Different Parts of Everywhere

#74: Encounters with Canadian people, trees and dogs (but no bears!) along the Trans-Canada Highway

CANADA, 5th – 11th June 2018

Coming back to Highway 1 from our backroad adventure, we did our best to still avoid the highway as long as possible by simply going across it and instead climbing on a gravel road to a valley whose name held promises of more wildlife spottings. Turtle Valley it was, and at the top of the climb it revealed itself as a hidden gem of green hills and meadows dotted with ranches and those big wooden barns that I liked so much. We looked out for turtles, like we had seen them crossing the roads in the Balkans and Greece, but we didn’t see any. Instead we saw another spectacular sight, a big herd of bison that stared curiously at us from behind a fence, and later on a little gang of long haired-calves that looked just exactly like a group of rebellious teenagers out looking for fun/trouble. Perhaps the valley should be renamed Cattle Valley.

We were also on the look out for spies in long coats and soft hats, but we didn’t see any. I’m sure they saw us though…

We reached the descent that would take us out of the valley and down to the highway (and now we couldn’t avoid it any longer), but before we got too much speed in our wheels, we were stopped by another flooding on the road. As we had both been surprised by the depth of the water in the flooding we had gone through near Kamloops, we now studied it closely when a car went through and saw that it didn’t look very deep at all, but so had we also thought about the last one. So we still decided to be better prepared this time and change into sandals to keep our shoes dry this. However, it was only me who had sandals, so Chris put them on and went across. The water hardly touched his feet, but as a true gentleman he then walked back through the flood in the sandals for me to put on, then walked back barefoot, and took some great pictures of me, as I pedalled through the seven centimeters of water. This time we were surprised by how easy it was, and we could really just appreciate the fun of cycling on a road that was momentarily in a lake. It was really pretty fun actually!

While we were getting back into our normal footwear a local cyclist came up towards the flooding to check if he would be able to pass in his car when he was driving to work later that day. He needed to check this, because last year, he told us, the lake had been flooded like this too, but the water had been reaching his neck and he had been swimming (but not driving) across it. That sounded pretty fun too, but we were still happy we had been able to cycle through, so that we didn’t need to backtrack once again.

The descent down to the highway was over way too soon, as it often is with descents, and finally we hit the tarmac of that infamous road. Highway 1 is part of the Trans-Canada highway running all the way across the country, and as such it is a road busy with all kinds of Canadian vehicles. And I already told you about them. The road has a fair shoulder most of the time and it was on this shoulder we now cycled, fast as if rushed on by the traffic blasting past us, to Salmon Arm. Here we soon found the dreamed-of Walmart where our purchases were mostly made up of bags of that cheap trail mix we had found out we liked so much from our last visit in Walmart. 10 bags of 400gr went into our bags and that is no exaggeration. Maybe it was even 12, but that might be an exaggeration.

We spent a few hours in the library charging our stuff after a week without electricity, then we only just made it to the bike shop in town to get me some new brakes before it closed. Fortunately, the opening hours of the other favorite supermarket of ours, No Frills, were longer than the bike shop’s, so Chris didn’t need to rush doing the second round of shopping here (they have some really good barbeque flavoured peanuts here) while I stayed outside and likewise had time to talk with the friendly and talkative Canadians that came to chat about the bikes and our journey. One of them was Jim, and what was nice about Jim was, that he didn’t just want to talk about our journey, but inspired by it he began telling about the years in the early 1990’s where he worked at an oil plant in Kazakhstan, when the country was only just released from the grip of the Soviet Union. Jim had some really interesting stories to tell, so when he offered us to come by his house in Sicamous, the next town up the road, the next day to have a shower, I thought that sounded great to have a shower (the first in two weeks), and hear some more about those days in Kazakhstan. Chris, who had come out of the supermarket again with a couple or more shopping bags, didn’t protest, so we agreed to come by around noon the next day.

It was getting late in the day now, but we still took time to visit the wharf, which was a place of perfect beauty that evening in the still weather, and a great place to sit and eat some trail mix and get some energy.

Chris had cycled this way during his cross-Canada ride two years earlier, so he knew a place we could camp some ten kilometers out of town. Unfortunately this time we couldn’t get there by the cycle path that went along the lake, as it was flooded, and we probably would have had to swim through this one, which would have been pretty fun, but our bikes of course couldn’t swim. So instead we went on a very hilly road up above the lake which was quite hard, and we really could have used a swim to cool off once we, sweaty and tired, reached Coyote Park and somewhere in the bushes made camp and escaped from the hungry mosquitoes.

