Dino's blog for mini adventures and endurance challenges
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Reasons to celebrate

August 2nd, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Day 47: Golden Lake to Shawville (88km)

“Congratulations!” She beamed with a broad, excited smile on her face. She had a copy of the Merchant of Venice tucked under one arm.

We were standing outside the pubic library in Eganville, a small town straddling the Bonnechere river in northern Ontario. I had a large grin on my face too. Thanks to the library’s free wifi I had just found out that I had a new job to look forward to when I return to the UK. But the Merchant of Venice lady didn’t know that. She’d just asked me where I’d biked from. Congratulations, Dino, you’ve just cycled from Victoria.

Resisting the urge to whoop and yahoo inside the quiet library, I saved my woohoo moment until I was safely 2km out of town with the noise of the wind and traffic to disguise my private celebrations. All day I rode with a smile smeared on my face like chocolate round a kid’s mouth.

The morning routine of stuffing bags, drinking coffee, stretching hamstring etc, had been interrupted by a telephone job interview. Even in northern Ontario, sitting under dew wet trees on the shore of Golden Lake, I couldn’t shake off the pre-interview nerves. Last night I went over possible questions in my head, explicating my vision for the future while poking the charcoal of my campfire. And what should I wear from my interview? At 6.45am the air still held the cool freshness of night so I dug into my stuff sack for my thermal leggings. I munched blueberries, watched the blackbird hopping across the sunlight-dabbled grass, and waited for the phone to ring.

Interview over I pedalled off in high spirits. The scenery was changing, the forests were giving way to farmland. And I knew that by the end of the day I would be in a whole new province. It felt like the start of a whole new adventure.

After 26km I stopped in Eganville for second breakfast and to check my emails at the public library. Discovering I had a new job and the congratulations from the Merchant of Venice lady only boosted my mood even more. I spun fast out of the town and headed along the highway east.

I passed stretching corn fields, shining like pots of honey in the sun. Barns painted in fresh vermillion, looking like Monopoly hotels, stood squarely in the corner of the crop fields. Fresh green hay bales lay in the fields. I turned off the highway towards the Ottawa river.

In the distance the grain stores stood like colourful minarets calling birds from across the fields. Swallows dipped and dived over the swaying fields of corn. Whisps of cirrus cloud floated in the sky. A chorus of cicadas buzzed from the tall grasses. A herd of cows munched languidly.

A long bridge carried me over the Ottawa river. After 2,500 km and a whole month of cycling I was leaving Ontario. Ontario had been an adventure inside an adventure. It’s shown me fireflies, bears, the northern lights and just how bad mosquitoes can be. It’s showered me in terrific thunderstorms and fried me in the sticky heat. Your lakes and forests were so beautiful I didn’t think I’d ever get bored. And I didn’t.

Left: Quebec. Right: Ontario. Middle: Ottawa river

Left: Quebec. Right: Ontario. Middle: Ottawa river

Quebec appeared on the other side of the river promising poutine and bike paths. Soon enough I arrived in the town of Shawville. I pedalled off in search of a celebratory drink and returned to the campground with two beers and a pot of poutine. One beer to celebrate the new job, the second to celebrate cycling across Ontario and the poutine because I was hungry.

Left: beer to celebrate new job. Right: beer to celebrate cycling across Ontario. Middle: poutine

Left: beer to celebrate new job. Right: beer to celebrate cycling across Ontario. Middle: poutine

I am camped by the stream in the town park that doubles as a free campground. My tent is pitched next to the small stream, bordered by a bush or two of pink fuchsias. I can hear the soft, rhythmic thud of the old water mill churning. I am sitting drinking my cold beer and picking at the flaking emerald paint of a roofed picnic bench.

I raise my second drink to the sky: here’s to you Ontario. Here’s to cycling across Canada.

Faster than hitchhiking

July 31st, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Day 46: Mew Lake to Golden Lake (112km)

So it turns out that cycling is faster than hitchhiking.

I first saw Ross standing by the side of the highway only a few kilometres from Mew Lake campground. It was not yet 9am and the road was very quiet. He was wearing jeans, a tshirt, a red bandana and a cheery smile. On his back he had a large yellow Ortlieb rucksack. His bike (a Surly Long Haul Trucker) was lying on the gravel by his feet. At first I thought he might have a flat tyre so I slowed down to see if he needed help.

“Nah, I’m fine thanks. I’m hitchhiking. I’ve just completed a bike tour of northern Ontario,” he explained, “but now I have a flight to catch from Ottawa.”

Ottawa!! Yes, I am finally closing in on the known world. I saw the first sign for the capital city on my way out of Huntsville. My skin pricked at the sight of such a familiar name.

Unable to give Ross a lift, we said our goodbyes and I pedalled off up the hill.

I cycled through Algonquin with my eyes peeled for signs of the King of the Forest. The scenery looked just right to have a moose in the foreground. All around was lush forest, broken up by granite rock and cuts in between the hills to reveal a lily-pad sprinkled lake or a swamp buzzing with flies. Algonquin park is like a big adventure playground. All morning I passed canoe outfitters and signs for snowmobiles, campsites and picnic spots. It was all very beautiful but it was sorely lacking one thing: a moose.

