Beginning Anew

A deep-seated relaxation has overtaken me in just a few hours of the rainy Seattle weekend. For the first time since the start of the trip I feel at ease, completely able to let go of the complexities of the past few months. I am in the house of good friends and can just be, without the worry of socializing or keeping up appearances. They know me; therefor, there is no background I have to establish, no need for an explanation. Without the pretenses, I am struggling to bring into focus the intent of the trip. Chapter one has come to a close. From the beginning the arrival in Seattle has meant the closure of my training leg of the trip. It represents a level of commitment and comfort that I can use to vault myself further on down the road. I was unaware at the outset that the first chapter of my adventure would also include a new friend and travel companion. There are not a lot of touring cyclist on the road, and even fewer who are crazy enough to begin a trip at the Arctic Ocean as July is coming to a close. My introduction to life on the road has been softened by a soul suffering the same consequences as myself. Lessons have been learned, shared, and dissected to the smallest degree; then, reassembled to have real lasting meaning to ourselves and our own individual journey south. Barring any unforeseen changes, the final words have also been writ for that chapter of my journey. Seattle is where I intend to reaffirm my commitments and motivations for the trip, to rejuvenate the soul, and to begin a new chapter in this story.
The closing two weeks of the joint journey with Nathan from Canmore to Vancouver were full of stories, lessons, and good hard riding; all of which we took in stride (or stroke) and cemented our development as capable, passionate long-distance cycle-travelers. Without even laying down a single pedal stroke on our journey west, we faced our first (and hopefully last) serious trauma of the trip. Our gracious host in Canmore, Kat, was on her way to a backcountry lodge where she works and offered to give us a lift back north to Lake Louise where we would depart and begin pedaling to Vancouver. We jumped at the opportunity to avoid having to ride a day back north on roads we had already traveled. However, less than a mile out of town and the second worst incident a touring-cyclist can face began to unfold. Following a loud clunk, Nathan and I both turned around to see his bike bouncing behind Kat’s car down the highway with a semi-truck bearing quickly down on it. While the bike was cartwheeling and skidding down the pavement, cars were slamming on their brakes and swerving out of the way. All the while the big-dog of the road was able to avoid both a collision with the bike, but more importantly, with other vehicles. At the expense of the battered bike, everyone else escaped the situation unscathed. It wasn’t my bike so I also have a hard time truly understanding what a traumatic experience it was to see catastrophe strike what, to us, is our home, luggage, transportation, ally, friend, enemy and soul-mate of the road. Nathan, to his great credit, aware that blame could be cast nowhere and would ultimately be a waste of energy, was stoic in his handling of the situation and went about aggressively fixing and patching every last part of the bike until it was in good enough working order to make the journey to Vancouver. We resumed our car ride to Lake Louise the following morning and hit the road without loosing any travel time. Since our journey down the Icefields Parkway and our subsequent escapades in and around Banff, we had forgotten the routine and habits of our trip. It was a great relief to push repeated days and to cover substantial distance west in our quest for the coast. Our patterns and habits were not only easy to rediscover, but also came with a renewed sense of confidence and understanding. Whatever was thrown our way, including hills, rain and traffic, were all dealt with a refined resolve, and even our moods were much more even-keel. The first chapter of our trip was closing with relative ease.
That sentiment encountered a slight hitch on our way across the majestic Sea-to-Sky Highway, which cuts over the Lillooet Mountains and through Whistler on it’s journey along Howe Sound to northern Vancouver. After our sixth day out of Lake Louise, in which we were finally able to rejoin our original route and complete the detour of detours through the Rockies, we were camped up at the user-maintained, out of season Marble Canyon Campground. Following the typical routine of setting up camp and fixing up another gourmet meal of pasta (if I make pasta then Nathan usually has rice and lentils, and then we swap menus the next night) we were decompressing the day’s events and tallying up all our stats and accomplishments from our trip and added detour. From the comforts of our nylon houses we heard a truck pull up near our campsite and come to a stop. I paused in my conversation and had a strange feeling that they stopped because I had set my food and other odorous items across the road and a bit away from our camp (for bear protection). My thoughts were on