It’s taken too long to get to part four of this summer adventure trilogy…part four of part one that is. I’ve been busy riding my bike of all things. No excuses, though, so here goes. Better late than never telling the tale at all.
That same day we disembarked the plane, rode east from the airport past the rink I skated my last race on Winter Olympic Ice almost four years ago now, we had another breakdown. Not a mental breakdown that would be understandable navigating through Vancouver on a loaded touring bike with only a list of roads marked L or R in scribbled ink on scrap paper. No, not one of those. This was a breakdown of the bicycle sort.
Just when I thought I’d nailed the whole navigate-the-city thing (admittedly after a few retracing of the steps on a certain bike path in New Westminster), Peter’s MTB turned into a partial fixed gear machine from hell. Each time he stopped pedaling, the chain would jam up into his rear cogset making an alarming sound. We stopped and futilely tinkered with the bike. Only thing to do was google search the nearest bike shop, get the credit card out and hope for the best.
The first shop knew nothing about bikes let alone wheels. Surprising when all the two wheeled machined hanging off the ceiling cost a more than a mint. We tried another shop with hopes dwindling as it was already 5pm. A giant of a man with the softest of voices and calmest demeanors met us at the front of the shop. Turned out he was a bike tourist, too, and keen to help. The shop buzzed with activity even with closing time within an hour.
The manager of the shop asked what was wrong and immediately had one of the young mechanics look at the wheel. In five minutes he broke the news: the wheel was shot. They did, however, have a replacement that would work just fine. Not only that, they made the time to switch everything over from the old junker wheel. Or should I say pretty darn new wheel that was not made for the weight of the touring load.
The next 45 mins we ate as much as we could at a nearby Starbucks (I know, how original…), then went back to the shop just as it was closing. We spoke more to Breck, the friendly giant who first met us upon arrival. He asked where we planned to camp and we said no idea. He then offered us a spot at his Dad’s house, that was ‘not too far away, maybe we could ride together?’.
After a boost onto one of the vintage penny farthing bikes, we rolled out of Cap’s Bicycle Shop with Peter’s new wheel and two new friends in tow: Breck and the mechanic. Breck rode his bike touring machine, a Surley Longhaul Trucker with rear paniers. He shared with us his fancy for winter riding, and showed the articles on the shop wall of his frigid adventures. The mechanic, he rode a city cruiser, decked out in high-top sneakers and a BMX style lid.
Peter and I commented to each other before leaving ‘are you ready to race?’ knowing somehow that we were going to be riding MUCH harder than we’d become accustomed to rolling along. It seemed whenever people ride with us, bike touring or even training with me, they feel the need to feel the speed, and hammer away. We were ready, though, and stoked to have a place to spend the night. Who knows what blueberry patch we would have poached along Highway 3 that night without the kind offer.
We hammered away and laughed our asses off. I kept thinking how we must have looked to the passer bye. Four hosers on two wheels: three with paniers one with sneakers, riding in a single file racing formation, flying along the side of the highway in the tiny bike lane. Breck knew all the short cuts and bike paths we hopped in and out of. An hour turned into an hour and a half, when the mechanic peeled off, saying his goodbyes with a sweat-beaded brow topping a mile-wide grin.
Soon after we pulled into a gas station with Breck, thinking we were almost there.
‘Time for a drink, I think?’ Breck stated, sweat dripping everywhere. His shirt was soaked and he was grinning ear to ear. He came out with a massive gatorade. I can’t remember what I got for me and Peter but whatever it was, it went perfectly with the enormous bag of salt and vinegar potato chips Breck pulled like a magician pulling the rabbit out of the hat out of his panier. ‘Salt is good!’ he exclaimed. We all greedily dug into the bottomless bag of chips.
‘Well, I guess we’re almost there?’ Peter and I asked in unison. ‘Yes, should be another twenty kilometers to the turn off, then another ten to my Father and his wife’s house.’
Peter and I looked at each other with mild concern. It was getting dark already and we still had thirty highway kilometers to ride. Not only that, Breck was getting tired. He’d pulled the majority of the ride already and now it was up to us.
The next hour was spent racing against impending darkness. Just as it was almost pitch black, we rolled into the driveway. In the house Breck casually mentioned, ‘I’d better try to get ahold of my Dad so he knows we’re here.’ Oh no…we thought…well we thought Breck lived there with his Dad and that this was all okay. How embarrassing if it was not.
He couldn’t reach him and we were ravenous with hunger. I called for pizza, drinks and salads, ordering out from the only pizzaria that delivered to the area. We showered and dug in once the pizza arrived. Which was right about when Breck’s Dad and Mother-In-Law returned home from their day out. It was 11pm and there were two complete strangers in their home.
Tension diffused immediately and we settled into a nice conversation. We offered to sleep outside on the lawn but they insisted we sleep in the guest room. Not only that, they tried to convince us to stay another day and rest up. The intention was to get up in a 5 hours time at 5am and ride with Breck the first 10km, then head east to his west, back to work. Breck was working on a goal of 3000km in 30 days that month. We were just trying to get home to Canmore in time to fly to Labrador late July.
Those good intentions fell into a deep sleep. We didn’t wake until after 730am. Found the house empty and a note to help ourselves to anything we wanted. Amazing to be trusted by strangers to be in their place and space alone.
