5,000km on One Wheel for Climate Action! That's the journey Joseph Boutilier will be making across Canada during the Unity for the Climate campaign. Please view the full website or update your web browser for a better experience. Click here to do so.
A Note of Thanks
It’s been more than two months since I successfully wrapped up my journey. After cycling 5,000km on one wheel, I was privileged to join hundreds of thousands of protestors at the historic People’s Climate March in New York, to meet MPs on the forefront of the political struggle for climate action, and to participate in three other rallies in Ottawa, including a 5-day fast and vigil with the great folks of ClimateFast. I have to apologize for the lack of reports since then. The truth is, I hate to admit that ‘Unity for the Climate’ is over.
It was an amazing half year, bringing me in contact with dozens of inspiring organizations, environmentalists, travellers, athletes, teachers, politicians and journalists, and hundreds of other incredibly kind and thoughtful strangers. It was an exhilarating and intense experience, with the kind of focused goals and objectives one can only make for themselves. When not riding, I spent my time keeping tabs on global and national news that hinted at the looming deadline for real action, and at encouraging solutions emerging from the pinnacle of modern science and grassroots movements around the world.
Now that I’m back in Victoria, preoccupied with a ‘real’ job (albeit thankfully one that allows me to continue to focus on political and environmental advocacy), I find myself swept back up in the frenzy of everyday life, where cycling - much less unicycling - needs be justified for the extra time it takes. I’m reminded how little of our daily lives we reserve for contemplating our most important collective decisions and actions, and how so many of those decisions are made passively – if uncomfortably – through thousands of small acts of convenience and a quiet acceptance of the status quo. The climate crisis calls for all of us to reconcile with the wider implications of our daily actions and personal priorities. I’m especially grateful that the memories of my trip continue to remind me of my personal commitments.
Part of the reason I’ve delayed so long in providing a final update is because I wanted to hint at some new life for the Unity for the Climate campaign and site. The project gained some momentum on social media among Canadians coast to coast who support greater climate action. And despite many great journalists and publications I’ve encountered, I still feel there’s room for new blogs and content that breaks down the overwhelming science and politics of the climate crisis and the related, systemic problems with Canadian democracy. We need media that shines a light on the common roots of these issues and empower us all to take action. Unfortunately I don’t have the time or energy to make such a project happen at the moment, but I hope you’ll keep the Facebook page ‘Liked’ and email subscriptions valid. This way, we may one day reconnect in our common vision for an informed and empowered public, an accountable government, and a sustainable future.
I owe thanks to hundreds – if not thousands – of people, without whom this journey wouldn’t have been possible. I owe an apology to all those I’ve surely missed in this list of people who kept me pedaling when the wheel deflated, the snow fell, the motels closed and the bears and beasts emerged. And let me thank all of you, especially, for your patience and enthusiasm as you followed along online, despite my sporadic and most always-belated updates.
Yours with everlasting gratitude,
(The Guy on the Unicycle)
With Special Thanks To…
My mum and dad, Susan and Stewart for their incredible help • my girlfriend Silvey for still being my girlfriend • My uncle Patrick Wade for building out the uni • My uncle Andrew Wade for tons of gear and advice • My grandma Enid Wade for supporting me in everything I do • Uncle Victor Van Buskirk for helping with my launch • My sisters Hannah and Kate for believing in me • The rest of my incredible extended family • Cathy Orlando of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby • Rita Bijon, Frances Deverell, Lyn Adamson, Margaret Rao, and everyone else at ClimateFast • Que Bahn for all her help organizing in Victoria • Keith Chan of Island Trails Photography and Garth Racicot for official photography • Kristina at Sierra Club Ontario and Mikaela at Sierra Club of Canada •Andrea at Council of Canadians • MP Alex Atamanenko and staff Lilly Zekanovic • MPs Matthew Kellway, Ted Hsu and Megan Leslie • MP John McKay and staff for organizing a parliamentary press conference • MP Elizabeth May and staff • BC MLA Gary Holman and staff Ryan Painter • BC MLA Andrew Weaver and his staff • MLA Carole James • Councillor Alicia Cormier and the rest of Central Saanich council • All the incredible small businesses that have supported me through in-kind donations and private sponsorship including… • Eric and Johanne and everyone at Hartley Insurance in Victoria • Vancity for financial support • municicyle.ca for a great discount on the uni • Bob and Lucinda of Wild Ways in Christina Lake BC • North Park Bike Shop in Victoria BC • Denman Print Works in Victoria BC • Metropol in Victoria BC • Bikes and Beyond in Winnipeg MB • Tom and RJ of Bored Room Bistro in Midway BC • Imperial Motel Grand Forks BC • Darcy of Darcy’s By the Bay in Waubashene ON • Beth and all the friendly folks at River Haven Resort in Britt ON • The Downtowner in Creston BC • Kootenay River RV and Kampground BC • Daisy May Campground in Fort Macleod AB • Fieldstone Campground Moosomin SK • KOA Winnipeg MB • Helliars Resort in Nestor Falls On • Hay-U-Ranch Resort in Yahk BC • The Inn at Redmond House in beautiful Maple Creek SK • Anicinabe Campground Kenora ON • Bry-Mar RV Park Brandon MB • Willow Tree Spa Hope BC • Beverly Hills Resort in Christina Lake BC • Crawford Bay Inn BC • Pinewood Motor Inn Espanola ON • Serpent River Campground Sprague ON • Elizabeth and Camp Barcovan in Carrying Place ON • Wakamow Valley in Moose Jaw SK • Moose Lake Cottage Resort ON • Mohawk Motel in Massey ON • The Fenix in Picton ON • Puddingstone Harbour Resort ON • Sand Lake Campground and Cottages ON • Yazel, Jack, Denis, Brian, Liz, Steve, Rajiv, Jason, Heather and Diana for your donations which made the campaign possible • Plus…• Andrew Tuovinen • Paul Gatien • Andrew Dodd of Dodd’s Eye Media • All the performers at the Sidney BC Launch Event including Nostic, Inglewood, Audrey Lane Cockett, Morgan Purvis, Caleb Kennedy _ Family and Hayden _ Meagan • Greg Holloway, Doreen Webb and the whole ‘Aery Faery Tangent’ • Former Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin and current Mayor Lisa Helps • Oliver Giving • Judy Fraser • Andrew Tuovinen • Neil Smith • Andrew Slade • Glen and Sherry in Mission BC • Professor Steve Lapp, Gillian and family in Kingston ON • Vic, Nat, Riley and Gary in Hope BC • Councillor Kim Maynard and Dierra of Princeton BC • Emmy of Crowsnest Bakery, pastor Jason Weibe and family and mayor Manfred Bauer in Keremeos BC • Alex Smith of Radio Ecoshock • Ulli Diemer • David and Helen of Wolseley SK • Doug and Shirley in Ottawa ON • Mayor Brian Taylor of Grand Forks • Brenda Tyson and the children of Pinewood Elementary in Cranbrook • Eleanor and Dan, Paul Pichurski and the children of Isabelle Sellon and everyone else in Blairmore AB • Kelly Babcock in Ottawa • Marvin and Darlene in Portage la Prairie • Heather and Richard in Winnipeg MB • Max and Joe in Duluth MN • Shawn in Biwabik MN • The Orton family in Blind River SK •Liz Couture and everyone in the Richmond Hill ON NGO and business community at the Performing Arts Centre • Svend in Oshawa ON • Bart and Judy in Port Hope ON • Anita and everyone of the Northumberland Cycling Club, ON • Librarian Christine in Picton ON • Cal and Patty in Regina SK • Megan and Andrew in Medicine Hat AB • Sandy and Wendy-Anne in Manotick ON • Doug and Shirley in Ottawa ON • Sue and Charles in Ottawa ON • Everyone who showed up for my arrival on Parliament Hill and everyone who followed my progress online!
A rather belated recap of my ongoing unicycle journey for climate action, continued from the last one. Currently on day 63: next recap coming soon!
