Bike Touring Journals by Neil Anderson and Sharon Anderson Partners in Grime
"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
~ Mark Twain
Sharon's sister, Faye, allowed us to camp in a spare bedroom. We completed our pre-trip list and were eager to get underway. Or were we? Having totally dismantled our lives we dilly-dallied, clinging to the last vestiges of everyday normality.
Early each morning, Faye would get ready for work. We would dance through what became known as The Goodbye Routine. We hugged Faye. She hugged us. She left for work. It began to rain. We would peer out from our cozy confines at a never-ending skyline of grey drizzle. "Hmmm," we'd muse. "Perhaps tomorrow?" It was truly the August of our discontent.
After a week of ritual goodbye hugging, Faye returned home from work one day and found us still camped in her living room. "Haven't you guys left yet?" she implored. "I'm tired of saying goodbye!" (Sharon's family began to suspect we would never leave. It had all been a caper - a ludicrous childish ploy for attention.) Were we just hoaxers?
"We have to wait for the right launch window," we assured them. But, truth be known, stepping into the void, the great unknown, frightened us half-silly. It felt like one of those naked-in-public dreams - except we were wide awake.
The more we contemplated, the worse it became. Doubts assailed us. Had we been a few doughnuts short of a dozen to dream of such a journey? What if the big bad world swallowed us up and we were never heard from again? Or, horrors, what if we returned to discover our job skills outdated and no one would ever hire us again and we had to become bag people, living the rest of our lives on the streets, with nothing but a shopping trolley to hold our possessions?
Alas, Vicky - a friend and cycle touring partner on numerous prior occasions - forced our hand when she arrived to lead us out of Edmonton. She pulled up on her bike one cold overcast Sunday morning. At least it wasn't raining. Yet. After final, final goodbye hugs, we waved so long to Faye. She actually escorted us out the backyard gate - just making sure we really were on our way, I suspect.
We mounted up and wobbled off, trailing Vicky down a back alley, through a maze of streets and cycle paths, then out onto the open road ... and into the stiffest headwind we had ever cycled! Sharon and I hunched low, crouched over our handlebars, sheltering behind Vicky like shy children hiding behind their mother's bustle. Part of my problem was I had crawled off to bed at 2 am. I was paying for my late night movie-watching foolishness. Who knew we'd be leaving today? Wasn't Sunday supposed to be a day of rest?
Drooping behind Sharon and Vicky in a quasi-twilight stupor, wondering if my bicycle possessed square wheels, I wanted to know who the wise guy was that had mortared bricks to my eyelids. Surely, I thought, struggling to keep up, someone has dipped my shoes in concrete. Besides being dog-tired, my load was far heavier than I ever remembered a touring bike could possibly be. (When Vicky had hefted my panniers, she groaned and said she thought it best I leave my rock collection home.)
No rocks, but along with the usual assortment of clothes for every imaginable weather condition (or so I thought), I hauled food and water, stove and fuel, pots and pans, assorted tools and spare parts, tent and sleeping accoutrements. I had also managed to acquire a short-wave radio (requiring a handful of batteries), a flashlight (more batteries), an economy-sized shampoo (such a deal!), two flat-proof tubes, a pair of spare tires - and a sensible long-necked lighter for our pyro stove.
A cyclist passed from the opposite direction - pulling a canoe! Maybe I wasn't that overloaded after all.
Compounding my problems, I hadn't ridden in the past two weeks since our practice run to Medicine Hat and Cypress Hills with friends, Sue and Vicky - running around as I was, trying to complete last minute tasks when one is planning to be out of the country for the next two years.
Feeling about as swift as a glacier, I endured nearly 50 chilly kilometres through rolling, glacial potholed, aspen woodland to Cooking Lake - where we elected not to cook. Instead, we feasted on Vicky's banana bread, and cheered each time old Sol peeked from behind massive cloud cover. The temperature was slow to recover from the previous night's thunderstorm and 50 millimetres of rain.
In Tofield, at 80 kilometres, craving warmth, we straggled into an information centre. A display of birds' nests held me spellbound ... they looked so comfy with all the feathers lining the sides. Hey, perhaps I should have gotten more sleep?
"My fingers are numb," Sharon complained. "How about if we go to a café for hot chocolate?"
Vicky and I were quick to agree. I just hoped I could pry my frozen lobster-claw fingers wide enough to grasp a mug.
Cradling hot mugs, sensation seeped back into our extremities. After a second mug, we grudgingly trudged outside. Wind buffeted nearby trees. Leaves, flapping like tiny sheets of green on wispy clotheslines, tore off. Worse, we were about to lose our wind-blocker. If Vicky wanted to make it back to Edmonton before midnight, she had to turn back. We hugged her goodbye. A crabapple lump stuck in my windpipe.
Without a word, Vicky turned and headed back west - with the wind. Her retreating form grew ever smaller on the horizon, eventually becoming a wavery dot suspended above the asphalt that refused to disappear. "That's the trouble with living on the prairie," I said. "If your dog runs away, you can see him go for three days."
Sharon smiled. We were on our own. Putting on brave faces, we hugged one another for luck, and shoved our feet into pedal clips. "I guess this time it's for real," I said, tucking my head, and pedalling off into a roaring easterly wind.
Headwinds: the bane of touring cyclists. Worse than mountains. Like an invisible freighter, it barrels toward us, tiring us, impeding our progress, making a ride seem twice as far. Winds batter us psychologically as well - sometimes, like when we rode across Kansas, for days on end. On the open road - especially the flat prairie - there's no escaping its wicked onslaught.
It fatigues us with its ceaseless chatter, hissing in our ears like an old steam engine. And, unlike mountain passes, there's no feeling of elation upon conquering a summit. No heady freewheel down the other side, gravity working its magic while an altogether different wind playfully tinkles through one's spokes like wind chimes in a caressing summer breeze. Instead, relentless plod; no fun at all. One time, when cycle touring the California coast, we had battled a tempestuous howler. Upon cresting a steep pitch, the windy madness smacked us face-on. We shifted to a lower gear and pedalled hard to go downhill. Headwinds. Bah!
Two sluggish hours - and a paltry 18 kilometres later - we arrived in Ryley. Underwhelmed by our slow rate of travel, Sharon sputtered, "At this rate, we'll never make it across Canada, let alone around the world."
Suppertime. We plodded into a café to refuel and get out of the wind. The menu praised its nachos. We were off to a healthy start.
The waitress scribbled down our order and returned to the till area. She pulled on a jacket and slipped out the front door. Huh? Seated at our window booth, we watched in rapt fascination as she pranced past - more than a little worried she was running out on us! But, she returned in short order, smiling, holding aloft a jar of homemade salsa. We taste-tested the entire jar before giving it two thumbs up.
Bellies full, we rode to Ryley's fairgrounds and selected a camp spot near - but not too near! - wildly swaying poplars. A gale wind raged. Battleship grey clouds scuttled past, seeming in a hurry to get home before dark. Bushed, we voted to hit the sack.
"Oh, aren't we living the life of Ryley!" Sharon said, slipping into her sleeping bag and immediately beginning to snore.
Still light enough to read by, I read my watch: 9:30 pm. For someone who usually toddled off to bed around midnight, it felt incredibly early. But, considering how sapped I was, I had a distinct feeling I was going to need a lot of early nights.
|Book Info||Site Map||Send e-mail|