Lillehammer to Snøhetta

2019/03/27-04/08: Skiing “hut to hut”, 230 km
For us, this year’s ski trip in Norway followed three weeks in Oslo, where we helped look after our Norwegian grandchild. We were joined by three friends who date back to my McGill Outing Club days four decades ago. The five of us have enough shared history of adventures together that we knew we could travel comfortably as a group with similar skills and a common approach to risk management.

Suzanne and Toivo arrived from Alberta, with all their luggage in tow; Karen, arriving from the Yukon, was not so lucky. When she was switched to different flights, her luggage – including skis – failed to follow her.  It still hadn’t arrived when we took the train to Lillehammer and the start our ski trip, but we were assured that it would be delivered to our hostel in Lillehammer.

The daily delivery of luggage  to Lillehammer happens in the evenings, so when Karen’s missing goods failed to arrive on our first night we were disappointed, but we quickly agreed to stay another night. The next day, the other four skied while I lay in bed nursing the flu. Karen borrowed some ski boots and used my skis, poles, and outer clothing. To our great relief, her gear arrived late the second evening. She quickly organized herself into skiing mode, and deposited her duffel bag of non-ski gear for safekeeping at the hostel. We cannot begin to thank Ger, the manager of HI Lillehammer Stasjonen Hotel, enough for his helpfulness and can do attitude.

The next morning, we were off. The hostel is in an excellent logistical position, with train platforms to one side and bus station to the other. We took a bus to Pellestova, and set off on skis to Djupslia, a self-service DNT (Norwegian Trekking Association) cabin. We shared the hut with an Australian couple who have grandchildren in Trondheim, and like us were discovering the possibilities of the DNT hut system. Vetåbua, our next hut, was a busy place with an international mélange of small groups as well as a large organized tour. From, here we adjusted our route to make sure we had an electrical outlet available every third night to recharge a medical device. The following night not only did we have an electrical outlet, but also a pleasant meal and a cozy cabin at Måsaplassen. At Gråhøgdbu we met four French skiers, Carene, Nathalie, Patrik, and Pascal, and we continued to get to know them as we followed roughly the same route for the next few days.

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Gråhøgdbu

From Gråhøgdbu to Eldåbu, we got a taste of the howling wind and blowing snow that the fjells can produce. During pre-trip discussions of gear, Toivo had questioned the need for goggles, and we’d insisted they were essential. This was the day he said he really understood why.

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Arriving at Rondvassbu; the snow is getting thin.
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From Rondvassbu to Dorålseter

Two days later, we were at Rondvassbu, a well-appointed full-service cabin that Chris and I had been to before. On the following night at Dorålseter the pantry stock was very limited, so we were especially happy to arrive the next day at full-service Grimsdalhytta. My old body was not doing well, as I was still fighting the flu. Ski conditions were, according to the French group, the worst they’d seen in 20 years. The snow was disappearing earlier than usual, and at lower elevations on this trip we became expert in finding our way to the next patch of snow as we carried our skis across reindeer moss or rocks. The snow that remained often had breakable crust.

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Reindeer Moss
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Wolverine tracks

After a rest day needed more by me than the others, we merged with the French foursome and set out to Hjerkinn as a group of nine. We took the summer route which followed a narrow ravine at first, then started up one of the steep valley sides toward the open fjell above. Chris traversed upward using skins, taking off his skis to kick steps only once he had reached a steep convex section. He missed his footing and tumbled down the slope, losing his grip on one of his skis which flew quite a bit further down, landing in some grey birch. It was gallantly retrieved by Natalie. Merci! The moral of the story that Chris and I have drawn from this adventure, which could well have ended far less happily, is that it is safer to take off your skis and switch to step-kicking before the slope becomes steep and exposed.  Sensible Suzanne had wisely done this.

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Pique-nique avec nos amis français.

Once on top of the fjell, the view was glorious. On the descent toward Hjerkinn, we met a large DNT group coming the other way. We had coffee in the village before taking our leave of our French companions. Arild, a fellow skier from our 2016  Jotunheimen and Skarvheimen trip, arrived with his ski partner about 45 minutes later.  They’d left Grimsdalhytta right behind us, and had followed the staked winter route. On reflection, the minor advantage in travel time that our route had given us was not worth the extra risk of the climb out of the steep-sided gully.

