Feature: The Escape–Day 4

Thoughts along the road lead to chance encounters

Pre-dawn departure with the thought of a long haul ahead.

Photos by Dan Barham
Words by Seb Kemp

Today was a bloody long day. We were woken up at six in the morning by Third Bardo’s Lose Your Mind (the motivational alarm clock I figured this trip needed) and after a pan of meat, fruit and several pots of coffee, we hit the road.

We knew we had a lot do to today – we needed to arrive at the ferry in Earls Cove by midday to make our connection to Saltery Bay and onto our destination in Powell River. That first leg was going to be 65 kilometers. We then had a 50-minute ferry ride, followed by another 36 kilometers of riding before we’d wrap it for the day.

The light does mysterious things here

In order to make our date with BC Ferrie’s Mighty Mouse, we got our serious faces on, for about…well, about ten minutes. After that poker-faced ten minutes we were rather cold and sodden – the coast road was shrouded in sea mist. Not rain, mind you, but a cloud of hanging water. It didn’t take long for toes to disappear in these conditions – so we started to get weird again.

Even though we pulled hard to make the ferry, we still took time to enjoy our surroundings. Slowing down gives us the chance to do that.

It was a bumper of a ride. Never once did the road seem to ease off or flatten for more than a few pedals strokes. We were either pushing hard against gravity or being dragged against the cold by a speedy descent.

All of this would have been miserable but we met some incredible people today. First off, ex-North Vancouver resident and now happy Sunshine Coast resident, Malcolm McLaws got out of bed and came to wait on the side of the road to greet us. His enthusiasm and bright-eyed happiness helped warm us, considerably.

Malcolm McLaws came out and gave us hugs, smiles and a box of muesli bars. Legend.

It’s been great to meet friends along the route. Seeing them at random intervals shows that – as Morgan Meredith pointed out already – B.C. is the biggest small town on earth. It also shows how much mountain biking brings people together. Riding creates a bond between us and people we may never have otherwise met…it also makes otherwise odd-looking people seem more approachable.

This happened at the ferry. We pulled up – triumphant and shivering – and before we had set our bikes down, a gentleman approached us and asked if we wanted to get into his car for warmth. Now, skeptical people might be reading this and thinking “DON’T GET IN THE CAR! IT’S A TRAP!” but Dave and I felt it was safe. Or at least we were keen enough to try our luck because James (we had learned his name by this point) mentioned that he had cookies and bagels to share.

James and Marisa (his wife, who was waiting in the car) were the epitome of compassion and kind-heartedness. They were just strangers to us and we probably looked pretty strange to them (and smelled even stranger). Nevertheless, we spent half an hour thawing out in the comfort of their car while they passed incredible home-baked treats our way and explained how they were off to Powell River to check out property because they were looking to leave the city behind and settle into a new rhythm.

For me, this is what mountain biking is about. It’s about traveling. Even if you ride your everyday loop, ten minutes from your office at lunch, you are traveling. A cycle is about movement. Movement is travel. You don’t have to go far to experience the movement or travel. Watching The Escape, it might seem like we are moving and traveling a great deal, but really it wouldn’t matter if any of us were on the trails five minutes from home – we would still get to experience the act of physical movement, seeing sights that would go unseen, and have those meditative moments during which the turning of the pedals and the gentle blur of the surroundings give us moment to pause and contemplate.

It was neither up nor down, it was both at all times.

I had plenty of time to slip into that meditative state today. It’s a place in the mind where thoughts come easy, theories flow fast, and introspection flourishes. Have you ever found yourself here too, where clear thoughts boil up from the deep and stand lucid like totems?

Well, today was one of those days for me. My main streams of thought were about the next trip I’d like to try (to carry a canoe by bicycle so I could carry the bicycle by canoe around the islands and inlets) and how much I was looking forward to a beer in Powell River. What I didn’t expect was that we would pull up to our digs for the night and find a brilliant brewery next to it.

We are staying at the superb Old Courthouse Inn, located in the old townsite, which was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1995. The mill in Powell River was once the largest pulp and paper mill in the world. At one time, one in 25 newspapers were printed on paper from the Powell River mill.

Frank moved his family from New Brunswick, New Jersey twenty years ago. He found Powell River because he guarded a beer keg one night and asked for guidance from his keg brothers. He was told to seek out the Sunshine Coast and has never looked back. He runs Suncoast Cycles and if you want anything fixed or repaired he is your man. He has the most meticulously-organized, yet unruly, workshop I've ever seen. A fantastic sight.

Townsite Brewing offers specialty craft beers with a local “flavor” including Powtown, Tinhat, Zunga, Suncoast and Westview Heat brews among others. In was opened in March 2012 by a small crew of local people, including Karen Skadsheim, who couldn’t find good craft beer locally, so they decided to make their own.

Karen’s business card names her as the owner, but she prefers to describe herself as a “professional appreciator.” This doesn’t mean she is a gut heavy, beer swine. She is a lively lady with an evident can-do spirit; a community figurehead if ever there was one.

Although the brewery opened less than twelve months ago, it has already proven a huge success. Before it even opened, without any marketing buzz creation, the townsfolk were behind it. When the doors opened, local residents rolled in to buy the local brews (even when the shop doors where closed).

In the short time we spent in the brewery after our big ride day, we noticed that when locals all rolled in to have their growlers refilled, Karen knew each by name. There’s a close bond here between everyone we’ve met – Karen, JP from the Old Courthouse Inn, Paul Kamon from Discover Powell River, and many more. I asked them why they thought this might be the case/ “The ferry might isolate us.” Explained Paul Kamon, “but it also pushes the community closer together because we only have each other…we rely on each other.”

This little corner of the Northern Gulf of the Salish Sea seems like a perfect little pocket: good people, a tight knit community, a cracking brewery, and fantastic trails. However, it’s not until tomorrow we get to experience the trails. Members of the local cycling club are meeting us here at 9 in the morning, so we better roll out the acid from our legs and get some rest. The singletrack that we’ve heard great things about awaits.

Previous Entries from our Journey
DAY 3 of the Escape
DAY 2 of the Escape
DAY 1 of the Escape
DAY 0 of the Escape


Sound off in the comments below!

Join the conversation