Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Art of Eating at an All-You-Can-Eat-Buffet

The scene of the crime, Bell 2 Lodge on the Stewart Cassiar Highway, 92km north of Meziadin Junction, CA

I'm sure many of you are snickering just reading the title of this post, I salivated while remembering my experience at Bell 2 Lodge's breakfast buffet just brainstorming how I wanted to express myself in this post. You see, I've started listening to an animated podcast about food, called Sporkful. The announcer, Dan Pashman, advertises his podcast saying “It's not for foodies, it's for eaters,” using the motto: Eat More, Eat Better!” I have to admit, I have a love-hate relationship with his podcast. I enjoy learning about food and hearing his commentary, but at the same time I find myself whipping way the drool rolling down my chin as he talks about things like S'mores, the perfect bite composition, preparing burgers, and Thanksgiving feasts. As a tour cyclists, I fall into the category of an eater, who takes the motto, “Eat More, Eat Better” to a new level! In fact one of my host's kids back in the Denver area was very impressed “for my enthusiasm for eating,” as they put it! Therefore, it might be rather shocking to know that I haven't visited an all-you-can eat-buffet for about 10 or 15 years. Yes, I've stayed at hotels with complimentary buffet breakfasts, but that doesn't count. It is included in the price of your room. I do have to admit, that the “stuff-yourself-to-the-brim” philosophy isn't an eating experience that I seek out. I don't think it is particularly healthy and the image that comes to my mind are obese people with huge plates in front of them overflowing with heaps of processed, low-quality food items, eating way more than they actually need or want! Ever since moving to Europe, I'm all about quality over quantity.

A deliciously entertaining podcast for serious eaters
You might say I was inspired by Dan and his podcast, or the fact that I hadn't been to buffet for years, but to tell you the truth, when you hear about a restaurant for 400 kilometer from cyclist after cyclist that you pass on the road, by the time I arrived at the Bell 2 Lodge, there was no way I was going to miss out on this food experience! upon my recent visit to the Bell 2 Lodge on the Stewart-Cassiar Highway. It was his podcast and my visit to the Bell 2 Lodge Breakfast buffet that inspired me to write this post, and to tell you the truth, I could probably write a dozen posts about all my wonderful meal experiences on the road! Food and eating consumes about a fourth of my day, sleeping the other fourth, and pedaling the other half!

Eating in action: YUMM!!!!!
My recent experience at Bell 2 Lodge was my first “all-you-can-eat” buffet experiences in probably 10 to 15 years! Hard to believe? The Ever since waitressing at a typical diner in York, PA, and living in Europe where quality resides above quantity, buffet eating never crossed my mind as an appetizing experience! Most tour cyclists don't turn down an offer to eat at a buffet because of the value of the meal. Thinking of an all-you-can-eat buffet, I'm reminded of two cyclists I met in rural Utah. They shared with me their experience at the Pizza Hut buffet and I couldn't stop laughing. They had been living off of tuna fish and peanut butter for weeks and all of a sudden they pedaled upon a Pizza Hut and decided to stuff their faces full of greasy pizza, wings, pasta, and tons of other processed foods. Their body went into complete shock and it took them a good 5 hours to digest their meal on the grass in front of the Pizza Hut, incapable of pedaling another mile. Yuk!
A pleasant atmosphere inside the Bell 2 Lodge

A rustic elegant log cabin style interior

However, the breakfast buffet at Bell 2 Lodge, is in a totally different category of restaurants, it's fine dining, not fast food, and my experience there was absolutely delightful, nothing I regret, in fact, I'd cycle back there tomorrow, if it were on the way, just to repeat it! As I mentioned, cyclist after cyclist I passed, a dozen to be precise, heading south from Alaska, raved about the breakfast at this lodge. They had all camped at the tenting site at Bell 2, which has an RV park as well as cabins and rooms, and visited the buffet the following morning. I'm not one to follow the masses, but when the masses are tour cyclists, pedaling passionately and love their food as much as their cycling, I take their advice to heart!
The first customer is parked outside eagerly waiting for breakfast

I rarely arrive places early, but this was a special occasion
In order to make the most of my buffet experience, I did some research prior to my visit. It's important to know key information like what time the buffet opens, prices, and must-try dishes. Bell 2 Lodge is about 150 km from Stewart, making for a long day of pedaling, but with the incentive of a delicious breakfast the following morning, 250 km would have been possible! I arrived at their lodge just shy of 10pm, a long day indeed, but I was glad to be at a proper campground. I had seen a lot of bears that evening alongside the road, so free camping was out of the question. I wanted to eat breakfast, not be eaten for breakfast!

