Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Road to Naramata, Part One

(From our bike packing trip in August 2009)

We got a later start than expected – which should be expected. It tends to be the norm on trips I take. Trevor and I had the bags packed, bikes loaded and adjusted, and were ready to go by about 3:30 pm or so. We pedaled off to the lake and along the shore on the bike path. We passed through City Park, stopping once for a photo, and continuing along the perimeter of the lake, past beaches – lots of beaches.

Fairly near the hospital we stopped at a grocery store to pick up dinner for the night and breakfast for the next morning. We stopped shortly thereafter at the shore at that Trevor labeled a family beach which is also popular among windsurfers. He distinguished it from the kind of nightlife scene found at Gyro beach - with its shallow warm waters and meat market appeal.

We pedaled farther south, away from the city-center on the roads that would lead to Okanagan Mountain Park. A cherry stand along the way beckoned us in and we bought and enjoyed some fresh cherries and took the rest with us for our trip. We past a winery though it was too late in the evening for us to stop in and have a taste. We stopped once more en route to the park at a small beach-front park so I could go for a swim. The water was colder than I would have preferred but I enjoyed it nonetheless. Feeling the pressure of getting to our destination, we hurried off. I had a couple of bike difficulties getting out of the park, then things leveled out as we got on the main road. Everything had felt so great and easy up to this point.

Saddle bags, check
Size and fit of the bike, check
gear-function, check

We entered Okanagan Mountain Park late in the afternoon – into early evening perhaps. It is a steep trail that ascends to Wild Horse Canyon Trail – the trail we would take through the park to exit near Naramata in a day's time.

We pushed our bikes mainly through the park this first night – up the steep trail to the junction with the Wild Horse Canyon Trail. That trail also continued to climb. We followed the terrain. I felt overly tired and somewhat irritable on Sunday night. We cut our journey's nightly destination short (not that we had a destination in mind) and set up camp, overlooking the lake and the twinkling lights of Kelowna. I believe my fatigue and attitude were fueled by dehydration. I drank lots of water – poising myself for many trips out of the tent throughout the night. I also vowed to drink ample water the next day. Sleep was restless and hard for me to find, until after 2 AM. As Trevor asked if I was ready to go, I finally found slumber that wanted to stick around. He took pictures of the moon and I dozed harder. At dawn, we got a spectacular sunrise and an early start.

The trail continued to be rugged and as our distance into the backcountry increased the brush alongside the trail seemed also to compound.

The fires of 2003 burned much of Okanagan Mountain Park. Burned tree skeletons stand and comrades fall daily to the weathers of time, wind, and final deterioration. The fallen trees liter the trail's path. Budget cuts for the park also mean there are no active rangers. We pushed our bikes through thick brush, that sometimes obscured the trail to my eye, and lifted our bikes over downed trees.

Several hours of challenging terrain brought us to the junction with the initial access of a spur trail leading from private property. We would meet two access trails from this property. After passing the first one and continuing to struggle through thick brush, with thorns and briars among the brush tearing at my skin – I made a modest proposal to Trevor. I proposed we bail at the next trail junction and circumnavigate the park, picking up the Kettle Valley Railway and continuing south on it. He didn't bite the bait. In response to my protest about my legs being eaten up by the brush, he offered me his pants that he had packed and he swore (again) that he recalled this trail would open up, widen and flatten. I took him up on the pants and took him on his word. We continued on.

Up to this point the mountain bike packing trip was seeming more like a mountain bike pushing trip, which was more effort and exertion than a similar trip backpacking with feet firmly planted on the ground, gear comfortably attached to the body, and without the rolling caravan of wheels and pedals edging me off the width of the trail. With a steady grasp on doubt about this supposed idilic trail Trevor had talked about, I pushed through brush several minutes after Trevor to find him celebrating a small victory for both of us. We had reached the junction with the second trail that led to and from private property, and the one we were following became delightfully inviting.

We hopped on the bikes for the first significant amount of time since entering the park and enjoyed the ride through the canyon which was mainly downhill and flat – beautiful, too. We had to dismount intermittently still to clear downed trees, but that small inconvenience balanced the ease with which we covered the next 7 miles. Beautiful rock walls flanked both sides of the canyon as we rode further inside. We also saw green ponds, cat tails, bear scat, and a few other bike tracks – evidence that we are not the only ones to have been on this section recently.

At 10:30 we reached the junction with trails leading to Buchan Bay and Comando Bay; this became the lunch destination. We ate the remainder of our dinner supplies from the night before. The basil I'd had bought for the tuna wraps the night before seemed more satisfying, appropriate and fresh when consumed in the woods with cheese and cucumber.

By lunch, I decided that I've had enough time in the saddle while mountain biking now that we've ridden through the canyon to have some perspective on what mountain biking is all about. It's part skill, part holding on, and part prayer. I also discovered that it's harder to fall off than I thought it would be. I'd hit big rocks and brace to myself to be pounced off the bike, but the two of us just kept rolling forward.

From our lunch spot, we were looking at some uphill climbs. As we looked at the park map at the trail junction, I joke that it's up, up, up and more up. Trevor said I have one too many ups in there. Perhaps I do.

We travel what feels like a pretty good distance to Goodes Creek. In actuality it was 3 km (1.8 miles) and I am utterly exhausted. Luckily it has been overcast all day and not as hot as it could have been. I relish the sight of the trail junction and maneuver for a rest stop. Trevor gathers our water vessels and heads down the trail toward the lake to fill them up. My sit-down turns into a lay-down and I listen do loud birds squawk a lot at my presence before I doze off into a brief nap to recharge my energy.

