Tuesday, March 1, 2016

posted on 3/01/2016

Sri Lanka 2016

Bandaranaike-Kampala, 17th February 2016

It's the turn of Sri Lanka who would have said! Promises of cheap and good food, smooth roads and hot winter temperatures and not too great distances and I was immediately sold! Quite a shock to be so suddenly thrown from a wintery Italian bike ride wrapped up with scarves, gloves and hat, to this sweltering anarchic traffic mess. With all the tiredness from the travel and after assembling the bike under the staring eyes of the Airport security, I proudly set out from Bandaranaike international airport, heading north and desperately trying to get to the coast. Ways to and from any airport in the world are always bound to be not the best of places for a relaxing cycling ride, this was not an exception. I had to quickly adapt to the wild rules of the road here where the largest of trucks rule the pecking order followed by buses and cars. I seemed to rank pretty low in their consideration probably well below those three wheels tuk tuk and Italian Ape tricycles that abound around here. I must say that the awful disorder was not too frightening after all with most drivers hooting well ahead and slowing down when overtaking and most importantly never doing it too close! I thought negombo beach would be easier to find but I followed the A3 longer than I should in the end finding some kind of coastal civilisation after turning into little country roads often getting to a dead end. Yes I admit it, I found a guest house by the beach, having dinner at a local restaurant yet still joyfully unaware of my exact whereabouts, just a tiny little lost! I am not alone as asking people's direction while cycling they all seemed to not be entirely clear of their location either, including the local traffic police which explain the total mess. Lots of stray dogs all over the place but so far they seem pretty tiny and exhausted, and have not taken the slightest interest in my spinning calves. They do seem to realise I am exotic around here and unlike locals I definitely produce more barking fits...time to rest my jet lag before the first full cycling day tomorrow.

Kammala-Puttalam, 18th February 2016

First full day of cycling and given the pretty constant head wind I am really happy that I managed to do the 90 kilometres that separated my not precisely known location last night to the town of Puttalam. My legs held on decently while my arse had a rough time adjusting to this new routine. Cockerels in Sri Lanka are pretty loud and by four in the morning you get an early wake up call. It is a little early but given the heat at midday, early mornings are the best for cycling. Not too scenic of a road today. I followed busy A3 Road going straight south to north along the western coast. I first experienced the convenience of buying coconut to drink the fresh water, a good and very cheap way to keep hydrated in this heat. Stalls selling them are found everywhere, one hardly needs to carry bottled water. After a few hours of kerosene therapy with heavy traffic the road got a little quieter. I stopped to get some sweet and savoury pastry and some cold Nescafé shake which I can see becoming a staple when I need to raise my sugar level. The savoury fish pastry was interesting to say the least. A few bites and the weird filling produced a syncopated bout of uncontrollable burping. Almost reached my goal I met Brian, my first cycle tourists an English bloke cycling for months here and in India. We cycled together for a little until he announced he would stop there and then to make himself a cup of tea. At first I thought he meant buying one from a nearby stall. Sri Lankan tea is top quality and I can't imagine how cheap a cup is going to be but no! He was brewing his own English stuff sitting in the dust on the side of a busy road, a true gentlemen. It was four o'clock after all...

Puttalam-Anuradhapura, 19th February 2016

I started to head inland, away from the ocean and towards the mountains. Maybe two more days to get fit on the plains before the brutal climb to 2000 metres. If it wasn't for the wonderful people of this island I would say it was an unremarkable cycling days in the tropics. I am starting to grow a particular dislike of endlessly straight stretches of road where you just keep pedalling to the horizon with nothing your eyes can get hold of and say 'when I get there...' Let's not talk about the wind either as I am building up some serious credits here after two days. Although pretty flat today's road was a long alternating of uphills and downhills and the constant heat made it pretty hard at times. This is where the people and why I love cycling come in. I often stopped to drink or eat sweets and breads on tiny stalls by the roadside and each one of them turned into the opportunity to have a chat with the people around, meet the owner family and so on. It's a young country, it strikes a European to see so many children around eager to try a 'hello' as soon as they realise I am a tourist. I find myself waving and answering them always being repaid by smiles larger than their faces. Adults are pretty friendly too only their standard English phrase is a little more grown up and often involves asking 'where you from?' and 'you have wife and children?' Their English though is soon over if I say that I don't or even worse tell them that the bike is my bride. Out of pity I have even said yes allowing them to get on with page two of their conversation book! I reached Anuradhapura, hanging on to life as I cycled through the centre traffic in what seemed hell on a particularly bad day. I arrived early in order to have some time to visit the sacred city. This was possible thanks to Vippalu who whizzed me around the main sites on board of his tuk tuk. The hotel room tonight is really a bargain, just outside town in a very secluded and quiet area. Upali the owner is half Italian too, having lived in Padova for almost twenty years before returning home in very good style!

