A Canadian Love Affair: British Columbia and Alberta Mountains (draft)(prairies soon)


From Nakusp, BC to Dungeness, Washington.

In Nakusp, Steve took us to dinner. We were all ready for a steak after the steady climbing of the past week or so. We sat on a deck and watched sunset over a mirrored Arrow Lake. It was warm. The lake could have been the ocean, the hills islands of the Inside Passage of six weeks before, without the rain. Nakusp is a lovely town, restored with restaurants and shops and people who seem to enjoy serving the tourists. It is their short summer season, and they must make the most of it. I always wonder what folks do during the long winters here. It’s wild country; a cougar was seen in town this week, and they can’t catch it.

A day down the road, in New Denver, we talked to a couple who plan to cycle from Vancouver to Quebec, where they live, next summer. They look to be in their 60’s, and their daughter-in-law, walking with them, wasn’t excited by the prospect; she didn’t seem to approve of our encouragement either. She was half their age and didn’t understand. There is a certain part of adulthood, the middle part, where things should be done in a certain order, and adventure is no longer appropriate. As the years grow shorter, some of us decide that the way things are done is not enough for us, and we follow our hearts toward adventure. I hope their, hopefully positive, experience will open her eyes, or at the least grant her some understanding.

Route 31A from New Denver to Kaslo is steep steep steep. We saw some cyclists (unloaded) in New Denver who had just come down the hill, and seemed very doubtful we could make it up with our loads. Much of the hill was in the 11% range and we could see why they felt that way. But they don’t know Zippy and his determination when it comes to hills. We saw a young black bear running across the road. Most of the bear we have seen are sub-adult; production must be good.

On the first hill out of town we saw a sign: “Timber Feeds My Family” at a house with four motorcycles, three ATVs and a number of other assorted motor vehicles. It was in the lawn of a very nice house. Another house, more modest, a cabin really, far out of town near the summit, was a sign: “Stop The Clear cutting.”  Both have valid reasons for their opinions, but the “Stop” people have nothing (that I can see) to gain from their lack of support for the specific practice of clear cutting; the others had very much to lose, most of it motor vehicle related, not food related.

Kaslo, on Kootenay Lake, was beautiful but windy. We camped at a city campground; $12 for the three of us; hot showers included. The town has some interesting architecture (Steve pointed out some tin-storefronts) and a restored riverboat.

Steve wanted to take a two day side trip north past the end of Kootenay Lake and a ways up Upper Kootenay Lake on gravel road. Good choice, beautiful if surprisingly hilly. Upper  Kootenay Lake was warm for bathing. After a brief rain, there were fish rising on the still surface, and later a moon though the trees. And,  yes, mosquitoes.

Next morning we had breakfast at the Bar S Pub in Meadow Creek; a huge breakfast and wonderful, a real loggers breakfast. As we prepared to leave, a man clattered up on a very old, faded red, beater of a classic cruiser bicycle. He had a false leg from knee down. He was fortyish, and had an unusual face; long lines of muscle down both sides of his mouth, deeply rutted; a thin intense face. And he had an attitude; he sneered when he talked. While we talked, a man came out of the restaurant and went to his truck. “$35 an hour eh?” said the bicycle man. The other man, we later learned, had just been fired for demanding more money at his job. The question was not meant in jest and it was ignored. We saw him on his bicycle again at Cooper Creek. He pointed to a mobile home and said he lived there and to a shack he said was his youth hostel. He didn’t do any advertising, and nobody came. Wonder.

Another side trip; the road to Argenta is very steep. After a click or so, there is a farm, overgrown with leaves but somewhat lived-in with a sign on one out-building “Utopia” Another click and there was a most interesting post office with heavily laden cork-boards and posters about community concerns, local produce, holistic healing and other New Age ideas. There was also a newspaper article about a 73 year old local man jailed because he refused to promise not to protest logging after he was arrested at a logging site blockade. There was a community hall for dances, with a kitchen and a library, and it was unlocked. I liked that. However we saw few houses and fewer signs of people; it was a bit spooky. Near the end of the road, just before the brutally steep dirt hill to the Earl Gray trailhead, a hose was strung overhead, spraying water on the road. No sign of habitation. A sign on a small shed read: “Chips Ahoy, Toboggans, Argenta BC.” Mystery.

After another night in the Kaslo campground we rode south to Ainsworth Hot Springs. One feature makes this one unique. There is a cave of travertine back inside the source of the spring. The waist deep water is 112F and the air temperature much higher near the low ceiling; humidity is 100%. I sat on a ledge in the deepest end of the cave, high up against the dripping ceiling. I felt my pores open and the sweat ran in hundreds of rivulets from my face, shoulders, chest. People waded past, ghosts against the far light, floating in the steam. They were hushed by the experience, speaking in quiet travertine echoes, to themselves it seemed, speaking thoughts of strangeness and wonder.

