Archive for June, 2009

You know you are on the wet coast of BC when …

Monday, June 29th, 2009

… you ask where the “toilet” is and the reply is “oh, you mean the washroom?”
… you are looking for a receptacle to charge the laptop and someone says “are you looking for a plugin?”
… restaurants advertise a “smorgasbord” rather than a “buffet”
… you understand the announcements on the ferry, and they are in only one language – English
… if the sun comes out for more than an hour, it is a “sunny day”
… a beautiful day is one when it rains for less than 50% of daylight hours
… more than 75% of the vehicles on the road are either logging trucks or RVs

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We took the brand spanking new Northern Expedition ferry from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert. Cyclists boarded with the foot passengers, just after the motorcycles. Although we were encouraged to use the bike racks at midships, we chose to tie up with the motorcycles at the stern. Our bikes and bags wouldn’t have fit well in the bike racks. There were also nice kayak racks at the stern, but they were unused.
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We learned that the bridge crew on this ferry did give bridge tours (we had asked on the Coastal Celebration from Vancouver to Victoria and been refused), but we made our request too late (oops). The ferry was only half full from a car perspective and only had about 200 passengers (the capacity is 600). Even at a third of capacity, it did not feel that empty. We grabbed two seats just aft of the “Aurora Lounge”, which had a huge window in front of them, and spent the day there – a nice spot. The Aurora Lounge had better seats with a view forward, but at $30 per person, it was a wee bit pricey.

The services on the ship were quite good, with a good selection of magazines and books in the gift shop, and the food in the cafeteria was pretty good, albeit expensive, and we didn’t try the “Vista” restaurant, with its beautiful views and expensive buffet ($20 breakfast, $30 supper).

20090629-img_8061The journey from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert is 15 hours at this time of year. We had a beautiful sunny day, with several whale sightings. The officer of the watch announced various points of interest as we passed them. We were amused that when we approached Gil Island an announcement was made – however, it turned out to be an announcement about a distant whale sighting. Gil Island is the island that the Queen of the North ran into causing the ship to sink back in 2003. The Northern Expedition is its replacement.

We arrived in Prince Rupert at 11:00 pm, and were off the ship by 11:30. We had looked into the RV Campground near the ferry; however the cost was excessive, and we didn’t need any of the services. We chose to stealth camp in a park near the RV Campground instead, and spent a restful night.

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More Spectacular Scenery

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Bike racks on board the ferry

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Riding up-island

Sunday, June 28th, 2009

59 km, 3h 30 min – Comox to Thunderbird Campground, Campbell River ($19 plus $1 showers)
99 km, 6h 30 min – Campbell River to Eve River Rest Area (free)
108 km, 6h 30 min – Eve River Rest Area to Broughton Street campground, Port McNeil ($15 plus $2 showers)
50 km, 3 h – Port McNeil to Bear Cove Ferry Terminal, Port Hardy (stealth camping)

The ride up Vancouver Island was nice and relaxing, and it was good to fall back into a routine again. Using our tent and camping gear gave us more freedom than in SE Asia. We could camp when we were ready rather than looking for the next town and a hotel. Camping was still expensive in the RV parks, but not as bad as earlier, and there were many more opportunities for stealth camping. The tent is starting to feel like home again, and camp setup and teardown is pretty quick when we want it to be.

Overall, the riding was quite pleasant, although we had several chances to use our rain gear. The jackets we replaced in Victoria are working out very well. In most cases, shoulders on the road were wide enough to give us space to ride, and almost all drivers passed us with lots of room to spare. On a few occasions we jumped from the paved shoulder to the gravel, but that was mostly for politeness sake, if a transport or logging truck was passing us and there was oncoming traffic.

We found some nice back roads for most of the ride into Campbell River which made for a nice relaxing ride. We even passed a farm and stopped by to pick up some farm fresh eggs and extra yummy cherries. As we arrived on the outskirts of Campbell River we passed a log carving competition. Since we were not in any particular rush, we stopped by to watch the carving in action and take some photos. After 20 minutes, the rain decided to pick up, and our stomachs were grumbling, so we went in search of a place to eat.

As we pulled into the downtown area (or at least what we think might have been downtown), we saw the Tyee Mall. Scott had seen a sign indicating an “all day breakfast” place at the mall, which after some searching and asking around, we found. We spent the afternoon camped out in Banners restaurant and running errands in the nearby shopping centre (Scott got his hair cut and Becky stocked up on groceries for our journey north). Banners had typical family restaurant fare and free wireless Internet. It was warm and dry and we saw no need to rush out in the pouring rain to set up our tent for the night.

