8/21 – 8/27
“Get yer asses out of bed!” Martin’s voice at 4:45 in the morning. He had oatmeal ready for us. Fresh blueberries, brown sugar, raisins, and coffee. We were out the door at 5:25. It was a ten minute ride to the ferry. Our first time pedaling in the early morning. Thick mist hovered throughout town and reflected off our lights. It made me remember how much I enjoy early rides. There’s something special about being out while the rest of the world is asleep.
I was looking forward to taking the ferry through the inside passage again. The route from Prince Rupert to Vancouver Island is arguably one of the best sections. As luck would have it, the smoke from a number of nearby forest fires blew in that morning and engulfed us all day. Aside from the shoreline on the narrowest sections, we did not see a thing. The pollution was so thick that you could almost look directly at the sun. It had turned a bronze color through the haze which caused the ocean to shimmer like molten copper. Bright orange halo cast across the faded skyline. Ball of fire dipping in and out from behind hazy mountain peaks.
While talking to an old man I saw an orca flop out of the water. “Whale!” I shout and run to the rail. Within seconds it was gone. Most people are still fumbling with their cameras and completely missed it…. too caught up in trying to preserve a moment that they don’t get to experience it in the first place.
Our meals consisted of left over crab and halibut that Martin had hid in our bags. As we had dinner in the dining room, a few first nation guys and their father were getting hammered and harassing an oblivious Japanese tourist that did not appear to understand a word they said. “Fucking Jap with your fucking camera,” he kept saying. He got up to get a round and bumped into an older man, “Fucking white boy.” The father looked disappointed and embarrassed. He turned his head to the window and stared past the remnants of the sun and into the void.
“It has to be hard when you realize your son is an asshole,” I said to Soph.
BC ferries are much nicer than Alaskan ferries in terms of food, layout, and the soft tactile finishes on the armrests of chairs. They also have an executive lounge. It costs $37 to get in and there are leather recliners as well as water coolers with slices of cucumber floating in them. I had no intention of poaching a seat, but as I walked by somebody came out and somehow I just instinctively went right through the door. Soph had apparently watched this go down and followed suit. We were in rough waters at this point and the front of the boat would rise and fall several feet in the surf. You could hear and feel a hard thud every time it bottomed out. Being the only non-executive in the executive lounge, I was the only person watching the water and not a movie on a tablet and seemed to be the only one aware of our oscillations.
The ferry lands at 11:30 pm in Port Hardy. It’s pitch black. Remembering our drunk friends we wait for the traffic to clear before getting on the road. As we wait, another cyclist comes off and drops his sleeping pad on the ground in front of the ticket office. He was planning on riding 250 km the next morning. He was usually on the road before sunup and would ride until dark. He said he hadn’t met many people along the way and the nicest thing anybody had done for him was to share a banana. We pedaled on.
“Just so you know there is a cougar that has been wandering around here lately,” the security guard for the boat yard warned. We took zero precautionary measures and rode a few miles to the nearest campground.
Wednesday’s breakfast consisted of some home canned salmon that Martin had given us as well as some boiled eggs seasoned with little gas station packets of mustard. We rode for a few miles with Shawn, a retired Canadian Naval officer, whom we had met on the boat and shared a campsite with. He parted ways to go into town and we had an uneventful but beautiful day of meandering and flat roads and little wind.
We met two other cyclists that told us Port McNeil had a nice campground so we ended up staying there. We bumped into Shawn again and shared a site next to a few firemen that were fighting a blaze in the back country. The town is not worth noting beyond the fact that it is a classic beauty with a handful of shops and docks stuffed with fishing boats.
Thursday was our biggest day to date. 134 km. About 80 miles. My ass was a bit sore, but other than that I felt fine. It was relatively flat and there was a tail wind. We stayed in Sayward. At this point I don’t recall any redeeming qualities about that place.
From Sayward to Campbell River the world starts to get populated again and I start to realize how out of the box the last month and a half were. It occurs to me that it might now be considered criminal to bathe in a lake or pee on the side of the road and this makes me sad. Campbell River is a nice looking town once you get into the heart of it though the outskirts are a bit industrial. Steep hills over shoreline and little modest fishing homes made of wood. We’d arranged a warm showers stay with a couple named James and Amelia. James made shrimp pasta. He is an expert on succulents and asexual reproduction. He inspects my bike and comments on my fender made of repurposed soda bottles.
“I’m going to put a real fender on at some point.”