Food warmers with savory treats inside, soon to be visited 

The Bell 2 Lodge Restaurant, is like an oasis, in the middle of nowhere. It's a beautiful log cabin style lodge that has been recently renovated with additional Alp-like chalets on a wide open lot that backs up to one of the many lakes in the area, and the Bell River (hence the name). All the RV guests were shocked to see me roll in so late with my head torch on, but they welcomed me and were excited to learn of my travels and enthusiasm for the breakfast buffet. It was too late to check in at the front desk, but luckily there was another cyclist camped out, Cress, from Smithers, BC, who was just headed off to bed. He let me share his site. I set up camp, took a warm shower, left my food in the campground bathroom, and went to bed. I was too tired to prepare dinner, and settled for dried fruit and yogurt, which I had bought in Stewart that morning. I set my alarm for 6am, thinking it would be plenty of time to pack-up and be the first at the door for the buffet.

Wouldn't you know, I was the first one at the door, in fact, I got to the lodge restaurant 5 minutes before they opened. You see, I had been told that they don't replenish the buffet once they run out of food, but actually this isn't true either. Krysten, my young waitress from Smithers, BC welcomed me and helped me find a strategic seat, close to the buffet with an electrical plug to charge all my technology. Like I said, I hadn't been to a buffet in years, so I was overwhelmed upon my arrival. I decided to assess the situation first; I did a “dry run” or so you could say, walking through the buffet to assess my options. At the start of the long buffet table there was yogurt, cereal, milk, and fruit. Following these cold items, there were three large warmers. The first was filled with what looked to be french toast, the second with potatoes, bacon, and sausages, and the third with an egg breakfast sandwich. At the end of the buffet table there was a variety of juices, followed by coffee and tea. I should preface my buffet experience by admitting that I'm a Libra, a sign known for being creative and indecisive, two traits that strongly characterize my personality, both an asset and hindrance to a buffet experience. Although I'm not obsessed with horoscopes and such, I'm typically have a hard time making decisions when faced with a million choices. Breakfast, however, is not so overwhelming, because I know myself well and my eating preferences, even when I'm ravenous! My rules are simple: I have to eat sweets before savory items, cold items prior to warm ones, and along those same lines, juice before coffee.

Plate, bowl, number one: Fruit, cottage cheese, granola and honey on top
Hence, I started with yogurt, cereal, and fruit, plate (bowl) number one! They had yogurt and cottage cheese, both good choices to top fresh fruit. Cottage cheese took precedence, it's become an obsession on my trip, ever since I landed in North America. Cottage Cheese doesn't exist in Spain and it is a delicious dairy product filled with protein that can be prepared to satisfy a sweet tooth or a savory craving. I first loaded my bowl with fruit, piled the cottage cheese of top, sprinkled it with granola, and poured honey over it all! I accompanied this with a glass of orange juice and prepared a cup of coffee for when I finished off the juice. Had this been any other day on my trip, my first trip through the Bell 2 buffet would have been plenty a breakfast for myself, at least to hold me a few hours 
pedaling. However, with all the gourmet items to choose from for breakfast, this was just my appetizer.

My favorite dish by far, cinnamon roll French toast, a brilliant invention!
My second trip through was my favorite. I love French toast, especially when you can top it with yogurt and fresh fruit. Bell 2 had all of the above, but of noteworthy mention was their French toast, made from none other than cinnamon rolls. What an invention, their chef is a genius! I had a generous portion of French toast smothered in syrup, vanilla yogurt, and fresh fruit. Yes, I have an intense sweet tooth! By far this plate was my favorite of the five I ended up eating; you just can't top cinnamon French toast! Trip three, stands out as being my only entirely savory plate and therefore deserves an honorable mention. It was a combo plate with a breakfast egg sandwich on an English muffin, topped with cheese and a tomato, which I then accompanied with flavorful sausage, home fries, and bacon. I quickly opened the breakfast sandwich and placed the bacon on top, to make a heartier sandwich, a brilliant decision!