It was 30 kilometres to Sicamous the next day, and I think that now we were back on the fast highway we underestimated the time it still took us to cycle such a distance. Mind you, since we left Asia we had not cycled a day distance longer than 60 kilometres and that is in days that are about 18 hours long (an average distance of 3,3 kilometres per hour), so leaving camp around 10.30 was a bit optimistic. What quickly became a bigger concern than being late at Jim’s place was that the shoulder disappeared just as the road got into a winding section hugging the cliffsides over the lake. For a highway it was a very narrow road only with enough space for two vehicles to pass each other, and when these vehicles mostly were extra wide 4×4’s, RV’s and trucks it made for some very stressful cycling, that I did not like at all.

Taking a break from the stress on the road the scenery was in such contrast to my innner state of mind

We finally arrived in the trailer park where Jim lived, and he greeted us with no complaints of our late arrival. We still had lots of time to look at all the pictures he had taken with his disposable camera and neatly arranged in photo albums from the Kazakh steppe (that we knew so well), the oil plant and the parties he and his collegues had held. Jim told us about how he had smuggled thousands of syringes and other things that were lacking in the new, poor Kazakh society into the country, and how he had brought back eye glass prescriptions to Canada to have glasses made for some kids that he then brought back to them to their mother’s grateful tears. Jim was a good man, he had done some crazy things in his life and we appreciated his hospitality and the shower was fantastic.  Eventually he had to go for a hairdresser appointment, and so it was naturally for us to leave too, but before we said goodbye we took this picture together.

The highway got much better now, being wide and with a good shoulder, giving us the chance to enjoy the views of the snowy mountain peaks that appeared ahead. It was the mountain range that we would have come over from Seymour Arm had the bridge not been washed out, and we went up the same road we would have come out of four days earlier to find a place to camp that night. More lovely scenery awaited us the next day as we steadily followed the highway towards Revelstoke. On the way we made a stop at a historical site that marked where the last spike had been put in the railway line that then went all the way across Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific. It was back in the middle of the 19th century and it had been a significant achievement for the new nation of Canadians to first explore the mountains in the west under tough and adventurous expeditions and then to build a railway line over them that would connect the whole of the country. So this was a significant place for Canadian history.

The funny thing about this particular site though was that this last spike, The Golden Spike, seemed to be overlooked by most visitors here. It was sitting in the active railway line that was running past the site behind a fence, as it obviously would be too dangerous if people got too close to it when a train passed.  It was painted gold, so you could tell which one it was, but not marked in any other way and many of the people we saw coming out of the tour buses just walked around the site looking a monument, a bit of unused railway line and an old railway wagon that was on display, but never realised that what they were here to see was behind the fence on the real railway line. And the tour guides didn’t seem to have bothered to tell them.

Except from this stop the day went rather uneventfully until we reached Revelstoke in the late afternoon. In those same minutes a dark thunderstorm was about to soak us and we only just made it inside the Visitor Centre before the rain began lashing down. “You made it to Revelstoke just in time” someone said, and it was funny, because actually we were four days late arriving in Revelstoke due to our extended time in the backcountry. Had that bridge not been washed out we would have been far past Revelstoke by now, and very likely being soaked by the rain.

Unfortunately, the thunderstorm was only the beginning of more grey days, but as we had found out about some free campsites in the area we decided to try and avoid cycling in the rain. So the next day we found one of these free campsites. It was a former campground that was not active anymore, and thus didn’t have toilet facilities but still the designated areas and fire pits along a little track in a forest, and we were not the only ones that made use of it. It was a wonderful little place, and as the following day was due to be 100% wet and grey, we had planned to stay there in the tent the whole day. We thought it was a great plan to have a rare free day in the tent, and although it didn’t rain much that whole next day, but just dripped 10% on the tent, we thought it was still a great to have a long, lazy day reading books, playing yatzy and other games outside like volleyball over a self-made net and another round of hitting-the-ball-up-in-the-air-higher-and-higher-each-time. 

A day off the bike also gave me the chance to study the little things around us

In the end, we didn’t really avoid cycling in the rain, as we had spent a day in the tent when it didn’t really rain, whereas it did obviously begin to rain as soon as we got on the bikes the following day. It was a real shame, because we were cycling through Glacier National Park, which as the name suggests, is full of big mountains with glaciers on them, but because it rained we couldn’t see much of them. But that is just how it is travelling like this, you can’t have it all. Luckily the national park also features some lovely boardwalks through old forest where mighty old cedar and fir trees dwarfed us, and I loved it.