For supper, a friend of Becky’s from her days at University of Victoria made time in her busy schedule to come visit with us. Andrea is a teacher in Campbell River, and between the last day of school, kid’s swimming lessons, a staff party and a baseball game she managed to find time to spend a couple of hours with us reminiscing and catching up. Andrea, thanks so much for the visit.

Fortunately, the weather cleared after dinner, and we were able to set up camp without getting soaked. The ride to the campground was a short 3 km from the restaurant. The campground was quiet but nothing special – there were no trees and the lights of the nearby industry made us glad to have our eyeshades.

Friday dawned a beautiful day, filled with sunshine. It did not take long for us to leave the busyness of the southern island behind and enter the wilds of the northern island. There is not much north of Campbell River except beautiful vistas, trees, trees, and more trees – broken up by the occasional fields of clear-cut. The ride north is quite beautiful and for the most part the cars and trucks were well behaved. The shoulder comes and goes. It seemed to be present at the most critical times: that is, whenever we were slowly climbing a hill.

We knew that Sayward was the first community along the northern route, but it is 10 km off the road, so we made no plans to visit. We were pleasantly surprised at the services at Sayward Junction. The restaurant had a variety of home-baked pies which were delicious warmed with ice cream. We arrived at 5 pm, with lots of daylight left and uncertain weather forecast for the next day, so we decided to push on. The folks at the Petro Canada at Sayward junction provided us with some local knowledge regarding campsites and the upcoming hill. They also let us check out the Backroad Mapbook for the Island, which was very nice. Their comments about the hill were not far off, but unfortunately, they failed to mention that the campsites on the map are not signed, and we missed the turnoff for the one we wanted (Rooney Lake).

Since we had passed the lake, we continued on to the Eve River rest area. The rest areas that are away from the towns allow free camping. They have picnic tables and pit toilets, and some are near a source of water, although you need to boil or treat it. The Eve River provided us with a place to wipe off the day’s sweat with some very cold water and lots of water for dinner and breakfast. We camped on a flat spot in the woods behind the parking lot. It was pretty, quiet and peaceful.

On Saturday morning, we awoke to the drumming of rain on the fly of the tent. At first, we just turned over and hoped the rain would stop. It waxed and waned several times, but after an hour, we realized we were in for a wet day. We packed up and made breakfast in a constant drizzle of rain. When we were finally ready to hop on the bikes, the skies let loose and it began to rain in earnest. We slogged our way up for the first 10 km, then enjoyed the ups and downs into the town of Woss. We turned off and stopped at the Pub to dry off and get a warm meal. Note to cyclists – there is a café and a pub; we found the pub food to be rather greasy and guess that the “big sandwiches” we heard of in Woss are at the café not the pub (oops). The pub was dry and had Internet – so we spent a couple of hours hanging out before we hopped back on the bikes for the long stretch into Port McNeil.

Fortunately, after lunch the rain was much lighter and the sun even made an occasional appearance. It made the 70 kms from Woss to Port McNeil a much more comfortable ride. We pulled into Port McNeil and asked about the campsite in town. A local fuelling up at the gas station told us of a back road/trail into the campground that would allow us to avoid the steep uphill into the campsite. With that hint, we found our way to the Broughton Street Campground in Port McNeil. The campground was in a field amidst a nice wooded area and had full amenities (laundry, hot showers, free firewood) – for RVs it even had cable TV hookups!

On Sunday, we again awoke to rain on Sunday morning; however, it was intermittent. Fortunately, we did not have far to ride to Port Hardy, so we lazed about waiting for the “nice day” we had been promised. After a slow morning, and checking our email at the Subway in town, we eventually made our way to Port Hardy. The ride was pretty easy and there were nice paved shoulders the whole way. Becky wasn’t feeling great, so we rode more slowly than usual, but still arrived before 5 pm.

The closest campground to the ferry terminal is the Wildwood campground on the Bear Cove Highway. The website says it is 2 km from the ferry terminal, but it is almost precisely 3 km. We went to the ferry terminal to make a reservation for the Monday morning ferry. We learned that we were not permitted to sleep in the waiting room; however, the waiting room was open all night. Anyone in an RV wishing to spend the night at the terminal was charged a $20 camping fee – which we could do if we wished to camp within the terminal. The terminal no longer permits free camping, at the request of the local RV parks. We had seen a few better free-camping spots earlier, and Scott went on a reconnaissance ride to find the best one. If you are planning to take the ferry and want to know a great place to camp for the night within 1 km from the terminal, just send us a note.

