Fire and snow

The cycling family is not touring alone anymore. Since Calgary we are the cycling families and friends! 

Our friend Geertemarie (green shirt behind Ben) joined us for 3 weeks. Our friends Sjoerd and Hanneke will join us with there 1 1/2 year old son Ramses for the next couple of months.


Currently we impress car drivers and locals with our “bike train”…


… and cute children.


The weather has been perfect. It was hot every day, our raingear was in our panniers almost the whole summer and we swam in lakes most of the days since Calgary. 

Probably most of you heard it in th​e news: parts of Canada and the USA struggled with forest fires this summer. Those fires didn’t affect us until Waterton National Park. There we have been evacuated from a campground and had a lot of smoke for the next two weeks. Our eyes burnt, our lungs hurt, we coughed and all our camping gear smelled as if we sat next to a campfire for a long time. We had to change our route. Instead of staying in the Rocky Mountains we had to go further east to escape the fires and the smoke. 


But suddenly the temperature dropped and it started raining and snowing and we started wearing almost all the clothes we carry. (The good news is that we are now able to carry way more food than before … very important for every touring cyclist!)


Anyway, we enjoy our 5th country …


… where everything is possible …


… and it is getting warmer again. Tomorrow we will start cycling from Billings towards Yellowstone Nationalpark.

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Comfort

The reason why I wanted to go on a long cycle tour like this is because I felt like a spoiled European woman who doesn’t know anything about the real world. Looking at the news, pictures and movies from my cosy couch at home couldn’t convince me otherwise or satisfy my curiosity of the world out there.

We are on the road since eight months and in this time I have been pushing several personal boundaries. Guatemala drew a line, I couldn’t push boundaries anymore there. I feel different now. I grew. Furthermore things change all the time on such a trip. I feel calm when thinking back at our time in Guatemala and even can think of visiting again.

Comfort
A boundary I have been pushing in all this time and of which I thought of regularly in the last weeks is comfort. My definition of comfort clearly has changed a lot. For me comfort now is to have a warm shower and eat something else than pasta with vegetables.

We have to carry food for seven days sometimes. Then we are not able to carry a lot of fresh veggies and fruits. The first days are ok but in the last few days we would eat only pasta with onions and carrots. 

I also realized that it is not necessary to eat granola with milk or water and milk powder. It is actually also edible with only water.

I have been downsizing my clothes. I carried four shirts but hardly used them. I threw away two of the four. In general I use always the same shirt while cycling. I wear the other one when we are able to do laundry. Sometimes, when both are dirty, I only wear my fleece jumper.

Campers
Canada is a wide and empty country. In comparison to Europe people have big houses and yards. While cycling on the Icefields Parkway I realized that also the cars and the campervans are much bigger than in Europe.

When I first saw some of those big campers I thought that they are touring busses but soon I found out that they are actually vans for only one family. Some of them can even expand horizontally while parked.

The names of those vehicles are often conspicuous: Independence, Discovery, Revolution, Majestic, Hurricane, Escape, Cyclone, … They suggest something big and spectacular to me. But then, while cycling on the Icefields Parkway, we found out that it is not so outrageous as I would imagine to travel with such a big vehicle. It’s hard to find a parking spot for them and apparently sites at campings are often too small for this kind of vehicle.

After those impressions I calculated that we have about 200l of space (8 panniers, 2 handlebar bags, 1 small backpack and cargo storage in the Weehoo trailer) and that the total area of our 4 person tent is approximately 5m². I’m happy with these modest numbers. I don’t need more volume to carry more things. Actually, it is accessible and simple to own so little.

Weehoo
I remember, when my sister and I were little, that we were allowed to draw on the walls and add stickers to our beds and children’s room door. We personalized our private space and, for the first time in our life, defined our identities. This is an important step in the life of a child. I feel happy to see the same development in Ben and Esmé even though they have no children’s room at their disposal. They personalize their Weehoo trailers.

The trailers are also very comfortable and both of them regularly slept in it.

But Ben is getting big. He is not a small child anymore. He needs more freedom and wants to express himself and develop new skills. From now on he leaves the comfort of the Weehoo behind and sits on his own brand new and beautiful bike (Norco Storm).

Of course we will not let him cycle all day long by himself. We got sponsored by FollowMe and from now on will use a parental tandem hitch whenever Ben feels tired or doesn’t want to cycle by his own strength. (I will show you pictures of our new setup in our next post. )

Bear country

Time for a new blogpost. 

