As we bid our final farewells to Sharon in Chilliwack and set upon the road once more to edge slowly closer to Vancouver, the sun made a long-awaited and most welcome come back and blue skies were above us. As the Trans-Canadian highway becomes increasingly busy and dangerous towards the coast – banning cyclists altogether past Abbotsford – we set out to find a quieter alternative along the minor roads that run alongside the highway and were greeted by the first true signs of spring as we went.
The surroundings areas of Chilliwack and Abbotsford are largely farmland and as we cycled, mile upon mile of lush, freshly-mown green grass, vast fields of ploughed earth and twisted vines were framed by vibrant trees, shrubs and flowers of every shade imaginable. I loved looking at the farmhouses as we passed, too- ranging from the huge, mansion-esque style epic houses complete with torrents and balconies that made the most of the spectacular scenery to the more dainty and cosy cottages tucked away from the road. All new, sharp and up to date though: nothing like the more rustic, stone-aged farmhouses I associate with the UK. The air smelt like spring, too- that fresh, clean and invigorating smell that echoes the feeling of ‘new beginnings’ created by the beautiful scenery. The ride to Abbotsford was lovely- although completely different to our passages through the mountains, it had unique beauty of it’s own and with largely flat, quiet roads and a clear blue sky overhead, it was perfect for a slow and easy day’s ride. The only slight flaw was the relentless headwind once again- which, in spite of the many turns, twists and changes of direction that our quieter route demanded, appeared to follow us no matter which way we turned. It was as though the wind was playing a game with us and anticipating our every move- we had no choice but to continue to fight back and hope it would grant us a break eventually.
As we approached Abbotsford, I was surprised at the sheer size of the city and we were quickly sucked into the pace and bustle of the main roads- and struggling to pull ourselves up the many hills also! But as we edged closer to ur destination- Skydive Vancouver dropzone outside Abbortsford- I started to look forward to lazying at the dropzone and grabbing a small bite to eat, and enjoying the end of the day. Alas, it wasn’t going to be so simple.
As we paused at an intersection at the edge of Abbortsford, a woman pulled up alongside and enquired as to where we were headed. “A skydiving centre not far from here,” I replied. She asked if we had food and I replied in the affirmative. The lights changed and we were obliged to set off once more; I related the exchange to Matt, supposing that in a simple act of kindness the lady was ensuring that we were provided for and thought nothing more of it.
Imagine my shock and awkwardness when, upon our arrival at the dropzone, the lady in question pulled in just moments after us and got out of her car. Once again she inquired as to what food we had for the evening and I informed her we had a few tins of stew.
“Goodness, that’s nowhere near enough food after a day on the bikes!” She exclaimed. “You’re coming with me, there’s a lovely farm shop just a few km away that sells wonderful pasties, pies, meats and fresh fruit. Come, come!”
Hesitant but unable to formulate any good reason as to why I shouldn’t, I agreed to go with her to this shop. A well-dressed lady in her thirties in a beautiful mercedes, I didn’t feel threatened or in any danger, although I was slightly curious as to why she had taken such a keen interest in our welfare. As we drove along, I discovered that she had spotted our Welsh flag and felt obliged to stop and offer assistance, as she is due to ‘do Europe’ later this summer.
“I thought if perhaps I could help you out in some way, that when I’m lost and confused in the middle of London, someone would return the favour. What goes around comes around, and all that!” She laughed. I nodded, not having the heart to tell her that the chances of a stranger going out of their way in the same manner in the centre of London were highly unlikely- the capital is too fast-paced, too dense, with every person lost in their own worlds and destinations. I don’t doubt if you were to actively seek out assistance, someone would obligingly come to your aid- but for someone to simply pick up a stranger on the street because they felt they might want help? Zero-to-none. Not without an alternative agenda, in any case.
We arrived at the shop in question and as we walked around, I begun to feel increasingly under pressure to purchase the many, many items this lady kindly pointed out to me. “Look at those wonderful sandwiches,” she gushed, “and those incredible salads. Absolutely delicious, and perfect after a day on the road! And what about these pies here…and this pasta…I insist, you must buy something!” I tried to explain that we needed to eat our stew- the tins were taking up space and adding weight to our load!- but she was absolutely determined.