Those were nice breaks from the rather tough cycling, but of course we went on with the day, climbing over the wet mountain pass, warming up a little in the Visitor Centre at the top, and despite feeling really cold enjoying the downhill on the other side. And as we dropped below the clouds the rain dried out and by evening we made camp without anymore dripping on the tent. Chris stayed outside till late inventing another game with the Smiley ball where he had to hit the ball up in the air ten times, but using a different body part every time and I followed his progress by my ears from the tent with a big, secret smile. Our days were still carefree and good.

As we hadn’t seen the big, snowy mountains in Glacier National Park the previous day, I was absolutely stunned by the views the next day as we continued eastwards on the highway. On the horizon to the east laid mountain ranges that stood out like sharply cut figures against the dark background of clouds in their new cover of fresh snow. It was the Rocky Mountains we had reached at last and they had a good day. And so did we as we freewheeled downhill, stopping again and again to take in the views.

We reached the valley where the wide Columbia River comes down from the north on its way to the States and in this valley we could again get off the highway by taking a smaller road to the next town of Golden. It was another little climb to get up onto it, but the little traffic and crunchy gravel under our wheels made us happy about our decision.

At the top of the climb a dog stood barking at me in an aggressive way that reminded me of the dog encounters in Central Asia, but once I got up to it ran off the road and kept at a distance when Chris passed a little later. Then it sprinted past us in a playful way, but was called over to a nearby house by those who seemed to be the owners. No, the dogs here were not like those of Asia, I thought relieved. To my surprise then, the dog was back behind me after we had passed the house, it was no longer barking just excitedly running along with us, just like another dog, the little puppy Harry, had done in Tajikistan. Although it brought back sweet memories, we stopped and told it to go back, but it did not seem to listen, even though we actually talked to it a language it understood, unlike the dogs in Asia. As it started sniffing around in the bushes we tried to make an escape, but it soon caught up with us and easily kept up with us even when we cycled as fast as we could downhill. We couldn’t really do anything about it following us, but just hoped that it would eventually realise that it had a long way home and turn around or that those owners, who must have seen it run after us, would come and get it. In the meantime we couldn’t help feeling a little excited about once again having a dog. It was a nice feeling to have such a companion, it seemed to like to be out on an adventure and it even looked a bit like we thought Harry would look once he grew to be a big dog (which he probably had by now). So we called this dog Big Harry, just as a temporary name, and decided that if he followed us all the way to Golden, we would get in contact with the owners from and have them picking it up.

We passed an open field where cows were grazing and some of those beautiful mountains with fresh, white snow on rose out of the forests behind it. We stopped to just look at it and Big Harry did the same, staring intensely at something in the forest oblivious to our eyes. Not long after this, a cyclist came cycling towards us and seeing us and the dog said:

“Hey, that’s not your dog!?”

We heard this more as an offer to help us off the dog than an accusation, and that was also how it was meant, although we later learned that Rachelle, as the cyclist was called, actually once had rescued a dog that had been stolen from its owners. But Rachelle knew that this dog used to run away from home looking for a male partner, because it was not a Big Harry, but instead a Harriett, and that the owners often didn’t bother to go and find her. Not only was Rachelle a passionate dog lover, who immediately offered to take the dog back to where it belonged. She also liked to host travelers, most often it was WOOFers, but occasionally also cyclists that came by as she was herself a keen mountain biker and traveller. So she also offered us to come and have a shower and stay the night, and even though we were not desperate for a shower already, we agreed to go with her already feeling intrigued by her strong and straight forward energy.

Rachelle , me and the dog briefly named Harriett

And so we cycled a few kilometers back to that field with views of the magnificent mountain we had been gazing at shortly before, as it was here that Rachelle and her husband Ned lived. While Rachelle took the dog, briefly called Harriett, home we cycled down to the little group of wooden cabins and stables hidden in the forest and the magnificent mountain still rose magnificently behind it all. This was such a beautiful and peaceful place to call home, and we felt lucky to have been invited here, but yet we didn’t know how lucky we actually were…

Salmon Arm – Sicamous – Revelstoke – Blaeberry

Distance cycled: 317 kilometres

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