Discovering new mountain bike trails, Part three: Powell River

Bridge crossing a stream

Cooling stream on a steaming hot day

From the depths of a bottomless sleep, I slowly became aware of Scott’s muffled voice: ‘Are you awake? Can you hear that?’

As I surfaced consciousness, not entirely sure of where I was in the dense darkness of the forested campground, I pulled out my ear plugs (an essential defence against Scott’s snoring) and was immediately assaulted with an almighty cacophony of shouts, screams, singing and laughter.

‘It’s those kids’ I mumbled. I yawned widely.

‘What kids?’

‘The ones in the group campsite, they arrived this afternoon, I mean yesterday’. It was already after midnight.

‘Oh’.

Apparently Scott hadn’t noticed the group after we rode back into the campground after a full day of mountain biking; perplexed by both the level of noise and my unconscious state (I normally wake at the slightest sound) he momentarily wondered if there was some kind of crisis unfolding. That’s probably another reason I love outdoor sports so much, the combination of fresh air and exercise conks me out at night.

For three nights at Haywire Regional campground, tucked way behind Powell River down a forestry road and edged by the refreshing water of Powell Lake, it had been stunningly quiet at night – apart from the whisper of a breeze in the evenings rustling the branches of trees circling each site. But now we were into the weekend and slightly different, unwritten rules applied. Popular with the locals, this was the campground to come to for a family and friends get together. Lots of drinking, music and letting off steam. Nothing got too out of hand though, good-natured (if noisy) fun seemed to predominate. Just go during the week if you want to avoid the party atmosphere, or to the quieter, nearby Inland Lake Provincial campground.

Powell Lake

Powell Lake in the evening light

Powell River on the Sunshine Coast was the third and final new area of mountain biking for us last summer. Now a historic and cultural site – the city sits on the traditional territory of the Tla’ Amin Nation and the pulp and paper mill was once the largest in the world – the area is increasingly a playground for outdoor enthusiasts; some of the trails we were riding around the Duck Lake area had been custom-built for the BC Bike Race.

We already felt spoilt with our trips to Quadra Island and Cumberland and weren’t necessarily planning another break, but I shifted things around a bit at work and we headed out for a few days mid August. Not the smartest move; a hot and busy time of year and I hadn’t made any campsite reservations. Not sure what we were thinking really, it was very much a ‘go and see how it works out’ situation, if we had to we’d just come home. In a way, it was a choice made out of desperation; as the smoke from wildfires rolled in yet again, I obsessively looked up the air quality index to see where we might escape to and Powell River on the Sunshine Coast popped up. Two ferry rides away and some driving to be sure, but not that great a distance from Vancouver. Surely they’d have smoke too? And by the end of our visit they did, but not before we got in some gorgeous cross-country riding for five or so days. We had no problem bagging a camping spot either. Lucky.

And it was gorgeous; long, winding trails snaking through forest – aromatic with the scent of fir and pine. Sporadically the trails flirted here and there with the shores of Mud, Stewart, Haslam or Duck Lake. Every route seemed brilliantly maintained, obviously ridden a lot, but we barely saw a soul.

MTB trails, Duck Lake area

Scott, Duck Lake area

Map of Duck Lake trails

Map of Duck Lake trails

Each day we barrelled down gravelled roads towards Duck Lake, parked and picked our route. It was hot, but the forest protected us. We rode for hours, exploring the myriad byways. When we started to overheat, we sloshed water over our heads from streams and sat in the shade, guzzling the copious amounts of water we’d brought with us. And in the evenings back at the campground we threw ourselves into Powell Lake. A forested path close to the tent led us out to a smaller, less busy beach. Around dinner time it was often deserted and we lingered as the sun slid away, picking our way back by torchlight to our campsite for a glass of wine and hastily thrown together meal.

Mini waterfall

Mini waterfall

MTB trails, Powell River

Me taking a snap of trail signs

How does it go? Eat, sleep, ride, repeat? Check.

Halcyon Days

As the wind whips through Vancouver and rain (finally) makes its welcome return after a drought stricken summer, I’m already missing the sun and warmth. We knew this would happen, and that we’d start to yearn for the long summer days but I guess it does make the memory of a sweltering week-end away all the more valuable. Life is full of contrasts, non?

Take one rustic (read very basic) cabin with no water or electricity, a pit toilet a relatively short walk through the forest with no door, a dock reaching into the lake the cabin fronts onto, add plentiful sunshine, no crowds and temperatures hovering in the high twenties and you have a three-day idyll. Escaping a holiday week-end in the city for the Sunshine Coast we took an easy 40 minute ferry outside of Vancouver, added in about an hours drive up to the quiet community of Egmont Village and ended up driving down a grassy, largely unused track posted with signs for us put up by my sister and her husband to the borrowed cabin. In all fairness there was a fridge we could run on propane and a gas cooker which made life relatively easy. Huge fry up breakfasts of egg and bacon, pancakes with yogurt and fruit, plentiful coffee. Oh yes – the coffee was on the go from the moment whoever woke up first and started the first pot and kept going for a good hour or two before food was plated – all this struck me as a quintessentially Canadian cabin-on-the-lake holiday experience.

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The cabin dock, it made every steep walk up and down to it worth it.

Swimming ruled the days, too hot to ride much we did explore the local, seriously hilly roads into the village and past the exquisite looking West Coast Wilderness Lodge (we peered through a small side gate at the inviting looking restaurant terrace but decided our unwashed state was an impediment to getting through the front door).

Just up the road was an hours walk through the forest to Skookumchuck Narrows Provincial Park, where vast amounts of water are forced through the narrows twice a day as the tidal flows from Sechelt Inlet, Salmon Inlet and Narrows Inlet run together through the Sechelt Rapids. It’s a spectacular sight as whirlpools and waves froth and foam attracting extreme kayakers wanting to ride the standing waves. The power of the water was tangible and intimidating.

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Beautiful but deadly. Deceptively calm as water starts to pour into the narrows.

After the vicarious adrenaline rush it was back to a leisurely stroll through the bone dry forest, and later a sip of wine (or two) as we sat chatting on the dock. Not a bad wind down to summer. As I look out through the rain spattered window I realize that any time away (particularly camping) from now on is likely to be a damp affair. And that’s quite alright, rain and wind has its own charm when you’re huddled in a tent drinking coffee, and if  we’re lucky we might catch a few days of sun. Not long to autumn, but summer isn’t over yet!