Anuradhapura-Sigiriya, 20th February 2016

Fact. Sinhalese Dogs have a certain umpf in the morning. They waste most of the day laying flat on their side, desperately seeking shadows, panting furiously by the side of the road, ignoring the world. Early mornings are different; well rested and fresh they can give it a shot and test the stamina of foreign looking cyclists. That made for a quick start of my day, sprinting to get away from four raving mad dogs chasing me. Mind you they were the usual smallish size but the rattle they made, barking behind my spinning legs, made them seem bigger, therefore the increased speed on my part. I don't think they were trying to get me rabies, I was just being tested... As I saw the first mountains in the distance, the landscape turned lush green, with rice fields, tropical forests, lakes and finally a nice and quiet road, crooked and full of character! It was a glorious cycling day to say the least. On the way I also crossed three majestic working elephant and my first dreaded monitor lizard, thank god not crossing my road but rather still, in a shallow water ditch. I am sure they have all the good reason to be around but to me they just look evil, are far too large a lizard and should simply be banned. It took about five hours to Sigiriya with plenty of stops to chat with locals, drink, eat and of course dispensing 'hellos' to children receiving back lots of smiles and laughter. After five hours cycling I took a shower before starting an hour climb up to Lion Rock, a UNESCO world heritage sacred site reached after 1400 steps up the dramatic rock face and watched the last rays of sun bathe the forest planes. A duathlon let's say. Today I watched a couple of tourists getting off their speeding cars, briefly stop at a road side stall with their guide telling what each fruit or drink for sale was, before returning to the air conditioning of the car and blasting off to the next sightseeing or photo opportunity. Cycling I have less time for visiting attractions but I know I wouldn't want to miss the chance to spend hours each day breathing and sweating in the forest, hearing sounds I have never heard, smelling new scents or stop at a stall and find out how tasty and sweet a fruit whose name I don't even know, can be. And the smiles of all those children...priceless!

Sigiriya-Kandy, 21st February 2016

Life at 15 miles an hour is sweet! Fast enough when you don't want to stay and slow enough when you want to stop. I have also found out that the bike is a big help in limiting touting. If they try to sell me a carpet I tell them I can't carry it, a lift by taxi or tuk tuk, no thanks I have a bike. For other occasions I tell them I have so little money left that I have to cycle. Works a treat. Dogs this morning were in a good mood. Only one started a half hearted chase showing his teeth and it is then that I tried the 'old man yesterday at the temple trick'. Instead of pedalling like a maniac you slow down look the little menace in the eyes and shout 'shsh' or something along those lines and point a finger at them. To my wonder the furry menace suddenly stopped and turned into a poodle! Today I started to climb the first mountains reaching 600 metres before descending to 500 in Kandy. The landscape is getting ever more interesting and I could see some of the mountains I'll soon try to get over. The last climb before descending to the city was particularly hard also given it was the hottest time of the day. Running out of water and seriously overheating, I went into a little run down shop hoping for anything to drink but soon realised they were selling nothing of use to me so I just plonked myself on their chair in the shadow and refused to move until I cooled down. The two ladies didn't speak anything but Sinhalese still I was trying to convince them on the importance of selling bottled water. They must have been puzzled by this weird cyclist willing to risk an heart attack rather than paying a five dollar tuk tuk fee and get on top the blooming thing like almost everyone else does. Well tomorrow entails going up to 2000 metres so I decided I will ignore all children and save some breath by not dispensing all those hi and bye for free! Reached Kandy and after sorting out a reservation mess I finally visited the Temple of the Tooth Relic where it is said that a tooth belonging to the Buddha is held. The crowds were overwhelming due to tomorrow's full moon day a special Buddhist and National holiday here.

Kandy-Nuwara Eliya, 22nd February 2016

Today was my hardest as planned. Kandy to Nuwara Eliya will bring me from 500 to 1900 metres and from rice fields to tea! I left very early as I had to cross the city and I was trying to breath as little nasty fumes as possible and it took about eight hours of cycling. By now my backward side is fully adjusted to these long days on the saddle and it gets uncomfortable when I get off. The shsh dog trick in Kandy was a total failure, they just didn't get it. I was chased twice and both times I had to exhaust all my umpf to outrun the little rascals. I practiced another trick that seems to work but is rather risky. It uses reverse psychology and seems to puzzle the beast, it involves slowing down to walking speed. Somehow they don't find me an enticing prey if I don't look terrified, legs spinning like mad, they give up on me. Just before passing them I also ring my bell a little, I declare all my good intentions and smile at them. It is a little bit like playing Russian roulette, If it fails, I am doomed so I should use it with utmost care... As I started climbing the first mountains the bright green of rice fields gave way to the darker green of tea plantations. Literally mountains of them. Every plantation had its own grand colonial house, where the British owners were living in grand style I am sure. Ceylon tea is really good and Sinhalese have no doubt it is the best in the world. All the hours cycling up the mountain in the heat meant lots of stops. I must have drank at least ten litres of water and stopped for countless bites of local sweet breads and Milo, a chocolate and milk drink that is everywhere and keeps me cheerful when times are rough. Spotting a lady cooking coconut flat breads I stopped and asked for one. It was hot and tasted really good. My trouble with locals is that everybody I meet seems to have a relative working in Italy and they are keen to call them up and have me chat to them. Really kind of them but having a mountain to climb the time for hearing strangers life stories is rather short. Despite spending most of my day panting and out of breath I managed to avoid excessive cursing and managed to keep my cool and spread good will to the thousand children supporting my ordeal.

Nuwara Eliya-Ella, 23rd February 2016

Last night the guest house host, Neil for foreigners but something very much abstruse and long in Sinhalese was really helpful. A keen cyclist himself he seemed to know all the roads in the country and was so eager to help me plan my remaining days here that after one hour of taking out maps, Internet searches and calling up people to find out accommodation, he was still going strong. Nothing would have stopped him if I had not mentioned that after the slog up the mountain the stomach was rather full of sorrow and needed something to munch on. He was really generous and kept pouring cup after cup of coffee and refusing any money for it. At night it was a little hard to fall asleep and at five am sharp the morning Chanting contest started. The place up on a hill was very blessed by a nearby mosque and a Buddhist temple and both the Imam and the monks woke up in excellent form. Chants and bells galore for one hour until six, amplified by loudspeakers for the hardest of hearing. In the end they must have called a truce, settled on a tie and decided to reconvene tomorrow ensuring that Nuwara Eliya's population doesn't get into bad habits and decide to have a lie in until 7am or something as bad as that! Given the tension and conflicts that lasted until 2009 the island now is a wonderful example of Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, and Hindu religion coexisting together. Today while cycling in the countryside I luckily spotted an exquisite temple with two young monks and their master happy to have a chat and later eager to take me into the little shrine. A couple of small rooms with wonderful tiled floor and wall paintings all around and of course at the centre of the altar the usual large golden serene Buddha. I arrived in Ella in good time and went straight into my routine of a little sightseeing, fruit juices and drinks, writing this diary before enjoying rather large portions of food for dinner. My room tonight is on top of a hill with a private balcony facing the forest. There won't be chants for sure but I have been warned about the presence of monkeys and forgot to ask the all important question...what time do monkeys wake up?

