Dino's blog for mini adventures and endurance challenges
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A house to sleep in

June 27th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Day 21: Regina to Francis (87 km)

“I really hope this evening we’ll be sleeping in a house.”

When I said those words, sat indoors in Regina with the rain lashing outside, I hadn’t expected that the house would turn out the way it did.

We left Regina late morning once the thunder clouds and rain had done their worst and passed to the north east. Although now dry the weather forecast for the day didn’t look good – there was a strong south-easterly wind. And today we departed the Trans Canada highway to avoid the traffic, heading instead directly into the south-easterly wind in search of quieter roads.

We only succeeded in cycling a punishing 73km, many kilometres short of our intended destination of Fillmore. For lunch we sat on a patch of lawn to devour the usual selection of avocado, crackers, cheese etc. None of us wanted to move. I don’t know if it was the late start, the tired legs from many miles on the road, the oppressive humidity of the air, or the unrelenting headwind but we all felt very lethargic and didn’t want to get back on the road.

Cycling into a headwind isn’t very social. You can’t ride side by side and chat as it uses up so much energy and the wind will catch your words and toss them behind you before they reach the other person. To brighten things up, one of the wanderers suggested that we play leapfrog on the road.

We all had the same album on our iPods (Tegan & Sara, Hearthrob) to use for the leapfrog. We lined up in formation on the road. On three we pressed a simultaneous play on our iPods and punched into the wind. I started at the front, Sofi sat right on my back wheel and Katie right behind her. We pedalled fast, head down, punching into the wind.

After two songs the person at the back sprinted to the front and pedalled as fast as possible. We cut through the wind like the women’s team pursuit at the Olympics. Our average speed pushed up to 23km. My legs ached with lactic acid. They ached from all the miles I’ve cycled these last few weeks. They ached as they punched the wind. The music made me push as hard as I could until the end of the second track then Katie raced to the front. It was a relief to be about to cower on the back wheel, sheltered from the buffering wind. The pace quickened with the fast opening beats of each new song. The rider at the front picked up the speed with their fresher legs.

What we looked like today (for 15km...)

What we looked like today (for 15km…)

When the last song on the album began to close we were just 12 kilometres from Francis.

We pulled up at the gas station. Francis is a non-location: a scattering of houses, a small gas station, a pot holed gravel road to the south. The guy behind the counter, a young guy with a Canada Badboy tshirt and a hint of stubble, informed us that there wasn’t anywhere to stay. No motel, no campground, nothing. There nearest place was to backtrack north or continue another 30km along the highway. By now it was past five in the afternoon and none of us had the energy to cycle any further into a headwind.

A group of three men in boots and baseball caps were having a coffee by the window. One of them advised us that we could sleep in the sports ground in the town. Being outside in the wind didn’t look inviting so we sat in the gas station drinking diet coke waiting for the time to pass.
We were about to head off when Becky came over. Becky was a local and lived just 13 km down the road. She and her husband are in the process of building a new house. “It doesn’t have flushing water or anything,” she explained, “but you’re welcome to stay.”

What a relief. We cycled down the road and along a bumping, muddy track to the unfinished house. It stood like a white beacon on the horizon – it’s exposed walls shining in the low evening sun. It felt strange to be the first people staying in a new house but I’m really grateful to Becky for letting us stay. I got what I wished for: a house to sleep in.

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The people you meet

June 25th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (2 Comments)

Day 20: Moose Jaw to Regina (79.5 km)

“Oh, I would have thought you would have cycled further than this,” the man said by way of introduction. I gave him a blank stare. Apparently he’d seen us in the bike shop in Swift Current two days ago. Further than this? We biked 173km yesterday.

“Do you have a pump I can use?” He asked. He’d flagged us down just as we were headed about 10km outside of Moose Jaw. He had been sitting on the verge with his bike strewn around him. He didn’t look like a tourer because he only had one small pack on his road bike. It was already mid-morning as we’d taken a leisurely breakfast at Timmy’s in order to catch up on blogs and drink a coffee that doesn’t taste like every other camp meal we’d eaten.

“Schrader or presta?” I asked.

“Huh?” He looked at us like we were stupid.

“Skinny or fat valve.” Sofi translated pointing at the difference between the tubes in her wheel and mine.

“Oh, skinny. I should cancel my taxi.”

