Archive for the ‘British Columbia’ Category

Beautiful British Columbia – The Best Place on Earth

Saturday, July 18th, 2009

In B.C. they have recently changed the licence plate motto and other provincial propaganda from “Beautiful British Columbia” to “British Columbia – The Best Place on Earth”. We certainly agree it’s beautiful, but we struggle a bit more with “The Best Place on Earth”. Did that come from one of those “best place to live” surveys or something? Our guess is that it is associated with the 2010 Winter Olympics publicity. So far, our vote for Best Place on Earth is still Hawaii! (or maybe Thailand, or Turkey, or B.C. or …)

After leaving McBride, the first town we passed near was Tete Jaune Cache (named after a fur trader with yellow hair). Similar to Cape Breton, the locals bastardize the French name and call it “Tee John”.

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Yay! 1000 km on the Yellowhead since Prince Rupert.

Once we turned the corner at Tete Jaune Cache, the landscape changed dramatically. We were no longer in the plains and valleys of central BC, and were now entering the Rocky Mountains. Luckily, the weather stayed clear long enough for us to enjoy a spectacular view of Mount Robson.

It was clear enough for us to get a peek at the peak of Mount Robson!
It was clear enough for us to get a peek at the peak of Mount Robson

Dark clouds surrounded us for much of our climb, but fortunately we didn’t get too wet. Our rain gear did a good job of keeping us warm too, and the combination of cloud and sun made for some dramatic views and spectacular rainbows. Becky’s rose-coloured lenses allowed her to spot rainbows when they were very faint, and we enjoyed watching both double rainbows and chorded rainbows as we rode. The photos we took are pretty, but don’t do them justice.

The sign to the Lucerne campground from the Mount Robson visitor centre said 42 km; unfortunately for us that turned out to be incorrect. We were surprised because the GPS, mile-by-mile cue sheet, and the park sign indicated roughly the same location for the campsite. Everything said it should be around 57 km from “Tee John”, but it was 10 km further, and included a bonus 100m climb! The distance was actually 52 km from the visitor centre, and since we were pacing ourselves for a 120 km day, we were completely drained by the time we arrived.

This was our last full day of riding in BC. The campsite is only 10 km from the BC Alberta Border and the continental divide. Tomorrow we tackle the Yellowhead pass and enter “Wild Rose Country” (the Alberta motto).

Riding north up Vancouver Island and then across BC feels like a huge accomplishment, especially for Becky. The 1820 km is not that huge compared to our total distance travelled, but perhaps it feels more real and significant because this is familiar ground. Becky has driven this route many times over the years, and never once thought she might cycle it. We also rode from Victoria to the Northern BC/Alberta border and we managed to not spend a single night in a hotel or B&B – a first for us. We did spend several nights indoors while visiting with friends and family, and spent 17 nights camping including four nights free camping.

This rainbow almost looks like the Northern Lights jumping out of the sky
This rainbow almost looked like the Northern Lights jumping out of the sky.

132 km, 7h 45 min – McBride to Mount Robson Lucerne Campground

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Bear highway

Friday, July 17th, 2009

We have dubbed the section of highway from Prince George to McBride “bear highway” as each day we saw at least one bear as we rode. Fortunately, none of them jumped out on the road too close to us – although, at one point a small black bear jumped out and ran cross the road just after a semi had passed us. We saw the semi slow down suddenly and switch lanes to avoid it. Fortunately, there was no oncoming traffic, so both bear and semi remained unharmed.

For our first night out of Prince George we camped at Purden Lake Provincial Park ($15 plus tax). Since the ride day was short – we arrived at 4 pm – we enjoyed a brief dip in the not-too-warm lake and hung out in the day use area. If the campsite were to fill up, we could set our tent up in the day use area; however, we noticed that many people had left food remnants on the ground around their picnic tables. We decided this was not an optimal place to camp in bear country, so after supper, we packed up and headed out to a campsite. We tried our food hanging techniques, but multiple attempts left us with food hanging within 8 feet (2.2 metres) of the ground. Not exactly regulation, but fortunately no nocturnal critters came to bother us.

