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The Great Canadian Bike Trek Commentary
February 6 - February 15

 

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6/2 What a day! On the road at last, a day behind schedule, but as prepared as one could be. Due to last minute preparations taking longer than first thought, I finally had the bike packed and was riding at 2pm.  This wasn't your normal touring cyclist, my carrier was stacked up so high, that from behind, I could not be seen by fellow road users - just a random pile of bags, packs, sleeping bags, tents, bed rolls, boots and lights.  The ride to see Les and his friend Tony, who were accompanying me for the first leg of the journey, was a very slow one, with any slight variation in balance, totally throwing the bike into disarray.  The excessive weight on the tyre was playing funny tricks with the riding path over uneven surfaces and around corners. To make things worse, the bags were covering the back half of my seat, so I was riding on the skinny front part.  I had some bad thoughts about a bowel disfunction after riding 6,500-odd kms like that.

After taking a light fall and not being able to start again on a small suburban hill, I decided to take the advice from Tony's girlfriend, Roshene, and invest in a trailor. So after further delays at the bike store attaching the new addition to the great, blue bike, the bags were reloaded, and at 4pm, we set off again.

Although there was still a lot of weight to be pulled, it was much better dispersed than before and I was more comfortable, enjoying the full seat.  I still had no control when speeds of 30km/h were passed, but it was better than before.  I could make it up small hills, although they were very hard.  I wait with anticipation for the Rockies.

It was surprising how many people actually notice the traveling, 3-wheeled contraption, and they are generally pretty friendly, although it was just after leaving Vancouver city limits, riding 3-abreast, yet well over to the side, down a quiet residential street, when an angry, overweight, rough and dirty looking redneck in a beat up wagon, drove past us, abusing us, honking wildly and yelling obscenities at us, for about the next 50 metres after passing us.

We continued on, seemingly unfazed by this outburst of abuse, and then from the back of a deralict 2nd floor apartment above an old shop, our friend popped his ugly head out, and started hurling more abuse, "f-this, f-that, learn to ride, more f's".  We were rather humoured by the extremely loud yelling, but a couple of short toots from my airhorn fired him up even more, and sure enough, when we rode past his residence, he made his way to the front of the building and started yelling some more.  Obviously his medication had run-out, but it certainly reassured me that there are some nutters out there, who may have had a bad week and may not be to happy about sharing the road with a touring cyclist.

We journeyed on, through Vancouver's outlying city of Burnaby, finally stopping for McDonalds, for some greasy burgers.  I couldn't believe how exhausted I was after my first day.  The accountant who I worked with at Net Nanny, John Dumfries, who lives nearby, was kind enough to let me stay at his house, and use his computer.  Better prepared for the next big day of riding, I had a good night's rest and was ready to go.



7/2 Off to a much earlier start today.   Pedaling happily by 8am just in time for the morning commuters, slowly making their way from the suburbs to the city.  The night earlier had been strange when I finally put my head to pillow and closed my eyes, after having tried to balance my bike all day with any minor lapse of concentration throwing me off, I was still 'swaying' as I lay down to a rest.

Using my compass and the mountains as a reference point, I made my way back through suburbia, headed back to where I was yesterday, and then on the Louheed Highway, heading east.

I found riding much easier than yesterday, now I was getting used to lugging so much weight, yet it was still quite a hard trek. Road works along the way kept things interesting.

I finally left the built up areas and had my first taste of rural Canada with the mist covered, forest green coastal mountains in the distance (which I will riding over later), contrasting with the brown hay fields. My selected route took me along side the Fraser River, which provided a nice backdrop.

After only 2 days on the road, and 1 by myself, I think that I am already going crazy, because I have been riding along, singing loudly to myself. After realizing what a freak I was, I decided it could be time for some real tunes and selected Canadian rock legends, Tragically Hip, to start my ride off. At the end of the tape, I listened to a Vancouver radio station until I was out of frequency range, and then back onto the Hip for another revolution. The music was great!

Although I always said to myself that I wouldn't be seen dead in a pair of lycra pants, I can't believe how much I dig this slinky fabric, infact I wouldn't mind being buried in them.

