Climbing Into A Wet Gritty Sleeping Bag–I Hated That

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East Side Of the Costal Mountains, British Columbia

July 4, ‘80

Hi there journal. Looks like were struggling again. What a roller coaster ride we’ve been on lately. But wait a minute; this is way too happy a mood. Lets try this again.

After the weather turned bad—I could barley see the coastline from inside the ferry—I figured I might have to spend time in Prince Rupert, at least until things got better. It was pouring when I arrived, and at the boat dock, I didn’t find much encouragement. The hired help told me I had to get used to it, the rain that is. Apparently, Prince Rupert and rain were synonymous. They also told me that if I could have arrived yesterday I would have enjoyed the last of the longest drought on record–thirty-one days of sunshine. The forecast was rain, rain, and more rain. The optimist of the group, however, said, “It might get better once you get away from the coastal mountains, but doing that without getting wet wouldn’t be easy.” I hung around for a couple hours, and then I hopped on my bike and headed out; my new direction–east.

It was the worst rain I had ever bicycled through, four straight hours of it. When it finally quit, the sky remained dark and cloudy. The scenery was fantastic, though, at least what I could see of it. The mountains were much bigger then I expected and the river that cut through them was, at times, as big as a lake. Stop! I can’t do justice to the scenery. The ninety miles from Prince Rupert to Terrace had some great scenery, but I was (and am) too wet and miserable to do it justice. Lets just say that if the weather would have been good, I’m sure I would have experienced one of those incredibly rare highs.

After a wet night in the wilderness, sleeping on very rocky ground, I got up and biked into Terrace. I went straight to the Laundromat. Walking to the Laundromat, I must have looked like a drowned rat, which made it all that much more surprising when this guy started asking me questions. As it turned out he was part of a late night television talk show program that was looking for people to interview. He told me someone would be around to talk to me, and sure enough the woman who was the host of the show stopped by the Laundromat and asked me if I would tape an interview. I agreed, and after I finished doing laundry, I walked into the building next door, and entered the studio where Marge, the talk show host, had everything set up for tapping.

It wasn’t Johnny Carson, but even so, she asked the questions and I answered them. Questions like: “Where are you from? Where are you going? How many miles a day do you ride?” Afterwards, when I thought about the way I responded to her questions, I was not happy. Curious people asked me those types of questions all the time, and I would respond with habitual answers. Well, upon reflection, some of Marge’s questions required more than habitual responses, but that’s what I gave. She deserved better. If I had had more time to think about it, she would have got more than superficial responses to her honest questions. It was still fun, though.

The biking got better after Terrace. For a couple of hours the sun even came out, but then the sky got really dark around 8 p.m., so I automatically started looking for a place for my tent. When I was checking out what looked like a good spot, a black bear came running at me from out of the thicket. Fortunately, when the bear actually saw me, he turned and went in the opposite direction. I wanted to get back on my bike and ride, but the rain had already started to fall. I had no choice. I put up my tent just before the downpour.

The rain did not stop. I spent the entire next day bicycling in the kind of rain that if you were walking without a raincoat, you would be soaked in five minutes. That was a long day, and an even longer night because I had to climb into a tent and a sleeping bag that never had time to dry out from the wet night before. I hated that; I mean sleeping in gritty, wet conditions with no reprieve to look forward too. It’s a terrible experience. And, to make it even worse, the following morning I awoke to find a thorn in my bicycle tire. By the time I fixed the tire, packed up my wet gear, and headed out, I was totally depressed, not to mention cold and feeling sick.

It was another day-bike in the rain, which made it hard to make distance, and be anything but miserable. Around 7 p.m. the rain was coming down so hard I couldn’t even stop to put up my tent. In that kind of downpour everything would be soaked before I could get my gear off my bike. So I just kept slowly moving forward, hoping beyond hope that I would find shelter. I had managed to break free from the mountains, and every once in a while I passed what looked like farmland, so I kept my eyes pealed for a shed, barn, or broken foundation where I could rig a makeshift roof. Daylight was running out when I spied an old barn sitting quite a ways off the highway. There were no roads to it.

Very carefully I climbed over the barbed wire fence that was between the barn and me. Then I lifted my bike (around 75 lbs.) over the fence and carried it. I didn’t want to wake up with another punctured tire. After trudging through a field of knee high grass, I walked the last fifty yards across ankle deep mushy cow dung. When I arrived at the barn soaked from the waist down, I found so much water falling through the roof that I had to put up my tent anyway–inside the
barn. I actually had a hard time determining the driest spot to erect my tent. Finally, after shedding my wet pants and crawling into my tent, I realized that I hadn’t noticed the roosting pigeons in the barn’s rafters. Lying in my damp (almost wet) sleeping bag, and listening to a mixture of raindrops and pigeon shit slap the outside of my tent, I had finally arrived at day’s end, and, as such, I vowed I would never spend another night in the rain.

I’m sick of being in, riding in, and feeling rain in my face. Right now I’m going to take off this wet jacket and crawl further down into my warm sleeping bag (yes, goose down is still warm when wet) and block out from my mind this whole mind-numbing experience. And don’t give me that crap about “been there done that” because I’m wet and miserable right now. Goodnight!

July 5

Well, here I am, in a dry room, wet, and waiting for the train departure that will take me across B.C. to Jasper, Alberta, some 490 miles. In Jasper I will get off the train and bicycle down the Canadian Rockies to Banff, 300 miles south. I’m looking forward to that ride, but even more, I’m looking forward to leaving this rain behind.

When I packed up my gear, and left the falling down barn, I walked out into a heavy drizzle. I carried my bike back across the cow dung and through the tall, wet, grass. Soaking wet, and back on the highway, I had already made up my mind to check out a train ride as soon as possible. Three days of wet wilderness biking had taken everything out of me. After arriving in Smithers, the first question I asked was “What’s the weather report?” The ticket guy responded, “More of the same.” But then he added, “You should have been here three days ago. It was absolutely gorgeous.”

I spent the rest of the morning, after buying my ticket, cleaning my bike and getting groceries. Arrival time in Jasper was 5:30 a.m. Even though the train was running an hour late already, it would still get into Jasper before the stores opened in the morning, and I didn’t want to wait around to buy supplies. I found shipping my bike easy. Whereas back in Ottawa I had to “package my bike,” out here I just put a name tag on the handlebar. The baggage guy lifted it fully loaded into the boxcar and that was that. Everything was looking good except the weather. If it stayed that way, the shear beauty of the parks would have to become my sunshine.

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2 Responses to “Climbing Into A Wet Gritty Sleeping Bag–I Hated That”

  1. wings Says:

    Your bike trips have in a strange way mapped my last 40 years or so. They have pulled me in at all the right moments of reflection as I needed and helped me to connect many, many things. I left Terrace in 1998 and came here, about ten years ago I guess. I ran here actually. I lived in the wilderness there for a while and learned some important things. Like shapeshifting and mountain climbing and the teaching of the medicine wheel first touched me there. Beauty has been my sunshine too. And rain my fire at times. Thank you for your comment on my blog yesterday. I like what you write to me.

  2. dave Says:

    Thank you for your comment Wings. I also like what you write. It appears as if we both are on spiritual journeys and where better to communicate those journeys than with friends on the web!

    Take care,
    dave

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