Gravel Pimp – Dead End Recon…

23 06 2012

Enjoying a ride along the coast…

If you haven’t read the Extreme Recon chapter of the Gravel Pimp Saga than click here and read it so you know what’s shaking.

Our last attempt to pioneer a dirt route between Lake Cowichan and Victoria BC failed when we were diverted by a security zone around the Victoria Water Supply Area [aka The DMZ]. Not to be deterred we retreated back to Gravel Pimp HQ and reviewed our maps then plotted a new route.

Pink is the new route – click for larger…

The map above shows our planned route in pink. The green route is what we had hoped to ride last time when we were stopped. As you can see the new route is a significant detour, but better a few extra KMs of dirt than riding pavement home. Where the pink and green tracks meet at the bottom of the map is Leectown and the top of the Galloping Goose MUP.

Our bikes ready to roll…

Trying to schedule a ride between everyone’s work obligations and weather was a challenge, but finally we found a window that worked. A-Man couldn’t make this edition of Gravel Pimping, but he has a sweet Moots 29er ready for next time!

Carbo-loading…

We had a  few beers to adequately prepare for the rigors of the ride….;)

Scott enjoying some sunshine…

Rolling down the Goose MUP was pleasant as always.

My trusty steed got a new frame bag that actually fits!…=)

Our first night’s goal was modest since we didn’t want to try any of the hard route finding until the AM. So in true Gravel Pimp style we detoured to a pub and enjoyed some additional beers as well as some burgers.

Home sweet home…

We took advantage of the Barnes Station Shelter, but threw up the mesh tents as bug nets. You can tell spring is here when you can snack just by riding with your mouth open!

Is it morning already?

Scott was super keen to get rolling so he kicked me out of my sleeping bag at 5am. Breakfast was a variety of cold snacks I had stuffed into my front pouch [aka the Feed Bag].

You can’t bitch about the scenery – Sooke River…

Our first goal was finding Leechtown – an old mining settlement that would mark the start of the hard route finding.

Scott finds Leechtown…

Finding Leechtown was just an easy few km spin up the Goose MUP to its end. Although we realized we were on the wrong side of the Sooke River so we needed to do some ‘schwacking!

It’s all gone green…

We followed some forest tracks to the river.

There was a bit of walking…

A little hike-a-bike never hurt anyone.

Even Scott had to walk…

The nice thing about finding your way next to a river is that you can’t get lost!

Crossing the river part 1…

Although the Sooke River is pretty intense further downstream it was broken up into a few manageable creeks where we were trying to cross.

The might Sooke River has been tamed!

The ‘schwacking continued after the water crossing.

Need any spare parts…

We started to see derelict machinery, but we never did see any old buildings.

Denied by the DMZ again!

As we scouted out route options we encountered the first dead end at the Evil Red DMZ Gate. These gates are all around the water supply area. Happily the guards didn’t notice us and Scott wasn’t beaten half to death this time.

Checking out some equipment we may need later!

Denied by the DMZ we tried some of the logging roads that ran west along the Leech River.

Scott is thinking about a kickstand for the Hunter…

But, before we did anything hasty it was time for a snack break.

I like snack breaks!

I streamlined my food supply – leaving three elements at home – fruit, sandwiches and M&Ms. Mistake! Next time I will have all three with me. Recon work is tough and I got hungrier than I thought I would. I didn’t run out of food, but what I was putting in my mouth just didn’t seem to satisfy me as well as it should.

Steep loose gravel…

After the DMZ gate our first attempt was a rough double track that was clearly made with a bulldozer and never improved for frequent vehicle traffic. The big chunky rocks were hard to ride up and scary to ride down. It was fairly “climby”, but it had a nice remote feel that would have made for a great bikepacking route.

It was good – until it ended!

Sadly the road just ended. We don’t mind a hike-a-bike, but not 30kms of it over a mountain range!

Guess what?

As we backtracked we tried a side trail that had some potential, but it ended as well.

