Spruce Lake 2000 - Success! by Bob Sabiston
I looked at brodieGirl's email and a felt my jaw tighten. Spruce Lake. Scene of two failed expeditions and I don't take to failure well. Once in '94 - done in by inept navigation - that was my fault because navigating is what I do - and once last year, driven back by relentless hordes of ravenous black flies seemingly placed there only to deprive us of our stated goal. That and a busted derailleur.
"Damn it, I'm in" I replied and hit the send button, knowing full well the risks I had just assumed. You had better be prepared if you embark on an expedition with brodieGirl or you and your fragile male ego will be ground into the dirt like the ashes of a cheap cigar.
We drove up Saturday morning, bG and her benevolent backer LeeL in a green Subaru Legacy Brighton, dual air bags, and myself, driving a green Subaru Legacy Brighton, dual air bags, taking along for the ride the other two players in this game. The mysterious Iridè rode shotgun. Was she French? Possibly Romanian? "Firmware" was all she revealed about herself. In the back of the Brighton was her sidekick Svengler - equally mysterious, possessing weird red gear that glows and apparently has supernatural powers. I knew little about them, only that they spent their days training pigeons to accompany them on mountain bike rides.
The drive up was uneventful and we arrived at the Gunn Lake campsite mid afternoon. It was too late for a ride that day, so we just set up camp and scouted the territory. Sunday was to be the day. "We leave at 0900 tomorrow morning, and that's German time" warned bG as we all turned in for the night. I slept fitfully, partly from the cold mountain air and partly from the knowledge of what awaited us tomorrow.
I woke up Sunday morning and it was cold. Two degrees Celsius read the thermometer. I shivered and got out of the tent. After calibrating my altimeter and checking the batteries in the GPS, I was ready for breakfast. A six pack of cinnamon buns, some raisin bread, and a litre of grapefruit juice and I felt good. We were off at 0900. Right away, barely before I was even able to clip in, we were faced with the first of many steep climbs. This one rose 200 metres very quickly. Immediately, I was in pain. My plaintive gulps of air were not acknowledged by my legs. Instead, quelling the burning sensation of acid reflux became my immediate challenge. BG, Iridè, and LeeL were gone. Svengler hung back with me and occasionally passed his weird red glove in front of my eyes. It must of worked because I made it to the top with most of my breakfast intact.
The next bit of the ride was an easy spin along Gunn Creek road to the start of the trail. The trail itself is easy single track that follows Gunn Creek upstream with a steady but gentle gradient. LeeL and bG were setting a fast pace but I was beginning to find my legs and was not too far behind. Two hours into the ride and we reached the Jewel Creek campsite. There is a bridge to the other side of Gunn Creek and you can drive there along a dirt road. This is the site that the guide books usually say is the start of the ride. They also say the round trip to Spruce Lake is 5 to 8 hours; we were adding another three onto that but at least we had picnic benches.
After Jewel Creek, the ride got just a bit tougher. There were some steeper rises to forested benches above the creek followed by drops back down to the water. The creekside was often very covered with big boulders and occasionally required a bit of hiking. The benches above the water were in nice shape, well spaced trees and a smooth surface made for fast riding. This section would take us to a bridge crossing Gunn Creek and the start of more climbing.
Two thirds of the way along this section, LeeL and bG encountered a party of back country horse riders. There was a brief standoff as bG refused to yield the trail to the 1300 lb animals but she relented when Mel, the lead rider, informed us that one of the horses was a bit lame. "Bitten on the but by a mean old griz, she was" said Mel, "I'm not sure if she's going to make it home". Fortunately, Svengler came to the rescue. After briefly inspecting the festering wound, he shoved his magic red helmet up the horses butt and all was fine. "Gee thanks" said Mel, "Sorry about all the fresh horse poop on the trail".
The next section of the trail is on the west side of Gunn Creek between the second and third bridges. It starts with a steep climb out of the valley and gave us some nice views of the mountains on the east side of the water. About half way along this section, we came to the site where last years expedition was abandoned. The only evidence that remained was a discarded bottle of Avon Skin so Soft. At this point, I was feeling strong and confident. I was even able to take the lead some of the time, but never for long. We were three and a half hours into the ride and with the hard part of the climb ahead of us, I knew that that fuel would be important.
The final crossing
of Gunn Creek was the final rest stop before the long climb up to Spruce Lake.
I was digging around in my bag for something to eat when bG said "Here
have one of these".
The bar looked genuine enough and I felt bG's intentions were well placed so I ate half the bar. Soon I realized my mistake. A sudden burning sensation in the gut and my pyloric sphincter went into spasm. Every breath I took for the next two hours was like an ice pick between the ribs. To make matters worse, my gut flora went berserk on the vile substance I just ingested. They tried there darndest but were only able to break it down to a collection of fairly complex, noxious, gasified organic compounds that only had one path out my reeling body. I felt a bit sad for my bike shorts, they had served me well but alas, this was to be their last ride. They deserved better.
Despite the discomfort, we continued on. The final leg of the ride is both the hardest and the most beautiful. We climbed out of the Gunn Creek valley and up a pass that would take us to Spruce Lake. For the most part, we were passing through meadow with the occasional grove of aspen or spruce thrown in. The meadows were nice but obviously well past their prime, the victim of too many late summer frosts (but so were the bugs!!!). The climb through the meadow was relentless. Because it was so wide open, it didn't look very steep but it was (over 200 metres in 2km). The eyes kept on saying "you can ride this, its not too steep" but every time I got on the bike, the legs would scream after only a few metres. It was push, push, push for much of the way.
We finally made it to Spruce Lake. Net climb of just under 1000 metres, probably about 25 to 30 km and it only took us five and a half hours. I was cold, tired, hurting, and still farting up a storm. Spruce Lake was, well it was a lake. And there were a bunch of spruce trees. What more can I say. BG and Iridè wanted to keep going to a lookout up a hill over the lake but I threatened mutiny. We rested. Svengler was looking a bit weak. BG pulled a bar out of her pocket and said "try one of these". I tried to stop him but it was too late. Thick white foam filled his mouth and he fell down, writhing on the ground as LeeL looked on with a proud look on his face. Then Svengler got up and we started the descent.
The descent was fun,
fun, fast, fun, fast, fast, fun fun. Big ring heaven. Oh mama! It was fun! It
took a total of three hours as there were a number of reclimbs and the occasional
pit stop to clean the dirt out from between your teeth but for the most part
it was sheer, stoking hard assed pedalling. Forget about how hungry you are,
forget about the cold, forget about who won Survivor, forget even about the
scenery, life was distilled to that sweet line between this tree and that one
coming at you at about 30 clicks. It was fun.
The trail ended far
too soon and we were pack on Gunn Creek Road. There stilll was one final descent;
down the old double track (where I almost lost my breakfast on the ascent).
This was fast, steeper than most of the previous descending, speed was limited
by your nerve. The absolutely brilliant thing about this descent is that if
you carry just enough speed around the final switchback and let it roll from
there, you will have exactly enough momentum to coast directly to your beer
cooler. Can you ask for anything more.
In all, we were out 9 hours. By the time we got back, we were all as out of gas and useless as an empty Coleman stove. Long way to come from Vancouver but definitely worth it. Next year, we will check out some of the other trails in the area as you could easily spend a week up here without even scratching the surface