The morning after my arrival in the town of Smithers BC, I followed my standard routine when arriving into a ‘real’ town: Look for cheap breakfast and free internet. If the town is big enough, they may have a Safeway, which Smithers luckily did. There one can find very cheap breakfast burritos of moderate quality and a free high speed wifi connection with nice outdoor seating overlooking the scenic Safeway parking lot. As soon as I got online, I got a message from Tim Lezard, one of the first touring cyclists I’d met on this journey, about 200 miles South of the Arctic Ocean on the Dalton Highway in Alaska. He had been riding North on the Dalton and I crossed paths with him as I rode South. Starting from his home in England, Tim had been touring for over a year already and had ridden across Europe, Asia, and Australia. He’d just flown to Fairbanks to start his journey through the Americas, North to South, and chose to ride the Dalton Northbound out of Fairbanks. I took an instant liking to Tim, from only a very short conversation on the roadside, and had a feeling our paths would cross again. In his message, he inquired where I was currently. As fate would have it we’d both arrived in Smithers on the same evening, having taken completely different routes through Canada to get there. It was a lovely coincidence. We managed to meet up the morning after, both planning to set out towards the Canadian Rockies. After chatting over breakfast at Safeway for a few hours, we decided it would make sense to set off together, given we were both headed the same way and had a great rapport. We discussed our trends in daily mileage and riding intensity which seemed to line up well enough. Most importantly, it felt like we had lots of potential for inspired conversation.
I have to take a step back here to address the whole issue of traveling solo versus accompanied. I’ve done virtually all of my bike touring alone thus far. I’ll take a day or two here or there with other cyclists when it feels like a good connection, but I really enjoy the freedom of being on my own. I get to ride as far as I want, where I want, whenever I want. I feel that I am more likely to meet new people when I’m on my own, without the buffer of a familiar person to be talking to when entering a new place. In addition the majority of touring cyclists out there don’t seems to ride as fast and far as I enjoy riding, so I end up holding back in order to stay together. This is usually fine for a day or two, but I seem to have limited patience for holding back in this way so I’ll split off pretty quickly. It’s a difficult issue for me in general because I love having people to connect with and actually really enjoy riding with others, but am so particular about how I need that connection to feel. If it’s not quite right, I’d rather just be alone. In fact, I really love being alone a lot of the time anyway. It’s funny to write that, given that a major aspect of this journey is about exploring human connection through generosity and presence. It is the eternal struggle between the needs of my internal introvert and extrovert volleying for attention. All that said, I’ve been traveling for almost 8 weeks nowr and only spent a handful of days riding with other travelers, so it felt like the right time to try out another shared day on the road.
Tim and I set off around mid day. I felt bad for him as I kept him waiting around all morning due to various errands I needed to take care of in town, but he seemed in great spirits about the it and was in no rush. He spoke of how he was under no specific schedule or time constraint on his journey, so there was no rush. It was deeply refreshing to hear his calm, present attitude about travel, as all the other cyclists I’ve crossed paths with were on some sort of schedule. I have been pushing quite hard myself to keep moving at a particular pace due to perceived seasonal limitations. But Tim was so calm. He really seemed willing to let the day develop naturally without force. I could feel how important it was at this point in my journey to be exposed to this perspective. I have been pushing myself so hard for the last 8 weeks to get through Alaska, get through Canada… all in order to successfully ride a very auspicious route through certain trails in Colorado, Utah and Arizona before the cold and snow hits. But at what cost? Part of the challenge of this journey is finding balance between seizing an opportunity that arises here and now and having the discipline to keep myself on track to reach other goals that are literally much further down the road. I’ve thus far given much more weight to the latter, and it is time to let the pendulum swing the other way, to the present moment. It was as if Tim was sent to me to convey this crucial message of letting go of my tightly held plans in order to feel the flow of possibility as it arrises. Poignant that the current opportunity would be to spend more time with him!
I was given the chance to test this soon after we set out. 25 miles outside of Smithers, I had mapped a shortcut along a forest service road that would shave 12 miles off of the highway route, plus get us away from the busy traffic of the Yellowhead Highway for a while. We followed this winding, steep road uphill for about 5 miles until it came to a fork. The road I’d mapped was to the right, but had various signs conveying, “Keep Out, Private Road!” and “Not a through Road”. The final and clearest message was a locked gate with a security camera a bit further down this road. Playing around with our various mapping devices, we found another logging road which seemed to take us through the short cut in a slightly different way, so took a chance. Only about a mile down, we found a recreation area (BC’s name for a local campground) by a lake where we could filter some water. It was a beautiful and empty campground that had a few sites with fire pits and picnic tables, all by a scenic, warm lake with a small beach. From the instant we rode up, I had a strong feeling that we should just stop there for the night and enjoy it. We were only 30 miles into the day’s ride, and we’d planned to ride nearly 100 that day. Luckily however, Tim had the exact same feeling. It took no convincing on either of our parts to stay, and we had an inspired evening of sharing our thoughts, dreams and stories.