Ella-Haputale, 24th February 2016

Adventures sometimes start where plans fall apart. But before that, to the night in the forest chalet. Monkeys were never to be seen or heard of so I blame it on the birds. Nothing against them, I love watching birds and I rejoice when I hear them having a good happy chirpy day. The trouble is that there was no peace to be found in this forest. My bedroom was in the middle of a bird sanctuary. One particular bird I would name the faulty metronome was going on and on with his tik tok out of sync to which he would get a reply by another feathered specie that went chiii chiii or along those lines. They were obviously speaking different languages, misunderstanding each other, so why bother at all. To the adventure bit. Neil, yesterday's Sri Lankan tourism authority, had spent his time recommending me a road from Ella to Haputale that would only take 25 km. The stubborn in me realised that there was Rowena waterfall 7km going down the other way and I thought as the day was so short I would go there, come back and still have an easy relaxing day. Down I went and the road got steeper and steeper and by the time I got to the waterfall I knew there was no way I would want to go back up. I vaguely remembered Neil saying this way was too long but I rather trusted a tuk tuk driver suggesting I should continue on this road as it was not going much more down and then it would gently rise back to Haputale my final destination. Rule number one when you are cycling is never to trust the advice of motorised individuals. Their idea of a road going flat, up or down is completely skewed as all they need to do is push harder on a pedal or roll their hand. We cyclists are a different breed, we are much more sensitive to levels, up is painful down is joyful, flat is ...well, flat. Anyway there aren't many cyclists around here so I was on an unplanned route at the mercy of drivers, tuk tuk riders, passers by and whoever wanted to join in and mislead me further. Distances and heights of towns seemed an opinion. Haputale town height according to their answers varied between a mighty 5000 metres and a mere 1200. Distances were even more fun. I would get say 40 km from a person then ride 10, ask again and find out that Haputale was now 40 km away, meaning it was not only moving but it was doing so at my exact speed. Also on the map it was marked as an A road, meaning a major road but maybe this had been true in the 18th century because now it was a tiny bumpy messed up road waving up and down through a dense forests. The tarmac, when there was something left that is, had the consistency of rubber and seemed to be melting under the intense heat. Bronte with its little wheels was pissed off by the holes and bumps and I was only able to go at a walking pace or little more. Neil was right about the road being long but one thing he was wrong was the amazing sceneries. It climbed the ridge of a steep mountain and for hours I could look down as the mountains descended giving glimpses of the ocean two hundred kilometres away. Without even knowing it I stumbled on a fantastic waterfall that I later found out to be the second highest in the country dropping over 250 metres. The short ride turned into another long testing day but full of rewards. With Haputale getting further and further the more people I asked, together with the doubts of not making it in good time, made me take the wise decision to fold up my bike and get a tuk tuk to ride the last 7 or 18 km, depending whom you asked, that seemed to still separate me from my final destination. Few minutes later a mighty thunderstorm struck as I was peaceful speeding up the final stretch on board my three wheeled saviour.

Haputale-Ratnapura, 25th February 2016

Today It was time to rip the rewards of climbing up these magnificent mountains. I will head down to the plains and the city of Ratnapura. The landscape shrouded in a fine early morning mist was breath taking. The clouds of yesterday storm still lingering on but breaking up into all kind of weird shapes, uncovering the blue sky behind. I often had to stop to take in those images and try to freeze them in a photo or a clip. At Beragala noticing a bank I thought it was a good chance to quickly change some money to last me the last few days here. I parked Bronte right by the entrance triggering a quick reaction from the security guard that thinking I had come to Sri Lanka to do a pedalling bank robbery job, came out embracing his large rifle and told me I couldn't leave it right at the front. I said I just needed to change money and he turned into a gentleman escorting me right at the front of a crowd queuing. The cashier told me to sit down and while I thought she was just being polite and all in hindsight she new changing foreign currency at the Beragala People's Bank was quite an event. I was surrounded by a gathering crowd as the cashier stared at my twenty pound notes and then involved half the branch into what I can only imagine was a Google search at the back office, finding out what currency it was and whether it was real or fake. As the intelligence did its work in the office, my cashier started dealing with the rest of the crowd doing transactions while I sat right in front and had people practically sitting on my lap. Next I needed to show my passport and for ten minutes that disappeared too while I was witnessing withdrawals, cheque deposits mortgage payments happening to my left and right. Then it was deemed necessary for me to write down my address on paper. After the Google search the bunch came out with confidence and submitted my twenties to all kind of visual and tactile tests. The proof was sound they were indeed five notes of twenty British pounds. There was almost a cheer or sigh of relief while I was anxiously checking if the armed officer was doing his job and made sure that nobody was trying to pinch my unlocked bike. The transactions around me suddenly stopped and after a good twenty minutes I was produced a thick bunch of small denominations that everybody including me counted to make sure they were right. I have only met generous and honest people here, more than anywhere else but with half the village knowing that I was setting off with a good monthly wage on a bike I dashed out and sped downhill with increased zest! The road being downhill life was at 30 miles an hour and I couldn't satisfy the crowds dispensing as many smiles and some English wisdom today. Uphill I am slow and it pleases people. It takes time to pass them by and they can manage to throw in a good standard series of questions such as "hi", "where you going", "which country?", "where's your wife?", "you have children?", "how Sri Lanka?", "bye". You can tell I am on a flat if it goes like "hi", "which country", "bye". Well today it was "hibye" and I had already zoomed away to a distant horizon! I stopped by another lovely Buddhist temple by the road side today and after being asked to remove silly hat and shoes I could enjoy a guided tour with the resident monk. Half way to my final destination it was time to grab some lunch just before a large downpour, yet another lucky escape. Not that I mind getting moderately soaked here. It has been mostly sunny and very hot and rain is just at the right temperature to be enjoyed, almost a relief I wish I could pay for every now and then. It was still drizzling but I continued to Ratnapura where I found the secluded Deer Park guest house set in lush gardens outside the busy city and had a superb welcome by Mr Gunawardene offering the unmissable cup of Ceylon tea and a grand home cooked dinner by his wife. Tomorrow will be my last cycling day as I plan to arrive in Colombo and spend a couple of nights there too.

