Day 7 | July 4 | Kamloops to Vavenby | 157 km

Sleeping in a bed is such a nice change from the usual. I wake up refreshed and ready to go. A big spinach salad may be an odd thing to eat at 6:30 a.m. but it works well for me as a pre-breakfast snack before a long day of biking.

I leave at 7:30 a.m. and follow Fred and Mike (a different Mike, we have three Mikes) for the first section today at a fast pace into a headwind. Highway 5 is fairly flat in this area so it makes for a much easier ride.

I’m not in any hurry today, so I peel off the back of the paceline with the guys so I can set my own pace. I stop at a fruit stand in McLure when I see a sign for local cherries. As I’m sure you know by now, I can’t turn down fresh fruit.

The weather is fantastic today, even with a slight headwind. I stop briefly for a food break in Barriere after 67 km, then again in Little Fort after 100 km. Breaking up the distance into smaller chunks makes it seem a lot more doable for me. Segments of 20 or 30 km are easier to wrap my head around than 157.

Marshall is just arriving at the gas station in Little Fort when I pull in, so I join him for lunch on the patio.

Longer rides call for a lot more food. Today’s stash includes a couple of almond butter and banana wraps. They really hit the spot.

Not long after that, the headwind dies down and we’re left with no wind at all. And the scenery just gets better and better as we go along.

The last 30 km are the most difficult on a day that’s this long. I like to set small, visual goals to distract myself, like reaching a particular road sign or crack in the road, then choosing another sign, and on and on until I reach my destination.

Vavenby is a very small, friendly town with just one store that’s down the road from where we’re staying. We’re at the community hall tonight, which means our cooks, Mike and Nik, get the use of a full kitchen.

There aren’t any showers here unfortunately, but at least we’re inside and away from the bugs. Simple living is what this tour is all about.

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Day 6 | July 3 | Rest Day in Kamloops

It feels great to sleep in until 6:30 this morning. With no sense of urgency to go anywhere, my day involves lots of eating and… not much else, come to think of it.

Each residence room has a microwave, so I start with a big bowl of hot quinoa flakes and fruit.

Then I join some of the others at 8 a.m. for a walk to Tim Hortons.

Harold and I manage to catch the last set of the Wimbledon final, then I do a Superstore run for some spinach, carrots and sweet potato. The blueberries, watermelon and chickpeas also look too good to pass up. I’ve really been craving vegetables more than anything lately. They’re my favourite for post-workout recovery.

Not long after that, the same group of us go for lunch at Lynx’s Grill. Their veggie pizza really hits the spot.

My stash of wheat-free oats is running low, so Travis and I walk to a nearby health food store and stock up. I wish we had one of these at home!

A little later on, David offers to give a lesson to all of us on how to very quickly change a flat tire. Not only is he an accomplished bike racer, but he’s also the mechanic in the group. We’re lucky to have him.

At 6 p.m. the whole parade goes to Earl’s down the street for another meal. We’ll be covering a lot of distance over the next few days. We need all the fuel we can get.

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Day 5 | July 2 | Merritt to Kamloops | 102 km

The campground is awash with pre-rest day excitement this morning. One more ride until we get a full day off in Kamloops. The first week of a tour like this is always the hardest, and having it almost behind us is a big relief.

Since everyone is still sore from yesterday, today’s tailwind is a welcome change. I start out just before 8 a.m. on Highway 5A. The road is flat, the sun is shining and there is very little traffic.

Less than an hour later I pull into the Quilchena Hotel for a break. It’s one of the only places on this road, and it’s marked on the map as a worthwhile stop.

The hotel went up in 1908 when the owners thought the railway would be built close by, but unfortunately that never happened. It closed in 1915 and was reopened by the grandson of the original owner in the late 50’s.

Old photos of cowboys are proudly displayed on the walls, and bullet holes have their place in the saloon with assorted stories to go along with them.

I sign the guestbook and get back on the bike with 78 km still to go. A few minutes later I see Mike, Marshall and Bernice on the side of the road removing extra layers as the temperature starts rising. It feels like it’s going to be a hot day.

I continue on as I watch the numbers on my odometer climb closer and closer to our destination while marveling at the amazing view. After awhile I start getting hungry and tired, so I decide I’ll stop when I reach 60 km, which is only 2 km more.

