Mexico and Points South

Plans often arise due to unrelated promptings, and this one actually came from four disparate quarters:

  1. Michael, a favourite relative of ours, suggested we might join him at a resort on Cozumel, Mexico.
  2. A friend told us of a Tasmanian couple, who needed accommodation in Vancouver for an extended period.
  3. A young couple in Vancouver showed us photos of themselves cycling the back roads of the High Andes, and we got itchy feet.
  4. The aches and pains of getting older warned us that major cycle trips might not be possible in coming years, as Margo hinted at in the last post.

Thus  an idea to fly to Cancun on December 12th, and travel south. Margo started Spanish classes, we went to the travel clinic and got jabbed, we ordered the permethrin to treat our mosquito nets, and we started drawing up a Plan A. As always, Plan A grew.

It has now come to include 4 sections:

  1. Central America
  2. Colombia and Ecuador
  3. The High Andes
  4. Paraguay, Iguaçu Falls, São Paulo

A couple of planning maps have been drawn up:

Central America:
https://drive.google.com/open?id=1wo0Wz3RsO__p0d4WlrMS6tuIrRk&usp=sharing

CentralAmerica

Cozumel to Cartagena …. the dots are major places of interest or key points on the proposed trip. Red lines are boats.

South America:
https://drive.google.com/open?id=1ahVtcgnZRQEDMpFt-7HUmYKuWEA&usp=sharing

SouthAmerica

Cartagena to São Paulo … in southern Peru and Bolivia the dots are our GPS waypoints and are typically a few km apart. They mark: water, shops, and important junctions.

Key planning dates (not to be taken too seriously):

  • December 19, 2016 Cozumel, Mexico
  • Mar 14, 2017  Cartagena, Colombia
  • Apr 29, 2017 Quito, Ecuador
  • Sep 17, 2017 Salta, Argentina  (probably too optimistic)
  • Oct 29, 2017 São Paulo, Brazil

As a planner, I ask myself: where are the obvious stopping points? Well the route through Central America is very interesting until we are forced onto the Pan-American Highway at the Panama Border. So we might stop in Costa Rica. Cartagena to Quito has considerable interest, including dropping in on an old University friend of Margo’s in Cali, and potentially having friends join us for a leg. But the High Andes section we will start in Quito is a daunting challenge of major climbs at high altitude, and we might not feel up to this. So we might fly home from Quito. Once we have finished the High Andes, with the finale of cycling across the Bolivian Salt Flats, we might just drop down to Salta, Argentina and fly home. But the Iguazu Falls are an easy ride away, and visiting Chris’s cousin’s family in São Paulo, seems a pleasant way to end the trip, reminiscent of similarly dropping in on another cousin in Austria somewhat unannounced, on the Bangkok to Paris trip. Actually we really have no idea where and when this trip will end; maybe we will get the bug to carry onto Ushuaia, or fly to Australia and continue cycling. That is the beauty of being retired; we can choose for ourselves, and we will take it a day at a time. One of the beauties of this route is that buses are available, in many locations, so bailing out is relatively easy.

For those kind friends who worry about our safety on such a trip, may I assure you we have studied the government travel warning sites. The trip is designed to stay away from areas that these advisories warn us against visiting. Most of these warnings are quite detailed, for instance in Colombia the UK government provides a map. But the major warning is for Honduras, where the Pan American highway through Honduras is off limits, as is a large area around it. You will see we avoid this completely by taking a boat from La Union, El Salvador to Potosi, Nicaragua. We will monitor these government travel warning sites, along with health warning sites, as we travel and adjust our plans accordingly.

C

Getting Older

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Jackie and Carsten would say “Niedlich!” – very cute.
For more photos and a map of the trip see here

At the end of August, we went kayaking in Desolation Sound with our German friends, Carsten and Jackie. It was a scenic and relaxing four day trip which left us inspired us to do more kayaking in the future, perhaps with Carsten and Jackie again when they next come to Canada. We learned a good lesson, however, which is never to assume that outdoor equipment will still work, just because it worked in the past.

We knew the coating on the seams of the fly of our ten-year old Hubba Hubba tent was flaking off, and had carefully applied new sealant. We thought we’d tested our repair by spraying the tent pitched in the garden. We had good daytime weather in Desolation, but heavy showers at night, and we soon found rain dripping on us inside the tent. We had to admit that our repair had failed, and that tents don’t last forever. The addition of a tarpaulin over the tent saw us through the trip, but upon our return we took the plunge on a new tent purchase that should see us through our upcoming extended bike trip.

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Home sweet home ….complete with drips. 

