Sunday, October 31, 2010

California – Always Surprising: San Francisco to Santa Barbara (18th - 27th Oct '10)

We finally dragged ourselves out of our new favourite city and headed south along the coast, passing over the infamous 'Devil's Slide' – a section of road that climbed up over a hill and then along the edge of cliffs that dropped straight into the water. Combine this with lots of traffic and no shoulder, and it made for some less than enjoyable riding. However, once past this area it was fairly pleasant, with lots of coastal views and large numbers of pumpkins scattered around (left-overs from the pumpkin festival I assume). Our first night back on the road we camped with two lovely Canadian girls who we had met back in the Marin Headlands and an American guy who was super-speedy. We also met Myrtle the Turtle; aka Sylvia on her recumbent bike, who we had heard lots about as we so we were happy to finally meet her!
The next few days we passed through a couple of classic Californian towns, Santa Cruz, and Monterey, riding along the coast and watching the sea-otters, dolphins and surfers playing in the water. We made our way into Monterey assisted by Larry, a cyclist out for his daily ride who turned around and accompanied us back to town, giving us the guided tour on the way. We stayed in the local park alongside a bunch of transients, one of who had some serious social interaction issues, a voice like sandpaper and a mouth from the gutter. We met up with Aiden again, an Irish guy we had camped with on a number of occasions and who is two and a half years into his world cycling journey. We also met Lorely and Russel,l two poms (oops.. English people) who are doing the Pan-Am. We spent the next few days camping and laughing with these guys (the fun poms and irish that is, not the crazy hobo).
Out of Carmel we started heading into the Big Sur area, a rocky section of the coast where the road hugs cliffs and offers stunning views across the ocean. Our first day in this area we had a nice ride looking out across the golden paddocks to the ocean and then camping in the redwoods. On our second day in Big Sur it started to rain, so we rode most of the day in the rain, and couldn't see a thing except for the raindrops collecting on our eyelashes. We called it an early day and camped with the rest of the cycling gang. With all 8 of us in the one campsite it was kind of squishy but we rigged up our tarps ( a group Macgyvering effort) and created a little tent city to keep us dry. You suddenly get a lot closer to people when you can hear all their night-time noises through the thin tent walls!
Luckily our last day in the Big Sur area we had great weather, so could distract ourselves from the climbing by looking at the great views. As we came speeding down off Big Sur into the dry ranchland of San Simeon Jules yelled out “zebra on the left”.. Jules is a bit of a shaite stirrer and I seem to spend inordinate amounts of time in my day working out whether what she has told me is likely to be true or not. This was one of those times I instantly ruled as “Jules pulling my leg”. However, I took a quick glance to the left and grazing amongst the herds of fairly normal looking cows were two zebras. A little further down the road we actually saw a whole herd of zebras hanging out on the hillside. One of those moments that you think to yourself “have I spent too long on my bicycle today?”.
We worked out that the zebra might have something to do with the gigantic storybook building high up in the hills to the east. This was the Hearst Castle, built by the newspaper magnate and a study in opulence. We didn't get invited up to the castle unfortunately but poked around the visitor's centre and looked at photographs of the lavish rooms. We spent more time hanging out at a nearby beach checking out the elephant seals with their bulbous faces, who were lounging on the sand, often with a casual flipper up in the air.
After Big Sur we had another day of terrible weather where we spent a good part of the day hanging out in a cafe in Cambria. We finally had to drag ourselves a way... really there are only so many cups of coffee and day-old baked goods you can eat in one morning. We headed out into the pouring rain and, as expected, the day was horrible riding. We could hardly see where we were going, and we didn't get very far, just to Morro Bay around 40kms down the road. Luckily the rain cleared up enough for us to set up our tent, crawl in and then listen to the rain on the tarp for the rest of the night.
In the midst of our rainstorm-glumness in the Cambrian cafe we had searched out a Warm Showers host for the next day, and we were very grateful to be invited to stay by Bill and Kandy in Orcutt. This gave us a great little break from camping and we managed to dry all our wet things. Bill was an awesome cook and sent us off with full stomachs on a fantastic little back route that avoided the main highways. We had an awesome day riding the quiet country roads through the Santa Ynez valley, past vineyards, alongside the arid and colourful mountains and then down to a scenic and quiet campsite on Lake Cachuma.
Bill had warned us that our alternative route involved crossing a mountain pass, so we were fairly prepared for our 4 mile climb the next morning, but we were not prepared for how beautiful it was, which took our minds off the hour of 'granny-gear' pedalling. As we popped out over the mountains we saw the ocean and Santa Barbara at the bottom of a fantastic 6 mile downhill, “our best downhill so far” Jules declared.. and she proceeded to tell me it had all the right combination of elements; road in good condition, a good gradient, not too much traffic, appropriate curvature... etcetc... she has obviously put a lot of thought into the physics of downhills over the last few months.
After freewheeling into Santa Barbara and eating ice-cream on the pier, we rode along the boardwalk lined with palm trees and felt like we had crossed into a different country – this was the Southern California of my imagination. I kept expecting to see David Hasslehoff in those delightful red shorts running along the beach beside me.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

With Flowers in My Hair: San Francisco area (11th - 17th Oct '10)

