Hope to Vancouver

The following is a blog post from Nikki Rekman. She is amazing. A week previous to this trip I put an ask out to see if anyone was interested in paddling from Hope to Vancouver. I had no boat or paddling gear and my requests to friends in the area were not working out. Nikki answered the call without knowing me and did a spectacular job forming a dream team canoe trip in short time. It was a wonderful gift to meet Nikki and the team the morning after my toughest and most uncomfortable day of skiing across BC. I'm forever grateful to her and everyone who joined for the lovely paddle to Vancouver.  Here's Nikki!:

Mark and I had discussed doing a winter paddling trip down the Fraser River this year but we never expected the impetus would be a guy, we had never met, circumnavigating the planet without the use of a motor.
When life and the paddling community comes together - cool stuff happens and being a part of the Fraser River leg of the Routes of Change expedition was no exception.
On a dark, cool morning in late January a group of paddlers, who didn’t all know each other, headed out from Chilliwack, BC. We had arranged to meet, Canadian explorer and adventurer, Markus Pukonen at a pre-arranged put-in on the Fraser River.
What were we thinking?
We were thinking, “Let’s have an adventure!”
As we were loading up our Clipper canoes (thanks to Western Canoeing and Kayaking in Abbotsford, BC) we see a tall, blond haired guy with skis on his back, walking towards us and our piles of gear, it’s Markus and the adventure is about to begin. He had recently skied from Kelowna to Hope to begin the next leg of his expedition.
After the obligatory pre-trip photo, we were off.

Our first day we logged 57 km and were forced off the water due to crazy-winds, just downstream from Island 22 near Chilliwack, BC. The wind was so strong, that this would be the only time of the trip that SUP paddler, Jason Bennett would be found sitting down! We had hoped to make it past Chilliwack on day 1 but alas the weather had other plans for us.
Camp #1 ended up being very comfortable and we were able to enjoy our evening without wind and rain to spend a little time around the campfire. That was about the only dry spell on the trip.
Day two was also wet and cool but our crew was well-dressed and comfortable in our Kokatat gear (can’t imagine doing any kind of paddling trip at this time of year without a drysuit! Thanks, Kokatat). It was another long day, 56 km bringing us to Derby Reach Regional Park in Langley, BC. The Fraser River is tidal below Mission, BC so our current had slowed significantly, from the Hope to Chilliwack section of the river and so far the tides had been in our favour.

Photo: Nikki Rekman Sales

Photo: Nikki Rekman Sales

Camp #2 ended up being quite decadent given the wet weather as we hijacked the kitchen shelter and set up ALL of our gear, including our tents to have a dry night’s sleep. We were a bit nervous about getting kicked out of the park (it’s closed after dark) but we were tired, cold and hungry and we had arrived by canoe and SUP board – what were they going to do? Thankfully, the park ranger never showed up.

 

Our 3rd and final day was surprise, wet and cool but the change in scenery was different than what most of us were used to on trips and kept things interesting. The lower section of the Fraser River is very industrial and of course, goes right through New Westminster, North Richmond and South Vancouver. We saw a fair bit of commercial traffic and paddling underneath all the bridges was very cool.

Photo: Nikki Rekman Sales

Photo: Nikki Rekman Sales

There were a few things that struck me about this trip, #1 it was amazing how competent and cohesive our small group of 7 paddlers was given that we didn’t really know each other before the trip. We really left the trip having made new friends and #2 how unexplored the Fraser River is by paddlers and #3 and possibly the most important, how one person’s dream (Markus’ dream to circumnavigate the planet) brought a group of like-minded people together for an amazing paddling adventure! THANK YOU, Markus!
Our goal was to help get Marcus to Vancouver and after 44 km on day 3 the sun came out (seriously, that’s how it happened) and greeted us just below the Arthur Laing Bridge at Fraser River Park.

We did it and we had a blast being a part of the Routes of Change expedition.
If you have a chance to join Markus at some point in his journey, do it, you won’t regret it.

Gallery Photos above : Peter Brennan

Paddlers: Markus Pukonen, Jason Bennett, Christina Chowaniec, Nikki Rekman, Mark Klein, Peter Brennan and Laura Demers.
Special thanks to our shuttle drivers, Len Zilkowsky and Monica Demers, to the folks that met us en route with hot beverages and timbits – Lynne Smith and Marlin Bayes from Clipper Canoes and the friends and family that welcomed us at the end of our journey to help us pack up and get Markus on his way again, this time via bicycle. We could not have done it without you!
Gear generously supplied by Kokatat and Clipper Canoes.