The following morning, we rode lost in the web of logging roads beyond this campground, for about 4 hours. Every road we took that seemed to connect back out to the highway would peter out and end. Having been in similar situations in the past with others, I was used to feeling guilty for having gotten us into this mess and worried that Tim would be resenting me. After all, the “shortcut” was my idea. Not so! Tim was having a great time, being in the woods and off the street, exploring the hills. This took all the pressure off of me to be responsible for figuring it all out for us, and we just shared the unexpected adventure for a few hours. Of course we eventually found our way out, and were both really glad things went as they did. We rode hard the rest of the day, trading off who rode in front and who drafted, 110 miles down the road by the end of it. I don’t know how long I’ll be sharing the road with Tim, but it seems like at least a few more days. He’s the best riding partner I’ve met so far, so far a welcome change for however long it lasts.
Tim and I have been riding together for 5 days now. It’s been lovely. We’ve found a great groove in which we both ride at our own speeds (I seem to ride slightly faster than he does but not by much at all) and meet up for breaks then camp together. We’ve found ourselves camping in fantastic locations every night.
One night we found shelter under a day-use park pavilion by a beautiful lake.
The next night we were fed delicious food followed by insightful and delightful conversation about life, inspiration and passion. Having raised 3 children in a large home near Prince George, the hosts (unfortunately not in the photo) decided to try taking in weary cycle tourists through the site Warm Showers. I’d not been a guest through the site before, but was stunned at how kind they were to let us share their beautiful house.
Helen, the woman of the house, made wonderful food and provided us with warm soft beds. What a change!
Along the highway near Prince George it was quite interesting to see the process of the logging industry develop before our eyes in one 2 mile stretch:
I had thought that the grey coloring in the air was from the torrential rain we’d been riding through all day, but it turns out there have been about 15 different forest fires near here from a long stretch of hot dry weather. The smoke stretched on for miles and miles that day. It was actually quite nice, luckily, like riding along a campfire all day!
That evening, we stopped about 5 miles before our intended campsite at a small sign by the highway reading, “Ancient Forest”. It was not a municipal park sign, but intriguing nonetheless. Turns out it is the only old growth cedar rainforest anywhere near this far from a coast in the world. People had built a wheelchair accessible boardwalk into the forest only a few years back, and given the late hour we didn’t think anyone would mind if we rode our bikes on it.
At the end of the boardwalk was a small sitting area with benches. Tim suggested how amazing of a place it would be to camp, surrounded by old growth cedars, but on flat ground and with benches to cook on.
So we did.
It is quite amazing to realize the opportunities open to someone camping by bicycle who doesn’t leave a trace nor bother anyone. Who knows, you might have a biker camping by your house and never know it!
Last night however, we landed in paradise. So much so that we both decided to stay an extra night here. We’re one the farm of Curtis and Bonnie Culp, who live in a small railroad town off the highway near Jasper National Park in British Columbia. The moment we arrived here, we knew we’d found something special. Curtis and Bonnie have lived here for over 40 years, have raised sheep, cattle, and grown crops to support themselves, all the while beautifying there home with lush gardens and funky additions.
Small pond behind the house with ducks, a footbridge, a paddle boat, and a little patio overlooking it all!
Connecting to their history of raising sheep, they collect old sheep trailers that shepherds used to live out of while shearing the flock out on the pastures. We were each offered our own trailer to sleep in! With mountain ranges on either side of the farm, I could not imagine a more lovely location to pause.
Old sheep trailers still to be renovated
Bonnie provided us graciously with a feast of a meal last night and would not let us get up without eating as much as we could fit! It was a dream come true. This morning I had planned to roll out on the bike to head into Jasper, but the place kept calling me to stay. Breakfast turned into lunch, and now lunch has turned into laundry and a lazy afternoon. We helped Curtis load some wood into the house and ran a few errands with him. He told us of his past involvement in tracking the migration patterns of hummingbirds. They go through about 20lbs of sugar a month feeding the hundreds of hummingbirds on their property.
Once in a while, they find a dead hummingbird. This one was just recently found, and it was quite a treat to see up close the iridescent colors on their heads!
This afternoon Curtis took us for a ride on his John Deere to look for bears on the edge of his property. We saw a lot of huge bear scat and tracks in the tall grass, but the only bears we found were from his motion detection camera out in his field. I’m quite glad we didn’t actually run into this giant grizzly:
Tomorrow we head out of here for real, toward a beautiful lake at the foot of a 13,000 foot peak in the Canadian Rockies. I feel so lucky to be surrounded by such inspired people in this phase of the journey. Tim has continued to offer me reminders to slow down and appreciate the place where I AM before rushing off to the next place. It’s a lesson that keeps coming to me, and it seems like a hard one for me to learn well.