I looked at my bike and took a deep breath. This is something I had been wanting to do for a very long time. The trailer was heaped with camping gear and clothing, disorganized from the quick packing job I had just barely completed. Besides the overloaded trailer, the back panniers were also stuffed full with rain and cooking gear, and my sleeping bag was piled on top of that. The front pack was completely covered by the bear can, full of food. I was glad to have the food in front, as it was the only thing holding the front tire to the ground.
The man from the storage company was staring at my gear, still amazed that someone was going to store the car and take the bike, rather than the other way around. They had been incredibly nice in accepting my car into an indoor storage unit though they hadn't accepted cars indoors for many years. Leaving me to ride away without an audience, for which I was very thankful, they left me with my bike, wishing me good luck and requesting that I call in to let them know my progress along the way.
I got on the bike and started down the driveway, the beginning of a short 15 mile pedal to the ferry that would take me to Vancouver Island for the first part of my trip. My legs were surprised at how easy it was to pedal all of the weight, this would be a piece of cake! My arms however were equally surprised, if not appalled, at how difficult it was to keep the bike upright. The tires all seemed to be wobbling in different directions, relying on a great deal of concentration just to keep the bike in line. I pedaled for about five miles before finally being able to look to the side at the beautiful farm fields unfolding ahead. This was not biking in the form that I was used to, but I was looking forward greatly to the strength I would build through the next few months.
I came to the ferry an hour and a half before departure, and used this time to use the solar panels to charge my phone and computer, while repacking my gear to fit onto the trailer without strapping extra items haphazardly on the top. Soon I was on the ferry, perusing the map store on board, my bike stored two stories below with the other passengers' cars. I went to the back to take photos and was met by a man who had biked by me on my way in and was curious where I was headed.
Two hours later, the ferry arrived at Vancouver Island and my new friend offered to drive ahead in his car, find a campsite and split it with me to see me off the following morning. I agreed, happy to have some help on this first day, allowing me to worry only about keeping the bike upright. The next ten miles were very enjoyable, through fields of golden flowers sprinkled with purple lupines mixed with open pine forests.
This was the perfect first day, the car was safe, the route was short and flat, and I set up camp at a campsite near the beach at the edge of a pine forest, and I wasn't alone on my first night.
06-19-01 The following morning I was packing my belongings, trying to figure out how to pack them in a symmetrical manner so the bike would ride in a straight line. The puzzle seemed impossible, and Dunkley (my friend from the ferry) offered to go through
Deb and Peter (from Holland) and Gavin (from Vancouver)
Returning to the real world and to real food, Dunk and I camped out on a grassy field overlooking one of the island's ferries. He had spent the weekend biking with me for my first day and now had to go back to Portland. He looked longingly as I biked away down the highway in the other direction, wishing he was starting a long adventure that wasn't heading back to sit in front of a computer at work. He left me with a list of things to buy to complete my gear needs, and a number of tips which I have been extremely useful along my trip.
The first few nights I slept in established camp grounds and ate in little diners. I just couldn't seem to get myself to break from the comforts of the little towns. The days were long and tiring, but full of beautiful terrain and people. As I continued north, the weather began to deteriorate and the road became hilly with a small shoulder for bikes. Biking 50-60 kilometers a day up many hills, I was tired, and with little or no direct sunlight, the computer was not getting enough energy to charge. I started my daily logs after one day with a bit of sun to charge the computer just enough for a day's entry�
Patience is a virtue of which I need to acquire more� There are several variations of this saying that I have repeated to myself over and over again during the past few days. It seems with enough patience anything can be done or learned. However gaining and keeping this patience with one's self seems to be the ultimate challenge. The land here on Vancouver Island is beautiful, smooth roads bordered by lupine flowers (tall stalks of purple flowers) mixed with daisies. Behind the flowers start the trees, and behind them the mountains, many topped with glacial snow. The people are friendly, many watching my progress along the island, eager to stop and ask how it is going, the road workers pretending to stop near me for some bit of work that needed to be done at that moment�for a second time.
Riding the fully loaded bike so far resembles bike riding only in that there are pedals that need to be pushed around in circles. Other than that, there seems to be little similarity. The front wheel is governed by the bear can (full of food and heavy). I do my best to tell it which direction to head, but all in all, it has the final say. My movements have to be calm, slow and directed� not my normal bit of behavior. My legs are thankful that the pedaling is very simple, slow often but simple. Only my knees are sore from the days pedaling. My panniers are hardly filled, some clothes on one side with some extra water to even out the weight, and all the cooking gear on the other. The trailer is where most of the bulky items are stored. These must be carefully packed each morning so that the trailer is exactly symmetrical in its loading. If it is not perfectly packed, then the trailer and the bear can have disagreements about general bike direction that can lead to violent wobbling. I am slowly learning about my things, and though I seem to receive the greatest delight from them when I hand a box of them to the post office on their way to Jim, everything that is left is fairly essential...
It began to rain at 11:30 last night and didn't stop all day long. The roads were unforgivingly steep, and the rain endless. At the end of the day, I had pedaled my longest day yet, at close to 70 km. I haven't been able to bring my camera out for a couple of days, afraid of the rain that falls intermittently.
The rain has stopped, and is not supposed to start up again until this afternoon. Port Hardy is only 36km away, where I will buy my ticket for the ferry. I was charged by the first animal today. I first heard it coming out of the grasses along the side of the road. It rushed after my trailer as large as it could fluff its brown body, hissing loudly. I turned, wanting to stare at it, but having to steer my bike instead. Chasing after me with quite a bit of fuss along the highway was a grouse (small chicken-like forest bird)! I had never even heard of such a bird charge before.
Further down the road a car pulled over to speak to me. This was becoming commonplace, with people offering rides or wanting to take a look at my trailer. A man rolled down his window "There is a bear up ahead on the left side of the road. I'll pull up and park beside it, and you cross over to the other side of the road to pass by." I did as he said, watching the scared bear staring at the man clapping in his car. I saw four more bears that afternoon, two of which were also blocked by cars worried about the biker passing through. The bears themselves, were not concerned about my passing, and beside the first one, rarely even paused from their eating to look up and watch me pass. I took to singing to the bears to make sure they weren't scared by my passing by them. I laughed at myself, here I thought I'd be biking across Canada, not singing!
The ride was quite short, and ended with a ferry ticket for the following morning, and with three friends I've met along the way. A couple from Holland, biking to Alaska and then back down along the coast to Costa Rica, and another touring around BC for two months, heading a similar direction as myself for a little while, but at about twice my speed. They are a fun bunch of people and are teaching me a lot about bike touring.
I just can't seem to stop smiling. The morning greeted us without rain and with a beautiful sunrise. For the first time, I knew where all of my stuff should be packed for the day� I felt organized. It took only a half hour to hurriedly get everything together, and I was right in line with the timing of the others. The loading of the ferry was horribly disorganized, but eventually we had our bikes on the ferry and were watching the finale of our trip on Vancouver Island and of the sunrise. The wind was cold, and after we were well on our way I went to find some food. Down below I met up with two retired gentlemen that had charged my computer for me the previous night in their camper van. They are very fun to listen to, each with stories of their adventures, as well as many funny and interesting court cases as one of them is a retired judge. Soon all six of us were sitting together laughing and trading stories. The retired pair of lifelong friends (since high school) is on their way to canoe the Yukon river. There were nature talks given throughout the day by student rangers, and endless people to listen to their plans for the next few months. The end of the trip was highlighted by a dinner treated by the judge for all six of us - a grand buffet with Gavin's friend the piano player (a coincidence as he had no idea she was working for the ferries) as musical entertainment. That night the four of us rode our bikes through the dark streets of Prince Rupert and set up camp for the night under a dark purple sky of the north's midnight twilight.
Debbie and Peter, the couple from Holland (see previous log for photo), left after breakfast to explore the town and wait for their next ferry to Alaska tomorrow. Gavin and I set off toward Prince George. Gavin is much faster than I am, but he kept his speed quite slow for me today. The weather was amazing! Prince Rupert is known for its rain, but for us it has been the beginning of blue skies after the abundant rain of Vancouver island. The mountains rose around us as we followed the flat path along the inlet which later became a river. It was very nice to have someone to bike with as conversation made the pedaling easier. Gavin turned out to be a Unitarian and we spent a bit of time remembering all of the wonderfully wacky traditions of youth conferences and learning that they are fairly similar across the continent. At lunch we discussed one of my favorite books, Miles from Nowhere by Barbara Savage which he had just read, and I have read many times over the years, though the last time was quite a while ago. There was one thing that I had forgotten� I didn't realize that they also biked Vancouver Island and took the ferry to Prince Rupert. As happens with conversation, the world seems a bit different now, and I look at the same mountains that Barbara and Larry saw on their trip and that I have read about so many times, and they seem to be even more beautiful for the recognition. If sunny days were a common thing in this area, I would recommend the ride to anyone looking for an incredible place to bike, as the route is long, flat and downwind through unbeatable scenery. The conversation did its job of taking my mind off my sore knees, and we covered more than 100 km today with a top speed of 49.1 km/hr both breaking new records by a large margin for my trip so far.
