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Conversational sanity

June 19th, 2014 | Posted by Dino in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Day 3: Carolles to Cancale (86km)

I discovered previously in life (while pottering alone around Siberia) that I require at least one conversation per day to keep sane.

A conversation for this purpose is defined as a verbal dialogue with both parties speaking in turn. It must contain another person (not just the voices in your head) and preferably be in person rather than on the phone. It must contain an exchange of opinions rather than merely an exchange of facts. This is to differentiate it from a formulaic exchange such as “please can I have a fish and a beer” (which one day in deepest Russia is the only thing I said to another living being).

Having only spoken briefly to the man in the tourist information yesterday and uttered “bonjour” to some passing cyclists then by mid morning I was bordering on the edge.

Down the road I spied two touring bicycles neatly packed with Ortliebs and, across the road, a couple of cyclists sipping coffee.

“You’re German aren’t you?” I offered by way of greeting.

They nodded. Yes! I congratulate myself on having been able to identify the cyclists’ nationality simply from the look of their bikes. I grasped, in a combination of bad English and worse French, that the two Germans had spent the last fortnight cycling from Amsterdam and were now headed to Nantes along Veloroute 4. With enough enthusiasm anyone can talk to anyone. I recall a long conversation I had with my cabin-mate on the ferry to Japan. She spoke no English. I spoke very, very limited Japanese and yet we chatted somehow for an hour, learning about each other’s lives. The German tourers were not such conversationalists and, having realised that my school girl French had disintegrated into a stuttering mess, I pedalled off the wrong side of my definition of conversational sanity.

From the edge of the poppy field this morning, Le Mont St Michel was only a grey outline of a jagged triangle. I headed south along the coast of the the Baie de St Michel, before hopping over a bridge to a cross the estuary and continuing west along Veloroute 4.

Though my legs felt strong and were pedalling well it was slow going on account of having to navigate so much. The path cut in and out of crop fields, past verges of thick wild flowers, under skylarks, along a river and over crumbling bridges. The further west I pedalled the clearer the view of Le Mont became: first a shadow, then a line of wall, the details of St Michel were gradually sketched in as I approached.

Morning view of Le Mont

Morning view of Le Mont

Two hours later and Le Mont was only a grey shadow behind me when I pull up on the side of the road to swap my drink bottles around. It is late afternoon and the water in my bottle had warmed under the sun.

On the other side of the road another cycle tourer pulled up. He wore a small beard and John Lennon glasses. Definitely French, I thought, eyeing up his panniers. He waved from across the main road.

“Where ‘ve you cycled…” Zoom. A car whips by.

“I started in…” Zoom. Another car. “Er..” Zoom. A van. “And now…” Zoom.

A tractor rolls by. We stare blankly at each other across the road.

“Eh?”

After five minutes of hearing ever other word he rolls across the road. (Why didn’t I think of that?) The Frenchman’s bike is neatly packed with panniers full to the brim. Stuffed inside his bottle cages are white school-boy sport socks.

“Does that work?” I ask, nodding at the sock covered bottles.

“Yes, it works,” he beamed. “You need metal bottles and you need to put the socks in water. But it works.” I make a mental note to try it out one time. I reckon that it could be handy if/when I cycle across Australia.

We discuss important cycling topics: kit, the respectively weight of our panniers, the kilometres travelled, the weather. Before he turns to go he pauses and adds one more thing:

“Brittany. It is more…” He waves his hand up and down like a diving fish.

“Hilly?”

He laughs.

“Bon voyage!”

My sanity has been restored.

 

The Last Leg

September 5th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (7 Comments)

When Diana Nyad, the 64 old woman who swam from Cuba to Florida, climbed out the ocean last week she made a breathless speech to the waiting media: “I have three messages: one is we should never ever give up; two is you are never too old to chase your dreams; and three is it looks like a solitary sport but it is a team.”

Now I am back on dry land (and face the prospect of a warm bed in Montreal tonight), I hope you will allow me the indulgence of sharing my three messages:

1 you lack nothing if you have enough determination (and M&Ms)
2 always cycle with the wind
3 this may have looked like a solitary adventure but I could not have made it all to way to Halifax without you.

Let me expand on message 3. The last leg of my journey was in some ways the toughest. I was tired, I ached, I frequently went to bed at 8.30pm, avocado had lost its appeal, it rained more and the hills in Cape Breton were ridiculous. If I have cycled farther it is because I was supported by the legs of others. You got me on the road and you kept me going: thank you.

