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A capital experience……..

CIMG8061My trail through Northland has given me a range of experiences to occupy my mind for months to come. A west coast route has taken me through Waipoua Forest, with its legendary giant Kauri trees. The biggest is Tane Mahuta, just 2 minutes walk from the road, towering over 52 metres high, with a girth of nearly 5 metres. These trees were much valued by bygone sailors, making perfect wooden masts for sailing ships, and producing the highly valued gum for making varnishes and paints.

The Save the Children volunteers of Dargaville gave me a royal welcome,

Save the Children, Dargaville

Save the Children, Dargaville

with the local press reporter waiting to take photos. As I hit the edge of town, a passing lady motorist stopped me saying she recognised me from a press article published days before I arrived. Wasn’t quite sure how to handle this local fame…….but I was delighted to be hosted by Brenda, a long-serving volunteer with the charity, in the large family house that she now occupied on her own.

As I pushed on towards Wellsford, I encountered my first stretch of flat landscape (almost fenland flat), but the advantage was quickly CIMG8090diminished by a bludgeoning headwind that almost brought me to a halt along a straight unprotected stretch. Then, when I hit the infamous SH1 (State Highway 1), life on the fast lane became a reality…..except the fast lane for me was the hard-shoulder (where it existed). It was a holiday weekend for Aucklanders, and everyone was on a mission to go somewhere……and in a great hurry.

But a quiet haven of a camp site, just outside Warkworth, provided respite from the motorized storm, meeting up once again with Ted, a fellow camper that I had encountered two days previously over 200 kms away. Ted and I had had a shared existence in education, but his latter years had been spent in Malawi teaching classics.CIMG8103

But what of the New Zealanders I have encountered? To say they are self-effacing is a serious understatement. I have been warned a multitude of times, by Kiwis themselves, that I should beware of the “ragbags” out there who will be determined to rob me of everything I own, even at a remote location like Cape Reinga. But all I have encountered, at every stage, has been friendliness and kindness, almost to a point of embarrassment. People have chased behind on the bike to thrust a $5 note in my hand for the charity. This afternoon, a car pulled up beside me at traffic lights and the driver pushed a handful of coins in my hand to buy myself a drink. The owner of the campsite last night insisted on giving me a plateful of food to tide me over till the morning. A woman, while we waited for a ferry crossing, wordlessly walked over and gave me a $20 bill. She never attempted to explain why she was giving it to me.

iew from the Flynn family home

view from the Flynn family home. Stunning!

Kiwis seriously need visitors to come and reaffirm a vision of themselves and their own country that some of them may have lost. They readily play themselves down when, on the contrary, there is an intrinsic caring integrity deeply etched in the character of the nation.

Oh yes, and what of the progress of my cycling venture? Well, as I hit the hectic outskirts of Auckland, I am almost 600 km into the 4000 km expedition, exhausted from the fatigue of constant climbing and debilitating temperatures, only to be welcomed with open arms by the Flynn Family, close friends of my brother Chris. I was whisked off to a family barbecue, a swim in the family pool with stunning views over the harbour, and a whistle-stop tour of downtown as the sun was setting. A huge thank-you to them for opening the gates of their city to me. And it needs to be said…….Auckland is a city of many surprises. Definitely worth a visit.

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The countdown to NZ begins!

In the final throes of preparations for a two month cycle trip (I will also be cycling from Sydney to Melbourne as a kind of ‘dessert’ after the ‘main course’ in New Zealand), my focus has been almost entirely on the kit I take with me. After every trip, I analyse the stuff I have been carrying for several weeks, and I ruthlessly deal with the superfluous. Without camping equipment, I can cycle for months with just 5 kilos of kit (including spares and tools).  You just have CIMG6959to get very proficient at doing laundry, or live in squalor! However, on this trip, I will be taking camping equipment as well………a different ball-game altogether.

