Our night in Revelstoke was a rainy affair and come morning, the clouds showed no sign of lifting. We geared up to the max in our waterproof attire and hit the road with renewed resolution, with the aim of covering an ambitious 48miles after our few days off.
Despite the rain, we actually had a fairly smooth and easy(ish) ride. We followed Highway 1 but found this section to be reasonably quiet and in spite of the poor weather conditions, visibility wasn’t too bad- we made sure to wear our high-vis gear and keep to the shoulder, but didn’t have any problems. Hills were minimal- in fact, a large proportion of the ride was actually downhill and once we reached the Three Valley Bridge, where we stopped for some lunch, the weather made a miraculous recovery to a glorious sunny day, forcing us to strip down due to the heat- and the incredible downhills made for a fab afternoon’s ride.
We stopped at a Dutch ice-cream farm outside of Sicamous and enjoyed some creamy home-made ice-cream while Theo rode on the tractor and visited all the animals on the farm. It was at this point that we met a gentleman who was asking us about our adventure, our plans and where we were from. He told us he’d worked in the UK, near to Milton Keynes, for two years. And so, out of idle curiosity, I asked him which he preferred- England, or Canada?
“Canada,” came his immediate reply, “without a doubt. There’s so much more space here. Our houses are so much bigger, with proper yards, and there’s a lot more room to just…live. Your houses in the UK in general are just so cramped and close together, with these teeny tiny gardens, and you can just tell when they were built they were trying to maximize every tiny bit of space. We don’t need to do that here- there’s plenty of room for everybody!”
This, I can’t deny, is largely true. Comparatively, the UK is undeniably a great deal more ‘cramped’, as it were- with the exception of course of areas set out in the country, or our farmland- but the general blueprint of a British town will usually be a great deal more ‘compressed’ than that of it’s Canadian equivalent. In fact, some googling with Jason and Gillian soon told us that the UK- very roughly speaking (good ol’ statistics!) has almost double the population of Canada (61,838,154 by the 2009 statistical estimation, whilst Canada was estimated at 33,739,900) but is around 1/44th of the size. A stark difference.
But as I considered this gentleman’s comment, and the impact this ‘space’ has had upon us as touring cyclists, I wondered if space was actually even a good thing in many respects. I’ve concluded that there are of course arguments on both sides- but from our point of view as a touring family, I feel I have to conclude in the negative.
The towns here are incredibly spaced apart and as such when looking for the basic necessities essential for us- food, clean water, a place to stay- we are forced to travel further to find them. Our original ambition was to average at around 35miles per day whilst on the road; doing a few hours in the morning, enjoying a long lunch doing something with Theo and then continue in the late afternoon; but actually, out here, we don’t have that luxury. We simply have to keep going, keep cycling, keep pushing ourselves until we reach the necessary facilities- inevitably spending just about all day on our bikes. It’s led to a great deal of guilt on my part at the lack of activities we’ve been able to provide for Theo; we’re trying to make up for it with plenty of small breaks and ensuring we do something for him on our days off, but I hate that he’s spending so long in the trailer, even though he seems blissfully unaware and perfectly content.
In between towns is often a sparse landscape of nothingness- with miles stretching between even basic service stations, which are in themselves often limited in what they can provide. The effect is at times, quite isolating. In spite of the continuous passing traffic, we can go hours without seeing another soul but ourselves- a part of me admittedly relishes this feeling of space, freedom and escapism, of having time to ‘myself’- another part, simply feels lonely.
The lack of population also creates a decreased demand for facilities, attractions and other services- and, as a result, probably lowers competition between businesses. We’ve found that most of the attractions we’ve passed are still closed for the winter season- or if they are open, are done so on a restricted level. This is obviously due in part to the weather conditions out here- the tourist industry clearly struggles through the harsher winter months. However, after a visit to the Wildlife Park today with Theo- in glorious sunshine and beautiful conditions for a day out- I reflected upon how busy a similar attraction back home would be on a day like today. Chester Zoo, close to us, sees a steady influx of business pretty much all-year round, even when the weather isn’t at it’s best, and as such provides for these conditions with indoor exhibits and so forth. On a day like today, it would be absolutely buzzing with business- even on a school day- with younger families in particular enjoying all that the centre has to offer. The wildlife park here saw perhaps 20 visitors the whole day we were there- the outdoor café, ice-cream stall and outdoor shops were closed, the park railway wasn’t running, the water park was still closed (in spite of 27 degrees+ weather!) and the staff numbers were limited. Because there wasn’t sufficient demand for more: the park as a whole couldn’t be fully utilized.
We’ve found the sheer distance to shops and the products they actually stock to be a real problem also. Accustomed to a society in which pretty much everything and anything you may need at a moment’s notice is usually quite readily available and reasonably priced (the 24hr Asda and Tesco close to home spring to mind!) it’s come as a shock to find ourselves sometimes miles and miles from the nearest store, only to arrive and find that they have an extremely limited selection, and are often quite scarily expensive. This is perhaps a fault on our part, however; experience has taught us now of the need to stock up in advance when we find a store that is more reasonably priced; to always ensure we have plenty of extra food ‘just incase’ and to seize any opportunity that presents itself without ‘assuming’ there will be another chance later. However, given our limited space on our bikes and the sheer weight of food, ‘stocking up’ isn’t really an easy option- another problem in itself. On arrival at our campsite in Sicamous, with no food left, we discovered the nearest store was about 10 miles away; after 50 miles of cycling during the day, this was quite simply too far for us to go. I had to beg the charity of the campsite owners, who kindly drove me into the town to pick up supplies- and simply bite my tongue when handing over the cash that would have bought us the equivalent of a weeks’ worth of food back home for just one dinner, breakfast and a few snacks.