Canada is great. It is green here, there is a lot of water everywhere (we can drink the creekwater without filtering it!), it is wide, calm and wild and we are here exactly at the right moment when the bears are around.


Oh no, not that one. This one:


This is mister black bear and we met him on our second day of cycling, just before Whistler. We have had eight bear encounters so far. The closest one was today. Peter and Esmé went to the Millenium Park here in Castlegar to have a swim. Peter was sitting on a bench and suddenly Esmé said: “Look, a bear!” Peter turned around and mister bear got frightened and ran off. He was only two meters away from Peter and Esmé. Normally we do carry a bear spray, just in case one would attack us, but in a town at a playground Peter did not expect one. Anyway, this one was clearly not interested in the chewy meat of cyclists. Furthermore Esmé is very funny with bears. When we see one she would say: “Come on, let’s go there!” As if we were in a zoo or she wanted to cuddle it. Peter and I feel releaved when we are far away from it again.


This is what you should do with your food when wild camping in bear country. Hang everything that smells in a tree, also your toothpaste and trash. It is a little adjustment we had to get used to, especially in the evening. The kids now can’t eat anything anymore after dinner, also not if they are hungry. Food has to be cooked at 100m distance from the tent and also the teeth have to be brushed there, to avoid a bear coming to the tent. It is a little hassle and slows us down in the evening and the morning.

We have done some rough routes already, though none of them has been as tough as in Guatemala or Mexico. In general the dirtroads are very good and the climbs are not too steep.

This was the logging road along Lillooet Lake and Harrison Lake:


We did parts of the Kettle valley railway, an old railway which now is a recreational path. It is about 600km long. The old railway bridges and tunnels have been a lot of fun, especially for the kids, but unfortunately the surface of the trail is often very bad. It has just a little bit too much sand or rocks on it to make it uncomfortable to cycle on it with the weight we carry. But the views have been great and there is no traffic there:

Besides bearspotting …


… and relaxing …


… Ben is busy constructing huts in the forest …


… and making campfires. This is the first campfire he made and kept going himself:


Peter enjoys beautiful views during walks on restdays …


… and feeds baby raccoons who lost their mum:


Esmé just got her own Weehoo (she outgrew the childseat at the back of Peter’s bike) and she loves it! 


And I? I enjoy taking those pictures and sharing them with you. 🙂

Two different worlds

During our last days in Mexico we went to see one more tourist attraction: the archaeological site Teotihuacan. 


The kids love climbing pyramids and they love to fly. Ben and Esmé were talking about the airplane already for weeks. The excitment grew with every day while buying boxes for the bikes, packing everything, driving to the airport and waiting for a long, long time. But finally they could take a seat in the airplane.

After the touchdown the officers at immigrations gave us a little bit of a hard time. We were interviewed twice (at 10 pm with two tired kids!), they wanted to reassure that we don’t plan to work in Canada, and our two apples were thrown away because it is absolutely forbidden to bring fresh fruits into the country. Finally we got our stamps and now we are allowed to stay in Canada for 6 months. 

This time we didn’t had a jetlag, the time difference was only two hours, but, as expected, it was very strange to be in a rich country again. In Canada you can actually throw the toiletpaper in the toilet and flush it away (“Why can you do that here mommy? That is strange.”) and where foodprices are three times higher than in Mexico. 

The following pictures are an attempt to explain this cultureshock.

left: Central America; right: Vancouver





That is it for now. We stayed in Vancouver for 11 days, to buy new shoes for the children, get some spareparts and second hand clothes, meet some old and new friends and to get a 6 month visa for the USA. The interview at the U.S. consulate was relaxed and easy and we got the visa! Tomorrow we will start cycling again. We look forward to it and Esmé is already planning who is sleeping next to each other in the tent. 🙂

Volcanoes

From the very beginning, when we booked our flight to Cancun, seeing volcanoes, maybe hiking on some of them, has been a big wish of all of us. In the last couple of weeks we were able to fullfill this wish.

Sierra Negra (4580 m) and Pico de Orizaba (highest mountain of Mexico, 5636m)

 
Sierra Negra and Pico de Orizaba have been first. In between those two volcanoes leads a road up until 4000 m. We cycled, pushed and walked up in two days. We slept on 3500 m the first night to make sure to acclimatize well. Once on 4000 m Peter walked down to the last village to buy food and water for five days. He payed somebody to drive him back up to our camp.

