Oh Baby, Another Cycling Tour

Two Timing Texas Tour JerseyWe’ve on the cusp of another cycling tour, but first we have more important things to attend to.  Right now we’re on baby watch.  Our daughter, Karen, is due to have a baby boy on April 1, which given her past track record could mean any time now.  Gathering up our cycling gear, packing our panniers, and pouring over maps have taken a back seat.  Instead, I’ve been baking cookies, preparing freezer meals and wrapping kiddy presents in readiness for my upcoming Grammy duties.

Once the newly-expanded family gets back on its feet in its new 6-member configuration, Rich and I will head to Texas for a month of warm spring cycling.  In a nod to our previous swing through that state three years ago, we’re calling this one the Two Timing Texas Cycling Tour.  Just like last time, we will set off from my brother Bill’s house in Granbury.  And like before, we expect to enjoy plenty of warm weather while Duluth suffers through mud season.

Two Timing Texas map

Although we’ll revisit a couple of favorite spots like the Davey Crockett National Forest and the Hill Country (hoping to catch the bluebonnets in bloom again), for the most part we will explore new territory.  The route looks firm on paper but in fact is quite malleable.  In general, we expect to cover about 1,000 miles in the month of April.

It feels like a long time since we last bike toured, when in fact it was only last July.  I’m primed and ready to start pushing the pedals again.  Almost.  First I need a fix of that new baby smell.

Tucson on 2 Wheels

The good news is that Tucson has an extensive network of bike lanes.  They go everywhere, are well marked, and respected by cars.  The not so good news is that there is a lot of traffic.  Even out in on the fringes of town, in the Catalina Foothills, the roads are heavily traveled and cars whiz by constantly.  Hailing from Duluth, I am just not used to that level of population.

The Loop by Rillito Rivery

Enter The Loop.  The 55 mile loop that circles the city has just been completed, but it’s much more than that. It is a network with 131 miles of wide, paved, shared use trails that run across vast portions of the city.  Most legs run along “washes” – dry river beds that fill with runoff during the rainy season.  In fact, The Loop grew out of the 1983 flood disaster.  Realizing the need to reinforce the banks of the major washes, the county took the opportunity to create river parks and trails atop the new soil-cement banks.  It has become one of Pima County’s most popular recreational features.

It’s not often that bicycle trails are truly vehicle-free.  But great pains have been taken to shelter The Loop.  The trail dips under streets and bridges cross over side washes.  Many stretches are landscaped with gardens or simply feature desert environs.  Railings carefully guard users from the steep banks that dip into the wash.The Loop going under a bridge The Loop going through a bridge

The nearest entry point to The Loop is 4.5 miles from our condo.  It is worth navigating that stretch of bike lanes to reach carefree cycling.  So far, I have covered only about 50 miles of The Loop, but have returned to some sections multiple times.  Coordinating a ride with Rich one day allowed me to venture further afield, from our place all the way out to Catalina State Park – a good 30 mile stretch.

The Loop TrailThe Loop is open to any non-motorized use, and just in the last two days I have seen all types of transport gracefully coexist on its paths.  There were plenty of cyclists, runners and walkers of course.  I also passed strollers, scooters, recumbent tricycles and dog walkers.  The most unusual was a woman on a standing elliptical bike, doing her first 50-mile ride!  It is cycling at its easiest – level with good pavement and well signed.

Molly with bike at Sabino Canyon

Despite the appeal of The Loop, sometimes challenge beckons.  Then I return to Sabino Canyon to climb into its depths during cycling hours.  Or I find my way onto smaller local roads.  Inevitably they rise and fall.  We are in the foothills after all.

It was well worth the long drive to bring our bikes on this trip.  I’ve spent many hours in the saddle this week, exploring Tuscon on two wheels.

Cycling, After the Rain

Sometimes it’s worth conceding to Mother Nature.  Life is a lot more pleasant if you work with her, rather than trying to bend her will to suit a preconceived plan.  Fortunately, I figured that out this week.

