Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Positive Attitude = Positive Experiences

Location: Smithers, BC, Canada
Ok so I'm going to spare you some whining by pretty much glossing over the days of riding between Prince George and Houston. It was 3 days of riding, it rained every day, we camped in Vanderhoof and at a rec site off the highway, our tent was wet (though when we're inside it we were kept dry) and all our riding gear was soggy. We didn't enjoy these days, the rain makes things hard and the scenery was either shrouded or pretty dull. We were particularly downhearted in Vanderhoof, but strangely I woke up at the rec site and despite the rain, difficulties and dampness I felt like it was going to be a good day and felt positive for the first time in 2 days. And I was right. So I'm going to tell you about all the good stuff that happened between Prince George and Houston as its way more interesting than me moaning about bad weather.

The first cool thing was before we even got to Vanderhoof. We met our first round the world cyclists! Patricia and Christian are French and have ridden across Russia, through Japan and down from Alaska. Wow! Awesome! And they're headed through North America then South through Central and South America like us. So we chatted for a bit and exchanged contact details, hopefully we can meet up along the way.

Next while riding on the highway a truck had pulled over coming towards us and the driver got out to talk to us. My initial thought was that he was going to warn us about bears along the way, but he crossed the road and said "I don't suppose you're Tom? And you're Sophie?" Turns out he's, Mike, a friend of Randy's (Marilyn & Zolt's son) who'd been told to keep a look out for us. So that was cool.

The third good thing was that the rec site we camped at was 2km off the highway up a rough gravel road and while I struggled to ride up much of it, the next morning I rode all the way down to the highway. This was a positive achievement for me and I was pretty proud of myself.

We'd decided that on leaving the rec site we would stop at Burns Lake, the first town we'd come to, for coffee and a general warm up/dry off. When we arrived at Burns Lake we were told about the National Aboriginal Day celebrations going on in town and invited to come along. There's free food. So positive thing number 4 is we roll down to the park where the event is on, the rain has stopped and we spend an hour and a half or so wandering about, talking to lots of folks, watching some awesome drumming and singing, and eating delicious free food. The atmosphere was really friendly and inclusive and we were made to feel really welcome. We ate traditional salmon and moose, both were seriously yummy, then a moose burger in traditional bannock bread, also very tasty and were given free water and a tshirt. A very worthwhile stop and overall great experience.

I got a puncture, the eleventh of the trip we think, near the top of Six Mile Summit, not so positive, but we then managed to cover 32km in about an hour and a half, which was quick and felt good! We arrive into Houston, the rain is picking up and when we ring our hosts to let them know how we're getting on they offer us a lift up Hungry Hill to their house which we accept. Which was smart as the rain then really started and I think it would have been really dodgy to ride up as we could barely see out the truck windscreen with the wipers full whack so aside from the risk of drowning we'd have been pretty much invisible to the traffic which is not a safe situation at all. Dee and Doug's place was beautiful, we got clean, warm and dry, did laundry to dry our gear, put up our tent in their car port to dry out and got fed a scrumptious dinner. It was perfect and just what we needed. We then slept in the world's comfiest bed. In the morning Dee came down and said it was still raining but was meant to clear up so if we wanted to have a lazy start we could take advantage of the bed for a couple more hours, I was asleep again before you could say "bliss".

The ride to Smithers was uneventful aside from our stop at the bakery in Telkwa. If you pass this place you have to stop. We got a ham and cheese croissant, a bear claw Danish and a cranberry and custard bun. All of them were beautiful but the cranberry and custard bun was mind-blowingly good. They make everything from scratch on site. It's just incredible. See it's all just getting better and better.

We got to Smithers and they had a little fete going on along Main Street with stalls and music and people doing mountain bike tricks off a dirt ramp. We had our loaded bikes with us and spoke to a lot of people. We were trying to figure out where to stay as the campsite turned out to be pretty pricey but lucky for us Bryan and Theresa came over to talk to us and offered us to stay at their place. Fantastic! We thought we'd be camping up there but they had a spare room, with a bed. We wandered around their home slack-jawed - they'd built it themselves, it was super eco friendly, really practically designed to make it as comfy and livable as possible, had a load of land, producing garden and a stunning view of Hudson Bay Mountain. It was like mine and Tom's dream home in many, many ways.

Over a beautiful dinner we talked loads about touring, travelling, the house and a bunch of other stuff and then helped relocate a bevy of chickens from Theresa's brother's place over the road. We'd already asked if we could stay an extra night for a rest day so after scrummy pancakes for breakfast we spent the next day pootling into town where we chatted to a couple of lovely RVers for maybe an hour who'd toured up through the States from Arizona, a similar route to us, and had been up to the Arctic Circle. Tom was feeling pretty tired when we got back and while I cooked dinner he slept. Long story short, Tom woke up the next day feeling crappy so we spent a third night there. While Tom slept Theresa took me on a hike up to Crater Lake, which was wonderful. I felt bad Tom missed out, but it was great to get out on a long walk and see something we'd not see on the bikes.

We were lucky enough that Theresa and Bryan rode out with us the next day to Moricetown. The scenery was lovely and it was great riding with company. We stopped for lunch by the Moricetown Canyon then said our goodbyes and headed on towards Seeley Lake Provincial Park our destination for the night. 

