On Bikepacking and Coming of Age… Again
As part of a newly established tradition, Rob Wilson and friends rode out for a backyard bikepacking getaway over the summer. In the face of an uncertain future and many life changes among his circle of Millennial/Gen Z friends, he reflects on how bikepacking has helped him stay connected to his youth and the people around him. Read Rob’s story here…
Words and photos by Rob Wilson
Last year, three friends and I formed a new tradition: go on a bikepacking trip every year. For 2022, I chose the route by stringing together dirt roads leading to a mountain lake within the Vancouver Island Ranges. Although Grant, Luke, Jack, and I are all seasoned “adventurers,” this resulted in more of an adventure than intended, featuring hot and arduous hill climbs, nearly impassable bushwhacks, ice-cold water crossings, and even more hills.
Despite the unexpected challenges, the trip was an overall success, with time spent pushing through the struggles mentioned above, followed by relaxing at our lakeside camp, fishing, swimming, and bonding over both the highs and lows of the journey with a bit of fairly given jabs sent my way for the route suggestion.
The planning for this year’s trip was minimal at best. As I’ve gotten older, finding time to coalesce schedules between old friends has become more complex. With this in mind, we knew we’d all be busy, so earlier in the year, we’d picked a weekend to mark down and left it at that. Come late May, with the trip imminent, we tossed ideas back and forth over text, eventually deciding on another lake close to home: Holyoak Lake on Mt. Brenton above the small town of Chemainus, British Columbia.
Day of, we were dropped off at the beginning of the dirt road and headed into the forest, following a fairly flat route to start but anticipating the uphill section we’d been warned about by a mutual friend. Arriving at the start of the hill, I wasn’t too worried. This route was shorter, more well-travelled, and shouldn’t involve any water crossings or overgrown tracks.
While I wouldn’t describe the journey to the lake as challenging as the previous year’s journey, the route to Holyoak Lake shared many similarities. The steep ascent was familiar, as were large sections of flooded road due to snowmelt, forking roads leading to nothing but dead-ends, a few sections of erosion-decimated track, hordes of mosquitos, and Luke losing a few of his items along the way. Just like in 2022, there were many moments of shared laughter and deep bonding while relaxing at the campfire overlooking the lake. We once again found ourselves alone in the wilderness without cell reception, able to disconnect with the outside world and connect with one another.
Unlike last year, however, there was a sense of changing times embedded in the experience. Physically, climbing to the lake, I felt more tired than I thought I should have. Finding time to pick a route was harder for all of us, and this year, we could only go for one night instead of two because Grant had a new baby. In addition to the baby, Luke and Jack experienced job changes and resulting life shake-ups. Seeing Grant as a new father carried a strange sense of aging I hadn’t felt before. I’ve known Grant since before I can remember, with our parents introducing us as babies ourselves. To see him reflect on fatherhood was poignantly beautiful.
As we sat lakeside around the fire, it became clear we truly weren’t the group of punk kids we used to be, riding carefree on our dirt jumpers through the subdivision developments and building jumps out of lumber and other construction materials. Being just on the cusp of Millennial and Gen Z, it can be hard to conceptualize the world we exist in. Faced with the full brunt of the environmental crisis, housing crisis, and depreciating labour and social standards (the list goes on) has worked to create an infantilization of my generation.
Just shy of my 29th birthday, none of us own homes, have secure careers/pensions, a savings account worth writing home about, or any clear idea of what we should be doing in the face of the tumultuous and unsure future. Things once considered sure and inherent milestones for generations past have been lost—or perhaps robbed from us. So, seeing one of my best friends come upon one of these formally etched-in-stone events, having a child, was a shock to me that I hadn’t realized until this trip. For one of the first times in my life, I felt the creep of time. Despite my youthful ethos, I guess we’re not those kids anymore.
My own melodrama aside, to see Grant as a father was special. He’s the first in my friend group to jump into parenthood. Although I don’t envy his sleepless nights or tighter schedule, there’s no doubt some sense of importance involved. To share his first night away from home since becoming a father, and to do it doing something we all enjoy so much, carried reverence. As the fire died down and we all went to our respective tents, there was a tinge of sadness but mostly joy and appreciation.
The next day more than made up for the prior day’s climb. We left the lake using an alternative route, which, after a short bushwhack, was a nearly continuous bomb downhill. As we ripped down the seemingly endless descent with wide smiles, we alternated between full-tuck overtakes of one another and more casual cruising.
During the descent, I was reminded of a comment I made to a woman a few weeks earlier in the parking lot of a local mountain. She was an older woman, probably in her early 70s, who’d locked her keys in her car and wondered if I could drive her to her house nearby to grab a spare set. As we drove, inspired by my mountain bike on my bike rack, she told me how she still enjoys riding along a few of the trails and hopes to continue doing so for as long as she can.
I told her that what I love most about cycling is how I’m continuously reminded of the freedom and opportunity I felt when I first learned how to ride. That feeling of independence and sense of adventure inherent to cycling. The lady agreed with excitement, exclaiming, “Yes, exactly!”
While the future may be uncertain, and we’ll certainly never be those kids again, I’m grateful to have had this short bikepacking trip solidify my own age within my mind and remind me how to stay connected to my youth. I’m not sure if the feeling or fear of aging will ever diminish, but hopefully, our annual bikepacking adventure will persist in keeping me grounded.
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