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On the road . July 2008 . South Korea and Canada

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Kim's Guesthouse [website] Seoul, Korea, 14-07-08
This has to take the gradient cake

Sinlim to Seoul (7 cycle days; 1 rest day; 574km; 6373m)
Sinlim to near Seoseok (94 km; 981 m)
near Seoseok to Seorakdong (65 km; 1257 m)
Seorakdong to near Yomi (95 km; 1362 m)
near Yomi to near Woncheon (62 km; 850 m)
near Woncheon to Dongmak (84 km; 1161 m)
Dongmak to Munsan (117 km; 505 m)
Munsan to Seoul (58 km; 257 m)

It's raining as the alarm goes off and like a couple of lazy bums, we just turn over in our sleeping bags. By 8.30am it has nearly stopped, though mist covers everything in sight. Not too promising, but we take off anyway. It's hot and sticky and we are immediately going up to the top of a small pass. A coffee vending machine is conveniently waiting for us to put our money in the slot at the top and we recuperate over a delicious cup of strong milk coffee. A curious shop owner comes out to chat. He speaks pretty good English and after finding out about what the dickens we are doing on bikes in Korea, he bids us farewell with "Take Care". We drop just about all the altimeters we had just clocked up getting into Wonju, which is a decent sized city. There's a great bike path along the river that we could have followed, but it's difficult to read the street signs from such a low vantage point. We stick to the road instead.

The day is pretty much like any other cycling day and we just go up and down, up and down and up and down until all the hills and valleys look pretty much alike to us. At the end, 10 kilometres after Seoseok (94km; 981m), we are exhausted, we can't remember much at all and it takes us both several attempts at decoding the fragments of the day's memories, so I can write something down in my diary. I remember that we get rained upon quite a bit today and Ali breaks yet another spoke, which gets me thinking about how reliant we are on good quality parts and equipment. Sonam Gurung at Dawn Till Dusk in Kathmandu might have done a great job on our bikes in all other respects, but the spokes he used on our new rims are absolute rubbish. Furthermore, the guys at Probike in Bangkok should be absolutely ashamed of themselves for charging us for a job they didn't bother to complete satisfactorily.

And as I fall asleep to the hum of the electricity mast just above us and the frogs croaking in the pitter patter rain, there's another thing that makes me wonder what's actually going on these days. The wheels that were on my bike up until Nepal, came from another bicycle that was stolen from me. Yep, the sods left just the wheels behind, and took the frame. They were still in good nick, so when I bought my Sunn Vertik, I got a decent discount for just buying it minus it's wheels. Anyway, no-one told me then that I needed to tighten the spokes after 1000km's and I didn't get a broken spoke until 12 years and very many kilometres in all sorts of terrain later. For that matter, neither did Ali's Ridgeback either: so what is all this technical mumbo jumbo about. As far as I'm concerned, it needs to be done correctly in the first place and then you won't need to do any adjustments or replace any spokes (within reason) for a long time.

Following day and I'm pedalling up a gradual incline, hoping my thighs will soon stop aching. Warming up on the flat is okay, but it's hard to find your rhythm on any gradient first thing in the morning. It's 8.45am. By 9.15am, things are feeling a little more comfortable and then, we hit some of the steepest climbs we have had in our trip to date. It's rural all around us but dotted with way too many military camps for my liking. The traffic is next to nothing, which together with the nose-dive descents is about the only plus point of our whole journey.

Today, I get off and push on three occasions. The first is a gradient of 16% that turns my legs to jelly and I just stop, mid turn of the wheels. There's no way I'll get back on a loaded bike at this incline, so I have no other option than to push until the road levels off a bit. An hour or so later, I encounter 20% on a switchback, which is way past my limit. My heart is racing, my legs are shaking and a few flashes of white momentarily block my view. Definitely time to take a breather and come to terms with not being 25 years of age anymore. Of course Ali, alias Superman, manages it, but what else would you expect from him?

The day continues in the same vain and as we close in on Seoraksan National Park, we still have the daunting feeling that we have a pass of 920 odd metres ahead of us. We are at about 450 altimetres when there is still 10 kilometres to go and surprisingly enough it's a comfortable ride up. The road conditions they save up for the last 3½ kilometres though are sheer climbing hell. The lowest inclines are 10%, so this is the other moment of the day, when I get out of the toe grips and push. I watch Ali just manage to keep himself upright on his bike by zigzagging across the road: at times it looks as if he's almost stationary. After battling for the good part of an hour with these absurd road conditions, we reach a peak and elatedly throw on our jackets for the downhill plunder to the campsite. The Hangyeryeong Pass (920m) is unfortunately a kilometre further on and we have to sweat just that little bit more. Thank goodness it's not as steep here. After 16% for several hundred metres at a time, 8% is a breeze and 4% almost seems like you are going downhill.