So to sum up, once we started feeling more positive things got better and one good thing after another happened to us (again). Our 'luck' seemingly improved (again), but really what I think happened was we stopped putting moany, negative energy out into the world and started to see all the wonderful stuff around us (again) and it's like a snowball of positivity. Same goes the other way too; if we'd kept being on a downer I think we'd have missed out on all this good stuff and got even more depressed and so forth. The other lesson is, and we've commented on it before, we think the world will always help you with what you need, but not what you want - we wanted a dry place to stay in Vanderhoof, but we didn't need it so we slept in the tent in the rain and though I really didn't want to go up the dirt road to the rec site, I think I did need the confidence boost of riding back down it. However when Tom got sick and we needed a place for him to rest all day, voila! Awesome people to the rescue. So in the immortal words of the Rolling Stones "you can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need".

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Following the Fraser River North

Location: Quesnel, BC, Canada
With Sophie feeling better after her little tumble we headed north to Quesnel. Ever since leaving Vancouver we had aimed to get on some backcountry roads or any roads that weren't the main highway. Highways are ok for cycle touring but the traffic and narrow shoulders mean that Sophie and I can't talk so we are just sat on our bikes watching the world go by. So after doing a quick resupply at Williams Lake we aimed for the old highway that travels parallel with the main road but on the west bank of the Fraser River. Being Sunday morning and a back road the road was pretty empty and we chatted and talked about anything and everything as the road wound up and down the rolling hills. Soon the pavement turned to hard packed gravel and we switchbacked our way down to the red bridge to cross the swollen river to start section up the west side.

While Sophie had rested the previous afternoon I had arranged to stay with Chris and Heather from Warm Showers. They lived just north of Quesnel which added about 10 miles to our day, which was already fairly long because of the impromptu stop at Williams Lake. But we've done further and tougher days so it was more about just getting it done. While at the red bridge having a snack and shooting some B roll, a car pulled up and asked about our day and destination. After the well rehearsed explanation they informed us that we were very ambitious to try and get to Quesnel, and even more so to try and get to Watson Lake. They offered some information on the road ahead, it's a nice yet tough ride but you'll get a 20km downhill into Quesnel. They qualified the statement with the tit bit that they lived around there and knew so we were looking forward to the end of the day with it's final downhill section.

We were both so glad we picked this road, it was quiet, scenic and we would while away the hours talking. Cycle touring is so much easier when you can talk to somebody, for me anyway. We found a beautiful spot for lunch and carried on with the climbs and descents as we made our way north. By this time the road had turned back to pavement and we were making good progress, but yeah it was an undulating route for sure and if you added in the stops for filming and photographs we were making slower progress than normal but that 20km of downhill would up the pace once we were on it.

I'm still bewildered at us for ever listening to people about the terrain. It has been months now of incorrect information but for some reason we still listen; not all the time I have to add. Sometimes we smile and nod and then later joke that it's actually going to be 30 miles uphill with a head wind. But this time we listened, but where this massive downhill was I'll never know, but get to Quesnel we did. As instructed we phoned the Warm Showers host to get directions. Already tired and damp from rain showers the old news that it was 10 miles out of town still lowered spirits and that the hosts had already eaten damaged them further, add to this the fact they mentioned the climb to get to them and we felt pretty low but, the silver lining was that we weren't in a tent, they had a gazebo already and waiting. We headed to the supermarket to buy a giant sandwich and canned soup to eat when we arrived and headed out of town.

The hill was long and steep but thankfully it was split into two sections. The first was before Sophie's puncture, where we had a break to wrestle with bike, tyre and inner tube quickly followed by the second section of climbing. None of the words used during the replacing the inner tube can be repeated here. With all said and done we arrived with Chris and Heather. We ate, we chatted and we slept.  The sleeping part was in a wooden framed gazebo with netting to keep the bugs out. We made a brilliantly comfy nest using a foam mattress, our sleeping bags and a couple of blankets. We had a great morning and evening with our hosts and talked about their tours in Mexico. Their calm, warm presence chilled us out after the long day and we were ready to head out to Prince George with spirits renewed.  Especially as they gave us a lift up the long dirt hill from their house to the road and showed us a short cut back to the highway so we weren't retracing our steps back into Quesnel.

The journey up to Prince George was the standard highway journey. Very little talking just head down and grind. At some point in the last 10 miles my tire started to go down but it was slow so we just raced to Nicole's house, our Warm Showers host for two nights. We were introduced to our bed, the first proper bed we had slept on since Port Townsend in Washington USA. We had futons, blow ups and mattresses on the floor but there is something special about a bed. After showering and getting acquainted, Nicole went out mountain biking and we headed to the local pub for burgers and beer.

The rest day, which are poorly named because they are busy and full of work, consisted of washing, packing, fixing punctures, route planning, shopping and getting interviewed by the Moose Jaw Times Herald Newspaper. After the long day not in the saddle we spent the evening with Nicole and shared stories of our trips and journeys before heading to bed and getting rested for the next leg.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Keep The Rubber Side Down!

