Back in CanadaIt’s the little things that add up.

Crossing borders and exploring Victoria at night

Views across the marina in Victoria BC’s capital

Setting out a little later than planned from Port Moody where an old friend had kindly looked after my bike whilst I’d been away, I was on a bit of a time limit to make a ferry at Horseshoe Bay. Not a great distance but just enough to throw a little adrenaline into the mix in thinking that I might miss my ride, I had no ticket pre booked, and failing to be on that ferry would mean passing up a nice warm bed on Vancouver Island for the night. Given how December had been rapidly approaching the thought of an unnecessary night under canvas was totally unappealing!

I’d landed back in Vancouver that morning. Feeling a little worse for wear after an overnight flight and layover, but I was back in Canada. Which is pleasantly just a little more laid back than the US. Somewhat friendlier immigration officials made for a warm welcome and despite having only left Canada a week earlier and not having returned to my home country they seemed content to let me back in, only a little perplexed at my lack of luggage. I pointed out my 20L rucksack which had been carried as hand luggage and which made for a pleasant conversation. Not many people can travel so light for a weeks vacation. I kind of agreed and thanked them for the compliment.

The hectic day on minimal sleep having flown overnight to Vancouver made way for an incredible spin to the ferry. Setting out a little later than what would have allowed for a leisurely ride gave me the kick I needed to really get a spin on. And though the first hill was a bit of a shock to the system, feeling so good to be back by on a bike too. Still aching from a very active week on Hawaii and an overnight flight and connection back to Vancouver, I certainly could have been better rested. But as the legs got turned, as the buzz of filtering through city traffic started kicking in and as I started burning off a few roadies, the miles just started flying by.

But there had been no real need to stress, other than in getting there at a reasonable time,all was well, I was back in Canada after all. Of course 30 minutes was early enough. There wasn’t a queue. The check in staff and the loaders were super friendly and nobody came across as if they had a penchant for ruining my day at the slightest given opportunity! I was back in Canada! Time to relax for a couple of days. Explore the island a little then head over via the peninsula to Washington. And sooner rather than later, on to Mexico. It was warm too. Maybe feeling good after a week in the sun, but the first day back on the bike was a shorts and summer gloves affair. Shame the daylight drew to a close all to early.

The pleasant day and and ride of the previous evening was short lived, I awoke to the sound of rain outside the house of Tyler and Laura, a local bike mechanic and his yoga instructor wife who’d invited me to stay that night. The rain was the only excuse I needed to catch an extra hours sleep, still tired from the previous nights flight, and to, with any luck, let the weather front pass over.

Though still a little fatigued with the rain easing it became a pleasant start to the day none the less. Having more or less forgotten to eat the previous day wasn’t helping the energy levels. Despite only a half days ride planned by lunch time I found I was, though steadily progressing, flagging somewhat. After lunch break in Ladysmith for a decent meal though warmed up and feeling a little stronger, the light, clearing I’d hoped, drizzle of the morning into had turned to something of a downpour. It would transpire it was to be set in for the day. Camping would have been thoroughly unappealing so considering myself lucky to have been invited to stay with another fellow cyclist living on route to Victoria.

I found myself sluggishly pressing on into the evening to make it to the slightly coincidentally named Shawnigan Lake. Meeting Mike and his family made for the most amazing end to the day; Mike, an seasoned cycle tourist having ridden most of the Silk Road route across Asia was a font of knowledge and experience. A great guy to get to know and with a kindness in his hospitality no doubt thoroughly influenced by his travels outside the western world.

There seemed to be a bit of pattern developing having returned to Canada, another sprint for a ferry to cross the Saanich Inlet to avoid the ominous Malahat Pass as a result of being engaged in idle conversation with Mike’s family, apparently the same scenario as had beset their last guest on a bike! But a pleasant 15km warm up to Mill Bay, this time a flat out sprint, got me there with 2 minutes to spare, but for a ferry delayed by perhaps 5 minutes! All in all an enlivening start to the day and leading to meeting an ex professional cyclist working as a deck manager on the ferry; coincidentally the first person this side of the Atlantic I’d met who glancing down at the Phoenix recognised the On One brand!

