Castlegar, Canada - Polarsteps
We started the day with a blackbear encounter (see previous entry) and then a spooky old 1km-long rail tunnel. Kini realized partway through that they were missing something, so we got through the tunnel and I waited with the bikes on the other side while they walked all the way back through it twice (I'm not sure we've mentioned this item: before the trip we were trying to think of some good defense measures if aggressive dogs chase us, which is an experience we've had before, and besides a cannister of dog spray Kini also went to a tack shop and picked us up a couple of riding crops. Mine lives within reach in a front pannier with the handle sticking out; Kini's was riding front-and-centre on top of their gear in the front, and it's been a hilarious conversation-starter. I've also had the pleasure of watching them wave it around while riding into a flock of geese and, the other day on this trail, a gang of wild turkeys that were standing their ground in the road. Anyway, that's the thing that was missing when we were going through the tunnel.)
The crop didn't turn up, so it must have jumped out earlier on the bumpy trail. We continued on, descending slowly and eventually following Arrow Lake, which reaches down into Castlegar.
We hit the end of the rail trail and followed the private logging road that connects the trailhead to Castlegar, then emerged back into human civilization. We rode through town on a nice network of separated bike lanes to get to the grocery store, and then headed back up to meet Richard, the Warm Showers host who had asked around about the trail for us.
We were going to tent in Richard's yard, but his fifth wheel trailer was standing empty and we ended up staying in it instead-- a luxurious cozy indoor space after our nights in bear country. We had dinner together and stayed up talking. Richard is an avid cyclist and host-- he's had well over 100 touring cyclists come through over the years, and also did his own cross-Canada tour a few years ago. We were lucky to connect with him; he's a warm, kind, and generous pillar of his community, and stops like these are a perfect counter-balance to the nights we spend hiding away off the road.
I started the day waking up to Sara yelling "Bear! Bear!". With what sense I could gather I reached for the airhorn we keep in the tent and pressed the button. The horn was upside down and ended up spouting white, foamy chemicals instead of making a sound. I then unzipped the tent, turned the horn rightside up and tooted it. By that point the bear (black bear luckily) was gone, Sara scared it good. We have been so bear aware on this trip; no smelly things in the tent or on us, singing while we cycle and banging a metal spoon against our frying pan about every ten minutes once we set up and make supper. We also always carried our individual cannisters of bear spay on us at all times when in bear country; even to just walk to and from the tent.
We had breakfast, packed up and made our way to the entrance of Bulldog Tunnel; a 1 km tunnel dug out of the mountain rock. Cold gusts of air flowed out of the tunnel, it became pitch dark immediately and water glistened on wet rocks where our bike lights shone. It felt how I imagine a dementor in the Harry Potter series wouldf feel. Between the bears and this tunnel (at times I thought I saw movement in it but it was just light shifting) I really have had intense shots of adrenaline hit me; the type where your mind freezes for a moment to take in what is happening before you respond. It is super primal and something that doesn't typically happen while sitting on the couch, watching Netflix. As Sara mentioned, I walked back through the tunnel on my own twice. It was a neat experince, even though the first walk through was much spookier than the second. The deep darkness heightens certain senses while others are dulled; the limited vision mixed with absolute silence makes me feel in an abyss but also much more directly in touch with my internal self. On the way through the tunnel I played music from my phone, with speaker, and sang as I went.
The ride from the tunnel was mostly downhill; only a few points where there were sandy deposits from machine activity. We came across a digger machine and a work truck following it. The truck had two weird, poorly socialized men in it- in the industry we call these Mountain Toads. Ribbit. They were harmless, but obviously, and painfully, did not know how to talk to someone who wasn't a cis man (especially on a logging road). Makes you wonder if they have any contact with women ever? How much pornography do they watch and can't decipher that from real life? Do they live in the bushes and only eat frozen tv dinners? Mountain Toads have this tendency to be completely out of touch, incapable of not asking questions that aren't weird or somewhat inappropriate and keep bringing the conversation back around to whatever super awkward or out of touch subject; such as but not limited to "Are you two sisters?" " Does anyone else ever ask that?" "Only asking that because you're both attractive." before I say, without a smile or playing into their script, "Bye" and shut the door of the truck. I have various forms of pressurized capsaicin on my person and honestly would not feel an ounce of upset or regret if I had to use it on any species of toad. I also can't imagine living my existence as a Mountain Toad; it's rather limiting.
The rest of our interactions that day were better and more rich, not a high bar to clear but good people always make all the difference. We arrived later than intended to our warmshowers host, Richard. Richard is not only a cyclist and bike enthusiast but a genuinely wonderful, lovely human. He not only set us up in a cozy, spacious, private trailer with running water and made us supper but he shares stories and conversation in such a great way. He is open about his life and himself and is interested in getting to know people on more than a surface level. His home and presence was warm and trusting. He hosts many warm showers guests from all over the world; I really hope to cross paths with him again.
🚲 Bike Jaunt 🚲