Location: Williams Lake, BC, Canada
Waking in our tent in Clinton we discussed the best method to get packed up and gone without offering ourselves up as the breakfast buffet for the hoards of skeets on and around our tent. We got dressed in our cycling garb, put our pyjama bottoms back on over the top so our legs were covered and tucked them into our socks. We put our raincoats and head nets on, tucked the nets in, put up our hoods and put on our biking gloves. Having packed everything inside the tent we exited our safe zone in our protective gear, said goodbye to Shelley and David and packed the tent and loaded the bikes as fast as we could. We left without breakfast, stopping briefly at the road to take our pjs, coats and head nets off.

We had probably only got a couple of miles down the road when we had a little incident. As usual Tom was riding in front and as is often the case I was close behind him so we can have a conversation. Occasionally I get too close and my front right pannier rubs against Tom's rear left one. We often make a joke about "rubbing's racing" a quote from the classic Tom Cruise film Days of Thunder. It freaked me out the first time it happened, but it's harmless and so I've stopped being too worried about it. Unfortunately it was obviously just trying to lull me into a false sense of security as on this occasion it caused my bike to veer wildly towards the road, I think I then overcompensated to stop myself going into traffic and while trying to unclip my foot toppled the bike over to the right. The bike came to a stop & flung me from it down the short embankment into the ditch. This whole sorry episode lasted only a few seconds in which I managed to bleat out "oh f@&k" about five times and poor Tom thought I'd been clipped by a passing car. My helmet-clad head got flung about a fair bit and I remember thinking that's the second time in less than a week I've whacked my bonce! As soon as I came to a halt in the grass I stopped swearing and exclaimed "I'm ok, I'm ok" so as not to worry Tom any longer than necessary. He was quickly at my side, slowly helping me up and we started to check over my bike. It looked fine, hurray! But my back right Ortlieb had taken the brunt of it and I'd managed to snap one of the clips that attaches it to the rack clean off. After a little faffing around with the spare bungees we'd been given way back in Wilson, WY, we were back on the move. I was a little shaken, with a bit of road rash on my right leg, but otherwise mostly just annoyed at myself.

We stopped at 70 Mile House for coffee and shared some French toast. Chatting with the owner/cook/waitress we mentioned how much we liked B.C. and she promptly asked if we wanted to buy the business. Slightly taken aback we took her card and left with food for thought. We chatted as we rode about what it might be like to own a restaurant and motel in the area and if we thought we could make it work. I don't remember all that much about the ride from there to 100 Mile House except getting an escort through a long stretch of road works which we really appreciated and cycling past our first Canadian summit sign for Begbie Summit. We had lunch at the Visitor Centre at 100 Mile, making use of their wifi and toilets, before continuing on to Lac Le Hache Provincial Park. We rode just shy of 70 miles that day, but having arrived in the park we rode around some more to scope out a good site that was hopefully not mosquito infested. 

We decided on a spot when we noticed another loaded touring bike on the site behind and went to say hello. Lucy turned out to be a Canadian Environmental Engineering student using her summer holiday to ride around some of the more remote bits of B.C. and invited us to share her campsite and split the fee. We spent the next few hours trading stories, advice and experiences before the mozzies became unbearable to Tom and I and whilst Lucy braved a walk to the lake we retreated to the tent. After chatting with some other fellow campers in the morning we all rode off together and said our goodbyes at the highway. Lucy was headed to Williams Lake along the highway that day and we were going to check out the lake before taking the back road past Williams Lake to a spot on the map called Marguerite. Having looked at the lake we headed off in search of our dirt road and easily found our turn off. The pavement abruptly stopped and turned to a steeply rising dirt and gravel track. It was hard going and rough and caused me quite a lot of pain. Though I thought I'd got away unscathed from my little tumble I had woken up with stiff, aching neck and shoulders and a headache; basically I think I'd given myself minor whiplash. Nervous after coming off I did not have the mental toughness to cope with this terrain and yet although I was feeling pretty pathetic I didn't want to admit defeat. Thankfully Tom realised this was not a good route for us today and said we should head back to the highway.

The ride to Williams Lake was only about 30 miles, but we stopped a number of times as my neck, shoulders and head were causing me considerable discomfort and we decided to call it a day and camp there rather than pushing on. We bumped into Lucy again outside the grocery store and headed to the campground together. Once we put the tent up I crashed out while Tom headed off to the bike shop to try to fix the Ortlieb. Red Shred's were very amenable, taking the handle/clip off one of the bags in the store which they would order a replacement for and so for 15 Canadian bucks we had a fully functioning bag again. Stopping after so few miles meant we would have two long days ahead of us to get to our Warm Showers' host's place in Prince George on Monday, but I definitely needed the rest and the following morning was feeling much better and far more able to cope with what the day may have in store.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Cool Lakes, Hot Days and Down Right Frustrating Meals

Location: Lillooet, BC, Canada
When we arrived at the campground at Seton Lake we did our warm down and were met by the camp host Tony. Tony explained a few things about the site and informed us that we didn't need to hang food because bears weren't a problem in this area. He also went on to say that we could, if we were feeling brave, have a swim in the glacier fed lake. After the long, hot day of climbing we decided to take Tony up on the challenge and so we headed off to the lake. This dip would serve multiple purposes: 1) it would cool us down, 2) it would clean our dirty sweaty bodies and 3) it would serve as an impromptu washing machine to wash our salt encrusted cycling gear. As with all ventures into cold water there was a few screams and yelps followed by chuckles of laughter from folks sat on the waterfront. However once over the initial shock of the water passing the critical point, our bodies accepted their fate and we were floating in the emerald water and scrubbing the day's grime away from us and clothes to get them as close to clean as is possible in lake water with floating leaf debris.