We eventually do plummet downhill and arrive at the Rangers Office, Jangsudae (65km; 1257m) very eager to find the campsite, only to be told that it doesn't exist:
Ali points to the map on the wall.:
"But it's shown here on your map. See camp site..."
"Campsite No"
"What do you mean, Campsite No?"
"Campsite No"
"What happened to it? It can't just disappear?"
Ali gets handed a mobile phone with someone who speaks English.
"There is no campsite, because three years ago it was washed away"
"How long ago did you say?"
"Three years ago"
" Well you had better change your brochures and website then, because they clearly have campsites marked on them and as a consequence we are here now and we need to find a campsite"
" Well you can't camp here, you'll have to go to another campsite"

I can't quite describe the way I feel except you could probably liken it to finishing a marathon and just as you are ready to pop the cork on the champagne bottle and shake it all over everyone, an official comes up to you and says. "Uhh ummm, sorry mam, but we made a little mistake when measuring the course: you have to run around the stadium just one more time". Well, I am in no mood to run around any blinkin' stadium. I'm tired, exhausted, hungry and extremely temperamental and so when I see one of the campsite officials walk outside, shaking his head, mumbling "campsite" laughing at us and then sitting down to continue sucking on his ice cream, I totally flip. I can't really remember exactly what I say, but something along the lines of " I have been cycling up and down these hills for 10 hours (which is a slight exaggeration on my part, but it truly felt like it) to get to your campsite which is clearly marked on all your brochures and even your office map and I am going to camp here whether you like it or not!"

Ali remains calm and tries to explain to me that we need to cycle a further 20kms. Apparently, it is downhill for ten kilometres and then flat for the next ten. It doesn't seem that much extra to do, but the tears just come out anyway. I really don't have any control over them at all. Neither do I have much control over the legs attached to my body at this point in time and they are saying "STOP!"

Probably due to my fuss and all, they take pity on us and offer to drive us to their campsite at Baekdam, also marked on their map, on their website and brochure. At first I feel a bit guilty about accepting a lift for what they have described as easy cycling, but when I see what we would have had to cover, I don't feel quite so bad. They are right about the downhill bit, but the flat part they mention is possibly flat from a drivers perspective, but from the saddle point of view, it is not. Furthermore, there is no campsite here either and the ranger tries to dump us off at some depressingly deserted caravan park that reminds us of some of the dives we experienced in Italy and Spain in the middle of winter. We wind up at the Rangers office in this district and Ali gets the same guy on the phone.
"But we thought that you just wanted any campsite"
"No, we want to camp in the National Park"
"Yes, but we have no campsite in Baekdam"
"Well, it is on your map and brochure and website"
"Yes, but we only have a campground at Seorakdong"

As you have probably guessed by now, we end up at Seorakdong Campground complete with a very apologetic welcoming committee, including the self professed "Law Enforcement Ranger", who actually turns out to be the guy Ali spoke to on the phone. He does say sorry, but also argues that we didn't get our information from their official site, which is absolute bullocks and surprise, surprise: when Ali checks their website the following day, the details have been changed. He also wavers the camping fees for the length of our stay which is a lovely gesture, but he exaggerates the cost to being KRW 8000 per person per night. Unfortunately, he is trying to impress the wrong guys, cause we know that the price is determined on the tent size and when the collector comes around the next morning, I catch a glimpse of his ticket book and this is confirmed . As of July 1, the prices have gone up KRW500 to 3500, 5000 or 7000 something for a small, medium or large tent respectively.

Two nights is enough in a rather touristy campsite, complete with it's regulars, who think they own the place. It has pretty good facilities, convenience store, cold communal showers, toilets, wash-up area and had we received payment for each minute someone stared at us, we would also be millionaires by now. We decide to push on to Seoul as quickly as possible seeing as we had not planned to be here and now an extra cycling day and a massive pass has been added to our route. The morning we leave, the sun is in firery form at the crack of dawn and results in us exiting the tent well before the 6.30am alarm. If the sun hadn't done it, the guy, who thought it was fine to start hammering his tent pegs in, just a few metres from our tent at 6am would have.

We skirt round the neighbouring city of Sokcho, which I never set foot in. Ali visited yesterday and according to him, I haven't missed out on much. Apparently, it is entirely made up of long lines of gourmet shops and resorts. The road then winds past Bean Flower Village with Miss Soya Bean smiling sweetly with her thumb in the air; Good Restaurant; and Displacement Persons Cultural Village. I speculate about what displaced persons actually might get up to in such a place, but my thoughts have soon digressed to the 36 °C sun beating down on me, the sweat dripping in my eyes and my burning leg muscles. Misiryeong Pass (767m) is always clearly in view as we traverse 600 altimetres in 8 kilometres: that's an average of 8% and man, oh man that's hard work at anytime of day in any type of weather conditions! The fact that we have headwinds for the entire length is a minor detail. The fact that Ali actually gets blown to a standstill is not.