Taxi? I dug into my pannier for the pump. The guy started talking to the wanderers. The usual conversation: where did you start, where are you going etc. Oddly this guy told us he was biking across Canada (albeit in stages) and was headed to Winnipeg. That’s 700km away I thought, overhearing the conversation. Would you not take a pump on a 700km bike ride?

The guy was clearly rich. A plastic tourer with a much greater credit card limit to pannier bag ratio than we have. Who else pulls out their cellphone in the middle of nowhere and calls a cab? Who else DOESN’T CARRY A PUMP WHILE CYCLING ACROSS CANADA?

The wanderers and I shared a glance: what a twat

Thankfully just as I was pulling out my pump a taxi pulled up and the guy decided he would head back to town. I would have thought he’d have got further than this… If only he carried a pump.

After meeting The Rich Twat With No Pump we merrily pedalled on in the sunshine. We passed through the Queen Elizabeth trees. Apparently, when Queen Elizabeth came to visit Saskatchewan in 1959 the powers that be decided to plant a corridor of trees on the road from Moose Jaw to Regina so that Her Majesty wouldn’t be bored by the endless, boring prairie view.

These are Her Majesty's trees

These are Her Majesty’s trees

The cycling today wasn’t too challenging but nor was it particularly exciting so Katie and I played Top 5, 20 questions and our own home brewed version of Sporkle to entertain us while Sofi focused on the pain of her chafing inner thigh hinge (!)

When we arrived at Regina we stopped at a bike shop so Sofi could fork out a small but worthwhile fortune on a shiny new Brooks saddle (it’s brown so it matches her handlebar tape).

We’ve spent the evening staying with a very friendly guy called Ron, a keen cyclist who has converted his basement into a bike workshop. After stuffing our bellies with turkey, strawberries and cookies we played bike mechanic with Ron. We all learnt a few things from Ron, clearly an expert, as he checked over our bikes. I was relieved that he wasn’t worried about the miscellaneous bump on my front tyre and chuffed that he approved of my true back wheel.

One of the greatest aspects of this trip is meeting people on the way: from friendly bike mechanic hosts to idiots without a pump. They all add a brushstroke to this expanding picture of Canada by bicycle.

Day 19: Swift Current to Moose Jaw (172.5 km)

The truck pulled over behind the zigzag of bicycles scattered across the hard shoulder. Two riders sat huddled on the ground. The third lay prone on the hot tarmac, her arms outstretched but her legs still bent awkwardly around her pedals.

“Oh, we’re fine,” Katie wanderer called, giving the driver thumbs up.

We were fine, all of us. We’d just decided to sprint 15km in order to reach an average speed of 30km by our 100th mile. This spot on the side of the highway, bordered by fields on all sides, under the heat of the sun cooling in the late afternoon, marked our first English century.

5 hours 17 minutes and 04 seconds.

This was the longest and fastest ride of my life. I felt lucky, and relieved, to be here as the ride to Moose Jaw had been riddled with problems.

Cooked Dino

Cooked Dino

Saturday morning
Yesterday we’d had perfect weather for the 173km ride but while loading up my panniers in the morning I noticed a problem. Uh-oh. Broken spoke.

As we cycled to the bike shop I was muttering under my breath” I don’t like bike shops, I don’t like bike shops.” Seriously, as a girl in a bike shop I usually get either ignored or patronised (sometimes they actually manage to do both). I was not looking forward to this.

Lo and behold I wheeled Monty in the door and over to the mechanic’s stand. The main mechanic takes a look at Monty and then before I’ve had a chance to open my mouth measures the chain and tells me I need a new one and possibly a new cassette. Seriously? I have a broken spoke. Please can we focus on that.

The guys in the shop were bimbling around and I was keen to get Monty fixed and on the road as soon as possible. “Oh, we don’t have a spoke that will fit so will have to cut one” the guy says. “I have a spare,” I interject, burrowing into my panniers.

Out comes the spoke. The guys in the bike shop are still bimbling so I thread it myself. “Excuse me, where’s the grease?” I ask. I fit the spoke and head over to the trueing stand.

Mr Mechanic has now spied what I am up to. “I have 30 years of experience.” Mr mechanic announces, puffing out his chest, “some of these guys in here have 5 or 6 years experience but I won’t let them do this.” There’s a pause as Mr Mechanic notices the flame of determination in the crazy English girl’s eyes. “But I’ll let you have a go.” Clearly he expected me to fail.

