Road Trip 2019, parts 1 and 2 are now completed. One of the goals for our road trips in our 70s is to ride our tandem bicycle on great bike trails and routes across the U.S. and Canada. This trip was no different: we took time out to ride parts of:
Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes in Idaho
Missouri Headwaters Trail in Montana
Rapid Creek Trail in Rapid City, South Dakota
Iowa Great Lakes Trail around Lake Okoboji and Spirit Lake
Simcoe Loop Trail in Simcoe County, Ontario, Canada
Great Lakes Shore Trail along Lake Ontario near Bath, Ontario
Pheasant Branch Trail in Middleton, Wisconsin
Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes again
Shelton Valley Loop, a quick ride at home between the two parts of our road trip
Bear Creek Trail in Grande Prairie, Alberta, Canada
Canyon to Coast Trail near Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada
Our total riding distance between the start of our adventure and the end was just a few meters shy of 340 km, while the bike rode nearly 15,000 km in the back of the van in that time.
As we usually do, we document most of our bicycle adventures with a video diary.
We camped overnight at the Headwaters State Park, where the bike trail ends, and rode into Three Forks in the morning. It was cold, so we didn’t stop in town, but drove back in the car after the ride for our morning coffee.
We drove a short way, from Belle Fourche to Rapid City, intending to ride the length of the trail. We rode from the Founders Park, near downtown up the creek to the end of the trail, racing back to the car ahead of a rain storm, cutting our intended ride a bit short.
We stayed in Rapid City overnight, then started early on Saturday morning to ride the rest of the trail, again starting at Founders Park. Bridge repairs near the end of the trail cut this ride a bit short, too, so we retraced a bit of yesterday’s ride and a spur trail to the north.
In 2017, we rode most of the way around Lake Okoboji, anti-clockwise, from the east side, when we had a tire failure. A runner on the trail gave us a ride to the bike shop, where we got the bike tuned and new tubes and finished the loop. This year, we started on the west side and rode clockwise, completing the loop with no problems. We didn’t know it then, but my cousin Jack Parkins lives at the top of the hill on the on-road segment of the trail south of the lake: we visited them a few days later.
Instead of riding from our resort and repeating almost half the previous ride, we drove to a trailhead in Spirit Lake and rode up the west side of the lake and took the Jackson County [Minnesota] trail to Loon Lake, where I spent several summers camping as a Boy Scout, in the 1950s.
After some rainy weather that kept us off the mostly gravel trails near where we were staying, we drove up to this paved trail, which was very nice, but the rain caught us at the turn-around point near Midland. Still, it was a good ride.
This was quite a drive from our lodging, but was a route mostly on paved roads. We had driven through Collingwood on the way to visit Own Sound a few days before and decided not to ride the gravel rail trail beyond Collingwood. This one took us through beach home neighborhoods and through the Sunset Point Park on Georgian Bay, Lake Huron.
A short segment of the Simcoe Loop Trail, designated the Millennium Trail, runs along the shore of Lake Couchiching in Orillia. We rode this on Saturday of this long holiday weekend (Victoria Day), so there were lots of people out. We also encountered thick clouds of midges, and had to stop and clean them out of my eyes, nose, and beard.
We left the Orillia area on Sunday during the Victoria Day holiday weekend, driving east to Peterborough and then south to Bath, where we stayed at an AirB&B. In the morning, we rode west from Bath along the shore of Lake Ontario before joining the heavy traffic into Toronto as holiday travelers returned home.
We had ridden the Pheasant Branch trail, near our son’s house, in 2015 and 2017 and counted it as one of our favorites. We were appalled to find that the trail had been almost totally destroyed in a flood in August, 2018. Fortunately, most of the bridges had been restored, but it was largely rough gravel and sand down through the canyon, so we returned via the city streets.
On the way home, we camped in Cataldo, Idaho, taking an early evening ride up to where we had turned around on that freezing April morning more than a month ago. Passing our campground to ride farther down the trail, we spotted a young moose headed toward the trail through the campground. We stopped for a few long-distance photos, then pedaled on. We hadn’t gone too far when the storm clouds building to the west flashed lightning and a very close thunderclap. As it was warm and humid, we hadn’t packed our rain gear, so we turned around and sped back to camp. However, the rain passed to the northwest. So, we have a 10-mile section from mileposts 29 to 39 yet to ride on the lower half of the Trail of the Coeur d’ Alenes, plus the section from Osburn to Mullen through Wallace on the upper end. The weather has never cooperated with us: it’s taken us 15 years to complete 96 miles of the 144-mile round trip ride on this trail, and 61 of that was the first time, in 2004.
When we really need a bike ride and don’t have time to drive to a trail or rural area, we ride the 10-mile loop through downtown Shelton and around Shelton Valley, just west of town. We can choose to ride clockwise or anti-clockwise, and there is enough climbing to give a good workout. This was an anti-clockwise run.
We thought we might get to ride some on the way to and in Prince George, but the weather didn’t cooperate on the way up and our weekend was entirely taken up with the fiber arts conference. Then, we stayed with relatives on a gravel road west of Dawson Creek, so there wasn’t much opportunity there. But, we found this delightful urban trail down the creek running through the middle of Grande Prairie, Alberta. We camped next to the trail, but the wind was too strong to ride the afternoon we arrived, so we broke camp in the morning and rode from the parking lot at the mid-point of the trail. The trail was a good workout with curves and rolling up and down the sides of the canyon, with a lot of children in summer programs along the trail, so we took the city streets back to the van, driving another 175 km south to our next stop: we should have pressed on another 150 km, as we drove that the next morning–in a late June blizzard along the Rocky Mountain Front.
Our last ride started where it all began, 33 years ago. In 1986, one of our first big group rides was an 80-km (50-miles, a “Semi-Century”) ride from Nooksack School in Washington State, down the Sumas River, across the border to Chilliwack and return. This trip, we parked on the north side of Chilliwack and rode the dyke along the Fraser River to the Rosedale-Agazziz Bridge and back along the Camp Slough, reminded on the way back of the persistent wind that blows up the Fraser valley: that long-ago ride, we fought the wind all the way back, 40 km, arriving an hour later than the rest of the quite large group, though we had been with them at the turn-around. Choosing to ride along the cottonwood-lined slough was a good choice: we had much less wind.
Day 7, Fathers Day: Prince George, BC. We are up early, the first in the breakfast room at the hotel, then pack out and head for the Hart Highway, BC 97 North. We stop at Sav-On for more groceries and Starbucks for our morning coffee. Heading north, we stop for fuel before leaving the Prince George metro area, then cruise the long empty road north. We stop at Mackenzie Junction for a lunch of convenience store fare: muffins, bottled Frappaccinos, potato chips, and yogurt from our grocery stop. I am stuffed, and have used up most of my daily calorie allowance in one take.
After Mackenzie Junction, we pass the roadside notice: “Check Fuel, no service for 148 km.” We’re still good, and press on over Pine Pass in some of the most spectacular mountain scenery this trip, through the foothills to Chetwynd, festooned from end to end with fantastical and whimsical chainsaw carvings, the fruit of many years of contests. We stop for photos at Carver’s Row, then off to Tim Hortons. I get a cappuccino, Judy gets a pastry, and we use the WiFi to phone ahead for directions to our hosts, Janet and Dwight. We make the turnoff, but overshoot the driveway, doubling back just as they prepare to drive out to intercept us at the highway.
Janet and Dwight recently sold a B&B south of Dawson Creek and have moved into their weekend cabin off the grid west of Dawson Creek. But, they have built a utility shed near the road and brought in power, so we have power for our refrigerator and phone recharging. There isn’t any level place to park, but we do the best we can and put up with a slightly tilted bed. Their main cabin is deep in the woods, cozy, but has only solar power. No well, so they truck in water and ration it. We’ve done worse, at our former cabin in Montana, so we’re in luxury compared to that.
Day 8: We explore Dawson Creek, taking in the visitor center, where we collect lots of maps we should have already had, and get some ideas of what to see in the area. The local art gallery is first, with an excellent pottery display from the local potters guild, and a historical photo display of the Alaskan Highway construction in 1942 by the U.S. Army (with coöperation from Canada) to deliver war supplies to Alaska by land. We’re interested in several bridges: the first is a railroad bridge south of town, in the village of Pouce Coupe, [Poose KooPAY] which we eventually find and venture out on part way: it’s perfectly safe, as railroad trestles go, but the gaps between the ties are unnerving, so we don’t cross.
