Dino's blog for mini adventures and endurance challenges
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Dry dreams

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

Day 70: Baddeck to Linwood (99.5 km)

“You do know it’s going to rain ALL day.”

The woman peered down at me along a long, beak-like nose.

Yes, I do know. But I also know that there is going to be a strong north easterly wind. I am not missing out on the opportunity of being blown by 35km per hour gusting winds all the way to the mainland.

Last night I actually dreamt about tent drying. The dreams were so exciting that they woke me up several times. THAT is how exciting my life is. Thanks to good luck and ingenuity (of hanging the tent under a porch) I managed to pack up a dry tent.

I faffed enjoyably for over an hour in the campsite common room, enjoying the free coffee and wifi while delaying the moment I’d have to hit the road. Eventually I got a tweet from David asking me if i was on the road yet. David is another trans-Canada cyclist who I know from Twitter. Following each others’ blogs, we worked out that today we would pass each other as I head west to the mainland and he heads east to Newfoundland.

Only a few kilometres down the road I spotted the outline of a man on a bike with a trailer and I crossed over to meet him. I’d never met David before this roadside encounter but it felt like bumping into an old friend as we shared a swig of scotch, a handful of M&Ms and our stories of the road. David said he felt like we were about to graduate. We are “the class of 2013″. This journey across Canada has been mixed with so many other people’s journeys: David’s, the Wanderers’, Nicholas’, Kat’s. I will remember these people as though they were school mates I grew up with.

Being this close to the finish, David and I discussed what it would feel like to be back at work. Then a shadow appeared in the sky. The bald eagle swooped down and tilted in flight, revealing the width of its magnificent wings. Our conservation faltered as we stopped and stared. The eagle curved in the sky over the far lake before disappearing.

David hydrating for the road ahead.

David hydrating for the road ahead.

I cycled off in high spirits, thinking of what David had said and savouring the time on the road. The wind was strong as it pushed me up the highway hills. The rain started soon enough. The sky was a blank, cold grey. But I cycled along with a grin on my face.

My happiness grew when I discovered a large slab of Nanaimo bar for sale. Upon first chomp I declared it less tasty than my mother’s but I still managed to polish off a good third of the slab within 1 meter from the store’s exit. The rest didn’t last much longer.

Throughout the afternoon I cycled through a grey, fine rain. Monty’s tyres made the familiar slink noise as they splashed along the wet highway. The monochrome vista of Bras d’Or lake disappeared as I climbed over the inland hills back to the Causo causeway that I crossed a few days back.

Since it was raining I cheekily asked if I could eat inside the tourist info. As a bonus from being dry and warm, the tourist info also offered me free wifi and a big leather sofa still warm from the previous occupants’ bottoms. Best lunch location of the whole trip.

Over the causeway the land was obscured by drizzle. During the last few miles it seemed to get colder and wetter. Until by the campground I was bordering on that line which, under circumstances when I am not outlandishly happy, would have pushed me into a Grump.

I wanted to eat dinner but it was raining outside and I dare not cook in my tent porch for fear of flames, death etc. Looking for the only cover I could find I squeezed myself under a picnic bench. You might think “my, that must have been a big picnic bench.” It was not. I am, on occasions such as this, grateful for being so short.

Kraft dinner consumed, I broke a light stick for cheer and fell asleep to the sound of the rain drumming on my tent flaps. Doubtless to be consumed by more dreams of tent drying.

Shuffle into Cape Breton Highlands

August 28th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Day 67: Cheticamp Island to Corney Brook (26km)

I’m scared.

I’m scared because the land around me pitches up into the sky. I haven’t seen anything this steep since the Rockies. The road curves around the voluptuous folds of earth. Tomorrow I must cycle.

I’m scared because I’m not sure that I will make it. But I need to, have to. I am alone here and there is nobody to pick me up. If I can’t cycle up French Mountain then I will walk it.