(I won’t mention names but I did think it would be highly amusing to post photographs of all your legs.)

Thank you to the people who hosted me, gave me food, and helped me launder my pongy socks. Thank you for the stories you shared, the eggs you fried, and the kindness you showed me.

Thank you strangers for coming to help. Thank your for pulling over in your car on the hot days to ask if I had enough water. Thank you for the pizza, for the car keys, for turning up on the roadside with a track pump, for letting me sleep in the hut when I was too tired to pitch my tent. Thank you for the small gestures that made my day.

Thank you friends, family and followers for cheery and amusing tweets, emails and blog comments. Thank you for putting up with me talking about nothing else except cycling across Canada for such a long time. (And apologies in advance for the large number of sentences I will now begin with “when I was cycling across Canada…”)

Thank you to all who helped me with my preparation, planning and training. From getting my body (and lumbar spine) in shape to telling me that I could do it when it all felt like too much. Thank you for beautiful practice rides in the Cotswold hills, advice on kit, kit as Christmas presents, encouragement, support and generally getting me to the start.

Thank you employers for giving me 3 months off work.

Thank you fellow trans Canada cyclists for laughter and bemusement on route. Thank you for excellent blog writing, advice and campsite recommendations. For many an excellent moment of s’more toasting, hill climbing and eagle spotting. I will remember you fondly.

Thank you bears for not eating me.

Thank you Cycle with Dino cyclists for logging your trips. For encouraging my legs to keep spinning to follow your own honest miles. Thank you for dusting off your old bike, for cycling to work, from Le to Jog, in time trials, holiday spins, day rides, and early morning wildlife spotting rides. Each mile you pedalled inspired me to keep going. I imagined you pedalling with me and it really, really helped. You cycled 11,724km – that’s all the way across Canada and halfway back.

Thank you web master for creating the coolest blog map and for updating the dinomometer.

Thank you Monty for being a true and trusty steed. Thank you for not developing any mechanic problems that I could not fix. Thank you for spinning in the sunshine and persevering in the rain.

Thank you Canada for an amazing adventure.

Together we cycled from sea to sea.

Oh, and the moment you’ve all been waiting for! What do legs look like after they’ve cycled 7,500km?

The original legs. May 2013.

The original legs. May 2013.

The last legs

The last legs

Last legs from a different angle

Last legs from a different angle

Tan lines!!

Tan lines!!

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.

Coasting towards the end

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

Day 69: Ingonish Beach to Baddeck (91.5 km)

Despite going to bed at 8.30pm (!) I woke up feeling tired. Hardly surprising perhaps given yesterday’s epic ride.

The season seems to have shifted overnight. The yellowing maple leaves signal the approaching fall and the summer of cycling is coming to a close. A breeze swooping down the mountain side causes a flutter of leaves to fall from their branches onto the empty Tarmac. The road is quiet as the holiday traffic has driven home, school starts next week.

First thing in the morning I follow the coast out from Ingonish beach, past the harbour to the foot of Smokey Mountain. It is a solitary climb up, though not as punishing as the mountains from yesterday. As I approach the summit puffs of cloud waft across the road as if someone is having a campfire. I guess it is not called Smokey Mountain for nothing. The downhill switches back and forth between gorgeous coastal views and sharp bends warning drivers to go at 25km per hour.

Smokey

Smokey

image

For the rest of the day I followed the inland coast past a patchwork of harbours, inlets, lakes and rivers. Here it is hard to tell what is fresh water and what is ocean. I am told that the Bras d’Or Lake, though it is called a lake, is really sea water.

The road I follow glides off into a spit of land that narrows to the width of the road. For 2km I have water on both side. A ferry completes the last 150m the water over to English Bay.

image

Approaching the campsite I pass a cycle tourist coming the opposite way. A woman by herself bent low into the wind with black panniers, she looks just like me. We waved manically across the road to each other.

It starts to rain just as I have finished setting up my tent. I spent the evening hiding in the campground common room, dithering about what to do tomorrow. It is forecast to rain for 5 hours tomorrow. But the stormy weather will also bring gusting easterly winds which will help me no end. Should I take the day off then on Friday I might only get showers but I’d also a gusting westerly wind? Decisions, decisions. My butt hurts and my legs ache but that is normal.

It’s 8.30pm: Time for bed,

Leaving the St Lawrence

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

Day 57: Rimouski to Causapscal (123km)

I am glad that I had a rest day yesterday even though I spent most of the day wallowing in self pity. I looked out the window yesterday morning to see a monochrome world of hammering rain and battering (easterly) wind.

