Author Topic: Over the hills and far away...  (Read 7368 times)

John Saxby

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Re: Over the hills and far away...
« Reply #30 on: November 03, 2016, 03:45:30 PM »
Thanks, Alfie!

Jags, your grandson has excellent taste  ;-)

jags

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Re: Over the hills and far away...
« Reply #31 on: November 03, 2016, 05:09:10 PM »
i told him his daddy just bought it he was delighted. ;D

John Saxby

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Re: Over the hills and far away...
« Reply #32 on: November 04, 2016, 10:23:03 PM »
Resuming the narrative, after that splendid '55 Stude -

Section II.2:   St Mary, MT, to Nelson, BC (cont'd)

From Libby, my route angled northwest to and beyond the neighbouring village of Troy, across and beside the Kootenai (sometimes Kutenai) River. I left Montana, climbing up and out of the Yaak River Valley (site of a fine US Forestry Service campground) and the Kootenai watershed, and across the state line into Idaho. I saw only the northeastern corner of a state I’d never visited, except vicariously:  years back, I had read Donald Maclean’s A River Runs Through It, and I had been intrigued and captivated by his descriptions of its rugged beauty. (Redford stars in the movie of the same name, which was made in Montana—but who’s to know?—and its scenery is well worth a look.)

Not rugged beauty, but the combination of pasture and mountains made for attractive countryside:

http://tinyurl.com/z4kuorw
 
On the other hand, there must be a Very Weird Undercurrent to life in Idaho:  http://tinyurl.com/htk3tcd

A sign like this is deeply bizarre, but it’s not inexplicable. When you see a sign like this, you know that someone has tried to do it at least once. Is this why the state seems under-populated—there’s a queue of Darwin Award wannabe’s? It’s best not to dwell on such things, nor to look too closely under the corner of the carpet…

Since we’re now into Roadside Distractions, we may as well add another one or two.

http://tinyurl.com/jtdnmpo 

There are all too many such crosses beside Montana’s highways. Sometimes they are single, sometimes in 2’s and 3’s, testaments less to devotion than to the costs of motor traffic.

This helpful tip for motorists appears beside State Road 20 further west in Washington, on the lower slopes of Washington Pass:  http://tinyurl.com/helb86e 

It shows no sign of irony, yet in a way it's surely a microcosm of the global problem: By switching on the aircon you make yourself more comfortable, but in doing so, you’re adding another log to the fire. If only the bigger problem were just a matter of flipping a switch  :(

Still in Washington State, this time in the Okanogan district, some whimsical and striking steel-plate sculpture adorns the roadside. Here, a mustang makes a dramatic counterpoint to that cowboy 'way up north near Longview, Alberta:

http://tinyurl.com/jkzk7qd 

Back to the thread, lest it unravel completely, and then where would we be? -  I spent no more than a morning crossing the NE corner of Idaho, stopping for lunch at the Canadian border post just south of Creston, BC. I had planned to camp on the eastern shore of East Kootenay Lake—the Kootenay River, turning north, changes spelling and bulges into lake status when it reaches BC. I checked with the Tourism Office in Creston, and the helpful young lady there assured me that Lockhart Lake Provincial Park was no more than about 40 km up the lake, and the road, moreover, was quite flat.

So, in mid-afternoon I headed north from Creston for what I thought would be a fairly easy two hours’ ride. It was anything but, the road a series of stiff short climbs and rapid descents. Rain clouds were massing on the far shore, and a brisk westerly began to raise a chop on the lake. I pushed on—surely the campground was not far off—as the mist blew in and rain began to slant down. I was getting tired, nearing the end of a long hilly day, 120-plus kms, having already climbed out of the Yaak River valley and the Kutenai watershed in Montana and Idaho. The campground which the kind lady in the tourist office had assured me was easily reachable was assuredly not. 

Then I wheeled around a downhill right-hander, and–lo!—there was the Holbrook Falls Motel, complete with gazebo and greenhouse, a stream splashing down from the hills behind it.  Equal parts delighted and surprised--it had appeared on none of my maps--I rode in towards what seemed to be the adjoining house and office. An older gent came out to meet me. I took off my wet gloves, and my helmet–-by now, the rain had stopped-–and asked if Lockhart PP was nearby. He stroked his chin and said, “Well, no, I wouldn’t say so—maybe another 15 or 20 kms.” So I asked if he had a room. “Why yes,” he said “We do.” “And how much would it be?” I asked. “Well, how much do you think it should be?” he replied. Slightly baffled, I said, “I have no idea – your call, really.” He said, “How does $50 sound?” What could I say but, trying to sound measured and offhand although I was knackered and slightly desperate, “Sounds wonderful. I’ll take it.”  And wonderful it was. He showed me a large room with a kitchen, plus a bathroom and a spacious screened-in deck out back for my bike—some kind of deal for a damp and tired rider.

