Journal July 20-July 31
Vancouver Island & The Inside Passage
Note from Billy: this section spans three pages and contains some great stories from a great place. I apologize for the lack of pictures. We loaded them into a computer aboard the Kennicott ferry, and that was the last we saw of them. Chris, if you read this, please give us a call. Perhaps they are still on your hard drive and we will see them again after all!
July 20 Seattle, WA to Victoria, BC
Picking up the bike at R&E Cycles, we were greeted by a "bon-voyage committee" that included owners Estelle and Dan, and the mechanics and staff of the greatest bike shop I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. The ride to the ferry was made more pleasant by unusually sunny weather (for Seattle) and a bike path beside the water. The crowds along the waterfront helped us fulfill our daily goal of making people smile.
The ferry from Seattle to Victoria, on Vancouver Island, took a short four hours. I say short because it travels through islands that must be among the most beautiful in the world, and the weather was clear, cold, and windy. High puffy clouds clung to the snowy peaks behind Seattle's downtown skyscrapers, and every island in sight seemed to have a welcoming, green shoreline backed by more distant peaks still spattered with snow. Sailboats, working tugs and tankers, and the occasional pair of kayakers decorated the waters, but the centerpiece was a huge ocean liner, one of the luxury cruise ships that ply the waters between Seattle and Alaska.
In Victoria, we discovered a bustling city, not a town as we had imagined, but a distinctly British city, clean and manicured, with real gardens and huge inns. It was past tea time, and we soon found that rooms were scarce. Plenty of curious vacationers (and a couple of rides on the quad for their kids) slowed our search for a room, until Lynn Klien, a bicyclist and member of British Columbia's provincial ambulance service, took us under his wing. Soon our bike was parked in a bohemian bike-shop-coffee-bar called Chain Chain Chain, and we were in a room in one of the city's oldest downtown hotels, the Douglas, compliments of Lynn. Dinner was on him, too in a vegetarian place around the corner. This man is like an old friend now, such was the sharing of life's stories that night.
July 21 Victoria, BC to Duncan, BC
We can see now that we were right about the topography on Vancouver Island, but wrong about the distribution of the population. The Island is about the size of Vermont, with about the same total population. Those people are concentrated along the east coast, however, and particularly the southern part of the east coast. So while we figured that a few miles from Victoria we would be in the boondocks, we now realized that the four-lane, high-traffic main (I mean only) road north is quite busy with motels, restaurants, outlet malls, service stations and convenience stores lining the way. We learned from locals that this would end in Campbell River, several days' ride to the north.
In Duncan we found a comfortable room and a great pasta meal. What more could we ask for?
July 22 Duncan, BC to Parksville, BC
We always attract an audience at campsites, interested folks who are surprised to learn that we have cycled from Vermont, and that we are bound for Alaska. This time, with a huge campground full to overflowing, we soon had five, then ten, then twenty campers asking the familiar questions. This small crowd was easy to entertain; we soon had the kids helping to pitch the tent and the parents sharing maps and guidebooks with us. The people who had come first started answering the latecomers questions. Someone came up with a People Magazine with our picture in it, and I began giving rides on the quad to the kids. Before long the entire campground had seen us, since each kid had to go by his or her own campsite at least once. We had the most fun asking people what their dreams were, what goals they aspire to. Some had never been asked the question. Some were surprised at their spouse's answer, or their parent's or child's answer. Some who had no answer came back later to tell us that they now had a dream. We went to bed late, tired and satisfied.
July 23 Parksville, BC
After packing up camp and riding to a supermarket in Parksville, it started to rain. We spent an hour or more there before suiting up and heading out (we have been spoiled by the good weather so far). A few miles later we were stopped by a motorist, a fairly regular occurance, usually for a picture or the offer of hospitality, or just for questions. This time it was Leen Van Meulen, winner of the 1961 Motorpaced Bicycle Track Racing World Championship, a discipline that he pursued after a successful road racing career. Leen wanted us to join in a ride he was organizing, and it was very hard to resist, since it was intended to promote the very things we represent; health, fitness and family togetherness. He had done a first class job, providing a pancake breakfast that was worth more than the entry fee, and a choice of rides with abundant support, and he expected thousands of riders. It was hard to say no to Leen, but our ferry left Port Hardy before his ride date came. So we compromised. Tomorrow there was a ride for the volunteers who would work the day of the ride. We would spend the day and night in Parksville (Leen arranged a free room at a beautiful resort on the beach) and we would ride with the volunteers in the morning. This seemed better than riding in the rain. The local newspaper sent out a reporter, we walked along the beach, and we got to bed early.
