The Journey

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    Thursday, August 7, 2008

    Seattle, WA - Melissa's Apartment

    This morning I awoke in the apartment of Melissa, my half-brother's half-sister, on Capitol Hill in Seattle. Jason and I slept on the floor each cozily curled up upon sleeping pads. How we got here (and how Jason ended up coming along) is a bit of a story in itself.

    Two days ago, it was a sunny day in Bellingham, and I had just finished packing my gear on my new bike trailer. My plan was to cycle the ~90 miles to Seattle in two days: I would bike the first 50 miles south and camp at Wenberg State Park, right on the shore of beautiful Lake Goodwin. The next day I would finish the remaining 40 miles and pull into Seattle by mid-afternoon.

    Jason, the hippy guy I was staying with in Bellingham, offered to escort me out to the highway to send me off on my journey. As we were biking out to the highway, Jason had an epiphany and he exclaimed: 
    "What am I going to do as soon as I get to the highway? Turn around and let you go on your way? I love this - Biking. This is what I love to do. Why am I not cycling to Seattle with you right now?"

    "Come along man!"

    "I've got to finish painting this room, buy a trailer, and pack my stuff. I'll meet you at the campground tonight."

    And so it came that I biked 50 miles south to Wenberg State Park, and several hours after I had given up hope of Jason's arrival, he pulled into my campsite in the dark.

    "Holy crap man! You made it! What the hell!!" I was incredibly surprised.

    We made a campfire and slept under the stars that night. The next morning we rode a grueling and 40 miles to Seattle, pulled into Melissa's apartment complex, had dinner with her floormate, and crashed hard -- bodies aching from the intense ride.

    Tuesday, August 5, 2008

    Bellingham, WA - Jason's Hippy Commune

    For the past four days I have been living in what I can best describe as a cozy hippy commune on a Bellingham mountainside. Physically, it is a 4-bedroom house with a large front and backyard. The place belongs to Jason, a 20-something guy with recently-dyed-red-hair who, in May, decided to rent out his room and instead live in a tent out in his backyard. Once I saw his backyard, I understood why. A cozy backyard dominated by a large central apple tree whose branches touched the edges of a large lush green garden. It was an Eden.

    Jason's place felt very self-sustained and resourceful. They used grass clippings and compost to fertilize the garden, dried out weeds for use as fire kindling, and used recycled containers for a plethera of miscellaneous purposes. One of the housemates even used a steel wire to turn a pair of earphones into headphones.

    In the backyard, under a large arching tarp, and feet from Jason's tent and hammock was where I slept. I arranged a situation with Jason to work for my stay -- to help him with the garden, the house, whatever needed doing.

    The first day, Jason and I mowed a large lawn -- he weedwacked the edges as I mowed the rows. That afternoon, we painted a room -- he painted the edges as I worked the roller. And the next day, we cleaned carpets. I made $80 --- not much in the way of big money -- but that wasn't the point. The point was joining in, enjoying myself in the simplicity of living this awesome community.

    For four days, I joined in on that community and added work to keep the wheel turning. But tomorrow, I head for Seattle.

    Thursday, July 31, 2008

    Vancouver to Bellingham

    Today I pulled into the beautiful agricultural/mountain city of Bellingham, WA at around 1pm.

    Yesterday, I left Vancouver at around 5pm (my departure was set back by a beautiful bike ride through Stanley Park and a quick visit to the Granville Market). I was only about 10 minutes into my ride out of Vancouver, in a sketchy part of the city -- East Hastings St. -- when the trailer that I had purchased used the day before suddenly popped out of it's securing skewer, lost balance, and nearly toppled me into traffic. The weight of the unbalanced load horribly bent my trailer skewer, making my bike unridable. Getting it fixed would take time and I was already starting my journey way later than I should have.

    I jumped from bike shop to bike shop -- and finally got the thing fixed at about 7pm. I was offered places to stay by the friendly workers in the bike shop, but I had a doctor's appointment in Bellingham the next day at 3 and was determined that I had to continue on, even at this hour, to make it.

    In the course of about 2 hours, I biked from Vancouver to a small town of Surrey. And at after 9pm, I needed a place to crash. The map I was using showed parks in the area -- but it didn't specify whether you could camp at any of them. I biked to a few and finding that they were just day parks, I gave up. Camping in a day park wouldn't be so bad, I figured, but crazy people might walk through in the night, so I reasoned that maybe a random suburban lawn might be safer.

