Sharon Hawley has finished her bicycle trip in Canada for this summer. She hopes to complete the adventure in another year. Please follow her winter adventure at

Route Map

Route Map

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Canadian Outback

I was warm, even at six in the morning, riding on a wide shoulder in another day of beautiful country. The North Thompson River is no longer the placid companion it has been these past several days. It splashes and roars, no longer the place mothers set their children on rafts, pat them on the head and say, “I’ll see you in Little Fort,” as excited kids float away, gently on the river. Now it is the playground for whitewater rafters, so I am told, but have seen none.

My internet research yielded a café at Vavenby, twenty-four km out, and a perfect distance for breakfast. But the café does not exist. So, a bit disappointed, I proceeded toward Avola, another forty-three km, where a motel and three restaurants are listed.

Soon a breeze began from the southwest, the way breezes are supposed blow. If I ride at ten to fifteen km/h, I seem to be not moving, not through the air at least. This part of Canada is temporarily peaceful, weatherwise, enjoying a high pressure reprieve while Ontario suffers thunderstorms and the prairie swelters.

I came to Avola and pulled into the motel just as a man was coming out the office. “We are going fishing,” he said. “I’m looking for a meal and a room,” I said with bewilderment, thinking he might be the manager. “There is nothing between here and Blue River,” he said, “And the only motel there costs $129.” He said he was leaving in ten minutes but would rent me a room. So here I am in a small room at a low price, wondering where I would be sleeping tonight if I had come ten minutes later.

I walked down the hill to the pub, the only eatery in Avola, (the other two are closed) and ordered a hamburger because that’s all they serve. “It takes twenty-five minutes to cook it,” said the barmaid, which gave me plenty of time to read the sign over the bar: “This is not Burger King. You can’t have it your way. You can have it our way or do without the damn thing.”
“Did you see the bears? I saw three coming to work,” she said while cooking, “A grizzly and her two cubs are in the area; several people have seen them.” I was glad to be ensconced in the only room within a hundred kilometers, taking into account the fishing diversion of its manager. Somehow, camping in these woods feels uninviting.

I bought some cookies at the store and came back to my room to write this. Of course there is no internet in Avola, but my rundown room has 100 channels of satellite television.

The next morning I started riding on the first cold day, just above freezing, and happy to find a hill to climb for its warmth of exertion. The country is becoming mountainous, as the North Thompson River steepens, no longer the massive wide current of the past ten days.

And there on the side of the road I saw my first bear. It did not see me, and I tried to be quiet getting out the camera. But it turned abruptly and looked me in the eye, then ran the other way. It was at least twice my size, and I had startled it, exactly the wrong way to meet a bear. It’s best if they see you from a comfortable distance; then they feel less threatened. But a bicycle is silent, and unlike a car, it can sneak up on bears.

I came into Blue River, already knowing the motel manager in Avola had given me a line. I rode into town hungry and stopped at the Sandman for a huge breakfast. Than I rode to the Blue River Motel, where I’d called the night before to reserve a room for fifty dollars.

The snow is lower on the mountains now, not really lower, but I am higher and the air is cool. The weather forecast calls for near freezing mornings, warming to comfortable afternoons. I look foreword to crossing the mountains into Alberta and biking the famous Icefields Parkway from Jasper to Banff.

Friday, May 29, 2009


The Arid Interior is definitely behind me now. Lush grass and forests replace it. Gardens are just getting started in this northland where the last frost comes late. Corn plants are just emerging, each with two tentative leaves. And hopeful tomato plants are just being moved to gardens from inside where they grew as much a foot tall.

I rode a wide shoulder on a road with less traffic, on gentle grades with little wind, along the North Thompson River. Often, I would top a rise or round a turn, and scenery would magically appear, flung out before me like an open fan.

I stopped for breakfast at a café about four km north of Little Fort, or 29 km south of Clearwater, (in case tiny Little Fort is not on your map) The breakfast was good and the motel stuck me as world class, a perfect place to spend a few easy days and just watch the North Thompson River go by. Rooms cost sixty Canadian dollars and have wireless internet. I would choose Room 6 because it is on the second floor at the end of the building, having the best view of the river. And here is your easy booking information: Rivermount Motel, Campground and Café, phone 250 677 4477 or 866 816 7912, email

I rode on through this wonderland, reaching Clearwater around noon. I like to begin riding early and end early for several reasons. This afternoon it got very hot, and it was good to be finished. Clearwater is a hard town to find your way around in because the Google map of it is far from accurate. Nothing of the town is visible from the highway, and the several parts of it are off on different roads. Still, its Dutch Lake is astoundingly lovely under the snowy peaks, and I am happily settled in a tiny cabin.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Rolling by a River