Multi-tasking galore: eating, blogging, chatting, and charging......

I snuck a bit more cottage cheese on plate #3
By the third plate, needless to say, my hunger had dissipated. I also had company at my table, distracting me for focusing all my energy on the food. Cress joined me and my pace slowed, talking between bites, but his company was welcomed. By the time I was ready for plate four, we also had 2 other cyclists join us. I didn't realize there were so many other cyclists at the lodge when I rolled in the previous night, but like I said, the Bell 2 Lodge is famous in the world of tour cyclists. When there is delicious food en route, word travels fast, far, and furiously! Mark was cycling with Allan, who was driving a SAG van behind him. They had started in Anchorage and were making their way south from to their hometown of Cheyenne, Wyoming. They were they shocked to hear that I had been through Cheyenne about 2 months ago, starting my trip in Spain, originally. Mark, Allan, and Cress visited the buffet twice. They must be weathered buffet participants, with more self control. I went back for a fourth, and what I thought was my final plate while sitting with them. As they say, when in good company, eat good food, or at least that is what I say!

Still smiling and still eating!

The cyclists at Bell 2 Lodge for breakfast, fun company

By this time, Krysten, my waitress was laughing, but not at all shocked by my fourth trip. She told me they get on average at least a dozen cyclists a week during the biking season and is now not surprised by our appetite! She was ready with the camera once again, to document plate number 4, which was another combo plate: sweet and savory. I forgot to mention that after savory, I also like a bit of sweet. Plate four consisted of another piece of French toast, yogurt and fruit, and potatoes topped with bacon, YUMMM!!!!! Was I really hungry at this point? I don't remember.....which brings up the subject of buffets and healthy eating. The “not-so-healthy” component of participating in an all-you-can-eat buffet is that you always end up eating more than you want or need. But is there really such thing as eating too much when you are riding your bike 8 hours a day, day after day, week after week? The long answer would require visiting more buffets, but the short answer is NO! Which is why I had no problem going back for plate number four. I must admit that after this plate, I had reached the right amount of fullness, you know where you are satisfied and content, but don't have to unbotton your pants to be more comfortable. I could actually sip and enjoy my coffee and catch up on emails after saying goodbye to my cycling companions.

It's a pathetic plate, but it still counts, and I enjoyed it equally: Plate #5

I hung around another hour or so, while several other clients came and went. Krysten kept the buffet plenty stocked for all their guests up until closing at 11am. Just before then, I couldn't resist just one more plate, plate number 5. They had replaced the French toast with pancakes, so of course I had to try them. It was a rather pathetic plate in comparison to number 2 or 3, but I topped up on sweets with a couple of pancakes, granola, and fruit! By then I was the last guests, after being the first to arrive, living the buffet experience to the fullest: 4 hours of fun filled with delicious food, enjoyable company, and wonderful service! Krysten went about cleaning everything up and let me chill out in the restaurant finishing up a couple of things on my computer. The kitchen staff was still around, so I introduced myself, told them their food had become renown among tour cyclists.

In the kitchen with head chef James, at Bell 2 Lodge

I started pedaling around noon. By then the clouds had rolled in and it was starting to drizzle, but I couldn't be bothered by a little rain, I had left Bell 2 content, with a full tummy, and plenty of nutrients to tide me over the 120km to my next campsite. Wouldn't you know, Cress was there waiting for me there and had left overs from the dinner he cooked a few hours back. Hard to believe, but I was actually hungry by the time I arrived! The next morning I came to another lodge north on the Stewart-Cassiar Highway. I was disappointed to find out that there was no breakfast buffet option, but I did manage to do a magic trick, one of my favorites called “The Disappearing Jumbo Cinnamon Bun” following the vanishing fried eggs, toast, and bacon trick!

Disappearing jumbo cinnamon bun: now you see it.....
Now you don't!

 And so I concluded, reminded of one of Dan's guests on Sporkful, the nation's third ranked competitive eater. He earns a living in a profession I never knew existed and won his first competition eating 2 gallons of chili in 6 minutes. Gee,......I might have just found my new profession, “Hi, I'm Melissa, I'm a competitive eater riding my bike around the world, nice to meet you!” Finding hosts for this trip might become problematic!

