The taste of Canada
A trip is like a dish, a combination of ingredients. Sometimes it’s like a three course menu; a memorable starter (where and how I wake up), a sublime main course (the bikeride itself) and a delicious dessert (the arrival and the evening).
Other times the full day is like a lunch consisting of old sandwiches with sticky peanut butter; getting up and packing my tent in the rain, a grey foggy day and arriving in soaked clothing, with no company in a wet forest. When I look back at the past months it’s like a lasagna in which the ingredients are hard to distinguish, even though I still remember the taste very well. But looking back at recent weeks, they’re like a pizza quattro stagioni of which I can clearly remember which ingredients made every bite so tasty.
Weather it’s an old peanut butter sandwich or a glorious three course menu, you’ll have to eat it!
Sometimes it’s delicious, sometimes it’s just a matter of chewing and swallowing.
No, this blog isn’t about food (even though I’ve become a much better ‘travel cook’ and switched from one to two pot dishes), but above all about the main ingredient that made these last two weeks so tasty, namely: the people I’ve met.
It started off great in Prince Rupert, where I spend my ‘day off’ at the library editing and posting my blog. As the library closed one of the librarians, named Duncan, spotted me and two cyclists I met on the boat outside with our bikes, in the rain, with no plan for the night, and he invited all three of us to spend the night at his family’s home!
Earlier that day a young woman jumped out of her truck to meet and talk to me about what I was doing and invite me to stay with her whenever I get to Revelstoke.
After a luxurious night in Prince Rupert (bed, shower, laundry, wifi, breakfast at the kitchen table, all the ‘normal’ things that become luxury and spoiling as you’re on the road) I wrapped myself from head to toe in waterproof gear and got on my bike. I followed a river (water) all day and without being able to see it I knew there were steep mountains on my left, as I could tell from the sound of numerous waterfalls (more water).
When I ‘arrived’ at my wet campspot I saw a black bear crossing the road. These remain moments that I forget all that’s around me and all I can see it ‘BEAR’. I peel the wet textile off my body and soon after I’m cooking dinner under a shelter in my dry warm clothes.
After two days of non-stop rain the sky clears a little and I can see my surroundings as I’m cycling from Terrace to Smithers. Mountains on my left and on my right on the other side of the river. In Smithers, my hostess tells me that the road to McBride is a bit boring and that I might want to consider taking a train. But after my ferrytrip I don’t want to take another ride, I’m up for some biking! But indeed, even though I enjoy seeing some farms and farmland, cows, horses and meadows, the road is long, straight and monotonous. The hills aren’t steep but there are many and the up and down and up and down and up and down feels useless and demotivates and tires me.
In Fraser Lake I pitch my tent in a park beside a lake, under a shelter with the luxury of a picknick table, great for cooking and eating. As the sun sets an RV pulls up in the park and a young guy steps out and walks in my direction. As I greet him it turns out he hadn’t spotted me yet and surprised he shines his flashlight at me, then at my tent and my bicycle. After a short introduction we figure out we’re both from the Netherlands. Then one, two…three more men step out of the RV, all very surprised to see me and my little camp there. Half an hour later I’m in the RV with them chatting and having dinner. Five Dutchies in an RV at Fraser Lake, BC. The next morning after breakfast and four big hugs they wave me goodbye.
They were talking about how amazingly hospitable the Canadians are and that we, the Dutch, can learn from that, not realizing how generous and kind they’ve invited me and let me share in their company, care and food.
I stop at the first next gasstation to fill up my bottles and talk to an Indian guy named Preet. He’s a young guy who came to Canada to study, work and stand on his own two feet. He supports me with a big coffee and a sandwich and by the time I leave the gasstation he’s invited me to his home in India and gave me his contact information.
4 Dutchies and 1 Indian guy, and the day only just got started..
Somehow in my planning I mixed up kilometers and miles and I only found out when I started heading from Prince George to McBride. Since I wanted to get to Jasper for my birthday and the not very interesting ride to McBride would take up two days instead of one, I decided to try and hitchhike for part of that stretch. The first driver I asked just loaded my bike up in the back of the truck and gave me a ride. In McBride I would be a guest with Westley and Brandon. I didn’t know anything more but the name of the ‘road’ they lived on and their names.
Let's go back to the Yukon for a moment!
Somewhere between Dawson and Whitehorse I sat down at the side of the road to cook breakfast as a van stopped near me and young guy with wild long dreadlocks get out and offers me the leftovers of his, still warm, oatmeal. He, Colin, was making his way to Alaska on a road trip. We talked for a bit as I enjoyed the tasty breakfast and he told me to contact him as I would get close to McBride, since he had some friends there who would definitely host me.
And so it happened that on October 5th I biked down Garret road, McBride. ‘A little bit down a dirtroad’ were the only directions Colin gave me. The first few hundred meters I passed several abandoned cabins. After crossing the railway tracks the road split in two and I took a left. For about 4 kilometers I wrestled my bike over a muddy dirt road looking for a house. Discouraged and a little annoyed I had to turn around and go back when the road disappeared into bushes, only to find the house at the end of the other (not muddy) side road, taking a right from Garret road. A log cabin with a smoking chimney surrounded by meadows, a few cows and horses.
