Friday, 31 July 2015

The Painted Lake

Location: Peyto Lake, Banff National Park, Improvement District No. 9, AB T0L, Canada
The holiday in Jasper and Banff National Parks was going well. We'd had some nice rest days, the scenery was amazing and the reduced distances felt great. We aimed to wake up early at Wilcox Campground and do a morning hike up Parker Ridge Trail but when the alarm went off the sound of the rain on the tent helped us drift back to sleep. After the extra couple of hours in our sleeping bag we packed up and headed south, continuing along the Icefields Parkway. The rain had let up by the time we rounded this amazing corner where the valley just opened up in front of us. We followed the long, sweeping bend down deeper onto the valley floor. We stopped at Weeping Wall to just gaze, mouths open, in every direction.

This sense of amazement is a constant while travelling down this stretch of road. It really makes the time fly and before we knew it we had traveled the 30 miles to our lunch stop; completely blowing past our morning break. We were planning our usual of cheese, apple and crackers in the car park but when we went in to the services we noticed a back room, and in this back room was a lunch buffet. The buffet was $20 a head and included drinks and pudding (we had learned our lesson from Clinton). After being seated at a perfect table to see our bikes we started the feast. There was southern style chicken, sausage casserole, sweet chili salmon, mash, rice, coleslaw, salad, carrots and sweet corn kernels. It was brilliant, we ate and ate, then rested and ate some more. We drank Pepsi, root beer and ginger ale. Then for pudding we had chocolate cream pie and coffee. We were more than full by the end of it and really ate and drank our $20 worth.

With only 16 miles to the campground we slowly rolled along and found a nice place to pitch our tent. The campground, Waterfowl Lakes, was a little more expensive than the others but did have hot running water and flush toilets. It also had not one but two glacier fed lakes. We had a brief walk around the northern one before thinking of heading up to get a better vantage point. However, at the trail head we were aware that we didn't have bear spray, bells or whistles with us so decided to head to the southern lake instead. Good decision, well executed! The view was stunning. Everything about what we were seeing was utterly fantastic. The brilliant blue sky backstopping the rolling white clouds, that were perfectly framed by the mountainous peaks with hints of icy blue glacier which flowed down to rolling foot hills of trees, all of which was doubled by the reflection in the undisturbed glassy lake.

The next morning we both woke bleary eyed after a terrible nights sleep. The meal the previous day had been so filling that neither of us had needed any supper. Unfortunately, all the caffeine from countless frizzy drinks and coffee had kept us awake until the early hours of the morning. Thankfully we only had another short day to Lake Louise but there was a pass to climb en route.  Our first stop was just after the Bow Pass summit at Peyto Lake.  We walked the short distance from the car park up to the viewing platform for the lake.  Peyto Lake is the iconic glacier fed lake.  It's milky, glassy blue colour was intense and beautiful in its surrounding.  We ate our lunch and listened to the tour guides talk about the lakes.  One of which was commenting on stupid questions tourists had asked.  The one that stood out was "So, when do they drain the lake so they can paint it?".

After the short lunch stop we headed down a newly paved road toward our destination. At one point two guys went passed us on road bikes. They were on a day ride from Lake Louise up the pass and back down to where they started. They rode off along the flat as we watched the mountains and glaciers sail past. On the next little climb we managed to catch and pass these two again and continued down to Lake Louise.  When we arrived we met up with an American, Miles, who was just about to head north up the parkway so we pointed out some places and wished him luck on his travels.  As we ate overpriced sandwiches and bakery goods we got talking to Australians, Roz and Stan, and arranged to share a campground in Lake Louise.  After a few hours organising online stuff we headed down and found the pitch that Roz and Stan had paid for and set up.  As we were cooking dinner and drinking a beer a car rolled up and asked if they could pitch up as well as the campground was fully booked.  As Roz and Stan weren't around we were unsure but said yes since splitting an expensive site is always better three ways than two.  Patricia and Markus sat and chatted in the pavilion as a huge storm passed over and when Stan and Roz appeared back from town they confirmed that all was good so the six of us spent the twilight chatting, drinking and looking forward to the days ahead. 

Friday, 24 July 2015

Ice Age Wonders and Modern Disappointments

Location: Icefields Parkway, Jasper, AB T0E 1E0, Canada
We started the day lazily, we didn't have far to ride to get to Honeymoon Lake and the weather report had said it would be wet in the morning then getting better so why rush? We chatted with Greg and Brandon over breakfast and slowly got our stuff together. The guys left to go canoeing and we continued packing. We were almost sorted when Tom realised we were missing the GoPro. We'd borrowed Brittany & Greg's backpack for our hike up the mountain, not unpacked it and then Brittany had taken it for work. So after a call to the Skytram where she was working that day we arranged to meet in town to retrieve our camera. After the successful hand-off we spoke briefly to a Japanese cycle tourer who's seen northern lights a few nights before whilst he was north of Grande Cache. I was super jealous, but since there's so little night time you actually have to be awake and outside at 2-3am which is when we're sound asleep so I can't really be envious as I don't want to be up and about then. I haven't even seen the stars for weeks, maybe even months, which has been really weird. I miss the night sky.

We rode out of Jasper past mountains newly sprinkled with fresh snow very aware that we were in mountain country and that meant the weather could turn on us as had happened in Utah and Wyoming. Our first sightseeing stop was Athabasca Falls where we had late lunch. Our break was brightened by a couple of different Americans asking about our trip and how we managed to keep cheese and salami cold on a bike tour (answer is we don't, it just gets a bit sweaty). With nowhere to lock the bikes we didn't want to stroll too far so we just took in the thunderous falls along with the other tourists and continued on our way.

We arrived at Honeymoon Lake, checked out the campground, and chose a suitable site near the picnic shelter and food caches. After getting set up and eating we had a wander to the lake's edge. It was breathtakingly beautiful. Perfect, mirror-like lake reflecting the majestic peaks around it and barely anyone around.

