Sunday, August 31, 2014

Going Stoveless

If you're interested in learning why we don't carry a stove, check out this article Danny wrote: Going Stoveless

The Next Few Days...

Our next few days will be spent going through Kootenay National Park, so we probably won't be able to update the blog.  Check out the "where" page to see  our current location.

Lake Louise, August 30

Our morning consisted of a long climb up to Bow Summit, the highest point on the highway at 7000 feet.  When we got there, the air was chilly and misty, and a light rain/hail was falling.  Snow had dusted the nearby peaks the previous night, and some, just hundreds of feet above us, were still shrouded and probably getting more snow.  From the summit, we took a few minutes to observe Peyto Lake, touted as the bluest in the Rockies.  It was certainly nothing if not blue.  Perhaps green.  
Then we donned our layers and set off down the hill.  From here on, there was more traffic and so many people at each rest stop that we no longer stopped; we could see the views better from our bikes.  One time we did stop was at the Crowfoot Glacier.  The lower "toe" has now melted, but it's still easy to see the "foot."
The sun was starting to peek through the clouds as we ate lunch a few minutes later.  Then, as we began to ride again, a gray wall of rain descended behind us and engulfed the road, the mountains, everything. We could see the clouds above slowly overtaking us, too, and we rode quickly to stay in front of the rain.  Fortunately the wind that was blowing the storm towards us was also pushing us, but I knew after the last of the blue sky ahead was swallowed up that we were doomed.  
The rain overtook us and pelted us for a few minutes, then it suddenly stopped.  We were thankful yet disappointed that we were still missing many of the great views due to the clouds.
We reached the end of the Icefields Parkway and merged onto the Trans-Canada Highway, a big, fast road that fortunately also has an immense shoulder.  We rode on that for a few minutes then exited at the village of Lake Louise.  Our formerly quiet mountain ride had been replaced by trucks and milling tourists, and the change was a bit overwhelming at first.  But we sought out the info center then headed over to the campsite.  It was $27.60 for a site!  Showers were included, but still, we thought it exorbitant.  Since we don't have a vehicle we were able to list our site as "shared," and two other vehicle-less people came in a few hours later and split the price with us.  Part of the reason for the expense is that the campsite is surrounded by an electric bear-guard fence!  I can understand why with the number of people who camp here and probably don't know a thing about bears, but it still seems ridiculous.
We went back to town, got some groceries, sent some emails, and uploaded a few days of posts to the blog.  Then we returned to the campsite, where some nice people, Harley and Sue, had offered to drive us the steep 5k up the Lake Louise rather than our biking it in the rain.  We had to pick up our park pass at the Chateau, where Tam's parents had mailed it, but unfortunately it wasn't there.  We did get a nice view of the lake, and I can understand why it's so popular.  It's not as stunningly green as Peyto Lake, and it's not all that big, yet the mountains behind it, glaciers cascading down, provide a spectacular alpine backdrop.  Many thanks to Harley for taking the time to drive us up there.  
Unfortunately it's raining again now, but our tent is as waterproof as ever, and if it's still going tomorrow, our $27.60 got us access to a pavilion, so really life's still pretty good.  

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Icefields Parkway, August 26-29

August 26
Checkout time for the hotel is 11:00. We leave at 10:58.  We've taken full advantage of this comfy place.  After running a couple of last-minute errands, we roll out of town feeling rested and excited to be biking.  Our road has a wide, paved shoulder that continues all day.  Just 9 km in, we stop for our first hike: Valley of the Five Lakes.  I look at the map and pick the longest loop possible, failing to look at the map's scale.  So our two mile hike turns into a five mile one.  But it's beautiful and I enjoy it.  First we hike through open spruce, pine, and aspen forest.  It's carpeted with thick, green, springy moss that makes you just want to lie down on it.  Then it's up and over some hills and we see the first of the lakes.  It's big, deep turquoise in the middle, and aqua-blue on the edges with a border of pristine, tan-colored sand. It looks like a giant gem sparkling in the sun.  The next three lakes are smaller and not as deep but also have a beautiful aqua hue.  Hiking by, we find two red chairs, adirondack style.  On the connected armrest is a plaque explaining that if you take a moment to be quiet, you'll be able to better experience the wildlife.  Apparently other quiet red chairs can be found throughout the park.  What a wonderful idea!  As we sit quietly, I hear a bird singing far off, and mostly the wind blowing through the trees, making them dance and creak.  The final lake is similar to the first and has two old rowboats moored at the shore.  Unfortunately they are both locked.  
After our hike, we hop back on our bikes and head down the road.  The wind that has been making the trees quake is a headwind for us, and since we're slowly gaining elevation, progress is very slow.  We stop for lunch at a lookout over Athabasca Pass, an important route for early fur traders.  We ride 17 more miles after eating, which drain us physically more than we expect.  Luckily the scenery is spectacular.  We've been following the Athabasca River, class I and II rapids, milky-blue in color.  All around are beautiful peaks, and as the sun gets lower, the rocky features are illuminated by the evening light.  