The owners are Pat and Ramona. After I’d washed, rested, and eaten, they asked me to join them for a glass of wine with some visiting friends. A congenial and occasionally raucous evening ensued, with more than just a glass or two of wine and brandy. He is an Anglo from the Eastern Townships of Québec, and a few years older than me; she is about my age, an Algonkian from Maniwaki, just north of Ottawa, near le parc de la Vérendrye where I’ve paddled so many times. The motel was their retirement project, and after twenty-some years, they are scaling back the size of their operation. They were full of curiosity about my trek, and generous in their praise; I thanked them for choosing their motel two decades ago, and for their quality wine and brandy. We shared stories about the Ottawa Valley and West Québec, and of course the great teams of les Canadiens. Such a small world.

Freed of the enveloping mist and rain of the day before, East Kootenay Lake made for a beautiful ride on a sunny morning: http://tinyurl.com/hnlrx4v
 
The view northward from the ferry to the West Arm of the lake, later that morning, was if anything more dramatic still: http://tinyurl.com/jxzd8zf
 
Oblivious to the surrounding grandeur, Osi the Raven leaned against the rail and caught forty winks in the sunshine: http://tinyurl.com/j3eusn6   

On the run-in to Nelson, a once-upon-a-time grande dame watches over a passing cyclist. In the early part of the 20th century, the sternwheeler SS Nasookin was the queen of the lake fleet of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Launched in 2013, its beauty has been recognized and preserved, although its splendid form is now divorced from its original function: http://tinyurl.com/jks2bwb

The local newspaper ran a nice story on its centenary: http://www.nelsonstar.com/news/205152921.html


Nelson is a small town of 10,000, beautifully situated among hills and mountains on the far southwestern corner of the Western Arm of Kootenay Lake. A cyclist entering from the east, across the BOB (as the residents call the Big Orange Bridge, despite or because it’s clearly pink) sees a town hugging the shore, its urban trees a blanket of green: http://tinyurl.com/hdrc8rj   

I stayed with longtime friends for a couple of nights, resting and eating and catching up. They live on the southern edge of town, well over a kilometre back from the lakeshore – and their street rises in a series of steps, each with a grade of 15-17%. I made it up the hill, just, and only by pausing before each sharp rise. It could have been worse—they have neighbours whose street has a 23% grade.

Nelson was founded in the resource booms of the late 19th century, and its downtown is studded with splendid old stone buildings built a century-plus ago. By happy accident, these were not torn down in the widespread modernizing fervour of the 1960s and 70s, and the town’s architectural heritage is now recognized and admired. Sited as it is on a small strip of (sorta) flat land between lake and mountains, it’s been spared the excesses of big-box stores and strip malls which blight so many North American towns and cities. It’s a centre for mountain-biking, skiing, and hiking, and has a thriving artistic life—on my second night there, my friends took me to the final night of the city’s annual literary festival. The main meeting room in the old city hall was jammed full of people, all of whom seemed to know each other, and several of whom knew that I was “the guy riding his bike from Jasper to the Washington coast.”

Just above my friends’ house, one of the town’s old rail beds has been converted to a path for cycling, walking and trail running, and cross-country skiing. Not hard to understand why they moved there in the mid-70s (they just got so tired of the rain in Vancouver), not to understand why they haven’t left, except for a few years working as foresters in Mozambique in the early 1980s, which is where we met.

Make no mistake, though – Nelson’s steep grades do present a challenge to walkers and cyclists, even without a load. My friends minimize the use of their car, partly by using Pedego electric bikes. They still have their conventional bikes, but say that the e-bikes really do make a difference – they now use these when they go to evening meetings downtown, instead of succumbing to the temptations of the internal combustion engine. I had a chance to try out one of the Pedegos, and my little test run included the near-vertical (well, 23%) street in the neighbourhood. It took a little getting used to, but now I understand why e-bike riders seem so unfussed by long steep climbs—just dial in a little more pedal assist, or even use the throttle. Pretty slick when you’re starting on a such a steep hill.

Stay tuned -- soon to resume as: Section II.3, Nelson, BC, to the Washington Coast


« Last Edit: November 04, 2016, 10:28:34 PM by John Saxby »

John Saxby

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Re: Over the hills and far away...
« Reply #33 on: November 10, 2016, 09:08:46 PM »
Section II.3   Nelson, BC, to the Washington coast

Well-fed and rested, I left Nelson and headed south towards the US border via a long uphill on a humid drizzly morning in early July. (It was strange weather, my friends told me – in April, they’d had the heat of August, and in the first week of July, the rains of June.) My route took me to Salmo, a small town on Hwy 3, a road I had last seen a couple of weeks earlier much further east near Crowsnest Pass.

Salmo shows a visitor its fine old wooden hotel:http://tinyurl.com/hysqnry  And a few doors south of that, the Dragonfly Café serves an A-grade lunch at reasonable prices.

