Bicycle Camping & Meeting A Bear

Two weeks ago I went for a short ride along the Nelson Salmo Great Northern Trail. The ride was beautiful and it left me wanting more, so yesterday morning, I rode to the top of mountain station road with my panniers full of camping equipment and a tent tenuously strapped on top. The plan was to bike along the trail all the way to Salmo, a distance of over 40 km, pitch my tent and stay the night before returning the next day.

The sun was high in the sky by the time I arrived at the trail head and I was already out of breath from riding my now heavy bike up the mountain. After stopping for a quick snack, I swung myself onto the bike and started peddling away. The first 4 km went by quickly enough; I have already written about that experience here. This part of the trail continued arrow straight for several more kilometres until the path crossed the highway and opened out next to Cottonwood Lake. Cottonwood’s waters are not exactly warm, but my feet were baking in my hiking boots so I took the opportunity to dip my toes in the lake.

Here is where I made my first mistake. Instead of following the trail directly to the lake, I had taken the shaded road next to it instead. Thus, I had missed the sign which marked this stretch of trail as being closed due to bear activity. I got back on my bike and headed down the trail which ran next to a swamp across which were several farm houses and then the highway. The conditions of the trail had greatly deteriorated so my gaze was firmly on the ground, watching the rocks beneath my wheels carefully. After I had gone a few kilometres, I noticed movement to my left and slowed down. Not 30 feet in front of me and just to the left of the trail, a black bear stood watching me. It moved very slowly up onto the trail and took a few steps towards me. Equally slowly I turned my bike around; it’s not easy turning your back on such an animal, and peddled slowly back down the trail. Several nervous shoulder checks later, I realized that, thankfully, she was not following me. This was especially good because it turns out that bear spray doesn’t work very well if you forget it at home. The mountains were to one side and the swamp was to the other, I could only continue past the bear, or circle around, back over terrain which my city tires had barely gotten past the first time. I decided to wait, while the bear moved on. The heat along this part of the trail was the worst of the entire trip. There was no wind, the humidity from the swamp made the 30 plus degrees feel even hotter, and every insect for miles seemed alerted to my presence. I waited as still as I could manage for five minutes. When I cautiously rode forwards again, the bear was gone.

After the incident with the bear, the trail once again crossed the highway. Oh look! There was the sign warning that the trail was closed. I decided take the highway even though it would mean missing part of the trail. One bear scare was enough for one day. The cycling was easier on pavement at least. I took another snack by the roadside, standing beneath a small waterfall to cool off. Soon enough, Porto Rico came into view and I decided to follow it to the historic mining town town of Ymir. The rode was quite and cool due to it following banks of the Salmo river. When I arrived in the town proper, I took lunch at The Goods cafe and general store where the woman behind the counter informed me that the trail was indeed open between Ymir and Salmo. I had been entertaining the idea of simply pitching camp in Ymir, cutting my trip short, but on hearing that the trail was only another 12 km and bear free, I decided to press on.

The ride from Ymir to Salmo was a short, though incredibly tiring final stretch. It was truly a relief when the Salmo sign came into view. It took a while for me to find the campground and even longer to find out how to properly set up my tent, but in the end, I had arrived. I set up the small camp stove that my father had lent me, which worked like a champ, and made soup for dinner. I killed time by reading The Big Tiny by Dee Williams until the moon was out and the stars blanketed the night sky. Tired and weary, I crawled into my sleeping bag and eventually fell asleep.

Well, it turns out my air mattress wasn’t worth the breath I’d put into it and awoke stiff as a board. When I checked my phone, I saw that the time was 4:50 am and that my battery was almost dead. I struggled with putting on clothes for a while, then fired up the stove, made breakfast, packed away the tent, and saddled everything onto the bike. Because of the hour, I was actually cold for the first hour of riding. When the sun peeked out over the trees, I was treated to a white tailed doe bounding down the trail before me. Shortly, I arrived in Ymir, the store wasn’t yet open so I took a stroll though the town. Turns out that someone there is making a tiny house on the back of a truck! I bought a few snacks for the road once the store opened, then I once again hit the road. The highway was one long slog-fest and my tired body complained the whole way. Halfway between Salmo and Nelson, I noticed wooden stairs set into the cliffside. I climbed off my bike and up the stairs hoping that they would lead to a view point. Nope, they are just meant to help rock climbers get to the base of the cliffs. Oh well.

Eventually, all the gradual uphill cycling paid off, and I got to rush down the steep homestretch of highway that leads back to Nelson. That was probably the most fun. Not only because it was the end to the journey, but because I got to throw my arms out like and idiot as I whizzed through the turns. Yup, definitely the most fun.

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