Exploring the Inside Passage and relaxing into ‘ferry life’ provided a welcome break from days in the saddle. Glaciers, whales and small communities inaccessible by road were the headline acts and the ferry provided a great way of seeing it all. Likened to a poor man’s cruise there was even the option to camp out on the top deck, forming something resembling a mini refuge camp. Naturally I chose this option and by chance pitched up next to two German chaps doing pretty much the same trip as me but by Land Rover (www.road2rio.com). Great guys who’d made the smart move of bringing a sizeable stash of beers on board (don’t mind if I do!).
With my coastal jolly behind me it was time to get back to the matter at hand: riding south, or in the case of the past couple of weeks, almost directly east. From Prince Rupert, lured by the prospect of big snowy mountains, I cycled across British Columbia to the majestic Canadian Rockies for a spot of hiking. Following the rather ominously termed ‘Highway of Tears’ (due to a string of missing female hitchhikers) it felt surprisingly good to be back on the bike and for once completely pain free. I’m now able to actually get out of the saddle on climbs without my joints crying for mercy, quite a bonus when your power to weight ratio is as pitiful as mine!
Now that I’m starting to get stronger on the bike and am less of an exhausted wreck each day, I’ve finally got round to learning Spanish. Generally I’ve been dedicating each morning to the cause, obediently following my audio tutorials and reciting a lot of quite random sentences as I cycle along; “Look! Pablo is very drunk! He is an alcoholic”. I think I’m progressing reasonably well, although I’ve yet to practice on an actual person, instead settling for imaginary role-play with myself. Whilst not quite feature length epics, I’m trying to cover the key scenarios:
“ I would like three of what he is eating please”
“THREE??! But you are small…”
“Yes, but I am VERY hungry!”
Apart from the introduction of ‘Spanish mornings’ life on the road has generally continued as before, with my daily routine now a well practiced model of efficiency. Now that I’m starting to pass through more populated areas I’ve been able to escape the tent for the odd night and stay with kind folk from ‘warmshowers.org’ (basically the cycle touring equivalent of ‘couch surfing’). Despite my veneer of grime and general aroma these generous souls have welcomed me into their homes with open arms and have really added to the trip (big thank you to John, David & Megumi and Curtis & Bonnie!). This kind of adventure can often be a roller-coaster of highs and lows, and the day I arrived at Curtis and Bonnie’s farm is a good case in point. Convinced I wasn’t in the right place, it was pitch dark and I was absolutely exhausted, having eaten only a carrot and a couple of cereal bars the night before due to stove issues. So when a very friendly old couple answered the door and ushered me in for homemade pizza and a cold beer, I almost shed a tear! I ended up staying two nights on this idyllic little farm, with Bonnie taking it upon herself to stuff me with home cooked delights until I could barely stand. I am eternally grateful.
The downside of populated areas is that, as a grubby cyclist who lives in a tent, I often feel quite out of place. Wild camping certainly becomes trickier and in one small town ‘The Ride South’ definitely reached a new low. I arrived well past sundown and after searching in vein for the seemingly non-existent municipal campground, out of sheer desperation I ended up camping in a small park. Given the limited space I was rather unfortunately located just metres away from a children’s play area and it wasn’t until the morning that I fully appreciated the ridiculous nature of my situation. Emerging bleary eyed from my tent at 9:30am, I greeted some understandably concerned looking mums with the most refined British accent I could muster. I hoped this would go someway to reassuring them I wasn’t a raving pedophile! It seemed to work.
I’d be the first to admit that there are times when the life of a cross continental cyclist shares a number of similarities with that of a tramp. Take away the bike and the fine line between the two can be barely perceptible. This struck me when I was trying do some laundry but didn’t have the correct coins for the machine. Naturally I headed outside and I asked the first people I saw “do you have any change for the laundry?”. After a series of unhelpful responses, without so much as even looking in their pockets, it suddenly dawned on me; “Bloody hell, they think I’m begging!”. Then, thinking about my phrasing of the question and the fact that I was well into unwashed ‘wild man’ phase at this point, it kind of made sense. I was akin to the chap loitering outside Sainsburys asking whether you can “spare a little change for a coffee?” or in this case for “laundry”, whereas in actual fact it would no doubt be funding my raging crack addiction. Following this realisation I changed tack slightly, thrusting my $2 coin in full view before posing the question. Needless to say I had instant success.
It’s times like this when I often think a little badge wouldn’t go amiss saying something like; ‘I’m a chartered engineer, honest…!”. Likewise when I’m sprawled out in front of a supermarket, devouring half a roast chicken whilst almost simultaneously downing a litre of milk from the carton (probably with a little trickle running down my beard).
So, after a week and bit of cycling I finally reached the Rockies and almost immediately ditched the bike to set off on a four-day hike up into the mountains. This was quite a mission in itself as I’m not used to carrying so much clobber, but the views were absolutely cracking. I was however, apparently travelling relatively lightweight compared to the Irish guys I camped with, who, amongst other necessities, had lugged 3 litres of wine with them (talk about stereotypes). Fortunately, given the sub-zero evenings and their dwindling supply of stove fuel, I was able to barter hot tea for a cheeky tipple! Combined with the mystery beer left outside my tent it proved to be a fairly indulgent little excursion. It’s quite a surreal experience sipping red wine whilst overlooking a glacier, listening to chunks of ice breaking off and thundering down into the lake below. Definitely recommended.
I’m now resting my weary legs for a couple of days in the tourist hub of Jasper and preparing for the next leg of the trip. The plan is to head down through the Rockies before blasting back across BC to Vancouver. It’s starting to get pretty chilly at altitude, with the first snows on the passes expected soon, so the pressure’s on to get clear of the mountains fairly sharpish. My late start date in Alaska was always going to mean cutting things fine in terms of the weather, but so far I’ve been lucky, enjoying unseasonably good conditions all the way down. Hopefully the Rockies are similarly obliging!