A special thanks to the Bell 2 Lodge for giving me a complimentary night's stay at their lodge campsite. They also wanted to give me a discount on the buffet, however, Mark and his cycling pal Allan, paid for me without me realizing. What can I say....People around the world continue to take good care of me! Thank you! If you are ever on the Stewart-Cassiar Highway headed north or south, don't miss stopping at The Bell 2 Lodge. I hear their dinner buffet is equally as delicious featuring fresh fish and wild game from the area!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Wild Goose Chases

Highway 37a to Stewart

I'm sold, Stewart has it all!

Way back when I was in Laos, about 18,000 km (11,000mi.) ago to be precise, I made a rule, one of few I have, to not go off on any "wild goose chases". I decided that detours longer than 5 km off the beaten path were generally “not” allowed. This came after I pedaled countless kilometers to waterfalls that were advertised 2 or 3 km off the main road and didn't appear after climbing steep slopes and pedaling more than 10km. I used to follow signs to historical villages that were supposedly “right down the road” and after bumping and jiggling along on a gravel road for more than half an hour, did not exist! I went in search of caves that were “just up the hill”, and after going up and down several hills, mysteriously there were no caves. I know this rule may seem rather provincial, and contradicts my adventurous spirit, but to tell you the truth, I'm usually satisfied and delighted with all the scenery I take in right along the side of the road, I don't have a desire to venture much farther. It's hard to motivate me to go down a gravel road or push my bike up a steep slope on a muddy road to see a tourist sight.

Bear Glacier, the first you come to on the road, I was impressed by this one, little did I know what awaited me...

Alps, Pyrenees,....nope, BC Mountains!

A perfect day for riding

I do, however, make exceptions to this rule from time-to-time. Ever since I started pedaling north to Alaska, I received countless suggestions from cyclists to go to the little town of Stewart, Canada. It's a unique little place because the road dead-ends at the town, but not before crossing the border into Alaska, at the small ghost town of Hyder, Alaska, a mining village that came to be during the gold rush. It's a neat phenomena to be able to reach an isolated town in Alaska on a dead-end road, not to mention everyone raved about the glacier along the road as well as the bear preserve in Hyder. Stewart itself is a small mining town on a dead-end highway off the Stewart-Cassiar, a 65km detour off the main road. Wow! That is an awfully long way to go to see a small town that is no larger than 500 people, but to make the visit even more worthwhile there are plenty of services and I was in need of restocking my food supply for the remote ride up north. After all, the highway is called the Stewart-Cassiar, and not just the Cassiar Highway. If the town is included in the name of the highway (which I'm sure was all due to being a destination en route) it must be worth seeing!

Wild raspberries, a treat for me (and the bears)

Despite my rule, I had deemed Stewart and Hyder to be a “must experience” wild goose chase! I decided I would go out-and-back in one day and then be on my way. Of course, as this trip has taught me, plans never turn out exactly as you think, and always expect the unexpected! The road down to Stewart was almost all downhill after the first 20km. The scenery was spectacular, riding alongside the mountains, lush and green, capped with snow, many with glaciers atop. When the downhill started my eyes shifted from looking up to peering down at the bushes alongside the road because noticing the wild raspberries. They looked a bit picked over, and to no surprise I came across a lot of bear poo, confirming the fact that I wasn't the only one who enjoyed the wild berries. I wanted to get to Stewart on the early side, had it not been for the scenery and berry picking, I could have definitely made it faster!

You'd never guess there is civilization at the end of this road

Stewart, it is like stepping back in time, this was a delicious breakfast joint.

Needless to say, by the time I arrived in Stewart, I was hungry! It takes a lot of berries to fill me, and I didn't have the patience to do that much picking! My priority upon arriving was food, wifi, and charging appliances. I found the small grocery store cyclist told me had free wifi, parked my bike outside and entered to buy food. I sat down at the picnic tables outside to charge up and catch up on emails. Sitting next to me were two men. They looked like travelers, with a computer out and conversing with a local. They struck up conversation with me, but I was a bit too focused on my phone to give them my undivided attention. In fact, I was so focused, I didn't even see the plate full of pastries with the sign, “Free, Take One” until five minutes later. When I finally decided to give up on the wifi and enjoy the moment, I fully engaged in conversation with Greg and John. That is when I realized there were free pastries next to them. The three donuts sitting there on the plate disappeared in a total of about 5 minutes!