The route angles SW through pastoral countryside… http://tinyurl.com/zcu9wmw 

…and connects with the Columbia River near Montrose, a few miles north of the US border:  http://tinyurl.com/j7weax9
   
My route into Washington State took me south along the east bank of the Columbia to its confluence with the Kettle River, just north of the town of Kettle Falls. (The Falls are now submerged beneath the waters of FDR Lake, created by the Grand Coulee Dam some 70 miles further south and west.) In Kettle Falls, I picked up Washington State Road 20, and rode west across the bridge over FDR Lake. I would remain on SR 20 until I reached the coast—it continued all the way west to Anacortes, and turned south to Whidbey Island, north and slightly west of Seattle, which was the end point of my ride.

The ACA route map shows four major passes in the first 230-plus miles west of Kettle Falls: Sherman (5,575 ft), Wauconda (4,310), Loup Loup (4,020), and Washington (5,477). Rainy Pass is a hiccup on the descent from Washington Pass, at 4,855 ft. They are manageable at 5-6% for the most part, though long enough at 25-plus miles.

The map provides a suitably exaggerated image of the grades of the different passes:   http://tinyurl.com/pqg3dv9
 
I wasn’t sure about how well I would handle the sequence of the passes, so camped overnight on the eastern flanks of Sherman, in order to get an early start. As it turned out, I managed two passes, Sherman and Wauconda, on my first day of re-immersion in the high country. The heights aside (Ontario’s highest point is about 2200 feet above sea level – the hills back home are still recovering from being squashed by a mile and more of ice in the last Ice Age), the landscapes of the first two passes lacked the spectacular beauty and grandeur of my climbs in the Rockies. Sherman Pass was a sweaty climb, about three hours-plus, without much of a view from the summit at just less than 6,000 feet:  http://tinyurl.com/jdbt2hx   

On the 20-mile downhill into the small town of Republic, though, I had my first and only moment of real anxiety on my journey. Soaked with perspiration from my long climb, I had a mid-morning snack at the summit, put on my rain jacket as protection against the rush of wind I knew I would face, and set off to enjoy the descent. Within a mile, I started to feel chilled; a mile further, I was yawning. I realized then what was happening—the first signs of hypothermia—so immediately wheeled into a convenient parking lot, an educational site for a huge fire that had raced through the watershed a decade ago. I changed into a dry undershirt and cycling jersey, and put on every thread of clothing—my rain pants and booties to go with my jacket, my overgloves, my sweater and both my muffs, one as a scarf ‘round my neck and one as a skullcap under my helmet. Then I put my rain cover on my helmet. It worked. To my relief, the chills left me, and I reached the bottom less than an hour later, warmed by the sun and shielded from the wind by my rain gear. On the outskirts of town, there was a family restaurant. I ducked into it and refuelled with a big chilli burger.

The road to Wauconda Pass was a series of rollers through cultivated forest. It helps if you like trees, which I usually do, but truth be told, this was pretty boring: http://tinyurl.com/gtzbovq   

Beyond Wauconda Pass, the landscape changes dramatically. Conifers give way to sagebrush as a rider enters the Okanogan River valley, which lies in the rain shadow of the Cascades, more than a day's ride further west. The long downhill from Wauconda Pass to Tonasket has some beautiful vistas, full of soft colors:  http://tinyurl.com/pw2jqf4     http://tinyurl.com/p8rzoab    http://tinyurl.com/o23agnd   http://tinyurl.com/ouwqh3n    http://tinyurl.com/odjvt6y   

South of Tonasket, nearing the riverside village of, well, Riverside, one sees huge whalebacks of granite, weathered dark and looking as if they'd just been transplanted from the spine of Africa:
http://tinyurl.com/obfeuhc
 
A few miles further south and west, beyond the small towns of Omak and Okanogan, the road begins the ascent to Loup Loup Pass. At just over 4,000 feet, it’s the lowest of the group of four on this route, although the summit is a full 3000 feet from the valley floor. Its lower reaches proved to be as tough a climb as any on my ride. I had stopped for a mid-afternoon snack and a couple of handfuls of fresh fruit at the exemplary café-winery-farm stand operated by Smallwood Farms. On the advice of the staff there, I had taken on a couple of litres of extra water – the unsupervised campground at Leader Lake, where I was headed, had no potable water. It was the hottest day of my four weeks on the road, probably 30-plus degrees, and a stiff hot southwesterly was boring into my face, shoulders and chest as I began. I was down to my lower gears, 3 and 4, almost immediately. I reached a brief plateau full of fruit orchards—I might have been in the Okanagan Valley further north in BC—watered by a rushing stream in a deep roadside ditch. The climb resumed, and I had to go down to my lowest gear. I was soaked with sweat, and that damn’ stream just rushed and gurgled, and had the ditch not been so rocky, steep and deep, I might have scrambled down to cool off.

