Dino's blog for mini adventures and endurance challenges
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Fuelled by maple syrup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is Kat

This is Kat

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

Vous etes des assassins

July 17th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (2 Comments)

Day 37: Lake Superior to Sault Ste. Marie (136km)

“Vous etes des assassins”

That’s what the Tour de France riders cried when the route organisers first plotted the tour’s route through the Pyrenees. The words are emblazoned on the front of the Rapha top that I have been wearing on most of the trip. And which I was wearing, quite fittingly, today as I climbed the steepest, most evil, hernia-inducing ascent so far.

This top was brand new and pure white when I left...

This top was brand new and pure white when I left…

I knew it was going to be a long day as my short(ish) day yesterday meant I had 140km to the Soo (aka Sault Ste Marie). The forecasted weather was hot with highs of 31 degrees. The predicted terrain was hilly with highs of… High.

So I set off at 8am from the campsite, enjoying the low glowing sun as it cast the westerly shadow of Monty and I pedalling. The wind was already beginning to pick up. A headwind, of course. As my average speed dropped lower and lower with each climb (down to 15km per hour at one point) I started getting concerned that I would not make it to the Soo before night fall.

Something needed to be done. I reached into my pouch and pulled out my “double latte” energy gel. Now normally I would not promote any specific item in my blog yet this Clif energy gel transformed me into a pro rider, like Popeye eating spinach. Within seconds my legs were pumping at twice the speed. I pedalled faster and faster. The hills slowly flattened out. Up ahead I saw the Wanderers (they had stayed at a different campsite 20km further ahead than me). I was gaining on them every second.

“Hellllloooooo!” I called, as I screamed past, “I’ve just eaten a caffeine gel and I can’t stop!!”

The scenery today was absolutely stunning. The road followed the shoreline of Superior. This is a place for adventure. Cars drive past carrying canoes and sea kayaks, hunting for adventure, chased by laden motorbike tourers. In the bay the black outline of a group of swimmers splashed around. The water is so clear that I could see the pebbles at the bottom of the lake from the roadside.

I really enjoyed today’s ride although I wish I could have stopped more, but with so many miles to do and keen to arrive at the bike shop before it closed, I kept pedalling. My only big stop of the day was at a picnic bench next to a signpost declaring that I had reached the halfway point of the Trans-Canada (oh so maybe I wasn’t halfway two days ago..) In the afternoon the heat intensified. All was still going well but then I met…

The Hill.

I have seen skateboard ramps that are more gently sloped. I have heard of ski jumps which are not as steep. Indeed, I have known chunky blocks of cheese that have a lesser gradient.

Oh. My. Legs.

Oh. My. Legs.

Ahead of me the road pitched up into the sky. For reference, the bit of road in the photo that looks flat is actually still uphill (or so my legs were telling me.)

Canadian road builders: vous etes des assassins.

By the time I met the Cheese Wedge of Doom I had already cycled a cheerful 116km. I slipped into my lowest gear (which is actually very very low since Monty has mountain bike gears). I had to keep pedalling to save falling off, rolling backwards and to stop Monty’s front wheel peeling off the near vertical ascent. Yet each pedal stroke felt like I was sitting on one of those leg press machines at the gym – doing the maximum weight possible. My heart was pounding. I was sweating so much that salt was visibly clinging to my skin. My head was sweating so much underneath my helmet that it felt like my head was crawling with lice. Yikes. I am actually going to collapse. Just before I was about to pass out I pulled over into some shade and poured a bottle of water over my head (thankfully remembering to first take my iPod off). But my water bottles were now all tepid.

The ascent continued for another 2 kilometres. Vous. Etes. Des. Assissins. I huffed, and I puffed and, finally, I conquered the hill.

There were still another 18km or so to the Soo. Just as well as I couldn’t have managed much more. I arrived at the Velorution bike shop, an awesome place that offers free camping for cyclists. Here I met Bryan (who I cycled with back in the Rockies) and Kat (whose blog I have been reading for weeks). Kat already had some beer chilling under a bag of ice. Just what I needed.

