Milan Ilnyckyj at July 2023 Critical Mass in Vancouver, by @jordanvegbike
By happenstance or grace I ran into the best Vancouver Critical Mass in years when the library ushered me out at 6pm. It was my first bike ride in 11 years, and my first e-bike ride ever, on a rental e-bike available right beside the mustering area north of the old art gallery.
Critical Mass is one of the most brilliant forms of non-violent direct action ever devised. Today’s Vancouver ride showed me the city like I never saw it in 22 years growing up, and felt like the safest bike ride I ever took. Safe in the middle, I never worried about a single car. There were pairs of kids on the back of long e-bikes; dogs in carriers wearing goggles; several audio mixes from portable speakers in different parts of the mass; and a lot of good grace and patience — as well as a great deal of overt support — from pedestrians as well as drivers.
Sasha and I woke early at our B&B in Yellowknife and after a simple breakfast began our drive south. Tragically, we were never invited to meet the proprietors’ 24-year-old parrot Cosmo (possibly “Gosmo”) McBeaky, which I heard when booking from Toronto and had been psyched to meet north of 60°.
In Yellowknife and during the NWT and northernmost Alberta parts of the trip, the air quality was at 11 in the Apple weather app, whereas I never saw worse than 7 in Toronto. We drove past Sasha and Mica’s former school in Edzo, and then down toward the route through High Level which we had chosen to avoid wildfires near the Liard highway.
For most of the drive, we swapped between our respective Spotify libraries (mine only in the minority of spots with cell coverage, because there is no space on my phone for downloads) and sang along to the many songs we both know. We also listened to Serkis’ reading of The Hobbit from the battle against Smaug in Esgaroth to the very cusp of the eucatastrophe in the Battle of Five armies before pausing in High Table to share a large Mediterranean pizza.
We added another 300 km to our earlier 700 and got to Grimshaw as a severe thunderstorm was starting. We opted not to camp due to the expected bad weather and checked into the last available room in a hotel full of fire-fighting teams and lost power ten minutes later when Sasha was in the pool and I was doing an intense 25 minutes on the elliptical machine (my first time since the U of T gyms closed for COVID). I feel like I’m fitter than I remember being then, but part of it was surely desire to move my legs after a bus and three flights followed by the three hour Oppenheimer screening we attended last night, plus today’s driving.
I saw more ravens in a day than I think I ever have, and we got a close look at twenty or so bison of all sizes standing around and atop the road. They have truly impressive bulk and presence, and seemed utterly unperturbed by us, though willing to slowly shift off the road while we watched them and took some photos.
We are monitoring wildfire locations and road closures, but presently planning to drive into BC via Jasper and to camp tomorrow night if we can find a good spot and decent weather. To leave space in the Mazda for Sasha’s move I packed as light as possible, omitting a fly for my tent and all my rainy weather clothes (indeed, I brought just three shirts, my two intact-ish pairs of cargo trousers, and fresh daily socks for a five day trip).
I am hugely grateful to my parents and especially my mother for making the trip possible by helping me secure an apartment as guarantors. The chance to spend one-on-one time with Sasha is a true blessing, and the trip will doubtless be a source of memories and stories between us for life.
My friend Natalia made a suggestion that gave me a 24 hour respite from the misery of finding a room in Toronto, and we went back to the Hemlock forest near Catchacoma for an overnight camp.
One great thing about short visits to a place that has a brief and easy walk between where we parked and where we camped is that it allows for pretty quick and low-risk evaluation of gear for backpacking and camping. It’s feasible to bring two of something and try both, and not that bad if you only bring one version of something and it doesn’t work.
I have been so happy with my Savage Industries EDC ONE bag that even though I can’t say I ever had “buy a bedroll” on my to-do list, when I saw that they had made one I was curious about it. I have been very pleased with their stuff in the past and I know it sells out fast, so when they issued a second release I ordered one in time to have it to show off at this week’s bluegrass / hike planning evening.
