|Neil Anderson, leaving on his inaugural bike tour with his wife, Sharon, an experienced cycle tourist. Little did Neil know what was in store for him ... this photo commemorates the last time he smiled for two weeks!|
ho are Sharon and Neil Anderson?
Sharon and Neil met one another while living in Edmonton, Alberta. Sharon was a cyclist; Neil was an affirmed petrol head with three cars.
Sharon began cycle touring in high school. Before meeting Neil, she had gone on two BC and Washington cycle trips offered by Edmonton Parks and Recreation. Prior to moving to the big city of Edmonton, Neil lived in the small town of Princeton BC. He had observed lots of touring cyclists going past his front door on Highway 3. Heck, he had even given water to a couple of them. But, personally, he had never considered doing such a thing as cycle touring. After all, he had a car.
Then, stage left, Sharon entered the picture. At the time she met Neil, she was enrolled in the University of Alberta Business Faculty. She worked part-time at a Racquetball and Squash club. Neil was a member of the racquet club and played every day. It was inevitable that sooner or later their paths would cross.
One evening, after Sharon got off shift, Neil invited her to join him for something to eat at a local pizza joint. There, between bites, Sharon regaled Neil with tales from her cycle tours. Neil, between bites, pretended to be interested. Would he ever do such a thing? he wondered. Heck, no, he concluded. After all, he had a car.
Sharon and Neil continued to see one another at the racquet club. Nothing serious. One night after Sharon's shift, Neil thought it was too dark for her to safely ride her bike the few blocks to her home. Being a chivalrous sort of fellow he suggested he give her a lift home. And, after some insistence by Neil, Sharon eventually agreed. Now how were they going to get her bike into his car? Neil hadn't realized bicycles were that big. He recommended that Sharon leave her bike at the racquet club and retrieve it the next day, but Sharon declared she needed it in the morning to get to University. She expertly removed the wheels from her bike. Then, between admonishments from Sharon to be careful with her wheels, and Neil trying to not get grease on his back seat, they managed to somehow shoehorn Sharon's pride and joy into the back of Neil's black and gold Trans Am.
A few minutes later at Sharon's place, Neil carefully helped Sharon unload her bicycle. When it was finally extricated Neil noticed that moonlight, filtering through overhead leaves, struck Sharon's features most remarkably. Neil had never noticed before. She was seriously cute. (Of course one can't depend on that light.) Neil was smitten. Hmmm, he thought, maybe bike touring wouldn't be so bad. After all, there's a lot of moonlit nights.
They began going out in earnest (even though Sharon's good friends weren't overly enthralled that Sharon was going out with someone who wasn't a bike rider). How could anything like that last? But Neil liked Sharon (she always laughed at his silly jokes), and once he made up his mind about something, he was like a pit bull on a postman.... In fact, the poor sod had fallen so hard that one Saturday he borrowed a friend's old clunker ten speed (it had three usable gears -- not that that mattered since he couldn't shift very well anyway). Sharon took him on a local bike path. My gosh! What tough work! Edmonton's scenic bike trails are in the river valley, meandering alongside the North Saskatchewan River. Neil and Sharon were cycling from Edmonton's west end to the east end, and back again, a distance of perhaps 40 kilometers. For Neil -- someone who had never been on a bike much in his life -- it seemed like a terribly long way. And the trails, particularly in the east, undulated up and down. Neil became so tired that on one downhill with a sharp corner at the bottom he just let his bike race headlong faster and faster, careening recklessly out of control. (I think he was secretly wishing that if he crashed, at least his bike ride would be over.) Fortunately, his days as a motorcycle rider saved his bacon and even though he leaned perilously, he made it around the corner. When Neil eventually made it back home, smitten or not, he decided he would nevermore go on any bike rides. But that was about to change.
That December, before Neil and Sharon were officially engaged, Sharon gave Neil a Christmas present. She handed him a small envelope. Inside was a key. "It's for the garage," she said sweetly. Wow! Neil was impressed. He knew the house where Sharon was living with her eldest brother had a two car garage and that only one parking spot was occupied. Neil had had his eye on a little Alfa Romeo. Could it be?