This is what I wrote the night I camped at Corney Brook, a basic campground nestled between the gulf of the St Lawrence and the looming French Mountain. It was supposed to be a rest day but I decided that, rather than fret all day on Cheticamp Island about the looming ride ahead, I would shuffle forward 26km to make the ride along the Cabot Trail less epic.

I still managed to fit in some of the fixtures of a rest day. I did my laundry in the worst manner possible. I realised once I had trekked all the way over to the laundrette that I had forgot my camp soap. Oh well, I guess this normal soap will do, I thought, breaking off a few lumps with my fingers and smearing them on my tshirt. It was only when the clothes were hanging on my self-made washing line that I noticed the lumps of normal soap were exactly where I had smeared them. The tissue I had left in my short pocket was now in tiny flecks of white scattered over everything. If I’d had time I would have washed it again. But I didn’t. And since it actually smelt nice and clean, the soap smears and tissue fluff remain.

Another fixture of a good rest day is to have a good campfire and a beer. The problem with that was that the basic campground I was shuffling to did not sell firewood. I had purchased firewood on Cheticamp island but, as per usual, not burnt half of it. It seemed a waste to leave it behind so i set about strapping in together with an ingenious set of knots and affixing it onto Monty. It weighed an absolute ton but I was quite chuffed with myself.

Monty becomes firewood mule

Monty becomes firewood mule

On route to the campground I passed through Cheticamp village and picked up a beer which I would late leave to chill hidden under a rock in the brook. I was all set for a lovely afternoon.

Blimey the hills. No sooner had I rounded the corner out of the village, over the rocky river and into the national park when the contours started to riot like the noise visualisation on a booming stereo system. It’s not called the Cape Breton Highlands for nothing. The road swept and twisted like a rollercoaster over the hills and plonked me down at the campground at the very bottom of French Mountain.

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After a small afternoon snooze and exploration of the pebbled shore, I opened my beer and began cooking my beans and spider dogs on the campfire. I noticed a family had arrived and was setting up their gigantic tent in the pitch next door. The daughter was looking for firewood but finding none. I had just finished my last spider dog when the the Mom and daughter came over.

“We’ve made too much food and wondered if you’d like to have some?”

Second Dinner!? Yes, please. I wandered over and was given a healthy portion of spaghetti with fresh mussels and shrimps.

“I’ve never eaten mussels before,” I commented. And Dad gave me a quick tutorial in how to eat them.

It turned out that it was the daughter’s thirteenth birthday. So she had got to pick what they had for dinner. They wanted to have a fire but didn’t have enough wood.

“I saw your firewood,” Dad said, “so figured they must sell it here because you wouldn’t carry firewood on a bike. Especially here, up those hills.”

Oh, but I did.

I invited them over to “mine” for a campfire dessert and rushed home to tidy up my fireplace so that there was a clean space for them to sit. Thankfully I had ample ingredients for s’mores so I was very pleased to be able to share them with the birthday girl. She didn’t get a cake but she did get to toast some s’mores. And a few marshmallows caught fire so she had blow them out like a candle. What a great birthday.

To Cheticamp Island

August 26th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Day 66: Port Hood to Cheticamp Island (95.5km)

Is 11am on a Sunday morning too early to drink whisky?

After yesterday I think I needed it.

Canada does not stop amazing me. And you would have thought that after cycling across the Rocky Mountains, the prairies and the Canadian Shield then there would be no terrain left that I couldn’t pedal like the garden path. Think again.

Cape Breton is not the garden path. This terrain manages to combine the steepness of the Rockies with the relentless undulating mounds of the Canadian Shield and, as it showed yesterday, it can throw in a headwind reminiscent of the prairies. It’s a very good thing I’ve done 7,000 kilometres of training because this is Tough. There is not an inch of flat ground on this island.

I woke up this morning in my cosy little hut. Even before I’d shed my cocoon a flex of my leg told me that I would be in trouble today. My quads, hamstrings, piriformis all felt like they’d been through a mangler. You know that feeling when you hobble around the office the day after you’ve exerted yourself on something like a 10 mile run? You laugh merrily about what a fun weekend you had while all the time being extremely grateful that you get to spend the day sitting in a chair. My legs were not laughing merrily. You want me to cycle 100km today? They laughed, but it was in disbelief.