July 24 Parksville, BC to Courtenay, BC
Fortunately, we got a chance to speak with Leen quite a lot. He told us all about his bicycle racing career and gave the kids autugraphed photos of him as a young man in his rainbow jersey. His enthusiasm for bicycling, health, fitness, and family togetherness was inspiring. His personal philosophy so much agrees with ours that we discussed ways to get involved with his planned bicycle touring company.
July 25 Courtenay, BC to Robert's Lake, BC
Leaving the campground after a round of rides for our neighboring campers, we mentioned laundry and received instructions to visit AJ's Laundromat in Campbell River for free laundry. We spent three hours there enjoying the hospitality of AJ and Bernice, and all their customers. A neighboring bar made us banana shakes with the protien/carbohydrate supplement powder that we have been using; Patti finds us such an arrangement nearly every day. Lynn Klien from Victoria (see July 20) caught up with us there with his wife Sharon. He's on his way to Port McNiel for a holiday, and we will meet him there in a few days.
Although we left Campbell River at 5:00 PM, we were leaving the populated part of Vancouver Island and heading into the "bush," as it's called here. Our destination, Robert's Lake, was close enough, but a huge, six-mile hill slowed us as we left the shoreline and climbed into the mountains. Halfway down the other side, we reached paradise at 8:00, time enough to rent a cabin from Lorena and get her story, canoe in the most pristine mountain lake one can imagine, meet some nice folks from Victoria, and cook a small meal before falling sound asleep in a setting that could have been 1950 as easily as 1999.
July 26 Robert's Lake, BC to Port McNeil, BC
An interesting sign stopped us on the highway: HONEY AND BEE POLLEN FOR SALE. Inga, an immigrant from Austria after the war, keeps 300 hives and a few sheep. I love good bee pollen, and the freshness and vigor of her product was unmistakable. The price was so low it was silly. Inga was very interested to hear about Patti's association with the Trapp Family in Stowe, VT, and she questioned us about them and praised our family in a thick accent. She gave the kids a jar of honey, and we were on our way.
After lunch in Sayword, we attempted to ride to Woss, the next town, but found the climb took most of the afternoon and some of the evening. With 20 miles to go, we were looking for campsites and wishing we had more food with us, when Lou and Elanor stopped. We had met them at Robert's Lake that morning and they had offered us a place to stay in Port McNeil. Soon we were in their truck (with their two grand-daughters) heading past Woss to their home in Port McNeil. Lou never stopped talking, giving us a history and geography lesson between stories. He has made a life up here in this remote area with hard work and lots of friends. This is an area of towns with populations of 1200 to 2500, forty miles apart. Logging and fishing are the main industries, with tourism a distant third. Some towns are only reachable by boat. Lou is a marine construction inspector and all around mechanic. He also has more jokes than late-night TV, and I have added a couple of particularly tasteless ones to my collection. Elanor, a Native American and proprietor of a boat yard, was quiet, but she had some interesting stories of her own, after we got her going. We spent the night in their camper behind their mobile home in the boatyard, and slept nine hours!
July 27 Port McNeil, BC
The short ride into Port McNeil was memorable for this reason: we wore tights and windbreakers, the first time we required long pants since the Appalachains. The party is over!
In town Patti's instinct led us directly to a wonderful chiropractor, Dr. Ernie Von Schilling, whose skill and compassion (and 22 years experience) provided us with an unsurpassed treatment. The town office down the hallway welcomed the kids with pins and coloring books, and when we came out of Dr. Ernie's office, we were presented with a gift certificate for lunch at the town's best restaurant, from an anonymous donor!! I suspect the mother of the kids to whom I gave a ride on the quad while Patti was setting up our chiropractic visit. Dr. Ernie joined us, and we learned about his life on this island, hunting with his dad and taking over the family farm, now hazlenut and holly trees. A great fellow, he just about had us convinced to stay here forever.
