Cycling the Americas I: Vancouver to Penticton
I’m sitting on a concrete barrier, surrounded by pine trees and scoffing down porridge. My gaze flits from the stream below to the odd bit of traffic that drones by on the highway, drowning out the sound of the water. Rain is misting the peaks of the mountains above.
I spot a cyclist up the hill, rugged up against the cold, a Swiss flag flapping from his trailer as he rolls towards me. He’s the first fellow cycle tourist I’ve seen, and I barely contain my excitement to a grin and a wave. He stares back. I stand and step onto the road.
“How’s it going!” I shout with a little too much enthusiasm, then “I’m cycling too,” trying to point out my own bike hidden in the grass at the road’s edge. He averts his gaze and pedals on, doubtlessly alarmed by the porridge-faced madman wandering onto the road and raving at him about invisible bicycles on a lonely stretch of highway in a British Columbian national park.
It took me four days to ride from Vancouver to Penticton and already I’ve become a borderline crazy person. I don’t mean crazy in the way deskbound friends will call the travelling hobo for hitching rides at truck stops or going to North Korea, but in the same vein as the actual hobo who talks to himself, smells offensive and exposes his privates in public.
I’ve been talking to everything.
To power lines in the Okanagan Valley: “I’m of the opinion that there is no better method to increase the aesthetic qualities of any given landscape than with the addition of power lines. Keep up the good work, gentlemen!”
To my bike, which I’d left by the highway while I camped on the banks of the Similkameen River: “Baxter you magnificent bastard! I knew you wouldn’t leave me!”
To my first ever chilidog, surrounded by townsfolk at the annual Keremeos Chilli Cook-Off: “I feel that this is the start of a long and beautiful relationship.”
Several startled citizens of Agassiz got to hear my shouted rendition of Smashmouth’s All Star. A bored-looking girl outside Keremeos watched my jerky “cycle dancing” as I gyrated and moaned to Air’s La Femme d’Argent blasting from the speaker mounted on my handlebars.
My bare arse startled a group of fishermen as they approached the Fraser River, outside Hope. I was gasping and shouting at the cold, unaware that I wasn’t alone.
“Don’t assume there aren’t bears and cougars out there,” said Peter the Native American over a packet of chips. We were in a general store in a village called Sunshine Valley, sheltering from a rain storm. “They’re there for sure and they’re watching you. It’s not something to be afraid of.” He advised me to hang my food from trees and think about nothing which would, apparently, raise my “vibrations” to the same level as those of Mother Earth.
“When you do that, you’ll find bears and deer will come right up to you, walk right past you. It’s like camouflage.”
He said people pay him lots of money for survival tips like these, and he wished me luck when I thanked him and said goodbye.
“Please don’t eat me!” I screeched into the rain as I climbed into my tent that night.
It has only been four days of a journey that, if I happen to make it to Tierra del Fuego, will take something like eighteen months. I’ve pedalled through industrial estates, along rivers, over minor mountain passes, down wine-growing valleys and to the edge of Canada’s only desert. From Penticton I go south into the United States, through an area of Washington where, apparently, rattlesnakes and a type of spider appropriately called the Black Widow live in abundance. Brilliant.
It’s hard not to become pompous and grandiose at the start of an adventure, so I will stick to the facts: the good folk on Global Hobo’s editorial team have agreed to document my attempt to ride a bicycle from Vancouver, Canada to Ushuaia, Argentina. I’m raising money for the Australian Cancer Council’s Research Fund, and like any scummy hobo I’ll be scraping a bit off the top to feed myself. You can donate here.
Around 15-20,000 kilometres of road and trail lie between me and the bottom of South America, and along them an infinity of people, landscapes and experiences. Feel free to drop in any time.