Wheel building is supposed to be a dark art. Mr Mechanic clearly didn’t expect his customers to start boiling the magical cauldron by themselves. But he hasn’t accounted for me.

Geez. 30 years experience to learn the hocus pocus of making a bit of metal straight? My Dad and I built a wheel on Boxing Day last year and its been good since. My Dad just printed the instructions off the Internet and we went through bit by bit. It’s not actually a dark art.

I carried on trueing the wheel. Then with the help of the wanderers put the cassette back on and was tightening it with a wrench when Mr Mechanic came over again. I’m sure he wanted to diss my work but he crouched on the floor, spun my wheel and it was true. Ha!

Given that I’d used only my own components and my own labour they didn’t charge me anything although I did buy a spare chain and some energy gels.

Not amused

Not amused

We wheeled out the bike shop. By this time it’s midday, the sky is beginning to cloud over and riding to Moose Jaw seemed a little ambitious. The wanderers suggested we make it a rest day- a wise decision. We wheeled over the road to the market. Folk music is playing in the town square surrounded by stalls of fresh produce and crafts. Last night’s host, Sarah, has already sold out of bread but is still at the stall selling the last of her cinnamon buns and cookies.

We stop to eat a scone. I check Monty’s back wheel again. Uh-oh. there’s a bulge in the back wheel. I take Monty back over the road to the bike shop for a second opinion. Mr Mechanic thinks he’s fine but just as he is checking it my Dad phones. My Dad advises swapping the tyres and fitting the chain. So I do. (Funny how I prefer the opinion of someone on holiday in the Azores over the opinion of a mechanic standing right next to my bike.) It’s now that we realise the the chain I’ve been sold is too short (note to self it’s a 114 link chain). They have to get a new one, soak it in paraffin wax etc. The wanderers have all bought new chains from the shop.

We sit on the floor of the bike shop, Saskatoon berry scone in one hand, greasy finger on other hand counting the chain links in their bikes. We count the chain links four times: yep, they are 114 link chains. Their chains are too short so they have to be swapped.

Eventually Monty has a new chain fitted and it fits. The wanderers have spare chains. We’ve been in the bike shop for the best part of five hours (!) and no way are we going to make it to Moose Jaw.

Sunday morning
This morning at the very same point in packing up our panniers Sofi noticed that her rear back wheel was flat. A nasty bit of metal that looked like a twisted staple had got in. Oh well. We flipped the bike over, changed the tube and were on our way in half an hour.

All morning we cycled to the sound track of the prairies: the rapping of the wind against anything that will flap, the occasional gull or black bird calling, the quick ticking of the freewheel hub and the off beat clunks of a gear change. The wind was behind us slowly picking up strength. This is cycling in the prairies at its best.

We cycled past treeless green fields. At one point we passed Chaplin Lake, the second largest salt water lake in Canada and home to sanderlings and plover. From a distance the piles of salt around Chaplin look more like smudgy snow.

We stopped for lunch at a shabby looking road side cafe that looked like it had been abandoned for years. A sheet of roofing had partly peeled off and was crashing in the wind. In classic Sofi style, we were just about to pedal off when… Uh-oh. Another flat. It looked like a slow puncture so we thought we could “save time” but just re-pumping it up and then Sofi could ride on it for the next, er, 57km…

But in the process of pumping up the inner pump (or more precisely Dino and Sofi shuffling around to change turns pumping while holding both bikes all upright) Sofi’s bike fell over.

Pssssssst!

All our hard pumped air burst out as the nozzle bit of the inner tube snapped off. Erm… Time to get the spare tube out. Fail.

We pedalled on happily all afternoon. At 145km I noticed that our average speed was, thanks to the wind, 29.7km per hour. Do you reckon we can get to 30km per hour? We set ourselves the challenge of pushing our average speed up to 30km by the time we reached our English century (ie the 100mile mark). With 15km to go we pushed up the pace to 37km per hour on the flat and raced up every curving incline. Katie and I had it in our minds to reach the desired 30km per hour speed and then just maintain it. By 150km we’d ticked over to 30km average speed. But Sofi hadn’t got the memo about just maintaining the pace and pushed off faster and faster – now up to 40km per hour. Katie and I pedalled as fast as we could to keep up. The tempo got faster and faster. The kilometres dropped.

