Monday, August 11, 2014

On the Road Again....Solo

Watson River Valley, Dunster, BC

If there were ever a time when I should feel lonely on this trip, it should be now. I find myself occasionally getting up out of my saddle looking ahead to see if they are there, just over the top of the climb. Sometimes I can hear Nuri and Viçens laughing in the distance. I smile and chuckle to myself remember the fun we had riding together. My memories from our our two weeks are so vivid, their voices clear, and it's like I'm still in their company. Our two weeks together flew by, but at the same time I feel as though they accompanied me for months. Their timing was perfect, as I head up north into a more remote and desolate area, without realizing it, they gave me just the boost of confidence and motivation I needed in order to embark on a new phase of my journey.

Viçens, myself, and Nuri with Mt. Robson in the background

A sad farewell amics!

Looking at the map of British Columbia and The Yukon, reality sinks in of where I'm headed. The further north I pedal, the more I penetrate Canada's sparsely populated wilderness, a natural abyss, filled with “nothing” or at least this is the adjective that everyone seems to use. The true test awaits. Limited services, harsh weather, dangerous wildlife, few people, and even fewer comfort or “perks”. Had I pedaled this territory 11 months ago, I probably would have turned around and gone directly home. But now, with 11 months of experience and adventures, I'm ready to arise to the challenge. People warn me there is “nothing” up here, but for me, I always seem to find something when there is nothing and so far up north here, it is no different.

I left Jasper with Nuri and Viçens, they led me east carrying all my bags for 90 of the 140 km I had my first day en Route to Alaska. You couldn't ask for better friends! I arrived at my Warmshowers host, to my surprise there are still a few hosts up here, about half a dozen to be precise between here and Alaska. Most advertise themselves as “non-cyclists” people or couples who have seen cyclists on their roads headed to Alaska or Argentina and realized their was a need to support them.

The dead give away that a Warmshowers host is near!

Bonnie's beautiful garden and yard
This was the case with Curtis and Bonnie, who had heard about Warmshowers word-of-mouth, and come highly recommended from another cyclist I met back in Montana. He called Curtis and Bonnie's farm a “little piece of paradise” and he wasn't joking! This active, but retired couple lives in the Watson Valley, 140 km north of Jasper. Precisely where there is suppose to be “nothing” , sandwiched between the Cariboo and the Rocky mountains is an enormous piece of property distinctly marked by various covered wagons. They are sheep wagons, otherwise know as “Home on Wheels,” from the late 1800's. I've slept in a lot of different places on my trip, but never in a sheep wagon; What a treat! With an adapted double size bed with flannel sheets (my favorite), a wash basin, stove (that doesn't work), a small solar light, and candles, I stepped inside and went back in time. I would have to say it was the most unique of places I found myself sleeping in the last 11 months. Guests here are completely self-sufficient with access to an outside solar shower, an outhouse, a huge lawn and picnic tables, and a wireless connection that reaches all the way to garden!

My first solar shower, delightful!

A typical sheep wagon from the 1890's.

My suite for the night, maybe I should ditch the panniers and cart this wagon behind me.....

Curtis, myself, and Bonnie
I arrived on Wednesday evening in time for their “Wiskey Wednesday” a get together that really doesn't involve that much whiskey, but is rather an excuse to get the neighbors together. There were 8 of us total all sitting around the table enjoying each other's company and eating what seemed to be a Thanksgiving feast to me! They had plenty of stories to share about other cyclists and also gave me a bit of Canadian and family history. Ironically Bonnie and Curtis were originally from Oregon, and moved up to help out her father with farming years and years ago. The little town of Dunster had become their home, a town where the local school has since closed and the general store is forced to sell food items that are long past their expiration date. Some would say there is “nothing” here, but for me, this little piece of paradise was the ideal place to stay and it is no wonder I decided to hang around an additional day as well! You have to take advantage of places like these, you never know when you are going to stumble across them again!

Limited services, unless of course you find a charity cycle ride en route!
I had 242 kilometers between there and my next sign of civilization, Prince George, British Columbia. With limited services, as in one solo cafe and a convenient store, most cyclists would stock up and prepare to make that route in 2 or 3 days. That would be very atypical of Melissa. Two hundred and forty two kilometers is just slightly longer than I can do in one day, but it's the perfect distance to conquer in a day and a half a tops! I got a later start than I wanted, rain had rolled in and I waited for it to stop. I hopped on my bike and started to pedal, realizing that the hilly terrain, slight head wind, and on-and-off thunderstorms would make the route more challenging and longer than I had intended. How far could I make it? That was the challenge, enough of an incentive to keep me motivated and pedaling

I hit the jackpot!

Again, on a road without any services, what is the luck of finding a cycling charity ride doing the same route? All of a sudden a pack of cyclists past me with a van leading the group down the road and another van driving behind them. About 10 km further on down the road they were pulled off to the side of the road and I decided to go over and evaluate the situation. It was my lucky day! A group of about ten local cyclists from Prince George were doing a charity ride for cancer, 400km in one day, from Jasper to Prince George, fully supported. The guys came over with a few sandwiches and then invited me to take anything I wanted from their food. I would have politely controlled the urge to take everything had it looked like they didn't have enough food, but by the looks of it, they could have rode a week with all the food they had. In hinds sight, I should have come up with a better strategy and used Ziploc bags to really be efficient gathering and storing the food, but instead I loaded up my arms full of goods from bananas to sandwiches, chocolate bars, energy bars, jelly beans, licorice, and fresh fruit. I had hit the jackpot! If only I could have kept their pace and drafted off the back for the rest of my route I would have made the 242 km in one day!