Ratnapura-Colombo, 26th February 2016

Final report from the Land of Smiles. The stretch from Ratnapura to Colombo was much more than the boring transfer to the capital I had imagined. For at least half of the way the road was winding through forests, hilly and often following a large river called Kalu Ganga. In the airline world we talk of ditching as a procedure when an aircraft has to do an emergency landing on water. The few times I had to deal with heavy traffic during this holiday my ditching was much more straight forward and literal. When I would see a large truck coming at me, hear another one behind me and the hooting growing into a crescendo, I would quickly turn and jump into the ditch at the side of the road. Very efficient if a bit humbling. When my ditching practice today started, reaching the outskirts of the capital, I knew it was time to call it a day; I sat by a fruit stall to savour my last sweet watermelon, before folding the bike up, dive for safety into a tuk tuk, letting his experience do the dangerous driving. Reached my guest house and refreshed it was time to explore Colombo. I didn't have high expectations as it is often not part of a Sri Lanka sightseeing tour. I really enjoyed the evening stroll through the Gangaramaya temple and the ocean sunset on the long beach but other than that it seems to be a city desperately trying to win a world chaos competition. I can easily say that my tuk tuk driver taking me back last night was an experience in itself. Everywhere else where traffic is tame and follows some civilised rules, this guy would have long been jailed and banned from driving anything that has wheels. In the Colombo evening traffic jams he was my hero! In the half an our it took to get me back, he was driving as if possessed by the devil, spanning all lanes and winding its way through cars, large trucks and buses like a gifted maniac. I thought we would crash at least five time, had to close my eyes a few but he was always in control, calm and unperturbed. What to say of Sri Lanka. It's been a wonderful setting for this adventure. Perfect it is certainly not. I haven't mentioned the pollution of its cities, the garbage one constantly finds thrown along the roads and the condition of poverty and squalor too many people still live in. Yet what has been imprinted most in my memory are those huge smiles and greet from all the people I crossed path with. Their generosity and good heart together with the island's wonderful tropical landscapes of forests and mountains that will make it hard to forget.
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Saturday, August 8, 2015

posted on 8/08/2015

Canada 2015

Lake Louise-Rampart Creek, 13th July 2015

A bit of a rough side to the start of the trip...After flying into Calgary I took a 2 hours bus to Banff my planned starting point for the bike ride. The shuttle bus took me at the front door of the Alpine Centre where I had booked my stay. As I was completing the task of assembling my bike and sorting my gear, bathed in the sun I realised that my bike rack was damaged and my rear wheel not turning. All those idyllic vibes quickly evaporated as my thoughts started spinning and figuring out what I ought to do. Of course on my previous trip I had assembled the bike at the airport to inspect if the flight had caused any issues and knew a Brompton shop was at hand should I need it! This time I didn't and had to learn my lesson... In the morning I had to catch an early bus back to Calgary and a suitable shop! Justin the shop mechanic understood my sorrow and started looking at the bike rack. The bad news was that he didn't have a replacement for two more days but the good one is that with a few pull and pushes he put the crooked rack back in a decent shape. The wheel was perfect and the rest all in order and he thought that I might be able to ride on...It was time to get the next bus to Lake Louise, my new starting point! The bitter start made this first day of cycling even sweeter. I left the campsite in earnest and decided to make the most of a clear sky. Soon after Lake Louise I turned into the Icefield Parkway and began a steady climb to the highest point of the day, over 2000 metres. Still the grades were gentle and made easier by long stretches of flat. Right at the start a large bear sign informed me that they are a lot, they are dangerous and if I ever met one I should stay in my 'vehicle'...thinking my vehicle might not be enough protection I cycled on faster and found out how hard it is to climb a mountain while whistling and singing. I had heard over and over how wonderful this road to Jasper was and now I was finally cycling it and it was a never ending display of natural wonders and breathtaking views. The whole day was uninterrupted expanses of forests and dramatic granite peaks, creeks gushing down, waterfalls and every now and then small lakes scattered around, set like jewel stones of a light jade colour I had never even seen. Despite the not so kind forecast of rain, the day turned out ideal, mostly sunny with some cloudy spots here and there and two or three very light showers that were almost pleasant and cooled my effort down. The only longer shower happened right at the time of my lunch break in a chalet and only lasted a sandwich, a cake and a coffee! Despite being the height of the summer season, traffic so far has not been an issue and especially early morning I am often riding long stretches of empty road. Cyclists have also been spare, and the all day I have only seen half a dozen, all heading the opposite way. I planned a stay at the Rampart Creek campsite but I had heard already it might be closed to tents due to a 'bear issue' as they call them here! It seems a bear went into a tent who had some food in it, luckily when the camper was not around! Upon arrival it was indeed close so I hoped the nearby Rampart Creek hostel I had booked on my return to Lake Louise would have a spare bed. Melanie, the host from Calgary, was really welcoming showed me my cosy bed in one of the wooden chalets and to my utter shock informed me that the little hut up the hill was a natural sauna I was free to use! My bliss gauge reached the highest readings on the 'blisster' scale... after sorting my things out she gave me a lighter, told me the fire was all set up and ready to be lit with logs and sticks and to enjoy it, and I really did! I lit the fire in the stove and in no time the large pan on top heat up the water piping hot. After washing I sprinkled some on large rocks set on the stove resulting in spouts of steam and certainly the most unexpected and pleasant sauna experience I have ever had! Food along the road is really spare and the hostel had no cafe and as I was chewing down yet another peanut butter sandwich Melanie took some pity and appeared with some instant noodle I could prepare in the kitchen. Brontie despite the crooked rack seems to work well and hopefully will take me a bit further along this magic road!

