1000km Brevet: Bella Coola (DNF)

I started the Bella Coola 1000km Brevet at 6:00am Saturday. Due to the small number of riders, I had changed the route to start by Lougheed Mall and using the south side of the Fraser River between Pitt Meadows and Hope to make up the additional distance due to starting further east. This start location meant that Barb did not have as far to go to when driving me to the start and made it accessible for Gary Sparks who was using Skytrain to get there.

I had motels reserved, and food waiting, in Cache Creek (351km) and Tatla Lake (773km). My goal going into this was to minimize my night riding after Williams Lake, due to the remote nature of the highway, and the concern about Grizzly Bears that have been seen more frequently this year.

My wife, Barb, and the kids were driving up to Bella Coola to meet me. They were going to leave Sunday morning and stay overnight at Williams Lake before arriving in Bella Coola later on Monday. Gary Sparks was starting at 3:00pm – due to work commitments – and Doug and Susan were going to ride the route (starting at the original Vancouver start) as a tour, taking 6 days for their ride plus a few more to return home via ferry and Port Hardy.

The adventure actually started when I was preparing my bike to load onto the van shortly after 5:00am on Saturday. I was inflating the rear tire when it bulged out through a tear in the sidewall and popped. So, with Barb and the kids already in the van waiting for me, I replaced the rear inner tube and the tire. Better that I do this now, than shortly after starting the brevet.

With the delay in changing the tire, I arrived at the start location right at 6:00am and was under way by about 6:07am.

The weather was pleasant and the first part of the ride was fairly uneventful, heading over the Golden Ears Bridge from Pitt Meadows and then heading east from there. I took a photo of the Walnut Grove Food Market as this will be used as the first control for the Super Week 200km Brevet that I am organizing at the end of August.

I discovered that there has been some construction and repaving on North Parallel Rd just past the intersection with Old Yale Rd. There also seemed to be quite a bit more traffic than usual, mostly dump trucks, on North Parallel Rd.

I stopped for a snack at the Yellow Barn, and then again at Popkum Market, before heading out onto Highway One towards Hope. Approaching Hope, I took the exit for Flood-Hope Rd and, when getting close to Hope, discovered that the road was closed for paving. So I had to detour: back out onto the highway and to exit 173 and then back to Hope. I estimate this added 4km to the route.

The cashier who signed my control card at the 24Hr Chevron in Hope was interested in what I was doing and asking a number of questions. When she found out how far I was riding, she offered me an extra bottle of water at no charge.

And so I continued up the Fraser Canyon, through the tunnels, past the Elvis Rocks Cafe, over Jackass Mountain with food/water stops in Boston Bar and Lytton.

I arrived at the Cache Creek Sandman Inn shortly after 10:00pm and found, as requested, a generous amount of food waiting for me in the small fridge in my hotel room. One sandwich and the salad was dinner, the second sandwich was breakfast the next morning. I was back on the road by 5:00am Sunday morning, a little later than planned.

There were numerous construction zones on highway 97 between Cache Creek and Williams Lake, long stretches of unrideable shoulder, and a black bear.

In the middle of the day, I saw what appeared to be some wet weather in my future but as I continued, the threat of rain disappeared.

Heading into Williams Lake, I passed the Super 8 Motel where Barb and the kids were planning to stay later that evening.

I checked into the Tim Horton’s at Williams Lake at 3:30pm, had a quick bite to eat and continued on, across the bridge, past a Llama Farm, up and down the first hill, and across the Fraser River. It was beginning to look like I was going to be a little late arriving at Tatla Lake.

I then climbed up the other side of the Fraser, stopping for a quick breather and bite to eat at a pullout just past the top of the hill. As a continued on the plateau, I found that due to strong headwinds, my average speed was quite low.