San Francisco treated us to some pretty stunning weather on our arrival. We rode over the Golden Gate Bridge into the city on a beautiful sunny day, we could see the full stretch of the city and the bay area. We had organised to stay with a Warm Showers host in San Fran so that we could have a few days rest from the bikes and time to check the place out. Heidi and Martin were a wonderful couple, living in a great area and we felt very lucky to be able to stay with them while we did the touristy city things.
In the few days that we were there Jules and I fell in love with San Fran. There was so much to see and do.. we explored the funky old neighbourhoods, found the American version of the kebab (the burrito), discovered exactly how many hills San Fran has, Jules got read poetry to at the local lesbian bar (I meanwhile found a hidden talent for pool and swept the table, right up until the time that Jules poetry reading ended and she came to watch me, whereby I found I could not hit any of the balls), we ate donuts and sat on the beach in sun, watched the beautiful men and their beautiful fluffy dogs (with matching jackets), we wondered Haight-Ashbury, and the Castro, and Mission, picnicked on dim sum in Golden Gate Park, discovered the “San Fran shot” - a herbal shot of alcohol that tasted like it should be sold in a health food shop, browsed the wicked Green Apple bookshop (from which Jules had to forcibly remove me), ate a lot of great and cheap food and drank lots of awesome coffee. We also managed to catch up with some fellow cyclists who we had met further up north, and who made it to the city around the same time as us.
On our first night in San Fran we made dinner for Heidi and Martin, though I am not sure if this was the best idea as I am clearly out of practice with cooking in a nice kitchen with a full range of tools. The last few months I have had to get used to cooking with two small saucepans and with a limited range of food products. Recently I have gotten very experimental in my cooking as I have worked through most of my tried and tested recipes at least once. One of my most questionable of meals I made a few days before San Fran. I had bought a gigantic bunch of fresh organic basil so I decided to make pesto. In lieu of a blender, Parmesan and pine-nuts I simply smushed up a whole lot of basil, added sunflower seeds, cream cheese, some oil and some seasoning... and Voila – a green and white paste not dissimilar to that weird herbal toothpaste that mum used to make me use as a child.
Anyway, back to cooking in San Fran – while dinner was not my best effort I decided to try again another night and make some desert. However, this was not helped by the fact that we shopped for most of the ingredients at the market in Chinatown (Chinatown is the best place to shop in San Fran!), which meant that my berry and apple pecan crumble could either be accompanied by yam, red bean or (my personal favourite) 'corn and cheese' ice-cream. Luckily hidden behind the assortment of root vegetable sorbets I found some coconut ice-cream, which actually went quite well and the desert was saved!
Coincidentally, Heidi and Martin were also hosting another two cyclists, a Spanish couple, Javier and Sylvia, who we had cycled with further up the coast, and who were also cycling the Alaska to South America route. While in San Fran, we had a great time sharing stories and plans with them, and attempting to practice our very dodgy Spanish. A couple of the nights that we were there we had dinner with the four of us cyclists, Heidi, Martin, plus Martin's amazingly sprightly 92 year old mother, Alice. A fun, if eclectic, family dinner. We enjoyed Heidi's awesome culinary skills ,the great conversations, stories of San Fran's history and explanations of the complicated nature of American politics. Jules was also very happy to have a rest from my “experimental dinners”!
In San Fran we had to buy new tyres for the ladies (Norma's tyres were held together only with a few bits of thread and Betty was getting heaps of flats). We felt bad for leaving poor Norma and Betty suffering with second-rate tyres so we forked out for the Schwalbe Marathon Plus Tour tyres but had to get them ordered in. As we had to wait for a couple of days we decided to go camping in the Marin Headlands in the national park on the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge. The sunshine disappeared the day we headed out to the headlands and our trip took place through the fiercesome San Fran fog, with the chorus of fog-horns to accompany our progress.
The Marin Headlands were beautiful, reminding me of the coastal scrub-heath back home. We spent a couple of days there and hiked out over the ridgelines, giving us great views of the valley (and the fog). We also did a short walk out to the lighthouse at the entrance to the San Fran bay. We wanted to stay at the headlands for a few days but could not get another reservation in the campsites (which are free by the way and our site had a view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the city behind!) so luckily Heidi and Martin took us back in for another couple of nights so that we could pick up our new tyres and so we could avoid leaving town on the weekend and running into a “pumpkin festival” further down the coast (I was a little nervous about what a festival of pumpkins and the 300,000 people that were supposed to be there would involve!).
The first few days in San Fran we had had such a good time, and I had decided I wanted to live there. This was until the beautiful sunny, barmy days ended and the cold and rain moved in.. ahh this is the San Fran that I was expecting! The cold weather made it easier to leave, although we were both still a little sad to say goodbye to the city's vibrancy... back to camp life and meals of questionable taste!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

California Here We Come: Northern California (29th Sept - 10th Oct '10)

