Vagabond Vacation pt 1
Well I guess it all started about a year ago (2013). I had begun looking for an older road bike to fix up and use in an attempt to be a more responsible commuter to work (when I had the energy) as my brother had been for years now. He had been nagging me to get one anyways and suggested if I did we could “go on a bike trip”.
After doing some light searching through the world of craigslist I found a retired couple out in Steveston that purchased old bike frames and refurbished them. I mentioned to my brother that “I am going to check out a couple” It was almost like things were pushing me in a certain direction for he told me that his old bike was actually purchased through them. Strange. So I went there without really knowing what I was looking for. They were very organized when I got there. They measured me up. Literally. Legs _cms, inseam _cms. It was like being fitted for a suit.
They pulled out 3 or 4 bikes that were deemed “right” for me. I began to try them one by one, though I could not describe whether or not they fit me properly. After trying the last one I still did not feel any were exactly what I was looking for. We talked a bit about what kind of cycling I would be doing. “Commuting mainly. Maybe a cycling trip with my brother?” I mentioned that he had bought a bike from them in the past. They began to talk privately while I wondered through the makeshift “Bike Hospital.” They brought out one more bike and asked me to try it. It was great! Smooth ride, handled well, and was in pretty good condition for its age. The couple told me the bike was pretty much set up for touring. “A quick touch up and you could ride this bike all the way to Mexico!” They said that the bike had been priced at $400. I had $250. Their request was “treat the bike ell, and do something fun with it!” $250. Sold.
So there I was with my new/old bike, proud, excited, not knowing that I had just set in motion the beginning of a series of events that would lead to something bigger.
I spent time over the fall and winter going with my brother to a community bike shop in Vancouver where I could work/learn to work on my bike. I found myself being quite drawn to all thing “Bicycle”. One day I was at the Richmond Public Library and I found myself looking up cycling books. I came across “The Man Who Cycled The World” by Mark Beaumont. It was his story of cycling around the world in an attempt to break a world record. I was drawn in. I found myself so engaged in his story. I guess I had never really thought about travelling by bicycle until I had read his book. I had gone backpacking for three and a half weeks in Europe with my wife when we were first married, and had done a number of multi day hiking trips, but this was a whole different way of travelling. Slow enough to really see the world your travelling through, yet fast enough that you can really get some distance in, in a day.
It was spring. I was cycling to work regularly (when I had time). 45 kms round trip. Still inspired from Beaumont’s adventure, I found myself dreaming of getting out and riding endlessly on the highway with nothing but my panniers stocked up for whatever would come. However I could not take a year out of my life… So I had to set my sights on something more reachable. I wandered to the library once more. I found a book. “Bicycling the Pacific Coast Highway”, a complete route guide from Vancouver to Mexico. I thumbed through it and it suggested that the whole route could be completed in forty two days. Six weeks I thought. Well maybe if I bank all my vacation time together? Maybe? What if I did it in sections? Vancouver to Portland. Portland to San Francisco. San Francisco to the Mexican border. It made sense. Vancouver to Portland seemed reasonable. 500-700 kms on a bike for someone who has never done this sort of thing. Sure. Why not.
It was decided. Okay so I am going to ride my bicycle from Vancouver to Portland. Now it seems to me there are different people who travel for different reasons. Adventure. Finding ones self. etc. I have read lots of stories of solo travelling but that however is not for me. All my favourite memories of any travelling are the memories of sharing the experience with others. The connections that you make when you go through things together. Sharing the pain, or helping someone get through their fears (or my own). Or even having someone else who can validate your achievement, having gone through it first hand with you.
So naturally I went to my brother Isaac and told him of this plan. “This could be the bike trip!”. We talked about the potential of it over beers (which always proves to make things seem easier than they really are). Isaac and I are very similar in many ways. We are both avid hikers, long distance runners, and have a big hunger for adventure. We have gone on many travels together, and have had to deal with are fair share of shit on many of them. We know each others limits, and often how to push them, but above all we know how to read each other very well.