I reached my destination, Mission, a small town bordering the Fraser River, where I was staying the night with Les's ex-girlfriend's parents, high up in the mountains. I was in KFC just before a downpour, ate, and then set off in the heavy rain to my accomodation. Trish and Graham, a very friendly and hospitable couple. Very interesting people with a big hovercraft-type thing on the front lawn. I was fortunate enough to time my stay with one of their socialist meetings, which was interesting for me as it is something that I have never really discussed before.


8/2 A day of rain, from dawn to dusk. After a hearty breakfast, I set off on my way, and with directions from an initially shocked old lady who I asked for instructions, I found myself back on the highway heading east.

Once riding, the rain wasn't too bad. The only problem was it was hard to be discrete in a bright yellow rain jacket when trying to relieve oneself on the side of the road.

The scenery was spectacular. The weather made the coastal mountains misty and mysterious. I played my first 'educational tunes' - some old fart comparing the Chinese culture to the American culture. I got through 2 sides, but I think the walkman and/or the tape got wet, so I couldn't get any more sound out of the contraption, and my education came to an abrupt end.

I met some interesting characters along the way, but probably the most memorable was a strange old dude walking around in the rain, who I saw at the foot of a hill. He looked at me and my monsterous load, looked at the hill and shook his head yelling out in a worried tone, "you've got a big haul ahead of you".

The hill wasn't too bad, and the reward at the top was a refill of my now empty drink bottles at the natural spring at the top, hearing the usual "you're crazy this time of the year" from a couple of others also replenishing their water supply. I put more air in more already fairly hard tyres, so they could handle the weight of my luggage and my hefty frame.

It was getting dark, so I stopped for dinner at a diner in Agassiz, a small red-neck town with some really nice old character buildings. I was in the middle of a conversation with the owner about riding her motorbike through Russia, when a friendly-looking, middle aged guy, John, came waltzing into the restaurant and asked me if it was my bike outside, as I probably had that 'I've been riding in the rain for hours' look all over me.

It turned out that John owned the Sasquatch Springs Holiday Camp in Harrison Hotsprings, about 7 clicks in the other direction, which was closed for winter. He offered me a free place to stay in his rec room where I could dry out my gear, "anyone riding their bike through BC in February deserves a free place to stay".

I made my way back through the dark wet night, quickly changed out of my wet clothes, and went with John, who shouted me to his weekly night Rotary dinner meeting, where he informed me I was a guest speaker. I gave a quick talk about my travels and preparations and ended up getting a few places along the way from other Rotarians.

I was during Bob's PowerPoint presentation about the Chilliwack leg of Rotary's project to build a herin santuary, when outside, lightning struck, with thunder very close behind, and then the rain came bucketing down. I was a very happy man that I was staying indoors that night.



9/2 After last night's torrential downpour, I was very happy to wake up and see dry, overcast weather outside.

After seeing no sign of John, I set off for Hope, looking forward to reaching the town for 4 reasons:
1) Before I really knew what riding a bike full of gear, I had planned to be there 2 days ago;
2) It was a psychological breakthrough as I was leaving the lower mainland;
3) It was at the foot of my first big hill and I was curious to see to see how I would cope; and
4) It was my scheduled lunch break.

I arrived in Hope, the chainsaw carving capital, just after midday. Before the entrance to the town, there was a large digital display above the road warning road users to look out for falling rocks and ice - I was eager to see what the road ahead had install for me.

After Dairy Queen for lunch and a half hour chat with a couple of ladies on their way to a spa-weekend-thing, I set off for my first uphill challenge up the almighty Hope-Princeton Highway. With snow now framing the side of the road, I was starting to see what I could expect for the next month or two.

The sweet scent of burning brake-pads gave me a good idea of what I was in for. I rode solidly for about 3 hours up the great incline, cruising between 5-7km/h, just enjoying the spectacular scenery around me.

I was surprised how well the climb went, raising 700m in altitude, although I was releived when I reached the top, where a friendly truckie took some snaps and then gave me the rundown on the road conditions ahead - mucky but fairly dry.

I set up camp just down from a service station, on one of very few flat areas of accessible snow that I saw on the roadside. I pitched my tent and had some delicious tinned chilli for dinner. My toes were pretty cold and numb from my snowboots which hadn't dried from yesterday's rain. Worried about frostbite, I put on two pairs of socks and wiggled my toes for almost an hour until I finally got feeling back in them.



10/2 I was warm and snug all night, and didn't sleep too bad considering I had pitched my tent just down from a truck rest area, whose roaring engines hummed bedtime lullabies all night.

