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

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 cafĂ© 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.

1 comment:

  1. Love that last line... and the carrots do too. The ride is vivid, I like your "average speed upriver has been about the same as the river's speed to the ocean..." it gives an elemental feel to your travels. May you have no blind spots, and wide shoulders, and may every thing miss you... as I do!