I only have 3 rest days between Montreal and Halifax on account of having booked my flight for the wrong day (oops). It seemed too early to take a day off. My legs felt fine. Outside: grey, cold rain and a gusting headwind. Inside: a Bed. White, fresh linen in a room all to myself. Grey rain versus bed. Bed won.

My rest days are usually awful. I am far happier on a bike. The day in Rimouski was a classic “rest day” filled with anxiety, fretting and homesickness. Why am I here? Why can’t I go home already?

On the advice of my mother I went out for dinner. The pizza, beer and chocolate cake cheered me up no end. Dining by oneself in a nice restaurant can sometimes feel odd. I am past caring. They had wifi at the restaurant so I entertained myself by googling extreme sports you’ve never heard of, and looking up info on how to train for an ironman distance triathlon. I ordered the pizza size the waitress told me was for “deux personnes” but I insisted and even managed to fit some chocolate cake in afterwards. A suitable diet for someone Googling triathlons, I’m sure.

Pizza and beer antidote to pathetic moping

Pizza and beer antidote to pathetic moping

This morning I was glad to leave Rimouski. The bike path along the river was beautiful as it hugged the side of the St Lawrence. I passed a number of poissonneries and the smell of the sea drifted off the waves. A huddle of gulls lay on the rusty rock their beaks nestled away from the wind, hiding under their own features. A line of coloured lounge chairs lined the bank, overlooking the grey sand. I saw an interpretation board which suggested curlew inhabit these shores but alas I did not see one. Shortly after cycling past a beautiful lighthouse I was met by a friendly cyclist, Andre. He provided good company and a running commentary for 10km.

Pointe-au-pere lighthouse

Pointe-au-pere lighthouse

A lemon-painted wooden house stood looking over the flueve. Is that land on the other side of the river or just an indigo smudge of cloud? Following the St Lawrence has provided some of the most beautiful cycling in Canada. I hope to return here again soon.

After 30km I said goodbye to the St Lawrence as I turned a sharp right inland towards Nouveau Brunswick. Straight away the road began to climb up, up and up. The landscape changed colour as I climbed into the forested interior. The wind pushed from behind me so I was spinning along fast. By lunch I had done nearly 80km. I was so sunny, the wind was behind me so I kept going past my intended campground.

I polished off the day with a beer and devoured a pack of crisps while watching a movie (a movie!!) inside my tent. Sunset came early so I was asleep by 9pm. So rock n roll.

Beer and cheese tour

August 14th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (1 Comments)

Day 55: L’islet to Rivière du Loup

The day started with chatting to bikers Dave and Dave who were camped next door (flap?) to me. Dave 1 (who had about a 2:1 facial hair to head hair ratio) was very chatty in telling me about the adventure they had planned – leisurely touring around the Gaspe. Dave 2 (15:1 ratio due to thick beard and near baldness) had converted an old motorbike into a beer cooler on wheels. I enjoyed the rare chat in fluent English with these guys before it was time for us to hit the same road at different speeds.

Again i was treated a pushing tailwind. The sun shone, then it hid, then the clouds drizzle a bit but it was all quite liveable.

Uh-oh. Detour. Je n’aime pas le detour. I looked on my map (ie app on iPad) to see that there was a main highway running almost parallel. The road ahead was closed and looked to be so cut up that it would be impassable. I turned off the 132 towards to main highway. I was just approaching the highway when I thought… Oh, where is the slip road? Il n’y a pas de slip road. Assessing the steep descent I figured it was doable so unloaded a few panniers to carry them down the 45% gradient.

Some detours are for bikes only

Some detours are for bikes only

I pedalled on merrily. Passing through a small town I flagged down by a loud “bonjour!” and the sight of skinny, lycraed cyclists leaping into the road.

Here I met Alain, Eve and Claude. The panniers explained who was who. You can tell who is Canadian and who is European from the panniers. Alain had MEC panniers and thus was Canadian (plus he was clearly Quebecoise as spoke in a rapid, accented French that I barely understood.)Claude and Eve had Ortliebs so I knew they were European. It was only later that I noticed the two Belgian flags flapping from their bikes.

Alain, skinny and angular, was fashioning loopy bicycle shaped wire earrings. He and his bike were largely dressed in matching yellow.

Claude, a fit, nervous looking woman had taken off her helmet to reveal greying hair. Her helmet sported furry horns.

