Last ride of the summer

Last Thursday, the Cyclemeter app that I downloaded back in June ticked over the 4,000km mark. And as the damp grey end of September ebbed away into October and the year’s first snow dusted the mountaintops in Whistler, I wanted one last long ride to see out the summer.

So on Sunday I found myself at the top of Mount Baker ski area with two equally diehard friends, unloading our bikes as backcountry snowboarders geared up beside us in the parking lot. The ride down the mountain was an amazing way to start out: hairpin curves high above the valley, a chill wind whipping over the snowfields, and Shuksan peak towering behind us. The landscape around Baker is primordially beautiful: volcanic rock, ice that stays frozen all year round, and old growth trees heavy with moss.  Even at our rapid rate of descent, being on a bike gave me so much more time to take the landscape in as we passed through it.

As we swept down into the valley the road settled into rolling curves that took us through the dense trees of Snoqualmie National Forest, past tumbling rivers and waterfalls and into the village of Glacier. We stopped to snap a few pictures at the wall of skis, and then headed onward. The smell of woodsmoke lingered in the cool fall air, with a few rays of weak sunlight filtering briefly through the trees. It was another of those stretches that I wished could last forever, with barely a car to be seen and no sound but our tires hissing on the damp tarmac.

All too soon the trees thinned out and we found ourselves riding through rolling farmland toward Sumas. Back in Canada we looped back to Avenue Zero, where we hung out by a border marker and ate lunch with one foot in Canada and one in the States. We also hit an unexpected delay at a construction site near 248th Street, where we had to shoulder the bikes for a brief cyclocross style scramble over broken shale and across a small river whose bridge was still under construction. I got such a kick out of the long ride down Avenue Zero: flying along at speed with Canadian farmland on our right, American farmland on our left, and silver pillars marking the line between the two.

Photo credit: J. Caddick

At 216th Street we finally turned away from the border and rode up the steep hill into Langley, where we ran into our first real traffic of the trip. Small aircraft flew skyward at impossibly steep angles as we passed Langley Airport and headed along an unedifying stretch of suburban shopping malls that eventually brought us out on the long road through Surrey. On the far horizon, at the top of a steep hill, the tips of the Alex Fraser bridge supports were just visible above the trees. Dusk was falling as we finally reached the bridge, and by the time we crossed the Queensborough it was full dark. We took the 7-11 bike route through New West, cycling over bumpy asphalt beneath the Skytrain tracks. In Burnaby we detoured briefly through Central Park, where our bike lights blinked like fireflies in the pitch blackness between the trees.

Back in Vancouver J and P headed homeward as we passed through East Van, leaving me on my own in the quiet nighttime streets. It seemed somehow fitting that those last few kilometres were on the bike route that I’d gotten to know so well during my summer commutes to Fraserview. A fine rain started to fall as I rode through Kits, and when I stopped the clock outside our front door it read 171km.

The summer really is over now. There’s a chill in the air in the mornings; the days are grey and cold and the night comes way too early. And I’m watching the webcams where the snow just started falling, feeling that familiar impatience, waiting for the new season to begin.

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