The name’s Mark… Mark BC
My initials are Mark BC. I also live in BC. And I’m going down to BC, Mexico (Baja California) again. I’m going to try Salsipuedes again. No, I’m going to succeed this time! I am much better prepared and most importantly, I am entering from an easier approach with few if any rocky sections to turn me back. I’m excited to get down again. I think some of the areas I’ll be going have never been explored before since the natives lived there a hundred odd years ago. As usual, I’ll try to update my Spot in the evenings, but it may not work sometimes if I am in a deep canyon. The link is to the right. And here is the Baja Nomad Forum post where I talk about it in more detail.
Packrafting / Fatbiking Buntzen Lake
I took my new Pugsley out to Buntzen Lake this weekend. I wanted to try out the bike on the packraft but didn’t want to get salt water over everything, and Buntzen is the closet place you can do that without dealing with whitewater in the North Shore rivers. I paddled down the lake with the bike on the raft, then biked back with the raft on the bike. It worked well. It was in part preparation for my upcoming Mexico trip (I’m going to try Salsipuedes Canyon again), but also it’s just great to get out there and have some fun!
This is a nice area just outside Vancouver. It is a gateway to a lot of very rugged back country terrain. Technically you aren’t allowed to overnight here, but I’m sure if you hike back into the boonies no one would know or care. The issue is the parking gates close at night and you aren’t allowed to park overnight.
I got there after lunch, using up about a third of the charge in my car to get there. I had no heat, to conserve battery, and it was just above freezing. But I was all bundled up. While getting the bike together a BC Hydro truck pulled up and and asked if I was going out overnight. I said, “No, I’m just going up for the day.” “Well you look like you’re going camping”. “No”, I replied, “that’s an inflatable boat on my bike”. Oh cool, well have fun! “Sure,” I said, “the gate closes at 6 right?”. So I had a few hours to go up the lake and back.
Everyone looks and asks about the bike. That day I had three people ask if the bike is “electric assist”. I’m not sure why. That’s one of the biggest drawbacks to fatbikes, is the attention they attract. It’s fine up here since I love talking to people about all this unusual equipment I have, and to spread the sport. But in certain parts of the world, you really don’t want to attract too much attention.
During the ride I noticed that something seemed loose in the pedals. It got worse and worse and finally I decided to take a look. The crank arm bolts were coming loose! I tightened them up no problem but I hope the trail grit that was sticking to the grease doesn’t cause any issues. I’ll spin it really carefully at home to listen for any grinding.
This Gopro mount works pretty well. The others I tried vibrated too much; I’ll have to brace them some more.
Before I knew it I was crossing the lake on the floating bridge and back by 4:30. They even had a bike wash station beside the parking lot!
All in all, a great time was had by all, and all was me.
My New Surly Pugsley Fatbike Build
In previous posts you will see a Salsa Mukluk fatbike that I took various places, generally cold (snow) or hot (sand in Mexico), and not much in between. My friend Mark in California decided that he wanted a fatbike when he tried it out and had a blast with it on the dunes and beach. He will use it for beach combing down in Baja. I wasn’t too keen on the aluminum frame material of the Mukluk, or the small frame triangle, or the 170 mm rear hub, so I sold it to him and used the proceeds to buy a Surly Pugsley frame only that I am building up right now (almost the same as Cass’ new rig). It has a Shimano Alfine 8 internally geared rear hub, and I would like to use a SON 28 dynamo hub up front for charging the electronics (the solar panel works in a kayak but is less than ideal on a bike…), but the front hub width is 135 mm on fat frames (same as the back on the Pugsley), and that dynamo hub in the 135 mm version is not cheap… so for now I will use my old XT hub.
Below you can see the racks I am using. On the front I made my own out of a 3/8” aluminum rod I bent using a propane torch. Then I drilled a hole in the bottom of each leg to bolt it onto the fork. There isn’t much metal left after this hole, so I fear it may break at some point. Instead, I will try it again but I will curl the bottom of the rod around into a circular eye through which the bolt feeds. That way I am not reducing any material in the rod. You can see how I did this with the rear rack in the last photo.
I really like this front rack setup. It is very light and simple and allows me to strap larger but lighter items to the side. They nest in against the water bottle holders. On one side goes my rolled up mattress, and on the other goes my sleeping bag. On top I can also put a smaller item, and mount a GoPro camera off the front. The other benefit of this setup is that the weight is as close to the turning radius of the steering tube as possible, which reduces the effort required to turn the handle bars and makes for better handling (basically, take a wooden broom handle and notice how easy it is to spin it along its axis than along its length). That is also the benefit of having the two water bottle holders aimed backwards 45 degrees (besides not sticking out so far); the weight of the water is closer to the steering pivot. The traditional setups with front panniers way out the front of the wheel on their own dedicated racks are not only heavy, but not an ideal weight distribution. They might work for road touring but not for the kind of rough off-road bush thrashing I tend to do which needs nimbler handling. And this setup does work; the Mukluk I used in Mexico last month (see link to my Baja Nomad blog writeup) was also set up this way and it was quite nimble on the steering. I also used a Revelate Designs Harness off the handlebars to hold my Tarptent Moment. It didn’t seem to degrade steering too much.
In the rear I have an OMM front Sherpa rack which perfectly fits the Pugsley offset if you put one leg on the inside and the other on the outside. It is too small to carry panniers without them getting caught in the wheel, so I had to put an additional aluminum rod there as well to provide extra support for the panniers flapping around.
I added some Extrawheel mounting nuts to the back braze-ons. Usually these replace the axle nuts. But this will not work with the Alfine 8 hub on the Pugsley, because it has a solid axle, not hollow with a quick release skewer, and there is not enough thread sticking out the side to add enough spacers to un-offset the offset of the hub and allow for the trailer fork to clear the rear tire symmetrically.
It is size medium, which in retrospect may be a bit small. I probably should have gotten a large, which also allows for a larger frame bag. I am not too keen on Surly’s new style with the lowered top tube and little triangle gusset at the seat tube. They did this to reduce standover height, to protect your delicate bits if you fall off, but I have never needed it. I’d rather have more frame space.
I found on my Mexico trip that the fat rims and tires felt very sturdy in rough places where I was hauling the bike over tortuous rocks. I’m sure I would have whacked narrower rims out of true in some of those places. So I generally prefer fatbikes for all kind of off-road touring, not just snow and sand. They aren’t the fastest bikes around but on my trips an extra 5% speed on the flats isn’t going to make much of a difference. It’s the rough spots that really add to the time and that is where a fatbike shines.
I have dreamed and measured up my own fatbike frame that I may get a local frame builder to build up for me if I ever get the disposable funds. It would be a symmetrical 135 mm build, not offset like the Pug. Surly uses the 135 mm offset to prevent chain rub on the fat tires when in the lower gears of the rear cassette. But if I run only an internally geared hub then the chain would never be shifting and this would shave off quite a bit of space. The only downside is that you’d be limited to IGH’s and single speed setups, which is not a problem for me because I really dislike using derail-yours on my bushwhacking bikes. Without fail they bend and cause headaches.