The second bridge to explore is the Kiskatinaw Bridge, on the old Alaska Highway, the last wooden bridge to survive from the 1942 wartime construction of a land supply route to Alaska. It’s curved, as many wooden bridges are, to add stability. The deck and trestles are still sound, but the timber curbs along the inside edge are worse for wear, possibly from vehicles sliding into them in icy conditions, and partly from dry rot. We park in the turnout at the near end of the bridge and walk across. Local traffic zooms across like any normal modern bridge, but we don’t.
Turning around, we head back toward Dawson Creek, with heavy weather looming to the west. We turn off the highway into the downtown to photograph the “Mile 0” post in the center of town, top off the fuel, and head back west to continue our visit. We retire to our van fairly early: our hosts have been busy working on the buildings. The rain starts as we settle in.
Day 9: We’re on the eastern edge of the Pacific Time Zone, so it’s light out at 4:30 am. Camping in our host’s large rural compound means we don’t close the curtains, so we’re up before 5:00. We had tentatively planned to visit a dinosaur site to the south, but decided $50 worth of fuel and most of the day to look at dinosaur footprints wasn’t worth it. We elect to move on, then, and explore a bit more of Alberta instead.
We pack for travel and the four of us head into town for breakfast. Surprisingly, the fast food franchises in Canada offer plant-based sausage alternatives with the egg and muffin (no, it isn’t that franchise, the one with the clown, but one we don’t see often anymore in the U.S.–A&W) A statistic I read the other day says that 10% of Canadians are vegetarian, so it now isn’t surprising to see vegetarian options at most eating establishments, unlike the U.S., where many people view not eating meat as unpatriotic and unwholesome, or just plain weird.
Too soon, we part ways, heading toward Alberta, where we stop for a photo-op with a giant beaver statue at Beaverlodge, then off the freeway for a hike through Saskatoon Island Provincial Park, which hasn’t been an island for almost 100 years. We have decided to check out Grande Prairie, the largest city on our route: the Rotary has a campground near a bike trail. We check in to the campground shortly after noon to make sure we get a good site, then head downtown for lunch at a Pita Pit, which one can find in almost any Canadian city of reasonable size. Like our penchant for stopping at Starbucks when we travel, we know what’s on the menu and we don’t have to guess if they will have food we are willing to eat.
After lunch, we take in the historical museum, including pioneer buildings collected to save them from the ravages of time, decorated with the trappings of everyday life of the period. We also track down the pioneer hospital museum. Surprisingly, the first hospital in Grande Prairie opened in 1911, in a log cabin, with six beds in a tiny cabin, later expanded into a large log home after a proper hospital was built. The new house was still log, but covered with ship-lap siding and plastered inside so it looks like a “modern” stick-built house, a treatment that was fairly common in the early 20th century as log homes became associated with primitive living and hardship.
We had considered taking time this afternoon to ride the bike trail, but the 40-km/hr winds that had buffeted us since leaving Dawson Creek and continued full strength for the rest of the afternoon discouraged us, so we settle into our campsite: tomorrow promises calm, but cool weather, ideal for us for a long-overdue bike ride.
Day 10 dawns overcast and cool, but the wind has subsided, so we dress in our cycling kits, break camp for breakfast at Starbucks, and park at the museum we visited yesterday: the bike trail runs in front of the museum. We could have ridden from camp, but we didn’t want to be rushed to make it back by check-out time. This turns out to be a good choice: we do a warm-up loop around the reservoir, where the campground is the highest point, then head down the creek under the main highway and westbound rail bridges, across the creek, then up and down, climbing high above the creek bed, then crossing and climbing up to the city streets. We decide to make a loop instead of retracing the up and down route through the canyon, following a bike path toward the downtown, then on less-busy streets through the city center, around the provincial government complex, and back into the park north of where we parked.
Back to Starbucks for lunch: there are other places to eat, but we know the menu and they have electrical outlets for computers and decent WiFi, so that’s where we end up often on these road trips. After lunch, we top off the fuel tank, restock our tiny 12-volt refrigerator at Sav-On and head south on Route 40, 173 km of no services. We pass many natural gas wellheads and drive through several large road construction projects, where passing lanes are being built on this lonely highway that rolls up and down across the Rocky Mountain foothills. Dark clouds gather, and we drive through a few rain squalls. Snow-capped ridges and peaks appear ahead through breaks in the clouds.
As the GPS counts down, we pass a coal mine, an industrial facility on the banks of the Smoky River. The hillsides above the highway are deeply terraced, with nearly vertical coal veins sprinkled across the gouges in the mountain. The road crosses the river and climbs steeply into the town of Grande Cache, the only settlement in the middle of this 325-km-long stretch of highway. We stop, check out the municipal campground, which is gravel, with a long walk uphill to the washrooms, and the WiFi winks out as we approach the nearest available site. The weather report predicts several days of continuous heavy rain. Unpaved roads in Canada tend to turn to gumbo in rainy weather. We walk back to the office, thank them for their time, and drive back over the hill to the information center, where we check motel prices on their WiFi and settle for one of the more inexpensive ones with good ratings.
We find we have a kitchenette unit, so we cook dinner from our food stores and have plenty of room to spread out our electronics for work and recharging. We plan the road ahead: The weather forecast calls for extended rain all across the northern Rockies, so we plot a course to take us far enough into British Columbia to the south to drive through the worst of it, farther than we intended, but sight-seeing in Jasper National Park in heavy rain and cloud doesn’t seem a good plan.
Day 11 sees us off toward Jasper. Less than 20 km from Grande Cache, the rain turns to snow. Southbound traffic is far enough ahead of us that the tracks are faint, but we follow them as best we can. The snow gets heavier as we go, but tapers off about 30 km from the junction with Highway 16.
The run into Jasper is uneventful, slow at times because of road construction. Highway 16 runs through the National Park, but bypass is permitted without an entrance fee as long as one does not leave the highway. We do, at Jasper, for coffee and fuel, but are immediately stopped by a slowly-moving passing train. Trains in Canada are often several kilometers long, and this is no exception. After the long wait, we fail to find a parking spot near the Tim Hortons, so just top off the tank at Esso and move on.
Before we get too far, there is more road construction, and another delay, with a one-lane temporary bridge slowing traffic. The rain continues into British Columbia. We pass Mt. Robson, the highest point in British Columbia, but can only see the lower half of the mountain. We turn off onto BC 5, headed south. At the first town, Valemount, we spot a sign for espresso, so venture into the town and find The Gathering Place, which has good espresso and irresistible desserts.
Down the highway, we brake for a young bear ambling across the highway right in front of us. We intended to stop at Clearwater and camp, but it’s only 3:30 and Kamloops is an hour and a half away, so we make reservations at a hotel and continue on, through intermittent light rain, following the North ForkThompson River into the city. Kamloops is a large city in central BC, with major industries including paper, plywood, and copper. Its central location also makes it a favorite for regional sporting events and academic institutions.
We check in, then walk up the street to the nearby Coast Hotel, which has an attached sports bar, Romero’s. We select a couple of vegetarian appetizers to share, a dark beer on tap, and top off with crème brûlée for dessert, skipping a main dish. It’s been a long day, and a wearing one driving in snow, slush, and rain. We’d intended to spend a bit more time around Jasper National Park, but the rain hid the mountains and, with the solstice coming up tomorrow, the summer tourist season is well underway, snow or no snow, rain or not, and we’re not comfortable around crowds, preferring to explore off the beaten track.
Day 12: We shoulder through the tour bus crowds at the hotel breakfast bar, stop after breakfast for coffee at a nearby Starbucks, and head for the Coquihalla Highway south. The truck has been running rough at idle and difficult to handle in city driving, so we’re glad to be out of the city. Kamloops is exploding up the steep hills to the south, making for crazy navigation between commercial centers terraced between residential housing.