“Century!” I yelled. Slamming in the brakes and rolling onto the hot tarmac to cool down. My heart pounded throughout my body, I could feel it beating against the road. Our wanderers too had screeched to a halt and their bikes lay like road kill smeared across the shoulder. We were fine. We’d just done the longest and fastest ride of our lives. And we still had 13km to go to Moose Jaw.

172.5km we get to meet the Moose of Moose Jaw

172.5km we get to meet the Moose of Moose Jaw

Am I hallucinating?

June 23rd, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Day 18: Eagle Valley Campground to Swift Current (137.2 km)

Is this happening? Or is this just a dream?

As previously mentioned, the prairies could drive you crazy. Today I began to wonder whether I was hallucinating in the heat – in a good way. It’s been that sort of day.

I was fired up for our epic 137km of riding today. It would be the longest ride I’d ever done so to energies I drank a litre of coffee. We all plugged in our iPods to listen to some tunes to make the ride more enjoyable.The surrounding hills all look like an endless… Golf course. Undulating slopes. No trees. Green, green freshly mown grass. You need a few tunes to make the five hours of cycling through an monotonous golf course just that bit more interesting.

Mid morning Sofi got a flat. We swapped the tube and no sooner had Sofi said “the worse but of getting a flat is pumping up with this thing” when a man pulls up in a car (bikes on the roof.)

“Hey, do you wanna borrow a track pump?”

Yes, this really happened. We had a flat in the Middle of Nowhere and a track pump turns up.

A few kilometres later we are still in the Middle of Nowhere (theme emerging) when we swing round a rare bend in the road to find..

Ice cream oasis in the Middle of Nowhere

Ice cream oasis in the Middle of Nowhere

Are you serious? An icecream stall with 20 flavours of delicious and colourful calories lovely piled into a waffle cone? You’d be lucky to find Kalua Chocolate Fudge icecream in the centre of Oxford and here it is in the Middle of Nowhere.

As we were tucking into our cones an RV (translation: caravan) turns up with 9 men looking like leprechauns dressed as Tiger Woods. Eh? In turned out these guys were doing a mini gold tour of southern Saskatchewan. The whole get up of these guys seemed very Hunter S. Thompson. We witnessed the grim sight of one of these guys (the one who’d lost the last golf game) being cajoled by his mates into eating an icecream decorated with their choice of toppings.

“Wait, lemme get some dead bugs off the windshield,” one of them called. Returning a few minutes later he added his toppings to the collection of dried grass and dandelions already on the vanilla scoop. They filmed as this guy munched the icecream. Eew.

There was a lot of cycling today. 137.5km in the end. So please imagine 3 hours of cycling through a golf course…

Photo credit: Sofi (taken while riding- kudos to you)

Photo credit: Sofi (taken while riding- kudos to you)

Finally we arrived in Swift Current. Luckily we are staying with a baker. As soon as she opened the door to greet us a warm smell of fresh bread waffled out the hallway. We merrily munched away at the still-hot cheese and jalapeño scones we were given, pleased to have completed our longest bike ride ever. A sweet end to the dream of a day’s cycling.

This is what a bakers front room looks like the evening before market day

This is what a bakers front room looks like the evening before market day

Entering Saskatchewan

June 23rd, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Day 17: Redcliff to Eagle Valley campground (101 km)

I was abruptly awoken when the bright motion activated lights were activated by a Wanderer wandering around the washroom. I can honestly say this is the first time I have woken up in a shower cubicle. It took a moment to get my bearings. I had slept very well (bar for the usual midnight midgy bite scratching fest) whereas the Wanderers had barely had four hours of sleep between them.

“Were you not woken up by the hailstones crashing on the roof?”

Nope. Turns out that even if you’re sleeping in a shower cubicle you can still snooze through apocalyptic hailstorms if you have used micropore tape to seal your ear plugs in (top tip from the road).

We were all glad not to have slept outside. I guess the awful weather that had showered, thundered and crashed on the washroom roof would have been far, far worse in a tent. We are also extremely, extremely lucky to have already passed Canmore and Calgary. You’ve probably already seen on the news that the main highway (which we’d cycled on just a few days ago) had been closed by the severe floods. My thoughts go out to those who live there.

On the road we headed due east (as usual). The wind swung east south east and then swung again so it felt like a complete headwind. Fractional differences in the direction of the wind really push down or pull up your average speed. The winds here can be so exhilarating and depressing – and you cannot even see it.