    And so that's where I ended up. I found a front lawn perfect for the task -- had a small area hidden by a tree, perfect to sleep on. I pulled up my bike, unrolled my sleeping bag and pad, and conked out. I did get spotted in the morning, which was slightly embarrassing :).

    Once I was spotted, I figured it was probably about time to get up and out of there, so at 6:30am I took off and headed out to the Washington border.

    When I got to the US Border, my trailer popped out of it's hitch and bent my NEW skewer in the same fashion it did the first. I spent an extra hour and the border and eventually bent it back to a usable shape - for repair later.

    After about 20 more miles, I got into Bellingham, made it to my Remicade appointment, and then met up with an old high school friend, Leah Bayer. Leah hooked hooked me up with a place to stay, with a cyclist buddy of hers named Jason (who once road from the coast of Washington to Maine!!).

    I stepped into Jason's place and was utterly amazed. Giant apple trees, a full garden, large workshop, a trampoline -- the place was something out of a dream.

    Wednesday, July 30, 2008

    Vancouver, BC - The Grand Trunk Hostel

    I have spent the last 3 nights in Vancouver, BC at a $16/night shanty hostel in Gastown. The place had character, what can I say.

    I got here by taking a ferry from Nanaimo (on Vancouver Island) to Vancouver's Horseshoe Bay, three days ago. From Horseshoe Bay, enjoyed a pleasant, 90 minute bike ride alongside a beautiful, windy (read wine-dy) coast that evoked a longing forMalibu's lovely stretch of the PCH I sometimes drove when I lived in SoCal.

    I came to the city with a mission: to buy a bicycle trailer (that is a cargo trailer to tow behind my bike). As you may not know (because I don't think I have fully told the story yet) I crashed my bike in a rainforest on Vancouver Island. In the event, I had the unfortune of breaking my front bag rack and the rack-mount eyelets on my carbon-fiber fork -- in other words, there was no way I could continue carrying my stuff with front panniers (saddlebags) any longer. It was either get a trailer, or buy a new (probably ~$500 fork). I chose to look for a trailer.

    So the second day in Vancouver, I found and bought a used Bob's Yak Trailer for $200. And to prevent my damaged fork from completely breaking, I applied epoxy glue to the shredded carbon fibers around the broken rack mounts on my fork.

    I enjoyed Vancouver very much. One day, lost, I wandered into the New Amsterdam Cafe, and became found. New Amsterdam Cafe is one of three legal spots in Canada where you can smoke freely. And I met some pretty funny (okay maybe slightly sketchy) characters there. At one point, I found myself in the company of four unlikely-grouped individuals: a particular-looking gentleman in a suit sporting a corncob pipe, an Austrailian outbacker, a man who claimed he was "The Hairy Pothead", and okay-- yeah one really sketchy guy. I just had to have a picture taken.

    Saturday, July 26, 2008

    Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, BC - The Cambie Hostel

    Today I cycled from Duncan to Nanaimo, about 75 km. It rained hard in the morning on this region of the island, so some of the road was muddy and, being without a front fender, my legs got covered.

    Along the way I stopped in Crofton, got some fruit. At the grocery store, I met a little boy on a bike and we chatted a while. I gave him some change to buy water balloons to throw at his teenage sister from his 2nd story window when she comes home from work.

    Right upon leaving Crofton, I came up upon a cycle-touring Netherlander couple by the names of At and Clara. They were cycling from Crofton to Ladysmith, a town about 20 km shy of my destination, Nanaimo. So we cycled together for that distance, talked, and even got a drink at a cafe along the way.

    When I got into Nanaimo around 6, I got a room at "The Cambie" hostel -- I paid just $20 for a 6-bed dorm room which was empty! I took advantage of this luxury with a nice, long hot bath.

    Tomorrow, I will be taking the ferry from Nanaimo to Vancouver -- Yes! finally I will be on the mainland!

    Thursday, July 24, 2008

    Duncan, Vancouver Island, BC - Kristin's House

    Today I left camp at Skutz Falls and cycled to the nearest large town, Duncan, to get food and some seriously needed R&R.

