Travelling across Canada makes encounters with bears a real possibility. The summer season creates a bear fever of sorts as all tourists seem to chat about is bears. Talk of bears is a real conversation starter as people ask you if you have seen one just so that they can smugly tell you their bear story. Indeed, bear-jams are common as drivers dangerously pull over or fail to pull over on sight of a bear creating serious obstacles on the highways. Often I have pulled over for a scenic photo-stop and people think I have spotted a bear and so they pull over too. It's pretty crazy stuff. The fever intensifies off the highways in the back-country as everywhere there are signs warning you of the 'danger' of bears and telling you to be 'bear aware'. To a large extent it feels like these great creatures have been demonised much like the movie 'Jaws' did to sharks. It is hard for me to accept that bears are dangerous since the only bears I know are Paddington Bear, Winnie the Pooh and Baloo; all of whom are very friendly characters.

Bears can maul humans and it is important that people understand how not to antagonise them, however, the signs telling us to beware of bears are equally signs telling bears to beware of morons. A bear has no desire to meet us whatsoever. It is not his fault that we have placed roads and trails through his foraging terrain. The reality is that if you leave your food out then a bear's sense of smell will pick up on it. I do not know any species that does not enjoy a free lunch so to speak. He is simply hungry and he is certainly not coming over 'to bite your head off' because you shouldn't have left food out for him and now he is going to be shot by the ranger because he has come too close to humans. While he is omnivorous he will not kill you to eat you. 80% of his food is roots and berries and the meat he does eat is usually kill that he picks up on. Usually they will eat a lot of meat when they come out of their dens for the winter as the cold has naturally killed elk and deer off creating easy pickings for the hungry bear. Certainly, if he wanted to kill game he could but he is more interested in berries than anything else. He has to pack in enough food during August and September so that he can survive the winter in his den hibernating. He spends twenty hours a day foraging and so I need to make sure that I keep any attractants away from my tent by hanging them since I'm asleep when he's awake. If the berry crop has been poor then he is likely to be late into his den and so may have to kill to get the food he needs into him.

Bears must be among the most majestic of creatures. They can climb trees to 'poach' eggs, they can swim for fish and they can run 55kph when they have to (Olympic sprinters run 35kph). Of course, they are immensely strong too and so it is important not to antagonise them. Mountain-bikers on back-county trails (like me) are the most likely to come upon wildlife as bikes are pretty silent and move quickly. On encountering a bear you should back away as he was there first and you don't know if it is a mother with cubs nearby. Apparently it is not prudent to break into a chorus of "I'm the king of the jungle, the jungle's VIP ... " and barge your way through as then you may start a turf war. The only way to win in that situation is to throw rocks at the bear so he knows you can hurt him ... but what if there are no rocks? If you make yourself big and threaten him he may back away but he may not. The other thing not to do is to be afraid. Animals can smell fear and will react to it in one way or another.

So far I have seen two black bears. While I can't be certain they were black bears as the colour of a bear does not determine whether it is a grizzly or a black bear, they did not seem to have the hump that grizzlies tend to have. Both of them were very big. One I saw scampering from an oncoming freight train; one of those Canadian Pacific Rail-road trains that goes on for miles. He was about 300 metres away. The other one was 10 metres away but I got there just as the Ranger fired a flare near him to scare him back into the woods. If I have a close encounter with a bear I want it to be alone and one where we are both aware of each other. I respect his majesty and he respects that I'm not a moron. We'll nod to each other like old friends (as man likely once was). The two of us will be sitting there sharing in the spoils of nature knowing that neither of us has the desire to kill, rather we both just love the sweet taste of Huckleberries.

Over and out

suspending food from trees to keep the bears and racoons away



The opportunity to travel  the world and make vivid life-long memories with a girlfriend would have been desirable but then the liberty of travelling single is also a gift. I didn't have a choice in the matter. I was not meeting the kind of girls that excite and inspire me in Dublin so I felt I had to look for them elsewhere. It seems that such girls are hard for me to find anywhere in the world.

It is not my desire to be single but I can't manufacture a relationship out of nothing. I wear my thoughts quite openly and so it is impossible for me to feign interest. Being single can be challenging; while being personally frustrating it is more annoying to feel society staring at me as if there is something wrong with me. Naturally I stare back as I believe it is society that has the problem. It is a shame to say it but there are a lot of people hiding out in relationships because they think it is better for them to be with anyone than for them to be on their own. Being 'with' someone seems to legitimise you as a person in the world we live in. I have no idea why people would prefer to be a part of something that is clearly not working but often they make every effort to maintain the dysfunction when it would be easier and better to part. This is because being in a dysfunctional relationship is held in higher esteem than being single. It is also true to say that some people prefer being with someone because it distracts them from their own thoughts. Instead of taking time to be alone and work on themselves, they ignore their inner demons and burden the relationship with their self-doubts and insecurities.

On a personal level I get on really well with myself. I would always much prefer to be in my own company than to be in bad company. This is really just indicative of my introspective side but it does amaze me that some people can't stand to be by themselves. For certain, some people could not travel for such a long period on their own due to loneliness. I was concerned that I might disappear into that aloof space that is my head but I needn't have worried. The world is saturated with people so it is never difficult to have a conversation and thankfully I've had plenty of good ones on my trip. The only time I waver is when I arrive into a city and fail to meet cool people in the hostel. This means that I must wander the streets alone observing people drinking coffee, having pints or eating dinner with friends. It is annoying to stay in on a weekend night when others are out partying. I am not quite brave enough to wander into a pub on my own yet - live music or food provide the exception. Of course, I'm blessed to have had many great random nights out with travellers while all these people are in bed on a school-night. Indeed, I have no concept of time anymore  - everyday feels like the weekend. However, such perspective doesn't take away those pangs for quality friends when they arrive. Interestingly I never experience these in the countryside as I never feel that I am missing out on anything. It is more likely that I would rue not being able to share certain places with people I know who would love them.

