#6: Pancakes with Dave

We met Dave at a rest stop just out of Malakwa.

You find yourself attracted  (magnetically, not necessarily physically) to other cyclists when you’ve been riding a while. The shared experience of being grimy, achy and sunburned is a good conversation starter.

Dave was the trove of generosity and openness that a cycle-tourist should be. The usual “hi, how’s it going, where are you going, we’re from the UK, ah nice!” evolved into a couple of hours swapping stories and touring tips, then absorbing lessons on history, geography, world affairs, energy, culture, kit, conspiracies and everything else.

His bank of stories was bigger than his gear, and he was the most well-laden cycle tourist I’ve ever met. He carried more than us two combined, most of which rested on a huge trailer behind his bike. It was a truly formidable set-up.

A benefit of so much gear is that you’re afforded certain luxuries that the more streamlined tourer sacrifices. A huge tent and custom-made 1.5x size sleeping bag is one example. Supplies for a full pancake breakfast, complete with syrup and butter is another example.

Dave’s invite to join him for the latter is one of the highlights of the ride so far.

As he began to unpack his full kitchen and pantry, I washed the melted butter out of his pannier bag – fine barter for a pancake breakfast.

For a few minutes Kristian pottered about, Dave kept unpacking things, I cleaned.

The stories kept flowing. The rest stop we were at was the site of The Last Spike, where the final spike in the Canadian Pacific Railway was driven in 1885. “Every Canadian kid knows that”.

The pancake mix and syrup made an appearance, as did the redundant eggs and butter. Each item unpacked sparked a foray into a new task or story. “If you buy frozen strawberries, you can eat them over the next couple of days!”.

I finished evicting butter from the bag and started making some coffee, which prompted Dave to unpack his coffee making set-up. Comparing gear is another essential part of chatting to other cyclists, so we evaluated each other’s cooking and coffee making arrangements, taking photos and notes so we could improve ours later. My Bugaboo received warm and deserved praise.

Kristian started making pancakes while I made coffee and Dave unpacked more things. He told us about the merits of a plastic egg holder, about his life in the Middle East and his time spent teaching English in South Korea, about T. E. Lawrence and his unorthodox military career, about his night spent camping at the Eton Boat Club, about Paul Hellyer’s declaration that aliens are real and, my favourite, about two Swedish girls who are cycling too, one of whom is a mechanical engineer and told Dave that his trailer was mechanically inefficient because of the arrangement of the axles.

His touring tips were often accompanied by labelling us ‘Innocents Abroad’. I enjoy the implication of a Master and Apprentice dynamic where us young tourists are earning our stripes and collecting experiences and miles from the road, and knowledge from other people riding it.

This dynamic was immediately flipped when a guy came over and introduced himself as Miguel, touring North America in a van with his girlfriend Misaki. He asked us for tips for preparing for his first ever cycle tour, and it felt great seeing his enthusiasm build as we answered questions about distance, kit, hills, and everything else.

Another great example of the automatic camaraderie between people on adventures,

Miguel’s observation that after a long time travelling – when the days and places start to blur into each other – that “it’s all yesterdays” was nice too.

So cheers to Dave, Miguel and Misaki for a fine pancake-filled rest stop.

#5 sunburn, routine, slapstick

We are in Summerland, BC, 266 miles out of Vancouver. Today is our 6th day on the bikes.

Day 4 was the first day where the rhythm felt established, and things felt smooth and rehearsed. A routine is evolving out of disparate tasks.

It was the first day the weather permitted riding topless too, which I think is essential for ‘proper’ bike touring. Both of us are now sunburned to shit, another essential rite of passage.

You start to learn the signals specific to the terrain you’re riding through. A sign warning vehicles over 27000kg that they need tire chains in winter means a long uphill is coming; a sign telling the same drivers to check their brakes means the opposite.

You lock into the rhythm and sensation of climbing, and begin to stop resenting the fact that each down brings an inevitable up later on. This shift in mindset makes valleys and mountain passes beautiful rather than brutal.

We climbed a long straight nine percent hill, with a line of traffic being held in the other lane. People watched from their cars, expressions ranging from awe to mild pity. Some gestured encouragement, a couple shouted from their windows. My favourite encouragement was:

“Think you can, think you can’t, know you will”

In my mind this perfectly describes the internal battle that happens on hills.

We have been among mountains for days, on roads that are thankfully never more than a fraction of the gradient of the slopes they weave around and cut through.

A river is with us too, sometimes a blue ribbon thousands of feet below, other times a roaring presence flowing alongside the road.

Day 4 was also the first day that we’ve had a few dry light hours at camp to air things out, tweak gear, tighten nuts and bolts, and generally hang out (quite literally: we set up our hammocks and laid in them for a couple of hours).

The little acts of tidying camp and gear and mind that contribute to that feeling of structure, routine, rhythm.

My favourite part of the routine is the slapstick rigmarole of suspending our food bags up a tree. This involves getting a length of rope over a branch at least four metres off the ground, achieved by putting a stone in a carrier bag, clipping the string to the handle, and throwing it over the branch. When a suitable branch is found, the clip moves from the carrier bag to the food bag and we pull, then tie the other end of the string around a tree. It sounds simple but I really think that if we wore 20s clothes and filmed this in black and white, our efforts would pass as a Laurel and Hardy routine.

#4: landslides, jam, hot tubs

What, a day.

A gruelling 14 mile uphill section with rapidly depleting energy reserves followed our decision to keep riding out of Hope, after we’d ridden 60 miles to get there.

Several breaks for food (and for me, mild despair) were necessary to keep energy levels up, to the point where we both felt sick from the amount of oatcakes and jam we’d crammed into ourselves. The body machine is relentless in its demand for food, regardless of how full you are.