After a couple of kilometres we were looking for a spot to eat a protein bar when we saw Stan and Shirley ahead who were fixing a puncture. (Stan and Shirley are a couple from the Okanagan who are biking across Canada.) We stopped to exchange stories from the road.

We cycled happily until lunch (not withstanding Katie’s flat tyre and panic attack) and were grateful that it was sunny and the threatened thunderstorms did not appear. Over lunch the wind changed direction. You could tell by the Canadian flag flapping overhead outside the tourist information where we sat (tourist info for what exactly? The place we were in, which you could hardly call a village, consisted of a gas station, a trucker restaurant,one house and the tourist info).

At lunchtime I thought I saw the woman who had served us at the tavern yesterday evening. When she came over to put some rubbish in the bin I greeted her in an overly enthusiastically friendly. “Hey, how’s it going!”

Oh, it’s not the same woman. Still she was friendly and asked where I was biking to. She had a friend who cycled across Canada a couple of years ago. We chatted. She wandered off. Five minutes later she was back again with a piece of paper in her hand.

“If you get to Kakabeka Falls then you can stay with us,” she said handing over the piece of paper. “We don’t have a spare room but you can sleep in the living room. And, you know, have a warm shower. We have a sauna too.”

Wow.

I remember asking Kumiko back in Victoria what she thought was the best thing about cycling across Canada. She paused for a moment. Then replied thoughtfully “the kindness of people.” I would agree.

Shortly after lunch we arrived at a huge signpost announcing our arrival in Saskatchewan. We pulled over to take photos. The sun was now shining, we had a tail wind and the two trimmer that had just gone by threw off the smell of freshly cut grass. I could really like Saskatchewan.

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Just as we were about to push off Sofi tripped and somersaulted off her bike. This is no exaggeration. From basically standing on a static bike she managed to land on her head and scratch her helmet. We were worried that she might be concussed. Still miles from anywhere this was not good. After another 10k of cycling we stopped so Sofi could rest as her head was hurting. Luckily she didn’t feel nauseous and painkillers and fizzy cherry sour sweets seemed to do the trick.

The scenery today has actually been quite exciting. We’ve had a couple of rolling hills. Apple green fields. Cows. Hardly any traffic. I felt like to could cycle for ever. In fact, I ticked over 1500km today.

Our campsite for the night. Monty doubles up as a washing line.

Our campsite for the night. Monty doubles up as a washing line.

Cycling into the prairies

June 22nd, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (1 Comments)

Day 16: Brooks to Redcliff (98.5 km)

Cycling through the prairies could drive you slowly insane.

When we set off this morning the scenery looked like this: green fields on all sides, large dome of sky, grey strip of tarmac heading straight forward, a ceaseless line of pylons on the left.

The prairies have just dulled my senses.

The prairies have just dulled my senses.

20km later and the scenery had not changed. An hour later it was still the same. Still the same. If I didn’t have the odometer on my bike I wouldn’t have believed that we were actually moving forward so endlessly monotonous were the surroundings.

Dino: "caption for this picture?" Sofi: "It looks the same as the other one"

Dino: “caption for this picture?”
Sofi: “It looks the same as the other one”

The only excitement of the day came in the form of two birds. One plover and one wader (possibly a curlew sandpiper) which we saw in quick succession after lunch. I thought that the unchanging scenery was the mental challenge of the day- I was wrong. It was the wind.

After lunch the wind really picked up. The wind progressed from bad to awful. It was an east-north-east wind and we were headed directly east. Our average speed was battered by the wind. It dropped from 20km per hour, to 15km, to a miserably punishing 12 km. The distance between us and the campground seem to expand as our speed dropped. Oddly the land was slightly undulating. It was actually faster to climb the hills (marginally) as the incline of the hill gave us a precious bit of protection from the ceaseless wind.

Trucks rumbled past. A couple times today we felt ‘the suck’. The suck is the feeling of the vacuum around the passing truck – first the air current pushes you out and then it pulls you in like a tumbling ocean wave. It’s scariest when it pulls you over the rumble strips.

After 90-something kilometres of riding we pulled into the small town of Redcliff, a few kilometres short of Medicine Hat. The town isn’t much. It’s a small place where people drive pick up trucks and the wind kicks dust into your eye. But it has a municipal campground.

Thankfully the tornado warning for the area has now been lifted. Yes, tornado. However there is still a severe weather warning for overnight.