We skied a few kilometres further to picturesque Hjerkinn train station, took the train a short distance to Kongsvold station, and walked to the historic Kongsvold Hotel. There we enjoyed an elegant four course dinner featuring reindeer, muskox, and trout. This was the extravagance of our journey.  

The next morning, we were joined by three more ski companions, also part of our historic McGill Outing Club network, who arrived at Kongsvold station from Trondheim. The eight of us skied into Reinheim DNT hut in Dovrefjell National Park. Muskoxen were introduced here in 1932, using animals from Banks Island in Canada’s Arctic Archipelago, now in what is Nunavut. This herd was eliminated by hunting during World War 2.  A second introduction took place in 1947 using animals from Greenland.

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Muskox droppings

The reunion of old ski companions was very special, but neither Chris nor I was feeling well. The others made a partial ascent of Snøhetta the following day, and Suzanne, Toivo, and Karen spent another night at Reinheim. Chris and I skied gently out to Kongsvold and caught the train homeward. On our way, we noticed plenty of muskox droppings. I would love to have seen one of the huge beasts themselves. I think we may have good reason to return to Dovrefjell and perhaps climb Snøhetta as well.

Takk til alle for turen.

M

See Flickr set for more images.

Broughton Arhipelago and Whales

2018/08/26-31: Kayaking

In both 2014 and 2016 we did coastal sea kayaking trips with German friends Carsten and Jackie. As West Coast hosts, we were happy when dolphins, seals, sea lions, and array of sea birds appeared as if on cue during our 2014 trip to the Broken Group . Returning to the kayak rental base at Sechart on our final day, we’d watched a mother bear and her cubs graze. The calmness of that scene may have helped diminish Jackie’s fear of bears.

Two years later, Jackie and Carsten returned, and we spent a week paddling together in Desolation Sound. We didn’t see the same variety of wildlife, but endless sightings of whiskered harbour seals basking languidly on rocks taught us the meaning of the German word niedlich! – cute.  It must be the dark eyes and the whiskers that are irresistible.

In 2018, we set our sights on the Broughton Archipelago, across Johnstone Strait from Telegraph Cove. This was to be a little more challenging than previous trips. We took detailed route advice from a former colleague of Chris’s, an experienced paddler who knows the area well. We purchased a handheld marine radio and acquired our operator’s licenses. I took a course to review my paddling skills, getting my Paddle Canada Level 1 certificate to satisfy the kayak rental company’s demands. Chris would have joined me, but was occupied with grandparental babysitting duties in the Yukon.

We were nervous about paddling across the strait, which can be busy with large fast moving commercial vessels, so we’d arranged that the kayak rental company would ferry us across the strait to our starting point. As we crossed Blackfish Sound, there was a large group of killer whales, and several whale watching boats were quietly gathered. Our skiff captain cut the motor, and we drifted quietly as we watched them breach and dive. A large whale swam toward our boat, gathering speed, diving  to swim under us. Another spy-hopped close by, to get a good look around.

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Spyhopping orca
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First campsite

We packed the kayaks and set off from Echo Bay to our first campsite, where a friendly sport fisherman gave us freshly caught salmon fillets which made a special first camp meal. We reached Crib Island two paddling days later, and it was from this base that we did a day’s paddle out into Queen Charlotte Sound to view sea lion colonies we were told lay just off Eden Island.  We got good views of sea lion rookeries from close enough to hear the animals bellow and to smell them, and we were followed by a curious group of youngsters who would craned their necks above the water to examine us.

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Sea lion rookery

As we turned to paddle gently back to our campsite, there was a gentle swell from the strait, and wisps of mist surrounded us. Over my right shoulder, I heard a massive exhalation. I turned to see a cloud of steam rising close to me from the blowhole of a humpback whale. The area of its back which broke the surface gave a suggestion of the size of animal gliding beside us, quietly sinking below the surface. We were not expecting this. It was a powerful moment.

