Thursday, August 1, 2013

Cycle Touring - Squamish British Columbia

I must start off by being honest in saying that the title of this post should have been Whistler, BC rather than Squamish.  Now you may already have an idea on how this trip had ended even before continuing on to read.  But for those who want to continue on reading, here's the story...

Day 0, Thursday July 25

The days leading up to this bike trip has not been my typical over-preparation and over-planning like the good boy scout I usually try to be.  In fact, it wasn't until the very last minute that I was able to secure a place to stay in our intended destination!  There were a lot of distractions with work, life and daily grind.  I would have liked to be more prepared for this trip, but be it as it may, we were going no matter what.

Thursday evening was the time for packing as the following Friday at the crack of dawn we would be on the road.  I will be going on this trip with my usual cycling buddy Matt who has also had a week full of distractions., so neither of us are quite 100% prepared.
A few new equipment and gear I will be taking with me on this trip to test out for the first time.  A new lightweight sleeping bag, a new air mattress, new HD action video camera and most importantly, a new bike!  Well, not a new-new bike but a new-to-me bike, a bike that I had just built from frame up using an early 90's Tange cromoly double butted frame - yes, a steel bicycle! The bike weighed in at a piggish 32lbs including racks and fenders and everything durable and made to last. This will now be my dedicated touring bike as it is the one I have full confidence with not to break down in the middle of nowhere.
Newly built bike on it's first major bike camping trip

My packing was rushed!  I even forgot to bring a pair of pants.  Can you imagine forgetting pants??  Although the weather forecast was nice all weekend, it does tend to get cold overnight where a pair of pants would have helped warm me up a little.  Oh, and before I continue on, here's a dumbass move I decided to do.  I thought it would be a great practice to carry heavier than what I would normally carry on a trip like this, thinking to myself that the weight I will be carrying on future longer rides will be much heavier than this, so I packed up my trailer with things I would never use! A heavy U-lock and chain, unnecessary tools, extra shoes, more water etc.  This was a mistake made due to over-confidence.  A lesson that will be learned greatly.
So, stress levels were a little high when we found out that most, if not all, campgrounds around Whistler was fully booked for the Friday night.  It was almost midnight and we leave in 6 hours and I've yet to find a place for us to stay.  I was ready to accept this as stealth camping is always an option.. something I had always wanted to do.  Stealth camping is basically setting up camp somewhere in the bushes where no one can see us.  There is also the choice of knocking on people's doors and ask if we could set up tents in their backyards.  As a final resort before I went to bed, I posted a somewhat of a plea on my Facebook page asking if anyone knew anyone in Whistler that can offer us a patch of grass in their front lawn or backyards so that we could set up tents and be gone by following morning.  Surprisingly enough, a few minutes later, I get a private message from one of my friends.  They had a friend that was offering us a place to stay in Whistler! Woohoo! Crisis averted!  It's a wonderful thing to have such amazing friends backing you up.
2am I fall asleep. It will be in 3hrs that I will be waking up so that we can get on the road as early as possible.  3hrs of sleep will not be enough.  Lesson learned once again.

Day 1, Friday July 26

5am.  I'm wide awake.  Feeling energized and no signs of any lack of sleep.  I have 1 hard boiled egg and 1 piece of toast for breakfast.  Will this be enough until lunch time?  We shall find out.
Matt arrives a little later than planned.  After last minute checking and packing of gear we are off at exactly 7am.  We were both quite excited at this point.
Myself and Matt ready to ride

