Riding Home from the Rockies

23 May

We took the overnight train to Jasper, and stayed one night in Jasper. We then cycled home, using side roads as much as possible, arriving tired after a 950 km ride in just over a week.

The Route Home

Jasper-Little Fort (Yellowhead Highway (Highway 5)) The Yellowhead pass at 1,131 m is only 69m  metres above Jasper townsite, and the downhill ride to Little Fort takes three and a half days, so neither the uphill or the downhill aspect of the ride was obvious. The valley is wide and some snow was still present in the ditches. We quickly found that tourist traffic was low because it was not yet the May long weekend, but this meant nearly everything was closed. We had clear skies on the first day and so the mountain views were great. We stayed in Clearwater two nights for a rest day and to visit relatives.

The open road

Just before Little Fort, we stopped for a second breakfast cum early lunch. The place had about 2-300 regularly visiting hummingbirds. It seems this is an optimum spot for hummingbirds. Little Fort – Lone Butte (Highway 24) Little Fort is at  681 m,  “MacDonald Summit”, the pass on highway 24, is at 1311 m, the climb is made in 10 km of average 6% grade with an extra 3 km of less steep grade at the top. We had our late lunch at the top. This is ranching country. We had trouble finding water and the campgrounds were closed, so we camped behind a building on a community playing field that had a water outlet. Next morning, at the only coffee shop for many miles, we were amused by local news exchange among retired ranchers. Lone Butte – 70 Mile House (small paved roads) We had been hoping to stop and spend a day horse riding,  but everywhere was closed. We saw a sign at a ranch offering rides, but nobody was home so we took our lunch in their driveway. At the end of lunch, the owner and two young European lady wranglers arrived and we went off for a few hours ride. Actually much of it was more like bushwacking through logging slash on a horse. Great supper and breakfast at the ranch and we set off refreshed, passing by the Flying U Ranch on our way to 70 Mile House. Beautiful ride on small roads. 70 Mile House – Clinton (Cariboo Highway 97) Not a very pleasant ride although the good hard shoulder made it reasonably safe.

Clinton – Pavilion (steep climb, small roads, much unpaved) We left Clinton in late afternoon using a small paved road that followed the same general direction as the rail line. We planned to stay at the Downing Lake provincial campground. This proved to be under about 6 inches of water, so we camped in the picnic shelter at the picnic area next to the sign saying “no camping”. Next day, we passed through a washout near our campsite then up a steep hill on unpaved road. We got up into snow, although not enough to cause any problems. The summit was probably the highest we did (at an unconfirmed 1,520 m) on the trip.  The ride down was the highlight of the trip, with views of the Coast Range while the road passed through sage brush and juniper with arowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza saggittata) in full bloom. Pavilion – Vancouver (highway 99) (with an 8km detour down Lillooet Lake, and 10km on rough steep mountain bike trail “sea to sky” south of Whistler) Pavilion to Lillooet was a hot ride and we stopped at a stream under cottonwood trees for a rest and to wait out the heat of the day. We had a large supper at our favourite Greek restaurant in Lillooet. The BC Hydro campsite at Lillooet was closed, and we could see a long queue of vehicles at its gate waiting for its season opening the next morning. We slipped discreetly down the embankment, finding the campground quite ready for use, leaving at 6 a.m. and stopping for breakfast at the first pullout. This provided a fantastic view down Seton Lake in the morning light. We finished 95% of the climb to the Duffy Lake Road summit (1279 m) before stopping for second breakfast and coffee by a rushing river. Rivers in full flood during  snow melt season were the hallmark of this trip. The drop from the pass to Pemberton is an exciting 10 km at up to 13% grade. At the bottom, we turned south along Lillooet Lake, but after 4 km of eating dust and being shaken by the gravel surface we came to our senses, turned round and rode into Pemberton where we collapsed into a hotel with a hot tub in. In the morning we climbed our last pass from Pemberton 210m to Whistler  675 m. In Whistler we joined a nice paved bike path “Sea to Sky Bike Route” that snaked through the town, but at the Olympic Village it changed into a steeper, twisting mountain bike route. We found this difficult on our fully loaded bikes! At the first opportunity (10km later) we switched the highway 99, which has a good hard shoulder but lots of traffic because it was the May long weekend holiday. It was getting late for supper as we rolled through Squamish, so we went into Wendy’s and quickly demolished double bacon cheeseburger combos. We camped with the climbers at the foot of the Chief in our first official camp ground of the trip that was actually open.