Before this, we’d only seen humpbacks at a distance from an Alaskan ferry.  This one was so close that we could see the barnacles on its skin. Humpbacks are about twice the length and four times the weight of an orca, and seeing one from a small human-powered craft was moving. On our final night at Owl Island, we heard a humpback sing as it passed our camp. Only males vocalize, probably to attract females.

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Kayaking between islands

Thank you Jackie and Carsten for the companionship, and for the impetus to explore our local surroundings.

M

See Flickr set for more images.

Train to Start and from Finish

DSCN5999We began our prairie bike trip by taking the train from Vancouver to Jasper, and wrapped up our ride by taking the train from Sioux Lookout back to Vancouver. The journey to Jasper took about 24 hours, and we travelled in inexpensive coach seats. Even having reached our golden years, we can manage sitting up for a night. The return journey included three nights, however, so we sprang for comfortable upper berths with meals included.

Via Rail’s passenger service runs on the Canadian National track through Sioux Lookout. We felt we were doing well when our train – scheduled to arrive at midnight – arrived at 2:00 a.m.. Via’s passenger trains have lower priority than freight trains on the single track, and the trans-continental train is often hours or even days late.  After waiting in the near-deserted station with four other passengers, we wheeled our bikes to the baggage car – pedals removed – and handed them to careful attendants. Panniers in hand, we slipped into our berths in a hushed and dark sleeper car and in the morning we emerged as the “new”  passengers. Most other passengers had been aboard since Toronto.  The amenities and our fellow travellers made for a sociable and relaxing journey home.

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As we neared the end of our journey, we were treated to views of the Fraser Canyon in morning light. We’ve taken the train from Vancouver  to Jasper twice previously, but both times we passed through the Fraser Canyon in the dark.  This time, it felt as if our home province was giving us a warm embrace as we returned.

At Central Station in Vancouver, we reassembled into cycling mode and began to ride home. Our loaded bikes must have stood out as as we rode along the Arbutus Greenway.  A commuter cyclist slowed to chat, and asked the natural question of where we’d been.

When we told him, he reacted to our reply with “Aren’t the prairies boring?”

Our answer was a heartfelt “no”.

M

See trip photos in a Flickr album.

The Last Few Cycling Days

2018/06/16: In Kenora
As we gave the old bones a recovery day, we strolled around Kenora in search of an SD card reader. In the queue for the Safeway checkout, we chanced to meet the only Warmshowers host in Kenora, and regretted not having searched Warmshowers as we approached the town. We are active Warmshowers hosts when at home in Vancouver, but we find it hard to use the system when we travel, since we find planning our arrival time with any accuracy is tricky.

2018/06/17: Vermilion Bay  97 km
Although we disagree with the cliché that “the Prairies are boring” – usually used by the incurious who’ve never travelled across them at a human pace – we began to find that riding across Canadian shield country could be a bit monotonous.  Does all that forest spoil the view? A black bear foraging at the roadside added a bit of excitement, and we ate our lunch in a spot carefully chosen for having enough air movement to keep mosquitoes away.

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Canadian Shield

2018/06/18: Ojibway Provincial Park  125 km
Our Vermilion Bay motel included breakfast, and we chatted with a burly Minnesotan who was about to fly in to a fishing camp, as he does every summer. Signage along the road gives an indication of just how many fishing camps there are.

As we approached Dryden, forest gave way to grazing land, and we stopped at a shop that advertised “wool”. Here I purchased the wherewithal  to keep my fingers busy on the long train journey from Sioux Lookout back to Vancouver. In contrast to cold rain that had had us fully bundled up between Jasper and Edmonton, the weather was getting uncomfortably hot, so I draped a wet bandana under my helmet to protect my neck and ears from the sun’s blaze. Did you know that horse flies can keep up with a sweaty cyclist travelling at 25-35 kmh?

In Dryden, we ate our lunch outside Safeway as we eavesdropped on local lads who were graduating from high school and who would attend Lakehead University in Thunder Bay next year. We fortified ourselves with iced coffee before pedalling on.   Leaving the Trans-Canada, we turned north on highway 72 toward Sioux Lookout, and stopped to camp at Ojibway Provincial Park.

2018/06/09: Sioux Lookout 34 km
We knew we had a short day ahead; we had a leisurely breakfast and sat on the dock to finish our tea.