Having rested an extra day in Creston, I was falling behind for an elementary school presentation in Cranbrook and a Defend Our Climate (national day of action) gathering and photo shoot in Fernie. The next day was a 40km cycle to Yahk. In order to be easy on my shin splint, I opted to leave the uni on the longer pedal set and take my time. Obstacles on the quiet route included roughed-up shoulders and another 18-wheeler accident and traffic back-up that I had to walk around. I had considered riding past Yahk to try and make up for lost time, but the sun was low in the sky by the time I arrived at the Hay U Ranch RV Resort. It’s just as well I didn’t push on, as I learned a fatal accident had blocked the highway completely for the rest of the day a few miles further down the road. Hay-U proprietor Greg kindly welcomed me into his home instead of camping, which let me set off early the next day without breaking camp.
The wooded edge of Yahk
I was supposed to arrive at the elementary school in Cranbrook by 1:30. While I expected I’d have to catch a ride at some point to make up for the lost time, I was secretly hoping I might be able to squeeze two days into one. But even with a 7am departure, getting 60kms to the edge of town in the allowed 6.5hrs was a stretch (for comparison, my average 40k/day usually takes till mid afternoon). I made it past my original destination of Moyie by noon, but opted to catch a ride the rest of the way, estimating a late arrival at my current pace.
Moyie Fire Hall
(It didn’t help that my phone was glitchily jumping between hours and I wasn’t confident it was actually noon: I attribute this to leaving Creston where there is no daylight savings, to an area my phone interpreted as PT with daylight savings, then crossing the boundary into Mountain Time, all in the span of a few minutes. Strangely, no one locally seemed to know or really care where the time-zone border was or really what time it was at all).
I promptly caught a ride and waited on the edge of town for the unofficial welcoming party of Ecole TM Roberts Elementary to greet me. Right on schedule, a veritable parade of excited kids on bicycles, scooters and foot charged towards me. I hopped back on my uni to meet them half-way up the street towards the school, and after brief introductions they led me in an animated procession towards the gym. Here, hundreds more gathered. After the relative solitude and quiet of the last few days, the energy and enthusiasm here was positively contagious.
I had dusted off some old slides earlier and tried to juice them up and make them ‘age appropriate’ in the days preceding, using my crummy drawing in place of sourced images (no internet). It was ‘sketchy’ to say the least, but luckily, the casual visuals and discussion points allowed for a lot of lively discussion and great questions, and some laughs to boot (shockingly, not all of them at my expense).
The students were fantastic; climate change was already well on their radar, but it was inspiring to see how the concern that mounted over the course of my presentation was immediately met with proactive solutions and a motivation for change. By the time I turned to the ‘solutions’ slides, a lot of the ideas had already been volunteered. Even the political points (which I tried to keep as brief and objective as possible) were met with focused, eager eyes and ears.
Like most encounters with our future generations, meeting with these kids in Cranbrook gave me a renewed hope for the future. If we can foster the optimistic spirit, caring and confidence of our young people as they grow and gradually inherit all facets of society, I’m sure they’ll make up for the extra challenges left in the wake of our inaction through their cooperation and ingenuity. Presenting at the school was a pleasure (thanks Brenda for organizing!); the faculty in attendance apologized for the overwhelming number of questions from the young crowd, but I actually enjoyed them most of all.
Unfortunately we had to cut Q_A short, but one question lingered in my mind long after I left. A young boy had quietly waited with a raised arm through several answers before someone caught my attention on his behalf; he looked concerned even under an oversized pair of sun glasses. “If we stopped all pollution right now,” he asked, “could we stop climate change?” I had answered to the best of my scientific knowledge; the concept of ‘locked in’ warming, the lag time on emissions and the uncertainties around natural chain reactions. Of course, I also tried to assure him that eventually, it would; it was possible. I heard in my own voice a cold, clinical, vague and unsatisfying answer. Truthful, but also lacking. I’m not sure exactly what I would have said in retrospect, except to follow up my answer by asking this young man for his perspective on the matter. I’m sure he would have shared a clearer vision for a world without pollution.
When the presentation wrapped up, it was still before 3pm and the weather was favourable. Feeling surprisingly energetic, I hedged my bets that I would be able to ride the distance I’d skipped from Moyie to properly complete the distance into Cranbrook; this would let me catch up a day and make it to Fernie in time for the 10th. I crossed the highway and put my thumb out. I recognized the occupants of first truck that stopped from the school. The unicycle didn’t fit among the kids and furniture in toe, but it was nice to get an extra kudos on the presentation.
Another pickup stopped a couple minutes later; an agriculturalist from the Gulf Islands was heading back to Creston after doing an urban farming workshop in Cranbrook. We discussed politics and how most young environmentalists have forsaken upper levels of government to focus on grassroots solutions, but also how political upsets like the election of Elizabeth May had, to a certain extent, staved off the worst of the disenfranchisement among young voters in our home communities. “Keep up the good fight,” were her parting words, to which I responded, “you too.”
Riding the road back into Cranbrook, it already seemed perfectly familiar. It made me reflect on how much of a routine I’d fallen into, even in the most unpredictable and outlandish of scenarios. This one-wheeled daily ritual was simply my commute; at the end was waiting a local reporter, perhaps a few supporters, some environmentalists, a campground and hopefully some hot coffee. I reminded myself to beware, not to let the ultimate destination and the ultimate goal slip from my mind as the miles ticked by. This isn’t just a job, I told myself, but an opportunity for change.
Cranbrook doesn’t have the best reputation for ‘curb appeal. (The most memorable highway welcome was the awkward juxtaposition of a prominently advertised ‘Adult Store’ in a rundown bungalow and a Christian bookstore next door with the slightly ominous moniker of ‘The Nails’). Turn off the main drag, though, and you’re rewarded with a rustic yet tidy, welcoming, city with a small-town feel. Greenery abound, beautiful, simple old buildings and yes, even bike paths, combine to give Cranbrook its proudly distinct and yet down-to-earth identity. I wish I could have explored the place more; after some 65km on the road plus the school presentation and rides to and from, I was exhausted and wary to exercise my shin anymore. Instead I ordered pizza into the municipal campsite where I pitched my modest tent in the centre of a ring of towering RVs. I watched hockey on my laptop while gnawing down pizza like a proper Canadian camper (minus the beer, for which my cravings went sadly unanswered).
Pizza, hockey, campng. Great way to wind down after a long ride.
The ride from Cranbrook to Jaffray, midway to Fernie, was mostly uneventful; the hills weren’t as bad as I expected with the exception of the final curve into town, which was cantered enough to draw me towards traffic like a boat fighting off the edge of a whirlpool. I walked the crest of the hill to take in the big city sites; across from an empty gravel lot, the centre of Jaffray is a tire shop, which doubles as a convenience store and campground and motel office. The quiet nature of the town and the surrounding forests was perfect for an early night and a good rest before another early departure to make my 1pm appointment in Fernie. The rainy weather, of course, cleared as soon as I arrived in Jaffray and began as soon as I left again. Each time the rain started to get on my nerves, I imagined it was wind instead and was quickly reminded to be thankful for my good fortune.
The road to Fernie: challenging, beautiful.
The first half of the ride into Fernie was equal parts visually stunning and challenging; the shoulders were entirely coated in several inches of gravel, disappearing into the roadway past stretches of cliff-side barriers, bridges and even a brief mountain tunnel. I wish I could have spent less time looking at the road and more at the crisp, pale marshes and twisty clusters of deciduous trees cupped in the palms of the rugged valleys beside the road. I tried not to stop much, but had to dismount a few times to admire the 360-degrees of mountain ranges iced in hearty slabs of fresh white powder. The road got progressively clearer and newer, and I didn’t need to walk more than a few feet until I arrived in downtown Fernie.