It is Canada day today. It is a holiday that is almost equivalent to the Fourth of July in the US. The weather continues to be nice, and the road smooth and flat. We made it into the first town inland, Terrance, and stopped for a Subway sandwich for lunch, food, and to use the air pump on our tires. I was tired today from yesterday's long biking and short night as the sun doesn't set until 10:00 and twilight doesn't end until 12:00, but sunrise is around 5:00. It is hard to convince myself to stop pedaling and set up camp, and then once set up to not continue to write this log, but instead to go to bed. But I am very tired today, so all there will be are the simple stats: 82.68 km covered today, 561.60 km so far this trip, 43.3 km/hr maximum speed. Maximum speed is interesting for me, as it is a function of the terrain and my packing proficiency. The first few days out my maximum speed was 46 (a very scary moment that first day), and the subsequent days were all under 34. Now my packing is becoming more even from side to side and higher speeds are safely possible. By the time I am ready to come down the mountains I should be able to finely tune my packing and drift down them without much worry of an unstable bike.
Today we biked from Usk (where we were the first bikes to use the old river current driven ferry across to Usk this year) to New Hazelton. The ride was surprisingly easy, mostly flat land with only a few hills. We have covered some of the areas colored in yellow on our map, indicating that we are gaining altitude, but luckily it doesn't feel like we are climbing. The wind remained a tail wind the entire day, and hopefully will continue tomorrow as well. The scenery has stayed the same, a wide rushing river that looks very interesting for long distance kayaking in the future, snow capped mountains and forests in between. There are some new additions to the plant life around us now though. Most notable is the addition of the quaking aspens. The fields are now filled with yellow hawkweed and daisies. Today's stats: 111.83 km today - a new record!, total distance =673.43 km, 50.4 km/hr maximum.
Nearing New Hazelton we came through an area with road construction. The new road was incredibly smooth and easy to ride on. The most notable part about this road however was the workers' attitudes. They called to us as we passed yelling "NICE ROAD EH?" We yelled back that the new road was wonderful and their faces broke into even larger smiles of extreme pride. That evening, looking for a place to stay in New Hazelton we met a large man wearing an equally large western hat who lived in a large trailer with a flat inviting lawn. After talking about where we were from and where we were going Gavin asked where in town we might be able to set up a tent, and he offered his yard. The best part about this offer was the conversation after setting up the tents. He spoke of the people in the area and we began to understand what we had been seeing. Most of the people are out of work and on unemployment insurance waiting for the logging mill to reopen. The price of lumber has fallen so drastically that many people are out of work until the market improves. I smiled with understanding and mentioned the construction workers. He understood and confirmed, "Yes they are perhaps the happiest people in the area as they have work!"
The rain had been intermittent, falling from odd misty clouds that seemed to stay along the mountain range. The rest of the area's weather seemed fairly explainable. The winds were at our back during the days up the river valley starting about 11:00 am, increasing as the sun heated the land and drew air in from the ocean. However the rain that we saw near New Hazelton seemed very disorganized, and didn't follow any of the regular micrometeorology patterns. At the end of the day having cycled around the main mountain range, a very difficult (very hilly and raining most of the day) ride from New Hazelton to Smithers, I learned what caused this rain. The winds from the ocean blow along the valley and up the mountains blowing the snow off the mountain and into the air, where it melts and falls as a combination of mist and rain. (See the picture above.) I've never heard of such a pattern, but there is was, plain as day to see at sunset. We stopped at a ranch where the owners are avid touring cyclists and thus host any bikes that come through their area with all of a cyclist's dreams - showers, laundry, flat grassy lawn and easy access to water! Stats: 88.1 km, 49 max.
Today was an incredibly beautiful day! The sun covered the high plains with a yellow brightness and warmth across the very green hills. The air, full of humidity from all of the area's rain, made the mountains a beautiful dark blue color in the distance, contrasting well with the bright red barns of the area. Half way through the day Gavin broke his back derailleur cable and told me to go ahead as he'd catch up later after changing the cable. While we had head wind that morning, the road turned and soon I was making incredible time. Houston came and went very quickly, and soon I was at the next rest stop and decided to cook dinner and wait for Gavin. I wondered if the wind had not been as good by the time he fixed his bike and that was why he hadn't caught up yet. I finished dinner and still, Gavin hadn't arrived. I was starting to get a little worried and when a woman from an RV came over to talk, I asked her about seeing a cyclist along the road. They had seen him walking his bike up a hill toward Houston. This answered my question. Gavin did not walk his bike (his gear ratios, in shape body, and biking shoes all make it something he simply doesn't do.) His bike must not have been able to be fixed. Stats: 74.62 km, 53.6 max (Good packing job this morning!)
I set out very early this morning, and without someone else to gauge my speed against, I wandered across the countryside. I followed the same pattern that Gavin had taught me, stopping at the rest stops for food breaks. At lunch a bus stopped out piled many Amish people in full traditional dress. They stretched and walked around the rest area, their black and white clothing filling the area. I might not have noticed them quite so much if it hadn't been for the rush of children of all ages running full speed past my table, a blur of laughter and smiles. They were having so much fun in a simple running race it was a joy to see. I spent a bit of the day thinking about the different styles of raising children and how each seemed to have its benefits and down falls. Without regard for speed I was able to keep from getting overly fatigued and ending up breaking another record for myself - 132.18 km and a top speed of 60 kph! The next city
He lay there, looking quite dead. His thin face was covered with a thin red beard, his jeans had been cut to shorts and he wore no shirt. The only hint of life was the small rise and fall of his stomach. "Is this how you found him ma'am?" The police officer was round in all of his features, but even so he didn't look over weight. He was checking the man's pulse and looking up at a woman with shoulder length brown hair who was fidgeting with her fluffy key ring as if trying to signal that the direction of her anxiety was not toward the man in the ditch. "Yes. I'm surprised how long this is taking." She looked back toward her truck, "My kids have been very patient" and gestured toward her truck with her key ring. "You don't have to stay ma'am" the police officer replied. She was relieved, as were most of the other onlookers, who relieved of their sense of duty all left the man to the police and drove away. I was the only one who remained with the cops waiting for the ambulance to arrive. He started to chat about my trip when from behind the car came the second officer. "Oh, don't worry about it," he spoke into his radio "I hear the sirens now." Soon two paramedics were hovering over the man. "Been here since 4:00?" the paramedic asked the officer. "Yup, but was apparently sitting up at that time." They both chimed a "hmmm" nodding their heads as if to say, "oh, a drug overdose then." She flashed a light in his eyes and confirmed her suspicion. She called to him loudly and finally a thin voice said "my back" and his eyes moved ever so slightly. The four people rolled him carefully onto a stretcher, checking his back for injuries and asked me to hold the table so it wouldn't roll away until they got him on it. Watching the ambulance drive away I asked "Does this happen often?" No one had seemed even interested in what had happened to the man, even the onlookers had scattered at their first chance. "Usually only in the cities, but yes it does." His eyes were the large sad eyes that I have seen in a number of cops on this road, and he shook off the emotion to wave a happy goodbye and wish for a safe journey.
At five o'clock I made it to McBride, the last large dot on my map before the great divide. I stopped to make dinner and decided to ride with the setting sun (about five more hours until sun set this far north) and just take an "after dinner stroll". The farm fields rolled by, horses interested in my strange, long bike; dogs skidding to a stop when they see what they were planning to chase. The wind was a strong tail wind and the kilometers were flying by. After a few hours I was starting to look for a place for the night. A red tailed hawk flew low overhead and landed on a pole above a row of shrubby willows. This would be a perfect place, and a gift from a red-tail. But the wind urged me on, and the sun was still above the horizon, the bike gave into the wind and rolled an inch forward. Ok, I'll continue. Each time I saw a place to stop the wind would tell me to continue. The sun was starting to set and I was starting to wonder why I hadn't chosen any of the other spots yet. At sunset I pulled into a hiking area and was amazed to read the signs "Please limit your stay to 14 nights." I was actually welcome to spend the night here in this beautiful area with picnic tables and washrooms. Heaven.
Tete Jaune Cache, BC to Jasper, AB
I was here a day earlier than I expected. I didn't feel prepared! The great divide, The red pass, the great mount Robson all lay within the plans for today. I was nervous, and stopped at every chance to cool down completely before continuing. Road construction covered the road in tar covered gravel that seemed to melt onto my tires and make the biking almost impossible. Didn't this road know how hard it was without the added difficulties?! I slowly made my way up the road which followed the Fraser River up to Moose lake at the top of the red pass. The train whistle echoed off the great mountain faces that were all around me, as I counted the number of major inclines I climbed, wondering if each one was considered one of the main two. Before I knew it I was biking along the lake, wondering where the most difficult climbs where - I had passed them and not considered them difficult enough to really be THE climbs! I stopped for dinner at a rest stop, making a huge pot of pasta as a reward for the day's work, even if it was less difficult than I had anticipated.