A chilly morning ride. Our legs and lungs will not be tested until we cross over onto the North Shore.  It should be a great warmup ride.  Our first challenge came upon the fork on Main St / Cotton Drive in North Vancouver where the road splits into Lower Level Rd and 3rd St.  If one split is called 'Lower' level, then you can guess what 3rd Street is.  Yup, a fairly decent incline.  Something I was set on avoiding by taking Lower Level Road.  Unfortunately, as we enter Lower Level Rd., signs saying 'construction ahead, no cycling allowed'. Argh!  We had no choice. We had to go up 3rd St.  Oh well...  we may as well get this over with as there will be plenty more where that came from...  much much more!
The rest of the ride all the way to Horseshoe Bay was quite tame as expected.  Only the short blip on Capilano Road to get up to the Trans-Canada Highway was the next early challenge.  However, as soon as 9am hit, I get a call from one of my clients saying they're having server problems and no one is able to get in.  Aarrrgh!  Remember, this is a Friday and it's still a work day and I'm supposed to be working!  Worry set in at this point and I'm thinking to myself, 'Am I going to have to bail on this bike trip??  It's a server problem and that's pretty critical and I can't just push that off until I get back!'  After making a few phone calls from the side of the highway, luckily I was able to walk the clients through on doing a full system reboot. The reboot fixed the problems and continue on we go!  Yes! another crisis averted!  However, this bike ride seem to have been filled with 'negative' energy so far.  Still, all smiles here!
Ahh, the Sea-to-Sky highway...  most locals know this to be a beautiful and very scenic highway.  It is what connects Vancouver and Whistler.  A lot of improvements have been made to this highway since our Winter Olympics in 2010 and it shows greatly as it now has wide shoulders for the cyclists to ride on.  But there are still some areas where the shoulder seem to disappear and it gets pretty sketchy.  For the most part, it is still a nice and safe highway for bicycles to ride on.  Unfortunately, with the beauty comes the dreaded hills.  Huge hills and some go on and on for kilometres at a time.  This is what lead to my downfall., the damn hills.  To those of you who are reading this that have followed my previous blogs, you may remember that I have had some injuries that I've been taking care of for now nearly a year.  Rehabilitation on these injuries have been going so well and progress has been excellent!  I thought I was ready.  I thought I was in the best condition that I can be to take on this challenge.  Unfortunately I was wrong and evidently, this bike trip has come too soon and a bit too ambitious.
taking a break on the side of the highway
As we tackled all the hills in front of us, my hip and knee pains started to come back.  My quads started cramping up to the point where my legs would fully lock up.  This kept on going throughout the ride and we still have a long ways to go.  I was not tired. But my legs are constantly locking up, there is nothing more to do but stop, wait until the muscles release, then try again.  But the hills kept coming and there are more to come.
It was hot.  But the scenery was gorgeous!

Nearing the Brittania Beach Mining Museum, a large hill faced us.  This was at the peak of the afternoon where the heat was at it's highest point.  This hill destroyed me.  I had to get off my bike a few meters at a time just to ease the pain from my quads locking up.  I was wishing this would be the last big hill before Squamish.  Was I ever wrong.  As we got over this hill, we reached the Mining Museum where a nice long break was taken.  I have also been having stomach pains by this time so the public restroom was a very welcomed stop.  It is around 2:30pm now and we still had not had our lunch.  It's funny, while suffering during a bike ride, you never find yourself getting hungry.  You have this mindset that you just have to keep going.  The whole goal was to reach Squamish, have our lunch, and then continue on to Whistler.  This may have been a terrible plan now that I look back on it.
Immediately after leaving Britannia Beach, one of the biggest climbs I've seen hit us.  It was a long ride up to Squamish.  My legs were gone.  There was no second wind I've been hoping for.  I am ashamed to admit that I needed to get off my bike and push my way partly up this hill.  This is where I decided that I was not gonna make it to Whistler this day.
Finally, Squamish.  Time to reassess the day.  As much as all the difficulties that I/we have had so far, the scenery was amazing.  Through all the pain I was having, there was never a time where I would not look up and enjoy the surrounding trees, ocean and rocky mountain sides.  I have driven my car on this highway many times before, but inside a car you miss so much of the outside world and it passes you along without notice.  Riding your bicycle through this at 12km/h is the perfect speed to enjoy the beauty that is given to you.  You hear the birds singing, the waterfalls coming down the mountainsides, you see hawks and eagles soaring above you,.  even the roar of the metallic trucks that whiz past you becomes somewhat musical.  I am still enjoying myself despite the hardships.
Did I mention the scenery was gorgeous?

It is about 3:30pm, there is still plenty of daylight to make Whistler.  Here I am considering maybe I can continue on after a nice meal.  A very welcoming Golden Arches awaits us.  This has become a godsend stop on tours such as this..  $1 dollar large drinks all summer and plenty of water and ice to fill our bottles, a place to wash up and gorge food that is bad yet so good on a day like today.  Just perfect to try and get my salt content back which I have lost so much of.  Maybe I can make it after all.
Maybe not.
After sitting on a nice comfortable chair for 30 minutes, getting up became a shock.  My hip joint and groin has become so inflamed that it was very painful just to walk let alone get back on the bike.  Uh oh, not good.  This was it., this is my end.  I apologize to my friend Matt who I'm sure would have been able to keep going without me holding him back.  I had to make alternate plans.  I had to find a campsite for the night.  Off we go to the nearest information station to look for campsites.  And while there, I would ask what the remaining 50km ride to Whistler was like to see if it was attainable.  The girl at the Info booth, who was a knowledgeable cyclist herself, tells me that from here it gets even tougher.  There is still another 50kms and 2200 feet of climbing to do before arriving in Whistler.  Well, that settles it, there is no way I can make it.  Even Matt decided it was too much to keep going.  The girl gave us directions to a campsite and we were off.  The ride to the campsite was one of the nicest bike rides we've had this day.  It was through a long bike path away from the main roads, sheltered from the sun under trees, AND it was all flat.  I had no idea this bike trail existed until now.  Arriving in camp, we took our time in setting up our tents. There was still a lot left of the day.  Plenty of time to ride around and enjoy the remaining day without any punishment in attempting more hills to climb.  We paid for and setup camp and waited until we were both hungry again for dinner.  I had called my friends who had offered us a place to stay in Whistler telling them that we will not be able to make it there tonight.  Thank you soo so much guys for the offer, too bad we couldn't make it.  You guys rock!
much in pain arriving at our campsite

