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The Great Canadian Bike Trek Commentary
February 16 - February 25

 

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16/2 Up for an early breakfast of pancakes with Carl and his friend Ross, who was coming for us for a day in the snow, snowboarding at the local mountain, Red Mountain, about a one hour drive away.
I borrowed Ross's board and bindings, and another of Carl's friends, Rivot's, boots. As Carl was a certified snowboard instructor, he gave me a lesson and then left me on my own accord to get down the hill, back up again and so on. It was a glorious day, and the view from the top of the mountain of the mountain ranges all around was sensational.

The atmosphere on the mountain was pretty good, a lot of the people seemed to be local and it wasn't as commercialized as some of the other fields in British Columbia. There was a disproportionate number of New Zealanders sliding down the slopes, including one I sat next to on the lift from Te Puke, a small town of 3,000 people where my Grandpa used to live and we used to visit just about every Christmas.

I met Carl and Ross for lunch - a big plate of nachos and fries, and skied for a little more before making our way back to Grand Forks, indulging in Carl's homemade wine on the journey.

Carl went off to soccer practice and I had dinner with Isabel, before greasing my chain. Carl came home from soccer with one of his team mates, his wife and 7 week old baby. We all had chocolate cake before making our way outside to the hot tub, when we consumed more of Carl's wine.

The night got later and Carl's soccer mate had to go home, so we went to the local saloon with Ross and his two cousins visiting from Australia, for a few beers and a bit of pool.

It was awesome to have a day off and give the joints and muscles a bit of time to recover from the constant pounding that they had taken over the past week or so.



17/2 After saying my goodbyes to my unfaultable host Carl, I set off under crisp, clear blue skies. The chain greasing from yesterday was well worth while and the bike was running like a dream.

I made it to Christina Lake for lunch. Chistina Lake was in all her glory as she glistened in the sunlight, her glassy waters providing a near perfect reflection of the mountains that surrounded her.

The road around Christina lake was the last piece of flat highway that I was to see that day, as I left the low elevation to climb to the Paulson summit, the road which we had driven up on the way to skiing yesterday, so I already knew of the big climb ahead of me.

I slogged away up the mountain riding up some long straights where the corner at the end did not seem to be getting any closer. I chased the sun up the hill, stopping for a rest whenever it cast a ray of light through one of the valleys.

I stopped at a small clearing about 1km shy of the 1535m summit that Carl had suggested yesterday. It was about 300m from the highway and provided a nice setting, surrounded with pine trees, to pitch my tent.

I parked my bike and went for a walk to catch the last of the daylight before the sun set to behind the mountains. I waded through some snow up small hill which gave a surreal view of the magnificient mountains around me, elegantly rising above the forests below. The setting sun tinted the mountains with a pastel pink colour. The full moon now shone proudly above.

I returned to camp, where I pitched my tent and then cooked dinner, a tin of ravaloli, under the clear night sky.

The sky now a rich indigo, was lit up with the full moon, which projected a rich stream of light to land below. The clean, white snow all around glowed, with its contours now very obvious. The tall, thin pine trees provided spectacular silhouettes against the night sky, with the snow resting on its branches like blankets, glowing in the moonlight. Apart from the odd car or truck on the highway every few minutes, it was absolutely silent and still.

It was now a crisp -14° C and getting colder, so after dinner and cleaning my teeth with my frosen-bristelled toothbrush, I took refuge in my snug, down sleeping bag.



18/2 My breakfast which consisted of a tin of chilli, took about 30 minutes to cook, as it had frozen in its can and needed to be thawed on the element before I could spoon it out into the pot. It did taste very good and was well worth the considerable preparation.

I left, two tins lighter and rode the short distance to the summit, before a long downhill glide to the town of Castlegar for lunch.

Shortly after lunch the sun burnt away the high cloud, and I happily rode along the attractive Kootney river, past an old suspention bridge and then numerous dams, generating power for the province.

I made it to Nelson with about an hour left of sunlight, so casually rode around the cute small city, taking in its charming, well maintained, character buildings that lined the streets, which were buzzing with activity, in its impressive amphitheatre between the mountains.