An RV pulled into the rest area and a woman came out and informed me that they were going to make a little bit of noise, as they knew the people who lived on the sailboats on the lake and was going to call them. I had been watching these boats as I biked along the nine mile long lake, their sleek sides shimmering in the reflection of the mountains so far away, full cruising boats. The RV left a note on a truck for the sailors and left. Fifteen minutes later a man appeared at the area looking around for something. He was dressed in a polar fleece jacket, baggy pants and rubber boots, with a hat covering up a tangle of happy hair. I told him about the RV and the note and was amazed at his appearance. He could easily have walked out of any harbor across the Pacific, an obvious cruiser. And yet here he was at the top of the Rocky Mountains on a lake. Soon a woman, looking just as comfortable with the elements as the man appeared on another zodiac. I asked them about places to camp in the area and the woman offered to take me across the lake to their favorite beach where they were planning to cook up all of the food in their ice chest on a big bonfire that night as the lid had accidentally been ajar during the day. I accepted and temporarily left the world of bike touring and entered the familiar world of sailboat cruising.
They were both employees of the railroad company and had enough seniority to have been included in an interesting labor deal. The railroads calculated the cost of hauling cabooses for each train and found that now that they were no longer necessary the company could save enough money by not having them anymore that they could keep the employees as a paid workforce on call though they were no longer hauling the extra car. This had freed these two cruising people for most of every week to live on the water enjoying their love of the cruising life. A couple of times a year they take the boats to the ocean, but during the summer they live on this lake like a pair of loons.
It was the following day, in the drizzle and head winds, that I crossed the great divide and biked through Jasper National Park to the town of Jasper. Jasper was an interesting little town so full of tourists that the local people rented out rooms in their home to the visitors to accommodate them all for the short two month heavy visitor period. Here I met the first female solo cyclist. I had heard of many of them along the way from other touring cyclists, but I hadn't run across any yet. She is a nurse from New Zealand who was sent to Canada for a conference and had opted to take three weeks vacation after the conference to bike around Alberta and British Columbia in whatever direction the area seemed to take her. She was a wonderful companion and we spent the morning sharing a load of laundry (there simply aren't enough clothes to wash for one person on a bike, it seems so wasteful to wash only your own clothes in a load), eating breakfast, stocking up on food and checking our email at the extremely cute library in town. In the rain the following morning I left Jasper biking quickly until I got out from underneath the constant rain cloud. Babbling on my phone I cycled past the new terrain of sage, prairie dogs and deer.
I had bought slick tires in Jasper and was very excited about the combination of new thin road tires and flatter land... how many kilometers could I do a day now? A woman at breakfast the next morning told me "The weather is supposed to be good today, and the terrain just gets flatter!" I was very excited and ignored the thick clouds, assuming they must just be fog and will lift soon. Leaving the little town of Hinton I started up a gentle upward slope. For the next 25 kilometers the slope was relentless, continuing upward, and the weather was deteriorating quickly, my mood following suit. "Good weather and flatter land!" I yelled sarcastically into the wind and rain. What was the true definition of good weather? The scenery had lost its mountains, but the road was NOT getting flatter, and rather was much more difficult than it had been in the mountains where the road was carefully planned to have the least amount of slope possible. These so called rolling hills were much more difficult to climb. I reached the top of Obed Summit and felt a little vindicated. Here I had pumped through the wind down the foothills all the way to Hinton but the 25 kilometers of uphill had climbed to a height higher than even the Yellowhead pass!! This was the highest point on the entire Yellowhead highway.
The road became incredibly boring, the drizzle coming and going throughout the day and the scenery turning to large fields with no where to hide when camping. I had completed all the scales and arpeggios that I could sing, I had thought through several potential business plans just for fun, and now I was officially bored. Dunk had mentioned reading while biking and I had scoffed at the idea. The entire point of biking was to see the land, hear the birds, listen to the wind in the trees, what was the point if you read a book? I dug through my bags and pulled out the book I had traded at the last library on the trading tables. That day I read the entire book, tucking it away when the drizzle became too heavy for the book's pages and whipping it out the moment the drizzle let up.
At a gas station a trucker mentioned to me... nice day for biking huh? The quality of the weather really does seem to be relative to the beholder. I pulled into Edson right as the drizzle turned to downpour. Hiding in a Taco Bell I waited for the rain to let up. From the kitchen came out some stunned and emotional workers. The police radio was their entertainment in back and they had just gotten the latest report on the storm. "Two girls were hit by lightning on opposite sides of town. One is dead and the other is alive, though the emergency crew is not sure why. Her body is so badly burned that it is amazing she is still alive." The details were sickening as to the injuries, and everyone looked out at the dark storm with horror. "I would get a hotel room if I were you" a woman told me with severe caution and fear in her voice. I was shook and did get a motel room, though I had been planning on continuing that evening.
I had heard of International Hostels and had been asked many times if I was staying in them along the way. My path had actually not run across even the opportunity to stay in them before, but Edmonton had one and I thought I'd check it out. Edmonton itself was a surprise for me. The people of the little towns considered it a massive place, ridden with dirt and crime. I wasn't looking forward to it, and felt it would be best to stay at the hostel than to try to make it all the through to a safe place to camp. Instead I pulled into a city much like Madison Wisconsin, clean and full of parks with a river flowing through the center past the University. The streets were clean and bustling with people from all over the world. The hostel was also a delight. The people there were all traveling or moving to the area. There was a kitchen with every thing needed to cook full meals, and showers, beds, etc. All these things were luxuries for me, and for only 18 Canadian dollars (about 12 USD per night), I was very impressed. I will now be staying in Hostels for every large city I come across as they allow me to explore the city without worrying about my belongings, and also provide a chance to do laundry and eat real food. This changed my entire view of cities on this trip, before items to be avoided, I'm now looking forward to the ones with Hostels.
"Saskatoon berries!!" a family of five including two older boys and a very happy little girl all sang in unison showing me their tub (one foot by 2 foot by 6 inches deep) full of purple berries that looked like blue berries but were growing in the trees. Their faces, shirts and hands were all stained a deep purple blue, and the energy of excitement around them was contagious. They showed me the trees and were surprised I had never even heard of these incredible berries. (Later I found they are called "Western Serviceberries" which I had learned about in Madison, but had never heard the common name Saskatoon before.) Now I eat my pancakes in the morning with Saskatoon syrup I purchased in Edmonton. They are sweeter and larger than wild blueberries, but otherwise taste about the same... with a bit more of a woody taste according to a student I came across later on the same path eating the berries.
The land now really is flattening out, and the distances are easier to cover. There are fields of mustard to glide through, their yellow color flashing as the clouds cover some areas and highlight others on the horizon. Outside of Bonnyville I was looking for a place to camp and had given into the idea of staying at a Provincial park. At fifteen dollars a night I am not very happy when I stay there, as the money goes to nothing but sleeping, as most parks don't even have showers or laundry and thus provide me with nothing I don't normally find for free. But this night I had traveled far (149.65 km) and was simply ready to sleep. The park I had hoped to stay at however had been turned over to a commercial company who was charging twenty dollars and didn't have any showers etc. Discouraged I headed back out and stopped at another private camp to see what they charged campers. The camp was called Camp St. Louis after the previous town I had passed and turned out to be a kids camp during the week and a camp rented out to large groups on the weekends. Since it was a weekend, there was a family reunion and a teacher's reunion happening at the camp that night, but they didn't normally take campers. The staff called all the surrounding campgrounds and found that the nearest one was more than 22 km away and was about that far out of my way for the following day. I thanked them and resolved to go back to a sandy area I had seen that looked like a quarry on the other side of the highway, when one of the staff came out and offered for me to sleep in a little woods next to the guy's quarters and offered their shower and to fill my water bottles from their large containers. I was surprised by the change in plans, and with a very large smile and many thanks slept very well in my tent, clean from the shower, to the sounds of a family singing around a campfire with guitars.
7-21-01 The summer sun beat down upon the already scorched land. The road was a shimmering line of heat that I couldn't leave if I was to continue biking. I was close to the Saskatchewan border, but the road signs were confusing, reading distances that varied drastically in only a short distance. Finally the provincial sign came into sight and my mind occupied itself by trying to remember the details of each day spent biking across the vast prairie province of Alberta. My thoughts were interrupted by a jerk of my tires to one side and a drastic reduction in speed. Convinced I had a flat tire, I stopped and prepared myself to fix the flat. But there was no flat to fix. Hesitantly, I began to pedal again, feeling for a problem with my bike. The road was extremely uneven, with large ridges of broken road amid clumps of soft rubbery tar in the hot afternoon sun. Within a few meters it became almost impossible to continue with any momentum, the road itself grabbing my tires as I tried to balance on the top of the gravel ridges. I fought my pedals for every inch, watching the oncoming cars nervously as they jerked their way along the horrible road. After a few kilometers, my bike was having mechanical problems. The back derailleur wouldn't allow me to shift up, slowly limiting the number of gears into which I could shift. I lost all ambition for the day.