Upon returning to the tent we still intended to head to Clinton the following day but also needed more information on which route to take.  Both Sophie and I need to get better at riding along gravel backroads and while we were in Vancouver we were pointed out several alternate routes by Paul and Jan, the first of which would be on the way to Clinton.  However we needed more information on the road from the tourist information centre in Lillooet.  After eating and getting into our sleeping bag I fell very deeply asleep, leaving Sophie to make the decision on what time to set the alarm in the morning.  When I didn't stir after questioning she made the executive decision to have a rest day.  Upon hearing this decision in the morning I was delighted.

In the morning we headed into Lillooet and talked to the lovely people in the tourist information centre.  They advised us that there was a large climb out of the next town over if we wanted to take the back road.  Also, even though that it was extremely hot at the moment, they had had a lot of rain recently and the dirt roads are mainly clay so it would make it tough work on a bike.  Thirdly, when we did make it to the top there is no shade along the rolling grass fields and it was planned to be another hot day.  With this is mind we decided against this road; we didn't want to be dropped into the deep end while tackling back roads.  It would have only damaged morale and affected confidence for future back road adventures.  From here we headed next door for second breakfast and some coffees and spent the afternoon sorting out internet based stuff.

With the decision regarding route made we set the alarm early with the aim of having a midday break to stay out of the sun.  Even though you know the alarm is set for 5 and it is very light outside, it still doesn't make it easy to get out of bed.  A sluggish pack up meant we were out and on the road for 6:15am and heading towards our first stop of the day at Marble Canyon Provincial Park.  There are three lakes at Marble Canyon (Pavilion, Crown and Turquoise), and even though their banks are only metres apart the colour of the water in the three is entirely different.  It is difficult to describe but a wonder to behold.  Here we met two German couples touring Canada together with their kids.  They offered us some freshly caught trout that we had to decline because we had no way to keep it cool in the beating sun and after a longer than expected break headed on towards Clinton.

After joining the busy highway heading north the scenery became familiar and repetitive, and we just wanted to get out of the sun and off the bikes.  Along the 97 a sign informed us that the campsite we were aiming for was closed but this was followed by an advert for camping and RV park with all you can eat BBQ buffet. AWESOME!!! We ground out the final few miles looking forward to our reward of infinite meat.  Upon arriving we were welcomed by a cloud of biting mosquitoes and during the dance to get off the bikes, find the bug spray and crush as many flying sets of teeth before being drank dry a voice asked if we wanted to take shelter in their RV.  We, literally, jumped at the offer and rushed inside to take cover from the insects of prey.

The first 5 minutes of entering the sanctuary was taken up by room clearing of any viscous intruders. The rest of the time we had a fantastic chat with David and Shelley about their adventures in Canada and things that we should visit as we head north towards Watson Lake.  David was a Brit and had come over when he was 20 and he and Shelley owned an organic farm in the Okanagan and offered us a place to stay if we were ever in the area.  After quite a while chatting and laughing our tummies started to rumble and we headed over to the RoadKill Grill to eat our body weight in beautiful, barbecued meats.

Here are some important lessons in expectation, advertising and underhand salesman tactics.  First it wasn't an all you can eat BBQ Buffet, it was an all you can eat buffet that was free if you ordered some meat from the barbie.  This seemed a bit misleading but we were hungry and couldn't eat from the camp stove because of all the mosquitoes.  Next, nothing had any prices on it and the way the guy offered drinks and desert made us think it was all included in the price.  "Drinks are in the back just help yourself", "make sure you leave space for your desert" with the added "are you ready for your desert now? I'll just bring it out".  At no point did it feel like the price of the drinks and desert would be a similar price as for the food.  That's right, after getting the bill we were both shocked and appalled that it was almost twice the price we were expecting to pay.  Too British, flabbergasted and tired to argue we paid the con man his money and left most put out.  Trying to put a positive spin on it, we took it as a tax to have met the brilliant and fantastic David and Shelley. 

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

From Sea to Sky, Paid for in Sweat!

Location: Lillooet, BC, Canada
We'd changed our minds again with regards to our route & decided we did want to head north, up to the Yukon. Our new northerly aim was Watson Lake and we'd heard that although it was unlikely to be bitterly cold, we would likely go through areas with no amenities so would need to carry more food to see us through. We made the decision to upgrade our sleeping arrangements and reluctantly forked out for a new double sleeping bag from Big Agnes. This meant we could unburden ourselves of two cheap sleeping bags, our duvet & fleece, our spare PJs, and a few other bits of useless stuff and free up space for food. We left Sara & Hamish's a little later than intended and enjoyed a leisurely ride around the Sea Wall and over the Lions Gate Bridge. Descending from the bridge another cyclist asked where we were heading and suggested that riding along the Upper Levels Highway might be easier than going along Marine Drive and since we'd already cycles along Marine Drive when we first landed on the mainland we thought the highway was a good bet. She reassured us it was well signposted and gave us directions. It wasn't well signed, at least we didn't spot anything guiding us and after a monstrous climb in the increasing heat we realised our error as we approached the sign for Grouse Mountain.