Kitchen and bathroom scales serve much more than the purpose stated by the manufacturers. In our house, they have been used to weigh absolutely everything. I can tell you the weight in kilos and grams of just about everything I will be carrying. My bike is a given: it weighs in at a sturdy 15kg. I have ridden this bike on long journeys for nearly 20 years. It’s made of steel, it has 40mm tyres, and it’s built for rough terrain. It’s like a tank! I could opt for a much lighter alloy bike with narrower profile tyres, but I would be sacrificing comfort and stability. These two latter assets are the most vital when you are spending 8-10 hours per day awheel.

With the rest of my kit, I have a twofold focus:

1. How to beat the airlines at their game: ie. have the bike go as my check-in luggage and avoid excess charges. WithCIMG6992 Qantas, my check-in luggage is limited to 23kgs, and hand luggage is limited to 7kgs. Mmnn, a tall order you might think.

2. How not only to keep the luggage on the bike to a minimum for riding, but to fit it all into a saddlebag and barbag, with tent strapped on the back. For some reason (which I can’t rationally explain) I have an issue with taking  panniers.

To achieve both purposes, I use just two principles: a) decide what I can minimally and safely survive on, and b) find the smallest and lightest versions of everything, without compromise. Both these principles are goals that can never be finally achieved, but then that forms part of the excitement of discovery. Somebody, somewhere will have found a better solution than you to a certain issue, and it’s up to you to seek them out and find out what they know.

In the next post, I will show you how I will travel for two months (but bearing in mind that it will be summer in the Antipodes) on 8.5kgs of luggage (including 3kgs of camping equipment). Stay tuned……

Please support the Children in Syria: Justgiving.com

For more cycling-related topics, visit: Love Cycling

FREE COUNTRY by George Mahood

In the world of long-distance cycling, the UK E2E (Land’s End to John O’Groats) is a hoary old chestnut. For many it represents that Nirvana-like state of achievement, a bespoke Utopia that appears as the ultimate of aspirations among many would-be expedition cyclists. The route has been travelled by many and variously: by that I mean by tens of thousands using dozens of different modes of transport. People have walked, run and cycled it. Others have done it in a wheelchair, on skateboards and roller skates. The youngest little mite to cycle it was just 4 years old, and aFree Country few days after completing it he started at infant school. Amongst the craziest takes was a golfer who played the longest hole in the world: 1,100 miles in seven weeks. Of course, he hit the ball every inch of the way (wonder how many he lost?).

So to pick up another book or, as I did, download a digital version, of yet another attempt at the distance……….well, to say the least, I was a bit underwhelmed at the prospect. But………….then I started reading it. And I read it, and read it………and enjoyed it from beginning to end. I won’t spoil the story for you, simply to say that two lads (with nothing better to do) dreamed up a plan over a pint or two. That plan was to cycle the 1000 miles from south to north, but to set off with nothing more that the union flag boxer shorts that you see them wearing on the cover.

Like ancient pilgrims, they begged and borrowed everything they would need to complete the journey: clothes, bikes, food, accommodation, cycle maintenance. I was astonished how much free beer they drank en route (several nights almost to the point of drunkenness) and amazed at the apparent credulity of the people who helped them out. It just so happened they were honest, upright citizens, but what if they had been gun/dagger toting layabouts?

Even if you are a non-cyclist, read it. I guarantee you will enjoy it. You can get a digital download for £1.99 from Amazon.

The birth of a web-journal

The last several posts have been a serious distraction from the real business of cycling……but life is like that, a motley palette of hundreds of different hues and colours, which take you along “the roads less travelled” in life and invite you along diversions to witness eyeball-popping surprises around many corners.

I began this blog two years ago, swept along by the inspiration of a major trans-continental cycle ride, following the ancient pilgrimage route from Canterbury to Rome. It has since morphed into a web-journal,  much broader than the original cycling-specific musings of the first few months, and with a title as generic as Serendipities of Life, it has given me the space to wander freely along the roads less travelled, and dip in and out of a variety of ponds of inspiration, even ‘skid off ‘ the corridor-like roads through life and explore what lies  in the fields and hills behind the tall hedgerows.

