Category Archives: Bike Touring

Cloud Forest

The Osa Peninsula is tropical rain forest with huge biodiversity, but we felt we needed to get to higher elevations after months of cycling in tropical heat. We’ve spent the past two weeks in various locations in the Central Cordillera, walking in a variety of higher elevation tropical forests with eyes open and camera in hand. The colours and the variety of plants and animals is astounding.

We spent a few days at Talamanca Reserve which abuts Chirripo National Park about 100 km south of San Jose. Apart from the walks and the waterfalls, we had a quiet cabin and the food was excellent. Our stay at this place stands out as the most relaxing and enjoyable of this car trip. We’ve put together an album of photos from our stay.

We learned that you can climb Cerro Chirripo from here, but that it would require more substantial packs and boots than we are carrying in cycling mode.  We’d also need an advance booking at a high cabin, since the summit cannot be reached in a day by most mortals.  At 3820 m, Chirripo is the highest peak in Costa Rica. I think an alpine area in the tropics would be fascinating to see.

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The car we’d rented was far smaller than we’d imagined from the photo. Our pannier bags barely fit into it, and there was no way of safely transporting the bikes. We’d hastily placed them into ad hoc storage at our friendly base camp hotel, but I’d been fretting about them sitting on the roof near a third floor service area. Since our route northward meant going through San Jose, we made a quick stop at to make certain they were OK, and to confirm when we’d return the car and pack up bikes for our flight homeward. Luis of the Orthodontics (to differentiate from Luis with Glasses) reassured me cheerfully with  “Es su garaje” – it’s your garage – in reference to ongoing bike storage.

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We continued to a cabin near Poas Volcano. We’d visited the area thirteen years ago, after hiking in the Osa with our offspring.  We toured the coffee plantation that Chris had seen before but which I had not, and we spent a day strolling to the volcano viewpoint. Then we braved the winding mountain roads (thanking ourselves we weren’t cycling) to la Fortuna, near Arenal National Park. From La Fortuna we did several jaunts.  Natural history highlights included sighting a mother and baby sloth in a tree, as well as watching a hummingbird tend her tiny nest. We finally did something that was more like a hike than the gentle walks: we scrambled up a badly eroded and very muddy trail to Cerro Chato, and descended steeply – clinging to roots –  to the crater lake for a swim. Dormant rock-climbing skills came into play. We kept pace with two twenty-something lasses, American and German, which seemed to surprise them at first. At the lakeside and on the descent, we chatted with them and with an Israeli lass who appeared. (I was the only one who actually swam!) We drove them back to La Fortuna, and set about washing our very muddy selves and clothing.

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At about 10:30 p.m., some young lads returned to the room next to ours; they turned the television on full blast, shouted,  laughed, and horsed around. I detected Quebec French as we waited in vain for them to settle down. When the rowdiness  had only increased at 11:00 p.m., I got dressed and knocked on their door. I faced some surprised looking sixteen year olds who I later ascertained to be grade 11 students from Collège de Montréal . I reminded them firmly yet civilly  that we were only a wall away, and asked if they would try not to disturb us. I mentioned that we’d set our alarm for 5:30 a.m., and would try not to disturb them when we got up. They looked shocked to hear reasonably fluent Anglo-Quebec French in Costa Rica, and to their credit there was an immediate settling down. If I’d seen their teachers at breakfast I would have commended their students’ behaviour.

We used the lowest four-wheel-drive option to approach Volcan Barva on a rough road the next day, and walked to the peak identifying tapir tracks along the way. This version of cloud forest was unique in that it contained oaks. We’ve created an album of our four volcanoes tour.

We found aesthetic mountain lodging for the last night of our car circuit, but were disgusted when we realized the Italian owner, about our age, happily served up an extreme right wing diatribe with our afternoon coffee. He went as far as to criticize Canada’s policy of accepting refugees, and expressed his profound Islamaphobia crudely and cruelly. (He himself had tried unsuccessfully to immigrate to Canada.) Chris and I sat in silent horror, and quickly bolted to our cabin. Though I proposed finding somewhere else for dinner, Chris insisted we return to the dining room “because we said we would.” As we walked in, Signor Mussolini started again with a distortion of the latest news from Europe. I turned to leave, and Chris followed. We found a pasta place just down the road, and decided to give the next morning’s included breakfast a miss. (The world will soon hear about Signor Mussolini on Trip Advisor)

We stopped for breakfast at a local soda – fast food place – on the way back to San Jose. The young lad who served us our gallo pinto and scrambled eggs was patient with my Spanish, and we chatted pleasantly about sloths and tapirs as we paid the bill. Then we set out to brave the San Jose morning traffic.

