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Self-propelled summer trips don't have to be grueling

Posted by Nola Poirier

Here's an idea for a summer weekend:

Bike 100 jittery gravel kilometres out of town, until the dirt road ends. Hike 16 scratchy, sweaty hours through dense groves of alder and head high devil's club. Then rope up and ascend 2,500 metres on a steep alpine route to summit a mountain. Pause to take in the view for 10 minutes. Repeat in reverse to get home in time for work on Monday.

Not your idea of a great weekend? Maybe not, but it's a pretty typical trip for members of B.C.'s Self-propelled Outdoor Club (SPOC), a group my husband founded and of which I am a member. A SPOC trip is completely self-propelled, meaning no cars, trains, ferries, or buses are used on the journey. Some members even eschew the use of wind in a sail. The peak-filled passions of most members mean that the majority of trips involve climbing a mountain.

While the rigour of many SPOC trips is not for everyone, or even most people, the wisdom and spirit behind the SPOC philosophy can be used to inspire more leisurely vacations.

Make the journey part of the adventure

In addition to reducing the carbon impact (and often the cost) of a voyage, part of the concept of a SPOC style trip is to make the journey part of the adventure. This means that instead of spending a good part of your holiday "getting there," you begin your trip the moment you leave your doorstep.

Bike, kayak, and canoe trips are some excellent choices, and make for great vacations with family, friends, or even on your own. Of course, you don't have to steer clear of buses or ferries to lessen the environmental impact and increase the adventure of your journey. But by focussing the trip away from trains, planes, and automobiles, and using your body to do most of the getting around, you'll often have more fun, get in better shape, and see places in a more up close and intimate way than you would otherwise.

Here are some ideas and resources to help plan a largely self-propelled summer vacation:

By bike

There are great tried and true cycle routes all over B.C., or you can put together your own.

A popular coastal B.C. route links Vancouver-Nanaimo-Comox and the Sunshine Coast (remember that ferries are a lot cheaper when you're on bike instead of in the car). Or create an island-hopping trip among a few of the Gulf Islands, an especially good choice if you will be travelling with children who are also riding.

The Kettle Valley trail in the Okanagan is a popular biking destination – and ties in well with some winery tours and lakeside camping as well.

Plan your own adventure: bike to Alaska from Smithers, tour up the east coast of Vancouver Island, or visit the lake country around Quesnel.

Bike shops, the Internet and recreation maps are good places to look for bike touring tips, routes, and ideas. Warmshowers.org is an international online service site for touring cyclists. Hosts offer a free place to tent, or in some cases a room for the night, and of course a warm shower. In addition to providing accommodation, meeting locals along your route can add a rich layer to the journey, and provide insider information on things to see and do.

Bike touring is a great holiday for the kids, if they are too young to ride, you can look at options like bike trailers, or a trail-a-bike.

By kayak

Incredible kayaking adventures abound on B.C.'s west coast: Desolation Sound, the Broken Islands, Clayoquot, and Gwaii Haanas are just some of the popular choices. And don't forget, you can buy or rent a trailer to tow a kayak behind your bike, if you really want to go self-propelled.

A wonder-filled trip is to take your bike, towing a kayak, on the ferry from Northern Vancouver Island through the Inside Passage and up to Haida Gwaii (or come across from Prince Rupert), then spend a week, or more if you can, biking and paddling around Haida Gwaii – or visiting the spectacular Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve.

Ocean kayaking is not for the unprepared. Ensure you have adequate information about the area you are going to travel through, and pay attention to weather, marine traffic, and tides. Conditions can change rapidly. If you are a novice, keep your trip to protected areas. Always find out about local conditions and, as for any trip, let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return.

For most kayaking destinations, there are professional guides and tour operators who can take you as a part of a group, or on a private trip. Most tours include boat rental and guides tend to be storied sources of information on local ecology, history, and culture.

By canoe

Canoeing on some of B.C. lakes and river routes is a relaxing way to vacation. Canoes can carry lots of gear, so you can include gourmet food and plenty of diversions – although don't forget you might have to pull, or carry, the boat for a portage.

You can go for a longer trip on one of B.C.'s canoe routes, like the Bowron Lakes, and the Powell River Canoe Route, or you can do something shorter, like a paddle in Widgeon Creek in Pitt Lake, or trip along one of the many rivers in the Kootenays or the Okanagan.

Tips for the best trips

Things to keep in mind for all self-propelled journeys:

  • You will be spending extra hours outdoors. Pack sun hats, sunscreen, sunglasses, and lightweight clothes that offer coverage from sun, wind and rain. Also, dress in layers and drink lots of water.
  • In wilderness areas, always pack out what you pack in.
  • Have a few options for places to camp, stop, or rest along route. On different days you might want to travel less or more than you planned, depending on the weather, your energy, or the terrain. Be prepared for last minute changes.
  • You will likely move more slowly at the beginning of the trip, and get a little faster as you get into the pace and groove. Ensure you leave days for relaxing in some favourite spots.
  • Going more self-propelled makes it easier to meet more people, find out of the way treasures, get in shape, and enjoy the entire time of your trip, not just the days spent "on location."
  • Wherever you are heading this summer, think about alternative ways to get there.

Nola Poirier is a Sunshine Coast-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Unplug This Blog! and bchydro.com's Green Guides.