Endless forests of Les Landes

When I cycled through the endless forests of Les Landes (France) last year, I spent three whole days understanding the true meaning of “not seeing the wood for the trees”. Our day-to-day routines are a bit like that; they become the tall impenetrable forests that block off the panoramic views of life. After three days of continuous forest riding, I began to feel something akin to ‘cabin-fever’. If I had kept this web-journal to cycling-specific topics, within a

Where the wood became the view!

few months I would have experienced some kind of early-onset cyberspace claustrophobia, and writer’s block would have been an inevitable symptom.

The delight I now have is that people visit these web-pages from a huge variety of backgrounds. Many are cyclists, of course, but perhaps the majority have other interests in mind: book-lovers, aspiring authors, travel enthusiasts, historians, geographers……..a whole variety of people who use a search engine seeking information about some topic. Visitors to the site are predominantly English-speaking (from the UK and USA), but there has been a surprising number visitors from several countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. My knowledge of world geography has expanded proportionately!

People have contacted me to help them in their search for lost relatives. Aspiring authors have seen that I do book-reviews and have offered to send a copy of their latest opus. I’ve had offers of accommodation and meals on some of my cycle journeys. I have shared experiences with like-minded cyclists on a whole variety of topics. And I have appreciated the kind comments and advice about taking my writing to a different level, perhaps becoming a published author.

If you have been a frequent or occasional visitor, thank you for your support. Readership keeps writers writing.

And so to Santiago de Compostela

Rainbow over Ribadeo

After a stop-over in Ribadeo, a ‘frontier’ town between Asturias and Galicia, we arrived in Ferrol, the end of the line for the FEVE narrow gauge train. We had completed the journey in 5 sections, but to do it as a continuous journey (not recommended) it would take about 14 hours from Bilbao to Ferrol. Jenny was mesmerised throughout by the views on both sides of the train. I lazily read newspapers keeping half an eye on the changing scenery, jumping out of my seat from time to time to grab a photo. The FEVE is a beautiful, gentle way to travel the north coast, so long as you are not in a hurry!

I have been to Santiago de Compostela many times before, twice as a cycling

One of the 250 FEVE stations!

pilgrim. For Jenny it was 30 years since her last visit, a time before the re-inauguration of the Camino, and when there was only a relative trickle of pilgrims arriving at this ancient medieval city. Today, hundreds of thousands walk, cycle or horse-ride their way to Santiago, and many millions more come by other forms of transport. It is a huge, and growing, business, and the Compostelanos are well organised ‘y sacan máximo provecho de tanto turismo’.

View from our hotel window

You can spend hours on the Plaza del Obradoiro (in front of the Cathedral) and be entertained by the stream of pilgrims arriving in a constant procession. Even in early October, there are over 1000 pilgrims arriving daily from the Camino. After they have collected their Compostela (certificate of completion) many will go to the Pilgrim Mass at noon in the Cathedral, the principle attraction being the swinging of the huge censer (botafumeiro) after the service. If you like the smell of incense, this is the place to be. If you enjoy unusual spectacles, this is one of the most unusual, and it has its

The famous censer (botafumeiro)

origins in the deep medieval past. Whatever spiritual or religious significance you care to attach to the use of incense, an important function was its ability to mask the appalling smell of thousands of pilgrims in medieval times. Remember, these people had spent many months on the Camino, and they would arrive unwashed, lice- infested and carrying an untold number of infectious diseases. Incense may not have been the cure, but it raised the senses to higher things!

When we opened the curtains of our hotel room, we were left speechless. I normally manage to book rooms overlooking car parks or noisy city streets, but this time we were able to feast our eyes on the soaring spires of the Cathedral, and when the moon was up and the illumination on, the sight was magical. For your information, it was the Hotel Pombal.