All day I encountered hills. Monty and I were either pumping away to maintain 10km per hour, or whizzing down at over 40km per hour. There was no flat all day. I lost count of the number of 7% gradient warning signs I saw. But I didn’t care. For the sun was shining through the white, drifting clouds. The wind was behind me and my legs felt fabulous. Indeed, today I hit a new maximum speed: 69.8km per hour (42mph).*

After leaving Algonquin, gradually the scenery changed to become more agricultural and settled. Small roadside towns and cottages appeared. Fields of hay and golf courses replaced the forest and rock. The only thing that stayed the same all day was the hills.

By 2pm I was cycling out of Barry’s Bay and racing towards the campsite. Lo and behold on the highway ahead of me I saw the familiar outline of a man with an Ortlieb pack and a Surly bike at his feet.

“When’s your flight?” I asked Ross as I slowed down for the second time.

“In 4 days,” he replied, “but I want to get there early and spend some time with me friends.”

It’s Tuesday today and I am planning to arrive in Ottawa by Thursday afternoon. I wondered if Ross would be better off cycling but he’d sold his bike trailer a couple of days ago. Cycling with his pack on his back was very uncomfortable.

Ross was from BC and originally he’d wanted to cycle across Canada but couldn’t find anyone to go with. There have been a few people I’ve met who said the same thing. My usual reply is “Oh, I’ve met lots of people cycling. Just go for it!” I couldn’t find anyone to do it with me (and I did ask!) Yet thanks to the Wanderers, Kat, Bryan, Nicholas, Rob, Courtney and Danica, I’ve enjoyed some excellent company en route. Although today, other than 2 brief conversations with Ross, I have not spoken to anyone.

But on balance, the solitude of the road is worth it for every pedal stroke that I get to see a bit more of Canada, for every kilometre that the sun shines on Monty’s spokes, and for every tree truck that I excitedly mistake for a moose.

On balance, if something is worth doing then it is worth doing solo.

*thats the fastest Monty has ever been cycled and the fastest I’ve been in Canada. The fastest I’ve ever been was 51.3mph (83kmph) on my mountain bike down a very, very steep hill in Oxfordshire.

Bear in area

July 31st, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Day 45: Huntsville to Mew Lake (75 km)

“Bear in area”

The a-frame sign was propped up outside the campsite office entrance.

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This wasn’t the species of mammal I saw hoping to encounter today. I’ve spent all day peering in the bushes, scanning the trees, and peaking under the rocks in the hope of seeing a moose.

But alas, no moose.

O where art thou moose?

O where art thou moose?

There was one exciting spectacle to liven up my otherwise usual day’s jaunt cycling past the forest, rocks, lakes etc etc of northern Ontario. There was I merrily swooping around the corner of a nice descent when what should fly across the road in front of me but…

A plane.

Wow!

This plane was literally flying across the road. If you’d been driving a truck or wearing stilts when it passed you’d have been knocked over. It swooped gloriously by, all buzzing blades and shiny yellow paintwork. As I approached the bottom of the hill, I squealed on Monty’s brakes and swivelled around to see the lake. On the dock stood the outline of two figures and a stack of crates and bags. The plane was now floating on the lake and skirting around to meet the dock. Like any good tourist I jumped over the “no trespassing” sign in order to take a better photo without the limb of a tree in the way (regret: I took the photos on my actual camera not my iPad so cannot share it with you).

I then continued to cycle past more forest, rocks, lakes etc etc. Until at a pleasantly mid-afternoonish I pulled off the highway towards the campground. To welcome me was the warning sign: Bear in Area.

Inside the office, the staff informed me that there was a Zero Tolerance policy in operation. Perhaps more scary than the the threat of seeing a bear was the fact that if a park ranger found you had left out a crumb of food or a smudge of toothpaste you would be fined $150 on the spot. Eek!

I decided to try my luck hanging up my food using my rope. After a few throws, I successfully had my rope hanging over a high branch. With a bit of fiddling I attached one food-laden pannier. And heaved. And heaved. The friction of branch to rope wasn’t helping me. I finally succeeded in heaving my pannier up by poking it up with a stick with one hand while simultaneously pulling down with the other. Despite the tallness of the branch, my bag was now only up at the height of me + arm + stick. I stood back. Hmm.. What to do? There were no tall people strolling past.

I wanted to leave at dawn tomorrow so that I could get on the road during the wildlife window of the day (ie between dawn and human breakfast). The office staff had informed me I could get a bear locker but in order to get my deposit back in the morning I’d have to wait until the office was open and thus miss the wildlife window. I looked up again at my pannier dangling only a metre from my head. I estimated the height of a bear on tip toes.

Off I wandered to get the keys to my bear locker.

This is a bear locker.

This is a bear locker.

On reflection, this was probably the sensible choice as when I went to retrieve my pannier from its tree the branch broke as I yanked the string down. Oops.

Having stashed my food away I went to gather firewood. I was happily gathering from a cache of dried bark when a man’s voice boomed through the trees.