I was on the road by 8:45am. The road was empty save for a single exhausted cyclists with legs laughing in disbelief. The sky was empty save for a scrap of white cloud that looked like someone had pulled a comb through icing sugar. Since it was Sunday, the birds and butterflies were having a lie in and they did not stir from the wild flowers or flap from the bush as I pedalled past. The wind was tranquil. It was so quiet I could hear my own breath as I rasped up another steep incline. My legs burned with each upward pedal stroke.

Each five minutes of tormenting climb would be rewarded by one minute of fast descent. It seemed an unfair trade for my legs. My thighs dreamt of soaking in a hot bath and falling asleep in fresh sheets. But I know, when I am next bathing in Radox bubbles, I will dream of cycling in Nova Scotia again.

I stopped for supplies in a small town. The grocery store had decorated its foyer with a large stuffed moose head which peered over shoppers’ heads as they nipped in to get milk. I decided I needed to have at least one more campfire. So I purchased all the makings of a great Canadian campfire feast: baked beans in maple syrup (yes, that’s real), spider dogs, and s’more ingredients (chocolate, marshmallows, graham crackers).

After a further burst of cycling I pulled off at the entrance for the Glenora Distillery. This distillery, a cluster of white washed buildings festooned with the brightest ruby red flowers, produces the only single malt whisky in North America. Nova Scotia isn’t called Nova Scotia for nothing. Approximately 20% of the people claim Scottish heritage although that proportion is higher in areas like this. The distillery tour finished with a wee dram. I would have liked to have bought a bottle in the gift shop but I feared the extra weight on my panniers.

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The day continued to offer a blend of challenging hills, sunshine and, thankfully, calmer winds. As the road bent towards the coast I joined the Cabot Trail proper. I passed a number of small villages, their painted wooden houses facing the sea. Fishing boats bobbed in the harbour. A tangled turquoise pile of lobster pots stood for sale. Rocky, sloping headlands protruded into the surf.

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My destination for the evening was a sandy campground hidden in the corner of Cheticamp island. Cheticamp island isn’t an island any more. It was over a hundred years ago that the sand bar moved. Now a pile of rocks has turned the sand bar into a causeway connecting this sandy comma of island it to the rest of Cape Breton.

What a beautiful evening. I have waited 3 months for this evening: it is dark and I am still awake. The sky is clear but the moon is hidden. I am far enough away from anywhere that the land is dark. The bugs are in bed and I have a campfire to keep me warm. I lie on my back, nestled by the fire. The blue of the evening dims to the black of night. I look up as the full beauty of heaven’s cloth is unfolded across the sky.

I gaze up at the finest black velvet embroidered with a multitude of stars. Another star seem to have been sewn on each time I blink. The campfire crackles and purrs its way through another log. Bats fly overhead, darting like swallows. As I look up at the night star I wonder how small I am in all of this. Smaller than a pebble on a beach. Smaller than a leaf in the forest. Smaller than an island in the ocean, but still connected to the mainland.

Cumberland to Northumberland

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

Day 63: Cumberland Cove to Northumberland Cove (105km)

It may be amusing for English folk to know that today I cycled from Cumberland to Northumberland via Cornwall.

I woke up early enough to see the sunrise. The days are getting so much shorter now that orange slice of sun was only sliding through the far line of trees while I brewed my morning coffee. I set off at 8am along quiet roads. The early morning light tinted the agricultural landscape as if I were looking at the golden fields and rows of green potatoes through a glass jar of runny honey. The air was soft and hazy. It was also unexpectedly hilly.

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My legs are strong now, I can tell, as I tapped out another climb. Cresting over a hill would afford me views of the island, disappearing in bands of fading blue on the horizon in front. Wooden houses stood on farm fields and cows munched languidly in the fields. The soil here is as red as the coast. Farm trucks spray out a film of this rusty dust as they bump along the tracks back to the barn.