After an hour or so of this serious-but-not-dangerous discomfort, I reached the campground, and a peaceful place it was, too:   http://tinyurl.com/njs8y84     

Beautiful, to be sure, but the camping area was the trashiest I had ever seen, and the lake—the source of that gurgling inviting stream that had tormented me—was dirty and malodorous. I forsook my standard practice of swimming in lakes beside campsites. Yer not on the Canajan Shield anymore, John, so curb yer enthusiasms.

The westward descent from the Loup Loup summit leads towards the small town of Twisp in the Methow River Valley, the peaks of the Cascades clear in the middle distance: http://tinyurl.com/pyqt4oe 

The Methow Valley has a “Hidden Valley” quality, its peaceful well-watered landscapes dotted with a handful of settlements near the river:  http://tinyurl.com/pwk65ob   http://tinyurl.com/q56wdjm   
 
Washington Pass itself was a long and sometimes strenuous climb, some 3500 feet in a little less than four hours, snack breaks included. The scenery surrounding the summit was worth the effort, however:

http://tinyurl.com/hzt8ay8  http://tinyurl.com/zf96p2g    http://tinyurl.com/gt6mbx7
 
The summit itself was certainly more grand than the three before it. Not a patch on Highwood Pass, Alberta, though:  http://tinyurl.com/z7xalap   
 
The long descent to the lowlands was a superb ride, and I was glad to be riding west (without a headwind, for a change) so that I could enjoy the landscapes. It was all helped no end by warm sunshine and a brilliant blue sky. I rode through a magical combination of rushing streams, dark wet cliffs, deep green conifers, and occasional flashes of snowfields, all set against a July sky the colour of cobalt:

http://tinyurl.com/h2gmgf3  http://tinyurl.com/zm3prp3   http://tinyurl.com/jenbfds 

The streams conspire to create the Skagit River, which eventually empties into Puget Sound. Leaving the Cascades, it runs through a deep gorge, and before that, a cyclist can lunch at a picturesque diner in the hamlet of Marblemount:  http://tinyurl.com/z8kwd2u   

I reached tidewater (still at arm’s-length in this photo) at Padilla Bay between Sedro-Woolley and Anacortes:
http://tinyurl.com/h82lckb   

Further south, the bridge at Deception Pass links the mainland to Whidbey Island: http://tinyurl.com/gorfzbc 

I found a couple of enjoyable campsites south of Deception Pass on Whidbey island, and a ferry to take me to the train station at Everett, but this view of the bridge serves as a suitable bookend for my visual tour of the grand landscapes in my trip. There’s another side to my journey, however, one which makes it a larger story.

Pt III will tell the tale.
« Last Edit: November 11, 2016, 02:11:02 AM by John Saxby »

John Saxby

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Re: Over the hills and far away...
« Reply #34 on: November 10, 2016, 10:10:35 PM »
Part III   

Even though the landscapes were as beautiful and majestic as I had remembered them, my journey through the mountains gradually became much more—a tale of chance encounters and engaging conversations, and of the kindness and generosity of strangers, their offers of water, beer, food and lodging gratefully accepted. There were many examples, almost daily it seemed. Here are just a few —

The first hint of another story was immediate, improbable, and utterly unexpected. Some 30 kms west of Hinton on my first afternoon, I stopped at the kiosk marking the eastern boundary of Jasper National Park. The young guy at the wicket asked me for $30 for the three nights I planned to stay in the in the park. I rummaged in my handlebar bag to fish out my wallet. “Hey!” someone shouted behind me. I turned around and a burly fortyish fellow in a ¾-ton pickup said to the young guy in the kiosk, “I’ll pay his registration.” He eased his truck forward and handed over a couple of 20’s for his ticket and mine. I walked over and thanked him for his generosity, so surprised that I was fumbling for words. “Don’t mention it,” he said. “It’s the least I can do. Guys like you riding the Parkway on bicycles – I could never do that!” And with that, he wished me good luck, waved, and headed off to his stop in Kimberley in BC, 500 kms to the southwest.

Later that same day, I had pitched camp at the Snaring River campground just east of Jasper. Heading to the self-registration site, I fell into step with a couple in their early thirties. We charred, and they offered me a handful of cherries from the small basket they were carrying. I gratefully accepted, and said, “Where did you get these? Not around here, surely?” “No,” they said. “They’re from our back yard.” “And where’s that?” I asked. “We’re from Kelowna, [BC],” she said. “We come here regularly to camp and hike—there’s nothing like this at home.” “Nothing like this where I live, either,” I said, understating the obvious. Turned out that they are both massage therapists, she an Anglo from Kelowna, he a Franco-Ontarian from Cornwall, a little over an hour southeast of Ottawa on the St Lawrence. They had met at college in Toronto, and had set up their practice in Kelowna, its rapidly growing population of retirees assuring a market for their skills. They kindly gave me the remainder of their home-grown cherries, and I wished them well on their hiking holiday.