I started nine days ago where the ship docked, where the Fraser River joins the Pacific Ocean. I pedaled upstream along the Fraser to where the Thompson River joins, then up the Thompson to where the North Thompson River adds its mass of snowmelt. The railroad and I have followed this water all the way. Now, I am in Barriere, still following the North Thompson where it is eleven hundred feet above sea level, and where it still looks almost like the huge river the Fraser was in the beginning. It boils up to the surface wherever its huge bulk meets a rock or hill in its bed, conforming its smooth surface into a steady uniform flow, as if some engineering master has set its average bottom slope at some minute and precise value for all these five hundred kilometers. The river has moved consistently at about twelve kilometers per hour wherever I have turned around long enough to measure its speed. My average speed upriver has been about the same as the river’s speed to the ocean. If I wanted to return to Vancouver, I think the easiest way would be to build a raft and, like Tom Sawyer, float all the way back on that gentle water. It is good to accompany the river, especially when there is no headwind and where the road provides a shoulder to ride on, as it did today. But like the river with its Hells Gate Rapids, there have been a few pedaling stresses.

I suppose Day 9 is a good time to put down some impressions of how safe it is to bike across Canada. I wish I had had been given the following assessment, given to me by some kindred nomad, but alas I found nothing like this on the internet. So here it is for all you who long to follow me and are being held back by fear of dangerous roads.

Drivers in Canada are, on average, slower, safer and friendlier to cyclists than drivers in the United States. And exceptions to the average are less severe than in the US. I have not been threatened by any drunk or reckless driver, never been honked at, or deliberately squeezed off the road.

The roads I have traveled are safe for at least ninety percent of their length. By “safe” I mean they have a paved shoulder at least three feet wide. (This does not apply to narrow country roads with slow traffic and little of it, where a shoulder is not essential.) Of course it only takes ten percent to kill you, so here is what to watch out for.

There is usually a good shoulder where the road has two lanes, one in each direction. But where it has three lanes, the shoulder sometimes disappears. This usually happens where two lanes are in your direction and one lane is in the opposite direction. If a vehicle comes up behind you and has an empty left lane to move into, it invariably does so. But you have to watch your mirror, because if a vehicle is passing in the left lane and there is no shoulder, it gets very unsafe. Often there is a good shoulder on the other side of the road in this configuration. I sometimes go over there when it is safe to cross. But if you are being approached from behind by a vehicle passing another vehicle, and there is no shoulder, the best thing to do is get as far right as possible and stop. This requires a close watch in the mirror and forces a tense riding experience.

Once, a house trailer was approaching from behind and I saw no other vehicle passing it, so I proceeded, assured it would move left. But I did not see the car behind it getting ready to pass. The house trailer could not move over, and it came very close to me. This has been the only scary moment.

In the breakfast café today, farmers and loggers talked about growing carrots and potatoes, both pretty good ventures compared to logging. I passed a mill today where you see logs piled up in this picture. They remind me of the first four years out of college, a forestry graduate, scaling logs like these—fir, redwood, pine. Of course there are no redwoods in this cold country, and the pine beetles have killed most of the pines. The Douglas fir would still be good if it were not for that vast wildfire of 2003. But all that pales to the economy. Housing starts are way down and lumber prices are in the toilet. Still, men pull boards off the green chain and log trucks arrive at a mill already piled high with waiting logs. Everybody can’t grow carrots.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Day of Rest

I am using this day of rest in Kamloops to consider what I am doing. Is it even sensible? I planned this adventure fevered with the notion of going up to Canada and riding across it. “The best of luck,” friends said, “Have fun, enjoy the country.” “You almost make me wish I was there pedaling beside you, although the thought of four months on a bicycle makes me very sore.” “After you cross the Rockies, it's all flat until the East Coast, or so I heard.” “How could we not care about such a wild woman?”

But what is really behind the friendly well-wishers and the itch inside my brain? To escape my stagnation and begin a new life? To get free from the bondage of my own identity? To be noticed as an interesting person and perhaps worthy of closer inspection? To achieve literal reincarnation in the cells of a hungry bear?

After the summer of ‘07, coast to coast, I think often of these feelings. I see and yet I don’t see. Conned, perhaps, in the year and a half at home, into thinking the real action is metropolitan, and all this was just boring hinterland. The truth knocks on the door and you say, “Go away, I’m looking for truth. And so it goes away.” Puzzling.

Many people express a romantic sentiment in connection with an older woman crossing a continent on a bicycle. They call me brave and adventurous, but a hint in the way they say it means something else. It is romantic if you are not the one doing it. All I do is pedal. Life is simple, stripped down to basic survival, my world strapped to a bicycle.