This ideal setup could accept even a Surly Lou tire (5”) on the back. The advantage of making it symmetrical in the back is that it is easy to swap out the front and rear wheels, with the symmetrical Surly Moonlander fork I’d be running up front which can accept the largest Surly Bud tire for snowbiking (the true Surley Pugsley fork is offset to allow for swapping with the back, but it will only accept up to a Nate sized tire – 4” or 1 inch narrower. Apparently you can squeeze in a Big Fat Larry but I don’t think there’s much clearance). The other advantage of running symmetrical is that I could swap in more traditional narrow 29” tires (you can’t do this with an offset rim because you don’t get enough dish with the spokes to allow for a strong wheel build – you need a wide rim to allow for offset spoke holes, and a wide rim will not accept a narrower tire). That way I could have one ultimate expedition bike that I could use for any tour, fat or not.
So it seems to be coming together well, and Mark got his fatbike that he loves for beach combing. It all seems to work out in the end…I’ll add more info and photos when it’s actually finished.
Salsipuedes Canyon by Fatbike
Just a quick Note. Tomorrow I go into Mexico and I’ll start my fatbiking trip down the Salsipuedes Canyon. I started a couple forum threads on it so you can read those, I don’t have much time right now. Also you can follow my progress on my Spot GPS page from the link on the right.
Bridge River Recon Part 3 — Chilcotin Mountains Park
The next morning I went into Gold Bridge.
There is only one store in town, which was closed for restocking. I wanted some gas and apparently the other small town of Bralorne, 10 km up the hill to the south, had some.
I went up there but there was no one around, so I went back down, having used up some gas unnecessarily. But Bralorne is an interesting little mining / tourism town. Mountain biking is big here.
I decided I’d spend a night or two up in Chilcotin Mountains Park above Gun Lake.
I have quite a bit of video of the rest of the ride which I’ll add soon, but right now I have some more pressing things to sort out … details to come.
Bridge River Recon Part 2
Another day, another bike ride…
I decided to use the cabin as a home base to check out the valley. It was soon apparent that I wouldn’t be able to do my trip in the one week I had off, unfortunately. It would just be too hard to pull my bike up the valley. I thought the road went further up. Tomorrow I’d go hike up the valley to assess just how difficult it would be. So I spent the rest of the day R&Ring.
The flies are attracted to the heat so when I made dinner they were swarming all around and afterwards the stove was full of dead fly carcasses. It reminds me of a funny story from treeplanting in Alberta years ago. You’d think that being the foreman would be the best job — you don’t actually have to do any real work. It’s the planters who are out there grunting in the trenches. Well in northern Alberta our foreman whipped around on a quad checking everything out and hauling boxes of trees around. And of course, the horse flies and deer flies are attracted to heat and CO2 … both of which the quad was producing copious amounts of. So whenever he’d pull up he’d have this massive, I mean massive, cloud of horseflies following him and he couldn’t outrun them. It was pretty funny.
Anyhoo, that Thai Satay dinner was one of the best ones I’ve had in a while… everything seems to taste better when you are pushing hard and need the calories. It started to hit me how isolated I was. With the road closure I had the entire valley to myself. I was a good 60 km by road from the closest person, maybe 30 km as the crow flies if there were campers up in South Chilcotins Park to the north-east. It’s easy to write, “I was totally alone”, but a bit different to actually experience it. It wasn’t a bad feeling; just something I don’t often experience except on these little adventures I do. Few people get to experience that kind of isolation; it’s worthwhile to try to get it IMHO.
In the evening I lay down on my Thermarest on the plywood bed and listened to music on my iPhone. As it got dark I looked out the small window to vaguely see some stars poking through the trees. I wondered about what the chances were that those particular photons, merely a handful of the quadrillions of quadrillions produced by that star who knows how many light years away, happened to travel through so many unbelievably many kilometers, over such a long time, all the while ever-expanding and diluting in intensity to the square of the distance travelled, and somehow manage to get through the atmosphere, between the fir trees above the cabin, through the smudgy little window, and into my eyes and onto my retina, just at the moment I was thinking about them and looking. What journey must that be like from the photon’s perspective? Or is there such a thing as a photon’s perspective? Maybe that reality of the starlight making its way to my thoughts via my eyes only existed because my consciousness brought it into existence. If I wasn’t alive to observe it, was there even any starlight there to see? How is the star any different than me, if it’s all just “One”? I think I need to do some Buddhist practising out here on these trips…
And now back to “reality”:
And now, for your viewing pleasure, I have put together a video montage of my trip up the valley, including some narration from myself.
.. I hiked back down the deer trail to the cabin. One person with a saw and clippers could clear a nice trail up that valley in one day. I was disappointed that I couldn’t do my circuit, but what did I expect? I’d never been here before. This was a good scoping-out trip and if I had two weeks I would have been able to do it. Hopefully in September I might be able to get time off and do it then. Otherwise, next year. ..
.. It was a long day but the kilometer countdown to the car kept me going.
Here is another video montage of the trip back down, including a demonstration of how to get your bike over a penstock.
Bridge River Recon, Part 1
Like usual I scrambled to get out Saturday morning, not leaving till after lunch. I really need to get packed up a week beforehand so I can just do a final check the morning of, and go.
Unfortunately when I got to the Bridge Main going westwards along the lake there were signs saying that the road was closed at km 16.5 due to a run-of-river project under construction.
So I camped in my car at the side of the road a kilometer back. The next morning I spent a couple hours getting my stuff together and noticed that I forgot to pack my morning oatmeal packets! I always manage to forget something. At least this wasn’t critical and I brought excess other food. I finally set off and rode up to the construction site. I immediately met the site safety supervisor who helped me drag my bike under the penstock and up the other side. Here is a video of me riding my bike up to the site and talking like a chipmunk. Unfortunately I didn’t keep the video on as I went under the penstock, which would have been the most interesting part.
The ground and soil was wet from recent rainstorms. There were butterflies lapping it up and I rode through bursts of colour. I didn’t take any photos though since I was tight on time and their colours didn’t show when they were on the ground with closed wings.
Here is a GoPro mount on the front fork. It’s a shaky spot but a good view. I’ll have to mount it more sturdily so it doesn’t vibrate.
Here are some more videos. I know they’re shitty but they give an idea of the terrain.
The road began to climb… and climb. I was not thrilled about having to gain over 300 m and then lose most of it again to come back down to the river (although it’s all about expectations. I was expecting a nice flat leisurely riverside ride).
The flies were really bad. They were both deer flies, which are pretty big and take chunks out of you, and also smaller house fly-like things that, unlike house flies, bite you. I had to pitch my tent to get away from them for half an hour. While lying there looking at the swarm of flies on the screen of my tent, I noticed a deer fly preening his appendages. Then, seconds later, a wasp came by and grabbed him and ate him on the spot, on my tent. It only took a minute to turn that preening deer fly into mince meat.
This is what I ended up doing on any significant ascent:
I continued on and was concerned about bears. The problem was all these berries at the side of the road where a bear could be hiding, blissfully unaware of my approach until I was on top of him. And the wind was blowing against me, coming down from the mountains from the west, so a bear wouldn’t smell me. Plus the wind was noisy so he wouldn’t hear me either. My bear bell was pretty wimpy, and really more suited for hikers who move much more slowly. I yelled every time I approached a corner.