In Fernie I had enough time to grab lunch before meeting a small group of eco-conscious folks who were kind enough to greet me to mark the Defend Our Climate national day of action. We gathered outside the office of the Elk Valley Wildsight, chatted about local initiatives, the pitfalls of cap and trade policies and unicycles, before posing for a photo to share with other communities participating in the action. It was great to be able to express solidarity with others around the country protesting climate inaction despite being in such a relatively small community. I also thought of friends and family back home in Victoria, where a massive march of thousands was making its way from Beacon Hill to the BC Legislature, just blocks from where I started my journey, and I suddenly missed the invigorating spirit of widespread environmentalism that in many ways is unique to that community. Defend Our Climate perhaps wasn’t as publicized or reported-on this year as last, but it seems to have been every bit as well attended. To see pictures from coast to coast of people recognizing their incredible strength in numbers was inspiring, as usual, and I felt the long days required to make the modest Fernie event were well-spent. Especially true, since that’s where I met Danny.
'Hundred year floods' in Fernie are more common than you might think, and lots of land is only a few feet above the water line.
Danny invited me to stay with him and his wife Susan in the ‘suburbs’ of Fernie. A retired lawyer-turned-tree farmer who’s lived in Fernie for 40 years following a full youth of travel and adventure, it was great to talk to Dan and Susan about the unique wildlife in the area and the local challenges of climate change (the couple and their neighbours have experienced ‘hundred-year’ floods several times over the past couple decades.)
Dan’s tree farming was as much a hobby as a business, but not one he took lightly. As resilient as the tiny saplings that weathered frost burn, wind and oversaturation to continue a slow-but-steady ascent from his fields, Dan took every challenge as a learning experience and persisted to build out the farm. He’d forgone common mass-scale techniques to plant seeds from scratch, trying a variety of species from varying origins, hand-planting and manually watering, and it was neat to see the huge variety of trees that sprouted as a result. Regardless of the species, local varieties did much better than those from only a few miles away; a reminder of how sensitive and unique the local ecosystem really was.
The industrial outskirts of Sparwood.
I was warned of hills heading into Sparwood, but, like the rest of the rockies, the difficulty was underwhelming compared to previous passes. I arrived in Sparwood before 1 and, resting in preparation for the Crowsnest summit, spent the remainder of the day catching up on laundry and stocking up on groceries. The main road through Sparwood is sandwiched between a mall and a few franchise restraurants, but behind the mall, two roads lined with local small businesses curve down a hill towards a residential area thick with greenery. Aside from a few streams of smoke on the horizon, there was no evidence of the five prolific open-pit coal mining operations that support the majority of the town’s bread-winners. Still, the industrial roots of Sparwood were evident throughout; a drastic departure from the recreational tourism brand of nearby Fernie.
The compulsory puny-unicycle-beside-world’s-biggest-truck photo.
I stopped by the ‘world’s biggest truck’ on the edge of town, and asked a stranger to take my picture. Kevin snapped a pic and offered a local tour of the rig, including an abandoned iPhone hidden in an inaccessible arch below the wheel wells (a great tease no doubt offering hours of gymnastic practice for local kids). Kevin was a local cadet, who had also lived in Victoria; he also had a knack for unconventional transportation and was very intrigued by my rig. He shared his own ambitions for an epic self-powered journey; a roller-blade ride from Sparwood to Vancouver on Highway 3. I cringed at the thought of trying to roller blade past the miles of gravel I’d just encountered, but I could tell that if anyone had the guts and bravado to make it work, it would be someone like Kevin.
I had to backtrack a couple klicks to the municipal campground in Sparwood; it was beautiful, but the walk to the back tent-zone upset my shin splint once more. Worse still, the internet wifi didn’t reach those far corners; no Stanley Cup on my laptop. Instead, I decided, I simply had no choice but to trek back to the nearest pub to catch the game. Inexplicably, I actually had to request that the bartender change the channel to watch the game. An odd experience for me as an exceptionally casual hockey fan in small-town Canada. It was the first chance I got to try the great craft beers of the Fernie Brewing Company, which made the walk worthwhile.
The Crowsnest Summit doesn’t feel like much of a summit. Great view, nonetheless!
The next day was my last BC summit: the Crowsnest Pass. I had no idea what to expect following widely-varying reviews, ranging from ‘no biggie’ to ‘you’ll have to walk it.’ I took it easy preparing for the worst, but the beautiful weather and wide shoulders let me keep my pace up. I was actually shocked to see the summit sign, seemingly before the day’s journey had even begun. In danger of sounding coy, but the Crowsnest was a breeze; definitely no walking required! The descent into Alberta was similarly relaxed; a friendly reward at the end of a beautiful, massive, mountainous and wildly diverse province.
1,100km later, it’s good-bye BC.
As I pulled in beside the ‘Welcome to Alberta’ sign for a snapshot, an 18-wheeler cruised by blasting a victory riff on his air-horn. One province down, four more to go.
With my cruelly persistent shin splint still prodding me at every peddle stroke, I decided to try and find somewhere to rest for a whole week as soon as I crossed the Alberta border. Of course I didn’t want to fall behind a week, but I also didn’t want to end up with a more serious injury like a stress fracture that could put the whole journey in jeopardy. I figured the smaller towns along the Crowsnest route would have cheaper accommodations than the more populous centres ahead and that the flat province would be a good way to ease back into riding after a week’s break (although the gentle rolling hills to Lethbridge weren’t ‘flat’ by prairie standard).
The stormy view from my window at the Cosmopolitan in Blairmore.
The Crowsnest – aside from being the name of a highway and a mountain pass – is also the moniker of a range of small, heritage communities along the Alberta border who amalgamated recently after years of gradual population decline, while maintaining their separate community identities and remaining viable with the help of nearby industries and increasing tourism. I stopped at the first town – Blaine – for lunch. I was just about to walk into a Mexican café when a janitor from the pub next door asked about the uni and ended up convincing me to eat instead at the place of his employment, where I was surprised to find a house-made veggie burger on the menu (and a good one at that!). Although a few businesses mark Blaine on the No. 3 highway, the old town, including the homes and some local businesses, are splayed out in a flat valley below the road.
The ‘Cos’: Home for a week.
Leaving my uni at the bar, I began to walk down into the old town towards the local hostel. A local bus was stopped on the side of the hill and the driver was chatting with a local on a bike; another fortuitous encounter. The cyclist worked at a motel in the next Crowsnest stop of Blairmore and advised me to forego the hostel (where there were no private dorms available and frequent band practices, the word was) for ‘The Cos’. The Cosmopolitan in Blairmore was an appropriately affordable local watering hole and inn; only slightly out of place among more trim and trendy small businesses on the quiet ‘downtown’ street that ran parallel to Highway 3 along the train tracks.
The Crowsnest River flows right through Blairmore.
More condensed and urban than Blaine, Blairmore was also a better stay for accessibility with minimal walking (despite the fact that myself and my uni stayed up two flights of stairs). After stocking up on groceries on the other side of town, I managed to remain frustratingly static throughout the week with only occasional treks downstairs to the nearby pizza/Thai food joint and the Stone’s Throw Café for coffee and breakfast. The Stone’s Throw had great coffee and a friendly atmosphere that helped keep my sanity in check as I watced the days slip by and my schedule fall behind more than it ever had. I kept myself busy writing a couple articles and starting to piece together the choppy clips of inaudible video I’d managed to nab from my uni during my month-and-one-week on the road. The proprietors of the Stone’s Throw helped put me in touch with the local press, while news quickly spread and strangers emerged who were interested in my mission.
Blairmore back-alley. There’s only one main street from East to West through town but several smaller routes are hidden away.
Principle Paul Pichurski organized a 20-minute Q_A for me at the local elementary school. Lauretta Legere offered use of her infrared heating light to potential expedite the mending of my shin, while her son Dan - a talented local photographer – took some portraits of me in front of the dramatic mountain backdrop on the West end of town.
The Cos from afar.
I was ever tempted to wander off the sunny main drag, where distant rocky vistas over and beyond the neighbouring train tracks and lush greenery looked clear and close enough to touch. Instead, I tread lightly on my shin for a short walk the other way (North) to visit the roaring creek that passed through the residential end of town. Here, I also saw campaign signs for the newly announced federal byelection; a reminder of the political undercurrents of the oil-rich surroundings and its stark contrast to my mission and the growing number of local supporters.
