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On the road . August 2008 . Canada and the United States (Washington)

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Nelson City Campground, Nelson, Canada, 22-08-08
All aboard the tourist trail

Hope to Penticton (4 cycle days; 1 rest day; 286km; 2378m)
Hope to near Coquihalla Pass (62 km; 1142 m)
near Coquihalla Pass to near Coalmont (80 km; 294 m)
near Coalmont to near Bankeir (59 km; 438 m)
near Bankeir to Penticton (84 km; 504 m)

After enough rain to warrant a clear day, we set off in the sunshine and in fine spirits, ready to experience Andrew McCullen's masterpiece of engineering: The Kettle Valley Railway. An abandoned railway bed that winds from Midway and Hope. It has station names that will definitely ring a bell if you are familiar with Shakespeare. Apparently, McCullen, an avid fan of the Elizabethan writer, was said to have cited his poetry round the campfire of an evening during the construction years. The first leg of the journey to Othello tunnels is like a dream come true. Hardened earth paths winding in and out rain-forested hillsides, tunnels and bridges, gorges and gushing waterways. If it is like this, all the way, then we are in for a real cycling treat.

It isn't. We soon hit Highway No 5 and before we have made it to Lear, I've been pushed of the side of the road by some numb-skull truck driver. Every time this happens I fantasize a new power of strength that will give me one up on the offender. This time round, I wish I could grow jet wings that would propel me in a flash towards the vehicle, where I'd open up the door and rip the sod out of his seat by the throat. I'd then make him sit on my bike and pedal up the hill while I dangerously drive so close to him that he'd have to soak his knickers in bleach for a week after the experience. Either that or Superman would come to my rescue. Oh, why aren't Super Heroes real?

The highway stint of the route goes on for a good 20 kilometres before we manage (with great difficulty) to find the trail again. For the second time today and not the last, we have to drop our loaded bikes on the ground and slide them under the barricade, allegedly for keeping motorised vehicles out. The following stint takes us along true mountain bike terrain and it is slow going for a loaded bike. Still it is peaceful countryside and anything, at this stage, beats the madness of the highway.

The grade is supposedly no greater than 2.2%, but seeing as the actual railway trail has landslided out in areas, some of the paths are much steeper. In fact, our maximum climb today is 17% and on a gravel track that's not easy. We pass burnt down bridges, flattened snow sheds, waterfalls and many streams. Ali sees a bear scuttle back into the bushes. I'm too far behind him to witness it, but did see a lot of leaves rustling. The last climb out of the valley and up to Coquihalla Pass is a stinker and the reward is hitting the highway again. We pass Romeo Station and only a few kilometres down the track and on the other side of Coquihalla Lakes (62km; 1142m) is a user-maintained camping area awaiting our arrival.

The Canadian Dream
Instead of campground, let's call it Quad-City. Even kids of 4 and 5 years own one. Whatever happened to Barbie Dolls and Dinky Toys. At least you didn't need fuel to play with them. The kids are hell bent, you can tell that by the colour coordinated Dart Vader look-alike gear they are wearing, on churning up the dirt, riding fields full of wildflowers flat and worst of all chucking dust in any innocent bystanders face. We have little option than to set up camp on a small strip of rocky soil on the opposite side of the dirt path, because with all the ATV's, RV's, trailors, dogs and overweight occupants, there's no room left anywhere else. Looking at this sad scene of consumerism, I realise that Madonna could just have easily changed her lyrics to Canadian Life instead.

While we are eating our dinner, these little rats continue riding up and down, round and round, and in and out of the course they have proudly ingrained into the soil. And as far as the adults go: no-one says boo, no-one so much as looks at us. Only an old labrador thinks we are cool and smootches in for as much attention as he can get.

The Kentucky Fried Hill-Billy Trail
Before 10am, the highway is a little quieter and we manage the first 20 kilometres without much ado. We see the sign for Juliet Station, so we know we are on track but, we can't find the trail entrance. We find ourselves traversing a large hill before coming back down on a side road to continue further on the KVT. Again, the entrance is overtaken by quad bikes and off road motorcycles having a whale of a time turning a half decent track into a sandpit. We meet a few more cyclists on route today, most lightly packed and all heading in the opposite direction. Nonetheless, they are spitting chips at the condition of the track and the high prevalence of ATV'ers, who, just for record are NOT supposed to be on the trail.

It's pretty much a slip-sliding affair in sand and gravel all the way to Brookmere and then we are doubly blessed with a washboard surface until our bones can take it no more. We hit the road. It's steeper with more hills but it's surface is much better. Just before Tullameen, we hop back on the track again, only to be bombarded with so many ATV's we can hardly see where we are going. Ali, whose patience is wearing a little thin by this late stage of the day, is approached by a way too big for his ATV bloke complete with Budweiser can in hand and stinking of cigarettes and booze:

He slurs: "There will be two more quad bikes and one 4-wheel drive heading this way soon"

Ali replies: "I thought this was a bicycle path!?"
Our slovenly friend answers:" What, you think your better than me?"
Ali says "Yes"

Let's just say, this type of conversation doesn't make friends quickly and the rather large bloke skids out of there on his quad bike muttering all sorts of obscenities. The thinner bloke and his girl battle their way down the sand path towards Tullameen, where they had intended to camp. Well, that is until they see how busy it is. It is BC-day Long Weekend. Every Tom, Dick and Sherrie from the ranch is out camping, boating, swimming or making a mess of the KTV and let's just say they aren't especially concerned about anyone else but themselves. We hike on out as fast as we can along some of the worse trail we have encountered so far until we find a small patch suitable to pitch the tent along the river near Coalmont (80km; 294m).

The trail doesn't improve the next day either and so instead of whinging about the appalling state of the road, I thought I'd introduce you to Kev. We meet Kev, pretty much first thing in the morning, as we come cycling out of a tunnel. Kev is not his real name, I'm just using it for reference purposes. Kev's balding a little on top, but still has long, straight, thin hair. He's wearing a tank top and jeans and he's the type of bloke that thinks it's okay to deface flora and fauna notice boards with black marker pen. His message for us all today is: "ATV's are welcome." Of course, Kev owns a quad bike too. He's sitting on it, while he intrigues us with his reasoning behind why these fat-wheeled recreation vehicles should be able to use the trail. He is also completely bewildered as to why the KVT Association has erected the "No ATV" signs and promises he will single handedly get the Association to remove them: because, he has a lot of pull in these areas, you know and besides, as far as he is concerned, quad bikes are allowed. What is it about the word "No" that Kev doesn't understand? I notice that every time Kev mentions that word "ATV", he pats his little baby affectionately on the back. It is almost as if he believes his bike will perform better with this type of attention when hooning through the next sandy patch. But, Kev assures us whole-heartedly that he travels no faster than 30 clicks per hour. Yeah. sure Kev!