 

What gear to bring for a long, long ski..

What ski setup do you use to get from Canmore to Vancouver over several mountain ranges and across valleys that might not have snow?

I’ve heard it all now: alpine touring, BC cross country, telemark, long and narrow, wide and light, tech, NNN, 75mm, wax, waxless, skins, etc. and on and on.

Thankfully I’m in Canmore surrounded by a wealth of world class athletes and explorers to help me figure out what to do. Unfortunately, there are not many people who embark on this specific type of endurance trip so it has been very interesting trying to find the gear that makes the most sense for a journey of this kind.

THE CHALLENGE

On my planned route from Canmore to Vancouver there will be valleys without snow, so I will most likely need to walk long distances on the boots that I choose. This fact rules out an alpine touring (AT) setup as alpine boots are all made of rigid plastic (some are super light and comfy to walk in but for long distances and tons of abuse, it’s a bit risky). I considered going with a backcountry cross country setup with a NNN or SNS binding since the boots are light and comfortable to walk in, but then the bindings aren’t the most reliable option and walking on the pin in the front of the boot is just asking for problems.

Luckily for me, on this journey so far, I seem to have a way of stumbling upon the right people exactly when I need them. Soon after I arrived, I found myself at dinner with a few Olympian cross country skiers, their family, and friends. Between the group, we had some good discussion about which setup would be best for my purposes. When we came to no final agreement, they mentioned I should look up Don Gardner for his input, as he had skied across BC and to Disneyland (or something awesome like that).

LEGENDARY ADVICE

A few days later I found myself having tea with the legend himself. Many folks may have never heard of Don Gardner or the epic trips he has taken. He tends to avoid the attention and publicity that most modern day explorers seek out in order to bring value to their sponsors or boost their egos. Among many other amazing things, Don has skied across BC twice. I couldn’t have asked for a better person to help me figure out what I was doing.

Unsurprisingly, Don is a big fan of travelling as light-weight as possible. He didn’t have to convince me; I was all ears. His stories about sleeping in tree wells and relying on fires to cook sounded like just the inspiration I needed. He showed me how to convert my skis into giant snowshoes if I were find myself in a bind and unable to make forward progress (the trick involves two big sticks bowed in an arc with a couple of cross sticks and some duck tape). He even gave me a saw for harvesting fire wood.

SHOPPING SPREE

I searched Canmore for the ideal setup based on Don’s recommendations, but what I was looking for was nowhere to be found in town. However, Switching Gears, the sports consignment store in town, was super helpful and even hooked me up with some socks. Valhalla Pure was also very kind and donated a much needed merino mid-layer.

In the end, good old trustworthy MEC came through with some much-needed expedition support and I was able to find my ideal setup: Rossignol BC 110 Positrack waxless skis with Voile 3-pin telemark bindings and Alpina Alaska leather boots.

The skis are wide enough to give me some float while breaking trail in the early season snow and are perfect for the rolling terrain that I will cross. I will also carry skins as the fish scales can’t handle everything. The bindings are proven and if the 3-pin fails or breaks I will still be able to ski with the cables. The boots are stiff enough and high enough to power a turn or two but are also comfy enough to walk long distances with. Or so I hope!

Thanks to everyone who helped me out and I’ll catch you on the other side.

Tricycling across the Prairies

I know I said I was going to scooter across Saskatchewan but the changing of the seasons made me reevaluate. I didn’t feel like getting stuck in the snow with nowhere to go. If it happened I would have dealt with it but it likely would have been quite uncomfortable. Knowing that winter was coming fast made me think of the fastest way to get across the Prairies. Before I made it to Winnipeg I was already searching for a Velomoblie.

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I Googled “Velomobile Winnipeg” and found Kevin who owned this beauty. He told me there was no way he was going to let me ride it to Canmore. It’s his main mode of transport and it isn't cheap. Someday on this trip I hope to cover some serious ground on one. They just broke the land speed record on one travelling at 139km/h.

That handle sits on your lap and controls your brakes and signal lights.

That handle sits on your lap and controls your brakes and signal lights.

Kevin was awesome. Although he didn't lend me his velomobile he did offer me another recumbent tricycle before he had even met me in person. It’s amazing when you ask for help how many super generous people you find. I biked over to Kevin’s place, shook his hand and test drove the trike that would take me across the flat land.