Naturally the descent is equally steep, but this time we have the pleasure of floating down it. At the bottom, we discover that there is a campground in Baekdam after all. We had missed the sign, when driving past a few days prior, but really there is no excuse for the National Park Organisation not knowing where all the sites are in and around their region. The stretch of highway from here on in and right up until we turn off into Wongtong is incredibly busy with impatient tourists, buses and trucks. It is one lane wide and pretty scary stuff in parts, but as soon as we take the side road we are back into quieter pastures. We stop for supplies and for Ali to check whether his credit card payment has gone through. (Yes, this saga lasts as long as this!) It hasn't as yet and he needs to phone back after 5.00pm. These people sitting in their offices don't quite get it when you tell them a million times that you are on the road and in the middle of nowhere.

Anyway, there's still quite a bit of climbing and falling to do and a few tunnels to venture through before we find a very sandy spot near Yomi (95km; 1362m). A stone doormat is built to try and decrease the amount of sand we'll carry into the tent and actually does the trick quite nicely. In the township, we had stopped to get a couple of cold beers and a few snacks, as well as ring the travel agent for the last time. Our flights to Canada have finally been confirmed and are paid for. Now that deserves a toast!

Reached my limit
Just like every other day in Korea we sweat and grind our way up a few massive inclines and after reaching the Peace Dam, which is not at all a beautiful tourist spot, we are climbing again. I've had enough. No really. I can't keep up this sort of slog every day. Thinking that I am blaming the route he has chosen, Ali throws the map at me and says "do it yourself then". I explain that it's not the route, because to be honest, any path you choose through Korea will have the same conditions. It's just one mountainous mass. It's just that I can't keep on doing 80 to 100 kilometres with the added 800 to 1000 altimetres each day as well. We have one of those arguments that makes me wonder why I even said anything in the first place and the reason I usually keep my mouth shut.

We both continue on in our own little worlds and before long we have reached the tunnel that looks like a meat freezer inside. Our bad moods have left by now and especially when a very excited young man rushes over to us and gives us each two bananas and a bottle of sports drink. The rest of the trip is easy, helped by the 460m drop in just 7 kilometres. We stop at a service station to fill the fuel bottle up and the owner invites us in for a cup of coffee. He really wants to practice his English, which is pretty valiant of him, since he doesn't speak much at all.

We shop and stop at the police station for information on where we can camp. There is nowhere, but they say we can use the park on the island. The place is full of people and I don't feel like being on display today, so I suggest we go on further. Ali is not impressed but moves on anyway. We spy a small road, running along the lakeside just out of town, and it leads us to a small embankment near Woncheon (62km; 850m) where there is just a big enough "flat spot" for the tent.

Today, we are supposedly going to take it easy, but like all plans, they can be destroyed in a matter of seconds when on the road. They are foiled for several reasons. Firstly, the route we want to take comes to a dead end in the form of military roadblocks. We simply can't enter. On one occasion, we have to travel in a completely different direction and another time we have to turn around and retrace our steps. Secondly, near Goseokjong Pavillion, road workers have decided that it is the perfect day to put in a cement road leading down to the river. Hence, we end up cycling all over the district looking for a spot and quite a number of kilometres and altimetres later there is something suitable on the river near Dongmak (84km; 1161m).

Military Madness
The whole north of South Korea is one big military camp. So, it isn't surprising that you can't get within 10 kilometres of the border. I get quite sick of the sight of it to be honest and am itching to get to Seoul. The whole journey towards Munsan is a constant reminder of military presence. Road blocks, barbed wire, bunkers, army camps. The river is totally out of bounds and we realise after paying a visit to the Freedom Bridge, which by the way is blocked half-way and therefore not really depictive of the true definition of freedom, that we'll have to take a motel room tonight. Either that or risk being shot. Forking out just KRW25,000 in the heart of Munsan (117km; 505m) is really no price to pay for the peace of mind. So, it's pot noodles and coleslaw for dinner, a real bed and a hot shower after a bit of television and couple of episodes of My Name is Earl: a very silly American soap that has entertained us pretty well since Tokyo.

In the heart of Seoul
Getting into Seoul (58km; 257m) is easy. Wide laned highways with very little traffic lead us directly to Nanji camping. Well, Ali's brilliant navigational skills had something to do with it as well. The camping area was constructed to cater for the hoards of visitors arriving for the 2002 World Cup Football. But, besides being booked out except for tonight, they have no trees and expect us to set up a tent on a designated mound of dirt in the boiling sun. And for this privilege you pay KRW15,000. No thank you!

So, we decide to head into the heart of the city and find a motel or guesthouse. The cheapest motels are around the KRW40,000 mark and guesthouses are roughly the same price. In a guesthouse though, you have the added bonus of having a washing machine and a kitchen at your disposal. We end up in Kim's Guesthouse which is okay for the few days we are here. There's quite a bit to be organised and time seems to totally get away from us. We don't really do any sightseeing, except for wander around areas where you can purchase, zippers for our tent, bags for the plane flight and a few electronic goodies. There is literally an area for everything and on one very rainy day, we land ourselves in one of the most extensive electronic markets we have ever seen. Beats Tokyo hands down. Consequently, we depart this maze quite a few hundred dollars later and a portable hard disk, travel adapter, recharger and rechargeable batteries heavier. So if you are in Seoul and want to buy any equipment, then just head out to Yongsan Station on Line 1 and follow the signs to the Electronic Market.