“If a warden catches you doing that you’ll be fined!” The man yelled.

Eh?

“Warden. The police. Banned. Illegal.” He shot words at me in an angry tone.

Yikes. I put down the firewood. And, in my clearest English accent, explained
I haven’t seen a sign, didn’t know it was banned, and thank you very much for telling me.

I’m sure there is some sort of explanation for the ban on collecting firewood (eg leave the wood to rot so it can provide a home to numerous varieties of fungi etc) but I would like to know what it is and not just be yelled at. At least the guy did save me from a potential fine. But having spent the day entirely alone a small bit of human contact can really swing your mood. His angry tone had put me on edge and made me feel quite alone.

And because bad stuff comes in 3s I then encountered the water tap. The first water tap had a sign up indicating in pictorial form that one is not allowed to wash dishes under the tap. Fair enough. But then the sink in the washroom had the same sign. And then the industrial looking sink in the laundry room had the same sign. Hmmf. And where is one supposed to wash the residue of one’s tomato gnocchi off one’s folding bowl? There was no indication.

Are bears not going to be attracted to the smell of my unwashed hot chocolate cup and a sticky bowl? I was not impressed and decided, warden or no warden, to wash my dishes.

So yes, the evening was quite frustrating. I can’t collect my own firewood, I can’t wash my dishes in the sink and now I have to stomp up the road for 5 minutes to retrieve any smelly item from my bear lock. Now – yes, now – I understand why so many of you good people choose to stay in hotels. You don’t have to put up with this nonsense.

I now have only 3 more days of cycling until I reach Ottawa and civilisation. I will be pleased to be out of the woods and in a place without so many rules on dishes, firewood, bears etc. But not before I have seen a moose.

The rollercoaster

July 29th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Day 44: Gravenhurst to Kearney (106.5km)

“Oh, it doesn’t have Tarmac again until you’re just outside Novar,” the man replied, one arm resting on the Algoma chair, the other hand cupped around a pleasant drink.

Just outside Novar was, according to Google maps (which had helped me get into this pickle in the first place), about 13 kilometres away. That meant 13km of cycling on a sandy, bumped, pot holed dirt track. My heart sank.

“Is there a beer store in Novar?” I asked, since the man seemed to be the sort of man who would know the answer to that. Indeed there was. Light at the end of the tunnel came in the form of beer at the end of the dirt track. I set off down the track and promptly skidded as the front wheel entered sand. The track pitched to a new vertical descent. Monty wobbled nervously. His brakes protested. For the first time in Canada there was nothing to do but get off and walk.

And this was one of the smoother sections...

And this was one of the smoother sections…

The day had started by saying goodbye to the Wanderers to the last and final time. They were headed directly east towards their music festival in Montreal, whereas i was going north to join a 3 day canoe trip in Algonquin park. It has been fun cycling with them. I have realised while cycling by myself how much having someone else there can distract you from the pain and lighten the burden of worry when things go wrong. In fact, what is miserable alone is bearable with two. And highly comedic with three. With the Wanderers cycling was often very funny – both intentionally and unintentionally (see somersaults and poison oak for more details). I shall miss them.

Monty’s brakes weren’t feeling great so I set off to Bracebridge to get Monty some TLC. Ecclestone cycles proved to be a very friendly bike shop; the guys in there adjusted Monty’s brakes, pumped up the tyres and cleaned the chain for free. The owner also gave me some advice the route ahead. This is going to be a good day, I thought.

Taking backroads to avoid a highway inevitably means hills. In Ontario, where even the main highway can’t avoid the bumps, backroads duck, dive and tumble like a rollercoaster route. The landscape here is very chopped up. It made me think “this is gonna be a tough day” so I stuck some music in to distract myself. Yet after a few climbs I realised that although the climbs were hard work I felt good: yesterday’s rest day and the last 4000+ kilometres of training had paid off. I passed through cottage country. The road winding through the forest was dotted with wooden holiday cottages. Muskoka, the area I’m in, is a popular spot with city folks from Toronto who buy cottages here in order to enjoy hot summers fishing, canoeing and lazing in the sunshine.

A few kilometres past Huntsville, I stopped for lunch at a quiet spot by lake. All was well. I felt happy and very on schedule. But then it seemed to get hillier. Memories of north Devon came back to me. And then what I feared appeared before me: the road descended into gravel. And, worst yet, sand. Monty wobbled as his tyres sliced diagonally through the thick sand.

At the side of the road was a house. It was a typical wooden cottage but it was so beautifully decorated with flowers, and ever window frame and corner was so neatly painted in bright colours that I could not help but stop. Sitting outside was a man, enjoying a beer on his garden chair. He warned me that the road wasnt going to get better, but also informed me there was beer at the other end of the road. There were no other options but to push on.

I pushed Monty up the next sandy bank. How long was this going to take? What about Monday? I was headed to the small town of Kearney for my canoe trip but on Monday I would have to return south again before I began heading east to Ottawa. Do I have to walk this again? Should I risk the highway? My sandy detour was not only much tougher terrain but also 20km longer than the highway.