Before leaving, it seemed like a bit of a questionable camping item when a lot of people live some version of the ultralight philosophy. Just the bedroll weighs 4 pounds, and it rolls up into a package bigger than my tent or sleeping bag.
The design justified itself in the field for sure. It has waterproof sailcloth on the outside and a good warranty, so I felt fine about putting it down on little sticks and stones that I would move away from the area under my thin-floored tent. The wool platform was great to rest on after the hike in, and to watch the clouds from. At night, it was a great venue for stargazing, and I expect it will be good for tent-free “cowboy camping” later in the season.
Back in my tent — where on the last trip I spent all night curled at the bottom of my sleeping bag and shivering for warmth — I followed Natalia’s advice to put the bedroll above and below my light sleeping bag. In that configuration, I was warm with my sleeping bag unzipped until after dawn, and then warm with the bag zipped and light clothes on after. Note, however, that we had -11 ˚C and -9 ˚C nights last time, compared with +5 this time. (Though last time, I also used a fleece sleeping bag liner which I never had to pack this time, and slept in all my clothes rather than light PJs.)
One more nice unanticipated feature emerged when we were breaking camp: the bedroll is large enough to use as a soft, dry, and debris-free place to roll up my tent. Being able to pack up a tent clean saves times and annoyance, reduces the odds of needing to unpack it later in the day to dry or clean it, and probably extends the life of the tent.
For the hike out, I even discovered that the integrated straps on the bedroll can be passed through two loops that were already there at the bottom of my pack. The bedroll still needs to be tied so that the middle doesn’t slide out of the roll, but the bedroll is nevertheless quite feasible to carry attached to the outside and bottom of a pack.
I probably would not carry it on a thru hike of thousands of kilometres, but it seems great for trips like this one plus picnics and Hive games in the park.
Particularly during the dissertation writing phase, I have largely been confined to Toronto and the GTA for the last few years.
That made my recent trips to Ottawa, Guelph, and the Catchacoma forest all the more appreciated:
My urgent tasks are finding affordable housing and a job, but I am looking forward to an active spring and summer of wilderness and crown land camping.
Thanks to the prior exploration and get-up-and-go of my friend Natalia, I capped off the intense sequence from my brother Sasha’s visit through my mother’s departure with my first camping trip since pre-PhD.
This trip was meant in part as a gear shakedown for camping in the shoulder season. I can say definitively that the sleeping bag and fleece liner combo which I chose mostly to avoid sleeping in hostel-provided sheets was not comfortably warm at -11 ˚C and -9 ˚C during the coldest night hours, even with all my clothes on. My graduation gift tent did an admirable job of staying condensation-free, despite me curling up at the bottom of my sleeping bag to preserve my warm outbreaths.
We camped in and explored an area of crown land near the Catchacoma forest during a time of exceptional high water. A wetland area as seen in recent aerial images was mostly a large lake for us, with the outflow down a creek partly obstructed by an ATV bridge.
The trip was a remarkable and much-needed grit- and friendship-building experience. I can’t wait to get out again; taste simple food off the fire that tastes better than anything at home; wake to the bird chorus around dawn; and joke and talk with good friends while stomping through snowfall and hauling falling branches to the fire.
Though I had noticed some of their signage (and, without knowing it, their printed Toronto cycling map has been a key planning tool for our urban hikes), I did not actually know about the city’s TO360 wayfinding project until I saw a post about it a few days ago.
They are currently working on the Long Branch area west of Humber Bay, and held a consultation yesterday at the local library.
The consultation was unlike anything I have done, and really cool. Some knowledgeable local residents turned up, and the TO360 people had printed maps the size of large dinner tables where people could correct errors, note things that ought to be included, and suggest places where they should include custom graphics for something like a building or monument rather than a generic labelled marker. It’s awesome to see a group with so much capability and official support working to map the city from a non-driving perspective.
As shown on p. 11 of the slides, the group is working through the whole GTA as they are funded by the city. It would be neat to explore new areas as they focus on them and contribute to forthcoming consultations. The results won’t just be used for map posts on the street and map posters in subway stations, but also future versions of the cycling map.