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Highland Gathering, Highland Soaking

July 31st, 2015 | Posted by Dino in UK - (0 Comments)

Durness to Melvich

Distance: 90km

I awoke in a puddle. Or, more accurately, awoke because there was a loud, inebriated Scotsman outside mournfully yelling expletives:

“My tent is ****ing soaked. ****. It’s soaking wet. My ****ing tent is ****ing soaked.” He repeated this a few times, in case anyone in the campsite was still asleep or remained unsure of the condition of his tent.

My hand reached out my sleeping bag and searched round the tent floor. It was in a similar condition to the Scotman’s. I had a genius theory that because it’s so windy then the rain falls diagonally in Scotland and so by pitching the midge tent (which is exposed on one side) with its back to the wind would mean I remain dry even in the rain. This theory fails when a) the rain pours down in a torrent and b) the wind changes direction overnight. This night it had done both.

It was too dark to do anything. So I went back to sleep. When I woke again the sun had risen to reveal that I was perched on an island. An inch of rain had fallen over night (this was verified by the amount of water in our BBQ). Half an inch had fall into the midge tent. As it turns out, my thermarest is just over half an inch high and so whilst I remained dry in my sleeping bag all around me was a moat of rain water with my shoes, buff, bags and other possessions floating on top.

It was a quiet morning on the campsite. Yesterday we had enjoyed an unexpected day’s rest. We had meant to take a side trip to Cape Wrath, the most northerly point on the UK mainland, but discovered that the ferry was not running because of the Durness Highland Gathering.

So, after a beautiful morning scramble around a headland of clambering rocks, sand dunes, cotton grass, orchids, snails and wading birds, we too headed to the Gathering. The Highland Gathering started with a pipe band made up of local school kids who marched with impressive confidence and not a smirk to be seen. We took our folding chairs to the front of the field to watch the games: burly shot putters and hammer throwers, inagile high jumpers flinging themselves into the pole, pipers, Scottish dancers, kids running for the egg and spoon. Everyone was allowed to join in: the locals and the holidaying European lined up side by side for their turn wanging the welly. A commonwealth champion was apparently chucking some heavy things. My mum entered the egg and spoon alongside a woman who was mid-puff on a cigarette when the event was called so handed her fag to her friend, ran with egg and spoon, then continued to puff again when she didn’t make the final. I was sprayed with muck as I competed in the 220meter race as the race track descended into bog on the corner. A woman in a Sutherland Athletics hoodie did warm up sprints on the track while a generously-proportioned man waddled blithely across the field carrying three hamburgers.

After the fun of the games it was perhaps not surprising that today, back on the bike, my legs didn’t feel as fresh as I hoped they would after a rest day. My knees were sore from the first hill. Oh, if only I could soak in a bath, lie down, take some time off the bike. It was overcast and damp as we pedalled around a large loch. There were lots hills and few houses. You wonder what it must be like to live here. Cycling past you forget that people have cars and can drive to a town. Perhaps it is not so remote with four wheels. But what about the snow? What if your car breaks down? One house we passed was all on its own on the loch edge. It sat on a circle of land that was attached to the bank only by a thin natural causeway such that it gave the appearance of a water drop clinging to an edge just below it falls. A lone house sat on that piece of land. Further along our way we passed crumbling stone walls that once would have been warm with people and a fireplace. Now the roof was gone the cold wind blew through. So much of the history of this part of Scotland is about displacement and loss. We passed a vacant bay where once, before the
Highland Clearances, a village had stood. Now, it was left empty and nature has fills the void left by the desolation of man.