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Saying goodbye to the Fox family, our wonderful hosts in Comox.

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Cedar carving competition – big cuts with a chain saw.

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Cedar carving competition – detail work with smaller tools.

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Andrea and Becky.

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Cruise ship passing our campsite at sunset.

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Deer crossing the road. Hope they can read the “share the road with cyclists” sign too…

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Seymore Narrows – very strong tidal currents, and former location of Ripple Rock, before it was destroyed in 1958 by the world’s largest non-nuclear explosion.

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We were impressed that B.C. even moved the “rumble strips” to overlap with the white line and give us more space on the shoulder. Much nicer than the Trans Canada in Newfoundland. The rumble strips also had gaps, so you could jump out onto the road without going over them – if you timed it right! Unlike Newfoundland, in the places where the shoulder was narrow or eroded, there were no rumble strips, so we did not need to jump onto the road.

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We thought selective logging meant taking only one tree, not leaving only one!

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Clear skies and beautiful scenery.

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Becky crossing under a logging road. You know they’re serious about logging when the logging trucks get their own overpasses.

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Scott stretching in lieu of yoga in the rain.

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Riding up island and visiting friends

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

69 km, 5 h Ruckle Park, Salt Spring to 4 all seasons RV park, Ladysmith
86 km, 5h 40 min Ladysmith to Qualicum Indian Reservation RV Park, Bowser
53 km, 3 h Bowser to Comox

Cycling on Salt Spring and Southern Vancouver Island, we were immediately aware of many other cycling tourists – more than we have seen on any other segment of our trip. On the Salt Spring ferry, we met a family that that was cycling a circle route from Seattle to Victoria, Salt Spring, Crofton and then back. We were amused at how we talked about the weather – another signal to us that we are home. In places where the weather doesn’t change from day-to-day (SE Asia and the Middle East) there just isn’t anything to talk about.

Speaking about weather, we have been exceptionally lucky so far. We had rain for about 2 hours on Sunday morning, which started after our tent was packed up and our breakfast eaten. It did not last long, and by lunch we had removed all our wet weather gear and were happily cooking in the sun. Some scary clouds moved in several times, but always floated over us, leaving us happily dry. We can only hope the nice weather holds for our ride through the northern stretch of the island.

As we ride, we are feeling invisible here. Fewer people find our bikes “special” and there are so many other touring cyclists that the idea of travelling by bicycle isn’t too strange. When someone does express an interest in our bikes, the conversation is definitely more in depth, which we are sure is related to speaking the same language! We do find ourselves acting in the role of recumbent evangelists, elucidating on the benefits of cycling recumbent style.

We are struck by the beauty of the landscape in BC. In the mornings, we look out over the Straights of Georgia and the mountains in the distance make many layers of blue. We were reminded of riding in Labrador and the hills making many layers of green – similar but with a different colour palette.

As Becky was shopping for groceries in Parksville, Scott was visited by Al, a 79-year old cyclist, who proudly calls himself a bicycle evangelist. He does not own a car and travels everywhere either riding his bike or walking. He rides between Bowser and Parksville almost every day, 30 km in each direction: that is an impressive ride for anyone regardless of age. He was interested in our bikes, but after talking further, decided that he was happy with his mountain bike – no need to investigate recumbent bikes until he gets a bit older.

The campsites in Qualicum Beach were all charging $26 plus tax plus $1 each for showers, which we thought was a bit much for a place to put a tent for a night, especially after paying $26 at the ‘4 all seasons resort’ in order to do laundry, only to find all their washing machines were out of order. We rode on, and found a beautiful campsite at the Qualicum Indian Reserve – $19, so still expensive for us, but clean and with a beautiful view of the Straits of Georgia. We need to break free of the campgrounds and do some wild camping again, or approach random strangers and ask to stay on their lawn if we want cheap accommodation. We haven’t quite brought ourselves to do that yet.

After three relatively relaxing days riding, we made it to Comox, and found Jane, Paul and Joel’s house. They attended First Unitarian Congregation of Ottawa with us before they moved out here, and it was nice to see them again. We had a great visit, and decided to stay an extra day when the rain hit early the next morning. We’re now relaxed, refreshed and ready to make our way north to Port Hardy for the ferry to Prince Rupert.