We take to the road again, once we have had enough of the dirt and it gets progressively hotter. The countryside has changed dramatically from the previous days luscious green woodlands with plenty of streams and waterfalls. Today, the landscape is brown and dry. Thirsty work and while we don't run out of water, we are glad when we eventually find the turnoff to Chain Lake Forest Services Campsite near Bankeir (59km; 438m). It is 40 kms northeast of Princeton, where we shopped for supplies earlier on in the day. After finding a spot on the waters edge, we decide to spend a couple of nights here. There is a relaxing, peaceful feel about the place, though it's very basic with only fire pits, picnic tables and a couple of dry-loos. ($10 per night / firewood $5 a wheelbarrow full) The operator, who is charmingly sweet, lets us use his stores of water, which is way better than filtering the algae green toned water from the lake. It has been one very weary day after 9½ hours on the road, with 6 of those in the saddle. We welcome tomorrow's sleep-in.

Peach Week!
A days rest does wonders for the soul and Chain Lake has plenty of wildlife to enchant us with: squirrels, eagles, hawks and loons: a special diving duck, who really knows how to get around under water. Probably the most intriguing of all are the dragonflies on the lake. Beautiful iridescent blue striped bodies dart around at lightning speeds, stopping abruptly within a few centimetres of me, to check out what I'm doing and then chucking right-angle turns as quickly as they flitted in. Occasionally I'd realise one was humming it's wings just above my head behind me. Cheeky, inquisitive little animals.

Refreshed and ready for the next onslaught, we set off on the road today and we don't risk getting on the trail for most of the journey. It slows us down to around 8 km/hour, which means an average days ride of 80 kilometres is almost impossible. Not only does it take forever, it's tough going on the shoulders, chest, arms, hands and of course, the legs. The road is way steeper, but at least it is harder and you don't slip and slide around. We can mange 12 km+/hour here. Only when we get to Flander, where I break two spokes at once, do we venture back on the KVT, but it's just as rubbish as anywhere else, so we make a firm decision, not to go anywhere near the trail anymore, if we can help it.

It's a massive 500m drop from the rail bed down to HIghway 97, which results in one of those crazy 'hell for leather' rides into Penticton (84km; 504m). After contending with the mobs over the BC-day Long Weekend, we thought we were clear of yahooing campers. But no. This week they celebrate the peach in Okanagan. Everyone comes to float along the canal in their rubber tyres, drink wine and I guess, eat peaches. Every camp site is full according to the Visitors Information Centre. Though the pleasant girl behind the counter does lead us to a place where they have enough space to happily take $30 off our hands. For that we get a patch of ground that measures roughly 5x6 metres and a we still have to pay a further $1 each for a hot shower. It is packed to the hilt but we are tired enough to just cram in with the rest, shower, eat and sleep.

Shade Hopping
Penticton to Revelstoke (4 cycle days; 1 rest day; 296km; 3721m)
Penticton to Chute Lake (39 km; 1011 m)
Chute Lake to Philpott Road (63 km; 745 m)
Philpott Road to Mabel Lake (104 km; 995 m)
Mabel Lake to Revelstoke (91 km; 970 m)

That pleasant girl at the information centre also mentioned a forest service campsite at Chute Lake, which also according to her is just 40 kms and 800m up. We set off thinking, this will be a genuine days work, but not too difficult. We arrive with a totally different attitude. The initial road, a popular winery route winding along the Okanagan Lake, is undulating but do-able. Besides, it's a pleasant view across the waters of barren rock faces accentuated against blue skies, while we get to cycle through green vineyards and ripening fruit orchards.

Not before meeting a few badgers playing dead on the side of the road, seeing a cougar, a coyote and bountiful chipmunks, do we hit Chute Lake turnoff. It is precisely midday and a signpost tells us there is just 11kms left to reach our destination. Should be easy, but only problem is, there is still more than 800 metres to go up and it's a rickety gravel track that just keeps winding up and up forever. This is when all the delicious fruit, I bought yesterday becomes a slight burden. My bags are way too heavy for me and Ali has to relieve me of some of the weight. Still doesn't make the trip any less painful. But that probably has something to do with the 34°C in the shade temperature, when there is very little of that available at all. Every tree we come to, we stop for a breather. Four hours, 4½ litres of water, 1 orange, 2 bananas, 4 peaches, 2 cheese and tomato sandwiches, 300g of trail mix and numerous lemon and mint bon-bons later, we reach our goal, Chute Lake (39km; 1011m).

We face the next problem of the day: there is no forest service campground. There's a private affair that wants $20 for the most meagre of facilities. This is absolutely the middle of the sticks out here, so where do they get off trying to charge top dollar for a patch of ground, a picnic table, fire pit and use of a toilet that doesn't flush. Consequently, we cycle a few hundred metres up the road and pitch the tent in a field. After the long, hot journey the lake is so inviting, we both dive in for a bath even though, under normal circumstances it would be way too cold for me. Instead, it is deliciously refreshing and after a warm meal, we both feel totally rejuvenated.

An ideal ending to a not so ideal day
We leave our cow pat infested field behind us quite early and hit the KVT once again, but only because we have no other option. It's like it is everywhere else: a sandpit and it's no wonder with the amount of motorised vehicles on it. Not a particularly attractive area either. Kind of eerie in a way: too much evidence of the 2003 fires and the pine beetle infestations that have turned the rest of the trees brown. The township of Kelouwna can be spied in the valley below and the Forest Service Road that leads us there is roughly 6 kilometres long and drops a whopping 700m. That sort of info would get most cyclists pretty excited, but unfortunately the road is in a terrible state and we take a very long time indeed to hit bitumen: stopping twice to cool off the rims and rest our aching fingers. The town is still a further 340m down, but this time the road is immaculate and we fly in and out again after a lunch break in a grassy football pitch.