Despite the welcoming atmosphere and vibrant scenery, I was eager to restart my journey when my week’s worth of accommodation finally expired on Monday. Rusty as ever re-mounting on the quiet byway before merging back to the 3, I opted to leave the pedals spread out on the wider crank option despite the flat terrain to help stretch out my muscles and ease back into the rhythm of riding. Turning back on the highway, it was quickly clear that the rumoured ‘light switch’ analogy of the supposedly rapid transition from mountains to open prairies doesn’t apply to unicyclists. Instead, the fascinating limbo between wild rocky heights and clear valleys evolved. Dry grassy fields and charcoal-tinted trees surrounded rivers and cold wetlands at the foot of miniature mountains, formed half of windswept dirt and sand and half of fallen crumbs from the distant rocky mountains.
Doubling down on speed, taking advantage of a few cool days and reveling in the flat terrain that followed, I cleared Alberta in the next 6 days (bumping up my daily average from 40km to some 55).
An old abandoned building outside of Pincher Creek.
Pincher Creek is a nicely-sized place, with most of the amenities of a bigger city but the greenery, space and casual community presence that only smaller towns can maintain. My time there was unfortunately rushed; a quick stroll down the wide, quiet, evening streets of the village centre with a stop at the grocery store for dinner before following signs to the community campground. Only a few blocks from town on a residential street, the campground backs onto a sun-dappled park and popular walking trail; I selected a spot in the shade and set up my tent just before a light shower watered the dry wild grass around me. A family who had been rained on for the duration of their long-weekend vacation finally decided to pack it in, offering me the remainder of their food (free breakfast, huzzah!). Since I was so rushed, I skipped the usual ritual of bugging the local press, so I was pleasantly surprised when a reporter noticed me on the highway and gathered details for a story the next day.
The prairies have started.
I passed Brocket up the Crowsnest en route to Fort Macleod. Before descending into the quiet valley campground of Daisy May across the highway from town (where I’d generously been offered a free stay), I wandered downtown looking for a coffee shop where I could unwind and recharge my phone. Instead I was pleasantly surprised to find a bike shop, where complementary coffee and a plug were offered after I stocked up on anti-chafing cream. A lively conversation with a climate skeptic proceeded. I tried to keep my temper in check but was happy to move on after agreeing to disagree (and feeling like a failure for failing to make such an easy argument effective).
By the time I hit the street (intending only to walk) a small crowd had gathered and was eagerly waiting for me to demonstrate free mounting. With traffic pulling in and out of parking spots along the narrow central street, I wasn’t able to get on until strolling up to a free spot on the curb, only to have to get off again a couple blocks later when confronted by the first stop sign.
The highway splits on the Northern edge of Fort Macleod onto two one-way streets, skirting the condensed heritage buildings that make up the downtown area on one side and a drop into an open grassy valley on the other, with the occasional interruptions of large industrial lots. It strikes an unusual balance between service-detour and scenic small-town, with unconventional streets that obscure its modest scale.
The next day was a 50km ride into Lethbridge. After the first few km, I was cautiously optimistic that my right shin-splint had really healed; no pain, even when my body was crossed up and my feet bent to fight the crown of the road or squeeze through narrow construction zones while leaning against crosswinds. My joyous disbelief was brought crashing down when I attempted my second freemount of the day, only to make a hard land on my left foot that immediately sent a familiar pain through my ankle and shin. Yes, indeed, after a week of rest my pain had only transferred from one leg to the other.
Coalhurst. They had lemonade there, which is what really mattered.
As I gained on the city, the predictable farmlands were decorated with patches of lush trees and natural wetland and the scenic crossing of the winding Old Man River. A brief stop in Coalhurst was bliss; 5 minutes on the shady steps of the local grocery store while downing a chilled bottle of lemonade.
Scenic drive into Lethbridge. For the extra scenic drive, I guess you have to jump on a train.
The ride ended in the beautiful, surprisingly steep climb through the southwest Scenic Drive entrance into Lethbridge, passing the Helen Schuler Nature Reserve and climaxing in a swerving underpass below an imposing train trestle that seems to stretch to the end of the world. It was almost captivating enough to distract me from the growing pain emanating from my left ankle. When I finally slipped the seat out in front of me and landed on my own, wobbly legs, I felt I couldn’t ride another meter. (As it turned out, I had another two in me, coaxed out by a friendly photographer in town).
I was thankful to arrive in sunny Lethbridge after a tedious ride on a brand-new shin splint.
Walking through downtown Lethbridge, it was quickly clear that this would be by far the liveliest, trendiest and most ‘urban’ stop I would make in the province. While more flat, straight, and sunny than most BC towns, the shining brick walls, lovingly arranged storefront displays and quirky small businesses made me just a little reminiscent about the province I’d just left behind. I locked my uni to the first genuine bike-stand I’d seen in weeks which was knit-bombed in pastel yarn, and walked into an indie coffee shop to plug-in and connect with the local press. Before bouncing to another café to write, I caught up with the Lethbridge Herald and learned of fellow politically-motivated, eccentric-traveler Ted Musson, who is walking an extended 10,000km to Ottawa (doubling-back every day) to protest the robocall scandal, among other concerns. I would later meet Ted in Saskatchewan.
I also arranged a media spot with Global for the following morning before limping East through town to crash at the local Superlodge. After the interview portion of the meeting with Global reporter Teri Fikowski, she was kind enough to drive me back the extra distance I’d walked South from the highway, and filmed as I mounted on a service road and awkwardly floundered around the backroads of industrial Lethbridge looking for a way back onto the highway, before driving ahead to catch a few more shots of me riding.
Despite the heat and my brand-new shin splint, the remaining ride to Taber wasn’t nearly as grueling as the previous days’. Still, when I arrived I was sore and desperate for a shower and rest. With no billet and conflicting directions for a not-so-close campground, I reluctantly spent the dough on another motel at the end of the main drag. Only the big-box stores in the expansive, industrial town were open for my arrival, so I didn’t get a chance to visit any of the small businesses scattered throughout the semi-residential town roads, but I was impressed by how secluded the town felt only blocks from the highway despite the level, open landscape. My first dose of Chinese food was a welcome reintroduction to rice after a month-and-a-half of mostly-mediocre bread and potatoes as my main source of carbs; leftovers for tomorrow’s ‘breakfast’ was an added bonus.
There’s lots of grass in Grassy Lake, but not a lot of lake.
The next day was another 58km of hot, flat, prairies to the small southeast Alberta town of Bow Island. I didn’t expect to see any services open in the midway town of Grassy Lake; although it was smaller even than I anticipated (marked by 3-4 sparse business fronts in a sea of open farmland), the community did have an open restaurant and my stomach was grumbling for some lunch. Dew Drop In was advertised as a Mexican restaurant, although the menu seemed, at most, half Mexican. My traditional cheese omelette was preceded with an appetizer of tortilla chips and accompanied by a Mexican soda, but the usual staples of beans and flatbread and hot sauce were nowhere to be found. The staff all seemed to be Mennonite, and I wondered if they had taken over a Mexican restaurant and repurposed it to their liking. It wasn’t until I got to Bow Island – dotted with multiple Mexican import stores and restaurants – that I learned that both communities supported a booming immigrant population of Mexican Mennonites. Mystery solved.
A mystery about the names – there being no Grassy Lake in Grassy Lake and no discernible Island in Bow Island – had a less-satisfactory explanation. Apparently the names were somehow, at some point, for some unknown reason, inexplicably mixed up. Regardless, both communities definitely stood out, with contradictions that did them no disservice; at once insular and friendly, proud of their accomplishments and outwardly humble.
A friendly pinto bean welcomes you into Bow Island, although it sounds like he could be replaced by a catty catnip any day now.
In Bow Island, I met the first cross-country cyclist that I came across. A girl from England who was making her way from Vancouver to Montreal, seeking part-time employment along the way. We both ended up at the municipal campground; a tidy square park a few blocks out of town. The camp host enthusiastically noted an impressive list of fruits and vegetables grown in surrounding farms, and proudly proclaimed the area’s acclamation for its prolific production of catnip.