In the morning, we left the provincial park and headed up to the Purden Lake RV resort so that we could contact Becky’s parents, who were considering re-joining us. We enjoyed a second breakfast of toast (from delicious whole-wheat home-made bread!) while syncing email and making a couple of Internet phone calls. GSM mobile phones (Fido/Rogers) have no coverage here so we couldn’t use ours, but apparently CDMA (Telus/Bell) still do. We learned that the RV resort also charged $15 for tenting, and their home-cooked food looked yummy. It is a couple of kilometres further up the road, but also closer to the road – the provincial park was about three kilometres off the highway. Depending on what you are looking for, the Purden Lake RV resort might be a better choice. Just look for the fire truck.

Shortly before our planned lunch stop at the Slim Creek rest area, Becky’s parents caught up to us. We quickly took that opportunity to unload some of our weight – with the plan of being on our own for 3+ days without services, we were carrying a lot of heavy food.

The Slim Creek rest area is a nice spot, but a little too close to the highway for camping. Also, technically camping is not permitted, but cycle tourists have been welcomed there in the past. Since it was early in the day, we decided to head for the Goat River rest area for the night. Since it too does not permit camping, Becky’s parents decided to head for an RV resort further up the road, and we would catch up to them the next day. We reloaded with a minimal amount of food (just enough for dinner and breakfast) and were on our own again.

As the kilometres were adding up and just our legs were getting tired, we saw a camping sign – the Lasalle Lake Recreation Area. There was a long, curving gravel road down to the site, so we were debating whether or not to go down – when Anne, John, and Isaac appeared. We were expecting them to pass us at some point on their way to vacation in Calgary, but their timing was impeccable! We gladly accepted their offering of drinking water and John gave Becky a ride down to check out the campsite. The road down was steep, but it was not too long and the camping area was lovely. Since John has been to the Goat River rest area, we gladly accepted his advice that this was a much better camp site. Apparently, there are only two accessible lakes between Prince George and McBride – Purden Lake and Lasalle Lake so it was only fitting that we stayed at both.

For the first time on our trip, we used the free firewood to have a campfire. Unfortunately, our fire starter was among the stuff we left with Becky’s parents – so Becky recalled some of her childhood fire starting tricks, and with the nice dry cedar and some “old man’s beard” fungus that grows on pine trees, she was able to get a nice fire going. We then hopped in the lake for a quick dip – to our surprise the lake was actually quite warm which made for a pleasant swim. After a long day riding, fire starting, and swimming, it was 9:30 pm before we sat down to dinner (oops).

Howard, Val and Julian (grandparents and grandson) from McBride were camping in the area near us. We talked to them briefly and learned that a bear had been seen in the area the night before – so we had to find a secure way to store our food overnight. After our experience trying to hang food in Purden Lake, we looked for another option. Fortunately, Scott discovered that the back of the bear-proof garbage bins can be opened. From behind, you can access an area underneath the garbage bags – and since this was not a very busy campsite the bin was very clean. We tucked our food bags and toiletries into there for the night, and slept soundly.

The next day dawned clear and beautiful, with a spectacular view across the lake, which put us in good spirits for our planned ride to the western boundary of Mount Robson Provincial Park. The first 7 km downhill to Goat River was great, and the big climb up Goat River hill didn’t dampen our spirits, but shortly afterwards strong headwinds began to sap our enthusiasm.

Ten kilometres outside of McBride, Becky’s parents caught up to us to let us know they had setup camp at the RV Park just east of McBride. They had gone to check our planned campsite near Tete Jaune Cache the previous night, and were not impressed – no laundry, no showers, no Internet. We were happy for the change in plans, as we were both tired after a long day followed by a day of headwinds. Now we could look forward to a stop shortly after lunch.

With the strong headwind, we were riding in close formation – Becky drafting off of Scott when we saw a logging truck. He stopped at a cross road and waited to enter the highway. Scott nodded to the driver, and got a nod back. Then Becky waved to the driver. When Scott saw the driver wave back to Becky, Scott interpreted it as a request to stop. Of course, Becky just saw it as a return of her wave. Scott stopped suddenly and CRASH – Becky smacked into the back of Scott! Oops. After over a year riding together, this was the first time we crashed into each other. Fortunately, no damage was done to either us or our bikes.

We spent the night at the Beaverview RV Park in McBride (www.beaverviewpark.com) ($19 plus tax). We were told that cyclists often stop here, as it makes for two nicely spaced days into Jasper. Also, they are the only place in the area with hot showers (free) and laundry – both of which we needed after two days of camping without services. The free Wi-Fi internet was a nice bonus too. The staff were very friendly and we enjoyed an afternoon of showering, doing laundry, lazing about, and napping. As an added bonus, Becky’s Mom and Dad cooked up the best steak dinner we have had in many months.

