Worldcycle
About Richard
The Journey
World Friends









< previous report | next report >

Report: #29
Date: 08/05/03
From: Richard@WorldCycle.org
Location: Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Subject:

Loonies, Rockies and Mozzies, but no Grizzlies.

You'd have thought that Canada was one of the last few safe and booming places to visit on Earth, but I find myself riding through a nation under attack from a couple of particularly nasty acronyms; BSE and SARS. So, instead, their economy has taken a beating, with knocks-on across a number of industrial- and travel-related- fronts. But, as you'll hear from a number of Canadians, being somewhat more level-headed than their over-reactive cousins below in the USA, these things are all being blown way out of proportion; one cow and a relatively small number of people sick, and fewer dead. It's all just sensationalism; seemingly the biggest enemy. Or was that cow employed by the CIA?

Despite all this, the Loony continues to rise. And I'm not talking about the Prime Minister, as I might be if I was south of the 49th parallel, if they had one down there. No, the Loony here is the Canadian Dollar, which has the Queen (of England)'s head on one side and the image of a Loon, the national bird, on the other. It still makes me laugh when people mention the Loony with a straight face. As it does when people refer to the toilet as the ecan.' Why that is the term of choice here in Canada, I've no idea.

None of this seems to have prevented a relative hoard of healthy, hardy, gung-ho humans from around the planet, from putting anything from packed lunches to everything and the kitchen sink, on their bicycles, and pedaling about the Rockies in the brief summer of long, 4:30am to 10:30pm days. There's plenty of time for even the slowest of riders to get to the pass-tops. And I should know!

The main adversaries are the massive, persistent mosquitoes and the bears, which might grab your food at the camp site, if you don't put it in a metal box or hoist it 4metres up to some flimsy tree branch.

However, when I left Mosquito Creek Hostel, a few days ago, cleansed by a steam in their aromatic, wood-burning sauna, the helpful warden, Karen, bade me be careful. She said that, where I was going, past astonishingly-turquoise Lake Louise, a couple on a tandem, riding the shoulder, had been killed by a semi trailer truck. Though saddening and shocking, in my experience, truck drivers are the best, and so such an incident would be very infrequent indeed.

A little along my way, I remember I'd just passed a steep gully which was perhaps the last one to still hold snow at that altitude, a Canadian cyclist called Greg came pedaling up the incline. I crossed the road and stopped to pass the time of day. Conversation soon turned to the lost lives, and he said that a journalist had interviewed him at Lake Louise campsite that morning and, looking for an angle, asked him how he felt about cycling the roads after that accident. Greg had shrugged it off, and had, typically for a Canadian, avoided sensationalism.

That reporter's question indicated to me how rare touring cyclist deaths are in at least this region. If a couple had been killed in a car, he wouldn't have been interviewing other tourists driving cars and asking that kind of question. Unfortunately few people would pay a moments notice to in-car deaths.

Greg and I moved on in our opposite directions. Summer wildflowers along the verge bowed and pines and fir trees swayed to a breeze that favoured my direction, and chains of grey, saw-edged mountains looked down over the top, dripping glaciers.

Those glaciers dropped angry white cascades from their toes, which fed the green-blue, racing Bow River below me, heading for the Atlantic Ocean, even still so far away. This meant that I had now crossed the geographical Continental Divide.

The wind turned and assisted a fair number of other riders striving up the hill. But that didn't matter to me, because I could descend more slowly without hanging on my brakes, and stare more intently into the trees and undergrowth, looking for moose and bears. I could do this without worrying about traffic zooming past, due to the luxury of a wide shoulder. But the expansion cracks, caused by harsh winters and left unrepaired on the shoulder, sometimes felt like I was riding over the sleepers of a railway. Oh well, you can't have everything.

After Banff, the Rocky Mountains ended quite abruptly, with a final flurry of geological power play, giving way to rolling, grassy swells in the land. Clouds were replaced with blue skies. Breeze, with gusting winds. I felt suddenly emotional, and was struck with an urge to just turn around and plunge back into the Rockies. I definitely hadn't had enough. And every rise of the road I looked back over my shoulder to pay my last respects to the vaulted granite ramparts, diminishing in the distance.