Chilcotin Bikerafting Route
On Saturday Aug 3 I should be starting my 8 day bikerafting trip through the Chilcotins. Here is a route map:
I’ll start at the big yellow dot. The first part will be an alpine hike-a-bike (yellow) westwards over to a river valley heading north. Then I’ll packraft (red) a few kilometers down this. This enters the Lord River valley via a big steep waterfall, so I’ll have to bushwhack (yellow) a km or two down to the valley bottom. Then I’ll packraft 20 km northwards down the Lord River and the smaller lakes it goes through (red), finally emerging at the south end of Taseko Lake. From here there is an established trail (blue) going back to Gold Bridge via Warner Pass.
There should be lots of grizzlies and bugs, and epic views. The safe aspect is that I’ll be attempting the hard parts — hike-a-biking and packrafting — first, so if there are problems I will have time to get out. The very first part is up that side valley to the north of the Bridge River. The road goes further up than Google Earth shows, apparently. I found this report from a trip that headed east up from that valley into the alpine. I’ll be starting from the same place, but heading west up into the alpine. This photo was taken looking northwards, right around where the yellow dot is:
I tried to line up Google Earth with that:
I’ll head up the creek to the end, and then go left up the western fork up to the alpine. Then I’ll turn left and head west over the alpine. Doesn’t look too hard … I’ve said that before!
You can follow my progress on my Spot GPS map page. I’ll update it every night.
Here is my beast:
(no time to take a photo, I’m leaving in a couple hours — I’ll post em up after)
- 2 water bottles
- alcohol bottle
- bear spray
- water filter
- Tarptent Moment
- two “Mountain Feedbag” stem bags with lunch inside
- maps and other small items in the pocket in front of the tent
- “Gas Tank” bag on top tube which has my Nikon V1 and flash
- frame bag has stove set, clothes, tool kit, and a few other things
- packraft goes on top, with paddles strapped to the sides
- innertube and piece of spare tire are strapped to the rack mounts by the seat stays
- tire pump mounted on top of rear fender by seat stays
- Thermarest mounted under rear rack, wedged in above fender at the very back end of the bike
- food, some other clothes, electronics, all other miscellaneous stuff
- Zipshot tripod mounted on rack / bike frame beside pannier
Other side of rack:
- sleeping bag lashed directly to rack
- solar panel mounted in an Ocean Spray bottle right beside this
May 25 to 28 — Long Beach, California to Alfonsinas, Mexico
This year my two week vacation was to Baja California with my friend Mark and his family in Long Beach. Kayaking the BC coast will have to wait until next year (but I am planning a big 8 day bikerafting trip through the Chilcotins in August, so stay tuned — hey, that’s in a week!)
This one is shorter:
Here are a couple pieces of video stitched together showing the wind and the sand dollars (I don’t have the resources right now to turn them into little movies):
We spent a few days at Alfonsinas with some of Mark’s friends from work, and their friends, all marine biology people (all Colombian too). They weren’t going further south though since they didn’t have the time or proper vehicles for it.
Ring Pass, Attempt #2
It was the July 1st long weekend, time to try crossing over Ring Pass again from the Callaghan Valley to the Squamish Valley. I sold my Mukluk fat bike to my friend Mark in California (story to come) so I took my regular mountain bike instead.
This time I drove my electric car up. I went up Thursday evening in the dark and the rain. I brought my generator with me so I was a little careless about wasting battery, and I didn’t even start with a full charge. I camped at the Chase Main where it meets the highway (where the road up to Cloudburst Mountain starts from). The generator wasn’t working properly and after 20 minutes I checked my batteries. It wasn’t charging them, it was draining them! I went from 25 km range left to 15 km! And it was 30 km into Whistler! Luckily I had my iPhone so I could check the internet for towing companies. I wasn’t looking forward to an expensive tow the next morning and I curled up in the front seat at 3 a.m. for 2 hours of uncomfortable sleep.
I felt kind of awkward with the morning guy inside probably wondering why I was plugged into his outlet so I risked the remaining 5 km over to downtown Whistler where there is a proper charger.
I carefully drove that section and as I pulled into the parking lot I lost power, the car totally died. I turned into the closest stall and … I shit you not … it had a plug beside it! What are the chances? It was just a regular 120 V plug, but good enough. I had to charge it for an hour and a half before the thing would even let me move it. But at least I avoided an embarrassing and expensive tow.
So I could have made it to Whistler no problem if I hadn’t blared my radio most of the way, had started with a full charge, and hadn’t wasted 10 km with my broken generator!
It would be another 5 hours for a full charge so I went for a little ride around the Whistler trails. There are tons and they range from easy to more technical but I didn’t do too many technical ones. This was just to scope out my bike and gear and deal with any issues. I had just gotten a frame bag which turns out to be too small, but it still works, and a “gas tank” bag that goes on the top tube. My Nikon V1 fits in there perfectly.
I finally did some basic video editing but the free Windows Movie Maker software sucks. I’m going to get the Cyberlink Power Director which is much better. But here is a sample of the video I typically get, which is pretty poor quality (the original HD is really nice). This is just the raw footage. Actually making a movie will have to wait until I get my new computer and software sorted out.
This mount under the down tube really works. I’ll try to move the camera over a bit to the right so the tire isn’t right in the middle and you can better see where I’m going. It’s a lot harder to mount a GoPro camera on a bike than you’d think. The issue is vibrations, so it needs to be very sturdy, on a short mount. Plus, anything on the front wheel or handlebars swings too much from left to right. So what are you left with? The down tube, and your chest, basically, and a few other interesting locations that don’t really show the view out the front. Plus when you are loaded with bikepacking gear that obstructs a lot of the views.
By 1 in the afternoon my car was ready to go, and 5 hours in Whistler Village is more than enough, so I was off, with 11 bars out of 12 on the battery charge. I was heading for the Rubble Creek parking lot at the base of the Black Tusk hike. It is a provincial park so the lot would be good for parking. And I only used 2 bars to get there from Whistler! It’s mostly downhill.
I was off by 3 and headed 8 km up the highway to the Callaghan Valley.
When I got to the gravel mainline up the valley the rain picked up, and it got steeper. This meant I went slower. And the mosquitos were insane. That’s one way to push yourself up a hill faster — trying to outrun a cloud of mosquitos! I was maintaining 6 km/hr but that wasn’t enough. 10 km/hr is needed. After an hour the road got less steep so I was able to outrun them.
At one point I stumbled onto a big black bear 50 m down the road. He took off into the bushes.
I felt pretty proud about fitting all my gear onto my bike; it’s so compact and light … yet functional. I’ve put a lot of thought into getting that gear weight down and I’m noticing the results. I even had my packraft, snowshoes, and pfd on there. But there’s still some weight savings to go…
I should also mention how my body is turning into a machine. I am amazing myself at how fast I can climb up the hills. All that cycling and Grouse Grind training is paying off. Just put food in, and I get climbing out. It’s good to have my body back. The good part about being up here is that it’s mostly over 1000 m elevation so I get some mild altitude training.
The next morning was partially sunny and I decided to go for a little jaunt on Callaghan Lake. The outflowing river is right beside the campsite.
This is me lugging my bike over the snow.
At the 11 km mark (Callaghan Lake is at about 8 km) I decided to switch over to the packraft but there were still bare patches so it wasn’t straightforward at all. Plus all that red algae stuff that grows on melting snow was accumulating on the bottom of the raft and making it sticky.
So I decided to set up camp there above Conflict Lake, which was nice. But there weren’t any good spots, and I didn’t want to camp on the snow, it would be too cold.
