Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Saskatchewan: land of the living sky

Straight up, anyone who tells you the Prairies are boring is full of baloney. I challenge any of you naysayers to ride a bike across the flatlands (which are definitely not flat until you get east of Regina) and then tell me that you were not entertained. Ok, I'll admit they're not the Rocky Mountains, with their towering, snow-topped spires and windex-blue lakes. You find a different kind of beauty in the Prairies: subtle colour contrasts, panoramic views, fantasmagorical creatures in the clouds. The landscape, shaped by generations of farmers and field workers, has a kind of beauty unto its own.

I don't mean to rant, but I've come across more than a few flatland haters, and I want to set this straight for the record: Saskatchewan rocks! And I totally dig Alberta and Manitoba as well.

I think the problem is that when people drive across the prairies, they tend to keep their eyes straight ahead on the road. Look up! The true beauty lies in the skies. The sky is huge! Absolutely enormous. It blows my mind. It's like the sky is one giant theater, and I have a front row seat to the performance. When my eyes aren't checking out the changing shapes of the clouds or watching thunderstorms brew off in the distance, I'm marveling at how the wind ripples the grasses, or how the little prairie dogs run away from the tires of my bike. Sometimes I try to guess how far away grain elevators and cell reception towers are in the distance. The best is when the sun starts to fall in the sky, and the world turns colours that seem to come from a storybook. I love it.

Long days on the open road have become the norm. I just passed into a new time zone, and now the sun sets even later. Last night I didn't find myself cycling toward camp until nearly 10pm. I was on some back country road outside of Virden (Manitoba), but instead of rushing to find a place to camp I found my eyes wandering, my legs slowing down, as I looked around my surrounding with a rejuvenated awe. The nightly ritual of sunset boggles the mind and grounds the soul. I pulled off on the side of the road to stare out at the fields, watching the grasses change colour as the sun fell towards the horizon. A couple of rusting oil donkey caught my eye, and soon I found myself wandering around an old junk yard, feeling nostalgic for the days when all this old machinery was in use. By the time I arrived in camp, I had just enough energy to pulverize all the mosquitoes buzzing about my tent before I passing out in peaceful slumber.

I think the worst part about cycling across the prairies is the quantity of roadkill. Skunks, elk, deer, antelope, foxes, beavers, prairie dogs galore (seriously, like every 50m there's another one. Someone told me that they're cannibals and eat their dead, so that might explain why there are so many rotting on the hwy), badgers, wolves, coyotes, all in various states of decomposition. I've learned that if you're riding with the wind, the smartest move is to take a big inhalation as soon as you see a large piece of roadkill, then hold your breath for about 15 seconds. More than that and you risk passing on your bike, less than that and you're nostrils will be filled with a most offensive odor.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Derby girls, you rocked my world

So I had the pleasure of viewing a genuine, live roller derby bout while in Regina. Kyla, my heavy metal lovin' couchsurfing host, was a derby newbie, known as fresh meat in the derby world. She wasn't skating in the match but selling 50/50 tickets, which means I got a great seat since we arrived early. The bout took place in the curling rink, where the ice had been removed for the summer months. The crowd could not have been more different than the folks who attend curling matches: tattooed, pierced, wild hairstyles galore. There were folks from 2 to 82, although most people were in the 18-30 range.

Wild rock and metal music blasted from the speakers as the derby girls came out to do their warm up skate. Tonight's bout was a rematch between the Lockdown Lolitas and the Bone City Beaver Dames. According to the official program, the Lockdown Lolitas were a "misfit bunch of inmates from a nearby women's prison. The group was created as an experimental form of anger management training, but quickly grew into a sisterhood of ruthless women. The Lockdown Lolitas skate their hearts out at each and every game because it is their one glimmer of freedom in the cold hard school of knocks" The Beaver Dames "are not cute and fuzzy, but a hard-living bunch of broads who have banded together after being cast out of polite society from their bad attitude and misconduct". The game was reffed by General Discomfort, and commentated by Tenacious Double Dee.

As the minutes counting down to the match diminished, I felt the energy and excitement in the arena grow stronger. Seats filled up (the show was sold out), voices grew louder, derby girls playfully growled and snarled at opposing team members. I think the peak of it all was when the audience burst into boisterous applause and hooting as Tenacious Double Dee belted out the last few notes of the national anthem. I haven't felt such homeland pride since the spontaneous singing in the streets that accompanied the Winter Olympics. I was glowing, beaming, just happy to be part of the crowd, all of us stoked for the bout to come.

The ladies didn't disappoint. With names like Doom Cookie, Mochahontas, Maiden Sane, Ra Ra Riot, Super Tramp, D.Ablo, Da Dan Da Dah, Anna Filactic, Lady Kracken, TabRRRKnuckle, and (my personal fav) Tanya Backside, I had a feeling that the crowd was going to be thoroughly entertained from start to finish. The girls raw energy and enthusiasm for the sport reminded of back in the day when I was a devout rugby player. Passion, devotion, and the unconditional willingness to give it your all once you are on the floor/field.