We'd planned to get up early to get to the Icefields Centre by lunch and hike in the afternoon but we awoke to the sound of rain and decided to sleep a bit longer in the hopes it would clear up and allow the tent to dry a bit. After all we were trying to be more 'holiday' about this section so a lie-in seemed a good idea. After rolling out the campsite at about 11am we stopped for a look at Sunwapta Falls; another good waterfall with massive amounts of meltwater bursting through a winding canyon.

We had a pretty decent climb after this and breathing hard with the effort of the hill plus the altitude caused me quite a lot of rib discomfort. Nearing the top we stopped at Stutfield Glacier for lunch rather than keep pushing on to the Icefields Centre. Again, more friendly Americans asked about the trip and offered encouragement.

We got to the Icefields Centre mid-afternoon. To the west of the Parkway lies the Athabasca and Snow Dome glaciers fed by the Columbia Icefield. To the east of the road is the info centre. Normally these places are pretty good and we were looking forward to displays on glaciers and the Icefield and hoping for a film like they had at the U.S. National Parks. We were utterly disappointed. No exhibition. No film. Just a swirling, chaotic mass of tourists jostling for tickets to the various 'tours' and a totally over-priced cafe. It was awful. We had considered paying to go on the 'Snocoach' tour, but witnessing it from the carpark we knew it wasn't for us. $55 each to ride a special bus that takes you up onto the glacier where you can get out onto what is essentially a parking lot on ice. We didn't even go to the toe of the glacier, which was also teeming with people as we thought we might find it too depressing.

Instead we opted to ride on the couple of miles to our campsite, Wilcox Creek, and after getting the tent up walked up towards Wilcox Pass. It was a lovely, easy little hike, recommended by Sue in Hinton, that afforded us beautiful views over the glaciers, mountains and the intriguing Columbia Icefield peeking over the tops. It was a wonderful end to our second day on the Icefields Parkway.

We wandered back to our tent and I made one of the best camp dinners yet - a tomato-ey, fishy pasta sauce with fettucine made out of dehydrated mixed veg, a tin of sardines in tomato sauce, a few sundried tomatoes, some onion and garlic.  It was surprisingly good and one we're looking forward to making again.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Rest Days. Wonderful, Wonderful Rest Days

Location: Jasper, AB T0E, Canada
The straw bale house in Hinton was the first Warm Showers host we had had since leaving Terrace, 18 days ago. It was fantastic to have a destination and know that there would be a warm bed, showers and somewhere dry to relax. It cannot be overstated just how much these few little slivers of civilisation can boost morale and relax tired muscles. Our hosts, Sue, Bruce and their daughter Skye welcomed us into their home and made us feel welcome. We helped deliver some barbecued ribs and beers to the cowboys that were helping to look after Bruce's horse. The mare had been suffering from colic and wasn't eating or drinking so the ranch owners had walked the horse all night long and sat with her to help her eat and drink anything.  Emotions were high because colic can be very serious for horses; something that Sophie and I were unaware of.  After the trip to the ranch we headed back to the house and were offered a rest day if we wanted one.  We jumped at the chance and looked forward to a day off, in a house!!!

The next morning we had a lie in and then slowly sorted out our bikes (cleaning chains and switching tyres).  As were were sorting lunch we were informed by Sue that the mare had had to be put down as there was a complication with her intestines and it was the most humane course of action.  This, obviously, knocked everybody but still Sue and Skye were brilliant and continued to make us feel welcome and said it was no problem to stay a second night.  When Bruce returned from the vet's we talked and cooked dinner and learnt a lot about rodeos and cowboys.  It was sad to look at all the photos of the happy, smiling, very joyous Bruce but talk to a very upset and different person.

The next day we headed off to Jasper and the start of our "holiday" within our travels.  We were planning to reduce our mileage and do some easier days to get back into the mood of touring as we were both feeling a bit worse for wear.  Just after entering the park we bumped into Barbara and Matthias (we briefly talked about these two in Coyote Ugly and Beautiful Baby Bunnies), they carried on east as we headed north on the Stewart-Cassiar with Justin and Melissa.  They are two of the friendliest, warmest cyclists we have met on our journey.  After a brief, joyous reunion we again said goodbye as they headed to the hot springs and we headed into Jasper.  After a short day's ride we arrived in Jasper and went to the warm showers hosts, Greg and  Brittany's, place to chill out.  As it was our holiday we went out for a beer and ice cream and just walked around the town looking at all the tourists.

The next day we headed out to the SkyTram to do the hike up Whistlers Mountain.  I say hike but it's a 7 minute cable car ride followed by a 2km walk to the summit.  But summit it we did and now Sophie and I can class ourselves as mountaineers!!!!  The views from the top were astonishing.  We watched as the beautiful mountain scene was overrun with swirling clouds and rain; it was fantastic to watch.  Because of this we had the summit to ourselves and we drank in the vistas and enjoyed looking in every direction and viewing different scenes. (We took quite a few photos so check out the "Following the Trench" album for more).

After the descent (again cable car, but still mountaineers, like the late, great Edmund Hillary) we did have to walk back to Jasper as hitching a lift proved illusive.  The walk back in the rain wasn't fantastic but we chatted, joked and had a good fun time.  We even managed to get a great viewpoint to watch a herd of tourists.  These are such interesting beasts.  They had spotted some elk and proceeded to drive their cars every direction so that they didn't have to get out of their metal box.  There was shouting and sounding of horns and very questionable, dangerous maneuvers; some very animal interactions.  Whereas the elk were happy grazing and huddling under trees out of the rain.