A few days later, I left the splendid hill country of Kananaskis and headed south on Hwy 22 through the rolling benchland pastures to Crowsnest Pass. I covered 135 kms in six-plus hours of riding, pushed along by a friendly tailwind. At the pretty sundrenched campground of Lundbreck Falls, I set up camp and wandered over to the old hand pump atop the well to refill my bottles and get ready for supper. But the pump was completely kaput—not only was there no potable water, there was no water, period. I walked over to a nearby RV and asked two folks relaxing in the shade if they knew what options there were for water, and what advice they might have. They confirmed that the pump was broken and that there was no water on site. The only nearby source of potable water was in town, a few miles east; the river was OK for bathing, but the cattle pastures upstream made drinking it inadvisable unless it was treated. But there’s no problem, they said: “We’re leaving tomorrow, and we have several gallons we can give you. In fact, why don’t you join us for supper, as we’re cooking up the last of our food. Take whatever water you need, and come back in half an hour, and we’ll have some cold beer.” That wonky old hand pump, nostalgic and useless as it was, led me to spend a delightful three hours in the company of Bob and Norma, and Max, their cat, all from Red Deer, a few hours to the north. We had a well seasoned and filling supper of mac and cheese, BBQ’d sausages and salad, and several cold beers. I thanked them profusely, and complimented them on the simplicity and good taste of their meal.
 
Our conversation covered the waterfront. They were nearing retirement, and told me of Bob’s decades of work in transporting oil-rig equipment throughout the province, and of Norma’s in admin, both in firefighting and health care. They were thoughtful and candid in their assessment of the way we had built our economy and our cities—our current patterns and practices, they said, were simply unsustainable.

Later, and much further west, I was nearing the base of the climb to Washington Pass, the final pass before my descent to the Pacific Coast. It was early afternoon, and I was about 40 kms from my likely campground. There were rain clouds and squalls in the mountains to the west across the valley, so I started to wonder when and where the curves of time and distance would cross, and how much shelter there would be when they did. Two cyclists pulled abreast of me, one on a touring bike, the other on a road bike. They were unladen, and kindly slowed a bit to chat. They were headed to Winthrop, the next town along, and asked where I was. “To a campground on the lower slopes of Washington Pass,” I said, “so that I can get an early start on the climb tomorrow.” “I know a much better place to stay than that,” said the older of the two, the rider of the road bike. “Oh?” said I. “Where would that be?” “My place,” said Kurt. “It’s just a few miles up the road. Come and join us.” With the heavy grey clouds now beginning to roll down into the valley, I said, “I’d be delighted to. Thank you so much.”

A hurried half-hour or so later, just as the first huge raindrops were hitting our helmets, I rolled into Kurt and Susan’s front yard a mile west of Winthrop in the Methow River valley. They opened their spacious wooden house to give me a warm dry shelter, and a well-made shed-cum-bike-garage ensured the same for my Raven and gear.

Kurt is a retired physicist from Seattle, and Susan, a retired self-employed weaver. Their house is full of brilliant art and artisanal creations—the latter not only her own rugs and blankets, beautiful to look at and to touch, but also pottery, sculpture, and photography. Awed, I asked if everything was their own creation. “Oh no,” said Susan, modestly. “At the end of any craft show, there’s a lot of bartering done.” Some of the pottery held a superb meal of grilled chicken, pasta, pesto, and salad; some of it, local craft beer. We ate and drank and watched and listened as the rain poured down. Serendipity can do marvellous things, sometimes.

After supper, we shared a comprehensive round-the-houses talk about our lives and the world: cycling and cross-country skiing, both for the love of it and also to stay young(-ish); life in the Methow Valley after decades on the coast; grandchildren, sometimes far away; dysfunctional politics in too many places, and oddly, hopeful signs of political life in Canada; climate change; and the healthcare question.

Kurt gave me good advice on my climb over Washington Pass, especially on water sources along the way. He and Susan sent me on my way with several pieces of fresh fruit from their trees and nearby orchards.

I was touched by numerous smaller acts of courtesy. In the first week or ten days of my ride, still getting my micro-routines embedded, I often forgot to keep a firm hand on my map atop my handlebar bag whenever I stopped at cafés and supermarkets. I must have dropped it 3 or 4 times at least, and every time, a customer or the proprietor graciously said, “Sir, I think you’ve dropped this.” My forgetfulness extended more than once to water bottles left on café tables. Neither maps nor water bottles were irreplaceable, but I was still grateful to friendly strangers for paying attention, if slightly embarrassed that I wasn’t.

My bike attracted lots of attention –

At an early-morning stoplight near the eastern edge of Canmore, en route to Kananaskis, a young guy in his 20’s passed by in front of me on his mountain bike. He gave me a thumbs-up and a “Sweet rig, man!” I gave him a thumbs-up in return, and a “Thanks!”

And from a thirty-something mum from Park City, Utah, who was about to duck into the Dragonfly Café in Salmo, BC with her hubby and their 8-year-old daughter, the same “Sweet rig!”  I thanked her, and we chatted about bikes and their hometown, which our family used to visit years ago. They asked about the Dragonfly, and I told them they’d made a first-rate choice for lunch.