If I don’t have to do another hill like that again in Canada it will be too soon.

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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Halfway across Canada

July 15th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (1 Comments)

Day 35: White Lake to Wawa (127.5 km)

How am I still cycling?

I was exhausted yesterday. I have been through exhaustion and out the other side. I have never, ever felt like this. Yet here I am. On a bike. I am still pedalling.

I slept very badly last night due to the humidity and the relentless mosquito hunting. I don’t understand how in a space as vast as northern Ontario these little buggers crowd into my tiny one-person tent. I had a small swarm inside my tent that I was forced to track down one by one with my head torch. I have the technique down a bit better: sweep the head torch down to the end of the torch the sweep up, chasing them with the light, into the roof of the tent before battering into the side of the tent. I’d catch them all then lie back down to sleep before another buzz and a sharp prick in my back tells me another one is still alive. The hunt continued into the small hours. In the morning my tent resembled a battle ground with smeared blood and tangled mosquitoes bodies strewn hither and thither across the yellow canvas.

The second wave of militants arrived as soon as I stepped out the tent. They nibbled at my thighs. The munched at my face and hair. My bug spray is pretty disgusting and slightly ineffective. So I was forced to wear full waterproof garb and a hat despite the heat.

A further misfortune occurred when I managed to knock my coffee over this morning with my thermarest. The thermarest escaped unscathed but, sadly, I had only drunk a few measly sips of the freshly brewed coffee before the incident. As you may know, i do not cope well with life uncaffeinated.

As a result the first 40km to White River were a slog. I ate 2 and a half energy bars to keep me going.

White River is the home of Winnie the Pooh. A large sign with a waving Pooh welcomes you to the small town. The story is that back during the First World War a military man came to White River and purchased a black bear cub as a mascot. He named the bear Winnie after his hometown, Winnipeg. I think having a full sized bear as a mascot seems a tad of an awkward sized pet to have in the military. It left me wondering: did they ever had war bears? Presumably not as when the man went off to fight in France he left his dear Winnie in the care of London Zoo where he was visited by A A Milne and his son Christopher. You know the rest.

White River's most famous homeboy

White River’s most famous homeboy

At White River I paused briefly over the Pooh statue before heading to find some munch needed coffee. I was met by a bearded biker. By biker I mean motorbikes. Seeing me and Monty (and presumably reading my one and only cycling jersey) he struck conversation, clearly having decided that we are kindred spirit. Mr Bearded Biker was on 24 hour, 1,000km mission. He had left Toronto at midnight and was headed to Deluth in Minnesota. Working with out in my head it didn’t seem necessary for him to have left at midnight. The speed limit is 90km per hour. So presumably bikers go at 100km so… 10 hours. Hed be there for brunch. It seemed an odd sort of mission to me.

Ever after coffee I didn’t feel much more energies as I continued to slog into a relentless headwind. I had said goodbye to the Wanderers at the campground so I was cycling alone and there was no hiding from the wind. All day I kept my eyes peeled for moose. Eyre try few kilometres there were signs warning drivers of these kings of the forest. In White River I’d overheard a man exclaiming to his friend that he’d seen a bull moose on the highway that morning. I scanned the pine forest, the open meadows, the swampy bits, the thinning trees, the inlets of the stretching lakes, and checked the creeks running under the bridges but – alas – there was not a moose all day.

I stopped for lunch at the side of Fungus Lake. Every patch of water on the highway is labelled with a signpost so I knew it was Fungus Lake even though there didn’t appear to be a fungus in sight (maybe the moose ate it before it scarpered.) I sat on a rock, slowly nibbling my cheese and crackers, trying to enjoy the cool blue views of the lake and forget the 50km I still had to ride.