I cooked. I pulled steam deep into my lungs and it came out cool on my pruning fingers. Cold breath, a fearful thing to contemplate. When I felt I could bear it no longer, I waded out and immersed myself in the 40F (2C) cold pool. The sun never felt better. Back in the 105F pool, my skin danced with pins, trying to make sense of hot and cold sensations, and failing, going nuts with pure wild sensation.

Later in the day, on the road to Nelson, there were two clicks (kilometers) of telephone poles with neckties tied around them about four meters high. I took it to be a, take-this-job-and-shove-it, statement by a soul (or souls) who gave too much to the rat race.

As we neared the Okanagan, there were crickets in the fields, a sign of drier country. We found sweet peaches and Tidyman apples, sweet and snappy.

At Nancy Green Lake, a long climb from the Columbia at Castlegar, we camped in subalpine firs and spruce and huge larch trees, within meters of the water where a grebe dove for dinner. Claire and I walked down the shore and had a nice bath in not too cold water. Steve soon followed and used our cove for his tub.

Later, fish rose to insects on the still lake, making concentric ovals over a brown bottom. A loon moaned across the lake echoing from the far trees. The call of a loon seems a universal icon for wilderness. I have heard natural sound recordings that have the call of a loon so often as to become expected. In the wild, the call of a loon always comes as a surprise; a gift, not an expectation, and that makes all the difference.

In the mauve light of twilight, Steve stood on the beach watching the grebe dive and the day fade. His Western summer is ending. He is beginning to think about the responsibilities of his work and Katy Hill farm that await him in Virginia. He misses Wendy and he knows he will miss the West later. We’ve certainly enjoyed having him with us for nearly three weeks and wish it were longer. When we leave him in two days, he heading east and we west, it will also mean our summer is closing.

Steve said we could go ahead and not make the two (or three) day loop to see him off, but we want to postpone it.

Long coast down off Nancy Green Pass. Claire snuggled up against my back. I let go with one hand and reached around behind me to pull her to me more firmly. We stayed that way for a long time. One handed at 40 clicks, exciting, but in control. I began to see it as a metaphor for our relationship and the way we live it; we take risks together and it keeps us close. Claire trusts me to control Zippy and I trust her to keep steady and not make any sudden moves. Mutual trust. One handed and snuggled up; exciting and comforting at the same time.

Of course risk is mostly perception/point-of-view. Some would think just getting on a tandem bicycle with their mate to be a huge risk; to others, more gonzo than we, coasting down a smooth paved road carries no risk at all. We live our lives in our minds; reality is but an armature for our experience of life. We filter reality through elaborate constructs of our own making and experiencing it through a veil of emotions; that is, life is what we make (of) it. So, Claire and I can choose to experience our wanderings as including some risk, in order to heighten our experience of life and of each other.

There is real risk in all this of course, and if we chose to dwell on it, we would stay home and watch television; no risk in that, expect a rotted brain. Life is inherently risky business though. Most Americans participate in a daily activity that has killed more of us in than all of our wars combined, yet we discount the risk. Driving, or ridding in, a motor vehicle is very dangerous business. Riding a bicycle, on a per mile basis, is only slightly more risky than motor vehicle travel. We believe our thousands of miles of experience and generally cautious natures negate that extra risk.

Later that day, we met Bob and Milly from Abbotsford. He is blind and they used to tandem. She enjoyed being captain until the traffic got heavy and they got older; they had to give it up. Claire showed Zippy to Bob by guiding his hands over bike and bags. He smiled as he remembered.

`           At the town of Trail we crossed the Columbia again. Here it runs at 10.5k/hr down river toward the Pend-Orielle. Fast and deep; it roils green, mimicking the swirls of depression glass; but it is alive and changing with folds and mounds and undertows of silent power. Free river, for a short reach, until another dam steals it’s power and beauty, puts it to work again.

We turned up a tiny, but quiet road beside the Pend-Orielle River. After a few clicks it turned to gravel at a dam. We soon passed a Road Closed sign. We had heard there were blocking slides on the road and that we should go the main highway, but we decided to see for ourselves. The thought of a quiet road with no traffic was too appealing to pass. After awhile there were huge piles of bear scat, and elderberry trees broken over and stripped of berries. We were not completely alone.

After 20 clicks or so, we found the main wash-out, and were easily able to push the bikes over it, but no four-wheel drive could have made it. “They might as well turn the road into a trail!” enthused Claire, ever the trail advocate.

At the upper end of the impoundment, we found a nice spot to camp and again found the water comfortable for bathing.

The next morning we touched base at the U.S. border crossing at Nelway, turned north to the intersection with the Crowsnest Highway where we left Steve to tackle the Salmo/Creston Pass alone. We took pictures of each other as a way of saying goodbye, and hugs, always with Steve, I have to have a hug.