Ottawa family returns home after year-long, globetrotting bike trip – Ottawa – CBC News

Here is a direct link to the CBC story about us:

Heffernan-Wilker Bike Trip CBC Article



Crazy Times in Glacier National Park! A Journal Entry

This was a little delayed in publishing, but well worth a read!

Journal entry of July 9 and 10, 2016 — in Glacier National Park, Montana


Saturday July 9, 56 kilometres, Rising Sun Campground to Sprague Creek Campground, over Logan Pass (6647 feet)

Today was an incredible ride, a highlight of the whole trip. We got up for an “alpine start,” meaning you get up really really early to depart. We woke up at 5 but then snuggled for 10 minutes. Then everyone jumped into gear. I got breakfast ready while Anna, Kathleen and Jasper packed the tent and bikes. We ate a quick breakfast — although I probably ate for half an hour straight. Glacier and its environs are decidedly a “food desert,” especially for vegetarian no-milk no-peanut people like us. So the night before we had pasta and sauce with some raw carrots. I woke up at 4 AM with a grumbling stomach and a feeling of excitement for our early departure. I love mornings. 

Why the early departure?  We were going to climb the last mountain pass of our trip, the very Logan Pass we had briefly visited the day before, a pass of over 6600 feet, on the world famous Going To The Sun Road. The lack of shoulders, heavy traffic, and no bike regulations that limited where bikes could ride between 11 AM and 4 p.m. meant the earlier the start the better. So we had our earliest camping start ever, on the road at 6:02 am. The only time we left earlier was in Cuba when we weren’t camping and skipped breakfast — we left at 5:58.

The road was empty, the light on the mountains was stunning, and the weather was cool and dry. We rode up and up and up, the kilometres ticking by at a comfortable pace. We savoured this pass, appreciating how much sweeter the experience was on a bicycle versus in the shuttle bus.

It was also slightly sad as it was our last pass.

We reached the top before we knew it, climbing through a tunnel and zigzagging around the mountains. At the top we paused to snap a photo, chat with some admiring Americans, go to the bathroom and then down we went.

We didn’t want to push our luck with the weather and their were grey clouds approaching. So down we went, flying gleefully down a road carved out of the cliff, going the same speed as the other vehicles. Stunning views and more mountains flew by and I couldn’t keep the smile from my face. When we got to the bottom we biked alongside a rocky river, the Flathead River, with turquoise water rushing between purple cliffs and over ledges. We stopped in at Lake MacDonald Lodge to try and find some food and found very expensive limited options. We camped at Sprague Creek and then jumped the shuttle to Apgar Village. Still no decent food. So we headed back to camp with more pasta and sauce  and some other random food items, such as cheese, individually wrapped bagels a tiny 6 dollar jar of huckleberry jam and some greasy nacho chips that no-one liked but me.


We made a haphazard dinner and head off to bed, when the story usually ends, but not tonight. After the kids fall asleep, while Kathleen and I are reading in the tent around 9:30, we suddenly hear a loud sharp bang followed by panic and commotion from the campsite beside me. Kathleen and I pause and look at each other in surprise and bewilderment. Then we hear something about a gunshot and I leap out of the tent, scrambling to find the first aid kit, thinking someone has been shot. Kathleen stays in the tent with the kids.  When I emerge I see three women from the neighbouring campsite frantically getting into their car and driving erratically away. There path was blocked by an incoming SUV. The women looked at me and said “tell them it is an emergency!” and so I motioned to the SUV to pull into our parking spot and let the car,a blue Ford Probe, leave. The car goes another 200 feet and parks by the camp hosts’ site. Meanwhile other campers converge on the road trying to piece together what happened. One woman is dead certain it was a gun. The man driving the SUV mentions a woman in black walking away from the site where the noise came from. After trying to comprehend the situation, I head over to the blue Ford Probe, thinking they may have accidentally discharged a firearm and someone may be hurt. The three women are talking to the camp host and quickly let me know they are all fine before they jump back in their car and screech out of the campground. There is an unsettling quiet. No police, no sirens, nothing. So,as the situation seems to have calmed down I crawl back into the tent and go to sleep.  