While watching the match, I kept thinking, "I dig these girls. They get it; they know what life is all about". They were real, their hearts were in it, and no one was giving in to defeat no matter what the score. Their attitude impressed me the most. Although they were aggressive ("Ooooh, and Suzie Smackems gives a big hit to Madame Snatch! Ouch!"), they maintained a certain level of respect for the other team. When jammer Kitty Militia went down with a hit to the tail bone, every player on the floor took a knee and watched with fretful eyes until she made her way up. After the match, all the players and a bunch of the spectators made their way upstairs to the after party, where folks mixed and mingled, reliving the glories of the bout and showing off bruises shaped like Eastern European nations.

One thing is for certain: when I grow up (or get bored of cycling) I'm going to be a derby girl. All I have to do is think of a rink name for myself. Megalicious? Meaghan the Mauler? Forward me you suggestions. I plan to go into intense training as soon as I arrive home. As for now, I'm gonna stick with biking, since I have committed myself to crossing Canada and would hate to bail out when I'm almost in Manitoba. I do, however, plan to start dressing in derby style by somehow incorporating torn fishnets and externally worn lacy panties into my riding attire. And I'll need to pic up a few more tattoos, sorry Mom! It seems that 1/8 of the body is about the standard amount of ink on a roller derby girl (although some have no tats), so I have a long way to go. When I'm back in the hood, I plan to return to my employment position at Central City Arena, where I'll spend my days schlepping it out behind the counter, and my nights practicing my moves on the rink.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Biker Gang on the Trans Canada

Tim: "hey kid, I see you've got a new hairstyle!"
Me: "What are you talking about? I just took a shower."
Tim: "That's what I mean," laughs, "It's not all greased down anymore. You've got some volume"

I should mention that because shampoo wasn't included in my efficient packing scheme, I'd used the pink soap from the hand cleaning station at the campground to wash my hair. The shower was akin to a pressure washer, removing all the grimy filth built up over the last few days. And, believe it or not, the pink soap really did the trick.

So this story kind of picks up where the last one left off. We kicked it out of Chaplin around 9:30am. The four of us procrastinated for a while, mulling over the effects of headwind brought in by the storm last night. We debated what to do over half a dozen cups of coffee at the local billiards hall, where we chatted with the locals and met crazy ol' weathered guy on a bike. Eventually as the day wore on, we realized that we'd better get moving before the blazing sun melted the skin off our bodies, kind of like that scene front that Arnold Schwarzenegger movie Total Recall. So Kevin led the way, the rest of us drafting off of him and pushing through the angry winds. It was exhilarating; riding in a pack, a gang of cycling nomads all free from the restraints of ordinary life. Definitely one of the best days so far :)

We stopped in the tiny town of Mortlach for lunch at the HollyHock Market, where we were treated to fresh moose stew and paninis. The four of us dined under the shade of an umbrellaed picnic table out back with the lovely store owners, Lois and Clayton, who brought us icy cold water and watermelon. I will say this again: the people in Saskatchwan are amazing. It was a fine lunch break, spent taking about everything under the sun, and we left refuelled and ready to rock out to Moose Jaw.

Once in Moose Jaw we found ourselves in the midst of a jubilant parade. Haha, it was pretty amazing. The local paper reported that "hundred were in attendance". We all agreed that the highlight was the mini-cars and mini-bikes. We schemed about entering ourselves in the parade, since we were a biking gang after all, but then were satisfied with free Canada flags and freezies so we just chilled out from the sidelines.

Now we're in Regina, couchsurfing with Kyla who has a nice little place on Albert Street. Tonight Dad's taking off for the homeland, while I'm headed out to the roller derby with Kyla. So we have reached the end point of our two week cycling stint. It's been a good one, to be sure. I'll miss our conversations about gastrointestinal systems and the logistics of harnessing wind power. We just said farewell to Tim this afternoon; he's looking to cover 150km before sunset.

Word on the street is that all the Trans Canada cyclists will be reuniting for Canada Day revelry in Winnipeg, which means I'm going to be pedaling my little heart out to make it out there for the shenanigans. It's going to be a week filled with 5am wake ups, lots of electrolyte tablets, and hardcore pedalling. I look forward to making new friends, experiencing new landscapes, and eating an outrageous quantity of peanut butter.

Crazy on two wheels

So the past few days (from Gull Lake to Regina) my Pops and I have been cycling with a couple of crazies we met on the road. Now, I don't use the term 'crazy' in a negative way. Let's face the facts here: anyone attempting to cross the country on their bicycle is obviously a little wacko. I have no trouble admitting that I should probably be admitted, likely because I'm my father's daughter and anyone who's met my father knows that he's not exactly normal either. He had me putting together circuit boards before I knew how to walk, and sparring with him in the backyard while the other kids in my neighborhood learned how to horseback. Plus, my Grandma Hackinen (may she rest in peace) was kind of...hmmm, how to say this?...not your average grandmother. She was 69 when she pedaled into Halifax on her 10 speed, thereby proving her awesomeness, and also her insanity. Where am I going with all this? Oh yes. I am also crazy, I probably inherited this condition from my ancestors, and I'm learning to cope with the constant desire to do outrageous things by, well, simply doing them.

