Home > Day to Day, Nicaragua, SchoolBOX, Thoughts > It’s 3 am…what just blew up outside my tent?

It’s 3 am…what just blew up outside my tent?

Photos are from days 2 and 3 (or is it 3 and 4 ?)

This blog actually starts the day before these photos, at 3 am in the Othello Tunnels campground. Blogged from my phone, which was super frustrating: not just the numerous re-types due to Intelligent Typing…but why burden you with my tech challenges?

I tented myself late and immediately fell into a deep sleep, aided by Air Canada’s magic orange bullets (ear plugs) and eye shades.

The plugs block out almost all sounds. So I was startled when two very large explosions jerked me awake. I pulled out the plugs. All I could hear was…torrential rain hitting the tent! It had been very overcast for the past few days but we had been spared the clouds’ fruits. But no longer. I checked my watch: 3 am. I flashed my light around the tent – everything seemed dry. So I went back to sleep.

Woke up at 6 am. If anything, the rain had intensified. Oh great! Breaking down camp under such conditions is not fun. I got into my cycling clothes, pulled on rain gear, and stepped out. It was torrential.

I put off the inevitable by wolfing down a hearty breakfast, huddled under the mobile kitchen’s awning. But it was coming on 8 am, and we had a heck of a day ahead of us: Bud said it was one of the toughest of the whole Ride! So everything is soaked. No sense trying to fit stuff into its proper sacks (fly, tent, groundsheet) — they all went into the waterproof sack. I managed to keep the sleeping bag, mattress, pillow and other odds and sods relatively dry. Pushed everything into the truck. Was grateful that I spent extra time the previous evening cleaning the bike and oiling the chain.

Cycling in a downpour. It is about 8C. After a short trip we reach the day’s main road — the climb to Crow’s Nest Pass / Sunshine Village / Allison Pass. Longest climb is about 8 kms with a 7% grade. Total gain for the day is over 2,300 m.

I could write pages about how tough this was. About the different ways I kept my mind distracted, the little games and exercises and  thoughts about Gay and home and SchoolBOX and how much tougher the kids have it in Nicaragua. And all this to overcome the pain of barely moving, pounding the pedals in my granny gear, at about 60 rpm, my heart beating around 155 bpm. Gasping. Drenched. Freezing. Knowing that there is a lot more climbing to come.

We stopped several times, to inhale the sandwiches we prepared, and apples, and GORP (a magical mix of peanuts and dried fruits and shredded coconut and a strong anesthetic). And to pour in volumes of water and sports drinks. But no longer than absolutely necessary. Stopping amplified the feeling of being frozen. So on and on and on we rode.

Bill and I passed Owen, who asked if we had seen the bear. “No!” He was about 3 meters away, eating, not paying Owen any attention. Owen has good eyes for spotting animals — he pointed out a deer that was almost totally camouflaged in the surrounding brush. Then a family of geese. And a few kilometers later, on the other side of the road, there they were: two bear cubs, one black and one brown, perched on the concrete barrier, watching traffic as if it was a bear reality show. And between them the massive brown back of their mother, only paying attention to what she was eating.

I was constantly gazing at my altimeter as we drew closer to the Allison Pass Summit, at 1,342 meters. (We started the day at 260 m). Every gain of a hundred meters was followed by a descent — and a few non-verbal four-letter words. But we were making progress. I saw the readout go to 1,280…1,300…1,340…1,370…and when we reached the summit my readout said 1,392! OK, so in future I will need to mentally adjust!

A steep descent followed by another climb, to Gibson Pass, at 1,200 m. Now we were close, just 5 km from camp. We enjoyed a wild, fast descent and turned into Gibson Pass Road…and a serious of vicious little climbs on very poor surfaces. These little treats at the end of a ride, with the rain pouring down, are a real test of one’s mettle.

Bill and I were first into camp. Nieka and Chelsea greeted us with “The showers were vandalized so they are closed! And there is no drinking water! And a mama bear with two cubs was sighted in the camp. And you can’t pick any wood to burn! And…”

We stumbled into the truck, got our gear and set up our tents on crushed gravel beds (‘must not stray from designated areas – thousands of campers come through here every year and destroy the habitat…’ – this from a passing Ranger.) Were informed that this area had been hit with over 40 m of snow this past winter (!!!!!!) compared with the normal 20 m. Hence the snow still in the campground and all around on the mountains.

Fast dinner, fast cleanup, and an hour of feeble attempts to dry our soaked clothes over and near an open pit fire, fed by a small pile of wood we bought from an enterprising local who visited the campsites with his truck. Then I gave up and headed off to bed. Earlier I wore my warmest Patagonia jacket, to get some warmth back into me. I took it into the tent. And took it off. And crawled into the sleeping bag with a light top, shorts and socks. And when I woke up a few hours later, freezing, I dazedly kicked myself for not wearing the warm jacket to bed. And put it on. And slept. In the morning I learned that the mercury had dipped to around freezing.

5 am. Earplugs out. Birds are chirping. Not a single drop is hitting my rain fly! Hallelujah!