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The path is a little narrow – next time we’ll just ignore the signs and stick to the road – even though Becky found Scott’s bouncing off the rails quite amusing.

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A typical campsite in BC (this was the 4 Seasons Resort near Ladysmith).

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Sunset over the Straights of Georgia – at the Qualicum Indian Reserve Campground.

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Yummy Fanny Bay oysters – too bad we could find anyplace to buy some! They made Scott remember eating dinner alone in Auckland, New Zealand. Fanny Bay Oysters and Diana Krall on the stereo sure made him homesick.

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Joel trying out Becky’s bike.

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Scary clounds today – glad we took a rest day. Gorgeous view of the bay and the mountains from Jane and Paul’s house though!

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Ottawa, Ottawa, Ottawa

Saturday, June 20th, 2009

48 km, 3 hr

  • Q: Where are you from? A: Ottawa.
  • Q: Where are you going? A: Ottawa.
  • Q: Where did you start?

Today on during one of our stops, a cyclist asked us these three questions in turn. After the first two, he said “and don’t say Ottawa!” Unfortunately we had to tell the truth. We were amused, both that the answers to all three were the same, and that this is the first time on our trip where they have been. Previously our answer to “Where are you going?” had always been “back to Canada” or the next country on our itinerary. Here, we can even assume everyone knows where Ottawa is!

We had a delightful ride along the Lochside trail – the bike route between Victoria and the Swartz Bay ferry terminal. The ride would have been more relaxing except that we were trying to make the 1:10 pm Salt Spring ferry. At 12:50 and still 4 km away, Becky did not think we would make it, but Scott did. Becky decided to let Scott prove himself wrong and allowed him to rush us to the terminal anyway. For the last 500 meters, Scott went ahead (it was up hill) and got in line to buy tickets. He played the polite Canadian and waited at the back of the Saltspring line, which wasn’t moving. When Becky arrived, she immediately pulled up to the “Southern Gulf Islands” line and asked if they would allow two bicycles on the 1:10 pm Salt Spring ferry. The lady made a phone call and was given the OK, so we purchased are tickets and were off. In the end, the ferry left 10 minutes late so we aren’t sure who really wins the argument. Becky thinks we would not have made it if the ferry was on time, whereas Scott saw a sign ‘no ticket sales within 5 minutes of sailing time’, and the clock said 1:04 when he pulled up to the booth with Becky – a minute or two after he arrived. This is the second time that we have arrived 10 minutes late to a ferry that was also running 10 minutes late – the ferry gods must be looking out for us.

Tonight we are camped at a lovely sea side campsite in Ruckle Provincial Park on Salt Spring Island. We arrived early, so were able to take our time setting up and enjoying the wonderful afternoon. On our way to the park, we passed a stall selling fresh free-range farm eggs. Of course, we grabbed a dozen, and fried up a few as are post-ride snack – they were delicious and definitely “eggs with real egg taste”.
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View from our campsite watching the superferry pass by.

It is definitely colder than we’re accustomed to, and we were amused early in the evening to be bundled up in our big jackets and hats, while others wandered around in shorts and T-shirts.

Across the path from us, we noticed a couple of other touring cyclists. We went over to say hi, which turned into a long chat an amusing game of Bananagrams (a mix of Scrabble and a crossword puzzle) with Ian and Josie from Vancouver. Coupled with the awesome view, it was a great way to spend our first camping evening in Canada.

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Ian test driving Becky’s bike

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Friends, visits and preparations

Friday, June 19th, 2009

17 km around town

Sorry everyone, we have been pitifully slow at updating the blog over the last week. Our energies have been devoted to visiting, shopping, and sorting through all our stuff. After a week, we are definitely feeling more at home back in Canada and our ready to get back on the road.

We went to Vancouver on Tuesday to spend a day visiting with our friend Meike and her kids Kate and Lucas. We enjoyed a wonderful hot pot dinner at the Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot – the same restaurant chain that we enjoyed so much on our last day in China (in Tanggu). We can attest that the Canadian version is almost as good, and the Tuesday night all you can eat special was a nice bonus. The one almost touristy thing we did was to drive over the new Golden Ears Bridge in Vancouver – opened on Tuesday, apparently just for us. It was great to spend some time visiting with Meike and her family. We wish her a speedy recovery and will continue to send lots of energy from our yoga practice to her.

