Hello dear reader. Predictably, it has taken me over a month to even begin writing anything about our trip so far. By this point we’ve exited Canada and entered the USA and have seen and done quite a bit inbetween. I don’t hope to cover all of that here and for those particularly interested in our route I’ve created a reasonably accurate google map, retracing our pedals. Enjoy.
Let me begin with an observation. I don’t know about you, but I feel more British when I’m abroad. Arriving in Canada, and even beforehand on the flight, you’re instantly aware that your accent is in the minority and, being amongst other native English speakers, they are much more likely to be able to identify where you’re from. At least you’d think so. Most people we’ve met so far punt for Australian before British, much to our horror (sorry Australia). When you’re abroad you inevitably meet new people and the first question asked is usually ‘where are you from?’. Up until roughly 9 weeks ago this wouldn’t have been an issue. ‘Oh, we’re British’ or ‘we’re from the UK’. No questions asked – a perfectly acceptable response to a completely predictable question.
The problem we face now is that about 9 weeks ago 52% of the voting population of the U.K. decided to shove two fingers up to Europe and voted to leave the EU. The shitstorm ensued and presumably continues (I’ve given up reading the commentary) and one small and relatively insignificant but often embarrassing consequence of this decision is that it leaves us having to explain our mess to the rest of the world, or at least to a handful of North Americans. I’m not saying it’s the first question everyone asks, because it’s not. But the majority of meaningful exchanges with fellow campers or other people we meet along the way seems to naturally lead to us trying to explain why the UK decided to royally shaft itself. (Assuming the right wing tabloids were correct in their reporting of the Queens preference in the referendum, this could be a particularly apt description. Perhaps one day history books will replace ‘Brexit vote’ with ‘the Royal Shafting of 2016’).
So we, 2 persons who you should have reasonably assumed by now are part of the 48% of voting Brits who didn’t want us to shaft ourselves, are guilty by association. It’s a bit like having a pet dog who goes around pissing on people and their possessions and having to apologise profusely. Perhaps the most depressing comment we’ve had came from an eccentric cycle tourist we met on our way back to camp one day in Sechelt, BC. His name was Patrick and he was a Buddhist monk who worked (when he wanted to) as a Gore Tex expert and had completed a number of big rides, including Canada to Argentina. We got onto the topic of Donald Trump – a favourite topic of the Canadians, we discovered, who were more incredulous than concerned about what this man could mean for their relationship with the USA – and Patrick said, ‘well Donald Trump’s already won in your country’. The truth in this statement, with Trump alongside Vladimir Putin as one of the very few ‘noteworthy’ individuals to have supported Brexit, just makes your heart sink. And if that’s not something we the British need to apologise for, and try to begin to explain, then I don’t know what is.
Anyway, this isn’t a post-Brexit ‘what the hell just happened?!?’ blog piece. I’m supposed to be telling you all about our trip through Canada. Well, truth be told Canada was very very close to faultless. The pedant in me (who often plays the lead role) might raise a few issues, but on the whole the country was blooming brilliant. Cycling into and through Vancouver from the airport was a breeze. Plenty of cycle lanes, bike-friendly suburban ‘quiet routes’ and cars that aren’t determined to plough past you regardless. London has a lot to learn. When it comes to navigating your way round by public transport though, the opposite is true. Get some bus routes on those timetable boards, Vancouver! I’m picking at straws, I know.
Vancouver was great. We stayed with our first Warm Showers host (check out WarmShowers.org if you’re not familiar) and then with an old colleague of our’s from Blighty, Sarah and her partner Josh. We cycled through Stanley Park and enjoyed a KILLER dirty juicy vegan burger dinner for Sarah’s birthday. It was so good we caught Sarah and Josh (via Instagram) heading back for more a couple of weeks later.
The ride out of Vancouver was also delightful. We followed the Spirit Trail along the coastline of North Vancouver all the way round to Horseshoe Bay, where we had to join the 99 to get up to Squamish and then Whistler. The road was busy and fast but we had a fair sized shoulder to ride on most of the way, so it wasn’t too uncomfortable.
Once in Whistler we caught up with some old friends of ours, Owen and Eilidh, who we met in Guetemala a few years ago. We spent a whole week hanging out, floating down rivers, lake swimming and camping out in the wild. It was a blast.
Following Whistler we headed back down the 99 and caught a ferry up towards the Sunshine Coast. At this point we were still heading north to reach the beginning of the 101 (the Pacific Coast highway) in Powell River. Technically the 101 starts up in Lund but seeing as it had already taken us more than 2 weeks to get 150 miles or so north of Vancouver, we were eager to begin the journey south. Over this time we stayed with 5 more Warm Showers hosts and had a great experience every time. We stayed in a lovely garden cottage with Gerry and Irene in Gibsons and enjoyed a delicious veggie dinner with them, before spending the night with John and his niece in Courtenay, Diane and Mitch in Qualicum beach (who serenaded us with swing piano and double bass!) and then Tyler, Laura and Osha in Nanaimo and Jawn in Victoria.
Thankfully, Tyler and Jawn were both bike mechanics working in community bike shops in Nanaimo and Victoria, respectively. By this point my bike had been diagnosed with a loose free hub and I had self-diagnosed a need for lower gears. I was just jealous of Alyce’s granny gears she utilised to get up to Whistler. Tyler and Jawn helped me fix both of these problems – talking me through it while I did it myself. If you ever find yourself in Nanaimo and need bike help, check out Hub City Cycles. They’re a community co-operative and will give you a 10% bike tourer discount if you ask nicely enough. In Victoria? Look no further than Recyclistas. They recycle old parts into sweet new rides and can help you fix up your bike yourself and are conveniently placed on the intersection between 2 beautiful car-free cycle paths that go right through the city.
Enough bike shop plugging for now though. I’ll end this overdue and hastily thrown together article with a few things I’ve learnt while in British Columbia:
1. Don’t expect to find too many locks on people’s toilets (or ‘washrooms’) over here. They don’t seem to feel a need for them – something I admire.
2. When stringing a bag up a tree to keep bears away from your food, use your drinks bottle (ideally at least half full) to tie the rope around before throwing it up. (Credit here should go to Gerry in Gibsons.)
3. Swim in lakes. It’s the best.
4. Don’t pitch your tent in camp spots occupied by anything other than natural flora and fauna. Apparently even a blanket on a bench is enough to reserve your spot for the night here, and ignoring these rules is a serious campsite faux-pas.
5. Go to Fulford Harbor on Saltspring Island on a Sunday and buy a coconut milk salted caramel ice cream from the little girl outside the organic/veggie cafe. IT WILL BLOW YOUR MIND!
I hope that’s a sufficient update for now. It pretty much covers the first month of our trip (almost entirely spent in Canada). I’ll try not to delay so long for the next round up, but I’m not promising anything.