Neil excitedly approached the garage. With heightened anticipation he unlocked the door. What colour would it be? Neil's eyes adjusted to the dim interior... the formerly vacant stall held... absolutely nothing! Huh? "So, what do you think?" Sharon asked. "What do I think of what?" Neil replied, still staring in shocked disbelief at the empty space. "Over there... against the wall," she said. "Huh?" he said. "I bought you a touring bike," she said. "Oh, my gosh. So you did," he croaked. "Go have a look at it," she said. "I can see it just fine from here," he said, and closed the garage door. Sharon was crushed. Neil, meanwhile, his mind reeling, tried to put the pieces together. She gave him a key to the garage. Didn't cars go in garages? She bought him a bike? A bike!? Didn't she know he had a car?
Remarkably, even after that episode, on Valentine's Day Neil and Sharon became officially engaged. (Neil can thank his lucky stars that he has great looking legs.) Through that entire spring and summer the gift bike lay against the very same wall in the very same garage as it had that fateful day Neil so hopefully opened the garage door. He didn't take it out on the bike path. He didn't inspect it. He didn't even look at it. In fact, he tried to forget it was there.
September 1st, Sharon and Neil tied the knot. Secretly, Neil believed he could break Sharon of her infernal bike riding habit. Surely, he thought, once she's a married woman, she'll come to her senses and get an automobile.
The following July (the bike had now leaned untouched against that same wall for over a year and a half...) Neil wanted to go to Vancouver Expo. Sharon agreed to accompany him... with the stipulation that upon returning, Neil would do what she wanted to do for two weeks. "And what might that be?" Neil squinted. "A bike tour," she replied. "You can even plan the route." Hmmm, he thought. How tough can this bike touring stuff be anyway? (Neil had long since forgotten his excruciating day on the river valley bike path.) Rashly, Simple Simon agreed.
"You had better start training," Sharon advised. Atlas shrugged. "Why?" he asked. "I'm in pretty good shape from playing squash." "It's different muscles," she replied. "Big deal," he said. "I'll get in shape on the tour." "It's different riding a fully loaded touring bike than riding an unloaded bike," she said, trying to persuade the foolish duck. "So?" he countered. "I don't know what it's like to ride an unloaded bike, so it's not going to make much difference for me is it?" (Sometimes his lack of logic amazed even him. Perhaps that's why he chose the name Cycle Logic Press for his publishing company... when he says it really fast, it sounds like cyc illogic.)
Regardless, the foolish lad didn't train by riding his bike. He ran some. He played squash some. He lifted weights some. They went to Expo and had a fabulous time... other than Sharon getting car sick on the way there and the way back.
Two weeks later, back home in Edmonton, Neil was ready for some serious relaxing. Then, Sharon reminded him of his end of the bargain. Hmmm.
Neil dug out an Alberta map and an orange highlighter. They had two weeks. He planned a trip from Edmonton to Jasper to Banff to Calgary to Drumheller, heck this was easy, maybe throw in a side trip to visit friends in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, then cycle back to Edmonton, ready to begin work the following Monday. "Well," he said, proudly showing his handiwork to his wife. "That should make a nice ride," he said. "Have you calculated the mileage?" she asked, looking over his exuberant highlighter marks. "Well, no," he confessed. "Not exactly." "Maybe you should," she suggested. "Exactly."
So, he got out a pencil and a calculator, totaled the distance, divided the total by the number of riding days, and came out with a number somewhere in the neighbourhood of 150 miles per day. "That's a little much for someone who has never toured before," Sharon pointed out. "What?" he retorted indignantly. "That's not far in a car," he reasoned. "Well, it's pretty far by bike," she countered. To appease her he agreed to eliminate the Saskatoon detour. After a recalculation, he now had it down to an average of about 100 miles per day. "That's still pretty far," Sharon cautioned. "Wimp!" he snorted.
Neil traipsed to a local bike shop (actually, I believe he drove) to buy cycling gear. Let's see. What's on sale? What's the cheapest? He never planned on doing this again, so he might as well buy the least expensive stuff he could find. Here's some cycling shorts on sale. So what if they're a little small. They're supposed to be snug, right? Water bottle? I need one of those? Okay, here's one that includes the cage for three bucks. That should be good enough.