This is me riding down a steep section.
And the chest mount, which is a bit shakier.
I was pretty disgusting after all that so I went and took a bath in Rubble Creek. Except it was just above freezing. The air was 30 degrees and the water was basically zero. I couldn’t even hold my hands in it, it was too painful. But I could stand in it, and I splashed the water over myself. Man that felt good.
I made it back home with 1 bar left on the batteries, no probs. Hopefully soon they will get the chargers installed at Squamish. They have them everywhere now, except the one place you need them — Squamish. Go figure.
Taking on Big Oil … And Winning
I made a submission to the National Energy Board’s Northern Gateway Advisory Panel back in February. I didn’t post my speech here because the energy situation has become so grave and depressing I feel it’s tainting my blog with negativity. However, a few people have asked to see what I said (and I wish I had stuck an audio recorder in my pocket — it was a pretty powerful speech I gave, starting off with a bit of trepidation which turned into forcefulness, frustration, and anger rising over the ten minutes to its peak when they cut me off). Here is the transcript I read from … very quickly. The only change I’d make is that it wouldn’t require North America’s entire proven reserves of natural gas to extract and refine the oil sands, it would only require half. And this would be mitigated by advancements in increasing the net external energy return, which is the net energy return adjusted for internally produced and process gas that is liberated from bitumen extraction and can be used in place of externally imported natural gas. Also, North America no longer imports half the oil it consumes. It’s now down to 1/3 as a result of falling consumption and increased production.
The Northern Gateway propaganda seems to have ended so it seems we may have been successful in thwarting the pipeline … for now. We’ll have to wait and see what happens after the US dollar hyperinflates and China emerges with the new reserve currency. Then they may be dictating whatever they want to us. On the other hand, America will still maintain its war machine, reserve currency or not, and I don’t think China would be interested in messing with that. So it seems more likely that America will just force control of the oil sands to supply North America instead, which seems like a much more sensible option.
It also seems that they may instead try to pursue the rail option to ship bitumen to Alaska ports instead. This would pose less of a risk for pipeline spills because the bitumen would be solid in the rail cars. But it would need to be heated up again at the port to reliquify it which would require further energy inputs. It also doesn’t address the sovereignty issue of our country’s assets being controlled by communists. Thanks for that, Stephen Harper!
Hello, thank you for listening to me. I am a soon-to-be Professional Mechanical Engineer (currently an EIT) with one year left until full accreditation. I am bound by APEGBC’s Code of Ethics, whose first line states that:
“Members … shall uphold the values of truth, honesty and trustworthiness and safeguard human life and welfare and the environment. In keeping with these basic tenets, members and licensees shall:
(1) hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public, and the protection of the environment…”
Since my professional specialization is in designing pipelines and factories, and doing energy analyses for power plants, I am therefore obligated by my professional code of ethics to comment on the danger presented to the public and the environment by the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline.
One of my first thoughts when I heard of this pipeline idea was to question why we are proposing to export oil from North America, when North America is already a major oil importer. In fact, if you go to the BP Statistical Review, you’ll see that North America as a whole imports 3.2 billion barrels of oil a year. This is a full 10% of global oil production, of 31 billion barrels.
So why on earth are the Alberta oil companies proposing to EXPORT oil from North America, when North America already imports half of the oil it consumes? Well, because we can fetch a higher price in the Asian market than in North America, that’s why. Why is that? Because North America supposedly has a “glut” of oil. But if we have a “glut” of oil here, then why do we need to import half of what we consume? This doesn’t make sense.
The answer to that paradox lies in the status of the US dollar as the world’s reserve currency. In other words, oil is traded in dollars, and this enables the US to maintain extraordinary trade deficits, which are mostly composed of oil imports.
Now, this situation is all fine and dandy, as long as oil continues to be traded in dollars. But if you’ve been paying attention lately, the US Federal Reserve has officially announced that it will engage in unlimited monetary stimulus in an attempt the jumpstart the US economy. What this really means is that US debt is spiralling out of control and the only way they can service it is to print infinite amounts of dollars. This money printing will not end until the dollar’s value is destroyed through hyperinflation over the next few years.
In order to maintain the dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency over the last few decades, the Federal Reserve has been suppressing gold prices, since cultures outside of North America value gold as a monetary asset, but the US wants them to hold dollars instead. The Chinese know this, which is why they have been buying up all of America’s historical gold stockpiles at artificially low prices. What this means is that when the US dollar hyperinflates and other countries reject it as payment for international transactions, then China will come out backing its currency with gold. Then China will have the new global reserve currency. THIS is why Alberta wants this pipeline built to China.
When this shift happens, the US will no longer be able to import 13% of global oil production anymore, and US oil consumption will necessarily drop by half. When this happens, the supposed “glut” of oil in North America will overnight turn into an extreme shortage. I am therefore wondering how further starving North America of vital energy resources is in any way “in the public interest”. We need the oil here. It’s our oil, not China’s.
Now, one could respond to this imminent shortage of oil in North America by proclaiming that, “No Problem, when this happens, we’ll just produce more oil here in North America to take up the slack. There is vast amounts in the Canadian oil sands and US oil shales, enough for centuries of supply.”
Actually, this is not so. In fact, US oil production peaked back in 1971 and has been dropping pretty much steadily ever since, despite all the media hype about the tight shale oil explosion in the Bakken. Those numbers are not significant in the grand scheme of things, and they merely offset declines from existing fields. Today, on a per capita basis, the US produces half the oil it did 40 years ago. This is a direct result of the phenomenon of Peak Oil. The US peaked 40 years ago, and now the world is at Peak Oil today.
“Again, No problem! Right? The Alberta oil sands will become the new Saudi Arabia, and we’ll be able to supply the world with oil for decades to come, and become one of the wealthiest countries as a result! Just like Saudi Arabia did!”
Yet again, this is not so. If you go look at the Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board’s annual report (this is the branch of the Alberta government that overseas the energy sector), on page 2 of that multi-hundred page document, you will see that the entire recoverable Alberta oil sands deposit amounts to 170 billion barrels. The entire underground resource is 1.8 trillion barrels, but only about 10% of this is actually recoverable as real oil. The estimated ultimate recovery is 315 billion barrels, which supposedly accounts for future technological advances and price increases.
These numbers sound big, but in fact the entire recoverable Alberta oil sands deposit, according to the Alberta government, represents SIX YEARS of global oil consumption. And would you believe that the Alberta oil sands deposit represents about a quarter of the world’s remaining oil reserves? Therefore, the world’s current oil reserves will last maybe another 30-40 years, at current consumption rates.
“But we’ll be discovering LOTS more oil in the future, right?” No, unfortunately, global oil discovery rates are vastly below consumption rates. All the best deposits have already been creamed out. We are now left with difficult, slow, and expensive oil deposits in the Arctic or deep ocean, and of course the Alberta and Venezuela oil sands.
From this it can be understood that the reason there has been such focus placed on the Alberta oil sands lately is NOT because it is a particularly good oil deposit. It’s actually pretty poor quality. Rather, there has been so much focus because the world is rapidly running out of light sweet crude. This is why oil prices have risen so much over the last few years, and these high prices are necessary to make the Alberta oil sands activities economically viable.
In fact, global oil production rates have not increased in over 7 years, despite prices more than doubling over that period. This is the ultimate proof that the world is at, or very near, Peak Oil.