Pulling into the busy hostel, I was immediately bombarded with interest from the other guests. After quite an impressive entry, I was dissappointed to discover that it was a long weekend in the United States and a bunch of them had come up and fulled the place. I called Bryn and Fahey in Vancouver hoping they could give me some names, and ended up staying the night with Bryn's friend Greg, better known as droopy. He lived right at the top of a steep street overlooking Nelson. His house was like a railway station, people coming and going all evening, popping in for a few drinks. I ended up sleeping the night in the lounge with two others sprawled out on the couches.


19/2 Today was longest day on the saddle and in kilometres, breaking the 100km in a day barrier for the first time since leaving Vancouver almost 2 weeks ago.

After a traditionally Nelson breakfast of scrambled tofu and tortilla, I left mid-morning. Through town and over the bright orange bridge, I headed east, enjoying the the local radio station BKR FM. I was about 10km past the bridge when a couple in a big pickup truck came driving past me yelling something out, of which I didn't hear a word of as booming in my ears was a George Michael rendition of Police's Roxanne. The truck stopped and the driver signalled for me to stop. I turned off my tunes and pulled over to hear what the man had to say. It turned out that he had seen the bright yellow flag that used to fly high from the side of my saddle bag on the side of the road back by the orange bridge. I was a very happy that he had stopped to tell me this, but at the same time, I was gutted that I would have to ride back to get it. But as yet another example of Canadian kindness, the man offered to drive back and get it, urging me to ride on and he would catch up to me.

I saw the couple about 20 minutes later with my flag, and thanking the couple profusely, I rode on. The sun was streaming down, and my ride along the side of Kootenay Lake was awe-inspiring. To one side of me the lake glistened, with golden sandy beaches, dotted with canoes, kayaks and mini catamarans, looking very summery, while on the other side of me was snow lining the side of the road, at the foot of tall, snow-capped mountains.

I arrived at the Kootenay Bay ferry, and had lunch in a pleasant snack bar, while I waited for the ferry to arrive. The ferry is the longest free ferry in North America, and I was given special treatment by the very friendly ferry staff. I was allowed on first, and then was taken up to wheel room, to enjoy the 40 minute ferry ride with the great guys working on it, with panoramic views of the Kootney Lake. Although the ride up to now had been through incredible scenery, today was the most spectacular day I had had. The locals described the area as mini Switzerland.

On the other side of the lake, the road winded around the coast, with grand snow covered mountains dropping into lake below, casting a silver tinting over the water.

There were a few cute little towns I passed through including the 'Metric Free' Gray Creek, a town that seemed to be proud of being backward by still using the imperial system. A pair of deer on the side of the road hopped away when they saw me.

The sun set and night came, the large moon lighting up the the mountains, whose reflection was even more clear and defined than that I had seen on Christina Lake just two days ago.

After about two hours of riding in the darkness, it started to take its toll. It took a lot of concentration to focus on the unlit highway, and my dim headlight did little to remedy the situation. Every couple of minutes when a car came by, with its headlights blinding me, it took a couple of seconds to readjust to the darkness.

I don't know if it was the long distance I had pedalled, the twilight riding, or a combination of them both, but I was pretty exhausted, so when I saw Bryn's father, Bob, in his truck about 5km outside of Wynndel, I was a pretty happy man. Bob took me to his and Margo's beautiful house on a strawberry farm, where I was spoilt with some fine hospitality.



20/2 It was hard to leave the Wyka's of Wynndel, because although I had only been there one night I was getting very used to the lovely residence, the impressive mountain views and Margo's baking which almost always consisted of a large portion of the finest Belgium chocolate.

After a delicious breakfast of bacon and eggs, I spent the morning on the Internet updating the site and catching up on email. It conveniently took all morning and by chance, I happened to be there for lunch, tasty hot dogs with some weird, meaty, European sausage and more Belgium chocolate cookies. Not wanting to overstay my welcome, I finally left just before 4pm, packing a stack of cookies.

The day was yet again blue skies. I road down a quiet and scenic road that Bob had suggested all the way to Creston, up the hill, and past the famous Kokanee Brewery.