Prince George to Purden Lake Provincial Park 68 km 4 h 30 min
Purden Lake Provincial Park to Lasalle Lake Recreational Site 111 km, 6h 30 min
Lasalle Lake Recreation Site to McBride, 53 km 3h 15 min – strong headwinds

Purden Lake
Purden Lake

An outhouse surprise - a flush toilet!
An outhouse surprise – a flush toilet!

One several bears we saw on the highway
One several bears we saw on the highway

Up close and personal with a bear (fortunately stuffed)
Up close and personal with a bear (fortunately stuffed)

John, Issac and Anne - our saviours!
John, Issac and Anne – our saviours!

Setting up camp at Lasalle Lake
Setting up camp at Lasalle Lake

Becky contemplating the view over Lasalle Lake
Becky contemplating the view over Lasalle Lake

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Quintessentially Canadian

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

As we explored Prince George over the past two days, we decided that we this was a stereotypical Canadian experience. The people we met, the things we did, and everything we learned about the Prince George area reminded us of what it was to be Canadian.

Our welcoming committee, waiting at the end of the street for us
Our welcoming committee, waiting at the end of a typical Prince George street for us.

When we arrived at Garth’s place, we were pleasantly surprised to learn that Garth’s mother Sue and her partner Vic were also visiting. They stopped by as part of a seven-week cross Canada road trip. It was neat to talk to them about their adventures in Eastern Canada and reminisce about our time their last summer.

On Monday morning Garth gave us a brief tour of Prince George with the necessary stops at the Terra Cognita offices and city hall. We even had an opportunity to shake hands with the Mayor. Boy do we feel special :). For many years, Prince George industry has been centered around forestry and the paper mill, but is now in transition, like many places in Canada. It is moving to a service-oriented community, with less reliance on natural resources. Now the largest single employers are the University of Northern BC and the Northern Health Alliance. Logging and wood related industries remain an important part of the economy, but they are no longer the only industry in town.

We also had a chance to visit with Scott’s godmother, Karen. She has lived in Prince George for over 25 years, so it was interesting to hear her perspectives on the changes to the city. We were joined for dessert by Karen’s youngest godson Issac and his parents. It was an amusing coincidence to learn that Issac’s father was one of the chainsaw carvers we saw while in Campbell River. John had worked in a sawmill for many years, but when recovering from an injury he took up carving. Now he creates carvings in various sizes, from small soapstone carvings to huge chunks of cedar. His carving came in second place at the Campbell River competition, which is pretty impressive – there were carvers from all over North America competing.

Karen and two of her god-families

On our last night here, Scott joined Sue and the kids at Timbits soccer – a tradition throughout Canada every summer. Prince George has a very impressive soccer complex, with tens of fields, from full size down to the ultra-mini fields used for the teams of 4-year-old kids. (Tim Hortons also sponsors Timbits hockey in the winter, as well as other minor sports)

Timbits Soccer

Looking out over Prince George from the university, we could see the mill, the hockey rinks, the soccer fields, the river and the trees everywhere. Some of these were in other cities we’ve visited, but the total effect is something we’ve only seen in Canada.

Looking down at Prince George from the road to the University

While we were in Prince George, we also heard from Becky’s Mom in Kitimat. The results of the tests she had done in Kitimat were in. These were for some chronic but cyclic intestinal distress she’s been having, and we were concerned that she might have picked up a parasite somewhere. The doctor wanted here to see someone to review the results and discuss next steps. It wasn’t really urgent, but there was not going to be another opportunity for several weeks, so we took an extra rest day and spent the morning in emergency (the only way to see a doctor during business hours in Prince George if you are not a regular patient). The results from Kitimat and further tests here proved to be inconclusive and the advice from the doctor here was to look into it further when we get home. We’ll try not to need any more doctors visits until then!

Leaving Prince George, we experienced one more quintessentially Canadian experience – a bear crossed the road in front of us. Fortunately, it was not that close and it paid no attention to us. So now we have seen deer, foxes, beavers, eagles, moose, and bears!
Bear crossing the road in front of our bikes

Northern B.C. attractions: Giant fishing rods and moose

Sunday, July 12th, 2009

Houston is home to the “World’s Largest Fly Fishing Rod” although, Becky thinks the large fishing rod just outside of Terrace on the Kitimat/Terrace highway is more impressive. It is just in someone’s front yard, and not quite as elaborate as the one in Houston. We don’t have a picture of the Terrace one yet, but when we get one we will update this post with it.

