Part IV - British Columbia's Desert?!

Day 15 – Uncomfortably Numb - Revelstoke to Kamloops

By Bike:
Distance: 136.7 miles

Elevation Gain: 3,680 ft
This morning I indulged in another good breakfast and coffee at the Main Street café. I still wasn’t sure if I would continue on today. I was all set, and all I needed was to convince myself that the weather was stable enough to try to sneak over the Monashee range and out to freedom. According to the weather forecasts, it was hot and dry with no precipitation expected further West, while Revelstoke was stuck in an endless cycle of rainstorms.

During breakfast some of the other customers told me the saw two cute 20-something-year old girls touring on the same route I was, following behind. They had camped in Glacier yesterday and would pass through town today. We joked that perhaps if I was lucky they would catch up to me, or me to them? Wink,wink. (Sadly I never saw these mythological amazons). While waiting for the morning fog to burn off, and still on the fence about riding, I spent time teaching the daughters/servers of the café owner how to fold a cool flower out of their napkins – a nice presentation piece for them to use? At least we all were entertained by it.

Finally, I convinced myself that the weather looked good enough to attempt to cross the Monashee range, and at 9:20 am I resumed my ride westward. Today I would follow the same eating and resting strategy of my previous riding day, as it seemed to reduce my fatigue, especially later in the day. I had no solid goal for how far I would go today. At least to Salmon Arm. There was a hostel just short of Chase that was my main goal. And maybe, just maybe, I would push on all the way to Kamloops since the terrain in between was so flat.

Haunted Chateau

Crossing the Monashee Range was a very strange experience. It was as if I was in Disneyland, except the Canadian version where it inhabited an enchanted forest rather than a concrete amusement park in the middle of a city. About every other mile I passed a tourist trap. There was an advertised enchanted forest. There was a tree-top sky walk – several in fact. There was a mini-Europe hidden in the trees, with windmills, cottages, and other miniaturized elements of European towns. I half expected to be attacked by Lilliputians along the way. At Eagle Pass, the flat mellow summit of the range, there are some lakes that converge at a place called Three Valley Gap, where along the lakeside was a self-advertised haunted Chateau. The scariest part of the Chateau was the architecture: a gaudy red paint job and an awkwardly large form and proportions. Needless to say, I rushed through this place as fast as I could.

I rode the first 46 miles straight, arriving at Sicamous at 12:10, perfect time to stop for a good lunch. Sicamous was at another sort of threshold for my trip. I was officially leaving behind the continuous mountain country that I had been cycling in since I left the plains of Alberta. From here, I would be in hill country transitioning to desert. Along the way I would be riding along the gigantic Shuswap Lake, which is really a multi-pronged reservoir that stretches for miles.

Salmon Lakes

I crossed the bridge over the first spur, ascending a mild hill. Sometimes the shoulder was torn up and narrow, but it was never all that bad compared to the earlier roads. With the 10-mile stops providing a great boost, before I know it I was going up the long slow include into Salmon Arm, and it was beginning to get blistering hot again. Another gas station break to chug Gatorade and eat Snickers, and then on I went, blasting downhill and around the tip of the next spur of the reservoir. I climbed another rise and entered a broad, semi-arid valley, popping out on the other side high above the reservoir’s main artery that eventually fed into an earth dam at Chase and then became the Thompson River.

Thompson River

I made it to the hostel in Sorrento by mid-afternoon, but I felt so good that I just kept on going. I flew downhill as I dropped into the river valley at Chase, and the terrain became noticeable more arid. As I pressed on, a transcontinental train passed beside me next to the highway. It was full of recreational riders, many of whom were staring at me, and some were waving, so I waved back – I was feeling GOOD again.

One way that I wasn’t feeling good, though, was with numbness in my hands. I have always had a problem with this on any bike ride lasting longer than an hour, and despite my best effort to avoid leaning too hard into my handlebars, and my best attempts to constantly change hand positions, wear gloves, use padded handlebars, and rest on the meatier parts of the sides of my hands, my hands would still ultimately get some numbness in them on every ride on this trip over 30 miles long. Today the numbness got worse and worse, and despite efforts to get feeling back into them each time I stopped, inevitably they would go numb in the last 2 or 3 fingers before my next rest stop.

At this point the numbness was getting worrisome, and slightly painful. Also, the sun was getting low in the sky and I was far enough along the Thompson River to be committed to making it to Kamloops. I raced the sun, picking up the effort to get the day done and over with. It wasn’t until the last 10 miles that it got very hard psychologically to continue on, but by taking mental baby steps I made the last stretch into town just past sunset, pulling into a motel at 8:45 pm.