The Chief

The next day was, for this trip of 100+km days, a relatively short day’s ride home.

C

Trip photo album here.

Jasper to Vancouver by an Interesting Route

6 May

This evening, we’ll catch the train to Jasper, Alberta. Catching a train is much easier than an airplane: the bikes go in a big box so only the pedals need removing and the handlebars turning. Tomorrow afternoon we’ll arrive in Jasper, and on Thursday morning we leave Jasper to travel west and south. Last week, Canmore (300km SE of Jasper) had a big snow fall, but we understand the road is clear… but clearly leaving much earlier would have been risky. We have a plan A route, but there are so many alternates I will not describe them here. Just to say it is about a 900 km ride, through some of the most scenic countryside in the world.

C

Ski Touring in Norway

5 May

2014/03/8-13: Jotunheimen and Filfjell
We found ourselves in Norway in March to help celebrate a convergence of birthdays. The skiing was great, too. We’ve found another satisfying way of “wandering.”  There are various ways to propel oneself through a landscape, and the mode should fit the terrain and the season. In the mountains of Norway in late winter, skiing on Nordic back-country gear from hut to hut is ideal.

Where is the horizon?

I trudge on skis across an expanse of white, as gale force winds drive sleet pellets horizontally.  No clear horizon distinguishes land from sky. We are in Norway, part of a group of skiers is heading toward a simple mountain cabin in Jotunheimen National Park.  There is one more pass to cross before we reach shelter, and the wind will likely be even stronger as we climb the ridge.

I have no right to be surprised by the weather. The gear list provided by the Norwegian Trekking Association placed a clear emphasis on wind protection. We all have hoods drawn tight and are wearing goggles, leaving a minimum of skin exposed to the abrasion of ice particles driven by the wind.  We’re above 1000 metres in a tundra zone,  with a maritime effect from the nearby Norwegian Sea.  Temperatures aren’t far below freezing, but navigating in a whiteout is an eerie experience and the strength of the wind is beyond what I’ve experienced in a lifetime of skiing in Canada and more southerly Europe.  No wonder Norwegian explorers Amundsen and Nansen honed their skills here in the fjells; no wonder they led successful arctic forays. 

Leaving the hut on the last day

This introduction to an article gives an idea of the weather challenges.

As first timers, we’d joined a tour organized  by the Norwegian Trekking Association. We were twelve skiers, including two leaders. Our group included Norwegians, Germans, Dutch, a Swiss lass, a Scotsman who spoke fluent Norwegian, and a Swedish lass who’d moved to Norway to be closer to real mountains. There was another Canadian in addition to me and Chris. Greg from Sault Ste. Marie was on an extended independent ski trek, having started further north weeks earlier. He arrived at our first hut,  Glendersheim, having spent an unplanned night outdoors due to navigation difficulties. We were early in the season, not all routes had been waymarked with birch boughs, and visibility was limited.  He joined our group for the week, as we were travelling his way. He was hauling a pulka, with his camping gear and supplies.

We were happy to be making use of the DNT hut system, and carrying relatively light packs of about 10 kg each. Our first night was at a serviced hut, where meals were served, showers available, and thermoses filled in the morning with our requested hot drinks. The next two nights were in self-service huts, where we dined on simple fare which we prepared from a stocked supply cupboard: “Joika” meatballs from a tin, mashed spuds from powder, and dessert of tinned peaches once we’d thawed these near the stove. Our fourth night was in comfort at the bottom of a small ski area, and our fifth in another self-service hut.

Joika meatballs. Notice the traditional Sami hat.  “Joika” means traditional Sami music.

 

Supper in the hut

This isn’t British Columbia. The mountains are rounded and the valleys are broad. There is not a tree in sight and nothing to stop the wind. At our lowest points, a few scrubby willows grew in narrow valleys. In broad high valleys, the snow had been scoured away by wind so that heather twigs protruded here and there. Snow conditions ranged from windpack to boiler plate ice. So beautiful. So rugged.