I didn’t think I’d make it until I reached 108km. That means 18km to go. I know I can always cycled 18km because its the distance back from work. At the same time I was counting down the kilometres to the magical (yet entirely arbitrary) half way mark. At 3,750km mark I screeched to a halt. Here I am exactly (ish) halfway across Canada. To my right was a swampy bit with some trees poking through the tall grass. Ahead was a signpost advertising the White Fang Motel. The road was a bit cracked and gravelly. The sky was a little clouded over. But Monty and I had made it. I gave out a whoop of joy and then almost immediately felt sad that my adventure was now halfway to the finish.

Monty at the halfway mark

Monty at the halfway mark

I slowly slogged the last few kilometres to the campsite. Without the energy to pitch my tent, I flopped on the earth into a catatonic state. And lay there. Tomorrow is a rest da. Thank goodness.

Halfway across Canada in stats:
Number of miles cycled: 3753 (including a few on rest days)
Longest day (mileage): 173km to Moose Jaw
Longest day (time): 8 hours, 1 minute to White Lake
Shortest day: 38km to Canyon Hot Springs
Monty’s flat tyres: 0 (Schwalbe marathon plus tyres)
Broken spokes: 1
Bike shops visited: 6 (Vancouver, Kelowna, Revelstoke, Swift Current, Winnipeg, and Thunder Bay)
Number of bears spotted: 4 black bears
Number of moose spotted: 0
Number of other trans Canada cyclists met: 13 (!)
Most annoying place to have a mosquito bite: inner foot
2nd most annoying place to have a mosquito bite: outer ankle joint
3rd most annoying place to have a mosquito bite: knuckle on hand
4th most annoying place to have a mosquito bite: ear
5th most annoying place to have a mosquito bite: anywhere on bottom
Number of lakes swum in: 4
Number of bags of ground coffee consumed: 2 and a half
Number of protein bars consumed: countless
Number of reasons to keep going: countless

Marathon through Marathon

July 15th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Day 34: Schreiber to White Lake (154 km)

“I think I’ll enjoy it, but I’ll be in pain,” Katie Wanderer responded when I asked her this morning what she was expecting from today’s ride.

Pain unfortunately seems to have become a feature of this trip. Mostly it is knee pain or back pain. But there is a plethora of pain that I am experiencing that is quite distracting from the joy of cycling through Ontario.

I felt apprehensive about the day ahead. And not entirely convinced that I would make it to White Lake, especially given my wonky pain and yesterday’s pitiful run. As I set off this morning I tried to focus outwardly on the beautiful scenery. The north shore of Lake Superior has a quiet majesty about it. Early morning the road was almost empty of traffic save for a heron flying over head. The frequent steep ascents allow you to steal glances of the lakes over the top of the forest. The side of the road was decorated with wild flowers, buzzing with life. Yellow and black striped butterflies flapped across the road. I noticed a very beautiful bee collecting pollen at lunchtime. It was orangeish and looked a bit like a hummingbird.

There’s a distinctive bird call which I often hear as I cycle along. It’s made of four sharp, long whistles. I think it’s a white throated sparrow although the melody of its call reminds me of lazy afternoons lying in the grass in England listening to the cooing of a wood pigeon.

The wildlife highlight of the day was seeing a black bear. It was happily munching at the roadside when I zoomed past. First my heart skipped a beat as it turned round but then it sort of shrugged and just carried on munching. I guess I should have stopped to take a photo but I am still quite scared so was happy to use the downhill as an excuse not to stop.

I needed all the nature I could get to distract me from today’s epic ride: 154km on tired, old legs. I had to stop every 30km or so to pull out my half yoga mat and do an entire stretching routine to loosen my knotted muscles. I would respray Deep Freeze on whatever body part was complaining the most. Then pop another painkiller (I need to give up painkillers tomorrow as I now have indigestion.)

After about 90km I reached the town of Marathon (an apt name for today’s ordeal). Pulling in at a gas station I met a hipster duo of cyclists who were headed east. I was chatting to Hipster 1 when Hipster 2 arrived. He immediately chucked his bike on the ground and kicked at the trailer he was pulling. “It’s a piece of junk,” he complained, “I was just given it for free a couple of days ago but I want to get rid of it.” He then opened the lid of his trailer to reveal a guitar and what looked to be a pair of old cowboy boots. He pulled out a pack of tobacco and started rolling a cigarette. I later discovered (when i went down it) that he had just cycled up a ridiculously steep 3km long hill. And he was celebrating with a smoke.

