Off Again

After a summer of sunshine in Vancouver, with many visitors we are off on a cycling trip again. We are hopeful that a low reading of vitamin B12 accounted for Margo lacking energy, so we have decided to risk it and take off before the fall rain descends.

The summer was full of guest visits, with the most notable being our Jersey Island almost-relatives. They wrote a blog, so you can read what it is like to visit the Chris and Margo boot camp. Their stay was a gastronomic delight as Luke is a first class vegetarian chef as can be seen by the blog.

Map

Google Maps proposed route, 2345km
with 16,427 m total ascent and 17,027 m descent

So tomorrow we fly to Whitehorse, Yukon, and plan to ride home via Vancouver Island. It will actually be the most remote ride we have ever done, and it is through bear country. Reading other cyclists’ blogs, we know the stretch on highway 37 from the Yukon border to Prince Rupert is best done camping (illegally) in rest areas, where the bear proof garbage bins can be used to store your food over night. The maximum distance between grocery stores is Dease Lake to Kitwanga at 405 km… so we are carrying much more food than normally. Bear spray and bangers will be purchased in Whitehorse, since we are not permitted to take these on the flight.

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Rest Area with picnic tables and bear proof garbage can, on highway 37. Looks like a great place to camp!

C.

North by Northwest

A New Experience

Upon hearing tales of a bike tour on CBC’s weekend morning radio show, a friend of ours posted the link to our blog on the North by Northwest Facebook page .

She warned us she had done so only after the fact, and her action resulted in the show’s host, Sheryl Mackay, inviting us downtown to the studio to be interviewed about our travels. Already familiar with Sheryl’s calm and  friendly voice, we agreed. The resulting interview was aired  last Saturday, June 20th. A longer version of the interview can be heard on the show’s podcast. (Note: We start at about 25 minutes and run to about 48 minutes.)

This was a new experience for us. Sitting in front of huge microphones – with Sheryl on the other side of a glass panel – felt really strange, especially once we knew we were being recorded. Thank heavens for editing!! I remember offering far more detail than most listeners would ever want to hear about the ghastly night of altitude sickness in the Andes.

If there’s ever a next time, we’ll be pros.

M

Base Camp and Warm Showers

It’s good to be home. I think I was suffering from some sort of travel burnout, and I really need to put down roots for a while. I foresee some shorter and more local adventures in the near future, with frequent returns to our base camp here in Vancouver for the grounding I need.

We’ve been members of a hospitality exchange for touring cyclists called Warm Showers since 2010. We haven’t used it often while travelling, but we’re happy to host passing bike travellers when we’re at home. Since our return, we’ve hosted three young Europeans, all of whom having touched down in Vancouver  to begin journeys across Canada. All have been delightful guests.  There has been discussion in the Warm Showers organization about cyclists who use hospitality and never return it, but I have no qualms about helping younger cyclists because I know they will pay it forward at later stages of their lives.

Two age clusters predominate in the extended touring demographic; if you plotted frequency against age, you’d probably get a nice bi-modal distribution:

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Young and Old

Of course there are cyclists of every age travelling the byways of world, but there are two stages in our lives when it is easier to take an extended break from a “normal” settled existence; one is earlier in adult life, and the other is later.  Riding across Asia in 2009 we met many cyclists in their twenties and thirties, but also a good number in their late fifties and early sixties. Many of these were French retiree couples, whose reply when asked their destination was often “On s’en va vers la Mongolie!” I think Chris and I are fairly typical of this second group.

Vancouver is the natural start of several long rides. All three of our recent guests arrived by plane to set out eastward by bicycle, and we helped where we could with the logistical needs of such a turnaround. As their jet lag abated, bikes were rebuilt from baggage format into working machines, route options discussed, sim cards and converter plugs purchased, and panniers stocked with snacks and staples before departure.  We like to follow our guests on their blogs or Facebook as they travel, to see how they are faring. Our three guests represented a wide range of travel styles.

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Bike travellers always need feeding.
Pizza cutter courtesy of pedalling nephew!

Eva, the Danish triathlete, made the quickest turnaround, taking only a day to complete all errands and head toward the Rockies  via Whistler and Pemberton. Sadly, her journey ended prematurely with a return to Europe to be with her partner who was to undergo surgery.

Sandrine was an enthusiastic convert to bike travel, and had been planning every detail of her journey for months. She even toted the correct spatula with which to flip delicate crepes she made us one morning! We chuckled at her tale of throwing a rope over a tree branch at the park in her home town of Nantes in the Loire Valley, France.  She had read about protecting food from bears when camping in Canada, and had made sure she had all the skills to haul a bag up to a suitable branch.  When she got her rope –with its rock weight at the end– stuck in the tree, she had to call her mother to bring a long ladder to help retrieve it!

As she rode off to the Sunshine Coast and Vancouver Island before heading east, we watched her struggle with a very heavy bike. We believe strongly in planning, but also in travelling light. If you pack what you might need for every possible situation, you end up with a cumbersome bike that no mere mortal would enjoy pedalling over the Rockies. Sandrine had wisely decided to leave her crepe pan at home.