Our first night in California we stayed in a gloomy county park in the forest, which had a weird vibe, not helped by the fact that the only other campers wandered around with their hoods pulled up over their faces and that we could hear a “ghost radio” playing while we were in the toilet. After nightfall a police car came through the park and stopped to ask us if we had seen a “fugitive” he was chasing . Great. A little while later he came back out of the trees waving his giant torch around. “Oh dear, couldn't find them” he said and left us there. Needless to say we did not sleep well that night.
It was not the best welcome to California.... and our first creepy impression was reinforced by a couple of strange things we saw along the road, including a statue of a giant man and his giant blue ox, and some life-size statues of dinosaurs leering out of the forest at us.
However, our impression of California greatly improved when we hit our first breathtaking redwood forest. We climbed a couple of large hills that took us up among the towering trees . We then had about 5 miles of gentle downhill where we could glide through the awesome redwoods, the tallest trees in the world. We camped in Elk Prairie and the next morning we took Norma and Betty on a bit of a mountain bike outing. It was very pretty through the giant trees but hard to appreciate as we bounced our way over loose rocks, tree roots, sticks, and one log we had to lift the girls over (oh the injustice I could hear them crying). After 20 bone-shaking kilometres we got back to camp where we had to pry our hands off the handlebars in order to pack everything up and jump back on the bikes for our days ride! Hmm.. the girls are great but they are not built for mountain biking.
The second major section of redwoods that we passed through was the Avenue of the Giants, about 135 km south of Elk Prairie, a beautiful 50 km stretch of quiet road snaking through the trees. The campground in this section, Burlington campground, was just gorgeous so we decided to have a rest day here to walk in the trees and make ourselves dizzy by staring up at their canopies high above us.
Jules and I timed our run into the town of Arcata with the rematch of the AFL grand final. We had contacted Janet and Barry from Warm Showers, and were welcomed very warmly into their house. Janet made us a delicious dinner and we shared wine and stories. They had managed to get the footy final streaming on the internet and they both sat up watching it with us. We tried to explain the game as we went along, but in general we just drank beers with them and yelled at the screen. It was such a nice night and I can't believe Janet and Barry's welcoming natures, not just to feeding and housing scruffy cyclists but to sit through a whole game of men in small shorts running around, seemingly at random, and jumping on top of one other.
Ever since Oregon there have been a number of other cyclists on the road, and we all end up staying in the hiker-biker sites together. Usually you stay each night with the same people but then if you take a rest day, or someone else is cycling at a different pace you get to meet new friends, and hear new stories. We had lost the fun group that we rode through Oregon with, as we had had a couple of rest days, but a few days into California we met the lovely Carrie and Casey from the east coast of the US and Ryan the firie from Canada. We also managed to meet up with Team Krusti once more.
Team Krusti's route down the coast was determined by where the breweries are and one afternoon we got into camp early enough and went to join them at the North Coast Brewery in Fort Bragg (about 5 kms from our camp). We had a lovely arvo/evening of beer tasting and then an exciting ride home along a rough bike track, in the dark. We had almost made it back to camp when I head a commotion and realised that Jules had fallen off her bike. Luckily it was dark enough so that only Kristin witnessed it, and that Jules had had enough beer that she just rolled on the gravel and didn't sustain any injuries. Our first serious stack of the trip, and we can blame beer.
One of my favourite sections of our entire trip was the coastal area along the Number 1 Highway north of San Fran, our last five days before the city. We came out of the forest, over Legget Hill, the biggest hill on this part of our trip, and back to the ocean on a day when the sun was shining and the sea was sparkling. This section of the highway was quiet and we passed through little towns and lovely farmland, accompanied by spectacular ocean views. It definitely felt like we were in California, with cute little cafes (featuring 'wheatgerm muffins'), surfing beaches and friendly, relaxed folk. The vistas were of brown rolling hills with golden grasses, groves of trees and brilliantly coloured water. Even the sea was more brightly coloured here than anywhere else. There were a lot of hills along this part of highway as the road follows the cliffs and then drops down to cross creeks and rivers, but luckily we were so distracted with the stunning views that the hills didn't bother us too much.
I was feeling a little disconcerted along this stretch because there are so many Eucalypts that the smell was in the air, and that, combined with the golden grasses and the gorgeous ocean made me feel like I was home in Oz.
We knew we were approaching San Fran, but we were still deep in farmland even a day before the city. We only got the feel of approaching a city in about the last 20 kms or so when we started coming into some outlier towns, then hit lots more traffic, and finally we had our first view of the city across the bay as we rode through the cute little town of Sausilito.....then onto the Golden Gate Bridge...

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

In a State of Contentment: Oregon (17th - 28 th Sept '10)