These guys sleep in hammocks. They haven’t paid for a single night at a campsite yet. They seemed to be carrying very minimal gear (guitar and cowboy boots excepted) but I’m sure this is because they didn’t have stuff rather than because they had the super-compact ultra-lightweight technical gear (see Mr Triathlon from yesterday.)

Later on today I saw two other cyclists coming the opposite way. We waved cheerful to each other. They looked retro: he bare chested in small, blue shorts, her in a neon top and buggy sunglasses.

The bike and gear are undetachable from the cyclists. I don’t mean this in a materialistic way. Rather I mean what stuff they pack, how much they carry and how’s it’s loaded onto their choice of bike inextricably reflects their personality. I figure that by seeing a cyclist on the road with all their gear you can instantly get a feel for what they are like. I guess it’s the same as having a snoop round someone’s house. After all, our bikes are our homes for the summer.

After lunch at Marathon and the enjoyable, swooping 3km descent, the hills began to flatten out. The wind had been blowing against or across me off the lake all morning, but as a headed inland towards White Lake it seemed to swing round to my back and push me along for the last 50km. My speed gradually picked up as I started to believe that, yes, I would actually make it to White River.

I swung into my forest clearing of a campsite after a memorable 8 hours and 1 minute of cycling. It was 7pm. This was the longest day of cycling I have done in my life. I called my Dad from the only available pay phone to inform him that I was still alive. Relief swept over me: I’ve made another day.

Exhausted, achey and pathetic

July 14th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Day 33: Nipigon to Schrieber

What a glorious, easy and relaxing days cycling.

My legs felt fresh from four days of cycling on the trot. The spasms in my lower back beautifully complemented my bloated day-one period feeling. I felt as bouncy and joyous as a spring lamb as I leapt up the steepening hills into the relentless headwind.

Hmff.

Katie Wanderer commented the other day that my blog posts are always so positive. No matter how exhausted, achey and pathetic we have felt my blog post would gush with how wonderful cycling across Canada is.

Today was my most pathetic day yet. In fact, it’s the first time on the trip that I haven’t reached my intended destination. That made me feel a little crushed.

Don’t get my wrong: cycling across Canada is wonderful. But today I felt entirely exhausted, achey and pathetic.

The aches and pain meant we had a slow start to the day – in fact we didn’t get out the campground until 11.30am. We had cycled just under 20km before we stopped by a perfectly located portaloo by the side of the road. (It does not cease to amaze me how many public toilets there are in Canada. And the impressive availability of toilet paper in the Middle of Nowhere. France take note.)

We were lounging outside aforementioned portaloo when another cyclist pulled up. Ross looked like he had just pedalled here from a stage of the Tour de France. He was wearing full Lycra labelled garb and riding a lightweight road bike. “This isn’t actually my bike,” he explained, “it’s my Dad’s. my bike is a triathlon time trial bike but we swapped bikes for the summer. My Dad wanted to do a triathlon so it’s worked out pretty well.”

Ross didn’t have much gear on his bike, confessing to only having one pair of shorts and no rain jacket. He was clearly doing much, much longer days than us. Once on the road he quickly sped off with the easy grace that super-lightweight triathletes have.

Less than 5km later and two other cyclists caught up with us as we waited at a construction stop sign. The two girls were both riding Trek Madone bikes. “They are designed for the Paris-Roubaix,” one of the girls explained, pointing at the suspension in the seat post, “so this really helps on the bumps.”

They had a support van so were carrying less than most people take on a Sunday jolly. They had water, an energy gel, and smiley, tanned faces that looked liked they’d be cut out the billboard for low-fat greek yoghurt.

