Day 01 Vancouver to Mount Vernon
Posted by Mike
Garmin prediction: 82.3 miles /actual: 82.97 – (also maybe 3 or 4 extra miles looking around Vancouver not counted).
Avg. speed: 13.6 mph – too slow, but there was lots of stopping and starting in the built-up areas south east of Vancouver.
Sun shining and very warm – felt like about 24°C
We spent the morning in Vancouver – a beautiful city – lots of waterfront, people cycling and running.
We passed a makeshift memorial to Jack Layton on the museum steps – he was the leader of the opposition in Canada who has recently died of cancer. It was very moving – letters and cards describing him as a ‘good man’, a ‘true socialist’, a ‘friend to immigrants’ and ‘best prime minister we never had’. Flowers and candles and balloons cascaded down the steps. On a nearby lamp post, a poster celebrating gay marriage in Canada – only the fourth country in the world to provide for this on an equal basis. This all helped us feel very much like this was a city that we were welcome in.
We left the city via Chinatown/Kent Ave/ and the lovely and quiet ‘Ontario Bikeway’/Ontario St. where we passed a Queen Elizabeth Park – with a sweet bicycle-seat sculpture/benches
We came across a fantastic double-fronted and spacious bicycle shop with an Evoc cycle bag in the window! (This is where we should have come for ours – they were quite difficult to get in the UK!) Mighty Riders on East Broadway and Ontario St stocked beautiful road bikes, such as Colnago, Felt and also had some vey stylish steel fixed gear bikes, that were made locally – really neat welds, very smart looking and understated paint jobs in dark green and light brown. They told me that the fixed – gear scene was becoming really big in Vancouver. One of the wrenches had a ginger beard and was wearing a cycling cap – I told him that I thought he looked like Yehuda Moon! For anyone who doesn’t know he’s a cartoon character who’s an idealistic old-school cyclist and part-owner of the Kickstand Cyclery – see more at: yehudamoon.com. The place would have been ideal for a Look Mum No Hands – type cyclists’ café – maybe we should offer to open one for them … it’d be dream come true to be able to do something like that. Matthew could run the café bit and I could organise cycling events/activities and do the paperwork.
We continued our ride along the river on a cycle path – called Kent, past lots of timber yards into New Westminster, where we crossed the Fraser River over the Patullo Bridge.
The journey south through Surrey, White Rock and Douglas wasn’t particularly pleasant – it was all very built up and at first there plenty of uninspiring buildings, poor-looking estates with Soviet-style tower blocks. There was an area with lots of Sikh men, (mostly older guys wearing turbans), motorcar sale rooms decorated with lots of metallic tinsel bunting – it looked quite effective – sometimes forming a kind of circus tent shaped canopy over the cars and all shimmering in the breeze and shining in the bright sunlight. In this area there were some ugly, cheap (and often rather over the top) bungalows and houses, many with several cars parked outside. We did pass a gurdwara with a pretty white ceramic dome. We had a few close shaves in this area – it’s permitted to turn right at red lights in Canada and the USA, (we’re cycling on the right, of course). Some cars overtook us on our left and then turned right just in front of us – causing us to have to brake hard to avoid riding onto the side of them. Lots of drivers seem to take right turns without even pausing, wheels screeching a bit as they go around the bend too quickly – all a bit scary.
Matthew was clearly a little bored by now and he’s started to develop a Frankie Howerd-like persona, playing with the double entendres of the names of garages in this tin-shed land. Establishments with names like Mr Lube, Lube World, Lube and Go and even Top Lube – delight him!
He almost fell off his bicycle laughing as we rode past Nuts Maintenance! Ooooo – shut your face!! Then it was retirement-central as we came close to the border – Matthew wondered if there is a bit of ‘seniors’ tourism’ going on – people from the US coming into Canada to buy cheaper pharmaceuticals and medical care. Retirement villages and clinics were all over the pace. Lots of people were driving around with veteran stickers on the rear of their cars. We called into Safeway’s at Elgin and it had 4 pharmacy aisles, including one with a massive section labelled ‘Incontinence’ (I have seen the future!).