We then face a remorseless climb of 650m out of town and along Highway 33, which is a total nightmare. There's no hard shoulder, winds pick up and a few willy-willy's fly past, while we try and keep upright next to some pretty scary drop-offs. A few truck and RV drivers give us no lee-way at all and I watch Ali nearly get wiped out by the same truck that pushes me off the road as well. It is so close to completely knocking him off his bike that even he has to stop and compose himself. It's here that I say, we should get out of this f***ing country as soon as possible. No-one gives a s*** about cyclists. The highways are a total death wish.

Several kilometres and a few more close encounters later, we find ourselves on Phillpot Road and heading towards our preferred destination: Ideal Lake. Likely place to stop you might think, but we just don't make it. Instead, we arrive at a place called Darley Springs and after asking the owner how much further it is to the lake and finding out we have a choice of plodding on a further 15 kilometres up a dirt road or we could stop here at Philpott Road (63km; 745m) for just $12 / night. This includes hot showers, a fresh mountain-water spring, firewood and some of the nicest story telling in all of Canada. Monti Phillpot's granddad bought this land a long time ago and Monti has turned part of it into one of the quaintest and original camping spots we've both ever had the privilege of staying in.

Over a beer by the fire that evening, stomachs are full, tempers have dampened, and we are toasty warm and cosy so, we decide we'll give the highways one more shot. We'll head to Revelstoke mostly on Forest Service roads, with a 20 km stint at the end on the Trans-Canadian: Highway No 1. After this experience we'll know full well whether we want to go to Banff or not. We rest another day at Darley Springs. It's a little pleasure dome.

Renewed Faith
The trip to Ideal Lake isn't so bad, but it is up the whole way and it continues in the same vein for quite a number of kilometres after that. The road gets pretty bad around the lake itself but becomes more penetrable as we near Lumby. We do a total of 51 kilometres on unpaved road, so the bitumen is an absolute pleasure to see. Another view, besides pine trees is also an added bonus. From Lumby, we don't know if the road goes up in elevation to Mabel Lake or not. A local woman tells us that it doesn't, but she also tells us it is 26kms, when we know full well that it is actually 37kms. We decide to go for it anyway and head off into quite picturesque countryside. "Little House on the Prairie" cottages adorn green and golden fields; mountains contrasted by postcard clouded skies; and a river thrashing downstream, which is the part we like the best.

Mabel Lake (104km; 995m) campsite has an overflow site: this is a place where you camp, while waiting to get into the real campsite just next door. Of course the place next door is full, but luck is on our side today. Just as we pull up, we meet The Venendaals from Vernon, who are just leaving and they tell us that they have pulled out of site No 48. Without further ado, we thank them graciously and hurtle into the unoccupied site as quick as our legs can pedal us there. Not only do we get a free night in a very sought after campground, but our really sweet neighbour, Paula, wants to feed us up with some salad and corn that she has left over. We don't have any aversion to this and neither to her offers of wood and a couple of chairs so we can huddle next to the fire later on in the evening. We feel quite spoilt tonight.

Does a bear shit in the woods?
Seventy-one kilometres of unpaved road, that goes up and up and a little bit down is enough to send anyone round the twist, but the fact that nearly all of the journey is lined only with pine trees makes it a foregone conclusion. Besides the pine, the odd Sherherdia tree can be spied. It's quite easy at this time of year because the commonly named Buffalo Berries peak in ripeness and they just happen to be a bear's favourite food. That becomes more than apparent from all the bright-purple droppings we cycle pass on the road. Gets us to thinking, that if they also shit in the woods, then either one humongous daddy-bear has been eating way too much for comfort, or mamma-bear, baby-bear and the entire extened bear-family must also be out there somewhere. We haven't actually had a real encounter yet, which is both pleasing and disappointing in the same breath.

One thing we are happy to see, is the end of the trail, even though, Highway No 1 is not the best way to end a day's cycling. However, there's no choice: we have to do it. Just grit your teeth for the 20 more kilometres to Revelstoke. Trucks fly passed at speeds way over the limit as do all other vehicles for that matter. It's a continual flow too, with relatively no breaks. A motorcyclist grunts like a wild boar in our ears as he blats past. (What was that for?) At the bridges, the shoulder stops, so you are left looking behind you to see if there is enough time to push like a crazy-man and make it to the other end before a truck comes flying up behind you. When there are shoulders they are full of smashed up vehicle debris, cans, bottles that have become shattered glass, firewood, old bits of carpet, and the occasional shoe.

Still, we remain in this world and we make it to Canada West Campground, 5 kms south of Revelstoke (91km; 970m), which has full facilities including wifi for the special rate of $20 per night for cyclists. We need a couple of days to get the website a bit more up to date, mail my Mum, who by now probably thinks I've been eaten by a bear, think about the route we are going to pursue in Canada and just rest up after two pretty full-on days of cycling.

On the right track
Revelstoke to Nelson (4 cycle days; 1 rest day; 285km; 3170m)

Revelstoke to Arrow Lake (61 km; 553 m)
Arrow Lake to Rosebery (95 km; 1087 m)
Rosebery to Fletcher Falls near Kaslo (68 km; 869 m)
Fletcher Falls to Nelson (61 km; 661 m)

So, we've decided: we are not cycling to Banff. I know, I know, we'll miss out on The Rockies, moose and bears, but we didn't quite want to take the risk of dying just yet. Besides, Anne from Albury Australia told us a few days later that Banff is like Luna Park. I never was a big fan of that place. But plenty of other cyclists must be, because they are out there in their droves. All on light framed races, hardly any baggage and then only on the back rack. We are trucks in comparison. And that's just the problem: to get to Banff you first have to go over The Rockies and a couple of passes (Rogers Pass:1382m and Kicking Horse Pass: 1627m). These are not that high and on quiet country roads it'd be a treat. But it 'aint quiet at all. It's the Trans Canadian: Highway No 1 and while we might be trucks of the cycling world, we are no match for Macks that come sprinting past. I can't even begin to explain the horror feeling that creeps over you as you hear one of these things coming up from behind. Bracing yourself for the vacuum they create is one thing, but riding eye level with eight-plus sets of wheels is pretty daunting stuff.

The Trans-Canadian cyclist mentality is, head down and bum up. They are all doing it, to say they have done it. We've passed quite a number of them and they haven't even noticed us and that's pretty hard to do. They are just looking straight ahead, or probably at the road more like it. Hitting debris on any form of non-motorised transport is a sure way to hurt yourself. The trend is Revelstoke to Banff in two days, stopping at Golden overnight. That's 300 kilometres and over those two small passes I just mentioned. We'd be likely to take 4 days and hearing wharoommm! wharoommm! wharoommm! all day long would certainly send me to the loony bin and I'm not quite due for that place just now, thankyou.