Storms on and off all day long, I maybe got 4 droplets on me!
Couldn't ask for a better free campsite, bear box and all!
Instead, I ended up spending the night close to the one cafe on this road, by a highway maintenance garage, 180 km from Dunster. This is where I ended up just as the sun set around 9pm, at which point I ate a roast beef and cheese sandwich, the only food item left from the charity van. To tell you the truth, I could have eaten about 5 sandwiches and then some more! To my luck, there was also an old dump trunk next to the maintenance shed and the cab open, so I wisely used it a a bear container and stored my other food and scented items there for the night. There was a lake close by, but I couldn't be bothered to wash up. Instead I did something I have yet to do on this trip. I simply set up my tent and sleeping bag, took off my cycling shorts, and crawled in. I never thought I would go to sleep directly after pedaling, sweaty and all, with dead bugs stuck to the sunscreen residue on my skin, without even whipping my face off with a baby wipe. Eleven months ago, I would taken the time and effort to properly clean-up, but like I said, I've reached a new level of comfort on this trip, rather, my standards have changed, they've gone down drastically! As long as I have a safe place to sleep and a somewhat full belly, I am content!

Just one wall of the bulk foods in one of four Savon's in Prince George

Since when did they start coating so much stuff in chocolate, ulala!!!!

Needless to say, the next morning I awoke famished and finished off my supply of oatmeal and started to pedal to the 60 km to “something” that lied ahead on the road. Prince George is the biggest town in central BC, a lively metropolis of 75,000 inhabitants. You'd think I'd be ecstatic to arrive in a town that has all the fast food restaurants one could want, 4 or 5 grocery stores, a Walmart, and a Costco, but to tell you the truth after being in towns where you have to grocery shop at a gas station or a bait and tackle shop, Prince George was like the big apple! Hunger led me straight to the grocery store in Prince George, but I immediately shut down, overwhelmed with the vast selection of goods. The store was so big that mentally I shut down. I felt like a horse with blinders as not to get distracted by all the selection and variety of goods. It felt like I was in a maze of food products and I couldn't seem to maneuver my way or find anything that I wanted! Rather than shop for food, I found myself taking pictures and gawking at the ridiculous selection of products. Since when did they start covering Acai blueberries with dark chocolate? And what happened to the good old-fashioned trail mix? How many varieties of jelly beans can you have? And why in a country that uses the metric system were the fruits advertised in pounds and the bulk food item prices in grams! SOS!!!! I grabbed a few items as quickly as possible and left! I prefer “nothing” rather than “something”, that is for sure!

Vianney and friends/followers....

Of course we both love looking at maps sharing our route

Oddly enough in the middle of “nowhere” in Canada, I happened to run into a former Thomson Bike Tour employee, who had been in touch with me over the past 3 months seeking advice for a Canadian bike tour he was planning. Although we had never formerly met, we had no idea we would coincide in the same region, nor at the same time, but it was an absolutely splendid encounter! Vianney had been on the road for about 2 weeks and also cycled up to Prince George from The Icefield Parkway. He was staying with friends in Prince George and we all got together on several different occasions, including an invite to try his gateaux chocolat. As you know, I never turn down an invitation for food!

Vianney, like myself, loves to bake.  Now you see it.......

Now you don't! I just can't help myself!  

Now I'm in Vanderhoof, a town that is so small, I thought I'd be lucky to find a gas station. To my surprise, last night as I rolled in, I found a Tim Horton's, A&W Root beer, a huge super market, and all the services one could possibly need. Vanderhoof is a town of about 4 or 5,000 people, the perfect size for me! I'm staying with Jolinka and John, a Dutch couple who have lived in North America all their lives. They are new to Warmshowers; new as in they signed up 4 days ago and a day after joining, I wrote them asking to be hosted. You'd never know they are new to the network based on their generous hospitality and open-minded mentality. It's like they've been hosts for years! They are world travelers themselves and the parents of four grown kids, which explains why they are just so good at opening their house to complete strangers. They live in a beautiful log home recently built by John himself, that overlooks the prairie, a peaceful and idyllic setting. Last night we enjoyed a delicious dinner and homemade dessert out on their balcony and after that I spent the evening in their massage chair, another reason why John and Jolinka will become ever famous hosts en route Alaska for years to come!

Amazing views from my host's house in Vanderhoof

A gorgeous log house in central BC, a delightful place to take refuge

So yes, I'm on the road solo, again, but I have yet to feel lonely! I keep waiting to be enveloped in the great abyss of “nothingness” that looms in northern Canada. Where are the bears? Where are the moose? Where are the endless stretches of highway with nothing but thick forests on either side of the road? For the time being I'm quite content with plenty around me to offer entertainment, companionship, and fulfill my basic needs.

If I ever settle down, I'm buying one of these chairs, even if it is the only piece of furniture in my house!

1 comment:

  1. I also stayed at Curtis and Bonnies farm in Dunster while crossing Canada in 2015!