Our relief is short-lived, however. As we climb up into the mountains in the empty wilderness, the “Check Engine” light comes on. The truck is running smoothly at highway speed, but the lack of any services for 115 km ahead and the few U-turn exits on this speedway between the widely-spaced cities gives cause for concern. A bit more than an hour later, we drop down to the junction city of Merritt, low on fuel and running rough. At the fuel stop, I notice the vehicle next to us has an auto parts logo, so I ask the driver about repair shops. He sends me next door to his shop, which, unlike the Napa parts stores in the U.S., is a repair shop. They’re busy, but refer me to a tire store on a back street that does repairs. After an hour’s wait, they hook it up to the analyzer and deliver the report: an EGR (Exhaust Gas Recycler) sensor alarm. Not an immediate emergency, but the engine will run rough at idle and dump too much nitrous oxide into the atmosphere. We elect to move on, as the repairs would mean removing the engine cover inside the passenger compartment and maybe delay us the rest of the day.
The warning light stays off as we climb up the next series of mountain passes and stop for lunch at the only roadside rest area on the route. At last, we reach the Coquihalla Summit and wind steeply down the mountain river valley to the flat alluvial plain of the Fraser River delta. We stop at Chilliwack, having planned an afternoon bike ride along the Fraser through the sloughs and farmland where it begins to spread between the mountains. It’s 3:00pm, late in the day for us to ride, but we’re determined.
The route twists and turns through residential neighborhoods, then on farm roads and finally onto a dyke, designated a non-motorized trail, part of the Canyon to Coast Route. It’s gravel, but fairly hard packed, except for 2 or 3 kilometers in the middle, past the hops fields, where the gravel is looser. The view opens up as it runs along the river near the mouth of the canyon ahead, then drops us onto a paved road that used to run to the ferry landing where the BC 9 bridge stands today.
We turn around under the bridge and head back, into the wind that consistently blows up the flat valley from the Georgia Straits, 100 km away. We follow Camp River Road, a paved farm road and alternative part of the trail, along the Camp Slough, sheltered a bit by the cottonwood trees, but it’s a hard grind against the relentless wind. At last, we leave the farms and the smells that identify this one as dairy, that one, pigs, and the other one, chickens, before we even see the barns. The road becomes more residential, and has a shoulder, of sorts, that dodges around utility poles and trees. Then, we’re through neighborhoods we rode before and back to the park and our van, 31.5 km (19.5 miles), a flat ride, but hard work after a tense day traversing the mountains in a cranky old truck.
We retrace our route back to the freeway and a short 20-minute drive to our hotel, hot, tired, and ravenously hungry. We throw our bags in the room and head for the on-premises restaurant, still in our cycling clothing. By the time we’re settled in and showered, it’s late, and we collapse into bed. Tomorrow, we head across the border toward home. Summer has come at last, and the roads, campgrounds, and hotels are filling with tourists, making travel less than idyllic. Time to be home.
Day 13: We’re up early. No complimentary breakfast in this old but upgraded motel, since there is a restaurant on the property, so we make do with microwave: reheated leftovers from dinner and instant oatmeal. We’re less than 5 km from the U.S. border, so getting there doesn’t take long, but the lane we’re in is slow: there’s only one checkpoint, while the other lane fans out to four. The Check Engine light comes on again as we creep forward over the next hour. Unlike the Canadian crossing, where the border agents are mainly concerned with your destination, whether you intend to leave anything in Canada, and whether you have weapons, the U.S. border agents want to know how long you were there, where you went, and why, and what you brought back. It always seems they aren’t happy we left the country and even less happy that we came back.
Once across the border, we continue south on WA Highway 9 instead of following the GPS route to Bellingham, stopping in Sedro Wooley for coffee and a pastry. At Arlington, we finally turn on the GPS and join the I-5 freeway flow to the Edmonds – Kingston ferry, where we wait through two sailings before we end up the first car on the next sailing, which makes the drive to Poulsbo relatively painless, at the front of the ferry traffic from Kingston. The rest of the trip is just a long jaunt down WA Highway 3 to Shelton and home, where we quickly unload and put things away, to settle in for the rest of the summer.
After a week at home, during which we reconsidered some of the issues we had with the van, balanced the books, and visited with friends and family. We spent the weekend packing for the next phase of our mad tour. The instigating mission for this part of the tour is the Association of Northwest Weavers Guild biennial conference, held odd years. This year, it is once again in Canada, at Prince George, British Columbia.
First thing when we got home was to research and order a set of hard-wired 12-volt auxiliary sockets for the van, having fought with a Rube Goldberg nest of doublers, triplers, and high-amperage USB add ons from Walmart and Canadian Tire on the last trip. We now have seven sockets, including the original in-dash socket. The six extra ones, in sets of three, I mounted on a steel sheet recycled from a furnace remodel a few years ago. The bending brake I installed on the workbench many years ago for use in aircraft construction came in handy. I also installed a heavy-duty toggle switch to shut off the six-pack, as the in-dash socket is “always on” and we had to pull the plug when we stopped, adding to the wear and tear on the devices.
Still woefully behind on processing video from our bike rides here and there across the continent, I had to forgo working on those for a few days to migrate a web site I had managed for the last 12 years to a new site and hand off the content management to a new web editor. As I may have mentioned a the start of Part 1, the original web site server got hacked and the administrator locked it down, so we couldn’t make any changes to the content. The organization waited until we were almost home to decide what course of action to take, of the several I suggested. While never happy about abandoning a job under unpleasant circumstance, I was well ready to relinquish the task, as we have been away from the organization for 10 years: there wasn’t opportunity to get in members’ faces to elicit content, so the site wasn’t as dynamic and up to date as it should have been. With most of our business taken care of, we were as ready as we could get for Road Trip 2019, Part 2.
Day 1: With four days to get the 1000 km from home to Prince George, we load the van and sit in the driveway until Monday’s mail arrived, then set out on our journey. But not far, as we had decided we needed a more convenient waste management for the rearranged van floor plan, so we stop for a basket to fill in the remaining gap between the seats beside the refrigerator, a stop to refuel (our last fuel stop had been in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho), and lunch. We join the stop and go parade on I-5 through Tacoma and Seattle. The late start has the advantage of dropping us onto the northbound express lanes in downtown Seattle, so we quickly make up time, soon arriving at Bellingham, the largest city closest to the border, where we detour for a currency exchange, then off on back roads to the quiet border crossing at Sumas.
Our destination for the night is a private RV park and campground on the Chilliwack River, a bit off the highway, but a beautiful setting and typical mom and pop retirement venture, a little worn and full of semi-permanent summer residents, who rent the spaces by the year. But, there’s always a transient spot waiting to park the van and plug in phones, refrigerator, and computers. The WiFi, however, typical of many hotspots throughout Canada, has free WiFi, but you have to have an account with the Cable/DSL internet providers to actually connect to the Internet, similar to the XfinityWiFi connections in the U.S. So, we’re off-line until we can get to a Starbucks in the morning. After 12 days with no phone service and no cellular data when in Ontario, we did update our phone plan to include international roaming and, because International Roaming plans are expensive, calling over WiFi service as well. Our new carrier has a true smorgasbord plan, where you have to pick each feature you want. These don’t add to our basic plan cost, but allow us to spend money by the minute, message, or megabyte when we use it. But, we have to ask for even the “on-demand” services. While we’re traveling, though, the phones will be in Airplane mode when there is No Service and cellular data turned off meanwhile. And, we will only check voice mail and make outgoing calls when we have WiFi available. We’ve also downloaded off-line maps onto our phones so we can navigate without using cellular data.
So it goes. We commandeer the game room at the RV park, as we have been known to do at other RV parks we’ve stayed at, to spread out a bit more than we can in the van. We’ll get the hang of this vagabond life yet.
Day 2: We rise early and headed for town (Chilliwack) for breakfast at Starbucks. Instead of creeping through the red lights of main street, we thread through the residential streets and rural roads to join the freeway a few kilometers farther east. The first goal of the day: Bridal Veil Provincial Park, to hike up the steep trail to the falls. After a stop in Hope to ogle the chainsaw carvings that festoon the downtown, we turn north up the Fraser Canyon, a scenic drive on the Trans-Canada 1. Most of the traffic now travels on Route 5, the Coquihalla Highway, making the canyon drive more pleasant. Lunchtime finds us at Fat Jack’s Restaurant at an unnamed “wide spot in the road.”
