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September 2008
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My final post on this fantastic experience

My Location

The most common question I will no doubt be asked will be “How did it measure up to your expectations?” and that will take some thinking about because it will have both surpassed and failed to live up to many expectations one might have; simply because expectations are based on an imaginary view of the trip to come. Overall though I can only say that it is something that I will look back on with a great sense of achievement, wonderment and almost disbelief at the beauty I was seeing and at other times a sense of sadness at the negative impact, in places, mankind can have on his environment.

The Bad Bits

Let’s get the bad bits over with first. Some of the small towns I came across on the highways heading out from Ontario, from around Sault St.Marie and towards Calgary, were truly horrible. What was noticeable though was that the best maintained and attractive buildings were always the Churches. Nearly all are wooden and not nearly as grand as the stone built magnificence we see in most towns and villages in the UK or in Europe, but these clapboard Churches are neat, tidy and quite pretty buildings. This is in stark contrast to the hastily constructed and shoddily maintained retail and business outlets which consitute the business sectors. Maybe they are only seen as a business and not anything to take a pride in, but it provides an air of gloomy decay – almost theateningly so in some places.

As you will know from my posts, Winnipeg did not go down at all well with me but maybe I was just unlucky. Happily it led to a good plan, which was to have a days rest in Saskatoon in between two long rides, and as a bonus I met a lovely blonde waitress called Jenny on my first night there at a Greek Restaurant who wanted to hitch a pillion ride with me for the remainder of my trip – she would have looked good hanging on, but I’m not sure my darling Clare would have approved! I thought it prudent to dine elsewhere the following evening …

Cranbrook – this is in the south eastern entrance to the Rockies, but looks like something from the tacky end of Las Vegas. It was just a 2km long strip of Fuel Stations, Fast Food Outlets, Motels etc. and perhaps my first experience of BC fuel stations didn’t help. They demand that you pre-pay for your fuel, “But I don’t know how much it will take to fill the tank!” – the fact that the Card Machine on the pump didn’t like my Card at any of the 3 stations I tried with 100 yards of each other tried my patience too. Whatever the reason, I still didn’t like what they had done to such an area. I accept that I hadn’t seen the ‘old’ Cranbrook (if there is one), but that strip was no excuse.

Fort Frances was a depressing place – a transit border town between the U.S. and Canada, it clearly demonstrates what happens when you let commerce dictate the appearance of a place. It was worth enduring though for the ride from there up past Lake of the Woods the next morning. That’s the beauty of Canada – you know that there will always be a reward for any suffering. It can’t help itself in that regard.

Just like the ride through torrential rain on my 3rd day from Wawa to Rossport, I’m sure I missed out on some terrific scenery because of the weather, and lunch at Marathon was forgettable, but by the time I reached Rossport – a little gem of peace and tranquility – the sun was out, Lake Superior was bright blue again and the Inn I had booked in advance was a good decision. The Rossport Inn at Rossport on the North Shore of Lake Superior gets a big thumbs up from me. Make a note of it.

Vancouvers Big Issue

I left the ferry from Vancouver Island in a good mood – I was looking forward to seeing what is supposedly the worlds best city in which to live. Thats quite a billing and perhaps sets the bar unrealistically high, and although I had heard that in a particular area of the city beggars could be a nuisance nothing quite prepared me for what I saw before I had even arrived in the city’s Downtown area proper. In fact Vancouvers’ actual Downtown area is one of the safest I had encountered on the trip and I felt at home quite quickly, but the area between Chinatown and Downtown is not what I expected – it is on the main drag in from the Highway, and a road that a large number of visitors to the city would venture along. None of the road is exactly picture perfect, but as you hit that area just beyond of Chinatown you think that something must be happening – a gathering of some sort, perhaps even a event. No, this is where the city’s homeless gather around the clock. I’m not talking about ten’s but literally hundreds, possibly thousands, of the socially disadvantaged. The thing is that I got the feeling during my stay in Vancouver that these weren’t dangerous people, and that unless you were a complete idiot in how you behaved then even walking through there in the evening would not have presented many physical dangers, but it wouldn’t have been pleasant because every single one of them would have pestered you for a token.

