Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Adventures of "The 3 Amics"

The Tres Amics at the Rodeo in Columbia Falls, MT

Can't help but smile in good company in the mountains!

The 3 (Tres) Amics, that is what we call ourselves, a takeoff of “The Three Amigos”. We are three friends, cyclist companions, one Oregonian and two Catalans, hence we adapted the name of The Three Amigos to match ourselves! The name suits us, after all it comes from a western comedy about three men on horseback. We are two young women and one guy on bikes, fully loaded, out to explore the great west, from Missoula Montana to Jasper, Canada! And what adventures we've had during the past 2 weeks cycling together for 1,500 km (900 miles).

Vicens and I crossed the first border of my trip together and the second to last as well!

It was rare to have these two behind me, normally they pulled me, except on the down hill when the queen of the heavy bike flew by

Nuri and Viçens have been riding with me for the past two weeks, although it feels like they've been with me from kilometer one! In spirit they have, as have many of my friends from Barcelona, especially those in my cycling club, who continue to support and motivate me throughout this loong journey. Viçens, Nuri, and I go way back, not in years, but in the kilometers we've pedaled together in Catalunya. All three of us are passionate road cyclist. Although tour cycling is different, we rode just as well with the extra weight as we do without. We live to ride; to see, explore, and experience the world on two wheels! We crave a good ride; we enjoy pushing ourselves to discover new limits, we like to go a bit further, ride a little faster, and climb even higher! We've cycled together almost every Saturday and Sunday for the past two years and understand each other well on the bike. We know each other's pace, how to ride together in a pace line, take turns drafting, and when to stop for a break. Viçens was a gentleman on the trip and did a lot of the riding out in front, keeping a moderate pace pulling us ladies along. Nuri pulled through for us on some critical moments during the steepest climbs keeping us motivated making it look so easy on the lightest of the three bikes. My role was strategic, I positioning myself in the rear visible with my florescent flappers hanging from my panniers to warm cars of our presence.

Nuri, always in good spirit unless she has a flat tire (a total of 8 until we figured out the problem)

Vicens can pedal way faster, but would hang back to keep me company and chat

Viçens is a saint. Not many men could put up with two young bubbly, energetic, chatty ladies. Nuri and I have a very similar personality, in fact, I would call her my Catalan twin! She's a primary teacher, loves the outdoors, craves being active, enjoys travels, adventures, has a similar sweet tooth and is extremely “espavilada” as they say in Spanish, meaning we are “artistically and skillfully resourceful”. We have a very similar travel style, as well, and have seen a lot of the world! Compared to other women who might need a lot of comforts, Nuri and I get by with minimal pampering! We love to explore, are keen observers, and once we make up our mind, there is no stopping us, which is why we love a good challenge or competition, which made finding places to camp a lot of fun!

Viçens in paradise!

Viçens on the other hand is more quiet and reserve and keeps a lot of his thoughts and comments to himself. Therefore, when he does speak up, you have to listen, because he's put a lot of thought into his reflections. The most memorable quote from him on the trip occurred when we were discussing religion.  Nuri and I both stated we weren't sure what happens after people die.  Viçens turned his head and quite confidently stated,...."The bike!!!"  We all started laguhing, as if we need more opportunities to cycle in the afterlife!  Although he hasn't traveled as much as we have, he's completely open to trying new things, exploring, and genuinely interested learning about people, new environments, and the culture. From s'mores to jelly beans, peanut butter, waffles, and red ropes, I don't think there was a food item Viçens tried that he didn't like, except for the coffee, which as he states, “doesn't taste like anything!”, unless it has a double or triple shot espresso! Viçens is also incredibly easy going which works goes nicely with the personality of two strong-minded woman! Rarely does he get mad, upset, or frustrated, and maintains a mild temper consistently. He doesn't speak English, which made participating in conversations a little hard, but he started picking up words and phrases from any English speaker other than myself, as they all speak 10 times slower!

After 3 punctures, we decided this was the perfect place to have lunch!  The neighbors brought us cold drinks too! 

And just when we started to pedal again, I got a flat!  
These ladies are always entertained

Together our personalities made for a lot of fun adventures! At any one time, it seemed like one of us was always laughing!  Not to mention, Nuri and I had plenty of time to have some “girl talks” while Viçens and I also reflected on my trip and compared how things had changed since we set out from Barcelona almost a year ago. We shared stories from our childhood, families and friends. There were moments of complete silence as well as moments where our voices echoed in the far off canyons. We laughed, reminisced, suffered, almost cried (after some frustrating bike mechanics issues), and became inseparable during our 2 weeks of pedaling!

Our hosts in Ronan, MT had us stay in their motor home

Our wonderful BC hosts, Joseph and Sharon. They weren't even official Warmshowers hosts, friends of one though!