Sunday July 10, The Highline Trail starting at The Loop and ending at Logan Pass. 3000 ‘ elevation gain approximately


The next morning I chat with the newlyweds from South Dakota camping near us. It turns out they were evacuated in the night, as the whole campground was.  A man fired a gun on the beach maybe 200 metres away from where we slept. 8 rangers descended on the campground shortly after I fell asleep.  After a brief negotiation, the man surrendered and was taken into custody for a psychiatric evaluation –he was talking of suicide.  Apparently he had gotten into a fight with his girlfriend, who was the woman in black who ran away from the gunshot initially. I confirmed the story when I read about it in the local newspaper two days later. What a crazy night. But not the end of craziness in Glacier National Park though.

Here’s a link to a news article about this incident: Standoff in Glacier Park ends peacefully

Kathleen here: You might be wondering what we were doing sleeping in our tent after a gunshot went off in the campground. When I heard the shot and saw a woman running down the path, I assumed a bear was in camp and someone had shot a warning shot to scare it away. (It is legal to carry a loaded gun in Montana, but not to discharge it in a National Park). After Derek found out no one was hurt, I thought it was safe to go back to sleep. Later in the night, I woke up and needed to go pee. When I peeked out of the tent, there were lots of people walking around in twos, with flashlights. We later learned this was the rangers evacuating anyone who wasn’t in their tent, but I thought it was still about the ‘bear’ – lots of people also needed to go to the bathroom and were going in twos. Our neighbours told us the next morning they let the rangers know we were sleeping in our tent during the campground evacuation and the ranger had said as long as we were in our tent it was fine, they just didn’t want a lot of campers milling about while they were negotiating with the person on the beach who had a gun. Eventually it was quiet and I went pee and then fell asleep. Which just goes to show that your experiences can be heavily shaped by your assumptions. The kids slept through everything.


That morning we pack up and jump on the early morning shuttle heading back up to Logan Pass.  Keeping in mind that we love a challenge, and that it is best to get on the shuttle at the beginning of the route, we decide to go UP the Highline Trail instead of descending it as the majority of hikers do. This added about 2200 feet of elevation gain to our hike. This time we are fully prepared for mountain hiking with full rain gear,a complete change of clothes,cold weather gear, bear spray, food,water and iodine pills to purify more water if necessary. We headed off in bright warm sunshine,with 360 degree mountain views of deep valleys and snowy Rocky mountains. As we ascended, 2 different groups of hikers mentioned a bear on the trail ahead of us. Fortunately it was a black bear, not a grizzly. We started to sing songs, make up poetry, and recount Vinyl Cafe stories to make sure the bear knew we were there. We never did we a bear, but we really enjoyed Anna,’s retelling of “Christmas at the Turlingtons” and jaspers’ rendition of “My dad is dying.”  We ascended 6.4 kilometres to a beautiful mountain top chalet where we picked up some chocolate bars and snacks,took a brief stop,and continued on to complete the remaining 12 kilometres of rolling traverse to Logan Pass. The views continued to be mindblowing. The weather turned darker,cooler,and soon a light rain was falling. We headed on and saw a rescue copter swoop down to a group of hikers who had waved to them. As the helicopter ascended again we could see a look of irritation on the face of the paramedic. Lesson learned–never wave or signal a rescue helicopter unless you have reason to!


At this point the kids were hiking ahead of us–there were dozens of people hiking the opposite direction on the trail and the trail was open with clear sightlines in every direction, so we felt they were safe. We rounded a valley and saw the rescue copter still,stationary on a piece of snow on the trail. A pilot was standing nearby so I asked him what had happened as we passed. He mentioned a hiker was sick and needed to be airlifted off the trail. We hiked on and can across 2 paramedics and a ranger accompanying a woman down the trail back to the helicopter. A few minutes later we came across 2 more rangers huddled with a woman with her leg in a makeshift splint. She was also waiting for an airlift as she had dislocated her knee.