When I reached the town of Cornwall I knew it wasn’t much farther to Charlottetown. I had a number of jobs to do in Charlottetown as I had got into my head that this provincial capital would be the last busting metropolis I would meet until Halifax. First I had to swing by a bike to shop to get Monty a new tyre. Although they had the right tyre in stock (a Schwalbe Marathon Plus) they also gained the prize for being the first bike shop in Canada to charge me for labour. For putting my tyre on? Pah! I would have done it myself. I thought they were just being friendly. Oh well, job done and Monty is now happy.

Today I spent a ridiculous amount of money on protein bars. For those that think that cycling is “free” compared to the old motorcar please note: I spend more on protein bars per week cycling across Canada than I used to spend on gas (translation: petrol) per week at home. I now have enough protein bars that I can munch two a day for the rest of my trip. I nipped to the grocery store to stock up on crackers, avocado and Kraft dinner. My panniers now weighs a ton.

Jobs done, I headed to downtown Charlottetown. There were lots of tourists bimbling around the waterfront. I guess I am a tourist too as I sat in the shade by the wharf eating lobster roll and another icecream. I met a very bearded man with small round spectacles propped on the end of his nose and a yellow cycling jersey pulled snuggly over his round belly. He was from Montreal and was visiting his holiday home on Ile de la Madeleine. Everyone who has mentioned this island has enthuse with how beautiful it is. Floating north in the gulf of the St Lawrence it is closer to PEI than its home province, Quebec. It’s so far out the way that I cannot cycled there this time but it does give me an excuse to come back and explore more another time.

By the wharf stood Founders Hall. I felt a bit silly only nipping into the Founders Hall information centre to use the washroom and fill up my water bottles. Here is history! Here in 1864 delegates met to discuss confederation and Canada as we know it was born. But the muddy path of history sometimes leads from majestic moment of founding a nation to the mundane moment of nipping to refill. Hey ho. Best get cycling…

It was hilly this afternoon. I was not expecting such big hills. Up, down, and up again in 28 degree heat all afternoon was hard work and had me reaching for the emergency Skittles. I am beginning to worry a tad about the Cabot trail. I have been warned of “3 mountains” which are 15%. And over a cup of tea, friends of Aaron and Shelley told me that the Cabot trail was the hardest cycling in Canada. I believe them because these two cycled across Canada in 2008. That was how they met… and they are now married.

Oh but I have not cycled across anything that steep since Devon. And Devon is fiendish! And in Devon I was not hauling along a ton of protein bars. Wish me luck…

Just before I reached my campground I saw a liquor store so nipped in to get a local brew. David, another trans-Canada cyclist who is a few days ahead of me, had tweeted me to recommend this spot. And it is gorgeous. There is a red sandy shore dotted with slimey apple green rocks. A couple play in the rolling waves. A lone gull is flapping its way home. A boat’s horn sounds in the distance. You look out to the horizon. First you see a lighthouse blinking from the rocks and then a faint smudge of land.

I pitched my tent by the sea front and pondered what to do next: drink the beer or go for a swim in the sea? Tough decision.

The breakers crashed into my knee caps, splashing the cool, salty water up my sweaty, suncream sticky body. The sea was refreshing. I thought of childhood holidays in Cornwall. I had a body board and I used to paddle out into the salty waves of the Atlantic on it and ride back in under a hot blue sky. This water here is part of Northumberland Strait and looks over to the mainland and Nova Scotia. It is almost the Atlantic. It is almost far enough.

Tomorrow I will take the ferry over to my last and final province. The pull of the sea is great. Soon enough I will be by the sea again but this time, if the world could only be squashed flat, then it would be England I could see on the far shore. And Rock, Padstow and the sandy beaches of the original Cornwall. Home is soon to be in sight.

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Foraging for mushrooms

August 23rd, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (1 Comments)

Day 61: Miramichi to Sainte Marie de Kent (90km)

As a general rule of thumb, in Canada the cycling days have been glorious and the rest days have been spent wishing I was on the bike. My ride to Sainte Marie de Kent and subsequent rest day broke that rule, in the nicest way possible.