The road turns up the Thompson River at Lytton, taking us into the drier plateau. On a lark, we take a quick dash down into the river canyon through Ashcroft, then make early stop for the evening at Cache Creek as the afternoon temperatures creep into the 30s.
Day 3: We breakfast in our room from our stash, load up, hit the coffee shop next door to the motel, and head north on BC 97. In about 5 km, we are no longer in the desert, but in a region of forested hills and lush meadows, farms, blue lakes, and meandering streams. It’s a good day. We stop for fuel at 100-Mile House, then a brief detour to see the historic St. Joseph Mission (a small chapel with old log buildings around it) before stopping for lunch in a coffee shop next to the library at bustling Williams Lake.
Continuing north after lunch, we notice gathering clouds to the north and west, getting a few drops on the windscreen passing through Quesnel (kwin-EL), where we turn off on BC 26 for an 80 km side excursion to the Barkerville Provincial Park. Barkerville is a restored gold mining town, decked out in a representation of it’s appearance in the early 1870s, with docents in period constume, interpretive presentations, and horse-drawn coach tours. We pay for a campsite at the campground located 2 km down-valley, mark our campsite, and return in pouring rain for a self-guided walking tour of the town: entrance through the visitor centre only. The rain stops as soon as we enter the 1870s, but even on a warm spring day there are still piles of snow on the north sides of some of the buildings. No climate change yet in the 19th century. After a quick stroll up and down the main street and a side street, we grab the last scoops of ice cream of the day at the sweet shop, discovering that bowls come in 2-scoop size only, so we splurge and get two scoops—each. The park is closing, so we push through the one-way gate into the 21st century, and back to our mosquito-infested campsite, where the heat has evaporated all traces of rain. It’s been a frabjous day.
Day 4: It has rained all night, drumming on the roof of our van. We dash to the showers between squalls, but the rain comes again briefly before we get back to the truck. It stops long enough for us to pack up and roll out to the visitor centre parking lot, where we tap into the WiFi. When the park opens, we wander the historic town, stepping under porches during the rain squalls. It’s us and the horses, shuffling in their stables or nose-down in the feed, waiting to carry tourists on carriage tours of the narrow town. We photograph interesting displays, wandering back down the street as people begin to filter in: staff–some already in costume–and teens up exploring.
Wake Up Jake still has the “Closed” sign out, but it is after 9:00 am and we see people inside, so we step in and are seated for breakfast. The rest of the patrons appear to be park staff, some in costume as coach drivers. Service is good and the prices aren’t bad for a park concession. It’s a nice cafe like you find in many small towns, basic breakfasts and lunches, and really good food, served with style in the 19th century gold rush town setting. After breakfast we cross the street to the town bakery, getting pastries to share later. The bakery fare is early Canadian, flaky pastries. We chose an eccles (eck-els) cake, a flat, round, filled-cookie-like cake, and an almond croissant.
We stow the pastries out of sight in the truck and head down the canyon, 80 km winding up and down the canyon sides back to the section of BC 97 known as the Cariboo Highway. BC 97, which we’ve been on since Cache Creek, follows the numbering of US Highway 97. US 97 starts at Weed, California and winds north, 1070 km through Klamath Falls and Bend, Oregon, crossing the Columbia River at Maryhill, Washington to Oroville, where it becomes BC 97 at Osoyoos, BC and continues 2081 km to the border with Yukon Territory. We’re only traveling as far as Dawson Creek this trip. We’ve driven most, if not all, of the portions through Oregon, Washington, and as far as Kamloops in BC. The Cariboo is by far the prettiest section, so far. We stop at a wayside to make short work of the pastries, dividing them in half to share, careful to not cover ourselves with crumbs in the process. Our plan was to not eat them until we were too far from Barkerville to turn back for more.
Black clouds loom ahead as we approach Prince George. We drive the last 20 km in driving rain, which comes in waves of heavy squalls. Between squalls, we pick up our conference registration packets, check in to our hotel, have lunch at a very good Asian Fusion restaurant attached to the hotel, and check out the conference venue to see where we will spend the next two days of classes, displays, and social events. It’s a tradition at the weavers conferences for individual guilds to decorate a 3×3 meter booth with fiber creations that reflect the conference theme. Because this conference is so remote, more than 1000 km from Seattle, with the added hassle of bringing conference displays through customs, only two guilds from the U.S. have entered: Seattle, of course, and Tacoma, one of the guilds to which we belong. The booth committee arrived early for extended workshops and to build the booth. I was on the booth committee six years ago, when the conference was in Bellingham, Washington: then, we partnered with a guild from Alberta, so they wouldn’t have to haul the structures. The other guild we belong to, Olympia, elected not to present, due to the difficulty transporting the presentation materials so far. We could have offered, but it would have been inconvenient to camp around additional baggage in our van, and we’re continuing our explorations after the conference.
Prince George is the largest city in northern BC, with about 100,000 population in the metro area, and is a major transportation hub, at the crossroads of the major north-south and east-west highways in the region. We’re in the centre of the city: everything is walkable, so we explore a bit more, finding the local Starbucks (in another hotel nearby) and head back to our hotel to shift from vagabonding to conference mode. As is our traveling habit, we’ve had a light breakfast out, lunch at a nice cafe, and snack from our portable refrigerator and grocery supplies in the evening.
Day 5: Conference Day. We get breakfast at our hotel, wander over to Starbucks, then scout out where our classes will be in the Coast Hotel next to the Civic Centre. Judy is taking a class on how to open an Etsy shop, to market her art journals. I’m taking a class on how to computerize your clothing. Yes, it’s a thing. I’ve known about it for some time, but haven’t gotten into it, and it has been on the back burner. The instructor updates us on all the latest tech from Adafruit and Sparkfun and shows examples of her work. The bicycle jacket with turn signals built in seems to be a practical first project. We also get tips and tricks on avoiding electrical shorts when sewing with conductive thread, and the iterative approach to debugging wiring and programs.
Lunch at conferences consists of pre-packaged soggy sandwiches, but it’s convenient to give us time to peruse the galleries of work by attendees and instructors. Over the lunch break, we encounter fellow guild members Betty, Lynne, Gail, Lynn, and Tami as we cross paths between classes. We don’t have an afternoon class, so after we see all the exhibits, we head uptown to Books and Company for a mid-afternoon early dinner, espresso, and indulge in some heavy book-buying: the shop has a number of half-price racks, so we succumb to the temptation and walk out with a $50 pile of books we probably wouldn’t have purchased at full price.
Evening finds us back at the Civic Centre for the Keynote Address and social hour. Arriving early as usual, we review the day and plans ahead on one of the benches in the foyer. The security personnel keep an eye on us. I realize that, with scruffy beard, well-worn military-style cargo pants that are beginning to fray, weathered ball cap, and a slightly-too-large casual jacket, I could be one of the homeless guys we see sleeping in office building entryways nearby.
The keynote address, delivered by a spinner and weaver who grew up in Peru in the 1970s with her American parents and now lives there again, was fascinating, as she relayed the tale of how the local tribal life centers around fiber: dyeing, spinning, and weaving, and how different the culture is, and how it differs from the western-style culture the mining companies tried to force the people into after taking their land for mining, and how they rebelled to return to the old ways, bringing down government helicopters with stones from hand-woven slings. She said the people were sad that she would miss the Winter Solstice celebrations, but happy she was going to a place where other people still practiced the right way to live, creating cloth with their hands, a culture they thought was lost in North America. So, we carry on, preserving the traditions that, for millennia, have defined what it means to be human.
We don’t see any of our friends in the crowd, so we do a little crowd-watching as we sip our beers at a side table. The room empties quickly, and we walk back to our hotel against the setting sun. It’s been a good day.
Day 6: Conference Day, again. Today we have a full day of classes. Because of schedule changes, both of us ended up in the same class, which is OK, because it’s one we’re both interested in. Kumihimo, Japanese braiding, using a round disk with a hole in the middle as a form. We’ve both done some simple versions, using home-made forms and a simple pattern. Today, we learn the traditional way and how to make traditional patterns.