The next morning I explored downtown Bow Island, happily located down an unassuming side street from the main highway (itself, deceivingly small and slow as it passed a couple local motels and the town’s smiling Pinto Bean mascot). Although tucked neatly away, Bow Island’s business community appeared far more healthy than many larger towns I’ve passed through, with vehicle and pedestrian traffic quickly crowding the dozens of humble storefronts before the stroke of 8am.
I stopped in the Rolling Pin Bakery _ Café for breakfast. It quickly became obvious this was a very popular spot…perhaps beyond the expectations or capacity of its managers. It was some 20 minutes before my order went out, and much longer for coffee let alone the meal, which came not-quite as ordered. I sympathized with the overworked young staff, though, and didn’t fuss, taking note of the cooler weather I was losing outside. The food was worth the wait, I decided as I cleaned my plate, before realizing there was another 10-minute line up to pay. In the lineup I got to talking with a group of other clients who kindly offered to take my tab after marveling at the ambition of my journey. It was a friendly farewell from a generous town. Although it was good to hit the road again, destination Medicine Hat, I knew I wouldn’t soon forget Bow Island and its charming eccentricities.
Still anxious to regain the time lost resting near the Alberta border, I opted for a shortcut to my billet just outside of Medicine Hat in Dunmore (southeast). The backroads avoided the hills and downtown traffic by rounding below the city. The downside was, I effectively skipped the second biggest Alberta destination on my journey. It wasn’t a decision I made lightly; no media, no meetings, and sadly no chance to explore the town. I determined the upside, though, was a fair compromise; it would save me nearly a day of travel time and allow me to get an early start on what I was warned would be a rather desolate introduction to the TransCanada Highway.
I didn’t have as much trouble getting back on schedule as I expected, but my Dunmore detour was still the right decision because the next day was the longest yet. My hosts kindly gave me access to their full kitchen before they left for the evening; I’m not much of a chef but it was refreshing to make my own homecooked meal for once. With a graciously prepared breakfast the next morning, local advice was bestowed upon me regarding the limited small towns dotted between Saskatchewan’s major cities, and my strategy for the province was thoughtfully scrutinized. “You’ll be in Saskatchewan by the end of the day,” I was told. I hoped this wasn’t true as I was planning to camp just before the border in Walsh. Instead, I ended up well over the border, almost 80km east of Medicine Hat.
The uncertainty about accommodations in Walsh were hardly inspiring; even a few kilometers prior in the tiny town of Irvine, nobody knew if the campground there was operational. Irvine, a picaresque, track-side town of older homes, an old brick hotel and a couple humble storefronts across from a shady municipal park, seemed like an ideal stop for an early lunch. Unfortunately the café there had no food whatsoever. I bought some snacks from the convenience store instead and ate in the park before proceeding on to Walsh. This was an even smaller community, gated on the highway by two gas stations; one included an attached diner, which was closed without explanation, while the other doubled as the campground office, which was also inexplicably closed. My fears were founded.
The Alberta tourism centre – the third open building in Walsh (where the staff seemed rather tired of providing information about Saskatchewan to Eastward-bound travelers instead of the intended opposite) – confirmed that there wasn’t another place to stay for a further 40km at the Eagle Valley Campground outside of Maple Creek, across the border. Exhausted, and a day ahead of schedule with another accommodation arranged for downtown Maple Creek, I finished the 80km day there and decided the 10km trek into town would be my only saddle-time the next day.
I reached the Saskatchewan border earlier than expected thanks to an unplanned 80km day.
A silver lining of the long day was meeting many other cyclists on the TransCanada; after well over a month of feeling like the only touring cyclist in Canada, I suddenly found myself sharing the wide shoulders with a range of cross-country pedallers. One in particular appeared shortly after the Walsh episode, and quickly put this minor hurdle – and my entire mission – into perspective. Derek had already been on the road for 18 months, having kicked off in the blustery English winter of 2013 for a global tour to raise funds for his own Cancer charity. Derek himself is terminally ill. His journey, he told me, was indefinite. Content to ride for his cause till his dying days, the man’s spirit and fortitude was awe-inspiring. As we rode side by side, Derek took a photo of me to share with his community and vice versa. As he bid farewell, I felt blessed for the encounter. A small reminder of the many dreams and amazing lives interwoven through this ever-reaching road.
Derek had already been on the road for 18-months when I met him.
I also met a couple on the road from Hope who had heard about my journey there before their departure and were awaiting our encounter. We shared dinner at the restaurant of the Eagle Vallley Campground and discussed the many eccentric ways that motivated individuals choose to tackle cross-country treks under their own power. The only common thread seems to include a personal stubbornness; an unwavering goal bound by self-imposed rules and the mental resilience to stick with it against all odds and usually against any semblance of common sense.
The jungle-inspired Eagle Valley campsite is 10km north of Maple Creek.
I was excited for my introduction to Maple Creek the next day. Little did I know I would also get a unique tour of the ranch lands, farms and wildlife on the edge of the Cypress Hills that would give me a whole new appreciation for the nature of Saskatchewan.
To be continued.
Continued from my recap of the First 10 Days.
The bustling main-drag of Hedley BC.
After a good rest and reorganization in Princeton, it was time to hit the road again, easing myself back into the routine with a quick jaunt to Hedley. Hedley appeared empty and asleep, dwarfed by desolate cliffs gleaming in the afternoon sun, watched by the ghosts of the retired Mascot Gold Mine precariously perched above. The tourist info centre, museum, café and gift shop along the highway were equally empty. The diner/convenience store/gas station – impressively operated by a single employee – was, however, open. There, I was directed further down an unassuming street where the real heart of Hedley lived. A stranger outside the local senior’s centre encouraged me to check out the local hostel and offered the centre’s services as a backup. The general store further down the street served as the front desk for the hostel, from where its owner-operator was called to meet me outside. The store and the hostel, plus a restaurant across the road, were located in restored heritage buildings that maintained the town’s timeless character. Judy showed me around the comfortable hostel where, as the sole occupant, I had private access to a full kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and laundry facilities for some $30. Next best thing to billeting. I trekked back to the general store for a dinner of canned soup with a fresh pastry and fruit for desert (I won’t mention the potato chips), and hid indoors planning the next few days as rainfall exaggerated the vibrant hues of the town outside.
I had the Hedley Inn _ Hostel all to myself.
The mountains opened up while the same rustic, timelessness carried on through the fields of Keremeos the next day. The plethora of fresh fruit stands were sadly closed for the season on the outskirts of the ‘organic capital of Canada’ but the shops downtown were lively as ever. After riding around the block a local asked me what I was looking for. “Coffee,” of course, and I was directed to ‘Emmy’s Bakery’ (Crowsnest Bakery to strangers). Inside, Emmy already knew who I was. She gave me a free breakfast wrap and a coffee while we chatted about my trip before she phoned up the local press and town mayor, who later popped in for a quick visit. I also chatted with the past mayor and other locals to whom Emmy graciously introduced me. When the bakery finally closed I explored the town for the remainder of daylight before gnawing down a veggie burger at the local greasy spoon. I was kindly provided accommodations by the local Pastor, Jason Keibe, in the classic church on the edge of town. Jason and his family invited me into their own home for a warm breakfast the next morning before I set off for Osoyoos.
The scenic route to Osoyoos: it doesn’t look windy, but it was!
I arrived in Osoyoos in time for a meeting at the Wander Café, arranged last-minute with Lisa, an employee of MP Alex Atamanenko (in Ottawa at the time) and Osoyoos Times reporter Richard, who wrote up a great piece on my journey so far. Lisa and Richard also provided insight on the local political climate and environmental challenges, including battles over the proposed South Okanagan-Similkameen National Park. Coming into Osoyoos I had seen a series of ‘No Park’ signs, suggesting vitriol opposition to the proposal. In fact, recent feasibility studies had demonstrated majority support for the project, which would boost tourism and recreation opportunities while maintaining compatibility with the time-honoured ranching and agricultural traditions of the region. The debate was – like climate change, and many other environmental battles – an example of how a small minority can strategically exaggerate the proportion of opposition with disastrous effects. The crisp, barren landscape of stunning geological features and the many rare ecosystems it supports remains unprotected; the provincial government sided with the vocal minority against the project in 2012, triggering Parks Canada to abandon its plan.
