CANADA, 25th – 29th May 2018
”It’s a big climb up to Logan Lake, but I love the scenery along that road,” Marianne told us as we considered our route onwards from Cache Creek to Kamloops, the next bigger town on our way. The most obvious way would be to follow the highway, but as we had already experienced there was a good amount of heavy traffic on it and not much space even on the shoulder when a big truck thundered passed. But there was an alternative southern route climbing almost 1,300 metres up in the hills to the little mining town Logan Lake and from there it would be a 1,300 metres downhill to Kamloops. Chris soon convinced me that one big climb on a quieter road would be much more enjoyable than many, shorter hills on the highway, and what was also in favour of this route was that we could stop in Logan Lake the next day and watch the Champions League Final between our favourites Liverpool and the leading champions over the last two seasons Real Madrid. This man (the manager Jürgen Klopp) is the real reason why I like Liverpool, and I was mostly hoping for their victory to see him cheering!
Okay, back to the cycling…
With mutual good wishes of happy cycling and tailwinds we hugged Marianne goodbye and cycled out into the grassy hills south of Cache Creek. The landscape was so different from what we had been used to so far with no trees and forest, more dramatically revealing the rugged shapes of the hills and the sharply cut river canyon below them. It was out here the fire had burnt last year and due to strong winds quickly had moved in on the town. The thought of it scared me a bit, as I tried to imagine what we would do if we got caught in a fire either while cycling or in our tent at night. And I couldn’t really think of a way we would surely get out safely. So I shook the thoughts off me as we arrived in the little, old town Ashcroft. While Chris went shopping several people came over to talk with me, friendly, interested and encouraging and like Marianne, they all beamed with a significant love for and attachment to the place they lived, like it was the best place in the world to be. It was something I kept experiencing in the Canadians we met, and I found it inspiring. We sat down in the public park with Chris’s groceries to get some extra fuel for the climb ahead of us and at the same time admired the old buildings, horse carts, train wagons and a tree mill that were on display here to illustrate how Ashcroft had been one of the first settlements of the migrated Europeans who had come to this area with the gold rush in the middle of the 19th-century.
Straight out of Ashcroft the climbing began and we soon had some magnificent views back over the valley, river, railway line and town as we slowly moved further up. As we reached an especially steep section a car passed us and pulled over. Ian, who was the driver, was a cyclist himself having done two Canada crossings and was planning to do a long world tour once he retired in a few years. He felt great sympathy with our efforts climbing the hill (”You will swear and sweat!”), asked us if he could help us in any way (a lift, a place to camp or a shower, none of which we needed at that very moment) and also warned us about how long and steep the climb would be. As we cycled on, I therefore expected the worst and that probably made the hill feel slightly easier. Although it was long, I actually enjoyed the ride, the rhythm, the effort and the views. Halfway up a puncture on my rear tyre gave us a good break, or at least Chris had a proper break. After fixing the puncture I had slight troubles readjusting my brakes when the wheel was back on again and it took me good long while, but back in the saddle I put some music in my ears that sent me all the way up to the top.
Up here the forest was growing thick again and surrounded us completely until a mighty surreal-looking white-ish lake formed by drain water from the copper mine appeared. As Ian had described it, the lake and the mine were like scars in the landscape hidden away high in the hills from the public eyes, and it was somehow sad, but on the other hand, we agreed that copper was an essential material in many of the things we used in our daily life, so we couldn’t really be free from being partly responsible for its existence. But surely, it is such a thought evoking thing to actually see what impact our lifestyle has on nature, and something that travelling can help making you aware of.
The mosquitoes were already annoying us before we even stopped to camp, and so when we found a little hideaway in the forest we had to cover up in long sleeves, scarves and head-nets for all activities outside the tent and felt a great relief once zipped safely inside the tent. And unlike most mosquitoes these didn’t seem to care whether it was evening or daytime, they were just as aggressive and plentiful the next morning, and bothering me quite a lot when I, slightly frustrated, had to fix my rear tyre that was flat again and readjust my rear brakes. Again.
