Different Parts of Everywhere

#073: Back country freedom

CANADA, 30th May – 5th June 2018

From Barriere we now headed east into the back country of lakes, forest and mountains far away from the highway, and by evening we reached Adams Lake. This was a place I had heard about many times, because it was by this lake Chris, heartbroken and hard working, had lived in a camp together with his tree planter colleagues (one of them was Gabi from Vancouver) the summer of 2011. He was hoping we would be able to find this place again for me to see it and for him to relive old memories.

The road from Barriere into Adams Lake had been paved since Chris used to come here (in a car!) on his way to the tree planters camp seven years back. Now it made for an easier ride than expected

The first night by Adams Lake we didn’t find the old campsite, but another lovely one that we had all to ourselves. It was so peaceful there right by the lake, there were only the sounds of nature and not a single human soul nearby. I felt like I wanted to stay there forever. So we did spend a good part of the following day there, enjoying the serenity and free time, Chris working a bit on his next book (to be published very soon!) and me fixing a flat rear tyre again. Third time in a week. This time though I finally found two little pieces of metal that had worn through the tyre (I thought they had sat in there since China, where we had had these kind of punctures regularly) and rightly enough, after they were removed I got no more flats. Once again, I had great troubles readjusting my brakes once the wheel was back on. No matter where and how much or little I screwed and pulled on my brakes (that were as old as the bike and getting rusty) they just kept rubbing and it got me more and more frustrated. Eventually I managed to break off one of the levers that creates the tension in the brake arm, so that the whole thing was useless and I would now only have the front brake. But I was just so relieved to have broken it so that I didn’t have to struggle more with that stupid thing.
Before leaving our lovely campsite we went for quick dip in the lake that was freezing cold and then it was time to go, although that expression made no sense anymore, because I had no idea what time it was and no reason to find out. And when I realised that and how seldom I feel like this, I realised that I felt truly free.

Author working on his book…

… but it still seemed like Chris also felt free!

Cycling north up along Adams Lake was not as spectacular (nor as tough) as the High Line road along Anderson Lake had been. The views were less stunning and most of the time hidden between thick rows of trees, so it was a rather monotonous ride on the rough gravel. Sometimes a vehicle would come by causing a big, unavoidable cloud of dust. The vehicles were related to the logging activity that took place here, where large areas of trees would be cut down to make timber and others would be replanted, as it is the law in Canada that each tree cut down must be replanted by the logging company. That was what had given Chris a job back then and it all still happened unchanged, as it was one of Canada’s important businesses.

Chris was excited to be back at Adams Lake

Chris said that the camp he had stayed in had been somewhere along the upper western edge of the lake and he was looking for it all day as we cycled north along these upper western banks. By evening we were almost at the top end of the lake and we hadn’t found the camp. Chris was so eager to find it that he even cycled further up along the lake to the end, while I stayed at a camp spot we had found to settle in for the night. He came back with no result. The camp was gone.

The frequency of the logging trucks increased the next morning, but we could hear them well in advance and get out of the way of the roaring dust monsters. The drivers seemed as considerate as they could be slowing down when they saw us, however big dust clouds were hard to avoid. As we came around the northern end of the lake we saw some tracks running out onto a little peninsula in the lake. Just like Chris had explained there had been to his tree planting camp ground. A confused look of disbelief appeared on his face. This couldn’t be the camp as it was on the wrong side of the lake. We continued up the road to where the main entrance to the campsite would have been, if it had been that one Chris had lived in, but of course it couldn’t be that one, because it was on the other side of the lake. It was hard to believe – the main entrance was there and so was the little river coming down from the hills. It was all as he had described, only just on the opposite side of the lake, and Chris was still not convinced this really was the place he had lived. Not even when we went down to the camp ground and found it was still being used as a camp for tree planters with tents, now empty as the planters were out working, settled all around in the trees, a fire place and a communal tent and kitchen with two chefs working. All exactly like it had been back then. I followed Chris as he walked on a little path into the trees further and further away from the main areas until he stopped in front of a tent hidden between some trees and with a little path going down to the lake.

“This is it, this is where my tent was.” And I sensed a lot of memories were going through his mind.