When I get to that point, I’m in the middle of a fast descent and I don’t want to ruin it by stopping. Ok, 65 it is. I tell myself I’ll stop at that point and take a break.

The trouble is, there’s nowhere to sit and there’s no shade anywhere. Before I know if I’ve gone another 20 km.

Then I hit a steep 4 km climb with just 19 km to go. I never stop on hills – it’s too hard to get going again – so I grind through it with an audience to my right.

I’m quickly approaching the final stretch, a fast descent into Kamloops, and starting to bonk (bike speak for “hitting the wall”) from lack of food and water. Sometimes it’s just easier to eat on the go.

For the next two days we’re staying in a residence at Thompson Rivers University. I love that I get to sleep in a real bed tonight. No bugs, no flashlights, no morning chorus of tent zippers.

Monday morning we begin again.

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Day 4 | July 1 | Ashcroft to Merritt | 106 km

It’s a windy, drizzly morning in Ashcroft. I emerge from my nylon home with tired eyes and go through the motions of packing up my things and preparing for the day’s ride. I can’t say I’m looking forward to it though, mainly because I’ve seen the route map.

Right off the bat, we hit an 18 km climb full of switchbacks, covered in rough pavement, and steep enough that my speed is only single digits. The locals don’t like it because it’s too hard on their cars, and they think we’re nuts for doing it. I can relate.

I catch up with Mike and Anna near the bottom, and then Elaine farther along. We’re all hoping that the 88 km that follow will somehow make up for this torturous climb.

As I approach the top, my patience wears thin and I charge ahead, pedaling as hard as I can until the road flattens out. I started this hill almost two hours ago and now I’m facing an awful headwind and cannot stop shivering. It doesn’t take long before I lose feeling in my fingers and toes.

I take a break on the side of the road at the 23 km mark, just long enough to inhale a banana and a Larabar. I plod along for another 20 km and finally find somewhere to sit – a cement guardrail – and fuel up with two oranges and a Vega bar.

The headwind doesn’t let up – in fact, it gets worse. After Logan Lake, Route 97C heads directly south, straight into the wind for 40 km. Nothing but trees, rolling hills and a few horses.

I fight the wind a little longer and get a much needed surge of energy with two more bananas. I catch up with Bernice resting at the top of a hill and stop to chat. Our driver gave her a lift up the first hill of the day.

Travis pulls up a few minutes later and looks equally as tired as we are. Then he says, “I’m gonna get a t-shirt made that says ‘I survived Ashcroft to Merritt’.”

Travis and I reach the campground at 2:40 p.m. after 6 hours and 40 minutes on the road. Not until after the ride do I learn that it’s supposed to be the hardest day of the trip. The distance we covered isn’t that far – I’ve done dozens of 100 km rides – but I’ll never forget this one.

Tomorrow we head to Kamloops.

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Day 3 | June 30 | Boston Bar to Ashcroft | 120 km

I wake up shivering this morning after a cold, windy night. I slowly collect what I need for the day from the truck, dismantle the tent and throw together my usual oatmeal breakfast.

Today is supposed to be a hard day of hills, so I plan to leave early and get a head start. Before I set out, I chat with one of the campground staff about our route for the day. “Good luck” she says as I’m getting ready to leave. “Look out for rattlesnakes.”

The first 18 km are much like yesterday with a strong tailwind and lots of long hills, except this time there’s no sign of rain.

Then I come to Jackass Mountain, a steep 2 km climb with great scenery from the top.

I stop for a food break another 20 km up the road in Lytton, known as Canada’s hot spot. It usually has the highest summer temperature in the country, but today it’s a comfortable 20C. It’s also a popular white water rafting destination.

The tailwind keeps up as I climb one hill after another, enjoying fast descents and sunny skies. I notice the vegetation suddenly changing from a thick forest to a dry and sparse desert. Some sections have no shoulder at all so I’m constantly checking for approaching traffic.

An hour later, as I’m stopped for a water break, Steve pulls up riding solo as well. We like to keep a similar pace, so we stick together the rest of the way, pausing frequently to take in the view.

Even though I had a lot of fun today, it’s always nice to get into camp, put my feet up and chow down. On the menu tonight is pasta with vegetables. It’s unbelievable how much food we go through as a group. I don’t envy our cook!