Rampart Creek-Honeymoon Lake, 14th July 2015

As far as scenery I believe today was the best part of the Icefield Parkway. I was really blessed as I could ride all day under a beautiful sun and a clear blue sky with just enough clouds to make my pictures more interesting. Views were constantly inspiring like yesterday, just much more wild and dramatic. The day started with a pretty hard ascent to an elevation of 2100 metres. Grades were steeper than I thought yet I managed to do it all on the saddle, helped by several breaks to catch my breath, drink, eat but mostly stare at the wonders all around me. The Icefield Centre was a very overpriced lunch but around here there are not many options and I have already learnt to grab all the food I can find as one never knows how long it will take before the next. Big glaciers and the icefalls, together with the centre souvenir shop, seemed to be a magnet for all the package tourists and the buses crowd; despite the nice scenery in front of me, I couldn't wait to be back on Brontie and to ride back to peace! I reached Honeymoon Lake campground and while cycling along the entrance way, a girl on a racing bike was energetically waving at me! I realised it was the Chinese girl that I had met at Banff hostel and had told me that the following day she would be joining a group tour, riding a racing bike from Jasper to Banff! Tomorrow will be almost a rest day with hardly 50 km to get to Jasper.

Honeymoon Lake-Jasper, 15th July 2015

Today was a short day of cycling, 54 kilometres mostly downhill to Jasper to complete the northbound section of the Icefield Parkway. Tomorrow will take the same road heading south in what feels like the start of another journey, from Jasper to Vancouver. On the way down to Jasper I first cycled under a blue sky and increasingly hot sun. Half way down I stopped at Athabasca Falls that were quite impressive despite having to peek at the waterfalls through a forest of Chinese tourists selfie sticks! As I was about to leave the sky had turned to a menacing lead colour and a heavy downpour surprised me with nowhere to hide like it is the case for pretty much all of the Icefield Parkway. I resigned to wetness, pulled out my rain gear and faced the rain for about thirty minutes or so. Arrived in Jasper nice and early and a bit damp I found out that not all was lost and I was about to enter what must be the best launderette in the whole word with everything a wet tourist cyclist could  wish for. Laundry facilities, three shower rooms, wifi, plugs to recharge gadgets and a cafe all in the same place! I decided to use one hour to reset myself to a presentable and perfumed state...Shaven, washed and with clean clothes and after three days of not much civilisation and proper food it was time to indulge in some serious eating. I chose a pizza place, ordering a very large one and a Caesar salad and coke that after few days of peanut butter diet, tasted real good!
Weather was still very mixed. I had planned to stay at Whistler campsite but weary to get back to damp in the morning my decision to book the last bed available at the hostel proved very well timed. No sooner than I arrived another big downpour started and I congratulated myself on not having had to pitch a tent for the night!

Jasper-Beauty Creek, 16th July 2015

A very chilly morning in Jasper. I had breakfast chatting with a nice Canadian guy from Seskatchwan, having a trekking holiday for a few weeks. He put canadian distances into perspective telling me his train had been delayed fifteen hours! Now that is unheard of even by Italian railway standards! He still looked at the positive side of things remarking it had been a good thing as they were all given a free meal onboard to survive the ordeal. In Jasper Route 93 splits into two; for this return journey I took much quieter 93A. It was a nice detour and early in the morning I cycled about an hour without meeting any soul. At Athabasca fall where the previous day I had a fight and survived against the chinese selfie stick army, I decided to avoid any further confrontation and moved on eventually merging to the main road. The morning was really fresh and I had to wear my winter jacket, gloves and hat each time the sun disappeared into the clouds. It got threatening and stormy too as I approached Sunwapta Falls the only hope of a decent meal for the day. As I walked in the restaurant rain started falling and I could indulge in a hyper caloric meal that lasted enough for the sun to return and shine. Satisfied and heavy, only 30 kilometres now separated me from my night stop. I struggled up the climbs to Beauty Creek where I met Theo a girl from Atlanta, cycling Banff to Jasper on her first ever solo bike trip. After having been registered by the not very sociable and quickly disappearing host, we were informed that it would be a full house tonight, a rare event in such a small and remote mountain hostel it seemed and something our host didn't seem to be particularly looking forward to! Me and Theo had a quiet dinner in the very basic kitchen where everything in order to work involved a clockwise or anti-clockwise twist of a particular valve connected to a gas bottle; a user manual seemed badly needed... After an hour or so as the evening approached we were wondering what had happened to the crowds that were meant to suddenly animate this peaceful spot of the world. For the tired cyclists it was time to call it another day of pure joy along the Icefield Parkway. As we hit the sack the place came alive and in a dreamlike state we could hear the large party slowly trickling in and settling down on their beds for the night!