The day starts with the routine from yesterday, complimentary breakfast at the hotel, then a hike a few blocks over to Starbucks for our usual espresso drink. We take a slightly different path, across vacant lots, where we are accosted by a homeless person looking for $15 to buy Chinese buffet (he says). We don’t normally give money to these folks, but he was so convincing in his spiel we gave him what was left of our small change, maybe two dollars, maybe less. We walked the usual way back to the Civic Centre, beside a construction site. Cities in Canada are in a constant state of flux: old buildings get torn down and new buildings rise in their place. The economy here appears sound. There are a few homeless folks in this part of town, but not many for a city this size.
Class is an excellent tutorial. The instructor has her own method of numbering the thread positions, the system of which will be apparent later in the session. We braid a small sample, then start in on a sequence of sample patterns, shifting the thread order between patterns. The morning goes quickly.
We lunch at a nearby Mediterranean grill. The waitress notices our conference badges and gives us a 10% “Show Your Badge” discount. We had been told to check the merchant list for participating businesses, but most weren’t of interest or we had no idea where they were or if we would use them. The food is good and service cheerful, as it has been in most of the bistros at which we’ve eaten in Canada.
Back in class, we learn how to make our own braiding patterns, a real revelation worth the price of the course. I made a mistake in the morning session, which put a glitch in my pattern, but this afternoon, I make another mistake and confidently unbraid to the error and recover. The afternoon goes fast, and we are off to the motel, where we snack from our dwindling food supply and unwind a bit before returning to the Centre for the fashion show and closing awards. The two-and-a-half days we’ve been at the conference have been full. The conference was smaller than usual: many felt the distance was too great, but those of us who did come from south of the border were glad we did, and others, like us, chose to take advantage of the opportunity to tour this beautiful and vast part of the world.
Tomorrow, we are again headed north, part of a great loop. Alaska beckons, but it is twice as far away as we will have journeyed in total by tomorrow night. Not this year.
Day 29: It’s a pleasant day, with lunch on the patio at the local watering hole with the kids. Yes, they’re still “the kids,” even in their 40s and 50s. The GPS calls the bar by its old name, but now it’s Cowboy Jacks on the marquee. Not much has changed except for a mechanical bull next to the bar.
Day 30: The first highlight of the day is breakfast out with all three grandchildren and their mom. It’s a beautiful day: afterward, we unload our bicycle, deciding to revisit the Pheasant Branch Trail, which we remember as a pleasant fast-paced paved trail winding down the Pheasant Branch Creek through woods and the nature conservancy. Unfortunately, last year, a flash flood destroyed almost the entire trail. The many bridges across the creek have been restored, but much of the paving is gone, replaced with gravel. We navigate the gravel portions successfully, continuing this time on the packed gravel trails through the lower Conservancy, and return via city streets, which treats us to traffic and hills.
After our ride, we meet Matt and Darice at Jack’s again, halfway between our motel and their apartment, for post-ride nachos and bebidas. We’re not sports fans, but the kids are, so we are obligated to watch basketball and baseball when visiting. We’re confused, but it’s fun to watch the fans enjoying the games.
Day 31: Memorial Day thunderstorms are predicted. We spend the day indoors at our son’s apartment, watching movies and baseball, except for a run to take our grandson back to his mother’s.
Day 32: We’re on the move again. We stop for fuel, take a wrong turn, and get back on our intended path through a beautiful farming valley we would have missed otherwise.
Our intended route home takes the “blue highways,” staying off the freeways as much as possible. After our slight detour, we end up on US14, the “Frank Lloyd Wright Trail,” through Spring Green, site of Wright’s Taliesin estate and near the controversial “House On The Rock.” A light rain comes and goes. It’s a pretty route: we’ve driven the Iowa and Minnesota sides of the Mississippi before, but not this road. US14 doesn’t follow the river, but winds up and down the valleys and over the Wisconsin River. We don’t stop at the attractions, but proceed on to La Crosse and into Minnesota, over the flood-swollen Mississippi. We stop for lunch at Winona, at the Acoustic Cafe. I know where it is; we’ve been there before.
After lunch, we stop at a bakery and indulge in pastries familiar from my childhood in Minnesota, before heading up through the cliffs and deeply carved valleys of the Driftless region, so-called because it lacks the glacial drift that covers the plains to the west. We emerge onto the prairie, still following US 14. I grew up in southern Minnesota, on the plain, and never knew much of this scenic and rugged region until we started traveling through it after a son moved to Wisconsin.
We refuel at New Ulm, where I took my polka band in 1959 to play in the Polka Days celebration. We were too young then to take part in the beer fest that lined Main Street, but one highlight was jamming with an all-girl polka band, which would have been more fun had we not jazzed up our repertoire: the girls stopped playing to scribble our Polish-style improvisations onto their sheet music. There are geeks in every endeavor, and we were obviously polka geeks, not ladies men. Later, we met “Whoopee John” Wilfahrt, leader of a popular band, whose recordings played all the time on the local radio station, KNUJ, my mother’s favorite station. We understood the “NU” stood for New Ulm, but someone in the FCC apparently had a sense of humor, granting a call sign that spelled “Junk” backwards. Some folks just don’t appreciate ethnic music.
We go a bit farther on 14 than we intended: many roads are closed around the Minnesota River Valley, taking us on detour out of our way through Sleepy Eye, a name I remember from childhood, though I can’t remember passing through before. Our intended destination is Fort Ridgely State Park, on a creek feeding into the Minnesota River, north of Sleepy Eye. The campground is empty. There are mosquitoes. There is a pit toilet and two sani-cans. It’s a bit spooky, and the fee is $37. We drive on, deciding a motel for a few dollars more is a better option.
We turn west again at Fairfax. In 1947-48, I lived just east of Fairfax. We rented a house on a farm with no electricity, and no running water. I remember my father taking me to a wild game and bison feed at the Veterans of Foreign Wars club in Fairfax, in the fall of 1947, where we sampled everything. It would be many decades before I tasted such again. My uncles hunted game birds, but not deer. We moved south to our old home town the next winter, after my sister Jane was born. The Rural Electrification Act had passed in 1936, but the high-voltage towers didn’t march across the prairie until 1948, on the state highway to the south, out of reach.
At Morton, another tiny town, to the west at the junction with US 71, we stop for the night at the town’s only motel, convenience store, and gas station. We had decided to be spontaneous in our trip back. Initially, we thought we might take the usual Great Circle route to the Northwest, I-94, through St. Paul and Minneapolis, spend some time in the north lakes country, and then across the High Line through Montana, one of our usual routes when we have time. I hadn’t contacted my cousin who lives north of Minneapolis, or Judy’s cousin in North Dakota, so we had no obligation to drop in, and choose a different route. Our spontaneous route takes us close to other cousins, but we’re getting weary and don’t want to impose, so we’ve not made plans to see everyone along the way. We’re trying to find different ways we haven’t been, which is getting difficult, as there are only so many east-west routes that don’t meander, so it’s inevitable to repeat some segments.
Day 33: We leave early from the Morton Inn, heading toward Redwood Falls for coffee. The convenience store offers brewed coffee and packaged pastries to motel guests, but we’re not fond of such fare. US 71 somehow doesn’t look familiar, until I see the old road and steel trestle bridge to the side, the bridge blocked at both ends. Ah, we’re on a new road. We drove this way often when I was growing up, between Jackson and my aunt and uncle’s place just north of Morton. One of my cousins still lives on the old homestead, but we didn’t know we were coming this way until we did, so we don’t stop. We’d come north on this road a few years ago, and had found a funky coffee shop in Redwood Falls, the Calf Fiend Café, and we’re headed there now. But, we take a left turn into Old Town this time, and the Blue Highway time warp catches us: the Calf Fiend is there on Main Street, all right, but in this universe it won’t open for business until next week. The old highways are like that. Maybe the café is seasonal, or simply closed for vacation over Memorial Day, or maybe we’re months or years earlier than when we passed by before. Time is fluid on the old roads.
