Canada by Bike?
On the week leading to Canada Day we hosted a family with two kids through Warmshowers who intended to bike from Vancouver to Montreal, where they are from. While crossing Canada by bike never really appealed to me personally (although I do admire this family for trying), I love exploring different areas of Canada by bike on much shorter trips. And what’s a better time to explore your own country (or your adoptive country) than on its national holiday?
Canada is Big, but it’s a Small World
We left on Friday, stopped for lunch in the not so impressive town of Abbotsford and carried on till Princeton which felt very long because of traffic, and also just because it’s a long way – Canada is a big country. We barely managed to find a free spot for our tent at one of the recreational sites close to Princeton, but finally found something suitable and for free, had some dinner and called it a day.
On Saturday which was also Canada Day, we drove back to Princeton and just as we were entering town we saw three cyclists heading towards the Kettle Valley Railway and there was something very familiar about them. It turned out it was our friends Anne and Noriko and another friend of theirs who were doing a similar loop to what we did a few years ago. It’s a small world.
The Nation of Lakes
Canada has more lakes than the rest of the world combined, or at least that’s what we heard. On this loop we passed many lakes, which was very refreshing due to the heat. On the edge of Allison Lake Neil played for about an hour by filling his bucket and pouring the water back out. Gili took a long nap only to be woken up by someone’s newspaper flying straight at him, but at least it was a good way to catch up on some BC politics and the formation of the new government. Then a couple started chatting with us and politely asking us if we have a blog. It turned out that they had done a few trips inspired by our blog, so it was very encouraging to realize that some people follow, enjoy and find it inspiring.
We had actually visited Allison Lake last year, but the weather wasn’t exactly summer-like then so it was very different to see it on a hot summer day. Although we had ridden that part of the road before, I’d completely forgotten that after Allison Lake a long and sweaty climb awaited us. Eventually we stopped at the Taylor Lake rest area and pitched our tent there for the night. We jumped in for another swim and Neil was busy with his bucket for another hour or so. Everything was perfect at that spot, except that right after dinner tonnes of mosquitoes showed up and we hadn’t even set up our tent yet! Neil was still wearing shorts and got bitten the most. His bites were visible over a week later, but he didn’t complain or scratch himself which was good.
The next evening we found ourselves swimming at Otter Lake. We arrived just before 6pm after a long day of riding so we jumped straight into the lake. There were still lots of families around, but precisely when the clock hit 6pm everyone disappeared to have dinner. It’s a good thing that we still keep our Israeli meal schedule and could enjoy a private lake for a bit.
Diversity of People
Canada is also home to an interesting bunch of people and we met quite a few characters on this short trip. At the lake shore of the first lake we stopped at (Laird Lake), just off Highway 5A, we met Emi who had an interesting life story. She is originally from the Philippines and was adopted and then had to work in a circus where she routinely placed her head in an alligator’s mouth (!). She ran away twice to avoid being forced into marriage, at ages 12 and 16. We’re not sure though how she ended up in Princeton BC out of all places.
In the morning after we camped at the rest area, we noticed lots of vintage cars with trailers passing by. Eventually a few cars stopped at the rest area to check their engines and we chatted with two couples. It turned out that they were in a group with about 100 vintage vehicles and were all on a coast-to-coast trip across Canada together. Not long after they left another older couple showed up with huge motorcycles with three wheels which they had built themselves. The woman invited Neil to sit on her motorbike which he of course did not refuse.
Then as I was biking uphill a woman in a red car shouted out to me, asking if we are heading towards Kamloops. No, I said, but why? We stopped to chat and it turned out that she was expecting cyclists through Warmshowers the next day and thought maybe we were them. We said that she might get a request from the family who stayed with us in a little while, I wonder if they ever ended up at her place.
Escaping the Kettle Valley
Our original plan was to cycle the way back to Princeton mostly on the Kettle Valley Railway, a rail-trail which is unique to BC and has so much potential if only it would be taken care of better. When we connected with the trail we discovered a very rough gravel road, damaged by motorized vehicles using it illegally. In a few places the river had taken over the trail. It was especially hard for Gili to ride with the trailer, but I wasn’t having too much fun either. We probably only rode about 10km before we went back to the road at the soonest possible opportunity. The road was very quiet and in much better shape than the trail.
The next day we decided to stick to the road, which was even paved, but what we didn’t realize is that the road climbed up and up while the trail stayed at the river level. From way above we could see the flat trail down below. I am still not sure if it was just our bad luck to ride a particularly rough section or if most of the trail is like this now, but I do wish it would be paved one day soon, which would make it into a world-wide cycle touring attraction.
Camping on a Long Weekend
Finding a place to camp on a long weekend is a tough challenge. People told us that we wouldn’t be able to find a camping site if we hadn’t reserved a spot months in advance. Reserving anything in advance is not really our style (although very much a Canadian thing) and usually being spontaneous and last minute work to our advantage. So when we arrived to Otter Lake Provincial Park campground on Sunday we weren’t surprised to see “campground full” signs welcoming us.
After our refreshing swim in the lake we went to find the park hosts. We found a friendly elderly couple on an orange tractor. We asked about a place to camp and they said that we could camp in the boat ramp area, which could have worked. After they exchanged a few glances they told us that they actually have one secret camping site that they save for “good people”. I guess we qualified as good people because they immediately led us to the area where their RV was parked which indeed had a secret campsite right by it, far away from the crowds of the campground and with a private pit toilet just for us.
Back in Princeton
Our last day was short in riding time, but included many climbs and then a nice descent back to Princeton. As we entered town at the very civilized hour of 12pm we saw a cyclist with lots of gear so we stopped to talk. He was a French guy riding from Ushuaia to Alaska. He didn’t really want any advice, although we’ve ridden some of the rest of his route, as he had everything figured out. We spent some time in the spray park/playground in Princeton and Gili packed the car. We decided not to make the one hour drive each way for cherries, which was a smart decision since traffic on the way back was horrible.
From around Chilliwack the traffic moved very slowly and Neil was not a happy camper. After the crying got worse we stopped at the first exit we saw at a mall in Abbotsford. There was a good shawarma place where we had dinner, and then Neil ran about 30 times back and forth to a nearby pole before we decided it was time to face the traffic again. We could see it was still moving slowly, but a bit better. Somewhere after Langley traffic finally eased up and from there the drive home was quick and smooth.
Happy Birthday Canada!
I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday. Our adoptive country has been very good to us and we keep enjoying the different outdoor activities it has to offer. Happy Birthday Canada, you are one impressive lady!