I knocked at the door and a young guy with a wild blond beard, black wipes in his face and an old hat opened the door (Westley). It took a while, but then he said ‘Ooooh, I know who you are! Colin told me about you! I totally forgot you were coming.’ He was actually just getting ready to leave the house and he left me with another young man with a (little less wild) ginger beard and long ginger hear (Brandon). For a moment I wondered ‘where am I?’. As for my host, who just recently moved in with Westley, I could tell by looking at him, I came very unexpected and undefined. A shower and fifteen minutes of scanning and introductions later something clicked and the train took off at full speed. We discovered several mutual interests, thoughts, opinions and overall humor and over unknown ways within an hour we were singing ‘Paradise by the dashboard light’ together. When Westley got home he got on the train without hesitation. He called himself a ‘mountain man’. A 27 year old with no laptop, phone or watch. Living in a log cabin in a valley that is said to be ‘cursed’. One of the reasons for that are the extraterrestrial phenomena that are regularly witnessed there. I didn’t see any aliens but I did hear a pack of coyotes howling closeby. These guys don’t live with ‘one foot in society’ as I often regard myself, for them it’s one toe at the most. They live their lives their own way without caring what the rest of the world does or thinks, but all the more with respect, admiration and love for the world and nature surrounding them. Their biggest worry seems to be to get enough firewood for winter, harvest the vegetables from the garden and shoot some elk to fill up the fridge. The time that is left is spend talking, writing songs on a banjo, hiking and making preparations or just fantasizing about starting their own farm. It’ll be named ‘Lady Nature’s Acres’. As I said goodbye to them the next day with a few big hugs, the idea that I might never see them again saddened me a little. In less then 24 hours I had gone from a little reserved to a little bit ‘in love’ with these young guys and the purity, simplicity, spirit and love they hold within.
Heading east from McBride I could see the mountains rise up, their summits covered with a fresh layer of snow. Gradually I climbed towards the Rocky Mountains and pitched my tent at the closed campsite at Mount Robson. The next day, after only the first hour, the snow started falling. First little flakes, then bigger ones. Wet snow that melted right away, but a presage of what was to come. I arrived as ‘planned’ on the 7th of October to the little touristic town within Jasper National Park. In the park you’re only allowed to camp on the designated campsites, so I biked to the campground 5km out of town. Since I think it’s stupid to pay the same fee for my tiny tent and me alone as a whole family pays with a huge tent or RV, I speeded up to catch up with a car that was just entering the campground to ask them to share the site. A little later I pitched my tent in the company of three guys from Washington State that just started their annual hiking vacation. That evening we had ‘traditional American Macaroni cheese with hotdogs’ (luckily they let me add some fresh garlic) at the campfire.
Happy and tired I crawled into my sleeping bag, wearing all my clothes, ready for a chilly night. When I woke up the next morning I immediately felt like a birthday girl! I searched my panniers for the card that was given to me before I left home in May and I read the sweet words in my mums handwriting to her daughter in ‘Far-away-i-stan’ (that’s kind of Dutch slang). That really nice start of the day was followed by a ‘traditional American breakfast of blueberry pancakes with bacon and maple syrup’ that the guys prepared. After that we said goodbyes and I headed back towards Jasper while the snow started to fall. An English cyclist I’d met 3 months ago on Denali Highway had arrived in Jasper as well and he and his friend invited me for coffee and cake in a warm cafe, while outside it kept snowing and Jasper colored white. Never before have I celebrated my birthday in the snow!
In contrast to the past ten years, when I underwent my birthdays with mixed feeling, this year I’d looked forward to my BIRTHDAY for days. To celebrate! I am exactly where I want to be, at this moment in my life, in this place! I have nothing else to wish for than what I made possible in this past year! I’m cycling around the world in all freedom, I have people surrounding me (at a distance) who support me with their enthusiasm and even with gear (SANTOS) and I make a bit of extra travel money by writing my blog for WeLoveCycling. Now that I’m completely in my element and where I want to be the number of my age fades to just a marker of the number of years I’ve spend on this beautiful planet. 31 years! That’s something to celebrate. And just as I like to see the KM or mile marks on the side of the road run up, I hope to see the marks of my years on earth run up for a long time still. Day by day, 365 days to bike to the next milepost.
As you’ve read I’ve enjoyed a very tasty pizza over these last two weeks, with as the main ingredient the kind, hospitable and inspiring people that crossed my path. They made the ‘old peanut butter sandwich’ of boring bikedays in the rain easier to digest.
Tomorrow I’m getting on my bike again, after a birth- and restday, hungry for more! I’ll start of with Shaun and his friend Mel. Cycling the Icefields Parkway is something I’ve looked forward to from the start of this trip. The forecast looks great, cold but clear and sunny, temperatures around the freezing point that will dip to about -12C in the nights. It’ll be a good ride to test my winter gear. Looking around me I see mountains in every direction. I wish I could take a picture from the air of this overwhelmingly beautiful place and of me in it, a small cyclist wrapped in a thick layer of clothes surrounded by snow topped mountains. When I imagine that picture I get the feeling that anything is possible. A wonderful feeling that gives me faith and courage to continue on, into the wide white world!