After the construction, the road steeped quickly to a near vertical ascent reminiscent of the south of France. The Madone girls leapt up the hills like spring lambs. I continued to creep at the speed of an encumbered tortoise with a broken foot. Urg.

These super fit, blonde, lightweight speedy cyclists were accentuating my misery as I considered how laden, fat and pathetic I must look. Yes, I do triathlon. But when I “do” triathlon, I stomp round trying not to collapse before the end (and collecting as many free energy gels as possible en route.)

When I get home I am (if I have any money left!) going to buy a road bike. Ruth has got a new road bike. Other #cyclewithdino folks also logged miles on road bikes. I’m sorry for poor Monty, my dear and trusty steed, because today I wished, for the miles that I slogged and felt annoyed by my slowness, that I too was on a road bike

All day there were long, hard hills (ie 7% gradient). Monty and I fought with all the power we had. By 8pm we had not yet done 100km. It was still another 14km to go to the town of Terrace Bay, our intended destination

The Wanderers and I pulled into a gas station to decide what to do. Looking round at our tired, watery faces it was clear that we were all flagging. At any moment I felt like I might yell in angry or burst into tears.

The woman at the gas station advised us that there was no campground in Terrace Bay. The stretch of highway was also known to be a hotspot for black bears. I didn’t feel comfortably wild camping in bear country. I doubt I would sleep if I knew they were prowling round my tent, sniffing out the forgotten protein bar left in my jersey pocket. So with some glumness we decided to stay in Schreiber and camp at the mosquito-infested RV park. Yes, it was a wise decision but not a fun one.

The Wanderers went to get pizza. I was too tired to move any further.

Whenever part of your body is exhausted, achey and pathetic there are few things that will save you. But this was one: a new pair of merino socks. I slipped them on over my mosquito bitten feet and fell asleep.

Courage Highway

July 14th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Day 32: Thunder Bay to Nipigon

(106 km, 19.7km/hr average speed, 5:22:09)

Today I cycled along the Courage Highway.

It’s an apt name for this stretch of road; for the 100km between Thunder Bay and Nipigon this is the only road connecting eastern and western Canada. Even though these aren’t all that many folks who live round here, the stretch is heavy in traffic (by Canadian standards) and that means trucks.

After 30km we stopped to have the usual munchies for Second Breakfast. I took the opportunity to attach my helmet mirror. I hadn’t already attached it because I was convinced that it was so flimsy it would snap off straight away and I was reasonably convinced it wouldn’t be any help anyway. I was wrong. This mirror is fabulous. Thinking about it now.. Why do I have 3 mirrors in my car if they aren’t helpful? Drivers could, I’m sure, just listen out for vehicles and swivel round while zigzagging into the gravel. But a mirror is a fine thing. Yes it looks incredibly naff, but I reckon any appendage that increases your likelihood of staying alive is automatically exempt from fashion laws. I can now see the traffic that is about to swoop past me. Brilliant.

The courage highway has been named in honour of Terry Fox. Terry Fox was a young man who lost a leg in his battle against cancer. Determined to save others from the suffering that he had experienced, Fox set off to run across Canada in order to raise money to find a cure for cancer. At first people didn’t believe that he would do it. But he kept running, and kept running – 26 miles a day he ran his “marathon of hope.”

“Dreams are made if people only try,” he said.

Fox succeeded in running across 5 provinces. He was forced to give up 3339 miles into his journey because of reoccurring cancer. His final mile is marked by a post on the courage highway, just outside Thunder Bay.

The Wanderers and I took a detour of the highway to visit the Terry Fox memorial. A stand of him running stands atop a map of Canada chiselled into the grey stone. A Canadian flag flaps overhead. A dad and his two sons pose for a self-timer photograph. The view looks out over the expanse of Lake Superior.

Thinking about the achievements of Terry Fox kept me cycling today. Before his death at the tender age of 23, Fox was showered with honours. He was voted Canadians greatest athlete and made a Companion of the Order of Canada (something like a knighthood). Perhaps though his greatest achievement was not that he ran 3,339 miles, or that he raised millions of dollars for cancer research. Perhaps his greatest achievement is that he has inspired a nation and given those who hear his story what they need to continue: courage.