On the left are rocky ridges that remind me of castles.  On the right are even larger peaks with sheer cliffs, some still with patches of snow.  We camp at the Honeymoon Lake campground.
- Tam

Beauty Creek and Wilcox Pass, August 27
We began our day with an experiment: cold oatmeal.  Instant oatmeal hydrates quickly, and we have had it cold before, but it's just not that appealing.  The experiment was to try it with honey and lemon juice, an unbeatable combination, or so we have heard.  It was actually pretty good!  Not great, but edible.
Once on the road, it was tough going with a headwind.  But the scenery was spectacular: mountains and glaciers and waterfalls all around.  We reached our first destination, the unmarked and somewhat unpopular trailhead at Beauty Creek.  Only one car was parked there, a contrast to the teeming hordes we encountered yesterday at the Valley of the Five Lakes.  But this hike was recommended to us, and it was only a few miles, so we changed into hiking clothes and set off.  The trail brought us along the old road connecting Jasper and Banff, which was being quickly reclaimed by plants, and a few minutes later to Beauty Creek.  We ascended a short slope to find a deep slot canyon, dark and murky in its depths.  A waterfall churned the water into white and filled the air with a booming roar.  
We followed the trail upstream to get a better view of the falls only to find another cataract, bigger than the one before.  
Then we went to get a look at that one and discovered another waterfall!  And so on for awhile.  Each torrent was different than the last: some were wispy braids, tall and thin, while others spread a veil over the rocks.  Some crashed rock to rock, never free-falling more than a few inches, while others tumbled over the edge and, seconds later, joined the bright blue pools below.  Finally we reached the uppermost waterfall and turned back.  
All of this was no more than an easy 20-minute walk from the highway; why were all of these people zooming past?
After a quick lunch, we took to the bikes again with Sunwapta Pass in our sights.  This would be the most sustained steep climbing of this hilly road.  The roaring headwind didn't help, but once we got going, it wasn't so bad.  We spotted numerous waterfalls from the road: one, high up on the cliffs, disappeared periodically as the wind blew it around.  Again, no one driving by seemed to notice.  An hour or so and a couple of breaks got us to the top of the steep section (the actual pass was a few miles later and hardly a bump in the road).  Glaciated peaks were even closer than before, and waterfalls cascaded from countless alpine ridges.  
There is a fancy new walkway at the top of this steep section, and the people waiting there to go back to the parking area gave Tam an ovation as she crested the hill!  People can be great.
We then entered a valley and got our first views of the Columbia Icefield, one of the largest sub-arctic glacial masses.  The Athabasca and Andromeda Peaks, both heavily flanked with glaciers, dominated the scene.  The Athabasca glacier has an ice road on it: you can actually take a glacier tour out onto the ice!  There is also a trail that leads right up to its toe.  We biked by all of that and got to the Icefield Campground, the only one on the road that does not allow RVs.  We claimed a site in the walk-in area.  It will be nice tonight and in the morning to be away from vehicles and all their noise.  While registering for the site, I started talking with a guy who turned out to have worked with a friend of mine from college!  It is a small world indeed.
Tam and I quickly set up the tent then started to hike up to Wilcox Pass.  The unofficial trailhead began right behind our campsite!  The steep trail took us quickly up past treeline and onto expansive meadows neighboring the peaks and glaciers of the area.  A flock of about 20 Bighorn Sheep roamed nearby, and on the walk back, I glanced behind and saw one on a rock overlooking the trail, no more than 50 feet away.  As night fell, we headed back to our tent and had dinner, just entering the tent as rain began to fall.  What a day!
- Danny

August 28
It's pouring rain in the morning, so we sleep in, only emerging for breakfast.  It's early afternoon when the sun finally comes up and we decide to start biking.  Soon we reach Sunwapta Pass.  Here waters flow south to the Pacific and north to the Arctic.  It's also the boundary between Jasper and Banff.  We head into Banff!  
At the end of a nice descent, we reach Parker Ridge, the hike we want to do today.  Steep switchbacks lead to the top of the ridge, where we are rewarded with a fantastic view of the valley behind us.  Climbing up to a high point on the right, we can see the Saskatchewan Glacier, jagged peaks behind it, our road winding through the valley, and layer upon layer of sweeping mountains stretching into the distance.  
In every direction the view is breathtaking.  
We then hike along the ridge away from the glacier to get a better view.  From here we can observe the glacier, slowly pouring down from the grey cliffs, the milky blue lake below, and the braided river carving through the valley.  The surrounding cliffs are all topped with ice, and from one, two tremendous waterfalls thunder down, side by side, for thousands of feet.  We stop here and I do a painting, while Danny goes to explore and take pictures.  It's 6:30 or so by the time we're on our bikes again, and it's 7:45 when we reach our campsite about 19 miles away.  That tells you how much elevation we lost!  Leaving Parker Ridge, we take off on a steep, fast, super long downhill.  Suddenly everything is happening fast, and thoughts only have enough time to flash through my brain: valley ahead, car back, Danny rounding the next curve, avalanche sign, bumpy road, hands freezing, good- not too cold to use the brakes, jagged ridges, sun on snow, waterfall.  All of this beauty is in fast-forward.  It's exhilarating!  
At the bottom the road makes a big U-bend and we lose some speed.  Off to the right is a small path and footbridge, so we stop to take a look.  Here the blue glacial river along the road is literally swallowed by the earth.  We watch the calm river waterfall into a chasm hundreds of feet deep.  On the bridge we can look down into the dark depths and see the river rushing far below.  What an amazing geological feature!
The downhill is not over.  We continue to fly into the valley, stopping only when we reach another bridge, a big one.  To our left we discover an enormous waterfall.  White water is flying out and down hundreds of feet, bounding off protruding rocks, and finally pounding into a grey pool far below. What powerful beauty!  No one driving by stops to look (you can't see the waterfall if you just drive over the bridge).  Just past here we see the Weeping Wall, tall cliffs golden in the setting sun with small waterfalls emerging in various places to paint long wet streaks.  These cliffs continue, and Danny falls in love with them because they remind him of Yosemite.  
As we follow the river valley, the sun makes a smoky disappearance behind us among the clouds.  
The scenery is quite remarkable, but I'm happy to arrive at the campsite because it's cold and I'm very hungry.  Eating dinner at the pavilion, we meet a family traveling from New Zealand and two girls traveling from France, which makes for lovely conversation.
- Tam