I wasn't too far out of town, and even though I was in a new time zone and had an extra hour of sunlight, it started getting dark and I was getting tired of the deceiving road that looked flat but was a gradual uphill, so I pulled over to a nice spot on the side of the road, and made camp for the night.



21/2 I awoke an hour later than usual as I was still adjusting to the new time zone. After repacking everything onto the bike, I set off up along the fairly gentle road, zig zagging back and fowards across the Moyie River.

I was only a couple of hours into my ride when I thought I heard a faint, yet familiar noise, far into the distance. I heard it again, this time louder, as I was closer to the source of the soothing tune. It was the solo baa from a woolly sheep, something I had not heard for a while, except for a few cheap imitations from people trying to hassle me because of my heritage. I looked down off the road where there was a small flock of my woolly friends, with a shaggy sheep dog proudly standing guard on a post above them. Another cry from a sheep, and then they all started, singing like a hamonic quior, with the shaggy dog adding to the symphony with a throaty bark. I don't know if they were acknowledging my sheepskin seat cover or just the vehicle I was pedalling, but whatever it was, it was a very special moment, and probably the highlight of today's ride.

I rode past Yahk and then onto Moyie, a neat little down on a lake, which had frozen over and was covered in snow. A character, wooden church stood elegantly above the town, with the rest of the structures dotting the landscape down to the lake. I stopped for lunch at what seemed to be the only food spot in town, a gas station/grocery store, where I savoured a couple of microwaved cheeseburgers and a banana.

After the leaving the scenic lake, the ride wasn't much longer to Cranbrook, where I was staying in a lovely little house with Cam and Sandy, and their three kids who had all just returned from Australia after a 1-year teaching exchange. After a great pasta dinner, carbo-loading for tomorrow and a play put on by the three young guys, Emma, Wynter and Madison, I finished up on the Internet and went to bed for a rest.


22/2 I was up with the kids early this morning for waffles and maple syrup and then onto the school Cam teaches at, Baker High School, for a presentation about cycling across Canada to a class of Grade 11 (Form 6) Social Studies students.

I returned back to Cam and Sandy Trueman's residence where I unloaded all of my gear except a warm sweater and rode free like I never had before. It was quite a different experience riding with no weight again, but it felt good to feel so light.

I rode out to the Three Bars Ranch, owned by some friends of the Trueman's. A magnificient property just outside of Cranbrook. When I finally arrived at cattle-grated entrance the estate, I realised that I still had a 3-km trek up the driveway to the main lodge.

The lodge itself was a grand oversized log cabin with a large shist chimney and a fine view of the Rockies, which were partially showing themselves through the clouds in the distance. I met the owner's son, Tyler, one of Cam's former students, who showed me the equally impressive interior to the main lodge, decorated with a large buffalo hyde and a large stag's head mounted above the pool table.

We played a round of pool, before Tyler's girlfriend, Jill, took me for a tour of the ranch including the old, character stables of which they had some authentic horse-stuff from a while ago. I knew that I wasn't that knowledgable about stallions and maires, but I was even more ignorant than I thought, having to ask questions after about everything that Jill had to say.

The next leg of the tour took us into the new stables - heated, very clean and new, nicer than the average suburban house, of which the horses bathed in the comforts of horse-med. The setup also consisted of a large indoor arena, where the horses were trained to do equestrian, in addition to many other little log-cabin styled buildings that were mostly accomodation for the predominantly East-Coast Americans that frequent the establishment.

I got a ride back into town with Tyler, where I went to the local computer store on 11th and 1st and scanned in the trip photos, and then returned to Trueman's house for yet another lovely dinner and very entertaining evening with my hosts and their friends Rod and Colleen and their two kids Jordan and Jasmine. Rod had ridden across Canada in May '76 on a thin-tyred ten speed with $400, from the East to the West, and gave an interesting perspective on things.


23/2 An early start to the day, on the road before 9am - I think the effects of the time change had warn off. I left Cranbrook and my very hospitable hosts and headed towards my first destination of Fort Steel.

