Thanks to Alan who sent my bear snap. I was disappointed to see how cute and cuddly they look here…
Leaving terrace I headed west for the last stretch on the yellowhead towards Prince Rupert. I’d heard this to be a spectacular route and after five weeks was feeling fitter than ever so woke early excited about the ride, said my goodbyes and headed off. The sky was thick with mist which rolled off the granite faces and over the road. Despite the rain a dramatic 150k passed by in no time with the entire Mogwai discography proving an epic soundtrack. My ferry to Victoria Island left at 7 the next morning and I couldn’t find anywhere decent to pitch up so decided a local park would do. I ended up waking at four to the sound of clanging metal and stumbled out of my tent to see two lads having a go at my bike. After some confused confrontation, they told me they were on a hike, at 4 am, tequila and spliff in hand, that kind of hike! One of the lads amusingly asked “you living here” in reference to the park. I told them I was living in London and riding my bike south, this being a temporary solution to my housing issues. I had to explain where London was, which at the risk of sounding londoncentric, I never thought I would have to do. Though harmless enough they seemed to find what they had stumbled across quite entertaining so wouldn’t leave me alone. I guessed my nights sleep was over, took a shot of tequila out of politeness, we chatted about fishing and I snook off to the ferry.
I met Jeff a cyclist from California and we debated blowing what for me was a weeks budget on a meal package. A window seat, luxury all you can eat breakfast was welcome after half a night in a park. We ate absurd amounts – plate after plate of eggs, ham, sausages, salad, cold meats, cheeses, pancakes, muffins, pastries, cereal, fruit and smoked salmon to the muted tutting and subtle disgust of the surrounding tables, chuffed we could illicit such a response in North America. We made a bet, the first to be kicked out of an all you can eat gets it paid for by the other one, necessitating written proof from the buffet runner. We both seemed more giddy about this than our respective trips and talked little of cycling and more of music. Jeff invited me to stay with him when I reached Moro bay and his address details added to the growing scraps of paper in my wallet.
The days ferry ride was such a treat and first real touristy thing I had done. The inside passage looked like something from lord of the rings, the network of waterways dominating the north west of the continent made for georgraphy hard to wrap your head around. We saw moose, now rivalling the sheep as my favourite animal, swimming the water, dolphins, orcas and even a humpback whales breaching which was a brilliant surprise. They looked incredible as they rose from the water. The captain announced over the tannoy each time one appeared and the whole boat raced to the deck, lenses longer than my arm, it kind of reminded me of the run to the school bus to get a seat. The sightings became so frequent that by the seventh or eight time the passengers would barely raise their eyes from their books, it had me thinking familiarity is a funny thing. The ride was simply stunning, at sunset a bunch of around 15 orcas were rising next to the wake of the boat, in the most literal sense an awesome sight. A lovely chap called Heath was burning designs onto wooden emblems using a glass ball, he looked kind of crazy with his reflective visor protecting his eyes, wore under some strange hat. An art form called pyrography. He kindly presented me one with a bike wheel and we talked some good hippy talk about energy and the like.
Though there’s little in the way of development in the north of Vancouver Island the land was starting to look more manicured, welcoming and gentle. The rain was still following me and rushing for shelter in a downpour I found 3 Swiss cyclists hiding under a tree. They greeted me with a double espresso in hand instantly cursing North American coffee. Their cynicism and dry humour was refreshing and I was happy to be invited to join them. Cycle couriers back home I was entertained by their style, riding in perfect formation with hand signals describing the road ahead. Their puncture repairs were like a formula one pit stops, everyone helping out, this was in stark contrast to mine which usually involved a meal and a nap. We found the aptly named Roberts lake to swim and camp and consumed yet another donated meal.
Vancouver Island seemed a world a way from the last few weeks, heading south the place oozed affluence. Dare I say it but I was kind of missing the simplicity of the previous weeks. My knee pretty much refused to comply with my efforts so I found rest on Quadra Island and stayed with Diana and Rob. They had a son who so happened to live five minutes from me in London. Rob did work organising elections for the First Nation or indigenous communities and it was interesting to hear of the work in which they met, for an anti-capitalist organisation following the teaching of Paolo Friere where they would be sent to communities to work autonomously, providing alternative education and community services, from the ground up. My intention to rest was quickly scuppered as I chased Diana round the Island on her new bike and climbed China mountain, using some different muscles a welcome change.
The smaller islands seemed like impressively liberal places with lots of independent community run projects, though a wealthy place now Rob and Diana moved there as it was cheap and as the community developed young people were priced out with wealthier Canadians wanting to move there for the quality of life and temperate climes. The population was hence ageing and the school population down from 300 to 100. I moved down to Denman Island a few days later at a nice humble pace, Rob cycled half the way with me and took me on some amazing back roads across the flat farmlands, past highland cattle and hugging the gentle coast line between the sunshine coast of the mainland.
Denman was equally beautiful but rushed through by many to get to the white sand beaches of the further Island of Hornby. Some near vertical slopes with the midday heat taking on my British skin and a long gravel track winding to the islands interior proceeded my arrival at the coho. A housing cooperative of 15 plots, about half an acre each, purposely boundary less and specifically concrete free. Melisande showed me round her cob house which had been put up in the last year. The house was impressive cosy and was full of glass windows designed and sculpted around. The garden paths were made from sea shells decorated with gravity sculptures. A vegetable and herb garden provided us fresh fodder and treats and a compost toilet for necessaries. I helped prepare the foundations for the greenhouse come bath house that Melisande had dreamed of, which was to be completed with the near perfectly efficient, naturally and hand crafted rocket stove. A few days mucking around the coho, playing guitar and burning iPod shaped patches on my chest via the old trick of drinking beer and falling asleep on the beach had me ready to push on for a good week off in Vancouver.
Riding down marine drive after another stunning ferry ride I started to feel slightly out of place. Unkempt and tattered wasn’t the vibe in these parts as the winding road littered with multimillion pound mansions wound to and from the bay, the city standing tall across the horizon. Unperturbed I rushed through this suburb and scaled the bridge into downtown, hitting the peak of the bridge and flying down into a major city in the evening heat was a brilliant feeling as this momentum had me in the east end in no time – why is always the east end? I found a bustling park, bought some beers and found some young people to chat to, finding out where to check out whilst in town, composed myself and made my way to Alex’s, I was greeted to an open door of a full house, a meal and felt instantly at home. Alex basically welcomed everyone and anyone from the travelling community, the cosmopolitan atmosphere was exactly what I was after. From Alaska to Vancouver now. Feeling pretty chuffed!