Mosquito Bay
Our decision to turn off just before Revelstoke onto Highway No 23 ends up being one of the best moves we have ever made. Though, the view is once again of a whole pile of pine trees, which Ali thinks is totally boring. There are quite number of types you know. However, they are all pretty much a shade of green. Which is Ali's point exactly and in one of his sarcastically profound moods states that, if you didn't like pine trees and had to grow up here, you were likely to commit suicide. I thought that move a little drastic and that the person was more likely to immigrate first.

The journey is pretty easy, but up and down the entire way. Shelter Bay on Arrow Head Lake (61km; 553m) is one of those self-registration campsites, but a ranger comes around in the evening with firewood and change, should you not have anything smaller than a twenty for the ten dollar camping fee. There's a water tap and a dry loo, plus a beautiful lake to take a swim in. It's hot again today and we do just that. The swim serves as another purpose too: getting away from the plague proportion mosquitos. Now, I could quite easily understand if a person from here, wrote down on his immigration application form under the reason for leaving Canada section: Mosquitos!

Hot hog country
The beginning of our journey today, starts with a free ferry ride across Arrow Head Lake and then one major steep climb out from the lake and onto a plateau. It's the most scenic ride to date and along with the familiar pine tree population there's glimpses of snowcapped mountains, the lake itself and stunning rock faces for the entire stretch. From the amount of Harley Davidson's we see on the ferry, we know we are in for some windy climbs and falls. This is motorcycle country. We remain on the No 23 which nose-dives us into Nakusp. With enough supplies for a few days, we trundle our way up and out of the village on Highway No 6, until we reach Summit Lake. It's an arduous climb to say the least and the lack of shade in 32° heat makes it even sweatier. Countryside is stunning and again, we are ever so happy that we made the move to come out this way instead of battling for space on the Trans Canadian. We have the road to ourselves for extended periods of time. Now, that's what I call a cycle route: motor or no motor.

It's a pleasant drop into Rosebery. We were told by locals in Nakusp about a railbed that runs from Hills all the way to New Denver, but we steer clear. Too many bad experiences to date and most people, who say that the trek is reasonable, have never had to plough a truck of bike through sandy-gravel roads. We on the other hand are now experts at it and would rather puff and pant up a mountain pass on bitumen than take the alternative, wilder route. Rosebery Provincial Park (95km; 1087m), right on Wilson Creek is a busy but beautifully set up campground. Could stop here easily for a few days R+R but decide that we'd like to move on to our next port of call.

Go too fast and you'll miss it
The ride from Rosebery is definitely a leg cruncher. Climbing out of New Denver along the 31A takes several hours of up, up and up; 16 kilometres in total until you hit Fish Lake and it is relatively severe in parts. But on the other hand, the scenery is spectacular. Ghost towns from mining days past gone, rivers, lakes, wooden bridges, winding paths, plenty of wildlife which includes seeing our first bear. It's a little black one and actually looks pretty cute and cuddly, though he doesn't stay around for very long and scuttles away well before Ali can get the camera out to take a snap. We also meet Tiki and Brian, who are much lighter packed than us and after a bit of a chat, they overtake. From the lake, the trip to Kaslo can be likened to a 30 kilometre downhill amusement park ride. Again gorgeous scenery and the town itself is full of weatherboard heritage buildings in immaculate condition that you can almost envisage Mary Loo in gingham, frilly hoops and matching ribbons in her braids swinging on the easy chair on the front verandah.

And it's a good thing that we decided to move on from our pleasant campsite in Rosebery, because Fletcher Falls on Kootenay Lake (68km; 869m) is a little piece of heaven just waiting to be discovered. But go too fast and you'll miss it and that is probably why it is such a special spot. Most just fly on by on to Nelson and don't see the turn-off. Even we overlooked it at first, but the guy in the Info centre in Kaslo gave such descriptive directions, we didn't stray too far before finding the entrance. From Kaslo, Fletcher Falls is about 9 kilometres and on the lefthand side and that's all I'm going to say. If you want to experience this little paradise, then you've got to do the ground work yourself, not to mention the climb back out the day you will reluctantly have to leave.

Here's what I wrote about Fletcher Falls to a friend back in Oz:

Hey H,
Canada has some pretty special spots. Takes a bit of work to find them, but when you finally get there, they are real gems. We stumbled upon Fletcher Falls Forest Recreation Site (Kootenay Lake Area) a few days ago and stayed there for a couple of nights. Just chilled out watching the clouds do some pretty amazing things on the mountains across the bay, both before and after a storm with the biggest booms of thunder and most blinding sheets of lightning, I'd seen and heard before. A seagull had decided that he liked lake life better than the ocean and just hung around the bay paddling around much like a duck really and a team of loons came in every evening to rest on the shore just below us and sleep closely huddled in a single line. A bear had nicely left his droppings a wee bit further on, which kept us on our toes the whole time, but we didn't get to see him.

We had a raging fire every night and people just came and went: to fish, picnic, swim, camp, laze around, skim stones, walk a bit along the shoreline, build Inukshuk's (stone thingies that originate from the Inuits) and I just thought: by Jove, this is what life is meant to be like. It was really serene (except for the storm, of course) and so, so very beautiful. But what was even more incredible, was the way the local community looked after this spot. An old couple came down to re-channel the creek, because the salmon were about to swim up it to spawn and they didn't want them making a wrong turn. A home-job computer printout note in the port a-loo said: take all your garbage, cans, bottles and plastic back out with you. We rely on you to respect this special place. Thanks from the 'locals'.

Gosh H, people that actually care about their surroundings. And they are not wrong about this being a special place and furthermore, no one wanted you to pay for it. can you imagine that? Yep, no camping fees, plenty of wood available for campfires, toilet with toilet paper, special plastic bags for your rubbish... a little piece of heaven. I'm glad it's so hard to find. Go too fast and you'll miss it. Go slow and...

