Did you know that Vancouver has fjords?
Indian Arm is a glacial fjord that’s right here in our backyard, a sanctuary of water between two steep-sided mountain ranges, North Vancouver and Belcarra. The body of water stretches about 20k north, toward a rugged wilderness area near mountain heaven– Squamish and Whistler.
I was always drawn to this area, both the fjord itself, and the wild area at the end of the fjord. Back in winter, I heard tales of an old logging road from the top of the Indian Arm that could lead to Squamish, and that further stoked my imagination. Come February, while “training” for a 100k, I was already onto that. In one very special day, Kerry, Tara and I managed to run that ~35 kilometer Stawamus Fire Service Road out and then back as a 65-70 kilometer snowy fun run, starting from Squamish to greet the marshes at the top of the Indian Arm, and then back.
That trip was thoroughly satisfying, but there’s always another level or layer. Because I’m an explorer at heart, I couldn’t help but think, What about canoeing up the whole Indian Arm, (~20k) and then hitting that road to Squamish, (~35k) and then coming back and canoeing all the way back? I had canoed up maybe 1/4 of the Arm before, and now I had run the road both ways, so it seemed practical and within reason.
For whatever reason, months went by and no plans were made. Maybe it was the fact that there were so many logistics. How to carry canoe on my shit car? Where to leave canoe before the road? Then on Monday, I started going crazy about having an adventure on the weekend. And then, I remembered this dream! Nothing was going to deter me, even a slight achilles tendonitis, I would just turn the whole running into mountain biking.
I roped Julien into the plan from the get-go, he needed very little convincing. Both new, keener mountain bikers and semi-injured runners, we figured that we would canoe up the Arm with bikes on top, and then stash the canoe, and ride our way up to Squamish. We even added a nice little camp party with friends in Squamish after the journey out, and then we’d make the return journey to retrieve our canoe the next day, Sunday. We were quite cocky, telling the friends that we’d see them at camp around noon after starting at 7am. (!!!) A few details were left, like how to transport a canoe without racks, and how to put bikes inside, and how it would feel to paddle 20k. And, for me, how to ride a mountain bike. But these are just details! We even made a map for the way out using RunGo App (the start-up where I work) so we would find the bike trail and get to our friends’ campsite, knowing it would navigate us through any turns by voice.
Saturday morning looked like this.
As these things go, we didn’t actually get going until 10:05am. Not 7am.
We hit the water in our canoes, and surprisingly, sailing was smooth with the bikes inside. It took us about 4 hours on our way out, at a leisurely pace but with great tides in our favour. (I think Julien actually looked up the tide charts…)
After the paddle up, we stashed the canoe at the north end of the Arm, excited to give our crazy mountain bikes a whirl. At this point, we figured it would be a quick bike ride, maybe 3 hours. I didn’t remember any hills when we ran it. And it sure wasn’t technical, it was a road… We would be flying on bikes!
And then, I realize that I forget all the details about these journeys. Like, look at this terrain.
Thing is, the experience on a bike, is night and day from the experience on a run, and I had no idea yet. The road was super rocky, which made the peddling up a good way to learn how to bike. Oh ya, and speaking of, how did I forget all that elevation?!
We quickly realized that the forgotten climbs, and the rocky road was actually pretty technical biking, and our expected timing on the bike skyrocketed. We arrived to camp at 7pm, after some pretty decent climbs and rocky riding. Highlights included learning how to mountain bike, getting an electrical charge by accident, and seeing Julien bail on his bike a lot.
The way back was even more epic.
It seems we can’t get an earlier start than 10am, I blame it on Zephyr Café this time. Off we go, and oh sure, this way will take way less time, because we’re doing more downhill, and we’re more used to the terrain now. Being endurance/exercise-aholics though, somehow we end up climbing 7 vertical kilometers, on our mountain bikes, up the wrong roads. We actually made it up higher than the top of the Chief on one of those climbs up the Sea to Sky gondola road, before realizing how dumb we were. That’s fine, just more calories needed!
We ended up making the journey back on our bikes in good timing, once we finished our accidental few hours’ elevation assault. Almost as a reward for making this journey, we made a friend on a yacht which was silently docked in the Indian Arm. We were so lucky to meet Roxy, who befriended us and welcomed us aboard, like the crazy kids we are. While wondering why we didn’t just drink and smoke instead, Roxy fed us this amazing cheese, fig, and date platter, and some delicious white wine, so we could focus before our big canoe trip back.
The canoe finish was almost enchanted… we canoed right up to Deep Cove in flat, still waters as sun set, through the dusk and as the stars began to emerge above us, lighting our way into Deep Cove.
Comment here if you’re interested to make this journey and want to use the maps we used on RunGo app, or if you want to ask Julien about how to not fall on bikes!