Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Kettle Valley - Coalmont to Hope

We are once again on the trail, this time attempting the last section of the KVR from Coalmont to Hope.
We start in Coalmont, at the point we left off last year. The weather is fine, dry and hot for early September! The trail is dusty and quite ATV-churned, and the scenery rather "meh" until we get to Tulameen. Things improve markedly as we cross the Otter River bridge (on the cover of Dan Langford's guide to the KVR!) and the motorized traffic gets left behind.
The scenery is beautiful as we wind our way by old weathered barns in hay fields, along a chain of small blue lakes...we even get to see a bear cross our path!

The road surface is good, packed gravel, and the directions clear. We encounter only a single farmer on his tractor until we get past Thalia. It turns out that the KVR from Thalia to Brookmere is used by the locals as the main route from Brookmere to Tulameen; they prefer the flat, wide, 10km long railbed to the 26km winding logging road, which is the only other alternative. Go figure. We see 3 cars in an hour.

No trouble cycling the 42 km from Coalmont to Brookmere, although it is a long day!
The next day we bike from Brookmere to the Coquihalla summit, a little under 30km. The day starts with some really rough "ATV surf" (washboard on a large scale), which would seriously impede us if we were riding fully loaded bikes. Luckily we aren't, plus, it's downhill, so it's nothin' but a slightly challenging ride as we swim down the loose surface of the trail.
There are some short washouts on this stretch, as well as some small rock falls to walk over.
Just past Brodie, we encounter the first major washouts of the trip. The first has a trail bypass (very steep) that we carry our bikes along...
but the second one has no trail at all across its sandy slope. We have to forge a new path on the steep sand, carrying bikes and gear while a family of ATV'ers looks on from the far side.
We can hear the Coquihalla Highway now, it is across the river. At some point the highway comes up to, and swallows, the railbed. We have to go through the game fence, and follow the paved access road through the now-defunct Coldwater Provincial Park. After the park, there's no more pavement for us, and we follow the highway, skirting along the game fence along a dirt track. The ride is challenging and we enjoy it, even with the highway noise from above.
Finally at the Coquihalla Lakes (summit) we cross under the highway and get onto the paved access road to the rest area and the parked car. It has taken us 6.5 hours to cover 29km, thanks to the challenging terrain!

The next day we are on the Trans Mountain pipeline access road. There's a big gate we push our bikes under, and then we're off on a steep gravel road that dives quickly down far below the KVR grade, which clings to the mountainside high above us. This is a remote stretch as the "Coke" has pulled off into a different valley altogether. We are completely alone...until we meet an encampment of ATVers with big 5th wheel trailers. How'd they get in here???
The weather is turning fall-like, there's a nippy headwind most of the day and a high fog threading the mountain tops. The road is really rough in parts, but because we're not loaded down it's OK. We see remains of trestles and snowsheds on the mountainside, relics of the KVR.  At about the halfway point the pipeline road comes up to the KVR railbed again and we can follow the original grade; a nice 2% downhill slope. There are some original tunnels, still in use and maintained by the pipeline company.
The road dips down again, leaving the railbed, but now we can follow the trail. It is a green, mossy tunnel; easy cycling along a forest path, very quiet and beautiful. The day ends with another gate and on pavement again; the access of the pipeline road to the Coquihalla highway. It has been an easier day today - all downhill on mostly good roads!
Our final day is from Aurum (the Carolin Mines road) to Hope. The day starts promisingly with reasonable weather, a good grade and lovely wooded glades, high above the highway.
At about Jessica station, though, the railbed becomes impassible and the track leads us down to the highway. At this point we have a choice of following the "bike" signs, which clearly lead us to the highway shoulder, or the TransCanadaTrail markers which lead under the highway...and, we hope, to a path off of it.  However, we are disappointed and even it leads onto the shoulder of the Coquihalla. There is no escape. We must walk on the shoulder of the Coquihalla, by now in the rain, with trucks approaching at 120km/h, for about 2 hours to cover 4 km. It's awful and it is the low point of the trip. What makes it worse is that we can see a dirt road on the opposite side of the river next to us...but there is no way to cross the water.
Thankfully, this too ends, and we access the railbed at Othello Road, to our huge relief. We're nearing the famous Othello aka QuintetteTunnels (although there are only 4...), which are truly a marvel of engineering. Four aligned tunnels with 2 bridges over the raging Coquihalla river...We pass through the tunnels and then on through the park and the sudden West Coast jungle vegetation...
The town of Hope is a mere 8km away and we coast quickly. We've made it! Over the past few years we've done from Midway to Hope, practically the entire KVR. Of course, there are still the branch lines to explore...

Friday, July 30, 2010

Rail Trails in Spain - Girona to Sant Feliu

Here we are, on holiday in Spain (Catalunya), and we've got the opportunity to try out a Spanish rail-trail!
It appears that there is a network of rail-trails here, called Vias Verdes, and we decide to try one out to compare it to what BC's got to offer. The one we pick goes from Girona to the coast, about 40km to a town called Sant Feliu de Guixols. Click on the picture to enlarge and read a bit about its history. 
We rent bikes from a British/Dutch couple who've established a shop in Girona that caters to people just like us. The bikes are pretty decent! They come complete with panniers and built-in locks.
The kind folks at the shop provide us with detailed directions to get to the coast. There's a bus which will take us back to Grona...so off we go! There's nothing to do, really, but follow the signs for the Via Verde:
How hard can this be?

The route leads through a number of towns, each with its own brick stationhouse. Most of them house tourist information offices, and most have functioning, clean washrooms and a drinking fountain. Which turns out to be a real plus, as we stick our heads under the cold water on more than one occassion!

The first few towns seem to be bedroom communities or heavily agricultural, and not so scenic. Then, the route takes us into the real countryside, and we're passing through farm fields. The corn is 2m high, I've never seen it like this here. It is hot hot hot and the cicadas buzz like a maracas band...
Here comes Alf around the corner!
The track seems well used, we see lots of lycra-clad Spanish mountain bikers out for their weekend tour. Some small stretches of the route go through towns (ie. on, or next to, a road), and some of the rural sections double as farm roads, so we do encounter some motorized traffic. But in general, the route is bike-only. The road surface is superb, hard-packed dirt.
Some parts remind us of the KVR, with cuts through high banks, and bridges...

We stop for a snack in Cassa de la Selva, and encounter a milk vending machine! At first we can't believe it, but then we witness it being used by the locals, so of course we have to try it too. We get a plastic cup of cold, fresh milk for 50 euro-cents. Maybe because all the grocery stores here offer is the UHT stuff??
At about 3 pm it gets too hot for us, and we stop at a local restaurant in Castell d'Aro for a late lunch, choosing whatever they have the for menu du jour. Andrew nearly falls asleep over his crema catalana...siesta time!
After a quick look around town (there's a nice old fort/church), we start biking again at about 4, we've not got far to go anymore.
We soon hit Sant Feliu, with its sandy (busy) beach and classic boulevard.
We head for the bus station, where after a heated exchange in broken Spanish with a reluctant bus driver (customer service has some way to go...), we can throw our bikes underneath in the luggage compartment and climb aboard for a 45-minute, air-conditioned ride back to Girona.
We return the bikes and enjoy a celebratory glass of limonata!