In about 18 months time Vancouver will be hosting the Winter Olympics 2010, and they know that they must do something about this problem. Many of the homeless, along with better placed people, will have been attracted to the city because of its temperate climate and apparent wealth. The disturbing thing is the talk I heard was not about ‘doing something’ in order to help these wretched souls, but so as to present the right image when the hordes of visitors descend on the city for the games. May be this will produce a long term solution to the issue, but I fear that will happen more through luck than judgement.

As I sat at a cafe I watched as, what I guessed were, locals walk by these people as if they hadn’t even noticed them. Perhaps they don’t see them any longer, and therein lies the problem; it’s as if they have banished it from their horizon. But if the city wants to sort out the issue to more manageable levels then the inhabitants need to start ‘seeing’ them again. Some of the beggars looked to me as if their mental state has been seriously exacerbated by their situation and the lack of support – some of them are probably beyond help other than care. I would like to think that those businesses in the city such as hotels, restaurants and coffee shops (esp.Starbucks!) who will benefit enormously from the games would help to foot the bill if they want to take full advantage and accept their social responsibilities. It shouldn’t be beyond the wit of the organising committee to consider using some of the more able amongst the homeless to assist as paid volunteers/helpers, each perhaps assigned to a more experienced and able team in order that they can obtain some sort of recommendation for employment opportunities – however humble – once the games have finished.

What they can’t do, surely, is just come in and sweep them off the streets, dumping them somewhere else for the duration of the games (although Winnipeg would be a good place to start!) and then allowing the city to return to the same old-same old some weeks later. I have no idea what the cost is of the outstanding highway they are rebuilding between Vancouver and Whistler, but if they can allocate that sort of cost to a road then they should be able to find and fund a long term solution to helping these people. Clearly there are those amongst them who are probably beyond help, but my impression was that very many of them have simply been ignored when a long term structured program would have benefited everybody.

This issue has clouded my view of Vancouver, and if it’s done that to me, how many others have been affected in a similar way and probably seen Vancouver as simply a tick in the box rather than a place that they wish to return to again one day?

The Good Bits

More or less everything else.

To start with visiting my sister Lesleys house for the first time and feeling humbled by how much they had put themselves out for me. I am especially grateful to Lesleys husband Bob, who I know must have his hands full enough without having to traipse about all over for me. The highlight for me whilst there was the evening I spent with my niece Leanne at the baseball game in Toronto and whom I hadn’t seen for about 10 years – Leanne is a gorgeous girl; witty, intelligent and great company. I felt very proud to be her uncle and date for that evening, but felt sorry I had been such a poor uncle to her and her brother Matthew over the years, and mad at myself for not having benefited from her company at all much previously.

Let’s stay with family for the time being. I also saw Paul, a 2nd cousin of mine, in Calgary that I hadn’t seen for the best part of 30yrs. He and his wife Angel opened their doors to me as if I was an old friend and I felt thoroughly enriched and refreshed having spent the evening in their company. It was great seeing Paul again after so long. I was also privileged to meet their young daughter Katelin, (about 6yrs old if I recall correctly) who played piano for me whilst I enjoyed my breakfast. They don’t know this yet, but that brought a little moisture to my eyes at the time. What am I in relation to you Katelin? I’ll be happy to call you my niece anytime. Angel – I didn’t eat the goodies that you thoughtfully packed for me during the day when I left, but I can assure you that they brought me great comfort when I was trying to figure out how to deal with the puncture on the way up to Paul’s fathers place early in the evening. You must have known that I would need them – thank you for being so thoughtful.

Paul’s father David, who is my cousin, and his wife Mabel live just south of Kaslo in a most enviable location on the shore of Kootenay Lake. If anyone else could have provided more comfort and generosity during my 3 nights with them then I would like to meet them. The smell of home cooking when I walked through their door, after David had brought his Jeep and trailer down to collect me on the night of the puncture, was the stuff of dreams. I just felt bad that I had kept them waiting so long for their supper! I really, genuinely enjoyed my stay there and I felt at home right away. I just hope George (one of their dogs) is recovering – he was looking decidedly sorry for himself at the time.

