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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.

Lake Superior

July 17th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Day 36: Wawa to Lake Superior (93km)

The water is as clear as cut glass. Wading out chest deep into the lake you can still see your toes as clearly as if you were on bare earth. Rainbow stripes of sunshine refracted by the waves shine on the white sand beneath your feet. The wind stirs the fringe of the lake, rustling against the smooth pebbles on the shore.

Welcome to Agawa Bay. The sky is so bright it is luminous. Yet to the south you can see the right handed sliver of a half moon. Two kayaks paddle home from an adventure. A couple sit on deck chairs further up the beach, admiring the endless view of Superior.

Canada. Here I am surrounded by nature and wilderness. Tonight will be one of the first time on this trip that I am camping by myself. If I hadn’t already pitched my tent I think I would fight the bugs sleeping on the beach. I will sit here at least until sunset: the perfect end to a beautiful day in Canada.

Today I went cove hopping along the north shore of Lake Superior. I stopped for Second Breakfast (a fresh orange and a protein bar) at Old Woman’s Bay. Then later I ate lunch at Catherine’s cove, a sandy bar hidden in the folds of the Superior provincial park. I dipped my feet in the warming waters of the lake, testing the temperature for my later swim.

Catherine's Cove. I would not advise cycling on sand. The wheels have a tendency to sink.

Catherine’s Cove. I would not advise cycling on sand. The wheels have a tendency to sink.

It has been a hot day for cycling. The Tarmac shimmered ahead in the intense heat. Sweat rolled down my bare, tanned shoulders. It has been so hot that my precious M&Ms have escaped their sugar coating and melted into a mucky mush in their pouch. No bears or moose spotted today – doubtless they are hiding in a cool bit of shade. I did spot another odd creature though in the form a cyclists. A man, cycling by himself, who although very friendly and chatty appeared to be slowly succumbing to the effects of Being By Oneself For Too Long. You talk too rapidly, too keenly and then pause, stuck for conversation. The dialogue twists awkwardly as it meanders through the mind of someone who has only had to cope with their own thoughts, not the speech of others, for the last 2 weeks. I wonder when I shall become like that.

I cycled past a trio of lakes. First I reached Dad Lake. I got exciting thinking that next to Dad Lake there might be a Dad Rock sign which could be photographed for next year’s Father’s Day card. Instead appeared a sign for Baby Lake. And shortly after Mom Lake. I pondered who had named these lakes, wondering if there were any other Lake Children around. Later on in the day my heart fell when I saw a lonely sign pointing off deep into the forest: Orphan Lake.

You know you have cycled a ridiculously long way when cycling 93 km feels like a “rest day”. Yet today’s sublime views of Superior from the inlets and hills tops along the north shore distracted me from the effort of pedalling. After less than 5 hours of cycling I pulled into the campground. Yes, it is daylight robbery to stay here (€38 per night – that’s about £25!) but the view of the now setting sun across the lake is priceless.

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Campfires etc

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

Day 30: Atikokan to Kashabowie (98.5 km)

“Do you ladies need a hand?”

Clearly.

A large man, with larger-than-my-thighs biceps bulging through his tshirt, was strolling over from his RV. Usually I do not like this whole macho “do you ladies need a hand” thing. Yet on this occasion my post-feminist self (and the two Wanderers) were proving to be mildly ineffective at chopping the firewood.

I only learnt how to chop wood with an axe back in BC. Chopping it vertically with the grain is one thing. Chopping it horizontally quite another. The axe that Sofi was welding was just as liking to slice her leg in two as it was to successfully chop the humongous log lying on the grass.

Sofi Wanderer vs. log

Sofi Wanderer vs. log

“We’re from the city,” Katie said, by way of explanation.

City or no, we didn’t have so much trouble starting the fire using my usual trick of Vaseline and a tampon. We had enjoyed our day off in Atikokan by hanging out in the laundromat for six hours. There we washed our clothes, Sofi cleaned her bike, we stretched, we ate, we blogged, we danced. It was joyous. To top off the day we needed to have a campfire.

A kind man camping nearby had given me some coals which helped the create wonderful glowing embers, perfect for toasting our marshmallows and making s’mores. S’mores, for those who haven’t tried them, are made by squishing a toasted marshmallow and some gooey melted chocolate between two biscuits. Nom nom nom.