My trip is operating on many different levels. It is important that I see it through as it is all raw material for something else. I have always been fascinated with reinvention and  the ability to live a multi-faceted existence that would allow me to experience many things. The bionic dude is simply one incarnation. However, deep down I am hoping that I discover either somewhere or someone that truly stops me dead in my tracks. A person or place whose energies allow mine to dissolve and blend in harmoniously. Thus far, the trip has proved unsuccessful on both scores. Then, I met Naomi.

Naomi was hitch-hiking to BC from Toronto where she lives. She was only in the hostel in Banff to use the Wi-Fi when she realised she could stay for free if she worked there in the mornings. Her trip is far more loosely defined than mine but it has its own constraints in terms of the family ties in both BC and Ontario that she wishes to stay close to. Like most people who hit the road solo, her trip is more a journey of self-discovery than anything else.

I delayed departing Banff by a couple of days to spend more time with her. My whole life I have had an inkling of what I am looking for in terms of a girl. It is not that I have a list but I can define the things that excite me. I realise that some people think I am crazy and that relationships are all about compromise, patience, tolerance and a good friendship. I agree but I am good at all of those things and it still hasn't worked for me. I am not seeking perfection, rather I am burdened with a feeling that what I am looking for is out there but I just haven't found it yet. This impulse comes from somewhere so deep that it just can't be rationalised. It is almost like I am looking for someone I have met before. It is this strong sense of familiarity which gives the search greater clarity. My whole life I have seen snatches of her in the shadows and I have smelled her scent in the air long after she has passed. Naomi is the first time I have physically seen and experienced what I am looking for. This is the first time that what has only ever existed in my subconscious has been grounded in the physical. To witness her reveal the different sides of what I have been searching for was mind-blowing. All the things I had previously defined were in evidence.

I spent three great days with Naomi. We basked in that glorious glow of souls connecting on an emotional, intellectual, spiritual and physical level. While I fancied her we did not connect on a sexual level. The realisation that I did not represent to her what she did to me was the signal I needed to continue with my trip. In fairness, it is a brave girl who would want to meet the burden of my expectation but I think I am chilled out enough that this is not really an issue. While it is sad to say goodbye to someone who is so full of positivity, it has only made me more resolute. Naomi has not only smashed the bar in terms of all my previous benchmarks but she has raised the bar two-fold.

I parted without her email, her facebook, her last name or even her photo. This was appropriate as  it felt like she descended from my subconscious and now she has returned there. Naomi is now just a memory, something ethereal as opposed to physical. However, she managed to make concrete what was always just an inkling for me. She has fuelled my soul with greater confidence to hold its course and not to respond to the dictum of society. It feels like the search is closing in.

I remain single but I have at last met someone who had the power to stop me dead in my tracks. I would have happily glazed my bike in honey and left it for the bears in the woods so that I could hitch rides with Naomi. However, that inner sense prevailed once more in deciding that we both needed to see out our respective journeys. While I am about to embrace the beautiful alpine meadows, pine forests and rocky mountain-sides of the Great Divide, I very much feel like I am wandering back into the metaphorical desert. It is isolated but there is a point to it, I just haven't fully grasped it yet. While it might seem to some that I am on a great big adventure, for me romance is the real adventure. I hope to meet Naomi again, if not in this life then the next.

So close and yet so far ... life is so great.




Just as I was about to leave Vancouver the focus on my camera-lens stopped working. It was bound to happen sooner or later due to all the bumpy roads that I have travelled on. Likely it was when I dropped my bag in Bolivia that caused it to properly fail. I guess I was lucky that it came to a head in a developed world city where I could resolve it. $300 and an extra day later the problem was resolved. The morning I was leaving Whistler I came back to my room to find that my net-book had jumped off my bed and onto the floor. It is a little top-heavy and so the door-slam from the cleaner and the ensuing draught was all it needed to fall off the bed. Again, I was lucky in that I was able to operate it once more to save some files but other than that it was toast. The net-book has proven to be a gem as it saves hugely on www expenses; Wi-Fi tends to be free whereas computer access can be up to $6 per hour. In addition it allows me to back-up and organise my photos on-the-go as opposed to having to go through hundreds of photos at the end of my trip. Of course, it allows me to write up the blog and watch TV shows and movies as an escape on the road. More worryingly, I noticed a wobble in my rear-wheel. It was obvious the cones were loose but I thought I had tightened them in Portland only a 1000k before. The wobble was pretty big and although the bike was rideable the gear-changing was really sloppy due to the resulting play in the hub. Poor shifting is really annoying, especially when climbing and descending. On the flat you can tend to work with whatever gear you have but of course, Canada is far from flat.

I departed Whistler on Highway 99 north. This is not the conventional way for bike-tourers to go as it is a fairly mountainous route inland. To be honest, this section from Whistler to the Rockies was the section that I had never really thought about. The map I was relying on was a 'Days Inn' location map for the whole of Canada. I picked up the map for this budget hotel chain on the ferry and felt that it would do me until I got to the Great Divide Trail-head in Banff for which I have very detailed maps. Naturally, such budget hotel maps do not include topography and so I was in for a lumpy surprise. While the road up to Whistler was a drag it was really easy as Whistler is only at 600ms of elevation. Thus, my first big Canadian climb was to Joffre Provincial Park. I love climbs because they feel like a friendly duel. The climb does its level best to beat you but rarely does it topple you. Every climb tends to have its own personality and this makes them fascinating to bike up. This was an alpine climb in the truest sense; a monstrously steep lower section where the road was pitching to 15% with lots of switch-backs early on before easing off somewhat. It took almost two hours to climb the 14k monster but it was fun. The road passes in the Rockies are supposed to be long straight drags of 2-3% over 50 or 70 kilometres. That kind of riding is dull to say the least.