Beauty Creek-Rampart Creek, 17th July 2015

I woke up to a heavy drizzle and a very cold July temperature. As the day was not going to be too long I decided to head to the kitchen for a slow breakfast. The group of eighteen hikers mostly from Edmonton that had arrived last night were loaded with enough big boxes of food that could have got them to Everest base camp and back! I found out that they were staying for three nights and trek along the local trails. As the hours progressed more and more emerged probably drawn by the smell of fried sausages, bacon and eggs as much as I was; it all turned into a bit of an early morning breakfast party. Theo also joined in. By nine o'clock the sky got lighter and the hostel buzzed with packing activities of trekkers and cyclists preparing for their adventures. We all said goodbye wished good luck and that the sun would sometime shine on us.  I set off my uphill cycling to Columbia Icefield in a light rain but after an hour some blue spots opened in the sky. Seeing the road from the opposite perspective was completely different and going south meant I was also facing the sun for most of the day. I reached Rampart Creek where Alan and Melanie gave me  again a warm welcome and, graduated from my previous stay, it was soon time to take charge and light the fire so that the hostel population would be able to enjoy another amazing sauna! The rest of the evening was joyfully spent around the fire chatting and eating Smor, marshmallow sandwiches with chocolate roasted over the flame, the first original Canadian delicacy of this trip! 

Rampart Creek-Lake Louise, 18th July 2015

Back in Lake Louise after completing the Icefield Parkway in both directions. Brontie has performed really well so far and from what I can tell the rack seems to hold on alright too. As predicted by the forecast the morning sky was finally cloudless and for the first time in Canada I would suffer the summer heat! I departed really early from Rampart Creek planning to reach Lake Louise in good time and be able to see the lake up the hill. I arrived here just before three but the climbs today were tough and together with the distance and heat, for the first time I did struggle a bit. After Saskatchewan Crossing the road started climbing in rather steep and long stretches that seemed very different compared to the time when I was enjoying them downhill! Once on top the effort was well worth it as I was able to start the long and gentle descent while staring at the beauty and amazing colours of Bow Lake and Waterfowl Lake under a shining bright sun. Arrived in Lake Louise I checked into the campsite and was soon joined by Sophie a student from Minneapolis who is taking her first solo trip with car and tent and will share my camping spot. After a well earned shower I headed up to the lake that despite beautiful was just too overcrowded with the five star Fairmont Hotel crowd and everybody else out on their Saturday weekend break. The traffic up an down the small road was atrocious but here is also where my bike came in handy. I struggled a bit uphill but could speed down fast while everyone else was patiently sitting in their cars and not getting anywhere. I was recommended the hostel restaurant and really enjoyed a massive meal whose main course was a elk burger! Tomorrow all the excitement of starting to move west, already satisfied by the adventure, yet ready for more and certainly looking forward to reach my beloved Pacific Coast!

Lake Louise-Golden, 19th July 2015

Sitting in Golden's Wolf Den Restaurant listening to some live music and testing how Canadian burgers compare to US ones. Today I waved goodbye and thanked Alberta for making these six days so exciting and full of good memories. It was a mostly downhill day joining the transcanadian highway, the main road in Canada crossing the country from east to west. Most of it seemed to have a safe enough bike lane but just before Golden where the road turned to one lane with no shoulder with some uphill sections, a truck really did pass a bit too close for comfort! I had heard this could be the slightly more dangerous part so hopefully I won't have anymore close calls...The problem is that I was really slow uphill and this large truck I suppose was not in the mood of slowing to a standstill and wait for me to reach the top! As it overtook me in what seemed very long five seconds I could see the driver staring at his mirror and, like myself, hoping for the best and that neither of us would be swayed and make the wrong move! All I could do was steady my nerves and keep going as straight as I could manage, because on my right side I had a rock face that I don't think would have easily given in either... In Field the first village I crossed I saw at a cafe table the same ranger that had checked me in at Lake Louise with two friends so I sat with them and found out that his name was Takeshi and, like Mina his girlfriend, they were both Japanese. The other guy's name was Chris and he was one of the last hundred souls still leaving in the little mountain village of Field. Of course I surprised them with some of my best Japanese to roars of laughters and utter shock at my fake fluency! On the road crossing into British Columbia and Yoho National Park I suddenly picked up what must be a very niche hobby, collecting registration plates I spotted on the ditch by the side of the highway. Like with any sports it seemed that I was getting better and better with practice and plates seemed to spring up all over the place as if they were mushrooms after an autumn shower. My new addiction started when I first spotted an Alberta one, picked it up thinking it would make a nice registration plate for Brontie and a fond memory too. Next and not too far I saw a British Columbia, battered, dusty and under the sun, begging to be rescued. Thinking this new pastime was getting a bit out of control and that I could end my day squashed under the weight of a pile of metal plates, I was almost leaving it but then ended up walking backward, picked it up and noticed the plate registration was '1Bike'! Brontie now was legal and had found the perfect local registration plate that would carry it all the way to Vancouver!