Pete on his retro BWM, straight out of Motorcycle Diaries

Greg and John were motorcyclists who had been in Sturgis, South Dakota for the Harley concentration, and spontaneously decided to head to Alaska afterwards. They call themselves the “Poverty Riders,” along with one other member, Pete, who was doing laundry. They are all about function over flash, which is why they were camping rather than staying in hotels and invited me to share their campsite. However, that isn't the only thing they invited me to that day......As many of you know, one of the things on my list of “things I want to experience while pedaling” is riding on the back of a Harley. None of them actually had a Harley, but I couldn't refuse an invitation to ride on the back of a motorcycle up to the famous bear reserve in Hyder and on to the Salmon Glacier in BC. Despite their rough and tough look, motorcyclists are some of the most gentle and tender-hearted people I've met on my trip! Greg, John, and their third friend Pete, were no exception!

Greg and I on his BWM Z100

The only official sign to let you know you are in the USA

What an adventure we had! Pete was on an old retro motorcycle, John on a small 250cc sport bike, and Greg was riding a large 2 person BMW, with me on the back wearing my bike helmet and a big smile on my face! We cruised from Stewart to Hyder in the matter of minutes. This isolated Alaskan town is only 2 kilometers down the road and wouldn't you know there is absolutely NO American border control into Hyder? Shocking! The Canadian patrol the border crossing on the way back to Stewart, but this has to be the only border in the United States that has no government border control. From there we went up to the bear preserve. People are suppose to ohh and ahh at the bears, but I couldn't get past the 2 to 3 foot long salmon in the river, spawning, the obvious reason for the presence of bears. There was a putrid dead fish smell lingering in the air, and since there weren't any bears fishing at that moment, we decided to go on to the glacier, another 20 miles up the road.

The river formed by the glacier

The road and view on the way to Salmon Glacier

The road was gravel and it started out flat alongside the river, which was rushing down from the mountains, wider than any river I had seen on my trip. In fact, it was so wide, it really had no clear path and had flooded everything in its way to create its path. We started to climb, leaving the river, and had unbelievable visibility making for gorgeous glacier viewing. Mountains surrounding us and there was a countless number of glaciers tucked away between mountains and covering almost every peak. It made the Icefield Parkway seem ridiculous in comparison, and Glacier National Park a joke! There was absolutely no one on the road and it has to be the most scenic road of my trip! The further north I pedal, the more scenic the roads become! Here I was in delightful company chatting to Greg the entire ride up, talking about everything imaginable from travels and childhood, our first love, sorts, our parents and family, you name it. Although there was about a 25 year age gap, it was as if we were one and the same kind of people with an instant bond and connection. Our conversation got interrupted every 2 minutes for me to repeatedly say, “Oh my god!!!!,” while gawking at the views. On numerous occasions I admitted, “I have to be the luckiest person alive, look where we are Greg!” Greg and his buddies are as hard core motorcyclists as I am a road cyclist. We love our bikes, for the sole purpose of where they take us!

At first you only see the river.....

Then the glacier appears

Here we were observing the longest glacier I'd seen in my entire life. No joke, the road followed The Salmon Glacier about 12 to 15 kilometers up to where it started, and then it looped behind, for an even more phenomenal viewing. I felt bad that Greg couldn't take the pictures, but not one of my pictures does this immense mass of ice justice. I have never in my life seen anything like The Salmon Glacier, which is officially in British Columbia and yet it is the 5th largest in North America, the longest accessible by road. I've seen untouched glaciers in the Andes in Peru, The Mer du Glace in Switzerland, Glacier National Park, Icefield Parkway, and New Zealand's prize glaciers as well, and nothing comes even remotely close to impact of The Salmon Glacier. Not to mention, it's in an unspoiled natural environment with almost no commercialization, not even flights hovering above. Ironically at the summit there is a man selling DVD's and postcards, but he had abandoned sales that day and was no where to be seen. The only thing up at the summit, other than us, was a massive amount of mosquitoes, which is why I debuted my mosquito face mask, given to me by some of my followers (Thank you Janis, Bruce, and Murdock)!

the picture doesn't do Salmon Glacier justice!