Soon the terrain changed and I was hearing all about the forest fires that were blazing in BC from the locals. Apparently there were 400 fires on the go at once. I could neither see nor smell smoke so I wasn't too concerned. What was bothering me more was that I was having difficulty trying to camp for free or cheaply. As I moved inland I was heading out of the Alpine terrain and into a part of BC which receives about 12 inches of 'precip' a year. This makes for very little snow, which for Canada is unusual. The terrain was very arid making for limited tree cover for camping. What's more, most of the land was private ranch-land and too lumpy so I had to rely on regular camp-grounds. In the US the state camp-grounds are very bike friendly but in Canada I had to pay as much for a patch of grass as a hundred thousand dollar rig. In addition the showers are 'coin-op' making camping expensive. In fairness, they do have free recreation sites but these tend to be way off the road such that a cyclist can't reach them. In other words, they turned what were once free 'rec-sites' into 'pay-sites' as they are more conveniently located to traffic. Indeed, Canada is just not set-up for the likes of travellers (me). The whole tourist industry is set-up for people who are on 2-3 week vacations and are road-tripping the Rockies. Indeed, Canada has the most expensive hostels in the world. A hostel should never ever come to more than $30. In Canada they were generally $35. Hostels are more lucrative than motels as you can squeeze between four and eight people into a dorm whereas a motel room is about $70 per night. When I asked one attendant at a camp-ground to reduce the rate or to let me off he responded that I should get a higher paying job. Unfortunately, Canada is missing the point: travel should not be exclusive to those with money. The whole reason for hostels is that it allows for young people (who typically have little savings) to experience the world and broaden their mind. I'm not sure that Europe is any better as I have not done the hostel scene in Europe, however, I was a little surprised that the hospitality sector in Canada was so closed-minded since I have met so many open-minded Canadians around the world.

Despite all the ups-and-downs (and there were many) I eventually limped into Kamloops. This is the first proper city between Vancouver and Calgary. I was totally stunned to find that it is a fully set-up bike-town. The hills, sunshine and limited rainfall mean that cyclists from all over come here to live and train. In addition, it appeals because it is a four hour drive to both the Rockies and the coast making for good variation in terms of weekend getaways. It is somewhat off the radar meaning that it is cheaper than the bigger cities. On arrival my priority was to get my net-book and my wheel fixed. Obviously the wheel was the more important of the two.

I managed to lose my way in strip-mall heaven. Kamloops is surrounded by chain-stores and so I had to pull-over to look at the map as I couldn't see the down-town area in the valley. Next thing, I hear a friendly shout from a driver who pulls in to help me navigate my way into the centre. It turns out that Bud is a cyclist too who does his fair share of touring and so invited me around for a 'cold one' once I had done my chores. A 'cold-one' turned into a three night sojourn on his and Sandy's couch as I somehow managed not to resolve what should have been straightforward tasks. $200 later my net-book had a new hard-drive but then I was told that I needed to do a Win7 reinstall. The net-book costs $350 so I can't justify spending any more on her. I can use her but I just can't use her Wi-Fi as that file went MIA. As for the wheel, well it turns out that the play in the hub managed to erode all the threads that the axle screws into. The mechanics had never seen anything like it. Unbelievably the quick-release skewer was keeping everything together. Still, they didn't have a wheel I could use so I had to limp out of town in the hope that I could organise a wheel in Banff.  I rolled in on a faulty wheel so I should be able to roll out of town on same. It turned out that my hub was part of a faulty batch of Shimano ones where the right-hand cone was never tight enough. I had always understood that my XT hub was reliable so I never questioned it. Of course, it could have been remedied if I had noticed it earlier but being the back wheel you tend not to look.

To be honest, I had already made my mind up that both the bike and the net-book fall under the definition of 'stuff'. Thus, as important as the bike is to my trip I never get worked up over 'stuff' as it really isn't important at all. One can travel without a bike and although the blog would suffer I could travel without a net-book The real lesson in all of this was that it is really adversity that brings you into closer contact with the locals. This kind of contact is great for both morale and the travelling experience. If I bike around the world totally sure of myself and 100% organised then nobody will ever approach me as I don't look like I need help. The result is that I rely on the hospitality industry, which is really a step removed from the real world. It is only when you meet people like Bud and Sandy who so generously took me in, cooked for me and shared all their local knowledge with me that you realise that there is a whole other dimension to travelling. This is what frustrated me about travelling through Latin America; I didn't have good enough Spanish to make these human connections. I am very grateful to Bud and Sandy for making Kamloops a real highlight to my trip through Canada. Despite my grudge with the hostels and camp-grounds in Canada I am immensely impressed with Canadians. They are very friendly, worldly, open-minded and often you can see this wild glint in their eye. This is the glint of a real 'beatnik' ... of whom I have met very few on my trip. It seems that Canada harbours a fair few of these entertaining characters.

Right so, I'm off to buy some fake blood ... that should work wonders for improving my international relations.

Take it handy


ps - working with IE in libraries is preventing me from posting photos to the gallery. Why libraries insist on using IE as their only browser on a linux system is beyond me. Goddam you Microsoft!



I had enjoyed my time in Vancouver and while the city didn't strike a strong chord it is really a city that leans on its surroundings. Thus, to really appreciate Vancouver you need to explore the outdoor experience that both Vancouver Island and Whistler provide. The island represents a vast piece of wilderness and some solid surfing, Whistler is an iconic North American mountain-town that is a mere two hours drive from the city. The island was too big for me to explore by bike. It would require two weeks in itself and my stab at it left me wanting to get off it due to the concentration of traffic that flows along its few highways. Whistler was always going to be a different proposition.

I followed the beautiful 'Sea to Sky Highway' to the city's nearby mountain playground. The town itself sits at only 600ms and the top of the gondola is elevated a further 400ms up. It's quite hard to believe that a snow resort so close to the coast and so low to the ground would be rated so highly. Indeed, for the Winter Olympics that took place there earlier this year trucks had to deliver powder in from elsewhere. Whistler is considered one of the top, if not the top, snow resort in North America. It feels very much like a resort with all the noise associated with city life left at its doorstep in Vancouver.