Fort Steel was a blast from the past, an old town, seemingly unchanged from the boom years of the 1890s when the town thrived with gold miners. It looked like the scene from a western movie. I walked around the historic streets enjoying the old wooden buildings that had been lovingly restored, when an old guy in a pickup truck came driving up to me and offered me a coffee. I don't normally go with strangers, but he looked nice and I was keen to get out of the rain.

I joined the friendly old guy and all of the other people who were doing maintenance on the town for a warm cuppa in the Wasa hotel, the focal point of the town. They had some interesting stories about Fort Steel.

I left Fort Steel and my new friends and rode down the Bull River Highway. It was a very pretty road, running along at the foot of the Canadian Rockies, whose peaks were covered with the clouds that were raining on me as I rode. The highway proved to be very peaceful with only three cars overtaking me in the first hour of the road, with traffic becoming a bit more frequent as I got closer to Bull River.

Back on the main highway, the rain had passed, with the mountain peaks finding their way through the fluffy clouds. I had just riden through the town of Elko when a sign on the side of the road caught my eye. It was a sign with last year's road-kill count, with small posted number beside each animal, that reminded of a scores posted on the scoreboard at a cricket match. The sign read:
Road Kills
Wildlife killed by vehicles on Highway 3 between Elko and the Alberta border (about 80km away)
 1999
Bear 8
Bighorn Sheep 3
Elk 41
Deer 62
Moose 6

While I felt sorry for the animals, and the people who hit the moose, at the same time I knew that this was a sign of a lot of animals near the road that I was riding on. It was literally around the next corner when I saw a trio of bighorn sheep clambering up the side of the steep cliff, munching on clumps of grass. One of them heard me coming and scrambled for safety, sending a few rocks down the hill, starting a mini rock slide, some of which managed to make their way to the highway below.

I kept my eye out for more animals as I pedalled on, hoping to see a moose, but there were no signs of them.

The Rockies were awesome. More grand and rugged than any of the mountains that I had seen in the rest of British Columbia. Everywhere I looked could have quite easily been a postcard.

I was surrounded with mountains, a little worried about having to actually ride over one to reach Fernie, but the road kept winding its way through gulleys between the mountains and the road remained relatively flat.

I had just riden through a little tunnel, cut into the side of the mountain, when a heard a huge shatter. It sounded like a glass fish bowl being dropped onto concrete from a 1st storey window. It was my tyre - a blowout, my first flatty of the trip, which was ironic, as it was just last night that I had been boasting about no flats to Rod who had been plagued with flats in his trans Canada cycle.

I obviously had to unload everything, and then started to change the tube, which had blown a hole in the side of the tyre. A nice old guy with a thick Scottish accent stopped to help me out. He had just started his cycle training on his orange, 80's style racing bike, for the annual BC President's Games in August. The cycling veteran negotiated with the tube and the tyre and had it fixed in a time that would have made the pit crew at an indy race proud.

The rain had started again, I had gotten a little chilled when I stopped to change the tyre, but I rode on for about another hour to the town of Fernie. Fernie reminded me a lot of a little Banff, a town surrounded by mountains with a lot of young skiish looking people walking around. I stayed the night with Louisse and her family, who had also just returned from a teaching exchange in Australia.



24/2 Yesterday's rain had turned into today's snow, and boy it was coming down. I bought a new back tyre to replace the one wrecked in yesterday's blowout, and set off in a north-easterly direction.

The snowfall meant visibility was poor, so unfortunately I couldn't see the Rockies that were both sides of me, just the snow-coated, leafless trees framing the road.

I arrived in friendly Sparwood for lunch and to visit the world's biggest truck, a big green truck that had been decommissioned after a hard life in the mines.

The snowfall hadn't eased at all after lunch, and I found myself getting sprayed with the sludgy brown stuff that had accumulated in the middle of the road, which was sent my way when cars and trucks pulled out into the middle of the road to give me space. One side of me and my bike was wet, while the other side was completely covered in the sloppy brown stuff.

After a gradual climb, I reached the BC-Alberta border. It felt pretty good to have completed my first province.

I had barely ridden into the wild rose province, and just after having taken a cheesy photo of the 'Welcome to Alberta' sign, tragidy struck! I went to wheel my bike back onto the road, but it wouldn't move. After closer inspection I realised that one of the arms connecting my trailor to my bike had come out of its slot and was in the spokes of my back wheel. When I tried to put it back, I realised that the pin to hold it into place was nowhere to be found.