That evening, Sharon's brother, Chris, came over to Neil and Sharon's house and installed a rear rack on Neil's bike. Oh, yeah, and the water bottle cage. "There we go," Neil said, surveying Chris's work. "Ready to roll," he said smugly.
The next morning, panniers packed with little balls of clothes rolled into neat sausages like Sharon had demonstrated, the sun shining brightly, Neil strapped on his new helmet, triumphantly threw a leg over his crossbar and wobbled off in the general direction of Jasper.
He had gone all of three blocks when his water bottle cage fell off. The plastic mount had broken. Fortunately, he hadn't made it past the local bike shop yet. He made a pit stop and upgraded to what he considered an extortionately priced six dollar model.
They followed a main route that Neil used to commute to and from work, then connected to Yellowhead Highway #16 towards Jasper. (Being a neophyte bike tourer Neil had never thought about traffic being a concern so he hadn't looked for less trafficked routes. Nope, he figured, just get out on the freeway and churn away. Wasn't that what bicycle touring was all about?)
Pedal, pedal, pedal. This isn't so tough, he thought. The sun beat down. Pedal, pedal, pedal. Dark clouds obscured the sun. Hail. Yow! That smarts. Good thing I have a helmet. Pedal, pedal, pedal. Ah, the sun's back out. That feels good. Wow. It certainly takes a lot longer to get somewhere by bike. Head down. Into the wind. Neil churned onward to their predetermined campground. About 8 pm, after his allotted 100 miles, he rolled into Chip Lake campground. Time on the bike? About eight hours. Neil attempted to dismount. Oh, my. He hadn't noticed before, but his butt was very sore. And his legs were sort of rubbery. And he was sunburned. He tried to lift his leg over his bike's top tube, and found, somewhat bemusedly, he couldn't lift his leg high enough to clear his bike's crossbar. He and his bike had become one. He lay his bike over, and slowly, carefully, gently, extricated himself from the infernal contraption. While Sharon set up the tent, Neil sat on the picnic table, moaning softly. Tent assembled, Sharon placed sleeping bags inside, and began making supper. Neil moaned again and stumbled toward the fabric abode. "You have to eat," Sharon said. "Aren't you hungry?" "I'm too tired to chew," Neil answered, and with another moan laid down atop his sleeping bag... fully attired, including shoes. I'll just have to put them on in the morning again anyway, he reasoned.
The next morning, Neil sat (gingerly) at the picnic table and ate just-add-boiling-water instant oatmeal. He glanced at his bike still propped yonder against a tree. Dang! He wished someone had stolen the cursed instrument of torture during the night.
Time to leave, Neil discovered the reverse from yesterday's dismount episode was true. Now he couldn't lift his leg high enough to get back on. He laid the bike on the ground, raised his foot about eight inches (as high as it would go), stepped over the crossbar, and pulled the bike upright. He winced as he put some weight on the saddle. Never had he imagined a bike seat could be so hard. Never had he imagined his butt could be so sore. But, folks in the adjacent campsite were watching, so he stalwartly set forth. Sharon followed, shaking her head.
Hours later, after stubbornly pumping out another hundred miles (he's a slow learner) into driving rain, he collapsed in a heap once again. His butt felt like someone had set a match to it.
The following morning, in the rain, he repeated his now patented process of laying his bike on the ground to mount it. Fortunately, they had a short day riding the remaining distance into Jasper. Neil completed part of the way standing up.
In Jasper, they met another touring cyclist couple. After introducing Neil to the wonders of hard ice cream, the other cyclists invited Sharon and Neil to join them for pizza at a local restaurant. The other cyclists were on a tandem. They were from Connecticut. They had done a lot of touring. "Even though we have lots of money," Deb said, "we still prefer to bike tour. I think our family and friends are finally starting to believe us when we say we like it."
