Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Week #5, Dawson Creek to Muncho Lake

Video of week #5
Food is by far the biggest part my day. Where am I going to eat, how much will it cost, what will it be, how far away, what time, and where will I eat after that. I estimate that I go through 4000 calories per day, over 5000 on the longer days. It's hard to eat that much. Even if I am hungry from riding, my stomach can only hold so much at a time. I get tired of force feeding myself till it hurts. Food is probably the last pleasure of an arduous solo journey, but it looses all luxury, texture, taste, and enjoyment when it gets reduced to counting how many calories I can hold down without having it come back up while climbing over some mountain a few miles away.
But through all the antacid, I still eat. I need to. Without a massive and costly amount of calories, I would not have the fuel to sustain this effort. So when food becomes hard to find, I get weak and worried.
110 miles south of Ft. Nelson. The guy at the restaurant assures me that my lunch spot, a gas station and small market on a First Nation Reservation, would be open and have something for me to eat. So I buy a bag of almonds and small bag of beef jerky and set off. 3 hours later, I sitting on a bench outside this market, looking for anyone. The reservation is empty, there are a few scattered trailers and burnt down buildings but otherwise this place is a ghost town. I eat my almonds, all the beef jerky, and start to ration out my remaining water.
20 miles south of Ft. Nelson. My body is hitting the wall. I'm shaking, I can't exert myself like standing up or pushing hard on the pedal. I have to take every hill in the easiest of gears and conserve all my remaining energy to crawl in. I can't quit. I have to get there so I can eat. This is do or die.
10 miles south of Ft. Nelson. My stomach is in massive amounts of pain. I can feel my body starving. As a car goes car goes by I think about it arriving in 10 minutes and I'm looking at another hour if there are no more hills.
5 miles south of Ft. Nelson. I squeeze the last half mouth full of water from the bottle and focus on all the things I am going to eat at the first store I see. I'm moving on experience. I've ridden way past empty before and know that I can do it. I'm grabbing my stomach in pain while riding with one hand. I'm not sweating anymore, I'm out of water. Every muscle is starting to cramp up with each vibrating stroke of the pedal.
1 mile south of Ft. Nelson. The road takes a nasty turn for the worst and climbs up and up, and up. A 7% grade to reach the city. As slow as a snail I grind my easiest gear up the shoulder, pushing through winter's pile of road salt and gravel. I can see the first store, a gas station. As I pull off and coast to the door I'm weak and shaking. Stepping on the ground is like having sea legs. Inside the store I'm trying to compose myself but surrounded by options my brain is numb and unable to process what I want. Eventually I buy juice, candy, muffins, chips, soda, nuts, beef jerky and a more to satisfy my eyes. But my stomach hurts. Every bite is hard to swallow and again I am forcing myself to live.
About half an hour later and things have started to calm down. The shaking has stopped and I feel a bit of strength. I go to where I'll be staying that night, get cleaned up, and go out for pizza. I eat and spend the rest of the night laying in the sleeping bag, rolling back and forth in pain. I think I gave myself an ulcer.
Determined to not have that experience again, the following morning I stop at the Ft. Nelson Visitor's Center and work out the rest of my schedule with the staff about which places are open and where I can find food. We make a bunch of calls to find out who is open and if they have anything to eat.
Confident with a slightly adjusted schedule, I head out for Tetsa River. a small campground, 70 miles away. To get there I had to climb over one of the highest passes on the Alaskan Highway in light rain and snow. It was a nice climb with amazing views, but it took all day and after not eating the day before, I was still very weak and my stomach in a lot of pain. I stopped along the way, ate my snacks, took pictures. Tried to enjoy the ride and take things easy.
A man drives up to me and says that a black bear was just ahead. After listening to the locals stories about all the different ways you can get killed by the wildlife, the bear sighting puts me on a heightened notice. I ride while constantly scanning to my left and right looking for anything. The way the locals tell it, you would think this was Jurassic Park and that a Velociraptor is about to flank you.
I made it to Tetsa, no bears, no Velociraptors. But no park and no food either. I go inside the store and a man says hello. I recognize his voice as the person I spoke to earlier in the day. One of the people who said they were open and had food. Looking around the snow covered park, everything broken from the winter snow, the only reason he is open is because he lives here. Looking around the store, he has 3 bottles of Pepsi, and 6 snack size bags of salt & vinegar chips, you know, food.
He says that I can pitch my tent anywhere that's dry and when I ask him about getting something to eat he just says sorry buddy and walks away. I decide that all I can do is buy all the chips and soda and make a meal out of it. I'm so mad. This guy said he was open, but for what?
And this has been typical of the people in these little towns and rest stops. They don't know what is 30 miles north of south of them on the highway, even though they may have lived there for years; you just can not get any reliable information from them. When they say a place is closed or open, you have to pry more information out of them to figure out if it is just closed for winter or if it burnt down 50 years ago. Or if it is open, how late do they stay open and if they have anything to offer.
I pitch the tent, and ration out 2 Pepsi, and 3 bags of chips. It's cold, it's dark, and I don't have enough calories in me to be warm and strong. Laying in the tent I can hear the wolves howling a few hundred feet away. There are steps in the ice around the tent. I am so scared, my heart is about to burst out of my chest. It is thumping so hard it shakes my sleeping bag and fills my ears. I desperately calm myself down just so I can hear. I'm waiting for that Velociraptor to rip the tent open and eat me alive.
I slowly reach up and give the tent a good shake. It startles the animal and I can hear it run off. The wolves howl again, a little bit closer. I have never wanted a night light so bad. I open my iPad and stare at it's brightly lit screen. My breath is forming ice on the glass. As it would go dim, I would touch it and keep the light on. Around 3:30 in the morning, it was finally quiet. It was finally cold enough and late enough for everything to pause for the night.
In the morning I finished my chips and soda and continued heading north. The wind was strong and cold. The next place was Toad River, 50 miles away. In between was the highest climb on the highway, covered in ice. 6 hours later I finally pulled up to the restaurant, a real working restaurant, with real food. As it was two days before, I struggled to push the pedal down from a lack of calories. I felt like the wind could have blown my weak, pale, skinny body, like a sheet in the wind.
After being scared the night before, I got a room, cleaned up, and then surprised the waitress by eating a Turkey Burger, Buffalo Burger, 2 bowls of beef and rice soup, 3 milkshakes, 5 cookies, and a frosted cinnamon bun. You could see the relief on her face when I paid the $48 bill.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Week #4, Calgary to Dawson Creek