As we approached at the campsite we overtook a lone cyclist who we’d spotted earlier in the day climbing up hills on the horizon. Jennifer, a much seasoned tourer, had nearly given up on cycle touring in Scotland after a trip earlier in the year had left her completely soaked. Why did she come back for a second rinse? It’s a good wonder, especially given she has a sister to visit in France. But Scotland has its pull: the scenery is more majestic and wild, the flapjack is more filling than your fancy patisseries, and the midges and drizzle keep all by the hardiest of tourists away. It’s hard, but cycling in Scotland is rewarding. After my soaking tent, however, I cannot promise that next time I come here I won’t book into a B&B…

 

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The Rocky Road

July 29th, 2015 | Posted by Dino in UK - (0 Comments)

Ardmair to Durness

Distance: 105km

The weather was bad. Dreek, dreer, drizzly, dire…whatever your dialect it was a day for indoors.

But no. We were out in the wild. The wind was the worst. Though it was strong enough to push a heavy, tired cyclist up the side of a mountain, it was wild and irregular. The open landscape gave little or no protection. As the road twisted and turned around the contours, the crosswinds snapped across the road with cold teeth. The rain had already soaked us through. The left side of my body, because it was on the westerly side, was getting more battered than my right. My left foot was dead numb and cold with pain. The rain hit hard against my left ear. As I summited another grey, waterlogged hill, I reached for my gears with my left hand but couldn’t move my frozen left thumb enough to shift gear. Why am I here? Is this not pig-headed, stupid and dangerous? Get off your bike, get in the car.

After an hour of cycling we pulled into the car park outside a hotel. We were hoping for warming tea and coffee only to discover that the hotel bar was closed to non residents. “That should be illegal! All hotels in Scotland should be obliged serve hot drinks!” My mum hissed angrily. We were too cold to complain. We took shelter as best we could in the car. The rain hit against the windscreen, the wind shook the car. We ate flapjack.

The support vehicle was setting out and we weary cyclists were commanded to follow up hill and down to sea level. Again it rained and blew. A stag looked out, totally bored. A castle ruin from clan warfare crumbled further… Who fought to live as lords of this desolate place?

I stopped at the sign called “Rock Stop”: it seemed like a command but it was in fact a cafe and visitor centre for the Northwest Highlands Geopark, where 19th century scientists had first figured out the basic foundations of geology. Not quite warm enough to fully thaw but protection from the wind, a cup of coffee, a slice of rocky road and a view of the grey loch through a window running with rain drops. We led our quaking support vehicle over a high level bridge (my mum hates high bridges even more than I do). We cycled up a hill. We grumbled at our support driver. We grouched at each other. We cycled down. We took photos of soggy shepherd with his wet woolly flock and his drenched dog.

For a moment the clouds broke. Heading towards Durness we reached a summit. Below was a huge, wide valley that sloped down for ten miles to the sea. Harsh mountains lay behind us. Ahead lay softer green fields, light and dark, painted by the shadow of the fast moving clouds. The sun broke through. We freewheeled down towards the rainbow. A moment of joy.

It didn’t last. We arrived at the campsite with enough time to dive into the car before the rain arrived again. Drum, drum, drum went the rain. We found the whisky and had a wee dram while it continued. Drum, drum, drum. We had another dram. What can I say? The weather was bad.

 

Paint on road describes average speed of wearily, cold cyclist

Paint on road describes average speed of wearily, cold cyclist

Out of the rain

July 22nd, 2015 | Posted by Dino in UK - (0 Comments)

Lochgilphead to Oban

Distance: 67 km

Next time I’m home and struggling to stir myself out of bed, I will remember this morning. For the second night in a row, my tent had sheltered me from slashes of rain and wind. Wetness surrounded me. A small pool had collected by the flap of my tent door, the ground felt soft with the water underneath, and lifting my thermarest revealed yet more dampness. Thankfully the rain had stopped by the time I peered out the tent to see a dismal grey sky. The forecast I’d seen for today showed full heavy rain for the entire day. I suppose I should call this grey but dry sky good sky. I packed as hastily as I could and then moved my sodden tent to flap as dry as it could while my Dad and I sheltered in the lean-to to eat breakfast.