But compared to some of the cyclists I have met, I hardly even rate on the crazyness scale of 1 to 10. For instance, we met FredRTW (Round The World) in front of an Esso station on the way out of Moose Jaw. He rolled up in his rickity old bike, packing more gear than all of us combined. "I started zeees journey 10 yearz ago" he told us in a thick French accent, "When zee Bush administration took ahold of zee United States". His bike lacked water bottle cages or front panniers, instead he carried his posessions and pop bottles filled with water from a dozen or so plastic bags dangling from his front handle bars. And then we met some spindly, weathered guy riding without a helmet, his head and face brown as a peanut, who claimed to have cycled from Toronto to central Sask. in 17 days. I think this could only be possible if the fellow hadn't slept in 17 days, which, by the look of him, might be possible. Completely wired with eyes bulging he shouted "What's wrong? Haven't you seen a guy on a pedal bike before?" before he pedaled off. We just stared, mouths open, recognizing that this is what insanity looked like when you stared it in the face.

So we met Tim and Kevin, who met each other while trying to cross the flooded Saskatchewan border, at the campground in Gull Lake. Tim is completely outrageous, in the most awesome way possible. I honestly can't believe some of the things that come out of his mouth, and find myself hurling back my head with laughter at least a dozen times a day. Kevin seemed pretty normal when we first met him; good looking guy in spandex (wait, does that actually sound normal? On second thought maybe not) who happens to be a real live rocket scientist (Dad was pretty keen to find this out) who is biking across the country to raise money and awareness for Huntington's disease. Except that once we got on the road with him we realized that he's a machine! I truely think this man may be composed of cyborg superhuman DNA, since the fact that he was cycling 25km/hr into a roaring headwind with an upset stomach had no visible effect on him.

So the four of us slightly zany individuals hit the road the next morning bright and early, all split up but intending to meet up about 140km down the road at the little town of Chaplin where we knew there was a campground. Dad and I arrived a little late, because we were in Swift Current hanging out at the bike shop for the duration of the afternoon. My bike needed a little TLC, a few new parts, and some purple handle bar grips (well the grips weren't really necessary, but they go nicely with the rest of my ridiculous ensemble). Dan from Big Sky Cycles was our savour! He welcomed us into the shop, gave us heaps of useful advice, and took care of my annoying disk brake problem. Turns out, salt water can be corrosive to bike parts. Who knew? I suppose camping on the beach all down the Pacific Coast wasn't the best thing for the longevity of my bike. But it turns out, all she needed (besides a piece or two that had fallen off somewhere along the line) was a little lube. While my bike was up on the rack, my Dad and I spoke with a half dozen individuals (including the fire chief) who wandered in and out of the bike shop, as casually as if it was their own home. I loved it :) Gotta say a big thanks to Dan for all his help, encouragement, and for just letting us get a glimpse into the life of a bike shop in the middle of the Prairies.

So as the sun sank lower in the sky, we approached the village of Chaplin. A couple of carved out pieces of wood reading campground directed us to the vacant field facing the gigantic salt mining operation.
"What? Christmas in Saskatchewan? Oh wait, that's not snow. Just salt."
We saw Kevin and Tim seated at the picnic table of glory from down the path. Spaghetti with hamburger already on the go, and half a case of beer finished, we were stoked to join them. We plunked our tents down in the middle of the field and sat around telling stories of our cross-country adventures to date and watching mesmerized as a truck drove up and down the enormous pile of salt. And then, we started to see the lightning. And hear the thunder. And it was everywhere; we were surrounded. Deciding quickly that pitching our tents in the middle of a field in the flattest province in the country was probably a poor idea, we relocated them to a slightly more treed location at the edge of the pitch.

We retreated into our individual tents when the rain started to pour. Every few moments flashes of lightning lit up the inside of our tent, exposing the mess of clothing, trail mix, and wet sleeping bags that surrounded us.Dad spilled his drink and decided to mop it up with his only pair of pants. We spent the rest of the night cackling about our misfortune and trying not to touch the edges of the tent, which were slopping wet from the effect of the wind and rain hitting our fly simultaneously. Eventually the novelty of it all wore off and my heavy eyes shut for the night.

The next morning the sky was beautiful. It was hard to imagine the chaos that ensued the night before. Apparently I'm doomed to face bizarre weather conditions for the rest of my trip. It was hailing in Regina yesterday, and thunderstorms are in the forecast for the rest of the week.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Great Canadian Hospitality in Saskatchewan

"Us flatlanders would take the shirt off our back to help a stranger, and think nothin' of it."
-construction worker outside the tavern who lent us his tape measure in Tompkins, Sask.

So we thought Albertans were extraordinarily courteous, helpful, and friendly. I mean, they move over to the far left lane to pass us when we're riding on the shoulder! People in BC never give us that much space. Well, once we reached Saskatchewan we encountered a whole new level of hospitality, one that (in my mind anyways) rivals kiwi kindness. But let me start my story from the beginning.

Once we had made it into Fox Valley, the second town we hit once we crossed the Saskatchewan border, we commenced our quest to find the campground. I popped into the local convenience store/car wash to ask directions, and spoke with the folks working there. John, the proprietor of the store, followed me out into the rain after giving me directions to chat about our journey. Before long, Dad was complaining about the disturbing grinding noise coming from of his bike, and mentioned that he needed to do some work on it or find a bike shop ASAP otherwise we probably weren't going to make it to the next town (which was 63km away, and under water still).