In Washington we had had 5 days of continual rain, and I mean a never-ending curtain of water... that kept us awake in our tent at night, that we sloshed through to pack up in the morning, that we struggled to cycle through every day and that eventually forced us into cooking our dinner huddled under a bus-shelter. We finally decided that we'd had enough and hit up the Warm Showers website to find someone who would feel sorry for us, take us in and dry us in soft fluffy towels. And we succeeded! Neil from Seaside was kind enough to let us stay, even though he wasn't at home our first night there! Instead we were greeted by the four Seattle cyclists that we had run into up in Washington. The second night two other cyclists from Portland turned up so there were 8 of us crashed in with Neil. The third night Joe (who we had also camped with one wet night in Washington) and two Canadian cyclists, Patrick and Emma, came to stay and they introduced us to cheap American wine and packet-brownies. We had only meant to stay one night but we were enjoying the company of the fun and irrepressible Neil – a young soul who is one of the most generous people I have met, and one of the most inspiring, really knowing how to life live! It also continued to rain so we were quite happy being dry in the house, reading books and welcoming in the other cyclists who came through.
We finally dragged ourselves away from Seaside when we started to see some easing of the grey clouds. Our first night out we camped in Nehalem where we discovered the joy of Oregon state parks, $5 per person for cyclists and free hot showers. Ah Oregon is cyclist heaven. We also discovered the cycling community. This was the first time our campsite had been filled with other cyclists. Here we met Team Krusti (Kristin and Rusty), who had also come down from Alaska and who we have been lucky enough to spend lots of time with as we travelled down the coast. We knew we were going to get along well with them when on one of our first mornings together we spent about three hours sitting drinking coffee in a cafe and eating massive bags of day-old donuts. We also met Michael from Portland and Ned and Charlotte from England who are heading the same direction as us (towards the sunshine and as far as possible).
Oregon was fantastic to cycle through, an awesome mix of rugged capes and cliffs, sea-stacks dotting the coast, huge expanses of squeaky white sand beaches and lush dense forests. We saw a bunch of lighthouses, though Jules enthusiasm for checking these out waned after the first one. We had a few climbs over some large capes, but we were always rewarded with great views, and awesome downhill runs! Dotted along the Oregon coast were little towns spaced at a reasonable cycling distance apart, filled with coffee shops and purveyors of fine cinnamon buns. Oregon is also home to the Tillamook Cheese Factory – a giant factory filled with cheese!! What more could you possibly want. Mmm cheese. Free tastings too.. AND they had cinnamon bun flavoured ice-cream! We considered not doing the rest of the trip and just camping in the Tilamook Cheese Factory carpark and eating cheese and cinnamon bun flavoured ice-cream until we ran out of money.
At the Tillamook Factory we were lining up for ice-cream (did I mention it was cinnamon bun flavoured!?) and I turned around to see Jules with a really weird look on her face. She'd been talking to an older American guy who was holidaying with his wife and elderly parents. She was looking so shocked I headed over to find out what was going on.. the guy repeated what he had just said to Jules “ Careful the ice-cream goes straight to your fanny”... I had to explain to Jules that in the US 'fanny' means something different to what we know it as at home. No wonder she was looking so weird, poor old Jules was having some very interesting mental images before I explained that he meant we were going to put weight on our butts (which is actually insulting enough all ready).
Partway down the Oregon coast we found ourselves in a bit of a dilemma. The Aussie Rules Grand Final was on and of course we had to see it. We had planned to be in Portland to be able to watch it (and catch up with a friend) but circumstance (well mainly the weather) conspired against us and we found ourselves in the humming little town of Newport, where the information centre guy had never even heard of the game let alone knew any pub who would be showing it (us: “no, not soccer, Australian Rules. No not rugby. Aussie Rules. No not like American Football. A lot like AFL.... ahh never mind”) We also couldn't camp anywhere here because the nearest campground was a few miles out of town and required us crossing a very long bridge, which we would have had to be doing at 1am after the game finished... and I'm very glad we didn't seeing as Jules, completely sober, managed to crash her bike into the bridge railing the next morning. So we had to blow the budget and get a motel. Not a very salubrious place mind you, its name kind of gave it away “Cheap Dump Motel” (or maybe “Money Savers Motel” but the first was how I always remember it) but it had cable and that's all we needed. We went to the supermarket and bought all the junk food we could (microwaveable pizza hmmmm). I talked Jules down from buying two 6-packs (she promised me she would drink at least 8 beers but she only managed to finish off 3 before craving a cuppa.. cycling has turning her into a nanna!). We were all set for the game, and it was an exciting game... which then ended in a draw. For some reason in AFL this does not mean extra time but instead means that the entire game is replayed next week.. noooo......
In the south of Oregon there are some massive sand-dunes. The first lot we came upon unprepared. We had climbed a forested cape and were zooming downhill, through the trees, when we suddenly came out into an open area with sand dunes stretched in all directions. Within the dunes there were clumps of bright green where patches of trees remained and surrounding the dunes was the lush forest. It was quite surreal and Jules and I were stunned to a halt. Further down the coast the dunes became a common sight, we even climbed some and ran down them.. and then realised that it was actually a lot less effort just to look at them.
We did a little detour one day out to a pretty campsite at Cape Blanco, which jutted out into the Pacific Ocean. As we were riding out to the camp an ethereal, wispy whiteness started enveloping us. We tried to work out what it was, and after ruling out a few potentials, like smoke, wayward clouds or ghosts, we realised it was fog. Having lived our whole life in arid Western Australia we were not used to fog and found it very eery . After this first lot of fog we hit quite a bit as we headed down the coast, but we never really got used to it. Everytime it rolled in we would find ourselves whispering, glancing furtively around and would hear spooky music playing inside our heads.
We took our time moseying down the Oregon coast, it was so beautiful and there was so much stunning coastal scenery to stop and check out. We also discovered that Oregon is harbouring an over-proportional number of nice people. It didn't matter where we were, sitting for coffee, camping at the hiker-biker sites, or doing our laundry we would end up nattering away for hours. It felt like we spent far more time gossiping than cycling in Oregon, but we must have done some riding as eventually we reached our last campsite in the state, the pretty Harris Beach.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Forests, Rain and Vampires: Washington (8th - 16th Sept '10)