We called my Mum for help. For the next half an hour or so, my Mum looked up hotels and B&Bs in Oban on her iPad, several hundred miles away, and fed us numbers to call. We called one, we called another. Then another. But everywhere was full. By this time, my tent had flapped enough to be near-ish dry and so we packed up and went on our way.

It rained on and off all morning. I had an extra thermal on to keep off the cold. How on earth do Scottish people cope? Is this really their idea of summer? Nonetheless, the cycling was easy enough as the strong wind pushed us up the many contours. We learnt to identify how close we were to the summit and what the path would do next by looking at the streams. After so much rain, the streams were full of life, gushing with white water down the rocks. It was pleasing to mark our ascent by seeing the fast flowing water coming down and then, having passed a small watershed, to start cycling downstream on the other side of the summit.

There wasn’t much life beyond the trees, the sheep and the lively water. The road was pretty quiet and only two, maybe three, clusters of houses en route were big enough to warrant a village sign. We pushed to Oban in search of somewhere warm and dry.

My Dad led us to a lovely restaurant that apparently I had been to some 14 years ago (I don’t remember the restaurant though I do remember eating Irn Bru ice cream in Oban). We took a window seat by the waterfront restaurant from where we could see the ferry boats coming and going, loaded with tourists. I munched my way through, first, a mini haggis pie, then, smoked salmon and scrambled egg and then I polished off the remnant of my Dad’s burger and chips (he’d decided he didn’t really like burger half way through, either that or the beer had gone to his head because he became weary and stopped eating). Joy of joys, as I looked out the window again a large patch of blue sky had appeared. Not quite believing our luck, I checked the weather forecast online using the restaurant wifi to find full sun and warmth forecast for the rest of the day. Who needs a B&B in his glorious weather? Hurrah!

Done cycling for the day, we pottered around the town, collecting goodies from the distillery and supermarket before heading to the campsite to have a well-needed wash and rest. We laundered our stinky cycling clothes and while they flapped in the cool sunshine, we flopped. Another day done.

 

Dodging the rain

July 20th, 2015 | Posted by Dino in UK - (0 Comments)

Lochranza to Lochgilphead

Distance: 42 km

Throughout the night my tent was shaken and buffeted by violent gusts of wind, the sheets of rain drummed loudly against the sides. We were lucky as by morning the rain had passed and only the strong wind remained. I took my theory that it is wind not sunshine that dries things to the test. In the absence of a washing line or anywhere to hang my tent, I took the inner sheet of my tent and wrapped it around my neck and fastened it like a cape. I then proceeded to continue with my morning routine of packing my panniers dressed like a camping superman and caught amused smiles from passing campers. Yet it worked! And I happily rolled up a dried tent.

We paid a quick visit to the distillery on our way to catch the early morning ferry back to the main land. As we waited by the coast, listening to the squeaks of oyster catchers and admiring the blues of the sea, the sun came out.

The Lochranza to Cloanaig ferry has an appearance reminiscent of a WW2 landing craft, with a drawbridge-type ramp at each end. This enables it to land at a simple concrete slipway and load a range of vehicles including large caravans towed by Chelsea tractors. As we headed across the water the last of the night’s gale was still blowing itself out. This made our arrival at Cloanaig more akin to landing a sea kayak in surf than hopping off the average ferry. The vessel was moving up and down considerably on the swell even while the vehicles were disembarking. As we approached the ramp downwards, I could see the waves crashing on the concrete landing and swamping the ramp. How on earth could I walk my heavy bike down this steep ramp in cleated shoes without being swept away by a crashing wave? The ferry man clearly saw the question on my face and came rushing toward to take Monty across, leaving me to run as fast as I could between the waves.

Our feet now wet with salt water, but otherwise in fine fettle back on terra firma, we were glad of the strong wind, which blew us up the single-track climb to the main road and along the Kintyre peninsula to Tarbert. Only 15 miles done, but already time for lunch at a cafe on the quayside. With only 25 miles to cover in the day it was the perfect location to indulge our appetites on flapjack crumble ice cream sundae (my Dad) and veggie supreme pizza with added pepperoni (me, not so veggie but still supreme).