Part of the appeal (and bragging rights) of cycle touring is being able to eat way more than usual and not have to worry about developing a paunch. In Italy this means gelato, pizza and cheese, and it’s great. When, like today, it means oats, oat cakes, jam, peanut butter, five apples, and plain rice, it feels less glamorous.

(We have made a note to pilfer some salt and pepper sachets from the next available eatery so that future rice needn’t be plain).

After dinner at Hope Slide Lookout, fate tested my claim that day 2 in Vancouver was the ‘trials and tribulations’ phase with a series of miscalculations and mishaps.

Firstly we had the exhilarating experience of easing our laden bikes down a steep scree slope to get them to the area we planned to camp in. During this ordeal my pannier strap wound itself almost inextricably round my wheel, locking it in place.

Then, after scree-slope bike repair, futile searching for a camp spot ensued. We realised the site of the largest landslide ever recorded in Canada probably wasn’t the best place to camp, for two reasons: the whole area is uneven rock and a bastard to sleep on, and another landslide may presumably occur, burying us and our bikes and our adventurous spirits forever.

Disheartened, we had to push our bikes back up the scree slope. Kristian’s assertion that this would be easier than the descent, “because we’ve got our weight behind the bikes”, was false.

Then at the top, just for good measure, my chain fell off.

These shenanigans are all part of the fun though, and I really mean that (although I did have to give Kristian the disclaimer “sorry if I moan, I am still always enjoying it”). The occasional failed and frustrated attempt to find a campsite is more than offset by the Anne and Vics of this world. Where those experiences are remembered, the frustrations are quickly forgotten and give way to their own relative successes.

For example: we ended up sleeping in an RV park in Sunshine Valley, where we could pitch our tents on arrival after hours and pay in the morning. $10 between us paid for flat, soft grass to sleep on, access to a laundromat, showers, and, perhaps the best sentence ever, “free hot tubs“.


#3: first day on the bikes

The first day of the tour, when hypotheticals become actuals.

Lines on maps become roads unravelling in front of you.

Elevation profiles become hills, and each brings the knowledge that there are many, many more to go. Along with the reminder that everything you need to survive really is a lot of weight to pull up a hill with your legs.

Stories continue to be collected, almost as frequently as the miles and places that underpin them. Today’s began with us meeting a lovely couple at a map sign in Kanaka Creek Provincial Park and being invited to camp in their garden and swap tales over a beer.

Stories are recounted to us: of Anne & Vic’s van tour of Europe and Asia in their youth. Of their provocation of border and checkpoint guards in a paranoid ’70s Russia. Of demands made on them to lock their canoe to the top of their van to stop someone stealing it and escaping the country by paddle-power.

Other people’s adventures. Reassuring reminders that there are infinite excellent things to do in this world, and plenty of people prepared to do them.

So far the horizon has been mountains. Some are snowcapped, all are the hazy blue that you only ever see on mountains viewed from afar. The definition and colour they gain as you approach is only matched, when cycling, by the daunting feeling and the preemptive aches in your muscles.

Kristian has been practicing his Canadian accent, getting gradually closer via South African, Jamaican, Australian and Irish. So when I asked why my gears were being such jerks as we rode up a hill, where they kept clicking randomly in and out of place, a cheery South African bellowed “awh, it’s because they’re not staying in the right place, mate!!“.

Useful comic relief if nothing else. As was the realisation that for at least a few meters, Kristian and I were going the same speed: him while riding, me while pushing my bike on foot.

#2: Thievery, sunsets, promises of rockabilly

Yesterday was the trials and tribulations stage of the trip. Some minor criminals supplemented our list of errands by thieving various bits from our bikes: from mine, my helmet and the thing that connects the front wheel to the bike. From Kristian’s, a water bottle.

It’s not much but we had to visit four bike shops and spend $80 to get back to where we had already been a few hours before. Briefly annoying, but a good  opportunity to practice that pretentious stoicism that makes life on the road a bit easier.

Also a good opportunity to drop another Ted Simon quote. (If you haven’t read him, you should):

“Up to this time in my life – and that’s a long time – I have been a lucky person. Not that everything has turned out the way I wanted. Almost the opposite, in fact, but every new disappointment has led to new & better prospects, so that looking back on my failures I can’t bring myself to regret any of them”

That sentiment is on my mind a lot so far. The knowledge that things will inevitably go wrong, or be difficult, but that new and exciting things will arise from this – it’s a good motivator.

And it’s proven true already. After replacing our pilfered gear we stopped off at a dispensary to pick up some marijuana (because it’s basically legal here, and when in Rome!), then rode through the dominion of condos that is downtown Vancouver, through some leafy avenues, and into Stanley Park.

The park is a car-friendly tourist-accessible snapshot of Canada’s wilder side: bike trails zigzag off in different directions leading to beaches and bridges and lookouts. Triangular trees soar upward, a subtle reminder that you’ve entered a terrain that’s a whole lot more rugged and majestic than what we’ve left behind.

After riding aimlessly around the trails for a while we found ‘Third Beach’ and sat, basking in the sun, listening to songs, looking out onto the Pacific Ocean. A lady came over to ask if she could buy a joint (apparently it’s very obvious from far away what we were up to), and we started talking.

She lives in Calgary, was visiting Vancouver on business, and invited us to a party with live Rockabilly band if we manage to get there in time (complete with place to pitch our tents in the garden). What an excellent motivation to ride 600 miles, and excellent karmic offset to having helmets and bottles swiped that morning.

And a perfect example of a disappointment leading to new and better prospects.

Here are some photos. They are trapped in my camera because I don’t have an SD card adaptor yet, so I just took a photo on my phone.

sunset couple Pacific sunset