Our first day in Washington had dawned grey, which dampened our enthusiasm for our planned ride up to Hurricane Ridge (17+ miles up into the mountains!). With bad weather brewing we decided to miss this side trip and hit Highway 101, the route that was going to take us around the Olympic Peninsula and then down the coast. We headed west along the base of the mountains of Olympic National Park and in and out of some regal forests. The forests were great to ride through; everything here was green and lush. Unfortunately either side of the forests were miles of clear-cut areas that were not so nice to ride through, and which seemed to drag on for ever.
The first couple of days our legs were still feeling sluggish after our two-week break, and since we had already thrown them into a 110km day on our first day out of Vancouver, we now took it fairly slow and just enjoyed being back on the road. We were enjoying getting back into our travelling and camping routine and of course the simple pleasures, such as sitting and watching the sunset over a lake, walking along a blustery beach or eating breakfast deep in the rainforest. We had some short days riding, hiked to waterfalls, had a morning swim in Crescent Lake and did a side trip out to La Push, a gorgeous wild region of the coastline. We had an awesome campsite out there in the forest and the beach in this area was wild and beautiful with big sea stacks and massive driftwood; the huge logs that litter the Northwest coast and make your realise how powerful the ocean is – tossing around huge trees like they are twigs! We watched the pelicans swooping down and surfing along the waves as they were breaking, looking like clumsy surfers attempting aerials.
After La Push we cycled back to the 101 and through the small town of Forks. Forks is the setting for the Twilight series and they have certainly cashed in on it.. we accidentally arrived on the weekend they had declared `Stephanie Meyer Weekend`, because it was Bella`s Birthday, and so the town was a bit mad; lots of tourists around; young girls without many clothes on or wearing their affinity across their chest (Team Cullen etc), guys with long flapping cloaks, random cheerleaders on the street and all sorts of souvenirs for sale. It was raining when we went through the town (of course) so we sat in a cafe, drank coffee, watched the world go by and listened to the friendly locals discuss whether the army had the technology of invisibility and the ability to see through walls.
It rains a lot in Washington.. it's not just a stereotype. It really does. The good thing is that Washington seems very bike-friendly, there are so many cyclists doing the Pacific Coast trip that it is very well set up. They have hiker-biker campsites (usually cheaper but more primitive.. just like us!), and bike warning signs (`beware cyclists`) and at one point, on the narrow road around Lake Crescent we could press a button and get some orange lights to flash and warn cars that we were on the road!
Everyone we met in Washington was very friendly and hospitable. One misty evening we cycled into a campsite feeling pretty chilly and wishing we had a campfire (the first time we have wanted one all trip). Jules is pretty tough most of the time, but one thing she cannot handle is the cold. The first time the temperature dropped (probably only to about 10oC) she declared she was getting frostbite in her fingers and acted like she was on death's door until I got her bundled up in extra clothes and a sleeping bag. Anyway, on this chilly (ish) night in camp Jules was doing the thing that she does when she is very cold, and which causes me endless embarrassment. She tries to warm up her extremities by waving her arms around in the air and slapping her hands against her body at high speed. So here Jules was flailing her arms around and moaning and our next-door neighbours wandered up with some firewood and started a fire for us! If it was me next door I would have packed up and moved to the next campsite (which I was considering doing anyway) but here they were bringing us wood and starting us a fire. We ended up chatting with Glenn and his wife for ages, who gave us lots of insights for our trip down the coast.
We met a lovely couple, Kate and Sue walking their pooch, Max, on the wild Ruby Beach. We ran into them later as we rode into the campsite that we were going to stay at that night. They offered for us to share their site with them and invited us into their camper-van for dinner, where we had a lovely warm night of yummy food and great chats, and we managed to dry most of our wet things! The next morning they even cooked us up a delicious fried breaky and coffee to set us on the road, and we joined them on a walk on the beautiful, wide Kalaloch Beach. I think the people that we have met along the way, and the great connections we have formed have been the absolute highlight of this trip! So we got off to a great start that morning, plus it was the start of two stunning days of sunshine and we had a nice couple of days riding along gorgeous beaches, through forests and hiking in the rainforest at Quinault Lake.
Our days of sunshine ended as we left the Olympic Peninsula area and headed into southern Washington. Here started the days of endless rain. On our first day of rain we treated ourselves to our first meal out, a good American lunch of burgers (tho' of the vegetarian kind), fries, coffee and hot cakes. Oh yeah. On our second day of rain we left our sheltered camp late and tried to ride right through to the next campsite without having to take a break (it was a short day luckily). However, when we were riding alongside Willapa Bay, Jules yelled out “flat”. I was a little cold and wet and cranky and short-temperedly asked her why she insisted on always getting flat tyres when it was pouring rain and we had to stop and fix them in the wet. Later, after we had set up camp and I had warmed up and eaten something I had to sheepishly apologise for blaming her for the flat tyre... though I warned her that I would leave her the next time she got a flat in the rain.
Even with the rain the southern section of Washington was still a very beautiful area. We enjoyed exploring the lovely coastlines, lush farming areas, and the rugged headland of Cape Disappointment, overlooking the Columbia River at the southern tip of Washington. Southern Washington was also the first place we started running into a number of other cyclists. There were a few groups and individuals that we ran into in campsites or on the road, and it was fun to be able to exchange stories and discuss the weather (ie. moan about the rain). This was the first part of our whole trip where there were quite a few long-distance cyclists around, and it was nice because it made us feel a little less crazy...
It was raining when we left Washington.. We unloaded our bikes and caught the bus across the 4 mile long Astoria bridge over the Columbia River, as we had been told we weren't allowed to ride it (of course we found out later that we probably could have!).
We were in Oregon.
And it was still raining...

The Pyjama Diaries: Vancouver – Victoria (21st Aug - 8th Sept '10)