Nearing Kamloops

The day’s total was 137 miles, as compared to my record before the trip of 50 miles and my current record on the trip of 97 miles on my first day – a gigantic leap in cycling distance. I had spent 11 hours today on my bicycle and my hands were incredibly numb, and the feeling was very bothersome as I had difficulty grasping things and my dexterity was compromised. I would have to work very hard tomorrow to not make this any worse than it already was, and I would battle this extreme numbness for the rest of my ride.

After checking in, I took my first warm, indoor shower of the trip, purchased ample junk food for a calorie and morale booster, and beer for that and helping soothe my soreness. Before I got too much into my celebratory feast, though, I fell asleep.

Day 16 – Sweating it Out - Kamloops to Marble Canyon

By Bike:
Distance: 77.9 miles

Elevation Gain: 5,430 ft
I woke up just in time to catch the tail end of the motel’s free continental breakfast. It was pretty well picked over by the time I got there, so I wasn’t able to gorge myself as planned, but it gave me an excuse to lighten my load by eating more of my own food. Not that this helped much because once again I only drank one beer out of the bottle 6-pack that I bought, and so once again I packed this valuable weight in my panniers, certain that it was worth the effort. Since I got to sleep so late the night before, I had slept in and was starting much later than planned and later than was ideal. I had a long ways to go, as I aimed to cycle about 90 miles to Lillooete, where I would be ideally positioned to attack the “death pass” fresh the next day.

Riding Around Kamloops

As I cycled out from the motel parking lot it was 9 am and already the thermometers outside were reading 95o F! Uggggggh . . . Today there were a couple of hills I was dreading as they were as steep as 10%, but some of the hardest parts were unexpected, which was probably for the best. The first surprise crux was getting out of town. I had skimmed over this section during my preliminary planning, and I hadn’t fully appreciated that the climb out of town gained over 1,000 ft continuously, nor that it did so in about 8 miles. The first part, in town, was the steepest and it was unrelenting. The heat made it worse. I turned up my angry heavy death metal and sweated it out.

As I left town, the dry grasses of the previous day were gone, and in their place was sagebrush and – brown pine trees! Andre, my Swiss friend, wasn’t kidding! Speckled around the hills above Kamloops were many brown pine trees. They didn’t quite look like dead trees, and their sickly brown and gold colors, only a slight shade different from the brown and orange soil, made the landscape feel even more hot and arid.

One of the city 'parks' in Kamloops

Atop the first climb I left the main highway, which continued on to Vancouver via the standard cross-country cycling route. The road I was on would continue to be Canada Highway 1 until I reached Cache Creek, but from here on out the traffic would be much better. Much less of it, and no more cross-country semi-trucks! Instead, most of the rest of the trip would be on true country roads.

As soon as I crested the summit I quickly lost all the elevation I had gained as the road dropped back down to Kamloops Lake. About as soon as I reached the shore of the lake, the road then climbed up again, steeply at about 5% to a road cut through a promontory above the lake. Another 500 ft of fun, and my thermometer was reading in the high 90s. At the top, I was rewarded with a nice viewpoint to stop at, with unexpectedly impressive views looking back along Kamloops Lake to Kamloops. Beyond the lookout the road dropped straight back down again about 600 ft to Savona, my only other town of the day to pass through other than Cache Creek.

Looking back toward Kamloops from atop the promontory

As I left Savona I hit the first 8% grade hill. It was only 200 ft tall, but with my thermometer reaching 102o F it was not the best place to practice steep hill climbing. The horizon rolled away above me, shimmering in the extreme heat. At a snail’s pace I worked my way up the hill, cresting the top and then . . . I immediately went straight back down the backside, losing all of the gained elevation. I had traveled 30 miles and gained 2,000 ft, yet I was still at the same elevation as what I had started at!

The next trough came quickly, too quickly as I was spending most of my time climbing and very little time on flats or coasting downhill. And then the hill climbed 400 ft at an 8% grade. Now my muscles were really aching from the heat and exertion, and I was feeling nauseas and burning through my 6 liters of water surprisingly fast. Finally I had reprieve as the next 5 miles was downhill as I returned to my benchmark elevation of 1,200 ft above sea level. The entire time my thermometer was hovering between 99o F and 102o F.

