The ride down from the Mount Robson campground was a fun cruise compared to the water treading adventure on the way up. Trails were clear of overflow. It was hard to believe only three days earlier they were flooded out. Our goal was to leave the campground early to hit the Café next to the Visitor’s Center right at opening time.
I know I’m on the road when I horde little packets of peanut butter, sugar, jam, mayonaise, mustard whenever we eat in a restaurant or café. I always feel bad but the little packets are so convenient when bike touring. No big containers to haul. We always eat a lot and don’t mind paying money for good food. Yet, I figure we still eat less than most car tourists. I lump myself into this category. The boredom of sitting in a vehicle is an unfortunate stimulus for huger. We definitely got our money’s worth using the condiments later in the day.
A fluffy omlette filled with veggies and cheese, thick slices of house made toast doused with butter and jam were washed down with copious amounts of bad coffee in that café. The in-house baker came to say Hi. An avid cyclist, he wanted to know which way were were riding. When we said ‘Bella Coola’, he told us it was a road he always wanted to ride. He’d only traveled it by motorcycle but thought it would be a good cruise on the human powered machine.
Before leaving, he filled us in on the bakery’s we’d pass along the way. Most importantly, he said which ones were worth stopping at. He passed on a few thick slabs of banana loaf ‘to get you to the next bakery’ and said good luck.
A few hours later we stopped at his first recommendation. In the most unlikely of places there stood a Swiss Bakery and Café. Run by ex-pat Swiss, it felt like the real thing. There were no prices on display but that didn’t matter. We spent our fortune on the delicacies sitting in baskets all around. Poppyseed danishes, sugar twists, hearty breads and daily specials were listed by us when the propriator asked in her thick accent what we would like.
We ate a week’s worth of calories; we left with our paniers stuffed with even more. Fresh baked goods = sharp decline in willpower. We rode a long time that day and still, stopped with full stomachs. Oh, and they had good coffee, too.
Camp that night was at an RV Park and Campground in Blue River, BC. We noted the touring bikes next to a tent out back and knew immediately fellow compatriots to the bike touring road were there as well. While we checked out a few potential spots, the other tourists must have noticed our bikes. They waited to talk to us before we went into the office.
They were a couple from Germany who had been touring for ‘twenty two years’. Not 22 years straight but each year a different country was tackled. They looked for good value on the road and commented on how expensive it was to travel in Canada by bike. They then asked if we’d like to share a campsite. Considering we were in a small town in the middle of nowhere, hot showers included in the camping fee, use of an outdoor kitchen, wi-fi, not to mention such friendly owners, we didn’t think it would be cool to flick the owners on the payment. We said no, we were going to pay in full, but that we’d like to hear about their trip that began a month earlier down in Nevada.
After a hot shower we cracked a bottle of white wine. Paired with deluxe mac and cheese, with whole wheat pasta and real cheese, we were living big. No, we weren’t really that hungry. To go with the eating theme of the trip we ate a massive salad as well.
The German couple sat where the wi-fi signal was strongest. My guess is they were updating their travel blog. The man came over and said ‘hmmm…what’s for dinner?!’. He told us about their trip. They had started in Las Vegas, riding through the awesome southern desert landscape of Utah Peter and I love so much. Only they didn’t love it too much. ‘It was so hot…once you see one arch, you’ve seen them all…’ in reference to the sandstone formations that we could never tire of. Seems Utah was a bore to them. Their favorite place was Billings, Montana, where there was a ‘warm shower’, a term we would hear a lot about.
Don’t get me wrong, they were nice people, but when others proceed to list off everything they’ve done without a single inquiry as to what you’ve done yourself, it can become annoying. Especially when Peter has over 50,000 bike touring kilometers under his belt. Oh well. We played dumb and didn’t mention the trips we’ve enjoyed.
As for the ‘warm showers’, it is some kind of network like couch surfing, connecting people with warm showers all over the world. Peter and I tend to meet people no matter where we are, not only because people recognize me and invite us in. We’ve been on the receiving end of kindness in many different cultures. No need to make an internet connection to get a warm shower for us. We’re just as happy rinsing off with a water bottle shower in the woods, anyway.
Which brings me to the topic of rinsing off. The German’s told us over and again about their brilliant idea of punching holes into a large plastic container lid. They fill the bottle at a gas station with hot water, then get to camp and replace the cap with the makeshift shower head.
Because it was so hot out we had no desire to have hot water for a rinse. Peter and I actually looked forward to jumping into any lake we saw or creek we camped along. The frigid water felt good under the hot summer sun. Not to mention Peter had done this many times, getting hot water, using it on colder trips for just that. But he didn’t tell them that.
We found out our German friends had a consulting business. People hired them to learn how to ‘work less and travel more’. Yikes.
We had to laugh the next morning when they pulled out of the RV park. You’d think someone who has bike toured for 22 years would consider some cycling gear…no, not our German friends. They were decked out in high-end hiking gear. Big leather boots, long sleeved black shirts, hiking pants…flat pedals….no hats and helmets strapped onto the back rack. They had so much stuff on their bikes I wondered how they got up any hills without even toe clips to help get some torque. They seemed happy, though, so we smiled and waved. We knew for certain we’d pass them on the road later, no matter how much after their departure we left.