Without a moments hesitation, John offered up his tools and his manpower. He pointed over to the dump across town, and suggested they head over there in his truck to see if they could find some old bike parts to rebuild Dad's bike. I looked over at Dad and we shared a smile, a smile which meant "the world is taking care of us; everything is gonna be alright". So they set a date for the following dawn. John suggested we hustle over to the diner and grab some grub, and we hopped to it, wanting more than anything in the world just to be warm and dry and away from the elements for a change.

"Two hot chocolates, please"
We devoured chicken noodle soup and a club sandwich, then leaned back and watched the weather report, read the local paper, and chatted with the bubbly waitress/cook. Mostly, we were just procrastinating on our move over to the campground to pitch our tent in the rain. But luckily, tonight we didn't have to.

Minutes before closing time, a middle aged couple walked in.
"Are those your bikes? Don't tell us you're planning on camping in the rain!"
Regretfully, we nodded our heads.
"Oh no, you're coming back with us. We have a guest cottage, newly renovated, and you can spend the night in there"
Dad smiled. I smiled. We introduced ourselves, and found out their names were Bob and Alexis. Two creative and energetic individuals with a passion for living life and creating beauty around them. They recently renovated the old church and opened up the Dragonfly Arts and Cultural Center (interesting, because while cycling in Washington my sister and I were taken in by the woman who ran the local thrift store, coincidentally named the Dragonfly), as well they run a couple other small businesses. So, Dad and I biked across town (about 5 blocks) to their home and settled in the cottage for the night. Later we both agreed: we could feel their enthusiasm and positive energy the second they appeared in the diner. We were truly blessed to serendipitously meet such lovely individuals.

The thing I liked best about the cottage, beside the fact that it was dry and considerably larger than our tent, was the calming energy floating around the place. sigh. It was beautiful. Funky decor, quiet and peaceful. A lovely refuge from the thunderous rain outdoors. I spent the evening sprawled across my bed, sipping peppermint tea and chewing on jube jubes while Dad disappeared off to John's house behind the convenience store to do some backyard mechanics.

He returned close to midnight, covered in grease, toes white and cold like little ice cubes, but grinning madly.
"Well, we did it! We're good to go!"
Apparently the bearings were shot on his bottom bracket, so they smashed out a set from a dump yard bike and used it to replace the set on Dad's failing Norco. We blamed the mud for the cause of this trouble, but really it was probably Dad's fault for taking a lower end city bike and riding through three provinces.

Dad's final words of advice to me were "if at first you don't succeed, try a bigger hammer."

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Flooding in the Prairies

We arrived in Medicine Hat, the gas city (ahhhh hahahah! please tell me I'm not the only one who finds this hilarious?) mid-afternoon cycling in from Grassy Lake. The town's name was more than appropriate for the campground, where we pitched our tent on an island of pallets. Our purpose in 'the Hat' was to try and figure out how to detour around the lake that had become the Trans Canada Hwy, without going ridiculously far out of our way and without hitting any gravel roads (which would be muddy slop after all this rain). It was difficult to gather any solid info, and eventually we decided it would be better to stay in town for the night and hit the road bright and early in the morning.

While hanging out by the library (because of course, that's where all the cool kids chill) I met a fellow named Scott who worked at the local collage and almost immediately offered up his backyard as a camp spot for us. We were stoked :) So we spend Father's Day chillaxing on Scott's shaded back deck, drinking Canadian, BBQing steak and potatoes, and conversing with a kind and laid back fellow. In my mind, being invited home by random strangers is one of the highlights of bike touring.

Next morning we started our alternate route up Hwy 41, then took and eastbound turn towards Richmound. There was no real excitement on the Albertan side of the border; slow rolling hills and grassy fields for miles and miles. We rode into a headwind for about 60km, so that was a bit tiring. Ran out of water, and couldn't find a farm house that wasn't less than a kilometer to ask for a refill of our bottles. We debated using our water cleaning pills on some of the swamp water, but in the end decided that the toxins they spray on the fields would probably be built up in the puddles and thus we kept moving, thirsty but with the border in sight.

The second we crossed the Saskatchewan border, right on cue, the sky broke loose with thunder and lightning and more showers. Now I should say that we've had two days of really awesome weather, so the fact that it was raining again was not too bad. Except for the minor issue of 'what do you do when you see lightening strike while biking?'. Not the safest situation, to be sure. The official material all says useless info like 'get into you car' (we don't have a car) or 'go inside' (the houses are spaced about 5km apart). So we pedal forth into the storm, stopping in Richmound for a couple of burgers at the hotel. While socializing with the staff and patrons (everyone here is super friendly, offering us tools and advice and sharing their insights of their world with us), we had a chance to dry out and wait for the storm to blow over. Or so we thought. A few kilometers east it started to storm again, and really, what could we really do but laugh?

The countryside was totally gorgeous, even in the rain. Quick moving antelope spring along beside us in the fields, a couple of foxes watch us pass by, prairie dogs scuttle along beside our bike tires and hawks swoop down in front of us. Old wood farmhouses loom in the distant fields, their paint chipped and peeling. Abandoned and left to slowly deteriorate, or used as storage I imagine.