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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.

 

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More Photos here

Vancouver Island and Sunshine Coast

2015/09/19-24: Port Hardy to Vancouver, 420 km and four ferries
The time on the boat went quickly in the company of a like-minded cycle-touring couple we’d met  some time before. By coincidence, they were on the same twenty-two hour ferry journey, with their bikes on the back of their car. Now retired, they’d sold their home and one purpose of their current journey was to explore smaller BC communities in which they might settle.  As we prepared to disembark we also met a former co-worker of Chris’s who has been on a kayak trip with launch and pullout at Klemtu, a mid-coast community accessible only by water. A highlight of their trip had been to see a blonde Kermode bear.

dsc_0417_21613959975_oDisembarking in foul weather, we bit the bullet and rode forty odd kilometres to Port McNeill rather than the shorter hop to Port Hardy.  In Port McNeill, the torrent in the gutter formed standing waves as it rushed downhill. We stood in a motel lobby so drenched  that the woman at the desk had to get out the mop and bucket  after we’d checked in. Our room soon became a steam bath from sodden garments hung to dry, so we opened windows a crack to allow some of the steam to escape. Next day, we rode to Woss, the skeleton of a logging town, and fell into bed at the Rugged Mountain Motel. Luckily there was no one patronizing the Lucky Logger Karaoke Bar on a Sunday night, and the neon lights soon stopped flashing.

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Steam rising from wet road

We’d had long stretches of boreal forest earlier on this ride, but now that we’d moved south I noticed the change to more familiar coastal vegetation. The forest was heavy with western red cedar, and dense thickets of salal lined the roadsides. Logging trucks loaded with the trunks of shaggy cedar passed us. DSC05516 Partly because we were keen to get home, and partly to avoid being overtaken by a group of supported Cops for Cancer cyclists, we rode a longish 130 kilometres to Campbell River.  We contemplated camping just north of town, but every side road seemed to be a gated industrial fortress. The first accommodation we saw was about a half star establishment with a sign that said “No Peddlers.” When I asked the woman at the desk if she accepted our kind, she chuckled and grinned. We don’t mind modest digs if the human face of the establishment is friendly. dsc_0441_21616856956_oWe rode into town for the large breakfast we felt we deserved after the previous day’s ride, then worked our way south on the old highway. A pair of cyclists waved at us, and later we chatted at a beachside rest area. It  turned out they were a Burnaby couple who’d been to our presentation at a bike shop about our 2009 ride . We stopped at the Merville general store for coffee, and rode on to the ferry terminal, arriving just as the ship sounded its whistle and set sail for Powell River without us.  We’d  just missed the mid-afternoon sailing, which meant a few hours rest in the company of some chocolate and some Sudoku puzzles was enforced. We got off the evening ferry to Powell River in the dark, and pushed our bikes in uphill to a hotel. DSC05523

Heading south in a headwind and rain, we crossed Jervis Inlet by ferry from Saltery Bay, and kept on down the Sechelt Peninsula to Sechelt. Our off-highway route took us on some steep climbs and descents, and then on a mountain bike trail for the last stretch to Sechelt, arriving in town  just as another downpour began.  Looking at the forecast, we rose early on our final day, and made the ferry to Horsehoe Bay in good time. I hit an exhilarating speed down the final hill as a large transport truck waited sensibly behind me; I thanked the driver in the ferry lineup.

Disembarking in Horsehoe Bay, we boarded a bus for home. All Vancouver buses are now equipped with racks that carry two bikes. Yes, we could have ridden, but it’s a stretch we’ve done many times, we were weary, and the heavens were threatening to open yet again.  We didn’t need to ride in more rain.

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The Nass Valley to Terrace

2015/09/15-18: Nass River to Terrace, 160 km
and train to Prince Rupert
We trundled another 30 km or so on good gravel, and arrived at Gitlaxt’aamiks, formerly known as New Aiyansh. Hungry for a change from liverwurst on Ryvita, we turned in to the largest of four Nisga’a villages. Gitlaxt’aamiks sports a modern government building with new totems in front, and three flags flown: Canadian, BC, and Nisga’a. We were in the Nass Valley, home of the Nisga’a people who in 2000 brokered the first treaty with the federal government in over 100 years.

