Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Bellingham or Bust!

The US/Canadian border north of Bellingham, WA
Bellingham, Bellingham, Bellingham.....Oh, how I wanted to get to Bellingham! It wasn't my final destination, but it could have been, really, because it was there that I was meeting my sister and her family, including a nephew I had never met, little Owen Seilo, now 11 months old! I've seen my parents twice on this trip, and one of my three brothers and his kids, but I had yet to meet my sister, Jenny.  She likes to think of my trip as a pregnancy.  The 14 month gestation period being the length of my trip and my arrival in Oregon equivalent to the arrival of a new family member.  I haven't actually seen my sister's family since February of 2013, almost two years ago, so you can imagine how anxious I was to arrive in Bellingham. With my life on the road, I do well being in the present and living in the moment but I have to admit, I was eager to get to Bellingham as I approached the US and Canadian border. It was a challenge to try not to fast forward with every revolution of my pedal the closer I got to The United States.

Riding down to Horseshoe Bay, the road Sea-to-Sky is appropriately named

BC Ferries, I'm not a big fan.....they could use some schedule improvements and lower fares

I intended to explore the Vancouver, pedal the Sunshine Coast and Vancouver Island but being the optimist that I am after rerouting myself through southern British Columbia, I ended up running out of time and my visit to Vancouver was shorter than I would have liked.  Looking back at it now, I know that I subconsciously put off my visit to Vancouver. After pedaling though remoteness and places where there is only one highway, Vancouver, although a bike friendly city, scared me! So many people, mazes of roads, neighborhood after neighborhood, and countless stores, cafes, restaurants, and other services. Overwhelmed would be an understatement to express my feelings regarding my arrival to British Columbia's metropolis. Therefore, I delayed my arrival, taking a detour to the Sunshine Coast, hoping that the name of this region would be promising, gifting me with some delightful weather. Rather than pedaling from Whistler and Squamish directly into Vancouver, I opted for the Horseshoe Bay ferry across to Gibson, the first town on the Sunshine Coast. Although Gibson is at sea level, contrary to intuition, the road from Whistler is not one big downhill!
More great views from the ferry
By the time I arrived at Suzie and Jim's house in Gibson, on the Sunshine Coast, I was beat! This family was new to Warmshowers, but by no means did they lack experience in hosting.  I got extremely lucky because Suzie, like me, loves to bake and she had just baked up a storm, not even knowing I was coming. In fact she probably regretted making a fresh batch of cinnamon buns, cookies, and rolls because I had a hard time controlling myself around all those delicious sweet treats. Not only was I spoiled with the food, but they also had a jacuzzi.  Minutes after my arrival I was soaking in it.  In my opinion, a jacuzzi is the next best thing to a massage chair, which I've experienced at the house of a couple of my hosts. Pure luxury!! The next morning it was hard to leave the fresh baked goods and nice company, but I went off to explore the area (with a bag of goodies of course)!

Uuuu-la-la!!! Fresh baked goods!

Keen sandal tan lines enjoying a soak in the jacuzzi
Exploring the Sunshine Coast and some of the towns

Dark clouds loomed over Vancouver Island in the distance, but my skies were sunny!
The Sunshine Coast held true to it's name and despite the dark clouds, not a drop of rain fell as I did a circular route and headed back to the ferry into Vancouver. As I cycled into the city, I was intimidated by the dense urban center.  Las Vegas was the last "big city" I cycled and after that, I used the term big city rather generously meaning, any town that had a supermarket where bananas sold for less than two dollars a piece.  Big cities had proper grocery stores rather than a gas station convenience store, and a visitor center if I was lucky.  Vancouver, I concluded, is a cross between Melbourne and Sydney with Portland's climate. With a large international population this cosmopolitan city is a foodie capital and has various ethnic neighborhoods. Vancouver is also bike friendly, although I wouldn't say the same for the surrounding area. It was suicide riding the Sea-to-Sky highway and the roads on the Sunshine Coast are far from ideal for cycling.

Some buildings in downtown Vancouver

Decorated granaries on Granville Island
Vancouver BC's skyline

Ken and Patsy were my hosts in Vancouver; friends-of-friends, and extremely patient hosts with my ever changing itinerary and arrival date. I stayed with them for three nights. On the first day, I made it out for a long run around the University of British Columbia campus before the rain started, which I actually welcomed so as to not feel guilty spending the day inside doing some trip logistics. The following day I got poured on during my morning run, but had gorgeous weather for sight seeing afterwards. I met a friend for lunch, Robbin, who runs a bike touring company.  He set me up with a rental bike to pedal around town. I spent the afternoon pedaling around Granville Island, Stanley Park, downtown, the inlet, and then out to his house for a potluck dinner with other tour cyclists. He had invited a Swiss cyclist who I had heard of, and a couple of other tour cyclists and we all shared our experiences on the road with videos and photos. Just as I was starting to accept the idea of ending my trip, I felt a sudden urge to continue pedaling to more far off places. I left the potluck feeling rather nostalgic and confused, uncertain and sad about the near future. Feelings that would visit me again a few days later.

With the dark rain clouds, Vancouver's architecture glowed.  No, of course I didn't get rained on- Lucky me!

Great art all around Vancouver

The next morning, I left for Bellingham, excited to see my sister. Crossing the US and Canadian border was much easier than I thought, both the route and customs. The key to avoiding long lines at an American border is biking. Cyclists get to use the express lane and have virtually no wait time compared to vehicles and foot passengers. What a perk, eh?!?!

The cyclists drooling in awe with Chris' slide show

Welcome back to the US of A! 

