There are lots of cyclists out there who ride for a cause. They are often raising money or awareness and do a good job of it.
Charlie Grove does an epic cycle ride every year he is his own cause.
“It ends up being a chance for me reflect and decide how I want to live my life next year,” he says. “I call it meditation in motion. My own personal 10 Commandments. It’s physical and almost spiritual.”
His ride? A six- or seven-week journey through some of the most rugged terrain B.C. and Alberta has to offer. He usually heads east to Jasper and south through the Columbia Ice Fields, down through Alberta or the Kootenays, sometimes into the United States, and over to the Okanagan and then back up to Prince George via Highway 5.
“It ends up being quite a personal journey,” he says. “There are so many benefits, the obvious one is the physical. You come back and you feel so strong. Your body is a miracle. You just respond and get stronger every day. That’s a great feeling at my age.”
He’s been doing the ride since 1996 when a friend, who was an experienced cyclist, encouraged him to come along. Since then, it’s become an annual trek for Grove who has ridden, at times, with his wife and his two sons. But mostly he’s on his own.
“This is year I got down to Castle Junction south of Lake Louise and turned right over Storm Mountain and through Kootenay National Park and into Radium,” he says. “I spent three or four weeks in the Kootenays and Okanagan, went over the Monashee Pass. Everything’s better on a bike.”
And yes, he camps.
“I have spots where I’ve camped before,” he says. “I tend to do what I call stealth camping. I’ll go in and just put up my tent and hang up my food and come back to the highway and eat there, or the next rest stop. I don’t open any food in the bush. I carry bear spray but never had to use it.”
He has woken up to animals snorting outside his tent in the middle of the night, but luckily, no one has decided to see who is in the tent.
“I’ve had bears following me along the road,” he says. “I almost always see wolves south of Jasper. They’re kind of curious and will come up and take a look.”
As much as he likes camping along the way, the more he travels the more he encounters people who are willing to put him up for the night, or at least, offer him a safe spot to pitch his tent.
“I’ve met more and more people on the road who have just stopped or I’ve stopped at their farm and asked directions,” he says. “I’ve been invited back the next year. One of these years I’m almost not going to have to take a tent. I’ve met so many terrific people … I guess there’s something about someone coming down the road on a bike by themselves … people respond in a very different way.”
When he camps and spends time with the locals on his trip, he does like to help out in return and has done everything from pruning trees to picking garlic to cutting grass.
On a good day, he can travel about 140 kilometres. However, an average day is about 100 kilometres. Weather and terrain obviously play a big part in how far he can go in a day. And sometimes, when the conditions are right, he rides at night.
“When I know I’m going to have a full moon and clear sky, I’ll have a cycle in the morning and a sleep in the afternoon and I’ll get on my bike at about 7 or 8 p.m. and cycle through the night,” he says. “There’s no traffic and you’ve got this magical moon.”
He does encounter some wonderfully generous and helpful people on his travels, like a truck driver he met in Kootenay National Park outside of Radium this year.
There is a seven-kilometre climb in one spot where motorists are warned not to stop because grizzly bears have taken up residence on the roadside. It’s one thing to drive through a bunch of grizzlies foraging on the side of the road but it’s quite another ride your bike, uphill, through the hungry critters.
“There was a truck driver that had done the trip several times and saw lots of grizzlies,” he said. “He saw me approaching that hill so he said ‘I’m going to put it in first gear and go up real slow and you can cycle beside me.’ He had a place to be but that’s the decision he made. I sure appreciated it. It took about half an hour, he waved, and was gone. You get that generosity.”
He stopped at Moyie south of Cranbrook and happened to pass by the community centre. He was invited in by a bunch of seniors who had just done a yoga class and was having a coffee.
He joined them for a couple of hours and one of the seniors ended up offering him a place to stay next time he comes through.
And then, of course, there’s the weather to deal with, which if you prepare for it isn’t as bad as it looks. He has encountered all kinds of weather, including snow and hail.
“You’ve got to spend good money on good rain gear … I’m completely dry,” he says. “In terms of weather factors, and it’s all mental, a strong headwind is the worst. Sometimes you have it for the whole day. That’s a challenge. Some of it’s physical, but a lot of it’s mental.”
Hail storms, however, are the worst and one time in Alberta a police officer basically ordered him to get in the police van to get out of the hail.
“You adjust your expectations of how far you’re going to go (when the weather’s bad) and keep going,” he says.
Bike maintenance is also a crucial part of riding for six weeks straight.
He stops at Gerick’s Cycle in Cranbrook every year where he gets a a major tune up on his bike. He carries spare tires and a maintenance kits with him. Dry roads are great, wet roads wreak havoc on the chain.
“I clean it pretty much every night,” he said, adding he has never completely broken down.
Like most cyclists has had a few close calls with cars, some whizzing by within a couple of feet.
“There’s a strange attitude with some people,” he says. “I used to get upset but now I think they just don’t cycle. They don’t have that awareness of the air displacement and the noise … A lot of it is people just aren’t aware.”
And, strangely enough, Grove doesn’t spend a lot of time training for his ride.
“I’m active through the years in different places and different ways,” he says. “Between here and Tete Jaune it’s a great training ground, then I’m ready for the climb up Terry Fox and whatever else I need to do. But I’m motivated. I’ve got the best motivation ever because, at my age, I don’t know if I’m going to be doing it next year. I want to, but I don’t know if I’m going to so I just thoroughly enjoy it when I do it.”
He will spent a lot of time running in August and participate in mountain trail races in September.
Grove taught special needs with School District 57. He now teaches privately so he can arrange his time to hit the road. Spending time away from his wife Pat can be tough, although with increased cell coverage they are in touch more often. And Charlie says he will enjoy his trips as long as he can.
“When I’m off on my own, the level of gratitude I have for my life is immense,” he says. “When I’m cycling up Storm Mountain … I think this isn’t work, this is pleasure. I come back pretty clearheaded.”