After two months and 3500kms cycling south from Alaska back to Vancouver we decided to treat ourselves to two weeks of relaxing in Vannie before we migrated further south. We were very fortunate to be able to stay at our friends Bree and Jays' place in PoCo, about an hour out of the city (which was a good way to slowly deal with the culture shock of a big city). We had lots of plans for our time in Vancouver, including starting this blog (!), and catching up with people, but found that we spent most of the time lying on the couch and eating. Jules was loving being able to use the time to catch up on the Blue Jays season (tho' in my eyes nothing appeared to happen on the diamond for the whole two weeks we were there) and I was loving reading crappy books and baking.
It was fun to be back in civilisation, to be able to catch up with friends, go out to yummy cheap Asian food, shop at Granville Markets (the cheap $1 bags of fruit and vegies from the floor underneath the expensive selection of foods!) and get whatever we wanted from the shops whenever we wanted it. However, even though we were back in the big city we still had our camping soul and most days we would head out to the local wild blackberry patches to pick berries. Of course having an oven meant I could make blackberry crumble and we could even have ice-cream. Joy!
We managed to catch up with friends, but didn't make it into the city as much as we planned and only rode the bicycles into town once! And that was only because we had to get them in there to get them serviced by Meshkat at Mighty Bikes (who I think was surprised to see us back in one piece given that we had shakily ridden out of his shop four months prior, scared of riding on the right side of the road and with the mechanical knowledge of only two two- hour lessons!).
The two weeks passed way too quickly and we realised that we hadn't done half of what we had wanted to do in this time. We missed catching up with people we wanted to, we didn't want to say goodbye to the people we had caught up with and we hadn't eaten nearly enough of the food that we wouldn't be able to get on the road (that's my excuse for the gigantic bowls of ice-cream that I was stuffing myself with anyway).
We couldn't hold off leaving any longer, and we were itching to get back on the bikes too, so we were pretty excited when the day we had chosen as our leaving day dawned with beautiful blue sky. We got off later than planned, spending longer than usual packing the bags and cleaning up the house after ourselves. Then we had to face the trauma of trying to ride through the outskirts of Vancouver. Vannie has awesome bike routes but somewhere this has missed the outer suburbs. The area we were riding in had some promised bike routes, but often these would disappear at a major intersection leaving us stranded in the middle of a busy freeway. Or alternatively we'd be happily cycling along along a bike trail alongside the river to find it blocked off with a large detour sign describing the detour that started kilometres back down the bike path. This happened twice on our way through the outskirts and caused me to throw a minor tanty. Jules had to put up with tears and a torrent of four letter words, before she could finally calm me down enough to turn around and cycle back the way we had come, trying to find our way through to the next road. The whole way I cursed everyone I could think of and promised to send in a number of strongly written letters to members of government.
We were knackered by the time we got through the industrial areas, managed to cross the Fraser River and found ourselves in the farmlands of Delta, which were a lot easier riding. But we really had to push ourselves to get to the ferry in time and our legs were questioning our decision to leave the comfort of the couch. We were pretty amazed how much fitness we had lost in our two weeks off. Before we reached Vancouver we had been easily cycling 100+ km days (in very hilly country ) but after two weeks of eating and drinking and napping we were going pretty slowly.
We did manage to make it to Tsawwassen, 70kms from Bree and Jay's house, in time for the 3pm ferry over to Vancouver Island, and settled in for a little rest for the hour and a half ferry ride. Part way across to the island our lovely sunny day turned into rain. After disembarking the ferry we then had another 40 kms (which included a “detour” where we got a little lost and headed off in the wrong direction for kilometres) before we made it to our 'warm showers' host in Victoria. This was our first time using warm showers and it was great; somewhere to dry off, lovely hospitality and nice to be able to share stories. Our host, Hayley, had ridden through Mexico earlier in the year so she got us very inspired for down the road.
We woke to sunshine streaming onto our faces the next morning which inspired us to head out and explore Victoria, cycling along the seawall and into town. One of those happy mornings where people stopped to chat to us, the sun reflecting off the bright blue water warmed us and I sang to myself as I rode along (though my singing does not necessarily add to Jules' happiness.. in fact generally it makes her peddle faster to try and lose me).
After exploring the city we jumped on the afternoon ferry over to Port Angeles, Washington: saying goodbye to Canada (for now - we'll be back I'm sure!) and Hello Continental USA!

Out of the Wild: Prince Rupert to Vancouver (15th - 20th Aug '10)

Jules and I spent a night in Prince Rupert in the middle of a heat-wave, a bit different to when we had left there two months before in the pouring rain! The next morning we jumped on the ferry heading south and had a beautiful trip down to Vancouver Island. The weather was great and we sat in the sunshine, with our eyes peeled for whales, chatting to some nice backpackers we met on the boat. We also made friends with the other cyclist on the boat, Angelo from Venice.  Angelo joined us camping in a town park, adjacent to the boat-launch, when the ferry docked on Vancouver Island late at night. We awoke in the morning to find ourselves surrounded by parked cars and fisherman.
Our first day on Vancouver Island we headed into Port Hardy for coffee and then started south on the highway. Around lunchtime we decided to do a detour into the little town of Telegraph Bay, 15kms off the highway. The ride in was pleasant with just a few steep hills that got us sweating. However, as soon as we arrived in the town we felt like turning around and riding out again. We were feeling a little overwhelmed with the busyness of it all, and it is not even a large town (all of 30 permanent residents) - we were definitely not ready for cities yet! On the day that we were there it was filled with tourists and we found that there were few places to camp, only private RV campgrounds that did not fit into our miserly daily budget! We managed to calm ourselves down, breathed into a paper-bag a few times and spent the afternoon wandering around the town. We had a picnic out on the jetty, checked out the historic stilt buildings surrounding the little bay, and had a look through the awesome whale museum, all of which was nice but we still decided to try our luck with the hills and left town late in the afternoon. We have obviously been very spoilt by the quiet and wilderness of the north if we are finding little towns like Terrace and Telegraph Cove (not exactly massive metropolises) overwhelming!
There is definitely something about the simplicity of life travelling by bike. Our days are filled with the questions like “what shall we eat?”, “when shall we eat?” and “where are we going to camp tonight?”. It forces us to live in the moment and enjoy whatever it is that is in front of us at that time (particularly if what is in front of us is food.. and lots of it).
Down the island Jules and I did some bush camping, where we found quiet spots off the side of the road to set up camp. We were quite particular about not being seen as we pulled off the side of the road, so we would always wait until there were no cars coming and then quickly head into the woods. One evening we found a good spot to camp, and it was quiet enough for us to head off the road, but just as we were about to wheel Norma and Betty into the trees a road repair car came creeping around the corner with lights flashing and a line of traffic behind it. The workmen then pulled to a stop right in front of us and a bunch of guys leapt out of the car and started putting down cats-eyes, and chatting to us. The roadworks and flashing lights were bringing traffic to a halt right in front of our planned camp much for being inconspicuous!|
One night in a bush camp Jules freaked herself out by hearing noises outside, a rustling in the bushes around the camp. She then heard a growling noise very close by and was near panic, having images of being attacked by wolves or cougars. Luckily before she ran screaming from the tent she heard the growl again and realised the noise was coming from me, sleeping soundly (and supposedly snoring) beside her. At the time I refused to believe her version of this story, as I do not snore (really!). However, further down the road I too was startled from sleep by a roaring sound close by. It was only when I was fully with it that I realised it was my snoring that had frightened me awake (in my defence I had a bad cold at this time...)
The north end of Vancouver Island is remote, mainly forests (with a lot of logging) and only a few tiny towns. It was interesting to see the progression into the more populated areas about half way down the island. We headed into farmland first, then a few houses, then we started seeing more people around.. including one guy peeing on the side of the road who didn`t hear us coming. I don`t know who was more shocked him or Jules!!
South of Campbell River we followed the coast through lots of small coastal towns and pretty beaches. We camped at Miracle Beach, which was a nice campsite but expensive and full of children... enjoying themselves in a very noisy fashion. We were definitely having trouble dealing with sensory overload along this section.
Our last night on the island we stayed with my cousin and his gorgeous family, ate super-scrumptious food, chatted over wine and played board-games with the kiddies. A great way to end this part of the trip. The next day we ferried back to Horseshoe Bay and then rode along the coast, past the fancy houses perched out overlooking the bay, over the Lions Gate Bridge, through Stanley Park and into Vancouver... back to where we started a couple of months ago – older, no wiser and definitely more bedraggled.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