August 29
We ate breakfast at the same pavilion as last night, but this time everyone else had gone.  The New Zealanders left their fire burning at their campsite, didn't even attempt to put it out, so we doused it.  It did rain last night, but the "fire danger extreme" doesn't go away from an inch of rain.  We continued our cold oatmeal experiment, this time adding copious amounts of honey, lemon juice, peanut butter, and chia seeds.  Nutritious and (somewhat) delicious!  We got on the road about 10, hoping the sun would come out.  It did for a little bit, but mostly it was cold and windy.  The scenery, as always on this road, was incredible.  Sheer cliffs on our left, streaked with waterfalls thousands of feet above, with the uppermost ridge a massive castle: crenellated battlements, ramparts and buttresses below, turrets and spires thrust every which way into the sky.  Our road followed the moat, aka the North Saskatchewan River, all the way until we crossed it and began to climb up out of the valley.  Our first stop was at an overlook of the mountains.  I counted 14 glaciers, but the view looked pretty much like it does all the time when the road climbs up a few hundred feet.  You know your life is pretty good when every day includes soaring peaks and so many glaciers it takes minutes to count them.
We stopped down the road a few minutes later at Mistaya Canyon, a short hike to a bridge across a deep gorge.  The river just upstream is winding along, a few rocks and rapids here and there, and suddenly the earth yawns and swallows it whole.  The whole churning mess drops deep down into a limestone canyon reminiscent of the one we found the night before.  We enjoyed the view for a few minutes but hurried back after a nice guy informed us that the pesky ravens in the parking lot were messing with our stuff.  Turns out everything was fine.  As we were getting ready to leave the parking area, a woman rolled down her window and asked how far the hike was.  We told her it was very short, no more than half a kilometer, and totally worth it for the view into the canyon.  She lamented that some of the hikes were just so long and she didn't have enough time!  I told her she could save a few more seconds by parking nearer to the trailhead.  She laughed, and I with her.  Or maybe at her.  I mean, who doesn't have an extra fifteen minutes to see an incredible natural phenomenon?  Why else would you be in Banff National Park?  I guess half a kilometer was too long, because she waited a minute then drove off.  
We biked on slowly uphill and into the wind, and eventually came to a spectacular aquamarine lake on our right.  This was Waterfowl Lake, the trailhead for our next hike.  
We asked a guy traveling by motorcycle to take our picture, and he kindly obliged then asked us a few questions about our trip.  He told us that later in life we would buy something motorized and look back and laugh at how crazy we were to ever ride bikes!  Had someone nearby not disturbed a hornet's nest and forced an end to the conversation, I might have told him of all the amazing places he had zoomed by since leaving Jasper that morning (we left Jasper three days ago and still feel we are going too fast).  But I wouldn't want to ruin his day.
We did talk to some nice people at the trailhead.  They had driven the road before and done many of the hikes.  We enjoyed hearing about the one we were about to do, and they said they would check out some of the spots we recommended.  We then hiked a few miles to Chephren Lake, discussing the morals of vegetarianism while strolling through the dense forest.  It was lightly raining when we arrived, but nothing, maybe save very thick fog, could dampen the splendor of this pastel blue lake set into the cirque below jagged, gray, Chephren Peak.  We ate lunch to the sound of the waterfalls roaring down from the glacier on the mountainside, a refreshing change from the constant sound of cars.  Then we hiked back, found a campsite, ate some dinner, and dove quickly into the tent under wet skies.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Day in Jasper