The sign for the first town became the perfect excuse to stop for the night and let the road solidify before trying to continue. Walking into the information hut, I met a blond high school aged girl sitting behind a small wooden desk, next to her little cousin who was coloring a handmade ice cream sign with some markers for the window. After chatting for a little while about ice cream, her college plans, work and life in a little town I asked, "Does the road continue like this for a long time? Or does it get better?" I wanted to know what to expect for the rest of the province. Her face broke into a large smile and with a laugh replied "Ah, bad roads and double taxes are what Saskatchewan is known for!" I gave her a questioning look and she continued to explain that she knew someone who worked on the roads and was amazed at the poor technique (called "thin membrane") that is used in this area to pave the roads. He told her about how his work crews would lay a thin layer of tar mixed with sand and then cover it with large pieces of gravel and let the area settle for about a week. The cars driving on the road push the gravel into the tar thick with sand, but they also create large grooves and holes in the new road. After about a week, the work crews patch the holes and fill the grooves. They continue the patching and waiting process for a few weeks and hope that the difficult areas will eventually stop needing additional layers. "But out here," she gestured toward the road passing the little town, "I don't know WHAT they're trying to prove." She assured me that while the road type is the same for a long while, the quality would improve in only a few kilometers. Even though this was exactly what I had hoped to hear, I was skeptical. Sensing this, she continued to explain the second reason for the condition of the road.
The traffic in this part of Saskatchewan was mostly to and from Alberta, and so the closer to the border the more cars used the road, and thus the increased affects of the poor construction. Across Canada there is a federal goods and services tax called the GST. In addition, all of the provinces except oil-rich Alberta, charge varying amounts of provincial sales tax. In Saskatchewan the provincial tax is 6% for a combined total of 13% sales tax. There are no provincial taxes in Alberta, making it worth the drive if one lives close enough to leave the province for general shopping. I smiled, putting the pieces of the puzzle together as she described the rapid expansion of the town of Cold Lake in Alberta, explaining the reason for the confusing distance signs.
7-22-01 As advised by an elderly couple in town, I spent the night camped in the "deer run," a strip of forest circling the little town. All night, two coyote packs howled across the thin forest from the fields on either side. I slept very poorly, dreaming that they had found my food and as a pack were not afraid of my attempts to scare them away. I was thankful the following morning to see the food-bags untouched. Heading out at 4:30, I tried to be as quiet as possible while passing through the sleeping town. About half way along the town's one road, the air was suddenly pierced with a high pitched childlike scream. My eyes searched the houses, trying to find the origin of the sound. I followed the sound until I came to two foxes, one of which had seen me coming and was yelling while running between the houses. Amazed, I increased my speed out of the town as to not wake everyone with the scared fox. The morning fog hung over the fields through which the rising sun cast shadows of sickly looking evergreen trees. To my delight, the cool of the morning had solidified the road and by the time the heat of the afternoon set in I was already on better pavement.
There was only one town on this day to fill up my water containers, Green Lake. I stopped outside of the town convenience and gas store and started to cook my pancake breakfast. The sign leading into town read "Green Lake, Population 100". When I first sat down there was one car at the store. That car left and soon two more appeared. The more time went by, the more cars appeared, until the entire lot seemed to be full of hustling and bustling people all passing by me without making eye contact or saying hello. I started to count the number of people passing by, wondering if the entire population of Green Lake would pass before me. Some of the customers coming out of the store carried newspapers, but most didn't seem to have bought anything. Finally one man, looking much more confident than the others came over to ask where I was from. He was very excited by my story soon left to go into the store. Not more than thirty seconds later, three elderly men came jogging over to me with shocked looks on their faces. "All the way from VANCOUVER on your bike?!" The words fell out of one of their mouths. I smiled, enjoying how their shock at hearing about my trip could finally allow them to overcome their incredible shyness.
7-23-01 The head wind was horribly strong and seemed to be increasing as the day progressed. By mid-day I found a small dirt road that lead down to Cowen lake, a long thin lake with fairly clean water and no people for miles around. I decided to stop early for the day and see if the wind calmed down for tomorrow. Several curious animals stopped to check me out while I unloaded my thoughts from the road into my journal. A beaver kept swimming over, veering in my direction to see what I was, and what I was doing, before slapping its tail hard on the water and diving under, returning in a few minutes to satisfy its curiosity. A white pelican also kept swimming past my camp, pretending not to look my direction. But if I turned my head as if looking at something in a different direction, and peered over to the lake through the side of my sunglasses it would turn its head and watch me as it swam by. A chipmunk also played the same game, sneaking close to me with great courage and then darting away chirping loudly when I turned to look at it. There were large black and white hornets that hovered up and down along the contour of my body, aware of my every move. Also flying around me were many very large (three to four inches long) dragonflies and other large insect predators who used me to catch mosquitoes. Finally relaxed even with all of the insects flying around me, I noticed that if I stayed still, I was not being bitten, as if they were all in a dance of their own. I felt like a snorkler swimming with schools of fish who, though keeping an eye on me, are more concerned with their own world of eating and avoiding being eaten.
I decided to stay the day, realizing that I had been pushing myself for the longest possible distance every day of the trip and not stopping to get a feel for an area, or catch up with my thoughts in my journal, or even just to relax. I spent the day washing my hair and clothes, identifying the plants in the forest around my tent, and during dinner decided to take a look at my back derailleur, just in case there was something I could do to fix it before reaching Prince Albert. Within ten minutes I had spotted the problem and fixed it easily. I was embarrassed at myself for biking on a broken bike for so long without taking the time to stop and look at what might be wrong, afraid of the worst and thus not looking at the problem and instead dealing with the consequences of the symptoms. Laziness is a horrible thing. Sitting in my tent I realized that this simple event has played itself out over and over again in my life. If I force myself to stop and spend a few minutes on an issue I can work it out easily, and yet so often I just avoid and deal. This trip has fixed so many problems that plagued me before. My joints were always sore, and one by one were deteriorating. Now with exercise and varied food and joint supplements my joints are feeling better, I can even eat large meals without my jaw acting up. Perhaps the key ingredients to a successful trip are persistence, patience and attention? I filled my journal with the details of various ideas that I had been turning over in my head. What a strange bird I am - sitting by a lake in the middle of a beautiful forest, determining what character traits would best suit the various team members in a company that doesn't even exist. Business plans, house designs, hostel concepts, adventure trip details, details about myself and my life filled the pages of my journal. That night's entry ended with:
7-25-01 A loon's call woke me in the very early morning. My tent was completely dry, there wasn't even any dew on the rain fly. There were no bugs on my tent, and two black and white hornets were arguing over territory rights to my tent. There was a rainbow across the lake with a back drop of a pink-purple sky. It was time to get up fast before the rain started! I was on the road by 5:45.
The headwinds were still strong, though nothing compared to the day before. Even with all of my gears in working order, and the CBC radio playing in my ears, I only averaged 13 kpm over 3 hours to Big River. The radio gives news and stories, the voices keeping me entertained and learning and thus pedaling happily without cursing the inability of the wind to read weather maps showing jet stream action, or even upper level wind direction - as I could quite clearly see the upper level winds going the opposite direction. My desired tail wind was present, only a couple hundred feet too high. Instead, I pushed these thoughts away and smiled at a pun on the morning edition.
The rain began to fall steadily which wouldn't have been a problem if my trailer tire could have stayed inflated. While fixing my third flat that day, a man in a large white truck stopped and offered me a ride. I hadn't accepted a ride since Vancouver island with Dunk, but this seemed to be the perfect time to start. In the warmth of the truck I started to dry and soon we rolled into the next town with a bike shop - Prince Albert.
7-28-01 A white truck pulled off the road in the distance. I watched the truck as I approached, as this is often a signal that the person in the car wants to talk to me. A man got out of the car and went to the other side, bringing out a little girl. He then walked to the road side of the car and stood waiting for me to reach him. He had toured on his bike in the past and wanted to offer his place to stay that night. He and his wife had an exchange student arriving that evening, but as they had two guest rooms there should be plenty of room. Since he lived far from the main road he gave me his phone number and told me to call when I was finished for the day and he'd pick me up and bring me to his place. The drive to the farm at the end of the day was very interesting.
7-29-01 Greg's wife, Junko (pronounced June-koe), is the only certified Japanese-English translator in Saskatchewan, but living out in the middle of the vast farm fields of Saskatchewan it is difficult for people to find her. She and Greg had been wanting to make a website so that people could find them, but didn't know quite where to start to learn HTML. That morning Junko and the exchange student had to regroup the cows, as the wind had knocked down one of the fences during the night
7-31-01 Leaving the next day was hard, as we had had so much fun. About an hour after I left, a car pulled up along side me and Loonie holding out a bag of cheese I had accidentally left in his refrigerator called out "Drive by cheese!" He had bumped into his doctor at the gas station who told him to take the rest of the week off, as his hands were shaking too much to be safe around high voltage wires. He promised to pick me up the next day and take me to Flin Flon, a neat little town far to the north.