The reason the Alberta oil sands deposits require such high oil prices is twofold. Firstly, it isn’t oil – it’s solid bitumen, like pavement. This has to be refined into oil. The processes required to do this are complex and capital intensive, and therefore expensive. Secondly, they require vast amounts of external energy to be brought in to do the work of both extracting and upgrading the bitumen into synthetic crude oil.
If you look at the Royal Society of Canada’s recent multi-hundred page report on the oil sands, you will see that these processes require natural gas inputs of about 1/5th of the energy contained in the final produced oil. Therefore, the Alberta oil sands deposits have a net energy return of 5:1. You have to put in 1 unit of energy, and you get 5 out. This compares with historical light sweet crude, of which the world is now rapidly running out, with about 100:1 or even 200:1 net energy return.
These numbers highlight the historical trends in oil extraction. We’ve always gone for the deposits with the highest net energy return first, and we’ve since worked our way down to the poorest quality reserves which we’re now left with. This 5:1 net energy return ratio will continue to drop as the best oil sands deposits get developed first.
But the problem here is that you can only go so low. There is no such thing as a perpetual motion machine, so when we approach a net energy return of 1:1, that oil sand will not be available to us as a source of energy. In fact, in order to provide enough surplus energy to run the rest of society, a minimum net energy return of about 4:1 is required, which is pretty close to where we are now. This is why the vast expanses of Colorado oil shale are not recoverable as a source of energy, and why production rates there are effectively zero, despite there being trillions of barrels of oil-equivalent kerogen solids underground — it’s not oil.
Currently, according to the website of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the easy-to-produce deposits of natural gas are in decline. And when you do the number crunching, it turns out that in order to process the entire recoverable oil sands deposit of 300 billion barrels would require more than the entire proven North American natural gas reserves of about 300 trillion cubic feet.
The fantastic claims made in the media about how North America has centuries of natural gas left are pure fabrication. These refer to the total underground resource, not the recoverable reserves. Furthermore, when oil production soon begins declining, then consumption of natural gas will inevitably increase to compensate.
So then, how are we as a continent responding to the Peak Oil problem? Well, we’re trying to dig it out of the ground and export it even faster, leaving us with even less oil in the future!
I suggest that this is not in the best interests of our country, nor our children’s future, nor even our own future, because these oil shortages are happening right now, not merely decades down the road. Simply adapting to less energy in the future when we run out of oil will not be a feasible strategy, because there is a certain minimum amount of energy needed to maintain complex modern society.
The unfortunate problem we face is that on a global scale, 1/5th of global energy use, according to the FAO, is dedicated to food production and processing. In order to produce 1 Calorie of food in North America requires about 7 Calories of fossil fuel inputs. Food comes from fossil fuels. Without fossil fuels, or an equivalent energy substitute, it will not be possible to maintain 7 billion people on the planet. Therefore, we have no choice – we MUST replace fossil fuels with alternative energy before they run out, or quite simply most of the world will starve. We currently appropriate about 20 % of the planet’s net primary production for food and biofuels. Without external energy inputs such as from fossil fuels, we would easily push this well beyond 100%, which is not possible. We have overshot the planet’s carrying capacity by about 5 fold.
On a global basis, 97% of global energy supply comes from burning complex carbon molecules, which includes fossil fuels, biofuels, and food. The other 3% of global energy supply comes from the so-called renewables of nuclear, hydro, wind, and solar. So clearly, alternative energy has a long way to go to make a dent in overall energy supply. Given that we are at Peak Oil today, we really ought to be intensively developing renewable energy systems right now.
Are we? Basically, no. Hydro is nowhere near capable of replacing fossil fuels on a continent-wide basis; it’s a no-go because we’ve already dammed the best rivers.
Timed out here…
But the problem in North America is that we have a cultural infatuation with economic growth. Currently, in Canada, that economic growth comes primarily from increasing unsustainable fossil fuel extraction activities. Therefore, Canada’s economy is growing at a rate greater than the increases in contributions from renewable energy such as hydro, wind and solar. We are becoming EVEN MORE dependent on fossil fuels, not less! At a time when the world is running out of fossil fuels!
The problem we face is that it requires energy to build out renewable energy infrastructure. Currently, that comes from fossil fuels. I have to ask what we are going to use for energy when it comes time to develop renewable energy systems in a big way, once we’ve sold all our oil to China and we desperately need what little fossil fuels we still do retain for food production.
This is why economic growth built around exporting our remaining oil deposits overseas is not in any way in the national interest. Our national interest is in keeping these precious energy reserves here and using them to build out a renewable energy infrastructure before it’s too late.
Snowbiking The Callaghan, Whistler
Since my last bikepacking trip up Cloudburst Mountain was so much fun I was itching to get out and try it again. That was a circle route up over the pass and back around the mountain. So I spent some more time poring over Google Earth and found out that there aren’t a whole lot of other opportunities like that for circle routes in that area because most mountains are just too tall.
I went to MEC to get some real maps and discovered that there is a route leading from the Callaghan Valley (near Whistler) that goes west over a pass by Ring Lake and then down logging roads into the Squamish Valley. Great, I’ll just have to wait until August…
But … I just got my snow bike… so I can handle some snow. It won’t do powder but packed trails are OK. And I also have snowshoes, and a new packraft. So I decided to plan an adventure for March instead. My hope was that if the skies were clear the snow would be crusty enough that I could ride my bike over the pass if I got up early in the morning before it started to thaw. That’s super simple to do and I could easily cover 20 km a day if it’s crusty.
(I was planning to make a movie of this trip instead of a writeup but it just takes too long with the free Windows Movie Maker software. So I’ll just post some raw footage here; otherwise I’d never get it done. I don’t even have time to sort out the videos right now, actually. I have other posts that I want to focus my time on so I’ll just leave space here for them and add at a later time.)
I was super stoked to be trying out my new gear. My three day weekend of March 22 was coming up fast and the weather forecast was for glorious sunshine the whole weekend. I spent all my spare time the previous week working fast and furiously to get the kit together. It’s amazing how much stuff there was to do and I couldn’t possibly manage to get out of the house until late Friday morning.
Video at rest stop.
I’ve never been to the Callaghan Valley before, which is an outdoor recreation area. It has the ski jump from the 2010 Winter Olympics, which apparently rarely gets used now. They punched a paved road way up the valley for that, which makes access easier, but at the same time just constitutes more “development” of our remaining wild areas. When will it stop? When will Whistler stop growing?
I headed up the 8 km paved road, starting at 500 m and finishing at the cross country ski area an hour and a half later, up at 800 m.
I had called earlier to confirm if I could come up and Kim came out to see me as soon as she saw I was there. They were a bit worried when I told them of my plans, especially since I had no compass (don’t need one) or map (all in my head). I had my Spot GPS though in case of emergency.
I set off up the hills and found it surprisingly easy to chug up the groomed runs. I did the grind for a few hours as I ascended the valley.
I was heading up the Callaghan Mainline (gravel road), which is a cross country ski and access trail in winter. After reaching Callaghan Lake I headed left to go towards Callaghan Lodge.
My plan was to go as far as the trails would take me and then snowshoe a little further, camp, and continue on over the pass the next day. I’d packraft down the Squamish, then ride back up to the car.