Canada West RV Park [website] Revelstoke, Canada, 14-08-08
A weight off our minds

It's time for another clean-out and a large parcel weighting nearly 4.7kg is posted to my parents in Oz. Inside are numerous items and gadgets that we just don't use enough to warrant traipsing them around with us anymore. Among these, is the solar panel, inverter and numerous cords associated with it's use. We had already left the lead-acid battery behind in a small village on our way to Seoul, leaving Ali at least three kilograms lighter. The amount of energy you got out of it was minimal for the amount it weighed and while the panel worked well in the sun and when it was stationary, on the road it was pretty much hit and miss. Furthermore, at the end of the day it served mainly as our light source. And everyone knows there are much better choices of portable lights on the market these days. We have just switched over to head lamps with rechargeable batteries.

Plane Spotting
While studying the route out of town, Ali stumbles upon a camping area close to Incheon Airport at Ulwangli Beach on Yeongjong Island and after a bit of research on internet, it appears that it does actually exist. So we'll head out of Seoul a day before our flight and after camping the night we'll dawdle our way over to the Air Canada departure lounge the following day. Getting out of Seoul and into Incheon is not one of those leisurely pleasant rides, though we do start off along a bike path following the Hanyang River. The cycling culture is in full force here, but it's short lived and before we know it we're out on potholed, dirty streets with way too many heavy vehicles for our liking. We make the 2pm ferry crossing to Yeongjong Island and it should be another hour or so to get to the campsite. It's hot and sticky and the shady park we pass, only 6kms from the airport, is way too inviting for us to bother going any further. Like a few local fishermen, we also set up camp here. (Yeongjong Island: 65km; 141m) There is probably nowhere else in the world that would allow people to camp so close to an airport. We have a perfect view across the delta and while what's left of the afternoon away plane spotting. Personally, I don't quite get the kick that others acquire from this activity. Ali, on the other hand, feels the urge to remind me (rather too excitedly), each time a plane comes in or goes out. I simply remind him that that would be logical. After all, it is an airport.

It pays to stand up for your rights
It is obvious by the colour of the skies, when we wake the next morning, that there is quite a bit of raining on the weather's agenda today. We leave as soon as we are ready and getting to airport is an easy 6 kilometres. Getting the bikes on the plane is whole different story. Luckily, we had done our homework and knew that the Air Canada website clearly states that we do not have to put our bikes in a box: just as long as they are covered in plastic, which they are suppose to supply us with. We do better than that and we spend an hour or so in the departure hall bubble-wrapping them to the hilt. Still, as we get close to check-in we are told that our well-intended work is totally unacceptable. We talk with quite a number of people before we succumb to the fact that we will have to get them boxed. And so, off we traipse to the packaging department, thinking we'll probably be set back around $US10 for each bike. These guys have another figure in mind and I nearly choke at the $US70 they come up with. This is when I refuse point blank to accept full responsibility and especially seeing as we have to fork out a further $US100 on top of this for baggage handling fees. Which brings me to another point: What exactly are we paying 50 bucks each for, when you are not covered against any damage to the bike. So, after running between Air Canada check-in and the packaging company a few times, waiting for a computer printout of the baggage regulations from our airline's web page, which proves my argument that bikes don't have to go in a box, and having numerous conversations with a very strong-willed Mary from the luggage department: the bikes go in boxes, which we pay for, but Air Canada waivers the handling fees. It's a good thing we arrived really early at the airport because this whole process takes 2½ hours, but we end up $US30 dollars richer.

If only we could paddle our bikes across the water
Airports are just awful places. Firstly, we peruse the duty free shops trying to find something to spend our last KRW9000 on: that's about $US9. You would think you could find something for that price, now wouldn't you. Nope nothing. We try the book store. Nope, also nothing . Then we get to thinking, after all this scuttling up and down the airport concourse, that we could go a beer before we board. Wrong again. A small (s)hite beer costs $US3.50 and I'll be darned if I'm forking out 3½ times the normal street value just because I'm forcibly trapped inside this money making enterprise. What about a coffee? Well that's worse: we could just manage 1¾ cups of cappuccino and that hardly seems fair on the one who dips out on the extra mouthful of froth. We give up and just go to the exchange bureau who give us a Canadian five dollar bill and a few thousand Won back in change.

Secondly, you can barely take anything on board with you these days. Of course silly me, I forget to remove my tweezers from my handlebar bag and have to throw them in that big bin full of amazing gadgets. I mean what am I going to do with a pair of tweezers for goodness sake. I bet you I could do more damage with my jar of Tiger Balm, which they don't bat an eyelid at. They would though if I rubbed some of it in their eyes. Oooh nasty stuff!