The trip into Nelson (61km; 661m), is pretty well uneventful, apart from the thunderstorm that waylaid us under a massive tree for 20 minutes or so. Gone are the days of V-Dub campervans decorated with colourful flowers putting up and down these hills. These hippies have all grown up and own stunnning stretches of lakeside property, along with the Mercedes, BMW and not to mention the boat parked in the driveway of the eco-mansion. The hippy element hasn't left altogether, since Nelson is now inundated with a new age variety: deadlocked, tatooed, pierced to the hilt and very shabbily dressed. The hang out in clusters near shopping centres and stairways appearing far less vibrant or happy, for that matter, than the dance-swirling, daisy-chained folk of yesteryear.

Even sadder still, the city-centre sidewalk has become home for a number of down and outs, who think they are entitled to receive handouts from good-willed citizens. One such fellow has gone to the trouble of sharing his dilema with us by way of the following message on his cardboard sign: "travelling, homeless and hungry!" Well, I have got a messge for him too: "Stop travelling, get a job and a place to stay and you wont be hungry". No, better still: "Get your arse off the pavement and take a long stroll along Highway 31. In any given kilometre, I counted at least 30 empty cans and that's just what I could see from my vantage point. There just so happens to be a 35 kilometre stretch to Balfour, which if you multiply that by two, to cover both sides of the road and conservatively reckon on 10 cents per can, that amounts to $210 just waiting to be stashed in your pocket. And guess what, you'll get a bit of exercise and that miserable slovenly walk might just get a bit more sprightly.

The Nelson City Campground is an okay place to spend a few days after being out in the bush. Tenting will cost you $17 including hot showers. Wifi is $1 per day, so for a touristy haven, it's pretty good value. Unfortunately, it rains for 1½ days solid and we get drenched, but the sun soon shines again, the clothes are clean and drying in the cool breeze and tomorrow we will head close to the US border crossing of Waneta (near Trail). Beaver Creek Provincial Park will be the spot for our overnight stay, before making the passage into our 27th country.

Wifi hotspot on the road, just before Waldport, USA, 12-09-08
From the hippies on the lake (Nelson-Canada) to the hippies by the sea (Astoria-USA): (14 cycle days; 1072km; 9766m)
Part 1: Nelson (Canada) to near Ellensburg (USA): 8 cycle days; 582km; 5419m

Nelson to Waneta Junction (81 km; 683 m)
Waneta Junction to Kettle Falls (89 km; 836 m)
Kettle Falls to Wilmont Creek Bay (88 km; 922 m)
Wilmont Creek Bay to near Keller (54 km; 811 m)
near Keller to Steamboat Rock State Park (65 km; 941 m)
Steamboat Rock State Park to Coulee City (33 km; 156 m)
Coulee City to Vantage (112 km; 428 m)
Vantage to near Ellensburg (61 km; 642 m)

Goodbye Canada; Hello USA
Climbing away from Nelson takes us pretty much all of the morning. The first 300 altimetres are spread over 6 kilometres and by the time we reach the 9 kilometre mark, we have traversed 400 metres. We are on Highway No 6 and heading towards Salmo: a one stop town with a pump station, convenience stop, liquor store and a couple of cafes. The trip is quite scenic and not too busy, which always makes for a nice day. Though Montrose is quite a decent sized town, we stop in Fruitvale for supplies. Highway 3B then takes us down a major drop into Waneta Junction and now on the 22A, it's an easy 3 kilometres to Beaver Creek Campsite (81km; 683m). It's no longer a Provincial Park's affair, which is fairly obvious by its dishevelled surrounds. It costs an overrated $15 per night. Still, we are pretty elated about crossing over into the US tomorrow and set up camp enthusiastically.

Instead of traipsing the inconvenient kilometre back to the campsite entrance for a shower, we take a very quick, but revitalising plunge into the icy cold waters of the Columbia River, which we saw for the first time in Revelstoke. Luckily for us a man-made rock pool, not surging with current, is just below our site, otherwise we could have possibly made a quicker, but almost certainly more fatal entry into the US.

So, it's time for one of those reflection sections and I'm afraid, Canada is not going to get such a good rap as far as cycling country is concerned. Admittedly, we covered a very small terrain, but we found in general, there are not enough options to get off the highways unless you really did want beaten track territory. Then the journey is long and arduous and with views of pine trees and bear shit. The traffic on the major routes is horrendous and people seem to think the bigger the better. We were always surprised that parked on the front lawn were at least two if not three or four vehicles. And they are not small things either. We are talking mostly 4x4, V-8 monsters that sound like trucks when they come up behind you. On numerous occasions I braced my handle bars ready for the vacuum onslaught from a semi, only to find a Dodge Ram blasting past at well over the speed limit mind you.

All this is quite a contrast to eco-bio industry shoved down your throats in the supermarkets. I'm mean, sure that is a good thing, but no amount of bio-degradable toilet paper and organically grown bananas is going to solve the environmental problem, if everyone wants to show-off in their monster double wheel based Chevrolet pick-ups. Okay, if you have a genuine need for a four wheel drive, then alright, but most of the traffic we have seen still had shining chrome-work and the extent of off-road terrain limited to a few puddles in their gravel driveway during winter. They'd show up at the supermarket: enter and return 30 minutes later with handfuls of plastic bags filled with all their environmentally friendly produce. Then the ignition is turned and whammo: good cause out the window as the carbon emissions fly off into the atmosphere.

All this came as quite a shock to us, since the Canadians we have met, have been well-versed, alternative living people. I don't think any of them even own a car. The thing is though, we met them all while travelling. But we can't leave this chapter with such a bad tone in the air, because the people that we did have interesting and meaningful conversations with, were not those who put the whole apartment block on wheels and headed off for a vacation. They didn't have an ATV either. They might have possibly managed to squeeze a fold-up bike into their small caravan towed by a regular vehicle; or just the simplicity of an old 1960's Volvo in immaculate condition with a dog and a tent in the back seat. We can't finish either without thanking the toasty warm boys in Victoria, James from anywhere really, Shannon in Vancouver and Gerry now in France. These are the people that we would like to associate Canada with.

Piece of cake
It's a relatively easy 10 kilometres to the border: apart from the hammering strength of the mighty Columbia River, the journey is pretty uninspiring. There are fields of browned farmland, derelict buildings and recycling depots, including a place where you can get at least 4 bucks for each scrap car battery. We cross an iron girder bridge at the dam and even with Ali's beckoning, I can't look down. I'd fall off my bike if I did. The actual border is hardly anything special either and literally looks no different from a couple of out-of-place office buildings with big garages plonk in the middle of no-where. We don't need an exit stamp from the Canadian officials, just $US6 each for the next port of call and the choice of throwing away or eating the two oranges we have stashed in our bags.