    As I got up in the morning and began to pack up my things, a truck pulled up to the campsite right beside mine. It was the addict woman whose tent was confiscated the night before. She had abandoned her campsite for seven days, and given such, last night the camp ranger took away her tent and all her camping gear to put in holding. If she hadn't returned today, all the goods would have been thrown away. The reason I dreaded her return was that the camp ranger had actually given me a bag of her food -- and that food was sitting right in front of me on my picnic table. However against policy, the ranger gave me the food in the moral right -- I was nearly dead of dehydration, exhaustion, and starvation when I rolled lifelessly into camp the night before. But today, there would be a different ranger, and if the woman saw her food on my table, I figured things could get messy pretty quickly.

    As I suspected, when the woman found all her belongings were gone, she became furious. Seeing that I was wearing a reflective vest, she asked me if I worked there. "Nope, just cycling through."

    I immediately had a strong internal urge telling me it was time to get out of there. I packed up my things as fast as I could and peeled out of there, stopping at the camp well to fill up my bottles before I left. As I was pumping water at the well, I saw a ranger pull into camp. I quickly turned to hide behind a nearby tree, and as soon as she passed, I booked it for Duncan. Relief.

    The ride to Duncan was on downhill highway nearly the entire way, and was a huge relief to the loose gravel and forested dirt roads I nearly killed myself in the day before.

    When I arrived in Duncan, I stopped in the city's Visitor Center and inquired about hostels. There were none. Motels - about $75 a night. Ouch. After sometime of silent thinking and not knowing how I could afford to stay in this town, the representative said "Well...I do have a friend you could probably stay with. She'd be happy to host you". Surprised and relieved (although slightly skeptical), I replied,"Well, yeah. That would actually be excellent".

    After meeting the representative, Stephanie, and her friend Kristin at a local pub to gain Kristin's approval, I soon learned that Stephanie is not just a representative at the city Visitor Center, she is in fact, Miss Vancouver Island. In other words, she is like a mini-mini Miss America. After a drink or so, Kristin extended her invitations to host me for the night.

    And so I came to stay at Kristin's place. Kristin ended up being possibly the most hospitable person I have ever met to date. She bought and cooked me dinner, coffee, drinks, you name it -- and was always making sure I had everything I needed, from a towel to a pillow.

    I met several people through staying at Kristin's. Her roommate, friends that would pass through, etc. Kristin's place was like a little Vagabond Inn. I loved every minute of it -- meeting the new people, and being completely immersed in an actual Duncanite residence, rather than experiencing a detached stay in a cheap motel room.

    Wednesday, July 23, 2008

    Skutz Falls Provincial Park, Vancouver Island, BC

    Holy shit!!! I almost died today. Today was the most dangerous, crazy, intense, demanding, hellish, scary, regettable, unlucky, shitty, exhausting, I-don't-think-I'm-to-live days I've ever had in my life.

    I awoke early in the morning at Goldstream Provincial Park to the ironic, joyous laughter of Trevor's kids playing in the tent nearby. I collapsed the tent, packed the sleeping bag, rolled the sleeping pad, and otherwise packed all my gear on my bicycle. I said a heartfelt goodbye to Trevor, a neighboring camper I had met two days and with whom, I had become a good friend.
    At around 11:00am, I departed the beautiful Goldstream Park on southern Vancouver Island. It was going to be a long journey -- I was hoping to make up for an entire day's lost time by traveling close to double the distance my trail book called for, cycling all the way to Crofton by a roundabout scenic tour. On my way out, I stopped by the general store. I bought and ate two bananas and two egg & ham sandwiches, and topped off my two water bottles. I knew I was going to need more food and water along the bike ride, but since the store had no quality dried foods and I was lacking in extra space to store water, I decided that I would pick up provisions along the bike route, as I was sure there would be a few stores and water taps along the way.

    The beginning of my ride was a steep, arduous climb up "The Malahat" -- a busy, multi-lane highway that serves as the main truck route to the populated city of Victoria. After stopping about three times to catch my breath and sucking on my water bottle like a worried baby, I finally made it up the 10 km grind to the top. By this time, my water bottles were empty, and the only food I had was a plastic bag of dried lentil peas, deep within one of my rear panniers.

    The next part of the ride was a huge relief: I flew down a steep downhill road for about 8 km, spreading my arms out fully to immerse myself in the joy of ultimate freedom --wind blowing in my face, flying at about 45 km/hr, experiencing an intense and long feeling of existential pleasure.