And then you are finally on the plane and the moment of truth arrives. Are there any screaming kids near you? Is there enough leg space? Is your seat comfortable? Does your in-house movie system work or are you destined to a flight of whacking the screen in an exasperated attempt to see the film of your choice? Have they remembered to order vegetarian food for you? No, Yes, No, Yes...oh dear, No... The cabin crew are all pretty down to earth, very apologetic and they make sure we don't starve. Though, one of the staff members obviously does. Before we've had the chance to get through a second movie, the in-house system is shut down and we are flying past the Coastal Ranges and descending in on Vancouver. Canada looks so neat and organised from up here. It's always exciting to enter another country. Currently our 26th.

Life after Seoul
Vancouver Airport to Vancouver City via Vancouver Island (5 cycle days; 6 rest days; 464km; 3849m)

Vancouver Airport to Victoria (73 km; 267 m)
Victoria to Sombrio (110 km; 1019 m)
Sonbrio to Victoria (108 km; 1002 m)
Victoria to Yellow Point (117 km; 1013 m)
Yellow Point to Vancouver (56 km; 548 m)

After a thorough investigation at immigration, we are granted entry into Canada for 90 days. Well that's what we figure. It doesn't say on the stamp, just our entry date. We also figure that since we have just had a full on interrogation, they'll want to inspect the bikes as well, but instead we just coast through Customs. It's dry and warm outside and fresh air hits our lungs for the first time in almost six months. And I'm not sweating!

There's a bit of a ride around Vancouver and it's impossible to use the tunnel crossing at Fraser River, but we learn from the tourist information that a shuttle bus, especially for cyclists is provided free of charge. Just make sure you don't rock up a little after 1pm, because you'll have just missed the van, the next one isn't until 3 pm and you are in the middle of absolutely no-where! To cut a long journey short, we arrive in Victoria, Vancouver Island (73km; 267m) at 8.30pm on July 16. That's only three hours after we actually lifted off the runway in Korea, but during that time we have flown 10 hours, waited at immigration and baggage collection for almost an hour, ridden 70 odd kilometres on busy highways, taken a shuttle bus across a river and fallen asleep on a 1½ hour ferry ride (CAN$30 total) from Tsawwassen to Sidney on Vancouver Island.

James greets us with bear hugs and one of the biggest smiles you've ever seen. We met him in Istanbul at Mavi Guesthouse over 18 months ago, so it's great to catch up again and we get to meet the St Lawrence Street gang at their best. A party is about to enter full-swing mode:. Marty, one of the guys renting the house has his birthday today. Surprisingly, we hold up pretty well against the hour and the amount of Country and Western music played. We finally drag ourselves to our basement abode and sleep for 12 hours straight. The next day we have breakfast at 5pm and just sloth around for the remainder of the evening planning everything we have do while we are here.

One thing that is really great about summertime in Canada is the amount of sunlight hours. It doesn't get dark until 10pm; shops don't close early either, so you can achieve quite a bit in one day, if you want to. Ali's back wheel needs re-spoking and after a tiring plod from one end of Victoria to another, we finally manage to find a bike shop that'll repair his wheel before Friday next week, which is when we plan to leave. If in Victoria and you are looking for a bike shop, then we can really recommend visiting Jeremy Kumbruch at HK's Bicycleitis (address: 1623 Bay St., Victoria V8R 2B7 Phone (250) 370 2282). If you want to do your own repairs yourself, Victoria has a used-bike collective, where for a nominal fee, you can use their tools and workshop, even get them to help if you like. For more info check out the Recyclistas site. One place to give a miss is North Park Bike Shop. The owner is extremely arrogant and ill-informed in the area of a touring cyclists needs. He would much prefer to sell you new stuff instead of fixing the problem at hand. Later that evening, James confirms that he received the same sort of treatment, when he entered the shop a few months back.

We suggest to James to join us for a short bike trip on the island and we all decide on cycling out to Sombrio Beach for a few days. But, not before washing everything, including the sleeping bags. This is my Marmot goose-down bag's first wash in nearly two years. Oooh, I can see my Mum's face screwing up while reading that. Anyway she'll be pleased to know that it's now fluffy and clean again. A definite minus point when choosing a goose down bag: you need a really good dryer for the cleaning process. But I have to say, they make up for it when it comes to keeping you warm at night. And on that point, I wouldn't trade mine in for anything else.

First Impressions
Since we have spent around 18 months of the last two years in Asia, one of the biggest transformations in Canada would have to be the language. Apart from getting more mileage out of a conversation and not having to do funny things with your hands and feet all the time, you understand what everyone says. For the best part of a week or so, you find yourself eavesdropping on others chit-chat, just because you can, but the novelty wears off soon enough. Another bonus is you can read the contents of each item in a supermarket, which makes life so much more simpler, especially after a number of months in Japan and Korea, where I would painstakingly, compare characters with other packaging, to try and get an idea of what the container might contain.