After arriving in town we headed to a Chinese restaurant.  Sophie and I had a favourite place to eat noodles in Sheffield and in my slightly homesick state wanted to recreate a slice of home.  The noodles were not as good but they hit the spot all the ways we wanted and we headed back to Greg and Brittany's  place to crash out.  When we arrived they offered us to stay another day as the weather was forecast to turn.  That would mean that we would have cycled 1 day in 5 but we loved the idea to check out more of the town and sort a few more bits and pieces out.

Our last day in Jasper I spent the entire day indoors in my PJs (Sophie went out to get milk and cereal).  It was bliss to do absolutely nothing!! Our bikes were clean and laundry washed because of the day off in Hinton, so we watched some stuff on our laptop, updated our blog and planned our route down the Icefield Parkway.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Injury, Coincidence and A Tree Planters Camp

Location: Grande Cache, AB, Canada
We left Grande Prairie with the aim of getting to Musreau Lake Provincial Park for the night, it wasn't far at about 50 miles, though the last bit was on gravel, and it left us with about 70 miles to do to get to Grande Cache the next day.  The only road south, Highway 40, was a pretty busy highway with a varying shoulder; sometimes wide enough for us to ride side-by-side sometimes totally filled with gravel so we were pretty much in the main lane.  A couple of hours in we had a crash.  Tom had ended up coming off the shoulder on to the steep gravel bank that fell away from the highway then veered back onto the shoulder to correct himself, but as I was travelling close behind him I couldn't do anything to avoid hitting into him.  We both veered into the lane of the highway and then over corrected ourselves to get out of the way of possible oncoming traffic.  Tom managed to ride down the gravel bank and come to a dignified stop.  Me, I hit the gravel and my bike slid out from under me and I hit the deck with my left side.  A truck slowed to check we were ok, I sat up and gave him a thumbs up so we didn't cause any further issues.  I felt a bit winded and the ribs on my left side were pretty painful.

Those of you who have known me since uni or before might remember I injured my right ribs in my last year of university and it was agony for months and actually didn't fully heal for about two years.  Feeling a very similar pain again I was really fearful of having done the same kind of thing again.  I was tearful and irrational and helpfully had a go at Tom for nothing in particular.  After standing around for a bit, I'd stopped shaking and we got on our way.  We stopped at a little roadside vendor for a can of pop and a granola bar.  The pain hadn't gone away and though I was trying to be positive I was really concerned I'd knackered my ribs again and I didn't know what that would mean for the trip.  We continued on and turned onto the gravel road to the campground, the sign said 6km.  Moving onto the bumpy track changed the occasional sharp pains into almost constant stabbing agony.  Normally I deal with pain by breathing, the trouble with rib pain is breathing adds to the hurt.  But we made it to the campground, found a site and as we set up the tent the skies opened.  

We hid in the tent as thunder and lightening rang out and the rain hammered down.  Tom had gone to self-register when we first arrived but there was no pen at the kiosk and when the rain started we'd decided the priority was staying dry not paying the whopping $27 in the rain.  Sadly a warden came round and we coughed up the dough.  The rain had eased by then and we decided to eat the other dehydrated meal Marilyn had given us as all we'd have to do was boil some water.  The warden had said we should be fine just stashing our food away from the tent and we shouldn't have bear trouble, so we ate our beef stew in our tent listening to the Serial podcast.  It was drier in the morning and after breakfast we got going only to be stopped by a different warden who warned us there was a lot of bear activity in the area and that a man had been attacked the year before riding his bike in the area.  So we sang and whistled and chatted all the way back to the highway.

The route to Grande Cache was surprisingly hilly and tough going with a sore rib.  We'd contacted a Warm Showers host there but had no reply so weren't sure where we'd be staying and didn't want to pay for more camping after being stung at the provincial park.  Arriving into Grande Cache after a real killer hill we headed to the store for chocolate milk and a snack.  While waiting outside a lady and her two daughters came by and asked about the trip.  I couldn't believe it when it turned out the two girls were called Maya and Sophie (for those of you who don't know my actual name is Maya Sophie).  We followed them to a cafe they recommended and while wandering around in there I came across photos from Dorset and the village my Mum lives in.  Natalina, Maya and Sophie invited us to stay with them, they worked at a tree planters camp in the forest and after loading the bikes into their pick up we drove into the woods.

There had been a massive hail storm at the camp which had trashed a bunch of their tents and canopies.  I've never seen bigger hail stones, the biggest were bigger than a Malteser!  I was so relieved we'd not been caught in it on the bikes.  We had fun with the girls, Natalina fed us delicious leftovers and we slept in the kitchen trailer.  After chatting with the tree planters the next morning (these guys are so hardcore!) and being fed loads of perogies for breakfast we set off with Maya on her bike determined to come with us.  Finally she turned back and we pushed the bikes down the verge to the highway and were on our way.  Our next stop was Hinton, where we had a Warm Showers hosts to stay at.  The road was hilly again and some of the worst quality road we'd ridden on.  Giant potholes, huge sections of frost heave, hardly any shoulder, long snaking cracks - it wasn't much fun and our host Sue on arrival was wide-eyed that we'd come on the 'death road'.  Still we'd made it safely to Hinton and to a welcoming, beautiful home.