 I also had the bizarre pleasure of getting cupped at www.shendaoacupuncture.ca

 I also had the bizarre pleasure of getting cupped at www.shendaoacupuncture.ca

I was able to work this out before I had pogo sticked 10km so I was feeling great about things to come. After the pogo stick I was contacted by an angel acupuncturist at shendaoacupuncture.ca. who offered me a treatment on the house. I was feeling surprisingly fine after the pogo stick and there was no specific spot to treat as a result of that. I had however, dealt with some pain in my knees while pedalling the trimaran on Lake Superior and could still feel the tenderness. The hand cycle was a good rest for them but the sensitivity was lingering. I had never had knee issues before, so this was concerning me. It’s been wonderful to get some acupuncture and massage along the journey.

I left Winnipeg on October the 21st prepared and expecting to tricycle into strong headwinds and prairie blizzards. Leaving the city I was instantly greeted by the smell of freshly sprayed fields of manure. I was able to avoid the main highway and had a pleasant downwind ride into Portage La Prairie (not pronounced the french way...weird) where I was greeted by some very hospitable couch surfing hosts. If you've never heard of it you should check out couchsurfing.org.

In over 2000 km of highway travel a total of about 4 cars stopped to say hello. I was gifted this wonderful little dream catcher by a kindred spirit as I biked towards Portage la Prairie.

In over 2000 km of highway travel a total of about 4 cars stopped to say hello. I was gifted this wonderful little dream catcher by a kindred spirit as I biked towards Portage la Prairie.

I was invited to spend the weekend and celebrate a birthday with them but I was again thinking of the fast approaching prairie freeze. I left the next morning in a cold rain and was soon regretting the decision to say goodbye and pass up the invitation to stay. It was a long and cold day on a fairly busy Yellowhead Highway. 

You know you're town is struggling when...

You know you're town is struggling when...

Back to the future. It's funny what becomes fascinating and worthy of a photo in the prairies.

Back to the future. It's funny what becomes fascinating and worthy of a photo in the prairies.

Would you trust me if I rolled into your town on a grownup tricycle?

Would you trust me if I rolled into your town on a grownup tricycle?

It started creeping up on this day. The Knee Pain!!! ahhhhh. It was subtle at first but continued to get worse throughout the day. I attempted several times to adjust the length of my seat wishfully thinking that the issue would relieve itself, but it did not. I was 250km into a 1600km ride with a nasty prairie winter approaching so I pushed on through the pain. After freezing all day long and not making it as far as I had planned before dark I was attempting to find a place to stay warm for the night through a friend of a friend. It didn't work out so I reluctantly decided to splurge and treat myself to a dumpy roadside motel for the cold and snowy night.

This was a luxurious shoulder, far from the norm on the Yellowhead cycling route.

This was a luxurious shoulder, far from the norm on the Yellowhead cycling route.

Yes, I was cold.

Yes, I was cold.

The highways are dangerous enough when visibility is good. Completely sketchy and terrifying when it's foggy.

The highways are dangerous enough when visibility is good. Completely sketchy and terrifying when it's foggy.

I made it into Saskatchewan the next day and was happy to get off of the horrible Manitoban highways. I then heard some tough news from my sister back in Tofino. Anyone from Canada will remember the whale watching boat tragedy. It was challenging to hear about this from afar and not be able to offer much support to the community. It sounded like the community did a really good job of coming together and growing stronger through the challenging times. The following day I was brought closer to the coast through an interesting meeting. A truck with a trailer full of trikes pulled over directly in front of me and motioned for me to stop. It was only the second vehicle to stop and say hello in over 2,000 km of highway travel. Turns out he was on his way back to Ucluelet which is Tofino’s close neighbour just south of Long Beach. He had actually worked with my brother in law and a very close friend. We didn’t know each other and he was only stopping because of the tricycle connection. He had just driven across the country to Quebec to pick up some interesting classic tricycles from a shop that was closing. I love these moments on the road. It makes me feel like I am exactly where I should be.

I made it to Yorkton and found someone willing to host me at their place. It was an interesting experience as it was a family home and the son had invited me to stay. His parents had apparently not completely warmed to the idea of hosting strangers but their religious compassion and practise seemed to compel them to welcome it at times. They were great. I ate dinner with them and enjoyed some pleasant conversation and T.V. They even sent me on my way the next morning with a packed lunch. I love gaining insight into people’s lives who I likely would never have the chance to meet. It’s always an interesting learning experience and helps me to appreciate and accept different ways of being.