In the parking lot of the Visitor Centre atop Logan Pass, about 9:20 on a bright sunny Canada Day morning, I stopped beside a clutch of a dozen or so cyclists, all on West-to-East routes, some to mid-western destinations in Minnesota, others heading for the Atlantic Coast.

     “Wow! Love those fenders! Where’dja get ‘em? And the Arkel waterproofs!”

     “Oooh—is that a Rohloff hub? Never even seen one of those. What’s it like?”

There were more W-to-E cyclists at a lunchtime break at Glacier Cyclery in Whitefish, Montana. One older fellow, seventy-ish, was well informed and curious about the Rohloff, particularly wanting to know whether I had thought about a Gates belt-drive system.

At the Smallwood Farms café-winery-and-fruit-stand extraordinaire, at the foot of Loup Loup Pass, I met John, from a small town some miles further west. He and his wife are touring cyclists, having done both a W-to-E crossing of the US and a N-to-S tour to Central America. On this day, though, he was riding his BMW F-series 800cc twin, and we chatted about motorcycle touring as well. I mentioned my transcontinental ride a few summers ago on my old-but-still-sound 800cc airhead, and nodding, he said they really were wonderful machines. We share an appreciation of the quality of German engineering—not surprisingly, he knew about and was intrigued by the Rohloff.

-- and once, happily, none at all

There was one moment where the bike and I met with supreme indifference. For that, I was grateful:  Near Elbow Pass on the long ascent to Highwood Pass in Kanasaksis, an oncoming pickup slowed, and the driver waved to me. I stopped, and he said, “Just wanted to tell you that there’s a bear a few kilometres up the road.” “Thanks,” I said. “What colour?” “Brown,” he replied. “Thanks for the heads-up,” I said, and we parted with a wave.

Ten minutes along I saw a short line of vehicles stopped in my lane, maybe 600 metres ahead. In front of them, a young adult grizzly ambled across the road from right to left. He was big, but lanky, not yet mature. He disappeared into the bush, and the cars moved on. I continued, and in a couple of minutes reached the area, keeping a close eye on the brush and saplings to my left. About 75 metres in front of me, Bear re-emerged from the bush, and ambled deliberately back across the road, from my left to my right. I eased up on my pedals, slowing a bit to let him move completely across the road. He was young, to be sure, but at closer range, also a big rangy fellow, his “amble” more like a slow fluid lope. He was a very handsome guy, his coat a luxurious light brown. I was acutely aware that I could not possibly outrun him, but I felt no fear, perhaps because I hadn’t been surprised by his appearance. (Mind you, I didn’t take the time to stop and fish out my camera.)

As he melted into the brush just ahead of me and to my right—with never so much as a sideways glance, or a sniff of the air—I veered left into the oncoming lane, which was empty. I got on my bell as I did so, just to let him know, “OK Mr. Bear, I know you’re there and you know I’m here, and we both have an escape route—you do, anyway—so it’s all cool, eh?” (A hiking guide in Yukon, sixteen years ago, had told me that bears often had problems with cyclists, because they move quickly and with little noise, and thus often surprise the bears.) I was happy to be ignored, or—who knows?—maybe even treated with disdain.

The matter of bears and bikes had cropped earlier in my trip, in a less dramatic way. Just south of Jasper, I met up with Andrew, a Kiwi from Auckland. He was riding to Winnipeg, the end point of a tour from Vancouver. This trek was the first half of a ride across Canada, which he hoped to complete in 2017. We rode together to Kananaskis, at which point he turned east and I went south.

After a few big downhills on the Icefields Parkway, which I coasted down in my highest gear, he said, “John, I can hear your bike before I see you.” I said, “You’re right, Andrew. There’s a reason for that – my freewheel makes a serious racket in 14th. Tell me, though – have you seen any bears on these downhills?” “No,” he said. “There’s a reason for that, too,” I said, “and both reasons are connected.” He raised his eyebrows. “It’s like this,” I said. “Bears are smart creatures. When they hear that buzzy-ratchety-clackety freewheel in 14th, they naturally want to find out what’s going on. The conversation probably goes something like this –

    Younger bear to older bear: ‘Yo, bro! What’s that buzzy-ratchety-clackety noise from over yonder hill?’

    Older bear cocks an ear, strokes chin and says, ‘Young fella, I’ll ignore your familiarity just this once, and tell you. Listen up, if you can. It could be one of two things. First, it could be one of those trick German hubs on the silvery wheely things, the ones often ridden by the old farts. These are harmless, but you don’t want to try eating them, because they’re made of quality steel that will wreck your teeth, and they’re yucky-oily.’