Eventually the sand gave way to rough concrete road and then Tarmac. I could have kissed the ground! Poor Monty had had a rough ride. Thankfully the very small town of Novar had a pay phone so I was able to call my mum to wish her a happy 60th birthday. She had celebrated her birthday by going to the watch the Tour de France arrive in Paris and I was keen to hear about the trip and wish her a happy 60th before I headed into the wilds. Unfortunately I spent a good chunk of our conversation fretting about the road and how I would return south to Huntsville!

2km from the campsite I changed my mind. i could have just cycled another 2km and then lay down with my beer and built a campfire but, no, then tomorrow morning I would still have 17km to cycle to the canoe trip meeting point. Even though it was nearing 5pm, I decided to head for a farther campsite some 21km away. This campsite would be nearer the meeting point for the canoe trip. I was worried that after Monty’s rough day I might discover some problem with him tomorrow morning. So off I went…

What on earth makes that ordeal worthwhile? I arrived at the campsite having done 106km on what was supposed to be an easy day. But upon arrival, I was charged $10 less the listed price and told I could camp anywhere. Indeed, the kind lady recommended I camp by the lake. What makes 106km of tough, hill climbing and a detour via sand dunes and gravel track worth while? I could think of only 2 things – but I had them both.

Worthwhile reason #1: the view from my tent. I had this beach and lake almost entirely to myself

Worthwhile reason #1: the view from my tent. I had this beach and lake almost entirely to myself

Worthwhile reason #2: local Muskoka beer. I had this can entirely to myself.

Worthwhile reason #2: local Muskoka beer. I had this can entirely to myself.

Highway of Hell

July 24th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Day 43: Wasaga to Bracebridge (ish) (112.5km)

You know you’re having a tough day when the generosity of someone giving you a square of tin foil nearly brings you to tears.

The tin foil, I later discovered, wasn’t actually necessary anyway as the corn on the cob was still wrapped in its husk. (The husk, Google tells me, is sufficient protection when tossing a corn on the cob on a campfire.)

At this point it was about 3pm and I was in a grocery store stocking up on the necessary ingredients for a delicious and cheering campfire meal. I needed a cheering campfire after today’s awful, awful, AWFUL ride along Highway 11.

This wasn’t the Road to Hell so much as Hell Itself in highway form. The four-lane highway was very, very busy with cars and RVs headed north from Toronto. The cars zoomed past at terrifying speed. In fact, forget my description – just imagine the M1 on the Friday afternoon before a bank holiday. To make matters worse, the paved shoulder I had to ride on was about 6 inches wide. 6 inches.

I was cycling along at some ridiculously fast pace – fear clearly strengthens one’s leg muscles. I pedalled in a state somewhere between abject fear and gritty, determined focus. I was hungry. I had already done 60km and eaten little more than a protein bar all morning. I had been on the Highway of Hell for over 10km. Every second was terrifying.

Cars honked at me. (Yes, because adding to my state of witless terror by startling me with a blasting horn is going to help!) Trucks screamed past.

I scanned the roadside looking for somewhere to eat lunch. I spotted a gas station ahead. there was a patch of grass and a tree under which I could shelter. I peeled off the highway, hungry and shaken. I sat curled in a ball, eating my avocado and crackers off my knees, and worried about what to do next. The clouds threatened rain.

Google maps showed a possible detour which took an extra 20km. But were those side roads really roads or just bumps of exhausting gravel? I was scared of the solitude of empty, forest roads. But even more daunting was the prospect of cycling alone along the M1. Either way, I needed to push on up the highway for another 6km before I could pull off.

At the turn off I pulled up at a small grocery store. Inside the store I collected food for my campfire. “Excuse me, do you have a piece of tin foil i could have for cooking this in a campfire?” i asked the woman at the store, pointing at my corn. When the woman returned with a square of foil I nearly cried in gratitude. The kindness felt like a cloth had been lifted from my body, unveiling my vulnerability.

With 40km to go I entered the back roads of the forest. The scenery had changed again. The thickening forest, wet grasses, rocks and sudden, sharp inclines told me I was back into northern Ontario. The dense forest was pierced by the grey road as it twisted and turned through the wilderness. Although relieved to be away from the highway, the solitude of the wilderness and the looming grey clouds cast a darkness over my mood. Was that the sound of an aeroplane? Or the long, distance rumble of thunder?

Here the wild things live. This is sort of place where the only soul you are likely to meet is a lone man with a gun. Or a bear (if bears have souls. A topic for another discussion perhaps). I sang to myself for comfort and cheer. And dipped into my pannier for a handful of my emergency Jelly Belly beans. For 40km I pondered the wild idiocy of my decision to cycle across Canada. I still have to get to Kearney by Friday morning and that means either going back on highway 11 or another lengthy detour.

Finally I arrived at the campground. It is expensive. I even upgraded to a site with electric. But I don’t care. This wasn’t supposed to be terrifyingly hideous. It was supposed to be “fun.” Yes, it was going to be a challenge but I had encounter enough challenge today. I have my own water tap, my own electric plug, a campfire, lots of firewood and a nice, dry tent. This, I consider, is the height of luxury.