At the US/Canada border there was a beautiful monument – the Peace Arch – painted white with the inscription: ‘May this gate never be closed’ and huge flags fluttering from the roof. The area was very attractive – by the broad expanse of calm, flat water of Semiahmoo Bay and landscaped with some nice municipal bedding – big flower Canadian and US flags.
Inevitably the whole place was rather spoiled by the lines of idling nose-to-tail traffic queuing to get into the USA.
We managed to get past the queues and were directed into a side road that led to the main border control office – in a nice-looking glass and concrete building – while everyone else in cars went through toll-booth type lanes. We did get told off by someone in a dark uniform, rather menacing sunglasses and a gun for riding in a lane that was apparently reserved for emergency vehicles … although in our defence, we were following the signs – he told us that we should proceed into the building on the sidewalk – but we had to walk, not ride – because it was a pavement! Hmmm … I did wonder what would happen if all the motorists were told that they couldn’t drive on the road, but that they should get out and push! His gun prevented me from further inquiry. Once inside it was clear that there were lots of people who were Asian, Oriental or Hispanic – I think we were the only white people there (all the others in cars outside probably). The staff, (more dark uniforms, sunglasses and guns), were perfectly pleasant – the man who we dealt with at the counter was a bit surprised about our trip and wondered how we’d get home if we “didn’t make it” – the thought that we won’t make it seems a little preposterous, but it’s early days. So fingerprints taken, forms completed (including having to answer in all seriousness some pretty mad questions about our criminal pasts and terrorist intentions), photographs taken, $12 taken (apparently that $20 we paid for on-line ESTA (Electronic System for Travel), was wasted as we didn’t need them to cross by land. I don’t recall the website making that particularly clear. Still, we were given a piece of day-glow orange paper with some handwritten scribble and an authorisation stamp to pass on to a another border guard (this time a women) – gun, uniform, dark glasses etc. We were in! Welcome to the USA. Riding on to Blaine – which is a pretty little town.
The journey became really tranquil and rural now – road very quiet (all that traffic was in interstate 5). Forests, huge trains, pretty gardens and of course the mountains – Mount Baker in the distance a beautiful snow-topped peak was an almost constant companion on our left.
We had a break in Bellingham – a lovely-looking old town hall, now a museum. Called in at Rocket Doughnuts – organic coffee for Mike and green tea for Matthew – plus a doughnut of course: vegan chocolate for Mike and a blueberry fritter for Matthew.
Both delicious and a nice young man working there – he asked us about our journey – turns out he’d been cycling across Japan with his brother. That sounded like a brilliant trip. He asked us about doughnut provision in Europe! We’re not exactly aficionados – where’s Philip when you need him?! I could only think of Krispy Kremes the ones in Selfridge’s in Birmingham and Cabot Circus in Bristol. He was pretty dismissive of those “machine-made doughnuts” – his were all made by hand.
We finished our journey on a narrow, quiet undulating road, passing along by the ocean, through beautiful forests, coves, inlets and plains with the mountains in the distance. Chuckanut Bay, Larrabee State Park and skirting the base of Chuckanut Mountain. Our Warm Showers host last night said that this was spectacular and he was right. As we cycled Matthew kept saying, “This is beautiful … This is so beautiful.” We talked about whether or not this is the sort of thing that Matthew would have done if he hadn’t met Mike. Probably not. Matthew asked Mike if he’d have done these long cycle journeys without him – Mike thought that he probably would have done – cycling’s always been important to him. We wondered if Mike and Paul had still been together, if this is the kind of thing they might have done?! Mike thinks possibly yes – with a bit of encouragement and training anyone can do it. Over to you Paul! What do you think?
Ended the day in Mount Vernon – The Tulip Inn, (lots of daffodils and tulips are grown in this area), on the edge of town there was a wonderful scent of camomile, it must also be growing here.
Next to the hotel was perhaps one of the biggest supermarkets in the world – a giant Wal-Mart ‘Supercenter’ – we’ve never been in one before – and heard lots of negative things about them – but we thought we’d take a look for ourselves and see what we could buy for supper. Wow – an amazing place, everything is sold in absolutely gigantic packets, portions and containers – and quite hopeless if you only want enough for one meal and don’t want to carry/store anything! Oh, and how about a two for one offer on rifles – anyone?