The scenery – oh my word, the scenery! This is the one thing which truly exceeded my already high expectations. The Icefields Parkway, between Lake Louise and Jasper, is just beyond comprehension. Even though it was overcast the day I rode it, it was still too staggering for words. You are not on the road for 5 minutes when you think “I must stop to get this picture – it might be the best shot available”. This happens time and time again along the whole of its 230kms, and every time you think you’ve seen the best it giggles at your stupidity and offers something even better. Honestly, if there is one road you must travel this is it. It can be done in about 2 hrs or so – however if you plan on 5 or 6 you will get so much more from it. Just make sure your hotel knows you will be arriving late that night! I stood at one place for about 20 or 30 minutes, probably about 30kms south of Jasper, looking at the majesty of the place and realised this is what I had set my heart on seeing for so long. It could have been anywhere along that road in all honesty – just pick a spot and allow the time to take it all in.

The ride from Kamloops to Whistler 2 days later was also something extra special. The first half from Kamloops to Cache Creek was something of a surprise – very arid but beautiful and dramatic all the same. The 2nd half from Lillooet via Pemberton to Whistler was almost on a par with the Icefields Parkway in its beauty, although there is a difference. Whereas the Parkway is towering peaks and lakes, this run is more like a fairytale place. There are still the mountains but they are greener, the whole place is lush with trees, grasses, lakes and streams running alongside the road. It swoops and falls as if on a magical fairground ride, and instead of taking your breath away in the manner of the Parkway, it sings you a lullaby. You become so relaxed and calm. It romances you.

There are of course plenty of other highlights such as the ride around Lake Superior, the Prairies, the Pacific Rim on Vancouver Island. I liked the look of Calgary, and as I said in that days post it seemed to have a good energy – a city that knows it’s going somewhere. And the ride south from Calgary along Highway 22 was pretty special too.

The people are generally relaxed, friendly and helpful. Because I was on the bike and looked like I was traveling they would talk to me at coffee stops and fuel stations, and in restaurants they would want to know what I was up to because of my accent. In many instances I was seeing more than most of the natives had ever seen.

Without a doubt the trip was enhanced by being on the bike – you are not enclosed and protected from the environment. You feel the chill and the warmth. You can hear the streams and the birds. You can almost taste the air like a wine and your senses become more attune to the surroundings – I could tell when I was approaching a town or a village even without knowing the distance to it. I just wouldn’t have wanted to do the trip in any other fashion.

In closing there are many who I must thank, but primarily (and apart from those I’ve mentioned above) then the most thanks should go to Clare for making sure I did this trip instead of talking about it forever more, and for looking after little things like the business and the new bathroom whilst I was away. And to Mark, my eldest son, for the work he put in in getting the website set up and working and having the patience to show me how to use it.

Finally, I want those of you who posted comments and sent me emails during the trip to know that they were most appreciated – it was always good to know that someone, somewhere was interested in what I was up to, and I hope that you found it entertaining and also that it might inspire someone else to do something for themselves at some point in the future. I didn’t conquer the world or save humanity from itself, but I have kept the commitment that I made to myself a long, long time ago.

Ride fast, ride safe.