I cooked maple syrup flavoured baked beans (nice, but oddly sweet), spider dogs and roasted foil-and-husk-wrapped corn on the fire. The sunset. The clouds parted to reveal a scattering of stars. I sat cross legged watching the embers of my fire glow. The worries of the day melted like the marshmallow turning to goo in my hot chocolate.

Thankfully the Road of Hell led to something rather heavenly.

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Feeling old & looking silly

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

Day 42: Owen Sound to Wasaga (85km)

Today’s cycling has been some of the best yet. Not least because rather than slogging away for 6 hours+ on my bike, I have ridden only 85km. Today i followed the coast of Georgian Bay, passing through small, hipster-looking towns and meandering along a bike trial in the sunshine nodding at fellow cyclists. Today I passed through the so-called Blue Mountains. Although I could see a few ski runs, the mountains didn’t seem to be very mountainous. Nonetheless I enjoyed the views of the blue water of Georgian Bay that I glimpsed through the apple orchards and was intrigued by signs for various wineries.

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After 60km I stopped in Collingwood to go on a small spending spree. Having lost my sunglasses a few days ago and with lots of sunny days ahead (including my 3 day canoe trip this weekend) I needed some new ones. Given there’s no one here to talk sense to me I decided to splash out. And given that there’s no one here to tell me how silly I look I decided to get some silly ones.

Silly face to match silly glasses. Yeah!

Silly face to match silly glasses. Yeah!

More sensibly I also purchased a new vest top. I have realised that my once apple green icebreaker top is turning the colour of stagnant pond water (and probably isn’t far off smell-wise either). And the white Rapha top which was brand new before I left looks like it has been swimming in coffee. I should point out I do launder my clothes at every opportunity (about once a week) but there is no hope for clothes that have endured over 4,500 kilometres of sweat, suncream and thunderstorms.

All in all I spent a ridiculous amount of dosh today. I was very tempted to buy a Go Pro but realise I should have asked brother Dan (who is expert in such things) for advice and a demo before I left for Canada. I could imagine buying one only to return to England with a month’s worth of footage of the lens cap (or equivalent stupidity). Yet I am sorely tempted as the Go Pro could gather wonderful footage of Me Cycling On Monty and who wouldn’t want to watch that for 100 hours unedited?

Despite a few patches of busy road traffic the cycling was glorious due to the relative cool weather, flattish terrain and views of Georgian Bay. After a mere 80km I stopped at a Tim Hortons to Skype with Ruth (who embarks on her next leg of Land’s End to John O’ Groats, ie top to toe of UK, tomorrow). After yesterday’s disappointment I decided to get a beer to finish the day. At the check out I was asked for ID. When I presented the man with my UK driver’s license he proceeded to get out a tome detailing all the IDs of the world (such a thing exists?!) He is not the first person to be wholly confused by a UK license that says “CANADA” on it (ie place of birth).

A very suitable beer

A very suitable beer

A quick Google search narrowly saved me from staying at the self-proclaimed “party campsite” of Wasaga. A campground that boasts you will “make friends” while partying to its own live DJs etc. Wasaga, I should point out, appears to be the Canadian equivalent of Newquay: the place where young folks come to comatose themselves with cheap alcohol, acquire tattoos and/or piercings their parents will despise, and lose their virginity on the sandy beach. Hmm.

I cycled along the beach front road and recalled when I was last here. When I was 18 years old I came to Wasaga beach with two girls from Toronto. Then I thought myself the epitome of cool as I watched the sunset while floating on the lake atop my newly purchased pink inflatable sofa. (That was my one and only outing with said pink sofa which I shortly after gave to a student in Toronto). Today I passed the ice cream parlours, body piercing stores, bars and pink inflatable stores without wishing to go inside. Despite my Google searching, the “family campground” I am staying at bears a close resemblance to a music festival: tents pitched haphazardly on a misshapen patch of grass, portaloo in the corner, shower cubicle festooned with clusters of someone else’s hair, miscellaneous dance music crackling from poor quality speakers, man over there naked bar for magenta shorts etc. I was even given a purple wrist band when I arrived.

I was thinking about taking a rest day here but Wasaga makes me feel old. I do not care for the live DJs, foam parties, or recreational drugs on offer. Give me the quiet lakeside spot where the loudest noise is the call of a loon, and the night air is filled only with the smoke of my smouldering campfire.

The best thing about cycle touring is that I can leave tomorrow. In search of my loon and campfire.

A day in the life

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

Day 41: Tobermory to Owen Sound (123.5km)

A day in the life…

7am woke up and crawled to porch of tent to make fresh coffee. Decided to increase usual allowance of 4 x peanut butter crackers to 6 on account of yesterday evening’s lack of dinner. And lack of any lunch items in pannier.

Just before 9am said goodbye to the Wanderers. It was been very enjoyable and entertaining to cycle with them. But this was always supposed to be a solo adventure so adventure forth I must with renewed Spirit of Adventure.

9am set forth with renewed Spirit of Adventure south down Highway 6.

