Canada Bicycle Touring. Part 3 (2019)

Please read parts one and two first if you haven’t already!

Leaving Revelstoke behind us, we pedalled into the watery dawn light, headed west once again. The first part of our journey that day, we wound our way through a series of lakeshores as we followed the Eagle River down towards central British Columbia. We were steadily losing altitude as we travelled, which meant easy, fun riding as where the gradient wasn’t flat, it was downhill! I had intentionally done very little research into the trip as I was relishing the surprise and not knowing what each day would bring. Central BC would, in fact, hold in store in the biggest surprise of the ride yet.

The succession of mountains that had stood towering above us for our entire journey so far were getting steadily smaller and less jagged as we followed the highway towards Sicamous. The road was becoming straighter as the terrain began to flatten out, and for the first time since we left Calgary, we could see the pavement ahead extending out in front of us for miles. Also, as the landscape got flatter, the signs of modern human existence replaced the thick, natural forest that had surrounded us for much of the trip so far. Fields and pastures stretched out into the distance to the sides of us, and cattle, sheep and other livestock stood in the sunlight grazing. Long lines of neat fences kept the animals contained, and friendly farmers waved at us from the shiny and new tractors that we were now sharing the road with.

As the day once again got hotter, the long straight roads and lack of stunning mountain views failed to keep us entertained and boredom quickly set in. The huge roadside billboards advertising casinos, farm shops, and strip clubs that had now sprung up went some way to passing the miles as I read each and every one of them as we passed.

The temperature was peaking through 35c degrees as we crossed the bridge in the town of Sicamous to begin following the coastline of Shuswap Lake. The region as a whole takes its name from the lake, and I couldn’t help being reminded of Spain as I took in the views of the scorched landscape, low-lying scrub and tree-covered hills, and an enormous lake of the most azure blue. It was well into September by this point, and as the Shuswap region lays in the rain shadow of the coast mountains, the area was at the tail end of a long summer with very little precipitation. In the winter, the heavy snows followed by a rainy spring would restore the typical green colour one associates more with Canada.

As we approached our stop for the night in a little village named Canoe, I was then reminded of the lakes of Northern Italy as the opposite shoreline of the lake in this area had become fringed by rugged, steep cliffs dropping straight down into the lake itself. The watery late afternoon light and haze really created an incredible amount of contrast, and the cliffs looked truly spectacular bathed in a golden glow.

The next day, our senses were assaulted from all sides by passing through our first city since we had left Calgary two weeks previously. After fourteen days effectively amongst nature, or in small mountain towns at the very least, the city of Salmon Arm was a little overwhelming. As we pedalled our way through the town, we were now on a 4-lane divided highway and felt vulnerable and exposed in comparison to the quiet, forested roads we had gotten used to. Wal-marts, drive through Tim-Hortons, Auto-Shops, traffic lights, busy intersections, gas stations, and more, all competed for our attention, pulling our eyes with their bright colours and flashing signs. Our ears, sensitive from two weeks of wind, birds, and rivers (and admittedly the occasional train and truck) were now struggling to comprehend the cacophony of honking and beeping, squealing brakes, and hundreds of vehicles chugging away with music blaring. And the crazy thing about this was… Salmon Arm is considered pretty small and quiet in the grand scheme of things!

We left the ‘big smoke’ behind and the rest of the day passed without much to note. It was another long, hot day, and the roads were again dead straight. We were glad to arrive in the small town of Chase, and after getting some advice on where to camp from a lovely pair of ladies, we set up camp by the edge of the river. It was Salmon season, and local fishermen were making their way down to the river after work in the hope of catching themselves some fat Sockeye Salmon. Plump and flavourful after spending their adult lives feeding in the Pacific Ocean, these amazing fish were now making their back upstream to their nesting grounds to breed and then die. A veritable feast for hungry bears and fisherman, later on during the journey I would see these incredible fishing jumped up the fast-flowing rapids of the Fraser River, burning off their stores of fat with the effort of it.

After speaking to a couple of the fishermen, and seeing how much a part of life salmon plays to the town of Chase, I made it my goal to try some salmon before we left Canada. I usually try to avoid eating fish, but one of my life missions is to always experience local culture and to be mindful of what you eat, so it only seemed the right thing to do. Unfortunately, despite their town’s culture of salmon fishing, (even to the point where the sign at the entrance to the town is in the shape of a salmon), the fishermen that night were not having much luck, so we settled down to pasta made on the camping stove once again.

