5,000km on One Wheel for Climate Action! That's the journey Joseph Boutilier will be making across Canada during the Unity for the Climate campaign. Please view the full website or update your web browser for a better experience. Click here to do so.
A recap of my ongoing unicycle journey for climate action, continued from the last recap.
Snow lines the roads around the Paulson Summit; the next day flurries marked our descent.
Donning wet shoes over plastic-bagged feet, layered in a heap of (mostly dirty) laundry, and hiding my hands in my sleeves (gloves also still-soaked), it was time to for Cam and I to hit the road after cresting the wintery Paulson summit and spending the night in an empty ski cabin. We still had many miles to go before descending the plateau and breaking clear of the high-altitude bubble of alpine weather. The roads were now slushy, with a fresh coat of white stuff falling as we rode; I was suddenly all the more grateful for the newly-equipped knobby from Bob of Wildways.
Cam needed to head back Vancouver for other travel connections, and opted to carpool back to Grand Forks for a Grayhound after cycling through the worst of the flurries. Bidding him farewell, I continued along the gradual descent, marveling at how the snow thinned and disappeared as quickly as it had started in a haze of fine rain and fog.
By the time I reached Castlegar, I was wet to the bone. Sheltering in the local Timmies with a cup of coffee was a welcome improvement, but I badly needed somewhere I could properly warm-up and dry-off, so I splurged on two nights in a recommended motel. As per usual, I spent my days contacting future connections and the local media and mapping out my next week. Sleeping was also part of the plan, which was achieved with mediocre success.
A short detour to Mountain FM was a great way to see Castlegar.
A visit to the local rock station, Mountain FM, for their morning show took me past the big-box highway stops that collectively form the bustling new town to reveal a stretch of hidden greenspace proliferating from the river, along with the humble industrial roots of the town’s economy and a residential and retail area with more than a couple empty storefronts. Although I didn’t get to talk to anyone about the town’s history, this section had the markings of a pedestrian centre forced into an early retirement by booming franchises and evolving highways hyper-focused on rapid travel. Still, without the heritage or recreational tourist aspirations of other towns along Route 3 in spite of its beautiful surroundings, Castlegar possessed a frank, contemporary energy and honesty that justifiably inspired its own brand of local pride. The sun shone just long enough for the kick off of the local Spring Fling festivities, but the rain didn’t seem to dampen anyone’s spirits.
Many bridges offer awesome vistas of the Kootenay River.
Kootenay River Kampground had earlier offered me a free night of camping at just West of Castlegar, and I took them up as a kickstart to my ride to Nelson the next day. By now a bait-and-tease cycle of glowing warmth and frigid rain had morphed into lasting sun with crisp blue skies. Closed within a horsehoe of towering camper trailers and RVs, the site is an oasis of simple landscaped gardens and cherry blossom trees beside a natural rock garden and field of chives that descend into the rushing Kootenay River. Canadian Geese watched me suspiciously as I rolled in and set up camp. Without the sun overhead, the frost came out at the crack of dawn, chilling the dew inside my tent and waking me in a frigid, miniature rainfall. I couldn’t go back to sleep but rested for another few hours before breaking camp at 5.
The Kootenay River Kampground is a beautiful spot, right beside the river.
I tried to adjust the pedals to the shorter crank-length for the shallow rolling hills into Nelson but found them locked tight; Bob in Christina, armed with an actual pedal wrench, had tightened them properly; a scenario ironically not compatible with my limited resources of a borrowed alan-wrench multitool and a miniature adjustable wrench. I decided the extra exercise might not be bad for me, anyways, and hit the road with the pedals unchanged. I didn’t get far; a narrow bridge awaited less than a kilometre away, followed by two merging lanes on my right side. After a lot of walking and waiting, I finally mounted again and found the 3A increasingly inviting as it passed through Thrums and hugged close to the Kootenay River.
Riding alongside (and over) the Kootenay River was a pleasure, although the highway wasn’t always especially cycle-friendly.