Another big difference is the Eco-Bio movement in the supermarkets. It's a pleasant change, though some go to the extent of only offering these products, which means the bill at the end of a day's shopping can almost cause a heart coronary. In general though we both agree that the price of living is high, even when comparing with Europe. Some food items are quite outrageous. For example: a decent loaf of wholesome bread is hard to find for under $4.50; bottom of the barrel cheese comes in at a whopping $20 per kg; 500 grams of cheapo pasta costs $3.30 and a 260g bag of crisps will set you back $3.50 in a general store. Add this to more than $2.00 plus deposit for a 355ml can of beer and camping fees of between $15 and $30 per night and our budget is severely overspent after doing literally nothing that extravagant at all.

James' wild galloping goose chase
The route out to Sombrio Beach follows the Galloping Goose Trail for part of the way: an old railroad turned into a non-motorised recreational track. It is a terrific ride, used by many and kept in really good condition, though the signage and crossing of streets is a bit confusing in parts. When we start off the sun is shining radiantly, but the coolness of the forest growth is enough for even Ali to term the trip: the galloping goose bumps trail. James thinks we are totally nuts.

While James might be used to the cold, it must be said right now that he hasn't got a clue about distances. After 17km he informs us that Sooke is probably 10kms further on. And his friend, Oliver has his house just a few kilometres further on. Here we intend to pick up a tent for James. By the time we all actually reach Sooke, not 10 but 33km's later, we are all happy to warm ourselves in the light of day and eat something. James also misses Oliver's place all together. Must have been on one of those downhill runs. As the hours wheel by and we traverse several agonisingly slow climbs, the day takes a more sombre turn. It turns cold and overcast skies threaten rain, which in our favour only come after we have set up camp later that evening.

Very late afternoon and both Ali and I are getting a bit worried about exactly how far we still need to go. My legs are almost busting when we see the first signpost for Sombrio Beach. It says 26 kilometres to go. What it doesn't say is that we will be climbing literally for the whole distance. Almost to our supposed destination, James remarks that he isn't sure where we are. Perfect opportunity for Ali to stir him up a bit. Which he does of course. Naturally, we make it to Sombrio Beach (110km; 1019m) and once we have skidded and slid down gravel gradients that will give us one massive sweaty workout the day after next, when returning to the highway, we find ourselves pushing the bikes along beautiful rain forest paths tangled with moss covered roots and luscious green fernery. The bay that appears before us is even more beautiful. That is, apart from the mess that several irresponsible party goers have left behind. We'll clean up their broken glass, cans, food packaging and clothing tomorrow. Tonight, all we can think about is eating and sleeping.

Good luck definitely comes in threes or more for James
First stroke of fortune comes in the conveniently abandoned tent left on the beach. Remarkably, the poles are all accounted for as well. So, James doesn't have to brave the drizzle that has set in for the evening after all. That makes us feel better as well. Sleeping in the rain is not a healthy thing to do at all.

After a miserable weather ending to the day, (I have to say spirits are still in fine form), the following dawn is as dazzling as you could imagine with a magnificent show of cloud formations to follow and for the whole day long. Every time I look up and view this stunning piece of coastline before me, it has changed: colours, winds, lights, clouds, waves, shadows, stillness, ambience: Masterful.

Third windfall for James comes in the shape of another surfer, Jon from Whistler, who just so happens to have a second board in the back of his car. Before Jon has finished explaining where the surfboard is, James is nodding his head saying yeah, alright and hurtling up the track towards the carpark. You've never seen anyone move so fast in all your life. He even beats Jon into the water. Ali and I think it's way too cold for swimming, so we just relax and take in the peaceful surroundings.

If the amount of wildlife we have seen in the past few days is any indication of what is in store for us, then we are definitely in for a treat in Canada. In all my naivety, the Orcas rolling in and out of the water star side on the ferry coming over to Vancouver Island, are not the common occurrence I believed them to be. Oops and I didn't take any photo's either ...sorry about that one! But in all honesty, sometimes it is just great to enjoy what you see and keep the picture entirely to yourself, inside your own head. So far though, there have been visits from bald eagles, turkey vultures, other amazing beautiful birds that I don't know the names of, deer, snakes, chipmunks, squirrels, badgers and even a black bear, who scurried so fast back up the hill that I couldn't get a good glimpse of him. The bushes moved enough though, to let me know this was not a small animal. Being one of my phobias, it was reassuring to know that he was more scared of me than me of him. least I think that is the case!

I reluctantly push my bike back up the hill and I say reluctantly, not due to the hard work, but because I find it sad to leave such a gorgeous spot so soon. I could sit here for a week, no problems at all. Ali, however, would probably want to leave earlier than that. One of our absolute differences that has really come to light while travelling. Still, there are more things to organise before we leave on Friday, James has a bus ticket booked for Calgary, Wednesday evening and we find out, quite unexpectedly as we round St Lawrence Street, Victoria (108km; 1002m), that there is another party to contend with. This time it's Anthony's birthday. Damned that partying: it just never seems to stop with these boys.