After a couple of nights in Santiago, we left to stay with some friends in deepest rural Galicia, who have thrown all caution to the wind and taken on the all-consuming project of restoring an ancient Galician farmhouse. Read on…………

Sunset over Santiago

Guess which is Jenny……..!

…with the rising moon

“By the rising of the moon”, from our window…..

A happy band of cycling pilgrims

Hey, you down there…..!

A bad day out hunting is better than a good day at work!

Don’t tidy or clean this room. I like it as it is.

Santillana del Mar

…..ni santa, ni llana, ni del mar (neither holy,  flat or by the sea). When I asked a local why it was called “del mar”, he told me there are two Santillanas: one further inland, and the other nearer the sea. It may not be on the coast, but it may mean your post is delivered to the correct place.

Santillana del Mar: the whole town is a museum! The ‘casco histórico’ (historic centre) is utterly stunning, and mostly dating from the 16th century. Some would say it is too stunning, making it a typical ‘honey pot’ tourist attraction, guaranteeing that between 10am-6pm the place is crawling with day visitors. The coaches arrive mid morning, everybody stays for lunch (which in Spain is about 3pm), then everybody departs, leaving the place empty in the evening. If you have ever been to Venice, you will know precisely what I mean.

There is a clear message here: go to Santillana to stay the night, and enjoy the place in the peacefulness of the evening or the early morning. Our visit was made very special by our hotel, a ‘Casona Solar’, a large ancestral house built in the 16th century with its own coat of arms. Our room was enormous, our balcony looked out directly onto the street, and most of the furniture was heavy oak. We couldn’t believe this only cost us £26 for the night!

Amongst many things, Santillana is famous for its ‘sobao con leche’ (sponge cake with a glass of milk). Many years ago the BBC had made a short film about a family business, that owned a big ancestral house, selling ‘sobao y leche‘. Nothing special about it, just that it formed part of a Spanish language programme about 25 years ago. We entered the said shop and reminded the elderly owner about this film, and his face lit up. It was probably many years since anyone had mentioned the long-forgotten piece of filming, and he entertained us to several minutes of reminiscences. We had instantly become his ‘amigos íntimos’.

Santillana del Mar is a jewel in the crown of Cantabria. Go and see it!

Typical roof drainage!

Oak cabinet: note -treading grapes on the right and drinking the results on the left!

Nappies and politicians need to be changed often….and for the same reasons!

My wife is for sale…..excellent condition, original owner, documentation up to date…..Conditions of sale: no returns accepted!

Haarlem: bicycles everywhere!

En route to Oslo, our cruise ship docked at Ijmuiden in Holland, providing passengers with an opportunity to visit Amsterdam (some 35 kms away). Taking the road less travelled, we hopped on a local bus which took us to the nearby town of Haarlem, a miniature version of Amsterdam (but without the red-light district!). In fact, not only did Haarlem in Holland give its name to the much more famous Harlem in the USA, but New York itself was originally called New Amsterdam, reflecting the scale of Dutch migration in the 17th century.

With its pretty cobbled streets, flower-bedecked houses (it lies at the centre of the bulb-growing district), its Grote Markt, canals and bridges, what really stands out to a cycling enthusiast like me is the huge number and variety of bicycles. Holland is a country, par excellence, where the bicycle plays a hugely important role as a means of transportation. Whether you are cycling on your own or taking the children to school, there are bikes to suit all occasions. Whether you need to carry your weekly shop or go to the DIY store for building materials, there is a bicycle for you. The typical Dutch design for bicycles is eminently ‘sensible’: they are designed to be comfortable modes of transport capable of carrying significant loads. Bicycles that we comically call a ‘sit-up-and-beg’ will usually have their origin in Holland.

Tenerife: the enjoyment of pain?

Focus Cayo Carbon

Is it madness, stupidity or both that entices a seemingly sane human being to spend a week pedalling the contours of Tenerife? Now, those of you who have been to Tenerife probably remember the nice cosy things about the island: warmth, sunshine, pleasant sea temperatures, good food and wine, nice drive to the top of the

Relief model of Tenerife

volcano El Teide…….. To appreciate the sinister side, however, you really need to scale the top of El Teide (the highest mountain on Spanish territory) on a pair of wheels.