Perhaps we’re feeling the isolation and difficulty of ‘space’ more due to our chosen method of transport and the sheer length of time it takes for us to get anywhere: certainly, if we owned one of the huge gas-guzzling pick-up trucks that seem to be favored around this area, it wouldn’t feel as though we were quite so cut-off from everywhere. If we could travel further in a shorter space of time, we could seek out more reasonably-priced alternatives and I don’t doubt, carry the extra weight without even considering it an issue. Although these are problems I knew at the back of my mind would arise when touring by bike, I hadn’t quite considered just how great an impact they would have.
Many of the smaller towns we pass through feel incredibly ‘disconnected’ from the rest of Canada also, and public transport appears to be limited at best. If someone can tell me otherwise I stand to be corrected, but to date I have only seen commercial haulage trains on the railway tracks- not a single passenger train- and the bus links, whilst frequent, are (at least if our Greyhound trip is anything to go by!) extremely expensive. If you can’t afford a car, I wonder how exactly you’re supposed to get around. Talking to the owners at our campsite in Sicamous, I was quite shocked to discover neither of them had been any further than Kamloops- around 120 miles away- in their whole lives, and even then perhaps only a handful of times. Their entire lives were in Sicamous- and after seeing the limitations of what shops they had, I found that incredible, and perhaps also a bit sad. It seemed so restricted, enclosed and isolated. With limited employment opportunities in the area also- many jobs often being seasonal or requiring a commute to a larger town- it was clear levels of social deprivation were high also. Perhaps more evident just outside the town, but nonetheless, many houses were in various states of disrepair and there were high numbers living in trailer parks or make-shift housing. I was truly shocked and saddened when we passed a gas station on route to Sicamous and saw a note pinned to the community noticeboard, thanking everyone in the village for clubbing together to raise the money to allow this lady’s husband to travel and be with her for her heart surgery, as they couldn’t have afforded the bus fare by themselves. Perhaps this demonstrates my naivety and just how out of touch I am with reality- and of course, I know poverty exists everywhere!- but I hadn’t anticipated this, not in the Western world. The couple managing the campsite told me that financial aid was extremely limited also: and no-one could possibly survive on it alone.
On the other hand, it made me realize how much I take what I have back home for granted- and perhaps how materialistic the accessible culture of the UK has caused me to become. If there is something I feel I want, or need, I seem to have this inbred expectation that it will be available to me in some shape or form: and I can nearly always get it. I am in easy reach of a few major cities which have every kind of shop I could ever ask for; and although we complain frequently about the national rail service, at least it exists and connects almost the entire length and breadth of the UK. If I decide I want to get to Liverpool or Manchester, I can do so at the drop of a hat and usually without incurring too significant a cost. Even London is relatively accessible to me by comparison to the major cities of Canada to some in the smaller or more widely distributed towns out here. Our relief system is the subject of much debate, but it exists- and people can survive more than comfortably on it. Almost any product we may want or need can be brought to us; the larger population appears to create an increased demand, which in turn improves not only the availability of certain products, but also their price. I’d hazard a guess that certain items- like the grapes Theo adores- have to travel so much further to reach the smaller stores out here, and for such a small number of them: and that, in turn, causes them to be even more expensive. And what if I were to suddenly decide that I craved a homemade Thai green curry and needed the likes of Thai sweet basil, lemongrass or kaffir lime leaves? All of these are easily available to me back home: here, I very much doubt I could find them without traveling much further afield.
I’ve concluded that I am most definitely spoilt and shamefully materialistic in many ways. If I knew no different, I could easily and quite happily live without the luxuries that I take for granted back home: certainly the majority of people I’ve come across in the smaller towns we’ve passed through don’t appear to want for anything and are far more resourceful with what is readily available to them. And plan their shopping and meals a great deal better…!! Perhaps this simpler and less materialistic lifestyle is better for society: promoting utilization, a better sense of community, and encouraging valuable skills in resourcefulness, rather than breeding the expectation that everything should be readily available to you.
Essentially, I’ve come to realize that the quiet, space and freedom that so greatly appealed to me whilst I lived in the UK isn’t as romantic as I envisioned. It presents real challenges: especially when traveling by bike. It has thrown up far more hurdles than we had originally anticipated, but these aren’t all negative: we are learning to plan and prepare better, we are pushing ourselves more in terms of our cycling and we’re learning a great deal about ourselves and the way in which we live at home. We’re having to budget more carefully and think ahead more, and rely on each other’s company a lot! Admittedly we still have a way to go on many of these aspects… but we’ll still learning. It’s early days.
Our night at Sicamous, it has to be said, wasn’t the best. The lack of competition I’d observed meant the facilities simply weren’t great… no hot showers, for starters (the manager hadn’t bothered to fire up the boiler for camping season yet- go figure!) and general debris, mess and disorder around the site. The toilets were rundown and extremely ‘make-shift’- but at least they were clean. And the kindness of the couple managing the site made a huge difference: not only for driving me into the town for food, but also for taking pity upon us and offering us a chalet on site, rather than seeing us camp out in the cold. We appreciated the roof over our heads that night!
Another day of many lessons.