As an aside, before we were offered a place to stay with Natalina at the tree planters camp we were asking the girl working in the cafe about possible camp spots.  She answered, I kid you not, 'well if you can cycle another 100km there's this nice spot...'  We explained 100km is about a whole days cycling, it was now nearly 7pm. 'Oh ok, well then there's a good place about 40km away.'  Er well that would take at best 2 hours and quite possibly 3 so also not really an option.  This is indicative of the kind of advice we're given by so many people we ask about possible places to stay.  There's just no grasp of how far somewhere is and what is possible on a bike, especially at the end of a long day.  So often when we ask how far something is we're answered with 'oh about 10 minutes' or 'not far maybe 30-40 minutes, you could probably cycle it in an hour to an hour and a half' and we're left trying to gauge what that is in distance because we're pretty sure we don't travel at half the speed of a car.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Flaming Hell and Our Salvation

Location: Fort Nelson, BC V0C, Canada
The visitors centre in Fort Nelson is pretty plush, with good wifi, computers, free water and coffee, restrooms and lots of info and we wiled away a couple of hours doing internet stuff we needed to catch up on since we'd had limited access since Terrace.  We then headed to the grocery store to stock up, although it was a late re-start for us we were excited as the wind was most definitely at our backs, pushing us a long at quite a pace.  As we were repacking the shopping into our bags a guy says 'you've heard about the fires right?' to which we reply yes.  'Well I hope you're not heading south as they're about to close the highway.'  Well this was news to us as we'd been in the visitor centre all morning and not a word had been said about possible road closures.  The man informed us it had only just happened, so we thought it best to go back to the visitor info to check it out and see what our options were.  Despite the fact it was only down the road, it was against the wind and was a fair struggle to get there.

Tom waited with the bikes while I went in to get a sit rep.  The girl behind the desk had no idea whatsoever about road closures.  She said that the fire to the south was away from the road and that they would have definitely been informed if they were even thinking of closing the highway.  I get on the computer anyway, to check the wildfire info website and the driveBC website - neither has anything suggesting road closures.  But I still have a bit of an uncertain feeling about it so I find the number for the information officer for wildfires in the area and try to call her a few times, but only got her voicemail.  The girl on the desk assured me that they would have heard something if the road was being closed and so we set off.  Sure enough the wind was behind us and drove us a long at a good pace and we passed the 30km mark before too long.  Maybe 10km further along a convoy of pickups approached us.  The lady in the first one was gesturing wildly, but we weren't really sure what about.  Thankfully the driver of the second truck actually stopped, he was quite obviously a fireman (safety gear and a sooty face), and informed us the road was closed and they were turning everyone back as the fire was out of control.  Perfect.  So glad we checked and didn't cycle all this way for nothing.  We were pretty dejected about this news and as the convoy of firemen drove away we prepared for the 40km slog back to town, into the wind.

Luckily for us another pickup pulled up and Erin informed us that they'd closed the road and did we want a ride back to town.  Overjoyed at not having to ride back to town we loaded up as quick as we could and headed back to the visitor centre.  Erin was trying to get to a family gathering in northern Alberta and had set off from Whitehorse.  We got on the internet and sure enough it had just now been updated to 'road closed, no detour available' and informed us there would be an update at 7pm.  So the three of us and one other guy also trying to get south sat it out in the visitor centre awaiting news while all the other stranded travellers checked into the RV park or hotels in town.  Erin said they rarely closed the road overnight as it was such a vital artery up to the north and had offered to drive us back through the fire area once the road opened.  Since the bit of road we had cycled already had been 'scenic corridor' and Erin informed us a lot of the road south was this and that it was her least favourite bit of the drive as it was so boring we were very happy to get a lift back through.  And when she said we could get a ride all the way to Grande Prairie if we wanted we took her up on the offer.  We just had to wait for the road to open.

As 7pm approached we were issued a new update - 'there will be an update at 9pm'.  That was it.  So when the visitor info closed Erin drove us to Tim Horton's before going to find a hotel.  Timmy's was open until 9pm so we had 2 more hours of wifi and inside.  We didn't want to pay the $26 for the RV park as Erin had said if they opened the road, even at say 11pm, she'd probably get going again.  We asked the girls working at Timmy's but they were all new to town and couldn't help and the guy in the gas station suggested a campground way, way out of town down a gravel road, in the forest - er maybe not.  Finally a lady in Tim Horton's suggested a place nearby that we could put up the tent behind a water treatment plant.  As 9pm approached there was still no new update about the road and we started to muster ourselves to go pitch the tent.  Then we remembered bears.  Would we still have to be 'bear aware'?  If so was there anywhere safe to leave the food?  I turned around and asked the two gentlemen sat behind me if we needed to worry about bears in town.  After chatting for a few minutes Dave said he had an empty house we could stay in.  Oh my, oh my, oh my!!  This was incredible news and we followed his car up to the house.  It was heaven.  A bed!  Showers!  We could eat at a table!  Dave showed us about then left, only to return 10 minutes later with a beautiful bottle of Okanagan Pinot Noir.

At about 5:15am there was a new update that there was no update and no next update time.  After exchanging this exciting news with Erin we went back to sleep for a few hours and expected to be back at the visitor centre after breakfast.  As we were just starting to eat Erin rang, she'd heard from a girlfriend in Whitehorse that the radio had said it was now reopened.  No one at the hotel knew anything and still no update on the website, but she'd seen trucks starting to leave so we were good to go.  We were soon on our way, rocketing south at 6 times our usual speed.  The air was thick with smoke, it was raining, and the scenic corridor was the same as it always is.  We were so pleased to be in the truck and not on the bikes.  At the site of the fire we were lead through by pilot car and could see the charred wreckage of the blaze, some of it still smouldering away.  We stopped briefly in Fort St John for lunch and whizzed through Dawson Creek before arriving into Grande Prairie, Alberta around 6pm.  360 miles, 6 days of riding, done in a day.  We were thrilled.  Almost the whole way it had been smoke and the same old scenery, now we were in a city and soon the mountains.