El Teide 3718m

I mean, how do you explain to normal human beings that some cyclists love to feel gut-wrenching pain? And for it to go on continuously for 4 or 5 hours at a time? To experience ascents that take you into ever-thinning oxygen levels, but the effort required to continue climbing remains the same? Then, when you are looking forward to the 30 mile downhill from 10,000 ft, your whole body freezes with the inactivity of the descent and the wind-chill, and your hands seize up applying the brakes to prevent yourself going into a head-spin over the side of the mountain? When you get to the bottom of the mountain, you are so chilled to the bone (even though it’s 25C at the bottom) that you struggle to dismount from the bike. You go into the nearest café and order a glass of very hot milk spiked with a large shot of brandy. And when you have thawed out……….. well, of course, as to be expected in a masochist, you begin planning your next ascent from a different side of the mountain ;0) Does this make any sense to anyone?

During the quiet week before Christmas, when prices were cheap and the numbers of tourist low, I ‘snuck in’ a week before the onset of the festivities. But instead of laboriously packing one of my own bikes, I decided to hire one from a dealer on the island, which actually cost about the same as freight prices for sports equipment. I had ordered an aluminium-framed road bike (for 90 euros) but ‘sadly’ they had to upgrade me to full carbon for the same price. I said to the German dealer: “What a pain!” and he replied “Are you complaining?”. I said “No, it’s just British humour”, to which he retorted “And my reply was just German humour!”

Above the clouds

(game, set and match to him……..). If you ever hire a bike on Tenerife, I would highly recommend Bike Point in Playa de las Americas.

My week consisted of 6 full days on the bike, nearly 400 miles and over 40,000 feet of climbing. There are very few flat areas on the island, so be warned. Of the 36 hours I spent on the bike, I reckon at least 30 were spent ascending, sometimes continuously for 4-5 hours. Your overall average speed will be low (mine was only 11mph). But whether it is for base training for the coming racing season or simply for the pleasure of scaling the heights, Tenerife is a great place for getting a good dose of ‘winter pain’!

The ubiquitous Red Bull cans

Above Los Gigantes cliffs

Rancho Canario stew: delicious!

The past catches up with me!

The bimonthly Cycle Magazine landed on our doormat last week. This is the principal publication of the Cyclists’ Touring Club (CTC), the largest national organisation in the country representing the interests of cyclists like me. For me, the magazine is compulsive reading; not a magazine that I dip into like a buffet spread, but one that has multiple a la carte dishes that I ‘eat’ my way through methodically, looking forward to the ‘desert and coffee’ at the end. With pen in hand, I underline, circle and make margin notes against things that I need to re-visit when the leisurely read from cover-to-cover is over. Some of the items need some kind of immediate action (eg. the transfer of dates to the diary), others need investigating further (eg product reviews), and others simply merit a second read (especially the well written articles on adventurous expeditions around the world). It took me the best part of a week to meander through the 84 pages until I got to the last section entitled Travellers’ Tales, a section where readers can submit a short, pithy account of some major cycling experience they have recently enjoyed. In this edition, the section was dedicated to the famous and well-travelled LEJOG (Land’s End to John O’Groats), a 1000 mile route that will challenge even the most experienced cyclist.

The first article described the experience of a blind ‘stoker’ riding on the back of a tandem captained by a sighted rider. The second was written by a couple of newly-weds who decided to spend their honeymoon riding from north to south. The third, entitled End to End at 80, was an astonishing account of 80 year old Clive Williams, who had not only completed the distance, but had done so in only two weeks, averaging about 70 miles per day. Then, as I began reading the last account, entitled Riding into retirement, I suddenly had a feeling of deja vu. I read the first few lines, looked at the two small photos, looked for the credits………………. and you could have knocked me over with a feather! I was actually reading about my own End to End ride completed back in July 2008, just a few days after my retirement from teaching. This was an article I had submitted over three years ago, and it was only now seeing the light of day! Is this an example of ‘good things happening to those who wait’?