In neat orderly Calgary, I met Heather, a student from Ottawa, out cycling just to cycle. I asked her for directions, and she escorted me along the picturesque, well used cycle path by the river (still the Bow) a way, to down town, and then I found Elbow Drive (which I suppose is what Elbow Grease is for. My jokes don't get any better do they.). Just after turning onto it, I was overtaken by David Adie and his expectant wife (due the same day!); David videoing me from the passenger seat. How wonderful it is to be expected in a place and then greeted on the way in!!

I think that David Adie should need no introduction. I think that everybody should already know who he is. He is one of the most inspirational human beings I've ever heard of, let alone met! He was the first person to run the length of the Great Wall of China, including restricted sections (thanks to help from the Chinese government , which was probably just as hard to get as to do the run! That, after a total paralysis illness!!); and which was where I met him. He ran the length of Japan, more than a marathon every day. He ran coast to coast Australia, east to west, to publicise and help with Australia's problem of having the highest child-suicide rate in the world. And he was instrumental in blowing the gaff on the infamous malpractices of Nike in south east Asia. He continues to work with many categories of disadvantaged people. David and Phoenix welcomed me with cold water and orange juice, and Alberta Beef Dip. David joked about BSE (one cow walks over to another, and asks, "Are you worried about this new illness in Canada, BSE?" The other replies, "Hell, NO! I'm a helicopter!") and told me stories of visiting the "Hanoi Hilton", Cambodia under Pol Pot, a seven-yearly spider infestation in a certain area in Japan he and his brother, Richard, chanced to run through, and getting so well known in Australia that he had to run the last few weeks at night, so that noone would recognize him. His cart just got too heavy with monetary donations, and everyone just wanted to give him food and have a chin wag. For you Australians; he happened to have a tiny radio with him, which usually he only managed to pick up cricket commentaries on. But once he managed to receive a few hours of Slim Dusty on a country music channel, and practically learnt everything there was to know about this Australian iconic country singer. Then, way in the middle of some desert, who should pass by and stop, in a large four-by-four, but Slim and his wife!! The story gets more interesting, but you'll have to talk to him about that.

Anyway, David's exploits put mine in the shade! But also they inspire me to keep riding and squeezing the juice out of life. I once spoke to an international school assembly in Fiji about him. And apparently he has done the same about me, to schools across Canada and Australia. Perhaps I can redress the balance with this report. David is the kind of guy I would want to be the role model to any kid, any day.

Wow! It looks like I managed to finish this report about Canada without mentioning Pamela Anderson.

________________

David Adie Tip:-

Bite diagonally opposite corners off a Tim Tam (quintessentially Australian chocolate coated biscuit) and suck some hot coffee through it like a straw. Then eat the Tim Tam for the ultimate chocolate experience!

________________

Back a Few Cranks.

Though a number of people advised against this, I successfully made my way through the USA north-west, stopping at farmhouses and the like, to request a spot to pitch my tent on their land, rather than relying on designated campsites. A; it was cheaper (though the hike/bike sites were more affordable than Canadian sites where you pay the same for a site as the vehicle borne guys) and B, C, D, E...it got me conversation with a local, occasional bed in a bunkroom, sometimes hot soup, maybe internet use, new friendship... No-one ever, as I'd been told to be aware of, came out with a gun. But I had to be fast with proving who I was and what I was up to. A dog barking and snarling would usually be to my advantage, because I know how to deal with them, and it means I don't have to knock on the door. I found a string of exceedingly hospitable, friendly and generous Americans out there, eager to discuss the outside world with me. I felt that my experiences of travel made it worthwhile for them. At least I hope so.

I will alienate a lot of people by saying that my cultural experience of a Mariners vs. Yankees baseball game was tedious in the extreme. Mainly because it was one sided and, well, because it was baseball (ha ha!!). The stadium was fun, though, and the sunset therefrom was far out! But I loved Seattle for many other reasons, including famous fish-throwing in the market; the real statue of Lenin standing for-sale by a Taco del Mar in Fremont; a concrete troll crushing a real VW Beetle (Bug) (apparently featured in a movie called Ten Reasons Why I Hate You.) under a bridge of the Interstate 5; and one of the best Indian restaurants I've ever been to outside India.