The snow began to fall on the small shoulder of the Yellowhead highway and made it dangerous for me to continue. I found myself in Foam Lake, Saskatchewan, and a lovely women put me up for free in her little B &B. I had the house to myself as it snowed all night and made the highways impassable for me on my trike. I visited the local newspaper for an interview and admired the people acknowledging me as a stranger in a strange town.

 

The following day the snow had melted and I forged on towards Saskatoon. I would stay with two lovely sisters who were stoked about what I was doing. As has been the case most of the journey, I put more effort into reaching out to the press than they have in reaching out to me. I had one interview lined up in Saskatoon and they cancelled on me. None of the other 6 or so media outlets ever got in touch. Luckily I was able to dance like a Banana to awesome music with new friends.

I tricycled along to Kindersely where I stayed with a Sikh and a Muslim. While I was staying with them PM Justin announced his cabinet and made a Sikh our defence minister. I was, like many Canadians, fairly ignorant when it came to my knowledge of the Sikh religion. I was happy to be able to gain some insight from my Couchsurfing host. I can’t begin to imagine the xenophobia that he must have been experiencing in small town Saskatchewan. I’ve experienced sticking out like a sore thumb while traveling, but most of the time people are curious and interested in speaking with me. It would be a whole different thing if people were afraid or felt threatened by me.

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As I approached the Albertan border oil rigs started popping up everywhere alongside the highway. It brought me back to when I was rowing down the Mississippi River a couple of years earlier. For the majority of the 89 day journey from the source in Northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana, there was beautiful green space separating the river from the farmland and industry. There were, however, times when we came across oil rigs pumping away less than fifty feet from the river’s edge. It just didn’t seem right. Now I was seeing these rigs pumping away across the prairies with cattle and buffalo roaming beside them. Did it bother me? Yes, but I am able to accept it and not let it get me down or angry. The fact that we are taking oil out of the ground is not what bothers me. What bothers me is how we waste it on ;way too much single use plastic, unnecessary transportation of crap, toxic chemicals, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, fungicides, making our planet all around less inhabitable for ourselves. I look at these rigs moving up and down like they are ancient technology that should be a thing of the past. It’s time we move into the future where we stop acting like there isn’t another way, where we create a sustainable and sane world economy.

It’s fitting that my next stop was in Drumheller, dinosaurs were everywhere. Are we headed the way of the dinosaurs? I don’t think so. The earth (and space for that matter), may have other plans, but barring an Asteroid strike or complete environmental disaster, I think humans will have some sort of community on this planet for a long time to come. I just hope that we can come together and take action now to prevent the suffering that has already begun due to our shortsightedness and greed. We have the solutions. It’s time to act.

I stayed with three different teachers across Alberta and it certainly instilled a lot of hope in me for the future. They were all inspiring, down to earth, and awesome people. Ever since I started doing school presentations with OAR Northwest I’ve admired and appreciated teachers so much more. I believe it’s a powerful and important role in our society, one that is unfortunately underfunded and abused too often. I think teachers should be paid and trained more, but I also think they should be fired when they don’t do their job well. If I wasn’t doing what I am, I could easily see myself working as a teacher in some form. I was actually offered a job at a yet to be created project based learning private school earlier on in the journey.

I found this sign a bit creepy. Hand fossils of the last humans struggling to survive at the mercy of greedy and out of control fossil fuel and petrochemical industries.

I found this sign a bit creepy. Hand fossils of the last humans struggling to survive at the mercy of greedy and out of control fossil fuel and petrochemical industries.

Calgary. Home of the Flames. I never thought about it but I’m curious if that name is in reference to the flames coming off an oil refinery. I just looked,  “named.… after the fire resulting from the March to the Sea in the American Civil War by General William Tecumseh Sherman, in which Atlanta was nearly destroyed.” Anyways, Calgary is an oil and gas town that was taking a big hit due to low oil prices and the high cost of Tar Sands extraction. People were losing jobs all over the place and it seemed like a great opportunity to transition to an economy based on something that was renewable and not poisoning the land and air.

