Monday, September 22, 2014

The Deets: Part 1; Squamish, BC to Mission, BC (Day 1)

I woke up Monday morning with the distinct feeling of "I really don't want to do this" in my gut. I stayed motionless under the covers, hoping that Michelle wasn't up, instead of getting out of bed and checking; as if lying in bed long enough would somehow negate the commitment we had both made to our ludicrous endeavor. This, however, was not the case, and less than 10 minutes later both of us were up and about in the condo, sluggishly preparing our bikes and ourselves while pointedly not wearing chamois, again in an effort to postpone the inevitable.

My bike was loaded in a manner that could be generously described as "super-light," and non-generously called "not nearly enough." I had only the one seat bag, a bit of tent strapped to that, the sleeping bag lashed to the handlebars, a small pack on the top tube, and my medium sized backpack.
Everything I could ever need?
If I were going alone I wouldn't be too concerned, but I was also comparing my load to Michelle's.

Michelle had a proper touring bike with low gears and panniers and everything. Her capacity of about 60 litres of storage space made mine of ~20 look awfully paltry. Still it was already way too late to change anything, and Michelle was threatening to change into chamois. She changed and, begrudgingly, so did I, and then we were standing in the living room looking at each other from an awkward distance.

"Shall we?" I said in hopes that she would say "nah."

"I guess so," she replied. Our fates were sealed.

We loaded the bikes and ourselves onto the elevator and rode it down to the bottom floor. We rolled the bikes out onto the road and into the cold, overcast Squamish morning, still at a speed that would be best described as 'reluctant.' Our friend Tara was also there, and she took a picture of us in the last few moments before we saddled up for good.
They were never heard from again.
Pictures taken, goodbyes said, and all potential distractions exhausted, Michelle and I stepped over our bikes, clipped in, and began our bike tour: A 6000 km jaunt from Squamish, BC to Steamboat Springs, CO and back. We had given ourselves two months to complete the ride, and between the two of us, we had exactly 0 miles of previous bike touring experience, so things looked promising.

Our first obstacle was the descent from the Quest campus into the town of Squamish. It was about 3 km, but had a small steep pitch at 12%. I told Michelle that if I crashed between our apartment and the stoplight at the bottom of the hill the tour was over and I was going back up to bed. She laughed, and so did I, but in a way that said "No, really, I hope I crash into a bus." Despite this, we made it to the bottom of the hill in one piece. Michelle then realized that we didn't have any tubes to fix flats, and if that remained the case, we would become awfully sad in the middle of nowhere somewhere further down the road, so we stopped and picked up some tubes.

And so began about 50 km of uneventful pedaling down BC highway 99 towards Vancouver. Despite the clouds, the rain stayed off of us and my mood brightened somewhat with every pedal stroke. Once I was actually moving, I no longer felt the desire for bodily harm from large people-carrying vehicles and was beginning to believe the tour might not be as bad as I had initially thought.

Then we hit our first detour. We got kicked off of the main highway, which we had been planning to take all the way to the border at Sumas, WA, and onto Horseshoe Bay Drive. Initially, it seemed ok, but after some pleasantly rolling hills (where I saw a Lexus LFA, which excited me very much), the road kicked up. Any roadies in Vancouver likely know what happens when you pull off of Marine Drive onto Westport Rd. It kicks up to be ludicrously steep (when weighted down with touring gear) and grinds up a short bit that's only about 1500 meters long, but feels like it climbs 1500 meters as well. As a first day excursion, this felt a bit cruel. Plus, after the hill, it drops you back down to the freeway as the detour ends only about 5 km further down the highway. So instead of riding 5 km, we rode 8 or 10, and climbed more than we would have otherwise. Michelle was understandably upset as we got back on the highway.

The next 20 or so minutes were spent constantly checking over our collective shoulders to make sure we didn't get run over while trying to traverse exit ramps. This felt a bit like Russian Roulette, especially since less than 50% of drivers seemed to use their turn signals, and so the best I could often do was guess as to the motives of the drivers coming up on me at 120 kph. We made it work, but it was all kinds of stressful, and after the 20 minutes was up, we were forced off the highway again with a "no bikes on the highway"-type sign. Unlike the previous time, it wasn't a detour, and so once we were off of the off-ramp, there were no signs of any kind to direct cycling traffic in any meaningful way. We made a guess, and began to wander into Vancouver proper with no idea where we were going and no help from the signs either.

