Genevieve Gay, Tiffany Scholey and their dogs Reggie and Pepper get set for a four-day, 80 km trek on fat-tire bikes from the Tlell River Bridge up to Tow Hill in early December. (Submitted)

Fat Tire Girls

Tough north-island duo braves river crossings and storm winds on cycling trek from Tlell to Tow Hill

By Tiffany Scholey

It was an impulse trip, thrown together in a few days. An adventure was needed. We set our sights on East Beach, then remembered our buddy Terry Wallace (Masset Bikes) had two fat-tire bikes in his rental fleet. The plan set sail. We packed our panniers and I packed my poodle, Pepper. Genevieve was accompanied as always by her trusty pup Reggie.

Our gear included a tiny tent, two litres of water each, sleeping bags/pads, a wee camp stove, rain/cold weather clothes, a GPS, dog food, four-ish days of military rations, plus some life-giving gummy bears and beef jerky.

We set off Dec. 6 in Genevieve’s tiny car with two bikes, two dogs, and our tightly packed panniers. Vanilla Ice was in the tape deck and adventure in the air. We drove from Masset and arrived at the Tlell bridge for low tide, which we needed to get our bikes down the narrow stretch of muddy riverbank until the beach opened up near the Pesuta shipwreck.

Tides and daylight would decide how distance we could cover each day.

Genevieve, Tiffany, their bikes and furry companions stopped for a snapshot in the Pesuta shipwreck by the Tlell River. (Submitted)

Day One: Tlell River bridge to Cape Ball Cabin (13 km)

We spent our first 20 minutes slagging through riverbed mud, but soon we were leisurely biking along hard-packed sand in the low-tide zone, pausing at the Pesuta for a snack and a picture. Ninety minutes later we reached the Mayer River mouth. The tides were big due to the nearly full moon, and the rivers were full after a rainy week. The crossing was a bit sketchy. The waist-deep water demanded several trips, and taking off our pants and boots. There was much cursing, teeth-gritting and dog-carrying.

I nearly got knocked off my feet by the current at one point, but was heroically rescued by Genevieve who jumped in to save me and also to take some very funny pictures. We got dressed, examined our cut-up feet and began our short 4-km journey to the Cape Ball cabin. We found it clean and cozy, made a fire to dry our gear, and whipped up some rations for dinner. Later, we toasted our first day with a beer and a game of Uno, which I lost because I always do. Pepper volunteered as Genevieve’s pillow at some point in the night and she woke with face-full of sandy fur.

Volunteers Chris Williams and Veronika Higlister recently restored the Cape Ball cabin by installing a new metal roof, new doors, windows, and plywood bunk platforms. A new woodstove will be installed soon. (Submitted)

Day Two: Cape Ball cabin to Hoyagundla (40 km)

The second day started with a bit of nerves. Our first task was crossing the Cape Ball River, just 2 km north of the cabin. Even at low tide, it was nearly as deep as Mayer. But now we were old pros, and made the several crossings without hiccups. Reggie the adventure dog was a skilled river crosser, but Pepper, a 14-pound hairball, had to be carried.

Next came the cliff section of the trip. The sun was out, the wind at our backs, and the views stunning. As we cycled down the sliver of beach between towering white-sand cliffs and turbulent ocean I was awestruck by power and beauty. But there was no time to play around — we were racing the tide. The cliffs stretched far as the eye could see, and after four hours’ cycling we had run out time. The cliffs and ocean met with a kiss just ahead of us.

Genevieve cycles ahead of some of the cliffs along East Beach. (Tiffany Scholey/Submitted)

We found a break in the cliff and secured our bikes high on the dunes. To our surprise, we discovered a small cabin atop the cliff. Not wanting to disturb it, we set up our tent beside it and lounged around filling up on rations, waiting for the tide to recede. Our goal was a cabin 2 km before the Oeanda River, but we were only halfway. We decided to push through the night. At 10 p.m., with the tide finally out, we packed our bikes, donned headlamps and puffy jackets, and rode up the moonlit beach.

The southeast wind was blowing hard, but it was at our backs. Reggie discovered a few racoons foraging low-tide treats and decided to say “hello.” A fumbled chase ensued, and it ended with Reg swimming around in the ocean with his backpack on. After many hours of night biking we reached the Oeanda River. We hadn’t seen the cabin. After consulting the GPS and biking back and forth a few kilometres looking for it, we admitted defeat. We later learned it doesn’t exist anymore — the cabin was removed. We chose instead to camp at Hoyagundla, site of an old Haida village. It was an eerie yet beautiful sight. All the trees were dead and there were spiders all over! It was 2 or 3 a.m. by the time we got in our tent. We fell asleep to the sound of gusting 90 km/h winds and crashing waves.

Genevieve floats a fat-tire bike across the Oeanda River, where a log just happened to wash up as a bridge the night before. (Tiffany Scholey/Submitted)

Day Three: Hoyagundla to private cabin (16.5 km)

The third day was a total breeze. Well, the winds were technically storm force, but they were in our favour. Rain found us for the first time on the trip — we got instantly drenched by the heavy downpour. No amount of rain could dampen our spirits though because we were so jazzed to be staying in a friend’s cozy, private cabin that night. Our stoke continued when we discovered a large log had washed up across a narrow section of the Oeanada during the storm the night before (we had scouted it earlier). We walked across, floating our bikes one-by-one with a rope.

The wind pushed at our backs so strongly that we didn’t even need to pedal most of the time — we called our bikes scooters. The dogs had to hustle to keep up. We arrived in just two hours and the cabin was heaven. There was a wood stove, fresh rain water, cell service, and a bed! Pepper and Reggie immediately curled up in their corners. Pepper was quite exhausted and didn’t leave her spot other than to lift her head for a small meal and a lick of water. We basked in the luxury of a warm cozy space and dried our clothes by the fire. It was our last night so we no longer had to ration our rations. The menu was smothered chicken and stuffing with cranberry sauce. For dessert, gummy bears and chocolate-covered berries. I was annihilated at Battleship and Connect Four.

After a warm, cozy night, it was hard to leave our retreat the next day.

Tiffany sets out onto the beach again after sheltering up in the dunes. (Genevieve Gay/Submitted)

Day Four: Beach ride, plus 10 km of Cape Fife trail

We slept late and took our time packing up. The wind was still blowing storm-force. Our plan to ride around Rose Spit to Tow Hill would be impossible against the wind so we had to cut through the Cape Fife trail. We arrived at the Cape Fife cabin in early afternoon and began the trail, last leg of our journey.

It was the absolute worst. At times we couldn’t help laughing at the ridiculousness of it all. At one point we waded through a waist-high swamp and floated our bikes. Mostly it was just pushing through mud and slash and lifting our bikes over blowdown (sorry Terry). Six hours later, in the dark, we emerged beaten and exhausted (me more so than Genevieve, what a powerhouse!) but still high on the stoke and adrenaline from a damn good adventure.

My husband Dan picked us up and I melted into the front seat.

An hour later we were out at a fancy restaurant, drinking wine and pulling our pants down to show friends and unsuspecting acquaintances our bruised and beaten legs… because we’re classy like that. We’d like to give a big thank you to Terry at Masset Bikes for making this adventure possible and just being an all-around awesome dude.

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