Clear cut…

We ended up back at Leechtown and headed west on a well used logging road on the south side of the Leech River. This was shown on our map as connecting up with the other logging roads we needed to get to further north.

Yup…it’s true….denied again!

But as we found out that was a lie. The road just stopped at a scree slope that was hard to walk across let alone carry a bike across.

Overgrown double track…

Although it didn’t go anywhere this section of the ride had some super fun overgrown double track to pedal. Life could be worse than riding your bike in the forest looking for promising bikepacking routes….;)

Hmmm….why is Scott walking back?

There was a turn off from the main road that went higher and we hoped got around the rock slide. So we cranked uphill and found that it did go a bit further, but it also dead ended despite being shown on our map as continuing onwards.

Scott immersion testing his Rohloff!

So defeated yet again we rode back to Leechtown to regroup. Our time and energy levels were running low as we still had a few hours of riding back home to Victoria. The most promising option was straight up a mountain north of Leechtown and neither of us could handle the thought of 15kms of grinding uphill only to be denied. So we decided it was time to roll for home.

Nearly road kill…

Scott bunny hopped over a snake on the Galloping Goose so we stopped and herded him off the trail so he could live to slither another day!

Another snack stop…

The roll home was pleasant, but to be honest we’re over the Goose MUP. It’s a convenient way to get out of town on dirt, but after you’ve ridden it 12 times in a year you want to load a movie on the iPhone just to stay awake! Don’t get me wrong it’s far better than hoovering exhaust fumes on the side of Hwy 14 while dodging trucks. I’m just a spoiled whiner!

Pink was the theoretical route – dark red the actual GPS track…

All told the ride was ~145kms long with ~1200m elevation gain. Progress was slower and harder than those stats would indicate with a lot of walking & talking to workout what to do next. While it wasn’t successful in finding a route north to Lake Cowichan we did expand our knowledge of the area and confirm that the maps we have are “optimistic” when it comes to the logging roads. You can click on either map to enlarge them.

Our full route – click for larger…

So what’s next?

  • Craig Main is a logging road up a mountain north of Leechtown that connects through based on our maps. It would provide the most direct route so it’s the next priority for recon effort.
  • Butler Main is a logging road that heads west, but offers the potential of then branching north where we want to go. It’s not very direct, but if Craig Main doesn’t go it’s next.
  • After those two options are explored if we aren’t successful I think our next move is to go back to the north side of the route and explore south as far as we can. Eventually we’ll have GPS tracks for everything reasonably close we can ride and we can figure out if an extreme bushwack is possible to connect the route.

Of course my hope is that there is a nice logging road through to Lake Cowichan, but so far such a beast has been elusive. Time will tell!





Gravel Pimp – Extreme Recon

8 05 2012

The plan…

The plan was to ride our bikepacking rigs from Lake Cowichcan along the Trans Canada Trail to an abandoned mining town called Leech Town. This is shown on the map above in green. This would allow us to jump on the Galloping Goose Trail just below Leechtown and ride home 90% on gravel/dirt. Even more importantly this would give us a critical link in an ambitious Gravel Pimp route that would ride the whole of Vancouver Island from top to bottom. The problem with our little slice of paradise is that it’s a narrow island with mountains that funnel you along certain routes whether they are going the way you want or not. So an efficient dirt route from Lake Cowichan to Victoria would be key for further exportation northwards.

What actually happened – click for larger version…

Things did not go as planned and I am sad to say we ended the day with 170kms on the GPS and no dirt route home…=-( What I can say is we tried really hard, but were denied at every turn! Don’t let anyone tell you the life of a Gravel Pimp is all professional photographers, diamond studded water bottles and bikini clad ladies. It ain’t true!

Staying toasty by the fire…

Sharon was kind enough to drive Scott and I out to the Municipal Campground at Lake Cowichan. The place was almost empty this early in the year so we grabbed a spot by the lake and lit a fire to hang out at while we drank some beer and solved all the problems in the bike industry!