After the Wanderers headed to their tent I stayed by the fire. It was a cloudy, dark and moonless night. The fire hissed softly from the wet birch wood, emitted the fragrance of the forest. I watched the flames expire into the darkness, the embers brightening and cooling with each breath of wind. I lay down on my mat to stretch. I saw first one, then another flash of greenish light: the first fireflies I’ve ever seen.

The day cycling to Kashabowie was rather uneventful. Needless to say we cycled 100km through beautiful Ontario.

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We arrived at a lakeside to have another campfire. This campfire we used to cook dinner on. The menu for the evening: beans and spider dogs.

Beans bubbling on the campfire

Beans bubbling on the campfire

Spider dogs. Not to be confused with a cocker spaniel with 8 legs.

Spider dogs. Not to be confused with a cocker spaniel with 8 legs.

After dinner I went for a swim. The water was calm. The sun had dipped behind the forest on the far shore. I had the surface of the lake entirely to myself, save for the Dragonflies darting over the water. My swimmer’s strokes distorted the rippling reflection of late evening sky. The mauve clouds in the horizon became bands of pastel colour in the otherwise calm water. All I could hear was the sound of my breath, and the slow ripples of the water.

That evening I lay on my back again by the campfire and watched the stars appear. One, then two, fireflies joined the stars, flashing like beacons in the dark. As I fell asleep I heard the lone cry calling from the Canadian wild.

“That was a loon!” Sofi called from her tent, just to check I haven’t missed it.

Goodnight Ontario.

Day 28: Nestor Falls to Fort Frances (98.5km)

“How quickly can you pitch a tent?”

Erm… Don’t know. Why? “There’s a storm coming,” the man said, turning his head from his cup of coffee to nod up at the looming clouds out the window. At this point we probably should have hopped on our bikes and cycled as fast as possible to the local campground. Instead we shrugged our shoulders, munched a bagel and watched as the threatening clouds released bucketfuls of water onto the ground. Oh.

I’d enjoyed the day’s ride. It was just under the 100km mark and felt must easier. Why 99km is practically a rest day. I saw a baby black bear (bringing bear count up to 3) and the first wild pelican of my life.

Most notable today was the kindness of strangers. Today our free log cabin was surpassed in friendliness when we stopped at a store to buy groceries. They didn’t have a huge selection of foodstuffs but the lady there informed us there was a better grocery store a few kilometres up the road- back the way we came. Our faces must have drooped. “Do any of you have a driving license?” she asked before handing Sofi the keys to her car. Wow.

Clouds were looming all day but we had all but forgotten the threat of thunder as we merrily counted down the kilometres to Fort Frances. We knew the town had a Tim Hortons and thus Boston cream donuts were on the horizon. We arrived happy and victorious.

Oh. Until the thunderstorm. And the last 4km cycling in a deluge to a motel. The road had turned into a river. My feet were instantly sodden by the water. Huge puddles turned into lakes on the tarmac as we eddied down the road. Have you ever been annoyed when the light is red but there’s nothing coming the other way? Imagine it is 9pm and you are cycling in a thunderstorm. I cursed every single red stop. Lightning strobed in terrific awe over the bay as we pulled up at the motel.

Photo taken after the thunder and lightning had ceased

Photo taken after the thunder and lightning had ceased

I’m still not sure how long exactly it takes me to pitch my tent. Probably less time than it takes to Google a motel and cycle 4km in a deluge…

Bugs and bears

July 4th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Day 25: Winnipeg to Rennie (131km)

“I feel like a celebrity being swarmed by the paparazzi,” Katie Wanderer remarked.

Word has clearly got out that three famous cyclists were on the road as we were chased along the highway by a swirling mass of black flies. I’ve never known flies like this before. There must have been more than twenty frenetically whirling around my bike and body, distracting my vision like floaters in my eyes.

Today we encountered horse flies, black flies, mosquitoes, heat, pain and a black bear. Yep, you know we’re nearly in Ontario.