The famous Spotted Lake northwest of Osoyoos. Unfortunately other environmental rarities in the region aren’t as well-protected.
I had also made last-minute arrangements to meet with another party in Osoyoos; an impromptu family support team. My grandma Enid and uncle Patrick (who also built the amazing aluminum cases on my uni) were coming from Victoria, and my beautiful girlfriend Silvey was in tow (who very bravely and graciously let me leave on this crazy trip just 11 months into our relationship). It was arranged that Pat (an avid cycling enthusiastic, currently training for his first triathlon after conquering a recent marathon) would ride along through the infamous Anarchist summit and into Grand Forks. Grandma and Silvey would follow and make arrangements in each community ahead of our arrival. The whole scheme was a very pleasant surprise for almost all involved (thanks to Pat’s quick planning). Being the Easter long weekend, I was advised to find a motel for myself and my new comrades sooner rather than later, and ended up at the Avalon Inn on the west side of town, where the others soon caught up.
We spent the evening making failed attempts to find somewhere to stay in the off-season between Osoyoos and Midway some 70 kilometres away (twice my estimated daily average). I had planned on camping in Johnstone Creek Provincial Park or ask for a backyard in Bridesville, but with my newly brandished support team it was decided that Pat and I would accept a ride ahead to Midway and back the next morning, allowing us to go as far as we could muster on Saturday (day 14, April 19). With the day’s gear strapped to Pat’s 2-wheeler, my uni felt (comparatively) light as a feather. After the initial shock of riding without the extra 60lbs (and consequent learning curve), I was able to establish a breezy 11km/hr average up the hill out of Osoyoos. The climb up Anarchist mountain was more gradual than I had anticipated, and a few of the switchbacks were level, providing rest opportunities without the usual struggle of remounting on a steep grade (although this, too, was less of a worry with Pat acting as optional launch-support). Pat, being the good sport he is, locked his bike in a low gear to simulate the same pedal rotations as me, going so far as to brake and pedal on the down-hills. Despite the climb, we arrived in Rock Creek well before sundown. Stopping in the local gas station, a few employees offered us their yard as a safe spot to leave our cycles for the night before catching a ride into Midway. Here, we also met the most demanding sheep ever and a stoic guard-pony who apparently protected it from cougars.
At the recommendation of a local in Midway, we stopped for dinner at the Bored Room Bistro where owners RJ and Tom were excited to hear about the journey and help me connect with the local reporter (also a Pat). The Bored Room Bistro, besides offering delicious pizza, doubles as a brunch buffet on Sundays; hearing about the incredible array of hot platters, soups, fruit platters and fresh salads included in the bargain buffet we agreed to schedule the next days’ trek around its 11am opening. Not only was the buffet predictably delicious but RJ and Tom insisted on making a generous donation when we stopped in the next morning. A scheduled radio interview on the other side of town with Alex Smith – host of the acclaimed EcoShock radio program dedicated to environmental issues – gave me an excuse to see more of Midway. The quiet town is exceptionally green and inviting, with bike lanes running from the Kettle Valley trail to a gorgeous riverside park and municipal campground at the heart of town. It was an honour to talk with Alex, whose inspiring radio program I listened to frequently in the lead-up to my journey. Joining up with Pat again, we followed up our 20k from Rock Creek to Midway with another 14 klicks to Greenwood.
Silvey shows no fear encroaching on the perch of the menacing, majestic Phoenix that guards Greenwood.
At one point, a leading BC city complete with a booming red-light district and 2000-seat opera house, today Greenwood is a quiet tourist stop with many historic storefronts sadly empty. The Darkwood café on the West edge was an eclectic, welcoming spot for the day’s coffee, while a motel on the Eastern border served as our HQ for the night. The windy Crowsnest led us another 45km to Grand Forks the next day, where Trish and Andrew of the Imperial Motel offered me a deal to stay for an undetermined amount of time while waiting for the frigid flurries of the Paulson Summit to dissipate. The family squad remained for another day of local exploration – perusing the charming Boundary museum with its rich array of mining-era artifacts and Doukhobor cultural heritage and spotting pheasants on the twisty Hardy Mountain Road – before tearful goodbyes on Tuesday morning.
This bridge, just east of Greenwood, carried vehicle traffic under the Kettle Valley railway line until the ’80s.
Over the first two weeks I had found myself almost a week ahead of schedule – largely because I took the Crowsnest instead of the Coquihalla from Hope. I had planned to whittle away this extra time in Grand Forks before an expected sunny break on the 5000-feet Paulson summit the following Wednesday. That plan was thrown into uncertainty with a message from a fellow unicyclist from Victoria. Cam was eager to join me for the ‘Bonanza Pass’ but was only available for the next 3 days. Welcoming the extra company, I invited him to meet up the next morning in Grand Forks and join me in tackling some fresh mountain snow. Cam literally bought his first 29” uni on the way through Vancouver, but as a 6-year veteran of one-wheeled transport, instantly put me to shame when he showed up, deftly mounting, idling and hopping around the parking lot of the Imperial Motel. After packing, we took a short ride north to Christina to give us more time to tackle the Paulson on Thursday.
The City Hall at Grand Forks: Undergoing repairs after an internal fire.
We started on the beautiful Columbia and Western Railway Trail, but as the pavement faded into narrow tracks of gravel, my limited off-road skills were quickly tested. After a couple awkward bails and false starts, I dragged us to the highway. Our pace quickened, and we arrived at the landmark Living Arts Centre in the heart of Christina just in time for a dinner of hot soup, quinoa salad and a bell-pepper burger. The Living Arts Centre is a model of low-impact construction, complete with LEED certification and its own Solar Aquatics System with extra capacity for RVs in the tourist season. Our choice of stop was one of great fortune; not only was the centre impressive, and not only was it open because it happened to be Open Mic night, but it was also the only establishment open in town.
Cam, Bob and I stand in front of Wildways Adventure Tours in Christina Lake. Bob equipped my uni with a knobby tire in preparation for the snow ahead.
The friendly crowd took well to our eccentric method of transportation and the climate cause. Within minutes we’d received multiple billeting offers. Someone dedicated a karaoke song to me while Cam gave impromptu unicycle lessons in the parking lot. We also happened across Bob and Lucinda Dupee in the attached gallery; Bob had emailed me the day earlier to offer a bed for the night. Operators of Wildways Adventure Tourism, a local outfit offering everything from boat and bike rentals and sales to specialized tours, Bob and Lucinda really went above and beyond.
Cam chases me down outside of Grand Forks. He put me to shame on just his second day with a 29” uni.
The couple offered us beds for the night, and a hearty breakfast the next morning, when Cam reminded me that it was my birthday. I had willingly forgotten it was my 24th, although the day to come would hardly make me feel any younger. After breakfast, Bob loaded up my uni and took me to his shop where he presented me with my first birthday gift: a mountain bike tire for the snowy Paulson pass. Installing the tire revealed some unexpected challenges; the custom aluminum boxes on my uni left mere millimeters between the current slick road tire and the bolts securing the support rods for the luggage, plus the bottom of the front case itself. With Bob’s help changing bolts, bending out support joiners and carving in the centre wheel well of the front case, the uni was finally reborn as a Kenda-sporting, snow-ready beast…that I could hardly ride. After a few minutes of awkward practice, we finally set off for the summit just after noon.
Cam and I pose at the first sight of snow. Just a hint of what was to come.
The trek was long and increasingly cold, but the snow stayed in the sky and off the road. As a former Highways employee, Cam knew what to expect, but both of us opted to walk part way as the grade continued relentlessly. As not only a uni rider, but also a fellow electric-car and eco-politico enthusiast, we had no shortage of fodder for chit chat on the long road west, although we were kept apart by the necessary buffer to safely weave and wobble through the gravel-coated shoulders. Bob had given us a heads-up about several potential shelters lining ski and hiking trails near the summit, one of which served as a welcome alternative to tent camping. Cam made soup out of packed tomatoes and sardines and I offered the side salad (avocado) and desert (apple). As we dined by the fire, the flurries intensified, promising a veritable winter wonderland in the frigid morning to come.
