Harrison Lake logging road adventure
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An Awesome Summer Adventure by Maureen Mol
The seed for our summer off road cycling adventure was sown in the dark days of December. After a ride around Vedder Mountain in search of sunshine above the fog that settled on Vancouver, the talk turned to summer days and the adventure that logging roads hold. The coming months saw a plan forming. We would ride the Harrison forestry roads from Harrison Bay to Mount Currie. A rainy Friday afternoon in late August, our bikes and the trailer were loaded for a week of touring.
We started our journey with a ride through rush hour traffic, from our home in New West, to the West Coast Express station in Port Coquitlam. There's just no good way to get there, particularly, when pulling a trailer. Our Burley cargo d'lite has been many places, and could tell many stories. Today it would say - this isn't fun! But, it didn't know what the coming week held! It wasn't too long before we were off the main highway, and breathed a little easier. We made the train by seconds, and we're off to Mission for our first night. Arrived at Mom's, got the wet clothes in the dryer, and an hour later our cycling partners, for the week arrived, also wet.
Knowing Saturday would be an easy ride to Harrison Bay, we planned a lazy morning - sleep in, late breakfast, and a ride down to the store for our last fresh food for the week. By noon we were ready to head off, and an hour later, we were regretting our late start. The rain was coming down in buckets and we were drenched. We arrived at the campground dripping wet, and got our tents set up and dinner cooked, in a break between rain storms.
Sleep was hard to come by that night. We were between two large groups, with competing stereos. At 3 a.m. one group was still going strong.
We agreed an early start Sunday morning was in order. It would be our first venture off onto logging roads, and we expected lots of 4x4's on the road. We were surprised to find the first 17 km of the road paved. Soon the pavement turned to gravel and the cool damp weather was welcome as we began climbing up the Harrison West forestry road. Man, am I thankful for my tiny 20T granny gear! Six hours, 50km and 1050m of climbing later, we arrived at Twenty Mile Bay forestry site on Harrison Lake. The view over the lake is stunning. We were stunned by the previous campers lack of respect for the environment. Campfires left burning and bags of garbage in empty campsites. We found a relatively clean site, and stoked the burning logs for heat to dry our clothes. We set about getting tents up, filtering water, and cooking dinner. An hour of hilarity while Doug tried different methods of hanging our panniers filled with food. Then we found a piece of wood nailed between two trees…
Monday dawned clear and warm, an initial steep climb gave way to rolling hills on the ridge. I commented that gee this is nice riding, the road is good, the hills not too steep, the views are awesome - what more could one ask? Oh yes, no trucks have passed us for 3 hours! It was too good to last though and we knew that after lunch today we would hit the section of road our map marked: bad road - 4x4 only. The grades became steeper, both up and down, the gravel turned to loose rocks the size of grapefruits and deep potholes. I have been riding with Bruce for more than fifteen years and I've never seen him push his bike - he can usually ride any grade - and here he is in front of me - pushing his bike and the trailer. It's that steep.
There are no forestry sites for 90 km from Twenty Mile. We've barely gone 30 km today and we've climbed as much as yesterday. We're all tired and our camelbaks are almost empty. We stopped by a creek to filter some water. About 5pm we started looking for a place to camp. The ideal spot would be off the road, have a creek, and a flat spot for two tents. We found a small creek, running down the hillside, and across, a level spot of…. Dirt. Not quite acceptable. A little further on, off an old spur road we found a perfect tent site. We dropped the gear, and rode back up to the last creek, and went about cooking dinner at the roadside. Doug and Susan's turn to cook, I sat down a began filtering water - how many pumps does it take to get half a litre? I lost count every time I tried to remember. There is something very peaceful and relaxing about filtering water. Just pump till the bottle's full, dump it in a camelbak, repeat. Again and again and again…
Dinners were joint affairs, with Bruce & I providing dinner for days 1, 2 and 5 and Doug & Susan did dinners 3, 4, and 6. Each couple brought their own food for breakfast, lunch and snacks .My food pannier was getting lighter by the day, and I started to worry that we were running low. We were seriously low on granola and the Powerbar stock was depleting at 3 a day, not two. Careful inspection, counting and planning determined we had just enough food til Friday morning. By Thursday, the last of the bagels were dry and hard, but still edible, dipped in soup.
We didn't get all our bottles filled before dark, so the next morning Doug and Susan left before us with a plan to meet at the first creek. We had 4 camelbaks and 6 water bottles to fill. They found a perfect creek, tumbling over rocks and eventually down into Harrison Lake. It was a beautiful spot to sit and sit we did - two and a half hours later we had all our bottles and camelbaks filled. Next trip I said, we will buy or borrow a water filter so each couple has one - we had no idea it would take this long to filter water.
The first part of the journey is over. After 3 days, we are looking at the Lillooet River flowing into the head of Harrison Lake. Feeling sad that we're heading toward a more civilized world and excited about how much we've seen since Sunday. We are into an active logging area now and the road improved, although it was recently graded. We passed through the logging camp, and they radioed that four cyclists would be on the road. Even so, there weren't many logging trucks on the road and they were very courteous.
We made good time along the river delta and after a mosquito infested lunch stop, we crossed over the river and on to Harrison East forestry road. We started going up and then down following the hydro lines. It's hot - 36 degrees at the crest of one hill. Following Bruce down hill we all had a good laugh, watching the trailer bounce from one wheel to the other. The road was now rough, but well packed and it would be like this the rest of the way to the Duffey Lake junction.
Hot springs, we're looking for hot springs…the map says they should be around here soon. Doug, the scout, forays off onto side roads looking for signs - nothing. Then we see a perfect camp site by a creek, but the group decision is to keep going. Church steeples, oh no, that means we've passed the hot springs (according to the map). Down to the church, thinking we'll find a spot to camp - nope, we find a First Nations village. Refill all the water bags, and they tell us the hot springs are two miles up the road. No, there's no store to buy more food.
Sinking into the hot tub, we were thankful to Robin Trethewey for sharing his spot of heaven with anyone who stumbles across St. Agnes Wells hot springs. For a small donation, camping on the Lillooet River, several hot tubs of varying temperatures, and drinking water can be had. The next morning, sitting in the tub, drinking my morning coffee, looking at the steam rising off the pools, surrounded by mountains, I'm thinking there can't be a better place on earth!
Somehow the treat of the hot springs is much more appreciated when you've worked as hard as we did to get there. The riding was tough, but the four of us were always in good moods and congratulated each other for riding well up hills, picking good lines for the others to follow, and cooking great dinners.
Wednesday was a short day along Lillooet Lake. Arriving at Lizzie Bay early in the afternoon we are awed by the peacefulness. The lake is still and we are surrounded by mountains, some with glaciers, and tall trees. We stayed two nights, not wanting the trip to end. Doug took the water filter apart and lo and behold it was clogged. Now, instead of over 200 pumps for a half litre, it was 27. What a difference!
Friday morning, out of food, we rode out of Lizzie Bay towards Mount Currie. Sixteen km later, we are back on pavement, being passed by motorhomes.
Our adventure ended in Pemberton, where we caught the train to Vancouver and cycled home. Riding through the city, bikes much lighter than when we started and our hearts lighter too, after a week in the woods.
Note: If you decide to do this trip - go prepared there are no facilities, no escape- take more food than you think you need, a water filter, tell someone your plans, and PLEASE - pack out your garbage.
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