We walked around the whole area and Chris told me stories about the summer he camped here, what the days and evenings had been like and about the people that had lived there too. He said, it was all still the same, only none of the people would be the same as then. Like a play being played all over again by another set of actors. And perhaps also the stage had moved from the western to the eastern bank of Adams Lake…

There were a few people in the camp, the two chefs, a tree planter who had injured his leg and a supervisor. I guess we were not really supposed to be at the camp ground, but Chris told them he had worked there seven years back and we told them about our travels, and they were only impressed and surprised about our way of travelling, and made us feel more than welcome. The supervisor let me get into a truck where the little tree saplings were kept for me to see and Chris showed me the belts with big pockets where a planter would carry 100-200 tree saplings as he or she walked around planting for 8-10 hours every day. It sounded like hard work, but at least it was outdoors and active, not sitting still in an office all day. I was glad we had finally found the place, so that I got to see one of these places from Chris’s past that I had heard so much about, and I thought it must be a special way to live, simple, outside and in a community – like a romantic hippie fantasy (if you could ignore the hard, physical work) but in 2018 facilitated by a capitalistic company commercialising nature. It was an interesting construction!

Chris visting his past life of working from his present life of travelling

The supervisor told us that the truck drivers were reporting us to each other over their radios to make sure we were safe, and I thought that was really so nice of them, so I sent them little waves and a smile once they passed me in a dust cloud, as we cycled on. Soon we turned off the logging road though and away from Adams Lake to continue east. We passed a logging lot that had recently been replanted with little tree saplings and Chris explained and showed me how the planting was done and the various strategies it included. It was interesting and fun to imagine a much younger version of him all focused and determined (the way I knew he could be) planting as many trees as possible to collect travel points, so he could be free to live his dream.

“This is a tree sapling, Dea”

“You dig a gap and put it in…”

“… then you close the gap by stamping it with your foot. It should only take a few seconds so that you can do a lot of tree and make lots of money, I mean travel points. And then you can cycle around the world.”

After all this insight into Chris’s past and the lives (and even the special lingo) of tree planters we now left the more industrial forests roads behind and found the road quickly growing narrower, rougher and traffic free. This was the kind of road we had really dreamed of, it felt like we had the whole world to ourselves although at the same time I also felt so little and vulnerable surrounded by nature ruled by much mightier powers. We circled around a couple of smaller lakes with still waters mirroring the forested slopes and the clouds in the sky. It was so quiet now, just the sound of birds, a buzzing insect and the gravel under our wheels. It was lovely. Chris maybe found it a little too quiet, because he put some music in his ears and cycled ahead of me. Then in a fraction of a second I heard something, something big, something moving wild and panicking, and a big ball of black hair shot out from the bushes next to the road only a 5-10 metres ahead of Chris. The black hair ball sprinted across the road, and before we had time to stop, it disappeared into the forest on the other side. It was gone before I realised what I had seen, but my heart was racing as I stopped beside Chris. Our second bear spot, this time a big, healthy looking and fast running black bear and it had been a close one! I was excited we had seen another bear, but more than that I was extremely grateful that Chris and the bear had not collided. The outcome of such an incident was something I did not like to think about at all, and from then on I became more cautious as to when I listened to music when cycling in wild forests where you might hear a bear before you see it.

We made sure to stay close together, now aware that we actually didn’t have the world all to ourselves, and we cycled a good way out of the bear’s habitat before we began looking for a place to camp. A little road led down to another lake where a clearing, an old wooden table and easy access to the lake made for a the most perfect camp spot you can imagine. We broke the mirror’s reflection of forest and sky when we tiptoed into the warm water for a swim. And despite the bear, we still felt so alone in the world that it just seemed natural to do so without wearing anything. The only eyes that might see us would belong to a bear, a bird, a squirrel or the wolves we later heard howling when it got dark, and it would mean nothing to them. This was one of the moments in Canada where I really felt we were ‘out there’, so far away from the human world that you could forget all about its norms, and it is a very rare thing.

That we were cycling through animal’s habitat became further apparent the next day when we encountered a deer, a young moose and another bear, this time spotted by Chris well in advance, so that it had time to run away before I arrived to see it too. All these animals were feeding by the road behaving as if cars were never coming this way and they were all very surprised to see us. We loved cycling on this little road that belonged to the animals, but as every road it had an end, and it came too soon when we joined a bigger gravel road that led us to the little settlement, Seymour Arm. Located by another big lake, Shuswap Lake, it was more of a holiday place where Canadians would have their second, third or fourth property to use to get out into the nature. The forest was full of half-hidden charming, wooden cabins, there was a big camp ground at the lake shore, still completely empty this early in the season, and a tiny marina where boats could stop right outside the only shop, that was located on the floating bridge.

