah and her mom, Laurie, who hosted me at their beautiful lake-front home in Naramata,
  • Kiah, Kaileen, and Courtney for co-hosting me and feeding me during my stay in Naramata,
  • ‘Barefoot’ Ted of Born to Run and Luna Sandals who generously donated $20 to support my blog and adventures,
  • and, of course, all my friends and family for their sustained support.

Statistics

  • Total Distance: 526km
  • Total Elevation: 4309m
  • Wild Animals: Black Bear (×1)
  • Warm Showers: 2

2 Comments

  • Scott Rookes says:

    Hey Simon. Great work so far. I am really enjoying your blog. You have a great narrative writing style.

    Just know, physicals trips are hard. They are not really challenging for the physicality of what they bring, but more for the psychological and emotional aspects they make is confront. I did a long canoe trip at about your age and I had similar doubts, reservations and worries. Just remember your trip will be different than you planned in many ways( not as romantic as it seemed on paper), but what you will take from it will be far greater than you initially imagined. There will be moments of beauty and sheer joy that you will not be able to explain to anyone because they were unique to you, and you alone. But there will also be challenges. Be open to just letting things happen as they may. It will not always be what you expected or wanted, but often it will be much more meaningful for n ways you had not imagined. Your trip will give you a confidence that you will carry through life that convinces you that you can do anything if you just put your mind to it.

  • Sandra says:

    Hey Simon, I am so excited that you are sharing your journey and adventures, I’m sending you so much love and positivity as you continue to pedal your way through your emotions. I have 2 other friends that are on or have done epic journeys. For more inspiration and positive examples check out Routes of Change and also Benjamin Jordan paragliding filmmaker. Both of these individuals stand with so much integrity and are following their hearts and dreams. Perhaps we will see you when you reach Nelson. Im sure you have lots of connections in the kootenays and are looking forward to being here soon! Be safe make sure you have lots of high visibility I would say cars and trucks are much more of a threat than bears any day!!!

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