Budapest compressed

Buda Castle

I like to compare three day city-breaks to compressing large documents into a zip file. The contents of the files remain the same but the memory space occupied on your hard drive is much less. In like manner, the city you fly into for a lightening break maintains its usual size and intrigue, but the space it occupies in your life is compressed into just three days. I think of it as travelling ‘zip-file

The 'blue' Danube

style’. So to do our visit justice, my thoughts should also be compressed into a zip-file. What about text messaging language?

St Stephen's Basilica

Surprisd 2 fnd r hotel wz jst 2 doors frm d Turkish Embassy n a short wlk frm d ‘pink palace’ of d Korean embassy. jst as wel w’r on a fixed-price pkg deal!

Xmas marts fil us 2 d brim w carols, swEt cke n ht mulled wines, n dazzle us W d brite colours of twinkling lyts n gft stalls. Mulld wine is a heady treat wen d temp S below frezn!

On a sunny dy, d Danube realy s blu, Buda Castle rears ^ on its west bnk gazing

Night view of Buda Castle

broodingly ovr @ d remarkabl Parliament bldg on d east.

U cn cruz ^ n dwn d Danube, av evry fizikl ache adressed @ 1of d mne ancient spa baths, or st& n 1dr n d wide opn space of Heroes sq.

Hungary hs suffered a rugged n crippling recent past, bt hs risen frm d ashes of cmnst turmoil w a ;0) on its face. Budapest, I must cnfess, is a CT of supreme finesse n progress.

Christmas market

Market outside St Stephen's Basilica

Making 'chimney cake' - delicious!

Mathias Church

To the home of Motown and automobiles

Mowtown Museum

We mused about visiting some dear friends in Michigan, and calculated the distance from Banff. Little more than an inch on the atlas (I surmised), but Googlemaps shattered our illusions with a more accurate calculation of over 2000 miles, and would require 35 hours of driving (which for us would translate into 4 days, at least). So much for atlases! So the idea of a rental car was quickly ditched, and the services of Delta (aka Air France) were called in. But before I go any further, I have an issue regarding merged companies. Let me share it with you.

When you rely on yourself to do all the research and bookings,

Henry Ford Museum

you have to watch out for companies not masquerading as themselves. Take this as an example: I booked our outward flight to Vancouver with Air Transat, at the airport  Canadian Affair handled our check-in, and

With Olivia, smiling after superb steaks!

we found ourselves flying with Thomson Airways! Given that the deal was struck through Lastminute, I have no idea who I was actually doing business with. For our flight to Detroit, I booked with Delta and Air France made the deduction from our credit card account. So, if you are ever puzzled by a possible fraudulent transaction on your credit card, it may simply be a merged company that hasn’t declared all its credentials.

Dinner-cruise on the Detroit Princess

But our ‘diversion’ to Michigan was a priority for us. Reconnecting with friends from the days when I did a Fulbright teaching exchange back in 2005 was going to be a highlight of the trip. (See Letters from America here). With a very warm welcome from my former hosts, Ed and Libby, we were guaranteed a weekend of many delights and surprises: from the history of Motown music to the buzzing energy of a Motown revue as

After disembarcation, with Ed & Libby

we dinner-cruised along the Detroit River (check out the Prolifics here); from a journey through American history at the Henry Ford Museum to an all-embracing tour of the beautiful laid-back liberal city of Ann Arbour (with our dear friend Olivia, who bravely exchanged jobs with me back in 2005); from a brisk 40 mile cycle ride with Vince (a former semi-professional roadie) along the beautiful Hines Drive to a relaxing dinner with old friends from Stevenson High School. Four days were far too short a time to be with such good people, but they had their work schedules, and we, on the other hand, well………………what can I say? Retirement is, indeed, a privileged status.

