Thanksgiving the Americas

Posted by Gordon Dunlop on November 26, 2015

As I experience my first American Thanksgiving, having just reached the Oregon coast and caught a first glimpse of our travel companion for the next few months, the Pacific Ocean, I’m in reflective mood. We’re feeling very thankful to a number of people who have helped us between Anchorage and Seaview, Oregon, to reach this milestone.

Before setting off on our adventure, Meg and I had harboured hopes of having a few tales to tell of interesting interactions, serendipitous encounters and random acts of kindness. The stories we have after only 12 weeks and 2500 miles, have blown us away:

  • Our friends and sponsors at Bicycle Doctor who hooked us up with bikes and gear.
  • The amazing Trek customer service
  • Alyssa and Patrick the dog setting us off in Anchorage
  • The wonderful hospitality of McMahan family in Gakona
  • Jay and his bear-proof bus in Slana
  • Dog musher Hugh Neff in Tok, to Alana, Amanda and Russell
  • The Saturday night beer in Burwash Landing
  • The kilted Alaska Hash Harriers and their Sunday morning beer in Destruction Bay
  • The Stan the Man and his tales from the road
  • The Irene at Ibex Valley who shouted us chips
  • The maverick Philippe Le Blond and our first ‘Warm Shower’ in Whitehorse
  • Frolfing and banter with Matheus and Carson
  • Warmth and friendship from Kory in Jakes Corner
  • Roadside beer and dinner with Brady and Diana
  • The café owner in Rancheria who shouted us a coffee and warned us of the bear up ahead
  • Dalyss and ‘Buster’ in Watson’s Lake who allowed us to avoid the snow by putting us up in their bus
  • The intriguing Latvian, Raimond, for dinner and stories
  • The driver on the Cassiar who slowed to hand us cans of juice
  • The park rangers at Boya Lake who let us camp for free
  • Gerald the sage who gave us a ride in our hour of need, to Merrilu, Dave and family who took us in out of the cold and entertained us for three days
  • The ladies at Meziadin Junction who welcomed us in to their Rec Room (thus avoiding a family of bears!)
  • The women who rolled down their window to hand us a bag of cheese
  • Johnnie and Leslie for the laughs, beer and tips for the road
  • The pickers at Mushroom Camp for the warm fire and late-night poker
  • Our second ‘Warm Shower’ and a beautiful hike with Kirsteen and Andy
  • The fantastic company of John and Cheryl
  • The week of recovery spent with the most kind and hospitable of couples, Dee-Jay and Kerry (see earlier ‘Warm Showers’ Uplifting News post)
  • The jolly chap in Totley who shouted us a morning coffee
  • Jolinka and John for opening up their amazing home to us in Vanderhoof
  • Theo and Caroline and their ‘Warm Shower’ and dinner and breakfast in Prince George
  • Celtic chit chat and election fever with Grant and Katie in Quesnel
  • A chance encounter resulting in dinner and a night in an airstream with Lois and Ed
  • An even more fortuitous encounter with the knowledgeable Michael and family in Williams Lake
  • Shelter, dinner and chat with Fr Bob Haggarty in Lillooet,
  • A ‘Warm Shower’ at the end of our toughest day of mountain climbs with Anna and Niki in Pemberton
  • An afternoon of childhood nostalgia with Gordon Auld at the Dubh Linn Gate in Whistler
  • A long overdue catch-up with Tony Chadfield and friends in Whistler
  • A complimentary training session with fitness guru, Paul.
  • An unforgettable stay with Chris and Margo in Vancouver (see below)
  • An equally unforgettable stay with Simon and Wendy in Bellingham (see Meg’s piece below)
  • Avoiding the cold nights in Washington and Oregon with ‘Warm Showers’ stays with Lys in Port Townsend
  • The fascinating family globetrotters Janice and Gary in Silverdale
  • The inspirational tandem-tourers Layre and Judy in Shelton, the recumbent tourers Dennis and Jean in Longview
  • Our Peruvian amigo Salvador in Astoria.
  • Neil’s ‘Warm Showers / Couchsurfing revolving door in Seaside
  • And last but not least, some fantastic Yorkshire hospitality with Doncaster lass, Nikki, husband Jeff and barmaid Tiffany at the Littlebrook Saloon in rural Washington

However, that I’ve been able to enjoy the west coast of the U.S. at all, owes so much to the kindness and hospitality offered by Chris and Margo in Vancouver. We first encountered this lovely couple as Meg and I bused from Whistler to Portland to meet Meg’s parents. They very kindly offered us a bed for the night despite the fact we were not on bikes and were only transiting through Vancouver to catch a bus to Portland. They welcomed us back into their home, in the leafy Vancouver suburb of Dunbar, after a long 12 hour, 94 mile ride from Whistler a week later. We were so grateful for their hospitality after our longest day on the road and the warm shower and roast dinner were manna from heaven for two weary cyclists. I had also arrived with a broken front rack which Chris duly replaced, the next morning, with a spare they had lying around! They offered us the option of staying for a rest day in Vancouver which, after such an intense day of cycling, we simply couldn’t refuse. As if a second day’s hospitality wasn’t enough, Chris and Margo – who are keen cycle tourists themselves, having cycled from Bangkok to Paris in 2009 – got up at the crack of dawn to escort us out of Vancouver and avoid the worst of the rush hour traffic.

