I’d resolved the night before that I would do the bike park. I was in Whistler, I had only one day left, how could I leave without hitting the famous trails? I was up at 7am to give me time to pack my van before heading out. Everyone had left the house already, so I didn’t actually get a chance to say a proper goodbye to Sheilagh! I made myself a huge breakfast, in the hopes that I could keep the hunger away until lunch time, since I was running low on snack food. As I ate, I double checked that the bike park didn’t have any rules about armour or full face helmets, which they didn’t, only strong recommendations.
I packed up everything from my room and carried it downstairs only to discover that it was raining. What? I’d checked the weather and it was supposed to be good in the morning, turning worse in the afternoon. Typical Whistler! As a result, I was thinking about bailing, so messaged Dan. He gave me a subtle push and convinced me. I had to stop doubting and just commit! He strongly suggested a mudguard so I sacrificed one of my four liter water containers to fashion one out of with a couple of cable ties. Tickety-boo!
Thankfully, the rain let off and I could re-organise the van without having to be huddled inside. It was all a bit of a mess because I’d been grabbing things in and out of it the past few days but it didn’t take long to set everything straight. Last thing was to put the bike on the roof, then I did a full sweep of the house to make sure nothing was left behind. I wrote a letter to Sheilagh, Graham, Tristan, Dave and Jake, thanking them for their hospitality and friendship, said a meow to Enrique, then left camp. I was in Lot 4 by 9:20 and ready to ride at 9:30ish. At the chair lift, it was absolute desertion. Not a rider and barely a person in sight. No line at the ticket booth, so straight up at the window they took my $70. No discount for the foul weather! Dan rocked up at 10am, very much looking the downhill rider. I felt quite small and insignificant next to his big forks, big helmet and overall mean bike, We though we’d aim for the gondola first and head all the way up the mountain while we were relatively dry and warm. That plan fell over pretty quickly when we realised the gondola wasn’t open yet. Turns out it wouldn’t be opening all day, or all week for that matter. They have so much maintenance they need to do before winter that it was turned on only for the weekends, That would have been nice to know before buying my ticket! Thanks money-makers. Anyway, it didn’t really make much difference in terms of the trails we could access, just that we had to sit out in the cold and rain instead of being in a nice Perspex box. We were cold on the chairlift while we were dry, so it only got worse with each ride we did as we got muddier and muddier.
The first run was cautious, on Crank It Up from the top of the Fitzsimmons lift. It was a freeride trail, which meant it was mostly man made and a bit wider than single track with a few jumps. Dan gave me tips along the way. Things he’d learnt during his 75+ visits to the bike park and from weekly lessons he’d done throughout the summer. It was amazing to find that leaning your bike a certain way gave you so much more grip in the corners, and keeping your elbows up meant better control. We went up and down Fitzsimmons hitting more blue runs and getting on to a few blacks. The first black we rode was a technical trail and I discovered that this is definitely my bag. The freeride stuff is fun, but the technical trails had more natural features and rocks instead of being smoothed over. I prefer them because they’re more natural and I find them way more challenging because of the lines you have to pick pretty instantaneously. I think we’d done about four runs by the time I needed a break, mostly because I couldn’t feel my hands or my feet. Dan wasn’t feeling much warmer. We hit Fat Tony’s pizza place which is tucked behind one of the main bars near the lifts. Another favourite of Dan’s because of the $2 slices of pizza. I was happy for any sort of warm food in my belly and it was relatively warm inside. I went to the bathroom, which was a bit of an epic trying not to cover everything with mud, made even more difficult because the operation of my fingers was limited. We stood at the bar and ate, not wanting to muddy any chairs in the place and actually drew a fair few customers in. We stayed maybe half an hour, then went back out to brave the weather.
Everything we were wearing was soaked. Gloves, shoes, socks, underwear, everything. A few runs into our second stint, the sun actually came out for a few minutes. We thought we’d take the window of opportunity to go to the top of the mountain (or as close to it as chair lifts allowed). So at the top of Fitzsimmons Lift, we rode across to Garbanzo Lift for another ride up, this one slightly longer. We played around trying to get a selfie with Whistler village in the background with semi-success.
Not long after that the sun turned off and it started raining. Then it started falling as ice. Then snow. We laughed at how stupid this was. We couldn’t feel any of our extremities, it even felt weird to talk because my lips and nose were numb. At the top, the lift operator smiled at us, knowing full well how stupid we were. I asked the temperature and he explained it was a balmy 6 degrees. Maybe that was the temperature inside his hut.
We rode off to find Una Moss, a blue trail to take us all the way down. It was rough, my body wasn’t functioning properly anymore. Not long into the run, we discovered that some of it was closed off, so we made for a black trail instead. Would have been nice to know some of the trails were shut! Then we may not have come all the way up! Anyway, some features of the blacks were a little too much for me, especially in the wet. I found it easier to chase Dan and follow his lines. I had an off on a rock roll that was slippery. I think I just put my back tyre in the wrong spot. Nothing too bad, but somehow the chainrings had dug into my right shin. That turned into an egg pretty quickly but the cut wasn’t too deep. A bit further along, we came to something similar, a very smooth looking rock that dropped away to be nearly vertical. Dan read my mind that it would be too slippery, but he knew the land and told me that I could trust that the surface would give me grip, to just go slow. I followed him right through it and had success! What a great teacher. The lower we got, the warmer it became and the feeling in our limbs started to return. Unfortunately this meant my leg started to sting a bit. At the bottom, we both knew it was nearly time to pack it in, but I wanted one last run, to do a few of the trails on the bottom half we hadn’t hit yet. With them done, we would have knocked off all of the ones worth doing in Dan’s book. He was happy with one more. On the lift up we almost felt warm in comparison to what we’d been through! There were a few more riders out with the blue sky, but still nothing compared to a normal day. I was really loving it at the end of the last run. We finished on Ho Chi Minh and Heart of Darkness. Ho Chi Minh had a great lower section that was a slalom through the trees that I could have hit again and again and the last trail had nice jumps that I felt comfortable with. The air I got is pathetic compared to what others would get, but it was enough to give me a rush.