9.40am turned right towards Bruce Peninsula national park. Headed on 12 km side trip, followed by 2km walk, followed by short yet mildly terrifying bouldering session on sea cliffs to reach secluded grotto.

Sparkling waters of Bruce Peninsula

Sparkling waters of Bruce Peninsula

10am secluded grotto humming with Chinese tourists. Nonetheless enjoyed view of clear waters sparking in the sunshine. Ate 1 x protein bar.

11am accosted by passerby interested in my trip. Start cycling again. Feel peckish almost instantly. Wonder how far it is to any form of lunch.

12am ish bashed in face by flying bug. Bemoan loss of sunglasses. Resolve to buy bug-shaped sunglasses in Wasaga to protect larger surface of face from flying bugs. Stop to munch energy bar and 5 x dates.

1pm wonder if I am hallucinating or whether that is indeed the outline of the Wanderers in the distance behind me. Hallucination disappears. Start feeling very peckish again. Pull in at small convenience store to discover whole shop stocked with endless varieties of crisps (translation: chips) and fishing gear. No fresh fruit inside. Leave store empty handed.

2pm feeling famished. 56km cycled so far, plus walk, boulder etc. pull in at roadside cafe. Accosted by woman sitting on table opposite who asks polite questions about trip. And, upon revealing my Englishness, whether Kate Middleton has given birth yet. Eat grilled veg and gigantic “side portion” of chips (translation: fries). Regret not getting the side salad.

3pm ish sudden arrival of awful pain in abdomen. Would think it is horrendous period pain bar for totally wrong timing. Decide it must be food poisoning. Spot shady spot at roadside. Take 15 minute power nap to relief pain in abdomen.

3.30pm abdomen pain continues. Eat mango fruit bar in effort to restore self. Little avail. Listen to Missy Higgins on iPod to distract from pain. Continue cycling.

Turn left and enter long, long section of construction. Bump over rough pavement trying to imagine I am pedalling Paris –> Roubaix. Bumping not helping abdomen pain. Listen to Raffi. Find Raffi songs successful antidote to cycling over bumps in pain.

5pm ish. Wonder when on earth I will ever get to Owen Sound. Realise Google maps lied to me at lunchtime and it is 8km further than I expected. Swerve to avoid dead raccoon on roadside.

Hailed down by man on roadside calling “are you Dino?” Surprised by own fame. Man and wife sport bike carrier on car. Claim they know Katie Wanderer (this rings a bell) and ask if I know where they are. Give man Katie’s telephone number, turn down offer of ride into town and pedal off. Worry that man might have been cyber stalker rather than genuine friend and worry for Wanderer safety. Distracted by joyful remembrance of Unopened Box of Jelly Belly beans in pannier. Open and eat. Smile.

Listen to more Raffi while bumping on awful road surface towards Owen Sound.

Just before 6pm see supermarket and beer store. Make beeline for supermarket and restock on fresh fruit and ravioli.

Just after 6pm. Realise beer store closes at 6pm and regret not prioritising beer over fresh fruit. Cycle last 10km or so to campsite. Reach very big hill. Ponder Sod’s law that big hills arrive only after panniers are freshly laden with produce.

6.30pm arrive at campsite and purchase ginger ale (non alcoholic) to make up for lack of beer. Drink ginger ale and eat Morning Glory muffin. Resolve to experiment with more muffin flavours at home. Pitch tent. Shower and successfully shave legs without shaving off any mosquito bites.

8pm eat bowl of ravioli with fresh pesto. Eat half a pint of yoghurt. Eat half a bag of cherries. Blog, then probably read more of Victoria Pendleton’s autobiography on Kindle. Get early night. Sleep well.

P.s. day in the life style of blog inspired by Kat Stanbridge who is also currently cycling across Canada. She writes a v good blog: www.katstanbridge.wordpress.com

Dreaming of England

July 21st, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Day 40: Whitefish Falls to Tobermory (97.5 km)

Darkness. Then brilliant white light, the stunning silhouette of the trees. And darkness again.

I’ve never seen a heat storm before. We were standing outside our tents in the dry, warm evening, wearing just our pjs (or what passes for pjs while cycle-touring). The dramatic interplay of light and dark, white and night was awesome. But it was also bed time so I crept back inside my tent to sleep.

Then the storm came overhead. It wasn’t just heat any more. Rain as powerful as bullets fired against the side of my tent, battered by the wind. I felt like I was on a sailing boat: quickly I set to work shutting the hatches of my tent, closing zips, checking my kit bags were sealed and safely inside. There was no need for a head torch – the lightning itself exploded light across the tent. The thunder roared like a line of canons firing into the night sky. Then a booming crack of thunder, right above our damp, tiny tents, exploded like dynamite. Oh no, why did I camp near a tree.

I stuck in my ear plugs and tried to catch some sleep in the midst of the warzone of weather. Nonetheless I was awoken again in the night by the rain lashing on the tent. But in the morning, thankfully, my little green tent had withstood the test of the storm.

In the morning it was calm. My tent was covered in slugs. The trees, the grass, everywhere was all wet so there was nowhere to hang out my tent to dry. I tried as much as I could to flap and shake off the remaining slugs. But sadly and glumly I packed a wet tent.