Then the real fun started. Having been refused an extended visa waiver at the US border, Chris and Margo welcomed me back into their home as I began a ten day duel with US bureaucracy (see forthcoming Lillooet to U.S. Border blog) to try to obtain a US visa for an extended stay. Having a place to stay at such a time was a lifeline and I’ll be forever grateful to Chris and Margo as their generosity and kindness really took the stress out of what was a difficult period (my issue with the visa was compounded by Meg’s bike issues – read on for more on that!) I spent a memorable ten days with them, being supremely well fed (Margo is quite the baker) and enjoying endless hours of stimulating conversation. Margo is the daughter of a Scottish émigré who hails from a town across the water from my hometown and Chris, a nuclear physicist at CERN no less, we shared some wonderful insights on all things political, social, travel and more. To go a little way to repaying their generosity, I offered my services raking the seemingly infinite supply of fallen leaves in the garden and helping with their living room painting project (though I was probably more of a hindrance than a help!)

The world really is a better place, not only for the Chris and Margos but for all the people mentioned and their little (and large) acts of kindness. For another humbling example, I’ll now hand over to Meg.

Thanks Gordon, well said.

Although Gordon had visa issues at the border crossing, we decided to enter the U.S. knowing we had a place to stay at a home in Bellingham, WA with Warm Showers hosts, Simon and Wendy. Having arrived at their home before they did, they trustingly let us know where the spare key was hidden and made ourselves at home. I felt as though I was walking into an oasis. Their home had a calm, peaceful energy, full of simple artistic touches. With Simon being a world traveler and Wendy a yoga teacher and counselor, I could not wait to meet them. They arrived home to find us still in our cycling gear, laying on the floor with their cuddliest cat, Vigo. We jumped right into travel stories, their love story meeting during a bicycle tour, and their chosen move to Bellingham. They cooked us a delicious, organic dinner and invited us to stay the next day to check out the Farmer’s market. After a day of Bellingham exploration and brainstorming, we decided we would go the next day for an old-fashion beg at the consulate in Vancouver for a longer, emergency visa. Wendy and Simon invited us out to dinner downtown with their friend, Kether who happened to volunteer at Pisco Sin Fronteras (the same place Gordon and I met) 5 months before we were there. She was also on a bicycle tour around South America at the time so we had plenty to talk about! As a gang of bicycle travelers, we decided to bike the couple of miles to dinner. After a delicious meal and fun “small world” stories, we stepped back outside to find that my lock was cut and my bike had been stolen (along with one of my broken panniers that was zip-tied to the bike, housing our tent).

On the outside I was calm, rational and positive but on the inside I was devastated. My bike had been my home. I loved that bike and I was excited for the places it was going to take me. The Trek520 was an ideal touring bike that our friends and sponsors at Bicycle Doctor helped us decide on and it proved to be a great decision. It was comfortable, strong, light, and it was gone. Although in different ways, both Gordon and I were stuck. Just like every other hurdle Gordon and I have had to get past, we went into brainstorming mode. Looking back I realize that giving up did not cross either of our minds. These were just more problems to solve along our adventure. While Gordon spent 10 days in Vancouver with Margo and Chris, Simon and Wendy let me live on their sailboat (fulfilling another dream of mine to live on a boat)! I found it quite ironic that my bike was stolen in Bellingham,WA, because immediately when we arrived to town I had a feeling like I was going to live in Bellingham someday. Everything about it I loved. It’s funny that a town I connected with so much is where I lost my “home.” I didn’t end up staying too many nights on the boat as the news of our story spread and new friends invited me into their homes. As Gordon’s visa wait became longer, Simon invited me to come back to his house to be more sheltered from the storming weather while Wendy was visiting some family. As I continued to get to know Simon, I realized that I would really miss him when I leave Bellingham. I’m so thankful for his hospitality and helpfulness through my bike struggles, but even moreso, for his friendship and conversation.

I took the opportunity to explore Bellingham, took free dance classes, joined a science-fiction book club (that I intend on continuing and skype into the monthly discussions), went to the circus with friends from the Farmer’s market, and spent three full days building a new bike! Bellingham has a non-profit, community bike shop called “the hub”. It is the coolest place all about recycling bikes and encouraging community. Everyone at the hub was incredibly helpful after hearing our story. A volunteer mechanic, Jim, was the owner of a trek store in Alaska. He spent over 10 hours teaching me how to Frankenstein a bike and we fixed up an old trek bike (since I’m forever a proud Trek girl). I still have hope that my bike will eventually show up since I have called every pawn shop in WA and have the police involved. In the meantime, I have a bike that will last and invaluable knowledge of actually having built it myself.

Just ten days after our original border cross, Gordon made his way back to Bellingham with a visa and my Frankenstein bike was ready for the road. For the first time in a week, the skies opened up and we set off with blue skies, giggling about our bad/good luck.

A quote from the book we read for the book club, I think sums up our BikeLiving adventure:

“It’s good to have an end to journey towards but it’s the journey that matters in the end.” - The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guinj

We are so thankful to everyone along this crazy journey that we have met on the road and all of our family and friends who are supporting us at home. Happy Thanksgiving!