And then ,maybe 10 minutes later,we heard a piercing scream from ahead of us on the trail. Kathleen and I broke into a run, fearing the worst.  When we emerged from some trees we saw Anna Sierra on the ground surrounded by 2 rangers,and Jasper standing nearby. Anna had been hit in the shoulder by a falling rock about the size of a cantaloupe. The ranger thought it weighed about 8 pounds. Initially we feared the worst,but a physical exam revealed that she only had scrapes on her arm, and she had no significant pain when moving her arm or hand. Jasper too was spooked by the event,as the rock had also glanced off his bum.  We continued on hiking as we still had at least 2 kilometres of rough hiking to get to Logan Pass, and the rain was off and on. The hike was beautiful but we were very glad to finish it!
At the end there were about 45 people waiting for the shuttle that seats 14, but I was able to convince the volunteer to let us on so we could get Anna down the mountain quickly. On the bus we met a kind family from Chicago who really lifted the spirits of the kids. Were we ever relieved when we finally reached our campsite again!

Here’s a hyperlink to a news article about THIS incident:  Two Hikers Rescued from Glacier’s Highline Trail


Looking back I think these were two of the strangest days of the whole trip!



New blog post segment: Journals!

Hello everyone, after reading a great book called Let Them Paddle, about a family that does a lot of wilderness canoe tripping, Anna Sierra and I decided to write a journal of our trip.  So, as we are starting it late in the game, we are going backwards and writing journal entries.  Kathleen likes the journal entries so much she insisted that we post them on the blog as soon as we can.  So we will be posting them in an unusual order, as we finish them and as we get computer access.  I hope you enjoy them!


Washington Route Part 2: Cashmere to Winthrop

This post is long overdue, but here is the 2nd part of our route through Washington.  Click on the link below (embedding maps no longer works).

This section of the route was stellar, with highlights being the kind folks we met in Cashmere (I’d say hands’ down the friendliest town we have biked through), Lake Chelan, and then the highway up to Winthrop in the Methow Valley.  Winthrop is a place we could see ourselves living in!  We followed the Sierra Cascades Route the whole way, and the traffic was light and friendly.


Wonder-filled Washington: Our Route, Part 1

As I mentioned in a previous post, we are now attempting to follow the Sierra Cascades route through Washington.  Well, as Kathleen mentioned in her post, no sooner had we started on the route than we hit a roadblock:  the mountain pass we were attempting to cross, Highway 25 just east of Mt. St. Helen’s, was still blocked, so we had a 6-day detour to rejoin the highway on the northeast side of Mt. St. Helen’s.  We didn’t mind, as we met Erik, Sara, Annika and Riley, and we had an incredible ride up into the blast zone of Mt. St. Helen’s.

Visiting Mt. St. Helen’s was a moving experience for me and the family.  I was especially moved as I taught geography for 12 years, and every year I showed the movie “The Fire Below Us” to my students, which dramatizes the experiences of some of the people caught in the destruction that occurred during and after the Mt. St. Helen’s eruption of May 18, 1980.  So I knew the story quite well.  But to travel into the blast zone, and look down on the devastated area, was a moving experience.  We biked over the Toutle River, which was the sight of a massive mud, lava, water, ice, and tree flow that took out bridges and small communities.  We passed one once-beautiful A-frame house that was 3 days from completion when it was inundated in mud and buried in 6 feet of mud.  It is still there.  An incredible experience.

View route map for Washington – Sierra Cascades Detour on

After Mt. St. Helen’s we headed north to highway 12, then east across White Pass, through the towns of Morton, Randle, Packwood, and Naches.  We were amazed at how the landscape went from wet forested in the west to arid and dry in the east, after we passed over the pass.  The route in general was stunning.  Wide shoulders, low traffic volume, and incredible views of the moutains.

After Naches we headed north through the Yakima River Valley, a windy road that follows the flow of the river, and a fly-fishers’ paradise.  That’s where we saw the bald eagles nesting in a high tree beside the river.

After the Yakima River Valley, we headed into Ellensburg, a nice college town with a great outdoors shop!  We were able to get the small can of fuel we needed, new bike shorts for Kathleen, and a new ultralight bucket.

End of Part 1!

The Article Written by Kurt Snover about us

So….I’m cycling home after my Recycling Center volunteer work on Tuesday, heading into Twisp, when I come across a Canadian bike touring family. We start chatting while riding, one thing leads to another, and they end up spending the evening with us in Winthrop. Derek, Kathleen, AnnaSierra (age 13) and Jasper (age 9). They took a year […]

via Amazing bike touring family — kurtsnover

Peek a Boo Mountains! Oregon and Mount Hood


The last few weeks we have spent having a joyous ride through the stunning mountains of Oregon and Washington.  Many mountain passes, snowy peaks, wonderful people, great weather (yes, really!), generally kind drivers, and great camping!  We. Love. The.  Northwest!  It seems like the mountains, the BIG mountains, are playing peekaboo with us.  We ride along in a forested area, or through fruit orchards, turn a corner and suddenly Mt. Hood sneaks into our view!!  Really fun.