From Tarbert we followed the main road north along the coast with views across (the real) Loch Fyne to Argyll. We were lucky to reach the campsite at Lochgilphead and get our tents up before the rain started again. I spent the rest of afternoon lying in the tent reading my book about Kazakhstan while wondering when the clouds would run out of water. In the evening, we cowered in a damp lean-to in order to have dinner and fretted a bit more about the weather as it continued to pour, throwing our tents around in the wind and gradually turning the camping field into a boggy marsh. I fell asleep with my ear plugs tapped into my ears to block out the sound of another night sheltering from a storm.

Getting on the ferry... Sunshine and calm.

Getting on the ferry… Sunshine and calm.

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Getting off the ferry in crashing waves…

 

In the wet

July 18th, 2015 | Posted by Dino in UK - (0 Comments)

Chester to Garstang

Distance: 129 km

Watch any TV document in which a celebrity lugs their ailing body from Lands End to John O’Groats for charity and there will inevitably be a segment on the “tough bit” in which they cycle along the A59 in the pouring rain. Trucks splash past. The camera zooms into a close up of their mud-caked legs whirring away. Their socks are soaked. Their teeth gritted.

“The day started grey, desolate and wet. And it didn’t get any better.” That was my Dad’s rather accurate assessment of the day.

We could have enjoyed a nice ride this morning as we cycled through Rock Ferry on the way to catch our ferry across the Mersey. This is where my grandparents and great aunt used to live and where my Dad grew up, so many of the places held memories. “Once I cycled a whole mile along this road without touching the handlebars,” my Dad reminisced, though he wasn’t tempted to repeat his childhood trick on a fully-laden bike in the rain.

Oh, rain. Rain, rain, rain. Plus on a bicycle you get the splash from the puddles, the splosh from the cars and the splattering from the wheel of the cyclist in front.

Waiting for the ferry across the Mersey we caught a small bit of warmth after seeing an inviting sign for cake and coffee. The ferry itself had a very, very loud tannoy which, despite the gloom and wet, boasted loudly of Liverpool’s greatness. Not just home to the Beatles, did you know that Liverpool was once home to the longest floating landing stage in the UK? Now, there’s an achievement.

Out of Liverpool we cycled along the dock road. There was more smell than colour. All around us: grey road, grey trucks, grey concrete, grey industrial blocks and grey sky. The smells told the journey better: adhesives and paint, newly sawn wood, fried food, instant coffee and the Sandon Dock sewage works. We turned onto the bike path along the canal. In the sunshine I could imagine this to be quite nice as moorhens squeaked and plopped into the water. In the rain, we fought with wet cobbles and a damaged pathway that threatened to topple us into the canal.

We meant to follow the canal for a lot further but, erm, there was no path. On the map our path was marked in blue not because it was a Sustrans bike route but because it was a line of water. Oh dear. A bit of last minute re-routing let us to the A59 and our classic TV “rough bit.”

The highlight of the day was halfway down the A59 where I slowed down to give room to a duck and four fluffy ducklings which were waddling down the path on the side of the road.

The lowlight of the day was pushing our bikes the wrong way up the slip road of a busy dual carriageway after the bike path into Preston was closed and we diverted the wrong way.

The wet of the A59 was outdone by the drenching gloom of the A6. It was 6pm as we approached the A6 to Garstang. We’d been on the road for over 10 hours. We were soaking wet. Could barely see beyond the water smears in our glasses (oh, that’s another story… How I lost my contact lenses…) and yet we still had 13 miles to cycle. I downed both my emergency caffeine gel and an emergency mini packet of Haribo, told my Dad to cling onto my back wheel and sped off. Yes, it was rush hour. Yes, three men lent out their car windows to yell abuse. But thankfully the wind whipped away their words and we carried on pedalling.

To add misery to misery we overshot the campsite because there was no sign visible from the way we came, and had to stop in the rain to call for directions. We weren’t grumpy AT ALL by this stage so it was fine, really.