For the first 8 days we were spoiled with incredible hosts, 7 in Montana and one in southern British Columbia. I had my doubts about finding hosts that would be able, and willing, to accommodate 3 people, it is a lot to ask! However, from Missoula to the Canadian Rockies, we were gratefully hosted by delightful couples and families. We cooked for a few of your hosts, but most prepared meals for us! We slept wherever our hosts had room, alternating between sharing beds, floor space, and pitching our tent in backyards.

It wasn't until Canada's national parks that our free camping adventures began! Although it has become a challenge for me to not pay for accommodation in North American, I was willing to adapt while traveling with Viçens and Nuri. Without realizing it, we entered Kootenay, Banff, Yoho, and Jasper National Parks on one of Canada's biggest holiday weekends, which meant campsites were completely booked! Our first evening in Radium Springs we use public restrooms at the park to wash up and then found a nice place in front of the visitor center for a picnic dinner. We wanted to camp behind their center, but an employee was still working inside at 10 pm. We asked her politely if we could put our tents up, but she wouldn't let us. Coming from the states, where I had never been turned denied camping in the most unusual of places, I was shocked! However, it took Nuri and I a total of about 2 minutes to find a church where we could put our tents and be tucked away. There was even an electrical outlet and water to use!

Camping behind a church, we were well protected!
The second night we arrived at a major road junction just shy of Lake Louise. There were two government campsites, but both were full and wouldn't let us enter, no even to share a site. When we asked for an alternative, they told us we might have luck 30 kilometers up the road. We laughed! It was already 7pm and riding longer was out of the question. Now, my first impression of Canadians was tainted. I was disappointed by their lack of willingness to help cyclists, not to mention the lack of hiker/biker sites. In the United States, I have never been turned away due to a full campground as a tour cyclists, they always find a way to accommodate you!

One of many picnic dinners

Riding at dusk, can't beat it!

What do you do in Canada when the official campgrounds in national parks are full? You look for an alternate place to wash up, eat dinner, and camp in the bush once it gets dark, just like any other place I've been in the US. While we waited for it to get dark, another tour cyclist rode by and told us he was headed to a park security office where he was told camping was possible for cyclists. We decided we would join him after finishing our dinner. We waited until it was fairly dark and pedaled on down the road. The best part of free camping is riding at dusk to find the perfectly hidden spot! The colors in the sky and the deep shadows are priceless. It's my preferred time to ride although it might not be the safest. Down the road we went, but never came across the park security offices. Instead we pulled off at a trailhead that happened to have an area where we could pitch our tent out of sight from the road and the parking lot that had a big “Camping Prohibited” sign posted. If needed, this is where Viçcens would speak up for us and say in his thick Spanish accent, “I'm sorry, I don't speak English!” The trailhead turned out to be a great spot and no one found us, although we were on the road by 7am!

Sunset from our illegal campsite, priceless.

"Connected" thank goodness for free wifi!
The following morning we headed over to Lake Louise to explore. We hung out on the village for a few hours taking advantage of a decent grocery store, free wifi, and good espresso. A couple nights back an American couple I met randomly in New Zealand on my trip happened to be at the Fairmont Chalet at Lake Louise and we planned on meeting up from drinks that evening if it worked out. Before setting off on our hike, we tried to get a spot at the official campground. Again, it was full and the attendant said sharing was not an option, negotiation was out of the question. We asked him about other campgrounds to try and again were told to go on to the next one 30 km up the road, although he was certain it too was full! We asked if we could camp in the wild and he laughed, telling us that we would most likely be fined and kicked out of the park. His sarcasm and lack of compassion rubbed me the wrong way. I joked with him and responded my saying, “Wow, we've been really lucky then the last two nights!” and pedaled up to the lake. Plan B was to hike, wait for it to get dark and find another place off the beaten track to camp. We enjoyed the day hiking up to The Pain of Six Glaciers and on our way back stopped by the hotel where my friends Bill and Sharman were hanging out at the saloon. Wouldn't you know, this is the 3rd encounter I've had with them, two complete strangers before I approached them on the streets of a small town in New Zealand, asking for directions. They themselves had been out hiking and met a Catalan couple from Barcelona and told us they were also having trouble camping with their motor home rental, but had luckily found a place to camp at the neighboring lake. Sharman and Bill had dinner plans at a local restaurant, but we enjoyed thewir company and delicious nachos. At first they offered for us to shower in their room while they went to dinner, but then they gave us an offer we couldn't resist and invited us to use the hotel spa!

Hiking to the Plain of Six Glaciers
Bill, Sharman, and myself,....our third meet-up of my trip!