Oh well another goodbye...
Goodbyes are always hard at the best of times, but especially when you meet a bunch of relaxed, really down to earth and genuinely generous young guys. We certainly won't forget Victoria that quickly and we will often say in weeks to come, that we should have just hung around there and taken short trips out and around the island. So, here's to the toasty warm boys....who got out of bed so early in the morning to see us off, hence the nickname. Didn't get to hug Marty, but gather he's also just as cuddly first thing in the morning. Thanks for everything guys:-)

Our journey starts back where we turned off the Galloping Goose trail a few days prior, but this time we head further north. The trail changes name here, to Lochside. It's not a bad journey, though not quite as scenic as the other direction. We arrive at Brentwood Bay late morning, after so many ups and downs and bends in the road that I'm quite confused as to what direction I am now facing. We are ferried across to Mill Bay for $5.75 each, inclusive of a very vibrant conversation with a couple of locals about the ins and outs of Vancouver Island. The price of real estate through to the homeless situation are just some of the topics covered in the short 30 minute trip. Needless to say, no solutions are found for any of the problems.

From here on in, we take the coastal route towards Ladysmith, and further adding to the confusion of the day, we pass through some very sad reservation areas. Beaten-up weather board housing the size of castles left to rot; rubbish strewn from one end of the field to the other; dumped cars, abandoned machinery, refrigerators and all this just mess before a major conglomerate of churches. All different denominations; all next to one another; all in one little town; all very strange indeed. The housing gradually becomes posher and posher as we move on and then the town suddenly stops.

Our next sign of real life is the tourist town of Chemainus, which kind of blossoms out of no-where and is snuggled in between the mountain range on the left of us and the ocean on the other side. It is quite the bustling place as we arrive and the murals that make this town famous are pretty special. Time is not on our side and we just ride through. For an online tour of the murals take a look at this North-Cowichan site.

We reach Ladysmith after a short but horrible highway experience; busy, busy, busy; dirty shoulders with every form of car and truck debris as obstacle course and when we arrive in the town we are told we need to turn around and go back 6 kms to Campers Corner. We get there and it is full, at least that is what she says, along with: "5 kilometres down the highway, you'll find another place with great tenting sites". If only that where true. Firstly the place she suggests is a major RV site and not our scene at all and secondly, it is close to 15 kms down the track. We opt for the Yellow Point turnoff, where several campsites are available. The two places we see are side by side and we choose Maiden's Cove, only because of the name. Yellow Point (117km; 1013m) It's $22/ night for a patch of grass and a picnic table. Only porta-loo facilities available, you have to pay for hot water and they don't take garbage. We'll see about that last point!

Cities of sadness
The following day, we follow the smallest roads possible, into Nanaimo, which has to be one of the ugliest places I have ever seen in my life. Besides the desperation vibe oozing out from the reservation area that we cycle past a few kilometres before the centre, the number of cases of complete and utter hopelessness wandering, no I should say staggering, along the streets that follow, is so very depressing. And all this, well before midday. Enough to make your stomach turn.

My mood picks up somewhat after a Starbucks Grande Latte, just before boarding the ferry for another 1½ hour trip to Vancouver. ($30.30 in total). Upon arriving, Wayne grabs us by the handlebars and leads us along Marine Drive, which we thank him very much for. Getting to Lionsgate Bridge without having to cross or cycle on a major highway is a definite bonus. From the bridge you enter Stanley Park and it's a pretty easy run into the city. Big wide lanes and plenty of traffic lights to keep everyone under control.

Before we phone Shannon, we need to find a book shop for a decent map of British Colombia and I have to swap my thermarest over at Valhalla Pure Camping Store. We decide the best option is to enquire first at the information center, but they are about as useful as throwing a drowning man both ends of the rope.

Shannon meets up with us an hour or so later and we all head back to her apartment close to Commercial Drive (Vancouver: 56km; 548m). After a meal in a groovy vegetarian cafe, of which there are so many to choose from, we take a wander around the town and of course East Hastings is on the list of places to see: The area is infamous for being the local drug-addicts hangout spot. I am not so sure what to expect, but as we move in on their territory, the smell of urine gets stronger and the number of solo chicken dances increases. I have never seen so many shopping trolleys used as homes before in my life. If they collected them all up together they could start their own supermarket. Jokes aside, it is a pretty sad thing that a country as affluent as Canada has a problem like this. There are ways of cleaning up and educating most of these people. They only need to look at Switzerland and The Netherlands as two examples of places where programs have helped these guys out. While there is never a 100% full-proof solution, sending the culprits with one-way tickets to Victoria, as the government is now doing, is not going to solve the problem, only shift it and spoil another city. But yes, of course, the winter olympics in 2010 are in Vancouver and not Victoria.

On the way back home, we stop off at a trendy pub fitted out with an eclectic range of second-hand lounge chairs, tables and lamps. Lincoln, a partner in bicycles, just so happens to be sitting in one of the lounge chairs. We get talking and of course end up at his shop the next day, getting some stuff fixed and buying some more. Though they are more into building custom bikes, the spare parts they have are good and I'm sure if you say you got the address from our site he'll give you a discount. Ask for Lincoln though. Anyway, that evening, he reassures me that all I have to do, should I have a close-up bear encounter, is to sing to it. I asked him if an Ella Fitzgerald song would be a good choice or not?