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Morning tea at Ojibway Provincial Park

We entered Sioux Lookout and treated ourselves to lunch and cappuccinos at a cafe, before pedalling to meet family.

M

Winnipeg and Onward

2018/06/09: Minnedosa 108 km
Nine Finger Ranch did us well for down time on our second rest day. The main house is an architect-designed building located on a hilltop, with views all round; we watched weather fronts move through. We went for a short walk and worked on a 1000 piece jigsaw with our only fellow guest, a young woman travelling by motorcycle.

On leaving, we attempted to make a quiet early departure, but the dogs didn’t let us. Flaps, the affable coon hound, bugled a piercing alarm which woke hosts Ilse and Tom. We took gravel roads for the first 20 km, then returned to prairie terrain and pavement till Minnedosa. Walking back to our motel after supper, we met Cindy, who led us on an evening walk to the heritage park and the bison compound.

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Cycling in the early morning mist.

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Ground squirrels abound

2018/06/10: Gladstone 71 km
The next day involved several caffeine stops to help us battle a rising headwind. It is the oldsters who approach us in cafes to ask how far we’ve come, and we saw that “Sunday Best” is still worn on Sundays in smaller prairie towns. We became the sole lodgers in a tiny motel, after telephoning the manager who came to make up a bed.

2018/06/11: Winnipeg 156 km
A tailwind helped us reach the outskirts of Winnipeg in unpleasant rain. We soon got onto an urban section of Trans Canada Trail which followed the Assiniboine River, and we were greeted by other cyclists.

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Stopping to view the Manitoba Legislature on our way to our hotel.

We made our way to the Marlborough Hotel, which Chris had selected because it was historic and central. I usually leave the selection of accommodation to him, so I have no right to complain that he did not read the reviews this time. On arrival, we were getting vibes that the hotel operated differently than those we usually chose, but we were too tired to rethink things. Most of the other guests were forest fire evacuees from remote northern communities, or were in the city for medical treatment. It was an interesting experience for us to be a visible minority.

On the plus side for the Marlborough, I was happy to listen to an older couple speaking what was probably Cree at breakfast time. When sharing the elevator with two First Nations women, one of them asked us “Do you jog?” We were not in bike shorts, and did not have bikes with us. I think this meant we still stood out as relatively sporty. Another time, an older guy said “Hello white guys!” very amicably.

2018/06/13: In Winnipeg

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Canadian Museum of Human Rights

We spent most of the day in the Canadian Museum of Human Rights. It did not escape us that many of the abuses Canada stands guilty of had affected – and still affect – our fellow hotel guests.

2018/06/13: Ste. Anne 63 km
We checked out of the Marlborough and departed for Louis Riel’s House on fully loaded bikes. It wasn’t nearly as informative as NWMP post in Battleford, or the Batoche site that we’d done as a side trip by car from Saskatoon. We chatted to Judi from Seattle, before getting a start on the flat lands and straight roads to the east.

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Louis Riel’s House

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Métis bead work.

2018/06/14: Hadashville 60 km
There are a limited number of ways to break the final kilometres to Sioux Lookout into days that finish with indoor accommodation away from ticks, deer flies and black flies, so we dropped into a tiny motel run by a friendly Chinese woman. We had seen a Ukrainian Restaurant about 3 km earlier, which would have meant riding to windward again for food unlikely to conform to a cholesterol-reducing diet. When our Chinese hostess cheerfully offered “I make you dumplings!”, how could we refuse? After only a moment’s doubtful guilt on my part, we dove into large platters of pork and and cabbage dumplings. This is the only red meat that has passed my lips since my visit to a lipids specialist just before we set out. After three months cycling across China in 2009, we know our dumplings, and these were good ones!

2018/06/15: Kenora 116 km
We set out late as the tailwind was forecast to strengthen later in the day. The flat terrain began to roll as granite outcroppings appeared, and the transition from prairie to boreal forest unfolded.

After rescuing a western painted turtle who appeared to want to cross the road on her own, we arrived in Kenora, where we are taking a day off. Kenora sits on the shore of Lake of the Woods, a gorgeous expanse of water dotted with islands. Motor craft abound, yet I cannot see a single sail or paddle powered craft. What a waste.

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M