Another day in Canada

July 11th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (1 Comments)

Day 31: Kashabowie to Thunder Bay (126km)

Another day I wake up when my alarm goes off and get up when the sun heats up my little tent so that I begin to wilt like a pot plant in a polythene bag. Another morning I stretch during breakfast. Ooh that feels stiff ( pirisformis, quads and hamstrings). I worry that my back is becoming increasingly wonky due – my old back injury is flaring up again.

Another day I pack up, shuffling around drinking the dregs of the coffee while waiting for the fly of my tent to dry out as it blows from a nearby tree branch.

Another morning we are about to set off and then are interrupted by “The Conversation”. You know how it goes…

“Where you ladies headed to?”

We all look round at each other. Who’s going to do it this time? Then “and where did you start? Where you headed to today?” A few exclamations of surprise, followed by comments on the road ahead and other cyclists seen in last 2 weeks, polished off with well wishes and a goodbye. Don’t get me wrong, I like telling people about the trip. I just wish the selection of questions asked could be mixed up a bit.

Another day we set off to pedal 30km before devouring protein bars for Second Breakfast.

More cycling. More sunshine. More water sipped on the move. More photos snapped

Another time zone crossed. Whoop whoop. Another merge onto a highway. More trucks, fewer rocks. Still the same deep green forest all around. The verge is lined with wildflowers: orange, yellow and white speckles like flecks of acrylic paint.

Another wildlife spot – two wolves (or where they coyotes?) run across the road. Minutes later they run back the other way in quick pursuit of some unseen prey. Another unrecognisable species of grouse sits, still as a statue, by the roadside, its body well camouflaged amongst the tall grasses. A fox runs across the road.

Another day we see bikes stopped on the shoulder ahead of us. It’s Stan and Shirley again. We hadn’t seen them since Swift Current and stop to hear their tales of the road (Stan has crashed twice due to trucks not giving them enough space on the main highway- I am so, so glad we took highway 71)

Another day the darkening clouds gather, threatening rain and thunder. We can hear before we stop the ferocious crash of water: the rusty water of Kakabeka Falls crashes violently over the rocks. The noise is as impressive as it is daunting. The clouds grow darker.

Another day we cycle 33km non stop in pouring rain. We are overtaken by lumber trucks, smelling the wet wood as it splashes past. Another day of wet socks, wet cleats. Water dripping down the neck of my jacket. Tanned thighs covered in rain drops. Another day we cycle through construction (translation: road works) and swear out loud at the idiot who squeezes past us dangerously close only to meet us again at the red light.

Another day we roll into a bike shop. More talk of gears, brake pads, tyres, cables. More protein bars purchased. More food greedily devoured after another 100km on the road.

And in the darkening fog we cycle to the campground. It’s closed. So we park in nearby park. Rain. Darkness. Slapping canvas of the tent, trees buffeted by the wind. Rain. Ache. Sleep.

Tomorrow it begins again.

Another day in Canada.

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.

image

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.

The deluge

July 7th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Day 29: Fort Frances to Atikokan (153.5km)

This is a nightmare.

I am cycling alone in bear country. The rain is pouring and pouring. I have cycled 100km already. I still have 50km to go. There is nothing, nobody here. I ring my bell, I call out loud to scare off the bears. And so I can hear a human voice.

The sky flashes. I count the pedal strokes. 7, 8, 9…The thunder rumbles. I remember that awful moment coming out of Calgary. Don’t ride in thunderstorms. But what else can I do right now? I scan the roadside for possible wild camping spots. Yet the thought of sitting in a tent in this weather is equally terrifying. I just want to get there. I pedal as fast as I can.

There are kilometres I don’t remember. I just kept pedalling. The lightning stopped and soon I realised that I had not heard thunder for a while. How long, how far I don’t know. It was still raining.