So we cruised into Fox Valley around 6:00pm. We saw the giant grain elevators from waaaaaay off in the distance, but it seemed to take us forever to actually make our way into town. Our spirits were kind of low, since Dad's bike had started to make a most disturbing sound, and we realized that we would, yet again, be setting up our tent in the rain. Boo-urns :(

But, we had made it into Saskatchewan, even if it was through a big loopy detour route. And at least our homes weren't flooding, our livestock wasn't being washed away, and we weren't losing our crops and livelihood to this flood. So really, no biggie. Just a few more miles under our tires.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

conversations from the road

So we've had some pretty funny conversations while traveling down the road. Others are not so much funny, but rather telling of the priorities on our lives at this moment in time. Here are a few for your entertainment.

After riding like 12 miles down a muddy side road, we arrived at a community park in Lethbridge, Alberta, and needed to wash our bikes down. Dad approached a shady picnic table full of loitering individuals to seek help in our quest.
Dad: Hey folks, our bikes are pretty dirty. Do any of you know where I can find a hose?
Guy at table: I know where you can find a little ho...
Girl at table chimes in: We've got lots of hoes here!
Laughter by all parties follows. Then they directed us to the gas station.

Riding toward Grassy Hills as the sun sunk lower in the sky and the insects swarmed the air.
Meg: Ug. I got another bug in my mouth.
Dad: Was it chewy?
Meg: No. Crunchy.
Dad: Hmmmmm, I think you're tasting tasting the exoskeleton.
Meg: I'm just glad this one wasn't gooey.

While conversing with some people at a BBQ in the town center of Fort Macleod, we debated the terrain of Alberta
Woman with country hairstyle from the 90's: You rode your bikes all the way from BC!?
Meg: Yeah, we're pretty stoked to be here. Looking forward to some flat riding
Woman with country hairstyle from the 90's: Oh don't get too excited just yet. The road is pretty hilly until you get out past Medicine Hat!
Meg: Oh really? (thinking in my head: probably not compared to the kootenays...or the Rockies...or just about anywhere in BC. We are in Medicine Hat now actually, and the steepest grade we've seen so far is probably, like, 3 or 4 percent or something. Again, nothing like cycling in the west. Not that I'm complaining though; only one of my brakes us fully operational, so the roller coaster slopes of BC's Hwys would not be a good thing right now. Plus, we make way better time on the flat)

Dad: Look, cows!
Meg: mooooooooooooooooooooooo!
Dad: mooo moo mooooooo!

Meg: Look, horses!
Dad: Naaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhh!
Meg: Neeeeeaaah!!!

Dad: Look, llamas!
Meg: Ooooh, let me take a picture! (gets camera out of pannier)
Dad: Meg, I think he's gonna spit. His ears are back....
Meg: I think it's a girl, Pops (walking towards wire fence)
Dad: Whatever. Look, llamas spit...don't get so close!
Meg: Awww, she's bringing her llama friends over! Yaaaa, they like me!
Dad: Meaghan, get away from that fence unless you want to be covered in llama juice!

Crossing the Great Divide

location: Lethbridge Library
km cycled today: 25 (we've got a ways to go yet)
km cycled total: 1900ish

Amidst torrential downpours and high winds (luckily Add Imagethey were coming from behind us), we made it through the spectacular Crowsnest Pass and into Alberta. Seriously, it didn't stop raining for over 48 hours. I was soaked to the core. There were moments of which I was on the verge of tears (like when I got a flat in the middle of nowhere, and soaked the inside of my bag when I was trying to dig out my patch kit, or when my disk brake slipped out of place and proceeded to grind at such an obnoxious frequency that I contemplated hurled my bike into the flooding fields and mounted a bull instead of trying to deal with it). All the folks we talk to here say "water hasn't been this high since the floods of '95". Newspaper headlines read "Floods Submerge Alberta Towns". But still we pedal forth, determined to make it somewhere, anywhere, at the end of each day come hell or high water. I think the Trans Canada Hwy is under water from Medicine Hat to the Saskatchewan border, so perhaps we'll commandeer a boat and strap our bikes to the deck for that stretch. Or take another route. We made some hilarious videos but this lousy library internet connection is too slow to load them. So I'll have to tell you what happened instead.

Once we crossed the Great Divide, we entered the rolling hills of Alberta. We passed the town of Frank, entering a landscape of giant boulders and rubble, evidence of the devastating rock slide of 1903. It continued to pour as we made our was east, and we became increasingly cooler as we descended from the Pass. Dad decided to make some gloves out of bagel bags, which proved to be moderately successful in keeping his hands dry. My gortex booties failed to keep the water out, and soon my socks were squishy and my toes numb. We watched the water levels rise in the fields around us, shocked as what used to be trickling streams became rivers of brown flowing muck with tree trunks and miscellaneous farm items floating down them at a rapid pace. The windmills were incredible though! So much bigger than I imagined them.

We arrived in Fort Macleod around 8:30pm, and rode against the wind into the nearby rec side. Setting up camp in record time, I speedily stripped out of my wet clothes and changed into my warm pjs, then tucked myself into the tent while Dad went to pay for the site. I spread PB and J on a bagel for dinner (there was no way we were cooking outside in this weather) and commenced to munch inside the confines of my warm but damp sleeping bag. A few minutes later Dad came back to me with the bad news: we were camped in a flood zone. The entire rec site, as well as the neighboring campground was being evacuated because the river had risen 3 feet in little more than three hours, and by 2am we were guaranteed to be under water.