The day’s cycling was fine but largely uneventful. There had been no threat of rain so I’d slept with the tent flaps open and thus had a bone dry condensation free tent to pack up in the morning. Monty and I set off along the main highway. The highway isn’t actually very exciting. Is just a strip of grey Tarmac that bounces up and over the hills and through the forest. Every now and again I would pass through a small village decked out in Acadian flags. Some villages had painted the trunks of their electricity pylons in the Acadian colours. They really are quite patriotic.

All around I could smell the piney, green fragrance of the forest. Soon enough I arrived in the town of Richibucto where the fragrance of the forest was interrupted by the strong scent of the sea. An aggressive line up of gulls watched over me while I ate my lunch by the small harbour. After a short snooze, ended by an extra loud screech from a gull, it was time to get pedalling again.

My lodgings for the night came into view down a long, bumpy track cutting between a riot of wild bushes. I was essentially in the middle of glorious nowhere. At the end of the track, a large trailer stood in front of an old white house. Aaron, Shelley and their young son were out at a farming conference when I arrived but I was greeted by a very cheery note and muffins.

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I wandered around the back of the house to where a line of washing was hanging up. There was a very large veg patch, stuffed with tangled towers of green beans, green tomatoes, neat lines of onions bursting through the soil, and a lively proliferation of leaves and squashes exploding out the patch. I went over to say hello to the chickens and the three goats (named Hans, Goat String and Tweedledum).

When Aaron and Shelley returned home they offered me the sofa, the tent or the mosquito net to sleep in. The night looked to be bright and clear so I opted for the mosquito net.

As it fell dark I set about gathering kindling for the fire. A bright full moon cast bean-pole shaped shadows across the freshly mown grass. A chorus of insects buzzed in the background as the pop of the fire flung sparks into the sky. I chucked some grass on the fire to create some smoke to deter the bugs. It gave off a nice smell too. Aaron and Shelley came out the house and sat by the fire. We toasted some marshmallows. It grew late, though no darker thanks to the moon. When Aaron and Shelley retired to bed I snuck into my sleeping bag and fell asleep with the brilliant moon arching south west across the sky. The birds had stopped singing, the chickens had long since gone to roost, the goats bleated for a while but soon quietened down. Only the faint chorus of insects, their buzzing amplified by the silence, remained.

I was woken up when the cockerel called. The sun hadn’t yet risen but the eastern sky was a palette of artist’s colours. Wandering around, capturing the morning light on my camera I woke up the goats who jumped up on the fencing bleating. I worried they might escape again.

My rest day was perfectly restful. In the morning we went blueberry picking and in the afternoon we went on a successful forage for chanterelles. After that I had a lazy nap under the mosquito net until it was time for dinner and therefore time to munch the chanterelles. In the evening I again fell asleep under the gaze of the moon. The only difference this evening was that the evening soundscape missed the bleating from the goats. Hans, Goat String and Tweedledum had, just before dinner, been picked up by the butcher. They will return in freezer bags.

I couldn’t have wished for a better rest day and am very grateful to my kind hosts for having me stay.

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Blown to Quebec City

August 11th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Day 53: Pontneuf to Quebec City (69.5km)

What is that? I woke up in the middle of the night to a flashing light and muttering. I peered out the flat in my tent to see three dark figures sitting on my picnic bench. Monty was locked to that picnic table. They were speaking a strange, unfamiliar language. No, not French. Or Russian. It sounded sort of Eastern European though. The light was due to the campfire they had started. I unzipped the flap a bit more to get a better view. Monty looked to be okay.

It never ceases to amaze me why people, when given the choice of 3 picnic benches, will choose to sit on the one with someone else’s bike locked to it when there are another 2 benches available nearer their tent. I’m sure they were just BBQing but what if a globule of beef fat leapt off the BBQ and splashed onto Monty? I am sure he is a vegetarian bike.