Tam's parents generously booked us the hotel for two nights so we could have a rest day today.  Usually our rest days turn into hectic errand-running, but I was intent on today being different.  So, when I woke up, I promptly went back to sleep.  Then, around 9, we got up and walked a few minutes to the bakery.  Along with a whole grain loaf, we purchased a delicious, sugary cinnamon roll.  Then back to sleep for a little bit.
We wandered over to the visitor's center after a little while to plan our trip in Jasper National Park.  The town is enclosed within the park, and the park is only one of five in this region of the Canadian Rockies, the others being Banff, Yoho, Kootenay, and Waterton Lakes.  Unfortunately, we found the fees to be prohibitively expensive to undertake a backpacking trip.  It's $10 per person per night to camp in the backcountry (you are required to stay at the campsites), and there is an $11 processing fee in addition to the park fee, which is $20 per night.  A five-day backpacking trip for us would have cost over $200 in permits!  We have been spoiled by the Alaskan wilderness, where you can go anywhere and do anything for free.  There's no development in many of the Alaskan parks (and those of northern Canada), not even any roads or trails, but we weren't there for roads or trails.  Of course, no one would stop us if we were to hike and camp off trail here in Jasper, but we don't want to break rules, and we want even less to stress already stressed animal and plant habitat in this very developed "wilderness."  It's unfortunate that, to prevent the utter trampling of the wilderness, people are forced to exist within the confines of trails and campsites.  Still, we know why the trails are there.  We saw the consequences of a lack of trail system in the Donoho Basin in Wrangell-St. Elias in Alaska; out of the 25,000 visitors to that park every year, almost half visit that area.  As a result, unofficial trails are easily found, and evidence of human traffic is evident in many places.  Not the "wilderness" we had been looking for there, either.  Perhaps a trail system in that region of Wrangell may be a logical next step, in order to concentrate impact.  The benefit of trails is also to provide access to many areas that people would not otherwise visit, and I love that so many people spend their time soaking up the benefits of nature.  Compared to cities, where most people spend their time, any nature is wilderness, trail system and development or not.  So I wouldn't think many people care about the development in this area, and it's certainly necessary for a park as popular as this one.  But it's disappointing when that's the only option, and when it's a ridiculously expensive option to boot.
Fortunately, Andie and Michel are going to send their annual park pass ahead (they would have left it with us but were told, incorrectly, that cyclists did not have to pay), so we will not have to pay the parks fee.  And we chose to do many of the day hikes along the Icefields Parkway rather than pay the exorbitant backpacking fees, which turned out to be the right choice because Tamara's pack broke tonight!  
The Icefields Parkway is a 144-mile stretch of scenic highway between Jasper and Lake Louise, in Banff National Park.  It's world-renowned as one of the most beautiful drives anywhere, so being on bikes will give us more time to relish all of the views.  We could do the mileage in about two days, but we're choosing to do it in five so we'll have time to soak up the mountains and do a good number of the short hikes along the way, at least one per day.
Icefields Parkway photo credit:

After planning out the next few days, we went to the grocery store and picked up food.  The afternoon was spent running a few errands: Tam got new bike shorts and a new cassette on her bike, and we got some dry bags for our sleeping bags and to line our handlebar bags.  Then back to the room and the hot tub, but only after eating at the pub.  The waiter kept telling us that the nachos were really big, that we didn't need another entree, and he was clearly surprised that we, two slim, unassuming eaters, finished them easily with our veggie burger.  Honestly, we could have eaten a few more.  We also spent a good amount of time talking with a nice couple on their honeymoon from England.  Stace and Gemma had started their trip in Argentina, actually, and were interested to hear about ours, too.

Today has been marvelous... I did not get on my bike once, and we had time to really rest and enjoy the town.  A huge thank you to Michel and Andie for making this possible!

Monday, August 25, 2014

On to Jasper, August 23-24

Mt Robson, August 23

It's wonderful to get out of the tent and find a beautiful array of breakfast items ready to eat.  Especially delicious is bread, toasted on the fire.  We decide to spend the morning going on a short hike by Mt Robson with my parents.  It's very clear and we have a spectacular view of the mountain as we drive towards it.  
At the visitor's center, we decide to hike out to Kinney Lake, a short but rewarding hike.  When we reach the parking lot at the trailhead, we find it packed with cars.  This is a popular place!  Luckily, although the trail is busy, it is not as bustling as we expect. We take a long time to hike out to the lake, enjoying everything along the way.  The trail follows the roaring Robson River, which is glacial aqua-blue and full of fast-flowing rapids.  Signs along the trail teach us a little bit about the local geology.
As we get near the end of the trail, there are no longer rapids in the river.  It becomes quiet, flat water.  The lake is breath-taking.  Along the shore where we're walking are picnic tables and tent sites.  We stop to have a snack, skip rocks, and take pictures.  The water is calm, the same stunning aqua color as the river.  Along its edges, cliffs rise steeply to the mountains above.  On our left is Mount Resplendent, an enormous peak with a large glacier and clear avalanche paths.  On our right is Mount Robson, its striated cliffs towering over us. Quite the view!
Kinney Lake 
photo credit:

The hike back goes quickly, and we have a late lunch at the campsite (the hike took longer than we thought).  We spend the rest of the afternoon just hanging out and relaxing.  My parents go to see some giant salmon.  Even though the stove runs out of fuel, we still have a tasty dinner of soup and polenta.

Yellowhead Pass- Easiest pass ever August 24

We've had a horrible night of sleep.  A rowdy drunk at the nextdoor campsite has been cursing and complaining all night.  Fed up, we wake up early and pack our stuff.  Around 10 am we part ways with my parents.  It's a bit sad to see them go, but I'm very grateful for the time we had together.  
The first part of our bike is over rolling hills, and before long we're on a downhill shooting us towards Mt Robson.  It's as clear as yesterday, and the mountain is spectacular.  
We stop at the visitor's center to fill up water.  Right after, the road begins to climb steeply, but the climb is short and shoots us out onto a long, flat road that travels through an incredible mountain valley.  As we bike, we pass small signs that point up to the peaks and show their names and elevations.  The aqua-blue river we've been following turns into a giant lake named, rather oddly, Moose Lake (I would have expected a Moose Lake to be far more marshy).  