Peter got up early to change my brake pads. One thing we learned from the bike shop in New Westminister was that the brake pads on hydraulic disk breaks would wear out. WE didn’t even know they were hydraulic. Man did we have a lot to learn. Taking the brake pads out Peter realized not only did the pads need to be changed, there was no brake pad left at all. What was breaking my bike at each stop and slowdown was the metal bits that held the break pads. Not good.
We looked at the closest bike shops online and found to our delight another Cap’s shop in Abbotsford, where Breck’s father lived. We thought about riding to the shop and hoping for the best. Breck’s Dad would have none of it. He insisted on driving us to the shop. We stopped at a Tim Horton’s along the way and got some gawd aweful triple triple something or other, along with the worst ever breakfast sandwich known to man. None of it mattered because the guys at Cap’s were something else. They not only said they could fix my bike, they bled the lines of the hydraulic brakes and made my bike almost like new. They refused any sort of payment and we took some pics on our way out. We both decided that Cap’s Bike Shops ruled.
After just a kilometer of riding a Farmer’s Market stand stopped us in our tracks. All it took was a sign for fresh blueberries and we exited stage right to get our fill. It was deluxe, an enterprise more than anything, and we ate yogurt, blueberries, raw corn on the cob and more fruit. We left stocked up on tahini, jam and bread for later on. Our sandwich of choice after burning out on PB and J.
Back on the highway we paid a visit to the Visitor Center before leaving Mission, BC. Big foot sightings were abundant and the ladies at the counter recognized me, asking for a mug shot with their mascot, Stan the Sturgeon. Luckily he was fuzzy and soft not cold and clammy.
Soon we were on our way and somehow made it all the way past Hope and up a long climb into the dwindling sunlight to a RV park and campground. Much to our surprise the rate for a tent was ten bucks. Hot showers, cold beer from the store and from what I remember some mac and cheese, we were content once again on the road to what seemed nowhere but hopefully led home.
With a few beers in our paniers we headed east on the Highway 3 towards Manning Park. An old teammate of mine Trent Klasna from cycling was just finishing up an epic multi-month long hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. He began in Mexico and endured thousands of kilometers of rugged trail to the Canadian border. We had no idea when he’d finish but were somehow convinced trail magic would prevail and we’d see him hitching on the road. Thus, the beer.
We never did see him, but did see throngs of silly tourists feeding the ground squirrels as we ate breakfast at Manning Park Lodge. Our waitress told us they were clinically obese ground squirrels, and she’d personally witnessed more than a few of them keeling over in cardiac arrest. For some reason, feeding the wildlife was tolerated up at the lodge.
After Manning Pass Highway 3 was a nightmare. No shoulder and horrible summer vacation traffic left us both annoyed an afraid for our lives. We stopped in Princeton for some food and took shelter in a city park in a stand of Ponderosa Pines. A waterpark shot cold water up into the sky and we cooled our blistering skin before taking a nap under the shade of the trees. With more miles to ride it was with great reluctance to leave Princeton. But we were on a schedule and time was running out.
Reluctance turned to joy as the winds shifted to the back. Winds churned at a higher rate and soon we were flying. One more quick stop and we put our heads down and hammered. Keremeos was our final destination. We arrived with giddy exhaustion having ridden 180kms in only 7 1/2 hours. The tail wind was a treat and we celebrated with massive strawberry ice cream cones. The small RV park had a beautiful section of soft, spongy grass that the manager made just for bike tourists. So many cross-Canada riders spent the night he said he wanted them to feel welcomed, that his little spot was not just for four wheels, but two, as well.
It could have been a pleasant night but for the winds. Those same winds that pushed us along all afternoon increased to gale force by nightfall. We spent the night not sleeping but looking at the nylon dome in wonder and awe. That it did not collapse is still a mystery.
Fatigue took over as the winds died down in the morning. Still, there was nothing to do but break camp and head east some more, going as far as we could. A lunch break after winding our way through the Okanagen wine country took longer than it should have in Lake Osoyoos. Again, Peter had problems with his wheel, this time the new one. A local shop trewed it for twenty dollars and no hello. Welcome to tourist hell.
There was, however, a most excellent café to be enjoyed. Sandwiches, coffees, salads, cookies and cakes were devoured before finally leaving the tourist trap at 1pm. The searing hot afternoon sun beat down on our backs as we pulled out of town. Seeing the road turn upwards in the distance didn’t faze us. Little did we know, that upward tilt was just the beginning of a long, hot and epic monster climb. I guess the BC Provincial map failed to detail the significant climbs of the roads.
Sometimes it’s better not to know the details of the suffering ahead. When it’s almost 40c in the middle of summer, it’s good to know. We didn’t. We melted. We cried with joy when part way up there was a faux rock spring bubbling with water. Not only that, a once was café, now was a sales office for an all but bankrupt development in the area had not only a pleasant young lady, but cold sodas for free. The bike touring gods were answering our calls to thirsty prayers. We loaded up on water and continued the grind up the grade.
Kilometer after kilometer passed and finally we reached the days end, 130kms in all later. Boundary Creek Provincial Park was our place to lay our heads. We banked on a local store being open for grub but no such luck. I can’t even remember what scraps we ate from the depths of our paniers but I do remember a refreshing dip in the shallow, cool river beside camp. Three kids with their grandparents ripped around the campground road, making like they were racing without any idea of the Tour de France.
We sat in wonder thinking about the miles we’d covered. I think we were fast asleep before the darkness of night fell.
Part five to come: sadness on the tour, hope in the form of kindness from strangers and a reminder of what a small world it is when I meet an old friend in the most unlikely of places: Nelson, BC.