Scott’s narrow room with a view…

Scott has a luxurious 1 man tent that packs up small.

Garbage bag with a view…

My bivy sack packs small, but isn’t very luxurious.

Scott’s Rick Hunter 29er…

Scott always manages to pack more gear into less space on his bike and have it all look so tight.

My Scandal 29er…

I’ve got half the stuff and my bike looks like it’s bulging everywhere it can…=-)

Excited to start the pimping…

We rode into Lake Cowichan and found the local grocery store was open early. Surprisingly it had excellent espresso which got us off on the right foot. Next up was getting on the Trans Canada Trail [known as the Cowichan Valley Trail to the locals].

This is what we came for…

The riding was sublime. Gorgeous country to ride through – easy rail grade undulations and nobody else in sight.

Pumpkin Pimping…

Several wooden bridges along the way gave us great views of fast running creeks.

Warming up…

The trail varied from dirt to gravel and back with wide open sections and narrow overgrown bits.

oh yeah!

It was so nice we let our guards down and the smack-down that happened later in the day took us by surprise.

Adding a bit of air for faster rolling…

We were on the trail early and cranking along at a good clip. So good that it seemed sure I’d be home to watch the hockey game in the early afternoon.

Kinesol Trestle…

The Kinesol Trestle is an impressive structure. The highest wooden trestle in Canada apparently. I kind of wished we had spent more time there to photograph it, but some times I feel like a slacker and sometimes I feel like I was born to ride. On this day I had ants in my pants!

Cruising the Kinesol Trestle…

South of the trestle we had another pretty chill section of gravel to pimp. Chit chatting and laughing our way along the route little did we know of our impending doom.

Stopping for a snack…

Peperoni, gummy bears, granola bars, M&M’s…you name it – we ate it!

Scott admiring his handiwork…

As we reached the end of the Trans Canada Trail we had a short 15km section of route finding we needed to do so we could link up with the north end of the Galloping Goose Trail.

WTF?

Back in Calgary Glenmore Reservoir is part of the city’s water supply. You can’t swim or let your dogs thrash around in it, but nobody cares if you walk, run or bike around it. So when we saw that the lake we needed to skirt on our connector was part of the city of Victoria’s water supply we figured they wouldn’t let you through with an oil tanker, but we didn’t think the would mind us pedalling through.

Scott assuming “the” position!

We were wrong. So wrong. Like Totally wrong. I figured even with a locked gate we could sneak past on bikes, but that was simply not going happen when we reach the DMZ.

Take no prisoners….

Scott wasn’t about to let a sniper in a guard tower and 2 dobermans stop him. He launched over the fence and asked me to throw him the Hunter. Before I could a black van rolls up and 6 masked security thugs jump out. Scott levelled 3 of them with his Porcelain Rocket Kung Fu, but the other 3 and the 2 dogs took him down in an EPIC bitch slap. At least when they threw him back over the fence I was able to catch him to stop further injury.

Happier times…

I didn’t have painkillers or a first aid kit so I treated Scott’s wound’s with gummy bears. They seemed to do the trick!

Time to work on Plan B…

We just didn’t have the firepower to break through the DMZ’s defensive perimeter. So we could either give up and go home or explore the missing map section and hope to find a route around the DMZ back to Leech Town. Battered and bleeding Scott would not give up so we headed north to loop around the DMZ [shown in pink on the maps above].

Logging road pimping…

This meant a significant amount of backtracking along the TCT, but the sun was shining and the skies were blue so our spirits were high. If you look at the map towards the top of this post showing our actual route the red line that heads south and stops is the start of the DMZ. The red line that heads west is our attempt to loop back around the DMZ, but as you can see there wasn’t much looping going on. Eventually after some brutally hot dusty climbing we realized that finding a way around was unlikely. If we had a topo map of the area our decision would have been more solid, but sadly I left that critical bit of the map book at home.

Lots of dead ends explored…

The valley we were in headed directly west towards Port Renfrew which would have got us home, but not without another night of camping. So it was time to turn back. Although that meant another round of backtracking it was beautiful country with very few encounters with other humans. Exactly what a Gravel Pimp craves.