You should have seen Nuri and Vicen's eyes light up when they heard the word jacuzzi. It was as if they had a winning lottery ticket. I was equally delighted, after all, it had been two days since we'd properly showered and we'd worked up quite a sweat hiking and biking. Not to mention they had towels, toiletries, even a hair dryer and a centrifuge to dry our hair and suits afterwards! There are a lot of outdoorsy people at Lake Louise, so we wouldn't have been out of place in the jacuzzi, but we were incapable of hiding our highly defined tan lines. The sauna, jacuzzi and long hot shower left us as good as new and we even met a nice young employee who gave us the password for the hotel internet access. After pampering ourselves in the spa we headed to the lobby to connect to wireless. If only someone had taken a picture of the three of us, you wouldn't have recognized us being so clean and perfumed!

The jacuzzi, it was such a treat you can't even imagine!

It was approaching dark and we still hadn't scouted out a place to camp. However, Nuri and I were convinced we could go find the Catalan couple camping in their motorhome up at lake Moraine. We went in search of them to see if we could share their camp site. We even joked about the possibility of the Catalan couple feeding us dinner,.....wouldn't we be lucky! Again, we had another beautiful ride at dusk, we hardly noticed the road that climbed for 12 km (8 miles) up to the lake. Nor did we notice the lack of signs posted for services  at Lake Moraine.  There wasn't a campground sign, but we were too caught up in the thought of meeting Catalans in Canada.   In fact, we even joked about the possibility of the Catalan couple feeding us dinner,.....wouldn't we be lucky!

Another ride at dusk up to a campground that didn't exist.  We were happy we got to see the lake.

To our luck, or should I say ignorance, we arrived at Lake Moraine only to find a luxurious lodge with one vacant room for $600 a night and NO campgrounds. There was RV parking, but no official campground. Opps! We had overlooked that minor detail! What to do now? Don't forget we are resourceful and brave! The 3 Amics put their heads together and thought about hitchhiking back down, but since it was so late we opted for camping next to a small picnic hut 200 meters from the parking lot. Yes, free camping in a national park is prohibited in Canada, but we didn't have any alternative and frankly we were more worried about bears than being caught by humans as Moraine lake is a “high alert area” for bears. Thankfully we had some groceries left over from the morning for dinner, and we were up and packed by 6am!

The bear thing is for real, we had 2 sightings in our two weeks

the three is for our 3rd night of free camping in a Canadian Nation Park without being caught,....or for The 3 Amics!

Needless to say the next day we were tired but pedaled through some breathtaking scenery and glaciers that made up for our lack of sleep. That night we were prepared to pay for a primitive hostel at our destination, but since neither it or the campground next door had a shower, we opted for the campground. We went to find a vacant site and ended up encountering another tour cyclist who let us share his campsite. This campground was a self-register site and we didn't have to deal with any unpleasant hosts, but it also wasn't prohibited to share, thankfully!

Talk about being resourceful, eating breakfast and doing laundry while getting free wifi!

In Canada, so far, it isn't easy to find accommodation in a national park, EI ?!?! Wouldn't you know the town of Jasper is also officially within national park boundaries? When we arrived here without a host and with both campgrounds full, you would think the churches we asked, would take us in, right? WRONG!!! Rejected again! Where is the love and encouragement for tour cyclists here? After never being turned away for the night when asking to camp in the US, I've basically only been rejected in Canada. This is where I plan to cycle for the next three weeks and I hope our experience over the last several days is not representative of what I will find everywhere else in Canada! Thankfully, at the last moment a Warmshowers host pulled through for us in Jasper and although we had to leave early in the morning, we were able to get our basic needs met: a hot showers, clean clothes, and had access to a kitchen to prepare meals! I will give Canadians the benefit of the doubt so far. I am hopeful that the only reason we had to free camp illegally for four consecutive nights is because of the holiday weekend. I think I will have better luck traveling solo the further north I go into the land of remoteness!

The 3 Amics are here!

Melissa, Nuri, and Viçens, CC Gracia abroad!

Sadly the adventure of The Tres Amics has officially come to an end. Tonight a celebration looking back and reflecting on all our adventures and tomorrow a big farewell! Nuri and Viçcens will accompany me for the first 50 kilometers of my route up north to Alaska and then turn back.  I've never felt lonely cycling alone for the past 11 months, but something tells me I might be overcome with this feeling on my way north after my delightful company. Nuri and Viçens were amazing cycling companions before these two weeks and now I feel as though we are inseparable! They have become an extension of me. We are like 3 peas in a pod and travel flawlessly together! In fact, we've already decided that there will be a The Tres Amics: Part 2 bike trip back in Spain/Europe in the near future! Stay tuned!

To view the complete photo albums from our trip together, click here!

Columbia Icefield, our last day riding in Jasper National Park, until we meet again!


  1. You look so happy! How wonderful to share such great company, and that scenery is amazing!