Comments

Comment from lesley
Time 17 September, 2008 at 11:05 pm

I think it is great that you were able to get your messages up as you went along-it is a wonderful diary for you-and it’s done! You have been able to get an impression of this country that few visitors can with a 2 week vacation to visit relatives!
I think about what you have written and it makes me realise again what a young country I live in.
Canada is my home -the place where I feel most comfortable and safe-but it frustrates me a lot-and I think it is immaturity.
When you mentioned the churches it made me think again about the pioneers-probably including ancestors of ours, there are more Chisholms in the phone books here than I ever saw in the UK. They had to build a life out of what was available-trees a plenty-and they had to do it in short order. Winters were longer and harsher than anything they had endured. They needed to grow crops and preserve for winter and rely on the aboriginal peoples for expertise in survival. That is the heritage of this land-not rich royal families and religions that built magnificent palaces and churches that the poor and disenfranchised could only view from afar.
Then we have the unenviable -at times- position of being a neighbour to the US-this creates many advantages, but many problems for our society. Our population is sparse- we have a huge land mass that needs infrastructure, but not many people to pay for it. People don’t want to pay the taxes that are needed to build the type of infrastructure, that as a developed rich nation, we feel we should have.
We have a huge experiment taking place here-people come from all over the world to try and make a better life for themselves. On the whole we are doing well, but there are segments of society -everywhere in the world- that you will find struggling, and governments trying to balance the needs of those people with the needs of the people who go out to work every day and want to keep their money in their pocket!
Some of the people on the streets in Vancouver actually choose to be there-we need more mental health care facilities, we need more low cost housing initiatives-we need more jobs, more recognition of our aboriginal peoples- but even with that there are people who just want to opt out and Vancouver is a great place to do it-milder winter is a huge bonus. You will actually have homeless people who move to BC for the winter and return to Toronto for the summer!
In the big picture I don’t think Vancouver is particularly worse than London, New York and definitely not Paris-but our homeless are not hidden-at least not yet! London will be spending millions on their Olympics as well-money that could be better spent-but every country in the world wants to be a “showcase”. Kind of like when we have company we clean up our houses and wear our good clothes!
For those people who come to Canada as visitors it is an immense land of natural beauty-so much of it still unspoiled – I really think the best is yet to come. I still-after 30years -drive down the roads and shake my head that I actually belong here now!
I know that I still love the “oldness” of Britain and Europe-the character developes with age-like a good wine! I am try to separate and not compare-because you can’t really compare such vastly different realities.
It was wonderful to pick you up at the airport for a change-wish it could have been longer-maybe next time! I am so glad that you were able to take your trip and on the whole have such a good appreciation of the vastness and beauty of this country.
And yes, there is a big debate on which election the Canadians are most interested in- but you know what they say-slow and steady wins the race! There will be a time for Canada!

Comment from Leanne
Time 18 September, 2008 at 2:20 am

. . . so glad I was included in the ‘Good Bits’ section! lol! I’m glad you had a mostly good trip! Hopefully will see you soon . . .

Comment from Rob Bellingham
Time 18 September, 2008 at 11:35 am

Congratulations Rob.
Well impressed with the whole trip.
Great inspiration for others to try something similar.
The excuses have to run out, sooner or later !
Rob

Comment from Rob
Time 18 September, 2008 at 12:01 pm

Rob B – you have NO excuse … start planning now! Thanks for looking in over the past few weeks – much appreciated. I look forward to seeing you at one of the t595 meets at some point for a beer or 3!

Comment from Bud
Time 19 September, 2008 at 12:13 am

A fantastic account of a wonderful experience. I am trying to extend my perspective and reach out into Europe. I think that at some point I would look to head further afield. Your recollections may provide the impetus to keep this longer term aspiration in focus.

Thanks for sharing it with us.

Bud

Comment from Rob
Time 19 September, 2008 at 9:54 am

Bud – my pleasure, and many thanks for your comments. I know where you are (!) so I’ll be making sure that you do something. It takes a lot of effort, but nothing else I’ve ever done has gven me so much satisfaction.

Go where your heart wants you to go – before it’s too late!

Comment from Berlin84
Time 23 September, 2008 at 10:02 am

Rob, an excellant final report, you painted a very moving picture. Maybe you’ve missed your calling..

Envy I think is the wrong word, I suppose admiration is more appropiate. You have done something that many of us wouldn’t have the balls to do.

All the best and maybe in the near future we can catch up again – ride safe.

Comment from Suzi Perry
Time 6 October, 2008 at 2:31 pm

“so many people look through their windows and say ‘ I wish I could do that’ but they never do. That’s why it’s so great to see someone like you Rob actually stop dreaming and make your ‘I wish’ a reality. What a fantastic adventure you had: yes there were the lows but the other side of that coin must have been amazing. Catching up with your sister and her family would have been a big highlight leaving you with lovely memories until the next time.

Then there was the ride – what bliss. So now you know the answers to the ‘what happens if’ – and you did ‘deal with it’. You probably didn’t conquer the world or save humanity from itself but what a wonderful life experience you let happen. Congratulations and welcome home – best wishes Suzi Perry”

Comment from Rob
Time 6 October, 2008 at 2:48 pm

Thanks Suzi!

There you go Guys – stop dreaming and do ‘it’

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