Vancouver was loads of fun: we ate at some amazingly great cafes; drank at a few groovy bars; Shannon spoilt us absolutely rotten; Jill gave up her double bed for us to sleep on; I got to use tonnes of delicious smelling Lush products (both girls work for the company). But before too long, it is time to move on. The plan is this: follow the Kettle Valley Railway Trail for as far as Kelowna; head eastwards to Upper Arrow Head Lake and then north to Revelstoke; continue on up and across to Banff; and then drop back down to Nelson. Well that is the plan anyway.

A bear minimum for what you pay
Vancouver to Hope (2 cycle days; 185 km; 1061 m)
Vancouver to Cultus Lake (114 km; 757 m)
Cultus Lake to Hope (71 km; 304 m)

The trip out of Vancouver is one of those never-ending sluggish, mind-draining hauls that takes you along traffic laden highway after highway, past ugly outer suburbs of unkempt apartment blocks bungalows and concrete. The fact that it rains for the first few hours also adds to the misery. We enter and leave townships called Barnaby, Murrayville, Aldergrove and Abbotsford. All, much of a muchness really. Nothing distinct, nothing to write home to the folks about. After Layley, the traffic dies down a little and we have turned onto the Fraser Highway, which we follow for almost the rest of the journey.

We get as close as 3 kilometres to the US border before heading eastwards on a service road that runs parallel with the highway. Another side road leads us away from the drone of traffic and into fields of corn and turf. It wouldn't be too ridiculous to think you were back in Holland here, with two out of the three letter boxes brandishing surnames like Van der Meulen, Kerkhof and Neels. The farmyards are neat and tidy, it is lusciously green and a total contrast to the past few hours of cycling. We wind around the country lanes which lead us directly to Vedders Crossing, where we pick up supplies. A few kilometres back-track takes us to the Cultus Lake (114km; 757m) turnoff and several BC Parks with camping facilities.

We arrive at the park entrance only to be shattered with disappointment by "campground full" signs hung before each of the three camping sites in the area. We stay in line anyway, figuring that they must have a spot for a small tent and a couple of very tired cyclists. Turns out the signs are not at all true. There's ample space, just BC Parks way of controlling the pending long weekend camping hysteria that is about to hit British Columbia in a big way.

It costs a whopping $24 a night for a patch of gravel, a firepit and picnic table. You get given a map and a pamphlet full of do's and don'ts, creating an atmosphere more like a prison camp than a recreational park. Only solace is the hot shower and a large rubbish bin; but no food caches in sight. I find this a little worrying when a sign hanging on the amenities block clearly states "Use Caution, Bear in Area".

When the ranger comes by, we flag her down. I'm a little shocked when a girl of barely 20 years of age gets out. I ask where we should keep our food. She replies:You'll have to keep it on you, we don't supply food caches here. I mention the bear warning at the toilets and all she can say to that is: Well, your bags look pretty scent proof and if it's any consolation, we haven't had any nuisance bears in the area of late. Sorry, but that's all I can do. Well thank you very much for that comforting piece of information regarding the local bear population's personality. I'm beginning to wonder just how relaxing this bike trip is going to be in Canada.

There's hope after all
Next day we return to Vedders Crossing and continue on to the town of Hope and the start of the Kettle Valley Railway Trail. If the Galloping Goose Trail is anything to go by, it will definitely be great to ride free of traffic for a few hundred kilometres. A couple of identical buses pass me on the road out of Cultus Lake and I think to myself: they must be local buses. Nope, they are what the average Canadian family takes with them on holiday and these are nothing compared to what we are about to see from the so-called camping culture this country patriotically harbours.

Even though we use the back roads around Chilliwack and through to Rosedale, we are still run off the road four times today. The stretch through Dutchland is pleasant enough, but there's not that much too see after that. Long and boring stretches along the Lougheed Highway are only relieved by the whoosh of yet another RV or truck and then, it is hang on for dear life, keep upright and don't, what ever you do, cross that little white line, supposedly protecting you from what's coming up from behind.

Skies turn pretty ugly as we head into Hope (71km; 304m). Telte Yet Campsite is on the right just before the town as you come from the south. It's former reserve land turned into a no-frills caravan park. Only costs $13 a night, we can use the wood around the area and it has hot showers, though quite tacky and in need of a face-lift. But it does look as though the guys running the place are fixing it up, little by little.

It's the 31st of July. We have been on the road for exactly two years. With all that we have seen and experienced, laughed and cried about, loved and hated, it seems like a century ago that we handed in our keys to the lady behind the counter at the council office in Arnhem. We didn't know what was in store for us then as we ambled our way along bike paths and across the German border. Twenty six countries later and we are still doing it. It has become a way of life. Sometimes good, sometimes bad, but mostly good. The thing that renews our strength when we get a bit down, is all the correspondence and support we get from fellow travellers and those keeping close contact with us through this site. So to everyone out there reading this: this is for you too, as we raise our green Swedish-army folding cups with cheap Canadian wine: Cheers!

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