Next stop Washington……………but how to get there? Believing we are never too old for such things, we took the

After the ride with Vince

plunge and booked overnight tickets on the Greyhound Bus, despite the looks of astonishment and words of caution coming from various quarters. That’s the “peoples’ transport” we were told, and a New Zealand couple gave us the worrying details of an experience they had had a few years back. The outcome was, to our relief, far better than our expectations. In fact, one of the coaches was evidently new, air-conditioned, with wifi and leather reclining seats. What more could you expect for $49? And it meant that we entered Washington DC as the dawn was breaking…………

Rosa Park's bus

Jenny & Libby occupying the disputed seats.

Convivial meal with old friends

View of Detroit from river cruise

The controversial Joe Louis fist

The Great Divide: continental apex

The Everyman’s route into the Canadian Rockies has to be with Via Rail, Canada’s transcontinental rail service which takes four days to reach Toronto from Vancouver. And for our 20 hour journey, we certainly travelled “Everyman-style”, with recliners for sleeping and a $10 pack of blanket, eye-shades and earplugs to ease our way through the night. But the dawn brought stunning views of our traverse into the mountains, and breakfast in the dining car could have been scripted in by Agatha Christie herself! Beyond the magnificent scenery, the easy encounter with fellow passengers was particularly memorable: cattle farmers from Edmonton, Brazilians from Sao Paulo, New Zealanders from Wellington, Vietnamese, and a couple from Vancouver Island whose 41 year old son is the oldest surviving cystic fibrosis sufferer in Canada.

Jasper and Banff are both towns that had their origins as fur-trading posts, but with the advent of the railway they gradually became hot spots for tourists, both winter and summer.  They are a convenient gateway into the awe-inspiring National Parks that festoon this part of Canada. When it was time to transfer from Jasper to Banff, we took a tourist coach along the Icefields Parkway, which runs by the Athabasca Falls and Glacier. What had been a heavy rain shower in Jasper the previous

Evidence of glacier retreat

evening (Sept 19th) turned out to be 4 inches of  snow on the Parkway. And we were the first to make our footprints on the virgin snow! How cool is that?

Having experienced the Continental Divide in Costa Rica many years ago, I was looking forward to crossing it again, but this time several degrees of latitude further north. What I didn’t appreciate was the confluence of two Divides, that sends the mountain waters in any of four different directions. Here the Great Divide converges with the Laurentian Divide, and is the only known place on earth where two oceanic divides coincide, and where the waters from a single point area feed into three different oceans.

Black bears

Scientists call this the “hydrological apex of North America”. Simply fascinating.

Some people you encounter will be remembered for years to come. Like the couple we met on the coach who were from New Jersey. We shared a lot of conversation over a wide variety of topics, but as we said goodbye at the end of the tour, he said to us: “Thank you for being teachers of our children. You never know when their lights are going to be switched on”. That comment left me pondering a number of things. Did he, for instance, have the vision of teachers all over the world having an impact on global education, including his own children? Or was he just being kindly appreciative?

A young couple from France certainly left an impact on us, as we

Regine & Greg

meandered along a riverside walk outside of Banff. Regine and Greg were riding a semi-recumbent tandem (she on the front recumbent, and he on the back as the steersman) fully laden with camping equipment. When I caught the words “Around the world” on the back, I shouted “Are you?” and the unsurprising answer was “Yes”! They stopped and we chatted about their 3 year trip around the world that will take them down the length of the Americas to Chile, then over to Australasia and finally through Asia on their way back home. And we met them in a wood, on a dirt track, as they were looking for a place to picnic………… And, by the way, their little mascot beaver on the front is called Hugo. You can follow their blog by clicking here. But be prepared to practise your French!

Hugo

Regine & Greg

Taking me, taking you!

A pika

Being entertained by a riverside guitarist.

Beware of the bull elk in the rutting season!