Sometimes I wish I could sit on the porch of one of the houses in a small towns where I see old-timers and children watching me, and watch me with them as I ride by. I wish I could think their thoughts and compare their assessment of me to my own. I think they would say what my friends say—well-wishers, conferrers of bravery and an adventurous spirit, and thinkers that there is no compelling reason for them to do this. I wonder if they see that although logic is right, and love of life is right, none of us are strong enough to retain these ingrained mandates under the right circumstances. So I ride on in the sweet assurance that I am only a little more ridiculous than the rest of you are in following an unreasonable dream.

I worried in the planning stages that motels could be full, that the short Canadian summer would fill them with tourists and leave me uncomfortable in my small tent and sleeping bag, which I brought for emergencies. I considered making reservations, and did so for the first night out. But reservations are risky. If I fail to arrive at a distant town and have no way to call and cancel, then the money is lost. So I have set out each morning for a town that shows at least one motel on the internet, hoping it would have vacancy. What I have found in Hope, Yale, Lytton, Cache Creek and Kamloops is half-full motels at most. And the prices are usually less than shown on the internet. Maybe the economy has most people staying home. I still worry about touristy Jasper, Banff and those three days of travel along the popular Icefields Parkway. But it is six days to Jasper, and I’ll ride them without worrying about finding a motel.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Land of Capricious Wind

Canadian winds prevail from the west or southwest. Such was the knowledge I brought here, and on which I hung most of the weighty decision to begin on the west coast, rather than the east.

I knew it would be a long mountainous journey today from Cache Creek to Kamloops. So I set the alarm for four-thirty to ride before traffic, to pull as many hills as possible before midday heat, and to reach Kamloops in early afternoon and before the uncertainties of late afternoon weather and traffic.

I awoke as dawn began. Opening the motel room door, I tested the air, deciding what to wear. It was warmer than yesterday morning with a strong rustle in the trees. I would need only biking shorts, bright yellow shirt, jacket and gloves. No need for leg warming full-length tights or the added warmth of either bogan or outer rain jacket. In this north country, day begins at four-thirty and does not dim into night before nine-thirty. I figured I’d reach Kamloops around one in the afternoon and have the rest of the day to explore the town.

That rustle in the trees only encouraged me; it represented west wind, and I was headed east. The first turn out of the driveway proved how wrong that assumption was. Wind hit me in the face with deafening, bike-swaying force, like a mother’s hand slap saying I cannot continue in the direction of my foolishness. But I went belligerently on, though at half of normal speed with twice normal effort. I considered my speed and calculated the hours it would take to reach Kamloops, and the discouragement of that number only sucked away determination and with it a little more from my speed. After an hour with no change in the strong east wind, I assessed my energy and the likelihood of reaching Kamloops. I came up wanting. I could turn back or I could camp somewhere on this open Arid Interior of Canada and wait out the wind. I might try to find shelter in the little midway town of Savona, but no motels are listed there.

As I considered alternatives, with thirteen kilometers behind and seventy ahead, the wind stopped. Stopped dead. I figured it temporary and kept riding to gain a little easy distance, but it stayed stopped for half an hour. Then it started again, but from the west. That fierce resistance I had been fighting for an hour turned into a gentle push on my back, like a father’s hand saying I’m doing all right.

Normally, I look at the clouds, of which there were many on this overcast day, and judge the prevailing wind from the cloud direction. But these clouds did not move. Now I had a luscious tailwind driving me with little effort to Savona. But a few kilometers before reaching town it changed again, and again I struggled into strong headwind. These winds were not obeying the American wind laws. These were rogue, fickle Canadian winds and very strong.

Savona is strung out along the shore of Lake Kamloops and best seen by turning off of the main highway just after crossing the Thompson River and taking the slow road along the shore. After about five kilometers, it joins the main road at Roadhouse Café. I stopped there for breakfast and to assess the wind. But after an hour the wind was still blowing from the east.

I started off again, ascending a summit and pushing air, but wind under these conditions is not nearly as offensive as it is on flatland or gentle slopes. So I kept pushing grade and wind, hoping for another change by the time I crested.

And it did change, became tail. But within an hour it stopped or changed to east. Such wind is uncanny and disconcerting, like having no knowledge or understanding of the basic forces around me, like feeling gravity act in capricious ways.

So it was that I came to the outskirts of the largest town since Vancouver. I looked down on it and then fell out of the mountains and dropped like a stone. Kamloops is a treacherous city of eighty-four thousand people and steep streets. They must kill a hundred people a day in the winter when ice and snow cover these steep roads. Today it was just too crowded with cars.

When you look at where Kamloops is on the map at the top of this blog, and see how little of the entire mouthful I have swallowed, it seems ridiculous that I even started.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Arid Interior

Who would expect while standing in Arizona’s Sonora Desert, that it extends northward up the east side of the Rockies, through Oregon and Washington, all the way into British Colombia, and that I would be traversing it on a bicycle shortly after pedaling through lush, mossy forest. Lytton, where I slept last night, marks the beginning of Canada’s Arid Interior, and my passage today was through desert.

