Texas Hill Country
October 12, 2020
When all you do is ride all day, every little thing that happens during the day seems important. So I've been writing it down. And when you have a conversation with a human as infrequently as I do, they all seem significant. So I've been recording most of those as well. But I think I'll take a different approach and try to focus less on minutae and more on the big picture.
I don't know if I've ever been able to accurately describe how much I hate the cold. Yes, Texas is hot in summer. However, I have never felt desperate to get inside after only five minutes in the heat. I have never decided I wouldn't leave the house today because it was too hot. I have never been in the heat and felt physical pain. And I have certainly never gone outside at 5:00 AM in January and thought, "Whoa, it's a little too hot right now!" In Canada, it is apparently possible to be outside, in the sunlight, in the middle of the afternoon, in June and feel cold. And you don’t even have to be on top of a mountain.
Just the other morning, I woke up to frost on my tent. It is still getting below freezing in British Columbia, supposedly one of Canada's more temperate provinces. I fail to understand how anyone can think, "You know what would be great? I think I'll move somewhere where I will feel cold literally every day of the year. Yes. That is the life I want." Whoever these people are, they are made from a tougher stuff than I am.
It may be that I feel this cold all the time because of a lack of iron in my diet, and my anemia is acting up. Red meat has a lot of iron, but it turns out beef jerky doesn't, at least not really, and doesn't do much else for you either. That might be enough to make me stop buying it altogether (it's already expensive for how much you get). And I'll need to find another portable food staple that provides iron and/or protein.
In general, I'd like to carry less food with me. With the towns as spread out as they are up here, I buy a lot at a time, which means I have to carry more than I'd like to. And when there's a ton of food around, I tend to eat more than I need to. And when it goes away quickly, I have to spend more than I want to. Buying in small quantities would fix a lot of these problems, but unfortunately, that costs a lot more. And I need to stock up, at least to some degree, in this part of the world.
When it's not cold and rainy, it's mosquitoes. It's not the size of them, it's the volume. You can't wave your hand in the air without hitting at least a couple. When I get off Valeria for more than 30 seconds, here they come! Fortunately, they can't bite through a waterproof jacket, and they have a hard time biting through my hiking pants (DEET only seems to mildly deter them), so whenever I'm not pedaling, those things go on immediately. My hands, face, and ankles have been receiving a merciless onslaught as a result.
If there were an initiative to cause the world extinction of mosquitoes, fire ants, and poison oak/ivy/sumac, I would be all for it. I would donate money to that. And I consider myself an environmentalist. Fire ants can’t chase you, at least, and poison oak/ivy/sumac just sits there. Mosquitoes are without mercy. They should go first.
I have no idea how Jason, Travis, and Oliver rode from Meziadin Junction to Dease Lake - unsupported - in one day, but my hat's off to them! I did the reverse in two and it was far from easy. A 10 km headwind both days didn't help, but the main issue was the hills. I don't have the GPS data yet (Strava won't let you look at it until it's uploaded, for whatever reason), but those were some hilly days, for sure. And almost no chance to resupply in any way in between. I wound up filling my water bottles with unfiltered mountain stream water one morning because it was too far between gas stations.
OK, so the mountains have been pretty.
The Cassiar Highway is the loneliest road I've ever ridden for a day or more at a time. Yes, that includes the Dalton Highway and the Alaskan Highway. There wasn't even a yellow stripe down the middle for most of it.
I've complained about pavement already, so I'll try to keep it short: it sucks. Rough chip seal almost the whole way. Every so often, there's a sign proudly proclaiming the highway improvement project they finished two years ago. So this is an improvement. It's not about to get any better.
The most frustrating part was when I started to notice that at the very edge of the road, sometimes there's a few cm of smooth asphalt sticking out from under the chip seal. That's what the whole road used to be like! My only guess is that once upon a time, this road was pretty good, but had a few cracks and potholes that needed to be fixed. Rather than pay crews to go out and fix them, someone found out it would be marginally cheaper to chip seal over the entire highway, so that's what they did. In exchange for fixing cracks and holes here and there, they decreased the quality of every centimeter of the entire highway. Or at least the northernmost 600 km of it.
For the first time since the very first few days, I'm headed due south right now, and happy about it. The weather has been better, and one day, the temperature was pleasant! Still awfully cold in the morning, but managed to get a little warm for about an hour in the afternoon! Most of the day, only a little cool, but I'll take it!