After lunch we kicked around the docks, where fishermen were preparing for tomorrow's salmon gill-netting opening, Twelve hours for the entire year when they can fish for salmon with that method. We got aboard a few boats, and I helped some men get their net onto a reel while we talked and learned about their operation. Best of all was a visit with Jim and Wayne aboard their boat. No longer used for fishing, the old boat was used in their logging operation, mostly for moving crews and equipment, but occasionally for moving huge rafts of logs to the mill. Wayne was known as Crow, a name he earned by his habit of picking up anything shiny, as crows do. Shiny bald head, big earrings, beard and bare chest, all that was missing was the parrot on the shoulder and an eye patch. Jim was an immigrant from the US, a Louisville native who came up years ago as a helicopter pilot, and now makes a living in the cedar trade. The conversation was so good we had a hard time leaving, but they had to get across the strait to their logging camp, and we had to find our friend Lynn.
Finding Lynn was easy. He was at the end of the dock on his bike. He conducted us to Ev's Bunkhouse (misnamed, because it is actually an elegant waterfront B&B) where Ev had not only prepared a fresh salmon feast, complete with apple pie and corn on the cob, but refused to charge us for the TWO rooms she had set aside for us. Her story was wonderful, another US immigrant more than 20 years ago. Eagles perched in the huge fir trees outside as we drank tea and talked around the dinner table until 10:00. We are far enough north that it is light out until 10:30, so I didn't start on this update at Ev's computer until 11:00. Now, near 1:00 AM, I am thinking of emigrating, too!
July 28 Port McNeil, BC to Port Hardy, BC
July 29 Port Hardy, BC to Prince Rupert, BC aboard the MV Queen of the North
Our 7:00 AM ferry was a few miles from our accommodations, so we rode in the early morning twilight, something rare for us. Waiting for the ferry we met lots of nice folks, and when it was fully loaded, there were about 275 people aboard, most with cars or campers. There were a few other cycle tourists, and a busload of British tourists in the mix. We spent the day marveling at the incredible scenery, answering questions about our tour, and autographing copies of the People Magazine article after the crew discovered a stack of them in the gift shop. Our little state room served us as a place to eat and store our stuff, and we enjoyed presentations about bears and trees from the Provincial Forest Service staff, and we met so many interesting people that I can't list them all. The passage was beautiful and varied, with some wide-open sections, and some passages where the heavily wooded shore was very close. We passed a few isolated villages and the last remaining manned lighthouse in BC. The kids were able to run around the ferry and make friends of their own, and it was an enjoyable break from cycling.
In Prince Rupert an ambulance service chief named Brent was waiting for us. The mile to his house warmed us, since it was just about straight up. We parked our bike with his sea kayaks and fell asleep after a bit of conversation.
July 30 Prince Rupert, BC, to Inside Passage aboard the MV Kennicott
Before we even boarded the ferry, we had made friends with the crew and passengers on the dock. Scott and Wayne, the first and second mates, and Dave, a steward, all were most interested in our story, and promised a fun passage. We had a wonderful stateroom with four bunks and a big window. The ferry got underway late because loading was made difficult by the crowded conditions and the complication of different destinations for the huge motor homes, many with boats or cars in tow. We departed under crystal clear skies, the first pleasant weather in a month, so we were told.
On board, we were invited to do a presentation on our trip, which was attended by about a hundred passengers. They kept us answering questions for an hour.
The ferry is the newest in the fleet, the first such vessel built in the USA in 25 years. It was a beautiful craft, with seven decks, an elevator, a theater, two restaurants and a bar. The luxury was such a contrast to the rugged, snow-streaked mountains that lined our passage that we were all lulled into a deck-chair dream, just enough wind to require a windbreaker and just enough sun to warm us into sleepiness. Interesting passengers and fascinating stories kept us on deck or in the lounges until late.
July 31 Aboard the MV Kennicott, Inside Passage
After we got underway, we were invited up to the bridge, where Wayne and Scott introduced us to Norbert and the rest of the crew. Henry manned the helm, negotiating the tricky waters like a seasoned mariner. While we were up there, we sighted some whales far off, then closer. This was my first time seeing whales, and we were treated to the sight of gray whales frolicking within a few yards of the boat. In all we saw a dozen or more; all the passengers were crowded around the rail peering through cameras and binoculars.
We spent most of the day on the bridge, and Patti started doing massage for the crew. Before the day was done, word spread about the magic hands, and she had massaged nine or ten crew members and passengers. Scott and Wayne and especially Kris, an able-bodied seaman doing his watch on the bridge, all recommended that I look into a job on the ferry system when we move to Alaska, something that was quite appealing after spending time on that modern, spacious bridge with all those fine men and women.
The delays meant that we would spend an extra night on the ferry, or at least part of one, as we were scheduled to arrive at our destination, Haines, at about 3:00 AM.