A Teen and Her Mum Pedal to Pigeon Lake, Alberta

My first overnight bike trip was not what I expected, although I'm not sure what I had imagined in the first place. The idea began when I told my mum about some dreams of someday spending a whole week living off my bike. After hearing that, she was definitely excited, and she suggested we try an overnight trip before thinking about something longer. With that it began.

It can be difficult to find time in our busy schedules, so when the opportunity came up we quickly began to plan our adventure. Doing our best to pack everything we could have needed, the day finally came. Weeks in advance I had began to imagine what it would feel like on my body to be biking for such a long time. But I knew I'd be able to handle whatever we were up against.

When the morning of our trip arrived, things already began to look difficult. The weather was warmer than it had been all year. Being from central Alberta, it's not often that we see temperatures above 28 C (82 F) -- so, with the forecast calling for sunshine and a high of 32 C (90 F), I began to feel nervous.

By the time we left home and were on the road, the heat was already against us. Looking up the shoulder of the highway I began to question whether I was up for this. Luckily, things were working well for me -- but only me. Barely ten minutes into our three-hour-plus journey we were forced to pull over. Unfortunately for my mum, her gear shifter decided to stop working, trapping her in the 14th gear for our entire trip. But without a word she continued; turning back was not an option.

Being stuck in a high gear made for some wobbly riding for my mum.

We were on our way to Pigeon Lake Provincial Park, planning to circle the entire lake in two days and overnighting at Zeiner Campground. I had never before been on a bike ride for this long of a time, so with every hill came a challenge. But the farther we went, it seemed the easier things became. I quickly decided to savor the downhills and attack the uphills with speed.

When we arrived in Mulhurst it was time for lunch. We took a short stop at the gas station to grab some food and a cool drink. Then we were back on our bikes. In minutes, however, we decided to beat the heat and rest in the shaded area of the road ditch. After being off my bike for only a moment, I felt my muscles stiffening up. We inspected mum's gear shifter once more, but were still unsuccessful at fixing it, so we were soon back on the road.

We abandoned our planned route and stuck to the residental roads surrounding the lake. It was a nice break from the fast cars flying by on the highway. After awhile it felt like we would never reach our destination. My legs turned to jello, and even the smallest of hills became difficult. We'd been going for nearly 40 kilometers (25 miles), when we reached the biggest hill we'd faced yet. Struggling, I started my way up and soon found myself disappointed and dismounting my bike. As I walked up the hill I tried to imagine experienced bikers pushing their way up several-kilometer-long hills and even mountains! Just carrying my own body weight was beginning to feel impossible.

Luckily, it was downhill 5 kilometers (3 miles) to Zeiner's. As we pulled into the campground I began to feel relief, but frustration soon followed. The heat was too much for me. As we were setting up our tent I realized how uncomfortable I'd become. I was sticky with sweat, out of water, and had a throbbing headache. And not only was the entire campsite gravel -- when we squished our tent into the bush to avoid sleeping on top of rocks, we discovered a horrible stink. The smell of a dead animal drifted from the bushes and soon filled our tent. I couldn't believe I had ever wanted to do this!

After hauling firewood on the back of my bike and filling up my CamelBak, I finally had a chance to relax. We were quick to make our way toward the lake. The heat and humidity made it impossible to think of doing anything else. After collapsing into the water and forgetting about all the stress of the day, I remembered why I had wanted to do this. It was an experience I will never forget. It is also something I am excited to do again. I was proud of myself and my mum for making it this far. Maybe things didn't work out our way all the time, but it just made that moment even sweeter. It was the same feeling I had when I made it to the top of a hill and could look back and think, "Wow I really did this."

But our trip wasn't over yet; the air was still hot and -- when we got back to the campsite -- it still stunk around our tent. I was starving and our only food was powdered meals in a bag. I was leery of eating something with a shelf life of three to five years. But to my surprise the food was really delicious.

The sun began to set and everything was beginning to feel worth it again. Then I slipped into the tent to unroll my sleeping bag and remembered the nasty smell that still lingered in the air. I did not want to awake to that the next morning. Luckily, it was easy to carry our small tent across the gravel into an area where the air was much fresher.

I loved spending the night in our cozy tent and arising in the morning to a quick cup of instant coffee and a small breakfast before hitting the road. We were undecided wether we'd go straight home or spend another night somewhere else. But once we got our sore butts back on our bicycles, we thought it might be best to make it home before the heat of the day reached us.

The ride home went by quickly and was quite enjoyable. My skin was tender and slightly sunburnt, but other than that the flat ground and shade from the trees made up for any pain encountered the day before. We forced our way up several long hills, continuing forward and stopping only for a short bathroom break. It felt nice to pull down our driveway after 80 kilometers (50 miles) of biking. I was happy to be home, but eager to go on another trip -- just not today (or ever again in such hot weather).

Get more information about bike overnights.

Tip for this adventure: Don't follow the highway. If you can get into the residential area, you can follow paved roads around the lake or even take unpaved trails. I'd also recommend staying at the Pigeon Lake provincial campground, about 12 kilometers (8 miles) past Zeiner Park. It's a nicer campground with easier access to water.

5 responses so far ↓

Mark - Aug 14, 2012 at 1:12 PM

Nicely done! The ride around Pigeon lake is a good one. When I did it for the first time this summer I was really surprised to see how much effort the local residence put in to connecting all those small residential roads with nice paths to make an (almost) complete loop of the lake.

Jasper Gates - Aug 15, 2012 at 4:24 PM

Way to go, you two. I live in nearby Edmonton and have long thought about pedalling around Pigeon. You've inspired me to give it a try--maybe when it's cooler.

Neve - Aug 16, 2012 at 6:36 AM

It is defiantly a nice ride worth doing. The residential roads are really great, I recommend you give it try!

Dan - Aug 16, 2012 at 10:22 AM

Good Job! I remember my first bike camping trip and the trials of hills and heat, followed by the bliss of a nightly camp out and sitting on something I didn't have to straddle. I hope this is the first of many bike camping adventures you'll share with your mum.

Jerry - Nov 13, 2012 at 6:23 AM

Being from Southern California the 90 degree heat is pretty normal in this neck of the woods. Its funny how discomfort can make you appreciate comfort a lot more. I felt bad for your mum having to crank up those hills in high gear, that would be a deal breaker for most people, kudos to her for continuing on.
I appreciated the honest approach to the story, expressing how unpredictable and tough even a short adventure can be.
Thanks for sharing

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