Eve, slightly more normal than the other two, spoke excellent English in a soft, relaxed manner. Her big green sunglasses swamped her moon-shaped face. The sticker attached to the front of her helmet instructed “bend and peel”. “Instructions,” she explained jokingly, “for what to do if you find me in a medical emergency.”

Eve and Claude were travelling together but had, it would appear, already flagged down the eccentric looking Alain to help them. Claude had a flat. I fact she’d had 4 flats in the last 2 days and I was called in to help.

I checked the tyre tread, it looked fine. I checked the beading, it looked fine. I checked the spokes, they were fine. I checked the rim, it was true. Hmm.

You know when you hear hooves beating you think unicorns because you assume that one of the other cyclists has already ruled out horses, right?

Alain was pulling the tyre apart, exclaiming that the tyre was the wrong size for the wheel. (It wasn’t, it was just baggy.) While I wandered over to chat with Eve about the joys of cycling around Europe, Alain was checking the tyre.

“A-ha!” He exclaimed, as Eve and I were midway around Denmark. He pointed to a gritty scrap of sharpness poking through the tyre.

The Belgians have swapped the inner tubes without finding the cause of the puncture. A school boy error. Hoof beats means horse.

Highly amused I said my Bon Voyages and pedalled off.

Eve: bend and peel

Eve: bend and peel

Shorty after lunch (yes, avocado and crackers) I found the micro-brasserie that the Wanderers had visited a few days ago. I recognised the place from Katie’s description of the chickens, cat and benches outside. Is it just cycling or was that not the most delicious beer had all year? The blonde, Belgian style beer was refreshingly and fruity. Sadly they do not export. I schlurped and i munched the accompanying cheese and bread while fantasising about a chocolate, cheese and beer cycling tour of Europe.

If only all cycling days were like today.

Nom nom nom.

Nom nom nom.

Ironman training

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

Day 49: Ottawa to Brownsburg-Chatham (130.5km)

“Get off the course please!”

I hadn’t intended to join the course. I was just trying to follow the bike path along the Rideau canal. But since I was here, hey what fun to have so many cyclists around me. A woman nipped by, crouched over her tri bars, and I felt my speed pick up as my competitive side kicked in. I think I might have kept going to transition and then racked Monty while I headed out on the run… Until I heard the marshall yelling at me.

I guess the multitude of panniers and the bear spray strapped atop the tent bag gave me away as not the true triathlete.

Oh well, I better leave the course then. I waited for a gap in the bikes, darted over the road and heaved Monty up the kerb onto the opposite bike path.

The triathlon course paralleled the Rideau bike bath for several kilometres. So I got to enjoy watching the triathletes puff past with faces contorted by varying degrees of steely focus and enduring misery. They came in all sorts of shapes and sizes. In triathlons I’ve done in the past I have been on the podgier, slower end. The first triathlon I ever did was also the first time I ever saw a woman with a six pack (!) Yes there were a few people who had entered it for “fun” like me, but the majority of the lean, muscly competitors looked like they lived off a diet of protein shakes and raw tofu. They themselves looked to have a lower fat content than a slice of cucumber.

Cycling across Canada courses into triathlon

Cycling across Canada courses into triathlon

Had I known Ottawa was putting on a triathlon this weekend I would have entered. I am only a pair of goggles and a wet suit short of having all the gear with me, I realised. Plus it would be excellent training for my next challenge.

I have decided that my next challenge (post cycling across Canada) will be to do an Ironman triathlon.

To be clear, my aim is not to beat the cucumbers with six packs, but rather to get around in one piece. To complete it without major injury. To enjoy myself for at least a moment. To discover whether ordinary folk like me can accomplish such a feat. For though I have currently developed a habit of saying things like “oh it’s only 90km” and can now, as I did this afternoon, whip 60km down the road without braking for a break or breaking into a sweat. I still consider myself to be in the boundaries of normal.

As my school friend Beth can attest to, I was never the best at PE in school. I used to walk the cross country whenever the teacher wasn’t watching, I despised the beep test, and I would juggle the bats instead of playing rounders.

Thankfully the PE teacher never bothered me much (unlike poor Alex who was berated and told his heart would give out if he didn’t do some exercise). Because each morning the PE teacher would drive past me as I cycled up the hill to school.

Today I cycled an enjoyable 130km along the route verte bike path. I enjoyed views of the Ottawa river over the ripening farmland. Big, puffy clouds as big as a mountain range rolled overhead but thankfully the rain held off. My legs pumped effortlessly up the inclines. With each kilometer my speed increased. Was it the effect of seeing the triathletes this morning? I laughed at the vision of Monty and I taking part in the Ottawa triathlon, laden with tent and panniers. But who needs that puny 40km time trial when I have all of Canada as my bike course?