But at the end of Day 1 I was totally beat. Past the lodge the trail got progressively worse. Four hours of hard climbing was taking its toll on me. I normally do the Grouse Grind in Vancouver quite often which is great training for high intensity climbing, but it only lasts 45 minutes or so. Plus I was up at 1300 m now, which is beyond where I normally train, so I could feel the altitude.
It was getting cold too — minus 5 or so, and dropping fast as the sun went behind the mountains. Luckily I had been winter camping before and learned a few lessons … like, don’t leave your wet boots out when it gets to minus 20 C…
I didn’t make that mistake again but I discovered a few more complications to camping in sub zero weather. Firstly, my alcohol stove was hard to get going at -5. I should have put the alcohol in my pants to warm it up first. Secondly, it’s kind of hard to wash your pots when the food crusties freeze solid in a few seconds. That takes some more planning, especially if you want to use that pot to melt snow for drinking water afterwards.
I got my two sleeping bags set up, with my water bottle, water filter, alcohol, and boots in bed with me.
The other thing that happened was that I couldn’t curl up to stay warm because this caused leg cramps after all the hard work that day. I have to stretch out which means I get colder.
That night I spent a lot of time wondering if I should risk going over the pass or just head back down. My concern was that the snow went way down to 400 m, so I’d have a lot of downhill hiking through the snow on the other side, with sticks and twigs I’d have to pull my boat over. I’d see how my snowrafting went in the morning, then reassess.
It was a chilly night, probably down to minus 15, but I survived reasonably well. In the morning the trail groomer came by in his machine. I don’t think he was too happy with me camping right there beside the trail, but oh well, it’s public land. Skiers stopped and talked as they went by, and were quite interested and impressed. It’s not hard people, you just need the right gear!
I think snow biking will soon be taking off in Whistler. Years ago it was snowboarders invading the slopes and causing a caffuffle with skiers. Now I think it will be snowbikes to invade the ski slopes, causing a caffuffle with boarders and skiers. They can put them on the chairlifts in summer, so why not in winter too?
Video of snowrafting.
Video of undulating trails.
Videos going back down.
I decided to drive down to the Squamish Valley and sleep there in my car for the night. Tomorrow I’d ride up the valley and packraft back down what I was originally hoping to do all in one circuit from Ring Pass.
Better Late Than Never — Horseshoe Bay to Ambleside
I have paddled (almost) every meter from where I started, in the Fraser River in Richmond (2010), up to where I’ve gotten so far, Bella Bella (2012). But I actually started this trip back in 2008 when I paddled the length of West Vancouver’s shores. Unfortunately I was sidelined by a completely preventable and unnecessary sports injury (nerve entrapment) in my leg for the two years between. Then in 2010, just before the trip officially started, I did the sections from Richmond to Vancouver, then Vancouver to Ambleside. And a few weeks after this, I started the trip for real.
The paddle along West Vancouver’s shores went the opposite direction, however, due to the prevailing winds. I headed east, since I really don’t like paddling into the wind if I don’t have to. One September day, the 26th to be precise, I loaded all my gear onto the 257 Horseshoe Bay Express bus (actually, the 246 first, then the 239, then the 257). People kept coming in and it got totally packed. My gear was up front but I got pushed to the back. The problem was I wanted to get off a few stops before the bus disgorges everyone else out at the end of the line at the ferries.
Somehow I got myself and my stuff off at the right stop, then lugged my gear the kilometer down to Copper Cove. I had dived here years earlier on a collecting trip for the aquarium, going down to 110 feet. I did get narced, but luckily I’m a paranoid narc, not a happy narc.
When done I pulled out and walked up to Marine Drive, and took the bus home. Not quite as exciting as some of my later adventures in the wilderness, but a day out in my kayak nonetheless!
Aug 31 to Sept 1 2012 — To Shearwater and Port Hardy
It seemed to take forever to get there. I was fighting the currents and wind. It’s all about expectations. I was expecting to just have a leisurely little hop over to Shearwater but it turned into a multi-hour slog about 1/3 as long as yesterday’s whole paddle. If I had expected a long paddle from the start, then I wouldn’t have been frustrated by the wind. Those Zen Buddhists are on to something.
Aug 29 2012 — Holy Cow Rain!
Some rain overnight — what else is new…
The winds and currents pushed me north pretty fast. I zoomed by Spider Island which apparently has an old WWII base, and a road leading across it. Midway along the island the rain started. I battened down the hatches and took advantage of the wind. A train of about 10 fishing speedboats from a lodge went by heading north. I was glad I wasn’t in one of those in this weather. They were probably thinking the same about me. Kind of ironic, eh?
The problem was what I would encounter after Spider Island, which is Superstition Point, a couple kilometers of exposed coastline facing the west. If you want to kayak northwards, you have to paddle it. It wouldn’t normally be a problem since yesterday I was in places more exposed than that, but this weather was really getting crazy. And the wind started coming from the west, which is definitely not the direction you want to be blown while going around that point.
I decided that I had to come ashore. There is a portage around Superstition Point so I headed for that.
I followed the little inlet to the north and came out at Cultus Sound. The speedboats were there fishing. I crossed over and followed the coastline up to the north-east. I wanted to get to Latta Island where there was a campsite marked on my map. There are some really nice beaches in Cultus Sound but I wanted to plod on further while I could as this weather was causing me some worry. The only problem was that the map didn’t show many more campsites for a ways north so I’d have to commit to several more kilometers.
This area is pretty convoluted. I chose what I thought would be the best route heading north. Without my map and GPS I would have been lost. Yes, even me, Mr. Magnetic-Compass-in-the-Brain, would have gotten disoriented. I can’t imagine how the first explorers made sense of this place.
I went up Sans Peur Passage — that’s quite an interesting name. The current was behind me and I was making good time. But then midway down the channel I noticed quite a commotion ahead. It was the tides changing. I had no choice but to go through. It is a strange feeling being thrown left, right and center by strong currents, and trying to avoid whirlpools. The last time I experienced it this intense was way back in Big Bay in the Discovery Islands, and of course in Nakwakto Rapids at Belize Inlet. It’s a good display of the power in the ocean, to be able to move that much water so violently. All that power comes from the pull of the moon, and specifically the Earth’s rotation. But moving that much water around uses up energy and rotational momentum, so the result is that the planet has been rotating slower and slower over the ages, or in other words, the days are getting longer. They used to only be 23 hours. Eventually the moon and Earth will be locked tidally, and then there will be no more tides. Too bad for the rich intertidal life!
As I made my way northwards the sun came out again and I had to undo my drysuit. I soon enough made it to Latta Island, the last island I would be landing on before turning up the channel to finish this year’s trip at Bella Bella. I searched around where the map said there was a campsite and couldn’t really find anything. I was a bit dismayed and decided I had no choice but to take the most suitable location, which had a little sandy beach way up at the top of the tideline. It wasn’t a very good spot, and it looked like it got flooded during high tide. Plus there was water seepage under the site from all the rain. Oh well, what else was I going to do.
At midnight I woke up to hear waves lapping by my head. Damn tide! It was flooding my tent! I had to move everything up onto the wet grass and rocks and stand there watching the tide in the moonlight. They say a watched pot never boils and I was not a happy camper to have to be spending half an hour in the middle of the night waiting for the tide to drop. Eventually it did. Luckily it wasn’t raining though. Note to future paddlers in this area: there is NO suitable campsite on the south side of Latta Island, regardless of what your map might say!
