I had a huge smile on my face as I hit the end of the Cassiar Highway 37 and turned onto Yellowhead Highway 16. I gave a loud woohoo (half for joy, half for relief) which turned a few heads at the gas station and then went and rewarded my efforts with a coffee. Looking back on the last few days and I can’t believe what I did and I can’t even begin to understand why I didn’t just hitch a ride. I had a thought that maybe had kept me going. I remember when I was a kid, we had several salt water creeks running through our property. The only times the creeks were full of water were in the middle of winter and we’d spend days making boats and wading through the cold water. An Australian winter is quite a bit milder than North America, that’s for sure. But I figured if I could enjoy the cold when I was a kid, damn…why can’t I enjoy it now?
Now that I’m back in civilisation I’ve been making the most of it. At New Hazleton I pigged out on bananas, cheese, rice cakes and chocolate milk. At Smithers I stopped in at Dairy Queen for a blizzard and fries. And finally, the first Safeway store for 1300 miles since Fairbanks.
After passing through the tiny blink-and-you-miss-it town of Telkwa (though on a bicycle you’d have to keep your eyes shut long enough that you’d fall off) I stopped to check out a camping park which had a bicycle above its entrance sign. A notice board listed the price as $10 and right there and then I decided I’d try to make it the extra 30 miles to Houston. About one minute after I turned back onto the road, a pickup chased after me down the road and pulled up in front of me. A man hopped out quickly and introduced himself as John, the manager of the camp. He asked me where I was headed and when I told him, he let me know there was a “knee-breaker” of a hill in front of me.
“Might be best to stay the night and get a fresh start in the morning.”
He half convinced me by mentioning that the showers were free, but as I pulled my wallet out to pay the camping fee he said that he wasn’t charging me at all. I set up my tent on the long lawn and made my dinner.
I took a long, wonderful shower and then made good use of the laundry room. I did all the laundry that I hadn’t had a chance to do since Whitehorse while at the same time made use of the heat and the lighting to get a start on my latest book. Just as I was about to start, John walks in and invites me up to his place for a glass of wine. John cycles a lot too (did a tour in Mexico where he said the drivers are really respectful of bicyclists) and said he always gets pangs of jealousy when he sees guys like me riding down the highway. He’s an engineer on “the Skeena”, the train that runs from Prince Rupert to Jasper. He suggested I skip the Prince George to McBride section of my ride and just catch the train. Apparently the highway route is a scenic ride through one of the largest clear-cut forests in the world. It can actually be seen from outer space.
John’s had a bloody tough six months. His wife just died in the spring from a long battle with cancer, and his father died four weeks later. One of the nicest blokes that I’ve met.
We were swapping stories about our bicycle trips and for some reason my numb toes came up as topic of conversation. Turns out that he used to get numb toes as well. He went to a podiatrist and turns out that it’s a condition called Morton’s Neuroma where a nerve gets squeezed between the bones in your feet. He goes into his laundry room and searches through the cupboards for a few minutes. He comes back with a pair of neoprene cycling booties and hands them to me,
I refuse the offer, it’s too much, too generous.
“They don’t fit me anymore so it’s not worth holding on to them is it?”
After stumbling back to my tent in the dark after too much wine, and hence having mud all over my pants, I realise that people don’t grow out of shoes when they’re middle aged.
Thank you John.