What marks Whistler out is that it is a four season resort. As it is privately owned it seeks to earn the very best return on its investment. This means keeping the flow of visitors coming and the only reason to come here is to have some outdoor fun. Visitor numbers are not an issue when you have a major city down the road and the product on offer is of such high quality. Indeed, it seems more like a self-sustaining town than a resort. The people here are mostly local or live in Vancouver and have been here enough times that they know it like a local. Whistler is a full-on skate, bike and board town. All are fully catered for here with the gondola running all year round for both skiers and downhill mountain-bikers. It offers something for everyone, pine forests for hiking, pristine alpine lakes for lounging in the sun and having picnics, a skate-board park, plenty of hills for road-cyclists, a fully set-up mountain-bike park catering for people of all abilities, a gondola to reach the downhill trails and of course a snow season to cater for the full gamut of winter sports. On top, it has a very well planned town-centre full of lively bars and restaurants to provide some good fun right off the slopes. Indeed, the whole town looked as if it had been levelled in advance of the Olympics. In keeping with Vancouver everything is very modern.

I am not the quintessential skater, biker or boarder but I can wing it enough to fit in. Whistler is an absolutely outstanding resort that every boarder and biker should make an effort to get to at some stage. It is difficult to separate Whistler and Vancouver. Both are lucky to have each other; their relationship is very much symbiotic. If I had a choice I would live in Whistler and head down to the city for some culture as opposed to living in the city and having to come up to Whistler. It is really Whistler that allows Vancouver to stand out from the global crowd. In Europe, only Geneva, Zurich, Grenoble and possibly Milan and Munich can vouch for having similar possibilities. In North America it might be only Calgary, Denver and San Francisco that can compete on a similar footing. All are major cities with top-class mountain playgrounds within a couple of hours drive.

The unfortunate thing for me is that I am really a 'roadie' and so I'm more interested in a four season road-bike town than the bi-polar world of a snow-resort. I could be converted but I have a few more races left in the legs such that I require a mild winter climate. In addition, I would have to erase all memories of how hard a day on the snow-board can be when you don't have access the slopes every weekend. The last time I wiped out on a snowboard I was left crying for my mom. It bloody hurts; so much so that if I end up in a snow-resort that I'd be keener to throw snow-tyres on my mountain-bike than whip out my snowboard. Unfortunately the snow-biking scene is fairly random as the people who live in these towns love the duality of the seasons. Why on earth would you go snow-biking when you can have fun on a board? Fair point.

In conclusion, Vancouver is redeemed by virtue of Whistler.

Chat soon


ps: I managed to post some holiday-snaps of Vancouver in the gallery to give you the picture.



Vancouver is a city with a great reputation in the western world, so much so that the word has spread into the Eastern world. The city not only houses a large Asian population but its trophy properties are being snapped up as investments or second homes by the Asian monied class. I arrived with the sense of annoyance one gets when arriving too late to a really great party; 'what on earth is  going on on here ... what the hell did I miss?' However, the more appropriate question in Vancouver's case is whether the party is in fact over?

Before being allowed to enter the city I was treated to a wonderful striptease as the city peeled off its layers. Exiting the ferry I was immediately impressed by Vancouver's location by the water and at the foot of lofty green mountain-sides. I rode into town along the curvaceous and pretty Marine Drive; one of those leafy byways that shelters prime properties from views of the road while at the same time opening them up to superb ocean vistas. I then had to cross the massive Lionsgate Bridge to downtown. The bridge's span was as wide as Vancouver's welcoming arms hinting at what was to come. It was only after passing the silky waters of English Bay beach and the bush of Stanley Park that I was at last allowed to enter what seemed to be the promised land. I had never seen the likes of it before; a staggering metropolis of modern proportions whose skyline stood like hair on end in a bath of shimmering waters.

My arrival into the city coincided with Gay Pride weekend making accommodation as tight as some guys' trousers. It added a carnival atmosphere to the city with Davie Street simply being off the hook morning, noon and night. I ended up staying in Gastown on the east-side of the city. This part of town has a more boho feel with some great night-life. The city is doing its best to promote it, however, two blocks away is one of the largest homeless populations I have come across yet. I'm not sure what happens next as I have never seen anything like it. On the one-hand the city wants to 'clean up' the area, on the other it is liberal enough not to police it preferring to turn a blind-eye to what happens there so as not to criminalise people who are already burdened. Vancouver's liberal attitude, its booming economy and its hospitable climate make it an attractive destination for homeless people across the nation. The problem is that there are so many of them. Trying to scrounge a buck is an extremely challenging job in Vancouver as there is so much competition. Inevitably, what one saves on a cheaper hostel one loses in charity. However, as tragic as it is they are a fascinating bunch to watch. On the one hand you have the the homeless who are totally destitute and hold no hope. On the other there are those who try not to engage that class of homeless as it drags them down. These people try to maintain their health and dignity when all around others are losing theirs. Some prefer to beg, others prefer to industriously push a trolley of wares. Being offered the choice of three snowboards in the middle of summer for twenty bucks had to make me laugh. The abandoned Indian kid with mental illness who could not count on family or friends for support had to make me cry. The guy who'd do fifty push-ups for a dollar made me wonder about the type of people who actually let him.

While homelessness is the cause I most identify with, a week of living in the conflicting party and poverty atmosphere of Gastown left me wanting to see another side to the city. I had been wandering the back-alleys and lanes trying to capture the city's counter-culture scene before I took a step too far. Having already passed some crack-heads in the lane-ways I stepped back out onto the street only for it to be full of junkies and homeless. There was a squad car parked up and there it was; an awesome shot of dealers and junkies injecting across the street with the cop car in the shot. The first one I took was too distant so I was sizing up a closer shot across the hood of the car, when my periphery sensed a guy circling around behind me. I turned around to face him. It was a junkie asking me what the hell I was doin'. I told him that I was just taking a shot of the car, however, he was smart enough to know my game. Thankfully, I had just the unsuccessful large shot of the car, which I showed him and deleted. A conversation about cameras followed. Suffice to say I soon turned around and retreated to where I came from preferring not to wander any deeper into West Hastings territory with my nude camera. It would have made a great photo but I was not being fair to the guys in the doorway.

