The wind was howling through the bottom of my front door, and it acted as a better alarm clock than I could have hoped for. Waking up with a sense of doubt seems to render you far more aware than rising with a clear mind. For a moment I pretended that the blankets had me trapped, and every time the wind voiced itself, the blankets grasp would cinch a little tighter. Still wide awake, the second alarm went off and I've never noticed how irritating the sound is when you're entirely coherent. All right, I was up. Breakfast was quick, the coffee was made, and I was out the door.
Trying to convince myself that it would be a quick, enjoyable ride, went out the window the second I stepped outside. This was easily the coldest morning we've had this fall. Clear skies, and that bully they call the wind, had joined forces to leave frost on mostly everything. This, is exactly what GRADIENT is all about though. Accomplishing rides through any conditions, so let's quit being a baby and get on with the adventure.
An hour later, I was parked at the top of the Hump in an area that's generally reserved for people unloading their dirtbikes, or atvs. Instead, I unloaded my human powered pedal bike with only a raccoon as my audience. Luckily he didn't offer much criticism about my choice of off-road transportation and continued to pillage the Wendys bag that had been thrown out the window of a passing vehicle. Next was to load up the jersey pockets with a pretty standard selection of items: a pump, tire levers, two additional tubes, Garmin, Banana, Nanaimo Bar, water bottle, and an Opinel No. 08. That last item to be packed was my form of protection in the event that a cougar or bear were to find me in the woods. Drawn in by the scent of a Nanaimo Bar. No a small knife is not going to offer me much physical protection, but it keeps my mental stability in check and convinces me that I may stand a fighting chance... Right.
Only the mountain tops were being greeted by the sun at this point as I left the vehicle, splashed through some puddles, and slowly began the descent into the valley that would transport me the rest of the way. Thanks to the false flats of the valley floor, I was going slow enough that I could listen to every small creek or river that passed underneath the road. Quiet. Realizing that any and all wind had left my company, travels to the base of Mt. Arrowsmith, were deathly silent. Then I rounded a corner, and could finally get a clear visual of the feat in which I was about to undertake. My mind was quiet no more.
Steep grades awaited me once veering LEFT at the Mt. Arrowsmith junction. This was a perfect opportunity to discover that I actually couldn't shift into the largest rear cog, and that I'd be slow spinning it for most of this section. Joy. That's not something I felt during the first 20 minutes, as I stopped twice in hopes of repairing my derraileur. With no success coming from my second attempt, I summoned the angriest thought I could, and pedaled with a maddened strength towards the hill's first slight plateau.
As I climbed the first switch back, it was accompanied by frost so thick, some would consider it ice. From here on out, the climb became a seated one just to keep traction as every time I got out of the saddle, I was reminded of the Bill Nye episode about friction. The second switch back arrived shortly after, and the tree line became a little thinner. Being a logging road, it wasn't built to give views, but was very successful at teasing with the tiny openings that were now visible.
Finishing the switchbacks, I started up the kind of straight section that leaves you yearning for the mystery of the corners you'd just completed. Being able to stare up a climb for more than a few kilometers or so can sometimes come as mental disaster. Fortunately I still had lots of legs left, and wasn't going to let anything discourage me.
Almost forgetting to look around and take in the beauty of where I was, the first true sights snuck up on me.
The valley was filled with cloud, and as someone who travels to Port Alberni quite often, it was nice to see an alternate perspective of that foggy place. Towering mountains on the opposite side of town gave me a real sense of how high up I had already climbed, but it came as a reminder that I was only half way there.
Frost had turned to snow, and snow had turned to ice, all while trying to think of metaphors to explain how tiny I felt on that mountain side. Just as my inner Bill Shakespeare was about to voice himself, my bike suddenly jolted into a 45 degree Tokyo drift, forcing me to get back to concentrating on the ride.
Nanaimo seems to house a lot of men in big trucks, who get a kick out of harassing us spandex clad cyclists on the road. Bring that cyclist to a place where the challenge is more obviously measurable, then suddenly the thrown beer cans, and black diesel smoke transform into verbal kudos and waves. This radical change in behavior made me wish I had a beer can to throw at the slow moving trucks. You know, to retain the balance in the relationship.
Just as I was getting sick of that horrendous valley view, the route made a sweeping turn into the heart of the mountain range to save me from having to look at it anymore. With the surface flattening out as it passed through the old rusted gates, I took the opportunity to inhale my Nanaimo Bar. This proved to be a wise decision, because the road at this point was a mixture of short descents and climbs until I reached my final destination. High sugar content kept me focused as I carried all the speed I could up the small frozen hills until I finally saw that big dirt clearing. Surprisingly, but not really, it was mud instead of snow because of people doing donuts in their big trucks.
(On the last corner I was admiring some leg hair and wound up on a sheet of ice that would rival an Olympic sized Hockey rink. Needless to say, I met the ground quite quickly.)