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Leaving Houston, there were clear signs of the effects of the Mountain Pine Beetle which feeds on mature lodgepole pine trees and kills them. Most of the towns in the area were given government grants to removal all the dead trees within the town sites. Ironically, some of the hillsides outside of town which have not had the dead trees removed are very pretty. The reds add to the greens creating a beautiful contrast. That being said, the devastation caused by this outbreak will be felt for years to come.

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When we reached 6-mile hill we definitely felt the benefits of carrying less weight – most of our bags and heavy stuff were left with Becky’s parents. We had been warned about 6-mile hill, but found that it was not 6-miles long (more like 3 km) and even with the constant 8% grade the climb was not difficult.

As we have been traveling from Prince Rupert to Burns Lake, we have seen many First Nations tourist attraction signs, but have not stopped at any of the sites. We also have passed by several fish hatcheries. Although some of the sites do look interesting, we are feeling an urgency to make our way east, so have made riding our priority.

Arriving in Burns Lake, it did not take long for us to develop a negative impression of this town. At one point a kid even jumped out onto the street and feigned pushing Scott over while he was riding, as if knocking over a cyclist while riding would be funny! We were utterly shocked by this behaviour, and definitely not impressed. First time on our trip anything like this has happened.

We spent the night at the Burns Lake Campground, about 6 km east of Burns Lake. The campground used to be a KOA camp. The park had good facilities for RVs staying overnight, but the sites were nothing special. The only bonus was that we were permitted to share a site with Becky’s parents, so it was cheaper than most places that require us to have a separate site.

East of Smithers the shoulders have become less frequent and when they do exist, they are in poor condition. It seems that the street sweepers do not consider the shoulders as part of the road, so often the rocks and junk from the road are swept into the shoulder. At one point, Becky heard a swish-swish with each tire rotation. She stopped to examine her tire to discover a piece of metal stuck in her tire (a staple or a piece of steel belting from a tire). She was sure that when she pulled it out the tire would go flat, but no! Amazingly the tire was not punctured. We are extra grateful for the Kevlar lining in the Marathon Plus tires. Good puncture resistant tires are highly recommended for this road!

When we arrived in Vanderhoof at Dave’s RV park, we discovered that Becky’s mom was not feeling well. Unfortunately, she had picked up either food poisoning or a stomach flu. Either way, she was not in any condition to continue with the trip, so the next morning, Becky’s parents headed back to Kitimat. We really felt spoilt for the two days they supported us – having breakfast and supper made for us.

The ride from Vanderhoof to Prince George felt like it was uphill the whole way, which felt even more difficult after two days of riding without most of our gear. The bikes definitely felt heavy on the up hills, which certainly made the down hills that much more fun!

When we turned onto the street feeding onto Garth’s place, we arrived to find a welcoming party! Garth and his three boys had come to the bottom of the street only 30 seconds before we arrived, thinking that we should be arriving soon! What a wonderful way to start a visit.

Houston to Burns Lake, 90 km, 4h 45 min – great tail winds!
Burns Lake to Vanderhoof, 130 km, 6h 50 min – headwinds
Vanderhoof to Prince George, 99 km, 5 h 45 min

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Moose crossing the road in front of us.

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The landscape in central BC, between the Coastal Mountains and the Rocky Mountains reminds us of Ontario. It looks rather flat, but the roads seem to have a lot of up hill!

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Rivers and Hills

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

On the route from Terrace to Kitwanga (the intersection of the Cassier Highway to the Yukon and the Yellowhead), we crossed paths with our first group of loaded cycling tourists on this leg of our journey. We pulled over and had a brief chat with the group – three girls who had ridden from Inuvik and were destined for Newfoundland via the Queen Charlottes and Vancouver Island. They had been mostly wild camping, and were much younger and clearly more adventurous than us! They have quite a journey planned for this summer.

Becky with the three cyclists we met (names now forgotten unfortunately)

For the first portion of the ride, we continued to follow the Skeena river. It is a rather large river, with an amazingly strong current. After seeing so many “rivers” with little or no water in the various countries on our journey, it was nice to see rivers and creeks with a bounty of running water.