    When I got to the bottom, I found myself in a hot valley, on a dirt construction road. After 20 minutes of up and down climbing on loose dirt, I briefly became lost looking for the next turn-off. After another 20 minutes of searching for my turn-off, I hailed one of the few passing trucks and asked for directions to the Cowichan River Valley Trail. He pointed towards some train tracks about 100 meters away, but added, "There's a six-foot cat in there-- somewhere in there...Craps on my porch. I'm dead serious. Pisses me right off."
    Ha. I kind of laughed it off. Then I got to the trail: a narrow, loose gravel trail, surrounded on both sides by thick forest, and not a person in sight. And 30 km of this? Wow. What a great place to be ambushed by a cougar. Or to come upon a predatory black bear, of which my travel book warned me about in this area.

    I cycled through that trail as fast as I could, figuring that anytime I sat stopped was the time I was most vulnerable. I blazed through this 30 km stretch, often hitting deep loose gravel patches that I had to stop pedaling and just glide my bike through, trying to maintain balance as to avoid getting caught and tipping over.

    I exhausted myself, and begged my water bottle to drip relief into my dry mouth, but being completely empty, did not comply. Luckily, Kovinich River Provincial Park was only 10 km ahead, and I knew there would be water there, and if I was lucky, a store with food.

    When I got to Kovinich River Park, I was crushed. It was a dry, empty, and deserted campground. There was one tent on the entire premises; scattered newspapers, a broken, tipped-over cooler, and a card that said "These things belong to Chris Pucker: 250-452-0850" were strewn in the parking lot.

    I was dying of thirst. I was aching of hunger. I was beat by exhaustion. And this park, 40 km at the bottom of a mountain, was the only hope I had for relief. And yet, there was no turning back. I had to move on.

    I looked at my trail book. The next pass was over an old bridge, 2 km up a gravel road, and then 6.4 km through a temporary detour route it cautioned was "challenging for cyclists". After negotiating my bike through the restrictive gate at the bridge (removing and reloading all my panniers in the process), climbing my way up an extremely steep, loose gravel logging road, biking right by a snake basking in the sun, I came to the detour entrance.

    The sign at the detour trail entrance said "This is a rough, uneven, single-track hiking trail. Not recommended for cyclists or equestrians." Not recommended? My trail book was FOR cyclists (ones loaded with touring bags at that), and it told me to go through this route! I dismounted my bike, and walked down the trail. Yup. It was rough, extremely uneven, and there was no way even a professional mountain biker could go through this thing.

    Crap. I was screwed. To go back at this point would mean a 40 km expedition on a loose gravel road, through a cougar and bear laden forest, and uphill for about two additional hours to a busy highway. To go forward would mean a 6.4 km arduous hike, carrying an 80 lb. bike at my side over rough, uneven dirt trail in the middle of a cougar and bear laden rain forest, without food or water, and probably not seeing a soul until I got to the other side. And then -- traveling up to 30 more km until I got to the next park, that might have water. I chose to go forward.

    I hiked my bike through the rough forested terrain for probably two hours, holding a switchblade at my side and my mini airhorn (to scare a bear or cougar if we met). At one point along the trail, I came to a downhill patch that looked actually ridable. I hopped on my bike and went flying downhill. Unbeknown to me, there was a giant branch sticking straight out into the middle of the trail ahead. It caught under the strapping on my front right pannier and brought my bike to a screeching halt, throwing me over the handlebars.

    I was hurt. Hobbling on one leg and in the middle of a forest. I hadn't seen a person in hours. I got up, righted the bike, and attempted to continue on. But my bike wouldn't move. Something was jamming the wheels. I found that my front rack and been bent wickedly out of shape in the crash, and was now pinning my front wheel. I took my hands and bent the frame back to shape, and was able to continue on.

    I traveled for another several km through the forest, still scared as shit that I would come upon a bear or cougar at any turn. And exhausted, dehydrated, and hungry as ever. At one point, I came to an area of the trail that again I could ride -- and I tried again, only to be thrown over the handlebars another time when the front rack collapsed on it's own accord. I bent the rack back to shape and continued on.

    I finally made it out of the forest.
    [Sorry -- this is a long ass story. There's more to it -- I just need another day or so to finish it.]