That plan was to cycle the Paul Bunyon Trail and do some hiking in the Walker area with my friend Myra.  But two solid days of rain in the forecast were enough to put us off.  We cancelled our motel reservation and instead took advantage of sunny days later in the week for some superb local cycling.

Our first outing took us across Duluth from end to end, traveling the full length of Skyline Parkway.  There was a definite chill in the air as we stretched our route by cycling inland to Pike Lake before heading to the far western end of the parkway.  We soon lost our fingers and toes to the frigid conditions, pressing into a brutal headwind.  But it still beat rain.  A warm-up with hot drinks at the Red Goose Coffee Shop restored feeling to our extremities and a change in direction eased the curse of the wind, boosting our spirits.

Myra on Skyline DriveFrom our perch high above the city, we had full view of the harbor below.  Despite the deep blue sky, the water was a distinct brown – no doubt the result of the runoff from the previous two days of heavy rain.  The nascent fall colors were far from peak, but isolated trees of brilliant hues punctuated the landscape.

At Skyline’s opposite end, we traveled along Hawk Ridge.  Flanked by birders peering through their binoculars, we took in the limitless view.  There Lake Superior shone in its full blue glory.  From our elevated perch it was a fast descent home down Seven Bridges Road, hardly requiring a single push on our pedals to complete our 50 mile ride.

Molly and Myra at Hawk's Ridge Myra cycling away from Hawk's RidgePausing for a gloomy day, we mounted our bikes again two days later.  This time we chose the Gitchi-Gami State Trail along the North Shore from Gooseberry Falls to Silver Bay.  Taking advantage of the longest stretch of completed trail, we cycled out and back to double the enjoyment of its pleasures.

It was quite a surprise to see water spouting out from the spring waterfall in the cliffs north of Gooseberry Falls.  Its unseasonal appearance was yet more evidence of the recent wet conditions.

I remembered the trail’s hilly dalliance through Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, as it wound down toward the water and back up again through the woods.  But I was surprised at just how much it undulated throughout the distance of our ride.  We actually preferred that to the flat sameness of the rails-to-trails cycle routes.

At Beaver Bay, we pioneered a brand new section of the Gitchi-Gumi trail.  Spying pristine new blacktop adjacent to road construction still in progress, we took our inaugural ride on a half mile of trail that veered up and inland away from the lake.  A half mile later we joined an existing portion of the trail which took us to Silver Bay.  We found that orphan bit of older trail rather mystifying, as it has been there for several years but apparently started in the middle of nowhere.  Now it serves as a useful connector, completing the three mile stretch between Beaver Bay and Silver Bay.

Myra cycling new trail Trail from Silver BaySince this day’s ride was a mere 32 miles, we chose to top it off with a hike to Gooseberry’s upper falls.  Once again the recent rains were in evidence, filling the river with turbulent rapids and rendering the trail muddy and slippery.  Progress was slow but enjoyable, even if we brought home much of the mud on our hiking shoes.If I wasn’t convinced before, our pleasant sunny bike rides contained ample evidence of the rainfall we avoided. For once, this ultra-planner is glad that she chose to abandon her plans and go with the flow.  Cycling after the rain.

A Google Guest

We met through a Google search using two terms, “Lake Superior” and “ferries.”  The second result yielded my story in Bicycle Times about our Lake Superior Half-Tour using the Isle Royale ferries to cross the lake.  From there it was an easy leap for Tony to find us on Warm Showers.

If that all sounds a bit like gibberish, you are probably not a touring cyclist.  But to those of us of that cult, it all makes perfect sense.  In fact, it’s the epitome of traveling by bicycle – meeting great people in the most unexpected ways.

Tony is in midst of a cycling trip across the US.  In the spirit of his easy going nature, he makes up his route as he goes, taking advantage of opportunities as they arise and dealing with what nature delivers. By the time he reached northern Minnesota, he had heard enough about the dangerous section of the Trans-Canada Highway above Lake Superior to know he wanted to avoid it.  Hence his Google search.  And my story.