To be continued…
So, turns out I’m not so good at this ‘blogging’ thing after all. I am taking videos and writing posts, but the crucial step of remembering to upload them when I actually have internet access constantly alludes me. For anyone interested in my day-to-day progress, I have to say that Twitter and this nifty live GPS feed are going to remain the best way to verify that I’m alive and moving (or at least alive).
In lieu of actual daily updates, this is going to be a quick-and-dirty recap of the first ten days of the journey.
Launch in Victoria was great fun, despite mediocre weather for the Sidney event and my trepidation about the new cases. Myself and a small convoy of friendly cyclists arrived early for the Sidney event where I was warmly greeted by a generous and passionate crowd, accumulating pockets full of donations, safety gear, food offerings, letters of support and new contacts. After catching the 3pm ferry to Tsawassen, I cycled into Ladner. The roads were dry and quiet and I was surprised by the wide array of large farmhouses and heritage homes. I was quickly reminded how little of the lower mainland I’ve explored before. I was picked up by my first of several friendly billets who offered a warm, homemade meal. Best of all, I got an early night and was able to catch up on a bit of the 8 hours I lost to last-minute prep on Friday.
A great crowd joined me for the ride from Mile 0 to Sidney
Day two was a little rocky. The roads into Vancouver weren’t bad but the amount of traffic – and traffic lights – quickly revealed some outstanding flaws in my chosen method of transportation. The issue of mounting was paramount; not only did I discover I needed more space around me than most shoulders, sidewalks or bike lanes could afford, but even the slightest grades (up or down) added exponentially to the challenge. I opted to swing as far East as I could before heading into town for my 12pm appearance at Spartacus Books on East Hastings. This way I avoided the most chaotic parts of downtown Vancouver but still got to swing by some cool landmarks like the Science Museum and China Town. I ended up walking the last few blocks and arrived ahead of schedule, despite the delays. Spartacus was a bit of a let down; no crowd waiting, although my awesome billet for the next night was kind enough to swing by, and I used the extra time on two media interviews and spent a good 30 minutes talking to curious passers-by as I downed a corner-store muffin and yogurt cup. A stranger gave me $1.50 for a coffee; unsolicited spare-change can’t be common on the downtown East Side, and I reluctantly accepted the gracious gesture of goodwill.
After Spartacus I cycled a horribly inefficient route to my billet in the South-East end of town, concluding with a failed hill-climb and an awkward UPD (or ‘unplanned dismount,’ uni-geek euphemism for a crash) right in front of my destination. Classy. Inside, I was treated to vegan pizza and homemade nut-butter smoothie: if I had an endless supply of one food for the duration of the trip, nut-butter fruit smoothie would probably take the cake (no, no, I wouldn’t take the cake, I’d take the smoothie…ah, never mind). I took a bus back into town for a 7pm meeting, and forgot to make change for a bus back. I spoiled myself with a tuna wrap and an espresso gilato.
Monday was originally supposed to be a stationary, extra day in Vancouver, my logic being that I would likely have an extra meeting or two, have come up with some quick fixes for my new uni setup, and/or need to seriously rethink my plans with a couple days under my belt. None of these proved true, for better or for worse, and I had a billet offer in nearby Port Moody. I decided to make the ride there, as a head-start for Maple Ridge the next day. The billet was an old family friend and my former landlord/room-mate from my school days on the mainland, and I knew I’d be in for more friendly conversation and great food. Judy didn’t disappoint on either front, going so far as to provide me with an amazing packed lunch for the next day to boot.
Armed with extra food, rest, and a head-start on the next leg of the journey, I wasn’t too concerned when pending plans for staying in Maple Ridge fell through. I decided to charge ahead to Mission where another friend-of-a-friend stepped up to host in the community a day before schedule. I naively thought the worst of traffic complications were behind me, but drivers on the narrow urban stretch of the Lougheed in Port Moody were less than welcoming. I ended up walking a portion and had trouble re-mounting with a slightly new packing strategy. When I finally got on and started riding again, several traffic lights hindered my progress. More road rage also ensued, with people honking illogically when I stradled the edge of a straight-lane with a dedicated right-turn lane on my right (as cyclists should do).
At one point, a red light took me by surprise and I had to hop off the front (instead of kicking the uni ahead of me as I usually do) which caused my water bottles to jump out into the crosswalk just as the lights changed. I scrambled to kick the bottles off the road and hung my head low as I dragged the uni to the shoulder. I was further demoralized when I realized there was nowhere appropriate to remount and safely merge on the narrow roadway, and spent another half-hour walking awkwardly down the side of the road. Things kept getting worse when I missed the Marry Hill bypass signs and almost found myself dead in the centre of a 6-lane freeway. Trying to take a shortcut across the highway, I found myself in the middle of a bog riddled with blackberry bushes and signs warning me that I was standing on a network of ‘high pressure pipelines’. Perfect. After all of that, I badly needed a coffee and a breather, as I reconsidered my ambitions to get to Mission.
Maple Ridge arrival just before 1!
On the upside, the weather was super accommodating, with storm clouds trailing me slowly and rain barely keeping up. And for every grumpy road-rager, another 3-4 drivers cheered me on and many more folks encouragingly told me how they’d saw me on the news. After I finally figured out the Marry Hill bypass and the confusing Poco trail, the rest of the trip to Maple Ridge was a relative breeze on the Old Dewey Trunk and other straight, quiet back-roads. I ate my packed lunch with an extra veggie role while charging my phone at a coffee shop and continued on for Mission around 2pm, figuring the worst was behind me. Indeed, the more-rural continuations of the Lougheed was simpler for the remainder of the trip. I made the mistake of stopping for a break on one rural side route where getting back on the highway required a series of obstacles (u-turn, hill, train tracks) before carefully timing a merge with rush-hour traffic where there was virtually no shoulder. Thankfully, this time, luck was on my side.
With an aching crotch and fed-up disposition, I was grateful to descend into the heart of Mission, even if I still had to walk another steep incline to my billet for the night. After making a quick shopping trip (canned fruit salad, pre-cooked onion, lemon-juice and peanut butter; a complete and balanced meal, in other words), I bumped into Neil Smith; a cheerful fellow cyclist who walked with me halfway to my stay for the night. Neal had completed a zero-emissions ride for climate awareness from Richmond to Halifax four years ago…in 8 weeks! He had plenty of encouraging words and advice, but mostly stressed having fun. We pontificated on how any and all action to promote change reduces the sense of hopelessness and depression that can so easily take over people faced with the real burden of climate change, and how discovering other folks working for a better world is often the best source of optimism.
Neil Smith cycled coast-to-coast for environmental awareness in 2010
As with most billets in this early stage, who are found through personal connections – and not the campaign directly – I was reluctant to delve into some of the political motivations of my journey with the family that put me up in Mission. As usual, I worried too much. Although I’ve witnessed the handful of obligatory internet trolls on Facebook, I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t support my mission, much less who isn’t concerned about our inaction on climate change. Sherry and Glen, who offered me a great meal and warm bed despite a busy household, work around the clock to foster food security and sustainability, encourage diversity and support victims and offenders alike recover from traumatic crimes, all through local farming and food-distribution programs.
The next morning I set out early enough to make a breakfast stop in nearby Dewdney before carrying on. Two BC Hydro workers stopped me before I headed into the local diner to give me a $20 donation and some encouraging words; like many folks they’d heard about the journey on Global’s BC newscast the Sunday earlier. A busy table in the diner also knew who I was. The attention was a little overwhelming so early in the morning; after brief acknowledgements I was happy to hide in a booth with a copy of The Province. Seeing the paper was a reminder of how out-of-the-loop I’d been since my departure. The second page was a story about Glen, and a much less-modest description of the work he’s doing for Mission community.
Reading the paper at breakfast and who’s on the second page but Glen Flett, who kindly gave me a bed the night before.
