By Athlete Ambassador, Jeffrey Hansen-Carlson. www.jeffreyhansencarlson.com
When I am going for a bike ride my wife has given up asking where I am going or when I will be back. The answer is always the same. I don’t know.
In the grand scheme of adventure cycling I am an amateur. If one day I ever earn the right to be called an ‘adventure cyclist’ I would be a pretty happy guy. It has never been the athleticism that appealed to me. Being fit and strong is a byproduct of commitment to any sport. When I hop on the bike with a couple days to burn I don’t call it anything other than adventure. And, adventure means a lot of different things.
I have very close friends who are professional athletes. They are fit, committed, and talented. But, I don’t think they understand the whole premise of adventure cycling being my sport. I don’t want to train. I don’t care about how many watts I produce. I am not interested in my FTP. I just want to ride. Out there.
When I meet people that understand this exceptionally simple view of a bike ride I like them. Even if they vote liberal. If I see someone with a twinkle in their eye, a cautious interest in how I approach every bike ride, I set my sights on giving them a story to tell. Often it means pushing them a bit outside their comfort zone.
My friend Kasia, who is joining us on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Tour in 2015 is one of those people. She does not say no very often.
I chose a weekend – rain or shine – and began seeking out friends to join me on a two day ride on the southern part of Vancouver Island. The long range weather looked great so I had some keen interest. As the weekend approach the weather took a turn for the worse and suddenly it was just Kasia and I heading out.
The original plan was simple. Ride to my secret beach. Camp. Ride back a different route. With the weather obviously turning we gave up on the idea of sleeping on the beach and decided we would leave where we slept to fate.
I rigged up my fat bike in Great Divide fashion. I was looking at this two day trek as a proving ground for my new set of bags by Revelate Designs. I am considering taking my fat bike on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Tour this summer but I want to be comfortable with the prospect of it.
Kasia had her mountain bike tuned up and her backpack with only the essentials.
We were ready.
On Saturday morning we were in the cue to catch the 7am ferry from Tsawwassen to Swatz Bay. It was cold and windy but we were excited. I was shivering. As we waited to board we met a couple from the Netherlands who were setting out on a mirror journey of our very own adventure. It was not spoken, but we all agreed to start the ride together.
The four of us passed the time on the ferry by sharing perspectives on just about everything, drinking coffee after coffee and going pee a lot.
It took Kasia and I only a few kilometers to realize that our pace was much faster so we discussed bidding them farewell. I checked over my shoulder. I could not see them. Kasia stopped, I turned around and rode back to see what had happened.
You can’t make this part up… Because of the strong wind a tree fell. It landed not a few meters behind our new friends. They could have been seriously injured. A car was not so lucky. It hit the fallen tree and left a hell of a mess. Our would-be riding partners we stuck giving first aid.
Nobody died. Kasia and I were chomping at the bit. We officially parted ways. I left the scene as they were providing statements and exchanging information for insurance purposes.
With Kasia and I setting our own pace we quickly dialed into our zones. There is something very pure about being on a big ride with someone and having no desire to talk as you are covering ground. We knew we were going to stick together. We knew if someone needed help the other would give it. With all that we could talk about we had many long periods where nothing needed to be said, so it wasn’t.
Sometimes I get excited and do random things. Like turn left when the sign says go straight. I hate being told what to do. Especially by signs.
This particular left turn did not bring us to a Holy Grail of adventure cycling. I thought it would. It dropped us down a ridge to a busy road. A busy road we followed in the wrong direction until we stumbled upon an entry to the trail we were supposed to stay on. We had ridden this section of the trail already so my spirited left turn did nothing but add a fast decent and a little climb on a busy road to our adventure.
Ahead of us I caught a quick view of a helmet I recognized. It was our friends from the ferry! We caught up, rode alongside them, made sure they were both smiling and excited for their own adventure. They were. We again parted ways.