Much of my enjoyment wouldn't have been possible without Bill & Chi, Peter & Akemi, Brenan, Megan, Ben, Bill's family, Eric and his family, and Ashley. Oh yes, and a conspiracy of cartographers, though we weren't sent for; that much we know. [Italics denote kind-of quotes from Rosenkrantz and Gildenstern Are Dead.]

One of my best experiences was doing a presentation for a learning center for kids who've been dealt the roughest of hands in life. They were surprised that I didn't carry a ewhistle', and advised (in more colourful language) that I should. Email me if you want to know what these street-kids mean by 'whistle'. Thanks guys, but I think that I'll make the rest of the way without one OK.

Bellingham.

Much of the Schramer family (of my web-wizard friend, Kurt, in Tokyo) have gravitated here and are rocking and rolling the place with their family talent for music. Paul S. very kindly took me to the skies in the flight club's light Cessna aircraft, for an amazing, gull's eye view of the island settlements of nuns, rich recluses, communal hippies, and assorted eccentrics on various of the San Juan Islands. Paul & Beth, you are stars. We spotted whales too, though from 1000ft, they may as well have been herrings. Why does size count so much?

What a lucky traveler I am!

Because of the timing of the flight, and the good timing of Bill, just happening to be driving that way, I hitched a lift (yes, in a car) [cheat, cheat, cheat!! Heresy!!!! Spit, spit!!; Ed.] from Seattle to Bellingham, and then rode to Vancouver. I arrived just in time to meet my wife for a couple of weeks. Yeeehaaaaa! But not long enough. Then I returned to Seattle to fill in the gap, and rode all the way to Vangroovy again. Some of that way was on the superb Chuckanut Highway. Disappointingly, however, nobody threw macadamias or picans in my direction.

Another reason for the return to Seattle, was to pick up tyres from my new equipment sponsors, Continental . So far, I can only get them sent to me in USA, so I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised that I developed a problem just on my first day in Canada. But since I've been riding with them, from San Francisco onwards, I haven't had had a single puncture.

Many people ask me how many punctures I've had. I reckon they're a bit disappointed when I don't say some astronomical number. And now I almost can't remember my last one. And I don't keep count anyway. It's not the statistics; it's the experiences.

Quality, not quantity.

Peace Arch.

At a time of war.

Twice I passed through it. It's on the USA / Canada border, and has a gate in it, which, symbolically, somehow can only be closed by the cooperation of someone on both sides. Then again, even if it's closed, you can still drive along the roads across the border, which pass either side of the Arch. The Friendly Border.

They usually give 6months to Europeans to stay in Canada, but they only gave me 3. I guess they want me to break a record for crossing Canada. Yes, Canadians are real jokers. I hear that much of the Simpsons and Southpark (TV cartoons, for those non-TV-watchers reading) are Canadians, as even was one of Bob Hope's (famous, American, golfing comedian who recently passed away at age 100) joke writers.

I was escorted into Downtown Vancouver by two gay cyclists who I just happened to ask for directions, and were going to the very street that I was. I mention that they were gay, because one of them told me they were gay when I apologised for slowing them down and keeping them from catching up with a lady cyclist who had just sped past us. He'd misread my comment. I usually want to catch anyone, regardless of gender, who overtakes me, and knowledge of his sexual orientation was superfluous to requirements. I had picked up on that kind of dynamic before he'd said, though, but paid it little attention.

On anaside;recent national developments may soon make it possible for those two guys to get married, due to a change in the law, much to the irritation of the US government. eSeems fair enough to me; Guns, and perhaps even that one BSE cow, come out of the USA, and marijuana and same-sex marriages go the other way. And mmmmmmmc by the way, the age of consent is only 14(!!!!) in Canada. Don't worry though, I'm not planning on trying any of these things out.