Golden-Canyon Hot Springs, 20th July 2015

Today was my longest planned day, hundred and fifteen kilometres to be cycled but mostly Rogers Pass, climbing up to 1330 metres. Leaving around seven, I wanted to give myself plenty of breaks. The first hour was under torrential rain but even more worryingly the clouds were at their darkest and least welcoming, exactly where I was going. Eventually as I am getting used around here, the day turned completely around and after drowning it was time to get baked again, under a scorching hot sun. I was again surprised to realise the total lack of facilities once inside a National Park. In the noble effort to not spoil nature and to leave no trace of any human intervention, cyclists had been completely forgotten and my vain search for survival and some water, just as I was almost completing the climb, had to resort to begging car drivers for a spare bottle; luckily my begging didn't go unnoticed! Google Maps were not perfect after all; my internet searches and planning, imagined that a dot and a name must surely mean at least a shop and some food but it often turned out to be just a dot on a rather empty map...! On the plus side, today's prize was gaining an hour of life, crossing the line between Rocky Mountain Time and Pacific Time. I was expecting a large display celebrating the event but in the end it was just a little sign hidden by the side of the road and so unremarkable that I am sure I was the only one going slow enough to even notice it! I arrived in good time at the Canyon Hot Springs campsite and my faith in Google was duly restored. In my searches online it was always praised as a good place to pitch a tent provided that your allocated spot was not under the reach of watering sprinklers and that you didn't let the eagerness of the chinese owners take over your wallet. These comments were most accurate and it turned out that my pitch would just be on the limit of the effort to keep the beautiful green grass happy in the worst of canadian droughts and flood the rest of the campsite in the process. Apparently the owner's favourite pastime was proudly driving his golf cart around the place, loading, moving, collecting and planning where his next sprinklers adventure would take him. Entering the shop to buy some food also meant that one had to sprint the last few metres to the door in an effort to not get soaked under a pouring sprinkler induced rainfall! On the financial side, tokens seemed to be needed for everything that involved whatever you were planning to do! Still Canyon Hot Springs had the best and cleanest bathrooms I had ever seen in any campsite, so spotless and luxurious that they seemed borrowed from a five star hotel room. Now seven hundred kilometres after the start I am happy that over half of my trip is completed yet sad that only half of the trip remains!

Canyon Hot Springs-Yard Creek, 21st July 2015

At dusk all sprinklers were given some well earned rest and I also slept pretty well and by seven thirty, Brontie was all loaded up and ready to tackle the next adventure. A couple of German cyclists whom I had spotted arriving at the campsite yesterday, didn't have as much luck...they had reserved one of the very nice cabins lining the main campsite access way. They all looked idyllic and comfortable but they were all plagued by an extreme proximity to the ever present Transcanadian Railway. I believe all those cabins must have served in the old times as the station master house or the station itself! The Canadian transpacific railway is a constant presence along Highway 1, slow never ending trains and loud horn hootings especially at ungodly hours of the night. The poor German's cottage was so close that the train was running through their backside balcony. They asked with baggy eyes whether I had slept well and hated me very much when I thanked them and said I did. I soon got to Revelstoke or Revy as it seems to be called by locals, for a relaxed latte and breakfast. It seemed a very picturesque little town, surrounded by some really imposing peaks and lots of cafes and bakeries to lose one's time in. The road gently descended and often ran past small lakes. At Three Rivers lake I stopped and watching a family swim was too much of a temptation to resist and I decided it was a good time to take a cooling dip under the hot midday sun. I then checked in at Yard Creek Provincial Park where the hosts Bob and Sandy welcomed me. Sandy later offered her help stitching the Canadian badge on my hat after realising how much I was struggling in my effort...She disappeared in her luxurious caravan and announced to have completed the task in a worryingly short time; so short in fact that I had to put out my best acting performance, thanking her for the amazing stitching work she had produced while noticing she had done a right mess of it! Still it will do for the rest of the trip and would be plated and flagged alright for the rest of the trip! Soon it was time for bed but not before a bit of CBC radio. The exciting topic of the night involved a heated discussion on the tragic fate of a million birds in America that each year crash into the many skyscrape's transparent windows. A distressed 'Bird Collision Campaign Manager' called in live having a mighty rant on the evils of glass transparency! Windows shouldn't be transparent anymore she argued...

Yard Creek-Squilax, 22nd July 2015

Just a few miles after leaving my campsite I had the first and hopefully last flat tyre of the trip. I pulled away from the highway onto a wooden bridge and started removing my rear wheel in order to fix it. The good thing is that in the time it took to repair it I had three different people stopping by and asking whether I was ok or I needed some help! This delayed me a little also because my tyre didn't seem to sit properly in the rim. Once in Salmon Arms I thought I would visit the local bike shop to get everything checked, my chain cleaned and tyres pumped harder. Of course I ended up eating a way too large pizza at Boston Pizzas and rather felt heavy for the rest of the day! The route was challenging with repeated hills to climb and descend. Arrived at the Shuswap hostel it was clear this was definitely the weirdest place I had ever stayed in! A very quirky place but in a positive kind of way; the dorms consisted of four old Canadian Pacific carriages, just to remind me that the dreaded railway was never too far and too quiet! Every common room was interesting and full of character and a right total mess! Of course as you would do, two lamas were peacefully grazing in the garden! After complaining about Canadian Pacific waking me up at night I will have to thank them for giving me a bed to sleep for the night.

Squilax-Savona, 23rd July 2015

I slept like a baby in the carriage and started the day with three hearty pancakes and maple syrup finally meeting the very original host that one day decided to move four old carriages by the lake and use them as bedrooms! Her pancakes were really good and she said I could use the kayak by the lake; due to cycling commitments I regrettably had to decline her kind offer and move on. The first half of the day started following the Thompson river as it wound down towards Kamloops. I was expecting highway 1 to become rather unpleasant with traffic and this lasted well after the city as I had to cycle in a heavy traffic and by now a three lanes motorway where cycling was banned. I had stopped at the sign forbidding bikes to go on and not knowing how to continue I thought it best to ask at a local bicycle shop. Once I expressed my doubts as to where to go they all shrugged their shoulders, cursed the Kamloops traffic police and suggested I should ignore the signpost and pedal on. That was exactly the answer I was expecting and I boldly moved on against the law. What seemed to become a rather boring cycling day in traffic was rescued as soon as I veered off the main highway and left behind the Vancouver traffic wagon that took the shortest route to the city. I headed north on highway 97 instead; this was a welcome change,  pretty quiet and a real treat with the scenery that quickly turned into a dry landscape surrounding the beautiful Kamloops Lake. I would follow the lake to its end in the town of Savona. What was meant to be a short day staying in Kamloops became the longest ride I ever did on Brontie at 118 kilometres, what a bike she is! I reached Savona and found the campsite by the lake shore and set up my tent after a restoring large dinner at the local restaurant. Tired but happy to have left the busy traffic behind and to begin exploring these new and exciting landscapes.