Matthieu had flown to Vancouver from New Zealand. He had reached the Antipodes from his home in France, having ridden 25,000 km in about two years, and after crossing Canada he planned to fly from St. John’s to Ireland so as to complete his global tour which began in France.  A naturalist and a linguist – he was a relaxed and curious traveler. He set out just yesterday on a southerly crossing of British Columbia toward the Crowsnest Pass.

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Au revoir!

As for us, in addition to cyclists from Warm Showers, we have a stream of house guests booked for most of the summer. There will be gaps in the flow, and we are keeping late summer clear for a more local adventure. North America is the land of cars, so it pays to seek out gravel roads that reach the quiet corners. With the 2” tires now on our Surlys, and having come across a site detailing back road options in Oregon, plans are afoot for a ride that might start or finish by rolling onto an Amtrak train.

There is much to explore close to home, and there are even good rides that start from our front door.

M

Rondane – Norway’s First National Park

2015/03/08-14: Ski Touring in Rondane with a DNT Tour

This one week ski trip was in the “sweet spot” of Norwegian weather: not too close to the ocean to have wet snow or high winds, but not so far from the coast as to have insufficient snow. The Rondane terrain is rolling countryside with mountain views. Because of its ideal location, and fabulous cross-country skiing terrain, the area has many full service cabins; essentially mountain hotels. Five of our six nights were in these hotels all of which featured excellent chefs, so it was a luxury experience. Our one night in a self service hut reminded me that you interact more easily with fellow skiers when chores have to be done together. So luxury had its downside.

Skiing into Rondvassbu. The peak we were hoping to climb but icy snow conditions did not allow.

The only disappointment for me on this trip was the conditions did not allow us to do a climb of Rondane’s highest peak on our one “non-travelling day”. We had good weather and reasonable snow conditions, especially after a snow storm on our second night.

View from our breakfast table second to last morning

Chris and Margo skiing at Rondane. Anybody want to join us next year?

Chris and Margo skiing at Rondane. Anybody want to join us for an independent tour next year?
(Photo courtesy of Pavel)

C

Huldreheimen – Norway Again

2015/02/21-26: Ski Touring in Huldreheimen with a DNT Tour

With our daughter putting down roots in Oslo, it only made sense to take advantage of the ski touring in Norway again this winter. Skiing from hut-to-hut across a snowy landscape has a satisfaction similar to that of bike touring, hiking, or paddling. Landscapes unfold at a relaxed pace, as one moves self-propelled across the terrain.

Our experience last year in Jotunheimen had bred in us a healthy respect for Norwegian mountain weather, and for the challenges of navigating accurately in whiteout conditions. We signed on for two more tours organized by the DNT – Norwegian Trekking Association – where we would have the security and sociability of a group of like-minded skiers.

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Although this Huldreheimen tour was graded at the same level of difficulty as our last year’s tour, the skiing days were shorter and the terrain less challenging. It made for quite a different trip.

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After a train ride to Lillehammer and several hours by bus to our trailhead, we climbed gently through birch forest to an undulating plateau. Over the next days, we dipped in and out of the gnarled trees as we moved from one self-service hut to another. We spotted a few ptarmigan, but not once did we glimpse a huldra, the mythical creature for whom this park area is named.DSC04463

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We were eleven skiers: nine participants led by sturdy and experienced leaders Espen and Helge. The other participants were Norwegians, Dutch, and Brits. Last year we were at the older end of the group’s age spectrum, but this year our grey hair was more or less the norm. Upon arrival at each hut we would set about lighting the stove and melting snow for water. A few of us would forage in the lager for canned goods and packaged food, and we made simple suppers that we wolfed down. The breakfast staple was havregrøt, enjoyed by everyone except Chris who ate Wasa crackers with jam, forever put off porridge by boarding school days.

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Our final night was one of luxury in a fjellstue or mountain hotel where we feasted on reindeer meat in green curry, and salmon salmon fillets in coconut milk. The woman who prepared our dinner was Thai, married to a local Norwegian; she’d developed Thai dishes based on local ingredients. We understand many young Norwegian women shun rural life, so marriages like this are not uncommon. We watched her blond husband, who had been both our minivan driver and our waiter, as he dropped Vitamin D into his daughters’ morning orange juice. Deficiencies are very common at this latitude, especially among people of darker complexion.

Returning to the train station in Lillehammer, backpacks and skis were everywhere. Passenger train cars are equipped with ski racks. On transit in Central Oslo as we returned, many passengers carried skinny skis as they commuted to or from the  marka – the forest that surrounds the city which is laced with prepared cross-country tracks. In a country where skiing is central to the national psyche, we cannot help but feel at home.

We leave again on Sunday for another ski tour. The task before then is to rid ourselves of the worst flu either of us has had in at least ten years.

M