I woke up at some point during the night, and for the first time in a week, I could hear the noise of little raindrops hitting the canvas. We had noticed some ominous looking clouds the evening before but thought nothing of it as we had gotten ourselves into a false sense of security after a week of non-stop sunshine. However, it turns out mother nature had other ideas, and when morning came, we packed down a soggy tent and headed off to our next stop. Kamloops.

Kamloops had been a niggling concern for us for a while by this point as it was the first major city on the route, dwarfing Salmon Arm but quite a margin. We had heard various and conflicting stories from cycle tourists getting into trouble riding on the busy highway leading into the city. One report said you are best sticking to highway 1 and putting up with the traffic as opposed to tackling the back roads through the hills, while another report suggested that highway 1 leading into the city was off-limits to cyclists and we could face a hefty fine. We tried downloading to our phones official maps from the BC government that showed cycle-friendly routes but again, these were ambiguous at best. We decided to let the bicycle gods decide. We headed out from Chase into the rain, committed to crossing that metaphorical bridge when we came to it.

We continued onwards dressed once again from head to toe in rain gear, the standing water on the road sprayed up in our faces, and periodically we had to empty the water that had collected in the bottom of the pannier rain covers. Despite all this, the morning passed quickly, and we soon found ourselves at the crunch point where we had to make a decision. The final exit ramp was approaching that would allow us to exit the expressway and find a criss-cross route to by-pass the now busy highway into the city. The only downside to the side roads, aside from being considerably longer in distance, was that they diverted up into the surrounding hills and would add considerable elevation and climbing. Historically, Candace’s knee had suffered the worst during wet, cold weather, so it was finally decided that we would cycle the highway. The important thing we agreed between us is that we would not stop, just ride as fast and as smoothly as possible to minimise our exposure and vulnerability on the highway.

We mounted the bicycles and once again started to ride, watching with concerned expressions the final exit ramp, and our last chance to change our mind, as we passed by it. We knew that once passed it we simply had to keep riding on for 10km or so until we got to the city, we simply could not turn around as the fast-moving and dense traffic rushing by would endanger us even more.

I must have done something to annoy the bicycle-touring gods, however, because, within less than a kilometre, the handling of my bicycle started getting sloppy. When I stopped to check the rear tyre, I already knew the answer in my heart … it was flat. Perfect timing! There was no way I could continue riding on it for fear of damage, not to mention the loss of control when I needed it the most. Sitting on the side of the highway to repair it was not a tempting prospect, each time a large vehicle roared past us, it covered us in a blanket of water and road grime. Despite our measly bicycle lights and high-viz sashes, we were pretty much invisible through the spray. The only option was a couple of hundred metres back, where there was a tiny little dirt access road which had long fallen into disrepair and was gated off. We dashed back towards it against the flow of traffic, Candace riding and me pushing. We scooted our bikes around the gate and up the slope and away from the chaos.

At the top of the slope sat some old and perhaps forgotten train carriages. Long since the victims of graffiti artists, and the weeds had grown up through their wheels and axles. Any other time I would have been in my element, I have always held a fascination for decay and abandoned objects, but at that moment I was wet and pissed off, and I had to fix my puncture. I wasn’t about to try to patch a tube in the rain, so I opted to use the spare tube I had with me, unfortunately in my haste to get moving again I made a stupid error that still haunts me to this day – I pinched a hole in my new tube when I was attempting (poorly) to put the tyre back on. In my years working in a bike shop and riding bikes myself, I have fixed hundreds of punctures, and yet at the time when I needed to do it properly – I screwed it up!

Plan B was to use the self-adhesive patches that Candace had with her. When I was done, I flipped the bike back over and no sooner had I replaced the panniers that I noticed the tyre was flat again. F**K! Once more the bike was upside-down again with panniers removed. I took another little patch and duly made sure the tube was dry and sanded a little to make sure the glue would stick. I then flipped the bike back over, replaced the panniers, put the rain covers back on and secured it all with bungees. We started riding again but no more than 100 metres later – flat as a pancake! “G*DAMM*T YOU M*THERF**CK*R!”

During this whole process, Candace was being useful and taking photos of me getting more and more pissed off rapidly. I was not in the mood to have my picture taken and told her so in maybe not a diplomatic way, but now looking back on it I am glad she did – it is a wonderful photo that captures my mood so well!

“F*CK*ING PATCHES!! WHY WON’T THEY STICK???” – I asked tactfully. Candace now took on a sheepish look…. “well….” She said, “they are maybe like 10 years old – I got them when I worked at the bike shop…” – Well, That explained it!