“Don’t do it. This is beautiful.” His voice is slow, deep, and firm. Sometimes it takes so long for him to come up with a sentence that it almost seems like he doesn’t want to talk to you. Eventually you realize that he carefully considers every word before he speaks. His book shelf looks like mine (if I had one):
On the road
The New Joy of Home Brewing
Moosewood Lodge cookbook
Various climbing and foraging guides
Beers and wine glasses on kitchen table with giant maps unfolded under low light and old house music in the background. We convinced James and Amelia to convince us to ride the sunshine coast rather than all the way down Vancouver Island.
“Get the Comax ferry,” James said. “The road to Nanaimo is garbage and only worth doing if you plan on continuing to Victoria.” We were up at 5:30 on Saturday, but it was pouring. Fortunately the ferries ran all day so we had a casual breakfast and left in time to cycle the 40 kilometers to catch the 1:30 boat. It lands in Powell River around 3:00 and we ride for a while to Lois Bay where we get a campsite next to an older couple that share high fiber crackers and explain the virtues of healing with crystals and vibrating water at 440 hertz.
“432 hertz is what the Nazi’s used,” they almost said in unison. For some reason I make a mental note of this. Not so much because I find it useful or believe it, but perhaps because I am intrigued that somebody else does.
9:30 Sunday morning ferry from Saltery Bay to Earls Cove and hilly ride and hazy head and eyes possibly due to discovery of mold in water bottle. Fingers touching leaves on side of the road. No shoulder. Holding my left arm out to make cars nervous about passing too closely. Back and forth about how long to ride. Originally thought 95k, but neither of us felt ambitious.
Bruce was the first of two cycling world record holders that we would meet in 24 hours and our warm showers host that night. He lived in Half Moon Bay and had actually been reading our blog from the start. I didn’t know that when I sent him a message. A few years back he’d decided to take a crack at the speed record for circumnavigating the globe. He contacted Guinness about his plan and they laid out the rules and monitored his progress. At one point he came to a road that was closed and had to call them to ask if it was ok to take another route. At the end of it all his GPS data got lost by Garmin and took months to recover. Once that was straightened out he turned it in and Guinness said, “Oh, you did it on a recumbent bike, we don’t have a category for that and it doesn’t count in the normal bike category.” As best as he knows, nobody has been able to beat his time using a recumbent, which makes him the current record holder in my book.
He is all the good things about cyclists. I noticed a feral nut for a brake cable on his picnic table when we first walked in. Bikes and bike parts in every corner. Coat rack made from mini bike chain. Welded wire man on bike in living room. Blown up photo on canvas from a tour across Canada over dinner table. Black and white photos of bikes, catalogs, other paraphernalia……… Fit and healthy eater. Great dog named Zoey. Fifty six but would look 20 years younger if it wasn’t for the grey hair. Rides 200km days.
We ate chicken and pie and chatted around the table. We talked about the travel mentality. He envied that we had each other to ride with and said he was still looking for that special lady to tour the world on a bike with. I suggest that perhaps he needed to find her while on the road but retracted this statement after realizing that we had not seen a single single woman to that point. “The thing is that if you bring somebody into your life you have to be willing to be changed by that person, but somehow you still have to maintain who you are.”
He mentioned a few parts of our trip from our blog and I embarrassingly had to dig for the memory.
“I guess I haven’t really read much of it……”
The next morning started with sighting a little bear at the bottom of a big hill. It popped its head up just 15 feet away. I was several hundred feet ahead of Soph. There was nothing I could do but keep going and look back and make sure she made it through safely. It startled her and her foot slipped and she had to get off the bike to walk it up the hill. Fortunately the thing was too preoccupied in its berry patch to care about a person.
When we’d initially contacted Bruce he warned us that the hills in the area were brutal. Having made it through Alaska I laughed a bit. Had I known his credentials at the time, I would have taken greater heed. The road in and out of Half Moon Bay is a series of ten percent grade climbs and drops of fifty vertical feet or so. You never get enough momentum on the downhill to carry you through the uphill and they are spaced so close together that you never get a rest. The road twists around the shore though. The ocean breathes salty as children fish and cranes piece together little rich beach houses. Old men fly kites from docks.
We get to the Vancouver ferry with just a few minutes to spare. While parking our bikes we meet a South African named Jeremy. He is the second world record holder that we would meet. He rode from Cairo to Cape Town. His time has since been broken though. He lived not too far from Gemma and Stan (Soph’s friends that we would stay with in Vancouver) and offered to shepherd us from the boat to their front door.