As I have now abandoned America for more northern and polite countries I no longer have cell service. So far (1 day) I like it, although I did cheat and use wifi at lunch. As I have no idea when I’ll get wifi again I’m going to start committing my stream of consciousness to my notepad and submit it to you when the opportunity presents itself.
The Whitefish Hostel
My stay at the hostel was a relaxing one. The American hostels I’ve encountered share the same back story: the founders went to Europe/Central America/South America and discovered that an affordable bed and meeting travelers is a much nicer way to travel than the American status quo. Some of the ski towns I’ve visited have a hostel, but usually it’s so rare to find one that I forget to look. The Whitefish Hostel costs $42 which feels pricey for a bunk bed and free coffee but it was offset by meeting some interesting travelers. First, Summit.
Summit has just started to circumnavigate the country by bicycle. He introduced himself in the Montana Coffee Roasters café as the other bike guy in town. At first I got excited because I thought “Summit” was the first cyclist superhero name I had encountered but sadly it’s his legal name. I let him know I am more or less 2/3 of the way through doing the same route and gave him some pointers. The guy is traveling with next to nothing, just some clothes, a stove and a guitar. He’s planning on paying his way by busking and he promptly made about $120 and a cliff bar after talking to me. Not bad, guy.
Smiley is an upbeat tramp from Tampa that has been cruising across North America on busses. He had never seen mountains before and soon fell in love. Come to think of it, before this trip I hadn’t seen many mountains either. They’ve become such a part of my daily routine that I will surely miss them. Anyway, when Smiley got to Whitefish he decided it was a good place to settle for the Summer and planned to stay at the hostel until acquiring a more permanent living situation.
I was in town the day the Brexit vote was decided and so was a British lady. She was understandably distraught after 10% of her savings evaporated over night. I didn’t get a chance to talk to her because she was busy looking for another room anywhere in the area. The hostel is the most affordable lodging in the area, excluding the state park campground on the rail right of way, and is routinely booked.
Chrostoph was heading to Glacier to meet a thru hiker. I told him about my experience and he asked if all the vagabonds had smartwater bottles. They did (although one person had to replace a bottle that had washed downstream). Nalgene bottles are too heavy for hikers now and so everyone chooses to use smartwater bottles for weight and geometric reasons.
Last Day in the Motherland
Right before leaving Whitefish I brought my bike into the shop to have some professionals look at my bike. The non-drive crank was working it’s way off again, after the last shop I visited had assured me it wouldn’t. Turns out the bottom bracket was RIP, so I got it replaced. Newer style external bottom brackets cannot be serviced and only last 1-2,000 miles. This one put in a solid 7,000 miles, a solid showing. I had to fight my urge to ignore the problem because losing a crank arm in British Columbia, which is predominantly mountains, pine trees, and crystal clear lakes, would be rather stressful. You need special tools to install a bottom bracket and so it’s not a road side repair. I soothed myself with junk food.
The ride to Eureka, which is 8 miles south of the border, was uneventful. This stands in stark contrast to approaching the Mexican border. I’m trying to remember exactly when I saw my first check point near the Mexican border, but it was about 50-100 miles northeast of the border and then there was another 50-100 miles northwest of the border. There was also a fence, electronics for detecting ganja (and who knows what else), border police, surveillance planes, and fighter jets.
It’s legal to camp in the Eureka town park. There’s a suggested donation but the bathrooms were locked so I didn’t feel compelled to pay. Also I was completely bereft of green backs. I certainly appreciate the ability to sleep in a park without worrying about someone telling me to leave. It makes me want to read some of the legal arguments for and against vagrancy. Why is sleeping in a public place illegal? I think the typical argument against it probably has something to do with “The Homeless”. It is quite possible to sleep outside without doing any harm. I would know, I’ve done it about 125-150 times this year. If I murder someone feel free to throw me in irons, otherwise leave me be. I’m tired mate.
The Best Place on Earth
I crossed into Canada at Roosville which is a tiny port on the west side of the Rockies. Here’s roughly the conversation I had with border agent:
Authorities: “Do you have any way to protect yourself”
Chris: “Uhh… I’ve got bear spray and a knife. The knife is mostly for cooking. I don’t have any guns, if that’s what you’re asking”
Authorities: “Do you have any money?”
Chris: “I don’t have any cash, but everyone told me to just go to an ATM”
Authorities: “Do you have health insurance?”
