I woke to the familiar sound of my 5:47AM alarm, yet there was no hint of the grogginess that usually accompanied my thirteen-minute morning routine. The excitement that charged up overnight flickered on as I leapt out of bed — today would be the day we ride to Gabriola Island.
On the floor of my room was a pile of miscellaneous objects that I had precariously selected throughout the past few days — action camera, extra layers, two bags of ramen, etc. In the middle stood two brightly colored panniers, waiting to be filled. The twenty minutes that followed was a steady, meditative process of 3D-Tetris as I tried to fit everything on the floor into those two bags. After checking that neither of my tires were flat for the third time that morning, I hoisted my now-60lb+ bike down the porch steps and rode towards Grounds for Coffee to meet the others.
My mind remained blank until I rounded the last corner and saw groups of people with their bikes across the intersection. It was then that I noticed the buzz of anticipation (and anxiety) building in the background of my consciousness. As someone who typically rides no more than a 5km segment to/from work each day, the anticipated 30km+ journey to the ferry at Horseshoe Bay was unimaginable. I was also more accustomed to riding in Ontario, and had been constantly reminded of my subpar fitness as I struggled on the rolling hills of BC during daily commutes. I walked my bike across the street towards the group of strangers and bid everyone good morning. After leaning my bike against the closest patch of bare wall I could find, I turned and looked at the group. Thoughts flashed across my mind.
The girl Bree — we barely met just now. Does she truly not mind hosting me in her tent tonight? And the two strangers that just showed up — they look like pros. What if these people all ride super fast and I get dropped? Then I’ll probably get lost, miss the ferry, and — ooooooh nice crocs! As my gaze traveled aimlessly through the small crowd, a pair of beautiful, dark blue crocs broke my train of thought. They belonged to a petite, red-head girl with good taste— that was my first introduction to Lara.
And with that, we set off.
My anxiety gradually ebbed away as I rode alongside Settare and chatted about our favourite trips. Type 1 fun ensued as we cruised along the coast but my euphoric bubble popped when I saw the sign for the Lion’s gate bridge. My previous experience riding on Lion’s gate had been nothing short of traumatizing. I had been stuck on the largest gear during the steepest part of the incline. I remember standing up and putting my whole weight on the pedal, yet the bike did not budge. I still remember the terror I felt as the strong winds blew my bike outwards and the three-hundred feet drop loomed in the peripheral. It had been a busy weekend and what looked like twenty cyclists queued up behind me as my bike wobbled slowly across the bridge. In short, it was a compilation of every newbie rider’s worst nightmare.
My palms began to sweat as we turned onto the familiar road leading onto the bridge. I shifted down to the smallest gear and grew increasingly panicked as we inched forward slowly. Where did the incline start again? How bad was it? 3%? 5%? 10%? My mind whirled as it tried to recall the details of that traumatic ride. Just then my vision lit up, trees moved aside and a sudden gush of wind hit my face. I blinked and we were on the bridge. The dreaded climb was… over? I was so anxious that I didn’t notice the climb? That was absurd! But my confusion took a back seat as I gazed out over the railings: I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the shimmering waters below.
Then, it was as if a curse was lifted and suddenly, I was released from the slow, gradual suffocation that encased the city behind me. I smiled, knowing that another “could-have-been” moment just became my reality. We were descending now, and Kai, who rode in front of me, was pulling further apart as he gained momentum. Something in me shifted.
I took a deep breadth, released the brakes, and followed him.
The journey that ensued could be best described as an emotional rollercoaster. I would struggle through climbs, only to find another just around the corner. While none were long enough for me to deteriorate into a state of existential crisis (that’s saved for the way back), there were plenty that gave me opportunities to question everything from packing decisions to my choice of lifestyle. But there were also plenty of ups along the way: gravity-driven segments that left me windswept and grinning like an idiot. By the time we got to the ferries, the constant fluctuations left me emotionally drained and ready for a nap. Boarding was a monotonous process and after some repeated trial and error, I managed to stretch out under a sunny patch by the window.
Our campsite at Descanso Bay Regional Park was a short ride from the ferry docks. When we first arrived, the campsite area seemed new and full of potential dangers. My eyes constantly scanned the vicinity for ditches hidden under brushes, sharp turns onto steep ramps and narrow speed bumps that blended in a little too well with the muddy ground. As we unloaded our gear and set up camp, a sudden wave of fatigue hit me. I looked around, then glanced at my watch: it was only 2:47PM.