I was entering reservation land, and so had my solar panel and all other expensive looking items hidden in my packs. Two boys pulled up along side me on their bikes, wondering where I was from and where I was going. One of them had a flat tire, but wanted to ride with me for the next 15 k to the next town. I was worried he'd ruin his back wheel if he didn't fix the tube, so we went to his house to fix the flat. Three dogs ran out to defend their horribly run down house. One of them growled for a while at me as I made every effort to convince it that I wasn't afraid of it, and thus it shouldn't be afraid of me. Children were running all around the area along with a variety of ragged looking animals. One little girl was especially proud of her rabbit a black ball of fur with large eyes. The parents never really came out to say hello. I felt very odd in that area as if there were many eyes on me that I couldn't see. I focused all of my attention on Dwanye with the flat tire and his friend Merv. I fixed the inner tube with my kit and then had Dwanye figure out how to put the tire back on his bike. Soon we were on our way from National Mills to Barrows, a trip they made everyday during the school year. The scene was a funny one, me with my packed bike accompanied by two kids on rusted ten speed bikes and three dogs running behind. I felt a little like Forest Gump "And I just started biking..."
8-1-01 After 100 km (actually 96.29) Loonie drove by in "Justa6", a black rare Buick of which there were only 1600 made. We stashed my bike away in the forest and packed my bags into the car and away we went to Flin Flon, a city where the houses are built on the rock, and gardens are little rings of flowers built up around the boulders. We stayed at Baker's Narrows campground, a camp on a lake with six loons. That evening, just after sunset, the loons filled the air with a song so thoroughly it was difficult to tell where they actually were. We quickly went to sit on the boulder overlooking the lake where the moon was reflecting in the still, purple lake, waiting for more sounds from the loons, but were treated only with the chirping of crickets and the buzz of mosquitoes.
8-2-01 Entering Manitoba was entering a land where there were very few people. While this was generally true throughout Canada, here it was more true than ever before. I stopped for lunch on the shores of lake Winnipegosis, where the opposite shore was only a faint blue on the curved horizon and yet there were no people or towns in sight. Pelicans soared overhead, their huge wingspan bright white with their black wingtips seeming to guide them into the heart of the thermals above. Along the road, teenagers had written testaments of their love to each other with white stones laid carefully on the red-orange slopes. My bear-can became a form of public transportation for the local insects with passengers as stately as the giant dragonflies who would stay until nightfall, and as temporary as the horseflies who I wished would remain riding and avoid flying around my head as I was trying to pedal. My eyes are always searching the side of the road for bears and moose though they are far and few between. At one point on this day I did notice something pitch black on the side of the road. It was the size of a large coyote, thin like a cat with its back arched high, but with the form of a mink. It slinked quickly across the highway as I approached. I wondered about this animal, asking all the locals who might know what it was, but no one had any idea what the odd animal was. It was a few weeks later when I described it to my Dad that I finally had the answer to the mystery - a wolverine!!
I had looked forward to the section of the trip between Lake Winnipeg and Winnipegosis with great enthusiasm. The area is mostly uninhabited with vast stretches of forest dotted with lakes and rivers ranging from the size of little ponds to lakes so large the curvature of the earth is more prominent than the land on the other side. What could possibly be more beautiful?!
Pumping along past the top of lake Winnipegosis I met up with the heat wave of the summer. It was so hot that I could barely move without fear of over heating. Any grade in the hill would cause me to have to stop and wait for my body to cool down before beginning again, only to stop again in a kilometer and wait again. The temperature soared far over 100F and it became imperative that I find water in which I could reduce my body temperature. The map showed a large lake not too far ahead and I watched eagerly for a road that would lead me to the water. The lake shimmered invitingly along the horizon and soon a gravel road with a sign for the lake appeared. I followed the road down towards the lake, concerned that it was going downhill and I would have to drag my bike back up the gravel, possibly losing the benefits of taking a cooling swim. But I had gone too far and I continued on towards the lake. The gravel stopped and I laid my bike down, grabbed my swimming clothes and headed down a little path to the lake. The path ended at a peer that stretched out into a long stretch of deep mud. Twenty or thirty feet out pelicans swam back and forth along the mud shore, watching me slap at the flies that were biting my legs and arms. I looked far along the lake and saw that there was no way to the water without crossing the mud. I thrust a stick into the mud to test its depth and thickness. The stick went far into the mud, but was difficult to pull back out. Discouraged, I went back to my bike and started the process of dragging my bike up the large gravel road.
Slowly I pulled my bike up the road, stopping to cool down and slap bugs every ten to twenty feet. By the time I was on the road again I was covered in bug bites of varying types and was feeling quite sick from their venom. Only a few kilometers down the road was a sign for another lake that was about the same size as the last one. I peered through the glaring sun at the shimmering lake, looking just as large and inviting as the previous one. The road to the second lake was less steep than the first one. I stared down the road, skeptical of what it might offer. I convinced myself that if I didn't try to reach the lake I wouldn't be able to reduce my body temperature... and what would I do then? I couldn't set up my tent to escape the bugs as it was too hot to be inside. I couldn't walk my bike up every slight grade I hit as I was starting to become very dizzy from the bug bites. I couldn't continue along the road because the tar paper and wind required exertion that raised my body temperature. I decided that if there were any steep sections on the way down to the lake I would turn back and not continue. I hesitantly let my bike roll down the little trail, the wild rose bushes scratching my legs as I passed by. At the end, I followed the tracks of a car that looked to have driven down near the water's edge. But the path became thinner and thinner through the reeds, and eventually gave way to a rotten peer that allowed me to walk out to where the water was slightly less than an inch deep, with countless feet of loose mud below. I stood and watched the water, hoping that perhaps through looking I would find a way to reach it. The stinging sensations on my legs brought me back to reality.
Back on the road I saw some water running along the side of the road, barely deep enough to wet my shirt. Though my shirt was dry in ten minutes, those ten minutes allowed me to bike easily to a red colored stream flowing under the road and falling down a steep incline into a small pool. Chanting that the red color this far from any human settlements could only be due to the tannins from the conifers in the area, I dunked myself in the shallow pool, lips pressed tightly together despite my reasoning. Soon, I continued biking, finding stream after stream until the relief of sunset allowed me to put up a tent to escape the bugs.
8-4-01 I woke the next morning with the screen of my tent pressed upon my face. The wind was so strong that the rain fly had pulled my tent, with me and all of my gear against the nearest tree. Sitting up, I watched hungry people at the rest stop trying to order food from the little stand that represented the only source of food within a couple hundred miles. Customers ran from their cars to the food stand, ordered their food while walking in quick circles to keep away from the bugs that were swarming behind any object that blocked the wind. They are told their total and they slapped their money on the little shelf. The stand owner quickly tilted out the screen to take in the money, slammed it shut, slapping the bugs that flew in spite the quick motions. For five minutes the customers walked in circles or hid in their cars. When the food appeared on the little shelf, the customers would grab it and race back to the cars to eat. I was not lucky enough to have a car in which to hide and the bugs are biting through the two layers of clothing I was wearing despite the rising temperatures. I had hit my limit of headwind, bugs, heat and bad roads and desperately wanted a ride to Winnipeg. I tried to make conversation with some of the people waiting for their food, but the bugs were too extreme for anyone to be friendly. I finally gave up on trying to get someone to offer me a ride and turned to directly asking. This was met with much more coldness. I went back to my prostrate tent, laid down on my sleeping pad, sweating and thinking. I have to get out of here. I walked through each step in my head and prepared myself for the intensity of the bugs through my layers of clothing in the sweltering heat. Finally I bit through the tasks and left the rest stop covered in bugs and tears. Balancing carefully to remove several layers of clothing while maintaining my speed to escape the bugs I dove into my inner self. Had I really reached my limit? I certainly did not want to be biking so slowly into the fierce wind, seemingly holding me in this god-forsaken place properly named "Devil's lake." But I also had no intention of ending my trip. It seems that even limits have layers.
Soon after I left the rest stop, rain started to fall, drops large and soothing. The bugs left and the temperature fell. I was so happy for the rain I didn't even care about the lightening flashing around me. I was amazed at the emotional extremes I could encounter in only a few hours. Just before sunset, the rain stopped, my clothes dried out and I was able to set up camp and cook dinner before diving into my tent to escape the next storm. I sat in my thankfully upright tent and watched a blood red sunset fill a quarter of the sky through large rain drops while eating my dinner. As the red faded to orange, the rain stopped, and through the approaching night came the sound of a lone wolf, a sound more chilling than the rain drop still falling from the trees. I held onto my pan, now empty of food and wiped clean and wished with all of my might that the howl remain unanswered. It wasn't. I was amazed at myself. I know enough about wolves to understand that they only howl when they are lonely, and that the chance of being attacked by one is extremely low, especially unprovoked; yet while I had always wanted to hear one in the wild, now that I had, I didn't want to hear it again, at least not right away. Covered in goose bumps I buried the clean dinner pan in a pile of dirty laundry and lay down for the night. It had been a day of extremes, and I fell asleep with a song that had been in my head the past few days in the heat and bugs - "you don't always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you just might find, ... you get what you need!"