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We decided on this route based on a fortuitous encounter with Carol York and Peter Fotheringham, two experienced cycle travelers living in Salmon River, Washington, but who happened to be in the bike shop in Hood River when we were there. Kathleen struck up a conversation and explained some of our challenges finding a good cycling route for our family (mainly we were/are concerned about traffic) and they suggested the Sierra Cascades Route from Adventure Cycling Association. Originally I had wanted to do this route through California, but we hesitated as it has a lot of mountain passes, climbs of over 4000 feet in elevation, and many of the passes were still snow-covered. So we chose a different route. At any rate, after talking to Carol and Peter, Carol said she’d leave the maps at the bike shop for us the next day. When I went to pick them up I found an envelope containing 2 bike maps and a highlighted state map of Washington with alternate routes and side trips! Thank you Carol! Well, the next day we headed further down the Columbia Gorge to The Dalles, and then we headed south into the mountains near Mt Hood, and ended up climbing 4000 feet on a gravel road (I swear the road looked paved in my navigation program!). Well, after doing that, then climbing even higher the next day (up to 4600 feet), Kathleen said let’s do the Sierra Cascades. So from that point onwards we decided to follow the Sierra Cascade Route. We headed back down the mountain, back to Hood River (love that town!), visited our favourite bike shops and bagel cafe, and headed back to Cascade Locks to cross the Bridge of the Gods (great name!), into Washington.  

The Bridge of the Gods from the Washington Side


And what about Washington?  Well!  You’ve read Kathleen’s posts, so you know it was amazing–I’ll explain our route in a future post!



What if the kids don’t want to bike?

Sometimes when I meet people and they ask about our trip, they are surprised that the kids have ridden so far, and that they enjoy it. They simply can’t imagine kids doing what ours do.  But then when Kurt Snover wrote about us on his blog, he described the kids as always smiling and happy–so i thought i’d write a blog about the childrens’ view about the trip.