We have been staying with Rowena, another of Becky’s friends from university, in Victoria in her lovely new condo blocks from downtown. We did not get as much time visiting as we would have liked, but it was definitely nice catching up – thanks so much for your generous hospitality Rowena! On Thursday night, Rowena brought us out to the weekly Victoria Couchsurfing shindig. It was nice to meet several of the Victoria couch surfing hosts, and another surfer – Wayne who has been driving his RV around Canada for more than a year!

Thanks to Scott’s parents, we had a big box of spares waiting for us, and were able to replace tires and shifters, and replenish our stock of brake pads and other bits and pieces. Our bikes have had a tune up, at Fairfield Bicycles, which actually stocks our bikes and even Rohloff hubs! Amazingly, our chains were measured as “no stretch” and given the thumbs up, so we did not need to replace them. Not bad for 5000 km – it appears the SRAM PC-870 chains are much more durable than the stock PC-830 chains provided by HP Velotechnik, which had damaged the rear cog after less than 4000 km. The guy at the shop thinks they might make it all the way back to Ottawa – but if not, we will have a few opportunities to change them. The bikes are now ready for the next phase of our journey.

Packing prove to be a challenge, as we had to sort through everything, figure out what needed replacing, replace it, and then figure out what needed to be shipped to Kitimat for possible use in Northern BC and what needed to be sent home. We thought that getting the large parcels to the post office would be a real challenge but in the end, we were able to strap them to the back of our bikes for transport. We mailed 20.6 kg home and 7.4 kg to Kitimat – we hope our bikes will be feeling a fair bit lighter now. (To be fair, we also received about 20 kg here, some mailed ahead from Singapore as well as the spare parts from Scott’s parents, but we’re still a fair bit ahead – especially since we are now carrying all our cold weather gear again).

Our planned journey for June and July currently looks like this:

  • June 20 – 28: Ride from Victoria to Port Hardy via Salt Spring, Comox, and Campbell River
  • June 29: Ferry from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert
  • June 30-July 1: Ride from Prince Rupert to Kitimat
  • July 1 – 5: Visit with Becky’s parents, attend Becky’s 20th high school reunion
  • July 6 – 11: Ride from Terrace to Prince George
  • July 13 – July 31: Ride from Prince George to Saskatoon via Jasper, Icefields Parkway, Saskatchewan crossing, Rocky Mountain House, and Red Deer
  • Aug 1: Attend Jodi and Cameron’s wedding in Saskatoon
  • Aug 2 – Aug 8: Ride from Saskatoon to Winnipeg

We have not yet decided what we will do after Winnipeg. We have the option of either a cross-Canada ride via the Trans-Canada north of Lake Superior or change to a cross-North-America ride via some less busy roads south of Lake Superior. If you have any advice on routes, we would love to hear it.

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Little Sheep restaurant – clearly the same chain as in Tanggu, China, but this time we can read the tagline.

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Us, enjoying the hotpot. The spicy half was a bit much – even for Scott and Kate, but everyone was happy with the original flavour.

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Golden Ears Bridge

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Coastal Celebration ferry. It’s one of three brand new ferries, which are the largest double-ended ferries in the world. Not just ramps at both ends, but two bridges, two props, two engines…

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Some of the stuff we’re sending home

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Scott’s clothing pile

Back in Canada, eh?

Monday, June 15th, 2009

31 km, 2h 10 min

Heidi and Scott set a quick pace for the grey and chilly ride from Heidi and Dick’s place in Sequim to the ferries in Port Angeles. We were delighted to have guides for our ride out to the ferry, and we thoroughly enjoyed our visit with Heidi and Dick. They are living our dream life – retired young and enjoying the outdoor life in a beautiful setting where they can bike year round and still ski in the winter! Sequim is in the rain shadow of Mount Olympus, so it doesn’t get much precipitation, but in winter the snow can still be found not too far away the mountains.

We took the “Victoria Express” ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria. It’s a small family-run pedestrian ferry, but they were happy to accommodate our bikes, and we were able to bring them on fully loaded. Apparently the Coho car ferry doesn’t think bicycles are actually vehicles, so we would have had to board through the pedestrian walkways, and snake our way through narrow customs lines. The Victoria Express made the process quite painless, although our bikes did get a fine misting of salt water – we were assured that alternative arrangements could be made if requested. In addition, the Victoria Express is faster, cheaper, and more environmentally friendly than the larger car ferry.

After hopping on the boat, we were struck by how we did not need to clear any “exit” customs when leaving the US. The only other country that we were in that did not have exit customs was Greece.

