We were nearing the end of our journey and everywhere around us were the signs of an aging year. The salmon had begun their annual run, marking both the end and beginning of their life cycle, swimming up the deathly sweet fresh water to lay their eggs and then die, becoming a feast for bears and gulls. More leaves lay on the ground than what clung desperately to naked branches, and those final few survivors stood alone, shivering in the chill of winter breezes... read more here.Read more...
Yes, it was cold, wet, snowing and raining during our final two weeks. Shivering each day as we put cold hands into even colder wet gloves, we hoped every new bird would add warmth to our souls. Sometimes it did, sometimes it didn’t. We had come to realise we were the definition of the term ‘twitcher’.
Roosting Barred Owl
Our only splash of warmth between the Okanagan and the Fraser Valley (a five-day ride spanning two mountain ranges) came in the form of a Townsend’s Solitaire, a rather drab little thrush, fond of higher elevations. The significance of the solitaire was that it marked #299 for our ride. What would be next? Surely we would go out of our way to see something as rare as a Spotted Owl, or as bizarre as a White-tailed Ptarmigan, to claim the respectable triple-century milestone. Our question was answered in Hope. There in their abundance, were the raucous, uniform-black, standard-issue-in-these-parts-corvid…the Northwestern Crow.
A lucky find...Lewis's Woodpecker
Cleaning up the remaining west coast birds was pretty straightforward. Spotted Towhees and Golden-crowned Sparrows poked their heads from the blackberries, while Black Turnstones, Surfbirds and Dunlin swarmed on the rocky shores. With the help of some local birders, we were even treated to such goodies as Marbled Godwit and Long-billed Curlew, prairie species we had missed in Saskatchewan. But the big surprise came as we rode through Port Alberni when we saw a small, dark bird flycatching from a cherry tree. It had a spiky tail, red belly and a red face…a Lewis’s Woodpecker! These are fairly rare on Vancouver Island, so having failed to see them in the Okanagan Valley, I was stoked.
Amphitrite Point - The Pacific Ocean
A strong cup of coffee helped us brave the wind and rain at Amphitrite Point, for an hour anyway. It was all we could handle. Fatigue had kicked in. We nabbed four final birds amongst the endless stream of life we were witnessing just a couple of hundred meters offshore. The most exciting wildlife adventure of my life ended there.
Crossing the Okanagan Connector highway from West Kelowna to Merritt was some of the toughest and coldest riding we have done on this trip. The hill that rises up out of the warmth of the Okanagan Valley and carries you into the Cascade Mountains is long and arduous, and although we managed to stay on the bikes and not walk them, we stopped frequently to ease the burn in our legs and stretch out our backs.
As we neared Brenda Mines it began to snow. It's actually quite nice to ride in a flurry, so long as the ground is clear, because snow fails to saturate you the way rain does. It's also a beautiful sight. But the unexpectedly challenging hill painfully slowed our progress, and meant that we wouldn't make it over the pass and back to lower elevation before sunset. It was a very cold night. Winter camping can be oodles of fun if you are prepared for it, but if you're not properly geared it is far from enjoyable. We didn't bother with cooking dinner. Instead, we huddled in our sleeping bags eating candy bars and trail mix and trying to warm our ice block toes.
In the morning the tent was a sheet of ice. I have never seen frost that thick before, except perhaps in the freezer of our old refrigerator when it had not been de-iced in months.
Fortunately the Coquihalla Highway proved to be a far simpler ride. We followed Coldwater Rd to cut out the first portion of the highway: A massive ascent followed by a massive descent that brings you to the foot of the actual climb over the summit and therefore makes the uphill not worth the effort. From there it was a good climb, but nothing compared to the Connector.
The descent on the Coquihalla
The descent into Hope was awesome. Some 40 odd kms of downhill ranging from 8% grades to a gentle slope that's just enough to keep your bike rolling. It's fast.
We were glad to get to the Lower Mainland and coastal BC. The major mountain passes are now done with, and the threat of snow and freezing appendages if significantly reduced. All that's left now is the Malahat, and a bit of uphill around the centre of Vancouver Island, and rain rain rain rain rain. Hopefully the weather gods will smile on us and turn off the taps for a few days.
We've been in Victoria the last few days, recovering from the cold of the mountains and searching out coastal birds. It's been an excellent break, but now it is time to continue... on to Tofino!