By noon Kasia and I were going through Langford on the Galloping Goose Trail. It was time for some real food.
The beauty of adventure is that it means anything and everything you want it to mean. Adventure does not need to be eating moss off a tree, sleeping under a shrub, and fending off bears. Adventure can also mean leaving the trail and going to Starbucks. That’s what we did.
With the wind still blowing I began to think about what kind of ground we would need to cover, and in what direction we would need to go, to end up at a place to sleep.
From Langford to Metchoisn and back to Victoria across Esquimalt Lagoon would be a few more hours but it would also put us on the doorstep of the Fairmont Empress.
We started again along the Galloping Goose Trail. I repeatedly had to check my map to make sure we were heading the right direction. I know this particular part of the island very well but only from a road bike, not these back country trails.
We were never entirely disconnected from mankind but the further out we got on the quieter and more peaceful it became. Unfortunately it soon came time to again leave the trail, do an about-turn, and head in to Victoria.
The ride into the city was quiet. Over our shoulder the weather was getting worse and we knew that although the wind had been keeping us honest it was only a matter of time before the rain started. As we arrived at the Fairmont Empress and gave our bikes to the valet the rain began to fall. Impeccable timing.
A Short Night Out
What you pack on a bike adventure is both an art and a science. Fashion is not a consideration regardless of how swanky the night’s lodging is. Following quick showers and dressed in Toms, a wrinkly shirt, and wrinkly pants we were off for a night on the town.
On a short walk to a local pub for dinner we met a guy playing the violin dressed in a Darth Vader costume. He is a bit of a street performing institution in Victoria, they call him the ‘Darth Fiddler’. Kasia went to pose for a picture with this character. He asked for money. All I had was $20’s… He seemed exceptionally grateful.
Dinner at the pub sucked. But the wine was good. Early to bed was the plan to be fresh to do it all in reverse the next day.
The reason I enjoy a Fairmont is because they all have lounges with first-class service and character. What is better than to relax in a quiet lounge surrounded by people from all of the world telling stories? Well, Kasia on her third Russian Mule was pretty entertaining…
Her last words to me as we left the lounge were, “I finish strong.”
It took me less than a minute in my bed to fall asleep. I even fell asleep in my clothing. Shoes too. On a fat bike, into a constant headwind all day, I didn’t have much left in the tank.
We were up and organized to check-out by 7:30am. A quick breakfast stop at a coffee shop gave us the fuel to get fresh and warm fast. It was raining and the day seemed to be telling us it was only going to get wetter. My coffee and two shots of espresso put life in my limbs and I felt invincible when we rolled out for the journey home.
We had no firm time to be anywhere and when the weather is bad you are left with two choices. Cut your losses and head back as the crow flies. Or, ride with a smile and let the adventure unravel as it may.
We subconsciously chose the latter. We rode what is known as the Coastal Route from downtown Victoria; first south-east along the Strait of Juan de Fuca until we wrapped around the bottom of Vancouver Island. We then began heading north along the Haro Strait.
The rain never became more than a trickle. The day seemed warmer. The roads and trails and views and peace of it all was almost magical. I didn’t say much to Kasia. She didn’t say much to me.
Except for when Kasia found mud.
She let out a giggle and cranked up the torque enough to purposely throw as much mud all around her, and on her, as she possibly could. This trail would take us directly back to the starting point. It was the home stretch. What better time to get dirty. I could not resist and began aiming my fat bike for every puddle and swampy part of the trail, too.
We rolled into the ferry terminal under blue sky. Not wet. Just muddy. We were done.
I am grateful for the opportunity to get to know Kasia. She is the newly appointed CEO of VeloFemmes Canada CCC Ltd., the company I founded to organize the Women’s Tour in Vancouver. A UCI 2.1 stage race for women.
Kasia is a natural leader and administrator so she will do well in this role. But what is almost more important to me is how well and how often a person plays. Kasia knows how to play. How to let a big bike ride be nothing more than an adventure.