We turn around and head west for Granite Falls. More road closures send us yet on other back roads, this one past a monument for the 1862 Indian War. My hometown has a similar monument. In 1862, the newly-minted State of Minnesota sent their entire state militia off to join the Union Army—including 13-year-old Criness Larue, as a drummer to keep cadence on the long march to battle—leaving the frontier undefended. A faction in the local indigenous population was unhappy with the government arrangement with the trading agents, the latter withholding payments due the tribes according to the treaties. The militants took advantage of the reduced military presence and attacked many settlements, killing settlers. The outcome, when the U.S. Army intervened later that year, was a mass hanging in Mankato of 38 members of the warrior band, the largest mass execution in U.S. History, along with hundreds jailed. The surviving several thousand members of the bands involved were then deported to reservations in Nebraska and South Dakota territories, where their descendants remain to this day.
Young Criness, my great-grandfather, survived the war to grow up and, in 1879, marry Lucy Tanner Koon, whose father, Dennis Weed Tanner, was killed at Harpers Ferry, serving with the 5th New York infantry. Lucy’s stepfather and half-siblings died in one of the epidemics in the 1870s, and what was left of the family resettled in southern Minnesota.
We haven’t given up on our search for coffee. Granite Falls doesn’t have a coffee shop, but the next town, Montevideo (pronounced Mon-tah-Vid-AY-oh, not “mount a video”) does, and we soon roll up in front. It is open in this space-time continuum. The barista, a friendly woman about our age, says she grew up in Iowa, near where I went to college. It always helps to try not to be a stranger when passing through small town America.
In addition to some very good espresso, I snag a bar made from toasted rice and barley breakfast cereal and topped with a peanut-butter/chocolate mixture. “Bars” are as popular with Minnesotans as “hotdish” and Jello salads, with various puffy breakfast cereals a common main ingredient. Ordering one makes me feel right at home. Eating the gooey, over-sweet confection reminds me why I left.
Soon, we cross into South Dakota and back a few decades, on the poorly maintained roads characteristic of Red states. We stop for lunch at Redfield, pick up a couple of Bavarian Cream-filled Bismarcks at the local bakery, against our better judgement, then cross the street to the recommended café for lunch. The menu hadn’t changed in 60 years, nor the prices in 20. An elderly man comes up, puts his hand on my shoulder, and cracks Santa Claus jokes, obviously referring to my full white beard. I respond with my standard line, “You must have mistaken me for my brother, Nick. I’m Bob Claus. I deal in lumps of coal.” He says, “I thought there had to be two…” He takes up residence at the end booth and orders his usual.
Judy orders a breaded chicken cutlet sandwich and I order soup and an egg salad sandwich. We simply don’t eat this way, unless we get trapped in the 1950s in a Blue Highway time warp, where plant-based food is relegated to salads and over-cooked sides served with gravy and pot roast. We share a slice of Strawberry Pie to fortify ourselves for the antique lunch. Returning to the car, we realize the Bismarcks won’t survive the afternoon, so we wolf those down, too, the pudding-like filling threatening to gush out and down our fronts. Finishing the calorie-laden treats unsoiled, we push on down the road toward the 21st century.
The Dakotas are relatively flat through the Plains, so snow melt and spring rain collects in low spots and doesn’t go anywhere, mostly, once the ground is saturated. What does run into the rivers and creeks quickly overflows into the fields and forests before proceeding downstream to bring misery to folks living along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers in states farther south.
After a long time, we cross the Missouri River, here at the midpoint of Lake Oahe, dammed just above the capital, Pierre (“Pier,” not “Pee-Air”), snapping back into the 21st century, but an hour earlier, in the Mountain Time zone. After passing through a large reservation and getting into a more hilly region, we arrive quite early at Faith, where we had planned to camp in the city park. While the park is reasonably priced, there isn’t much to do for the rest of the afternoon, so we walk around the park until we get a good enough cell signal to check out other possibilities.
We end for the night at a state recreation area campsite an hour’s travel north. Despite being the only ones in the campground, we have to call the 800 number to reserve a site and pay for it, including the service fee, so the cheap $15 campground is a couple of dollars more than we thought, plus tax, plus a car permit, which is separate, cash in an envelope deposited in a vault next to the reservation directions. At this point, $10 for the city park, including flush toilets sounds better, back at Faith, but we’re here. Kathy, the reservation clerk, doesn’t have a clue where we are at, because she is in San Diego and has never been to South Dakota, except she’s heard of Mount Rushmore and thinks we might be in Custer State Park, 330 km to the south. I have to spell the name, “Llewellyn Johns, Double-Ell E Double You E Double Ell Why En, Jay Oh Aitch En Ess, just like it sounds (snicker).” Nevertheless, the setting is pleasant, there are birds singing, the sunset is awesome, and the mosquitoes have been slow to find us. And, we are a bit closer to home.
Day 34: We wake to find we have neighbors, another camper, in after dark. We wonder if they bothered to go through the reservation system: we had very little phone reception and no data connection to use the web site. We quietly break camp and drive north on the under-construction highway, which has construction delays, gravel, and potholes, to Lemmon, where I clean bugs off the windscreen while Judy shops for breakfast at the supermarket. Then, we are off on US 12, angling briefly up into North Dakota before crossing into Montana, where we stop at Lawler’s in Baker, for the only espresso we’ve seen since Minnesota. We’d been here before, too. Strange to have favorite stops thousands of kilometers apart, in small towns.
We head north now, to Wibaux (wee-BOW), through changing terrain, and briefly on the Interstate to Glendive and the gem of Montana’s State Parks, Makoshika (ma-koh-SHI-kah). The park is closed for repaving. After 20 years of living and traveling through Montana, the day we decide to visit, it’s closed. But, one trail is open, the Bluebird Trail, that winds up the hills behind the visitor center. It is a true gem, that reminds us of the Painted Rocks in central Oregon. If the roads had not been closed, we would have missed this jewel of a trail.
Lunching out of our food stash, we head northwest for the long, lonely run across Eastern Montana on MT 200. Montana is one of the larger states, but has one of the smallest populations: like Wyoming, it has only one Representative in Congress, but two senators, like everywhere else, so a Montanan’s vote is worth about eight California votes on the national stage. Being large, it also has a lot of roads. Given the ratio of roads to cars, statistically, one should meet another car on the road about every 10-15 kilometers. Since the freeways have the most traffic, old blue highways like MT 200 have fewer than average. The highway climbs westward in a series of ridges with rollers between. We top one after another without seeing another vehicle in the distance. The empty roads bring on a sense of complacency which is quickly dispelled as we encounter memorials along the road, about every 10-15 kilometers, where previous travelers had met, with disastrous results. The old markers are simple white crosses, but there are poignant newer shrines adorned with flowers and teddy bears, tended by still-grieving families. Montana still has one of the highest highway fatality rates in the nation.
In late afternoon, the hills become forested as the highway climbs higher into the Judith Mountains, an island mountain range in the middle of the Judith Basin. At long last, we come to Lewistown, self-check-in to an RV park, and end the day at a Mexican Restaurant, the usual safe bet for meatless meals in cattle country, but only if you are vigilant.
We know we are in Montana because I order a Bean and Cheese Burrito, and the waiter writes down Deluxe Beef and Bean. The burrito has a strange taste and texture, which I conclude must not be plant-based. We’ve seen thousands of Steak Steers and Hamburger Cows across the prairie, and one has somehow ended up in my food. But, I’m hungry, so I eat it. Why people persist in grinding up animals and adding them to their food escapes me, but it is almost impossible to get any meal in the mid-west or mountain west without some sort of animal parts mixed into it. When we ask about meatless options, the response is usually, “Somebody gotta eat them cows.” A line of humorous postcards poking fun at Montanans had one showing steak-wielding men “deprogramming” a vegetarian. It’s true. I imagine the waiter didn’t believe what he heard, so served me what an ordinary Montana man would find acceptable. No one has ever accused me of being ordinary, but it’s nice to be mistaken for being so, once in a while. After all, I was wearing a Montana ball cap. Next time, though, I will be more careful, and possibly complain. But, I’ve reverted after a couple of days traveling through Minnesota: Minnesotans talk about misfortune a lot, not to complain, but to demurely boast how stoically they endured the experience.
Day 35: Up early, we head downtown Lewistown to the Rising Trout Cafe, where we get excellent espresso and bagels. As we head out of town, we have a brief scare: the truck motor quits as we turn into a rest area. It’s been running well, but a bit rough at idle. It restarts, and we continue on.