Brilliant.

Less than 1000 meters later, we turned back onto Marine Drive. The same goddamn road that the detour had taken us off of not a half hour earlier.

Double Brilliant.

Navigation was already more of a train wreck than we could have imagined, and the stress from the highway combined with the stress of having to re-route our entire day through downtown Vancouver was re-enforcing my initial idea that this tour was a dumb idea. Michelle, who is more prone to stress than I, was likely doing worse, but also wasn't really talking to me anymore, so I couldn't tell.

We then spent the next five or so hours discovering bike lanes that lasted two blocks or less, one way streets that went the wrong direction, traffic that was actively trying to kill us, directions from people with impenetrable accents, and East Hastings Street. The bridges were long and narrow, with not enough space for us, the roads were poorly marked, and our phones were doing their best to navigate us to Vancouver Airport despite our best efforts to get somewhere in the vicinity of Coquitlam.

60 km and 5 hours later, with traffic so heavy and stop-light-laden that it brought down the entire average speed of the tour, we eventually ground through the infini-town into downtown Coquitlam (which is still Vancouver to me). Here, Michelle suggested that we cheat and take a bus as far south as we could manage. Cheating sounded like a great idea to me, and so we pulled over where we saw a bunch of buses grouped together and looked for a map of some kind.

The maps were obviously useless, and all of the places we wanted to go were either inaccessible or under insets in the map, and so not visible at all. Several minutes of map-examination told us that buses were likely more trouble than they were worth, so we re-applied chamois butter in the middle of a public parking lot and embarked again to suffer through more of Vancouver (I would like to point out now that everything from the Horseshoe Bay Drive exit to 116 Ave in Maple Ridge is Vancouver to me).

Several hours later, Michelle wasn't doing too terribly well. We had put in about 110 km at this point, and due to the stop-start nature of hitting almost every stop light in BC, our legs were pretty well toasted. Our original plan for the night, to camp, was totally balls, we decided, and we figured it would be best to just put ourselves up in a hotel room for the night. I am a bit faster on the bike than Michelle, and so I told her that I'd ride ahead and look for hotels. After all, we'd been riding through Vancouver for about 6 hours and there had been hotels all over the damn place, so finding one shouldn't be too hard.

But there was nothing. Almost as soon as we were moving again, Vancouver finally ended, and we were in rural Canada. I couldn't believe our timing, and, looking at my map, it looked as if our only hope was to power on to Abbotsford (notably NOT Vancouver) and hope that Michelle could get to whatever hotel I found before dark. As we had been in the saddle for almost 9 hours and the sun was going down on an already bleak, dark, grey day, darkness was coming in quick and I was moderately worried. Not least of all because, no matter what speed I was going, Michelle was going her own speed that was in no way related to mine. At all. But I put my head down and applied some power anyway on the flat, straight sections of road that we found ourselves on.

30 minutes or so later, I saw something on the side of the road that wasn't a dirt intersection or sketchy, boarded up ex-gas station. It was, in fact, a real, active gas station where people worked and were alive. I pulled in and asked the lady at the counter where I might find a hotel. She looked at me as if my eyes were actively shooting sparks due to their obvious non-functionality, and told me that the hotel was "like, a block and a half away." I thanked her and rode to the hotel where I waited for Michelle.

She arrived in around 20 minutes, and we checked into what I think was the Best Western in Mission, BC. The manager was sympathetic, but not sympathetic enough to give us a discount, and put us on the second floor. There was a small elevator into which we crammed the bikes to bring them up to the room, and after leaning them against whatever object was handy in the room, I flopped onto my face on the bed and began the process of debating which I wanted to do first: shower or eat. Michelle made up my mind, and I took a shower before heading off to FatBurger to get some massive greasy pile of probably-meat for dinner: the Hawaiian burger, obviously, and a shake.

Then the day finally ended; we were both deeply miserable from our nightmarish Vancouver navigation ordeal, Michelle was too tired to leave the bed, I was too tired to think, we were both sad because FatBurger didn't deliver, and I had just eaten way too much meat and cheese. At least the burger had some pineapple on it though, which I guess was one plus.

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