It was an absolutely beautiful day, clear blue sky, with not a cloud in sight. The sub-zero temperatures didn't faze me, but unfortunately my bike didn't cope so well. Something that would be obvious to someone who had lived in Canada all of their life, but my drink bottles had frozen, as had my bike lock. I had a backup water supply in my water pack, and used a candle to thaw out the lock. The rear-derailer was frozen, so I was stuck in the easiest gear, which didn't really matter as the day's ride consisted almost entirely of uphill climbing.

The scenery was even more spectacular than the day before - Staligtites covering the roadside rocks with breathtaking snow-covered pine trees and mountains contrasting with the deep saphire-blue sky.

After 30kms of solid uphill climbing, the terrain finally took its tool. I started stopping more regularly, and by the time I nearly reached the top of the hill, I think I became slightly dillarious, thinking that a much flatter gradient uphill was actually downhill. I think it was because I was so used to the steep climb earlier. I couldn't figure out why I couldn't roll down without pedalling. I felt a similar sensation to what I had felt in the last 10kms of my marathon.

A couple of minutes later, and not a minute too soon, I reached the top of Allison Pass, at 1342m. After that, it was a cold downhill coast to the Manning Park Lodge, where I spent the night, dried my wet clothes and had the most incredible dinner and chocolate explosion cheesecake. I had worked up quite an appetite.

11/2 The thing I love about this is even when you absolutely stink of sweat and have frozen snot sticking to your face, everyone still talks to you. I spent my entire childhood trying to get passing truck drivers to honk their horns, with very little success, but now it is very regular. It is quite warming.

I left the lodge just after 8am, for my earliest start yet, fully kitted for the 15km downhill ride ahead of me. After that, it was up and down all day, on the part-mucky, and part-dusty roads. It was quite exhilirating after a long uphill, to ride down a fast windy downhill, around each bend revealing a panoramic view of the mountains.

Having more control of the bike, I was comfortably cruising at 40km/h down a lot of the hills through the fresh mountain air. I reached the Sunday Summit (1282m), just before midday, which was followed by a 3km, 8% decline, quite testing on the brakes.

My knees were giving me a bit of grief climbing up some of the hills, but other than that there were no problems today. My water was sensational - slightly frozen, tasting like a slurpy. As the mouthpiece was frozen, I had to open the nozzle to drink it.

I arrived in Princeton, a very friendly little town, and found a nice little diner with a salad bar and free refills of coke, which I took full advantage of. I ended up staying with a very nice couple, Neil and Sharron, who I met in the Internet Cafe, who had also riden across Canada, through New Zealand, to Aires rock in Australia from the coast, 20 countries in Europe, the US and just about everywhere - these people were pretty keen cyclists. That night we went to a fundraiser for the local figure skating team where I met some of the locals including the bike shop owner and his wife and Neil's dad who was a snow plow driver, who was a hoot.



12/2 Being cyclists themselves, Neil and Sharron knew how nice it was to have a good breakfast before a day of pedaling, so a good breakfast was what they gave me! A sensational real Canadian breakfast consisting of berry pancakes, peaches, blueberries, raspberries, apple sauce, all locally grown, bananas, maple syrup, pecan and whipped cream, an absolute feast. I stuffed as much as I could in before getting dropped off back in town by Neil, where my bike was being stored at the Internet cafe. I signed the log at the bike shop, the first for the year, and then set off on a side route that Neil had recommended, The Old Hedley Highway.

I followed the peaceful road along the path of the river, with mountains to my left and right. Since leaving Vancouver, me and my 3-wheeled contraption had been a prime target for every single neighbourhood dog to bark at, with only tall fences keeping them from chasing me to St. Johns, but here it was different. The lack of cars to share the road with on this rural route was counteracted with the frequency of loose dogs running around. I had my first experience when I had just reached the top of a rise, fairly tired from my small hill, I thought I would sit back and coast down the hill, when two full-grown, ferocious German Shepherds, came running at me, barking wildly. Fortunately as I was on a downhill I could ride relatively fast, and I pedalled as fast as my little legs could carry me to escape the angry canines. I was just catching my breath when a couple more littler dogs came yapping my way, so not wanting to have a mauling on my hands, I picked up the pace yet again and outran the savage muts. I went back to enjoying the prestine mountain scenery, fresh country air, when about 10 minutes later, a fairly large black mungruel came from nowhere, and started running along beside me, showing its full mouth of teeth and barking wildly, getting uncomfortably close to me ankles. Being a paperboy for years, I knew that dogs could sense fear, so I acted the opposite and putting on the meanest face I had, verbally abused the brutal animal with a few filthy words I had picked up in the playgrounds, and after running by my side for a bit, it retreated back to its home.