It’s not hard to enjoy this…

As my trip computer on the GPS was climbing towards 100kms I was starting to realize that there was no way to make this a quick ride home.

Checking out a clear cut…

My bike was working well. I had added a longer stem for a stretched out position and the Porcelain Rocket bags allowed me to ride without having to accomodate my camping gear and food. So a few more hours in the saddle seemed like reasonable proposition.

Time for a soda break…

We hit 100kms as we reached pavement again. Our options now were either head for the Mill Bay Ferry and then ride down the quiet west side of the Sannich Peninsula or climb the heights of the Malahat with traffic roaring all around us and next to no shoulder.

Hmmmm?

We went with the ferry option as Plan C. On our way we stopped for a cold soda break. I gapped that the seasons were changing so my only top was a long sleeve wool zip neck. That would have been great 2 weeks ago, but on this hot day I was baking. Hence a cold sugary soda made me very happy.

Why is Scott angry?

Reaching the ferry should have been a happy time for us. We’d get a well deserved rest and the ride home along the far shore was topographically unchallenging.

But….

The fine print can be a bitch…

Neither Scott or I can be called rich, but we can afford the $9.20 ferry ride from Mill Bay to Brentwood Bay. Of course having spent our last $20 cash for coffee and food we only had credit cards and bank cards. No cash and after being beaten up at the DMZ Scott wouldn’t let me pimp him out to ferry passengers for a free ride.

So that left the Malahat. **sigh**

A little ‘schwacking…

To get to the Malahat we had to grind up a long hot steep climb from the ferry terminal and then bushwhack cross country  so we could jump a concrete barrier.

Not paradise for cyclists…

All that sweat and tears got us onto a busy 4 lane highway with gnarly shoulders. The photo above is the best part and far better than most of it. Not to mention if you look at the elevation profile on the map near the top of this post that last big ass hump is what awaited us.

Did I mention it was hot and we were riding during rush hour?

**sigh**

The only good part of the Malahat was looking over and seeing some ice cold water running down the rocks next to me. I stopped and poured handful after handful of water over my head. Washed my face and gobbled everything I could find in my bar bag.

That got me psyched for the last push over the top and the uber narrow shoulder on the high speed descent down the other side.

A Gravel Pimp happy to be home…=-)

At the bottom of the Malahat we stopped for another cold soda and a couple donuts at Tim Horton’s. That gave us the energy to crank back down the Galloping Goose to home.

Ride Stats:

  • 170kms ridden [173kms for Scott who rode home from my place]
  • Ride Time 12:15hrs
  • Stopped Time 3:28hrs
  • Avg speed 19.4kph

On the plus side we had an epic ride with great scenery and no traffic….until the Malahat! On the negative side we haven’t found a good gravel/dirt rout from up island back to Victoria.

Sharon confirming my loaded bike was indeed heavy…

A recon mission is only a failure if you don’t gather new info to plan future operations. By that standard we succeeded. We confirmed the DMZ presents an impassable obstacle and we confirmed that a reroute around isn’t’ straight forward. We also found out that if you want to ride the Mill Bay Ferry you better bring cash!

We still need a verified dirt route to Victoria so…

  • we could ride bikes north from the Galloping Goose to Leech Town and try to recon a route to the active logging road we were on. Going from less used to more used routes is always easier than the reverse.
  • we could continue down the active logging road we were on towards Port Renfrew and then ride back to Victoria. That will work, but it’s long-cut not a shortcut home!….;)
  • I may try riding the logging road on my dualsport motorcycle checking out every turn off that might go where we need to go. There were a few low probability routes we didn’t explore due the the climbing req’d. I don’t mind twisting the throttle for a few hours even if the chances of success are slim.

Until next time – live large and prosper!





Rick Hunter’s MTB Touring Rig…

10 04 2012

Fun to hear a custom builder talk about his own bike.