Story and artwork by Gretchen Leggitt
For over five years, my friend Robin and I have been scheming and dreaming about combining a bike tour across B.C. with a climbing trip in the Bugaboos range, commonly known as the Bugs. After years of distractions, the dream was resurrected and July 2019 proved the perfect time to make this far-out vision a reality, with only one alteration to our original plan: ditch asphalt and steer our Kona Sutras on a more ambitious gravel route.
Ambitious it was, as the first two miles took more than three hours and left us bloody and bruised. In contradiction to our research, the Trans Canada Trail heading east from Chilliwack was a washed out, sand-pitted, log-jammed and sporadically non-existent stretch of singletrack overgrown with walls of stinging nettles and thorny blackberries. The unexpected daily downpours were the perfect cherry on top of the sandbag sundae we were being dished day in, day out.
Misery undoubtedly loves company. Robin and I laughed, and silently whimpered, and laughed more while we pedaled and pushed up 20-plus percent grades over remote mountain passes on what we deemed “the trail to nowhere.” While we endured demoralizing conditions for the first few hundred miles, we remained chained to our dream and discovered flickers of light within our suffering. As tempting as the asphalt roads were, we stuck to the trail, lured into the unknown realms of adventure and deep wilderness it cut through.
Our first and only “zero day,” spent in Penticton, offered rejuvenation through excessive caloric intake and a luxurious shower in a dodgy hotel, fueling us for the dusty days to follow. As The Great Trail meandered through the Kettle Valley and passed through more urbanized areas, the condition of the trail rapidly improved, transforming into a poster child for the standard rails-to-trails model. Long, sandy and smooth sections with low-grade inclines crept through vineyards and along lakes and rivers, floating across dozens of train trestles and burrowing through ancient tunnels.
As idyllic as the trail became for long and comfortable days in the saddle, there remained a sliver of nostalgia for the rugged days at the start of our trip – the predictability and ease of the groomed rail trail was a dull butter knife compared to the razor sharp scalpel we had been playing with. After roughly 900 kilometers and 12 days on the trail (plus a few detours), we begrudgingly flipped our sports switch and connected with our climbing partners Erin and Megan to enter phase two of the journey, climbing in the Bugaboos.
If we had known that day one in the Bugs would be as treacherous as our first week on the trail, would we do it again? Most likely. The suffering only makes us more resilient. As we hiked up the steep granite trail through frigid sleet, depleted climbers were exiting in sopping wet gear, with bundles of tents that had snapped like twigs. One man had even been hit by lightning, leaving his alpine aspirations soggy and ruined.
When we finally reached the alpine plateau, debilitating winds bit through us as we tangoed with hypothermia. After shivering through the night as gusts crashed against our unprotected tents, we emerged the next morning to an exceptionally brilliant day. Drying out and gaining visibility on our objectives, we shook off our suffering and set out to climb. Over the next few days, we summited a handful of classics, crossed pristine glaciers, glissaded down steep cols and saluted the brilliant cathedrals upon which we played.
Another vicious storm forced us to leave a few days earlier than planned. However, we left with our hearts overflowing and our bodies fatigued. Our distant dream from many years past had become a smashingly brutal success. x
Gretchen Leggitt is an avid athlete and artist who draws her creative inspiration from the natural world. Her wood burns and large murals adorn the walls of her hometown of Bellingham and beyond. More at gretchenleggitt.com