Erin dropped us off at the visitor info and carried on to her party.  It appeared that the only camping available in Grande Prairie was 6 miles in the wrong direction and was going to cost $30.  We decided we'd rather fork out some more and have a bed so we opted for a cheap motel in town.  We slept late and made the most of the continental breakfast buffet in the morning before heading south towards Grande Cache.  Although the fire had initially caused us issues it had lead to a great outcome; the kindness we'd been shown by both Dave and Erin lifted our spirits and had meant we'd avoided a week more of dull cycling.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Cycle Touring Fatigue

In all honesty, at the moment, I am not having that much fun cycle touring and have not been probably since leaving Lilloet at the start of June. One of the issues is the boredom of the repetitive and uninspiring scenery. There are of course exceptions such as the glaciers down to Stewart or the lakes along the highway and every so often glimpses of rolling, forest covered hills for as far as the eye can see. But also there is the hundreds and hundreds of miles of highway with a 50 foot verge then a wall of trees. Writing this it almost sounds good. Miles of tree lined roads does, kinda, sound rather pleasant but cycling for weeks, with almost exactly the same view is tough, really tough. The trees are not huge, ancient and thought provoking specimens from the birth of Jesus Christ. They are dwarfed by permafrost and are carbon copies of each other all in a row.

The same can be said for the human interactions. They too seem to be frost bitten. As with everything there have been fantastic shows of kindness, such as having a place to stay to get over my illness in Smithers, riding with the Justin and Melissa up the Stewart-Cassiar highway, getting a place to stay while trapped in Fort Nelson and the lift with Erin. But these serve to highlight the poor interactions we have had with other folk rather than mitigate it. People just don't seem to care that we have cycled 5,000 to get to where we are having the conversation. The hospitality we received from the Americans and friends and family in Vancouver has been sorely missed as we got further and further into the wilderness and into environments I had expected kindness to be at it's highest. It's not that people are rude just not really interested and walking into a shop, restaurant or campground we now have the expectation that we are going to get ripped off in some way. It's a bad feeling and one I'm hoping will vanish now we are further south.

Thirdly, and totally manufactured by me, is feeling trapped. For many years I have been fighting the notion of getting "trapped" in a life. I didn't want to own a house because I would be "trapped" in a mortgage and then be "trapped" in a job. I bring this up because actually, at the moment, I feel that I have "trapped" myself on this cycle tour. By having the blog and calling it Detour to Moose Jaw I have to carry on cycling to Moose Jaw and I actually have to carry on for another 20 months since it's the "2 year cycling adventure..." even though, at the moment, that thought isn't something that fills me full of happiness and excitement.

Sophie and I have been trying to figure it out, because this is a problem and it comes down to a few issues. One, I am a task orientated person. I like to work hard on a task, figure it out, finish it off in a nice little bow and move onto the next task and pick up some praise along the way. This is hard to do on a bike. Next, I like to learn new things and then do research to add to what I have learned then put all that into practise and get excited by that new thing. Again, difficult to do while touring and sleeping in a tent or in a stranger's house. Then there is the fact that cycle touring stresses me out. I struggle with the not knowing. The not knowing where we are going to sleep. Not knowing the best place to buy groceries. The not knowing the best thing to see or do around this next corner because we'll only get one shot at it and then we'll have to be on our way to Moose Jaw then Toronto then who knows where. All of these things make the day to day in the saddle a bit of a grind, at the moment. Which, makes me feel really sad because we worked so hard for such a long time for this and it's just not floating my boat. But again this is, for some people, and was once for me, an adventure of a lifetime and it grates on me that I'm getting bored. Surely you shouldn't be bored on a trip like that?

Now, I don't think that it is terminal, but it is worrying, so we are going to mix things up a bit. We are going to have a bit of a holiday in Jasper and Banff before getting to Moose Jaw. Once there we are going to re-address the situation to see what we both want to do. We have options, in fact we have so many different options, we could do pretty much anything we want. And I need to remember that having blues while on a trip like this is relatively normal and, as Sophie points out fairly frequently, that if I had done some reading beforehand I would know that it isn't all plain sailing and endless wonderment but at times it is tough, it is boring and it will test you; but that's part of the adventure right?

Mountain Passes in the Canadian Rockies

Location: Toad River, BC V0C, Canada
Soaking tired limbs in the beautiful clear water of the Liard Hot Springs was a fantastic tonic and did wonders for our tired, dirty bodies. After a good night's sleep we packed up and headed south along the Alaska Highway towards our destination for the day, Toad River Campground. The day promised some climbing over a couple of passes as we had now crossed, once again into the Rockies. We weren't expecting anything horrendous and our bodies are pretty well honed now so it's just about doing the time to get up them. The road took us past Muncho Lake and at one point, as we looked back the blue of the water with the float planes and stunning sky made us both think of the Caribbean but I'm sure the water would not have been so pleasantly warm. Carrying on a little further we stopped for lunch at Strawberry Flats and got some fuel on board to tackle the first pass of the day.

Going down a couple of gears and chatting, we reached the summit with much less effort than expected and enjoyed the long downhill into the valley. The scenery changed and we entered into sub-alpine. A few trees but mainly dusty rock surrounded us and we were flanked on both sides by rocky mountains. Along the road side we spotted two goats that bounded up the cliff side and just after our second pass of the day we spotted a moose just chomping away in the grass. This second pass again is hardly worth a mention but again the scenery changed once we came down and we followed a fast flowing river turned milky blue from glacier melt water. This valley closed in around us and the peaks rose up sharply from the road, it really felt like we had entered the Rockies once again.  We carried on following the river until we came to our destination for the evening, Toad River Lodge Campground.  At a whopping $32 not including tax we were fairly stumped at the price but after a long day we didn't want to have to find a wild place to set up a tent and there was WiFi and showers so, with some reluctance, we paid the bill. The cost of the camping wasn't the only shock of the day.  This was also the day that Sophie's pink bag had finally departed this earth and was no longer fulfilling it's one and only duty.  So, with a heavy heart, we said farewell to Pink Bag, he will be remembered in our hearts and our photos.