For the most part, we’d brought the right gear, but have fine tuned our choice of skis in preparation for next year’s venture.  With over 400 huts in the DNT system, the possibilities are endless. I’d like to do a longer journey, perhaps some of it independently. Our leader, Svein,  helped Chris hone his GPS navigation skills, an essential tool for progressing safely in weather like we had.

Our group, minus Chris the photographer. Margo is third from left. Leader Svein is taking a turn hauling Greg’s pulka.

 

Who knows what wanderings 2015 will bring, but till next year, Takk for turen.

M

Reflections

23 Oct

7,700 km, 5 months, 10 countries,
Red=bike, green=train, blue=boat

We’ve been home for several weeks, and have made a trip page for this year’s bike trip in Northern Europe.

What was different about this trip than others we’ve done is that we arranged to meet friends and travelled with them for various segments:  Suzanne and TT in the Baltic countries, Ingrid and Kristian for Lofoten in Northern Norway, and Jiggy in Belgium and France for a visit-on-wheels. This meant a little more careful planning and scheduling than usual, but we managed. Other social highlights of the trip included seeing friends/relations in Hamburg, Oslo, and Paris, and getting a glimpse of the world of elite orienteering as we watched our daughter compete at WOC in Finland.

From Lübeck until Tallinn we rode through former Warsaw Pact countries: Former East Germany, Poland, and former Soviet Republics: Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. New museums document their grim eras, and ruins of collective farms dotted the countryside. We felt we learned more about Estonia than the other Baltic republics due to the enthusiastic presence of TT, Canadian-born of Estonian refugee parents.  We learned about Sami culture as we rode through reindeer herding territory in Northern Finland, the white sand beaches of Northern Norway were a stunning surprise, and ancient Norse history came to life in Jutland, Denmark.

Our ride north through Finland and in northern Norway opened our eyes to how WW2 played out in Arctic Europe. In Finland, an extended version of the war was fought on the eastern front, and territory lost to the USSR. There is little love lost to Russia in Finland. The Germans also occupied Finland, retreating northward with an efficient  scorched earth policy, so northern towns are relatively newly built. In Kirkenes (northern Norway), however, the Russians are viewed as liberators, for having entered to rout the occupying Germans and then retreated.

Bunkers everywhere.  Missile testing grounds at Peenemünde. So many losses; crosses to the fallen everywhere in Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.  Russian crosses; German crosses;  does it matter which is which? Endless row of crosses in Belgium and France. Bronze tiles to mark where Jews were arrested and taken away.

These embedded bronze plaques are called “stolpersteins” or “stumbling blocks.” The monuments are the work of artist Walter Denning, and commemorate individual Jews and individuals from other groups targeted by the Nazis (i.e. Roma), both those who died and survivors. This photo is from Lübeck. We also saw them in Polish and Baltic Cities.

Herewith a few of the mundane trip statistics. Our longest daily distances were nothing too extreme, though I guess we’re doing okay for a pair of sixty-year-olds.  Interestingly, there is the same two-humped distribution we always seem to see; there must be two natural types of touring days.  One is getting to a nearby day’s destination, to a logistical point (boat, train), or doing an errand; the other is a “real travelling day.” Some of our travelling days are getting quite short these days — perhaps we’re just learning to smell the roses.

And here’s a summary of where we slept in each country. (Note: I’ve removed the orienteering week because it was atypical for bike touring.) Proportionately, we camped more in Finland and Norway. This was to extend our  budget in these expensive countries, because accommodation was often widely spaced, and because wild-camping is easy here under Every Man’s Right. It was easy in Denmark, too, where simple lean-tos are provided for hikers and walkers, though sometimes it was a challenge to find them.

Accommodation by country

It is strange how travel makes you look at the news in a different light when you see connections to places you’ve been and things you’ve experienced. Was it coincidental that I commented on Roma issues in Europe in the last post, and then we returned only days later to a sensationalist story about a Roma couple in northern Greece who had come under heavy suspicion of having kidnapped a blonde child? The couple’s story of a desperate woman having left the girl with them was highly doubted by authorities at first, but turned out to be true. The biological mother, also Roma, came forward to confirm the couple’s story. Will her desperation bring more attention to the plight of the Roma in Europe? I haven’t yet seen a journalist spin a sympathetic and broader look at the plight of the Roma from the original story.