Upon arrival at the campground we inspected the cleanliness of the washroom. We decided that it was safer to bed down inside rather than camp out in the open. (The washrooms here are very clean.) The wanderers were going to sleep in the disabled showed until one of them realised that the shower was motion activated (!) so we’re now all bunking down in the disabled toilet cubicle. At least it’s en suite.

I write this blog post from inside the local tavern, having just eaten my own body weight in chips, burger and carrot cake. Outside the heavy rain, blasting wind and shaking trees do not look inviting. I am glad to be sleeping inside tonight.

Tomorrow we have another 90-something kilometres to ride. I really hope the wind is on our side. Our backside that is.

Thunder and sunshine

June 19th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Day 15: Calgary to Brooks (106.5 km)

“Souls that have toil’d, and wrought, and thought with me, That ever with a frolic welcome took The thunder and the sunshine” ~ Tennyson, Ulysses

A shock of electricity burst in white sparks as it struck the pylon next to me. My vision flashed. Thunder cracked like a hammer against the anvil of my head. Booming, deafening thunder a metre from my skull. I cowered.

The words of John and Kumiko’s last email ran through my head: “…and don’t cycle in thunderstorms.” Here I am, cycling on Monty, in the eye of the storm.

I could see the washroom up ahead. I pulled off. The rain started lashing down more heavily, I opened the door and pulled Monty inside. I’m safe, I’m alive, I’m out of the storm.

The wanderers had sent me a message “hope you and Monty are sheltered right now.” “Monty & I are sheltering inside a washroom. lightning cracked above us.” I replied. They were in a car and had just passed a sign for 19k to Strathmore. I was 15k from Strathmore. Worried that they were about to drive past me I tried to type as fast as I could… Before I could get to the end of my tweet I heard the crunch of wheels outside the washroom.

I opened the door to rain and a Mercedes GL550 SUV. The rescue.

The wanderers climbed out and helped pile me and Monty into and onto the Mercedes. My wet feet squelched inside my cleats. And then we were driving. Karen, one of the wanderer’s aunts, in her car was the saviour of the day. She drove away from the charcoal clouds, away from the flashes and the cracking lightening. She drove until the sky was blue.

And then we climbed out the car and I saw still wet but it was hot. Only puffs of white cloud sailed overhead. We ate lunch at a picnic bench. Having eaten my fill of avocado and crackers I lay on my back and looked up. A rainbow shone in a perfect arch around the sun. I smiled. I was safe.

It was so hot we peeled off layers before getting in our bikes and heading out into the prairies. The land was flat. The road was dead straight. And the wind was behind us. Trucks rumbled by close enough that you could smell their loads: logs, hay bales and manure. Highway 1 cut a straight line through endless grassy fields. A red-winged blackbird called from a fence post. We passed some cows. Sometimes my vision would flash in an echo of the morning’s thunder. Yet all around was sunshine. And on we cycled, non-stop for 46km.

We pulled over at the outskirts of Brooks. This is a strange town. It’s famous for its XL meat processing plant which recently have to recall its products. Our campsite adjoins the town museum. The museum features farming machinery, a fake Adventist church and one train carriage. What a place.

We ate Popsicles in the sunshine at the campsite.

Addendum: We had just finished eating dinner and Katie Wanderer checked the weather online to discover a weather warning for “severe thunder and lightening with large hail stones.” There was a motel over the road. The wanderers went over to negotiate a price and, given that our lives are collectively worth the €85, we packed up camp as fast as possible before scuttling over the road under ominous violet clouds. Lightening cracked like a bloodshot eye on the horizon.

Thank you for praying for me. I am glad to be alive. I have survived the thunder and the sunshine.

P.s. I should add that the day actually started nicely as Steve and his young son Reid (people I’ve been staying with) led me through the bike paths of Calgary. It was a real pleasure staying with the family.

Running out the mountains

June 18th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (2 Comments)

Day 14: Canmore to Calgary

There’s nothing like starting a 95km bike ride with a quick run. Call me nuts, but before I left the UK I thought it would be fun to do some trail running in Canada.*

Finally this morning I actually made use of the running gear I’ve been lugging around by joining Betti, Ric and Sofi Wanderer for a refreshing 5k run along the river. Betti and Ric are incredibly lucky to live in Canmore – it is such a beautiful place. And we were incredibly lucky to stay with such wonderful hosts. Grey mountains watch over the old mining town on the edge of the Rockies. We ran on perfect dirt trails alongside an ice-cold fast flowing Bow river.