    ‘But, there’s another possibility too. This may sound weird, but something deep in my ABM (FYI, that’s Atavistic Bear Memory, and you have one, even if you don’t know it yet, and if you want to live a long and berry-full life, you’ll heed it) tells me that it could also be a very large and very angry swarm of African bees, closing fast. If that sound is indeed a swarm of bees, it is not harmless—in fact, if you get caught up in it, you’ll remember it for the rest of your life, if you’re lucky enough to have a rest of your life.’

    ‘For me, a 50-50 risk isn’t a risk worth taking, if one of those two chances is a swarm of African bees. So, I’m outta here!’

“And that, Andrew, is the reason why you haven’t seen any bears when you’re near me and my Raven-mit-Rohloff on the downhills. The uphills are another matter, of course…”

Admiration and inspiration

At a couple of points along the way, I was the privileged recipient of touching compliments:

At a lay-by on the Road to the Sun, perhaps halfway up the climb to Logan Pass, I paused for a granola bar, and chatted with a driver who had stopped. He was a visiting Scot, and we spoke about the beauty and the quiet of high country in the early morning. He asked about my ride and said, “I have the greatest admiration for you.” I thanked him for his generous words.

A week later, I stopped in Kettle Falls, WA, and found that a portion of The Old Apple Warehouse now housed a café and a food store with a lot of fresh local produce. Mike, from Vermont, was selling his maple syrup. We chatted about cycling, maple syrup, cheddar cheese, the western landscapes, strange and not-so-wonderful politics, and the maverick campaign for governor of Vermont by Bill “Spaceman” Lee, the Expos’ lefty and free spirit from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s (though we acknowledged that he probably wouldn’t win against Peter Galbraith, John Kenneth’s son.) As I was leaving, Mike bade me safe journey and said, “We are all so envious of you.” Once again I thanked a stranger for his kind words, saying that I felt blessed to have the health, opportunity and budget to make such a trip.

On the Kootenay ferry, I had an opportunity to exchange compliments. A couple of hikers had boarded the ferry when I did, on my way to Nelson. I wandered over to say hello, and ask about their trek; they in turn were interested in my journey. They were German, and experienced hikers, wearing quality footwear (Lowa, as you would expect), carrying and well-organized and compact packs. I mentioned my route from Jasper, through Banff, Kananaskis, and Glacier, and they told me that they knew some of that terrain – they were hiking from Banff to Vancouver via the Trans-Canada Trail. They had begun a month ago in early June, and would complete their 1500-km trek in early September. I asked them about their journey so far, and they said they loved Canada—“The landscape is magnificent! The campsites are wonderful, so is the food, so are the people!”  I could only thank them, feeling a little self-conscious with their effusive praise (this is Canada, remember), but also tickled by their evident delight. The fellow I was talking with—he spoke fluent English, his mate rather less—was not a big man, maybe 5’6” or so, and perhaps 140 or 150 lbs. (His friend was taller, a bit less than 6’, but also slender.) I asked him about the weight of their packs. “Twenty kilos or so,“ he said. “Could I ask how old you are?” I said. Said he, “I’m 73, my friend is a bit older.” He was very matter-of-fact, but I was astonished, and full of praise for them both. I said to them that my trip was demanding, for sure, but it was pretty mild compared to what they were doing–and that I’d be very happy just to think about something like that in five years’ time.

Nearing the end of my journey, I met a family beginning an extraordinary journey. Emerging from the Skagit River Gorge into the lowlands of Washington, some 50 kms from tidewater, I found a quiet walk-in campsite in the small Rasar State Park beside the river, and pitched my tent amidst the green splendour of ferns and big cedars. Here’s the photo:    http://tinyurl.com/hl73wcv

I had made my late-afternoon tea, and was sitting at the picnic table scribbling notes on the day’s ride, when a couple of cyclists pushed their bikes into the adjacent campsite. After a while, and hearing Australian accents, I wandered over to say hello and offer some tea, and I listened to some of the remarkable story of Travis and Fiona, from Adelaide, and their seven-year-old son, Patrick, who bounced into camp from beyond the surrounding trees. This was the end of their first day in a ride across the country to Washington, DC, which they expected to complete in mid-October. Fiona was riding a Bike Friday, and Travis a long-wheelbase Häse cargo bike, with a seat up front for Patrick. Here are the bikes carrying them across the U.S.:  http://tinyurl.com/j2pzamr

I said to Fiona and Travis that they had set out on an ambitious and challenging undertaking. They agreed, and said that they had both done some touring before, in Australia and in South Asia, but that this was the first time they had toured together as a family.  They wanted to do this ride with Patrick and to make it part of his education and growth—he is autistic. They spoke in a quiet and measured way about their journey together. I felt profoundly humbled and inspired—my trek was a pretty straightforward affair by comparison. I said that I admired them all, and as a parent, Mum and Dad especially. We chatted about the route ahead, and I offered some suggestions on the climbs, and on places to camp and buy food in the coming few days. Travis mentioned that he was making a video documentary of their journey, and on my return to Ottawa, I looked it up. You can read about the family here: https://schooloftheroad.com/  “School of the Road” indeed—Patrick’s education has broadened mine.