I was more than bored with my dwindling food stock of BBQd peanuts with a side of peanut butter, so I was pleasantly surprised to see the inviting Thrums Market and Deli was open; after gnawing down a breakfast sandwich, I took advantage of the facilities and emerged to find a few staff and strangers leaning out the window, puzzling over my unicycle. I admitted to being the owner and found myself in lively conversation as I packed to leave; a granoala bar was donated for the road and I felt well rejuvenated for the remainder of the 40km. There were more services than I expected along the photogenic route, which departed only briefly from the riverside to make room for lush pastures and playful cottage homes. A series of dams and logging sites stood as reminders of the industrial backbone and resources of the area and its similarity to most communities in BC, despite the unique beauty and its popularity with tourists.
The last leg of the journey didn’t go so well. On one particularly curvy and cantered stretch of road, the shoulder was a mangled mess of broken asphalt and rocks. I shoulder-checked before merging into the main lane, aware that the line of sight from behind was adequate for anyone behind to slow if necessary. A pickup did appear behind, and considerately slowed its pace for all of the 3-4 seconds it took for me to pass the broken shoulder and get off the road. A driver coming in the opposite direction, although not endangered or obstructed in any way, was apparently so indignant at my gall to ride a unicycle on the highway that they felt compelled to blast their horn as they passed. I didn’t think much of it at the time; I’ve spent enough time on the road to know that there’s a complexity of emotions that might trigger drivers to lash out and it’s usually best not to react at all. I like to give the rare irritant the benefit of the doubt, that perhaps they’re more concerned about my safety than they are angered at a perception of inconvenience. (For the record, if you’re concerned about my safety, blasting your horn unexpectedly while racing by me is generally not the best method of expressing it).
I did have a cursory consideration of that incident later when an RCMP officer passed me twice and then parked ahead of me as I dismounted to cross the bridge over the river just west of town. Indeed, someone (I can guess who) had called in to report that a unicyclist was obstructing traffic on the highway. I didn’t bother trying to argue that it might have been a different unicyclist, but instead pointed out the obvious: that I was riding on the shoulder wherever possible and walking when the only safe means of passage. The officer was thankfully not only reasonable and sympathetic, but also supportive. After providing my ID and merging back onto the highway with exceptional caution under his watchful gaze, I realized that I was running late for a 1:30 lunch meeting with a supporter from the Citizen’s Climate Lobby.
Between hills, google glitches and a nagging shin splint, navigating Nelson was a challenge. Awesome city, though!
Entering town, it quickly became clear that the plethora of hills – let alone stop signs and lights – in Nelson made it a particularly non-unicycle-centric town (no surprise, then, I didn’t meet any fellow unicyclists there). Walking most of the way, I was relieved when I finally reached the destination 15 minutes after the fact…according to Google Maps. The problem was, the addresses in front of me didn’t correspond at all with the address on my phone. Technology had failed me, and it was about to fail me again. As I switched to my phone to call the contact, it unexpectedly died despite the quarter-battery readout. I trekked back through town trying to find somewhere to plug it in, wasting a bevy of time locking my uni outside a big-box Safeway with a tacked-on Starbucks (no plugs), before continuing on.
Somewhere along the way, I realized that I’d managed to give myself a shin splint; increasingly painful and awkward. Long and boring story shorter, it was after 3 by the time my phone was charged enough to apologize for never showing up for lunch. I couldn’t get through to my billet for the night and wasted a few more hours in a greasy fast-food joint where there was finally an accessible outlet (but, alas, no wi-fi). After all that, it felt like my Nelson experience could only get better, and thankfully it did. My billet phoned me and promptly picked me, driving me to a beautiful house up a remote mountain road, bursting with the creativity of its 3 music-producing and visual-artist inhabitants.
A geodesic greenhouse in the garden of my first Nelson billet.
Although I felt somewhat antsy after already waiting in Castlegar for two full days, I decided Nelson would be as good a place as any to spend the remainder of my time and get back on schedule, while letting the spring weather catch up and my shin splint (partially) heal. I’m glad I did. As Kootenay Co-Op Radio host Anthony put it after our on-air chat a couple days later, it was fortuitous for me to stop in a “health-centric” (not to mention eco and cycle-friendly) town while briefly out-of-commission. Although my billet was somewhat out of town, it was the perfect spot to update internet side of the campaign and plan for the days ahead while unwinding in the presence of likeminded creatives, a massive garden, backwood trails and a stunning geodesic greenhouse.