But genuinely, we were relieved to find a nice campsite which – joy of joys – had a breeze block lean-to with hot showers, a dry picnic bench and a kettle. A kettle!!! We erected an indoor washing line to air our garments, drank tea and, hopefully, forgave each other the grumpy moments of the day.

Please pray for sunshine.

 

 

A change in the weather

July 13th, 2015 | Posted by Dino in UK | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Distance: 118km

One of the things I love most about cycle touring is seeing a country and a landscape change. To see it shift from one region to another and observe the geology and nature transform mile by mile.

Today the swoop down the hill into Taunton marked the change from the densely-packed contours of Devon to the smoother terrain of Somerset. The long, smooth, wet road hissed under the bike wheels as we freewheeled down the hill, hunched over our handlebars as our waterproofs flapped in the wind.

It rained all morning. My mood was brightened by the discovery of salted pretzels. Once upon a time, my heart belonged entirely to M&Ms but then, half way around my Ironman marathon, I started eating pretzels and I’ve been in love ever since. Who cares if it’s grey and rainy, I have pretzels!

For lunch we cowered under a very large sheltered picnic table. I usually spend a great amount of time while touring fretting about the dampness of my tent, so I was feeling slightly smug about the fact my tent was flapping dry in the wind despite the fact it was raining. But then the wind picked up. And then, specifically, the wind picked up my pretzels and scattered them on the floor. That was, what you might call, a Low Moment.

The leg warmers went back on. They are partly for warmth, partly for protection, but mostly for morale. My mum gave me some good bike touring advice: “do whatever you need to do to not be miserable”. It is good advice, because it makes you focus on what is making you miserable (my tent is wet, I’m hungry, my pretzels are on the floor) and it helps you find the solution.

I scooped the pretzels off the floor. Who cares, I ate them. My tent dried out. We cycled on.

Slowly the sun emerged as the clouds parted and the Somerset hills flattened. We headed across the Somerset levels. On our right I spotted Glastonbury Tor which stood, shimmering with light, as the sun broke through the clouds. Are we here already? The shape of the landmark is unmistakable. Only a few months ago, I’d come to Cheddar for a weekend of walking and cheese. And here I was, again. It seems unreal that this morning I was in a green, rainy Devon and this evening I go to bed with a clear, crisp sky opposite the face of Cheddar gorge.

 

View across the levels towards Glastonbury tor

The Last Avocado to Halifax

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

Day 73: Spry Bay to Halifax (100km)

I awoke to fog. A few lamps cast fuzzy globes of warmer light on the grey, misty campground. The springy carpet of moss and thick grass was wet as I rolled up my tent for the last time this summer. Back at home, the Canadian geese are doing practice flights across the river. Soon enough I too will take the migratory flight home.

I followed the coastal highway headed west. The fog hid the stitches between the ruffled ocean waters and the opaque sheet of sky. The air was cool, wet and quiet with the solemn stillness of an early Sunday morning. Gone are the holiday makers. Derelict boats, the paint peeling from their hulls, and houses for sale pointed towards a more affluent past when abundant hauls of lobster and cod were the order of the day.

A sunning of cormorants stood on the harbour rocks waiting for the cloud to break its hold over the sky. Flashes of lemon-yellow tweeted in the trees, the goldfinches fluttered and called in turn as the cyclist pedalled by. I stopped to enjoy the view of one of the harbours. Looking out into the water I was not aware that eyes were watching me until I turned to continue and saw, at the crest of the hill, the lithe figure of a deer. Our eyes met and the spirit turned, springing into the air with the grace of a ballerina. I watched its dancing retreat along the road until it disappeared back into the spruce forest.

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After a slow but steady morning on the road I cycled through a harbour town where I expected to find a dry picnic spot where I could ceremoniously eat The Last Avocado. These coastal towns usually only have one road – the highway – and so stretch out for a few kilometres without much of a central hub. I passed all the way through the town without finding a spot. Still hungry, I had to take my turning off onto the main highway towards Halifax.