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Day 2 | June 29 | Agassiz to Boston Bar | 109 km

The wet weather continues through the night and into the early morning. As I stand in the rain packing up a tent that’s covered in slugs, I see a few patches of blue sky here and there and remain hopeful.

I leave camp at 8 a.m. as one of the last ones to start out. The rain is still coming down but I manage to keep a good pace as the wind blows east. Half an hour later I catch up to Diane, Larry, Anna and Elaine.

Riding in a group when it’s wet has never appealed to me much because I just end up with water sprayed in my face from other people’s rear wheels. I decide to go on ahead for the time being and cover this section solo. By 9 a.m. the rain is only a light mist and my odometer reads 28 km.

Twenty minutes later I’m ready for a break. I take a quick detour into Hope, the chainsaw carving capital, in search of a warm and dry place to sit. The group of four riders that I saw earlier soon pulls in to join me at a cafe down the street.

The chainsaw carvings are really quite remarkable. They’re on display all over town.

Once we leave Hope, we switch to Highway 1 and follow the Fraser River through seven tunnels with frequent bouts of rain. The tunnels, unfortunately, are not much wider than the trucks that speed through them. It’s scary being on a bike with nowhere to go when a truck approaches from behind.

In the first tunnel I am pressed against the wall on the right side as I walk my bike along the narrow passageway. I hear a vehicle coming and just as I turn my head to see what it is and how close it is to me, I am inches away from getting creamed by a bus.

In between the tunnels are lots of long, gradual hills. Many of them are deceptive as well. Some sections may appear to be downhill when they’re actually going uphill.

The shoulders are not entirely paved and are quite dangerous in spots. The space between the rumble strip and the sand doesn’t leave much room to ride.

A few food breaks help chip away at the distance and allow me to fully appreciate the beautiful view of the Fraser River. Only the last hour of the ride is completely free of rain.

I am utterly exhausted when I get to camp. Even pitching my tent seems like a lot of work. There are only three other riders there when I arrive shortly after 2 p.m.

Dinner is a delicious tofu curry with rice, which is so good I go back for seconds. About an hour later it gets really cold all of a sudden so we huddle around the campfire to keep warm.

It’s getting late – time to get some sleep. It so happens that four of us have the same brown MEC tent. What are the odds of that?

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Day 1 | June 28 | Fort Langley to Agassiz | 82 km

The mood around the campsite this morning is a mix of excitement, anticipation and apprehension as we take down our tents and gather what we need for the day’s ride.

After a quick breakfast of oatmeal and fruit, we meet up at the historic Fort Langley train station for a group photo. A light rain has started by this time and it lingers for the first 10 km on flat country roads.

Just 4 km later we come to the toughest hill of the day. With a 20 percent grade, I have to stand on the pedals for the vast majority of the 1.5 km. I can only maintain a speed of 6.5 km/h as the bike slowly moves side to side and my throat burns from the hard effort in combination with the humidity. Each pedal stroke is a single unit of accomplishment for me as I pass a number of people who have dismounted and are walking their bikes up.

Given my tendency to do everything to its fullest extent, not for a moment do I consider letting this hill get the best of me. The main reason being that it would bother me to know that the hill won. That I couldn’t handle the first hill on the first day, even if it is regarded by many past participants as the most difficult hill on the whole trip.

A fast, well-deserved descent brings us back to flat country roads with a few effortless hills. Steve and I ride into Mission at a comfortable pace, and from there we follow Highway 7 and can finally put away the maps. Then I spot a roadside strawberry stand outside of Dewdney that looks too delicious to pass up. I chat with the owner for a few minutes and meet her dog, Spiker.

Throughout the day I ride a few sections with David from Toronto, Steve from Sudbury and Fred from North Vancouver. Since we all left at the same time this morning on account of the group photo, it makes it easier to drift around and get to know one another. And since we all share a passion for cycling, there’s always plenty to talk about.

Another quick break at the 60 km mark fuels us the rest of the way to Agassiz.

It starts raining just as we enter the campground and rains intermittently through the afternoon and evening. A hot shower and a hot meal work their magic as we prepare for a much more challenging ride tomorrow.

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