Despite this little delay we made it into Logan Lake in good time for the football match and had a look around the little town centre, where mainly some enormous machines and tyres from the mine that were at display, caught our attention. The little town was young and founded on the mine business there, so obviously the values of the community and work the mine had provided was another aspect, that also had to be taken into account, when considering the impact of it.
The football was a rather frustrating experience, partly because the quality of the show was quite terrible, but more so because our team (and especially the goalkeeper, poor guy) just couldn’t match the confident champions (and especially the Welsh warrior Gareth Bale) from Real Madrid, who without much trouble won 3-1 and became the Champions for the third time in a row.
From Logan Lake we chose to go on an even smaller road that ran parallel to the main road towards Kamloops. We were happy with our decision as it took us past idyllic farms with huge wooden barns and through lush, green fields, and only a few vehicles passed us. It was all great until after 15 kilometres, the road was closed off by a gate and there was no way to get through. I thought, slightly frustrated, that it would have been considerate to put a ‘NO THRU’-sign (this is really how they spell ‘through’ on Canadian road signs) at the beginning of the road, as we began backtracking through the lush green fields with the big wooden barns. My frustrations grew stronger when Chris wanted us to push the bikes over some wet, hilly fields full of fallen branches, cow dung and mosquitoes and get over a barbed wire fence to make a short-cut to the main road, whereas I, as I sweated, pushed and clapped mosquitoes, thought I would much rather have cycled the extra kilometres on the nice road. I was in a glum mood until we made camp, but here I found a great way to channel all the day’s frustrations into action by fighting the mosquitoes in my head-net armour before victoriously finding relief inside the tent. Arhh!
The 1,300 metre downhill to Kamloops was fortunately completely frustration-free. Halfway down we stopped to swim in another lovely lake, which was something that the Kamloops people’s dogs also seemed to enjoy. While their owners watched the dogs splashing around they told us that the road was flooded further down and surely, it was. Watching the cars go through the water we estimated it should be possible to cycle through, but both got surprised how deep it actually was, 30-40 centimetres and how wet we actually got. It was however, a thrilling feeling to pedal hard through the different element and it had me whine and laugh with excitement!
Kamloops was a big town where we had several errands to do. In the visitor centre we used the wifi to find and order a new tent, as the one we had had since Bishkek was failing in several ways, and we asked the helpful staff about the gravel roads we were planning to take north of Kamloops. When leaving the friendly woman asked us what our plans were for the rest of the day, probably expecting to hear some adventurous answer, but we said simultaneously: ”SHOPPING!”.
Chris, who had spent many weekends in Kamloops during his time working as a treeplanter in 2011, had been raving about the cheap supermarkets and huge second hand shop there, and I had rather high, but also ambiguous expectations to all this, the latter because big-scale shopping just isn’t my thing, not even when it is limited by the space in our panniers. Or maybe, that is exactly what stresses me about shopping. Already after our first stop in Walmart my panniers seemed stuffed, but somehow there I still found room for the content of the many bags that Chris carried out of the next big supermarket, Canadian Superstore, the vast dimensions of which had seen me turn around and stay outside. Now we only just had time to do a quick stop at the big second hand shop, Value Village, before it closed. Here Chris finally found a replacement for the skiing trousers that with the filling removed had been his his only long, presentable trousers since the cold Chinese winter. After these intense hours of shopping in the various shopping areas in Kamloops we took a short break downtown in the riverside park, which due to high water levels was actually not beside the river but right in it. It was a lively place where people of all ages enjoyed the sunny evening and gave me a much better impression of Kamloops than the various shopping malls we had been through.
Our bikes were now so heavy that I wasn’t sure we would actually make it out of Kamloops, but there was a reason for our extensive shopping. From Kamloops we would make a long route out into the backcountry on gravel roads as we made our way up to and around some big lakes before crossing over a mountain pass to get back onto the highway 170 kilometres east of Kamloops. Instead of getting the distance done in a couple of days on the hectic highway we would spend a week on the smaller roads and therefore obviously needed for example eight loafs of bread, five bags of crisps, ten bars of chocolate and two kilos of peanut butter which were just some of the things now stuffed into our bags.