The next nearest campground was 10 miles up the road, which meant we'd be cycling into a north wind and it was getting dark. I was devastated. Putting my cold wet spandex on and tearing down camp was just awful. We braved the rain into Fort Macleod, and looked for a motel and a liquor store. Luckily, we found a nice place (haha, by nice I mean cheap-it had the 'O' of MOTEL burned out and looked ghetto fab, right up our alley), cranked up the heat, used out tent poles as drying lines for our waterlogged belongings and split a 6 pack of beer, a bag of cheezies, and a couple of sticks of pepperoni. Truth be told, it was a riot. We watched old movies on the grainy TV and shared ridiculous stories as we sipped our beer from the comfort of our toasty warm room. But, while sitting in a warm tub and waiting for my toes to regain feeling and colour, I couldn't help but think that all those people who said I was crazy were right...

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Meet the Rabbitts!

So my entire life, I've been kind of obsessed with rabbits and bunnies. Every year I'd get a stuffed bunny at Easter, along with piles of chocolate eggs. When we were kids, our parents intercepted a couple on the way to the soup pot, and we kept them as pets for a few years until mine was run over by a car and Lisha's was so heartbroken that he ran off into the wilderness and died of a broken heart.

But this is all besides my point, which is that while passing through Creston we rode south to Lister and stayed with my Mom's uncle Bernie and the rest of the Rabbitt family. For me, it was a really cool experience because although I've met Bernie before, I didn't remember him (I was like 10 at the time, and all relatives over about 40 looked the same to me, regardless of age or gender), and I didn't know the rest of his family. So we quickly became acquainted with the Rabbitts over the course of an evening. We rode up to their place in Lister around sunset, and were treated to a fresh caught trout baked with the most incredible cream cheese seasoning I've ever had. Bernie's wife Annette reminded me of my Grandma Betsy, "I'm going to feed you so much that you won't have to eat again until Saskatoon!" and she did. My taste buds loved every moment of it. My stomach was visibly bigger after we finished the coffee cake.

The rest of the evening was spent talking with Bernie, Annette, as well as their daughter Melissa and her husband Parker about biking, Egypt, kids, and the telecommunications industry. I love meeting relatives I never knew I had, and felt pretty lucky to see such a happy family of individuals, including baby Benjamin. We left the next morning with our tummies full of food, our hearts full of good memories, and our bags full of coffee cake and moose sausage.

father daughter reunion in Nelson

location: Fernie Library
km cycled today: 94 (probably 30 more to go before dinner)
total km cycled: 1554 (yaaaa!)

phew, ok. Way too much awesomeness is happening for it to be documented in this place. I can hardly catch my breath at times, let alone find time to write down what is going on around me. I wake up each day with no idea of where I'll be sleeping that night, and tucking in to sleep at the end of every day thinking "wow, that was that best day ever!" and then each morning I wake up and do it all again. Remember those ads during the 2010 Olympics that said "We were made for this" ? That's how I feel about biking. I was made for this.

Ok, so a brief rundown of how things have been going: After getting my rim fixed, I decided to stay away from gravel paths and off road tracks of all sorts. I kicked it up the Bonanza Pass (1535m baby!) and into Castlegar with Erik, where we parted ways. I cycled on to Nelson where I was to meet up with ol' man Laur Hackinen (my dad) the next morning. He peaced out of work, boxed up his bike, and took the overnight greyhound up from Vancity to join me for an indefinite period of time, probably a couple of weeks. So this whole "Meaghan crosses the country on her own" isn't quite turning out as I planned, but I don't mind at all. My dad is full of worldly advice, like "if you drink another beer Meaghan, you'll probably regret it in the morning..." and "if you feed the dog at the table, he's not going to leave you alone!". He also dislikes paying for camping as much as I do (we camped next to a gravel quarry outside of Fort Steele last night, rising early to the sound of truck tires on loose rock) and appreciates the finer things in life, like mid-afternoon siestas and aged cheddar, so we make a pretty good team.

In Nelson we stayed with this totally rad couch surfing host named Jeff. He had long black hair in a pony tail and lived to snowboard, bike, and enjoy the sunshine. We talked of traveling, bikes, and instant noodles. It was a pretty good weekend spend roaming around town on our bikes, chilling on patios and deck, and kicking back on the shores of Kootenay Lake. I was pretty stoked to be back here, because I visited Nelson once before with grade 10 concert band and I have many fond memories of the road trip.

So since our reunion we've cycled to Creston, Cranbrook, and now we're in Fernie. Tomorrow we're heading through the Crowsnest Pass and into Alberta. The weather, which was soooooooooo incredible for a few days (I'm sporting pretty sweet tanlines from my cycle shorts) has turned kind of rotten again. But, to be cycling in the shadows of these beautiful snow covered giants with my dad is such a fabulous experience, I really can't complain too much. If I see I big horned sheep, it's going to make my day :)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

the list

number of km cycled so far: over 1000
number of bar products consumed so far (including granola, power, fruit, and protein): unknowable. At least 36.
number of cycling days with zero precipitation: one
number of relatives visited: about 20
number of times I've gasped at the sheer beauty of the mountain views: like, two dozen or something...
number of showers I've taken in the last week: one (ahhh hahah! gross, I know. But it's been constantly raining, so I figure I'm mostly clean)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Weather is a fickle lover

Location: Grand Forks Library

Favourite moment of the week: pedaling down the hill into Midway wearing nothing but my t-shirt and board shorts, getting poured on with rain as thunder rings off in the distance while whooping and hollering with my cycling companion Erik. Drenched and joyous, we wandered into the general store to restock before heading on to Greenwood (or something like that) to camp for the night. The country folks in the store felt so sorry for us lunatics (and believe me, we looked like a couple of crazies; we were smiling and laughing as we dripped water all over the grocer) that they gave us complimentary cookies and coffee :) Gotta love small towns.