“That’s nowhere near enough food after a long day of cycling!” she stated. “You MUST eat properly when you’re undertaking exercise like that.”
I started to wonder if she was earning some sort of commission from the shop in question. Eventually we compromised on some potatoes as a side to the stew, and I made to go to the till to pay. But oh no…we weren’t finished yet.
“What are you having for breakfast?” came her next question.
“Granola and fruit,” I replied with relief, because of course, you can’t argue with that can you?
Apparently you can. The look of horror and disbelief on her face caused me to retrace my words and wonder if I’d accidentally said “chocolate and a McDonalds milkshake” instead. But no- no, she’d heard me correctly.
“That is absolutely nowhere near enough!” She exclaimed, “And you have a toddler with you too? How on earth do you survive on that each day? I eat that for breakfast and I’m not the one cycling all day! I absolutely insist you get something PROPER for breakfast before you end up collapsing beside the road!” She pulls me to the meat counter at this point and starts pointing out the many sausages, bacon and meats. “You need protein when you’re cycling!” she states, “and your son is a growing boy. A child! Think of your son!” she beseeches, “and make sure he gets some proper food into him!”
I found myself engaged in a conflict between my increasing sense of irritation and defensiveness- did I look, somehow, malnourished? (I can answer that for you- absolutely not- since this trip begun in earnest, my appetite has increased alongside and we have been eating vast amounts!) Or was it that we looked, as young parents, somehow incapable of caring for our son’s welfare and ensuring he was well-fed? And yet I reminded myself that regardless of how tactless her manner might be, clearly her heart was in the right place and she was merely trying to help. In true British fashion, I bit my lip, smiled sweetly and meekly agreed, finding myself cornered into purchasing sausages and bacon for our breakfast.
I managed to resist her further efforts to push me into purchasing pies, nuts, soup, vegetables and even a couple of steaks (!) but begrudgingly admitted that yes, bread and butter would come in useful. And finally, I was able to escape the shop, with a bag full of groceries I surely could have done without.
As the car returned to the skydiving centre I listened politely as she outlined her plans for the summer, and hid my grimaces as she expressed a combination of horror and disbelief when I told her that yes, we were cycling the whole way, no, we weren’t staying in hotels, no, we didn’t have jobs to return to back home and yes, we were occasionally cycling along some highways. Giving me a stern look she then proceeded to ask me,
“Are you sure that’s safe? A wise choice to make when you have such a young child? If it were just you and your partner of course, I’d understand… but when you have a child…perhaps you should consider a safer means of transport?”
I didn’t even trust myself to answer and merely smiled as though I took her questions as rhetorical. It was with tremendous relief that I stepped out of the car at the skydiving centre once more. I found it mildly ironic, given my previous post on the ‘kindness of strangers’, that today I had found myself at the mercy of a very different, strange act of kindness. I suppose for those who don’t cycle, or haven’t traveled in the same way with a younger child, perhaps what we’re doing can be perceived as dangerous or risky. Are we naive in believing otherwise? Nancy from ‘Family on Bikes’ addresses the question of the safety of cycle touring in her blog post- ‘How Dangerous is Family Bike Touring?’ and perhaps answers better than I could. This isn’t the first time we’ve had this challenge put to us- and I’m sure it won’t be the last!- so perhaps, for future interrogations, I should prepare myself to be better equipped to answer.
That incident aside, our evening was a relaxed affair, with the backdrop of the mountains and the blue skies above giving way to a lovely sunset. The dropzone itself was actually incredibly quiet- even in the morning, when we hung around hoping to see the first lift of the day go up, there was basically nothing happening. By 1pm, the first lift of the day had still yet to be organised and the instructors were sunbathing and cutting the grass to pass time. In a way, I felt relieved. Even just being at a dropzone made me nostalgic and long to take to the skies once more- I’m sure seeing others under canopy would have done little to help my craving. I continue to wear my skydiving pin around my neck every day, though- as a reminder to myself of perhaps the best years of my life in the club, a good luck charm to help me along my way, and a promise to myself that one day, I will go back. That love of flight never leaves you!
If nothing else, the dropzone was free to camp at- and as such we’ve managed to make up for our splurge on the hotel room in Hope. The more we can save, the more we can do once we reach Vancouver!
Miles Today – 36
Total miles to date- 486