Neil sat delicately on the restaurant's wooden bench and flinched. "How long does one's butt hurt?" Neil asked Hob, the male counterpart of the tandem duo. "Oh, about three weeks," Hob replied. "Oh, no!" Neil groaned. "We're going for two weeks."
Somewhere between Banff and Calgary, plagued with dead genital syndrome, even Neil had to admit that his choice of on-sale-but-too small cycling shorts were a mistake. As cars whizzed past, he hunkered down in a roadside ditch and pulled on a pair of regular shorts.
After an overnight in Calgary, Neil and Sharon cycled in a strong side wind to the Drumheller Badlands. Neil was amazed that the swaying wheat fields looked like golden rolling ocean waves. He was a trifle disconcerted when passing freight trucks sucked his side air away and momentarily skittered him towards the passing trailer wheels before he managed to correct his balance.
After Drumheller (Neil decided it best they skip the side trip to Saskatoon), they made it back to Edmonton late one Sunday afternoon. Sorer, but wiser. Neil would have to go back to work in order to have a rest. It had rained thirteen of their fourteen days. And on the only day it hadn't rained, Neil got sunburnt. He resolved to never again go on another bike trip in his whole entire life. Thank heavens he had a car.
The next day, co-workers asked Neil what he had done during his vacation. They were far more impressed that he had ridden a bicycle "all that way" than they were with his Expo trip. Hmmm, he thought. Maybe there was something to this bike touring after all.
When the next summer rolled around Sharon somehow convinced Neil to try bicycle touring once again (I told you he was a slow learner). "This time I'll plan the route," she said.
Sharon took Neil and a cycle touring friend of her's,Vicky, for two weeks cycling in British Columbia's Gulf Islands. They had great weather. Not one drop of rain. They cycled sparsely trafficked roads. They cycled short distances. Neil had no saddle sores. He ate scrumptious and abundant picnics, inhaled copious quantities of ice cream, consumed monster-size portions of decadent desserts. So this is what bicycle touring is all about. Neil was hooked. And he found that the folks at work were no less impressed. Neil even began to ride his bike back and forth to work the odd day... on less conjested routes. Maybe one could teach an old dog new tricks.
From then on, whenever Neil and Sharon had vacation, they went on a bike tour somewhere in Alberta or BC. The Gulf Islands in BC and the San Juan Islands in Washington were Neil and Sharon's favourite places to tour.
Sharon finished University and began articling at an accounting firm. Neil quit his job and went back to University to get a degree in Elementary Education.
One summer they couldn't take their annual bike tour because Sharon was spending every available moment studying for her Chartered Accountant Unified Formal Exam -- including a leave from work and her entire vacation time.
Neil never wanted to have to go through watching the agonizing study process again. He decided to add incentive for Sharon to pass on her first attempt... if Sharon passed, instead of having to restudy again the next summer, they would cycle across the States. He had read an article in a bicycle magazine about the Bike Centennial trail and thought it sounded like quite the adventure.
Sharon passed her UFE exam. And the next summer she took a four-month leave from her job. Neil was still in University and had May through September free.
So, the end of April, Vicky, the same friend that Neil and Sharon cycled the Gulf Islands with so many times, was pressed into service to drive them to their starting point in Vancouver. On the way they drove through a blinding blizzard. Maybe they were starting a tad early?
Neil and Sharon had a fantastic time biking across the United States. Four months later, having loosely followed the original Bike Centennial route, they had cycled across the States. The American people were wonderfully hospitable. Neil and Sharon had the most amazing experience of their lives. And, reaching the east coast after six thousand miles, they were still ready for more. They even contemplated buying plane tickets and hopping across the Atlantic to continue pedalling blissfully on the other side.
Alas, common sense and the realities of commitments set in. Their dream would have to wait. They purchased plane tickets, but returned to Edmonton.
However, the seed had been planted. Sharon, stifled in a desk job, yearned for more travel. Neil finished his degree and was promptly hired by the Edmonton Public School system.
After a couple of years of gainful employment, the government of the day brought in sweeping budget cuts to education and health care. New teachers were suddenly without contracts. Neil was one of them. As Neil commiserated the loss of his employment, Sharon saw it as a splendid opportunity to throw off the traces.