After the lake, we continue to follow the Fraser River, the same river that flowed quickly past our campsite, bright blue in color.  Up here near the headwaters, it is much slower moving and muddy brown.  We stop for a quick lunch on the side of the road.  When we reach the top of the pass, it's a surprise because the road has been so flat.  We feel like we have barely gone up at all (Yellowhead Pass is the lowest in the Canadian Rockies).  
Shortly after, we pass into Alberta.  Time zone change!  We lose an hour.  Lakes and rivers are replaced by marsh on the left, and the road hugs the cliffs tightly on the right.  So tightly, in fact, the rockfall has destroyed parts of the shoulder.  It's not long before we hit the Jasper park entry gate.  Our excitement is quickly squashed by the attendant, who tells us it is a $20 per night charge to stay in the park.  We pay for one night and decide to figure it out later, since it will take us longer than one night to bike through this large park.  On the way into town, we see a giant male deer right on the side of the road.  We're so focused on battling the headwind, and he's so quiet, that we almost bike by without noticing him. Once in town, we find the hotel that my parents have reserved for us.  It's very exciting!  Our room has a mini-fridge and a king-size bed.  What more could we ask for?  My parents have generously included dinner with the hotel room, so we shower and put on our nicest clothes to go to the snazzy Italian restaurant downstairs. Was it just by chance that they put us in the corner?  The food is absurdly expensive, but definitely delicious.  We finish our night in the hotel's rooftop hot tub.  How wonderful!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Tam's Parents Visit! August 21-22

A Supportive Day, August 21

We woke up in our comfy hotel room and packed up as we usually do, choosing to eat our peanut butter and jelly and bananas in our room instead of heading downstairs to the restaurant.  We had met Tam's parents the preceding night in Prince George.  This morning they took our bags in their car, and we headed off for the day feeling much lighter than before!  The plan was for Andie and Michel to act as our "SAG Wagon," meaning Support and Gear.  They met us down the road about 20 miles in and provided water refills and fresh berries! Yum!  We ate lunch just another 20 after that; we had hoped to go farther than 50 before lunch, but the constant headwind limited our progress.  The lunch was great!  We had our usual hummus and cucumber sandwiches, but with pie and ice cream for dessert!  We digested for a few minutes while talking with a motorcyclist from Argentina who now lives in Ireland.  He will be going to Argentina as well over the next six months.  We were glad to hear that he is taking his time; motored travelers sometimes forget that the journey is the destination.
We set off after lunch and, powered by the great food, went another 30 miles relatively easily.  Not hauling all our gear was a treat!  Even with the headwind, we kept up a solid 12 mph through rolling hills, a decent speed for us.  We met Tam's parents again at the Ancient Forest, a short interpretive trail through the rainforest, which, at 800 km from the coast, is a rarity so far inland.  

Huge cedar trees bearded with hanging lichens covered the sky above while devil's clubs, with their immense leaves and spiny defenses, soaked up the remaining light that filtered through to the floor.  It was quite a sight!
A campground was marked on our map as being about 15 miles up the road, but our tireless support team drove up the road and couldn't find it.  So, after a wonderful dinner of brown rice pasta with pesto, and chips and salsa, we are camped by a river at the nicest rest area I have ever seen.  There is running water in the bathrooms, picnic tables galore, even tent spots by the river!  The soft sound of the river masks most noise from the road.  I am glad to have a relatively nice place, because Andie and Michel are camping tonight too!  They rented gear and are giving it a go, and we are flattered and excited to have them here with us.

Pie! August 22

Our rest area turned out to be pretty quiet, and we all slept well.  Nutritious oatmeal complemented with berries energized us for the first few miles.  We had done 30 miles by our first break, Down to big rivers then back up again, but the headwind was starting to get to us so we stopped for lunch just 15 miles later. Tasty bread, hummus, and avocados were a great treat.  During lunch, the wind switched directions to a tailwind!  We didn't get our hopes up, expecting it to change around more, but the tailwind held and we FLEW down the road.  Our average speed for the day rose from 11 mph to 13 mph in just a few hours.
We stopped in McBride to stock up on groceries.  The farmers market had been open earlier, but we unfortunately were about 30 minutes too late.  Lucky for us, Tam's dad, Michel, managed to get there just as the pie woman was closing up, and he snagged a strawberry rhubarb pie!  About 20 miles down the road from McBride (which took about an hour- thank you tailwind!), we met Tam's parents again, and this time we tried the pie. It was so good we each had a second piece.  That and the tailwind powered us through the next few miles, and at the next rest stop with the SAG Wagon, we finished the pie.  Didn't mean to, it just kind of happened.  
From lunch on, we had been biking through a wide valley between the Rocky Mountains and the Cariboo Mountains (not a typo).  The road was mostly level and relatively flat, and we got to feast our eyes on the snowy peaks all around.  

