Monday, July 25, 2011

Going to Canada, eh?


So after getting fed up with another cold, rainy day in Seattle I decided it was time to find some better weather and a change of scenery. My buddy had recommended Victoria and when I checked I found I had a perfect weather window to go see Victoria and Vancouver in ideal conditions and so I started planning the trip. Luckily, I came across the information that Vancouver is the worst city in North America for car break-ins, and since I have everything in my car I decided driving up to the city was not a good idea. And that's when I found out about the ferry from Anacortes just an hour north of Seattle. The cost was very reasonable at $22 with a bike and $30 for 4 days of parking so I booked my hostels and stayed overnight in the Anacortes ship harbor parking lot to take the ferry the next day.

On the ferry to Sidney with my pack and my bike.

The ferry ride is full of beautiful views of the San Juan Islands which have quite a bit of cool stuff to do and see as well.

Lunch can be found right off the boat from a guy by the docks. Dungeoness crab was the only thing he had that was cooked, but even though it had just been boiled it was absolutely delicious!

 Victoria is just a short 20 mile ride away and is full of cool, old style buildings such as the famous Empress hotel.

My favorite was the Parliament building. With a horse in the background, it makes an excellent backdrop for a great picture!

Biking around the southern coast of the city offers great views of the San Juan Islands as well as awesome riding. Roads are wide and often include bike lanes and speed limits are so low that several times I was exceeding them and passing mopeds and the like!


After seeing a good portion of Victoria it was time to head to Vancouver for the other part of my "vacation" from travelling. Ferries move between Swartz bay next to Sidney and Tsawwassen bay about 20 miles south of downtown Vancouver almost every hour and just like Anacortes, advanced purchasing is not necessary. However, because of a tunnel between Tsawwassen bay and downtown Vancouver, a $3.50 bus ride is not a bad idea. I did find out later though, on my way back out of town, that there is a free shuttle through the tunnel for bicycles that operates almost every hour during the daytime. I lucked out on the way there though as the other cyclist on the boat had a bus ticket he gave me which got me into the city and from there took a skytrain across Fraser river (which a lot of locals do not pay for from the sound of things...). From there it was Marine drive all the way around the western part of Vancouver, which is a very popular route for cyclists as I saw many team kits out (and a lot of them young, fit women), to my hostel. And for those that are interested, there is a clothing optional beach here on the far west side by the University of British Columbia, however, it did not look like a safe area to lock an expensive bike such as mine up at for any length of time. If you are doing this same route, plan for this to be a long day, as I logged 50 miles of biking, even with taking the bus, and ended up spending pretty much the whole day travelling.

Biking into downtown from my hostel on Jericho Beach was only a short ride away

Downtown even has it's own separate bike roads in one section!
Complete with separate lights and everything!

This convention center was built for when the Olympics came to town. 

You can jump on a cruise to Alaska and other cool destinations. 

 There is great biking and running trails around and through the very big Stanley park on the west side.

 A big city isn't complete without some absolutely strange sculptures.

And an excellent fresh food market can be found just minutes away on Granville Island,
a very cool, though touristy destination for any traveller.

Long Road Back to Anacortes

The next day it was time to head back to the harbor in Anacortes, 105 miles away, the inexpensive and fun way! By bike! Getting out of Vancouver and Canada in general was tough, as data service was way too expensive to use, so I didn't have maps; however, stopping and asking people and generally using the sun as a guide eventually got me down to the border. Which then required going in and waiting around in a line that did not move until I finally spoke up and was called to a station. Oddly, they made me give up my orange, which was my last piece of nutrition, but apparently some fruits and vegetables are OK. Once across the border though, it was time to roll, as there were nice stretches of roads to take me straight towards my destination without having to worry about the next turn for miles. I put my head down and grinded, as the 40 miles to the border had taken up half the day already.

 Bellingham was a cool town about 60 miles in that had a nice, relaxed feel to it.
Seemed like a great place for a quiet vacation for people in the area.

The views from Chuckanut road down by Larrabee state park were stunning and the riding was spectacular. I'd been going into a headwind all day and to finally have trees and hills to break up the wind gave me the revitalization I needed 70 miles into my ride.

From there, however, the roads into Anacortes got rough, the weather started to turn south, and the headwind was relentless. The last 20 miles were a real grind, and by about the last few miles or so my pace had slowed to a crawl. Thankfully though, another cyclist happened to pass me and ignore my greeting, obviously too busy with his hard ride he was in, which was just the mental refreshment I needed to find that other gear and rev up to chase him down and stay on his wheel. He noticed. But as much as he tried sprinting away, I was too close to my destination and thus unshakeable, no matter how expensive his aero wheels were. I would have liked to keep following him and check out more of the area, as Anacortes, like Victoria, was a town with light traffic and great bike trails, but after a full day of travelling, I was more than ready to get back to my car so I peeled off at my exit and coasted down to the harbor. Just before I turned off, he had looked back and seemed to be more than a little surprised at my relaxed non-expression, as I sat right there with him, a couple bike lengths back to show that I didn't need to sit right behind him to keep up.


In Canada, I decided to stay in hostels to check them out and try to meet other travellers.Though they cost between $30 and $40 a night in Canada, I figured this to be well worth it to meet some other people and because the locations are typically very good, being either right downtown or on a beach of some sort. This worked out quite well in Victoria, where I ate dinner with two lovely girls from Scotland, and had a few beers at night with some guys from Germany and Switzerland, however, the scene was much tamer where I was at in Vancouver as I was too late to get into the central or downtown locations in that city. That is not to say that the hostel I stayed at on Jericho Beach was bad, by any means. In fact, I still was able to get great conversation and information from the people there, it was simply that most seemed to be there to find an apartment in the city and not to see it and experience it like I was! From here I learned that not all hostels are the same, and that some can be quite the party scene, particularly ones in Banff and Jasper, which, after looking at pictures, are places that should be on everyone's travel list! One thing I also noticed was that I seemed to be the only American at the hostel in either location! This certainly reinforces my theory that Americans need to travel more, particularly out of the country when possible. Though Canada is so close to America, it distinctly has a foreign country feel to it somewhere closer to that of Europe than America. 

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