My knickers and sports bra which I had worn to go swimming in yesterday had been “drying overnight” on Monty. Both were now soaking wet again. I strapped them onto the back of my bike so they could dry off as I cycled along. Off we set on the road south to Manitoulin island. For a moment I was enjoying myself and anticipating the scenic views of the island.

Oh, except then the rain came.

Again it felt like being on a boat, zipping up the flaps of my jacket and trying, in vain, to stay dry as the rain lashed down like pellets. Cycling felt okay to begin with but I soon began to struggle. I was zapped for energy. Usually this problem is fixed by eating a protein bar but on this occasion I was just so, so tired..

Cycling over the swing bridge to Manitoulin island I tried to appreciate the damp views of the rocky coastline. Its a real shame that the weather was so bad as I was looking forward to seeing the island. Jutting out into the north of Lake Huron, Manitoulin is the largest fresh water island in the world. Hay bales lay in the fields, wild grasses intruded into the road, mauve clouds loomed overhead bringing rain, then drizzle, then rain again. And of course there was a headwind. My average speed slipped slower and slower.

I stopped in a lay-by and ate a few mouthfuls of leftover chilli while sheltering in the public washroom. (Why has hanging out in washrooms had to become such a feature of this trip?) I hoped the refuelling would boost my energy but after such a broken night’s sleep I was too tired to push. My eyelids slowly flickered shut. I pushed a few pedal strokes, trying to keep my eyes open. The hills ascended. The wind pushed against me. A dead cat lay on the side of the road. It started raining again. Goose pimples appeared on my skin as the wind blew the cold rain off. My socks and gloves were soaked. My hands had turned to prunes and the skin felt sore as I gripped tightly on the wet handlebars.

Yes, this was the lowest I have felt all summer. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine that I wasn’t here. I tried to imagine to that I was playing Settlers with Seb and Ruth while drinking hot chocolate in our new flat. I tried to imagine that instead of being soaked through in unwashed Lycra I was wearing my soft, warm koala onesie. I opened my eyes: it was still raining.

I stopped to eat M&Ms. My hands felt too numb and weak to open the packet. i tried ripping the corner with my mouth. The packet burst open and a handful of M&Ms fell into the wet gravel. I could have cried. From that spot on I stopped every 8 kilometres to eat a handful of M&Ms. Those chocolate peanuts saved me.

Inch by inch, M&M by M&M, I crawled slowly towards the ferry port. With only a few kilometres to go to South Baymouth (and almost none of my family-sized pack of chocolate peanuts left) it stopped raining and the sun almost came out. I noticed a public beach with a nice, dry spot to sit and a railing. So after laying out my tent to dry on the railing, I lay my exhausted body in the shade of the flapping fly and snoozed.

The quick sleep gave me the energy to cycle to the ferry port. The small town of South Baymouth reminds me of coastal England. Gulls circled over the numerous signs for icecream and fish and chips. Waves rolled and crashes slowly on the grey rocks. The only thing missing was a sunburnt woman wearing an unflattering strappy top and bald man drinking beer.

It was nice that it reminded me of England as today, in the rain, cold, exhaustion etc, I had moments of really wishing I was not so far from home. On the ferry to Tobermory I feel asleep. And probably dreamt of England.

Congregation of cyclists

July 20th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Day 39: Blind River to Whitefish Falls (127.5 km)

I woke up to the sound of rain pattering on my tent. Oh well, I thought, turning over to catch another half an hour’s sleep. Oh eek, I thought, a second later jumping out the tent in just my underwear to rescue my bike shorts that had been left outside overnight to “dry” on Monty.

I found the Wanderers curled up in the washroom eating breakfast. This has become something of a feature of the trip: rainy mornings hiding in washrooms. The only plus side of the rain was that it wasn’t so hot. We’ve had a couple of really, really hot (over 30 degree ) days. It’s been tough to cycle in. The recent heat has also caused heat rash on my bottom. Specially, on the spots where bum meets leg meets saddle. Signs of it first emerged a couple of days ago. First I was a bit perplexed because it doesn’t look or feel like normal cyclist’s chafe. But it hurts. It feels like I am sitting on a stone. I climb out the saddle and sit down again, trying to find a more comfortable spot but it soon gets sore again. It made for an uncomfortable day’s riding all day.

After a very large coffee in Tim Hortons with Kat we set off cycling along muggy, drizzly highway. There isn’t much to say about the scenery today. Mostly just undulating hills, lots more traffic, a thin shoulder, some trees, some signposts, an overcast sky etc.

While cycling in northern Ontario I’ve been thinking of the plentiful wild camping opportunities. I feel like I should wild camp on this trip. Riding with Kat she told me the experiences of two guys who wild camped in Canada. Here’s why Kat is not about to wild camp in Ontario…

Reason #1: Kat met a man cycling across Canada west who decided to wild camp. He had left an apple in his tent. In the middle of the night a bear sniffed him out, swiped his claw through the canvas, grabbed the apple, starred the man down and slumped off into the forest. Eek.