Everyone agreed that it was an ungodly hour to turn in, even by backcountry standards, so we began tossing around ideas. There was instant and unanimous agreement when firewood and marshmallows were brought up. Coincidentally (or not), the group’s spirits visibly improved thereafter. Between then and s’more-time, we had countless photoshoot sessions with rocks. That’s right — overhanging rocks, porous rocks, dusty rocks, mossy rocks…
“Just… one more please!”
Louise patiently walked back to take what was probably the eighteenth photo of me hanging from the same dusty, knobby rock. The afternoon went on as we took more photos, pet crabs, popped kelp and touched rocks everywhere we went.
The coastal section by our campsite gave us a direct view of a beautiful sunset over the waters. I scrambled down to the beach and treaded through bundles of kelp until I was almost close enough to touch the churning tides. After scanning the vicinity, my gaze fell upon a nice, porous, dry rock nearby; I strolled over, sat down cross-legged and drank in the sight before me: wisps of clouds illustrating a slowly descending sun. As a gentle breeze rippled across the waters, I closed my eyes and sharpened my other senses — the smell of the waves, the sound of chatter and laughter in the distance, the tickle of my hair in the wind…
When I opened my eyes again, the sky had visibly darkened and the tides were inches from my shoes. Startled, I leapt up and quickly rejoined the others. Those few steps snapped me out of my trance and I suddenly realized that I was very, very cold. As if on cue, someone recalled that we had firewood to burn and those were the words I clung to as we trickled back towards our campsite.
“Wait, you guys didn’t buy sticks from the store? How are we supposed to roast marshmallows??” I asked, mortified by the thought of not getting the s’mores I was promised. Kai looked at me like I wasn’t speaking English. “We’re in a forest Katie,” he said in a matter-of-fact tone, “there are sticks everywhere.” Then, as if to prove a point, he casually picked one off the ground, took out his multitool, and started to sharpen. Many thoughts crossed my mind then — moss, bacteria, parasites, various invisible yet deadly things that could be on that branch — but against the overwhelming logic of his words, I was speechless. Never have I felt so…urban.
I felt weirdly giddy as I pressed the blade to wood, and proceeded to steal many sidelong glances at Kai’s stick as I mechanistically tried to copy. By the time my stick “looked about right”, most others were on their second or third marshmallow. I scooted onto the closest bench and was chatting idly with Settare when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a burst of flames. The puffy white chunk at end of my stick was now a flaming fireball. I yelped and blew frantically until the fire retreated into a black hole, then shut my eyes and stuck it into my mouth.
The feast continued well into the evening as I adamantly tried to produce a perfectly-roasted, golden brown marshmallow. The process consisted of more sugar intake than I dared count and many, many more fireballs. Hence, know that it is through much sacrifice that I managed to present the following:
I had squeezed in with Bree overnight in her cozy 2p-tent but did not have a sleeping mat or a winter-rated sleeping bag. So rather than saying I woke up, it would be more accurate to recount that I got up at around 5AM. After pulling on shoes and doing a lazy stretch, I walked over to to the bundle on the ground that was Johnson, who had said that he was an early riser the day before. All was quiet as I stood there, hesitant. In my conflicted state, I just stared expectedly at the spot where I imagined his head was, and hoped that he would telepathically feel my gaze and accompany me on a walk without being asked.
After a few seconds of intense staring, his sleeping bag unzipped from the inside and he groggily poked his head out. I beamed. We took a short stroll by the water, made food and chatted quietly until the others woke. After the much hyped “Master Chef, Camping Edition” that was breakfast, most of the group coasted over to a nearby beach to explore. The temperature was perfect with warmth from the morning sun to balance out the chilly breeze. I laid on a log at the beach and was more than ready to siesta at 10AM, but unfortunately we had to leave by 11AM.
The return journey was nothing like the emotional rollercoaster from the day before. This was largely credited to Chrisel, who teased me the whole way but still allowed me to draft nonetheless. There was one long climb that left my quads burning but if I’d learnt anything, it’s that having the memory of a goldfish occasionally helps. Our group thinned as more people split off to return home. As I struggled up the last few hills on 8th Ave, I was already thinking about the next bike-packing trip.
Here’s to campfire, s’mores and good cheer.
To laughter, suffering and fond memories.
To reunions, new friends and the adventures to come.