Fernie to Hope (Film)
Fernie to Hope is a short film starring Laura Brown, Steph Roorda, Annie Foreman-Mackey, and Claire Cameron as they follow the BC Trail route west across British Columbia. Find the film here, plus a Q&A with the group and photos from their trip…
With all other plans off the table, Laura Brown, Steph Roorda, Annie Foreman-Mackey, and Claire Cameron decided to head out to tackle an 800km section of the BC Trail Route that travels across the province of British Columbia. Fernie To Hope, a short film by Ralph Samson, documents their experience and the landscapes they passed through along the way. Watch it below, followed by a Q&A with the group to learn more about the trip and their experiences.
Whose idea was it to ride across BC? What sparked this?
Laura: I’ve been eyeing this route for the past few years after learning about the BC Epic 1000. I had penciled it in for last year but plans fell through. I’m glad I waited as I couldn’t have wished for a better group to do this ride with! Our friend Annie also recently moved to BC from Ontario and so it was a fantastic way to show her a part of our beautiful province. And I’m happy that we chose to go east to west—there’s a special feeling about getting dropped off and riding towards home. That and we had no choice but to keep going when things got rough. We also felt grateful as August is BC wildfire season but with a wet early summer, we were able to complete the ride.
What kind of bikepacking experience did the group have going into the trip?
Steph: I have no bikepacking experience. This was my first trip!
Laura: I’ve done a couple bikepacking trips with Claire (earlier this summer we did the Lower Sunshine Coast route and a few with Annie (last year we camped and rode the Olympic Adventure Route). First time with Steph, although I’ve probably logged more kilometres on a bike with her than anyone else in my life!.
Claire: I’ve done a lot of bikepacking trips. Every year I try and do a couple. I’ve toured Europe (6000km, 60days, 8 countries) with panniers, staying in campgrounds in France, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany. I’ve done a lot of local trips going around southern Vancouver Island and onto the Olympic Peninsula and also exploring the Cascades and down into Oregon on a trip through the Hood River Valley. All of the trips since Europe have been with a large seat bag and a front roll instead of panniers. I enjoy going light and fast!
Annie: I started bikepacking on my road bike back in 2016 when I rode the Oregon coast. Since then, I’ve been doing yearly bike trips with Laura, and last year I adventured out on my first solo trip through Wales. This was my first bikepacking trip not on a road bike, and definitely the longest and most ambitious.
Can we get a synopsis of the route you followed? Any unexpected terrain or surprises?
We followed the BC Trail. It’s a 1,200km traverse of southern British Columbia as part of the greater Great Trail, starting in Fernie and ending in the Fraser Valley. The trail follows singletrack, forest service roads, gravel side roads, and several decommissioned rail lines through BC that are now trails. We passed through five different mountain ranges and various climate zones, from rainy oceanic to semi-arid deserts. And many ghost towns along the route.
There is a 20km section between Salmo and Nelson that we rode through that was absolutely gorgeous. There were wide open fields with flowers blooming everywhere. When we were past the area, Laura mentioned that this section is closed between April and June because it’s a Grizzly Bear foraging area. Luckily we didn’t see any grizzlies! Only one black bear leaving Fernie.
We also came across a few landslides that had taken out the trail. The trail had been rerouted and we were able to continue. At one slide it was obvious someone had taken great care to carve a new path on the side of the slope with a shovel.
Our route took eight days, or 54hrs and 1,150km with 8,200m of climbing.
Day 1: Fernie – Kimberley, 173km. Lots of beautiful singletrack and a wrong turn that had us riding an extra 10km (which with a hike-a-bike, added an extra hour). We had a friend, Tristen Chernove (the legend!) meet up with us on his bike and ride us into Cranbrook on his home trails. We stopped at a Tim Hortons and spent a good hour decompressing and eating multiple meals before riding the last hour to Kimberly on a smooth bike path.
Day 2: Kimberley – Nelson, 135km. Over Gray Creek Pass (1,500m climb over 17km, the highest gravel road in Canada, where the descent was nearly as difficult as the climb) and a cruise on the Balfour Ferry across Kootenay Lake (the longest free ferry ride in the world!).