8-6-01 Many women have approached me and commented on how brave I am for doing this trip. Some have commented that they were once unafraid of the forest, but with so many people asking them if they were scared have over time developed a fear. Others when asked what there is to be afraid of could only come up with "bears" or "bad people at night." I find these fears interesting, as they seem to be perpetuated through a system of storytelling and a general misunderstanding of statistics rather than being founded in actuality. I usually answered these questions with the statement that it doesn't take bravery, but instead patience and persistence. There have been only a few times on this trip when I have been truly scared. The ride into Winnipeg was one of these exceptions. I had called ahead to the traveler's hostel to make sure there would be a bed for me that night if I made it in. The woman on the other end said the place was filling up fast and it would be smart for me to make a reservation. I gave her my credit card number and set my mind to making the distance into Winnipeg before dark.
The map showed that I had a long way yet to go, but all of the road signs said it would be a 100 km day. This was my average distance per day and so I wasn't too worried about making it in time. However, as the sun was nearing the horizon, I still couldn't see this vast city in the center of the ancient Aggassi lake bed. I was pumping the pedals as fast and as hard as I could physically move, trying to make it to where the city lights would start before the grayness surrounding me turned to blackness. I wondered when the moon would rise and how dark it really would get. I was wearing my yellow glasses to protect my eyes from the ever increasing number of bugs that were filling the evening air, safe from the day-time predators.
The night continued to thicken and I tried over and over to reach the hostel staff to cancel my reservation for the night. Marie, the woman on staff that night, had already said she would wait up until I arrived, and she knew there was a chance it could be very late. Part of me decided that this was my chance to see how it was to bike by moonlight, the time many people I had met had assumed I traveled, as the heat of the day was too obviously too great for biking. But the moon didn't rise. I turned on my little blinking red light so the cars behind me could see that I was on the road. The shoulder was wide and I was moving very fast. I thought to myself, "as long as the road remains like this, night biking should be fun. Then the shoulder disappeared. I felt tricked. It would make sense that the closer I was to the largest city in the province, the wider the shoulder would be, and yet it had disappeared.
The white line became my only safety zone. On one side the holiday traffic zipped by, often honking their horns as they passed. On the other side was a steep drop off into dangerous, deep, loose gravel. The night soon became so dark that the white line was only visible if I didn't look directly at it. Then the road narrowed and I lost my white line. Suddenly I was coasting through a directionless bug-filled void, my mouth closed to avoid breathing in the nasty little critters. I couldn't see! I slammed on my brakes and walked to where the gravel began, worried about being on the wrong side of the road. For a minute I walked my bike, unsure what to do, giving in to the blanket of bugs and blackness. Occasionally two large cones of light reflecting off millions of bugs would approach, the brights shining into my face, becoming the only light that was visible in any direction. I was blind. I now understand why deer freeze in headlights! The next moment if I moved could be off a cliff of gravel for all I knew. I started feeling very sorry for deer. These poor animals with four legs to worry about and no concept of the organization of traffic on a road. I pushed my bike along what I hoped was the right side of the road, still straddling the bike, hoping not to let my trailer make my bike fall as I slapped the most painful of the biting bugs. My patience and persistence were being tested but I had no choice but to make it through. I saw the faint outline of a sign on the side of the road and waited for a car to light it up so I could see how far I was from the city whose lights I had yet to see reflected on the night sky. In bright cheery colors the sign read "Welcome to Winnipeg!"
The moon rose soon thereafter, and I made it to the main highway with a huge shoulder, traveling a total of 159.44 km when the day was completed at 1:00 am (60 km farther than I had planned on traveling that day). Apparently when the city was being planned, one government official knew that it was built on the bottom of an ancient lake-bed and so extended the city limits far beyond the actual city. This outer border was then used to dig a moat around the city to hold flood waters, saving the city from disaster. The government official was not respected for this decision, especially since the moat provided mosquitoes with a breeding ground so immense that mosquitoes are found indoors as well as outdoors in Winnipeg. However, soon thereafter, one of many great floods in the area caused the fields and land surrounding the city to fill with enough water to reflect the shape of the original giant lake to planes flying overhead. The city was saved from disaster by the moat, and the official's foresight was proven wise.
8-8-01 "I just got an email about you." Dunk said quite nonchalantly. I had called him to ask about the loss of control I had in my pinky and fourth fingers on both hands. Since meeting on my first day out, he had become my mentor, someone I depended on each time I reached an area with cell phone coverage to provide suggestions and solutions to the problems and annoyances of bicycle touring. "From who and what did it say?" He read a part of an email from a kind-hearted woman whom I had never met. She was concerned about whether the heat wave that had swept through the area had caught me in a bad area for heat. I blushed at the concern from someone I didn't know, smiled at the knowledge that the heat wave in question had caught me exactly where she had estimated it would - in the backcountry of Manitoba, and was amazed at the ability of writing and the internet to bring people closer together. I too was starting to receive email from friends of distant friends and relations that had read my logs and were wondering about my current location. I pondered the question of whether the website could one day be self sustaining (through the links page) while taking notes on the features I required in a pair of biking gloves now that my hands were so badly affected. Soon, I was on my way again, enjoying the time that biking provides for contemplation.
Through this journey of life I've focused on exploring the outside world, paying little attention to the vehicle in which I am exploring. I've always written off the human body as a complex machine depending on fluids and chemistry to link the brain and various mechanical parts. I knew electricity was an important and required part of this system - the link between the mind and the body, but one whose connections I considered to be switches, either they were on and working, or off causing paralysis. When my hands started to hurt, it never occurred to me that they could be suffering from compressed nerves. At the bike shop, I marveled at this oddity, laughing with the bike store employee while comparing the angles to which our pinky fingers would flare outward when we were lucky enough to be able to straighten them at all. His angle was much more exaggerated than mine as he had just completed a trip from Alaska to Winnipeg without any gloves at all, while I had at least had weight lifting gloves. I was fascinated, and sold on buying some proper bike gloves with gel padding over the outer nerve center. (Note: After a few days I decided that these weren't working, and were actually causing pressure disturbing control of my other fingers. Dunk had me abandon these and instead put pipe insulation over my handle bars - something I now suggest to every touring cyclist I meet as the wonder solution to nerve compression problems.)
8-9-01 Approaching the shores of the ancient lake Aggassi there was line of trees as far into the distance as I could see on either side. This was the famed start of the Cambrian or Canadian shield (different signs in the area read different names) an area of very old rock that houses a completely different set of plants and animals. The water here is running, and without standing water the bugs basically disappeared. The forests are a mix of evergreen and deciduous, creating a treat for both the eyes and ears. Tiny dragonflies with the body shape of the giant ones buzzed through this new misty clean air. Spotted ground squirrels darted across the forest floor, while noisy red ones warned anyone within hearing distance of my wide-eyed arrival into this wonderland. Even the occasional large mosquitoes in this forest landed so gently that they could easily be waved away prior to biting. Monarchs floated by through the trees, a treat that started only within the last few years, brought this far north by the effects of global warming.
8-16-01 For the next week I cycled through this wondrous countryside, with only the markings on my map distinguishing one day from the next. My morning showers with a solar shower, complete with Whiskey Jack attendants (curious Jay-like birds that will even land on one's head if food is offered) became one of my favorite rituals of the day. This is vacation land, with an endless stream of happy people traveling to their respective cabins, camp grounds, trail heads, or canoe launches. It was with a tinge of sadness that I left the easy biking land for the city of Thunder Bay, knowing that soon I would be in the "mountains" bordering the northern side of Lake Superior and often said to be more difficult to bike than the Rockies.
It was while riding along the coast of Lake Superior out of Thunder Bay that my cell phone stopped ringing before I could answer it. There wasn't anything too unusual about this, as my phone is buried within various layers of waterproofing to keep it safe, but I was on my way out of cell phone coverage, and had been waiting for Dunk to call as I had left several messages about the great progress of my hands through the pipe insulation suggestion and the exercises he had me doing, and it was unusual for him not to call back within a day or two. I tried to return the number on my phone, but the coverage was very poor, so I settled with my voicemail. Michelle's voice barely came through the static, "Dunk is in the hospital...ICU...for "bleeding of the brain." Her voice was heavy with the news, but she continued, "He's supposedly stable now, but it is still very serious." I stood on soft sand overlooking a gray, cold water of Lake Superior, the sky starting to drizzle through the fog, continually repeating the message to piece it together through the static of the poor connection. Having heard all of the pieces of the message, I sat on the wet beach, stunned. Life is so unpredictable, so precarious. I watched the undulating waves, slowly opening and closing my hands to their rhythm, one of the exercises turned habit to reconnect the nerves in my hands... thinking... feeling very remote and useless...