The destination that day of was of course another bakery. It would take us about 130kms to get there. About 20kms from the town we passed the Germans. They looked hot and miserable. I don’t think they really liked riding all that much. The funny thing was the told us they planned on hiking this trip but hadn’t walked a single step. We saw them at the visitor center and they asked if we’d like to split a campground at the provincial park up the highway. We thought why not, they were actually really nice, just annoying with the ‘warm shower’ talk. We were curious if they would give reason as to why in the heck they rode in hiking gear.
Then, in the morning when Peter and I rose early to a chorus of robins unlike we’d ever heard before, I began to make coffee at the picnic table. I noticed the ‘hot shower’ bottle filled with apple juice. Only it wasn’t apple juice….
I told Peter the shower bottle doubled as a piss bottle for the tent later. He wouldn’t believe me. I know what I saw. Gross.
They left that day, on their way to a ‘warm shower’ in Kelowna.
Peter and I were headed to highway 24. A small highway that according to the man at the junction gas station we were ‘crazy to ride up….do you know there’s a hill there?’. This would be a theme of our trip: people in cars telling us about hills, downhills, ‘it’s all flat’ or suggesting an alternate flatter route to take. People who had obviously never ridden bikes before. I’d try to explain that we actually liked riding uphill, that a headwind on the flats was far worse than any mountain. This fell time and again on deaf ears.
Highway 24 did start with a big climb. A tailwind made it a fun climb. Four lanes turned into two lanes and soon we wound our way through the lake country with trucks, logging trucks, semi-trucks passing us fast but always giving space. We ran out of water and had to stop at a random house and ask to fill our bottles. Five hundred meters down the road there was a store.
We bought drinks, a melon, some snacks and who knows what else to fill the ravenous void that built from riding hard into a headwind after the climb all day. The roads were rough and it was definitely hilly, but so worthwhile as it was not too busy. The lake region reminded us of the Eastern Townships of Quebec, a place we called home for years.
While sitting at the picnic table people stopped to say hello. A man named Pete with a big toothy grin said hi and went in the store. He came out and said ‘look, I have a cottage less than four minutes from here, you are welcome to stay’. He was there with his dog while his wife worked in Vancouver. Pete was retired but much too social to not be around people. He’d volunteered for the local volunteer fire station, had a dinner date that night with other dog owners and sat with us drinking ice cold beers like he hadn’t spoken to a soul in years.
We liked Pete immediately. He was a story teller and a funny one at that.
And his dog? This dog LOVED to jump into the river. If you threw her toy she would sprint down the dock like a gymnast en route to a perfect vault, launch into the water with an emphatic dive, retrieve the toy and then ask for more. Again and again we watched the dog do her thing.
Pete had us kayaking, paddle boarding, fishing, swimming, playing lawn darts….he had a list of activities for us that we were too tired to even think of doing. Instead we just sat in fatigue under the umbrella, loving life, listening to Pete tell his stories. He went out that night, leaving us in his house, trusting us as strangers in his space. That’s the amazing thing to me, how people can be so trusting. It felt good to be on the receiving end of this trust.
The next morning, Pete tried his best to convince us to stay another day. If we hadn’t decided on the 600km or so detour to Bella Coola, we’d have taken him up on the offer. His cottage was a beautiful house right on the lake. We left missing our new friend but eager to head north to 100 mile house, William’s Lake, then east on Highway 20 to Bella Coola.
We stopped in a few places to buy fruit or get a cold drink. A hot wind blew from all directions and the riding was slow. Landscape changed all around us as we rolled along. It felt like we traveled through at least four distinctly different ecosystems in the hundred and thirty kilometers it took to arrive at 100 Mile House, then on to WIlliam’s Lake.
Each place we stopped someone would ask where we were going. When we said Bella Coola, each person would tell us their story of traveling there. It was becoming this mystical shangri-la to us. The more we heard about Bella Coola, the more excited we were to go.
Another RV park and quarters for a shower later we camped alongside the town fairgrounds and rodeo site. Women came to ride their horses, cowboy’s practiced their tricks in the ring and if it weren’t for the girl practicing the Canadian anthem I seriously would have thought we were down in small town USA. William’s Lake reminded me of many places in cowboy country down south I’d raced my bike through over the years. People were real and they were nice.
We decided to take a day off and re-group for the ride to Bella Coola. The afternoon was spent hanging out in a quiet little café in town. The food was outstanding and we ate breakfast, lunch, dinner and desert all before noon. We were on an eating roll.
Soon enough the next morning rolled around and the rain began to fall. We decided to ride anyway. Again, ‘there’s a big climb out of town, then you go down to the bridge, then a big climb after that…’. For an instant we wondered if we should chill out some more. The thought of climbing out of town in the cold rain was not a pleasant one. Once riding, we felt a relief of being in the motion of the tour once again.
Next, on to Bella Coola…