Canada Customs in Victoria was a breeze. The customs officer was curious about our trip, so in the end we chatted with him for about 10 minutes about it. Becky asked to have our passports stamped – to help remember the specific date of our re-entry. Normally they do not stamp Canadian passports when Canadians return from the United States; however, the customs officer made an exception for us. Nice welcome home!

It was much warmer and sunny day in Victoria, and it did not take long for Becky to finally warm up – she was quite chilled after the mornings ride and the ferry was not particularly warm. We are staying with Rowena, a friend of Becky’s from university. Pulling up to her new condo in Dockside Green, we were greeted with a warm smile and welcoming hugs. It’s nice to be home!

Becky went to the grocery store to pick up a few necessary items (breakfast and snacks) and was shocked at the price of everything. The grocery store nearest Rowena’s place is in a new condo neighbourhood in downtown Victoria so the prices are a little steeper than at other places – but it is still going to take a while to get used to how much more expensive eating is.

For our first dinner out in Canada, Becky chose dinner at the Keg Steakhouse for “old time’s sake”. She remembers eating there for many special occasions back when she was studying at the University of Victoria. Unfortunately, the Keg’s standards seem to have slipped, and the meal was disappointingly mediocre. Oh well.

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On our way to Port Angeles

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Our loaded recumbents look even stranger when they’re right beside a diamond-frame bike

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Our bikes: safe and secure at the stern of the Victoria Express.

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View of downtown Victoria from the inner harbour

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Welcome home! (almost)

Saturday, June 13th, 2009

110 km, 7 h 30 min

We made it to within spitting distance of Vancouver, although not quite to Canada yet. In the end, our freighter trip was rather uneventful. The sun did not make a direct appearance until 2 hours before we arrived in Seattle, although it did a good job of keeping the sky lit up until the wee hours of the morning. A few whales blew some air our way, but not at the right time or close enough to get a picture. Becky can attest that some whales are indeed bigger than containers!

We did get the opportunity to watch the pilot and captain coast the ship across Seattle harbor while we waited for our tug. It’s amazing how long it takes a huge ship like ours to slow down as she coasts through the water. Our weather throughout the Strait of Juan de Fuca was gorgeous – sunny and warm – a great welcome to North America. The pilot was on board for almost five hours as we sailed through the Strait; first accelerating, then slowing as our docking time and tug priority changed. Our pilot was definitely the most high-tech equipped we’ve seen, with his own laptop and charts, and a link into the ship’s AIS system for navigation data. Fancy! The amount of traffic, and the traffic separation scheme is quite sophisticated. Since there is a lot of ship, ferry, and small boat traffic; everyone needs to report into Traffic Control when they are changing course, changing speed, or crossing the designated traffic zone, so there’s lots of radio chatter. This happens outside almost every port, but with more traffic and more destinations here, it is much more complicated. Seeing the radar beacons, transit lanes and “roundabouts” up close was fascinating.

Entering the US on the ship turned out to be a non-issue. Apparently, the Captain had briefed the customs folks about us, since they only asked a few general questions about our trip, provided us with a local weather report, and stamped us into the country. They were not at all interested in taking our temperature (Swine flu test) or examining our gear. The whole process was over less than an hour after we docked.

Less than an hour after we cleared customs, all our gear was off the ship, and we were making our way to the Bainbridge ferry. The ship conveniently docked less than a kilometer from the ferry terminal – so close we almost felt we could touch it from the ship. Also, conveniently the ferry was delayed by 15 minutes, so we bought our tickets and rode right on. We could not have asked for a smoother re-introduction to North America. We were guided to the ferry (and to John’s street on Bainbridge) by a local commuting cyclist and student at the University of Washington. It was great to be able to have a meaningful conversation with someone about our trip. Scott also had a brief conversation with Marty, who had ridden across the US a few years ago.

We stayed Friday night on Bainbridge Island at John’s place. John and Scott went to university together so it was a great opportunity to catch up and nice to get off the ship and begin our re-acclimatization to North America. On Saturday we rode to Sequim and stayed with some wonderful Warm Showers hosts (Heidi and Dick). We envy their lifestyle, kayaking, year-round cycling, nearby cross-country and back country skiing – they have given us something to strive for! We definitely could not have asked for a better re-introduction to riding in North America – we can only hope the rest of our trip is as nice.

We had hoped to meet up with Kathy, Randy, Sharon and John, whom we met on the boat to Turkey, and who are now home in Seattle. Unfortunately, due to scheduling conflicts, they weren’t around this weekend, and we needed to get moving in order to reach Kitimat for Becky’s high school reunion. Sorry guys!