I fell into a unease sleep of weird dreams. Thankfully, the thunderstorm that I had seen strobing on the far horizon when I’d gone to bed never passed overhead.

An early start meant I was on the road just after 8am. I have no idea how I managed to pack up so quickly. Usually the first two hours of the day are spent faffing with bits of kit and nipping repeatedly between my litre bottle of strong coffee and the toilet. Not so today.

My tent flapped dry quickly this morning. Because, oh boy, it was windy. Usually the wind takes a while to get going but this morning it managed to blow my tent off the line while I was packing up.

The fleurs-de-lys flags of Quebec, straightened by the wind, pointed in the direction I was going. I barely pedalled. I was just pushed along at high speed by the gusting wind. I flew past roadside stalls selling freshly picked strawberries and sweet corn.

I stopped by the river for second breakfast. There were white caps on the St Lawrence as the strong westerly wind caught the water, dashing the waves against the bank. Wind surfers were out gliding to and fro.

Note windsurfers on the river

Note windsurfers on the river

All morning I was overtaken by cyclists. Usually I don’t let myself be overtaken and chase after the offending cyclist. Today I didn’t bother to do anything except say “bonjour” to the roadies who sped by on their Cannondales and Pinarellos. I would assess their gastrocnemius and decide whether, if I riding a Pinarello rather than a loaded mule, I could cycle that fast. Today I was content to coast.

Going into Quebec, I had to ascend a few sharp hills but mostly it was flat as I merrily pedalled along. The paths and parks that bordered the St Lawrence were bustling with Saturday morning folks out cycling, skating, packing away their windsurfers, stopping for a picnic on the bench, taking a photograph of the intriguing artwork in the path. Soon the famous bits of Quebec became visible as I came round past the port. The cliffs! I imagined General Wolfe climbing these steep, rocky slopes up the side of the city to fight the French.

I knew that unfortunately famous cliffs also meant famously steep hill up to my hostel. But first I needed to sort out Monty.

I scooted into a bike shop. I had bought a new chain in Montreal but it was skipping so I switched back to the old chain. I needed a new cassette.

Amazingly I managed to have an entire conversation with the bike mechanic in French. Admittedly I had practised a bit of the vocab with John but it all went well.

“C’est plus chere parce que c’est XT, eh?”

I know what you’re thinking: fluent.

Having forked out a small fortune for a shiny bit of metal, Monty is now fashioning a brand new 11-32 shimano XT 9 speed rear cassette. Whoop. To test it and the new chain out we fought up a hill that resembled a cliff edge. I am amazed we did not fall off backwards. The chain and cassette survived.

I dropped Monty off at the hostel and wandered into the old part of the city. Old buildings! I had forgotten that buildings could be old. The old stone and narrow-ish twisting lanes of the old city give Quebec a European flavour that I have been missing. I joined the hordes of tourists bimbling around Rue St Jean and stopped to be highly entertained by a busker capable of juggling 7 batons. (I’ve never seen anyone juggle so many.) The traffic was dammed by the meandering tourists and the occasional horse-drawn carriage. I found a beer but I have yet to find any poutine.

Chateau Frontenac - probably where the Wanderers stayed

Chateau Frontenac – probably where the Wanderers stayed

Old streets and modern traffic

Old streets and modern traffic

Goodbye Montreal

August 9th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Day 51: Montreal to Louiseville (109km)

The tailwind is gently pushing me along. The sun warms the skin of my back. A few whispy feathers of cloud float in the sky. Cornfields grow tall in the not-to-hot sunshine. The bike path along the river is flat. The road is quiet, the traffic considerate. This would be the most beautiful day’s cycling, but I can barely see the road through the tears in my eyes.

Why am I here? Why do I have to cycle today? The toned, muscularity of my shoulders and legs belies the weakness underneath. I feel like I am wearing a heavy cloak. Tears fall down my face as Monty pedals on. It feels like I am leaving home.