the strangeness of my equipment piled up across the road, and I was sure that there was a good chance they couldn’t see our camp from where the would have stopped to investigate my bags. As I decided to go out and inspect, just to make sure they were aware that those bags belonged to this biker, Nathan asked what I was up to. I replied, “that truck just stopped strangely close to where I stashed my stuff. I just want to check and see that it is still there. Wouldn’t it be funny if someone came through the camp and stole my things.” He replied, “no, it wouldn’t be all that funny at the moment.” As I unzipped my castle, I heard something hard fly into that back of the pickup and make a loud crash as it landed amongst empty cans and bottles. All of a sudden my reaction didn’t seem so strange, and I felt that my hunch just might prove to be accurate. During the time that I stood up out of my tent, the truck had sped off down the campground road and back to the adjoining highway. I only had to walk twenty feet before I realized I couldn’t see the reflected patches on my bike pannier across the way. So, it really had happened. Someone drove through the campground, saw my things, decided that a cyclist could most likely do without all that food, and took off with my kit. My reaction was to chuckle a bit at the oddity of it, and the fact that I had nearly predicted the occurrence.
In an attempt to keep ourselves safe from the beasts that wander the woods and mountains, we often store our food separate from our camp. Recently, however, as the density of people has increased and the amount of available daylight has decreased we were becoming more and more lax in our food storage efforts. Two unique things conspired that night to end with me putting my things out in the open across the way. First, all the campgrounds we had stayed at up to that point had bear-proof garbage bins that we could open from the back and stash our valuable odorous items next to the trash bags. Our things were simply in the same bin, but not in the trash bags themselves, so please don’t get concerned over our hygiene. Without that option, and considering we had cooked up our food at our campsite, I originally had just stashed my stuff under the picnic table. Nathan, being the cautious one of the duo, still had reason to believe we should sleep farther away from our food than that. I was forced to agree, but in haste just decided to toss it in full view across the road, rather than make some effort to hide the stuff in some bushes like we usually do and like Nathan had done that evening just feet away from where my things lay. After such a wonderful experience with Canada and its people, it was very disheartening to have this happen. The imminent arrival in Vancouver and our separation back to solo cyclists had us on a glorious high of reminiscing and remembering all the great things we had encountered together. I didn’t let it get to deep under my skin, but it affected our moods nonetheless. Because Nathan and I were traveling together, the stolen food situation was not that dire, merely a frustration and logistical hassle to reacquire all the lost items. As morning slowly made its appearance, I was not in the mood to rise and face the day. Upon getting out of the tent to a chilly mountain morning, I immediately wondered up the campground road in the direction the truck had departed. It was more a last ditch effort than any real expectation of finding my things, but it certainly didn’t hurt to try. Near where the road rejoined with Sea-to-Sky Hwy I found my bear canister with my cookset stacked neatly on top and my food pannier leaning up against the side. I let out a whoop of elation and Nathan came hysterically wondering over. The whole situation got turned on end and no longer made any sense. Did they honestly steel my stuff, but upon leaving realized that we were camped right there and felt guilty for having taken a biker’s food? Or, did they perhaps think it was some forgotten or left items that had no owner? In any case, it is striking that they didn’t return it immediately, but instead returned later that night to drop it off. Everything looked as though it was unopened. Countless theories have been hatched, but ultimately the puzzle cannot be solved. I am grateful to have my things back. Our sentiment towards Canada remains, and the joke goes; “If you are going to have anything stolen, do so in Canada, because guilt will get the best of them and they will return it.”