Desert Country, Canada Style
There are some mountains somewhere here . . .
Lush British Columbia

Even with the warnings about this country, I was still shocked by it. The place looked and felt more like southern Utah than wet, mountainous British Columbia! The only signs of life here was the occasional irrigated farm alongside the broad Thompson River. According to the information signs, apparently the river was once a highway for boat traffic into the interior during Western Canada’s gold rush.

I climbed another steep 400 ft headwall and was feeling beat. I really didn’t feel that I had it in me to make it to Lillooete. I scaled back plans and decided to just make it to Cache Creek and find camping there. It was just too hot, and the steep ups and downs were just too demoralizing and taxing on my legs. I coasted into town and pulled into a Dairy Queen for luscious ice cream.

As I enjoyed my relief from the sun and pain of cycling, a road-tripper at the Dairy Queen struck up a conversation with me. He enjoyed mountain biking and he was fascinated with my trip ambitions. He had never considered someone cycling these types of distances, and as I told him more about my trip, he then inquired as to my methods.

Road-tripper: “So what is your secret? What sustains you on such long rides?”

Me (feeling a tad awkward and confused about this question): “Well, I usually have Gus about 1 an hour to keep hunger down and replace lost glucose. Snickers are very helpful too, as is Gatorade for replacing lost salt from sweating.”

Road-tripper: “No no, not that. I mean, how do you keep going and not tire out?”

Me: “I try to get into a good meditative rhythm, focus on the now and a sustainable pace and – “

Road-tripper: “No no, not that either. How do you keep your energy up? What is your secret?”

Me (Out of ideas of what he could be asking, feeling a little annoyed): “My I-Pod, rockin’ away to Nine Inch Nails, Tool, and Crystal Method.”

Entering the Pavilion Mountains

This still didn’t satisfy the road-tripper with whatever he was asking for (perhaps he wanted to know what sort of drug/supplement I was using? None) so he finally gave up and left me alone.

Sunset at Marble Canyon Lake

Just as I was thinking of leaving the DQ to begin scouting for a campground or (as a last resort) a motel, a couple that was also road-tripping struck up a conversation. When I asked them about places to stay, they suggested a place called Marble Lake. Apparently it was along my route, except it was a ‘little’ ways out of town up in the hills where it was much cooler and more lush than the hot desert around Cache Creek. They said it wasn’t too far away and well worth pressing on to stop there. Of course, they made this judgment for cycling based on their driving the distance. It sounded nice to me, and although I needed to stop, promise of easy escape from the desert seemed too good to pass up, although if I actually knew how far away the campground was, I may have wimped out and stayed in Cache Creek.

Sunset at Marble Canyon Lake

It was late-afternoon when I finally left Cache Creek, slightly rested and at least ready to go a bit further to reach this good campsite. Little did I know that I had another 30 miles to cycle and 1,400 ft to gain in order to reach this sanctuary in the Pavilion Mountains. I turned off the main highway and headed up into the hills. The air cooled quickly and soon the landscape became more lush again as I entered a new microclimate. This was nice. Apart from the occasional up and down that had me groaning, the riding was very nice. However, I kept expecting to find the campsite around the next bend, and the sun was once again getting low in the sky, with no campsite to be found.

Finally I crested the pass, and once again I pulled into my night’s camping spot just around sunset. The campsite was situated next to a beautiful lake in a small mountain canyon lined with some enticing-looking crags – apparently good for rock climbing. As Marble Canyon was in a Provincial Park, there was a ranger there, Connie, who showed me to a good campsite and struck up a nice conversation. She lived the small town of Pavilion, just outside the Park, and was working here with her husband, Kim, also a ranger, who joined in on the conversation. Connie was very familiar with the “death pass” that I was so concerned about. Apparently the locals refer to it as “The Duffy”, named after the lake at its crest. She said that, yes, the first part is murderously steep, but eventually it eased up into a nicer road. Shoulders were decent, and the road was popular with cyclists, so cars would know to look out for me. Also, it was fairly well-shaded by pine trees.

Connie insisted that in the canyon I could easily access the river to refill water along the way, which was good news for me. I had planned to carry a full 6 liters of water on this segment since it was so long, but now I decided to reduce it to 3 liters and just refill from the river as I rode along. After hearing this good news, I once again drank the rest of my beers to lighten my load, ate up more of my food, and went to bed well fed and relaxed.Part 0 - Cycling and Scrambling from Calgary to Vancouver

Part I - Calgary through the Canadian Rockies

Part II - Lake Louise & Lake O'Hara Areas

Part III - Mishaps in the Middle Ranges


Part V - Crossing the Coastal Range to Vancouver



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