There was one story I had heard many times since leaving Winnipeg. Even passing motorists would stop to see where I was going, and tell me about a Japanese man riding a scooter across Canada. Some told me that he hadn't understood the large size of Canada, being from Japan. Others said that he had already traveled across both New Zealand and Australia as well as his home country on the same scooter. Some told stories of how he was traveling with a friend on a mountain bike who was pulling him across the prairies into the headwind. Still others recounted seeing him alone, pushing his scooter up all the hills he encountered. I tried to envision the person behind all of this collective amazement, and wondered what portions were part of the true story. Perhaps the only thing that everyone agreed upon was that he was moving very slowly and I would surely catch up to him "in the next day or two". That was almost two weeks ago, but today's story was perhaps the most intriguing... He had been at this hostel, and had only left the day before! I was getting close to meeting him!
8-17-01 I headed out to the mountains of Ontario with a bit of a rocky start. Only two hours into my day, a car came too close and smashed my mirror as I was riding along on the narrow shoulder. I stopped and stood on the side of the road, expecting the car to stop, shaking at how close the accident had come to hitting my handlebar. To my absolute amazement and horror, I watched three wide-eyed faces staring out the back window, as their car sped quickly away from where I stood trembling. Fear quickly turned to anger and I decided it was prudent to stop and eat lunch to burn off some steam and stop shaking before forcing myself back onto the busy road. My faith in humanity was regained by a Canadian Tire store owner (the hardware stores of Canada) who refilled my fuel container from his own personal stock, and had a little mirror for sale to replace my now shattered view of the vehicular world.
8-20-01 As I sped down each hill I thought about how the scooter must be going faster than I. Each flat section I was convinced a scooter would be faster as I had to pump my pedals where even a small motor could speed along, but the uphills, where the scooter would have to be pushed I would definitely be gaining on him. One person who had spoken to him said that he was traveling about 70km a day, though days of over a 100 were not uncommon. I was averaging about 100km per day, and therefore should be gaining 30km or less a day. After a few weeks of hearing I would catch up with him in a day, my anticipation was mounting! Finally in White River I saw not a motor scooter as I had pictured, but a push scooter(!!) next to a picnic table where three people (the "scooter guy" as he was known by passersby, and a touring cyclist couple) were cooking dinner. I was stunned and shook hands with the shy celebrity. His name is Naoya Nishinaga and he liked to cross continents on his push scooter. He knew exactly how large Canada was, and planned to travel from Vancouver to Toronto (not further so as to avoid the chance of winter catching him). He had already scootered New Zealand, and one coast of Australia. He traveled alone on all of these trips, singing along with his tape player which was strapped to the handlebars playing Japanese popular music, while covering between 70 and 100km per day with a maximum of 120km on a tail wind day in the prairies. I was amazed, and learned from him a new level of patience. If he walked up every hill and pushed on the flats and still was covering close to 100 km per day, then I shouldn't become impatient at my slow speed while pedaling up these same hills! We passed each other many times over the next three days from White River through Superior Provincial Park to "The Sue", each pausing for food and side-trip breaks at different times during the day.
8-30-01 When choosing a spot to camp at night, I was always careful to choose a spot where humans rarely went, especially in bear country. One morning while setting up to eat breakfast, I was beckoned over to an RV to hear a story that reinforced this habit. Three English visitors had rented an RV to travel around Canada for the summer and had stayed at that rest stop for the night. I could see evidence of bears at the stop as the trash cans were all destroyed, shredded as if by a wild chain saw. The friends said they had been asleep in their RV when they were woken by the noise of a very large bear tearing apart the trash can. Scared, they peered out of their windows, only to become more scared by the proximity of a very large bear and turned to hide along the floor of the RV to avoid drawing attention to themselves. As they lay there listening to the bear thrash around outside, the bear did find the RV of interest and started to play with it, pushing it back and forth. It decided to leave it intact, and disappeared into the forest. They were showing me the size of the prints in the dirt all around their RV and on the RV's sides. Indeed it was a very large bear that had visited them that night!
"You look tired" stated a tree planter sitting on a bench outside of the local food store. I wheeled my bike over to where he was sitting and started to make a list in my journal. "I am tired, this was a very hectic morning." He smiled at the potential of a juicy story and I began. "I put my little waterproof bag in a different spot on my bike this morning and it fell off. I backtracked to find it, but I had covered a long distance and it was no where to be found." "Did you try a taxi company?" I nodded, in fact I had called a taxi company, who didn't want to help me as I didn't know how far back the bag was. I had also contacted the highway patrol in case they had seen a bag on the road. But the story continued. "Then there was a guy at a tire store with better connections to the taxi companies, as he did a lot of business with them. He called each company and one of them said they had seen my bag that morning and turned it in to this food store here." I motioned toward the store. "But they don't have it?" He seemed interested in this silly story so I continued. "Nope, and they even described the counter to which it was turned in with great detail. Why would they give such a story unless it was true?" He didn't know either. As I was sitting there, listing everything that could have been in the bag, the tire store guy and the taxi driver pulled up to check for themselves, convinced I had the wrong place. However, the bag had disappeared. I learned another lesson, put my name and number on EVERYTHING. Figuring that if the bag ever turned up there were people that would call and send the bag to me, I continued on. The consistent head winds for the first time in a long time turned tail and I covered a whopping 80 km in only three hours!
Algonquin Park, ON to Montreal, QC
9-1-01 Algonquin park is a canoeing wonderland, a maze of rivers and lakes to rival those of the boundary waters and the Quetico. The road through the area traversed many hills with vistas of endless trees and water. My tent spot that evening was of particular interest to me as it was on the line between a maple forest and a pine forest, in a patch of very bright green short grass under a huge old maple tree. From the maple side of my tent, there was an endless stream of wildlife noises. Birds picking berries and squirrels collecting food. The pine forest was silent except for the sound of cars in the distance speeding along the roadway. My only guess is that the lack of undergrowth in the pine forest due to the tannin in the pine needles makes this area a desert for small animal food, and thus attracts less activity. I lay in my tent listening to the directional split of the sounds as the sun set and the stars filled the gaps between the pines.
My lunch with Dave was a lot of fun! And his parting words were "May the wind always be at your back!" As if nature were listening to his sentiments, I rode with a wonderful, strong tail wind for the rest of the day. 9-3-01 I had inquired as to the cell phone coverage in the area before entering Algonquin park and was told that there wasn't any except, to watch for a church high up on a grassy hill, go to the front of the church and there I would get enough reception to place a call. I stopped at a few churches that seemed to match this description along the way, but none of them had the promised coverage. Then I saw what had to be the church he described. High up on the highest point in the entire area stood a massive gray church on top of a set of large terraced grass hills. I balanced my bike against a small planted tree and started up the terraces. I remembered the salesman recounting how odd he felt climbing the hill to the church as if the cell service was meant for phone calls to god himself. Due to the novelty of the cell service area (accurately described as only in front of this huge church) I called many people from my phone until my batteries were low and I had to leave the land of service.
Montreal to Quebec City, QC
9-9-01 The next few days were spent with my friend Maria (from the trip in the Venezuelan Amazon) who is going to school in Montreal. These were dreamy days filled with bike rides through a city made for bikes, European style (very strongly flavored) ice cream and sorbets, and long walks through the parks filled with beautiful water fountains. It was so good to see her again - the only person I knew from before my trip that I've met up with during this bike tour. We stayed up late into the nights talking about our last trip, my current trip, and her current adventure here in Montreal, so far away from her sweetie in Connecticut.
9-11-01 With my new-found confidence in French speaking Quebec I headed out into the countryside on the wide shoulders and through beautiful scenery with good weather. My tires however were not so happy, and kept getting flats. On this morning, I was fixing my first flat of the day on my rear tire when a white faced old man came out of the shop and beckoned to me in broken english "Come, plane in New York!" Waving his hands for me to follow, he lead me into a little cement room with nothing in it but a chair, a stool and a TV on the stool. The TV showed a building burning with announcers who were talking very rapidly in French. My heart sank... I figured a plane had crashed from the look on his face and the few words the man could say in English, but into the city itself? We stood in the little room mesmerized with the horror on the screen when from behind the one burning tower of the world trade center (one phrase I could understand in French) came another plane that crashed into the second tower. Suddenly this was no longer an accident. I watched the screen, horrified as the announcers talked even faster and with higher pitched voices. Pulling myself away briefly, I plugged my cell phone into the solar panels. The sun was just high enough to begin charging the dead phone. I went back to the TV and tried to learn French from the repeated words on the TV. After an impatient ten minutes I returned to the cell phone and didn't wait for it to charge any longer. I called my Dad.