The next morning had us one the road slightly later than we would have liked but set off we did only to bump into four cycle tourists from Florida.  They were heading up to Prudhoe Bay and had set off only a couple of days before we had on the 25th February.  One of their group was also sporting a 4 month beard which, Sophie likes to point out, was almost exactly the same as mine.  They gave us two helpful pieces of advice: 1) Get the cinnamon buns at Tetsa they are amazing and 2) go to the breakfast buffet at the Fort Nelson Hotel.  We tried to give them advice but could only suggest not staying at Toad River.  After saying goodbye to Keys to Freeze we checked the map about both suggestions.  Tetsa was a shoe-in, no worries there. We would go past it just before another pass, it would give us the energy to get to the top.  Fort Nelson was more of an issue.  We couldn't get there today, it was too far, but if we carried on on our normal distances we wouldn't be there for breakfast but it wasn't worth staying an extra night just for breakfast. So a challenge was set to get to within striking distance of Fort Nelson today (we wanted to get to within 30 miles) and get up early and get to breakfast before carrying on further south.

The ride to the cinnamon buns was gently up and down and caused no concerns and we got there at the heat of the day.  We ordered two bundles of joy, the first to eat for the fuel for the pass we had coming and the second for pudding when we found a place to stay.  Oh my were they tasty! We both wanted to eat the second one straight away but we did save it for later.  We talked to a couple of motorcyclists and they were surprised we were heading south to tackle the pass.  But we weren't worried, if it was anything like the other "passes" then we would be fine.  They said their goodbyes and added 'well better you than me'.  Steamboat Pass is a proper mountain pass.  We climbed for 90 minutes and it had some steep sections, plus it had false summits.  But we summited the beast and we had a granola bar at the top and headed off down the other side.  With still 20 miles to do before we started looking for a place to camp we had some cycling to do, but it was all down hill so all was fine and dandy.

Bees panic when travelling at 30mph while trapped in leg hair.  When they panic they lash out with their sting and stab anything they can find.  I panic when a bee is stinging me while travelling down a mountain at 30mph.  I panicked down Big Sur when it happened the first time and I panicked again down Steamboat Mountain Pass.  After getting rid of the bee and removing the sting we carried on down.  After a couple more miles the CamelBak we use for extra water decided to take a dive into the road and rip meaning that we had to decant the water into the empty bottles before we lost it all.  Once this was done we again headed out to start our search for a suitable wild camp site.  This is when we again noticed the lack of suitable trees to hang food from as Sophie has already mentioned and no sign of a litter barrel either. So we carried on and finally we found a water monitoring station to set up camp and hide our food.  We ate our dinner quickly, noticed some tracks in the dirt but we were too tired to move on so just set up the tent and crashed out.

In the morning we were up early to get to Fort Nelson for the breakfast.  We raced the 30 miles into town and arrived at 8:15.  We found the place and started eating the eggs, bacon, hash browns and sausage on offer.  The buffet closed at 9:00 but we had three goes at the food and were stuffed well before the close.  It was a very different way to start the day but it was starting to feel like we were getting back into civilization so we headed to the Tourist Information to get some free WiFi and check out our options for heading south.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Wild Fire and Hot Springs

Location: Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park, Muncho Lake, BC V0C 1Z0, Canada
Leaving Watson Lake was hard, not because it's a nice town with amenities we'd miss, but because we said goodbye to Justin and Melissa. I couldn't really say much as I was trying not to get tear-y as we said our farewells and as we pedalled away I welled up and Tom laughed at me. We'd spent the last 11 days together as Team Baby Bunnies, we'd jumped into cold lakes together, cursed the bugs together, got through tough days together, celebrated our most western and northern points together, laughed together, felt the collective disappointment of arriving into Stewart and then Watson Lake and them not being the shiny metropolises we'd hoped for together. It really felt like a big loss and we really miss riding with those guys. But our path headed south and east and their's north and west so we turned left at the signpost forest and down the Alaska Highway.

It wasn't long before we spotted our first buffalo. Wowsers! They are HUGE! And such iconic incredible looking creatures. We weren't entirely sure of our destination that night, far enough for a short ride the next day to Liard Hotsprings. We passed a second buffalo and then a herd with babies laying in the verge on our side of the road. We crossed over to the left side to pass them as we'd heard that they can be very protective of their young and trust me you don't want a fight with a buffalo. We passed an ambulance parked on a forest service road and a helicopter coming in to land, our initial thoughts were that a forestry worker must have got injured, but as we rode on the sky got hazy and we could soon smell smoke so put down the chopper and ambulance down to forest fire. We pulled into a rest area we'd spotted on the map as a potential camp spot just after lunch and due to the fires and the early hour decided to check the view and use the loo then keep riding. Another loaded cyclist pulled in and we did the usual story exchange.  Julie had ridden from Connecticut and was headed to Alaska to find somewhere to live. She was hardcore. She'd ridden all that way in 2 months! She was averaging 75 miles days and had taken a total of 1 rest day in Glacier National Park to go kayaking. Incredible. We said our goodbyes and cycled our separate ways. 

We were low on water and unlike on the Stewart-Cassiar we hadn't passed any accessible creeks or rivers in hours. We decided to camp at Fireside so we weren't wild camping while there was forest fires about and to refill our waters. We were pleased as we'd covered about 90 miles and it had felt easy. It seemed like the last week of pushing it, followed by a rest day had improved our stamina and fitness even more. And it meant we only had about 45 miles to get to the hot springs. We asked the campground owner about the smoke and she informed us there were fires on both sides of us, but seemed blasé about it so we weren't worried.  It was still smoky in the morning as we made breakfast and coffee. We'd been doing without coffee on the road before we rode with Melissa and Justin, but lucky for us Melissa was a coffee drinker and kindly made us fresh coffee each morning. She even more kindly gifted us her coffee filter and coffee as a parting gift, which is just awesome and has made mornings much better for us!