Montreal has been the highlight of my trip. In the last 3 days I have discovered a local fungi market stall, cooked spaghetti carbonara with 3 different species of fungi, chatted about bike fitting, touring and frame welding in the friendliness bike shop downtown. I’ve slept in a warm bed, eaten smoked salmon for brunch, sampled crime brûlée ice cream and clocked up 60km of pedalling around the city’s bike paths. But Montreal has felt more like home because the Millers (all of them) have made me feel so welcome.

Fungi stall at Jean Talon market

Fungi stall at Jean Talon market

I didn’t leave Montreal until 12noon. I packed so slowly, delayed for a bit and let the time pass. But isn’t it so late now that I should just stay here and leave tomorrow? In the haven of the Millers’ apartment, my body has relaxed these last few days and the peaceful, comfortable rest has unveiled the exhaustion that lies underneath. My body craves sleep.

But I had to leave Montreal today because I now have a flight to catch. My plans have changed because the ferry that I was intending to take to Argentia, Newfoundland, (but thankfully hadn’t booked) had been cancelled for the “next few weeks”. This is because one of the other Marine Atlantic ferries, on the more popular route to Port-aux-basques, crashed and so the Argentia ferry was moved over to the shorter crossing while the damage boat is repaired. Marine Atlantic seem to have made a complete muck up of handling the situation and information on the revised ferry schedule has been thin on the ground. In fact, if it wasn’t for Katie Wanderer I won’t even have known! Anyway, cycling from Port-aux-Basques to St John’s would take at least an extra week – a week I don’t have. So I have decided that I will meet the coast and finish my trip in Halifax. I will still have time for a final flourish around the Cabot Trail but finishing in Halifax will also allow me to nip to Toronto for a couple of days before I fly back to England. All I need to do now is cycle to the Atlantic coast. To be honest, that’s all I’ve been doing for the last 2 months.

John guided me along the bike path for the first part of my journey out of Montreal. I would have loved him to carry on pedalling for the next 2,000km but he just laughed and hugged me goodbye. My mini tours around the islands of Montreal with John have been some of the most relaxed, enjoyable rides of the whole trip.

I can’t really remember most of the ride. I was crying too much that my tears blurred my vision and didn’t see what was around me. Monty carried me out the city, along the bike path, over a bridge, through some construction and out into the country. I only came-to after about 40km when my stomach started rumbling. I stopped for a muffin (homemade with love, which nearly set me off again) and nibbled some grapes.

Miller muffins: the best in the world

Miller muffins: the best in the world

I was loosely aware that it was a perfect day for cycling (sunshine, not too hot, tailwind etc). Monty kept on going. Then I saw blueberries by the side of the road. I love blueberries. I even managed to understand what the Blueberry Man was saying to me in French. Just as I was getting peckish again we found a picnic spot with a shaded bench and a refreshingly cold water tap overlooking the river. Another muffin entered my mouth, followed by a large handful of blueberries. A friendly couple wandered over to say hello and ask about my trip.

Yes I ate all of them.

Yes I ate all of them.

Each warm smile from a passing cyclist, each bite of muffin and each gusting tailwind unpeeled another thin layer off my miserable coating. Slowly I was beginning to remember that this was fun. Passing over the main highway, I didn’t turn back west to Montreal.

I arrived at the campground. I was greeted first by a sign on the door declaring “bienvenue cyclistes”, followed by a cheery “Bonsoir!” as the proprietor came out the office.

“Let me show you where to camp,” she said in English. She led me round to the river. And pointed at a perfectly cut grassy site bordering the river, complete with picnic bench and gazebo. I looked around the rest of the campground. This was definitely the best spot. My jaw fell.

“Install yourself here.”

“It’s beautiful.” I muttered.

“Yes,” she confirmed, “this is the best site. I save it for women and cyclists.”

At this point a smile spread across my face and with it the final layer of misery peeled off. Bar for the emotion trauma of leaving the friendliest household in Canada, today has been a perfect day of cycle touring.

Monty gets his own gazebo to sleep under

Monty gets his own gazebo to sleep under

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.

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.

image

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.

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.