Video of week #4:

When I am in the forest, I complain that I can not see anything. When I am in the desert, I complain that there are no trees. And after 2 weeks of riding through the prairie, there is too much dry grass. It gets hard riding for hours every day looking at hundreds of miles of dry, brown, open grassland. The wind rolls over it completely unhindered, picking up speed, slamming against me like the shock wave of a bomb. It's slow going and mentally exhausting.

The oasis of civilization is always a welcome relief from any extreme environment, at least until I get bored of it too. But there really is something so comforting about being in the middle of a bustling city. I become so much more aware of the modern convenience of basic necessities like food, shelter, and support. Things I generally take for granted. And even though I enjoy the silence of the open road, unless I am stopped and there is no wind, all I ever hear is the roar of air moving past me. It comes from the wind, the cars, and my own forward movement. Nothing but a rushing sound all day long. So now that I am standing on a street corner in Edmonton, I can hear people talking and walking, cars breaking for a light, busses accelerating and all kids of other sounds and noises that I never hear out on the open range.

With the snow storm this past week, Calgary and Edmonton seamed like distant refuges from the cold snow. It's hard to ride through snow that is more then 2 inches deep. If I push too hard, the rear tire spins out. If I relax for just a moment the front tire slide out. The snow and sand packs into the gears until the chain just spins around a ball of ice. The entire bike and all of my clothing becomes one giant dirty ice machine, picking up extra weight. If I try too hard, I will sweat too much and develop ice inside my clothing, and won't be able to dry my clothing out in the tent that night. If I go too easily, the bike goes nowhere. As the shoulder and first lane become covered in ice, I have to ride by brail, occasionally running over the rumble strip to feel my way safely down the shoulder so that I don't ride off the edge. As the snow plows or cars go by, I get pelted with a sandy, salt flavored icy. It drips down my face, blinds my glasses, and cakes the bike.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

3 weeks in.

A week after I started this ride, two girls I know headed out on their own bicycle journey. They left on a similar path that I had ridden in 2007. It was a humorous flash back down memory lane to read about their observations on things I had seen 5 years ago. Humorous, because nothing had changed and it was like reading my own words, nearly word for word. And it was refreshing to read their enthusiasm and innocence about life on two wheels. Every hill, weather, problem, success, and endless sights are all new to them. And I envy them for it. After 6 tours, I have lost so much innocence that it is a rare day that I see something new, challenge I have yet to face, or feeling that I haven't felt before.

People always ask, "what do I think about?". I usually joke that I have solved world peace a few times, forgot it, the solved it again. But actually, after spending so much time on the road, my mind is filled logistical calculations. I wish I had the innocence and thirst as those two girls, but I would never want to be that inexperienced again. I am focused less on the experience and more on the problems at hand.

When cars are approaching, I look to see if their windshield wipers are moving, lights are on, or car is wet. This gives me a tiny bit of information about what weather might be ahead. When I am climbing hills, I look for radio towers or electrical lines for markers on where the summit might be. I watch for flags, leaves, or anything blowing in the wind to give me a sense of what direction the wind is blowing. I know that if I am climbing a hill that the next town will probably be at the base on the other side, never on the top. If I go through a town near a river, I will have to climb some hill to get out of town. I'm always checking the map on the GPS to see where the road is going, and then compare that with what I see on the horizon so I can figure out if I will be going into the mountains, or heading down a valley.

As I move along, I am watching my speed, time of day, miles to destination, and if I'm going up or down in elevation. With these 4 numbers I can calculate down to the minuet what time I will arrive at my destination. And I am usually on time to within a few seconds. But the wind can ruin even the best and strongest predications. The past 5 days I have been fighting my worst enemy, the wind. When people ask what is the worst or hardest part of these rides, being lonely is #3, finding motivation when I am tired it #2, and fighting the wind is by far #1. I can't think of any trip where I have not had a spell of wind that nearly broke me and sent me packing for home. After 5 days of this cold wind, I am early at my breaking point. I am spending all day going nowhere and arriving at my destinations just before sunset. And as each day wears on me, I get no recovery and begin to slow down with every day as I get weaker and weaker. The wind is so demoralizing and leaves me feeling uncertain about my own abilities. And when I have only myself to rely on, doubt becomes a scary and nerve racking train of thought; the kind of thoughts than can wreck a trip. Fighting the wind all day makes me want to vomit. The slow rate of progress makes me angry. And the difficulty of finding motivation to continue when I am tired because I am doubting myself, make me want to cry

I like to tell people that I have a masters degree in suffering. And I believe that I am a master in the art of suffering; and it is an art. It takes an understanding about yourself that can only be achieved through lots of practice. A funny thing about suffering is that it never kills you. As long as I can keep that in mind, and push onward, I'll make it through anything.