With great weather on my side, I zipped right through my potential stops of Lake Errock and Harrison Mills, settling in Agassiz well before sundown. Needing to charge my phone and check emails, I briefly considered stopping at the local Subway or A_W, where those services are more-or-less guaranteed. Instead, I opted to try a local business - Magpie’s Bakery. They had neither, officially, but the baker-on-duty was graciously accommodating. A unicyclist himself, he was impressed by my ambition, and offered a free cup of coffee while providing me with a wealth of local knowledge. After making arrangements with the local paper and stocking up on food, I headed a few kilometres back to the Pathfinder Motel and Campground: The only local motel, The Pathfinder’s main claim to fame is eerie folk art statues gating its entrance. Despite my better judgement, I opted to camp and was almost surely the first person to use the public bathrooms since the season previous. After wiping away the cobwebs and treating myself to a luke-warm shower in a stall that smelled dubiously like rotten eggs, I did my laundry in the sink and gnawed down a nourishing meal of peanuts and a power bar. Needless to say, I was happy to return to Agassiz the following morning for a hot breakfast before making my way to Hope.
The campground in Agassiz was pretty. The bathrooms were not.
Before I left, I got a chance to talk to Jessica, the editor of the Agassiz Observer, who snapped some pictures and gave me tips on local projects with climate impacts: contrasting the spill ‘simulation’ testing that Enbridge was doing in the Fraser River, a team of researchers were capturing kinetic energy from the river’s surface to experiment with highly efficient, low-impact hydro power. She also explained the reason for a complete absence of active businesses on half of what I’d mistakenly perceived as the main road through town; I was actually in the middle of a TV set on hiatus, otherwise a municipal park.
Halfway to Hope, a couple Harley bikers passed and then stopped on the shoulder a few meters ahead. They waved as I approached and I dismounted to greet them. Vic – a local fishing charter and tourism operator – and his friend Gary were curious about my mode of transportation, but mostly my cause. Eager to get involved and help spread the word, we exchanged contact details and Vic gave me some tips on good contacts in Hope. When I arrived in town a few hours later, Vic and Gary were on their way out, and pointed me towards the Blue Moose Café where the manager was also a former Tourism office manager and the webmaster of a popular community services website. By the time I got inside, I was already known; a free, much-need frappuccino and sandwich were provided and it wasn’t long before the legendary Riley came to say hello. Like Vic and Gary, Riley urged me to rethink my plans for tackling the Coquihala, despite its wider shoulders and better roads, in favour of the quieter, fairer-weathered and shorter Highway 3 (Crowsnest) to Princeton. He also pointed me in the direction of local cycling guru (and bookshop owner) Nat, who had much the same advice. Wanting another day to re-route accordingly, and prepare for the long, isolated trek over the Alison Pass and the Sunday Summit, I continued to seek out a billet even after resorting to a motel for the night.
Here I am standing with my uni in Hope…Just kidding. I’m not tall and handsome like that.
I spent the next day buying more food, a new bag and line for keeping food out-of-reach of bears, plus a wrench to help me change my pedals to the longer 165mm option (two-holed cranks, 137mm default) to make big hills a little easier to swallow. I spent the night with Gerhald and Sabine of Willow Tree Spa, whose generosity was outstanding. After inviting me to a feast with other dinner guests, Sabine contacted friends afar for potential billeting on the road ahead, plus advice for places to stay between Hope and Princeton. The next morning they gave me an incredible breakfast – too big to finish – and extra granola for the road.
A community rock garden marks the entrance to Sunshine Valley
There are only three tiny communities between Hope and Princeton – plus the Manning Park Resort – and only the first of them has casual off-season accommodations. I decided to take advantage of this by stopping in Sunshine Valley at the local RV Resort and Campground. Here, too, folks had heard of my coming, and free coffee was on offer (a small but much-appreciated perk, given how much I go through). Although only 20kms, the trek to Sunshine Valley was slow-going, requiring much walking, especially since I wasn’t entirely used to the new 165 crank length and extra weight. (Despite having shipped my laptop ahead to Princeton from Hope, it didn’t offset the extra 2l of water and bag of food I had to take). When I woke up in the morning, my tent was covered in solid, prickly frost; my water bottles were frozen through. Luckily my -9c sleeping bag had kept me warm enough to face the frigid morning…at least after another cup of strong coffee.
I could swear this fellow is plotting something devious…
When the sun goes down in Sunshine Valley, the frost comes out!
The cycle to the Manning Park resort was grueling, as the frost dissipated and was replaced by beating sun and soaring 20+c temperatures, and sweeping hills evaded the horizon from every side. I needed the extra water I brought, as much of it was spent splashing myself down to cool off. The resort could not come soon enough. I was happy to pay the (comparatively) exorbitant $100 to rest in a real bed, do laundry in an actual machine, unwind in front of a TV, and eat a cooked meal at a real table. It struck me how much these petty creature comforts have a hold on my mental health, and why we face such a struggle in weaning ourselves of unsustainable first-world expectations in order to promote economic and environmental equality. I’m sure I could camp for many more days, but can guess how my enthusiasm and energy might wain with the grating of day-to-day discomfort.
Much-needed crotch/coffee break in Manning Park.
Monday welcomed in the second week with the hardest day of my journey thus far. The 65km trek to Princeton seemed impossible given my estimated 35km-day average (on level ground), but I was secretly hoping I could pull it off (knowing the alternative was camping in the middle of nowhere). The park quickly fell away, but the hills kept getting steeper as the shoulders of the road became coated with gravel, laced with rumble strips and potholes, and eventually disappeared altogether. The corners banked high on either side of the road, leaning me into the steady traffic of 18-wheelers. Although most drivers were incredibly patient and careful, I feared for my safety in enough sections that I spent hours on foot. Because none of that was challenging enough, I wiped out not once, not twice, but three times that day. A rut in the road caught me off guard before I’d even left the resort, leaving my front water-bottle holder split in two and more weight in my backpack. When the cuffs of my pants got caught on the cranks and launched me forward, it loosened the seat post so much that I had to stop and remove the saddle to tighten the bolt (which took an hour due to an improperly threaded screw). Gravel on a steep incline caught me up again, and I fell with my heel jammed in between the cranks and the spokes. Luckily nothing broke (on me or the uni). These errors cost me my goal for the day, though; I made it painfully close to Princeton before the sun began to fade.
Manning Park scenery: very much worth the effort.
Rather than risk getting caught on the narrow road in the pitch black, I opted to look for somewhere to camp. By this time I was was about 12km west of Princeton, and barbed-fences and ‘No Trespassing’ signs lined the shoulders. This wasn’t Manning Park. The first empty spot I scouted as a potential guerilla-campsite was full of bear droppings and fresh prints. Briskly moving on, I wandered down a small service road and set up camp, cautiously keeping my bear spray close at hand. I didn’t sleep much that night, but my restlessness did afford me a glimpse of the beautiful blood-red moon on the night of its eclipse. Of course my phone/camera died before I could take a picture, but landscape of perfect, haunting isolation and quiet beauty will stay with me long after this trip is over.
The kids of Princeton have their priorities straight!
Today I arrived in Princeton before 9am, picked up my laptop from Canada Post, and was greeted – I thought by happenstance – by local councilor Kim Maynard and his sister Dierra. Turns out, they had come to town looking for me, having heard of my arrival from a member of the local Chamber of Commerce. Kim took us in his electric volt to a local coffee shop where we met with a local news editor and discussed the campaign and Princeton’s green initiatives. Kim later offered me the use of a vacant rental home for the night where I finally find myself with the time to finish this blog (after visits to the local hardware store, grocer, second newspaper and The Source for a pair of badly-remiss earbuds). As much as ever, strangers know who I am and what my mission is.
I’m constantly reminded that I’m not the only one who cares. I cherish every meeting with every stranger, however modest or ambitions their strides are in marching on for a better future, and supporting folks like me that have the time and energy to represent their passion for change. Us ‘city’ folk (even in small cities like Victoria) often pontificate on the ‘sameness’ of small-town Canada. That’s true in some sense, but more true is the ‘sameness’ of all of our shared values for responsible stewardship of our homes and our future, whether we live in cities, towns or elsewhere, despite the rich and striking diversity of our communities.
- Joseph Boutilier