After that, there was no more, the odd bark or two, but all from behind secure fences.

I made my way to Hedley, a cute little mining town, with visible mines carved into the side of the mountain. I stopped for dinner at the Hitchin Post, a restaurant that Neil had recommended me because of its sizeable portions. The place lived up to its name and I was dished up a large pile of beef, which I enjoyed in the neat little restuarant cluttered with many tacky mining memorabilia, placed around it in a surprisingly tasteful way.

The meal seemed to give me a second wind, so I rode, well past sundown, I was in no mood to stop. The dusk air had an incredible ambience about it. I was in a spectactular valley, and the clear night air was exceptionally quiet except for the roar of my tires and the odd car passing ever couple of minutes.

I finally found a nice little spot on the side of the road where I pitched my tent and went straight to sleep.


13/2 I had an early rise, packed my things and set off down the road. It was less than 10kms down the road when I reached my first town for the day Keremees, or more appropriately, Fruitsville, BC. The sides of the highway were lined with Orchards and fruit stalls, which were unfortunately all closed for winter, so my desire for crisp apples was left unsatisfied.

I made my way past the next town, Cawston, and then along the breathtaking valley past more orchards, vineyards, cows and horse ranches.

A light flurry of snow fell, dropping from the sky weightlessly like fairies. I powered up the hill through Canada's only desert, and just over the summit, got a magnificent view of Osoyoos and the surrounding lake. It was downhill from there for more than 10kms, where I reached my top speed for the trip of 58.5km/h, in full control.

In Osoyoos, I was staying with Scott, a friend of my old roommate, Karen, who we had visited on the way to Nelson last summer. Scott showed me his photographs he took from his year in Africa, and then took me to the local Osoyoos Community dark room where he taught me the ins and outs of developing photographs. After the all-you-can-eat pasta special and a couple of the locally brewed ales at the local pub with him and his boarder, Dale, we returned home again, where I was ready for an early night.

Fahey and Les had driven all the way up to Osoyoos to surprise me, and saw me just before the last downhill into town, but when they tried to sneak up on me on their bicycles which they had carted all of the way up in the back of their truck, Fahey's front tyre blew out, and I, unknowingly, slipped off, never to be seen again. They drove around Osoyoos for hours looking for me, following a number of dud leeds, and unfortunately, their detective work was inadequate and we did not connect.


14/2 Today was the big day, it was the day of the Anarchist Mountain, which everyone had been warning me about since leaving Vancouver. I was pysched up for the occassion. Playing my most racey tunes, Tragically Hip, I reached the foot of the grand mountain, where I could see the early part of the road etching itself into the side of the great mountain. Without further delay, I started the almighty incline.

I set myself an easy pace and just rode casually up, enjoying the music and the view of the lake below, getting smaller and smaller as I rode to the heavens. I was little more than 2kms up, when a very friendly couple drove paste in their white wagon, with the camera out, ready to take a photo of me. Although I wasn't in my best photo-state, sweat covered, and probably looking a little exhausted, I posed for the photo. To my delight, the couple, still driving next to me, pulled out a bag containing a some nice looking cookies, of which looked too good to refuse, so I accepted the offer and attempted to grab them from the moving car. It took me 2 attempts, but I got hold of the nutricious snacks, although the excitement of the cookies caused me to loose balance, and I fell to the gravel road below for my first crash of the trip.

I think the couple felt pretty bad, so they immediately pulled over to help me up. I felt bad for making them feel bad, and as I was only going little more than 5km an hour, I didn't hurt myself at all. It turned out the the man in the relationship had done some cycling. In a nutshell, the couple were very nice and offered me a place to stay if I made it to Calgary.