There was also a pub, and here we went to see if we could get some information on the road further ahead as we would now leave the lakes and climb into the mountains and over a pass before joining the highway again. We didn’t have much luck, as the woman running the place, didn’t know anything specific about that road other than it was a bad one and she suggested we turned back to the highway. There was no one else there we could ask, and we did not intend to listen to such piece of advice, as it is our experience that the best adventures comes from the bad roads people think you can’t take. Before we then left Seymour Arm to find our adventures on this said-to-be bad road, a soft-sanded, unoccupied volley ball court beckoned us for a try. We quickly got into a tense match with me winning one set, then Chris winning another before a tight battle throughout the third set that finally saw me as the winner. But it had been so much fun, so that when Chris suggested we played another two sets to find the ultimate winner I happily agreed. Chris was already full of sand from having dived here, there and everywhere in spectacular ways to get to the most impossible balls (and sometimes he did get them and miraculously hit them back over the net), and he continued his acrobatic, passionate style, and I loved it, because I could just tell that he had so much fun. Especially when he then won the fourth set. But I had just as much fun winning the fifth and final set after a long battle over the last match points, without once diving into the sand. Lying flat on the sand making sure to now have sand at every single spot of his whole body, Chris seemed so disappoainted to have lost despite all his efforts, but not for long, because I went over to kiss him and we agreed we had had so much fun, and Chris got up and measured the dimensions of the court so that we could make one exactly like this when we one day got back to Denmark. Then we could play every day.
A swim in the lake to wash off sand, sweat and the last sore feelings and we were ready to go on our adventure.

It was so good to have this thing to look forward to in the future

Beyond Seymour Arm the road again turned into a little-travelled road that steadily climbed over the first little hill-pass. During the hot ascent the mosqitoes, that were plentiful here, had an easy time finding a piece of sweaty skin of a slow moving cyclist to dig their pointy trunk into, so we put on long sleeves and our head-nets and felt like we were real adventurers. And then it happened again, a big, brown hair ball suddenly bursted out onto the road 20 metres ahead of me and sprinted up the road to disappear into the thick forests. As we had learned that black bears are black (obviously) and grizzly bears are brown, we assumed this one was a grizzly, the bigger and more aggressive of the two, so we were pleased that it, like us, preferred that we didn’t bump into each other and had made its escape. Our bear-count was now up to four and I grew less nervous about them for each encounter, as it really seemed like these bears were just as afraid of us as we were of them.

Just over the hilltop we stopped to camp in a little field with nice views over the valley that we would be cycling through the next day and a snowy mountain peak hovering over it tickled our expectations for the mountain pass that waited beyond the valley. Mosquitoes forced us to enjoy this lovely view from the tent from where we actually couldn’t see and enjoy it at all, but it was still great to once again camp in a place that felt so far from the tamed, human world. Especially since that kind of world was waiting for us on the other side of that mountain pass and in only two days we should be reaching the next town of Revelstoke. We had overestimated the amount of food needed for a week in the back country, and our panniers were still far from empty, so we had no reason to rush there. Therefore, the next morning a most exciting event took place: the Olympics in ‘hitting-a-ball-up-in-the-air-higher-and-higher-each-time’-game between the two final nations, England and Denmark. One player hits a ball (ours was a yellow Smiley ball purchsed in a dollarstore and I think any cheap plastic ball would do) with his/her hand/hands up in the air without catching it or losing it and each time it has to go up higher then the previous time. Points are given according to the times the ball goes up in the air, and if the player finishes off with catching the ball, the number of times the ball has gone up in the air is doubled. Ten hits that ends with the player losing control of the ball and letting it fall to the ground gives 10 points, ten hits with the player still in control and catching the ball gives 20 points. Each player has five tries to get as many points as possible.
It turned into another one of Chris’s self-invented games that were mighty fun.

