Best laid plans…

In the past year I have had a number of significant adventure travel plans unexpectedly go awry. These include plans many months in the making, with bookings and dates confirmed. I feel it’s worth noting that the collapse of these plans has not been due to me or to faulty planning, but to exigencies affecting my travel companions.

In one case, my intended companion was my wife. We were married last
year – after 25 years of living together – and planned an adventurous three-week honeymoon in Costa Rica. Within days of our departure, my wife was informed of a vitally important work-related meeting – scheduled for the middle of our time away – that she could neither miss nor postpone.

More recently, my brother-in-law (who lives in New York) and I planned a kayak trip on the west coast of BC. The plan was hatched at dinner on the day of my aforementioned wedding – a full year in advance of the trip. He arrived a week before our planned departure. All arrangements had been made. The boats and gear were ready. We were all set to go, but then he had an accident and broke his arm.

As I have learned, at such times it’s good to have a Plan B. In my case, Plan B has been my daughter Sophie. In both instances above, Sophie stepped into the breach and rescued the situation. It helps that she’s young and has flexibility with her commitments.

My latest unravelled travel plan involved a trip to Greece to see an old friend whom I haven’t seen in decades. It took me hours to figure out the logistics of getting to the island of Syros, where he lives, from Vancouver, where I live. We confirmed dates and other arrangements, but just as I was about to book my flights I received a message that his situation had changed and he would not be available.

This time there is no Plan B with Sophie. However, I haven’t given up. I am determined to go somewhere, although not for now to Greece.


imageDay 5 – Port Townsend

The outlook was for rain today, so we decided to hole up here in PT. Our campground is 4 miles from town and as we biked in it started to pour. We’re sitting in a cafe drying out. Ironically, it’s now become sunny outside. Further irony – I expect WiFi at my cafes, but this one doesn’t have it – the owner seemed proud of that. Probably explains its clientele – all the other customers look like aged hippies

Spent the day poking through the local museum and hanging around. PT is a cool place – it’s got historic charm, great scenery and an artsy/folksy vibe – but to be here for no purpose leaves me feeling like there’s too many hours in the day. I want to move on.


imageDay 4. – Port Townsend
50 km

A very nice ride down Whidbey Island to the Port Townsend ferry. Crossing Hood Canal we saw sea lions, jelly fish and even a salmon. Port Townsend has preserved its Victoiran past – virtually all of the buildings in the main part of town date from the late 19th century. Obviously a tourist town, but also apparently a capital of counter culture. Walking the main street felt like being on a movie set, with “characters” everywhere. A youngish woman dressed in baggy clothes played a monotonous new-agey tune on a home-made wooden recorder. Four young guys sitting next to the sidewalk were “jamming” with a couple of guitars they barely knew well enough to strum.

imageFrom our campsite we can see a US Navy installation of some kind across Hood Canal. And we can still hear the occasional muscle-flexing rumble of fighter jets from the Whidbey Isl air base. For that matter, we’re camped at Fort Townsend, an old military fort from the 1850s, of which nothing now remains but weathered signage marking locations for the officer’s quarters, etc. From this spot It’s hard not to notice how large a role the military plays in America.


imageDay 3 – Deception Pass State Park
60 km

Woke up to a drizzling rain that became pounding before I could light the stove for breakfast. Sophie still in her tent. When she poked her head out she was beaming. Everything sodden and the prospect of a long ride in the rain, and she was unfazed. I love this girl!

After fuelling up on oatmeal we packed – everything wet – and set off. The ride down Chuckanut Drive was beautiful – even in the rain. Eventually we emerged from the forest onto a looooong, inexorably straight country road, with a stiff headwind and pelting rain. It took 90 minutes before we came to a place where we could have coffee – Sisters Drive Through, with outdoor seating for non-driving customers. At least by now the rain had stopped. Brooke (the sister on duty) served us Americanos and hot dogs, Many of her other customers, most dressed in camo gear and gumboots, had come from salmon fishing on the Samish River. There was talk of guns ‘n stuff. This is Trump territory. Trump signs outnumber Hillary’s at least two to one.

imageWe crossed the spectacular Deception Pass Bridge and rode into the park at mid-afternoon. The wind off the water creates a constant roar as it blows through the treetops. Similar, in fact, to the roar of the military jets that seem to constantly be taking off and landing from the nearby Whidbey Island Air Force Base.



Day image2 – Larrabee State Park – 7okm

I’ve given up trying to use maps – too fussy, and Google Maps provides such detailed instruction (continue for 100 metres, go left for 2o metres…) that I’ve taken to navigating by the sun. We’re heading south, so any promising road in that direction should do… as long as we’re prepared for some confusion and extra mileage along the way. Extra mileage was required for getting to Larrabee. But I still like this strategy of celestial navigation – aided by the local knowledge of roadside bystanders.

Lunch in Bellingham. There seem be a lot of young, unemployed people in B’ham. Actually, lots of unemployed people of all ages. And lots of strong characters. This is America, after all. Land of the free. One 40-ish guy, certainly unemployed and, judging from how brown and gnarly he looked, maybe living rough, was covered in tattoos. On his forehead extending back over his balding skull he had a large tattoo of the Dallas Cowboys logo. Like tribal identity markers in Borneo. Or football as religion, giving meaning to life. I am a fan, therefore I am.



Day 1 – Birch Bay – 74km

It was sunny and warm as we left Vancouver. Couldn’t have been better. Crossing the border at Peace Arch was interesting. Hardened borders mean long waits. We were in the line for pedestrians (who walks to the US?). With one couple ahead of us we still waited 30 minutes to get cleared. Not for lack of staff – there were burly border guards everywhere, impassively walking around behind the counter, which was lined with at least 25 work stations. But nobody was interested in dealing with people in line. Maybe we arrived during a shift change. When we finally did get someone’s attention it took all of 2 minutes for him to determine we weren’t a threat to national security.

Grindingly obvious

It’s a long way from Vancouver to San Diego. Close to 3,000 kilometres. Riding in all types of weather and camping all the way, it will be a long grind.

Of course hundreds… maybe thousands of people have done this trip, and I’ve read some of their accounts. But their journey is not our journey. And with just two days until we set off, I feel strangely nervous.

This plan was hatched eight months ago.  My neighbour has done a couple of long-distance bike tours and the idea appealed to me.

I asked my 20-year-old daughter if she’d be interested in biking across Canada. She wasn’t. But she returned and asked if I’d be interested in a different trip – biking to Mexico. And so we are.

Me – a 60-year-old with the motivation, time and resources to make this journey possible. Sophie, with the free-spirited and adventurous nature required for being my partner.

Let the mile-grinding begin.