Into Vangroovy. Aptly named by Mitchell E, who I met originally in Ubud, Bali, at one of my world-favourite eating establishments, Dewa Warung. He was my passport to the inner circle of movers, shakers and stirrers that is Granville Island Tea Company, in Vangroovy. There is no problem too small or large for them to solve over a eYunan with gunpowder', Kenyan , Pu Er, Chai or two. Mitchell also introduced me to the groove side of the city, by showing me around the Vancouver Jazz Festival, and to the high side, by guiding me up the Grouse Grind, fortunately by the unpopular, peaceful route. Not having to queue is best when you're hill walking. It beats me why, though Vancouver is endowed with a legion of cracking mountains watching over it, some with the remnants of their winter coats of snow, many people wish to almost tread on eachother's toes to get up the same one, however glorious the overlook. And it was.

Meanwhile, in a suburb not far away, as the crow flies [though if it's got West Nile Virus, another of Canada's current afflictions, it would be 'as the crow dies'. The government has issued guide lines as to how to dispose of a dead crow, should you be called upon to do so. But I haven't seen one yet, other than roadkill.] the new twins of Danny the dentist, who I met in Norway long before I started my world ride, were doing well and already manipulating space-time by causing the coinciding of myself and an old school friend of Danny's at the same location. That lead to me attending my first ever paper aeroplane championships, because that friend was helping to organise it for Expedia.com .Sadly, though the stringent rules forbade me entry, not being a Canadian resident. Perhaps that gave me some kind of unfair advantage. It was a laugh, though, and almost worth seriously considering becoming Canadian. And why not? Vancouver is vagrant heaven. Thousands of homeless can't all be wrong, can they? Well, I'm told that this little corner of British Columbia is the only part of Canada that stays unfrozen year round, so the street dwellers either migrate to here, or become statues. So Vancouver is not representative of the bigger picture. The vast, empty, sub-arctic and arctic picture.

But it's summer now, so we won't think about that. The salmon are running, the Orcas are breaching and the bears aren't yet interested in eating cyclists. It's time to get your skirts on and go set some crab-traps in your sea-kayak. Spray skirts, that is. Thanks Murray, Dental and Facial Surgeon in White Rock, for my first sea-kayak lesson. And for Sugoi socks and shorts. And Janice, Erika and Mary-Kate.

Summer is also for biking, and some go way across this 2nd largest country in the world. And there's precious little time to do it. In USA I heard that Canada has two seasons; winter and the 4th of July. Happily that's just an exaggeration, but I still need to hurry.

Like a bat out of batfood, I ripped out of Vancouver, riding a wave of joy at having seen twenty-plus Orcas during a boat ride in the Sound. Past berry fields forever, I cranked. I wished I could have remembered more of my Hindi for the (east-) Indian woman who gave me a few free strawbs from her stall. Rain closed in and I started scouting for a campsite. Four, unloaded cyclists passed me by, and I then caught them at a cafe'. I stopped to chat, and it turned out that Misty, Linda, Kazuko and Jesse were also setting out on a cross-Canada ride to raise money for fighting Arthritis.

www.BikeToBeatArthritis.com


Their tents and gear had been transported to a site in Hope, so they had to ride quite a lot further that day. That, and a break in the rain, gave me the impetus to put some more miles between me and Vancouver. I talked mostly with Jesse, and the miles shed more easily for the conversation. He was from a tiny place called Flimflam, which is famous for, believe it or not, producing some of the biggest, meanest ice hockey players. Don't mess with those Flimflam guys! We shared campsite and hotdogs from a friendly Canadian RV (recreational vehicle) camper that night. But I lost them the next day, when they were fully loaded up, on the Coquahalla Highway Pass; our entry into the Rockies.

A moose with no antlers, started at my passing, at the edge of a forest in the fading evening.

I met The Four again briefly, the day after that, in Merritt, only to lose them again for good. I was then pulled north by the allure of Jasper and the Icefield Parkway, whereas they forged more directly eastwards. Good Luck and Gambatte!!

Canada Day presented me with a prize tailwind that whipped me along the shores of a succession of lathered up, pretty lakes, the kind loved by a few upper-level sail-boarders. Apart from two pigs of climbs at the close, the wind blew me all the way to that day's new friends, Wayne, Lindsay and Matthew's home in Kamloops. There I was able to watch the Day's fireworks from their oil-painting-like lounge window, displaying the tremendous valley below. Merci, W&L&M.

I landed in court the next day, but I sat in the judges seat of a courtroom still in tact, which is now the eating area of Kamloops hostel.