I was also super hungry and having exhausted all the patches and with a resolve to buy a good puncture repair kit, I stuffed my tyre with grass to make it somewhat ridable. We then limped to a truck stop a kilometre further along to re-group. Plus I figured there was a tiny chance that they would sell puncture repair kits or something I could use to get us the 10km to Kamloops where I knew there would be bike shops.

An hour later, we were sitting in a Denny’s at the truck stop. I was eating my way through my problems with a massive burger and fries, and a bottomless coffee. The gas station did not sell puncture kits nor anything else of use. Our waitress at Denny’s saw us sitting there dishevelled and depressed, so she naturally thought we were just standard Denny’s regulars. I decided to ask whether she had any ideas of where I could get the supplies I needed or knew where I could get a taxi or a bus to go and buy a replacement tube. She became our guardian angel and said, “Well, I clock out in 10 minutes, I have a big car and if you don’t mind waiting a little – I could put the bikes in the car and give you a ride to Kamloops?”

It was music to our ears, and we used up the 10 minutes booking a hotel in Kamloops, it was a cheap motel, but frankly, we needed to dry out ourselves and our stuff. We hadn’t slept in anything other than our tent since Golden, so a real shower and a bed was a very tempting thought. I also, as a matter of urgency, researched bicycle shops close to the hotel and found plenty of options. And that is how we arrived into Kamloops, in the back of a minivan of a Denny’s waitress. Not quite the purist adventure we had in mind, but for us, the ride was about the stories and the experience, and we were always reminded the whole time about the inherent good in humanity. I believe that often people are nervous about going on adventures because of fear that everyone is out to get you, but the truth is that when you need it, 99.9% of people on the planet will do anything to help you.

By early the next afternoon, we were finally leaving Kamloops behind us. The hill leading out of the city felt never-ending, and the rain was still torrential, but we were glad to be back out in the countryside. Our bikes were now just a little heavier with both of us now proud owners of two spare innertubes and decent quality puncture repair kits. I was also a little heavier too as I had treated myself to a full McDonalds breakfast that morning to complement my Denny’s lunch the day before. It was very good for morale sitting and eating an egg McMuffin with the rain outside lashing the windows.

Fortunately, by the time we were cycling alongside Kamloops Lake, far away from the city, the rain had let off, and we were at least dry, although the clouds still blanketed the sky and made the already stark landscape look even more ominous. The hills surrounding the lake were dotted with vast mansions and acreages, all boasting superb elevated views of the lake and we passed by the occasional golf-course and country-club. Clearly a lot of money in these parts!

That night we stayed in a non-descript campground, and we were busy getting our tent set up when a couple on a tandem bicycle rolled into the site, their bike loaded down with panniers too. Naturally, I went to introduce ourselves, and the four of us shared a site for the evening. They were a British couple living in Toronto, and this for them was their two-week vacation, a 2000km bicycle ride from Calgary to Vancouver, but also taking a considerable detour to visit Jasper National Park and the Icefields Parkway. They were averaging over a 100km a day on the mountain roads, and it made me realise the contrast between them and the journey we were on, barely covering 60km a day, puttering along. Their bike had all the modern accoutrements too, dynamo hub to charge all their accessories, GPS maps and more.

Between us all, we decided that having some company was cause to celebrate. I got to ride my first tandem as me, and the guy took a ride up to the liquor store to grab a few beers while the girls prepared the stoves. I now understood how they were able to cover such distances daily as with a tandem, you have two people pedalling but with very little to no increase in air-resistance compared to a regular bicycle. We covered the 5km distance to the liquor store in maybe 10 minutes, truly impressive. I cannot claim to be a convert though, I still like the freedom of having my own bicycle!

The next day the landscape transitioned from the treeless and barren land we had been riding the last few days to the true desert. If you had told me before the trip that Canada had a desert, I would have laughed you off as a crazy person, but it seems that it does indeed have a desert and we were now pedalling through it. This, for me, was the biggest surprise of the trip! We even saw a dead rattlesnake – who knew Canada had rattlesnakes??

There was not a tree in-sight, and the low, rolling hills were covered in bare dirt and earth. However there was plenty to look at as the area’s dry climate has sprouted lots of businesses that restored old vehicles, and the entire area was littered with the hulks of classic cars, buses, trains, and more. At one point we saw an ancient pick-up truck from perhaps the 1940s laying abandoned by itself at the side of the road, and we naturally had to get a photograph. I rested my bicycle against a roadside post, and upon approaching the truck to pose, I noticed a skeleton sitting in the driver’s seat! I admit my heart may have skipped a beat, but then I realised it was a fake skeleton dressed up in beads, feathers, and other random items, a neat little trick no doubt to catch unsuspecting travellers off-guard in this barren landscape.