By 7:30pm I had travelled only 60km since Williams Lake. At this point, I still had 150km to go before Tatla Lake. I checked my GPS to see if I could find any motels in Hanceville or Alexis Creek but nothing was showing up. This is the disadvantage of riding along such a remote highway as an unsupported brevet. I wasn’t prepared to ride through the night on this stretch and so made the decision to turn around and return to Williams Lake, where I knew food and lodging wouldn’t be a problem.

On the way back to Williams Lake, it started getting dusk as I neared the top of the climb after crossing back over the Fraser River. About 500m ahead of me I there were a couple cars stopped and then I saw a black bear and cub cross the highway. I slowed down a bit to give them some time to get further away from the highway before I passed that area. As I went by, I looked to the left to see if I could see the bears when, about 8 to 10 feet in front of me, a second cub jumped out of the ditch on my right and ran across the road. As soon as the cub went by me, I started sprinting – I wanted to be well clear of the cub in case the mother bear came back to check things out.

I arrived at the Super 8 motel shortly after 10:00pm and found Barb and the kids in their room. I had a nice warm shower, ate all the kids dinner leftovers and climbed into bed for a much-needed sleep. My ride was over but the story doesn’t end here. We were still all headed to Bella Coola to visit family for the week.

Casey, Danika, and I were having our complimentary breakfast at the Super 8 motel the next morning when Gary appeared, also for breakfast. I turned out he had arrived Sunday night, an hour or so after me, and got a room two doors away from ours, planning to head out around 4:00am. He had slept through his alarm and was now outside the time limit for the Williams Lake control – but with the next control at Tatla Lake, it should still be possible to make it there before the cutoff time. We shared a few stories over breakfast before he headed out again. We promised him we would stop to check on him when we passed him in the van later.

We took our time before heading out and caught up with Gary shortly after Riske Creek. We chatted with him briefly to see how he was doing. It was not as windy as the night before so he was making reasonable progress. Barb wanted to offer him some water and I had to remind her that she couldn’t do that as we were not at a control. We took a couple photos of him and continued on.

We stopped for lunch at The Graham Inn at Tatla Lake. I wanted to apologize for not making it there as promised and see what the place was like. We had a pleasant lunch and got a tour of the cabins. It turns out that Darryl, one of the owners, has an interest in cycling and was admiring our bikes and brought out his bike to show us.

We discovered that there is a longer stretch of unpaved highway than expected. And the hill down from Heckman Pass was not what I pictured – in places, it is basically a narrow trail carved into the side of a cliff. I will post more information on this later after I take some photos on our return trip.

Gary finished shortly before 6:00pm on Tuesday for a total elapsed time of 74:40 (beating the time limit by 20 minutes). We met him for dinner at the Valley Restaurant across the street from the Valley Inn and were entertained by the stories of cold overnight temperatures, his encounter with a Grizzly Bear, and surviving “the hill”. I won’t give too much away – you will need to wait for Gary’s writeup.

Flickr Photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/alexpope/sets/72157624382163284/
Garmin Connect: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/38559965

Update: Read Gary’s Ride Story

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4 Responses to “1000km Brevet: Bella Coola (DNF)”

  1. Quick Update: Doug and Susan arrived in Bella Coola this afternoon on their bike tour. I went out for a ride up the valley, met up with them around Firvale, and rode back into town with them. They have had an enjoyable trip so far. Tomorrow morning they are taking the Ferry and then riding down Vancouver Island to Nanaimo.

  2. You may know that around 1957, I think, the local people wanted the Highways Dept to put a road down Heckman Pass.
    Highways said it couldn’t be done.
    So the locals got together, hired a bulldozer and did it themselves. There is a Film of that work.

  3. There is some information about building the “Freedom Road”, which was completed in 1953, at http://www.bellacoola.ca/culture/hill.php

    We took some photos of the hill on the way back ( see http://www.flickr.com/photos/alexpope/sets/72157624416290542/ ). I also found a video on YouTube of part of the hill ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kHUV6J7-Uz0 ) which gives a better indication of what it is like than my photos.

  4. I have added a link (above) to Gary’s Ride Story, posted on the BC Randonneurs Web Site.