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Inquiring about eateries, we were directed to a small red and white cabin for good burgers. We have no photos of this very modest establishment, but we had to walk carefully around rusting vehicles and litter to enter it. The welcome inside was warm, and as we waited, a lively woman entered and didn’t hesitate to accurately parrot Chris’s English accent. It turned out she was the Nisga’a language teacher for K-6 at the village school, having learned the language during summers spent with grandparents. It was in fact her voice I had heard on the language portion of the Nisga’a web site, and she seemed pleased I’d explored the site and at least attempted a Nisga’a greeting. We were introduced to nieces and grandchildren who traipsed in and out, and to another language teacher who told us of her family’s salmon smoking, and showed us examples of the pine mushrooms she was collecting. They are graded into one of four grades, and the highest grade fetches $12.50 per pound from local buyers who sell them fresh on Granville Island, or dry them for export to Asia.

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Turning south from Gitlaxt’aamiks, we passed the vast lava beds created by an eruption which occurred only some 300 years ago, and whose devastation of two villages lives on in Nisga’a oral tradition. We’ve never seen anything like the expansive jumble of rounded pumice rocks, each covered in pale lichen! The pieces are unstable and the pumice is sharp, so walking any distance is hazardous.

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Still hoping to catch the Friday ferry from Prince Rupert, we pedalled hard to Rosswood and on to a user-maintained provincial campsite on Kitsumkalum Lake. When a local returned from a beach stroll and warned us of “fresh grizzly tracks”, we moved our tent nearer our only fellow campers, and we introduced ourselves to them in case nocturnal disturbances sent us diving into the protective embrace of their camper. Spawned-out salmon carcasses lay on the beach, and these are easy food for bears. We hoped any bears would stick to salmon, and not bother to reach for our food.

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Next morning, after a night of listening for approaching bears, we pedalled to Terrace and dove into Boston Pizza. The young waitress looked at our grey hair and offered us “half portions” of pasta, but we made quick work of full bowls. Still trying to rid my bike of noises, we bought new jockey wheels at a bike shop. We might have pedalled westward along the Skeena to Prince Rupert, but we gave into our bodies’ demands and checked into a hotel for laundry and a good 15 hours sleep.

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The following day we whiled our time in an excellent coffee shop, and come evening we boarded the train for Prince Rupert. We disembarked along with a German tour group who’d travelled in a private observation car, and we pedalled in the dark to a backpackers’ hostel.

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Wet Weather and Bears

2015/0910-14: Dease Lake to Nass River, 450 km
Setting out from Dease Lakes, we passed broad wetlands.
A local in a truck called “Didja see any moose?”
“No, just tracks” I replied. We could see that the moose use the gravel shoulder of the road to commute.

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The forecast was grim, so we rode against headwinds to the Bear Paw Resort where we were fed a hearty Austrian supper. The following day we rode in headwinds and increasing rain to Kinaskan Lake Provincial Park where we made hot drinks to go with lunch, and then soldiered onward to tuck ourselves amongst spruce for a damp night.

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In the morning, the weather had improved a little, but my feet felt permanently soggy and chilled. My bike began to make irregular clicking sounds when I pedalled hard, and we worried might be signs of incipient bottom bracket failure. We made it to Bell 2 Lodge, a heli-skiing base, and dove into dinner and a comfortable (but extravagant) night, where internet access helped us begin to diagnose the worsening bike issues.

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Next morning we saw a mother black bear with cubs ahead, and I decided to test my bear banger – something that is impossible to do in the city without the police arriving. The bear trio quickly left the road, and I got an idea of the trajectory of my weapon – a successful test all round. The day’s ride brought us to Meziadin Junction, where the road turns off to Stewart, BC, and Hyder in the Alaska panhandle. The aesthetic is very different to Bell 2, but the Atco trailers were warm and dry and the cook was friendly.

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In the morning, we sacrificed a toothbrush to cleaning bike chains, and swapped mine with Chris’s as we reinstalled them. This was to test the theory that grit embedded in what was originally my chain might be the source of the noises. It wasn’t, and my bike continued to complain. A useful diagnostic, however. Heading onward, we stopped to watch salmon spawning. This was a first for me. Many times I’d seen the carcasses of spawned-out fish, but never the actual  upstream mating dance. Soon we saw another black bear, well-fed and unhurried.

At Cranberry Junction we turned south to follow the valley of the Nass River on a gravel forest road, stopping after about 20 km only to cook supper. The concept was to better separate cooking smells from where we’d sleep, as a precaution in an area reportedly filled with “bear action.”

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An SUV pulled up, and two Korean men in camouflage hunters’ garb asked urgently “Have you seen any black bears?”. We guessed a good part of their urgency came from the price paid for a foreigner’s hunting license.
“No” we answered truthfully, “and not much scat either.” I gestured explicitly so as to help in case “scat” was beyond their English vocabulary. They sped off.

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After supper, we cycled a little further and turned up a branch road to an old logging landing to set up camp. Wolves howled nearby as darkness fell.

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