We Finally Find Summer: Stewart/Hyder to Prince Rupert (10th - 15th August'10)

Well, we managed to avoid being eaten by bears in the meadow behind the Hyder pub, and we managed to escape town without getting “hyderized”. Once out of Alaska and back into Canada (again!) we had a nice ride out of Stewart back up past the glaciers and over the mountains. Stacey and Maurice passed us in their RV on the way up and tried to tempt us into their comfy van but we managed to resist. I had to be pretty strong however because as they pulled up we saw a black bear on the side of the road and Jules almost threw Betty off the road in her rush to get inside the van. However, I managed to talk her out of leaving me on the side of the road and we waved goodbye to Stacey and Maurice.
This section of the trip was actually the point at which Jules conquered her bear-phobia. We saw so many black bears along the Stewart-Cassiar Highway and they were all either unconcerned with our presence or completely scared of us, running away when they saw us coming. Whenever we would see a bear we would stop riding and call out “Hey Bear”. This is the recommended method for dealing with a bear sighting.. Initially I was fairly sceptical that this was the best response (running screaming in panic was my first response) but I soon found it somewhat reassuring, maybe I just fooled myself into thinking they could actually understand my friendly overtures! Jules would also bring out her whistle, and toot away on this but this didn't seem to scare any of them off, just annoy them (as it did me!). Our chief form of scaring off bears was to sing. This was fairly effective as my singing is guaranteed to scare anything off. When we saw a bear we would sing loudly the first song that came into our head and for some reason this often happened to be “Gentille Alouette”. Probably not the most effective as this line was all we knew of it and had to keep repeating it in our terrible French accents.
Jules and I had got into the habit of picking wild berries along the way, which we would put in our morning porridge. We had found blue-berries, Saskatoon berries and lots of thimble-berries (similar to raspberries and so good!). At one point I made Jules stop and pick thimble-berries on the side of the road, even though she was nervous about running into bears in this spot. I kept telling her that we would be fine, that we'd make lots of noise and bears won't dare come near us. So we were picking away when I heard a 'crack' from over the road, and I looked over to see a black bear calming sitting in the bushes across from us munching on some berries. “Umm Jules, maybe we should get going” I said, and had to admit that yes, maybe she was right about the bears.. this time.
I realised Jules was over her bear-phobia when we once spotted a bear the side of the road while we were going up a hill, and she refused to stop (you never ever stop cycling on a hill as you may never get going again!). We just kept pedalling past the bear singing our “bear song” and yelling out “hey bear”, and panting from the combined exertion, all of which seemed to scare him off. But I realised that we had come a long way from the first time we had seen a bear (otherwise known as a black dog) on the side of the road and had ridden with great speed in the opposite direction.
We camped at a number of nice lakes along the Cassiar Hwy. Our first day on the Cass felt like we had pedalled into a different country – it was actually summer! The sun was shining, it was hot, we went for a swim in the lake and sat in deck-chairs that somebody had lent us to watch the sun set (and discuss how to tie deck-chairs onto our bikes so that we could bring them with us). At another lake that we camped at further down the highway there was a floating dock so we sat out on that to cook our meals and to watch the water. The lake had a resident beaver family so we watched them being busy, moving things around and swimming back and forth with bubs on back. One of the adults must have surfaced under a lily-pad leaf because he was swimming around with the leaf perched on top of his head.. ah better than television.
Our last night on the Cassiar we camped at the town park in the tiny town of Kitwanga and the next morning we headed west down the Yellowhead Highway. We were back to a big highway with much more traffic again, but at least it had a nice big shoulder. We started to get into areas with a few more people, and finally reached the town of Terrace. We were a bit stunned coming back into Terrace, which is not a large town but was big enough to cause us some culture shock! We were definitely not ready for cities yet. It was also stinking hot in Terrace, and it wasn't helped by the fact that we desperately needed to do laundry and had no clean clothes to wear while we did our laundry. So we ended up sitting around in the laundromat in our bathers, rain pants and our fleece vests – looking ridiculous, dripping with sweat and getting grumpy. Not our finest hour.
Our last day on the Yellowhead was really hot and we rode an over 150 km day back into Prince Rupert. It was a very pretty ride along the river but it got incredibly hot (this is supposed to be Canada, its not supposed to get this hot!). We were melting by the time we made it into town and lay panting on the grass. We inhaled a couple of ice-creams and celebrated our return to Prince Rupert with a beer overlooking the harbour.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Bushfire and Bears: Skagway to the Cassiar Hwy (5th - 10th August '10)