The churning Thompson River, which carries snowmelt into the Frasier River, which I have parallel these past four days, does not know that desert rivers are supposed to be dry except after downpours. So it boils and splashes a massive quantity of melted snow through the sagebrush.

I was up early on Sunday, sailing the sagebrush ocean, spiked with an occasional tree, shadowed under teetering rock formations and tilted cliffs. Suddenly without expectation, at twenty-five kilometers and eight o’clock, a building shimmered, then took shape and became Shaw Springs Café. No cars rested in front, but I tried the door anyway, hoping. I met the owner who had just opened. Right behind me came two men in a car. One said, “I know what I want.” The other said, “Do you have tea with half a lemon?” The owner said she had no lemons, and without much of a goodbye, the two men left.

I sat with coffee and breakfast, talking with the owner, or rather listening. She ranted for a good ten minutes on how impolite those men were, that she has the only place open on Sunday until they reach Hope, the town where I slept two nights ago. I categorized her as a complainer and one who should learn to bend with the wind like I do. But then it seemed that I had judged her based on labels. If someone is ungrateful and you tell him he’s ungrateful, you have called him a name, but you have not solved anything. When you look at an insane man all you see is a reflection of your own knowledge that he is insane. So I asked her about life out here on the desert, running a café and RV park by herself, vulnerable to the unabated whims of passers-by. She has held on here for thirty years, through hot summers and frigid winters and figures it beats the frustrations of society. And occasionally she talks to interesting people.

Of course this struck home to one who left society just to be in such places, and on a bicycle what’s more. About then, she pointed out the window, “Wind is from the south. See it in the tree?” She knew I was headed north to Cache Creek and figured I’d like to know that.

I pulled into Cache Creek after eight-five kilometers and tried two motels. They cost around eighty dollars, which translates to about sixty US. Then I tried the Sundowner Motel and asked how much. The owner, Michael Davidson, looked at me, all sweaty, tired and dirty. Then he looked out the window at the loaded bicycle. “Is that the way you travel?” “Yes,” I said. “Forty dollars,” he said. “It’s usually eighty, but I like your style.” So here I sit in a clean room with wireless internet. I paid him for two nights, figuring after four days of riding I need a rest. And besides, he’s a single man from the US who moved here two years ago just to own a small motel in a small Canadian town.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Fraser River Valley

What a change on leaving Mission! Sure, it was early morning, but traffic was light and farms replaced yesterday’s suburbs. The wide Fraser River Valley, farmed in its fertile bottom, hairy on its sides with forest trees—western red cedar, sitka spruce and hemlock. And above all, snowy rock outcroppings pointing skyward. Waterfalls are so many they are like string clippings scattered on the mountains. They run down chutes, vanishing into the thick of forest above the river.

I stopped at the Deroche Café for breakfast and found it truly country in the way cafes often were in 2007 when I crossed America. Local farmers and loggers asked me what I am doing, and I learned which roads are better and why. It seems both sides, them and me, want to tell the other what we know that might involve their lives, a hallmark of conversation in country cafes.

I rode along in silence much of the day, interrupted by the occasional transport truck, pickup, or car, and saw only two recreational vehicles all day. I thought of the Kwakwaka'wakw first nation people traversing this river and their relatives the Haida, whom I learned about at the Anthropology Museum in Vancouver. They lived off the red cedars, making canoes from a single log. But unlike those heavy dugouts of other tribes, these ingenious people dug the wood out, then filled the opening with water. They put hot rocks in the water to heat it and soften the wood. Then they pried the sides out, making the canoe twice as wide as a simple dugout, and much lighter per occupant.

Tomorrow I shall ride up the Fraser River Gorge, through seven tunnels, I am told.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

First Day Out

Trans-Canada Trail
Hi, from Mission, a town on the Fraser River in British Colombia. I’m about seventy kilometers east of the starting point in Vancouver. I floated up the coast from Los Angeles on a cruise ship, the Sapphire Princess, indulging in fine dining and relaxation. Three nights in Vancouver’s YWCA provided a clean and inexpensive base for visiting the city’s Stanley Park, Chinese Garden, nude beach near the University of British Columbia, and the Anthropology Museum at UBC.

Yesterday, I pedaled through city and suburb for half a day before joining the Trans-
Canada Trail that visionaries hope will someday span the entire country. I pushed the loaded bike up the too-steep-to-ride trail on Burnaby Mountain, and just when it seemed too hard to go on, I looked down and could almost see the hotel I woke up at that morning, some 20km away and 300 meters below me. Forty more kilometers on roads, and I came to Mission, very tired and knowing that the cruise ship had left me out-of-shape.

It’s good to be underway.