Within meters the heavens opened. First one heavy drop, seconds later a pounding rain battered the road like an army of drummers. The cold bullets of rain hurt as it hit my bare legs. There were no buildings in sight, no rocks to hide under, nor trees that could afford protection. The wind created ribs out of the waves sliding down the road. With nowhere to stop and a hollow stomach I kept on pushing up the hills.

Then: a triple flash of lightning. The head-splitting crack of thunder. In that flash and roar echoed the terrifying memories of Calgary. Except for the dip of the hills, there were no structures pointing to the sky – no buildings, not even a telegraph pole – a lone, drenched figure on a metal bike cycled alone into the thickening storm.

I imagined the sad tale of the person who cycled across Canada only to be struck by lightning 30km out of Halifax. It was in the local paper.

I carried on pedalling. My muscles burnt with lactic acid as I ascended the steepening hills. In defiance of the 12th day of non stop riding, hills and lactic acid, my Atlas legs burned along the highway. I have not cycled 7,500 kilometres across a continent to be beaten now.

I came to a flyover bridge and hid underneath, waiting for the thunder to past. Please go, please go, I urged. Before I get too cold. I stuffed my last protein bar into my face, packed my jersey pockets with the last of my jelly beans and M&Ms. I heard the cracks of thunder reseeding into the east. The westerly wind blew against me as I mounted Monty for the final time. I am not going to stop.

I did not stop until I reached the city limits. The gaudy lights of the gas stations and fast food outlets were a dazzle of harsh colour against the grey day. The traffic into town was busy and gave me little space as it splashed past me. Two Alsatians in the back of a pick up truck barked loudly as they shot past me. I ate a final handful of jelly beans and headed for the ferry.

I arrived at the Dartmouth ferry terminal just as a boat was pulling in. We boarded the boat. The end, on the far side of the small harbour, was in sight. My cold fingers unwrapped the last bite of my Kendle Mint Cake. I have carried this with me since the very beginning and it has survived, as sweet and restoring as ever. The ferry pulled out its dock and putted over to Halifax.

“Monty,” I said, rubbing my fingers along the neck of his frame. “Monty, we made it.”

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The Cruellest Day

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

Day 71: Linwood to Sherbrooke (93.5 km)

So, that was awful. In fact, that was a strong contender for the hardest, cruellest day of the whole trip. You wonder why you get out of bed sometimes, don’t you?

It rained all night. Loud, battering rain and gusting wind blew my tent around like a skiff in a storm. Despite having my earplugs in I was awaken throughout the night by the combination of frightful dreams and the weather pounding of my little green home.

By breakfast time the tent was sodden and any shuffling inside caused water to seep in. Sipping my coffee in the tent porch, it did not appear to actually be raining but the air was so thick with moisture that it was hard to tell. I will miss Canada when this is all done with, but I won’t miss packing up a wet tent.

I wound out of the campground under a gloomy sky. The wind shook the trees wildly. I stopped to take a photo of the drizzly ocean front but the water fogged up my lens immediately and the camera couldn’t focus. Only a few more pedal strokes down the road and a violent gust of wind blasted Monty a meter into the road. We would need to be careful.

We joined the main highway. The wind, which was supposed to be pushing us south, appeared to have changed direction. A strong, cold crosswind slowed our progress to a miserable crawl. Trucks rumbled by with an engine roar and a spray of cold water.

Turning off the highway onto quieter roads, my mood did not improve much. The wind now should have been at my back but it seemed to twist and turn in the air, punching violently in all directions. The rain, a slow, steady drizzle, continued relentlessly. The sky was a melancholy grey. I tried to remain upbeat by singing to myself. It did not work. I will miss Canada when this is all done with, but I won’t miss cycling in cold, wind and rain.

Cycling weather

Cycling weather

Eventually I pulled into a community playground and hid under a small shelter. I remember my mother’s wise words: “Do whatever you need to do to not be miserable.” I called a B&B. They were full.