Chris: “I think so…”
Sometimes when people in uniforms ask me things I assume they’re trying to catch me in a bind. This guy either sounded like he was interested in robbing me, or was generally concerned for my wellbeing. So I started to get paranoid. What is there to fear about British Columbia other than bears? Are there brigands lying in wait on the ice fields parkway? Last time I talked with a border officer it was a prolonged interrogation about why I only had a passport and not a driver’s license and then about why I don’t have any debt. I haven’t owned a car in 8 years, I don’t need a license unless I want to get drunk. I lost my license a few months ago so I’ll get to revisit that discussion again in addition to being flagged as a terrorist after taking a picture on a public road in Baton Rouge. Dear moms and dad, I’m never coming home 🙁
The first sign to greet you after assuaging the concerns of the border police proclaims that you are now in British Columbia: the best place on Earth! This is immediately after leaving Montana: the last best place! (Also the treasure state, so named for the Butte treasure mines. Not really.). Civilization and imperial units die off quickly so you best have enough food and be able to convert to SI units. Fortunately science/magic is performed in metric units so I have a passing familiarity with the metric system. More importantly I’m a recovering/ed road runner so I know how far 10km is in freedom units (miles). So to keep myself occupied I divided every speed limit and distance marker by 10 and multiplied by 6 and I’m proud to say that my elementary school education has not gone to waste.
Someone warned me, as someone always does, that there aren’t any shoulders on the roads in Canada/the Florida Keys/Texas. That’s like telling me not to worry, there aren’t any hills between here and there, I just can’t trust you unless you’re holding a bicycle. The roads here have been fine and the scenery is beautiful.
One new wrinkle in the life of a vagabond is the existence of crown land. Crown land is like BLM land in America except it’s property of the ruler of England: Queen Elizabeth long may she reign. A few months ago I had a protracted argument with my riding friends about who is the largest land owner on the planet. The answer is the Queen of England, due in large part to the huge tracts of land she owns in Canada. I think you may be a permit to camp on crown land but I’m not sure there’s even a management office. There must be, but without the Internet I can’t possibly answer that question.
The first Canadians I talked to told me about a nice lake adjacent to a provincial park. It’s free, and property of her majesty, so of course that’s where I am staying tonight. I stripped to my underwear and went for a swim in horseshoe lake. It’s finally warm enough to enjoy swimming and there’s nothing quite like floating after pedaling all day. I even did laundry, a rare occurrence, and adhered to the best practice of not dumping grey water back into the lake. The water is so impossibly clear I don’t dare ruin it with my filth. I’m hoping that I can hop from lake to lake until I’m back in US. Although I’m in bear country for a few more weeks so I may get eaten before then.
I met an Austrian fellow in the Hamlet of Skookumchuck riding South. He had left Anchorage 19 days prior and was surely averaging 100 miles a day to arrive in Skookumchuck as fast as he did. That’s impressive! I’m not sure there was an ounce of fat on him and each of his thighs was about half-again as big as mine. I can’t compete with that, I’m 50 miles into the day and wondering whether I should just stop now. But! I just finished a Kraft Dinner and it almost feels as though a tail wind is picking up.
Headwaters of the Columbia
I have stumbled upon the headwaters of the Columbia River! Spend enough time wandering through big mountains and you’re bound to find the headwaters of something. So here the Columbia starts in a enormous blue lake just north of Canal Flats, BC. I had already decided to camp along the lake but now my choice of campsite has taken on special meaning. I expect to bid these same waters adieu when I next cross the Columbia outside of Astoria. Isn’t that wonderful?
I’m going to try to better document my campsites because most days it’s the most significant daily choice I make. My general route for the next month is decided, but who knows what places I might call home along the way. Without cell service my couch surfing prospects are slim.
Water Quality and Confirmation
I had a bit of an upset stomach today and my only guess as to the cause is that the water in horseshoe lake just wasn’t that good. When I told a local about my problems and where I got the water she kinda gagged. Whoops! I’m not accustomed to filtering water, I’ll get better.
The Columbia at its birthplace is fast moving and crystal clear, it should filter well. I found a spot, donned my floppy gypsy hat (I’ll type that story up soon) and got to work filtering on a comfortable piece of shore. Not long after I started a few boats passed.
“Look! There’s a fucking hippy living here!”, someone shouted
“Just for tonight!”, I replied.
Their (tongue in cheek) attack on my character was confirmation enough for me that I’ve made it as a traveler.
I’ve had easy days, hard days, and all the days in between but it’s seems these are the halcyon days of Rumspringa. I ride through deep valleys all day, talk to friendly Canadians and swim in picturesque water features. The word “Adventure” gets bandied about a lot these days, but if you were to ask for my definition it would read a lot like my description of the last few days.
until next wifi,