Instead of checking out another part of town I stayed in Gastown because of the night-life. The city has a very relaxed ambience and is good fun during the summer with lots of events. I particularly enjoyed watching the original 'Karate Kid' movie in the open-air cinema in Stanley Park, something we just can't do in Dublin because our climate isn't warm enough. Indeed, Vancouver has many strong points, however, I couldn't shake my first impressions that something was amiss. There is something odd about a city that tolerates drugs but not drinking in public or jay-walking. In addition its architecture is ridiculously modern. This marks it out as a town without any history and thus, ripe for invasion by people who are looking for a fresh start. Not a problem in itself necessarily although it may suggest that these people have failed elsewhere. I realise such sentiment is harsh but the city can't seem to shake the fact that it feels like a teenager trying to understand its own identity; being more impressed by ideas from the outside as opposed to forces from within. Its location is superb and it is this as well as its successful economy that appeals to people. However, it is a city built on a service economy and it is this which just adds to the lack of substance to the place. Any city whose 'foundation' is built on the intangible world of bank accounts, insurance policies and legal clauses is a house of cards. From what I can make out there is nothing else going on here. These entities are simply printing presses and while they are printing dollar bills at the moment, the sense is that this is a monster that is feeding on itself and growing into a bigger monster before realising that it is eating itself alive. As is the norm in such scenarios property prices have taken off and there is a wage-price spiral. In the meantime, the city is quite serene and unaware of its fate.

I may be wrong but there is something that feels strange about Vancouver. This is evidenced in its Arts scene, which is purely contemporary and lacking in any sophistication. The city feels very flat and two-dimensional. It lacks texture and that certain 'je ne sais quoi' that truly great cities possess. The people are great but the whole place just smacks of being middle of the road. I really wanted to be seduced by Vancouver but in terms of its reputation it doesn't stack up for me. She is like a young temptress relying on her good looks. Of course, true beauty lies more than skin-deep.

I have no wifi on my net-book so I will upload my holiday snaps in time.

'til soon



Island Hopping

The route to Vancouver was to be paved with water. As opposed to heading north to the border overland I decided to take the scenic route via the network of ferries. The first took me west from wharf 52 in downtown Seattle to Bainbridge Island. From here I connected with the highway heading north to the Olympic Peninsula. I ducked off the main route full of summer traffic to hug the coastline visiting Port Ludlow, Port Hastings, Port Townsend and finally Port Angeles. It is this sea-side town that acts as the main access point to both the beautiful Olympic National Park and Canada via the ferry to Victoria, BC.

On arrival into Port Angeles I attempted to bike the 17 miles uphill to Hurricane Ridge, the main view-point for the Olympics mountain range. However, I was running out of light and so I turned back down the hill to the camp-site. My legs were pretty shot so I decided to hitch a ride up the next day. Kevin pulled over in a beautiful Mustang GT convertible - a 2001 model he scored from a guy for a mere $9,000 (the dude needed nine grand to pay for the paint-job on a new car and had to keep his wife sweet by offloading one car to make space for the new one). It turned out that Kevin had grown up in Port Angeles. Like a lot of kids who grow up in small towns, he left as soon as he finished school. This was mostly due to the fact that jobs were thin on the ground as commercial logging activity and fishing were more or less shut down by a more environmentally sensitive government. In addition there were no universities in the area so it was common for kids his age to leave town to go to college. Of course, in the back of his head he believed that life offered more excitement and opportunity elsewhere.

Somehow he ended up in the tornado state of Missouri. A messy divorce had left him with sentiments for home and so he returned for a two-week vacation to visit family and old friends. It had been twenty years since he was last in Port Angeles. I stuck around with Kevin as he was familiar with the park and wildlife. As a kid he and his friends would disappear into the park for stretches of up to three weeks at a time during the summer holidays. A parent would drive them in and then they would hang rations to last them the trip. Once there they would camp, hike, climb, explore, swim and fish until at some point they made their way back to civilisation. It seems remarkable that parents would allow their kids to spend that much time in the back-country unsupervised (without mobile-phones) in the presence of bears, cougars and other wildlife. Of course, this was a time when parents had not been disarmed by fear and so did not have to wrestle with guilty feelings of irresponsible parenting - a recent invention by all accounts. The park itself is beautiful although I did not have time to explore it the way Kevin did in his youth. It had been great to catch a ride up with Kevin, the guided tour and return-trip were a bonus.

I free-wheeled down the mountain to the ferry port. It was time to put the States on ice until I cross the border again in Montana. While I was not greeted with hostility it was the first time on my trip that I had been grilled at a port of entry. I was prepared for it on arrival to the US but pulling the Irish  passport out of the back-pocket worked a treat there so I felt very welcome. In the absence of a return ticket Canadian border patrol were rightly doing their job ... either that or they were just curious to see what the heck I planned to do with all the stuff on my bike. Eventually I was on Canadian soil, albeit not the mainland. I had arrived in Victoria, the capital of British Columbia situated at the southern tip of Vancouver Island. The place totally caught me off guard. I did not expect that I would arrive into little Britain. The name Victoria should have been a give-away but it is very unnerving to arrive in a town that still bows to a Queen thousands of miles away. As nice as tea and scones in the Empress Hotel would have been it was certainly not the Canada I expected. I was totally stunned to find a Paddy-whackery shop full of the usual Irish charms on the main-street of what is a colonial town. I realise that a lot of the people who moved to Canada came from Britain (and Ireland) quite recently and so I don't disrespect their affinity to their roots. However, it was all a bit much for me and so I hatched plans to skip town as quick as I could. Unfortunately it meant a night in the worst hostel of my trip so far - $34 to stay a night in a 42 bed dorm where the door inevitably clicked all night between the comings and goings of so many people. They even tortured us sleepless souls with a huge sky-light that plied our eyes wide open at 6am as the sun bounced up for the day.

