Miles and Emily’s Good Night 2020 Campout
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Originally intending to ride deep into the backcountry on an epic overnighter to send off 2020 with a bang, Miles and Emily instead opted to stay close to home for an equally satisfying 35km round trip for their Good Night 2020 campout. Find Miles’s reflection and a huge gallery of photos here…
I’m starting to accept that winter on the Sunshine Coast is anything but sunny. This is our first winter in Powell River, British Columbia, and it’s been a huge change from the snow, clear days, and colder temperatures that Emily and I grew up with in Ontario. Dealing with snow and the cold is one thing, and is certainly challenging in its own way, but I’ve always been more intimidated by rain and daily highs teetering just above freezing.
I originally had loose plans to ride deep into the logging roads that extend north of town and was of the mind that if I was going to spend a night in the wet and cold, it may as well be really far away. Potential plans included riding out to the Eldred Valley rock climbers camp for the night, a multi-sport adventure to one of the local backcountry ski huts, or hopping on a ferry for a campout on Texada Island. Although all of these options have their appeal and will likely happen at some point, I eventually opted for a close-to-home campout with Emily on familiar terrain… to somewhere where we could stash some dry firewood. The end result was a wonderful reminder of how beautiful this area is and how fortunate we are to have such easy access to the surrounding nature—the majority of which is on the land of the Tla’amin Nation and Coast Salish people.
Despite uncertain weather, our #GoodNight2020Campout was exactly what we needed to get out the door. We loaded up on all the classics, including instant noodles, chocolate bars, marshmallows, hot chocolate, oatmeal, OMGs (my personal favourite), and made sure we had plenty of extra layers to keep warm overnight. A few days earlier, we got out on a short hike to what would be our campsite and stashed some dry wood. We had high hopes of not spending a night shivering together in the dark, although there are definitely worse ways to pass a Monday night.
With just under 20 kilometres ahead of us and a late afternoon departure, I spent the morning prepping our bikes and gathering our gear. It was overcast, but sitting at around 6°C, and it wasn’t raining, so we crossed our fingers that the inevitable would hold off. After spending most of the last three years living in a van, Emily and I have adapted seamlessly back into house life with little complaints. Since we’re both working online, having a warm space with reliable internet during a global pandemic has been both wonderful and completely necessary. The downside is leaving the artificial climate of a home on dreary, cold days has become that much harder. Sometimes, all it takes is a hashtag and a clever logo to get in the right frame of mind.
Within 10 minutes of leaving the house, we were riding dirt switchbacks away from the historic Townsite centre of Powell River. The trail starts where Powell Lake feeds into the Powell River Dam, dividing Townsite from Wildwood. For me, I recognize this spot as where the Sunshine Coast Hiking Trail briefly intersects with town and where the majority of my bike rides have departed from in the last few months. The view up Powell Lake was socked in, but strangely mesmerizing, and we checked in on some floating cabins that have been under construction at the small marina. We could only really see a few kilometres out from the road, but earlier in the year we had the opportunity to travel up the lake by boat, so we both know how vast it really is.
Unsanctioned trails and service roads kept us off the highway on our way to the Tla’amin Nation. The Tla’amin traditional territory extends down both sides of the Straight of Georgia, occupying an area over 400 square kilometres. Today, the nation has over 1,100 members, with the majority living in the main village site in Sliammon, just a few kilometres north of town.
The land between the Sunshine Coast Highway and the Straight of Georgia, where our route travelled, is a confusing mishmash of land ownership issues. The town owns some, the mill some, the Nation owns the area to the north, and a big chunk of it is owned by international investors—which unfortunately means it’s vacant and mostly unusable. The area is quite unique, despite it being nearly completely cleared of trees, and it provides fantastic views of the ocean and nearby islands. If opened up to the public, it would provide a great connection between Townsite and the mountain bike trails surrounding Gibraltar Bluffs and Rieveley’s Pond.
The last time Emily and I rode the gravel climb up to Rieveley’s Pond was at night, our path illuminated by lights on our handlebars and our peripherals engulfed in darkness. This time around, the climb was surrounded by fog, a different type of darkness, so instead of turning around to check on the views of Vancouver Island and the mountain ranges to the north, we kept our heads down and slowly made our way to the top.
From the road, we half rode and half pushed our way the last kilometre into Rieveley’s Pond—home to a Sunshine Coast Trail hut, a couple of picnic tables, and a few designated tent spots. Although the huts have been closed due to COVID-19, they make for fantastic destinations whether you’re hiking or biking. There are 14 in total along the 180-kilometre route. And with a large portion of these trails open to mountain bikers, it’s hard not to work them into my summer plans. Some of the higher elevation huts, including Tin Hat, Walt, and Troubridge are even winterized and have pellet stoves for winter use. The majority of them, including the one at Rieveley’s Pond, has a three-sided main floor and an enclosed loft up top to help keep the weather at bay. Fingers crossed that the pandemic is under control this summer and they open back up for use.
With the hut itself off-limits, Emily and I decided it was too early to start a fire and set off on a short hike to the Gibraltar Bluffs. With daylight quickly fading and an evening chill setting in, our hike soon turned into a trail run to get back to camp before dark. Trail running in SPD shoes was a first for me, and unfortunately I can’t recommend it.
With no real rush to get back home the next day, we started another fire to warm up during breakfast and treated ourselves to another round of hot chocolates. I’m usually the pack up and go kind of bikepacker, but having a fire to warm up by and to tend to made for a relaxing morning. Before long, we were making our way down an incredibly fun section of singletrack maintained by the Powell River Cycling Association, looping its way back down towards the road we climbed the previous day. These trails are a great example of the old-school tech that’s all over Powell River. The type of trails that have you wondering if hiking boots might be more appropriate, and the thought of riding them on a fully rigid mountain bike from the ’90s makes my quads ache and wrists hurt. Pure joy, in other words.
We enjoyed a few kilometres of dreamy gravel roads back out to the highway before the rain finally began to fall. With hot showers on our mind, we opted to hop onto the paved shoulder for the last few kilometres back to city limits. I’m a sucker for watching the transition between wilderness and civilization, no matter how suddenly it approaches. It’s strangely satisfying to spot a stretch of pavement after pedalling on dirt for days, a reminder of how liberating it felt to leave city limits at the beginning of a trip. Moss and mushroom covered trees give way to trucks and road signs, the beauty of the forest that’s so close to town is in stark contrast to the garbage that litters the side of the road. The unmistakable pale blue of some medical face masks in the ditch catch my eyes just as we join dirt for one final descent into Townsite.
In true end-of-trip fashion, Emily and I pushed our bikes through the front door and off to the side in the mudroom. I immediately undressed and took a hot shower while Emily beelined it to the kitchen for a chocolate bar. It was an extremely satisfying end to an equally satisfying night outside.
A special thank-you goes out to the Powell River Cycling Association for developing and maintaining mountain bike trails in Powell River, as well as the Powell River Parks and Wilderness Society, the group responsible for the amazing trails and huts along the Sunshine Coast Hiking Trail. We acknowledge that the land we travelled on is the unceded traditional territory of the Tla’amin Nation and Coast Salish peoples, and we’re fortunate to be able to do so.