After a few swear words, I used a bit of ingenuity, and with my second smallest allen key, the chain link tool to bend it, and of course some trusty duct tape, I had a makeshift pin.

I set off again on my merry way, down the Alberta highway. The bad weather had passed and I now had commanding views of the grandiose Rockies around me.

I rode down through the Crows Nest Pass, of which I had been warned can be one of the windiest places in the world, but today, it was as calm as a 14 year old Saint Bernard.

In places the snow had melted, leaving bare, dry, hay-coloured fields, which contrasted awesomely with the dark green pine trees and the snowy mountains.

There were many little towns along the pass, although probably the most memorable one was one that isn't there anymore. Frank's Slide is the site of where a town used to be until the start of last century, when a huge rock slide buried the whole town. You could see the scar on the side of the mountain and the piles of boulders on both sides of the highway that smuthered the town.

I arrived in Lunbreck, a town that looked like it had been built between the 1950s-1970s, with the cheapest materials possible. I was hoping to find a nice restaurant and get stuck into some famous Alberta beef. W hen I waltzed into the town's only restaurant, it completely stopped when they saw this alien wearing a bright yellow jacket, covered head to toe in road scum. Unfortunately they did not have any Alberta beef, so I ordered the special - a big plate of crumbed pork chops. The restaurant's patrons turned out to be very friendly, and I ended up having a good, yet fairly basic conversation with a local lass and a couple of truckies who drive down to Eureka, Montana and back twice a day.

After the big dinner, I found a nice grassy spot on the side of the road just down from the restaurant and pitched the tent for the night.



25/2 I stopped at the first town I passed for breakfast. The venue was a dimly lit gas station covered wall to wall with car parts. I sat down with the lady who worked there and watched a talkshow as I ate my breakfast and she sipped her coffee, I had to borrow the microwave to thaw out my drink bottles which had frozen solid overnight.

I rode past a windmill farm which looked pretty spectacular, a line of huge mills perched along a ridge with the backdrop of the Rockies.

As the sunny day progressed, the terrain got flatter, changing from small, infrequent hills, to very gradual ups and downs. I found that I could ride pretty fast, pretty easily, assisted with a stiff, chilli wind coming from the west.

The scenery couldn't be much more opposite from what I had seen in the previous days of the tour. There were no rugged mountains, no green trees or signs telling trucks to check their brakes, just hay-coloured paddocks for as far as the eye could see. In its own way, it was kind of pretty, perhaps because it was such a contrast. Even a simple train that ran by me, looked fairly neat in this particular setting. I could see its 96 carriages for a long time as it chugged away into the flat horizon.

I was on the home stretch of my journey to Lethbridge, riding down the steep dip before the city, cruising at a speed in excess of 50km/h, when my speedo cut out. I was curious to see how fast I was going, so I quickly pressed one of its buttons, hoping this may help. The slight movement totally through my bike and trailor into disarray, as I was going at a fairly quick clip, and I stared to swerve, with no control what-so-ever. I heard a truck coming up on my outside lane, which was confirmed when a quick glance into the rear vision mirror revealed the big grill of a big truck uncomfortably close behind. I was totally out of control and I was thinking that it may be a matter of seconds before I am run over by atleast 9 of the truck's wheels, so I aimed the bike to the side of the road and said my prayers. The fiasco came to an abrupt end when I rolled onto the soft dirt to the side of the road. The tyres sunk in after a couple of metres and threw me a few more metres. The bike had ended up perpendicular to the road, with a few peices of luggage scattered around it. I was worried there may be some serious damage, but when I quickly assessed it, I discovered that only the front bag had snapped off and the handle bars were temporarily bent.

A nice local guy who had seen my escapade while driving up the other side of the highway, came back to see if I was alright and helped me carry my bike back up to the road.

A little bit shooken up, I rode a little slower for the rest of the hill onto Daleen's house, a friend of the Trueman's from Cranbrook studying to be a nurse. She was very cool and cooked up a mean feast.

 

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