It is a massive sprawling glacier

Look closely to see the road we traveled and the dust covering my clothes from the road

I hesitate to write a post about Stewart, Canada, because I don't want to spoil this undiscovered frontier. Sure, there are people in Stewart and Hyder, but most don't make it past the famous bar in Hyder, let alone the bear reserve. We probably encountered a half dozen people on the dusty gravel road, and to my luck one of these 6 was a couple Greg and gang had met the day before at their campsite. Robbin, the lady, works at an IB school in Vancouver, which I will now hopefully visit when I make my way down to their city. What an ironic meeting!

Beyond the glacier was equally as picturesque!

After our ride to the Glacier, Greg, John, Pete and I went to the famous bar in Hyder. You step inside and enter a time warp to experience the true feel of the ghost town. I'd call it a million dollar establishment, literally because the walls are lined with dollar bills from all over the world, signed by all the people who have stepped foot in this establishment over the years. Behind the apparent outer wall there is an inside panel also covered with dollar bills. Some aren't even dollars! I saw 20, 50, and even 100 dollar notes from currency around the world signed with the idea that historically if a miner came to the bar at the end of a long day of work and had no cash, they'd find their bill from the previous visit and use that to settle their tab. It's a pretty neat tradition. It felt weird to be back The States but I took advantage of my stay by mailing some postcards, saving $2,20 per international postage! I was delighted!

The only bar in town, a million dollar establishment, literally!

"Poverty Riders", plus Melissa

We all had diner, Greg and gang treated me, and we went back to Canada. I walked across the border, to avoid problems being on the back of a motor bike wearing a bike helmet. By the time we got back to our campsite, the typical Northern BC and Alaska weather had rolled in and it was gray and drizzly, again, making me thankful to have experienced the glacier and scenery at it's prime!

The breakfast gang the following morning

Here I am now, with the gang of motorcyclists and a few other add ons to the group, enjoying a delicious warm breakfast and good company before I set out again back tracking my route, to continue heading north to Alaska. I've had an amazing “sneak preview” of the Yukon and Alaskan wilderness and if I don't make it any further on my trip, I'm content, I wouldn't complain. I'm absolutely tickled with what I've seen! Yes, I officially went more than 5km off the beaten path, but this wild goose chase was well worth it! Not only for the scenery and the fact I got to ride on the back of a motorcycle, but Greg, John, and Pete were true gentlemen an treated me like the most entitled young lady! I'm a lucky gal, I can't deny it!

Monday, August 11, 2014

On the Road Again....Solo

Watson River Valley, Dunster, BC

If there were ever a time when I should feel lonely on this trip, it should be now. I find myself occasionally getting up out of my saddle looking ahead to see if they are there, just over the top of the climb. Sometimes I can hear Nuri and Viçens laughing in the distance. I smile and chuckle to myself remember the fun we had riding together. My memories from our our two weeks are so vivid, their voices clear, and it's like I'm still in their company. Our two weeks together flew by, but at the same time I feel as though they accompanied me for months. Their timing was perfect, as I head up north into a more remote and desolate area, without realizing it, they gave me just the boost of confidence and motivation I needed in order to embark on a new phase of my journey.

Viçens, myself, and Nuri with Mt. Robson in the background

A sad farewell amics!

Looking at the map of British Columbia and The Yukon, reality sinks in of where I'm headed. The further north I pedal, the more I penetrate Canada's sparsely populated wilderness, a natural abyss, filled with “nothing” or at least this is the adjective that everyone seems to use. The true test awaits. Limited services, harsh weather, dangerous wildlife, few people, and even fewer comfort or “perks”. Had I pedaled this territory 11 months ago, I probably would have turned around and gone directly home. But now, with 11 months of experience and adventures, I'm ready to arise to the challenge. People warn me there is “nothing” up here, but for me, I always seem to find something when there is nothing and so far up north here, it is no different.

I left Jasper with Nuri and Viçens, they led me east carrying all my bags for 90 of the 140 km I had my first day en Route to Alaska. You couldn't ask for better friends! I arrived at my Warmshowers host, to my surprise there are still a few hosts up here, about half a dozen to be precise between here and Alaska. Most advertise themselves as “non-cyclists” people or couples who have seen cyclists on their roads headed to Alaska or Argentina and realized their was a need to support them.

The dead give away that a Warmshowers host is near!