The neighbourhoods of Kamloops stretched far up along the river and we had to cycle into the dusk before we finally found some unoccupied space up in the hills where we could camp. Now it was time for a better meal of vegetarian spaghetti bolognese as we usually had it the first night or two after a big round of shopping, but to our great despair the big gas cannister we had only bought back in Vancouver of mysterious reasons was already running empty, so we could not cook. Instead we chose cheese sandwiches from the pannier menu. It was a bit of a problem though that we had our panniers full of food that we now couldn’t cook, but during the night Chris got a great idea. While I stayed in our little camp he cycled the 25 kilometres back into Kamloops and bought nothing less than four (small) gas cannisters. And then we were ready for the back country days.
We spent the rest of the day on a gravel road that followed the river north while we from time to time could see the busy highway that followed the other side of the river. We also saw something else, an animal that looked like a big fox or a reddish wolf that sneaked around a pen of sheep, horses and a llama looking like it considered how hungry it was. We discussed what it could be, but it was not until we back at the wifi once again consulted our animal-expert-friend Google that we concluded that it was neither a fox, nor a wolf but a coyote. Further up the road the identity of the wildlife was easier for us to decide as we cycled right through groups of cows, like we had done so many times throughout Asia.
Camping that evening was easy as a free campsite appeared right by the road with a dump toilet and a little river running through it. We stopped here early as my knees, worryingly, but not surprisingly due to the heavy bike, were getting slightly painful again. It was so wonderful to make these early camps where we could enjoy the long, light evenings and get little, or bigger, tasks done. Chris had bought some spray paint to refresh the look of his good, old bike, but after having disassembled it partly he expressed another fact more worrying than my sore knees.
”Oh no, there is a crack in my frame…”
At the bottom of the chainstay in the space between the bottom bracket and the brace that had been welded on between the two chainstays to support them after the crack caused by the kangaroo in Australia there was a thin, but distinct crack running about halfway around the tube. It didn’t look that dramatic yet, but we had no idea how fast it was developing and how it would hold on the gravel roads. And if it didn’t hold together how bad would the crash be? After inspecting it a few minutes the eternal optimist said:
”I think I will just spray paint it, it will be fine.”
”Okay… Should I maybe take some weight from you?” I asked more doubtful, thinking it was unfortunate we had bought so much food the previous day and ignoring the protests from my knees, but Chris replied:
”No, no, I don’t think it will be a big problem.”
But a new cautiousness, that I remembered from the days on the Pamir Highway where the cracked fork on Chris’s bike was tested severely, sneaked into our minds.
We did make it through the first gravel road and to the library in the town Barrier without any problems though, and here Chris made contact with a welder who also said it would be fine to continue cycling on it and that he could repair the frame in his workshop in Calgary. All we had to do was make it there. With this plan secured and another check of the crack that still seemed relatively innocent, we felt confident that we could continue without anymore worries for now. Before we did so, a happy and surprising reunion took place as Jack and Barbara, our favourite cruise companions, arrived at the parking lot outside the library, where Chris had told them we would be this morning. They had since our goodbyes in Vancouver been exploring Vancouver Island on their bikes before their two good friends from home had arrived to take them on a road trip around the mountains and national parks of British Columbia. This they had looked forward to as a sort of holiday, where everything would be planned and taken care of by their friends, while the two cyclists could just sit back and relax. In the back seat of a car. This was something that after more than a year of travelling by bike, was more disturbing and uncomfortable to them than they had imagined, they said. To all of us, except from their friends who found the speed of travelling by car very, very normal, it felt mind blowing that they had only left Vancouver Island a few days before and would already be in Jasper 450 kilometres away the same evening. Cycle touring surely makes things in your mind change radically.
It was so wonderful to see them though and to swap stories about our experiences in Canada since we had parted and refresh good memories of the cruise buffet, silent disco and ship building competitions and such fun things. We hoped to see them again on their way back to Vancouver, and didn’t know it actually would be the last time we would see them, at least on North American soil, as we waved goodbye to the two little ladies on the back seat of the fast car heading for the highway.
Logan Lake – Kamloops – Barrier
Distance cycled: 249 kilometres + an extra 50 kilometres for Chris going back to Kamloops