The view from our camp site of the ride ahead of us

Eventually we got going and slowly made our way through the valley. It was all trees, gravel and wild flowing rivers, which we crossed on rustic, wooden bridges and we didn’t see any cars or other people out here, which could have been a worrying sign of the road maybe not being passable, but we could not bother to be worried, it was so nice here as we went further and further into the wild. Our lunch break took place on a bridge that looked like it had been built very recently which made us feel confident, that this one and only road back to the highway was being looked after and maintained. Now it was only the snow we could see higher up in the mountains that still could become an obstacle, or so we thought.

The road forked into a few narrower tracks that still could be called a road, at least if you were only on a bicycle. We followed the main one that began to climb gently towards the mountain pass. The road was narrow with bushes and trees growing eagerly into the open space of it as if they were trying their best to claim back the territory that humans and their vehicles had stolen from them. We could still easily make it through, but it was clear that the road was not being used very often. Up ahead we glimpsed the mountain tops and the snow on them coming closer and closer, and about half way up we spotted a big patch of snow still not melted in between some trees. Our concerns about the pass being closed by snow were still kept alive. But coming around a bend in the road as it approached a river crossing we saw something that immediately killed all such concerns, because some concrete barriers and a road sign, that had long fallen to the ground with the words ‘”Road closed”, indicated that we would never make it to the pass. We could get through the barrier, but only to see that the bridge that should have taken us across the river was completely gone, washed out, and no alternative was available. The river was big from all the melting snow at this season and after a few inspections we concluded, that it was too dangerous and difficult to try and get across with the bikes – and as it seemed like the bridge had been out for a long time there were good chances that there would be more obstacles on the unused road over the pass.

I usually get more or less annoyed when having to turn around and back track the distance we have cycled, but in this moment I noticed to  my surprise that I felt at complete peace with the situation, and this even though this turn back meant that instead of being in Revelstoke tomorrow and onwards with our journey through Canada, it would now take us five more days to get there. We would have to cycle back to Seymour Arm and from there back to the highway only 70 kilometres east of where we had left it in Kamloops six days earlier. We had hardly made any progress east, but it could not upset me at all. Because we had had such a great time in the back country, and back tracking would only give us more of that and I found it was just pretty awsome. And then, once again I realised that I felt truly free. Free from any deadlines, plans and obligations, free to not worry the least about time and free to just enjoy the present. What I also realised right there was that this carefree freedom also came from still having our panniers half full of food from the big shopping in Kamloops, the necessity of which I had questioned and the weight of it having troubled me the first couple of days. Now we could still live off our supplies another three days until we got back to the highway and the town of Salmon Arm, and the burden had become our freedom. I remembered I had seen on Google maps that there was another Walmart in Salmon Arm, so when I pointed that out to Chris, he certainly also felt just fine about turning back the way we had come. When I then added, that it also would give him a chance to get revenge on the volleyball pitch in Seymour Arm, a big smile appeared on his face and everything just made sense.

So, we turned around and as we did so, Chris said:

“Did you see the bear poo when we cycled up?”

I had not seen any bear poo, and I had actually been a bit disappointed about not seeing any signs of big wildlife the whole day. Now I got my hopes up we would. And as if the Sherlock Holmes mysteries we both had read recently had rubbed off on Chris, there, right enough, stood a big, brown bear munching on the grass at the side of the road a few kilometres down the hill. We spotted it at a good distance, alerted as we had been by his detective deductions, and now got a good chance to stop at a distance of the bear and watch it before it became aware of our presence. It was a huge animal with a thick, healthy looking coat of fur and I thought how intriguing this creature was, being so powerful and dangerous and at the same time this potential killer innocently and in complete peace fed on the greens by the road as it lived almost entirely on grass, berries and other plant food, and from our previous experiences I felt certain, that the moment it realised we were there it would sprint into the forest, as if we represented a threat to it, not the other way around. While it still oblivious of our presence began to move closer to where we stood I instinctively let out a sound to alert it and it looked up, a second or two (just enough for Chris to take this photograph) before it spun around and ran off into the trees. It was such a close and real encounter with this impressive animal of pure wildness, it was intense and exciting, and yet balanced by our mutual natural instincts. I felt even happier that we had had to turn back.

