“Maybe the truest sign of human intelligence is not to learn how we can shoehorn nature into our own agenda, but to see how we can better find our own place in nature.”
The steady drum of rain on the tent woke me before light. No cause for alarm – we had hours before we needed to break camp and ride 6 hours to the truck.
Waking again to dawn light and the same steady drum wasn’t encouraging.
After rolling around for a while, it was time to face the inevitable. Getting up and out of the tent, I trudged under the kitchen tarp, grabbed a pot and went down to the lake to get water for coffee and to try and gauge the weather.
We were at Lorna Lake, in the South Chilcotins, at tree line and ringed by 8500 ft peaks, so it was tough to say, but with stagnant air and steady rain, things seemed settled in. Between bands of cloud, fresh snow was visible on the upper slopes; any chances of trying a high pass route were out.
Back up the hill, with coffee brewing, the rest of the crew rolled out of bed. Quick discussion brought agreement that the Relay Pass route was the best option for the day – our lowest pass and easiest route, although the Relay side is notorious for mud and a place to avoid in the rain.
After a leisurely breakfast and as many rain delays as we could justify, by 11:30 the inevitable couldn’t be further postponed. With packs loaded, we hit the trail.
The good news of riding with clothing completely soaked through is that river crossings are simple affairs. Whereas the day before crossing Big Creek involved a slow process of removing footwear and rolling up shorts, today we simply arrived, shouldered bikes and jumped in. The water didn’t even feel cold today, which didn’t speak well to our core temperatures, though it was best not to stop and dwell on this, lest it drop further.
We made good time and topped out at Twin Lakes on the Relay/Big Crk divide before 2:00. The rain let up as we started the decent into the Relay drainage, still following the bear tracks left earlier that day along the trail.
We caught up to the bear in the lower meadows, a small grizzly, on its own, grazing on the spring shoots. When it finally alerted to us, it took off at a run into the nearby forest.
The out ride from here was uneventful, other than the soul-sucking mud which turned each pedal stroke into a strained effort. Only once did the wheels simply stop rolling. We then shouldered the now 50 lb bikes and stumbled along in our clown shoes that grew in size with each step as fresh mud stuck to the previous layers. 200 m later the surface turned to gravel and, after a de-glomming, bikes again rolled.
Arriving at the forest service road left us with 17 kms of soft, wet surface to grind along. My mind drifted to pass the time.
“Why ride?” “Why not?” (Need to dig deeper here, still over an hour to go…) “What’s the best part of the ride? Is it pushing the limits, going the distance, riding extreme terrain? Is it more about the story after, or the here and now? Is it about overcoming nature, or experiencing it?” As the soft surface of the road released the tires for one more roll, I settled on a new perspective.
Since first pedaling a bike, I’ve always thought of them as freedom machines. As a kid, you couldn’t run faster or go farther than a person on a bike. It got you away from your parents and into a world where you were responsible for yourself. As I got older, the bike took me across town, then across countries. Technology eventual allowed us to take them further into the woods, travelling greater distances in a day than on foot.
The freedom to explore, to go longer and deeper into the wilderness, is the reason I choose a bicycle over walking. To travel under my own effort is why I choose a bicycle over a horse or an engine assisted vehicle, though I’m quick to admit those are sometimes needed to set up a ride.
But ultimately this freedom machine is just another tool, albeit our civilization’s most efficient transportation tool, with a relatively small footprint, both in trail and planetary impact.
The reason I ride isn’t to use a tool. The bike is simply the tool that enables the experience. It’s about getting away from a civilization that is obsessed with the latest toys (yes, I know, while riding my latest toy). Its an opportunity to stand in a field with a grizzly, see deer running on an open slope, trade mating calls with a confused grouse, and to forage off the land for at least some of my food.
Paradoxically, it’s about slowing down while speeding up, connecting with the surroundings while maintaining speed, being part of the environment while not throwing yourself fully at the mercy of it.
Referring to biomimicry, David Suzuki, using words far more eloquent than I can muster, mirrors my position in saying: “Maybe the truest sign of human intelligence is not to learn how we can shoehorn nature into our own agenda, but to see how we can better find our own place in nature.”
Riding isn’t about viewing the world as our playground, but about respecting the playground that is our world. It’s about seeing ourselves as a small cog in the larger drive train. Trading hubris for humility, comfort for adversity. Repositioning the ego to its rightful place.
Deep thoughts for a rainy ride or maybe mild, bonk-induced, ravings. No matter. As we sweep down the last hill, I’m forced into situational awareness by the rapidly approaching corners.
It’s 6:00 and, with bikes and bodies caked in mud, we arrive at the truck. Contrary to fears, the beer placed days earlier in the creek hadn’t washed away in the rising waters, so we wisely used it to wash away some of the weariness of the day as the truck bounces home.
-All words & photos by Geoff Playfair.