As twilight fell, traffic diminished and we biked side by side, listening to Ratatat.  We saw a dog-like creature far off in a field and think it may have been a wolf.
We arrived in Tete Jaune Cache around 7:30 having done around 94 miles... Not too shabby!  Tete Jaune Cache is the last stop before heading up into the Rockies.  Tete Jaune (yellow head- he had blond hair) was a fur trader in the 1800s who discovered what came to be known as Yellowhead Pass, the lowest pass in the Canadian Rockies.  We are camped tonight at a campground next to the Fraser River in a nice little spot away from all the other campers.  
A delicious dinner of brown rice pasta with beans and tomato sauce, supplemented with some strawberry rhubarb wine, was absolutely scrumptious. Late night potatoes baked on the fire with brie and balsamic vinegar were a perfect end to the day.  We'll have sore legs tonight, but that's nothing new.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Prince George

We have a delightful breakfast of oatmeal with nuts, dried fruit, and honey.  The food is shared over many stories and much laughter.  It's a bit sad to leave such friendly people, but everyone is going their separate ways.
Pierre, April, Mike, and Jen

 As we bike out of town, the traffic gets worse and worse.  There are an incredible number of logging trucks on this road!  Some are carrying the raw lumber, others cut wood.  You can smell it as they roar by.  An enormous truck passes every few minutes, and often there are multiple trucks in a row.  Forests along the road are less dense and more shrubby.  The lakes we've been passing have shrunk to murky ponds.  There are more billboards and the occasional small business.  Scenery is unremarkable, and I spend very little time looking at it because I'm so focused on biking and staying out of the way of all the traffic.  At first we start off with a good shoulder, but then it shrinks to almost nothing, and we have to get off the road each time trucks pass.  Despite these challenges, we make amazing time: 42 miles before lunch in 3 hours and 40 minutes.  We find a shady, sandy area off the road to eat.  A bit down the road we see my parents!  They've driven out to meet us with water and delicious snacks.  It's so wonderful to see them!  They take our backpacks so we have a lighter load, and since the shoulder is pretty good for the rest of the ride, we make really good time into Prince George.  PG's slogan is: Northern Capital of BC.  It's a crossroads town: lumber and railroad routes cross here.  All sorts of raw materials are constantly moving in and out.
 It's a big city, but luckily the hotel my parents where my parents have reserved a room is on the edge of it.  Standing in the pristine lobby with our dirty bikes, we feel a bit awkward, but it sure is wonderful to have a clean and cozy room.  Waiting for us are exciting gifts from my parents, including a small set of paints and all of my favorite snacks!  We shower then go out to an amazing dinner, which includes bruschetta, salad, pasta, and a brownie with ice cream.  It's great to catch up with my parents and share stories.

We Get Adopted, August 19

Exciting happenings in the world of bike touring east on the Yellowhead Hwy today: TAILWIND!  We did about 15 miles in our first hour, a feat considering the many rolling hills.  More rolling hills took us through the towns of Fraser Lake and Fort Fraser, where we stopped for lunch on a shady side road.  Anything to get out of the inexorable sun!  Because of the unusually hot, dry weather this summer in BC (in contrast to the record-breaking rains in Alaska), there was a forest fire burning nearby, and we could smell it in the air.  In fact, the road had been closed just a few days before.
I took a short post-lunch nap in the shade while Tam caught up on her journal, then we hit the road again. 20 more miles to Vanderhoof.  The wind was still blowing, so we got there in no time.
While waiting for the light to change, a guy came over and asked us the usual questions: how far are you going, where did you start, where will you stay tonight, etc.  We talked with the guy for a minute then went to the bakery, thinking nothing of the encounter.  But just a few minutes later, in walked the guy we had talked to.  Small town.  In fact, he had driven home then returned to find us and invite us to his place for the night!
On the way out to Pierre's place, a different guy stopped a little ways down the road from us then beckoned for us to stop, too.  He was the husband of the only warmshowers host in the area, whom we had emailed but was out of town, and when he saw us asked if we had somewhere to stay for the night.  We couldn't believe the hospitality of the people in this tiny, unassuming town!
We arrived a few minutes later at the home of Pierre and April (after seeing Pierre again on the road- he drove back out to make sure we weren't lost).  They live next to a bird sanctuary!
Pierre retired recently from his job and took a few years to build a boat, and he is setting off next week to bike to Key West.  He is a boat builder, bike tourer, birdwatcher, ironman triathlete, and still very humble about it all.  And he makes a mean cheesecake!  I spent less time talking with April, as she arrived later, but she, like Pierre, could not have been more kind and welcoming.  We also hung out with Mike and Jen, two old friends of Pierre and April who are touring around in their RV.  Tam cooked up polenta burgers with beans, and I had fun sharing pictures and stories with Mike and Pierre.  Then showers, then bed.

Frogs! August 18

Our campsite is blessedly quiet.  The only noise is the laughter of children from across the lake, where there appears to be a summer camp.  The toys they have in the lake look like fun!  Our riding day starts off with a long downhill into Houston.  It's a small town with a large industrial park on the left and a shopping mall on the right.  There's not much else.  A friendly guy I meet outside the grocery store asks about our trip and tells me he moved here 20 years ago for the fishing: "The salmon are always running."  Houston's claim to fame is that it has the world's largest fly fishing rod, and so it does: a large statue in the middle of town.  We do some errands and it's already 11:30 before we leave.  The road is mostly flat, and we have a bit of a tailwind, so it's good riding conditions.  After 20 miles or so, we hit a huge hill.  At the bottom we see signs that say "Chains On, 6 Mile Hill."  Dreading six miles of uphill, we are pleasantly surprised when it's only about one.  We pass through the small towns of Perow (just little houses and farms by the road), and Topley (houses and a few small businesses that seem to be shut down).  We stop for lunch about 43 miles in when I see a small picnic area with swings by a lake.  This turns out to be Rose Lake Memorial Park, 1911.  The picnic tables are old style with thick logs.  There is a shed full of dry firewood and a pavilion that says, "Tent shelter. Campers welcome."  It's adorable!