I hummed and hawed the next morning wondering what to do. The whole reason for my coming to the Island was because I had met people who told me how amazing the scenery and marine-life is. I wanted to go west but that side of the island has no roads and so I more or less would end up where I started. The only option out of town was to join up with Highway one after taking a ferry across to Mill Bay. Highway one is the Trans-Canada Highway that starts in Victoria and finishes in St Johns' in Newfoundland. It was a nightmare for bikes. Although America has a big car culture I was able to avoid it in Washington State. Plus, they tend to sweep the shoulders in the States so they are safe for bikes. The ride to Nanaimo was far from the island experience I was hoping for. I had to muscle it on a shoulder sprayed with gravel and shrapnel and which dangerously disappeared at points. Having to bike uphill at 10kph without a shoulder while trucks screamed past on the limit was no fun. Once on the island I realised how big Canada is. The island is not made for bikes but for cars. If this is an island then what would the mainland be like? Vancouver 'Island' is in fact a huge chunk of land about half the size of Ireland - another island granted but a country in its own right. In contrast with Eire, Canada is in fact the third largest country in the world. My bike and I started to feel very small.

I decided to get off the island. Biking to Tofino and back for some surfing would have taken me days and so I decided to skip the whole experience altogether. The fourth and final ferry would take me from Nanaimo to Horseshoe Bay; the quieter of Vancouver's two ports. Stay tuned - this city is next up for review.

I trust the form is mighty


Port Townsend

          the quality bike-path network in WAOlympic National Park

Kevin takes it all back in   

the ferry to Victoria, BC


Sleepless in Seattle


It was a relief to get to Seattle, the ride had been longer and harder than I anticipated. Arriving into city-limits was always going to be stressful due to the increased traffic. Thankfully I pulled over at a bike-shop to seek counsel in terms of the best-route into town. I was pleasantly surprised to receive a bike-map so that I could bike the last 25 miles into the city on bike-friendly routes. This was my first introduction to the Seattle bike scene, which I was not aware of at all. I got to explore the bike network around Seattle even further as an old foe from my triathlon days had invited me around to dinner. I just about had the legs to bike the extra twenty miles to the nearby city/suburb of Microsoft ... eh, I mean Redmond. This meant that I biked forty five miles on bike-paths though the city - quite incredible. The return trip took me along the Burke-Gilman trail which is a bike path that runs by Lake Washington and through various parks along the route. I was as impressed with the ability to be able to bike so many miles through a city on traffic free paths as I was with the amount of roadies I met along the route. It turns out Seattle has one of the biggest 'road-bike scenes' in the US.


I knew very little about Seattle before arriving there save for the corporations that are based there, the coffee scene, the fact that it was considered the home of the grunge music scene in the nineties and that the city is heavily represented across the major leagues: the Seattle Mariners (baseball), the Seattle Sounders (soccer) and the Seattle Seahawks (football) are all based downtown. Their NBA (Seattle Supersonics) franchise was bought by Oklahoma in 2008 due to a disagreement between the Sonics and the city.


I was caught totally unawares by the huge port on the way in. Seattle's location on a map does not suggest that it would be a big port location as large ships have to navigate a narrow channel north of the Olympic Peninsula and there are plenty of islands nearby. It is in fact a massive container port (mostly Chinese containers of course) and also a docking point for massive cruise ships. Typically these large vessels collect local captains on entry to the Puget Sound. These local mariners guide foreign ships through the sound with their local knowledge.


The downtown area is not too big, however, the city sprawls across bridges and waterways giving the metropolitan area quite a big feel. Big cities make for lots of traffic and while they have done a superb job with their bike-route network it makes for a long commute to other parts of the Seattle area. Still, the location is pretty great. They are a short ferry ride to the Olympic peninsula whose long mountain-range provides nice views from the city. On the Eastern side there is Mount Rainier National Park and there are ski-fields nearby in the Cascade range.


It took me five full days to explore the place and it made for a very photogenic city. I particularly enjoyed visiting the downtown public library, which was reconstructed in 2003. This is a landmark piece of architecture by the unconventional Rem Koolhaas. It is symbolic of how liberal the city is as the building strays far from the normal notion that libraries should be stuffy. It has become somewhat of a 'civic-centre' because the city can't afford the cost of building and maintaining a proper one. Like San Francisco, Seattle is a sanctuary city and the homeless tend to hang out in the library during opening hours as they have nowhere else to go. The consequence of this is that the library is unfortunately not wholly embraced by the tax-payers who paid for it.


Seattle is a very impressive city full of outdoorsy people who take full advantage of the lakes and mountains that surround it. Compared to its neighbour Portland, the city is refreshingly diverse and far from sleepy. Its reputation for inclement weather is a little overstated but the cafe and pub scene make for nice places to hang-out indoors whenever the weather does turn sour. The diversity of its inhabitants is best explored through the neighbourhoods that surround the downtown area. These precincts feel like little villages and prevent what is in fact a large city from ever feeling overwhelming.


There are a couple of photo-sets up in the gallery.


Mind how you go



Guerrilla in the Mist

The route I chose to ride from Portland to Seattle was literally decided at the last minute. There is a traditional touring route that loops west to the coast and up the Olympic Peninsula; it seemed like the long way round. I didn't want to take the more direct route north as it would mean heavy highway traffic. Thus, I decided to head inland instead to take in the Columbia River Gorge, one of Oregon's main tourist attractions. Doing this would mean taking the mountainous route through the Cascades. Surprisingly or unsurprisingly, I'm not sure which; this is not the route that cyclists take. There are not that many expedition tourers in this part of the world it seems. The standard practice for the tourer here is to avoid hills and I understand where they are coming from if they are not experienced cyclists.  However, as I love the agony of climbing and the ecstasy of descending I don't worry about such things. Touring is nowhere near as stressful or painful as racing so perhaps my perspective is slightly skewed.