The haze that has been building since mid-South Dakota is thick now: we can barely see the foothills of the Rockies ahead. We learn there are early-season fires in Alberta, to the north, which have blanketed our route from Minnesota to Washington. I’ve been working on a climate disaster novel set in 2076. It appears I’m about 50 years too late in my projections. It’s here now.
At Great Falls, we stop again for coffee and fuel for the truck. We pass through a few light rain sprinkles, climb over Rogers Pass (1700 meters), past the turn-off to where Unibomber Ted Kazinski’s cabin used to be, and into Lincoln for lunch. The Pit Stop looks like the best bet, and we are not disappointed. Judy orders the special, a tuna melt, being a true “road kill” vegetarian, and I order a veggie personal pizza.
It seems strange to pass through Missoula without stopping, but we’re anxious to get home this weekend, so we continue on, grab ice cream at the travel center in St. Regis, and drive through rain over Lookout Pass. We stop for the night at Cataldo, where there is an RV park next to the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes. They have one RV spot left: we take it.
We unload our bike and pedal east to milepost 44, where we turned around on the freezing morning we last rode the trail on Day 2. We reverse, riding past the campground, when we spot a moose on the river bank. Several other campers are harassing the moose, which moves in our direction, giving us a good photo-op. It appears to be a young female calf, more curious than aggressive. We continue down the trail, hoping to complete yet another substantial segment.
Just after we pass milepost 40, the dark clouds ahead dump rain; lightning flashes and thunder peals overhead. We crank on toward milepost 39 at top speed, reverse and sprint back to the campground, setting what, for us, is a speed record for a 15-km course, 20 km/hr, our best in at least 10 years. We quickly load the bike in the truck. The rain goes another direction, but clouds still threaten into the evening. But, we’ve chewed off another 10 miles (16 km) of the 144-mile (230 km) round-trip, leaving the section between mileposts 29 and 39 and the section between mileposts 58 and 72 for another time.
Day 36: We’re up at dawn, before the end of “quiet time” in the campground, and slip away, headed for home. We refuel at Coeur d’ Alene, usually the source of cheaper fuel, but this time the price is higher than we paid in South Dakota or Montana. We remember that “cheaper” is relative to Washington, so we hope to get home on this fill. When we travel, cooking in camp on an overnighter isn’t time-efficient, so we grab breakfast with coffee at Starbucks and press on, stopping again in Ellensburg for coffee and lunch.
We’ve seen a lot of scenery over the last month, but driving over the Cascades into Western Washington is always the best part, not only because it’s jaw-dropping scenic when the mountains are out, as they are today, but because we’re close to home. The growing traffic congestion as we descend into the Puget Sound region is not the best part, however. At the end of four days travel on mostly back roads, averaging over 625 km a day, we’re ready to be done traveling for a week. We arrive home in late afternoon to find the rhododendrons nearly bloomed out, but the weigela is in full bloom, the peonies are ready to pop, and the hardy geranium have spread and bloomed. It’s good to be home.
36 days, 35 nights: 13 nights at timeshares, 1 AirB&B, 4 camping, 2 nights with friends, 15 nights in motels. 12 days in Canada.
Truck: 6900 miles (11000 km); bicycle: 173 miles (280 km). 12 bike rides, 20 days point-to-point driving, 90 – 860 km/day.
Part 2, British Columbia, starts next week: stay tuned.
Day 22: Our last day in the Ontario Lake Country. We drive to Couchiching Park in Orillia to ride the Millennium Trail along the lakefront. The crowds are gathering on this holiday weekend, but we find a parking spot close to the trail and set off toward the Narrows between Lake Simcoe and Lake Couchiching. We picked this trail to ride because it is paved, and relatively flat.
Away from the waterfront parks, the foot traffic thins out, but, as we take the loop through Tudhope Park, we run into mating swarms of midges, the No-See-UM flies that appear in lake regions this time of year. We plow through the clouds of flies, so thick that they sound like popcorn hitting my jacket front at 15-20 km/hr. They are in my beard, in my eyes. My left eye is nearly blinded. We stop, but the flies are everywhere around us, so we continue on, away from the park, where we stop and de-midge, teasing the mangled fly bodies from my eyelashes, eyes, and beard.
A short distance away, the rail trail ends where the old railway swing bridge stands permanently open to let boat traffic pass between the lakes. The current is strong here. We watch boats cautiously thread their way through the narrow passage. On the other side of the narrows is the site of the wooden fish weirs that the local indigenous people used to catch fish for over 3000 years. We choose not to cross the busy Highway 12 bridge to check out the site, and turn back, this time avoiding the side trail through the midge swarms, though there are single midges everywhere.
We ride back through the park and onto the old railroad grade that climbs up the west shore of Lake Couchiching. At the end of the paved trail, we chat for a while with a resident of the housing development there, a woman about our age, out walking her dog. Traveling by bicycle makes it easier to connect with the local population, and we take advantage when we can. Soon, we head back down the trail to our truck.
Last week, we thought it fortunate that towns the size of Orillia (25000) have eateries that cater to vegetarian choices, having stopped at the Pita Pit, a chain ubiquitous in Canada and making some inroads in the northern U.S. Today, we find, only a block away from the Pita Pit, Shine, a local vegan restaurant. The food is exceptionally good, but, of course, about twice as much as the chain sandwich shop.
Day 23: We arise early and load out, having packed the evening before, to continue our travels. Our destination today is Bath, a small community on the north shore of Lake Ontario, between Toronto and Ottawa. On the way out, we loop around the north end of Lake Couchiching, stopping at a newly-opened Starbucks next to Weber’s Restaurant, a local west shore favorite. We had searched in vain for espresso in Orillia proper, making do with Tim Horton’s and the drip coffee at the condo.
We head east across Ontario, through farmland and lakes that look a lot like Northern Minnesota, stopping for lunch at the larger city of Peterborough. On this holiday Sunday, few shops are open, and the streets are nearly deserted. We find a Pita Pit in downtown Peterborough, then a Starbucks out on the edge of town. We stop at a Costco, intending to top off the fuel, but forget that Costco Canada only takes MasterCard, while Costco U.S. only takes Visa. So, a futile stop as our Visa-only wallet is rejected at the pump. We have plenty of fuel for the day, so continue on. The grocery in Bath is open, so we pick up a few supplies and check in to our AirB&B. Pat is a friendly host, and we have a full living area, bedroom, and bath to ourselves in the basement of their small and neatly appointed cottage.
Day 24: Intending to ride today, we dress in our bicycling clothing. Pat feeds us a breakfast of strawberry crepes, and we say our good-byes and drive a short distance to the city park, where we unload the bicycle. Bath is on the Great Lakes Shore Trail, but it’s an on-road trail, with bicycle icons painted on the narrow shoulder along Highway 33, the Loyalist Parkway. The area was settled after the American Revolution by colonists loyal to the British Crown, hence the name. We ride off into a stiff 20-km/hr headwind, hard pedaling, but the combined speed keeps the mosquitoes away. Unlike the midges, the mosquitoes do bite. We ride along the shore, past a grain terminal and a huge power plant complex that supplies most of eastern Ontario, turning around 11 km down the road at St. Paul’s Church in Sandhurst, which is merely a place name: there is no town.
On the way back, the now tailwind makes riding easier, but the mosquitoes can fly 15 km/hr relative to the wind, so at anything less than 35 km/hr, they collect on our backs, hitching a ride. We stop once to check out a historical sign–the passage between Amherst Island and the Loyalist shore was the scene of an exciting cat-and-mouse chase between a British warship, the Royal George, and the American fleet in the War of 1812 (the Royal George escaped to Kingston Harbour, to the east). The hitchhiking mosquito swarm immediately seeks any unprotected skin, so we shoot a photo of the marker to read later and continue on.
We fuel up at the next town west, then join the press of holiday freeway traffic headed back to the city for a short way, turning off at Belleville to take the shore bike route at a more leisurely pace, enjoying the small towns along the route. We had intended to ride this on our bicycle, back in 2016, but had changed our plans before making it up the coast. This section has light traffic, but no shoulders, so we are glad we hadn’t followed through. Bringing the bike in the van makes it easy for us to ride where conditions are better and skip over the dicey parts.