We'd rode 3 miles up a hill for no reason and at the sign I was worried I might pass out. I think I may have given myself mild concussion from my altercation with the scaffolding the day before as I'd been suffering from headaches and queasiness since. The mega climb did not help. We rested for maybe 15 minutes and then got back on our way. The highway to Horseshoe Bay was nothing special, but the Sea to Sky Highway, the 99, that heads north from there to Whistler and beyond is beautiful. The road winds along the coastal inlet towards Squamish and across the water the mountains tower above. We stopped for lunch in Lions Bay and experienced some steep little hills, as you often get near the coast. We'd been warned that the highway wasn't much fun for riding, but we didn't find it too bad; there was shoulder for the most part and the drivers were courteous enough. 

We made it to Squamish about 4pm, set up camp under The Chief and the took a nap. The heat and excursion of the day had wiped me right out and I was feeling pretty ropey. I felt a little better after an hour of sleep and we moseyed into town to get some groceries. Freshly baked pies were on offer and we bought a family sized one of the blueberry variety. We had wanted to walk up the Chief, but I wasn't up to it and after dinner, blueberry pie and stashing all our food and toiletries in the bear-proof food caches we went to bed.

We ate the rest of the pie for breakfast and headed for the Visitor Centre to get maps and info. Then to the bike shop for a spare chain and the phone shop to get our SIM card sorted. The latter didn't open until 10am so we weren't on the road until nearly 11am. We'd spotted three Korean touring cyclists in town and came across them again just down the road. We stopped to check they were ok and ended up being given a Hahoi-tal mask each for good luck. They must work as we noticed we had a very welcome tailwind for the first time in ages. We stopped for lunch at a viewpoint overlooking the Tantalus Mountains that had been suggested to us by Cliff, another cyclist I'd been chatting to while Tom sorted the phone out.

It was incredibly hot and although the terrain wasn't so tough we were wilting a bit in the midday sun.  On the outskirts of Whistler, where we going to have another break from the heat a motorcyclist had stopped by the side of the road and offered to cook us dinner and show us somewhere to camp in town, 'on the down low'. Although our aim for the day was Nairn Falls Provincial Park, about another 18 miles, we were both happy to accept the kind offer and give up for the day though it would man a longer day tomorrow.  Timmy gave us cold beer, showers and cooked us some seriously delicious noodles and rice.  He's a seasoned tourer and knows The Hunger that can grip you on a bike tour and fed us to bursting, no easy feat! After hours sat around chatting at his place he rode us to a secluded spot on the edge of a park at the edge of Whistler and wished us goodnight. It was late by the time we got to bed, nearly 11pm, and when I awoke at just after 5am and it was already light I woke Tom and we were on the move before 6am.  We made breakfast at a picnic table in Alpine Meadows and rather wondrously the cafe we were outside opened at 6:30 and we got coffees and used the bathroom.

It was great to be on the road so early as it was still cool and we made short work of the mostly downhill miles to Pemberton.  The mountains and lakes were beautiful in the clear morning sunlight and the roads fairly quiet. We knew we had a long climb out of Pemberton,  but it took its time to arrive and although we'd hoped to get most of it done before lunchtime we ended up climbing in the heat of the day. It felt steep and there was a particularly rough switchback when I unclipped a foot and fought hard against the urge to get off and push. I stayed pedalling, telling myself that even though it felt steep it probably wasn't that bad in reality as there had been no warning signs so it wasn't any worse than Teton Pass and I'd managed that so 'just keep pedalling'. After passing a runaway truck escape lane it flattened out a little and I looked at the signs on the other side of the road warning the trucks of the descent - 15%. 15% holy fricking moly!!!!! I yelled after Tom and we both felt proud that we'd both managed to pedal up such a grade. Seriously, this is a major achievement in my books.

But we weren't at the summit, not even close, we pedalled on and on and on. The sun got hotter, we got more and more drenched in sweat. And the hill just kept going. There would be brief, blissful moments when we'd ride past creeks rushing below the road and the air would be cooled momentarily and we would relish this minor respite. We had no idea where the top was, so when we arrived at Joffre Lakes Park we decided to stop for lunch and have a break in the shade. We spent an hour chatting, eating, sitting and cooling down.  Tom hung his shirt out to dry. We met a British couple who were touring around the US and Canada by car for 2 months who had been to most of the same places as us. I asked a couple of cars that I had seen come down the hill how far we were from the top and got two totally differing accounts: 1) its maybe 300 metres to the top and 2) there is no summit, it just goes up and down for miles. The pair offering account 2 also filled up one of our water bottles.

