ROADS? WHERE WE’RE GOING WE DON’T NEED ROADS
Where we’re going we don’t need roads
Most of us embark on epic expeditions by bringing out the tattered map books covered in crease marks and chicken scrawl from previous trips and conversations. We pair these with the faint dotted lines on GPS’s confirming that “yes a goat trail exists here!” Our mantra is that we only embrace a road as legitimate if it starts with a sign clarifying “deactivated road ahead”.
After returning, many wheelers tell a whale of a tale about what the road conditions were like, however it’s all relative to their perspective and experience. Once in a while, we come back from a true seat of your pants trip, and what actually happened is just as legendary as the storyteller sharing it says it was - no matter what your experience level.
I was invited to join a small group, the leader known for his crazy choice in expeditions, which can involve building bridges where none existed to cross a gap. I had oft heard from the epic brigades of previous years, figuring it was time for a first-hand experience. Shrugging, I said sure, I’ve got nothing to lose…
We headed up the canyon to meet the others in Spences Bridge, opting to cross over to Lillooet through the Murry Creek Forest Service Road (FSR). We made a
couple of attempts to pass through to Earth Lake on trails that logically looked like they would get us through. This meant bringing out the chainsaws to create the appropriate amount of man glitter. Even though I was allowed to touch an angle grinder a while back, apparently I still make people nervous when using power tools, so no chainsaw for me. I took the opportunity to look around. Interestingly we were surrounded by what appeared to have been an old mining claim as there were remnants of a few residential structures and a shelter for digging into the hillside.
Along the way we stopped in at one of the abandoned base camps, I wandered around, lost in the remains of the Gimpco Construction Site, chuckling as I could imagine the comradeship that would have existed here over the years. Makeshift construction and tent platforms, although rudimentary and utilitarian, have always fascinated me in that they tell you so much about the people that were there. After an evening camping next to an unidentifiable relic, serenaded by crickets, it was time to explore new roads.
So much of the terrain we explore in British Columbia is loose, sandy soil or shale, and as a result, portions of the roads are constantly degrading. In one of these rough sections, most of us made it across with no issues, however as we crossed over, the soil started to dissipate, creating a challenge for a full wheel base 4x4 running the same line. Winch lines were attached from the vehicle at risk to my Jeep and another to keep it stable. As I watched, they also implemented an air jack. This raised the vehicle safely on a solid base that spread out the weight, resulting in less displacement of the soil, making it easier to move the vehicle over just enough.
Something that a high lift, given the loose soil, would not have been able to achieve safely.
A short bit later, we crested a hill and we were on our way through more beautiful back roads, opting to settle in at one of the thousands of pristine lakes we have here in BC. There is nothing more refreshing then diving into a cool lake after several days on the trail, and nothing odder than looking down at the small guppies nibbling at your toes, while thankful there are no piranhas. Later that night I sat under the full moon, feeling the energy in its soft touch, unaware that the next day I would question my own ability, as well as recognize how insane those of us in this sport actually are.
Like fresh coffee on the campfire, the aroma of Chilcotin morning air woke me up, bringing me back to one of my first childhood memories, living at one of our mining claims, laying in a field of wheat, staring up at the pure blue sky. I wanted to stay there forever, but alas it was time to head up the meandering road for a little off camber travel. Being so used to solo travel, I’d opted to take up the rear, as I tend to enjoy my own (slower) speed - I always get there in the end.
We later talked a bit about the road ahead, I was told it was ‘just like Molybdenite’, however something inside me hesitated based on how they were saying it. They then clarified that Molybdenite was like a two-lane road compared to the new route. For the second time in my life I asked if I could ride instead of drive, as something in me said ‘I think I’m over my limit on this one’. Luckily one of them opted to shuffle some gear so I could climb in the passenger side.
We headed up the deactivated mining road; stopping every 20 metres to move a few boulders out of the way, a sheer 300-metre drop just a few centimetres from the driver side tire. I am known for being a horrible passenger, however, like many of us, my reaction truly depends on my trust in the driver. In this case my trust was implicit, so I completely immersed myself in the mesmerizing landscape and terrain.
Without the option to back up or retreat at any given point, the logical solution to reduce the risk was to reach a safe point, then radio the others to join us. Watching the other trucks slowly proceed, I realized despite the risk, this is where I was meant to be. I stood there lost in this desolate place and point in time, surrounded a few resilient scrub bushes eking out life in the shale, on a road that someone was insane enough to create decades ago in an attempt to make it rich.
The other trucks arrived, one almost slipping off the edge that eroded after the first two trucks passed. My driver opted to continue further up the road until a point was reached where it was clear there was no viable way to continue. Then, we gingerly backed up to the last possible turnabout.
I paused there looking out at landscape, the valley so lush below, a true juxtaposition to the terrain we were standing on. As we made our way back down the road, there was one more stop required to safely practice our mountain goat skills, shovelling out the road that had collapsed behind us. Too bad there wasn’t a fourth shovel for me!
A few of the guys decided to head home, but the rest of us settled in to camp, opting to get in a little overdue target practice. Reflecting back on the journey, I recognize that we need to push our own limits, but also the need to keep our egos in check. Sometimes it’s better to just say no. Over the years I’ve overcome my fear of rolling the Jeep in a non-lethal situation, however the 300 metre cliffs this trip still put my stomach in my mouth.
I’ve mastered the ‘art of fear’ better over the years, the guys tell me I have the technical driving ability required for all the trails. Maybe next time I come across one of these extreme situations I might say “I’m driving that!” Unless of course there is a driver I trust more implicitly than myself, in which case I may just play the damsel in distress and get the great pictures!