They looked at a map of Europe and did some minimal planning. When Neil's work came to an end in June, they put their house up for sale and headed east across Canada. Having already spent two months of a previous summer cycling in the Maritimes, they figured they would hit Quebec's Gaspe Peninsula, do a little slingshot return, and catch a flight out of Montreal to Paris. Sure enough, the end of October saw them in France.
They spent the next fourteen months cycling around Europe. One day, set to sail from Rhode Island to Turkey, they phoned home and learned that Neil's mother was scheduled for another round of breast cancer chemo treatments. It didn't look promising. Even though Neil's parents urged the couple to continue their trip, Neil and Sharon decided to return to Canada in time for Christmas.
Sharon immediately landed another accounting job. Neil began writing about their travels. However, they were still bitten by the travel bug and their wanderlust continued unabated. They saved their money for a year, spent a second Christmas with Neil's mom and dad, then in January took their bikes and boarded a plane bound for New Zealand.
In New Zealand three weeks, Neil phoned home. His mom, age 56, had passed away a couple of hours prior. Neil's dad said he would wait until Neil and Sharon returned home before having the service.
Neil and Sharon cycled five months in New Zealand. Then they caught a plane to Australia and cycled from Sydney to Alice Springs. (Neil is presently writing a book about their journey into Australia's outback.) After three months in Australia, they flew to Fiji for a couple of weeks, then returned to Canada.
In Vancouver, Sharon immediately got another job. They lived with Neil's brother, Scott, in a townhouse in Maple Ridge. Neil worked on completing writing about their three months cycle touring on the island of Sardinia.
Sharon commuted weekdays on the West Coast Express train, leaving the house at six in the morning and not returning till seven at night. After six months she had had enough. "We either have to move downtown, or we have to move out of the city," she decided.
The couple still wanted to travel. But they didn't like living out of boxes between adventures. They looked on the Internet for houses near Princeton BC (where Neil was born and had lived the first eighteen years of his life). It was an opportune time to buy there as the mine that had employed a high proportion of the townsfolk had recently closed, and many properties were on the market.
One of the houses for sale was located in the nearby small town of Coalmont BC. It was priced right. It was ideally situated in a number of ways. Not only was it close to where Neil's dad and relatives lived (it would be easy for someone to keep an eye on their place while they were travelling), but it was also only a block from the sparkling Tulameen River and the newly appointed Kettle Valley Rail Trail.
Neil and Sharon bought the place and moved their bikes and belongings in. Strange how life sometimes works out. Once Neil and Sharon had moved in to their new digs (the "Big Wooden Tent" they called it) they couldn't believe how much they loved rural living. Everything they liked was right out their back door. Mountain biking, swimming, skiing, hiking. It wasn't like living in the city at all.
In order to pay a few bills (even though the cost of country living is lower than living in the city, it still costs some money. "Two can live as cheaply as one... but only for half as long.") Neil secured a position with the local school board on the sub list. It's a small district. He works an average of two days a week. It is perfect in that it leaves him time to pursue other interests. Writing has long been a hobby. Neil completed his first book about their biking adventures on Sardinia "The Lead Goat Veered Off." Shortly thereafter, he began working on "Partners in Grime," which has now been published, as well. He continues to work on their cycling misadventures in New Zealand and Australia; respectively, "A Hedgehog Ate My Soap," and "A Dingo Stole My Shoes."
Sharon had always wanted children. And living amidst such bucolic surroundings the desire became even greater. After much resistance (it was the bike-gift scenario all over again: "Why do I want kids? I see them all day at school."), Neil finally agreed. Their son, Normie, was born December 28, 2000. He's a real sweetie. Neil and Sharon love him to pieces... and Neil is having way more fun being a dad than he ever imagined possible.
Neil's Dad bought Normie a Chariot bike trailer that hooks up behind Sharon's bicycle. The only time Normie complains is when his mom goes too slow uphill!
On June 8, 2003, Normie was joined by a sister, Kiaira. Her name is Celtic for "small dark one," but with her volume, Neil believes it actually means "small loud one."
I wonder how they're going to like bicycle touring!?
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