In the first 24-hour back in North America, we made the following observations:

  • We are not a minority anymore (there are lots of people that look like us – so much that we often think we recognize people).
  • When people want to talk to us about our bikes, we can communicate.
  • Random people on the street actually speak English.
  • Sunscreen – others need it too! Locals in SE Asia did not need or use sunscreen, so they found us covering exposed skin with cream in the mornings to be peculiar.
  • Cars are bigger, and often only have one person in them. We also noted that Bainbridge Island has a ton of Toyota Prius’.
  • Grocery stores that have everything, but tend to overwhelm us with choice (too many different types of cheese and breakfast cereal!).
  • Portion sizes in restaurants are huge! (Even as hungry cyclists, we will need to remember to share meals).
  • When Becky talks to herself out loud, those around her actually understand what she is saying – and sometimes comment!
  • The eggs we’ve tried here don’t taste like anything. We tried two hardboiled eggs for lunch, and they had egg-like consistency, but were practically tasteless. We were reminded of the Chinese phrase for factory-farmed chicken ‘chicken with no chicken taste’. Well we’ve had ‘egg with no egg taste’ and we aren’t holding up much hope for the chicken!

Things we loved about riding on the Olympic peninsula:

  • You could hear the birds singing in the woods – we had not realized just how absent birds were in Korea and China!
  • The familiar smell of cedars.
  • Drivers gave us a wide berth – so much so that even though we were riding on the wide paved shoulder they were going over the center line rumble strips.
  • Seeing lots of other cyclists; including meeting four people who had ridden across America within our first 24 hours off the ship!
  • Quiet roads with nice shoulders.
  • Great ocean views.

Pictures below

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Monday again

Monday, June 8th, 2009

On Friday night (Saturday a.m.), we were abruptly awakened at 3:30 am by the sound of the fire alarm. Becky immediately jumped out of bed and began to contemplate what clothes she needed to put on and what she should be doing next. Scott lay in bed and eventually began to move, figuring it was likely a false alarm. As quickly as it started, it stopped. What felt like minutes, but was probably only 30 seconds later, an announcement was made indicating that it was a false alarm. That pulse of adrenaline and fear ensured that Becky did not get back to sleep for several hours. That was the start of several days of totally screwed up sleep patterns.

The fire alarm surely didn’t help, but our sleep has mainly been affected by the endless changes in time zones. Between Pusan and Seattle, there is an 8 hour time difference. Our journey is 9 days at sea, so we lose one hour ever night of the trip except the last one. We find that our bodies were not meant to live 23-hour days. As we are moving north, we are also experiencing extremely long days – so when we climb into bed at midnight, it is still light! This seems to be a problem only for us – since the officers and crew have a fixed schedule, they are forced to adapt each day, where we can sleep in and take naps.

We also cross the International Date Line, so we have the joy of experiencing Monday twice (queue “Just another Manic Monday”). The double day is not much of an issue for us non-working passengers, but the crew gets an extra long work week – fortunately, when they return to Asia it all balances out as they get to skip a day during the work week. The actual day change is somewhat arbitrary, but it is scheduled to never occur on a Sunday, as that is a short work day for the crew and the closest thing to a day off that they get – if it were to be skipped one week, the Captain might have to deal with a mutiny!

Compared to other journeys by freighter, this one has been pretty uneventful – no sunsets, no pirates, no fishing, and very little visible land. This journey has had the most time zones, but is also the shortest freighter trip of our journey. We have been on board for over week and it feels like we just got here. We are already making our preparations for departure. Because of the colder climate on this route at this time of year, there are no BBQs. Also, the parties seem to be lacking – possibly as a result of the shorter days in this direction. If this were are first voyage, we would have found it to be rather boring. As it was, we relished the opportunity to spend a week without packing, have a space of our own, and feel like we understood almost everything going on around us.

As we do on every ship, we took the opportunity for a tour of the engine room, although didn’t take nearly as many photos. Becky was surprised by how clean it was – cleaner than she remembers the engine room on MSC Alessia. We also continue to be amazed by the sheer scale of things: winches taller than us, lines with larger diameter than our arms, piston liners we could stand in and not reach the top. It is very easy to feel small on board.