I had so many questions to ask, but when he answered, all I got out was "Dad?" "Where are you?!" He replied quickly. "I'm in a little gas station in Quebec, but everything's in French! What is going on?" Dad took a deep breath, "It looks like we are in a war. Those jihad bastards have crashed two airliners full of innocent passengers into the world trade center and one into the pentagon!" I couldn't believe it, my head more full of emotion than coherent thoughts. "The pentagon?" "Yes, the pentagon. And who knows what is next, it has only been a half hour, and all of that happened within the first fifteen minutes." I was shaking. They had hit the pentagon. Our very center of the US military. For some reason the towers seemed more vulnerable to me than the pentagon. The man at the gas station had come out to see my reaction to the full understanding of what had happened, as I was the only person from the US in the area. I was overwhelmed. Completing repairs on the tire, I pedaled hard, listening to French CBC, cursing the Quebec province for their lack of English coverage when the rest of the country always has accessibility to French CBC. Each of four flats that day were accompanied with a TV watching session, and a call into Dad and Sharon asking what various things I had tried to understand in French were in reality. The most worrisome moment for me was when the radio listed something about California. I hadn't been too worried about my friends in California, as all the attacks had been made or attempted on the east coast government areas. But Los Angeles is a center of movie production for the world, it could be a target, if this is truly a cultural attack as the news was indicating. Dad reassured me that California is where the planes had been headed, so they were full of fuel, and there had been no more known crashes. My mind was fixated on the radio news, even in French, for the next few days. In a relatively short time, most peoples' initial fear and hatred faded and was replaced with an understanding of extremists in any culture, and the focus was turned onto what could possibly be the best thing to do next.
9-12-01 The road had wound down into a valley filled with sunshine and fruit crops. The smell of the apples so intoxicatingly strong that I eventually had to stop and buy one, even if I did have to cut it into little pieces to eat it (TMJ has prevented my eating anything hard or that you have to bite into, such as apples and carrots, for the last few years.) A man came out and stared at my bike with the same interest I was giving his apple stand. I tried to ask how much it would be to purchase only one apple, as I had no room to carry an entire basket. He invited me into the little hut where the apples were sorted and the baskets compiled. He handed me an apple while saying "Melba." "Melba?" I replied. I didn't know this word. He pointed up to the sign over their farm house - Melba et MacIntosh Pommes. "Oh! Melba Pomme" He smiled and waited to see if I liked the taste of the apple. Not wanting to dig through my gear for a knife, I gingerly took a bite, trying to use only my top teeth without opening my jaw. The taste that entered my mouth was heavenly. This was the smell that was filling the valley! I took out my wallet to pay for the apple, and he waved it away, handing me a bag of eleven more apples and three tomatoes. Through a customer who knew a little English, he explained that he was a fellow traveler, who lives on a sailboat for most of the year, sailing the world for the past seven years, but then returning to Quebec each fall to help his parents with the harvest and sale of the apples.
Quebec City, QC to Edmundston, NB
9-12-01 I entered the ancient walls under the lights of the city, as the sun had set a while ago. Quebec city is a remnant of a time when it was necessary to build a wall around a city to protect it from invasions. As it has been well maintained, it has been recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site. All the colors seemed exaggerated under these lights, and the atmosphere was that of a party with people dressed in many colors moving in all directions at once. There was no special event happening, it was simply evening time in the heart of the old city. The hills were very steep, and two guys helped me push my bike up to the hostel as I was simply moving too slowly for them to watch comfortably! It was here that I met a very interesting woman from Turkey named Asena. We got along very well, and toured the city together the following day.
9-13-01 Asena had wanted to take a walking tour with a guide... I wasn't so sure about paying money to some tour company to walk about a free city, especially when we had a guide book, and many of the places we visited had English speaking tours for free. But she was set on the idea and we both signed up. The tour was run by the parks department, and was exactly the best thing to do within the old city. Our guide took us through the citadel, the old town, past many cannons from many eras, and even took us into an underground bunk area for the soldiers and guards of hundreds of years ago. After this tour we visited the Mason Coitier, a house on the outside of the walls in the merchant center along the river. Here they had rooms fully furnished in their original state, with explanations as to what everything was used for and why. Walking along the river we stopped at a market looking for more Melba apples. That evening was spent walking along the top of the wall, looking down into the city from above, followed by a ferry ride across the river and back to see the lights of the city reflected on the water.
Though we should have been tired that night, we stayed up talking about life in our various areas. She studies cancer of the lungs and is in Canada to further her studies with a well known professor in Canada. I asked her if she knew anything about Mesothelioma, as my mother had passed away from this virus caused cancer a few years back. She replied that in fact she had spent some time studying it. I continued to ask her about the probability that the virus could be passed on to a victim's children, thus limiting my life span to only the 35 year gestation period of the virus. She contemplated the question for a while, as even the thought of a second generation of effected people hadn't entered the research arena yet - the medical community was just concerned with the people who had received the contaminated polio vaccinations so long ago and were now dying from the otherwise asbestos related disease. Her reply was heartening. She supposed that there was only about a 50% chance that the virus could have been passed in the first place. And then, they had no data on how this virus matures, but chances are good that if I were to keep biking and keep myself in as low a stress environment as possible, that my body would be less susceptible to the virus, and it may never take hold even if it were in my body. In other words, she said what many have said, just with more of a survival emphasis: "If I enjoy the adventure traveling lifestyle, keep doing it for as long as I can continue."
9-14-01 I left the city, happy to be on my bike again, after a wonderful breakfast of crepes. Gliding through the French countryside along the river I passed through many tiny towns, all close together but separated by small forests or fields. The biking was easy, and the art shops kept me entertained as I bike through town after town. I thought about Dad and Sharon - how much they would love this area! Biking in this area would be soooo easy if you didn't mind staying at the endless choices of Bed and Breakfasts in the area, and enjoyed going from art shop to antique shop and on. It would in fact be more fun by bike than by car, as the towns were all very close to together, but the small roads of the old towns left little room for easy parking. At the end of the river road, is the Riviere-du-Loop traveler's hostel. With kids running around, the music from the upright piano drifting through the large house, and the ever present smell of the morning's fresh baked croissants for everyone in the morning, it felt like home.
9-17-01 The sun was starting to set so early, that there were more than ten hours from sun set to sun rise. I took to reading in my tent after dark to the light of a candle, as candles do not require an endless supply of batteries. I wonder how my tent looked from the outside, glowing with a dancing light. The days were crisp, and the trees were starting to turn color, forming an interesting backdrop to the view of military trucks on the move. These gray-green caravans of trucks were carrying soldiers and gear to the training camps and then on to Halifax to be ready when (the military men I met were not willing to settle on the word "if") the US called on Canada to help in the Middle East. One nice feature of New Brunswick are the snow mobile and ATV trails through the region. I spent one nippy night in a snow mobile warming hut, not quite open yet for the season. Without setting up my tent, the air felt especially cold as I listened to the pattering feet of the red squirrels carrying bright red Viburnum berries from one side of the hut to the opposite side where it had a stash inside a large tree.
Edmundston, NB to Halifax NS
9-20-01 The remote roads of the New Brunswick countryside lead me through an area that looked more impoverished than most of the reservations I had ridden through. Many of the houses were nothing more than tar paper and sheet metal. Oddly, there were often cars that were in half decent shape outside of these shacks. Only the gardens outside of the houses showed a bit of the beauty of the area. I worried about the people who lived in this houses through the upcoming winter, but they survive this way year after year, I'm sure this year will be no different. The mountains in this area were large but rolling and soon I was rolling into St John to see the reversing waterfall (the tides are so large here that rivers flow in both directions, and through narrow passages, with great force) and to wait for the next ferry to Digby, Nova Scotia.
9-25-01 My thoughts were starting to focus on plans for when I finished, which should be in only a day or two! I had heard the story of the Grand Pre - an area that was built up by the Acadians, French settlers. Here they had painstakingly created dikes to block the tides from flooding the salt marshes. Slowly with their work, they changed the salt marshes into very fertile fields. These fields were an item of desire in those times, and the Acadians were taken over and gathered up and deported to the Southern US, creating the French speaking area of New Orleans. However, not everyone was deported together, and not everyone was sent at all. There were a number of families that were divided by this process, and the story of Evangeline was one such story. Separated from her love, she traveled the US in a great search for him. It took her many years to find him and be reunited. Her journey for love and the injustices of the deportation are remembered at the Grand Pre Evangeline memorial statue and gardens. I had heard the story on the CBC and had to stop and see this place, so common for weddings in the area.
9-26-01 Halifax was now in reach! The night had been dry, so all of my gear was dry, but as the day progressed the rain was coming down harder and harder. As I neared my final destination mother nature seemed to be teasing me by the increasing rain and head wind, as if to jeer "How badly do you really want to finish?!" I stopped for food at a gas station, shaking off the flowing water from my jacket before entering the store. A man in a car called over to me "Not a good day to be biking, Eh?" I smiled over at him - "No, it's a very good day! I'm almost to Halifax from Vancouver!" I entered the city and the rain stopped, streets were bustling with people and smelling fresh from the rain. I made it!!