On my long tricycle across the prairies I had been looking forward to getting to Calgary. I was staying with a good friend whose school I was able to visit. I also met with some lovely ladies from Prevent Cancer Now who had organized several school visits, a CBC radio interview, and a fund-raising dinner. The radio interview ended up being a province wide lunchtime call-in show that I was not expecting at all. It was fun as I told the people of Alberta to take to the streets and demand environmental justice from the government. The fundraiser was lovely and I had the pleasure of meeting the impressive leader of the Liberal Party of Alberta. He’s in a tough role as the Albertans still hold a grudge from the days when Pierre Trudeau forced them to share their oil wealth with the rest of the country. How could he do such a thing!!!

Calgary is a beautiful city. A river runs through the centre of town and there are great bike paths all over the place. The Rocky mountains are in sight and sun seems to shine frequently here. I’d love the place if it didn’t smell like manure and have cocky cowboys looking to fight all the time…just kidding. #nenshi #nenshiwillfixit

I tricycled out of town along the river and stopped at two schools to share some adventure stories and inspire some change. I had sort of felt like a dork showing up at a middle school on a big tricycle but some kids made me feel cool by asking if they could join me down to the high school where I was presenting next. I let one of them ride the trike while I skateboarded down the hill. I was more stoked than they will ever know.

At the high school I had a small world moment as my good long time buddy from Toronto who now runs Alpine Edibles had helped one of the schools build an edible garden on their roof. Perfect. The teacher had asked me what I want to do with the kids so I suggested we go for a hike or a walk. I’m not sure the kids appreciated it as much as I thought they would… for getting them out of their classroom and into the fresh air. It was fun and I was able to have more direct conversations with some of the kids about what they wanted to do with their lives. Most had no clue and were simply doing what they were told was best for them. I did my best to inspire them to find the time to figure out what they are passionate about and pursue it.

My next stop was Cochrane Alberta, home of something special. Weeks previous I had been invited by a follower to stay with them for the night. Anne had warned me that it was a typical Albertan household and that her husband worked in oil and gas, perhaps thinking that it would make me uncomfortable or reconsider her offer of hospitality. This of course was not the case at all. Although I would avoid working in that industry myself I can easily accept why people have chosen careers in the industry and I have no interest in starting a fight over dinner with new friends. It was a pleasant evening and I enjoyed the company of the whole family. They sent me on my way with a generous donation for Routes of Change and a delicious lunch.

This was hopefully going to be my final day of travelling by tricycle and I was excited and a bit nervous about the approaching bad weather. Snow was in the forecast and I could see the big dark clouds creeping my way. I was able to avoid Highway 1 and take a nice back road through a reservation which people in Calgary had warned me to be careful of because of some careless drivers. Instead of careless drivers I delightfully encountered the most courteous drivers of the entire journey across the prairies. It’s unfortunate how perhaps one or two bad accidents can tarnish a reputation of a place.

Then it started falling. Big fat flakes that at first melted as they hit the ground. After a couple minutes they stopped melting and began piling up. Then they started sticking to my tires and slowing my progress. I knew I had little time left before I would be prevented from making any forward progress. I also knew I was in extremely dangerous territory with the potential for cars to slide off course and into me and my three wheels. Thankfully the millions of individually shaped crystals of water ceased to fall before my wheels began to spin out. I was able to trike on in peace, albeit a significantly colder and wetter form of it. My fingers and toes were nearing frostbite when I happened upon a gas station with a little cafe attached to it. I rolled up on my trike in the snow and asked them if it would be okay if I bought a tea and ate my lunch at their empty seats inside the cafe. The lady at the counter was nice but referred me to her boss who responded “this is a business, I need to make money.” I said I appreciate that which is why I’m going to buy a tea. I’m not sure what he said in response but he was not at all welcoming. I informed him that he is losing business because of it but apparently he was more interested in being a #!$%face. I triked down the road and ate my lunch in the cold. I was bitter and let the inhospitable actions of my fellow countryman bother me at first. As I continued towards Canmore I let go of the downer and laughed at it all. I can only hope that he becomes a happier and healthier person.

Tricycling into the Bow valley was special. I fell in love with the mountains when I first came there after highschool for a summer job at the Lake Agnes teahouse. It feels like a home away from home for me. For the first time as an adult I realized how good it feels to be healthy and happy. The valley and peaks above it provided me with fresh air, clean water, and loads of space to breath and gain some perspective on life.

I finished the day with one last steep uphill climb to an amazing cabin that I was welcomed to stay at from a new friend at Prevent Cancer Now. The view from this beautiful place was enough to prevent disease and I was happy to find some rest. I had friends in town to visit and another friend on their way to visit me. 1650km by tricycle - check.

 

A good game.

A good game.