A couple of days ago I cycled into Alberta from British Columbia, on a happily unloaded Hercules as a recent host from Dawson Creek happened to be driving that way on that day, and so took most of my luggage. I am glad because the front wheel bearing had been feeling rather unhealthy for the last 500km, meaning I was working extra hard for my miles (think of riding with the brakes on). Coupled with a family of unhappy spokes in the back wheel that were starting to pop and fold, I was glad to finally make it to a bike shop that could give him some TLC.
The enforced rest days while waiting for Hercules have also been welcome, even though I have had lots of these recently and sometimes have to remind myself I am cycling across the country. In fact, in the last three weeks I have only cycled 8 days – resting and waiting seems to have been the default, either waiting to banish germs or waiting for treatment slots for either myself or Hercules with local (very busy and spatially distinct) specialists. It feels like we are both ready to crack on again – a sort of Sarah and Herc V 2.0 (Winter edition), now that Herc is back from the docs. A few inches of snow have fallen in the last six hours or so too, meaning white riding again for at least tomorrow.
I have really enjoyed the time off the bike and am grateful for it. Had everything been fine with body and bike I likely would have pushed on and missed lots of stories and moments and wonderful people. Ever since quieting Chimpy when I first got sick a few weeks ago, I am pretty chilled about recent delays impacting on my journey east. Though I am a couple of weeks behind where I thought I might be, my team and I are happy with progress. I have also realised that I need to be cautious not to get caught up in peoples’ projecting their fears or concerns onto my own perception of things. Though they live in chilly temperatures and snowy conditions, there is only one person who knows what it is to ride my bike at the moment – me. With my host family in Grande Prairie tonight we spent the whole evening joking, rather morbidly but hilariously now that I think of it, over my host Alex’s declaration to the video camera of ‘Surely she will die!’ as we tiptoed outside through a fresh drop of snow en route to dinner. The thing is, new unknown things are often scarier than they actually are when you have a go. I am touched that her husband Brad took on a sort of fatherly concern and quizzed me about this and that before satisfying himself that I am sensible enough to ensure I have the best chance of not surely dying in the snow. I promise to my best, at any rate, and Hercules the warrior bike does, too.
My recent thwacking with the bronchitis was a really good reminder that my health took a beating over last winter and that I need to do everything I can to stay healthy – sleeping, resting, getting massage and physio, touching base with pscyhotherapist Briony from time to time and eating my way East. It is not just about cycling to Cape Cod over the next four months but we need to ensure I am healthy enough to spend 4 months rowing across the North Atlantic straight afterwards. I recently hooked up with a dietitician in the UK and orders were given to eat more – both carbs and protein. Hooray and hooray! I have set to it with earnest, and though I had always thought I was eating enough, lo and behold, I now have more energy and less muscle soreness.
As I pedalled south through the foothills of the Rockies from Fort Nelson to Fort St John through all degrees of snow, ice, slush, fog and bright sunshine, with more and more oil and gas trucks rattling past at rocket speeds, I settled into the stop-start can-we-can’t-we mode of riding when I could and pushing Herc up and down said hills in the slippery conditions or leaping off the road so as not to be obliterated by the gargantuan trucks. It was exhilerating to a point, interesting seeing the evolution of the landscape and the scale and pace of the oil and gas industry which criss crosses the region like an army of metallic ants marching between extraction sites and a good workout for mind and body being on high alert. Around the hubs of Dawson Creek (Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway) and Fort St John, the traffic became stressful and intimidating. I am glad the road shoulders have widened to give me a whole lane to myself now I am in Alberta.
Hanging out with, and being hosted by, lovely local folks has helped the mellow mindframe – indeed can sometimes feel like I am leaving family as I cycle away from front doors, waved on by new friends. I suppose the warmth and comfort of houses and showers and someone else looking after me has a large part to do with said relaxing too, and I am really grateful to everyone who has hosted me for their kindness. It has been an education as well, a snapshot into modern Canadian life up here. From being invited in out of the cold by the road grader who works out in the bush clearing service roads for oil and gas companies and listening to his tales of winters and wildlife; to having a field researcher deliver me breakfast to my snowy tent; to learning about the work of a local First Nation band’s efforts to work with government and industry to regulate resource extraction and processing on their land; to hanging out with a rower-turned-environmental consultant and getting her take on the complexities of land management in an ecological, economic and cultural context; to making a dance video with six year olds through having a pair of teenagers duet for us in the kitchen; to sharing in the excitement of (my first) Halloween and all the associated candy and home made cosutmes, to sitting in on a book club evening of wine and debate; through comparing the graceful speed and technicality of a speed skaters’ group training with the somewhat brash and brusque ice hockey practice going on at the rink next door and joining in with family games.
Being able to put first-hand accounts of life working on the oil patch to the things I had seen on the road (bejillions of huge trucks, some crazy driving and various pump and compressor stations and flare chimneys) was interesting and so too has been my time staying with a family of family doctors. Hearing more opinions on the complexities of, and challenges faced by, First Nations communities in modern Canada has been thought provoking and poignant and I find myself pedalling on with more questions than answers.
In summary, life on the road – or more recently off it – continues to be interesting, varied, emotive and peopled with kindness and good energy. Happily now, it also involves some working wheels.
Providing Tropical Storm Nuri and it’s associated systems doesn’t kaibosh things, the newly-wheeled Hercules and I shall zip south east to Edmonton over the next four days, stop briefly to sleep overnight and give a school talk, before cracking on towards Calgary, where I am expected a few days later. (The new front wheel is timely in this plan) I am really excited about Calgary for a couple of reasons. First off, one my L2L supported charities WaterAid is launching in Canada, teaming up with WaterCan to help implement safe water and hygiene solutions in communities around the world. And, super excitingly, in Calgary I shall be picking up a very special someone from the airport for six weeks of cycling. You probably have guessed already – it is Lucy, my fiancee, coming out to join the adventure and raise money for the L2L charities. I am as happy as a bike with new wheels and Lucy is pretty excited, too. You will hear from Lucy soon on her thoughts ahead of our winter ride.
Meanwhile, thanks to local folk who have helped out lately: Family Keeler (FSJ and Dawson Creek departments),Family Noga/Martin and Katie and Matt for the serenades and ear-worms, Shelley and Bob, Roddy the rod grader, FourWord Bike and Board, Deep Physio, Nancy Doyle, Darrell Kaczynski and MSG Bikes.
Sarah and Hercules x
P.S To my friends in the Aleutians and over the Pacific coasts, I hope you are all safe and well amid the big stormy stuff.