We start lunch at a table but move under the shelter as it starts to rain.  As the rain clears and we finish lunch, we notice tons of little frogs hopping all around us.  They're all less than an inch in size, patterned with all shades of green and brown.  We catch some and have tons of fun watching them all hopping around.
Add caption
I was filming this and Danny started narrating

At some point, we have entered what is known as the 'lakes district."  Our afternoon ride brings us through more flats, some hills, farms, and lots of lakes.  Late afternoon, we reach Burns Lake, where we fill up water and drink a lot of chocolate milk.  Looking for a campsite, we bike 13 miles or so to the recreation site out of town.  Right before the turnoff, I see the biggest logging mill I've ever seen. Piles and piles of logs!  The logging industry is huge here.  The rec site is 2 km off the road but we soon realize that it's 2 km on gravel and steep uphill.  We decide to find a different place.  There's nothing on this road, so this soon becomes a challenging task.  It's starting to get dark when we finally see a turnoff for another rec site, where we find a perfect little campground.  We are incredibly grateful for this quiet spot.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Crashing, Enjoying Smithers, and Shameless Plugs, August 15-17

The Yellowhead Highway took us east into Smithers around 8 pm on Friday night.  We called up Debbie and Lothar, the folks we had contacted on warmshowers.  If you're not familiar wih it already, warmshowers is an online community for cycle tourists.  Tourists stay with hosts, then the hosts stay with other hosts while touring themselves.  If you're at all interested in having adventurous people of all ages and nationalities stay with you, sign up on!  No, you don't have to be a cyclist to host people.  (That's shameless plug #1)
The folks we stayed with in Whitehorse were amazingly friendly and welcoming, and we found Lothar and Debbie to be just as wonderful.  They invited us right in, and we had a great time hanging out with them and their dinner guests at their informal Friday get-together.  And we were able to experience Debbie's amazing cooking!  Great people.  Next year, they will be beginning their own bike trip to Argentina!  We look forward to sharing with them our stories and favorite places from down the road.
 Debbie and Lothar

The next morning we headed off to the farmer's market.  No bag necessary, we're just getting some veggies.  This is how that turned out:
That's kale and a giant zucchini strapped to my rear rack.  Both our handlebar bags were overflowing as well with bread, jam, and more local veggies.  What can I say? We love farmer's markets and will definitely bring a bag next time.
We then headed to the bike shop.  I needed to replace my chain, having ridden over 3000 miles without changing it, and I ended up getting a new cassette and handlebar tape as well.  Tam got a new chain and tape, too.  Oh, and we had to fix this:
  Very bent chainring on my bike

The day before, I had gone over to slap a sign on the side of the road (why not?) and spun out and fell in the gravel shoulder.  Tam was behind me and hit me as I fell, then she fell too.  Thankfully nothing was broken on either of our bikes except this chainring, and out of the two of us only I lost a little bit of skin on my knee.  Lesson learned.  I won't be attempting to high-five road signs any more (if you're curious, I did hit the sign).  The bike shop eventually led across the street to the cupcake shop, where I bought a bunch of small yet delicious treats for the two of us and our bike mechanic, Dave.
Dave took extra time to show us exactly what he was doing and how we could do it ourselves.  If you are ever in Smithers, go to C.O.B. Cycles and have a chat with or get your bike fixed by Dave!  He's also a world champion in kickboxing, definitely not your average joe. (That's shameless plug #2)
From the bike shop, we headed back "home" and sent some emails, wrote postcards, etc.  Then that night, with some contributions from Tam, Debbie cooked up the most incredible dinner for a friend's birthday.  She even baked a lemon poppyseed cake and made two types of lemon frosting!  What a cook she is!  She would tell you she's not a baker, but I would say she is quite a good baker!
Falafel, salad, chicken, the giant zucchini filled and baked, potatoes, tzatziki sauce...

The beautiful and delicious cake, candles ready to be blown out

Instead of heading out early today, we made pancakes for Lothar and Debbie, packed our stuff, then met up with their friend Dave (different Dave, not the bike mechanic).  Dave is in a wheelchair after an accident many years ago and cannot drive, so we drove him up the mountain (in his wheelchair-outfitted van) to the end of the road, where he wanted to hang out in the mountain air and sunshine.  The end of the road is also the trailhead for a popular, short hike to a crystal clear alpine lake, so we hiked while Dave hung out.  The hike brought us quickly above treeline, an expansive view for under a kilometer of effort.  
And the lake really was pristine.  Even though it was very cold, we, of course, went for a quick, refreshing swim.

It was bittersweet to be back on our bikes again after the good times in Smithers.  Sad to say goodbye, as always with friends new and old, but good to be back traveling, free, on no schedule but our own.  We biked about 30 miles then camped next to a lake close to the road.  It's a day use area, but there are no signs that prohibit camping, so here we are!