This area is reasonably remote as the snowfall during the winter closes the roads, this means that towns along the way tend to be quite basic. Going this route would allow me to take in Mount Saint Helen's National Park and Mount Rainier National Park. These parks don't have through roads making them best explored on foot. Regardless, the snow-peaks are so big that you don't need to trek the actual parks themselves as skirting the parks allows you to still take in the views.

This leg of the trip introduced me to a few problems. The first is that I have just come out of South America where I was spoiled for 'amazing' scenery. In Portland people were telling me how 'amazing' the Columbia River Gorge is and while it is perfectly nice it is far from 'amazing'. Anyone who has seen the Iguazu Falls will understand what I mean when I say that I can't quite look at another waterfall again. Somehow tourist boards have managed to turn the merest of trickles off mountain-sides into 'major' tourist attractions and so the roads were thick with camera-snapping 'tourists'. These are photos I didn't bother to take. I don't mean that in a snobby way, I understand that I am very fortunate to have seen the things I have, it just means that I have to take everyone's view on things with a large pinch of salt. It is more the commercialisation of tourism that I find frustrating. Nature is exploited as a revenue-boosting mechanism where the creed is simply to find ways of boosting 'visitor numbers' so as to improve the local economy. This strips both people and nature of their integrity as we are both merely pawns in the capitalists' game. The result is that pleasant pieces of nature that are converted into 'tourist attractions' almost lose their soul. Visiting them becomes eerily similar to the shopping mall experience where people wander from shop to shop under a thick haze of subliminal stimuli that they are often not aware of. The whole experience just seems sadly vacant.

The second issue was that I was back at lower elevations and closer to the coast where humidity plays a factor. This would mean that I would have to carry a lot more water than I'm used to. In theory, I was sweating what I was l carrying in my dromedary-bag but each litre of water is an extra kilo on the back of the bike. You only notice differences in body-weight when you are in peak condition and are trying to eke top performance from your body for racing. Thus, the fact that I might sweat five kilos is immaterial when touring as the legs can still feel the weight of the water I'm carrying.

The third issue was that I'm back in a developed country and through various means we have managed to make life very expensive for ourselves. Anyone who has had the pleasure of walking around Wal-Mart or Dollar stores to experience the 'frugal future' that some North American economists are espousing can attest to the fact that it is still possible to live cheaply in America. However, the conundrum for me is that cheap food is not nutritious food. My motor is finely tuned at this stage so cheap food for fuel just doesn't work. As a person living off his savings, I'm all for living in the basement of society cutting coupons and scoring meal deals etc. (Become a 'club-card' member of every supermarket chain you visit ... the savings are ridiculous!)

The thrift theme continues in terms of accommodation. I have no problem paying up for hostels in cities; they usually have good locations, provide security for your belongings and can be a good way of meeting people. In the countryside where hostels don't exist then I'm more than cosy in my own tent. It has become my own space to get away from the toil of a travelling day and much like a bedroom it's interior is constant. So no matter where you are in the world the constancy of this internal space is somewhat therapeutic. The problem is that camping can be expensive. In national parks it tends not to be so bad and if you are travelling well-beaten biker/hiker routes it can be quite cheap as the States makes it affordable for people coming into Parks on their own steam. However, if you are off the beaten-path, have no-one to share the cost of a site with and end up in a commercial camp-ground then you are being asked to pay the same price as a hostel for a patch of grass. This intuitively does not make any sense. If I camped for a month I'd be paying $750 to live outside. I could rent a really nice place in a cool part of Portland for that much. Thus, I try to wild-camp where possible. Finding a place to wild-camp is a bit of an art but if you don't do long days and can start early it is not too difficult. The trick is to stock up on food and supplies in a town along the way and then head back into the countryside to find a quiet spot for the night to set up your tent. The benefit is that it is free. The cost is that it can be a little stressful if you can't find somewhere suitable, you are losing light and you don't have a back-up camp-site on your route. A heavily-laden touring bike can make parts of the bush inaccessible, so it generally can take time unless you do short days and happen upon something in the middle of your ride. This only works if you can make up tomorrow what you didn't do today. The essence is that you are camping in the middle of nature and it is quite thrilling when you find nice scenic spots. The trick is to make sure that nobody ever knows that you are there. Unfortunately, perfectly good spots to camp are often in places where it is not permitted. It could be a private farm or a day-use recreation site in a National Park. I am pretty sure that most farmers would be pretty cool to let you camp on their land if you asked, however, farms are automated these days so often there is no-one to ask. In terms of camping in the Cascades, it proved difficult as it is summer-time and the undergrowth is very thick. The forests are dense and being mountainous flat ground can be hard to find. The best spots tend to be places where man has already scarred the land, be it where trees were felled for power pylons or places where loggers or people have cut away the growth to park vehicles off the road. When camping in the wild one needs to be aware of the wild-life around you. Unfortunately the 'wildest' animal out there is man. It is very important to be well hidden from view of the road because humans can be unpredictable. You could be accidentally on somebody's land in a country where guns are an acceptable means of self-defence. In addition, people can be drunk, on drugs or just generally deranged that they might cause you problems. By and large people are fine but you don’t want to startle either them or you.

The term guerrilla-camping is used in North America. This is synonymous with wild-camping, however, I feel that it more suitably describes camping in places where you know you shouldn't or are uncomfortable. This could entail trespassing, which I don't advocate, or more likely camping on state lands where there may or may not be issues. The usual protocol is to set-up under the cover of darkness and to be gone at first light such that no-one could possibly find you. In places such as Washington State where people are very outdoorsy there is not likely to be any problem but it does not necessarily detract from the adrenaline of the situation. The adrenaline tends to fade as soon as you are back in your 'bedroom'; reading, watching TV shows on your laptop or humming to tunes ... all the usual things people do before going to sleep.

