Photos and words by Benjamin Johnson
What happens when you take three inexperienced “bikepackers” and embark on a 5-day trip in the PNW wilderness? Imagine three dudes standing over a pile of Pro Bars, arguing over how many they can pack in their bags while still making room for the all important 6-cup Bialetti?? Now, I shouldn’t say we were “completely inexperienced”. I am fresh off a pretty outlandish two-week tour in the Andes Mountains of Peru. But, take my relatively rookie status, add in two others who have never attached a bag to their bike, and you’re presented with some new challenges that are…well..challenging. One of our biggest challenges was the unpredictability of the weather. Even in the summer, the PNW is known to get soggy. This not only required more gear, but it required more gear we still had no idea how to pack.
Our goal for Day One was to get as deep as possible as quickly as possible. We crossed over water by ferry, rode over a network of trestle bridges and punched gravel by headlight into Lake Cowichan. Knowing this would likely be our last dry sleep of the trip, it felt like the peak of luxury.
We were pretty certain we’d be getting wet on Day Two, but, to our surprise, we woke up to dry roads. This would have been great, but need I remind you of our inexperience? If we had packed any slower we might have been moving backwards; in fact, we might still be there packing had we not family and friends waiting for us back home. This pushed us later in to the day and, consequently, into the rain.
Rain aside, I love bikepacking because it allows me to combine two of my favourite things: cycling and filming/photographing epic environments. And, let me tell you - the PNW has no shortage of epic environments! Through our route, I wanted to ensure we’d see it all: lakes, mountains, small towns, ocean beaches, gravel and tarmac. But, mountains always rank high on the list. Every trip needs some kind of high view point, right? After some great intel from Clay (@stuckylife), Mt. Bolduc was the climb of choice. It’s a 10km punchy climb. The first few kms were deceiving. We were laughing and cracking jokes - the usual. But, the second half was nearly all “hike-a-bike”: crazy grades and chunky terrain. We finally roll over the top and find ourselves completely socked in with no visibility. We setup the tents in the rain and try and warm up. This evening was made all the more memorable when a car drove by at midnight (keep in mind that we hadn’t seen a single car all day and we’ve all watched too many episodes of CSI:Miami). We figured the car was there for one reason and one reason only, and we spent the rest of the night wondering what they would call our episode of 48 Hours Hard Evidence. Fortunately, we’re alive to tell about it.
As you can imagine, by day three we needed a serious kick in the butt to get moving. Coffee from our beloved Bialetti and drier conditions lifted our spirits. We held our brakes tightly as we descended, losing an item from the bike every couple kms. Once we hit the main forest road, we were floating on gravel - the best state-of-mind! A landmark we had to check out was Big Lonely Doug - the second-largest Douglas fir in the country standing at sixty-six metres tall (if a bike is a meter high that is sixty-six bikes stacked on top of one another)! What makes Doug so unique is the fact that it was mean’t to be cut down with the rest of the cutblock, but the site supervisor decided that this towering fir had to stay. It is surreal to see such a massive tree standing all by its lonesome. The Walrus wrote a neat article on Doug, check it here: https://thewalrus.ca/big-lonely-doug/. We had planned for two nights on the beach but with the looming forecast, wet gear, and diminishing light in mind we opted for a lodge in Port Renfrew. It is difficult to describe how glorious that meal and sleep was.
Next day. More rain. We waited for a window in the weather and hit it! 30-minutes in full-on monsoon just getting hammered. I find the only way for me to battle these moments is to yell and sing like a maniac. As only a good Canadian can, Josh belted the lead vocals to a number of Great Big Sea’s classic hits. At last we arrive at the trailhead that accesses Mystic Beach - an expected 2km hike-a-heavy-bike. It’s like we entered another world as soon as we could smell the ocean and the sun revealed itself. It was perfect. After all of the wet days, we were lounging next to a roaring fire, under the stars, and alongside the crashing waves. THESE are the moments that make it all worth it!
Our final day had our fastest rider, Brett, concerned. We had ~100kms to go, 1200m elevation to climb and a 6pm ferry to make. If we missed it, we’d be staying another night on the island. So we punched it; so much so, that at 90km I needed an emergency large Coke slurpee, Magnum ice cream bar and a Snickers bar. It was that kind of ride. Josh and I were cracked, but, hey, the show must go on! We approached the final hills and initiated what we called the “trifecta push”: Brett pushing Josh and Josh pushing me up the hill. It was magic, and a great laugh! It is these moments that sum up the trip. One moment we are stressing about the configuration of bags on bikes, and the next we are laughing, exhausted and without a care in the world. It was a trip to bring us closer.
So, what happens when you take three inexperienced “bike packers” and embark on a 5-day trip in the PNW wilderness? Chaos ensues, but in the best possible way! Choice words are expressed, pain is felt, songs are sung, meals are had, wine is shared, and “inexperience” inches its way closer to “experience”. Next time we’ll know, you can pack as many Pro Bars as you’re willing to carry, and, when you want it bad enough, the 6-cup Bialetti ALWAYS fits…