22 December 2015

Vancouver BC to Eureka MT: an escape into the US

Western Canada. A must-see place for many of us cycle tourists. We all think of vast wild places, picture-perfect lakes and pine trees, wildlife, water, mountains and glaciers. But so do many campervan-ers, truck drivers, ATVers, motorbikers. We learnt the hard way that there's no easy exit out of Vancouver.

We left the city with another plan than originally intended...a job to come back to, and a limited time to travel. We would cycle East towards Calgary, where our cycling would end for the time being.  Vancouver may only host 2.5 million people, but be sure is it over a huge portion of land...that never ends. From there we needed to head further East to try and get onto quieter roads and trails, but that is no easy undertaking in Southwestern BC.

With our frustration levels growing exponentially due to unrespectful drivers and their huge towed loads, trails completely screwed up by the popular all terrain vehicles, we had to make a decision. An escape into the US. And what a great decision that was...You can view our North American route here or down at the bottom of this blogpost.

Leaving Vancouver was no easy undertaking. A combination of Sky Train, plus more than 50 km of straight busy (but with a cycle lane) boring road. Our warmshowers host and fellow audaxer, Gary, was training for Paris-Brest-Paris and rode out to pick us up...some 40 km away from his house! Legend!

You know you´ve hit the right warmshowers when you see a garage like this

With renovated spirits and loads of new advise from Gary and wife Cheryl, we face the inevitable...no alternative for a while on our way to Hope. It sucks, a lot. The Canadians apparently think that if you put up a bike sign it's now safe to ride on an actual highway.
Hope doesn´t offer much hope...other than to take the super busy road 3. Scenic it is for sure...but a combination of trucks, North American trucks, RVs, make for some unpleasant riding. We camped away from the road and wake up early the following day.
Road 3 for a full day was miserable. Spirits were super low at that time, but when looking for a place to camp near sunset, we are invited for a delicious supper and bed for the night by a lovely Canadian family. The following day we finally hit the famous Kettle Valley Rail, which was apparently torn up by ATVs (i.e. quads) in previous sections. 

Glad to be on trails, although these were far from ideal and pretty hard to ride on as it was still pretty popular with ATVers.

The KVR eventually delivered us to Summerland, where we camped at a friendly´s Warmshowers host, three other cyclists (dad and two sons) from Ontario

At his point a decision had been made. Leave Canada and enter the US. Avoiding the roads, we circled Skaha lake on our way to the border town of Osoyoos

Following a combination of trails and quiet secondary roads, we find idyllic camp spots

Which much to our surprise, contained a salty water lake.

By now, hanging or food (cause of the wildlife)  has become routine...and I just have to keep getting better at it!

The Okanagan Valley is well known in BC for its wines. They come at a high price due to BC alcohol taxes, but they are pretty good.

In Osoyoos we met Robert, an unusual Warmshower member who offers free artisanal icecream to passing cycle tourists. When not making delicious gelatto he gets on his bike and does things like a traverse of Australia, which, for those who don't know, is a pretty hard-core thing to do (think about towing 25L of water)

And finally...the US. Washington State.

Immediately turning East after the uninspiring town of Oroville (where, at the time, the newspapers informed us they were debating whether to authorize teachers to carry guns in the classroom), we are greeted with some threatening skies

And the remainder that in these parts of the world, people love shooting at things

After our first pass, we are hit by heavy rain. We seek shelter in Chesaw, and made Lucy the happiest woman on earth...by simply ordering her a grilled cheese sandwich!

Tired and cold, the locals ask if we are looking for a place to camp...and quickly point us at Fiona´s convenience store. The owner lets us camp in her backyard, showing that US hospitality cyclists talk about

Chesaw, aptly named after Chee-Saw, the Chinese settler who settled here back in the day. Yes, it looks just like on TV.

Continuing East, we enjoy, for the first time, quiet roads and gentle drivers. No more SUVs, trucks or fancy cars. It feels more real.

Camping is easy, as there´s plenty of National Forests with free spots to pitch your tent.

Endless dirt roads

We approach Eastern Washington. All good, awesome roads, friendly people and gentle drivers. Except that the Confederate flag is far too common hanging on peoples´ houses or their cars...

