Kilometres: 400 and something.
Snake sightings: 2
High-pitched freak-outs upon seeing a snake: 1 (yes!)
Up Burrard Street, right on Hastings Street, past the crackheads swarming around Chinatown drugstores, up a Big Hill (“The first!” I thought triumphantly), right on Gaglardi Way (“Oh dear,” I thought as I reached the top) and down the Big Hill, left on the Lougheed Highway and I was off! Busting through the city limits, wading through the suburbs and industrial estates and making for the countryside.
Vancouver was nice enough – clean, multicultural, efficient, scent of famous BC bud on the air – and it was fun exploring (cheers Jess for the foldout couch!). It just wasn’t what I came out here for.
“Where’re you goin’?” asked a cyclist at a set of lights in Maple Ridge.
“Trying to get to Agassiz by this afternoon,” I replied. He looked a little disappointed. “And then Argentina?” I tried and he grinned.
I swam in the Fraser River on my first afternoon, and the fishermen who happened upon me on their way to their spot probably wished I was wearing clothes.
They probably won’t go back for a while.
The next day in Hope (where they filmed Rambo, apparently) I met Josh, Jarney and Jay, full of enthusiasm and eager to meet up on the Oregon coast. They’re on their way to Mexico. I was a little bummed we weren’t headed in the same direction.
Riders on the storm
“How long you been going?” they asked.
“Actually, this is my second day.”
“Yeah, you look clean.”
There was an Australian cyclist in Hope, too, and he was heading the same way as me to Penticton. He was also on his second day. But he wasn’t going any further, so my plan to feed him to the first bear that came along in the mountains of EC Manning Provincial Park died as he rolled down to the Greyhound depot.
So up the mountain I went, on my own in the rain. It was still raining when I conquered the first big hill and rolled down into Sunshine Valley, where I ate lunch with a Native American man named Peter in a general store. He’d lived in Australia, and spent time in Aboriginal communities in the central deserts.
“Australia is a very racist country,” he said. I agreed, with a sigh.
As luck would have it, he also gave wilderness survival classes. He told me to not look an animal in the eye (they take it as a challenge) and hang my food in a tree. I didn’t need to worry about cooking it away from my tent (I did anyway). He told me to concentrate on thinking of nothing, lying in my tent, which would raise my “vibrations” to the same level as Mother Earth, essentially allowing me to blend in with my surroundings.
“When you achieve that, you’ll find bears and deers will walk right up to you,” he said. He also told me I have a “calm energy” which apparently meant I’d be fine.
Most of all, he said I shouldn’t assume I’m not surrounded by animals – bears, deer, cougars, raccoons – when I was in the woods. “They’re all out there and they’re watching you. It’s not something you should be worrying about.”
Somehow, he managed to both calm and alarm me.
The next morning I awoke in one piece. I climbed a little further in light rain and within two hours, had sailed over my first mountain pass.
“Oh sure, let’s go uphill more. I just looooove going uphill. I could do it all day,” and that sort of thing.
Big Doug, the Pepperoni Champ
After another long downhill and a scenic ride down the Similkameen River, a riverside camp and a loud (on my part) encounter with a snake later, I was losing even more altitude down the Okanagan Valley towards Keremeos when I saw it:
“Keremeos Chili Cook-Off. Third Saturday in September,” it proclaimed.
It was September, it was Saturday and yes, dear readers, it was the third Saturday. Hence I became Keremeos’ smelliest chili judge and ate my very first chili dog. It was a revelatory experience.
Stop a moment and just take in that sheer mass of cheese.
As I climbed out of Keremeos towards the last climb before Penticton, the air turned hot and dry and the grass died. This area of British Columbia contains Canada’s only desert, “full of rattlesnakes and black widows,” a Quebecois cheerfully informed me several days earlier in Hope, and all of a sudden I was in the thick of it. I pumped Air’s “La Femme d’Argent” and lost my mind to the bemusement of a girl manning her parents’ yard sale.
It wasn’t long before I hit Penticton, wedged between Lakes Skaha and the 120 kilometre-long Okanagan. Beautiful.
Mollyo, Uriah and little Quinton (has taken me a while to get used to that one) have taken me in like a long lost son, keeping a beer in my hand, food in my belly and a real bed beneath my slumbering corpse. The other day Mollyo dropped me off at the top of a particularly pretty stretch of the Kettle Valley Rail Trail, a mostly gravel path that covers large parts of British Columbia.