My deck manager friend, whose name I never learnt, recommended exploring Victoria, which until that point I hadn’t realised was the provincial capital. Rolling on along, initially a cycle route, and later the coast road into Victoria, finally I had some pleasant weather. Though 2 days previously I’d been riding in the dry, the previous days weather was all to reminiscent of the KVR across south BC which had led to me running away to Hawaii for a week! The coastline of Vancouver Island was stunning. Reminding me of living by the coast, and something, that despite the incredible quantity of lakes in Canada, I was really missing. From the vast expanse of an open horizon I’d had in Hawaii the previous week to this beautiful broken coastline of the Island which I was told was nowhere near as amazing as the ocean coast to the west.

Plans always seem to take their twists and turns, this time, those to explore the Olympic peninsula over the water in the US were thwarted somewhat on arrival at the port by the less frequent than expected ferry service from Victoria. But the upshot being that the following day, being thanksgiving in the USA, the ferry service was running with a midday departure meaning I’d be able to ride in daylight and (hopefully) see some of the coastline. So with the plan to be in Seattle for Thanksgiving meant an unplanned night in the provincial capital before a fastcat ride straight into the city and back on schedule – though I don’t really have much of a schedule so that’s at of a misnomer!

I’d been hoping to explore the Olympic peninsula a little but with the seemingly persistent rain forecast for the coming week, be it slightly enforced, I had little complaint in the direct ferry option.

In the last week I’d made 3 border crossings – Canada to Hawaii, Hawaii back into Canada, and Canada into Washington. It was with the somewhat infamous reputation of the US border with their ferocious officials and the needless hassles that seem to occur, that had me slightly concerned as to whether I’d be let into the country. As a British citizen I can enter the USA on a visa waiver, but the requirements and restrictions with this are probably best described as a bit of a grey area. The guidance generally being written either for ‘normal’ visitors from Visa waiver countries who would likely fly into the country and fly home fairly soon after; or in the case of land borders, for either friendly Canadian sorts or those less welcomed sorts from anywhere to the south! For overland travel its all a little more vague.

I’d spent a month in Alaska in the summer, spent 4 months in Canada, flown to Hawaii for a week and now I was wanting to ‘re-enter’ the USA to travel south. My first taste of what the border force could be like was a week previously when I departed through Vancouver for some sun. A blunt, rude and aggressive official who seemed a little bored but seemingly intent on thoroughly interrogating me, much more so than when flying to Alaska back in the summer. All I wanted to do was go warm up for a week!
Returning to Canada went smoothly, it was just the one last crossing into the Lower 48 to prepare for now. Fortunately Victoria to Washington was a breath of fresh air from what I was expecting. It felt quite remarkable that I was talking to a seemingly civilised human being for a change!

Had I ever been to the states before? – Yes I was in Hawaii a week ago;
What’s your final destination? – Mexico;
How long are you going to be in the US? – and there I stumbled.

I was heading towards Mexico so it always made a starting point for a destination to which I then went on to explain it was actually London England, or there abouts, that I was heading back to, but cycling via Mexico, South America and so forth.

As for how long I was going to be in the US, I didn’t really know. So I explained how I’d intended to travel through Canada in maybe 6 weeks but had ended up spending 4 months there, pointing out that the visa allowed that. After commenting that one could ride to Mexico in a couple of weeks but I’d quite like to see some of the USA on route and saying maybe a couple of months it was nice to actually have ended up in a pleasant dialog with a US immigration officer. Seemingly happy with my upstanding intent he pointed out that I could only stay in the USA for 90 days rather than the 6 months that Canada allowed and stamped me in. I’d been expecting perhaps 90 days from entering Hawaii so loosing just short of 2 weeks from that, but no, gratefully a fresh 90 day stamp. Thank you kindly. So time enough to explore…

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