So here I am in Grand Forks. Not to be confused with the town of Forks in Washington State, made famous by the Twilight series. We're here because I needed a bike shop after I blew out my tire while cycling on the Kettle Valley Rail out of Kelowna. Apparently it's more for mountain bikes than touring/road bikes, but I didn't know this until I was on the trail, headed off into the middle of nowhere with no one but the over friendly chipmunks to keep me company. Then, BANG! In one moment my tube was shot, tire destroyed, and rim cracked.

But I made a friend, Erik from Victoria, while I was fixing my gear on the side of the path. The first soul I'd seen in hours, he stopped to make sure I could get my spare tire on (thank goodness I brought one), and we kinda just kicked it down the path together after that. We've spend the last few days cycling along the old rail bed, powering through puddles of unknowable depth, camping near lakes and streams, and chilling out around the ol' cooking pot. The other night we had the opportunity to sleep in a renovated old caboose, which was totally rad since it down-poured rain on the tin roof all night long. We arrived in Grand Forks this afternoon, kicked it straight to the bike shop where my rim (special ordered from Norco) was waiting for me. A couple of hours later and $225 in the hole and I'm good to go. Note to self: to avoid minor disasters, research trail conditions prior to heading out.

So the weather had been rotten/awesome. Don't know what more to say, except that I'm sick of lubing up my chain and having it all washed off each day and replaced with a thick layer of grit. The sun, when she shows were lovely face between storms, is brilliant. I hope to see more of her, and less of her lousy rain cloud friends, over the course of the summer.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Cruising through Nicola Valley

Everyday that I've been on the road, it has rained. No lie. But there has also been sun; glorious and brilliant, live-giving and limb-warming sun. This is what I felt beat down on my neck and shoulders as I rode down into Merritt, past the hotels and fast food restaurants and along the creek into Lower Nicola. It was around seven in the evening, and the late afternoon sun gave off that gorgeous and magical quality, making everything and everyone seem all at once beautiful and dreamlike. Nostalgia for a time when digital clocks and motorized vehicles didn't exist crept over me as I rolled along the country road past wooden farmhouses in various states of disrepair, willow trees reaching into the creek, and green fields stretching to the base of the mountains.

After 170km, my body tired but my mind elated, I appeared at Mo and Allen's place in Lower Nicola. Mo and Allen are friends of Aunty Di from Kamloops; they go waaaaaaaaaaay back. Back to when everyone had long hair and believed in peace and love and worked on the railway. I love showing up on people's doorsteps, having no idea what they look like or who they really are, and being welcomed in like one of the family. I tried to sound intelligent as Mo quizzed me on my journey so far, my travels up the coke, and where I was headed next, but had a hard time concentrating on my words after she put a plate of food in front of me. Famished, I ate as Mo and Allen shared their adventures of crisscrossing the BC/Alberta border and driving through the prairies at sunset. It was calming to hear someone elses voices beside myself, after having not more than three conversations after I left my sister's place that morning.

The next morning Mo sent me on the road with apples, carrots, and about a quarter of a watermelon (peeled and cut into bite-size pieces). I took off toward hwy 5a, the old route into Kamloops past Nicola Lake and Quilchena. The ride was scenic, the road a little narrow, the weather on and off like a faulty sprinkler system. Definitely a more relaxing ride than up the coquihalla, and the only major was riding up into Knutsford, so I had it pretty easy. Except that the hill had an 11% grade, and the moment I started up the slope the sky cracked open over my head. I mean, I looked east and saw sun. I looked south and I saw blue skies. But above and ahead of me? Rain, thunder, lightning. Boom bang pow slpoooooooosh. Sigh.

Luckily, the wetness evaporated as I soared down the hill into Kamloops and I arrived at Aunty Di's place in Brocklehurst dry as a...I dunno...cell phone?

So that's where I'm at. Visiting the family in Kamloops. Listening to people's stories and telling my own. Trying to catch up on years and years of missed conversations in one three day visit. When I said good-bye to my Mom in Surrey, I mentioned to her that I didn't feel like I wa
s really saying farewell since I was off to visit her mother, father, siblings, nieces and nephews. The same blood flows in our veins, tying us all together in this crazy stringy web. I'm heading out tomorrow for Armstrong to see my cousin and her kiddos, then Kelowna to see more family, then on to the Kettle Valley Trail for a bit and over to Castlegar, Nelson, and Creston via the Crowsnest Hwy.
love and peace

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Conquering the Coquihalla

After returning from the island I spent Sunday washing, re-organizing, and packing up my panniers. This time I was actually heading east, and actually on my own. I pedaled out of Surrey on the back roads with the rain pelting me in the face, and splashing up my shins. Fun stuff. I took 16th ave (up and down the rolley pollies) most of the way out of town, then moved on to 8th ave, then wound my way through farmlands into Chilliwack, passing horses and llamas and chickens, oh my! The intermittent downpours didn't really damper my spirits, since I was on my way to Lisha's place in Agassiz, and the thought of a hearty home cooked meal and warm bed to sleep in, as well as a chance to converse with my lovely sister, really displaced any negative feelings towards the black clouds looming over my head.