Day 3: Nelson – Genelle, 104km. Laura (who did the route planning) called this day our “recovery day.” We stopped for a swim in the Salmo River at lunchtime. This was the day we met Ciel Sander, the Ppesident of the Trails Society of BC, who informed us that sections of the Rail Trail are losing their ‘trail’ designation and being opened up to motorized vehicle use.
Day 4: Genelle – Grand Forks, 129km. Rode through a dozen tunnels and over trestles, including the Bulldog Tunnel (1km long, very dark! There was some howling!) and we had a friend meet us on the trail who made us the best KD lunch I’ve ever had.
Day 5: Grand Forks – Beaverdell, 123km. Now on the KVR (Kettle Valley Rail) Trail. Rode through gorgeous fields of grasses and ranchlands. Our last three hours of the day were in the pouring rain and we got pretty cold. Our day ended in the cutest Airbnb with dinner on the table when we arrived. We lit a fire in the wood stove and got toasty warm.
Day 6: Beaverdell – Penticton, 149km. The queen stage of trestles and tunnels and another lunch meet up at Myra Canyon with Laura’s partner’s mom. We rode the historic trestles that had been rebuilt from the devastating forest fires that burned them down in 2003. Penticton has one of the driest, warmest climates in Canada (upwards of 40°C in the summer), but we descended into town in the rain, which was completely out of character!
Day 7: Penticton – Princeton, 110km. Rail grade climbing through a lush canyon and a swim across Osprey Lake. We descended into the golden ranchlands of Princeton at golden hour.
Day 8: Princeton – Hope, 126km. A 95km climb and a great view of Otter Lake. Coquihalla Lake Road was one of the most stunning parts of the whole ride. Lush coastal rainforest, big mountain peaks, and waterfalls. Ralph Samson, filmmaker and photographer, followed us that day, complete with a drone to capture moments of the ride! We ended our ride just short of Hope as the trail was closed and we opted out of riding on the Coquihalla Highway. We will need to go back and finish the job one day!
Did you have any ‘ah-ha!’ moments or big takeaways from this trip?
Laura: 1) Never underestimate the amount of chamois cream you will use on a 1,100km+ gravel ride. Pack more than you need; 2) Bring some extra sealant if you plan to run tubeless (thanks Tristen for saving the day!); and 3) A bag of chips every day is key.
Steph: Real food and lunch stops make the days better. You can bring less than what you think you need and still be comfortable.
Claire: The attitude of your travelling partners really influences your mood and the outcome of the trip. I didn’t have a bad moment. I enjoyed every minute of the trip because the people around me were great to be around. Sure, we were all suffering (chamois issues, sore hands and forearms, bug bites and stings, flat tires, huge sandpits that went on for hours, rock falls, washboard roads, very hot days, running out of water…) but the attitude and company I was in made all of that into an experience with lots of laughter and fun instead of something to complain about.
Annie: Remember to look up and enjoy the views! It’s easy to get into the habit of staring at the ground to avoid rocks and debris. Pack a good chamois (it makes a big difference!). Jump in every lake and river that you find. And as Claire says, find yourself adventure buddies who know how to suffer while also keeping the morale positive amidst the highs and the lows!
Is anyone already scheming for the next big bikepacking trip?
Our group chat is already lighting up with trip ideas to explore other parts of Canada. There is so much to see and do coast to coast to coast. We are particularly interested in the east coast and way up north in the territories!
What is everyone up to for the rest of the year?
Laura: More bikepacking! Hiking, camping, and mountain biking. And hopefully get back to coaching full-time. I am also looking forward to the ski season. This past spring, Steph and I carried all of our ski touring gear on our bikes up a mountain just to earn a few slushy turns. Looking forward to more adventures.
Steph: Finishing school, and waiting for the ski season to start! And always more bike rides.
Annie: Squeezing in a few more biking/hiking/swimming adventures before I start medical school. I’ll also be back riding skinny tires on the track in preparation for Tokyo 202O1. Fingers crossed that our team gets a chance to ride our hearts out next summer!
Claire: More bikes of course! Planning a few longer rides on my road bike, more mountain biking. I’d like to improve my skills and be a more proficient mountain biker. I’m also planning on going back to work as an Elementary School Teacher.
Find the full route guide, including a map and more photos, for our BC Trail route here.