With that pressure situation behind us, we blissfully rolled on and soon found ourselves descending along the immense Fraser River canyon towards Lillooet. The canyon was deep enough that it was rare to get a glimpse of the mighty river at the bottom. Instead, we got to ride along a steady plateau midway up the surrounding mountains that consisted of scattered farmland and ranchhouses. It was a setting like nothing I had ever seen. That morning ride soon brought us to the uninspiring cowboy town of Lillooet where it was rumored to mark the beginning of some serious climbing as we would push on towards Pemberton and Whistler. Having heard similar accounts so many times before, and always from people in cars, we really weren’t sure what to expect. Surprisingly, the hill just out of town was not only accurately steep and long as everyone had said, but was probably one of the hardest of the trip, if not the hardest. It climbed for almost 5 miles at consistent grades above 10% and often reaching 15%. With my lowly two-chainring set up, I was forced to stand on the pedals and stair climb for almost two hours. Misery is one thing, but to combine it with frustration knowing you consciously put yourself in that situation is worse. I will be making a gearing change while here in Seattle. I have proven to myself that it is possible to conquer whatever comes my way with something akin to a road-bike setup, but to travel another 15,000 miles over countless mountains knowing that I will be punished every time the grade steepens above 8% is ridiculous. I need to find a balance between effort and reward, struggle and accomplishment. At the moment I tend to dread and fear hills, which takes greatly away from the experience of the trip. Knowing I can handle it is different from knowing that I could settle into a suitable rhythm, enter a meditative state (as Nathan did on that climb), and thoroughly enjoy ascending mountain passes. Let’s hope that after bouncing up and down along the Pacific Coast over the next few months that I will be proven right.
We spent the next day steadily ascending for another 40 miles in temperatures hovering just around freezing. Although I was incredibly grumpy to start, fearful that I had to endure more hills like the one the day before, once in rhythm it was a very pleasurable day. And, as a reward for our efforts, we descended all of the previous elevation gain in just 15 minutes down smooth and winding roads toward Pemberton. I am consistently torn about downhills, because it always predicts another oncoming climb. Yet, there is nothing like flying down a road effortlessly at 45 miles an hour, zipping through curves with tears running down your face and a childish laughter bursting from within.
We briefly stopped in Whistler the following day and sat gawking in the central plaza at the local “vanity fair”. It resembled a conglomeration of all the pop-magazines and fashion styles of the day, with a background blending the great alpine characteristics of a ski town in the Alps, with the kitschy make-believe of Disney World, and an overburdening desire to find a way into your wallet. I loved it as much as I hated it, as do a lot of people, I assume.
After a quick night in Brackendale, just outside Squamish, where we stayed with Kevin and his family, we made our way to Vancouver. The biggest city so far on our trip south, and a demarcation for us as the end of the beginning. We were elated to have finally reached this elusive goal, intact and with high spirits. Friends of connections of friends of friends found us a home to stay in, and soon even Vancouver turned into just a memory I can recall.
Nathan has stayed in Vancouver to tend to some much needed bike maintenance. We separated after just a few days of touring Vancouver, and a send-off cup of coffee at a local corner coffee shop. It took me a 50 mile day to get across the border; a crossing that was without problems, but certainly not without hassle. My first full day of riding in the States was into strong headwinds, but fortunately a rain free day. That left me just a few miles to go in order to meet Max and Tucker, brothers and longtime friends from Bozeman, at an Amtrak station in Stanwood. They accompanied me and my loaded burden for the 55 mile ride into Seattle. Not only was it a great day of riding with just a bit of rain at the end, but it was wonderful to share my experiences with the Stevens brothers. Maybe they see a little clearer what I have been doing, and maybe even understand a little more why I chose to do this.
Almost a full 24 hours have passed since I typed the first line of the post, but the sentiment remains. I feel calm, rested, and relaxed in Sara and Tucker’s warm home. It has been storming outside and I almost forget what it would be like to deal with that in a tent and on a bike. A large list of things to do has accumulated on my travels, with some hold-overs from before I departed, so I don’t see myself making a quick escape from the comforts of Seattle. Besides, Halloween is this weekend, Taco Tuesday is tomorrow, and something must already be planned for next week.

2 Responses to “Beginning Anew”

  1. Jacqueline Isaly says:

    So happy that your things were returned….you must be carrying around some good karma! Glad to hear/read that you are doing well. Winter is settling in here, enjoy your ride down to coast.
    Jacqueline…and Grif 🙂

  2. Katheryn says:

    Glad to hear you made it to Seattle, it looks like you just scooted in before the rains hit hard yesterday. I was out riding this weekend and it was wonderfully lovely.

    If you would like to get a cup of coffee while you are in Seattle town, just let me know.

    Happy Riding,

    Katheryn aka Jim from Fairbanks daughter

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