Aug 28 2012 — Disoriented in Hakai
It rained again overnight but the morning was dry. That barnacle log had shifted location with the tide. Their lives are totally dependent on where the weather takes them. At some point they’ll get thrown up high and then life will move on to something else.
The currents turned in my direction as I headed west. I went out into the middle of the channel and was really moving. It soon spat me out into the ocean again and I crossed over Kildidt Sound to the Serpent Group of islets out in the middle of it. My map showed lots of campsites and other interesting things over at the Edna group of islands so that’s where I was heading. The wind started to pick up from the south and when I hit the Serpent Group I decided to cross on the windward side. That was a poor decision because I was getting hammered by both the southerly wind and the waves bouncing off the rocks. I thought maybe I’d see more sea otters on this side, which I did, but the weather precluded spending any time with them. I wanted to have lunch but there was nowhere to stop, it was too rough.
The weather was really getting rough and I was paddling hard to get to shelter behind Kidney Island. I made it and just as I was rounding the final point into a calm sheltered bay a California seal lion followed me and got to within about 10 feet. Yikes, that is the one animal that could cause me some trouble if it decided to investigate and take a bite out of my boat. I went right up to the shore as quickly as possible. I pulled out my camera but of course he left just before I got it ready.
I took a break and had lunch here, and filmed some green anemones in the intertidal. The calmness was nice. But, there was no place to camp so I had to go back out. The southerly wind was blowing me onto Ronald Island so I had to fight the crosswind. I made it to a little channel between Ronald Island and a couple little islands to the west. I zoomed north down this.
This is where it got confusing. I had picked up a kayaking map of the Bella Bella area way back in Telegraph Cove two years ago. The guy at the shop said not to buy it, it is “worse than useless”. I figured, how could it be that bad? Well, the problem with maps is that they can indeed be worse than useless because if they are wrong, you can get yourself into trouble.
If I haven’t mentioned it before, I should say that I have a sixth sense when it comes to direction. I never get lost. But as I was approaching Triquet and the Edna Islands I just couldn’t reconcile the map with my GPS. I had to keep looking at it every few minutes and I couldn’t figure it out. Had I lost my sixth sense? No! The map was wrong! No wonder I was getting hammered by the wind and waves, as I was in the open ocean in the middle of a southerly storm!
This whole area is a bit confusing because there is apparently two groups of islands right beside each other, one called Edna Island and the other one Enda Island. They each have a campsite, and I wanted to go to the northern one. But their position in relation to Triquette Island (a larger one that protects them all from the open ocean) was way off on the map. I decided based on my GPS that I would head north down the channel to the east of the Edna Islands to get to my campsite, since that’s the way the wind was blowing. I couldn’t come into harm doing that.
So I made it across in the raging wind to take refuge behind another little islet.
Aug 27 2012 — Calvert Island to Sterling Island, and sea otters too.
It rained pretty hard through the night. And I learned that you really do need a mattress, especially if you’re sleeping on a slab of cold granite. It really sucks the heat out of you and the layer of air in your mattress keeps you warm. Plus my backback wasn’t exactly comfortable. But I made it through.
I made my way to the closest little islets with the wind pushing me out towards the open sea. As I crossed the channel I heard a humpback breathing over towards where I had the encounter the other day. I didn’t even bother looking. Imagine that, all humpacked out!
When I got to the islet I noticed some seals in the kelp that were moving strangely and sticking their heads quite a ways out of the water.
I got my stuff ready for dinner, and was dismayed to notice that I no longer had my windscreen for my stove. Bummer. I must have left it at the top of the hill last night, as I was racing around trying to stay away from the black flies and get in my tent ASAP. Oh well, it will just take a bit more fuel (methanol) to cook dinner from now on. I still had half a litre left, way more than I needed.
I went to start the stove and I opened the second of my 500 mL bottles of fuel. I had finished the first one. But it wouldn’t light no matter what I did. What was going on? Then it dawned on me that this wasn’t methanol, but water! Duh! Last year I filled this bottle up with fresh water for drinking when I had used up the methanol. I stored it for a year and then packed it up as methanol for this trip! Now what was I going to do? I had no more fuel. Was I going to starve??? Once the shock wore off I realized I’d have to get back to nature and cook my dinner the old fashioned way, on fires from now on. But all the wood was soaking wet! How was I going to have a fire?
I went down to the water to watch the soap opera drama of the tidepool sculpins and hermit crabs duking it out. There were thousands of them. It was really funny, and I should have gotten some video of it. Then, as I was standing still a grey shorebird landed pretty close to me. I didn’t want to move and scare it away. I just observed as it came within a few feet of me. It was a wandering tattler. Then it flew away.
As it approached dark the no-see-ums came out in full force and I had to retreat to my tent pretty quickly.
Aug 25 2012 — Across Fitz Hugh Sound to Hecate Island
The weather was beautiful in the morning — sunny and calm with only a few fog banks down south. I had really wanted to cross over to Hakai and head up that way; the route up Fitz Hugh past Namu didn’t look as interesting. Luckily, the weather made the decision for me.
The dogs had been with me all night, except for the times when they went nuts and ran off into the bushes. For some reason I got used to them barking and slept through most of it; probably because they were doing it to protect me. I offered them some peanut butter covered mango for breakfast but only the older guy accepted it.
I avoided the keeper since I don’t think he even wanted me to say goodbye. The younger of the dogs sat at the top of the road watching me pack up while the older one was zonked out. I sadly waved goodbye and set off, once again, into the unknown.
I had 9 km to cross since Koeye is located at about the widest part of Fitz Hugh Sound. There were a few boats around so I’d be OK. A couple hours should be more than enough time to cross before the afternoon winds picked up. Or so I thought…
As I neared to within a couple kilometers of the opposite shore (Nalau Island) I heard a humpback somewhere in the vicinity of Hakai Channel. I made my way over. And it seems the humpbacks made their way over to me…
It was a pod of about five or so and they got pretty close to me, within a whale’s length. For about half an hour I hung around with them as they ambled about in the channel. I was a little worried when they got too close but everything was fine. I didn’t take photos since the light wasn’t the greatest and I had photos from the previous day, plus they weren’t feeding. I pulled out my video camera and unfortunately I zoomed in for most of the footage which was a bad idea since it got so shaky. But I got a few half decent segments.
It was hard to get any decent shots with them a few kilometers away now but they still certainly made their presence known. I’d be paddling along and then I’d hear a huge crash, like blasting going off. I’d look back to see five humpbacks slamming into the water and making a commotion. But by the time I got my camera ready it was always too late. The noise echoed all around the Sound. Everyone could hear it.
Then one of them let out a grunt. Holy cow, I’ve read that you can hear a humpback underwater half way around the world and I can believe it. He was a couple kilometers away but it sounded like he was right beside me. I nearly jumped out of the boat. Interestingly, it is thought that noise pollution in the oceans may be interfering with blue whales‘ ability to find each other over long distances and hampering their recovery.
BC had a whaling station up until 1968, located near Port Hardy. They cleaned out most of the humpbacks from BC but thankfully they are now returning.
I looked on my GPS and thought there might be a good spot around the next corner. But when I rounded it I was presented with a busy fishing lodge. Oh well, I continued on a tiny bit further and found a nice bay with a great little cobble beach.