The days of rest also allowed me to participate in the 24hr Fast For the Climate event of May 1. Since COP19, participants of this global movement have been fasting on the first day of each month; this one was significant, marking the official launch of FastForTheClimate.org. I also spent the day running some errands, getting a new tube (having lost the first one mysteriously in Osoyoos) and some help adjusting my pedals at a local bike shop, and talking to the local press.
Although the location of my initial billet was perfect for laying low and taking in the scenery, I decided to take up an offer closer to town for the third night to allow me to leave early on Friday, May 2 for Kootenay Lake and beyond, heeding local advice to avoid the Kootenay Pass by taking the winding 3A. My second gracious Nelson billet was only minutes from town, but I’d been warned they were also up a hill. ‘Hill’ is such a broad term, isn’t it? It was only when I arrived at the bottom of Cedar St. that I realized it was the steepest street in all Nelson (and by far the steepest street I’d come across). Steep enough that, where sidewalks existed, they were in fact stairs. I didn’t even try to ride; knowing 8-9% grades were about my limit for sustained riding, it wasn’t until I was at the top of the hill that signs declared that the grade here exceeded 15%. Getting to and from my hosts probably didn’t help my lingering shin splint any but the warm welcome I received was well worth it.
Cedar Street: More than twice as steep as any other I’ve come across. Hmm, I think I’ll walk.
I set off early following a warm breakfast for Crawford Bay. Although I’d originally only planned to cycle to Balfour, the Crawford Bay Inn had kindly offered to host me that night. The weather was beyond perfect on day one of the 3A; I hate to pick favourites, but with the exception of the pain that came unexpectedly shooting back to my shin after a few klicks, this was the single most enjoyable stretch of the journey since leaving ‘the rock’. My original concern about 3A was the complete lack of shoulders, with white lines skirting the edge of blasted rock on one side and the water’s edge on the other. Despite this, the highway is deceivingly welcoming for self-powered travellers, with plenty of rest stops and signs cautioning drivers to watch out for bicycles (and…other things). In fact, with no shoulders, it was nice to have an excuse to take advantage of the invariably clearer and smoother roadway without fear of someone calling the RCMP about it.
Felt like spring at Kootenay Lake…at first.
Best of all, though, were the sights and smells reaching towards the road from a scenic scramble of terrain, equally diverse in natural beauty and cultural influence alike. Every hill crest and corner would reveal a different self-contained landscape, each of which could normally only exist miles – and not meters – apart. A summery rural paradise dominated by overgrown hobby farms; weeping willows and white arbors marking dusty dirt roads down to the deep waters of the navy blue lake. Then, an impressive Mediterranean red rock wall climbing up the hillside, scattered with water wheels; rich clay surrounding modern architecture thoughtfully planted on plateaus of the hillside, gazing across pale sandy beaches and shallow, turquoise waters. Then back to rugged west-coast wilderness with scraggly firs precariously leaning over scarred, charcoal-shaded rocks and white ripples of the stirring water. I wish I’d taken more photos over this stretch of road, following the west arm to the north shore of the sparkling lake, but I was so focused on the road and mesmerized by the sights that my camera was mostly an afterthought.
Empties, sunniest, sandiest beach I’ve ever been to at Kokanee Creek Provincial Park.
After a friendly visit with a member of the Kootenay Lake Chamber of Commerce and a coffee fill-up at a small convenience store, I stopped for a picnic lunch at Kokanee Creek Provincial Park. I was shocked to find the massive parking lot virtually empty, and the sprawling sandy beach likewise silent despite the sunny weather. I was even tempted to wade in the water before I rested long enough to realize how cool it actually was. I arrived well in advance of the 3:50 ferry departure at Balfour harbour where I enjoyed an iced Americano and chatted with a couple bikers and some backpackers; the first real spring travelers outside of RVs that I’d seen.
I’d been warned that there was a massive hill coming off the ferry on the other end, so I changed my pedals back to the longer crank option while waiting for the vehicle traffic to depart. Despite the change, I still had to walk…not up the hill, but after it, exhausted and with my shin splint back in full force.
I was delighted to meet the friendly owners of the Crawford Bay Inn; a quiet, tidy little hotel that was bright and airy inside. It was only when I limped down to the local pub for dinner (ok, and for a Stanley Cup playoff) that the full gravity of my nagging injury hit me. If the splint didn’t heal soon, I risked getting stranded on the next unrideable pass. And while I was getting better at hills, gravel and all known obstacles, most days still included at least one bridge, tunnel, detour, left-turn or construction zone that required me to dismount for at least a kilometer.
