The Kettle Valley Railway (KVR) is an abandoned railway bed which offers about 600km of multi-use trail through British-Columbia. This is not an epic ride through Alaska, or crossing America, but just my recollection of my week-end in one of the most beautiful area of BC. One of the most scenic and popular section of the trail is Myra Canyon, with its many trestles and tunnels. Most of the trestles had burnt during the 2003 fires that ravaged the region. They have since been rebuilt, and the trail reopened in the spring of 2008. Being fairly inexperienced in multi-day cycling adventure, we settled on this section of the KVR, as it offered easy access at the start in Kelowna and at the end in Penticton, with a nice place to sleep in the middle at Chute Lake, breaking the ride in 2 sections of about 40km, with a flat or very slight downhill grade. My longest single-day ride on a unicycle was about 25km on pavement before, but more than the longer distance itself, the main unknown factor was the terrain. Many descriptions we had read in our preparation were reporting the trails to be very sandy for most of the way, and, as we found out, they weren’t exaggerated! The weather had been dry and sunny for quite a few days before our start, making the trail that much more sandy and dusty.
We stayed the night before in Kelowna, close to the trails, so we could have an early start, and make as much use as possible of the cooler temperature of the morning hours. The forecast for the week-end was hot and dry, which allowed us to save some weight by leaving most of our rain gear in the car. But it would also mean we should carry some extra water.
Equipment wise, I had a bag weighing about 26 pounds (12kg), containing all of our clothing, the repair tools (spare tubes, wrenches…), 2 liters of water and my sleeping bag. I was riding a KH29, with 125mm cranks. My wife had 2 big panniers on her bike, containing food for 3 days for the both of us, and extra water. In total, we had 9 liters of water for the both of us, which was about right. We used about 3 liters per person during the ride, but a flat, or other little incident, could have easily slowed us down enough to need the rest.
Our hosts in Kelowna (http://thebellhouse.shawwebspace.ca/) drove my wife and I, plus our 3 wheels, to Myra station, the start of our adventure. We started riding around 9am in the morning through the beautiful Myra canyon. The trail was hard-packed with some gravel, and made for an easy first 11km. The trestles are pretty high up in the air, but the wide planking and the guard rails make for an easy crossing, and some terrific views.
Once out of the groomed canyon trail, you share the way with motorized vehicles. Although there aren’t many (we saw about 3 cars, 4 motorbikes, and a couple of quads in 2 days), that makes the trail sandy and dusty, as well as creating sections of washboards. Our average speed went down some, but we were still on a pace of about 11km/h. As the day went on, the trail got progressively worse, with deeper sand, and what I started to call sand traps. They’re just holes filled with sand that blends with the rest of the trail, but where your wheel has a certain tendency to get stuck. This made for a few UPDs (Unplanned Dismounts). Out of 12 UPDs during the week-end, 9 of them were in the last 2 hours of the first day, as I was getting tired, and the trail was getting worse. Towards the end, we were stopping every 1.5 to 2km to rest the legs for a bit (there is no coasting in the sand, even for the bike), as well as pouring some cold water on our heads, as relief from the unrelenting sun.
Finally, we made it to Chute Lake, our destination for our first night, after 39km. We knew the first day was to be the difficult one, so we were happy to make it through without trouble, and still in very good spirits. The most sore part of my body was actually my back and shoulders, from all the twisting, and the heavy bag.
The resort is made of a few wooden cabins, hotel-like rooms, and a campground, right on the KVR, making it a very popular stop, and a very welcomed sight. The cabin we rented was nothing short of luxury, with its wood-stove, and its microwave. We bought 6 liters of water to refill our stock, and after a good night rest, we were back on the trail for day 2.
This second day was to be easier than the first, a few kilometers shorter, and also most of it as a 2.2% downhill grade. The terrain was slightly different too, with more rocks and washboards, but fewer sand traps, making for a bumpy ride, with fewer dismounts. The trail goes through the Rock Oven National Park, where European workers built ovens out of rock and mud while building the railway. A few of them remain, and makes you wonder what they had to go through to build a railway in such a place.
The 2nd half of the day was on the bench overlooking Naramata and Okanagan Lake, very exposed to the sun, and little shade. Our little thermometer reached 35 degrees in the shade. We were stopping frequently to rest and re-hydrate, grateful for the bottles of water we froze the night before, kept in the panniers so it wouldn’t melt too quickly. We also found an ice cold stream which we dipped our feet in, for a much needed cooldown.