The Yellowhead Highway parallels the river of the same name, at gradients so modest that I started to feel guilty at my ease of progress into the Rockies. (It didn't take long to forget the shivering cold on the Coquahalla Pass, whilst waiting for the Four and having lunch.)

According to some angry sign-boards, the lush pastures and meadows beside the Yellowhead might be in jeapardy due to American efforts to have the headwaters diverted to a nearby river system that drains into the Columbia River, which flows into the USA. Apparently America is becoming more and more desperate for that commodity. And Canadians are growing nervous at seeing the US eyes on their resources.

"Look at that!" I'm looking ahead at the stunning, snowy crags in the valley apex.

"Look at that!"

"Look at that!" Said with increasing urgency, in a Dutch accent, from behind me.

"What? Where?"..Whoa!!!! As my eyes are suddenly drawn to a large, black movement right below me, to my right. The Black Bear is less than 3metres from us, quickly adds a couple more metres to that, and then makes a kind-of hurried, ambling retreat towards the trees away from us. On all fours. Not too hurried though. Constantly looking over it's shoulder at us. Ready to stand and defend. He wouldn't like for anyone to think he was running away now, would he?

"Thanks, Dagmar. A little more information though, next time please. When you spot danger. You know, like, "Bear! On the right!' or "BEAR!! At 3 o'clock!'"

That was my closest encounter with a bear. At least that I noticed, ha ha! And I didn't have any bear spray (pepper spray). It was way too expensive. For pepper. That, and most people had said that being attacked by one would be extremely rare. Especially if I stood my ground and raised my arms in the air. So much for that method, whilst riding a heavily loaded bike! But I had a partner, which many-more-fold reduced my chances of getting chewed up.

We weren't talking [about] Grizzly Bears though. But I never saw one, let alone had one cast a nasty look my way.

Dagmar caught me on a lunch break, one alternately rainy and sunny day, gazing at a grand waterfull with a wide skirt, across the valley. We rode and camped together for a few days and saw plenty of bears on the Yellowhead Highway. Once even, a mother with 3cubs.

Usually a considerate driver going in the opposite direction, would alert us to their presence. In the case of the mother and 3cubs, the driver turned around and parked his vehicle near them. As we came by, his truck was between us and the bears, and he said, gYou can't give them too much respect, you know. You'd feel differently about them if you'd lost your best friend to one of them!h

"One killed your friend?" I probed.

"Yeah! Chased him up a tree. Dragged him down by the ankles, and ate him!"

"A Brown Bear?"

"Yeah."

"I'm surprised. Most of the attacks I've heard of, were by Grizzlies."

"Brown Bears kill a lot more people than Grizzlies each year!"

"Oh..."

He acted like we didn't know anything, and seemed to be intent on trying to scare the living daylights out of us.

I wanted to put it to him that if you run from a bear, it'll chase you and catch you. So that's the first mistake. And then, if you play dead, the bear will soon leave you alone. And not eat you. At least not immediately. From the theories that I've read. But he had a reason for telling us his story, so I didn't dig any deeper. There are always exceptions.

"Thanks." We said.

Dagmar and I cycled pleasantly past the source of the Frazer River to Jasper together, agog at the incredible beautyscape. Majestic Elk with proud antlers and Beaver making moiree fringes in a lake, too. Suffering mostly only at the handsc.er, mandibles (?) of immense and numerous mosquitoes.

Jasper.

A gem of a town.

With the greenest of green lakes.

Nestling in the lap of the Rockies.

South, alone again, on the famed, fabled Icefield Parkway. A strong candidate for most dramatic highway on Earth. Don't just take my word for it. Go there and judge for yourself.

I cycled to the edge of the Columbia Icefield glacier, within easy reach of the road. Unbelievable! I walked up a way, and tasted the sweet melt water. I was lucky to have had a small window of opportunity between storms, blowing about unpredictably amongst the peaks.

And on to Mosquito Creek. Which is where I began this installment.

Now I sit in a public library like a pyramid in Calgary, and forest fires rage through some of the places where I rolled through the Rockies, still not that far away.

It's a tough year for Canada.

May you all get through this year and find plenty in it to look back on it with pleasure.

R

 

< previous report | next report >