Too soon, we are back on the freeway, trading a reliable 80-km/hr speed with 50-km/hr scenic strolls through the picturesque towns for the zero-to-100 and stop of the bumper-to-bumper holiday crush. It seems it may take us until after dark to reach the city, but after passing a major collision site (thankfully, on the eastbound lanes), the traffic resumes at a steady 90-105, and the GPS keeps us up to date on upcoming lane changes. Toronto holiday traffic seems a lot like everyday Los Angeles traffic, with the expressway and collector spanning 10-12 lanes across. Toronto is a sprawling city of 2.7 million, all of whom seemed to have gone somewhere else for the Victoria Day holiday and are all coming home at the same time.
Our hotel is in the heart of the city, across the street from the Allan Gardens and Conservatory, which we intend to visit. Our van is too tall to fit in the hotel garage, but we’re allowed to leave it in the check-in lane, and the $35 parking fee is good for all day, so we will have time to explore the city core on foot before moving on.
Day 25 promises to be sunny and warm. We walk to a nearby Cora restaurant, famous for their carved fruit breakfasts, and are not disappointed. The presentation looks almost too good to eat. We check out of the hotel, leaving our truck, and walk across the street to the Allan Gardens and Conservatory, enjoying the riot of color that comes with the spring displays. We’ve visited a number of botanical conservatories over the years: St. Paul, San Diego, Madison, and Victoria, to name a few. Toronto’s is one of the best and most extensive.
We continue our walk toward Old Town, on the aptly named Church Street, to Front Street, to ogle the Flatiron Building, a skinny brick wedge at a narrow fork in the streets where Front Street meets the grid. Then, on to the St. Lawrence Market, a block-long two-story market place filled with butchers and bakers as well as fresh fruits and vegetables, and lots of ethnic eateries. We sample pastries from a Polish-Russian bakery whose founder was pastry chef to Czar Nicolas, and lunch on vegetarian cabbage rolls from a Ukrainian deli.
Canada is the true melting pot of North America: accents from the old country are thick, and difficult to understand in cacophony of the huge labyrinthine market, forcing us to play the “I’m old and hard of hearing” card to get information repeated. On the street, we walk alongside other pedestrians conversing in Arabic. Families come in all combinations of shades and manner of dress. Toronto streets are crisscrossed with trolley rails, on which zoom light-rail transit trains half a block long, and around which hordes of bicyclists navigate without crashing on the rails, darting in and about the cars and buses.
Reluctantly, we head the truck back down the streets we just walked, and onto the freeway, headed for Niagara Falls. The Toronto Metro area sprawls along the west end of Lake Ontario, home to nearly 6 million people. A new cluster of high-rise buildings appears at every twist of the freeway, until we reach St. Catherine’s. Past the Skyway over the canal that carries shipping traffic around the Falls, we pull off at a shopping center to rest a bit before navigating our way into the tourist town of Niagara Falls, Ontario, where we settle in, resting up from our Toronto exploration and planning our activities for the morning.
Day 26: Niagara Falls is, of course, the ultimate tourist trap. Our “inexpensive” hotel brings sticker shock, with taxes, tourist fees, and parking nearly doubling the advertised room rate. We walk to the nearby IHOP, a chain that has sewn up the restaurant contracts with most of the hotels downtown. It is still under construction, so we head for another one we can see on the other side of our hotel… We have a coupon for $15 off, which, of course, is limited to full breakfast items, all of which are inflated, so our breakfast costs a bit less than $40 with the coupon, for basic 2-egg/hashbrowns/toast and cream cheese crepes, which would be $20 USD at home ($28 CDN).
We walk down to the riverside drive for a view of the falls, which is spectacular from this vantage point. We choose not to indulge in the Skylon Tower view, walk back to the truck, and head along the coast of Lake Huron toward London, our next stop. It’s a relaxing day. We drive the tunnel under the ship canal to get coffee at Tim Horton’s, then back under and to the lake shore to cross on a lift bridge next to the first set of locks, then along all the lakefront cottages as far as we can.
We lunch at an old-fashioned coffee shop in Port Dover, where prices are still single-digit for a decent lunch. Of course, the veggie wrap is a salad in a wrap, no protein, as is the case with 20th-century ideas about vegetarians as folks who only eat salads. We pick up a couple of sinfully calorific bars at the nearby bakery and continue on.
Our destination in London is a conference center resort, the Ivey Spencer Leadership Centre, which we have reserved on our chain affiliation loyalty points, so we get the executive suite: the price is the same as for a regular room, $0. The dining room takes non-conference diners as well, but we elect to munch from our stash, having used up our dining-out budget. The WiFi at the Leadership Centre is awesomely fast, so Judy does her banking and I catch up on some video editing.
Day 27 starts with a bolt of lightning, a crash of thunder, and a wind-swept downpour as we sit down for breakfast. But, by the time we finish our Internet duties and pack out, the rain has subsided to a few scattered squalls. The wind is strong and gusty, buffeting us all the way across the border and through Michigan to Kalamazoo for the night. Fuel prices are high, so we just add enough to get into Indiana. As usual when we are traveling cross-country, we pick a budget motel in advance, having to exchange rooms after arrival to get one that is remotely tolerable. Dinner is a walk down the street to Target for a few food items to supplement our dwindling stash. The WiFi at the budget motel is slow and spotty. Although our phones woke up again once we crossed the border, the cellular data at the motel isn’t any better than the WiFi. So it goes, when we’re in a multi-day run to the next destination, which will be to visit our son and grandchildren in Madison for the U.S. holiday weekend.
Day 28 promises heavy weather for our run through Chicago to Madison. We arise early and catch breakfast at a nearby Starbucks, glad to be done with the filthy motel. We vow to be more careful in the future. We are outfitted for camping, and it is the season. Even if a campsite is as much or more than the cheap motels, at least we know our van is clean and free of pet smells, drugs, and other unidentifiable odors, and WiFi, if available is no worse.
We watch the fuel gauge and price signs along the freeway, stopping just into Indiana at a station that is 15 cents lower per gallon. I-94 merges with I-90 and becomes a tollway. It costs us $6.80 to get out of Indiana on a one-lane tollway that is undergoing massive repairs. Illinois collects another $1.50 before dumping us onto the Ryan Expressway, which, at this hour in the morning, is a parking lot.
After an interminable time spent at less than bicycle speed through the outskirts of Chicago, we finally come up to normal traffic speed, except for the frequent stops to throw another $1.50 out the window to get to use the next 10 km of tollway. We are running out of US cash and coinage, so we escape from the tollway system onto the blue highways, a much more pleasant tour through picturesque small towns.
As we cross the border into Wisconsin, another wave of thunderstorms assails us, a deluge that makes it difficult to see ahead. We press on, since the storm is against us and we will be out of it sooner by continuing forward. As the rain subsides, we see a distraught young woman, phone in hand, standing by her car, which is angled off the shoulder, the right front side partly submerged in the water-filled ditch. Hydroplaning is a real danger when driving in heavy rain. We have all-weather truck tires, and slowed during the deluge, enough to prevent hydroplaning, but fast enough to not be overtaken in poor visibility.
The rain passes as we continue northwest on the old highways, which take us through the town of Oregon, where we stop at the Firefly Coffeehouse, a favorite when in this area visiting relatives. Our son has moved closer to the city, but our grandchildren all went to school in Oregon, so we are familiar with the town. Despite the bad weather and traffic congestion, we arrive west of Madison early, so we stop at a Ford dealer’s service shop we have used before, for a long-overdue oil change on our van.
Finally, we check in, at a decent motel we have stayed at before. This time, our loyalty card gets us a multi-night discount, so we save our points for better-quality lodging on the road ahead. The particular chain we have used for a quarter-century used to be reliably clean and well-appointed budget lodging, but we have had so many disappointing encounters in the last couple of years that we have decided to avoid them in the future unless we’ve been there before and know the condition beforehand.
Our son, who does organ transplant retrieval for the UM Madison Hospitals, has—as we have come to expect—been called out on a case, but is expected home early evening. We had picked up a sandwich at the coffee shop, so a late evening dinner out is fine. The evening is all too short, despite having gained an hour in the time zone change. We retire to our hotel just before the rain is predicted to resume.