Bonnie's beautiful garden and yard
This was the case with Curtis and Bonnie, who had heard about Warmshowers word-of-mouth, and come highly recommended from another cyclist I met back in Montana. He called Curtis and Bonnie's farm a “little piece of paradise” and he wasn't joking! This active, but retired couple lives in the Watson Valley, 140 km north of Jasper. Precisely where there is suppose to be “nothing” , sandwiched between the Cariboo and the Rocky mountains is an enormous piece of property distinctly marked by various covered wagons. They are sheep wagons, otherwise know as “Home on Wheels,” from the late 1800's. I've slept in a lot of different places on my trip, but never in a sheep wagon; What a treat! With an adapted double size bed with flannel sheets (my favorite), a wash basin, stove (that doesn't work), a small solar light, and candles, I stepped inside and went back in time. I would have to say it was the most unique of places I found myself sleeping in the last 11 months. Guests here are completely self-sufficient with access to an outside solar shower, an outhouse, a huge lawn and picnic tables, and a wireless connection that reaches all the way to garden!

My first solar shower, delightful!

A typical sheep wagon from the 1890's.

My suite for the night, maybe I should ditch the panniers and cart this wagon behind me.....

Curtis, myself, and Bonnie
I arrived on Wednesday evening in time for their “Wiskey Wednesday” a get together that really doesn't involve that much whiskey, but is rather an excuse to get the neighbors together. There were 8 of us total all sitting around the table enjoying each other's company and eating what seemed to be a Thanksgiving feast to me! They had plenty of stories to share about other cyclists and also gave me a bit of Canadian and family history. Ironically Bonnie and Curtis were originally from Oregon, and moved up to help out her father with farming years and years ago. The little town of Dunster had become their home, a town where the local school has since closed and the general store is forced to sell food items that are long past their expiration date. Some would say there is “nothing” here, but for me, this little piece of paradise was the ideal place to stay and it is no wonder I decided to hang around an additional day as well! You have to take advantage of places like these, you never know when you are going to stumble across them again!

Limited services, unless of course you find a charity cycle ride en route!
I had 242 kilometers between there and my next sign of civilization, Prince George, British Columbia. With limited services, as in one solo cafe and a convenient store, most cyclists would stock up and prepare to make that route in 2 or 3 days. That would be very atypical of Melissa. Two hundred and forty two kilometers is just slightly longer than I can do in one day, but it's the perfect distance to conquer in a day and a half a tops! I got a later start than I wanted, rain had rolled in and I waited for it to stop. I hopped on my bike and started to pedal, realizing that the hilly terrain, slight head wind, and on-and-off thunderstorms would make the route more challenging and longer than I had intended. How far could I make it? That was the challenge, enough of an incentive to keep me motivated and pedaling

I hit the jackpot!

Again, on a road without any services, what is the luck of finding a cycling charity ride doing the same route? All of a sudden a pack of cyclists past me with a van leading the group down the road and another van driving behind them. About 10 km further on down the road they were pulled off to the side of the road and I decided to go over and evaluate the situation. It was my lucky day! A group of about ten local cyclists from Prince George were doing a charity ride for cancer, 400km in one day, from Jasper to Prince George, fully supported. The guys came over with a few sandwiches and then invited me to take anything I wanted from their food. I would have politely controlled the urge to take everything had it looked like they didn't have enough food, but by the looks of it, they could have rode a week with all the food they had. In hinds sight, I should have come up with a better strategy and used Ziploc bags to really be efficient gathering and storing the food, but instead I loaded up my arms full of goods from bananas to sandwiches, chocolate bars, energy bars, jelly beans, licorice, and fresh fruit. I had hit the jackpot! If only I could have kept their pace and drafted off the back for the rest of my route I would have made the 242 km in one day!

