Facing a headwind, Kevin Ehman pauses while pedalling a surfboard-loaded fat bike down East Beach. He and Joel Hibbard got all kinds of weather, including a windstorm with 98 km/h gusts. “It’s real up there, especially up at Cape Fife” he said. “It’s really real.” (Submitted)

Fat bikes, surfboards, and a sandblasting storm

Kevin Ehman’s day job keeps him indoors.

He dialogues at meetings. He reads a lot of email.

But for two days on a cycling and surfing trek from North Beach to Rose Spit and the Tlell River, Ehman and his friend Joel Hibbard met no one.

They read the surf, the sky, got a mind-bending sunrise and one heck of a storm.

“We saw it all,” he says.

Drivers might remember seeing Ehman and Hibbard cycling up the highway from Skidegate to Masset a few weeks ago. Pedalling green mountain bikes with ballooning, four-inch wide tires, they were towing trailers loaded with camping gear and surfboards.

Ehman said they knew starting at Hiellen and would eventually mean facing southeasters on East Beach — but the incoming surf looked too good to miss.

“Being from southern Vancouver Island, all our surf is pretty crowded,” he said.

While they both live in Victoria, Ehman noted that Hibbard works every summer as a river guide in the Northwest Territories.

“Yeah, I don’t know why he wants to go on crazy trips like this afterwards, but he does somehow.”

One of those crazy trips was two years ago, when Ehman and Hibbard organized a long-distance run around an overgrown hiking trail that circles the central Walbran Valley on Vancouver Island.

Called Against the Dark, it was a fundraiser for protestors trying to stop old-growth logging in the Walbran, and they ran it with thick wet snow and frigid river fords on the shortest day of the year, Dec. 21.

Camping and surfing at Rose Spit was way more easygoing. They found the surf and empty line-ups they were looking for.

One sunrise lit Dixon Entrance with such deep red, orange, and purple that they laughed hysterically and high-fived.

But short fall days would make their ride down East Beach extra challenging.

“At low tide, when the sand was good and hard, everything went great,” Ehman said, adding that they had zero mechanical issues.

“But times when we ended up in small rocky sections or up in the soft sand — there were some pretty comedic moments.”

North of Cape Ball River, a friend messaged their GPS device with some unfunny news about a big southeaster heading their way.

When it hit overnight on Oct. 17, Sandspit Airport got wind gusts of 98 km/h, and a big spruce came down in Tlell.

Ehman and Hibbard managed to get down to Cape Ball and cross the river, but by then it was too late to get to the shelter cabin a kilometre away. The high tide and storm surge pushed water high into the dunes, but they sheltered behind a tall one further back and strapped their gear down before the storm hit.

“We basically lay awake all night while it sounded like a jet engine,” Ehman said.

“I wouldn’t send it into a storm like that — that’s just irresponsible,” he added.

“But in hindsight, it was just cool to feel that force of nature.”

Even the next day, sustained winds and high tides didn’t leave enough beach to ride on, and they only made it as far as the cabin before sheltering behind it for a day and night.

Ehman said the reason they brought trailers was so they would have enough food and gear to be off-grid in bad weather for a long time, so they weren’t too worried.

The trickiest thing was finding good drinking water along East Beach, he said. They mainly collected rainwater off their tarp.

Finally, the tides and waves in the Hecate let up enough that they could cycle down to the Tlell River. From the river mouth, the highway is just a few kilometres away, but that’s where they hit the hardest part of the trip — slogging their bikes and gear along the riverbank in knee-deep mud, clambering over deadfall from the storm.

“We should have just put our wetsuits on and dragged our stuff across,” Ehman said.

“By the end, everything was wet, and everything was blasted with sand.”

As someone keen on environmental conservation, he said East Beach was incredible: a largely intact wilderness

“It was one of the most beautiful trips I’ve ever done,” he said.

“But definitely know what you’re getting in for — it’s real up there, especially up around Cape Fife.”

“You’re far away, nobody’s coming to get you, and if they do it’s a hard evac.”

“Adventure is cool, but make sure you know what you’re doing and be prepared — don’t turn it into somebody else’s problem.”

 

Kevin Ehman, left, and Joel Hibbard stop by the Pesuta trailhead on Oct. 19. Ehman said the final two-hour slog along the Tlell River with loaded bikes and surfboards was probably the hardest off-road part of cycle trip up to Rose Spit and down East Beach. (Submitted)

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