Savona-Lillooet, 24th July 2015

In my effort to spend more time visiting Vancouver, I ended up doing another monster stage! Indeed this was the longest ride I ever did on Brontie and it ended with a total of 128 kilometres! My first stop was Cache Creek the last place I could get some breakfast and stock up on food and drinks. After about three hours I reached Marble Canyon the campsite I had planned to stay in for the night. The spot by the lake was scenic and interesting but the stone hard gravel pitches for tents not so. In the end with the aim to catch up with my schedule on I went aiming for Lillooet! It was a little more cycling than I would normally want to do but highway 99 was quiet most of the day and often breathtaking with its grand views of dry lands and the silence of the open spaces. Today the first signposts of Vancouver appeared reminding me that it will be only a few more days before this adventure will be over, still a lot more to look forward to, Whistler , descending for another shirt glimpse of the Pacific Coast before the city itself.

Lillooet-Pemberton, 25th July 2015

The night at Lillooet campsite was a bit troublesome and for once it wasn't the Canadian Railways fault! As I tried to get some rest it seemed that everybody else had other plans and with music and partying going on most of the evening. I was then woken up around four in the morning where suddenly the campsite came to life and everybody seemed eager to get up and go, a kind of major evacuation with noise of dismantling tents and cars engines starting. Later, a German couple cycling, informed me that they were all competitors in a sturgeon fishing tournament that was starting at five as these competition tend to do... I had long dreaded Duffey Lake road and was prepared for a very tough ascent reading accounts of cyclists on the internet. Indeed the way up and down to Pemberton was even worse than I imagined as far as difficulty but stunning landscapes again and after two weeks I certainly didn't lack stamina and training. It climbed with grades of 12 percent and as if it wasn't enough a strong headwind most of the way made it a really a tough hurdle. After about four hours of slow climbing and a few push of the bike to stretch my legs and to help when steepness and winds almost ground me to a halt I caught up with the German contingent. I was quite excited to finally for the first time, meet other cyclists going my way and be able to have a chat and ride together. The satisfaction of reaching the top was dampened by a sudden thunderstorm and the cursing of the german guy whose girlfriend by then was pretty tired and therefore they had planned to pitch their tent at the top. As the rain kept pouring down and temperature got too cold for comfort I decided I should pedal on and at least keep warm and left them behind as they were debating what to do next. Heavy rain continued for all the descent and only stopped just 30 minutes before Pemberton where the sun began to shine again and I was able to warm up again and turn wet into damp. Luckily my soaked self was pretty dry before setting up camp at Nairn Falls provincial Park. Unexpectedly it turned out that tomorrow was a big day in Whistler where an Ironman competition was taking place. This meant having to start my day really early and reach Whistler before the roads get closed.

Pemberton-Whistler, 26th July 2015

The Whistler Ironman organisers as well as me had had a bad planning day! This morning was not meant for any outdoor activity that didn't involve aquatic sports...I was lucky enough to pack my tent just in time to keep it dry but from then up to Whistler things got extremely gloomy and damp and proved it is possible to be wetter than wet! Being in the mountains it was really cold too and what kept me going was seeing those poor souls competing in tight thin suits in a race where not only the weather was miserable and cold but the distances to be covered bordered extreme lunacy...After all who was I to complain when this lot was setting off for a 180 kilometres of cycling, 5 kilometres swimming in a freezing lake and of course running a marathon to complete the ordeal? Dripping and frozen I didn't present my best self at the information office in Whistler where I had to keep my nerves really steady to swallow further grief on being told the hostel I had reserved was not in the village but 8 kilometres further ahead! The gentlest remark I could utter was 'you must be joking...' They weren't, it was just the cold bitter truth I had to swallow. My luck today was to accidentally have planned only a short day cycling to rest and enjoy Whistler before the final descent to Vancouver. Reached the hostel misery levels were greatly reduced, I did laundry, dried and warmed myself and in a few hours, with the rain having stopped and even a timid sun shining through the thick clouds, I put Brontie back on a bus to the village to finally enjoy the sightseeing I could hardly appreciate just hours earlier, when everything was foggy and giant gray soup. Although a bit too glamorous and fake it seemed quite an idyllic mountain retreat for those few that could afford it in style. As for myself and the rest it seemed the kind of place you just quickly glance at and then move on. I cycled downhill through the Valley bike trail, and stayed at the hostel, really attractive and comfortable as it had been one of the Winter Olympics athletes accommodation in 2010.

Whistler-Vancouver, 27th July 2015

Rosy weather forecast for my last day cycling and arrival in Vancouver, set me off for the last long day pedalling, with a large smile on my face. Leaving early I enjoyed the last descent from the mountains, over forty kilometres to the town of Squamish. After a coffee break, with trepidation I looked forward to yet another treat, reaching the Pacific Coast. At first a narrow inlet, the ocean turned into wider views and the road hugged the coast, displaying some of the views I loved on my Oregon and California coastal rides. Along the way I met a German cyclist taking a ferry to Vancouver Island; my trip now drawing to an end she certainly gave me new ideas for future rides and a good excuse to return to Canada. After meeting some bikers on shiny Harley's and discussing how resistant my little Schwalbe Marathon tyres were I set off on the road and hardly covered hundred metres before a huge nail punctured my wheel! I didn't mind it that much, nothing could stop me from reaching my goal anymore. I cycled slower and slower, torn between the expectation of finally reaching Vancouver and the sadness of coming to terms with the fact that another adventure was drawing to an end. Reaching the ramp of Lions Gate Bridge it was time to savour the first views of this beautiful city, welcoming me in glorious sunshine. It was also time to congratulate Brontie, this little wonderful bike that can always take me so far.
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