A quick check on the Warm Showers app confirmed his suspicion that we were indeed members – part of the cyclists who hosts cyclists network that exists world-wide.  A few keystrokes later, it was all arranged.  Tony would cycle 90 miles and stay with us the next night.

Living in Duluth, we are not on a heavily traveled cycle route, so we have cycling guests only a few times each summer.  But the routine is always the same:  Provide a bedroom, offer up shower and laundry facilities, serve a bountiful dinner to replenish their depleted calories, and engage in lively conversation about where our respective cycle tours have taken us.  It never fails to be an entertaining evening.

Evening Arrival under the bridgeThat night, Duluth provided a perfect summer twilight.  Not only was it still warm, but the lake was unusually calm.  Best of all, a boat was headed for the Aerial Bridge.  We were able to give Tony the ultimate local experience.

We sent Tony off with a big cyclist’s breakfast in the morning.  But he didn’t get far.  A broken spoke turned out to be evidence of more serious wheel damage, and replacement parts would not arrive until morning.  Tony took it in stride, and we took Tony back in.  Another evening of sharing, a walk along Amity Creek and good vibes of friendship ensued.Tony FossatiIt’s always a pleasure to welcome cyclists to our home.  Countless others have done the same for us.  No matter how we find each other.

Yellowhead Tour in Retrospect

We’ve seen in all before. It’s the same but different. With the ferry ride back from Haida Gwaii our Yellowhead Cycling Tour is officially complete. We have been reunited with our car and are retracing our route east toward home. As we unravel all the miles we just cycled, it inevitably conjures up reflections.

We actually began retracing our route while still on Haida Gwaii. At the top of the island stands a sign marking Mile 0 for the Yellowhead Highway. Completing the highway was a milestone but not the end. We doubled our pleasure on that stretch, returning to our starting point at the ferry landing.

Yellowhead Mile 0

This is the first time we have driven the exact same route that we cycled. It is an odd sensation, flying over the miles – one hour for each day we spent on our bikes. Our eyes are glued to the road, the sights, the eateries and the lodgings we knew so well at that slower pace. Memories flash by as rapidly as the miles.

In the car, we have far more options. We can chose any restaurant we like, even if it is not on our route. And yet, we find ourselves yearning to revisit our favorites. It is surprising to discover just how well we had chosen when limited to venues in close proximity.

Restaurant stop

As we move rapidly eastward, we are reminded of the day by day changes we witnessed in the topography and population density. Starting our cycling in Prince George, we endured the congestion, heavy trucks, well worn roads and crumbling shoulders that spill out of a good size city. It was a good two days before we shed that density of civilization. The further west across British Columbia we went, the fewer the people. The more dramatic the scenery. The more remote it became. The better the cycling. The Yellowhead transitioned from busy trans-Canada highway to a quiet link between small communities. It was all so very gradual on our bicycles.

Molly roadside
River and mountains

The more western section was clearly our favorite. It had all the top features we value on our cycling tours. Water – passing lakes, following rivers. Scenery – mountains and wilderness. Safety – little traffic, good shoulders and pavement. Our finale on Haida Gwaii elevated all that to greater heights. We loved it as much as everyone said we would. And despite the dire warnings of turbulent ferry crossings, we had calm waters in both directions – much to the relief of my sensitive system.

Morning ply and beach
Morning Loy on ferry

The most stark message that comes through is our extreme good fortune with the weather. In the 15 days of cycling, we had a total of 30 minutes with a rain shower. Each day we reveled in the sunshine and clear skies, knowing it was highly unusual and incredibly good weather luck. And that certainly was true. But it was only part of the story.