After being warned I'd see a lot of bears in the Yukon and not seeing any, I've seen one every single day since I entered British Columbia. Usually more than one per day! Almost without fail, they're black bears, and they regard me with a mixture of mild alarm and curiosity before they scamper away.
One day, a truck driver stopped dead-center in the road and gave me a wave.
"There's a big f'n grizzly bear on the side of the road about a mile back!" he exclaimed. "Black bears, they're no problem, but this was a grizzly, and those f'ers'll eat ya!"
He showed me the picture he'd just taken, and I began to doubt his story. In the photo, the branches on the trees were bare, and behind the grizzly was a big patch of snow on the ground. All the branches on the trees around here with thick and lush, full of leaves, and the last snow I'd seen at ground level was yesterday. I kept my eyes open anyway, but I think he was just messing with me.
My last day on the Cassiar Highway was almost an ideal day. Mostly flat, the pavement was much better...but rain. No day can be perfect! Oh, there were mosquitoes too, but it seems that goes without question at this point. When I woke up, it was maybe 5 degrees C outside (~40 F), and they were still there. Later, it warmed up slightly (still a little chilly), and they were still there! It would seem the mosquitoes only go away if it's both extra-cold and raining. So you have to be miserable no matter what.
When you enter British Columbia, the welcome sign proudly proclaims it "The Best Place On Earth." I've done some thinking, and I believe I've come up with a more fitting motto for the province. Here it is next to a few famous ones so you can see how it stacks up:
Texas: The Lone Star State
New Mexico: Land of Enchantment
Alaska: The Last Frontier
New Hampshire: Live Free Or Die
British Columbia: Cold, Rain, Mosquitoes. Pick Two.
Maybe it wouldn't help tourism, but it would certainly be accurate.
I had thought there would be a store of some kind at Meziadin Junction, so I didn’t buy much food in Dease Lake. Big mistake. There was almost nothing there, and I was nearly out of food. I tried to ration, but I was so hungry that night, I wound up eating more than I had intended to. In the morning, I had a handful of pecans. That was it. This was going to have to get me to Kitwanga, 150 km away. When I finally arrived, exhausted and malnourished, I immediately went to the mini-mart, bought an armful of food, then sat on the front steps and ate it all right there.
In Kitwanga, at the very end of the Cassiar Highway, I met another touring cyclist named Olga. She and her boyfriend, who I think was meeting up with her again in Vancouver, had already ridden from Spain (their home) all the way across Europe and Asia, including some of the same roads I'll take in Russia, and were now going to ride to Tierra Del Fuego together. Whew!
It was about 5:30 PM and Olga hadn't started her day yet. She logs about the same distance I do - pulling a trailer, no less - but prefers to get a very late start and ride on into the night. There must be an advantage to this, maybe the ability to visit things during business hours. I went to set up camp in the city park, where free camping is allowed for up to three days, and Olga pedaled off to log 150 km.
The most stressful thing, by far, has been time. And that's mostly due to the length of the days I've been doing. Long distance means long hours in the saddle, and few hours doing anything else. I barely ever have time to review my Spanish or write in this journal. And it won't be long before I'm too far south and it's simply unsafe to keep riding past 8:30 PM (this still happens at least twice a week).
I've been tempted to cut days short more than once, and I've already had fleeting doubt about the ultimate success of this ride, or whether or not all of it is a good idea. Again, the long-day stress at work. More than once, music has saved me. Wisely, I decided from the beginning that I wouldn't listen to music all the time, or even every day. I sometimes go a week without listening to music once. But when I reach my low points, the music plays.
It may seem strange coming from someone who holds several marathon course records and is spending a year and a half riding a bike, but music may still be my greatest passion. Just listening to it - not writing it, playing it, or singing it, but just hearing it, just observing it - can turn my whole day around. And back when I still played instruments regularly, some of those performances still rate among the greatest highs of my life. Maybe not the biggest accomplishments, but the best feelings.
I'm hoping I at least start moving quicker in the lower 48, where there is likely to be less mountains. And once in Central America, I plan to slow my pace, but that was supposed to be because it would get more difficult. Maybe I'll just get stronger. But more than anything, I could use more time. Couldn't we all?