We were spoilt by new friends in Haines and Skagway who not only let us camp amongst the smell of dog-poo and took us zip-lining but also got us a free ride on the historical train “the White Pass”, out of Skagway. The White Pass is a two-hour train journey that follows the old historical route up over the mountain pass and into the Yukon goldfields. It was a fascinating little slice of history and it meant that we didn't have to climb up over the mountains that we had come roaring down a week ago! Betty and Norma got transported up to the top of the mountains in style and at the top of the pass we jumped off the train, passed through the Canadian border and set off on the bikes again.
We initially rode north towards Whitehorse, but turned off on a small side road, the Taglish cut-off road, that took us past a bunch of lakes, and a couple of small towns. It took us a couple of days of heading north and east to meet up with the Alaskan Highway once again. This part of the trip was fairly easy riding, though it was taking us a little while to get back into the routine after more than a week's break. Norma and Betty were obviously going through some abandonment issues since we had left them for a week, as they were misbehaving and we had quite a few flats.
Once we were back on the Alaskan Highway we were hanging out for a roadhouse/campground/cafe that had been advertising along the road their “world famous cinnamon buns”. Wow this is what we have been searching for! One morning we were so excited because we knew we were approaching this holy grail, about 100kms down the road. We planned our whole day around this cinnamon bun event, making sure we arrived at afternoon tea time, not eating too much at lunch to make sure we had enough room for buns.. etcetc We turned up at the roadhouse salivating with anticipation and asked for “a world-famous cinnamon bun please”... “oh sorry we're all out of cinnamon buns at the moment”. Oh the devastation. The rest of the day was a blur as I was an emotional mess after my disappointment. Don`t they know cyclists already have a shaky mental stability as it is ,and a shock like that is enough to send someone over! I somehow pushed through the last part of the day but not without a semi-breakdown where I sobbed at Jules ``Don`t you know how hungry I am??”. Cycling brings out my inner drama-queen.
We crossed the Continental divide during this section of the trip, which yielded some stunning scenery and some great downhills – which Jules just loves. Downhills make Jules into a giddy little girl again, she will often scream out “yeaha!” as she is riding down them and will wave and smile at cars that we pass. On one big downhill off the Continental Divide we passed some RVs parked in a picnic area. Jules waved madly at them as she zoomed past, yodelling at the top of her lungs. I'm hoping she didn't cause any premature heart-failures...
Slowly we approached the intersection of the Cassiar Highway, where we were to start heading south and on our last day on its bitumen the Alaskan Highway gave us a good send off. Our last day was an absolute beauty, riding along the Rancheria Valley, with great views across the Cassiar Mountains, lots of downhills, plus a tailwind!
When we had been back in Skagway we had heard about a big fire on the Cassiar Highway which meant that the first 100kms or so of this highway was closed, and only occasionally they would allow a convoy of cars to go through (no bikes of course). Jules doesn't do well with smoke and one of the campers we had spoken to said there was smoke for 100's of kms around the fire, so we had been a little nervous about whether we would be able to get through, but we decided to give it a go and knew that something would work out.
The morning we reached the junction of the Alaskan and the Cassiar Highways we turned up early to see if a convoy of cars was going to go through. When we got to the front of the queue we were told there would be a convoy going but we definitely wouldn't be able to ride it (not that we really wanted to!). As we rode back past the line of cars a guy popped his head out of his van and offered us a ride through the fire.. Maurice and Stacey were mountain bikers from Southern California and were on a trip in their new camper to go mountain biking through Alaska and Canada. They had two spare bike racks on the back so we could load up Betty and Norma and head through the fire with them. They were a blast and we had a great time driving through the apocalyptic burnt-out area that we were certainly glad we weren't riding through! Maurice and Stacey were headed down the Cassiar and out to Steward-Hyder to visit the bear-viewing platform. We weren't going to be able to do the detour out to this area on the bikes (we had a timeframe to get back to Vancouver) and so we were very easily persuaded to get a lift all the way to Stewart with them.. and then ride back out from Stewart to rejoin the Cass. We were feeling very lucky to meet such lovely people, who didn't seem to mind two smelly cyclists refusing to leave the comfort of their van!
We arrived in the little town of Stewart that evening and then headed on over the US border into the tiny town of Hyder, Alaska. We did not have to go through any immigration to get into Hyder, there is no way out of the town once you are there, but strangely you have to go through Canadian immigration on your way out. Hyder is tiny and kind of is what an Alaskan town of my imagination would be -funny old wooden buildings and a dirt road through the middle of town, and lots of signs advertising the local moonshine.  Drinking too much of this leads to getting “hyderized”. In Hyder we camped behind the pub in a meadow... which would have been Jules ideal place to camp; close to the pub, so we had to have a pub meal and watch the antics of too much moonshine and too many cowboy hats, but we were still a little too close to the bears feeding for her liking so she asked the bartender whether anyone had been eaten by a bear recently here and he said , without any apparent concern, and without any further information, “yes”.
Just north of Fish Creek there is a viewing platform over a creek where you can (if you are lucky) watch bears feeding on the spawning salmon. Our first night there with Maurice and Stacey we watched a mum grizzly introducing her cub to the water. The cub didn't seem to be overly keen on the water and it looked quite distressed about getting its paws wet. It also seemed to be slightly scared of fish and it couldn't get the hanging of fishing, so after a couple of lame attempts he just ended up finding a stick to chew on, then experimented feeding on some discarded old fish, and then had a final go at nibbling on some rocks. When Jules and I came back the next morning to check out the viewing platform again mum and cub were back. The cub was very cheeky in the morning, full of energy and bouncing around.  At one point mamma stunned a fish and then let it go for the cub to chase after it. He chased it and almost caught it but ended up empty handed. Mama had watched the whole thing and when bub came back she was not happy. He knew he was in trouble and he was just like a little kid that had done something bad, he tried to avoid going near her and then ran into the bushes to hide from her.
So from a fire that upset our trip plans we managed to meet two awesome people, got the amazing experience of watching grizzly's fishing and managed to see the phenomena that is “getting hyderized” in Hyder, Alaska.