• Goal: Seven summits, 7 days, circumnavigating the Southern Canadian Rockies
• Reality: Dodge smoke, ride when possible
Dawn breaks as we step foot into the skeleton of an old fire lookout building. Looking in each direction from the hollow windows, there's a curtain of smoke between us and each horizon. Miraculously, we're standing in the center of a smoke-doughnut, breathing freely and peering down at 1000 meters of earned vert (for American readers, 1000 meters is Canadian for 'really big').
A fine Canadian trucker's joke goes: In Canada, there are two seasons; winter, and highway construction. I'll offer my revision, based on the recent years: In Western Canada we've got three seasons; winter, hockey playoffs, and Smogust; our summer month of smoke.
Stu, who wields chainsaws for a living, and races bikes faster than most will ever dream, has a remarkable phobia of heights and is nearly incapable of jumping off bridges.
In Golden B.C., we set up camp at a trailhead, but upon waking up, we find our headlamps illuminating smoke so thick it feels like walking through coastal fog. There were no stars in the cloudless skies At sunrise, we find mother nature forgot her colour palette. The day could only fade into a dull greyscale.
Lines in the sand are difficult to define— when is the smoke going to be too smokey to care? How many cigarettes are we willing to smoke to keep adventuring? How many smokes are too many smokes? How to Tango with a Smogust
• 1. Create a diverse plan of trails to ride‚ as the smoke is going to lead this dance. Plan to be responsive and flexible if you want to keep up with its rhythms.
• 2. Show up to bat — you can't capitalize if you aren't already trying: pack the bag, set the alarm, and see if you're getting lucky or getting skunked.
• 3. Don't force it— when your headlamp looks foggy, or the summits are obscured, go back to bed, or make a third coffee.
• 4. Lean into the novelties— go skip stones, fish, read books, sketch, swim, breweries, museums, galleries, and all of that Pinteresty stuff. Leave the plans on the back burner and turn the peripheral into your priority.
• 5. Know when to fold 'em— Kenny Roger's manifesto isn't just a catchy track, know when you're beat
As the old adage goes, you can't wrestle a shark unless you get into the ocean. So, we drive toward the blade runner skies to try again. There's a backcountry cabin with our name on it, and unless the cabin itself is on fire, we're going to get to it.
There's enough smoke for this to smell like the inside of an Idaho bar full of Patty and Selma Bouvier impersonators. But, as we gain altitude, we move into cleaner air and eventually into the subalpine cirque where the cabin is located. Held by a perimeter of tall Rockies peaks, we're once again in the center of an impossibly fortunate doughnut hole.
Did you know: doughnut holes are the national food of Canada, and we call them Tim Bits.How to Get Beginner’s Luck Fishing
• 1. Find a rod, any rod, reel or line.
• 2. Crack a beer
• 3. This is where you wish you paid attention in scouts when you were twelve years old. Get a lure for whatever you are fishing. If you don’t know what you’re fishing for, something shiny should do the trick. Tie it to the end of your line. If you didn’t pay attention in boy scouts: Google It.
• 4. Remember that you don’t need to catch any fish to have fun.
• 5. How to know if there is fish in the lake? You don’t.
• 6. If you see fish jumping, this is your bull's eye.
How were the views in the Rockies, Marty? 'Well, the fishing was good'How to Skip the Perfect Stone
• 1. Find a smooth, roundish rock the size of a deck of cards, or smaller to fit your hand.
• 2. Assume a wide stance at the shoreline.
• 3. Skip when there's minimal wind.
• 4. Hold the edge of the rock with the pointer finger and palm.
• 5. Using a sidearm throw, throw the rock spinning like a record. Aim for 25 feet ahead of you for the first skip and try to have the leading edge of the rock slightly higher than the trailing edge.
• 6. Profit.
Then, Kenny Rogers came to Stu in a dream and said, “You gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em."
Each of us had worked our way through a couple packs of Marlboros, and one of us so under the weather the regional toilet paper supply was on red alert. Beijingian greyscale skies had sucked the optimism out of the world. When the music stops, you look like a fool when you keep dancing. This tango was over.
This is when you fold.
- - -Part II: The Return of Colour
Rain fell, bringing British Columbia back out of the seventh circle of hell, antibiotics carpet bombed the offending stomach cultures, and a freak chainsaw fight accident reduced our tribe from the three stooges to the two coastal amigos.
When the music resumes, what dance do you choose? If smoke still threatens the Rockies, should we persist, or take a hint and change our aim? What would Kenny Rogers do? WWKRD?
After channeling Kenny Rogers on the Ouija board, he gave us a new Summit(ish) Quest that will include three Coast Range rides. Only the second ride has a definite summit. We've long since past the point of failure, that our once dearly held goals are easily given up like the idea of floating disk brakes or water bottles below downtubes.
Our home mountain range on the coast doesn't really make itself available to biking summits, but on our Google Earth maps pinned like an acupuncture patient, there are zones we've thought to try, but have never prioritized. We point towards Where Trailforks Ends, and move into the thrill of the semi-unknown. We find a flock of granola crunching hippies, fantastic rock slabs, and a cabin that houses infrequent bike traffic.
Objects in the Fraser Canyon may be bigger than they appear.
Though our first language is Canadian, we misinterpret 1400 meters as 'really big' when it actually means 'really, really big', and try to blame a long drive, and a late start, for why we might miss the summit. Finally, we're chased off the summit ridge by a rainstorm giving us a valid excuse for yet more failure, but still manage to find a couple high five worthy moments during the headlamp descent.
The Fraser Canyon disappears in the rear mirror without a summit under our belts. On our Rockies-Coastal Summit Quest, we still have only a single peak in the bag. The good times abound, but the lack of winning is palpable, and our last remaining summit route is nearly blank on the map.
The last ride strings us along like a Stephen King thriller— a bushwack, then supreme forest singletrack with so much needle loam you could call it a biohazard, then a kilometer of derailleur biter trench, then a lost trail, a found trail. The sun begins to dive to the horizon, like a newly mortgaged med school graduate diving into middle age.
We race it up the mountain, following the intermittent trail. Time wanes, but our hopes grow. Singletrack reappears and pulls us towards the summit. Finally, 21 days after our first summit, we reach the second and final summit of the trip.
“Shoot for the stars, if you miss, you'll find yourself swatting alpine mosquitos.” -Norman Vincent Peale Riders: Stu Dickson, Marty Lazarski
Words and Photos: Reuben Krabbe
Production: Craig Grant, Sarah Rawley
Thanks to: Yeti Cycles, Nature, Modern Medicine
Production carbon offset by Reuben Krabbe Photography