What a difference a day makes! So much easier to pack away relatively dry stuff! So much easier to get dressed, eat, prepare for the day.

Today was…spectacular. The first 30 kms or so were hard, with serious climbing. But the dry weather made a huge difference. And once we crossed the summit it was as if we had entered another world! Patches of blue appeared in the skies. The closed feeling of being surrounded by steep, densely wooded granite faces transformed magically into gazing onto a huge broad valley, with the river running through it way below. And here came the fun: we started zooming down countless switchbacks starting at almost 1,300 m, rapidly losing elevation and gaining speed and smiles. My speedometer was regularly nudging over 60 kph. Traffic was light. And again, there was Owen, pointing. An adult deer followed by three younger ones, in a gully by the side of the road. As we watched the leader headed up the bank and stopped next to the road. Glancing both ways, all four crossed the three lanes to the other side: not hurried, not scared, but with a sense of understanding the potential danger. How cool!

Princeton was at the 70 km mark. We went looking for the bike shop. The Esso gas attendant told us the shop had closed. Well, lets hope Bill’s chain hold up. So we went looking for a good cup of java instead. Someone recommended the Cowboy Cafe in the mall beside the highway. A huge patio up front, with many tables, quite a few patrons, Country & Western music piped over…and inside a thoroughly hip feeling, and several very professional-looking espresso machines! My large cappuccino consisted of of a layer of foamed milk, two shots, another layer of foam, another two shots, cinnamon and brown sugar… Whah! I don’t know what it is about cafes in BC, but this has been a wonderful drinking experience, without fail!

Just 35 km to go. Bill and I verbalized our deep wishes for no more climbs. And our wishes were answered! The road followed the river, on a 1% descent, which allowed us to pedal comfortably at over 30 kph.

Our destination, the River Heaven Campground, was shown at km 105, “on the left”. Exactly at the 105th km, on the left side, was a cattle gate (the setup of pipes and bars across a ditch, meant to prevent cattle and other animals from crossing in either direction.) And next to it was a huge billboard: River Haven Campground, 0.7 km on the right”. Now the only problem with this picture was that, beyond the gate, was a steep gravel road leading into the mountains! Bill and I looked at each other with concern and doubt: could this be it? But the description was bang on. So we crossed. And we tried to ride up. The road was too steep and the gravel too loose. So we pushed our bikes up. We confirmed to each other that we were now sweating more profusely than during the whole ride — in part because the sun was out and it had turned quite warm!

A few hundred meters up the road we saw a truck and some people on ATVs — four wheeled all-terrain vehicles. We trudged up to them breathing heavily and asked about the campground. They looked at us with incredulity and pointed to the campground, way below, on the RIGHT side of the road, beside the river. Damn, damn, damn. I was really pissed off.

It was too steep and slippery to ride down so we held onto our bikes in a controlled free fall. And crossed the cattle gate. And rode into the campground, me with a head of steam.

And what a campground! The opposite of last night’s fiasco. Beautiful tent sites. A lovely breeze off the gushing river. Limitless water. An electrical connection to recharge our gadgets. Free WiFi. Gorgeous showers and washer-dryers. Heaven!

So my friends, this catches you up on our adventures! I plan to take photos of this lovely place tomorrow before leaving.

imageIsabel modelling full rain gear, stepping down from the truck into the yuck

image“Soup” is it after a hard day’s ride? Actually it was an awesome vegetarian chilli. I had two big bowls. With fresh sourdough bread!
imageInside of our support truck. It is very well designed and laid out.
imageThe cooking area. Also where we huddle when it is raining…
imageCampsite at Manning Park. Notice the puddles.
imageCampsite at Manning Park. Notice the various clothing / camping items being dried over an open wood fire. And what’s that white stuff?
imageCampsite at Manning Park. The white stuff is … snow!

imageCampsite at Manning Park. One of the worst campsites ever.

Open pit mining and…soil remediation plant! Sounds biblical, like lions living with lambs LOL

  1. June 22, 2011 at 2:54 pm

    Great photos Ilan- they really speak volumes about the ride.

    The mountains look very high in the photos while the roads look deceivingly flat. It might be interesting to post some shots of the uphill section sometime so that the rest of us can get a glimpse of your cycling reality- and probably cringe…

    Wishing you sunny skies and good sleeping.

  2. Carol Good
    June 20, 2011 at 2:59 pm

    Glad that your weather has improved – cycling uphill in torrential rain has to lose its appeal after a few hours ;-)

  3. Reuven
    June 20, 2011 at 12:23 am

    Keep smiling Ilan, hope only good adventures

  4. Avi
    June 19, 2011 at 8:11 pm

    Too many beans in the chili?
    Avi, Kathy and Gay

    Your neighbour?

    We love you anyway

    I’ll bite…what blew up at 3 am?

    • June 21, 2011 at 10:55 pm

      I was told the most likely cause for the huge noise, other than the rain (thunder), was…a big truck back-firing on the nearby highway!

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