The run was followed by a delicious breakfast (I’ve been craving fried eggs so much!) back at the house. We carried on chatting and laughing for hours. It was midday before the Wanderers and I packed up our panniers and said our goodbyes. I sure hope to be back in
Canmore again one day.

Duatheletes. From left Katie, Sofi, me, Betti and Ric. Thanks for a great run.

Duatheletes. From left Katie, Sofi, me, Betti and Ric. Thanks for a great run.

What a beautiful day for cycling. Sunshine, lots of short hills to sprint up and long, easy descents. Fuelled by fried eggs, laughter and the 5k run warm up, my legs felt powerful as I climbed out the saddle to sprint the short hills. Slowly the mountains slipped further behind us. Over the course of the day the surrounding jagged mountaineer smoothed into rolling hills and then flattened into a pancake horizon of green fields.

Goodbye Rocky Mountains. Hello country roads. (Someone will get this)

Goodbye Rocky Mountains. Hello country roads. (Someone will get this)

As we headed out of the mountains the wind picked up. First it was a soothing brushing across my chest, then it wrapped around my head, muffling my ears. Then a strong northern wind battered against my wheels, buffering my bike back and forth as we descended. Towards Calgary I approached a number of sharp descents that were nerve-wracking to tackle in the wind. A large articulated lorry (semi) stormed by, whipping the wind so much that my tshirt nearly flew off.

There weren’t many places to stop. By 4pm we hadn’t found a shelter for lunch so sat out under the sun munching crackers and avocado. I turned around to catch a last glimpse of the Rocky Mountains. It’s been an adventure. I do love a good hill climb. And I hope to come back here (Kettle Valley rail trail Ruth?) But the mountains are only the beginning.

I’m headed into the prairies and it will be like this all day: hot, flat and windy. In order to get to Winnipeg in time for Canada Day I’ve got some serious biking to do. Expect 150km days and long, hot hours in the saddle. I’d best get running.

*This idea was inspired by my New Zealand travel buddy Sina would used to go on a run almost everyday while travelling around Canada and NZ. I thought it a very cool thing to do.

Slumbering bear

June 16th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (1 Comments)

Day 13 Lake Louise to Canmore (89 km)

Chateau Lake Louise is pretty impressive. Seriously if you’ve not heard of it you should look it up. The wanderers had a spare bed in their €750 a night room so had invited me (and Monty) to stay with them. I’ve not been sleeping much in Canada and was looking forward to a decent night’s kip.

There was a moment wandering around the sixth floor hunting for room 6923 and still (after about an hour) unable to find the wanderers when I was beginning to wonder if it was just a big wind up. There weren’t any rooms with four digit numbers. I’d been told to find the East elevator and was hopelessly trying to take a bearing from the sun in order to work out which way was East. To no avail. Eventually Sofi Wanderer found me sitting in the lobby. I was trying my best to look inconspicuous in a five star hotel whilst wearing trail running shoes, shorts and a bright red waterproof. We picked up Monty and whisked him inside on the elevator without anyone noticing.

The view from the view was impressive.

Room with a view

Room with a view

Oddly I had the worst night’s sleep. The bed was so soft and squidgy that I constantly felt like I was sinking. I woke up again and again. At 3am I couldn’t get back to sleep. I was very tempted to blow up my thermarest and sleep on that but worried that noise of inflating it would wake up the Wanderers. Eventually I did get to sleep by lying upside down on the bed with a pillow between my legs.

6.30am – time to go swimming.
There is only going to be one morning in our lives when we have the opportunity to swim in the crystal glacier-fed waters of Lake Louise and then sink into a hot tub: this was that morning. The water was so cold that “if you threw an ice cube in the water it would stay there”. We crawled in like Golum over the wet rocks, swam about 10m and then Golumed out again. We padded down the carpeted corridors wrapped in towels trying to find our way through the labyrinth to the hot tub.

I'm going to start a list of lakes in the world I've swum in. Lake Louise joins Lake Baikal.

I’m going to start a list of lakes in the world I’ve swum in. Lake Louise joins Lake Baikal.