We set off up the hill desperately hoping for account 1 to be right.  And it certainly looked right.  After a short climb we started to descend for the first time in about 4 hours of riding. Hallelujah! We stopped to chat to a couple of motor-bikers who also gave us some water and told us it was mostly downhill to Seton Dam Campsite.  This was very welcome news and we zipped down some 13% descents at probably the fastest we've ever gone on the bikes. But sadly it wasn't all downhill. In some respects the assessment that there was no summit and it was up and down was right. We had a few more sections of 13% climbs and were dripping with sweat again. The scenery was stunning though - giant snow-capped mountains reared up all around, you could hear the roar of big rivers carving their way along the floor of the valley and it felt really wild. We thoroughly enjoyed the final downhill into our campsite and arrived tired, achey but proud.

One Island, Two Ferry Rides and Freeloading

Location: Vancouver, BC, Canada
The wet night at Mora meant that the tent was damp while we packed it away. Wet mornings are frustrating because everything takes so much longer and is not quite as easy. After the sluggish start we cycled back east towards Port Angeles to meet up with our Warm Showers hosts before getting the midday ferry over on the Tuesday.

Since this was all retracing our steps with light rain and a slight tail wind we raced along the highway towards our destination. There was a bit of frustration when I realised I dropped a glove when we stopped for a snack break and had to do an unwelcome 5 mile round trip to find it outside the post office but better than wasting money on new gloves. Before we knew it we arrived in Port Angeles and had to just chill in the town because our hosts were on a Memorial Weekend hike so we headed down to the sea front to watch the boats in the harbour. We chatted to some folks that had just retired and sold pretty much everything they own to travel for as long as they could around the US. Then we talked to a British couple that were on holiday and just enjoying the sites. After swapping stories Sophie and I headed down to a bar to enjoy of a jug of ale while waiting to meet our hosts in a restaurant round the corner.

The evening with Sarah and Zane was fairly fitting for our last evening in America. Good food, tasty beer and great company. In the morning we picked up some burritos recommended by Zane and headed for the noon ferry across the water. As we watched the land melt into the sea Sophie and I felt quite emotional about leaving this country that had been so wonderful to us during the last 3 months and wondered what was in store for us in Canada.

Our few worries around the Canadian border officials were unfounded and we sailed through customs and landed on Canadian soil. We were quickly met by Sophie's Great Aunt Vita and Great Uncle Thor. A short car journey later had us arrive at their home and we used the glorious afternoon sun to dry out the tent and gear that had got so drenched in that seemingly far off land.  The next few days with Vita and Thor were great. We rested, got all our equipment sorted and were given guided tours around Victoria and along the coast to visit Vancouver Island's many beaches. We also heard about Peter (the cycle tourist we had met in Port Townsend) arriving onto the island and decided it'd be great to meet up again.  Sat in a bar Peter asked us if he could interview us about the trip.  We said yes and here is the result.  Saying goodbye to Peter we headed back for a Chinese meal to be introduced to Sophie's extended family.

Before long we were driving north to Rathtrevor Provincial Campground to spend the night before the ferry from Nanaimo to Horseshoe Bay on the mainland.  After a farewell ice cream with Thor we set up camp and wandered down to the local pub for a very British Ploughmans for our dinner.  The morning ride from the campground to the ferry was fairly standard highway riding which meant we raced along and managed to catch the earlier boat across.  When we arrived on 'Canada Proper' we made our way to our host's for the next few days.  John and I used to play Ultimate Frisbee together way back in our University days but, to our memories, had only played on the same team a couple of times; we normally ended up opposite numbers.  Anyway, John had contacted us a couple of months ago when he had seen about our trip and invited us to stay for 3 nights in North Vancouver.  Staying here was fantastic. It was great to see a friendly face, granted one I hadn't seen for a number of years and just to catch up with somebody without telling our whole life story.  Most of the conversation we have these days follow a very similar track and, although it is always great to talk to new folks, it was great to talk about "the good old days" and to fill in the gaps between then and now.

Since John was working full time it gave us time to turn our attention on the bikes.  Our Rohloff hubs need an oil change every 3105 miles.  It sounds rather precise but since they are made in Germany they advise 5000km a much neater, round number. Reading the manual and watching a YouTube video made the process really easy and hassle free.  We also switched the tyres around, changed break pads, oiled the Brooks saddles and cleaned the chains, spockets and chainring.  After some further, rather dull, admin duties that seem to always crop up (banks, student loans etc) we just chilled out and had a walk up Quarry Rock to check out the view.

After the three nights with John we headed into the city, we met up with Morgaine for lunch, a friend of Sophie's from the village she grew up in, Hartland.  Then headed on to meet friends of Sophie's sister who'd offered to put us up too.  Staying with Hamish and Sara gave us a great location to check out the city and to eat some amazing Chinese noodles.  We also met up with a distant relation of mine that lived just outside the city.  Marilyn and Zolt drove us around the city and showed us some of the different areas before heading to their house for a barbecue to meet the rest of their family. The following day they drove us along the waterfront and out to Steveston to have fish and chips.  Again it was nice to just hang out and experience a bit of city living but I think almost 2 weeks without being in the saddle both of us were feeling like we wanted to get back on our bikes. In a serendipitous situation we bumped into a cycle tourist who, with his wife, has cycled a lot of Northern British Columbia and had lived in an around the areas we were wanting to cycle through.  On top of this they had cycled from Argentina and up through South America so also had loads of information to pass on.  After an afternoon talking and route planning through the next couple of weeks we headed home.