We started the day waking up in a luxury Fairmont hotel, courtesy of Sofi Wanderer’s Dad’s connection. Unlike Chateau Lake Louise, I slept very well in the pressed white sheets. I could get used to this. The disadvantage of a luxury hotel is that extra services cost extra – the cheapest breakfast was $18 for a slice of melon and it cost $7 to have a pair of socks washed. Oh, unless you wash them yourself in the bath tub. So while Katie Wanderer nipped to Tim Hortons (translation: Canadians biggest coffee chain) to pick up breakfast, Sofi Wanderer dried out her clothing with the hair dryer.

Katie and I have matching knee pain. The solution is apparently ice, ice, ice. So we nipped to the drug store to spend a small fortune on lotions and potions to keep our bodies in order. There’s something to be said for my increasingly ability to feel comfortable and at home wherever I am standing. Hanging out with the Wanderers it has become normal to wheel a muddy touring bike along the smooth marble floors of a hotel lobby. We stood in the lobby spraying ourselves with deep freeze and popping arthritic painkillers. I would highly recommend staying at a hotel like this: the front staff always open the door for you. Makes wheeling a bike in and out the lobby an awful lot easier.

Today it was hot. It was approaching 30 degrees when we left the cool interior of the hotel and set off down the muggy, humming streets of Winnipeg searching for a route out into the wilderness.

Today we saw the scenery change as we headed east of Manitoba towards the Ontario border. Manitoba was agricultural, flat and there were few trees. Today the trees popped up quite suddenly. The woods closed in around us, the road steepened and fell… And the bugs appeared.

We cycled past 10 acre wood, the home of Winnie the Pooh (Did you know he’s Canadian? He was named after Winnipeg). Later in the day we startled a real black bear that was feeding by the roadside. It ran off as we noisily cycled past.

We stopped to eat lunch at 6pm (sic). The heat of the sun had melted the cheese in my pannier so we had pre-grilled cheese for lunch. Finally, after a long break the heat of the day had abated. We enjoyed the final two hour cycle to the campground as the embers of the day glowed behind us. The road was quiet, there was almost no traffic. The sun set slowly behind the forest as we pulled into a wonderful campground off a dusty track.

We spent the evening massaging our legs with ice and tiger balm before going to sleep.

What a change in a day. I woke up in a luxury hotel. I fall asleep on the thermarest inside the common room of a campsite, the midgies swamping around my ipad. But I am equally happy in both.

Slumbering bear

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

Day 13 Lake Louise to Canmore (89 km)

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

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

The view from the view was impressive.

Room with a view

Room with a view

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sarcastic signpost on the way to Canmore.

Sarcastic signpost on the way to Canmore.

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

How to be Canadian

June 10th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (1 Comments)

Day 8: Kelowna to Enderby (87.5 km)

“Country club!?” I exclaimed, swivelling round from the front seat, “I thought we were going to a pub.”

It’s 10pm the night before an 88km ride. Usually by this time I would have followed the setting sun to bed and be deeply dreaming about Monty and mountains. No so in Kelowna.

Courtney and Danica had arranged to cycle with me to Kelowna but first they, and their gathered friends, had to teach me the important Canadian lesson of how to two-step. So here I found myself in a club with more cowboy hats than a Clint Eastwood movie. I was scared of the dancing. But even more scared when, during a quick break from spinning round the dance floor, Danica told me that they furthest she’d ever cycled was only 45km.

My worries were allayed the following morning when we set off in the sunshine, joined for the first 20km by Courtney’s dad.

A small peloton

A small peloton

The kilometres slipped by easily and the girls had to wait for me and Monty at the top of the climbs. They had cunningly arranged to have a Support Van (sorry, “truck”) follow us to the campsite later, laden with beer, firewood and a BBQ – all the ingredients for a good night’s camping.

But we could start the campfire we needed to chop the wood! And so commenced my second lesson in being Canadian…

Aim. Chop. Fling. Chop. Sorted.

Aim. Chop. Fling. Chop. Sorted.

The evening was spent gathered around the campfire toasting (and burning) marshmallows. I charged the gathered Canadians to compete for the accolade of “best British accent” (the prize was a toasted marshmallows) and amused them by rattling off a Raffi song in my newly acquired Canadian.

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What a wonderful day. It’s not fair to make sweeping generalisations about an entire people yet all the Canadians I have met so far have been awesome, kind and magnanimous people.

Thank you to Courtney, Danica, Amanda and Kate for teaching me how to be Canadian.