October was a crazy month. It always is really, because of settling in to the fall weather, school, birthdays and Halloween prep, but this year was even worse for us with the looming prospect of going back to work, figuring out childcare logistics and the stress of finding new housemates with the added challenge of finding people who are similarly covid-conscious yet tolerant of a family with 3 kids in school and childcare. Once November rolled around, and all of the above was settled, we really needed a weekend away. Normally we would go to a cabin at this time of year, so we don't have to spend hours sitting around in the dark and cold, but that is not an option this year, so we wanted to go somewhere were we could have a fire. I looked up a number of car camping sites, and they were all closed for the season, but then we read the subscript at the bottom on the page. It seemed like we would be allowed to walk-in past the gate at some of the provincial sites: "Campground gates are closed during the off-season", "park users can still walk into the park if conditions such as weather permit", "some services and/or fees may be reduced". Seemed promising...
We parked the car at the outskirts of Abbotsford at Macdonald park, biked along 20ish km of dyke trails along the Sumas and Vedder river to the Vedder River crossing in Chilliwack. The dykes were great biking - flat, beside the rivers, and with no cars. I especially enjoyed the Rotary Vedder trail loop in Chilliwack. It had sections next to the river and in the forest, great views and lots of nice fall colours. It was close to dark when we got to the turn off to Cultus Lake. The Columbia valley Hwy had an okay shoulder and it wasn't too busy on a late Friday afternoon, but it was still nerve racking biking it in the dark with little kids. Christian, who has a mirror, called out when we should just pull off the road to wait before sections where the shoulder narrowed. During the regular camping season I would suggest ending the trip at Vedder River campsite, which would make the trip completely off roads.
It was just around dinner time when we pulled our bikes around the gate to the Clear Creek campground. We found a campsite well away from the highway, set up camp and got the fire started. It wasn't long before we discovered that we had left the stove at home. We managed to cook the mac and cheese over the fire - not your usual campfire meal. We sat around the fire for a couple of hours enjoying the marshmallows and the quiet.
We enjoyed having a whole campground to ourselves - the outhouse sure was sparkling clean and the ground was covered in a nice layer of maple leaves. We did need to get (and treat) our water from a nearby stream as the taps had been pulled for the season, but this was a small price to pay. In the morning we explored a few empty sites and the nearby river. We found some abandoned sand toys that the kids happily rescued. Around noon we started the bike back. Kids were disappointed that they had to sit on dad's bike for the hwy, which was a lot more busy, but it seemed a lot less long in the daylight (and, overall, downhill). Kids were happy to be on their bikes through the small town of Cultus Lake. Back on the Rotary trail we enjoyed the relaxing car-free biking and it wasn't long before we noticed that the river was full of salmon. We took a break on a gravel bar to watch them swim up the river. It was my first time seeing salmon close up swimming up the river, so I spend a long time observing them. The magic didn't last nearly as long for the kids. The rest of the bike back was nice and uneventful. A short section had some pretty strong wind, but luckily just from the side. F got tired as we neared the Sumas River, so we got both kids snuggle up on the back of the haul-a-day and did the rest of the trip at adult speed.
Never really though of going on a bike trip in the valley before, but it will definitely not be the last time.
Say Nuth Khaw Yum
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