The birds had stopped singing. The rain has drowned out every other sound save for the rattle of raindrop on the tarmac, the splashing of Monty’s wheels and the soft metallic hiss of his disc brakes.

I saw a sign up ahead for a fishing resort with a campground 1km off the road. With 38km to Atikokan I decided it was worth a try. I stopped at the roadside to collect rocks and rubbish and write “Dino” with an arrow point left on the roadside – my sign to the Wanderers so they knew where I’d gone. When I leapt down the verge to collect the rocks a swarm of mosquitoes swirled around me biting at every spot of available flesh.

Approaching the fishing ground my heart sank slightly. The brown wooden cabins looked somewhat derelict. There was no sign of life save for the mosquitoes that gathered on my face and legs. Nervously I entered the green house labelled as “office & store”. Inside it was dark. The only light came from a small square front window which cast a gloomy light over the small, ramshackle front desk. Fishing maps and an old manual till sat on the desk. At the back of the room a limbless bear hide lay on a dusty table, the jaws of the dead animal hanging open and gormless with lifeless terror. A deer head was mounted above a few shelves, empty save for a few old tins of beans and a single jar of mayonnaise. I could hear the noise of a television from behind the closed door that stood behind the desk. I rang the bell. Nothing. I rang the bell again and called out again. The door creaked open and a shaft of light entered the gloom.

“Hello?” I called again apprehensively.

I looked down the doorway and saw a small cat. It eyed me suspiciously, took a furtive step forwards and then backed away. The door closed. I rang the bell. Again the door creaked, the cat crept a step out, eyed my suspiciously and backed away. Nothing.

I walked outside and surveyed the pouring rain. I approached the nearest cabin, wondering that if perhaps it was unlocked I could rest there for a while.

“Can I help you?” A voice came from the cabin. Behind the wire mesh of the window I could just about make our a tall figure, with long hair and thick beard. I asked him if he ran the place. “Sort of,” he replied mysteriously.

“I was cycling to Atikokan but then the rain and thunder started,” I began. At this point the kind stranger usually apologies for the weather and the bugs and ushers the feeble, soaked cyclist into the indoors. I stood outside in the rain.

“It’s not supposed to thunderstorm again,” the man replied matter of factly. “Just heavy rain.”

Oh. “Are you not open then?”

“No, not really.” He turned away into the darkness

I was relieved that I could leave. The place was freaking me out. But it also meant I still had 38km to ride in the rain. Back on the highway the Wanderers had caught up with me. It was comforting to see their outline, like two horsemen side by side, in the distance behind.

When I reach 18km to go I know I will make it. 18km is the distance of my commute home from work. However dark, cold, wet and windy it has been I have always, always managed to cycle home. I am not in Ontario, I said to myself. I am just cycling home. I am turning off onto the Sustrans route, I am passing Danish camp, then climbing over the bypass.

The last 4km felt like the longest of the day. We were all looking a little worse for wear. My fingers had turned white and prune-like in the rain. My feet squelched in the socks and shoes that hadn’t never dried over since yesterday’s thunderstorm dash (note: merino socks are still warm even when completely and utterly drenched).

The Wanderers sought out the cheapest motel in Atikokan. I needed only one thing: hot pizza. We found the pizza (not without meeting a very odd man on the street who offered to buy us “two drinks each”… But something about his weird face and stumbling manner made us politely decline). And enjoyed an 18″ pizza washed down with beer. We were sat at the window of the restaurant. The curve of the setting sun was just visible underneath a sea of thick, dark clouds. To entertain us four teenagers cycled back and forth in front of the window trying to catch our attention. They glared, they waved like the queen, they got off and carried their bikes under their arms like a pile of important documents, they cycled backwards (okay, that one was quite impressive). There is clearly nothing to do in this town.

Tomorrow is a rest day. Thank goodness. After 7 hours and 40 minutes on the bike I am so tired and my muscles feel ridiculous. We must rest well for on Monday we need to cycle 178km (!) to Kakabeka Falls.