The first hour of riding was hindered by a mobile herd of buffalo, 8 adults I think and 4 calves who were thundering along the side of the road. We stopped to let them get away and not feel threatened by us. We'd lose sight of them and ride on, but they stayed along the roadside and as we'd approach again, they'd start up their stampede again, we'd stop, wait until they were out of sight, continue and cause them to run again. There were 2 males at the back who kept stopping and eyeing us. This worried me. I did not want them to decide we were a threat and charge us, so we kept our distance and wondered when we'd get past them. The verge eventually rose up away from the road, whilst the road curved away down a decent sized hill and we seized the opportunity to pedal like mad to try to outrun them whilst we were separated by a small cliff. We did just make it past them with the help of the descent, but as the verge rejoined the road we were now in a situation where they were behind us, running towards us. Bearing in mind we'd only just outrun them with the help of a hill, having them thundering at us was nerve racking. Luckily we had a bridge to cross, which the buffalo were not keen to go over and we finally felt like we'd got away from them. 

The rest of the ride to Liard Hot Springs was easy enough and after setting up the tent and eating lunch we headed for a soak. This place is fantastic. It's so so hot when it comes out the ground, unbearably so for us, but as it flows down it cools down to a wonderful hot bath temperature which was heavenly on tired legs. We walked back to camp, mooched about, made dinner and then went back for more soaking which set us up perfectly for a good nights sleep.

Monday, 13 July 2015

The Bright Lights of Watson Lake

Location: Watson Lake, YT Y0A, Canada
It's always a good idea to have an aim while touring and since leaving Terrace our goal was Watson Lake. It would be an emotional time because it would see the end of "Team Baby Bunnies" but it would also mark Soph's and my northern most point, a landmark moment. But we still needed to get to our next campground, Boya Lake, before we were in striking distance of Watson Lake.

We headed out of Dease Lake along the Stewart-Cassiar Highway. Being on the road for less than 30 minutes we arrived at the site of the road accident that had closed the road the day before. Skid marks, torn up pavement and discarded latex gloves were the only reminders of the tragedy that had befallen this stretch of road. Moments later Justin spotted a fox and out the corner of his eye also noticed a black fox but couldn't be sure. None of us had heard of a black fox but could it have been a wolverine? Happy that Justin had seen a wolverine we carried on further and further north.  We also happened on a Rabid Grizzly, thankfully it was just a rest stop and not the bear kind. 

Doing longer days and a lot of days back to back takes it toll mentally and physically and as we headed towards Boya Lake we were all feeling fatigued from all the riding. To break up the repetitive riding Justin set us riddles such as:

  • A car pulls in front of a hotel, a woman screams and a man loses all his money. What's happening?
  • A man is dead in a field with a bag, how did he die?
  • Jack and Jill are lying on the floor dead. They are surrounded by water and glass. What went down?
  • There is a room with a closed door. In the room is a light bulb. Outside the room there are three switches. One of the switches turns on the light. With only opening the door once and going in, how can you tell which switch turns on the light?
These helped us to take our minds off the negative emotions we might have been feeling and helped us to focus on something different; it was a really nice touch. 

As our afternoon break we decided to check out food at Jade City. We had it described as a tourist trap but none the less a place we should stop at as we are passing through. After a bit of confusion regarding where to get food we headed to the cafe. The waitress was a happy soul and showed us to our places. The prices, which we were expecting to be high, were really reasonable but since it was just a snack time Sophie and I shared a sandwich, while Melissa ordered the soup and Justin a loaf of freshly baked white bread. Our food came and Sophie and I were surprised to see two plates, half a sandwich on each and both with a healthy serving of fries. Although all eyes were on Justin's bread, he offered around a taste and I for one was experiencing the dreaded food envy. We order ice cream and the waitress, who we found out was called Randy, had a very heavy hand when it came to portion control and we all were extremely satisfied with our stop. About 500 metres outside Jade City I had a blow out on my rear tyre.  Checking it over we all figured that it was now a dead tyre, thankfully we had a spare folding tyre as a replacement but it was frustrating to say the least.

Soon after we met two separate groups of cycle tourists. The first were two guys from Alaska heading to Boise, Idaho. They had a homemade trailer with a dog in the back and the first guy was wearing flip flops, they were far from your usual cycle tourists but they were loving it. They had loads of enthusiasm and were so positive about their adventure. The second group were a man and wife couple from Birmingham, UK. They had the same make bike as us, Thorn, but had a different model. We exchanged stories and after mocking the colour of our bikes they told us they were heading to a wedding on Vancouver Island. I always have mixed feelings when meeting other cycle tourists. My first reaction is generally really positive "Woo other cycle tourists!!" My second reaction is normally much more sarcastic "oh, other cycle tourists". I want mine and Soph's trip to be special and unique, which I know is ludicrous since we did research about other peoples routes and journeys, and seeing other cycle tourists just highlights to me that what we are doing isn't this wild, wacky adventure. It's just a thing that people do.

After a long day in the saddle we finally arrived at Boya lake. After setting up the tents we all took a dive in the crystal clear lake. The water was cold but our bodies quickly adjusted and we were all able to enjoy a few minutes faffing around in the water before heading back for food and sleep. The next morning we decided against an early morning swim as the weather wasn't great so we settled into our relatively short day over the border into the Yukon and our exciting destination of Watson Lake. We were so excited about the town at the end of our long northern journey. We talked about splitting a motel room (maybe it'll have a hot tub?) and we all wanted pizza as our treat. We just needed to get past our next bear sighting, which actually was the most impressive, and we'd be there. This bear encounter was pretty cool, it wandered out just in front of Justin and I so that we both had to slam on our brakes. After watching him for a while he noticed us but carried on his journey down the road. A couple of blasts on the air horn just seemed to pass the bear by and still he carried on. He looked at us again and stopped. It wasn't scary but it was different to the other bears. We both started talking to the bear and clapping. This seemed to register with the bear and he very slowly went back into the bush, well he started to but stopped to check us out again. Then a quick back scratch and he was gone. It was cool because he just didn't seem to care about us. Everybody was just going about their business. And our business was the bright lights of Watson Lake.