The officers on this trip on average are much younger than on previous journeys. With younger officers, we notice that fewer of them smoke, which makes for a nicer time on the bridge. Also, we have noticed that the younger officers and crew typically speak more fluent English. Captain Schmeling, who was also our captain on our first voyage, was his usual affable, friendly self, and really helped to make this voyage more fun. As we’ve observed ourselves, and heard from other passengers, the captain sets the tone for the rest of the officers and crew. By the end of the trip we were comfortably joking with all the bridge officers, especially with the captain. As usual, Becky usurped the captain’s chair on the bridge, so much so that when she came on the bridge one time, as soon as he saw her, Captain Schmeling leapt up, and said ‘gotta go’! It’s too bad he’s retiring in a year or so, so we likely won’t have an opportunity to sail with him again.

Responsible travel blogging

Friday, June 5th, 2009

Throughout our journey, we have been reminded that freedom of speech is not a universal right. As travelers and bloggers, we have the opportunity to meet many people, and often we report our meetings in our journal. However, in some of the countries we visited, we suspect that stories we tell are read not just by our friends and families, but also by the various authorities within the country. We hadn’t really thought about this before we left, but part way through our journey, we learned how our writing could have a negative impact on our friends.

A fellow traveler reported something on their blog about current events in the country they were visiting, including some seemingly innocuous commentary by a local friend. Later, that friend was arrested and incarcerated for several days, and was questioned about the comments reported on the blog. We like to think are writing in our own obscure little corner of the Web, but it appears some countries are monitoring even the obscure corners…

We tell you this vague story to remind any fellow travelers that we have a responsibility to the people we meet while we are travelling. Some of these people live in places where our speech may adversely affect their health – so we must use our speech responsibly. Our new friends may be made accountable for what we say. We hope that we have been careful enough in our blogging to not get anyone in trouble. We don’t think our self-censorship has had much effect on the stories we have told, but are unhappy that we needed to do it.

Welcome aboard Hanjin Madrid

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

As soon as we arrived in our “Purser’s Cabin”, we felt right at home. In fact, this felt more like home than any place since we left Ottawa! Between knowing we wouldn’t have to pack up for over a week, having space to call our own, and being familiar with the ship’s routines after two voyages on nearly identical ships, this really did feel like home.

Oddly, we are both finding we need to remind ourselves that it is OK to brush our teeth using the tap water! After 4 months of using bottled water for teeth brushing and drinking, it has become a habit to avoid tap water. We are constantly reminding ourselves that the tap water onboard is safe. For those that missed our reports of previous journeys, the ship has a fresh water plant and makes it own fresh water, so there is no worry about taking on contaminated water in foreign ports.

To understand our track, here is a little spherical geometry lesson. Two points on a sphere can be connected by a circle that has the same circumference as the sphere, known as a great circle. The most famous great circles on earth are the equator and the meridians of longitude. In navigation, the arc between the two points on that great circle is called a Great Circle route and is the shortest distance between the two places. The great circle route between Busan and Seattle takes us between two Japanese Islands (Hokkaido and Honshu) and through the Aleutian Islands into the Bering Sea. Somehow, Becky had not anticipated this northern routing, which means we do not have clothing for the colder climates – fortunately, we are not required to spend much time outdoors. (Scott figured we would be heading up near Alaska, and even thinks he said something about it at one point, but decided that long pants, wool socks and a winter jacket would be fine – we shall see).

Our first night at sea we cruised between Korea and Japan in the Sea of Japan (known in Korea as the Korea East Sea). We saw many fishing boats lit up like birthday cakes – actually the lights were so strong that when we stood out on the wings, our shadows could been seen dancing on the superstructure. With close inspection, we could seen white objects floating around the boats, which at first we thought were waves of fish, but the binoculars showed us they were actually birds flying near the boats feasting on the fish that were attracted to the surface by the lights. There were many of these boats, and it seemed like every five minutes another was passing by our beam as we glided through the calm nighttime seas.

The areas between Korea and Japan was covered in a shroud of haze, making anything in the distance look fuzzy: this was very similar to our entire journey through the Indian Ocean. The haze was mostly white not grey, which makes us wonder how much of it is natural and how much of it is manmade. After passing between the Japanese Islands of Hokkaido and Honshu, making our way out of the Sea of Japan into the Pacific, the haze was quickly replaced by fog, which at times was so dense that we could not see the front of the ship. The fog was forecast to continue for 2 days – apparently it is normal for this time of year. On occasion the fog lifted, and the horizon seemed impossibly distant. We realized that all our time since the Atlantic Ocean, our view has been obstructed by haze. It will be interesting to see how far we can see once back in Canada.

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