The photos below help convey the ride. As you will note, the weather in Washington State is far from wet as most people think. They tend to get two months of very settled weather during the summer and then experience more drizzly mist than rain in the other months.

Seattle next up.


Columbia Riverwild-camp Mount St Helens National Park         

Mount St Helen's Volcano

the jackpot - a wild-camp I found where hunters seem to pitch now and again. It even had it's own box toilet in the woods

bottom right there is a crashed pick-up truck I had to phone in - only a cyclist could see it

beautiful wooded terrainI thought it was Mount Adams but it looks like Mount Rainier ... lots of free-standing snow peaks etc

Mount Rainierbath-time in Lake Alder   

guerilla or wild-camp near Alder? This was behind road-signage but I found recent grass clippings near the tent in the morning, which suggested I was on private land. A barking dog in this scenario would have been a disaster       



My camera couldn't stay focused on the job - the motor in the lens cut out. My laptop is suicidal - it jumped off the bed. My horse is bucking - the hub won't freely advance.

Rest assured I have not lost interest in filling you all in ... I just have crap to sort out, which is not so easily done from the road. My trip here seems very busy, which makes staying on top of the blog a little harder than usual but normal transmission will resume shortly ... I hope!

Now, go slack elsewhere




My desire was to ride the beautiful Oregon coast but Portland is situated on the Washington state border and lies 100 miles from the coast. It is the furthest navigable point inland along the Columbia River. Thus, it's location is not practical for what is probably one of the most stunning pieces of riding in the whole of the US. Ideally one would ride the Pacific coastline from Vancouver south to Tijuana as one has a prevailing tail-wind as well as the advantage of being on the right side of the road to overlook the ocean. Unfortunately for me It's a whole separate trip.

Regardless, Portland has always been on my radar. It was the hipsters in Portland who spawned the now global bike-messaging scene. These bike-couriers have added beautiful swathes of colour to many drab cities around the world as they cruise down-town aboard their colourful bikes wearing outlandish fashions. They are the flashes of counter-culture which light up the gloomy shadows of towering financial districts. They are daring Davids among the monied Goliaths with their care-free insistence on stumbling into their thirties living from pay-cheque to pay-cheque. The unfortunate reality is that it is the deadline-kings in rich deal-making firms that allow these hipsters to eke out a living in the first place.

Anyone who has seen Gus van Sant's 1991 road movie 'My Own Private Idaho' would have seen some snap-shots of Portland. This movie documents a journey of self-discovery by two friends (Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix) who hustle on the streets of Portland as rent-boys before embarking on a trip to Idaho and then Italy to find Mike's (River Phoenix) mother. Portland maintains a somewhat seedy edge boasting the most strip-clubs per capita of any US city, however, you have to be looking for them to notice them.

There is very definitely a cool vibe to the place. Everybody has plenty of time to give you the time of day and it seems like the last thing anybody wants to have to deal with is stress. Car stickers encourage people to 'Keep Portland Weird', a slogan which they robbed from Austin - another cool city but all the way over in the shopping mall state of Texas - not so cool. The down-town area is pretty small but nicely sandwiched between water and bridges on one side and beautiful forest parks on the other. It is not a big city by any stretch and the chilled out vibe can almost put you to sleep; wandering the streets after 9pm looking for food is a chore to say the least as most places are shut. Still, the small down-town hub of Portland is surrounded by nice inner-suburbs populated by hipsters and decent folk. Independent retailers, cafes, book-stores and bars bubbling with personality dominate the scene in this part of the world. Franchise supermarkets and eateries are not at all welcome in such precincts. To experience the normal hum-drum existence of regular American life one needs to drift to the outer-burbs to see the bland strip-malls that are now synonymous with US culture.

However, while Portland aspires to being the antithesis of modern day American living, the reality is that it is still just an aspiration. To be fair to them they realise this themselves. The economics involved in maintaining a chilled-out middle-class stress-free lifestyle is such that if no-one wants to work too hard or chase profit then there is not enough of an economy to support all the more expensive hip indie retailers, cafes and bars. A thriving social scene and a vibrant economy go hand in hand. While it is admirable that they seek to halt the damage that is being done to the identity of communities by the dominant chain-stores, the reality is that most people in Portland can't afford to support the indies 100% of the time. It is more likely closer to 15% of the time and the only reason that these stores continue to stay in business is that there is net immigration to Portland as creative types and anarchists seek to move here. The local economy has only been marginally affected by the national downturn. Indeed, the property market has held its own such is the reaction of people across the US who desire to free themselves of the money-culture that was so pervasive during the foiled boom.

I enjoyed Portland a lot. It's a cool hipster town and there is a very healthy local bike scene. Oregon is a great state with the Cascade Range inland and prime surfing on the coast. Unfortunately I spent a lot of time in Portland in bike stores as opposed to on the bike exploring as my tank was destroyed by plane travel. I operated on her in ICU and thankfully she managed to pull through in the end. It was a shame that I was a little stressed worrying about my horse in such a chilled out place. While I didn't get much of a chance to play with the camera I did manage to sample the highlights at least. One of which was (what must be) the biggest and best book store in the world. Powell's takes up a whole city block and encourages people to buy the used books instead of the new ones. Incredibly both are on the same shelf. I have never seen a store with so many classics and that includes the Greco-Roman kind. I managed to procure Douglas Coupland's 'Generation X', Hesse's 'Demien' and Hemingway's 'For Whom the Bell Tolls' all for only 16 bucks second-hand. I am only familiar with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Salinger, Steinbeck and Kerouac in terms of American novelists so Hemingway should broaden that horizon a little.

Portland is cool although a little sleepy. It's a little strange being amongst so many hipsters. If I stayed any longer I'd be walking around in skinny denim cut-offs and waxing the tips of my moustache. The craziest thing I saw was a dude cruising around town on a double-decker bike. He had managed to weld one frame on top of the other such that he was riding 8 feet off the ground.

Still, one question remains; in a city like Portland are the 'suits' the new counter-culture cool?

Be good


Mount Hood overlooks the city