The famous Lake Louise

Our Banff tandem

Vancouver: city of reflections past and present

The 12 hour flight to Vancouver, through 8 time zones, is like having an injection of lethargy that guarantees your body clock will be out of sync for a few days. By late afternoon your brain is telling you it’s the middle of the night, so you begin to nod off on the bus or skytrain as you head back to the hotel, wondering why your body refuses to respond to your commands.

Vancouver is a city of glass-plated skyscrapers, each reflecting the other as the sun moves round the sky. People abseil from the tops of 60 storey buildings, they have park sculptures that appear to be engaged in raucous joke-telling, and the locals have been criticised for wearing too much casual yoga gear (what is the world coming to?). The wonderfully named sports retailer Lululemon seems to be Vancouver’s biggest purveyor of such garments.

It’s here in the west of Canada, whose europeanization only really began during the murderous years of the gold rush, that they call their indigenous people (with 16,000 years of residency in the area) the First Nations. At least by their name they are given some recognition of priority.

It is in Vancouver that they call a tandem a ‘double bike‘ and they think nordic walking poles are walking sticks used by the elderly! When Jenny climbed on a bus with her poles, the driver was heard to shout the whole length of the vehicle “The lady with the pink backpack needs a seat!”. Jenny could either protest or accept the seat. What’s the point of protesting……?

You can get yourself a $7 travel ticket and enjoy spending the day  riding the skytrain, the buses and the waterbus over to North Vancouver. Or you can walk along Coal Harbour admiring the view of Canada Place (which looks like a sailing ship) or the distant mountains, or even the comings and goings of the ubiquitous float-planes that share the same busy stretch of water as huge tankers and passenger ferries. Or be a bit more energetic and rent yourselves a ‘double-bike’ and take a spin around Stanley Park, and discover something of the history of totems (a kind of ‘coat of arms’ of the indigenous Indians), or the statue of the remarkable Harry Winston Jerome, who set a new world record in

Harry Winston Jerome

1966 for the 100 yards (yes, do you remember those old imperial measurements………they are still alive and well on the American continent!).  Or take a stroll around Gastown (the historic centre of Vancouver) and chance upon a clock that actually runs on steam (believe me)!

And before you leave the city you may discover (as we did) that Vancouver was the birthplace of Green Peace in 1971, and we caught them as they were celebrating their 40th birthday. Which left me wondering what special ingredients in this city of reflections triggered such an internationally important protest movement.

Chinatown

Steam Clock

Abseiling down a skyscraper!

Greenpeace being interviewed for TV

Canada Place: cruise ship terminal

Tickets to ride

Being retired teachers, we have spent many summers contemplating the arrival of September, and the return to classes,  with a certain unease. Of late, however, as students and teachers are reluctantly dragging their heels, as they head for their first meetings and classes of the autumn term, we mysteriously find ourselves holding plane tickets, with bags ready packed in the hope that the last vestiges of summer will linger a little longer in the places we might visit. I spent many hours this last summer piecing together the complex jigsaw of an adventure trip across the American continent, starting in Vancouver and ending up in the city which bears the historical tag of being the cradle of the europeanization of the Americas, namely Boston. The journey was to last a month in total, and we were to make extensive use of most of the available means of public transport to get us from one side of the continent to the other. And although this was not intended to be a cycling holiday per se, we did rent tandems and solo bikes in many of the cities we visited, giving a measure of speed and flexibility as we toured the sights.

The following posts are not intended to be a monotonous catalogue of places, events and activities in the usual travelogue style, but rather reflections of a personal nature about people, places and idiosyncrasies that either moved us or simply caught our attention. The journey was a venture that had absolutely no input from any travel agent other than me. Everything I researched, planned and booked had few ABTA and ATOL guarantees, and certainly no travel companies that we could complain to if anything went wrong. So as we headed for Gatwick airport on September 12th for 30 days of travel, Jenny could detect a hint of nervousness on my part as I fingered through the file of documentation,  doing a last check that all was in place. And the final result?……….. Well that would be giving away the punchline before the story has been told. So read on as the posts evolve!

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