With moments like this, and the mountains, what more could you ask for?

                                                                               - end -

PS: Later, I'll post some notes on technical matters -- the bike and my gear.

« Last Edit: November 11, 2016, 02:12:25 AM by John Saxby »

alfie1952

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Re: Over the hills and far away...
« Reply #35 on: November 11, 2016, 07:52:58 PM »
John,
Just finished reading this, what a great journey, the places and the interesting people you  met on route, an absolutely brilliant read . A good few years ago we visited my wifes retired uncle Fred and aunt Peggy in Westbank, Kelowna, a beautiful place, we  also travelled to Burnbank Vancouver to visit their old neighbourhood and friends, a wonderful country  which left us with a lot of great memories.

Regards Alfie
« Last Edit: November 11, 2016, 10:58:47 PM by alfie1952 »

John Saxby

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Re: Over the hills and far away...
« Reply #36 on: November 11, 2016, 10:55:58 PM »
Thanks, Alfie, for your kind words -- glad you enjoyed the story.  It's grand country, for sure, and I saw parts of it that were new to me. The landscapes, I kinda knew what to expect, but the generosity of so many people was a bit different: from past journeys, you know beforehand that you'll meet interesting people, but it was the repeated acts of kindness that touched me.

Cheers,  John

jags

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Re: Over the hills and far away...
« Reply #37 on: November 12, 2016, 01:13:20 AM »
John that was a fantastic write up i enjoyed it all.
it's great when people are nice and appreciate  the trip your taking makes for great memories ,i can't imagine how i would react if i seen a grizzly on the road  :o .

anyway John  great read  super tour.

anto.

Danneaux

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Re: Over the hills and far away...
« Reply #38 on: November 12, 2016, 04:48:22 AM »
An altogether enjoyable, well-written and interesting account John; well done!

All the best,

Dan.

John Saxby

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Re: Over the hills and far away...
« Reply #39 on: November 12, 2016, 05:17:57 AM »
Thanks, Dan and Anto, glad you enjoyed the tale. I feel privileged to be able to do this sort of thing and write about it -- you're right, it's extraordinary to see a grizzly amble across the road, 50-60 metres away. I had the benefit of advice from my guide in Yukon, 15+ years ago, who explained that grizzlies are pretty sure of themselves--you can see why--and get fussed only if they feel that their cubs are threatened (mum) or that their exit routes are blocked. 

Things can work out differently: a few days after seeing the bear near Highwood Pass, I reached the summit of Logan Pass, in Montana. There, I heard that a ranger (or perhaps it was an off-duty Highway Patrol trooper?) had been killed by a grizzly in Glacier NP.  Seems that the fellow had been mountain-biking with a mate on a trail, high in the mountains, came around a corner fast, and ran into a grizzly on the trail. The impact threw the rider off his bike, the grizzly took exception to being both surprised and T-boned, and you can imagine the consequences.

My guide in Yukon, all those years ago, emphasized the importance of letting the bear know you're there -- no surprises, eh?

Danneaux

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Re: Over the hills and far away...
« Reply #40 on: November 12, 2016, 06:32:23 AM »
Quote
My guide in Yukon, all those years ago, emphasized the importance of letting the bear know you're there -- no surprises, eh?
<nods> Exactly why I use a "bear bell" in bear country. Mine are black or brown and not grizzly, but I'd rather not surprise one.  :o Oddly enough, I seem to encounter them not on trails it in the middle of gravel logging roads when I come barreling 'round the corner and *don't* have the bell ringing.

Hmm. I'm guessing a bear would choose Thorn's Rigida/Ryde Grizzly rim option?  :D

All the best,

Dan.

John Saxby

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Re: Over the hills and far away...
« Reply #41 on: November 12, 2016, 06:07:03 PM »
Keep those bells a-ringing, Dan!  I use a nice Velo Orange brass item with a prolonged temple bell effect.  It induces a soporific effect in the bears, I'm told hope...

jags

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Re: Over the hills and far away...
« Reply #42 on: November 12, 2016, 06:41:27 PM »
better with an AK47 strapped to the top tube. ;)

John Saxby

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Re: Over the hills and far away...
« Reply #43 on: December 14, 2016, 06:59:10 PM »
A final note on my tour of the Western Mountains, this past June/July.  I've posted a more complete story on crazyguy, here: http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/16986

The story's the same, of course, but this account has some more photos. These are shown within the text, so are easier to see. There's also a bit more detail on the ride, and some additional notes on the bike, on gear, and so on. In the next few days I'll add some more notes on food, trains, and road conditions.

jags

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Re: Over the hills and far away...
« Reply #44 on: December 14, 2016, 09:07:05 PM »
My god john what a country fantastic scenery great photos you got a great eye for a photo.
love your camping set up  ;)

anto.