Isaac was in almost from the moment I mentioned the trip. His wife was pregnant and due in the fall. He knew that this trip would probably be the last time he could take an extended period of time away for the next year or so. ” See Chris, I knew it.” Isaac said. ” I knew once you got your road bike you would be hooked!”. We laughed. He was right. “Great” I said. So now there was two of us. Two brothers, excited to embark on an adventure that neither of us were familiar with.
In the coming weeks, we put things in motion, convincing our wives it was a good idea to spend a week or so in the upcoming summer riding our bikes down the coastline. We studied maps, googled endlessly about cycling distances between towns, elevation changes, YouTube documentaries, MEC, etc. I found myself talking about our plans at friends get togethers. Mostly everyone I mentioned it to had similar responses. “That’s nuts”, “your crazy”, or “Why?”. I was asked what charity I was doing this for, and people were even more stunned that we had elected to do this because it seemed like it would be a lot of fun. Not that I blame folks for not getting it. I guess from the outside looking at it, it seems like quite a different way to spend your vacation. But I have always been someone who likes to test my own limits. Sitting beachside somewhere has it’s place in the world, but it doesn’t always cut it.
Not everyone I told of our upcoming journey thought we were crazy. My best friends wife, and good friend of mine Candace seemed intrigued. Her, like us was not a cyclist, but a person with a strong intent on seeing the world. Candace is also one of the long distance runners in a group that we belong to that does a variety of races. The Curling Pirates! (though we don’t actually curl..yet). The more we talked about it, the more Candace seemed interested in our adventure. Initially her biggest concern was that if she joined us on this trip that she would be imposing on Isaac and I doing this as two brothers, a family thing. This was funny to me because both Candace and her Husband Dave are closer to me than a lot of my own family and I was more than happy to have her join. That evening we cheered to Candace joining us on this experience. Now there were three of us.
The remainder of the trip planning came together fairly easily in some respects. We estimated on riding roughly 100kms per day give or take distances to interesting towns or places we guessed would have food and supplies. To tell the truth we weren’t too concerned. Knowing we could cover at least twenty kilometres per hour, if we couldn’t find food in one place, we could keep going until we find another place. Plus this wasn’t the middle of nowhere we were heading to. It was the USA.
As the weeks rolled into months and our departure date was getting nearer, we talked together about doing some sort of small trip with all our gear to test out a couple things:
- Are we carrying way too much stuff?
- Is 100kms per day a reasonable distance?
- How good do we look in our riding gear?
Isaac’s wife’s family has a property near the foot of Mount Baker, Washington. We mapped it out to be approximately 120kms with a few stops. A big day for sure but it would be perfect for us to see what we would be getting ourselves into for our big trip. We made arrangements to have some of our family and friends come down to meet us there, and hopefully we would make it there in one piece.
We set out early on the morning of July 1st. Isaac and Candace had met me at my apartment. God my bike felt heavy. My initial thoughts were “too much gear?”. But I figured that since I have never done this before “How am I to know?”. Plus I had already scaled down the clothing I intended on bringing, and as for the gear I didn’t think that there was much more I could do without. It was overcast and a cool breeze was in the air. Perfect riding conditions. We made our way across Richmond from familiar neighbourhoods to familiar farm fields. We briefly stopped at the top of the Alex Fraser Bridge. I remember thinking at that moment “this is fucking awesome!”. We continued our way through North Delta, into Surrey, and on into Langley. The weather started to warm up. Almost a bit muggy. We stuck to Isaac’s route that took us along the farmlands until we hit the border crossing. We ate a quick snack before making our way to the border itself. I hoped it would be a quick crossing. I have never actually crossed by bike before. As it turns out cyclists cross like pedestrians. So we were able to cycle right up to the front and go inside bike and all. In and out in no time. Now in Sumas Washington and with the majority of the trip behind us we set our eyes on some lunch. “Bob’s Burgers and Brew” was sitting in front of us. Yes please. We enjoyed a nice lunch out on the patio with our eyes on our bikes. Great lunch and a few cold bevvies in our stomach we carried on to the trailer and our final destination.
Upon our arrival we were greeted by our friends and family and we enjoyed the remainder of our afternoon and evening with campfire and cold beers. Later in the evening Me, Isaac, and Candace talked about how we felt with the ride. Good. Ready for our trip. Or at least we think so?