We stopped at the Petro Can at the intersection of Highway 37 and 16 in Kitwanga for a post-ride pie and ice cream break. The pie was yummy but the service was a little cold. We camped at the Cassier RV Park, in Kitwanga. It is a great campsite, with a nice gazebo for cooking, laundry, and free hot showers. It is only $12 per night for cyclists, which is a nice break; however, it is 5 km off the main highway – a little further than we like to venture at the end of a long day. We were very glad for the gazebo when we awoke to rain in the morning, as it meant we could make breakfast and get organized without being out in the rain.

Awaking to rain, we were slow to get organized and moving. We were hoping that if we waited long enough the rain would stop, but alas, we were in for an all day rain. It was noon before we finally started riding.

We stopped in New Hazelton at Rob’s Restaurant for a late lunch, to dry off, and refuel. The rain had stopped, so we decided to push onto Moricetown for the night. The ‘Ksan campground looked good too, but it was a 10+ km detour in old Hazelton. It was already after 5 pm when we left, so we knew we were in for a late night. We continue to be happy for the long hours of daylight. We left the Skeena behind in New Hazelton, and without the river to follow the hills became more frequent and steeper. There was one rather large climb out of New Hazelton to ensure we were nice and warm after our lunch break.

We stopped for the night at the Moricetown Campground, just above the fish ladders. The campsite felt more rustic than Cassier RV Park, and did not have a cooking shelter, but it did have laundry and free hot showers. It too was only $12 per night for tenting. We arrived late, and by the time we were done with dinner, showers, and laundry, darkness was upon us. We were warned that a bear was sighted a few days ago, so for lack of a better place, we stashed our food and toiletries on a high ledge in the washrooms. (We have ropes to bear bag our food, but it’s nice to be able to avoid the hassle.)

Bukley river at Moricetown falls, with fish ladder

Bukley river at Moricetown falls, with fish ladder

We awoke to a nice sunny day and even the late afternoon showers mostly avoided us. We stopped in Smithers for lunch and to get groceries. We had planned on lunch at Smitties for old time sake (Becky used to eat there before on ski trips when she was young); however, it had long since closed and even the building was torn down. Since it was a beautiful day and the visitor center had free wi-fi and a picnic table, we decided to grab the makings for sandwiches at the grocery store and enjoy a self catered lunch.

Our break in Smithers took a little longer than we hoped, and we were again back on the road with the expectation of arriving at our destination late. We had hoped to make it into Houston before 8 pm; however, we had not anticipated Hungry Hill. Hungry Hill turned out to be a steady climb of almost 300 meters, and when we reached the top, we were told the grade was 8%. It didn’t help that the road was straight, so we could see what we were getting into. This was the biggest single climb we have done since re-arriving in North America, which doesn’t seem like much, but certainly would have a year ago. We were both rather impressed at how much stronger we ride. Although the hill slowed us down, we had no trouble riding the whole way.

In Houston we decided to stay at the Shady Rest RV Park. It is more expensive than the last few places we have stayed, but the showers are really nice. We decided that we would take a rest day to give us a chance to get caught up and sleep and blog posts, as well as resetting our schedule, so we can start off earlier (i.e. in the morning) and arrive at our destination at a decent time. Also, Becky’s parents joined us here with their RV, which will allow us to carry a little less weight through the worst of the hills and into the Rockies. We are also looking forward to arriving to a home cooked meal at the end of the day, cooked on more than our little MSR stove.

Terrace to Kitwanga – 101 km 6 hours
Kitwanga to Moricetown 89 km 6 hours
Moricetown to Houston 103 km 6:45

Scott approaching the landslide

Scott approaching the landslide

The location of the land slide that in 2007 isolated Kitimat and Terrace for a few days.

Our mountains are very pointy, our prairies are not
The mountains are quite beautiful when the sky clears to let you see them!

Reunions

Sunday, July 5th, 2009

Our journey brought us to Kitimat so that we could visit Becky’s parents, and so that we could attend Becky’s twentieth high school reunion. Becky finds it hard to believe that it has been 20 years since she left Kitimat. It seems like yesterday and yet so much has happened since then.

Much of our time was spent visiting some of Becky’s closest high school friends; unfortunately, not everyone she wanted to see was in town. She really enjoyed the brief chance to catch up with Gwen and Natalie – both of whom are doing very well. The reunion committee did a great job setting up a few events, and we used those opportunities to see just how much people have changed in the last 20 years. Most of the girls looked the same but with a few more wrinkles. A lot of the guys were completely transformed. Many are much more friendly people than they were in high school – funny how aging does that too us. Not too surprisingly, Becky won the award for having travelled the farthest to get to the reunion – a nice MESS (Mount Elizabeth Secondary School) T-shirt. It’s hard to beat a journey of 42000 km, although not all by bicycle.