On the way home we were reminded of the dangers in a city and why we shouldn't spend too much time in them.  It was like any other warm afternoon in the city.  The two beers had gone to our head and we were just window shopping back to the flat.  The sun was high and bright but even in full daylight, this is when it happened.  Sophie was walking along admiring a dress in the a nice boutique without a care in the world when, out of nowhere BANG the scaffolding slammed into Sophie. The ensuing laughter made passersby take note but still the scaffolding was unmoved,  seemingly unphased by the entire incident.  This whole interaction made us very wary of other Canadian cities that we may visit in the future.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

An Ace in the Hole

Location: Mora Campground, Olympic National Park, Forks, WA 98331, USA
Full of burgers, with clean clothes and bedding we left Forks for the Hoh Rainsforest another 30 miles or so.  It was the Friday of Memorial Weekend which is the unofficial start of summer in the States, with the Monday being a public holiday so we were a bit concerned about getting a camp spot and since there's nowhere else very near by we had said that if the campground was full we would just go up to anyone with space on their plot and ask if we could pitch up.  En route Tom's guts became uncooperative and insisted on 'jettisoning fuel'.  We were unclear how far the next restrooms might be so this situation resulted in our first 'wild poo'.  So far this is only our third such incident, the other two were my guts, both times after eating Subway (never had that issue in the UK), but lucky for me within a cycle-able distance to a loo.  After a few does the bear/pope shit in the woods jokes we were back on our way.  We put this little bowel evacuation down to the massive quantity of coffee drunk.

The Hoh Rainforest is the most hyped place on our trip.  Pretty much all the cycle tourers we met had ridden through the Olympic Peninsula and raved about the Hoh.  I am very aware of how high  expectations can have a negative impact on your actual experience of something so I had been dialling it down in my head for some time now.  The road winds along, up and down, along the Hoh river and as we approached the end of the road where the visitor centre and campground are located the forest did get increasingly dense and lush.  We spent a little while riding around the grounds deciding on a good spot.  We were excited to be camping on grass and it proved to be one of the most comfortable nights we'd had in the tent.  It was still pretty early so we put on our jackets and went to find a short walk to do before dinner.

We decided on the Hall of Mosses trail, which is only about a mile long.  It takes you into the forest and through some amazing old groves of large leafed maple trees blanketed in moss.  It feels pretty primordial and considering its so close to the carpark you get totally ensconced in the trees, ferns and mosses.  We ambled along reading all the info boards and soaking in the environment.  It was very different from anything we'd been in around the US, but we weren't knocked down, open mouthed wowed out by it, unlike all the other bike tourers we'd spoken to and we spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out why.  Our conclusion was that unlike the canyons, deserts and mountains we'd been in scenery like this before.  We'd never seen anything like Zion in the UK or anywhere else, but we had been in lush, green, old forests in the UK.  Don't get us wrong, it was beautiful and lovely, but it felt familiar to us, unlike the alien landscape of the Mojave Desert, for example, whereas most the people we'd talked to who had rated it so highly lived in the Western States which are primarily desert or high desert.

The next morning we walked the other short trail, the Spruce Nature Trail, where you can see the effect the changing path of the river has on the trees and plants.  We then called in at the temporary visitor centre and spoke to a lovely ranger about which beaches were accessible with the bikes and where would be best to camp.  He suggested that we camp at Mora and visit Rialto Beach as we weren't allowed to take our bikes on any trails in the park which made the beaches south of La Push pretty tough to get to for us.  So we rode back through Forks, stocked up on food, and headed for Mora.  We were feeling really tired by the time we got there after 5 days in the saddle and after eating we just hid from the drizzle in the tent and watched The Wire.

We had a lazy morning too, then rode down to Rialto Beach unloaded.  The carpark was pretty busy, the sky grey and I wasn't sure what to expect from the beach.  Holy cow!  This beach is like nothing else.  We have some wild coast in the UK, especially in the South West where I grew up, but at Rialto the combination of lurking, misty forest right up to the shore, brooding weather and towering sea stacks is mesmerising.

Huge trunks of trees that must have been centuries old, bleached and sculpted by the ocean litter the shore, like a graveyard of bones from leviathans of the sea.  Giant twisted roots look like the wiring from an ancient crashed space ship.  It was stunningly beautiful and to me it felt like America had kept an ace up its sleeve for our final few days, bowling us over one last time with its incredible scenery.