The disappointment of Watson Lake was very upsetting. There was no pizza (there were frozen pizzas reheated for $25, therefore no pizza). The rather poor excuses for motel rooms were a similar vein to the pizza, $130 for a dark, smelly, small room. We settled for a burger at a gas station watching the wind howl and the rain pour trying to figure out a place to set up camp. After dinner we headed to the supermarket for desert and ate on the sidewalk. It was the first time I really noticed that I lacked a place I call home.

Long story short (I know too late right) we found a camp site round the back of a gas station and had a frustrating rest day wrestling with super slow WiFi and expensive groceries. As Team Baby Bunnies had our last supper together: barbecued sausages with courgettes, onions and salad and prepared to say our goodbyes in the morning. Watson Lake had not been what we wanted but we enjoyed the time with Justin and Melissa immensely and both Sophie and I commented that the entire section from Terrace to Watson Lake was made richer with their presence.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Wild Camping in Bear Country

Location: Dease Lake, British Columbia V0W, Canada
Searching the roadside for a suitable campsite in bear country involves keeping an eye out for a nice flat bit to pitch the tent along with a nearby tree that has a suitable branch for hanging food or alternatively a roadside 'litter barrel' as these bear-proof bins can be accessed from the back and you can stash your food bags inside, safely away from Yogi's grasp. It's somewhat ironic that so far, as far as we've seen, the trees you find in bear country are skinny and nigh on branchless, at least they totally lack any limb that sticks out any distance with a big enough width to support our hefty bags of food and toiletries. Luckily we found a lay-by with a litter barrel and enough flat ground on the otherside of the road to pitch both our tents. We set up quickly, stashed all the edibles and smellies in the back of the bin and retreated from the insects of prey that had suddenly started to swarm. Lying in the tent we thought it had started to rain but actually it was the pitter patter of a thousand winged beasts trying to force their way into the tent to bleed us dry.  I was the last one awake, I often am, lying there reading my book when I hear a twig crack in the bushes and some rustling. I decide that I won't wake Tom up, but deal with what I fear will be a bear encounter myself. So I get my bear spray and head torch (it's not dark, but I've read you can scare them away with lights so...) and I start to peer out the window of the tent to see what I can see. The bushes rustle again and then there it is, a pair of eyes staring at me from the undergrowth. Luckily they belong to a bunny who looks terrified of me and retreats. Glad I didn't wake anyone up for that I settle back to keep reading.

It wasn't the best nights sleep any of us have had and the bugs in the morning were horrendous so we packed and got moving as fast as we could opting for a granola bar to keep us going and the prospect of proper breakfast when we got to Bell II about 20 miles down the road. We were borderline giddy when we arrived at the little roadside stop and checked out the menu. Tom, Justin and I all ordered the breakfast (eggs, toast, hashbrowns and either sausage or bacon) plus a side order of pancakes, Melissa just ordered the breakfast and the waitress informed us that the side of pancakes was a good size and were we sure we wanted both - oh yes! We explained our ride and our ensuing hunger and she totally understood. So much so that when she brought out the three orders of pancakes as a wonderful breakfast starter she said to Melissa, "you didn't order pancakes right?" To which Melissa replied "no, but I wish I had now" and she said "I thought that might be the case so we made an extra plate and it's on us!" Awesome! After polishing off the pancakes and the breakfasts we got back on the bikes fueled up for the oncoming miles. Our aim that day was to push all the way to Kinaskan Lake where the three British cyclists had told us a nice lady gave them meatballs and they got to camp for free. 

We were into some beautiful mountain scenery now and had a good sized climb to do which in and of itself would not have been much of an issue, unfortunately the mosquitoes made it a totally hellish experience. Unable to outrun them we were forced to labour up the hill trying to maintain momentum and balance whilst swatting wildly at each of our body parts in turn. Justin resorted to turning around and whizzing down the hill a bit just for a few moments of respite. Tom had what he referred to as his 'soul-crushing moment' when he'd over estimated how far we'd gone and Justin gave him the painful truth. Nevertheless we all soldiered on and made it to our destination. Alas no meatballs were offered to us, but we had a beautiful site right by the lake and we all enjoyed a warm down stretch in the gorgeous surroundings as for once we were fairly untroubled by bugs. We had planned a swim, but after Melissa braved it and came out saying it was bitterly cold we decided to give it a miss.

The next day we had our big climb of the Stewart-Cassiar Highway 'Gnat Pass' which we hoped would not live up to the name and after that a restocking session in Dease Lake where we planned to find somewhere to stay. We'd only been on the road a couple of hours when we got to Tatogga Lake and decided to call in at the cafe there for coffee. Coffee turned into ordering breakfast in a bun and using the wifi, a rarity in these parts. It is well worth a stop if you're passing, they have a bunch of stuffed animals in there which are pretty impressive, including this huge moose. The owner is a character and the lovely kitchen ladies gave us a free apple each, which is a kingly gift.

The grind up Gnat Pass wasn't too taxing and incredibly we arrived at the summit moments before a cyclist coming the other way so we all cheered him up the last few feet. He did stop and talk to us, but boy was he a dour chap. He was young, looked like he was direly in need of at least two cooked breakfasts to get a bit of meat on his ribs and seemed incapable of smiling or being excited. He warned us that the road was closed just north of Dease Lake due to an accident, but since Dease Lake was our destination for the night we weren't too concerned.

We hungrily arrived at the grocery store-cum-gas station-cum gathering ground and demolished some microwave burritos before making cleverer decisions on food.  The atmosphere was pretty sombre as there had been a fatality in the accident and they were having to wait for the coroner to arrive from Prince George, a 12 hour drive away. We made a shared dinner of chicken curry and rice noodles, with apple pie for pudding and then Melissa and I headed to the Samaritan's Purse youth centre to ask if we could pitch our tents in their yard.  Very kindly they agreed and we were sorted for the night.