At the bottom, I gave my bike a wash and Dan took a photo of me with the mountain. We’d already concocted a plan to go back to his place for some hot tubbing, so I rode to my car, put the bike on the roof, then headed a few streets over to meet Dan. He was just finishing up washing his bike so I took the hose and hosed down my clothes and shoes. I would have to figure out a way to get them dry once I was back driving in the van, but I wasn’t too concerned about that right then. The hot tub at Dan’s share house runs perpetually so we went straight out the back, lifted the covers and it was steaming. I’d hosed myself down to be relatively clean so jumped straight in with my underwear. Oh, what a feeling. It almost burned at first, but I liked it. I sat there and let the warmth soak into my body. Dan joined me shortly after he’d changed and he felt the same. We chatted away until we were both thoroughly warmed through, then I jumped out and had a shower.
After giving Dan a quick tour of the van and saying good bye and good luck, I was on the road again, after feeling at home for four days. It had been so great not only to see Dan, but to ride with him.
I was starving, so stopped for food in Squamish and planned my route through Vancouver and back into the U.S. It was a hard navigate as well because my maps wanted to take me on a toll road, it was raining and got dark very quickly. As I got closer to the border, I got more nervous about my re-entry. Of course I’d done everything I could to ensure I would be allowed re-entry, but you never know. I went through the Pacific Crossing, again avoiding the Peace Arch option. I arrived at the border around 7:30pm. There wasn’t much of a line, at the booth, I provided both passports to a jolly-looking Asian man who understood my situation immediately. I mentioned I had worked at Tesla and he asked if it had really become that bad because of the corporate notions. He read my mind! He asked a few questions about how much money I had and when I planned to exit, which I answered, then he instructed me to park my vehicle up the road and go into the customs building with all the evidence I needed.
In the customs building there were quite a few officers standing around, a group of three travellers, one guy on his own in line and a Indian-looking lady dressed in black sitting down a bit further on. I lined up behind the single guy and waited. Before long, it became obvious that there was a conflict between the Indian lady and the customs officers. She didn’t want to give her fingerprints. I got the impression she was Canadian and refused to put her hands on the pad because she was “not a criminal” but demanded entry. Many officers tried to explain the situation to her and more officers started to crowd around her as if she might try to run out at any moment. She just stood with her arms folded, speaking only rarely as she was lectured. Multiple times they threatened her with handcuffs and explained that all she had to do was provide her fingerprints and she could go on her way. Nope, she wasn’t having any of it. The rest of us that were waiting (we obviously couldn’t be helped while this was going on) were ushered away from the scene closer to the door, again just in case something were to happen. After about 15 minutes, the guy I’d dealt with in the car came in and took my passports. Not long after he called me over to his bench where he asked me to show him my exit ticket to Germany, which I had on my laptop and showed him. He was happy with that. Then he asked me where I’d be staying and I gave Kaila’s address and when he asked about my itinerary, I told him some of the highlights I had in mind, but he didn’t need to see the written version. He explained that he was letting me in because of the amount of money I had. I thanked him. He printed a page and stapled it to my passport and stamped the next page. Before handing it back, he said, “You will leave the United States by the 17th of December, are we in agreement?” “Yes.” I said.
“Enjoy your travels Sarah.”
“Thank you sir, and good luck with this” I said as I notioned towards the Indian lady.
And that was it, I walked out, handed an orange piece of paper to a man sitting in a booth on the way out and I was in! Relief! I didn’t realise how anxious I had been, so careful not to say the wrong thing, or make the wrong joke, it was actually kind of hard dealing with someone with a sense of humour because you don’t know when to laugh and when not to.
The rain immediately stopped once I crossed into the U.S., which was strange, and my phone went bing! Bing! Bing! as I was in internet range again and I immediately tried to call Mum and Dad, but was having technical difficulty. Within a few miles, the rain had caught up to me and a rest area appeared so I pulled over to talk to Mum and Dad properly. It being past 8:30pm, I talked with them for a while and decided to make camp there. This rest area allowed stays of up to eight hours, but I didn’t set an alarm to ensure that. We had a good catch up, having not spoken since I embarked on my journey. I brushed my teeth, organised the van a bit, then got into my nice warm bed, the rain still going on and off outside. I would have to do something about the seals where the roof rack straps came in, but I set up some temporary water catchers with snap lock bags for the time being. I also spoke to Vanessa who’d sent me a text saying she was missing me, but she was happy that I would be back Monday to catch up with her. So was I.
Needless to say, I was again, knackered, so easily fell asleep.
Sorry, not many photos to share for this one. It was either too wet, or an inappropriate place to get a camera out (customs office).