It’s always a bit of an adjustment to come home. “Re-entry” is a well-documented psychological phenomenon that people don’t usually include in their travel accounts. We’re busy catching up with many home-owner jobs that need dealing with, and we enjoy being part of a familiar community again, but our minds continue to process this recent journey. They also turn to future travels.

M

Route Finding in Europe & Comments on Paris

6 Oct

Margo comments that this is one of Chris’s “practical”  posts, possibly useful to other tourers needing navigation or logistics tips and/or ending a bike journey in Paris:

In the densely populated areas of Europe, travelling on main roads is not advised — unless you like the thrill of regular near death experiences.

We find Google Maps can help plan a sensible route. We just enter our starting and ending points and tell it we are on bikes. Several routes are then normally suggested. I study these in detail and choose one that does not have extended travel on main roads.

We then carry our smart phone that has a GPS function, and use this with the Google Maps route to navigate on the route. In places like Germany we then quickly find we are on well posted bike routes and can turn off the phone. In rural France, however,  it sometimes puts one onto unsigned routes more suitable for mountain bikes than touring bikes. In places like France, we switch on the GPS, commit the next few turns to memory, and then switch it off. This way we can complete a day’s ride without the battery running out. However, when passing through major cities we leave the phone on as the turns are too frequent.

Much has improved for cycling and walking in France since our last visit. We made our way into Paris on 30 km of dedicated bike path!

An end of journey task that can be more or less difficult to organize is boxing our bikes for air travel. To our delight, the first bike shop we went into offered the service of selling bike boxes, then lending tools (and a hand where necessary) so we could box our bikes. While we didn’t need the service, they will also phone the taxi company so a suitably large cab comes to take you to the airport. Given Paris prices, where an espresso can easily set you back 6 Euro, the 10 Euro per bike charge for this service seemed reasonable.

We noted changes since our last visit to the City of Light. For one thing, the Paris authorities have given up on  trying get owners to train their dogs to do their business in the gutter: now they are attempting to train owners to stoop and pick up after their dogs. This approach has been somewhat more effective, and you can now walk around Paris and enjoy the sights rather than have to constantly watch your feet. (Margo notes: This morning we had to warn our mini-van driver “Attention aux crottes!!” as we loaded boxed bikes into the mini-van. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.)  On the down side Paris, like much of Europe, is suffering from increased begging on the streets. Of course this is most prevalent in tourist areas (see note on this issue at bottom of post by Margo).

Below is a set of photos we took to show what it was like to cycle into Paris on a route proposed by Google Maps. During the last 300 m when we were moving through nearly stationary traffic as we approached Place de la Bastille, and we did not take any photos.

C







Margo writes: I think Chris is being a bit too careful and/or politically correct to be as brief as he was on the questions of the current “begging” situation in Paris..

The overwhelming majority of those now begging in the streets of central Paris, and living in shanty towns we saw in the suburbs, or in encampments along canals, are Roma (aka Gypsies) — fairly recently arrived from the new EU countries of Romania and Bulgaria. They are different group than the Gens de Voyage I remember from our years living in rural France (near Geneva, Switzerland) in the early 90s.

Individuals and family groups take up their stations near Place de la Bastille. Children sleep curled on the pavement. Near the Pantheon, we passed a mother cradling her disabled teenager. The same middle-aged man is always a few metres from the entrance to our hostess’ building, strategically positioning himself in front of a bank machine. He parks his wheelie bags, his cardboard, and his tattered blankets right by the solid wooden doorway with its big brass handle.

It’s not just an issue for France; it’s a pan-European concern. We even saw Roma begging in Kirkenes, northernmost Norway that has cruise ship traffic. The problem has no easy answers; I’ve just ploughed through several articles on the issue in Le Nouvel Observateur.

We speculated, among other things, where the desperate souls in question went at night. This morning, as we loaded ourselves into the airport-bound cab, the middle-aged man was asleep on the bank’s doorstep, his belongings still parked by “our” door.

M

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