First of all, we planned the trip only after a totally successful 9 day bike trip from Cornwall to Toronto that we completed in the summer of 2014.  We have never been interested in forcing the kids to do anything they really didn’t want to, nor did we want to trick or coerce them into doing the trip in the way Kathleen and I wanted to do it.  But during that trip in 2014, the kids had a wonderful time.  They were the ones pushing to do a 100 kilometre day, and they demonstrated clearly that they loved riding.  The camping part (we camp about 80 % of the time) was a non-issue because the kids spend at least 5 weeks a year camping in all seasons (yes we winter camp, and they love it!). So after much contemplation, we decided around December 2015 that we would do a bike trip.  Then we picked destinations that were bike friendly and that we thought would be safe for Anna to ride, mostly… (more on that later). So in the planning we tried to think of the kids.  We knew that big cities don’t work for them so we tried to focus on areas with natural appeal and smaller towns.
As we are riding we also try to accommodate them as much as possible as well.  For example we stop at playgrounds, we visit nature centres, and we often go to libraries so they can chill out and read.  They help us adults to keep it fun.  It was Jasper’s idea to go to the Charles Schulz Museum and the Jelly Belly factory,for example. I loved both of those trips by the way, but I would not have done them without Jasper’s insistence.   We also try to stop riding when the kids get tired, and we try to get them to bed at a reasonable hour.  All of this tends to keep the kids motivated and happy.
But a few weeks ago, Jasper showed signs of travel weariness.  He was grumpy and slow to wake up in the morning,  and showed a real reluctance to ride.  So I pulled him aside for a talk to find out what was going on in his 9-year-old brain.  I had noticed it to a few days and it was not getting better.  This was in Cashmere, Washington,  a few days after we had climbed over White Pass, a 4100 FOOT???? Pass.
So I had a sad boy and I started questioning him about why he was reluctant to ride.  Was he tired of cycling? No.  Was he worried about his poor father working so hard on the tandem. Yeah no.  Did he want more time reading or playing on the tablet? No.  Then I asked him Was it too many hills? and his eyes welled up with tears.  Through further questioning he explained that he just didn’t want to do any more hills.  He would happily bike on but no hills.  The problem is that Kathleen and I had recently decided to do the Sierra Cascades route through Washington which is ALL HILLS! So if we were going to stick with the plan of listening to our kids and not forcing them to do the trip against their will (which would really be torturous for us parents anyway!)  I had to think of something.  Jasper already felt somewhat better because I had listened to him and heard him, but that wasn’t really enough.  K and I had CHOSEN this situation, it wasn’t something beyond our control.I should also mention that I love the mountains,  and they are the reason why we came to the west (and the reason why the kids are called Sierra and Jasper –Anna was almost called Annapurna after a mountain I hiked in Nepal).  So I was loving the mountains,  and just giddy and happy that we were able to ride through them.
But not Jasper.  So, I decided to sweeten the pot.  Jasper loves fantasy stories, and is reading a fantasy book every spare second of the day.  So I promised him that I would tell him a fantasy story whenever the road aimed skyward. He noticeably brightened up with that suggestion. No more talk of cars and geography and
History.  So that very day we put the new rule into practice, and started a story about Isorn and Annakaeui, 2 orphan children with magical powers adopted by a wizard and going to a wizard’s school.  Soon Anna Sierra got involved and started telling chapters on the uphill too, giving me a break. Jasper too will tell stories, especially when I mess up or forget a detail.  Now Jasper is pushing for the uphill routes, the hillier the better, especially passes!  We tested this by going over Washington  Pass and he was cheerful and happy the whole time! So the strategy is working, which is good because we are moving into B.C. now.
It is not without some difficulties.  It forces me to come up with a fairly complex and detailed storyline and to tell it while I’m huffing and puffing up hill.  But Jasper and Anna help.  And Jasper is understanding if  I am tired. Now the whole family is hooked and it is Kathleen who is pushing to hear the story continue on, even on flats!  I can’t just pedal and look at the scenery,I’ve got to talk.  But it is a small price for me to be able to pedal the mountains with my family, everyone happy.So the story continues!  And the storytelling lets me use a different part of my brain that I don’t use very often.
Hopefully this strategy will last us through the mountains.  But if it doesn’t we will come up with a new one, because that is what parenting is all about. Just when you think you have everything dialed in, it falls apart and you need to rewrite your game plan.

All the best,

Attack of the Insatiable Learning Kids

As we travel around the world together, Jasper has turned into an insatiable learning machine, the Terminator of the learning world. I just can’t feed him enough information!   We started a few years ago with the history of Canada beginning with World War Two — on a backpacking trip up a mountain in the Adirondacks I began to relate to him and Anna all the history I taught for ten years as a high school history teacher. Well, both kids just sucked this up. I used to quiz them as we walked along and then I even asked them essay questions where they had to formulate a reasoned response with supporting points (was the Dieppe raid a disaster or not?).   This worked really well when they were getting bored or tired to keep them moving –they have to keep up with me in order to hear the details! 

Anna Sierra has gotten older and generally rides ahead with her mom, so that has left Jasper and I to talk on the tandem.  Jasper will sometimes sing and talk to himself, or ride along lost in his thoughts, but he often spends the time asking me questions or absorbing info. Insatiable I tell you!  Here are some of the topics we have tackled:

All of the different car models and manufacturers, different types of cars, and J’s favourite cars — electric and hybrids. He especially is interested in Tesla and was brave enough to approach a Tesla owner at a campground in Monterey — finally somebody who could answer his questions. The Tesla owner later told me he was really impressed with Jasper and thought J would be the next Elon Musk (Inventor of Tesla)! 
Because I didn’t want to turn my son into a carophile on a bike trip so we then discussed the different types of bikes, frame materials, different companies and the main components companies. We have also discussed the different ecozones we have ridden through, especially the arid desert areas. Also the California drought has been on our minds ~~ especially now as the south had another dry winter but the north had a relatively normal precipitation winter. What will be the next topics?  I’m thinking the history of alternative music through the 80s and 90s, although I’m not sure that will be such a hit with the under 10 crowd….or whatever we happen to come across on the road….