We’d taken our Whisperlite stove that runs on Coleman fuel, and which we hadn’t used recently. We didn’t test it, it didn’t work; the pump was broken. No worries this time – Jackie and Carsten had a reliable stove.

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Camp kitchen

We hadn’t worried that our toes protruded in places from our old water shoes, and ignored the fact that the soles had begun to come away from the uppers. By the end of the trip, the sole had completely separated from one of my shoes and I was walking on barnacles in footwear no more protective than socks.

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Chris’s toes sticking out of watershoes

We returned with a heightened awareness that equipment doesn’t last forever, and – especially after periods of non-use – it needs to be checked before packing for an outing. We are keeping this in mind as we prepare for another extended bike tour. Aging equipment can be replaced. Well used bikes can have new components installed. But what about our bodies, which have now both rolled past 64? How will they last on another long bike trip?

We’ll have to see.

M

A Local Ride

2016/08/3-12: 490 km on Vancouver Island, Saltspring, Galiano and Pender

“That looks like an adventure!” commented a woman in Langford, just west of Victoria, BC, as she noticed at our loaded bikes parked outside the Subway sandwich shop. I had been feeling disappointed that our summer bike touring plans had been limited to a relatively short local ride, but her comment reminded me we would still have our share of joys and challenges.

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Cowichan Rail Trail

A host of commitments had prevented us from leaving for a longer or more distant summer tour, but we finally got away for Southern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. The car stayed at home — always a good start to an adventure. In the wee hours we rode to the Skytrain and took transit to Tsawwassen ferry terminal. After crossing to Swartz Bay, we rode to Sooke on the Lochside and Galloping Goose rail trails, where we were welcomed and fed by old friends. The next day took us along the hilly southwest coast of Vancouver Island, and we camped at Fairy Lake recreation site where one of us dislodged sweat by swimming. From there we climbed on a paved logging road to about 380 m, and descended to Cowichan Lake. We rode eastward on a rail trail that roughly followed the Cowichan River, and leaving it to head into Duncan we crossed Cowichan First Nation land. All traffic was stopped for some time while a burial took place. We quietly gorged on roadside blackberries as we waited to proceed.

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Old logging road wooden bridges from Port Renfrew to Cowichan

We fell into a hotel in Duncan, and had a snackish supper in our room because we’d eaten a huge lunch in Cowichan Lake. The next morning, I bought new pedals at the local bike shop, since my recent efforts to overhaul aging pedals seemed to have failed, as proven by the return of the water torture clicks. Note: Any tips on prolonging the life of SPD pedals would be appreciated, because I seem unable to make a pair of Shimano XTs last more than two years.

We rode north to Ladysmith, and had two nights and a really sociable rest day catching up with friends from an early era of our lives together. Why do we leave these things so long? The morning of or departure was marked by George the tabby cat leaving a headless baby rabbit in the bathtub as a token of his respect for us.

We crossed to Saltspring Island at Crofton, and rode to Ruckle Provincial Park where we spent two nights and a lazy day. From Saltspring we hopped by ferry to Galiano, with a plan to reach Dionisio Provincial Park at the northwest end before dark . Part of the appeal of Dionisio came from the fact that a land dispute has led to gating the access road, so it can now only be reached by boaters –or by cyclists who nip under the gate. We were looking forward to a tranquil night as we turned off onto a quiet road. Then I had a flat. We shifted into our standard routine of removing the tube for inspection, and found its seam had split to create a hole that proved impossible to patch. We unrolled our spare tube to find it too had a split seam that left an even larger hole. After several hours of fruitless patching efforts, we returned to the main road and humbly stuck out our thumbs. Within two minutes, a minivan stopped. We were expertly helped to load our bikes into it, and found we’d been rescued by the kind proprietor of Galiano Bicycles, who sorted us out in her well-equipped workshop, and let us collapse into our sleeping bags in her guest cottage. We counted ourselves as truly fortunate and are very grateful to Pam.

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Ruckle Campsite

We ate a leisurely breakfast at a local café before boarding another ferry to Pender. Despite failings of the GPS, we finally arrived at the house of a friend we’d made during our 2010 ride down the US West Coast. He and his family welcomed us warmly and fed us well, and gave us a glimpse into lives lived in an island community. After a walk to a spectacular viewpoint followed by a great swim the next day, we departed for the ferry, eventually reaching Tsawwassen at dusk. We took transit into the city, and I felt almost serene as I glided through dark and quiet residential streets from the Skytrain to home. There is a satisfaction to both leaving home and returning to it under one’s own steam.