Another lovely Warmshower family hosts us for the night just on the border with Idaho. They have a farm, and are awesome cooks. An interesting lifestyle they live.

Nice riding and good camping. What´s not to like?

Idaho, at last. Although as we were crossing through the panhandle, we wouldn´t spend more than a day in the state!

Riding towards Sandpoint, we cycle along a crazy long bridge across Lake Pend Oreille, with its dedicated cycle path.

Creativity in Sandpoint, where we are again taken in by a lovely warmshowers host.

Leaving Sandpoint we quickly hit Montana. Another great National Forest free campsite, with a view to the lake.

Riding further into Montana we can tell the Rockies are approaching (or we are approaching them).

Just before Libby we take a minute to check out the Kootenai falls, not bad for a five minute walk from the highway.

We take forest service roads North out of Libby, and soon are warned that we are now in grizzly territory.

At the other end of the forest road we pop out at lake Koocanusa - named by a contest because it is formed by a dam on the KOOtenai rever and straddles CANada and USA. Wildfires nearby mean low visibility.

Finally we arrive in Eureka, Montana - intersection with the ACA's Great Divide mountain biking route and site of our first day off in almost two weeks.

We are taken in by some great warmshowers hosts and craft beer connoisseurs. What more could you ask for?

Here's the fill route from Vancouver to Calgary:

05 December 2015

Impressions of Vancouver

Lots of new things have happened in the last 4 months or so...Apologies for not keeping up with the blog! Our initial plan to cycle down the Great Divide mtb route through the Rockies and into Mexico quickly changed almost upon landing in Vancouver in June 2015...

A city ranked amongst the most desirable places to live, with an idyllic location next to the British Columbia Coastal Mountains, and a very spread out population of 2.5 million. The city isn´t particularly scenic, coming from Europe, but the location is. You could be up skiing on a local hill in the morning, and kayaking one of the fjords in the afternoon, before a night dip in one of the pretty beaches out in Point Grey. A city where teenagers drive Ferraris with their ¨newbie stickers¨on, where some folk think a truck (as in, a North American truck or huge 4x4) is necessary to get around town (Fords F350 and their younger brothers), where absurd mansions keep on spreading on the North Shore...But also, a place where lots of folk are into all sorts of interesting hobbies and sports, volunteering and not only into one of them, but all at the same time... A place where it isn´t uncommon to see a 5 year old running in full running apparel with his/her parents as if preparing for a marathon. We could live here...that was our very first reaction when we cycled out of the airport and into the city.

And then Hastings St. If you are in Vancouver and don´t know about it, you will sure find out if you walk around downtown. An incredible phenomena that is in striking contrast to this opulent city.

Never before in my life, had I seen so much floating wealth...

Places like the UK would see people downing pints of tasty English ale on a sunny day like this...but in BC, with its stringent alcohol laws, people get out and do fun things!

...by fun meaning things like these!

Come evening time, and you can´t go wrong sitting in one of the many beaches in Kitsilano to enjoy a sunset

But really, what makes Vancouver a great place is its close proximity to the outdoors. Good University friends Sergio and Itziar, take us out on a hiking trip full of crazy mosquitos!

Though the place is incredibly beautiful and we are sold. We will be coming back to Vancouver in a few months...with a job. 

Black Tusk in the background, while we set off on a morning stroll

Going past scenic turquoise lakes

Encountering some snow on the way up (this being mid June, in an apparently very dry winter)

Almost at the top of Panorama Ridge, aptly name after the panorama it affords...I guess


Back in town, we spent much of our time enjoying the pleasant urban cycling around Stanley Park

And observing things like electric car stations. Yes, there is hundreds of American trucks consuming vast amounts of fuel, but also plenty of electric vehicles

Sunsets are also one of our favourite past times, no matter in which direction you sit

On (sunny) Tuesdays they go crazy and holds one incredible event. Brahm Tams. Play drums, hide your beer/booze (it´s illegal to drink in public) and enjoy the rhythms. To our surprise, this isn´t a normal hippy gathering - people of all ages and backgrounds appear to be here - from kids with their parents, to retirees enjoying playing the drums.  

And finally, the Garibaldi lake
Special thanks to our beloved friends Itziar and Sergio, who put up with us for over a month in their apartment, and helped us get a job. Cheers mates!