Reason #2: Kat met another man cycling across Canada who decided to wild camp in the Middle of Nowhere. He was located miles from anywhere, hidden away in the forest, invisible from the road. In the middle of the night he was woken up by the violent shaking of his tent. He unzipped his tent to find a homeless man. “What are you doing?” The camper exclaimed. “I couldn’t open the zip,” the homeless man replied. Without further explanation he wandered off into the forest.

Oh. So maybe I won’t wild camp.

After 100km of riding I turned right off the highway towards Manitoulin island. I arrived in the town of Espanola and headed to one of the town’s 3 grocery stores to pick up supplies. Somewhere between the chicken and the fruit I bumped into the Wanderers. Then near the potatoes I saw Kat again. Outside, packing up Monty, I spotted another two cyclists who came over to chat. They are a slightly eccentric American duo cycling from Seattle to Boston. And then, just as I was packed, a small family cycling across Canada from Vancouver with their 10 year old son rolled in.

That’s right: 5pm on a Thursday outside a grocery store in a small town in northern Ontario gathered a total of 9 trans continental cyclists. It’s a small world.

The cyclists hang out

The cyclists hang out

Out of Espanola the landscape quickly changed again. It was hot, very hot. and the air smelt of wet grassland and salt. Suddenly it was very hilly. I rued the large amount of groceries I’d purchased as I pushed down into my lowest gears.

Headed towards Manitoulin the landscape become hilly and beautiful again

Headed towards Manitoulin the landscape become hilly and beautiful again

After a long day on the road the Wanderers and I swung into the campground. It was an odd sort of place.

“Is there a shower?” I asked.
“Only a cold shower,” the lady replied, “or you can just swim in the river. I think there’s an inflatable dinosaur down at the waterfront and you are welcome to make use of that.”
“And where is the washroom?”
“It’s in the stone building. Or you can just bag your loo paper and go wherever.”
Erm… Thanks.

I didn’t make use of the inflatable dinosaur, but I did go for a swim in the river. Some Canada geese were floating downstream, the light was lower in the sky, a number of coloured boats were lined up on the grassy banks on either side. It reminded me for a minute of swimming in the Thames.

Fuelled by maple syrup

July 18th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Day 38: Sault Ste. Marie to Blind River (134.5 km)

I haven’t eaten enough pancakes or maple syrup on this trip. In fact, before today I don’t think I’ve eaten any pancakes and only a small amount of maple syrup has entered my mouth, mounted on some other variety of wheat-based foodstuff.

This morning at the campground I met a nice man wearing a triathlon tshirt who, it turns out, has done no fewer than 3 ironman triathlons. And he is training for his 4th. I have by this point decided that doing an ironman shall be my next challenge. So it was good to chat to him and hear his tips.

Heading out of the Soo, I’d been advised by the folks at the bike store to take the scenic route off the main highway. I’d also heard that it was going to be “flat”.

It was not flat. Okay, there were patches of flat but the gravel road I was on managed to seek out every bump and hill and traverse them at the worst possible angle. For the first time since Vancouver I also had to – shock, horror – navigate. Usually I am on the same road for the entire day. Or entire week. The twists and turns (okay there were only about 6) had me reaching for the GPS which slowed me down.

Nonetheless it was the scenic route and in hindsight I’m glad I took it. I could enjoy the pastoral scenes as I passed through Mennonite country. The landscape had changed significantly since yesterday. Gone are the rocks and forests. The scene today was agricultural with views of wooden, red-painted barns surrounded by fields of fresh hay bales. Swallows dipped and dived over the crops while a flock of sparrows flew from the water tower. All day I saw road signs warning drivers of horses and carts (which also served to warn me and Monty of the house droppings on the road…) And here and there along the roadside were small stalls selling fresh eggs and maple syrup.

image

Maple syrup! How have I been in Canada for so long and not eaten more maple syrup? Thinking back I can only recall eating maple syrup on French toast back in Hope. That was over a month ago. Outraged by my lack of the sweet stuff when I rolled into town and saw Kat in a restaurant I decided to rectify the situation. And the maple pancakes tasted so good. Nom nom nom.

The Wanderers rolled into the restaurant a short while later and we rested for a a while from the heat of the day. The four of us set off together but soon our different speeds split us up. I was feeling good from the pancakes so kept riding. I have realised from the last few days of cycling by myself that if I feel good I should not stop. After all the pancakes (and a few energy gel sweets) I felt very good. So I kept going…

And going. And then I realised, rolling up and down the smooth undulating terrain, that I could do 50 kilometres without taking my feet of the pedals. So carried on. At this point I figured out how to swap round a third water bottle so I could carry on drinking while riding. And I kept pedalling,

I arrived at the campsite just outside of Blind River having cycled 67km without a break. Which I guess is about 3 hours of continuous exercise and thus some sort of personal record.

Kat and the Wanderers pulled into the campsite a little later. We hung around, eating dinner together. It was a nice end to very good day on the road.

This is Kat

This is Kat

Ps Kat’s blog is www.katstanbridge.wordpress.com
The Wanderers’ blog is www.wanderersonwheels.com