In those five days Peter reached the summit of both mountains and Ben and I reached the summit of Sierra Negra. Ben walked everything himself from our camp on 4000m until the summit. It took him 7 hours. He was very happy to see the huge telescope on the summit. 


The first two days Ben sometimes had a headache and difficulties breathing but as soon as he lied down it was over. Therefore we have not been too concerned and stayed. On the last day, when Ben reached the summit of Sierra Negra, he was completely acclimatized and had no problems at all.

Cycling down the dirt road on the other side of the pass has been an interesting story too. Because of the dry season the earth was extremely dry with a lot of sand and dust on the road. 


After the downhill Ben looked like this:


Once down in Ciudad Serdan we stopped at the main square to buy fresh food (we have been eating cookies, old bread and hardly any fruits or vegetables for some days) and get rid of the sand and dust in our shoes and on our clothes and panniers. Suddenly a woman came to talk with us. Maria Remedios (73) invited us to her house, offered us to have a shower, a bed, food and she washed our clothes by hand for two (!!!) hours. I felt very thankful and happy for everything. 

Our angel Maria Remedios


Next volcanoe to visit was La Malinche with 4461m. This time we stayed on a campside on 3100m and therefore didn’t need to take a lot of food or water. The kids enjoyed the playground and Peter hiked up to the summit. Other than Pico de Orizaba, which was difficult to walk up due to a lot of loose stones and rocks, La Malinche was easy to reach.

Probably the most famous volcanoe is Popocatépetl (5500m). He is still active and it is forbidden to climb it. 

Popocatépetl (5500 m) and Iztaccìhuatl (5230 m)


But, again, there leads a road up until 4000 m in between the two volcanoes. This time we took all the food (for 6 days) up ourselves which meant much more weight than we normally carry. The dirtroad has been quite sandy and therefore I had to walk big parts of the climb. But the exhaustion and all the sweat was totally worth it. We found the most beautiful campsite of this trip until now.


Next to the tent flowed a little river which was perfect for drinking, cooking, washing and for the kids to play. Peter hiked up the Iztaccìhuatl until 4800m. There was too much ice to reach the summit without crampons. Furthermore the weather had been unpleasant in the afternoon every day (we had rain, snow and hail) but seeing the Popocatépetl every morning made me feel small and happy. Staying on this altitude is very special. The vegetation, the sounds of the animals and the light are so different than what we are used to. Furthermore every volcanoe is surrounded by a national park and here, at the Popocatépetl, we have been alone for 3 days. Such places feel so strong, calm and natural that I feel nervous, irritaded and a little bit angry when I have to go down and back into civilisation again. 

More magnificent pictures of our volcanoe adventures:


After those days near the Popocatépetl we descended from Paso de Cortes into Mexico City. The biggest contrast one can probably imagine: from loneliness in nature into one of the world’s biggest cities. But we were lucky. We found paradise for a touring cyclist: Casa de Ciclista of Xocimilco. We also participated in the World Bike Forum 2017. Those days felt great because we were part of a big cycling community and shared our passion with a lot of other cyclists.


Now we are with a friend, Elo. With her we share our passion for volcanoes, hiking and cycling. We will not stay for long in Mexico anymore. In two days we will fly to Vancouver where we will continue our trip. The bikes and trailers are already packed and our friends in Vancouver await our arrival. 

¡Adios Mexico! Thank you for a lot of magic moments.

Friendships in Oaxaca

After leaving friends behind in Zanatepec, on the Pacific coast, …

Esmé, Ben, Mateo and Ethan

… and petting baby parrots …

… we hit the mexican cactus landscape …

… which turned our matresses into Swiss cheese.

We cycled in 5 days from the coast until Oaxaca city. We decided to take the main road (highway 190) which has been a good choice. There had been a road block and we had hardly any traffic and could fully enjoy the landscape and the good road surface.

Once near Oaxaca we visited some impressive tourist sites.

Mitla

Mitla

The largest tree in the world in trunk thickness; more than 2000 years old and 11 meters in diameters – that’s what they say

Monte Alban

Templo Santo Domingo

Templo Santo Domingo

And we found new friends again. Alex has been our warmshowers host in Oaxaca.

And Florent from The Netherlands, whom we met in a Hostel in Oaxaca, took Ben on a daytrip to Hierve el Agua.

copyright Florent Smit

copyright Florent Smit

Friends can be found anywhere. Bye for now!