I was tickled to see the bike sign and even more to see there was no cue in my lane

From the American border to Ferndale, a town north of Bellingham, I had more smooth riding on almost all flat roads. I spent the evening family friends of the Seilo's, Annmarie and Mack. What a perfect place to stay! AnnMarie is a potter and Mack, a commercial fishermen in Alaska. They live in a artsy farmhouse on a gorgeous piece of property  with a garden full of fresh veggies and have a freezer full of Alaska fish! I was in heaven to say the least, both with my art and ceramic background and my new profound respect for Alaska and the fishing industry. The conversation and food that night was endless.

Mack, Annmarie, and Me

The next morning I went to Ferndale High School to talk with the Spanish 4 and 5 classes before pedaling into Bellingham. Grade 2 is my comfort zone for my presentation, but I was surprised how much I enjoyed talking with the older kids about my trip, especially in Spanish. The students had an unbelievably high level of Spanish and had been studying the concept of travel, which was a perfect way to tie in my trip. I enjoyed my visit so much, I could have stayed and talked with them for another hour, but my sister was waiting in Bellingham and I was eager to see them.

Talking at Ferndale High School Spanish 4 and 5

The long awaited arrival

Gwyneth and Peter had on the t-shirts Viçens had made for me

Not even the constant showers on the way down to Bellingham stopped me as Mack rode with me, leading the way into town, making the ride go even faster.  Had it been any other day, I would have rode more leisurely and looked at the scenery for this 15 miles stretch, but I couldn't wait another mile, Bellingham or bust was all I could think about! Finally, after a year and a half, I would get to see my niece and nephew and meet Owen! I could hear them talking a ways down the main street of town and they started cheering as I got closer.  Gwyneth 6, and more grown up in person than she looked in the pictures wasn't shy at all. She came right up for a big hug, while her brother Peter, 3, seemed more reluctant and stood behind my sister, not knowing what to think. He quickly warmed up to me while it was Owen who looked perplexed, assessing this new person whose voice somewhat resembled his mom's along with her mannerisms.

Wheres Waldo, hours (minutes) of endless fun

Owen at his finest, feeding himself
I wasn't counting on any big plans during the weekend. It's hard to plan activities with three little kids all on different nap schedules.  I was content just having time with them, hanging out at the Seilo's house that backs up to Whatcom Lake, a gorgeous lake with fir trees lining the shore. It is familiar scenery, similar to what I had seen in the Vancouver area. I played with Peter and Gwyneth, read stories them stories, and helped with bedtime. I experienced feeding Owen which is a lost cause because he wants so badly to do it himself, but half the food if not more ends up in his high chair or on the floor.  I was thrilled to have time with them, but didn't realize how much I was craving sister time as well! Jenny and I managed to escape and do a nice long walk and stayed up at night talking, talking, and talking even more. Conversation was endless and so was the laughing! After a half day with Jenny, Paul and family, it felt as though my bike trip was a thing of the past, as if I'd been home all this time and we'd never skipped a beat!

fishing on the lake before departing Sunday morning

Owen could tell we were sisters. My voice and mannerisms are awfully similar to his Mom's
For the past month, I'd been imagining my arrival to Bellingham and the excitement I'd experience. I didn't anticipate the parallel feeling of sadness, confusion, and nostalgia. It's strange how your reality can change abruptly without any warning. A year ago, I left my conventional life (although some might argue that living and working abroad is not that conventional) and went off to explore the world pedaling my bike. In that year, I experienced a lot of other people's realities and got a glimpse of their daily life: people young and old, rich and poor, religious and secular . My world collided with theirs momentarily, going back and forth as if on a teeter-toter, from living my dream to their reality. Visiting my family, I suddenly realized that I was about to be immersed in the “real world”. My bike trip would soon be a thing of the past, a fond memory that brings a smile to my face or tears to my eyes reminiscing about the abundance of experiences I've had all over the world that have become anecdotes and stories, both funny and scary. From the day I departed, I knew that my trip would eventually come to an end, but I didn't expect the feelings of sadness to accompany those of joy when I saw my family.

What's next? Are you going to go back to Barcelona? Will you have a more conventional life now that your trip is over? Everyone asks me these questions, expecting that I have an answer.  If they don't dare ask me, they ask my sister, or my family. I should know the answer to these questions, after all I've had a year to think about it. But ideas that flutter through your head are much different than those that come about when there is a specific destination or an end in sight. With about two weeks left on the road, I hope more than ever, that time passes slowly. If I pedal slower, my trip will last longer? I need some alone time to digest what is to come and to cherish this moment, making it last as long as possible.

I opted for my bike, but I'm sure this is an entertaining car with so many little bodies
I could have just hopped in the car with them and driven down to Portland and been done with my trip. I'm actually not sure which is harder, riding in a car full of kids and luggage for five hours or riding a bike with an extra 100 lbs? I've never been so close to a destination, but felt so far away, both mentally and physically. It took Jenny's family 5 hours in a car to drive from Bellingham to Portland, but I won't be there for another 10 days as I leisurely make my way down south, timing my visit in Portland with Columbus Day weekend cherishing every moment I have on my bike.


  1. Wow, really cute niece and nephews, and those cinnamon buns looks amazing! I can only imagine how weird it must feel for you to "be done" with your trip, but I can't wait to see what you do next. I hope you're going to continue this blog! :)

  2. Loved this whole entry! Really appreciate your honesty about not knowing what is next and not being ready for the trip to be over. Relish every minute of the next 10 days. Looking forward to seeing you back in Bluegene :)


    1. So much easier to think about the future in theory than in reality. Heart vs. head,......nothing changes! See you soon Kathy!