I took advantage of the evening sun and managed to dry out most of my gear. It’s amazing how two hours of sunshine can make such a difference.
August 24 2012 — Spending the Day in the Koeye Estuary
Tracks left in the sand revealed that my big furry friend had returned this morning, but only to check the tideline and he didn’t come closer than about 20 feet. It seems they’re not out to get us, they just want to check the tideline like they always have.
I went up to the construction site because there was apparently a keeper there minding the place with everyone gone back to Bella Bella. I wanted to camp up there because I’d had enough with grizzlies wandering around my tent. The keeper was the quiet foreman from before and he said I could camp there, but he wanted to be left alone. He came here to have his privacy. I obliged and set up camp on the outskirts. I tried to dry out a lot of my gear in the last rays of sunshine, and then I downloaded photos to my computer.
The dogs kept me company. They have a great life here. It might end up being cut short though because the wolves will probably get them at some point, with them chasing bears way up the valley. I guess that’s their life, short but exciting. I’ve found that I feel the most alive when I’m in the moment, when decisions you make could mean the difference between life and death, and you have to rely on yourself and your own capabilities. That’s what many of us urbanites tend to yearn for, to escape the drudgery of the 9 to 5 where everything is predetermined and “safe”. But is it really any more dangerous out here than in a city? I can walk down the sidewalk downtown and at any point just take two wrong steps and get run over by a truck. What’s the difference? It’s just that out here there’s no one to save you (at least immediately). In the city we get a sense of security from all the people everywhere.
It seems like everything comes together to make the Koeye a special place. The barrier islands open up right across the Sound, just enough to let the big open ocean waves through. The bay is a little sandy jewel hidden behind a headland. There is a lake up the river that I didn’t get a chance to see unfortunately, even though there is a trail leading up to it (I couldn’t find it).
In my very short time here I sensed a different vibe, the First Nations presence seems to be more “in tune with nature”. I know that sounds cliche but I get a different feeling here than in mainstream society. Even our official parks are an extension of mainstream society, at least their administration, as we tend to visit them to “consume” the wilderness as an antidote to our urban lives. I guess I’m no different in what I’m doing.
The white man outposts along the coast seem to be just extensions of the city with people flying in from Toronto to get in a weekend of fishing where they bag as many fish as possible from their noisy powerful speedboats that can get them from A to B in mere minutes. Their fish are prepared for them by the staff, and then they fly back out. All the while, satellite radio and TV keeps everyone entertained with the creature comforts of home. They never actually have to leave the city; it comes with them. I guess it’s tempting for me to develop a holier-than-thou attitude, and a little unfair, as I make my living from consuming the natural world just like everyone else does.
These aren’t simple issues because this area has to “produce” economically in order for our politicians to leave it semi-wild. If the fishing lodges didn’t bring in the money and if the people on the cruise boats didn’t want to see beautiful vistas of unbroken forests then the whole coast would have been logged instead. Get away from the more frequently visited places like the Inside Passage, and it pretty much all has been, except what was lucky enough to be locked up in parks.
And most people can’t get in a kayak for two weeks to experience the coast; the cruise boats are their only opportunity. Are they being any more “consumptive” than I am? Hell, I bring pre-packaged plastic satchets of ready-to-go food to power my journey. Where did those come from? Most of my gear is made of plastic. Plastic comes from oil. And I flew in on a noisy gas-guzzling plane.
It wouldn’t be a nice place here with thousands of kayakers everywhere experiencing it up close and personally, and the grizzly bears up the Koeye River sure wouldn’t appreciate it either. So I hope that people can experience being immersed in the wild through my accounts here, without actually having to go through all the motions themselves. Then maybe my impact on the wildlife will be somewhat mitigated.
August 23 2012 — Day Off in the Rain at Koeye
It rained pretty hard overnight. And the water came up to within about 5 feet of the tent. And I slept with my head pointing downslope so I could keep an eye on what was going on outside. But this position was causing me a lot of muscle ache in my abdomen for some reason.
It wasn’t the greatest sleep with the rain on and off. When it wasn’t raining I had the front fly open so I could see out. But then when the rain came I had to close it up which meant I had no idea what was going on outside.
In the morning I dozed around in bed and then went back to sleep for a while. I was just coming to when for some reason I felt the need to look out the front which luckily I had unfurled when I first woke up.
Hmm. Was this a dream? I was still half asleep. After about a second I realized it wasn’t a dream and “You have got to be $#&!ing kidding me!” was the first thought that went through my head, and then without time to even contemplate what I would do, out came a loud, “HOLY SHIT!”
That was enough to send him on his way down the beach. He was just checking the morning tideline for any goodies that may have washed up last night. I had my food bags sitting outside the front of my tent and that’s what he was interested in. I do not believe in tying your food up a tree unless you have a really good opportunity to do it properly. It is likely that the bear would just climb the tree anyways if he wants the food; apparently it’s an old wive’s tale that grizzlies can’t climb trees. If I had done that here I wouldn’t have even noticed since the noise from the waves would have probably overpowered the noise of the bear eating my food. And then we would have had a problem bear on our hands that correlates people with food. Instead, I’ll defend my food. If he had really wanted my bag he would have grabbed it and run away, and since I usually tie it off onto everything else that would have woken me up. Then I would have chased after him with bear spray to retrieve it — problem solved.
I was wondering what kind of entertainment I was going to be getting from across the bay. Soon bear bangers were set off from the boats and the big bear dogs started going wild. He high tailed it into the bush and the dogs were in hot pursuit, barking like mad. This lasted for quite a while and I could hear their progress way back into the bush up towards the river, behind where I was camped.
I dozed off some more and then almost hit the roof when out of the blue something crashed my tent. I let out a yell louder than I ever have (I don’t know what the sailboat overnighting in the bay 100 m from me was thinking about all this). The problem arises if something crashes your tent before you have the chance to 1) get your spray ready, and 2) unzip your tent, in which case 3) you’re kind of screwed. Thankfully, I don’t think most animals would just come out of the blue and suddenly crash a tent without hanging around and making some investigatory pokes first. In the case of a cougar, you are totally safe in your tent.
A younger guy from the work group walked down and I had a talk with him. He had been volunteering here for a couple weeks as a carpenter after being at the Hakai Beach Institute (see a few posts in the future). He was heading back to Bella Bella tomorrow, and then back to Victoria for school. It turns out he is friends with people I know from the Ucluelet Aquarium! Small world.
Aug 22 2012 — Blair Island to Koeye
The wind picked up a bit by morning but the sun was poking through. It was a pretty difficult put-in as the tide was completely out, way below the rocks I camped on. I set up and video-recorded the fun of me loading my kayak. But the dessicant strip in the housing was full and the GoPro camera fogged up when the sun hit it.
It was a pretty uneventful day as I headed up the coast. I had tailwinds and tailcurrents all day.
Aug 21 2012 — North From Penrose
The next morning brought lots of little fishing speedboats right offshore. I guess this is a good spot for salmon.
As I reached the other side I heard a humpback and went over to investigate. It was a lone whale feeding using bubble nets.
It had been another fantastic day with cooperative winds and currents. I started to scout out potential campsites but the coastline was pretty rocky. Addenbroke looked even more rocky and steep so I instead elected (there was only one of me so the election was a landslide) to investigate the sheltered waters of Blair Island.