Storms on and off all day long, I maybe got 4 droplets on me!
Couldn't ask for a better free campsite, bear box and all!
Instead, I ended up spending the night close to the one cafe on this road, by a highway maintenance garage, 180 km from Dunster. This is where I ended up just as the sun set around 9pm, at which point I ate a roast beef and cheese sandwich, the only food item left from the charity van. To tell you the truth, I could have eaten about 5 sandwiches and then some more! To my luck, there was also an old dump trunk next to the maintenance shed and the cab open, so I wisely used it a a bear container and stored my other food and scented items there for the night. There was a lake close by, but I couldn't be bothered to wash up. Instead I did something I have yet to do on this trip. I simply set up my tent and sleeping bag, took off my cycling shorts, and crawled in. I never thought I would go to sleep directly after pedaling, sweaty and all, with dead bugs stuck to the sunscreen residue on my skin, without even whipping my face off with a baby wipe. Eleven months ago, I would taken the time and effort to properly clean-up, but like I said, I've reached a new level of comfort on this trip, rather, my standards have changed, they've gone down drastically! As long as I have a safe place to sleep and a somewhat full belly, I am content!

Just one wall of the bulk foods in one of four Savon's in Prince George

Since when did they start coating so much stuff in chocolate, ulala!!!!

Needless to say, the next morning I awoke famished and finished off my supply of oatmeal and started to pedal to the 60 km to “something” that lied ahead on the road. Prince George is the biggest town in central BC, a lively metropolis of 75,000 inhabitants. You'd think I'd be ecstatic to arrive in a town that has all the fast food restaurants one could want, 4 or 5 grocery stores, a Walmart, and a Costco, but to tell you the truth after being in towns where you have to grocery shop at a gas station or a bait and tackle shop, Prince George was like the big apple! Hunger led me straight to the grocery store in Prince George, but I immediately shut down, overwhelmed with the vast selection of goods. The store was so big that mentally I shut down. I felt like a horse with blinders as not to get distracted by all the selection and variety of goods. It felt like I was in a maze of food products and I couldn't seem to maneuver my way or find anything that I wanted! Rather than shop for food, I found myself taking pictures and gawking at the ridiculous selection of products. Since when did they start covering Acai blueberries with dark chocolate? And what happened to the good old-fashioned trail mix? How many varieties of jelly beans can you have? And why in a country that uses the metric system were the fruits advertised in pounds and the bulk food item prices in grams! SOS!!!! I grabbed a few items as quickly as possible and left! I prefer “nothing” rather than “something”, that is for sure!

Vianney and friends/followers....

Of course we both love looking at maps sharing our route

Oddly enough in the middle of “nowhere” in Canada, I happened to run into a former Thomson Bike Tour employee, who had been in touch with me over the past 3 months seeking advice for a Canadian bike tour he was planning. Although we had never formerly met, we had no idea we would coincide in the same region, nor at the same time, but it was an absolutely splendid encounter! Vianney had been on the road for about 2 weeks and also cycled up to Prince George from The Icefield Parkway. He was staying with friends in Prince George and we all got together on several different occasions, including an invite to try his gateaux chocolat. As you know, I never turn down an invitation for food!

Vianney, like myself, loves to bake.  Now you see it.......

Now you don't! I just can't help myself!  

Now I'm in Vanderhoof, a town that is so small, I thought I'd be lucky to find a gas station. To my surprise, last night as I rolled in, I found a Tim Horton's, A&W Root beer, a huge super market, and all the services one could possibly need. Vanderhoof is a town of about 4 or 5,000 people, the perfect size for me! I'm staying with Jolinka and John, a Dutch couple who have lived in North America all their lives. They are new to Warmshowers; new as in they signed up 4 days ago and a day after joining, I wrote them asking to be hosted. You'd never know they are new to the network based on their generous hospitality and open-minded mentality. It's like they've been hosts for years! They are world travelers themselves and the parents of four grown kids, which explains why they are just so good at opening their house to complete strangers. They live in a beautiful log home recently built by John himself, that overlooks the prairie, a peaceful and idyllic setting. Last night we enjoyed a delicious dinner and homemade dessert out on their balcony and after that I spent the evening in their massage chair, another reason why John and Jolinka will become ever famous hosts en route Alaska for years to come!

Amazing views from my host's house in Vanderhoof

A gorgeous log house in central BC, a delightful place to take refuge

So yes, I'm on the road solo, again, but I have yet to feel lonely! I keep waiting to be enveloped in the great abyss of “nothingness” that looms in northern Canada. Where are the bears? Where are the moose? Where are the endless stretches of highway with nothing but thick forests on either side of the road? For the time being I'm quite content with plenty around me to offer entertainment, companionship, and fulfill my basic needs.

If I ever settle down, I'm buying one of these chairs, even if it is the only piece of furniture in my house!