8:15am – breakfast
The cheapest breakfast on the hotel menu was €18. But we are but humble cycle tourists. The girls had only beef jerky and one protein bar in stock so I shared out all that I had. We were limited to 3 crackers, one third of a spoon on peanut butter scrapped as thinly as possible, two thirds of a banana each and a mug of coffee. We ate like peasants in a palace.

11am – actually doing some biking.
Our cycling route to Canmore was supposed to be ‘all downhill’. Katie Wanderer was looking forward to an entire day of coasting. She had absolutely no intention of pedalling if it could be helped. It was disappointing then for us to find hills en route. The route had been described as downhill and mostly flat.
Indeed, encouraging people had on multiple occasions described the approaching terrain as “Oh, mostly downhill and flat compared to what you guys have biked already.”
As Katie pointed out, what we’ve biked already are several Rocky Mountain passes. “I want you to compare flat with flat, not flat with Allison’s Pass.”
Fair point.

Cycling along highway 1a to Banff we saw three peletons of cyclist, an elk and a black bear. I’m particularly pleased about seeing the bear as we were almost out of bear country.

Photo credit: Katie Wanderer. Yes, we were that close.

Photo credit: Katie Wanderer. Yes, we were that close.

Talking of bears, it turns out that I’ve nearly seen a bear twice. Firstly Nic and I cycled straight past a bear on our way up Allisons Pass and didn’t realise. But the Wanderers (who stayed an extra day at the campsite in Canyon Hot Springs) found out that the next morning that a bear had been wandering around our campsite, indeed was right outside our tents in the night. We (wanderers and I) had stashed all our food in the laundry room, far from our tents. Bryan (being arrogant/ stupid?) had left all of it outside his tent, neatly packed in a bag just a few yards from our canvas abodes. The wanderers discovered all this when the saw the wardens setting up traps the next morning. Needless to say, I’m glad I found out about this a safe 200+km away.

We cycled to Banff and stopped for a prolonged break, trying to wait for the rain to stop (it didn’t).

Sarcastic signpost on the way to Canmore.

Sarcastic signpost on the way to Canmore.

The last 24km to Canmore were delightfully along bike path. The wanderers were staying with a family friend so just out of town they phoned them to get directions.
“Erm… We also have a third cyclists with us. Could she camp in your garden?”
Well, it turned out Betti and Ric live in a condo but were more than happy to let me unroll my thermarest in their living room. After a wonderful evening with them (featuring great food, private Irish folk music performance and lots of laughter) I lay down on my thermarest on the floor of their living room and had the best night’s sleep I’ve had in Canada.

The first leg

June 13th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

The first leg might not be the hardest but it is the hilliest. Over the last 2 weeks I have cycled approximately 1,000km across British Columbia and into Alberta. It’s been awesome, or as they say in Canada “it’s been arsum.” I have loved every pedal stroke.

I for one am very interested to know what happens to the shape of one’s legs as they pedal thousands of kilometres. This is what my leg looked like in Ruth’s kitchen the week before I left…

image

Analysis: actually already got a bit of tone around the gastrocnemius. No line of separation at the top. Legs are nice and clean. (I really miss those pjs, they are so comfy.)

This is what my legs looked like this morning…

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Analysis: disappointingly similar level of muscle tone. Miscellaneous and unexplained bruise on right calf. Lots of midgy (ie mosquito) bites. Permanent smudge of chain oil. Legs slightly hairy as difficult to shave without slicing off midgy bites.

Apparently there is some ‘trend’ for high school girls in Canada (and presumably elsewhere) to have ‘the thigh gap’ (ie legs so skinny that there is space between your thighs when your knees touch.) This is absolutely ridiculous. I think it’s horrendously sad that young women feel they must contort and damage their bodies in such a way in order to meet an unhealthy model of beauty. Needless to say I do not have the thigh gap. Nor do I want one.

I’ll tell you what is beautiful: thighs made for cycling. 20 inch thighs made of muscle, bone, joint and love. Thighs so strong you can scale a mountain pass. Thighs with deep tan lines from riding for two weeks in the sunshine. Thighs with midgy bites because the critters can bite through Lycra. Thighs that ache from cycling mile after mile and mile. Thighs that will carry you across a continent. Forget false ideals. What is truly beautiful is the ability of the human body to go and keep going.

I love my legs in all of their lumpy-bumpy-bitten-bruised glory because they are strong and will carry me to Winnipeg and beyond. Here’s to the next leg!