I arrived at Lisha's place around five, at which time she commenced to cook me the meal of my dreams while I showered the residual grunge off my face and limbs. After dinner, Lish made cookies as we drank tea and conversed with Carolyn, the friendly primary school teacher who was renting Lish her room. We regaled Carolyn with stories of biking in Mexico, sharing the infamous "yogurt-bum-pinch-incident" with re-enacted detail.

The next morning Lish sent me off with a ziplock full of hermit cookies, a container of leftovers, and a fistful of cash. Couldn't really ask for a better sister :) Too bad she can't come with me; we are the ultimate duo.

My trip to Hope was uneventful. I took the Haig Hwy and got soaking wet. Oh, and I forgot my flag at Lisha's place and thus had to backtrack to pick it up. I anticipated my trip up the coquihalla to be a test of my physical stamina. I did not think it was going to be easy, and when I mentioned my intentions of cycling from Agassiz to Merritt in one go to other people, I was labeled as a) crazy, b) insane, or c) brave. But I have a question: what's the difference between being crazy and insane? Is an insane person a person who is mentally unbalanced, and thus has no control over their actions, while a crazy person is someone who chooses to be wild and outrageous? I don't know the answer.

So I started pedaling, uphill, on Hwy 5, alone, in the pouring rain. Truthfully, I was a little scared. Until this point I'd managed to keep off the main roads, and the sight of semi trucks rumbling towards me in my side mirror was more than daunting. I was starting to think that I was a crazy/insane person. Then, my head full of disheartening thoughts, I spotted a woman on the other side of the highway. This took me off guard; I was about 30 km from Hope, and hadn't seen a soul. She looked kind of distraught, so I slowed down and shouted "are you ok?" over the roar of traffic. She shook her head and pointed down the slope, and not really knowing what I was doing I hopped off my bike, jumped the meridian, and asked again "are you ok?".

Well, it turns out she drove her car off the road as she was rounding the bend, and there it lay. It looked like she plowed through a few small alders, down a slope, and crash landed in a salmon berry bush. She was a bit distressed and disorientated, shaking and shuddering as the bruises began to swell and the blood began so seep from her wounds (thank goodness the tree crashed into her windshield and not her head). Her on-star failed, and she was trying to flag down a car to call for help.

"Nobody is stopping!" she wailed, "I've been trying...trying but they just drive by...". To top it off, she lost her glasses in the crash, and so all she could see was blurry forms of colour flying towards her.

So I gave her I hug. Because that's all I really want when things aren't going so well for me, and I couldn't think of the right words to say. Her car was probably totaled, but she was mostly OK. Then I flagged down a car (I somehow felt determined to help this woman, whose name was Judy, looked to be in her late 50s or early 60s, by the way) and asked them to call 911. Now, looking back on it, I could have called 911 from my cell, but I was out of minutes, and I guess I kind of forgot that it would still work for emergencies. Stupid. Then we hung out and I found her glasses and jacket and we talked about life and Judy watched the rain fall while I watched her bruises swell bigger. The ambulance came promptly, the paramedics were friendly, Judy and I said good bye, then I returned to my stallion, slapped her on the backside, and began my upward climb once again.

I kind of mulled this situation over in my head for a while, just thinking about what happened and how I would feel if that was me in the drivers seat, and how my biggest threat as a cyclist is probably tired or lousy drivers. So much can happen in the blink of an eye. I pondered the value of a human life, and felt sad that no one stopped for her. I guess it's not really the fault of the drivers, I mean, the speed limit is 110, so it's not like they really have a lot of time to see her and make a decision of whether or not to stop anyways. But I would hope that if I bailed off my bike on the hwy, someone would stop for me. However, I hope this is a thing that never happens.

Then the going got tough. The slope got steeper, my body became fatigued, so I put my ipod in and cranked techno beats. Slender fingers of remnant snow poked through the clouds shrouding the mountain peaks, extending their reach closer and closer to the road as the elevation increased. The sweat was beading, bleeding off of me, mixing with the rain as is poured from my pours and falling to the pavement with an inaudible 'plunk'.

It was just past the great bear shed that I began to have serious doubts about my ability to conquer this mountain. My legs were turning to jelly, and simply refusing to put out anymore. But then, I was like, "What would Lady Gaga do? Would she give up? No Way! What would Indiana Jones do? Would he let some natural obstacle defeat him? Not a chance. What would Arnie do? Would the Governator let some puny little hill get in his way? Unlikely." So I kept at it. If my favourite pop culture icons could do it, then so could I.

So still blasting the techno, pretending that I was at a nightclub in Ibiza and not alone on some mountain with cars and truck whizzing by me, I climbed up to the summit at 1244m. This was twice as high as the highest hill I cycled in California, so I was pretty stoked on my achievement. I looked down into the valley and noticed snow below me. wow. The rain was beginning to lighten up, the sun breaking through the gray clouds in slivers of blinding light. smile. grin. choke. wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! down the hill...pure ecstacy.