All the while we cycled, wildfires were blazing south of us in BC. Now, the smoke from those fires blankets the area. The blue sky and unlimited views that we enjoyed are no longer visible. The mountains are dim shadows in the distance, more an idea than a reality. Even the near hills are obscured as if in fog. The air is thick. The sky a uniform opaque white, despite the fact that it is still a “sunny” day.

Through a sheer happenstance in timing, we had idyllic conditions for the Yellowhead Tour. It could just as easily have gone the other way.

Before and after smoke
Mountains in smoke

In retrospect, we were blessed. We were able to see God’s creation in all it’s pure glory. The Yellowhead Tour is now history. Another one for the memory books.

Molly and Rich Yellowhead Tour


The Waters of Haida Gwaii

It didn't take long to get into the relaxed mode of life on Haida Gwaii. With four days and only 70 some miles of paved roads available, there was no reason to hurry. No need to push on to the next locale. Only time to savor the journey. The mood permeated our days. We stopped more and lingered longer. On the out-and-back trip we found different natural attractions in each direction. Not too surprisingly, water became the common theme.

For starters, we had miles of unbroken cycling along the eastern beaches. With the sun pouring down and the tidal pull of blue waters lapping the shore, it was all the scenery I needed. At first, we passed rough and rocky shoreline. Jaggedy dark rocks of medium size covered in calcified barnacles obliterated the sand. The shape of the beachfront changed constantly at the whim of the waves. It looked uninviting to my tender feet. But I admired it from a distance. Biding my time, the beach morphed once again. This time sandy shores beckoned and I called a time-out. The protected spot was quiet and calm. I shed my shoes and socks and the sun-warmed water lapped my feet as I wandered the beach.

Rich cycling Haida Gwaii
Rocky beach
Sandy beach
Molly walking beach

Near that same beach, the Crow's Nest in Tlell was an unexpected find. What showed up on the map was a Post Office. In reality, it had a bakery, light cafe, organic groceries and espresso drinks! Their still warm sausage rolls in flakey pastry hit the spot, especially as we had anticipated a long stretch before finding food. I lingered luxuriously while horses grazed contentedly in a pasture behind me.

Molly at Crows Nest

Coffee shops are a natural magnet when we are cycling. Not only do I get my latte, but frequently we strike up conversations with locals. It was while sipping my brew one day that I met a friendly couple who answered my question about the rocky and sandy beaches. “They are constantly changing,” they explained. The rocks were thrown up on shore by a large storm. Next week they could be swept away again. The swimming area they currently enjoy at high tide may be gone tomorrow.

Crossing the island, we reached the Masset Inlet, a long tidal opening reaching down from the northern coast. Overnighting in Port Clements on its shores, we had ample opportunity to meander its shores and dine overlooking its waters. One of the villagers explained to me how she came to be the third generation to relocate to Haida Gwaii. “Groceries are really expensive here because everything has to be brought in,” she admitted. “But there are no other demands on my pocketbook. There are no malls. I walk the beach for entertainment. And there is such strong community here.” She didn't mind being “cut off” from the rest of the world. Neither did we.

Rich at Yakoun River Pub
Masset Inlet
Port Clements boat

Reaching Masset on the north end, I was especially keen to get to the North Beach and camp there. I also had my heart set on hiking up Tow Hill for its amazing view. Both are iconic sights on Haida Gwaii. But it wasn't to be. The road out there turned to rough gravel for the final eight miles. It was not bicycle friendly for our touring bikes, so I had to let go of that vision. But I didn't give up entirely. Although most of the coast up to that point was privately owned, I stumbled on an opening. A tiny community park had a trail which I couldn't resist following.

Weaving through dark old growth forest, it emerged onto the dunes and beyond lay the beach! The scene before me was entirely different from the east coast. Here was a raging sea. The wind was fierce and waves crashed on a beach strewn with seaweed, shells, rocks and driftwood. I didn't linger long by the water, choosing to retreat to a sheltered spot on the dune where I could observe nature's fury. Although I had blue skies overhead, a low line of fog and clouds rested on the water. Looking to the far end of the beach, it disappeared into the same fog bank. Tow Hill was nowhere to be seen, cloaked in mist. Perhaps it wasn't the best day for camping after all. That salved my disappointment, slightly.