Our progress west was, for now, coming to an end. After a night camping just outside of the tiny village of Cache Creek, the highway turned 90 degrees to the south, and for the next three days, we would be following the Fraser River Valley as it meanders its way towards the town of Hope.

The landscape in the first section between Cache Creek and Lytton was still very desolate, the low hills were rocky, and the constant cloud cover and occasional light rain gave the whole ride a bleak feel. We were battling persistent headwinds the entire way, which made cycling a challenge, as well as blowing grit and grime into our faces. For the first time in the whole trip so far, we were over it and just pedalled along in silence, each lost in our own world.

We spent the morning of the second day sitting in a hippy little coffee shop in a First Nations town. The coffee shop also had a small gallery where they displayed native art and sold locally made jewellery and other trinkets. I couldn’t deny it was all very beautiful, but it was a little out of our budget, and our panniers were already filled to bursting.

As day two trudged on, the hills got taller, and their flanks once again began to get covered in tree growth. The muted and dull shades of brown and grey were now steadily being replaced by lush greens. Our plan that second night was to camp somewhere near Alexandra Bridge, but as we were in a small grocery store picking up supplies in a village called Boston Bar, it started to rain. I mean really rain. Alexandra Bridge was still 40km away, and as the rain came down in spades, we decided to call it a day and camp just the other side of town. As it happened, it was a great choice, and we pitched our tent on the edge of a small cliff overlooking a large bend in the river. It was no doubt a scenic setting, but the rain was so torrential we spent the rest of the afternoon and evening hiding in our tent. It was way too wet to cook, so we enjoyed a meal of crackers, peanut butter, banana, bread, and hummus, and passed the time playing the animal guessing game again.

Candace had a rough night of sleep, and after packing up a thoroughly wet tent, we headed to some public bathrooms so she could get washed and cleaned. Meanwhile, I waited outside and sat in my own little world until something happened that would bring me back to the present – another bear!

Unlike my previous bear experience, this black bear was very close but very relaxed, cruising around the recreation area, sniffing things and pawing at the undergrowth. As a Canadian, Candace was my designated bear consultant, but she was locked away in a bathroom, so I was a little unsure of what to do. The bear, however, didn’t seem to give a damn about me hanging around, so I decided I would just chill, and she came to within a few metres of me, going about her business.

Within a few minutes, she had disappeared into the trees, and I had lost sight of her. It wasn’t long though before a groundskeeper turned up, and I thought it prudent to advise him of the bear in case they had procedures or something. So I duly walked up to him to let him know a black bear had just wandered through the area, His response was very Canadian, – “Oh yah! She comes around here from time to time, don’t mind her though eh! She’s a little pain in the ass!”

Candace’s mood plummeted even more when she heard that she had missed out on a second bear sighting, and with her sulking, we continued our way south. Little did I know that as we approached the town of Hope, I would be in for my third bear sighting, and the second on the same day! This one was over in a flash as I was riding at a decent speed with dense vegetation to the side of me. The bear in question must have been about to emerge from the thicket to cross the road. He/she was certainly not expecting a cyclist to come whizzing by as I was not making a noise like a truck or a car. To this day, I am not sure who was more surprised, the bear or me. Either way, the bear turned tail on the spot and disappeared back into the bushes, not more than 2 metres from me.

Arriving at the town of Hope was bittersweet. The weather was still ghastly, and our moods were not fantastic, but we had reached the end of Highway 1. From here on out the Trans-Canada becomes a major highway leading into Vancouver and is wholly unsuitable for bicycles. Instead, the next section for us would be riding to the US border along Highway 7 which follows the northern bank of the Fraser River. Firstly, we hadn’t had a day off since Revelstoke so felt we deserved one, we did consider a hotel because of the weather, but the prices were extortionate, and so we pitched our soggy tent once again in the town’s campground. We would at least have access to hot showers, a laundry room and easy access to the restaurants in the town.

I also used the opportunity of a rest day to fulfil the goal I had set myself when leaving the town of Chase many days before – eating salmon. For added authenticity, and especially considering the fact that Hope has a large population of First Nations peoples, I would eat salmon prepared in a traditional native way – candied! Smoked then preserved in either sugar, honey or maple syrup. Imagine a sweet, fishy jerky – Mmmmmmmmm!

The next stage of our journey would take us into an area we have both wanted to explore. The Pacific Northwest of the United States. Famous for coffee, craft beer, and … rain!

Click below for Part One of the USA bicycle ride!

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