Ottawa!

August 3rd, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Day 48: Shawville to Ottawa (96.6 km)

Famous last words: “I’ve never had a day of continuous rain.”

Last night I met Tina at the campground. She’s biking around Ontario and we stayed up late (ie 10.30pm!) chatting, barely visible to each other in the dull light of a single orange glow stick. She asked me how my tour had been so far.

“What’s the weather been like?” She asked.

Note to self: do not tempt fate by saying silly things like “I’ve never had a day of continuous day.”

In the night I was woken up by rain. The flaps of my tent were already flapped down so I just rolled over and was lulled back to sleep by the pat-pattering of rain on canvas.

In the morning I was woken up by the rain again. The pat-pattering had become louder. I peeked out through the zip. Oh. The sky was a bleak sea of grey. I dug out my waterproofs and crawled out. If ever there was a reason to get out of “bed” and step into the rain it was this: maple syrup and pancakes. Did I not tweet my wish for maple syrup and pancakes yesterday? God is clearly on twitter.

I wandered over to Tina’s picnic bench with my French press (translation: cafetière). While Tina rustled up some of Aunt Jemima’s finest, I cut open a new bag of fresh coffee. We may be in a public park, we may not have washed in days, it may be pouring with rain but we can still eat breakfast like it’s Christmas morning.*

Tina making pancakes

Tina making pancakes

It was still raining. In fact, the rain seemed to have got wetter. I wandered back to my tent to discover, uh-oh, I had left one of my bike shoes poking out the tent all night. It was now soaked. Well, I guess they will both be that wet soon, I thought, wringing out the drenched sock which had resided in the shoe overnight.

I rolled up half a pond of water in my tent, clipped on my panniers and merrily cycled off with splashing tyres. It might be raining, but I had 95 kilometres of bike path to look forward to. The route verte (green route) is a huge bike trail that stretches all the way across Quebec. I would join it only a few hundred metres from my campground and only have to leave the bike trails again for a few hundred metres in Ottawa. After all this time cycling on highways it was bliss. Even the strengthening rain couldn’t dampen my spirits.

By 2pm I reached the outskirts of Gatineau and stopped by the beach for lunch. The beach was deserted save for a lone seagull eyeing me suspiciously. The snack kiosk was empty of customers. The only people in sight were a laughing group playing on the Ottawa river. Some were in motor boats, a few were on windsurfers, the majority were in kayaks and a few were out of their kayaks and squealing in the water. I imagine those in the water were equally as dry as those on it.

I watched the water folk splashing around while I munched my daily allowance of avocado and crackers. Munching cracker number one I could see the buildings on the far side of the river. But by cracker four the clouds rolled in again. Ontario disappeared in a damp, grey fog as the river met directly with the sky.

Back on the trail I enjoyed a wonderful final 30km to Ottawa. The bike trail was smooth, clean, signposted and surprisingly empty except for a handful of very keen folks skating along with ski poles (off season cross country skiers, I assume.) I couldn’t stop smiling as the familiar view of Ottawa rolled into view. Parliament! The Rideau canal! Yes, i was soaked like a drowned rat but I was dreaming of the hot shower and warm bed that awaited me.

Glorious bike path to the capital. Note roof of Parliament poking through the trees.

Glorious bike path to the capital. Note roof of Parliament poking through the trees.

On cue, as I rolled into downtown Ottawa, the clouds parted to reveal a warm blue sky. The sun warmed my prune-like, waterlogged skin and dried my drenched clothes.

Ottawa!

Ottawa!

I still had time to nip to Byward Market to get some beavertail. Beavertail is what you might call a local delicacy, although it is anything but delicate. It is deep fat fried cake-like pastry smeared in any number of artery-blocking toppings. I ordered one and demolished it. The dripping butter tasted so, so good. So I ordered another. I was tempted to go for a third but figured it might ruin my dinner.

Maple butter beavertail. A Canada delicacy.

Maple butter beavertail. A Canada delicacy.

Fuelled by beavertail, I pedalled alongside the Rideau canal to the house of my lovely hosts, Dale and Natalie. The sun was now shining enough that I needed to peel off my wet jacket and stick on my silly sunglasses. Because, after all, it never rains continuously for a whole day.

*in the Rock house we eat Canadian pancakes for breakfast on Christmas morning.

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.

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.