We easily cycled back downhill the way we had come up the valley and we easily found a place to camp returning to where we had been the same morning. As the reality of the way we live is that we constantly are leaving places behind, most possibly to never return there again, there was a new and sweet feeling to return to somewhere we already knew. The ease of knowing where to aim for that night, knowing where it was flat to put the tent, knowing that there was a good place to sit on the fallen log and hanging some wet clothes to dry in the same bushes as last night. I think, always leaving places behind, especially places that I like, doesn’t so much make me sad as it just makes me appreciate being there in the moment more, but I was surprised how clearly I felt the novelty and appreciation of being in a place already known to me, although this was actually what had been normal for most of my life, before I began cycle touring.

It was with a similar excitement that we returned to Seymour Arm the next day, a place that we already knew had several good things to offer. As we reached the first cabins half-hidden in the woods we spotted our sixth bear, a black bear that slowly was walking across the road some hundred metres ahead of us. We felt so comfortable with this sight by now and at this distance that we didn’t stop cycling and hardly stopped talking about whatever we were on, but just kept going hoping to get a closer view of it. And as we got up to where it had crossed the road we could see it roam around in the trees, still oblivious of us, until it must have smelled us (apparently they rely much more on their nose than their ears), for it looked up and in a few seconds sprinted away.

In Seymour Arm we visited the floating grocery shop that had been closed when we went there two days before. Just as they promised, they had everything we wanted, as all that we wanted was a couple of apples and bananas, the only food we could not bring a weeks supply of. The woman of the shop broke into the most hearty laughter I had heard in a long time when, to her question of whether we needed a plastic bag or not, we replied at once: “Yes, please,” and “No thanks” followed by Chris, with his mind seemingly running out of control saying: “Yes… No…. Yes… No… Yes… Please… No…. No thanks”. If Chris and I didn’t find the situation so funny that it got us laughing, the woman’s laughter still soon had transmitted to us and the three of us were for a few moments connected in the special, liberating thrill of a proper, good laugh.

With our apples and bananad we returned to the same table in the camping park by the lake where we had sat two days before. We went to check on the tiny spruce sapling that had sprung from a seed nested in a sheltered pocket in an old, fallen tree log (also called a nursing log) at the beach, whereas the dragonfly that had not wanted to move no matter how close we watched it two days before to our delight now had moved on and we spotted the same curious spider that eagerly tried to get into our food bags and onto our bikes as we sat down with our sandwiches. We knew where to get fresh water from the communal water tanks and then it was time for that which we, and especially Chris, had been looking so forward to. The re-match on the volleyball court. It was undertaken with even more enthusiasm as the previous one, Chris wanted to win so badly, and it quickly turned into another exciting match with Chris diving around in the sand making some incredible shots and with me (without ever getting both my feet off the ground nor a sand stone on me) trying to hit the ball back to places on the pitch where he couldn’t reach it from his latest dive. And in the end the very same scene of me crying out a victorious “YES!” raising my arms in the air while Chris threw himself in the sand was repeated. Oh, I liked everything being so familiar.

What was not so familiar was the rain that started falling in the afternoon while we cycled on the gravel road following the shores of the Shuswap Lake south. At first it was just light rain and I, accidentally, told Chris that I found it was rather nice this fresh, light rain, which then obviously turned into a much heavier and really soaking rain that persisted until we retreated to our tent for the night. The next day a confusing mix of very wet showers and warm sun from blue skies followed us back to the paved road and the end of our back country adventures. The amount of traffic and their speed increased significantly and from the moment the gravel turned into tarmac the driving also changed from the drivers considerately slowing down when passing us with a little nod and a wave, as if saying “we’re in this (back road adventure) together”, to them now speeding past us with all friendliness and communal feeling being gone, even though the paved road was much narrower than the gravel road had been. I found it was strange, and I already missed our back country time, here the holiday homes occupied every metre along the lake with signs like ‘Private’, ‘No beach access’ and ‘No trespassing’ all over making me feel not the least welcome. In a provincial park by the lake we could finally get to the lake and go for another swim and luckily by evening we left the lake and holiday land behind and found a good place to camp behind some trees at the edge of a grassy meadow near the highway where several deer elegantly and with waving, white tails had jumped away as we pushed our bikes out of sight from the road. We were back in the world of cars and shops and people and wifi and fences and private properties, but like the deers we knew how to also find the little pockets of free land here.

Adam’s Lake – Seymour Arm – wilderness – Seymour Arm – Sqilax

Distance cycled: 363 kilometres

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