Our humble little spot for the night in Squamish
The rest of the daylight during the evening passed quickly.  We headed into town for a quick dinner and we were back in our campground before dark.  This became a time of assessment for tomorrow's ride.  It will all depend on how I feel when I wake up.  At this moment, I am finding it nearly impossible to tackle any more damn hills.  Sleep came fast.

Day 2, Saturday July 27

It got quite cold overnight.  I could have used those pants that I forgot to bring. sigh.  4am hits and nature came calling.  I did not want to get up!  But I couldn't hold it much longer.  I got out of my tent to walk over to the porta-potties.  I quickly found out that my hip and quads were burning and extremely tight. It was quite difficult to walk.  This would answer my questions of whether I can ride today or not.  I got back in my tent trying desperately to get back to sleep but I couldn't. No matter how tired I was, my body seems to still be pumping of adrenaline.  It took another 2hrs before I zonked back to sleep.  1hr later it was time to get up.
Morning view of my Mayacycle bike trailer from inside my tent

It was at this moment when I had decided that I would take the bus home.  I left it open for Matt to decide whether to take the bus home with me or to ride home alone.  I am glad that he chose to ride home as that's what I would have done if the situations were reversed.  We packed up our gear, had a quick breakfast from leftover dinner and off we went to the bus depot.  The ride was cool and crisp and I wasn't feeling too much pain in the hip.  I was tempted to try and ride home, but I knew deep inside that the first hill we tackle that my legs would soon give up.  So those thoughts of trying to ride quickly went away.  The station was still closed at this time and the bus will not be leaving until about 9:15.  We decided that this is where we would part.  Matt will head off while I wait for the bus for another hour or so.  Thanks Matt, my apologies for having held you back and not being able to ride home with you.
Waiting at the Greyhound station had me thinking of a lot of things.  Feeling discouraged and defeated I can only question myself if I was built for this kind of stuff.  If I had it in me to be able to travel long distances with a fully loaded bike and do it day after day after day.  I was never really tired during the ride and I was never having to breathe hard.  This showed that my conditioning is where it should be but no matter how fit I was, if the legs are locking up and the hip is in so much pain, there is no other option but to stop.  It's extremely frustrating and discouraging.
The bus finally arrive and they were able to put my bike and trailer in the luggage compartment with plenty of room to spare.
The bike and trailer fit nicely in the bus luggage compartment with plenty of room to spare.

This was the final leg of my journey.  I may as well enjoy the bus ride home as much as I can.  It was still a beautiful and scenic drive.  Looking at the big hills we were climbing from the bus' point of view, it was clear to me that I had made the right decision.  There was no way I could have ridden back. This was later confirmed by Matt that the ride back home was terrible as it seemed even worse and it was a hotter day with no shade as he was on the other side of the highway now.  A great call on taking the bus home.
Arriving at the bus terminal in Vancouver, I still had to find a way to get home.  There is always the skytrain in which I have taken before with my bike, but today I am pulling a bike trailer which make it impossible to get on the train.  There is always the option of trying to ride home, a ride that I had done a hundred times before.  Certainly this will be my choice if I can't get anyone to pick me up.  Fortunately, after a few hours of waiting around at the station, I get a reply back from my brother that he would be coming to pick me up.  Another rescue from one of my bike trips.  This reminds me so well of my Sunshine Coast bike trip 2 years ago.
Vancouver Bus and Train Terminal

So now what?  Back to the drawing board?  Which drawing board would that be??
This was a humbling and an eye-opening experience.  There will be some big decisions to be made from here on.  I am glad that this happened now and not while on a much bigger and much tougher bike tour.

Please check out the video I made of the trip taken with my new HD Action Camera.  No footage were taken of the pain from riding I promise!

And just for fun, here's video footage of me riding my touring bike pulling a trailer on a BMX track!  LOL!
Maya Cycle Bike Trailer

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