Apparently, citrus produce is not allowed into the US. The officer in charge gives us a quick, but thorough investigation before we make our way inside the customs building to consume our Vitamin C rich fruit. We also need to fill in a declaration form that affirms we are not hardened criminals, nor suicide bombers from a terrorist background with any highly infectious disease. Fairly obviously, these guys are trained to subtly interrogate and while the man in charge today might be po-faced, he does appear genuinely interested in what we are doing. Well, at least that is how I interpret him asking for our web address and looking up our site during his morning tea break, just as we are about to leave. Maybe he was actually checking up to see if we were telling the truth or not? Anyway, no-one came running after us as we very slowly pushed our way up the hill to Waneta Boundary Crossing Gas Station.

The ride from here on in is absolutely fantastic: winding up and down, following the railway line and Lake Roosevelt. Though it is quite steep in parts, the drops are exhilarating and the scenery is unbelievably beautiful. Golden hills, blue skies plumped up with feathery clouds and the occasional contrast of autumn leaves amongst a predominantly green forest. Deer frolic with weightless bounds across our path. We are absolutely elated. All the warnings from Canadians about full on searches, x-rays and third degrees just further confirms our thoughts about what the average person thinks about their neighbours on the other side of the border, no matter where you are in the world.

It takes forever to get to our destination today: the tarmac is pretty well immaculate but the climbing is arduous and slows us down. In Kettle Falls, we finally stop for supplies and are pleasantly surprised by the immediate drop in price of goods compared to Canada. There were a few tell-tale worry lines beginning to develop concerning our American travel finances and we were in desperate need of a reduction quickly. In the five and a bit weeks in British Colombia our daily budget was absolutely blown through the tent vents. Whew, another blessing: we can now see our way comfortably through the USA for the next three months.

From the actual township, it is about 5 kilometres to the Kettle Falls State Park Campground (89km; 836m). It is a fantastic facility: neatly arranged, with toilets, fire pits and picnic tables. Cost is just $10 per night and that is reduced to $5 as of September 1. We select a spot off the beach front area as the wind has picked up by this late stage in the afternoon. Unfortunately our evening is hindered by rain, not hard, but annoying enough to send you under cover. Our cover is obviously our beloved little tent and so Ali cooks under the flap while the world outside is dampened a little.

Before the rain started, I combed lakeside for a bit of driftwood: nothing like it for making a good fire. I met Sarah. She was an amazingly sharp young lady, all of 14 years of age and very easy to talk to. She knew where her part of the world, Seattle, stood in comparison with the rest of the continent and was a wealth of knowledge on the surrounding areas. She told me it was going to rain tonight and she was right. She even commented on the fact that Ali and I were from opposite ends of the globe and I thought to myself: where are all those stereo-typed idiots you are lead to believe that exist in this country. This young lady even went as far as picking up her own pet's doggy-doo in a plastic bag as if it were second nature. Ask an adult, let alone a teenager in Geitenkamp, Arnhem, The Netherlands, to do the same and you will get a load of swearing followed a two finger sign and turned up lip for your commentary. I liked Sarah.

Working 9 to 5
It's a cool beginning to the day, but the sun really begins to pump as we leave the campsite at 9am. The decision to cross to the west of Lake Roosevelt and onto the Colville Indian Reservation is a perfectly good choice, the decision to wear our jackets not so. Even though it is a head-sweat amusement park sort of ride: up and down, down and up and up and down again, it is fairly good scenery that keeps us engrossed for much of the day. Lake Roosevelt is a generously entertaining wetland with all its wildlife and surrounding countryside. Today, we enjoy our ride immensely. Just after Inchelium, we stop at an unpaved crossroad, not sure of our next pedal. Over a tomato, onion and cheese-mayo sandwich, we ask directions from a local women. The road to our right will take us to Silver Creek Road.

It's gravel, but only for 4.5kms. We had expected at least the rest of our day's journey to be a pebbly bonanza. Our map is obviously totally out of date, but Butch, who we meet further on up the road puts us straight. A no-nonsense sort of bloke, that checks we are okay and not broken down, when we stop in the shade for a glucose lemon drop and a mouthful of water. He moves on and so do we, only to be stopped a few kilometres further on a field. Butch returns to let us know that the tarmac stops about 15 miles out of Roger's Bar. It is all so sweet, this sort of concern: going out of his way to tell us this sort of info: info which is ultimately important to a cyclist. Anyway, we get a chattin' and Butch is from around these parts; had a wife; a few kids as well; is now divorced; had a home but it burned down; built another; bought more land; been working with the ferries for 24 years; a horse riding and cow-roping expert taught by his daddy since he was knee-high to a grasshopper; and shakes hands with a man and tips his hat to a lady. I could hardly take offence to the latter, since he was genuine in his style. And besides, in his own words: "I know it's old fashioned, but if my pa were alive today and he saw me shake hands with a lady, he'd whip my arse from high-hell to water."

Butch also had a dream too: after seeing the film, "A man from Snowy River", he was itching to visit Australia and I'm pretty sure they could do with an experienced sort of chap like Butch. He'd been offered a job years back. Quite a generous one as well. Small pay, but a couple of head of cattle a year and as much wallaby as he could eat. Unfortunately, the contact details got burned up in his house fire, so he never took the job. But as soon as his 300 acres is paid off, he'll have a home that he can always come back to. Then he'll be able to see the stars from anywhere in the world. And with that thought, he tipped his hat goodbye to us folks, wished us a safe and pleasant trip and hoped that we enjoy this reign of the country. And if we ever venture back in these here parts, we are very welcome to come and camp on his land.

The undulating environment doesn't let up at all and it seems like a long way before we reach the turnoff to Roger's Bar. Butch's directions are so far spot on and we pass a church on our right. Wilmont Creek (88km; 922m) isn't far from here, but it is as far down from the highway as Roger's Bar. One mile of winding dirt track leads us to a secluded bay with toilet, fire pit and table. It is just after 5pm. After we set up the tent, have a wash in the river, filter water and cook some food, we settle back after a hard days work to take in tonight's display of the Milky Way.