Hurricane, Crescent and Forks

Location: Forks, WA 98331, USA

Whilst making dinner and enjoying our wee campfire a couple walked past and asked if we'd brought the wood with us on our bikes or if people had been around selling it. We explained that actually it had just been left on our site.  Later on we were chatting to them again as we washed up and I made them an offer. If they would let us leave our gear with them the next day so we could ride up Hurricane Ridge unloaded, then they could have the 7 logs we had left so they could have a fire. They kindly accepted, picked up the logs and we wished them goodnight. The next morning we hauled our bags to their site and set off up the hill.  It was nice climbing unladen and we made good progress up the ascent reaching the top earlier than we'd anticipated.  The views across to the mountains are beautiful, my photos don't do it justice at all.  You can see two glaciers up by Mount Olympus, they have a sign telling you how much they've receded in the last few decades, its scary and depressing, especially as they've had so little snow this year that its only going to get worse.  We had a snack, enjoying the views over the Olympic Mountains and then watched the park service film.  Well in all honesty we watched the first 10 minutes and then the cosy darkness of the theatre worked its magic and we both dozed through the rest of it.

The ride back down took about 30 minutes including stops for views and photos so we were easily back for lunch. The couple invited is us to make use of their table and talk with them while we had our lunch.  It was then that we had realised we'd not even introduced ourselves yet!  We had a lovely time chatting with Peter and Irene, exchanging stories of travels and laughing a lot.  They then made some joke about reimbursing the Queen for lost income from America becoming independent and pushed a bunch of notes at us.  The outer one was a $20 so it was no small sum and we repeatedly refused, but Irene welled up explaining that they felt like we were continuing their adventures and that though they were in too ill health to do anything too wild these days they loved the fact there was young people, like us, choosing to get out and see the world, choosing experience over stuff.  We were really quite overwhelmed by this.  We've had a few people say that we're inspiring to them or such like, but I didn't really comprehend that us having such an amazing time would actually affect people in any really meaningful or deep way.  Its a funny thing, we've both felt like the experience so far, the incredible kindness we've been shown by so many, has made us vow to be more generous, hospitable people when we get home (wherever that ends up being), but I also now feel this responsibility that we need to be the best people we can be right now.  We can't put off being kind to when we get home, we need to live up to the expectations of these amazing people now.  And we need to stay mindful of how lucky we are, be more adventurous and squeeze every last drop of joy out of each day.  Its not expectation in an onerous, obliged sort of way, but an inspiring, being held-to-a-high-standard sort of way.  I feel like ambassadors for cycle touring and I am really keen to leave the best impression we can on everyone we meet.

We exchanged contact details with Peter and Irene and said our goodbyes and thank yous and got back on the bikes.  We rode away speechless again at how lucky we are and how wonderful the world is.  Our destination was another National Park campground on the edge of Crescent Lake and the guy in Brown's where we bought Tom's new jacket had shown us a little dirt shortcut which was great and before long we'd made it to the edge of Lake Crescent.  Road signs instructed us to read a notice for bicyclists which informed us the road was narrow and winding with little or no shoulder and limited visibility for the next 11 miles.  There was a button to press which would trigger a warning light to drivers that there was bikers on the road.  The light would flash for 1 hour, so we had to ride at 12mph (their maths obviously isn't too good) since this is a little above what we reckon our average speed is we pressed the button and went for it, pushing hard to make sure we through before our hour was up.  We'd been warned about this stretch of road, and although when RVs or trucks pass its pretty tight, it wasn't so bad.  The fact we were focussed on pedalling hard for the other end meant we didn't stop to appreciate the views, but even from the bikes it was beautiful.  The water is a totally incredible colour, not the turquoise of tropical seas, or the deep dark blue of mountain lakes, or vibrant green of some of the rivers we'd seen, but a very unique teal.  Google 'colour teal' and that is it.  Amazing.

We made it to Fairholme campground well before our hour was up.  We're getting faster!  Its all the altitude training!  We had left in glorious sunshine, but Fairholme was overcast and shortly after arriving it started spitting with rain so we hurriedly got the tent up and the bikes covered.  We had a little wander about, got dinner sorted and hit the hay.  Our aim the next day was to get to the Hoh Rainforest, just over 60 miles away, but we needed to get some wifi access to sort a place to stay in Port Angeles for our last night in the US and needed to do a load of laundry so we planned to spend a few hours in Forks to get these jobs done.  There's a long climb out of Fairholme and then we had a headwind.  I'm less affected by headwinds so I took the lead so Tom could draft the 'peloton'.  I take a little offence at being referred to as a peloton, but if it stops Tom screaming at the wind then its all good.  I always feel like I have something to prove when I'm in front (idiot) so I pedalled hard and we worked out we were rocketing along at about 15mph, against the headwind, woo me!  So we were soon in Forks and hunting out the laundromat.  It had been a fairly drizzly cold morning so we decided to treat ourselves to lunch in a diner, both ordered burgers which were great and drunk a bucket load of coffee.

We had spotted a number of shops with names like 'Native to Twilight' and a few days later a sign saying 'Treaty Line, No Vampires Past This Point' so we figured there was some link to the vampire books and films, but neither of us has read the books or seen any of the films so, we were pretty clueless.  Turns out that Forks is where the author set the books.  She googled rainiest town in contiguous United States and Forks was the answer.  Its been a big boon to Forks apparently, bringing in tons of tourists on the Twilight Tour.  Seems like a nice enough little place, the diner was good and its well located for visits to the Olympic National Park, which also benefited from the tourism boom.  And Forks now has a new accolade to add to its illustrious history - its the only place in the US that we have been to 3 times on the trip.