On a totally unrelated note, our friends Jess and Ricky, who we cycled with for a few days, have entered a competition to win money to donate to their charity of choice.  They asked me to vote for them, which I gladly did.  If you have an extra moment and would like to help them out, copy this link into your browser (sorry, I can't do hyperlinks from the phone) and vote for them too!  It takes maybe 30 seconds.
(That's shameless plug #3. I'm done.)

Friday, August 15, 2014

Done With the Cassiar, August 12-14

August 14, 2014
On the road again.  We hadn't had a rest day since Whitehorse, over ten days before, and we were feeling it today.  But we had a relatively flat road and a tailwind!  Yayyyyy!  
Few things make us happier than a tailwind, especially considering the near-constant headwind of the preceding weeks.  Another touring cyclist approached us from the other direction, and we talked with Melissa for a few minutes.  She told us that she had seen our friend Jess just up the road!  We had biked with Jess way up north, on the Dalton Highway in Alaska, and we were excited to see her again.  But the day was hot and we took a long lunch, including a nap, and when we started again, the sun was low enough to partly shade the road.  We finished the 20 miles to Kitwanga in pretty good time and, even though the store was closed (no ice cream for us tonight), we were overjoyed to see Jess and her biking partner Ricky next to the campground!  
We shared a site at the free campground in Kitwanga, a nice place off the main road with water and a pavilion, and enjoyed hearing their stories, including one about getting chased by a bear.  Tomorrow to Smithers, the first town with cell service we will have seen in almost two weeks.
Bears seen today: three, including a cute little cub!
- Danny

August 13, 2014
Heading back to the main highway from Stewart was just as beautiful as yesterday's ride going there.  
The Bear Glacier

Tam and I watched the river whenever we could and talked about how we would run the rapids.  Next trip: bikes and backpacks and packrafts.  When we crossed bridges over side creeks entering the main river, we got a refreshing blast of cool air on the hot day.
 We made it to the junction by lunch, leaving a goodbye note on a sign there for Pam and Monica since we were ahead of them and they were heading the opposite way from the junction.  Our paths will cross again someday!  
Pam and Monica

We ate lunch at the campground next to the junction then sleepily hit the road under the sun.  Perhaps our luck on the Cassiar had changed; we had a tailwind!  We rode for awhile and were going to camp in an open gravel area by the side of the road, but decided we should take advantage of the tailwind and did another 15 miles.  We found a little grassy area off the road with good visibility.  We're both a little more on edge than usual tonight since we saw four bears along the road today, all black bears, and the last three named areas we passed were Grizzly Creek, Brown Bear Creek, and Brown Bear Rest Area.  Not exactly heartening names when you're camping in the area.
- Danny

Bears! August 12, continued
Around 4:30, we set up our tents at the Municipal Campground in town and drop our bags off.  Then we head off to Hyder, Alaska, to see the bears.  
It's wonderful to ride without all our stuff, and the weather is perfect.  We're not far from the border, and there are no U.S. Customs.  Hyder is even smaller than Stewart, with only a few shops along the main street.  Most are already closed.  We bike a bit out of town and out to the public boat launch, a spit of land out into the inlet.  The tall mountains form a sharp contrast against the water.  Big barges and little ships decorate the docks, and the wonderful smell of sea water fills my nose.  The scenery is striking, to say the least.  It's a little farther out to the bear viewing platform.  We follow a big glacial river past more deep forests and waterfalls, then find a clear creek filled with salmon.  It's $5 for a pass to go on the platform, and totally worth it.  The "platform" is a long wooden boardwalk that parallels Fish Creek maybe 15 feet above the water.  At first we just watch the salmon.  There are two main types: chum salmon, which can weigh as much as a small child, and pink salmon, which are smaller but are the most abundant type of Pacific salmon.  Both look strong and powerful in the water.  How amazing to think about how far they've come to get here!  You can see on many of them how their bodies have started to deteriorate.  
It's so exciting when the first grizzly comes around the bridge.  We follow him on the "boardwalk" with a group of other people as he splashes through the shallow stream, each step sending salmon splashing and skittering away.  We watch him hunt fish and munch on the brush alongside the river.  When he catches fish, he only rips out the roe, the eggs, then discards the rest.  The grizzlies here are spoiled by such good fishing.  
After an hour or so, another grizzly appears.  This one has a thick, dark coat but is easily distinguished as a grizzly by her huge shoulder muscles.  She ambles downstream and stops right in front of where I'm standing.  Then she pounces and catches a huge chum salmon.  She drags her prize up onto the bank right in front of me.  People are racing towards where I am, cameras at the ready, but by simple luck I already have the best spot.  Unfortunately, a camera flash startles the bear and she moves out into midstream with the fish.  Luckily we still have a good view.  
I watch as she holds down the still-wriggling salmon with one paw, as if it were a limp rag.  Then with powerful jaws, she rips of pieces of skin.  I hear the skin ripping; I hear the backbone break.  This grizzly isn't just eating the roe; she rips out the salmon meat in huge chunks.  It's incredible to watch such a wild feeding!  Then another camera flash startles her (the ranger reprimands the person doing this) and the bear moves off into the brush.  We stay until 9:30 or so, amazed by both the salmon and the bears.  Then we head back to our campsite before it gets dark to have some of our own dinner.  
- Tam