Day 2 on Kootenay Lake: Not quite so sunny anymore.
Being relatively isolated at the top of Kootenay Lake, I had little choice but to continue riding another two days the remaining 76km southeast to Creston. My discomfort was exacerbated by a sudden turn in weather; the scenery remained majestic as ever, but now in a pallet of dusty greens and mossy grays; drenched stone and sinking clouds. The worst of the rain held off the first day but when I arrived at Lockheart Creek Provincial Park – the only place to stop overnight – the humidity was thick and threatening enough that I opted to rent a neighbouring cabin instead of camping.
The establishment was just opening for the season, but the supportive cable team on sight changed their workflow to set me up with the hockey game. I reveled in the remaining hours of dryness, draping clothes all throughout the cabin while watching the Anaheim Ducks handily beat the LA Kings until the TV cut out with 1 minute to go (only days later was I confused to learn the Kings won, having scored an equalizer with 7 seconds left and winning in OT).
It felt like the sun was about to set at noon; brooding rain clouds over East Kootenay Lake.
Rain was pounding on the roof the next morning, but I knew if I waited for it to pass I might be paying for a few extra nights; there was no break in sight. Within 10km on the road, my rain coat was soaked through, not to mention my tights and shoes. My shin splint was also acting up. The vast expanse of misty water and faint mountain silhouettes was alluring and gorgeous, but seemed painfully static as the hours wore by. A brief pause from the downpour was granted to me during a moment of sunshine that lit up the vibrant grasslands of Kootenay Landing through a sliver of blue sky. But it was raining harder than ever by the time I turned onto Lower Wynndel Road on the advice of a stranger to avoid the last hill into Creston.
My clothes swelled with water, wilted from my body, my feet sloshed around in the buckets that my shoes had become. Massive puddles formed all over the edge of the road and my glasses became blurred by the waterfall tumbling from the visor of my helmet. A driver turned around to offer me a ride into town, but I was already so soaked, and so close to town that I was determined to ride across the virtual finish line to the Downtowner Motor Inn in Creston that had offered a free stay for the night.
Dramatic change in scenery (and weather) just pass Kootenay Landing.
Unfortunately I didn’t realize that Lower Wynndel merged with the 3, not the 3A, nor that the connecting 21 South connected back with Canyon St. in downtown Creston. The few signs that existed didn’t help any, mentioning every town in the region except the one that was a less than 2km away. After a miserable 30 minutes backtracking and hedging my bets on the 3 then 3A, I finally stopped at A_W for a sanity check. I was, indeed, going the right way, but the last couple klicks were uphill, cresting at a traffic light. Not compelled to mount again and try to time the light, I limped the remainder with breaks in between, my shin splint punishing me mercilessly for the deed. A hot shower and dry sheets made the whole thing worth it.
Sun or storm? Melodramatic weather in Creston just couldn’t make up its mind. The promised thunder and lightning was a no-show.
I opted to stay an extra night at the Downtowner and to visit the local hospital the next day to see if anything could be done about my shin. After the prerequisite 5 hour wait, a doctor noted a visible swelling that I had not; she prescribed me some meds and told me to rest for at least one more day, and in a couple days to rub a golf ball up and down my shin until it healed. Yeah right, I thought, like I’m going to go out and just magically find a golf ball halfway to Cranbrook; one was fortuitously waiting for me at a campsite a few days later.
The anti-inflammatory meds helped, too, and I took advantage of a free stay at the Pair-A-Dice RV and Campground nearby for an additional day of rest. Other stops in Creston included a couple cafes for my mandatory dose of coffee, a free dinner at ABC Country (thanks Sierra!) where I also received an unexpected donation (thanks Christine!) and a chat with a local reporter. During this time, the skies rolled through a commanding slideshow of threatening heavy blue skies and pale overcast, while the sun blazed beneath across the jumbled rows of empty heritage mills and polished colourful storefronts.
The shin splint that had started bothering me a week prior was far from gone; what if it was a bigger problem? Who gets shin splints from cycling, anyways? What if it never went away? I tried not to let these thoughts invade my focus on the journey and campaign at hand. I still had a long way to go.
To be continued…