No blacktop today
The journey back out of Wilmont Creek is not as difficult as we imagined it would be. Once on the highway again, we climb and fall literally the whole 10 kilometre distance to the start of the unpaved section. This road will take us to Keller. The gradient isn't too bad and the condition of the road surprisingly good for a back path. It certainly beats any Forest Road we ventured along in Canada. At 12 midday, we have just finished our first break of the day during which we have devoured some fruit, a couple of granola bars and several handfuls of trail mix along with a litre of lemon ice-tea.

Energy topped up, we hop back on the bikes. Ali, in all his optimism, comments that it looks like we are nearly at the top. Now it is this sort of mountains made of lolly-gobble bliss bomb and topped with chocolate icecream mentality that drives me mad. Has he had his eyes closed for the last few days? The terrain has been a lot more difficult than that. Besides, Butch told us that it is a very long haul up the dirt track to the pass and so far his info hasn't been wrong. Ali can only judge from the 3 maps he has and they all have conflicting details and no elevations. Anyway, I'd prefer it if he didn't say anything at all, than try and fill my hopes with butterscotch candy prose. In truth, we have a further 1½ hours of slog left to get us up to Silver Creek Pass (991m). All in all, it is a 22 kilometre climb to the pass from the end of the blacktop. From here on in it's a nose-dive on gravel as well until about 6 kilometres out of Keller, where the surface finally returns to tarmac and flattens off a little.

We head straight for the campsite after shopping at the local grocery store in the rather ramshackle and litter strewn township of Keller (54km; 811m). It's right on the river front with a pristine grassed area. The wind is blowing a gale when we arrive. They want $15 per night which is a little steep for the pretty basic facilities. Ali gets chatting with one of the campers: another Chief. Seems like all the men here are Chiefs. Since this is Native Indian Land, it costs them nothing to use the amenities and seeing as they can invite people as guests to join them, we end up not having to pay at all. The wind continues until 8.30pm, which makes for a blustery afternoon huddled close to the tent for protection.

Looks just like a roadside party
Just as we are about to head out this morning, the rain starts and we shelter for 10 minutes or so under the bough of a massive tree. The turnoff to Manila Creek Road is about 4 kilometres further on and it is a hard work-out traversing the first 157 altimetres. It levels off for a while and we have our first real bear encounter. He's tucked away behind the railing, munching on some berries, when we round the corner. Unfortunately, no photographs to witness this chance meeting as we are too busy backing up, talking in loud voices, waving our arms about, tooting our horns and ringing our bells to even think about reaching for the camera. The black bear stands up to a height well over a metre and a half long, to check out what all the fuss is about. He must have thought we were absolute loonies to be having such a party on the side of the road. Consequently, after a few seconds pause, he nimbly jumps over the barrier and shoots off incredibly fast into the bushes on the other side of the road. We continue to with our party noises until he has completely disappeared before moving on.

From here on in we just go up and up and up to Manila Creek Pass (1010m). This entire area has been savaged by fire and it makes for quite an eerie landscape. The warning signs with "a careless match destroys" sums it all up really. The last third of the 12 kilometre uphill trundle is between 9 and 12%, but I'm not carrying much food today and my bike is relatively light. The journey doesn't seem that difficult and the view from the top is spectacularly rewarding for all the work: rolling barren, but golden hills along the Franklin D Roosevelt Lake that seem to never end. We plummet down for what also seems like ages before we hit Coulee Dam.

The Uluru of Washington State
Now, there is a lot of hype about this place, being the largest concrete structure and having the biggest nightly lazer show in all of the US. Personally, it isn't visually delightful one little bit, I mean it is just a dam after all. The 3 kilometre climb up and out into Grand Coulee was actually more impressive and the landscape for the rest of the day's journey totally amazing. Flat-topped basalt rock in all the colours of brown, red, green and gold rising up out of the barren grass land with contrasting silver-green wetland shrubbery and blue watered lakes. If only the headwinds hadn't picked up, it would have been the perfect ending to the day's ride.

There are many state park camping areas to chose from along this route, but it's coming up to Labour Day weekend and everyone is out and about with their RV's, 4x4's and boats and they are all incredibly crowded. After checking out a few along the way, we decide to go to the main park: Steamboat Rock State Park (65km; 941m), which costs us a few dollars more ($19 / night compared with $12 / night) and is a little more touristy than we would prefer. But, and the best part about staying here is we get to meet Brad, who is so enthusiastic about what we are doing, that he proposes to take us out on his speed boat the next morning. It is an offer we can't refuse and simply a magnificent way to take in the amazing Steamboat Rock: Washington State's version of Uluru. Like the Australian icon, Steamboat Rock acted as a reference point for nomadic Indian tribes and pioneers alike. The basalt monolith rises 215 metres above Banks Lake.

The headwinds are out in force again today and after battling against them for a few hours, we decide to terminate our journey a little early in Coulee City (33km; 156m). There's a quaint campground just off the main highway, still on Banks Lake where we look out over the spectacular basalt cliff range that runs the entire length of the Columbia basin. When we arrive there are a number of tents and caravans already pitched. By 6pm the place is overrun with campers. Long weekend has officially started.

Ali ventures into town to piggyback the libraries wi-fi connection and sent some more mails to the Dutch Tax office, who have been giving us grievance for the last 18 months. He meets up with Harold and Bill, a couple of other cyclists, both having a hard time with wind situation as well. I sit in dappled sunlight by the tent and carrying on with a few sewing chores, while the boys next door throw a football around and the girls try their hardest to keep a volley ball in the air.

Coulee City is pretty much a blink and you'll miss it sort of place: one almost deserted main street, a post office, city hall, a few shops, liquor and hardware store and a couple of railway lines. It was established way back in 1890 after Indian settlers were enticed to the area by an artesian spring and is said to be the oldest place in Grant County. Today, the manmade lake has given the town and entirely different look from the former farm and grazing landscape that once surrounded the area to the north.

Going with the wind
Today is one of those day's I'll never forget. We start off early, thinking we'll get a few kilometres in before the headwind picks up. Unfortunately, it has begun before we even get out of our sleeping bags. Our plan is to take Highway No 2. Several people have told us that this is a great cycling trip, but it is heading directly west and today the winds are predominantly from the north-west. An alternative route, heading south-southwest on Highway No 17, will be busier, we'll need to use the Interstate for a short distance and we'll also finish off the day having to cross the Columbia River at Vantage on a no-shoulder bridge used by every Tom, Dick and Harry. Now, what would you choose?