I pulled myself together, and started the ride, saying goodbye to the friendly pair and soldiered on up the hill. Things started to chill and the light snow fall turned into a a denser fall, with little visibility at times. The road quickly became white, covered with a coating of snow. Each time I looked back, I could see my tracks in the snow, and I was surprised how much I was all over the road, the wobbly path I created gave a sign of my random route. It looked quite impressive, and sounded even better, as the noise my bike usually made was completely muted by the snow, as were passing vehicles including trucks. It created a peaceful presence.

The road became fairly slippery, but if I didn't do anything too sudden, I was seemingly unaffected by the conditions. I finally reached the top, after almost 4 solid hours of pedalling, at 1233m, almost 1000m up from Osoyoos way below.

I was looking for the town Rock Creek, which I had understood was close to the summit, so I rode on without putting anymore warm layers on. It turned out Rock Creek was at the foot of the Anarchist mountain on the other side, so by the time I reached it I was pretty cold, with a numb face, toes and fingers. I had slowed down the travels of 2 snow plows (probably the same plow, but 2 separate occasions) and numerous other vehicles. I did not take it too fast down the hill as my brakes were fairly unresponsive and it was pretty slippery in the conditions.

I reached the pub at Rock Creek, a nice wee establishment playing good music, where I lay everything out to dry, and had a burger and a beer, while all of my body parts thawed out.

Feeling a little warmer, with circulation now streaming freely around my body, I befriended the pub's owner and played a few games of pool. He didn't turn out to be a bad guy, and as the place seemed to have a warm and friendly atmosphere, I decided to maek it my bed for the night.

After putting my bike in a storage room in the pub, negotiating it and its trailor awkwardly through two skinny doorways, I returned to pub where I ended up spending the evening with a couple of brothers, Art and Doug. They referred to themselves as "the last of the Mohegans", as they were the last Indians in Rock Creek. I had a few beers with the guys, played a bit of pool, sparked up a few songs on the duke box, sung a little and altogether had an excellent night with my newfound friends. Not the traditional way to see in Valentines Day, but an experience.



15/2 I woke up in the hotel room. The big cheesy Japanese fan was still on the wall above the bed and the china ducks still flew south on the wall opposite, the hotel room fresh from the sixties wasn't some psychadelic dream, I was sleeping in a true peice of history. It turned out the pub/hotel, the Prospector Pub, was the longest continually operating pub in British Columbia. It still had all of its original charm including the decor, which may not have been bracing its walls since its erection in 1894, but certainly had been for a long time.

After breakfast I ventured outside, overjoyed that yesterday's storm had passed, and it was a clear blue day outside. The town of Rock Creek was pretty cute, it was an old mining town at the foot of the mountain, with turn of the century buildings dotting the two streets that made up the junction town.

I rode on in the sunshine, stopping for lunch at the railway museum (closed for winter), in Midway, for lunch. It was a nice break, I sat out and basked in the sun and the unseasonably warm conditions, where for the first time in a while, I could feel the sun cooking my bones. I savoured the delicious cookies that had so kindly been given to me the day before.

The next town, Greenwood, was neat as well. It was another historic mining town, probably the most grand of the towns I had been past, with a large brick water tower, and many character cottages randomly dotted on the hillside, their roofs covered with a thick layer of snow. The main street still had all of its original buildings, of course including a nice pub. I lay down on the ground to get the camera ready for a timer shot, when someone saw me, did a big turn in the middle of the highway and drove up next to me with a worried look on the passenger's face. They had seen me lying on the pavement, and had thought I was dead or dying. It was fairly entertaining.

There were no more towns until Grand Forks, but a few run down, wooden barns that looked like they were going to collapse under the weight of the snow that blanketed the roof lines of the rickety structures. The familiar aroma of horse and cow dung helped add to the atmosphere of the countryside.

It was downhill for about the last 20km into Grand Forks, a nice gradient, which was fast enough to compell me down the hill at a good pace, but not so ridiculously steep that I had to hold the brakes. I was much better clothed that yesterday, so I was much warmer.

I stopped at the Donut shop, where I met up with Carl, an lifelong friend of Dave, a friend of my old roommate Fahey. He was an absolutely great guy. It turned out he used to play a bit of rugby and spent a year down in Havelock North, New Zealand, picking apples.

Carl took me to his and his wife Isabels' home, for some incredible hospitality. The best meal I had consumed in a long time, a huge steak, mashed potatoes, salad, corn and chocolate cake and strawberries for dessert. It was a feast the I would have riden through the snow for a month for.



 

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