In the middle of the afternoon, we reached our 2nd rest stop, the bed & breakfast, at the D’Angelo Estate Winery, a few kilometers off downtown Penticton, in the middle of vineyards. A good shower was in order for the very dusty travelers we were, as well as a nice little swim in the pool.
The final day started with the last 6 km on the KVR, nicely groomed at this point to downtown Penticton to purchase a Greyhound ticket back to Kelowna, so we could get the car back. My wife stayed on the beach in Penticton with most of the gear, while I was heading North, to end our adventure with another 6km on the road to the car, so we could start our drive back to Vancouver.
Just before the ride, I purchased a Kris Holm T-bar Touring bar, as well as the new Fusion Freeride 09 seat for compatibility. Both of these are major comfort improvement for the unicycle. The seat itself has a firmer foam, and a deeper centre cut than previous versions, and although not as cushiony as other seats at first glance, it seems to be perfect for longer rides. Combined with some Sugoi chamois, after 8 hours and a half of actual saddle time in 2 days over non-smooth terrain, I was not saddle sore at all. On the rides I had done prior to the trip with the 08 Freeride, I was starting to be uncomfortable after an hour or two on the seat.
My inner thigh, on the right, did get chafed on the 2nd day, as the ride got bumpier, and it was rubbing a bit on the side of the seat. Not sure how I could prevent that, maybe making sure the chamois is positioned so it goes down the leg sufficiently. It was very bearable, and wasn’t bothering at all for the smoother 3rd day.
When I received the handlebars, the stiffener plate was missing from the package. I have since received it, but it was too late for our trip. I decided to mount the bar anyway, knowing that there would be quite a bit of flex in the seat when putting weight on it. Despite this, and multiple UPDs, the bar and seat hold up very well to the abuse. Due to my inexperience with handlebar, and to the rough terrain, I was not able to use them as much as I would have liked. Most of the time, I was using one hand on the handle, while the other was used to balance myself while weaving through rocks. This was very nice to force my arms to rest. Otherwise, on previous rides, my right shoulder was always getting sore from all the waving. Once on the road on the 3rd day, I was able to make more use of the handles, and noticed a speed improvement, as well as a more comfortable position on the saddle, leaning more forward, and using a more bike-like position rather than straight-up. It’s definitely a great thing to have for longer rides, and worth every penny.
My only concern is that the little tube that the main T slides into is very thin, and has apparently broken for quite a few people. A welder I talked to said the weld itself was very well done, but the tube is very thin, so it is likely to break just beside the weld. Adding a reinforcement would likely result in the tube breaking further around. Hopefully, this will be improved with the next generation, and I’m crossing my fingers mine won’t break.
Maxxis CrossMark 2.1”
As our trip was to mix some hard-packed, some sand, and some paved trails, I was looking for a good all-around cross-country tire. I hesitated between the Crossmark and the WTB Nanoraptor. Store availability and a good deal made me go with the Maxxis CrossMark. At higher PSI, it offers a fairly low rolling resistance. It didn’t feel any slower than my previous tire which was the Big Apple 2.0” when riding straight on pavement. It loses a bit in maneuverability, and smoothness during the turns, but it makes up for it by far as soon as you leave the pavement. I was noticeably faster on hard-packed/gravel, simply due to a much higher confidence in the grip and roll-ability over bumps and rocks. For the sand, it was pumped at about 25 PSI, and it handled very well, not sliding much, with very good grip. At lower PSI than that, the sidewalls start to fold a bit like most 29”ers, and the tire becomes very unpredictable.
I haven’t had a chance to try the other tires in this category, but I feel this one is a good tire for a mix of light off-road and pavement, with a decent width. For pavement only, I’d prefer the Big Apple, as it handles road crown better than the square profile of the CrossMark.
- You are officially hardcore!
- Oh, you’re the one with the unicycle!
- And we were complaining about the trail on our 2 wheels!
- You think you have the right-of-way just because you’re on one wheel? (from a taxi driver who obviously doesn’t think unicycles are vehicles and can have the right-of-way…)
All my photos are published at http://www.marcoz.org/gallery/2009/kvr09/