North Beach
Molly at North Beach

The most refreshing water I found was not salty at all. Pure Lake was just a short hike from the road and offered a small stunningly blue lake. My coffee shop friends had mentioned it was warm and good for swimming. Wading through its clear shallow waters was not enough. I just had to take the plunge!

Pure Lake
Molly wading Pure Lake
Molly swim Pure Lake
For our final aquatic encounter we sought out Balance Rock. Precariously perched on a logistically minute corner, it hovers over a flat rock bed that reminded me of Lake Superior's North Shore. The last glacial retreat is credited with leaving this van-sized boulder here.
Balance Rock

Haida Gwaii offers endless opportunities for outdoor pursuits. Fishing, hiking, kayaking, surfing, crabbing and back country camping attract enthusiasts of all kinds, although its remote location ensures that it is never crowded. Our four days and bicycle transport limited us from partaking in these other alluring activities, but I think we did justice to the waters of Haida Gwaii.


Intro to Haida Gwaii

“You're going to love Haida Gwaii.” We heard it over and over again as we cycled through British Columbia. Everyone sang its praises, heightening our anticipation for the finale stretch of our Yellowhead Cycling Tour.

Two months ago I'd never heard of the place. While studying our planned route on Google maps, I zoomed in on Prince Rupert and the ferry landing. I thought that was the end of the road for us. But oddly enough, the Yellowhead Highway continued into the water. Seriously? So I followed the dotted line. Out, out, out into the ocean it went, and ended on a group of Islands called Haida Gwaii. There the highway continued another 70 miles to its end. Or beginning. Kilometer zero is at the top of the northernmost island. One quick Google search was all it took to convince me. We had to go there.

Haida Gwaii is about 60 miles off the coast of mainland British Columbia and is made up of two large islands and over 400 additional islands. Graham Island to the north hosts six communities and the final stretch of the Yellowhead Highway. Moresby Island to its south has one community on its north edge. The remainder of the archipelago is wilderness. 4,500 people live on Haida Gwaii, and about half of those are native Haida people. Theirs is a long and difficult history during which their culture and language were nearly wiped out.

Fortunately they have succeeded in reclaiming their heritage which now thrives on these islands. Long known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, in an official Giving Back the Name Ceremony in 2010 the Haida Nation literally returned that name to the Crown to become Haida Gwaii. It means Islands of the People.

Logging, fishing and tourism are the primary means of earning a living. And there is a thriving arts community, creating and selling both traditional and modern art based on native designs.

This land of wilderness surrounded by water with a passionate native culture and community peaked my interest.

My first views of the island were from the ferry then cycling the few miles to the village of Queen Charlotte. It was a small quiet road that meandered along the calm inlet between the two large islands. The first words that came to mind were lush, green, peaceful and natural. I already sensed the slower pace of life. The focus on the outdoors. And the lack of commercialism. I couldn't wait to explore this intriguing land.

We settled into our lodgings which hid behind a veil of flowers. Dinner was on the deck of a small restaurant overlooking the harbor. Boats bobbed in the quiet waters as the sun dipped low. There were no gates to bar us from the docks, so we meandered among the motley collection of fishing and pleasure craft. Moresby beckoned across the water.

Queen Charlotte Harbor sunset 1
Queen Charlotte harbor sunset 2

Morning brought more calm views from our balcony. I should have lingered to soak it up, but I was too anxious to get on my bike to explore the island.

Queen Charlotte lodgings
Balcony view

Cycling on Haida Gwaii would take us from the southern end of Graham Island to the north and back again. We had four days of discovery ahead of us. I'd had enough of an introduction. I was ready to experience the real thing.

Molly cycling Haida Gwaii