When Trevor returns we give the map at this trail junction a look. Unlike the others we've seen, this one lists distances and estimated travel times for trails and sections. It seems we've gone about 10 miles since entering the park. It has taken us 7 hours – which the map has estimated would take 10 hours. For the next 4.5 km, the sign indicates an estimated travel time of 5 hours. This sign perplexes us a bit by offering that it may take longer than we anticipated to reach the south end of the park.

We reload our bags with full water containers and continue on. Trevor, with his high energy takes on the downhills in the saddle. Feeling less able to maintain control and very tired, I opt to walk my bike down the hill. We go down and up and up and up. My energy continues to drop and there are a few ascents that take me far longer than Trevor. He waits patiently at the top. He encourages me with “you're almost there” as I take a long stall mid-way up a sandy climb.

We ascend again and I stop – body tired – for a break. Trevor scouts off to the side and sees an old road bed. He thinks this might be an unmarked junction with Wildhorse Canyon Trail and a trail that leads up the ridge. We check the map and decide to give it a shot. The trail that was well defined near the junction quickly deteriorates, but we follow creek beds and animal trails diagonally toward water and the southwest corner of the park. Moving becomes more difficult without even a poorly cut back trail to follow. Some of our time is spent way finding – some of it clambering over tangled webs of downed trees or moving around them.

After a necessary snack break of a couple handfuls of nuts, we proceed a ways. Not too long after that stop, Trevor is riding along and gets a flat back tire. Despite having packed all the right tools to replace the inner-tube, he's surprised to find that the back wheel of his bike is not a quick release. After fruitless efforts to loosen the nut and some frustration, Trevor problem-solves his way out of this predicament by patching the holes in his inner-tube while it's still on the rim. We work together to get it patched in four different places, then pumped it up in hopes that it would hold for the remainder of the trip.

We bushwhack with our bikes for a long time. Finally, after cresting a high point, we can see the road we want to take to lead us to Naramata. It's just on the other side of another rocky-faced hillside, over some open rolling terrain, and beside a vineyard. With our destination in sight, moving forward continues to be fruitful. We push.

It's late afternoon and nearing early evening when we get to the rocky-faced hillside. I'm standing beside a lone pine that I'd been using as a landmark and feel disappointed. This hillside had seemed so close to the road when we saw it earlier. Now standing here, it seemed still so far away. While I was crestfallen about the distance the stronger feeling is utter exhaustion. I have pulled, lifted, pushed and heaved that bike and the gear in the paniers for about 12 hours and the muscles in my body are starting to revolt. I'm weak and tired. Standing at the crest, it is also clear that distance isn't the only thing between us and the road – a significant steep, rocky descent is necessary and I know that my body could not control the bike down this section. I tell Trevor we may have to camp here.

Trevor says he can take both bikes down this section. I move under my own effort to hike down without my bike. That alone seems like so much to me. I rest on a rock, feeling sick and a little woozy, while he brings both bikes down one at a time. Once Trevor arrives with the bikes we eat the rest of our staple rations – a granola bar each. I can see from my perch that the private land we're headed toward to reach the road has a fence established on the lake-side of the property. I don't see it on the park side but I already (slightly) anticipate it.

We continue moving south and call “victory” at the edge of the private property before it is visible that the fence is completely encircling it. It's high and it's wired, enclosing a vineyard. We begin walking the perimeter of the fence back toward the hills and away from the lake.

At a large gate, locked with a big chain, I contemplate passing our bikes through. Trevor doesn't offer any opinion on this; he will go with whichever decision I choose – to squeeze through or to continue walking around the fence. I fear that once inside the vineyard we won't be able to get out the other side of the property if it is also gated on the road side. We push onward along the fence line.

Another smaller gate appears and I feel desperate. Just this distance from the last gate to this one was difficult. We are both low on water and nearly out. A motorcycle roars up the road, then a four-wheeler starts cruising through the vineyards turning on sprinklers. I holler at the driver. He is unresponsive – either ignoring me or unable to hear me for his motor. Lingering by the gate, we wait while he is at lower vines, then he returns. I yell again and receive no recognition. He turns and heads away from us. Dejected, we pick up our bikes and continue pushing on. Luckily our movement catches his eye and he turns off his motor and yells to us “hello there.”

“Hello” I return “May we pass through the property?”

“I suppose” he retorts.

Jeff, the foreman for the vineyards was just doing a nightly check of the sprinklers. He found the right key for the gate and let us in and instructed us to follow the road before us up until it turns into pavement. And, just like that the road to Naramata opens before us.

I asked Jeff if we could get some water somewhere. He said to meet him at the office and he could get us some there.

As we pedaled on the dirt road toward the office, we moved smoothly and effortlessly. It was a far cry from the day we'd just been through. Biking again seemed like a reasonable form of movement to me.

It was dusk when we reached the office. We filled about six liters and drank roughly a liter each on site.

We pedaled out of the main gate and on down Naramata Drive, walking our bikes up some of the hills and reaching Chute Branch Rd. after dark (this is where Jeff indicated we would have been walking to if we had continued to follow the fence line). We set up camp beneath a power line as rain that had threatened and sprinkled on us throughout the day set in at a steadier pace. While I didn't feel as though I had a deep sleep, I'm sure I must have slept hard and well. At 5 a.m. We were awake and started moving toward the next part of our journey.

No comments: