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

It wasn’t long before we both were wondering at how quiet it seemed without Steve to talk with. For a little while, we felt a little lonely even. Steve’s been a good touring partner, and that’s saying something since the Zippy Team has been able to do things our own way for something like 16,000 miles. We enjoyed his company and his back-road diversion ideas.

At Salmo we had a huge bowl of porridge (real oatmeal) at the Coyote Cafe and turned west, homeward. A couple of hours later we were in Trail, contemplating the hill up to Rossland where we hoped to spend the night. On the way down, barely 24 hours before, we had seen that it was a very bad hill; a 10% grade for six kilometers, and it was 30C in the afternoon heat. Half way up the hill, a man stopped to offer us a ride; he didn’t understand when we refused. We always ride our hills. It did take about four stops to allow our heart rates to drop, and the sweat to dry, but we made it; we had earned the liter of mint-chocolate-chip ice cream we inhaled at the top.

The next day on our way up to Nancy Green Pass, a raven on a tall cedar snag made sounds like a droplet of water kerplunking into a deep stone well.

West of Christina Lake (still on B.C. 3, the Crowsnest Highway) the country opens up and the grasses become beige and dry, ponderosa pines are sprinkled across the grasses between rocks, crickets sing from the grass and grasshoppers fly up in front of Zippy.

Sunday August 24, Grand Forks, B.C., we awoke at 5:30 am to a rain shower, went back to sleep, expecting it to pass on. At 8 am we awoke to a soft steady pattering on the tent fly, not a shower, but a steady rain. Tent-door view confirmed the diagnosis: low light gray clouds with that rounded puffy all-day-rain look. We stayed in the tent until 1 pm and then walked the town in the rain.

The Omega II restaurant offered Russian borsht and cabbage rolls, shelter and people watching. Our middle-aged waitress was new and flustered with a sweet face; the heavy-set owner-woman tormented her for her difficulties: “While you were standing around doing nothing you could have been putting away these glasses!” “I told you in the interview that this was a high traffic restaurant!” The cabbage rolls were bland and the borsht too-rich with butter and cream, and bland. The coffee, thankfully, was high-octane and we buzzed off in the rain, looking for more shelter.

The Overwaitea food store occupied a couple of hours, shopping and reading their magazines. I frequently checked the parking lot puddles, always to see black rain-rings. I remembered that raven; perhaps he was warning us.

At the Chamber of Commerce Visitors Center, still seeking shelter, the lovely young woman who had helped us the day before apologized for not having sunshine for us. Her smile was sunny.

Outside, I  stood in the rain, and remembered to be thankful for good health, love, and the freedom to travel so as to get into rainy day fixes like this.

Back at the tent, all was dry and we planned our evening: Read tourist brochures. Snuggle and nap. Go pee. Snuggle and nap. Have dinner of cantaloupe and cottage cheese standing in the rain. Have desert of candy in tent. Read. Shower. Read. Sleep until morning and see if it is raining still. Either way, ride, ride, ride; we’ve had all the inactivity we can stand.


We met Ken in the Grand Forks municipal campground. He’d been there three days, waiting. He said he was cycling to Ottawa (the Canadian capitol) to get attention for a failing workman’s compensation system. I’m not too sure he knew exactly what he was doing, but his heart seemed to be in the right place.

“Got it all right here eh? All the letters and stuff, with names and signatures and stuff. That’s my book eh? It’s been 20 years of it. Fightin’ them bureaucrats in Ottawa. It’s all in there.”

He points to his tent. “Its the next best thing to the Good Book eh. I mean for some that hasn’t accepted Jesus into their lives, they can find the help they need to fight the buggers and maybe get some peace.”

He nods and sips and drags again, smoke wafting through his long curls. “Everthin’ they need. ‘Course Jesus is better, that’s what I found out three years ago, but them that don’t know Him, well that’s why I wrote the book. Anyway, it ain’t a book yet, see. But there’s some people down in Ottawa at the Colliers publishing place that is just waitin’ to see this, ‘cause I got the goods on them people at the workers compensation.”

He nods emphatically, and then flicks his cigarette ash, thinking. “See, I’m really doin’ this book for the little kids what’s got parents that’s not gettin’ what is comin’ to ‘em, and the kids is livin’ in poverty and that. And there’s lots of alcoholism and drug abuse and stuff that don’t need to be except for the bureaucrats keepin’ the money that’s due us.”

“I lost the eye eh.” He points to his right eye.  “It’s been 20 years ago up in Kittimat, workin’ in the mill up there.” He pointed to his eye again. “If

I’d a got the right treatment I wouldn’t a lost it eh? They should a took care of it eh? So now I been fightin’ them all this time.”

He shook his head, took a drag on his cigarette and sip of coffee. “They done everthin’ they could to beat me down, but I just don’t quit. Not me. I’m waitin’ for a bus ticket to Vancouver now. They’re going to send me a ticket so I can get with em down there and get em with me see. Some church people is going to help me. Then I’ll take a bus to Calgary, cause I done biked all this down here, then I’ll boogie across the prairies over there to Ottawa and expose all this stuff.

“These church people, I’m goin’ let them help me fix my book up all nice, an then I’m goin’ a show it to them publishers in Ottawa.” He shook the rain off his tarp and drug on his cigarette again.

“And when I’m down there, I’m going to get back my horses and my house and all the stuff they took from me because of medical bills they wouldn’t pay and stuff. They don’t want that. Don’t want me to get anything. They done everything to keep me down. They done the character assassination and all that stuff, they put all that stuff in these papers I got, stuff that’s got nothing to do with my disability, they try to use it against me, and I got it all on paper, signatures and all eh?” He looked off into the steady rain and was quiet. I gave him a loonie ($1 Canadian) for another coffee.

The next morning the sun could be seen through breaking clouds. Ken was still sleeping in his wet tent and sagging tarp.

Signs of Autumn: Smoke coming from chimneys; rosehips bright orange; long yellow grasses heavy with seed; high mares-tails two days before a day long rain; a weakening sun; early sunsets; sumac and poison ivy turning red; brown velvet ridges with a few green pines scattered below gray clouds; a lone brown leaf swinging and dipping toward the road in still air.

After a long day we found a small campground in Beaverdell. It is run by a retired couple who seem to do it more to meet people than for money. The man asked us what kind of surface we felt was best for pitching a tent. We said grass; we dislike sand or dirt or worst, rocks.

The campground had two groups of cyclists doing the Kettle Valley Trail, something Claire has been looking forward to exploring the whole trip. It seems the trail is not really a trail as we know it, in some places, but has been being used as logging roads since the rails were taken up. We’ll see.

One of the groups is three sons of immigrants of East Indian descent. One from Mombassa in Kenya where we have visited, and another from Tanzania. I had a particularly interesting conversation with one about Canada and the Quebec problem. He is so thankful that Canada allowed his father to come here when his land was nationalized by Tanzania, and he was cautiously optimistic that Quebec and the rest of Canada would solve their problems.

The next day was to be another long one; they have been getting longer and longer, and hillier and hillier as we have turned west against the grain of the mountains. The Kettle Valley Tail we rode was at first a series of mud holes (from motor vehicle use) so deep the front panniers got wet as we carefully pushed through. Finally we got to the most developed section that included 18 trestles and two tunnels. It was crowded with hikers and bicycles,, but motor vehicles were effectively blocked with earthworks. After that section, motor vehicles were allowed on it again (including log trucks we were told) and it deteriorated into just another stutter-bumping forest road.

We were saddened when a forest fire burned most of the bridges recently. It was to be part of the Trans Canada Trail. We hope they can replace the bridges.(they did)

The McNallys

At the last trestle, we met Bob and Beverly on a tandem, and their daughters Sarah and Shauna, and rode with them for several miles. Before they left us at their car, they invited us to have dinner and stay with them at their rented cabin on Okanagan Lake north of Penticton. We accepted, and rode down a long soft gravel road that had us stopping often to cool Zippy’s rims and rest my shoulders.

Just after we arrived, flashes of lightning from a very black cloud prompted us to set up our tent quickly and get inside the cabin. I sipped a beer and we watched lightning strike the lake and sheets of rain rake the deck and pelt the window. Nice to be cozy and have folks to talk with.

We learned that Bob is an accountant with a large firm in Edmonton and Bev, is going to Australia this winter to compete in the World Championship Olympic distance triathlon. She always does well in her age-group. The eldest daughter Shauna has national times in the backstroke and is aiming to make the Canadian Olympic Team and Sidney in 2000. The younger daughter Sarah is also a competitive swimmer also.

Bob is the jock-supporter, happy to captain the tandem and support his wife and daughters. He enjoys his time with his family and would like to be able to work out a shorter work-week; apparently that is not done in the big-client accounting business where 12 hour days are the norm. Even to ask could throw his loyalty into question.

My choice long ago to work for myself was a good one; the pay could have been better perhaps, and the benefits are lousy, but my boss is a genius and all-around great guy.

Another option might be to retire a bit early eh Bob?

After sharing their breakfast with us the next morning, we left the McNally family and rode toward Penticton. As expected I loved the Okanagan valley. It is dry and sunny and full of fruit. In Penticton they were still breaking down the barricades and food stands from the Canadian Ironman competition held two days before. Friends from Port Angeles had competed and were able to find one of them on a sheet of finishers. Way to go Gary!

East on the Crowsnest Highway, in Keremeos, we found fruit stands along both sides of the road and bought peaches and nectarines and apples. I could stay in that little town for weeks. I had been looking forward to the fruit laden Okanagan since the beginning of the trip, expecting a week or so among the fecundity. It was not to be so; we crossed the valley in 24 hours and entered the wet Cascade range. We’ll just have to come back.

From Princeton into Manning Provincial Park was a brutal climb with heavy traffic and poor shoulders. In the campground we got a chance to look at the trees and notice the heavy air. We were undoubtedly back in the Cascade Range. The final pass was just a few clicks and a couple of hundred meters higher.

The next morning we met a couple who had passed us the previous day. The woman told us they almost stopped on the shoulder to get out and bow down to us, because of the unending steepness of the grades. I thought that was kind of silly, but kept it to myself; I think she was serious. I guess they had bike toured some in Ireland and couldn’t imagine what we were doing.

We knew we were beginning to push the pace a little; we were only a few days from home and, though not really wanting to be home, we were not enjoying the heavy traffic and now-too-familiar mountains.

It was boogie time.

In Hope we stayed in a motel and did laundry and ate lots. From Hope the road was mostly flat or downhill, and we found ourselves at the Sumas border crossing in early afternoon. From there is was a relatively pleasant ride to Bellingham, a not too hard 86 mile day (notice the change to the Imperial system).

The next morning we left Bellingham in a fog that obscured the views from Chuckanut Drive, but the sun burned it off by Deception Pass. After a stop for breakfast, and later a huge ice cream at a roadside stand, we were energized and arrived at the Keystone ferry terminal in time to catch the westbound for Port Townsend. By this time we were jazzed for a long day and determined to make it home by dark. After a stop to talk to a couple southbound on a tandem, and with a friend who stopped us, we made it home just after sunset; 102 miles for the day and 4600 feet of climbing (Whidbey Island has hills). It’s the first time we have allowed ourselves to go over 100 miles loaded.

After a quick shower, it was lights out. Home. For awhile.

Thanks for coming along with us.

Trip statistics: 5,000 kilometers (3,000 miles). 152,000 vertical feet of elevation gain. One broken hub. One bad tire. 30,210 mosquito bites (just kidding).