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Travelling the World with Hera van Willick: Shocked and Inspired and Crossing the Border

By Hera van Willick

It’s 4 p.m. when I arrive at the (closed) campground in Yahk. Yahk, as I was told, is a village of about 40 people scattered over three gas stations, two closed hotels, two closed privately owned campgrounds and a few houses. As I’m pitching my tent the rain sets in, it’d been foggy all day. Quickly I toss my panniers into the tent and dive in there myself. Through the open ‘door’ I cook my dinner of lentils with lots of garlic and olive oil and as the sun sets at 5 p.m. I’m eating my lentils while reading ‘the Kiterunner’ by the shine of my headlight. Where would I be without books? (and a headlight..) I read till I fall asleep.

The next morning I wake up to the sound of raindrops on my tent. It’s raining still. Still, I know that because as I woke up several times during the night I heard the rain falling down nonstop. The pot that I placed outside the tent collected about 3cm of rainwater. From inside my tent I cook porridge and I take down my camp in the rain and get on my bike to head to the United States border.

A last video in Canada.


The rules on entering the U.S.A. under the ‘Visa Waiver Program‘ are vague, to say the least, and the embassy just point you to their online articles explaining those vague rules in an inconceivable way. The German cyclist Holger told me that they gave him a hard time at the border, asking tons of questions and also Shaun, who flew to (American state) Hawaii this week didn’t make a smooth crossing.

As I see the border crossing appear I put on my most innocent, friendly and obedient (wet) look. I answer all the guard’s questions short and clear, omitting my usual smart-ass answers like ‘I-live-where-I-bike’ and ‘I-have-no-clue-how-long-I’ll-be-staying’. The guard tells me proudly that he walked the Nijmeegse 4 Days Marches in the Netherlands, carrying a +10kg backpack. He gladly provides me with another stamp, good for 90 days in the States and tells his colleagues and everyone else around that I’m cycling to Argentina. HOORAY for this cool border guard. WELCOME TO THE UNITED STATES!

(and now quickly towards Mexico before they put up that wall..)

Back to Banff. In my last blog I wrote about the first few days at the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival. In the days that followed I saw dozens of films and got to meet some participants of the ‘Adventure Filmmaking Workshop’. They were given the assignment to make a 2-minute video in one day time. One of the foursomes decided to make it about me. We shot at several locations around Banff and the next day all the videos were presented and judged and some of them (ours included) were shown on the big screen on Saturday during one of the full day film screenings. As soon as it’s online, I will post a link to it.

As was predicted, the festival became more fun, busy and inspiring as the week went on. The wrap party for volunteers, staff and filmmakers was a great way to end the week and unwind after 9 epic and intense days. After the festival I had to tear myself loose from Banff to get back on my bicycle and resume my solitaire life on the road.

The main street of Banff as I leave.
The main street of Banff as I leave.

Wait a minute… let’s zoom in. The night before I left Banff I am out for Mexican food with some new friends in favorite restaurant Magpie & Stump. It’s the evening of the presidential elections. Over the last few months I’ve heard so much about it, both in Alaska and Canada. Just once I shared the table with ‘Trump-voters’, an older couple that took me for dinner in Dawson city.

I’m hopeful. I know little of politics and usually have (too) little interest in it, but somehow Trumps disgusting charisma even found its way to me. It cannot imagine that he’d become the new president of the United States. Later that evening, at ‘home’, I see how the statistic run up, Trump is ahead. I don’t want to know the outcome and decide to go to bed and when I wake up in night I don’t dare to look at my phone to see the final outcome. In the morning it turns out the impossible became truth, Trump will be the leader of the most powerful country in the world.

Somehow I hope that it’ll all turn out ‘not so bad’. That Trump actually is a genius who chose to appear as a monster as a necessary evil to get elected. That he’ll unzip that costume now and will come out a great leader with brilliant daring plans to make this world more beautiful, healthy and safe. That he’ll teach everyone who voted for him a lesson and open their eyes to what this world really needs; to build bridges instead of walls.

Before I get on my bike that day I’m going for coffee with (Banff volunteer) Luke. Sharing our worries, shock, thoughts and surprise about this outcome before I get on my bicycle again, alone with my thought… heading to the USA.

The continental divide
The continental divide

Despite the shift from sunny to rainy weather, the shift from festival to cycling went pretty well. Very inspired, motivated and with some new ideas to play with a biked into Kootenai National Park, crossing two passes on the way to Radium Hotsprings. The entrance to the closed campground was right next to the Visitor Centre and seen my recent encounter with the Park warden I didn’t want to take the risk to get busted again camping on a closed National Park campground. So I biked into town and soon, rolled on to a golf court about double the size of the town. Endless stretches of beautiful grass, something you don’t often find here. ‘Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink.’ Despite the big horn sheep who were happily munching on the fresh grass, I didn’t feel like this was a good place to spend an undisturbed night of camping. When I asked a woman who was walking her dog if she knew of a place to pitch my tent, she invited me to pitch in behind her house… or… I might as well spend the night inside. And join for dinner. Not much later we were driving back up to the actual Radium Hotsprings for a nice bath in the cold evening air and nice hot water.

The next morning, I said goodbyes with some big hugs to Cheryl and Brian, two Canadians with hearts of gold.
I’d left the mountains behind me and over rolling hills I continued my way south, towards ‘the land of Trump’.

The yellow needles of the Lark color the bike path golden.
The yellow needles of the Lark color the bike path golden.

‘WELCOME TO THE UNITED STATES’ it says nowhere on a sign. Too bad, cause it would’ve been a great photo moment where I couldn’t photo shopped an angry Trump into the picture.

As I leave the border crossing I feel butterflies in my stomach, as always when I ride into a new country. In some ways Alaska is part of the USA to me, but in other ways it’s not.

I’m excited to explore this country, to see with my own eyes where it all originated; Coca cola, Nike, Michael Jackson, Santa Clause, action movies, Martin Luther King, Apple, Friends, New York, Sex & the City, the North Face, the Ku Klux Klan, Broadway musicals, Disney… and so on.

All these things that through television, commerce, school and society found their way to me. Sometimes it seems like everything originates in the USA, except bicycles! The Americans admire my Santos bicycle, the Rohloff hub, the belt drive (even though that one is made in Colorado), the Ortlieb bags, the butterfly shaped handlebar, the ringlock. So not the bikes, but all the other things that we grow up with in the Netherlands whether, as parent, you want it or not. I want to bring them back to where they sprouted, to ‘see them home’ and then decide what I’ll take with me and what I’ll leave behind.

My route here starts by going west, towards Seattle, Portland and the coast. The frequently praised ‘beautiful coast of much rain’, that’s what it seems to me now. But first a week of going west, through the rolling hills and over flats and then crossing the Cascades to Seattle. I’m excited!