M.E.S.S. class of '89

M.E.S.S. class of '89

We also spent a little bit of time on the computer updating blog posts and doing research, and touring around Kitimat on our bikes. Now that we’re out of southern B.C. we get quite a few more comments and questions about them. No-one at the reunion was willing to try them out though.

Cow and calf moose in front of Becky's parent's house

At one point, as Scott was working on the computer, he glanced out the living room window and noticed something moving. After a double-take, he realized it was a female moose and her calf walking up the street. A true Northern Exposure moment!

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Becky and Natalie

Mount Elizabeth

Mount Elizabeth

Gruchy Beach at Lakelse Lake

Gruchy Beach at Lakelse Lake

Riding Home

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

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The morning dawned grey and cloudy, but fortunately there was little rain – only an occasional misting. It did mean our view lacked mountains with their snow capped peaks; however, the mists still made the views quite picturesque. The ride from Prince Rupert to Terrace was to be our longest single day so far on the trip. Becky had fearful memories of the hills leaving Prince Rupert, especially the summit. She was somehow estimating a climb up to 600 or so meters. Fortunately, her memory failed her, and after two hours of rolling hills with a couple of minor climbs and only 200 meters of climbing we were coasting down the summit to the Skeena River Valley. Once in the valley, the road is very flat slowing climbing from sea level to 25 meters, following the Skeena river for almost 100 km.

We stopped briefly at a roadside boat launch, as Becky had an empty water bottle and figured they might have some fresh water. We learned that the launch was actually a government testing site, where the amount and types of salmon entering the Skeena river is measured. The measurements are used to calculate the salmon fisheries quotas for the river.

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On the ferry, someone mentioned a new restaurant between Prince Rupert and Terrace. When we checked with others, no one had heard of such a place. At about the 80 km, we stumbled across the Kasiks Wilderness Resort. It appears to have an restaurant, gas, and camping. Since we had packed our lunch and wanted to try and beat Becky’s parents to Terrace, we did not stop. For anyone doing the ride, this would be a great place to re-fill water bottles, have lunch, or even camp or stay for the night. We did not, and had Becky’s parents not met us, we would have had to filter some water from one of the many roadside streams.

Shortly after the midway point, we met a cyclist out for a training ride – perhaps a warmup for the Prince Rupert to Terrace race. He asked about our trip and warned us of the hills leading into Terrace, saying they were worse than Prince Rupert hill.

For most of the ride the road is wide with a generous shoulder; however, as you get closer to Terrace there are a couple of corners where the road is narrow and the shoulders non-existent. One such place is known as “Car Wash Rock” because the rock face next to the road often has water pouring off of it onto vehicles passing by. Over the years, several people have died when a ice came off the edge. Riding through that area was much less scary that driving. Luckily there were no other vehicles around.

We stopped at the Estew rest area for a quick snack, when Becky’s parents appeared. Mom had finished work early and they drove up to meet us along the way – bringing some water, Gatorade, and snacks. We were especially glad for the Gatorade and water, as our bottles were getting pretty low. They too warned us of the upcoming hills, so we were doubly prepared.

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We left Prince Rupert at 8 am, and before 6 pm we had arrived at the Stone’s place (friends of Becky’s family from Kemano). Tired and sore, but glad to have made it in such good time, we were welcomed with a glass of wine, a wonderful meal, and a great visit, followed by a soft bed which we gratefully collapsed into.

On July 1st, we did the much shorter ride from Terrace to Kitimat. Becky remembers driving on this road at least a thousand times. Interestingly enough, her memories were always in the other direction. She was surprised at how close Lake Else was to Terrace – she always thought of it as the mid-point between Kitimat and Terrace. In all her years growing up in Kitimat, it never once occurred to her that she would ever ride a bicycle between Terrace and Kitimat. It is especially amusing that we considered the 64 km ride a short and easy day!

152 km, 7h 45 min – Prince Rupert to Terrace
64 km, 3h 45 min – Terrace to Kitimat

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Much of the Highway 16 to Terrace closely follows the Skeena River, so is quite flat.

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Carwash Rock

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Janet and Chris Stone, our hosts in Terrace

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Welcome to Kitimat!

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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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