 

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Our bikes on the car deck of a BC Ferry epitomize this trip.

 

M

More Photos here

Jotunheimen and Skarvheimen

2016/03/07-20: Gjendesheim to Finse 234km

March is the prime ski touring month in Norway. The days are getting long enough for relaxed travel from hut to hut, the snowpack has settled, and many of the routes have been marked with birch wands which help with navigation during whiteouts.

Last year, feeling that only a week of skiing wasn’t enough, we signed up for two separate one-week tours. This allowed us to have a week of rest in Oslo between tours, but it also meant more travel time in relation to skiing time. This year, we signed up for the Norwegian Trekking Association’s two week “Long Tour”. From its difficulty rating, we knew it would be more challenging than what we’ve done before, both in terms of daily distances and in terms of consecutive skiing days without a rest day. We committed to the trip before Christmas with great plans to work on our fitness, though we didn’t follow through on these as we should have.

It was tough, but it was wonderful. Conditions early in the trip were perfect, and then temperatures rose to give us a few days is slushy snow and breakable crust. The last few days involved icy conditions, and our conversion to carrying universal klister.

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One of many glorious descents (image courtesy of Knut)

We were eight participants and two volunteer leaders. Albert and Charlotte led in different ways that complemented each other well. I found it reassuring knowing that Albert — with his enormous pack– was behind. The Norwegian contingent included Paul, Knut and Arild; the Seattle contingent was Josh and Tiva, and Per was the indefatigable Dutchman who we knew from our Huldreheimen trip last year.  Only three of the ten of us were under 60, and our determined Dutchman was past 70. We’ll be proud if we can tour like Per in another decade!

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Norwegian Mountain Weather

Paul tracked our progress with his GPS, and each evening we would try to guess our exact distances and climbs before he announced the precise answer.

km hrs Climb (m)
Gjendesheim-Glitterheim 23 8 1000
Glitterheim-Spiterstulen 17 6 200
Spiterstulen-Olavsbu 24 7.5 800
Olavsbu-Fondsbu 18 5 400
Fondsbu-Sletningsbu 20 6 600
Sletningsbu-Sulebu 23 6.5 600
Sulebu-Bjordalsbu 32 9.25 1176
Bjordalsbu-Iungsdalshytta 23 6 135
Iungsdalshytta rest day 0 0 0
Iungsdalshytta-Storestølen 18 6 620
Storestølen-Geitrygghytta 18.5 6 670
Geitrygghytta-Finse 17.5 5.5 1030
Total 234 71.75 7231

Finse is a small collection of buildings at the highest point on the Oslo to Bergen rail line. There is a hotel, a large DNT hut, and of course a railway station. There is no road access; the village exists to service fjell skiers and hikers. As we emerged from the fog on our final descent, a train sounded its whistle as it shot out of a tunnel into the station. Judicious braking was required before skiing downhill over the tracks to the lake.

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Arrival at Finse

By the end of the tour, we knew each other well and the atmosphere was especially relaxed and friendly when we cheered our leaders with a rousing rendition of “We All Love the Leaders of the Tour”, sung to the tune of Yellow Submarine in the busy lounge area of the Finse Hut.

What’s next? With a system of over 500 huts in Norway, the possibilities are endless.

M&C

(For more images, see our Flickr album)

 

Merry Christmas

“What’s the best ride you have done” is a question we are often asked. Well for those of you thinking of cycle touring as part of your New Year’s resolution, here is my list, to whet your appetite.

Scenic Rides:  
Jasper to Vancouver via Whistler takes a lot of beating, but beware unless you are an Olympic athlete take a tent because accommodation is sparse on this route.

Cultural Rides: 
Seville to Santiago and beyond was a fantastic ride with lots of interesting cities on the way. In May the wild flowers are wonderful. Leave your tent behind; there is lots of accommodation.

Flat rides:
Bordeaux to Arles on the Canal du Midi Completed in 1666, the Canal du Midi is an easy ride. It is  a UNESCO World Heritage site along with Carcassonne, by which it passes. If cycling the entire route is too much then consider renting a boat, and cycle into the local towns for French cuisine.

World Tours:
Bangkok to Paris is our only one completed to date, and if you have a year to spare is well worth the effort. Look into visas before you leave; we needed 11. There are two other World Tours in a similar class: Alaska to Ushuaia and NordKapp to Capetown. We have done parts of both of these, and they are much easier from a visa point of view! Of course you can opt for a round the world trip but that is a 2 to 3 year  30,000km plus undertaking!

Whatever you do, enjoy 2016!

C