Hard question to answer, but the answer my friends is "we're going with the wind". By 11am, we have clocked up 40 kilometres. We are in Soap Lake, given it's name because of the soap suds piled high on its shoreline. Local Indians called the place Smokiam which translates as "healing waters". Needless to say, this saline water is deemed to have curative properties and it is the place to come and bath if you are suffering from all sorts of discomforts.

The landscape is still pretty nice around here and here's us both thinking: Wow, what a brilliant move to take that turnoff. Well, it's about here that everything goes downhill. And I'm not talking about the gradient. It's hay country and it's pretty much flat and out in the open. The wind turns on us and we are relentlessly blasted from the side and from the front. Even though I'm not quite sure how it is possible, it gets stronger as the day passes and by the time we make it to Interstate 90 and we are being bombarded with gale force winds that take control of the bike more often than I would like. We stop in George, where they don't have any fresh vegetables, but they do have a band playing some pretty good rock 'n roll in the town's only beer garden. In hindsight, we should have shopped in Ephrata, which is quite a decent sized city. Anyway, we purchase some tomatoes, onions and avocados from the little Mexican grocery store next to the service station butting onto the highway before braving the winds once again.

Blow me down!
I can't remember much of the next bit of the journey, except that it seemed like there was some decent scenery around me. I basically had to use all my concentration to keep myself from being thrown across the road. I spent some of my efforts swearing and mumbling obscenities under my breath, with a few random bursts of screaming as the wind picked me up and threw me a couple of inches to my left. We come to a rise and can see the intimidating bridge crossing over into Vantage below. It's also a daunting drop down and we have to take it gently. In fact, I don't think I've ever seen Ali move downhill quite so slow before. As we turn onto the overpass, a gush of wind brings me to a complete standstill. I can't physically drive the pedals round anymore. I'm stopped. Normally, you would just get off and push for a while, but the situation is this. It's a 4-laned freeway, with no shoulder and there are some decent sized vehicles whizzing past. The pocket of air passes and I manage to move on, but it is the scariest crossing I have ever done and one I'll never forget. It is also an experience I don't want to repeat, so, I've told Ali, that if he makes me do anything like that again, I'll divorce him immediately!

If the name, Blustery's Restaurant, is not enough testimony to the strength of the windstorm today, then the people lying on top of their collapsed tents in an attempt to stop them from flying off into the oblivion of the choppy Columbia River should be. Most of the riverside fabric homes are utterly flattened and the occupants in the warm safety of their car. The campsite at Vantage (112km; 428m) is absolutely full and total chaos. Dave Mathews is in town and giving a concert at The Gorge Amphitheatre. I haven't got a clue who Dave Mathews is and I'm still none the wiser, but all I can say is, he's very popular. Apparently, there isn't a hotel room available in a 60 mile radius. Just our luck again: first we cop BC long weekend in Canada, then Labour Day in US and now some bloke singing country-rock in an open air concert arena.

Advantage Vantage Campground
The campground at Vantage would normally be pretty well empty, but because of it's popularity this weekend, they have jacked the price up to $15 per person, which is totally outrageous. Still, we have little choice and the State Park, 3 miles up the road is also full. Besides, it is uphill all the way and we'd have to face headwinds which would probably send us back across the river at this late stage of the day. We pay up the 30 bucks and crawl up the road to the area they have just opened up. Getting there takes quite a number of minutes, but flying back to reception to complain about the lack of facilities, just a few seconds. The porta-loos have actually blown over and they expect us to cross the highway to use the showers. Well, I'm sorry but I'm not paying $30 for that and tell them so. They immediately come up with another site in the main area and close to the amenities block.Why didn't they just do that in the first place? It's a big improvement on the open-field, though the whole place is old and in need of a major facelift.

Our Helsport tent is just a darling. She holds her own in this squally weather, though it takes the both of us to erect her and we put every guy rope out to keep her solid on the ground. The storm continues well into the night, campsite occupants are cooking their dinners in the toilet or just plain given up and crammed into the restaurant below. One girl has even moved into the ladies permanently. She sits in her camp-chair reading her book while everyone goes about their nightly business.

The gale drops only slightly for the next day's workout. And a workout it is: almost like being on the gym exercise bike in the hardest setting. Only instead of 3 hours of looking at and smelling an array of sweaty bodies, we kept our eyes on the monotonous and gradual climb through rolling desert hills. The wind keeps our speed to just 7.4 kilometres per hour. That's slow for these simple gradients and there's not much scenery to keep your mind occupied until we reach the top. So of course, my imagination gets the better of me and I begin by pitying those poor blokes who had to build this road in the first place. I bet, this was total road-worker's punishment territory. I can see Johnny's boss reprimanding him for being late twice in one week and saying: "Johnny my boy, one more time and that's strike three lad. Then you'll leave me no other option than to send you out to work on Vantage Highway Mile 21 to Mile 32." At this point Johnny drops to his knees, prayer clenched hands pleading: "No boss, please! Not Vantage Highway! I'll do anything else but not Vantage Highway. Pleeeease!"

And yet in these here parts, land owners have still put "No Trespassing" signs up. I mean to say, who in their right mind would want to venture any further into this unaccommodating, useless land. I'm glad when we reach the top and we plummet 550m into Kittitas County where the countryside flattens out a little. We still face strong headwinds as we push through horse, cattle and hay country. To top it all off, Ellensburg has a big-town rodeo on and so there's not a chance of finding a place to sleep here. After shopping at the Safeways in town, we turn with our backs to the wind and fly down Yakima Canyon Road. At first, it is a little worrying with all the Private Road-Private Property signs around, but as we round a bend, just below us is an area with quite a number of campers. Their presence is enough to give us the okay to ride over the purposefully bust-down rope sectioning the area off. It's a perfect spot near Ellensburg (61km; 642m), next to the fast flowing Yakima River and facing colourful cliffs on either side of us. Plentiful firewood and food warm us until our eyelids don't want to stay open anymore.

We are really happy about being in the US and especially Washington State. After all you hear and read and are lead to believe, it's been a total surprise. Amazingly diverse countryside comes first to mind, followed really closely by genuinely interested and passionate people. Everyone has a story to tell and useful information to part with about their part of the country. No-one is scared to come up to us and find out what we are doing. Our bike tour tales are always met with enthusiasm and an honesty that is quite touching. That is of course, apart from the uneducated yobbo who revs his V-8 in our ear holes while driving past, but hey, those idiots are found everywhere in the world. Yep, so far, we think the US is great cycle terrain.

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