I spied the colourful shapes of the playground, knowing that a climbing frame makes an excellent place to hang a tent. It was still raining but the rain is finer than it was when my tent got soaked. I contemplated whether my tent would get drier in thin rain given that it is currently sodden. I then contemplated what my life has become that I am sat in a deserted playground contemplating whether things can dry out in the rain.

My stomach growled. So I ate the usual fare of avocado, crackers and apple. And then quickly polished off the rest of my M&Ms. I was now getting cold. I will miss Canada when this is all done with, but I won’t miss having to wolf down lunch before the hypothermia sets in.

I looked up the distance to the campground. 37km. That’s not too far in sunshine. But it is a mission in the cold, wet and wind. Now there is just the road, the rain, me and my demons. The demons are yelling “give in!” But how? Where? I can’t give in you stupid demons because I’m alone in the middle of nowhere.

I stick in my headphones to block out the irrational demons and pedal off. I pass a cheese factory, a Christmas tree farm, and a fish hatchery. The rest of the time I just pass mundane tree, ordinary house, and average side road.

I approach a car that is pulled up, indicators flashing. At first it looks like the man is hustling a large tree into the side door. As I cycle past I notice a body: fresh, new trainers and a large denim-clad rear lying on the ground. I wonder if the body is alive for it looks to be in the recovery position. My instinct is to stop but then I remember I am alone. Why wouldn’t you flag down a car if your friend (?) was medically compromised and lying on the ground? Why would you put on your indicator lights if you were hiding a dead body?

I reached the 7,500 kilometre mark on my bicycle odometer. I brake to stop for a celebratory snack, bash into a rock hidden in the earth and tumble from my bike in slow motion, bruising my bum as I fall.

Finally I arrive into the town of Sherbrooke. It looks like a nice town. Monty and I pull up outside the grocery store. Hmm. The door won’t open. I try again. I try a different door. I check the opening hours, I see people inside. Then a woman inside comes to the door: “We’ve only just turned the cash registers on from the power cut. We’ll be open again in 30 minutes.”

I pedal to the campsite. Thankfully it has stopped raining but the wind is kicking up a storm. I am greeted friendlily enough but then directed to what appears to be the windiest spot on the whole campsite. I tie a length of rope to a tree for a washing line and am struggling with my tent when an old gentleman walks over with a strawberry icecream cone and the air of someone with too much time on their hands.

“Where’d you bike from?”

Oh no, not now. My tent is impersonating a wind sock, twisting and flapping as it is caught in the ferocious teeth of the wind.

“Where you from? Oh England. I have an uncle in Manchester.”

The story of his uncle is lost in the wind as the flapping crash of the tent drowns out his words. I want to yell: “I’m cold, I’m hungry, my socks are soaked, my tent is soaked and I just want to dry this thing out so I can go back town and buy my own bodyweight in whisky and chocolate. In short I DON’T WANT TO TALK TO YOU.”

I will miss Canada when this is all done with, but I won’t miss “the conversation” (ie the exact same questions asked about my bike trip multiple times per day).

Addendum:

As I wrote this a woman came to my tent:

“Hello? Are you sleeping? Hello? You there with the bicycle.”

I unzip my tent flap.

“I thought you might be cold so I bought you a hot drink.” Hands over cup. “It’s hot chocolate.”

Faith in life is restored.

Addendum to the addendum:

I drank half the delicious hot chocolate, adding in some Baileys that I had purchased on my return trip to town. But then I go for another sip and the cup slips from my hand, throwing delicious Irish cream flavoured hot chocolate goodness over my shoes and camping mat.

Today is the cruellest day.

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Dry dreams

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

Day 70: Baddeck to Linwood (99.5 km)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David hydrating for the road ahead.

David hydrating for the road ahead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to Nova Scotia

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

Day 64: Northumberland Cove to Antigonish (86.5km)

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

Welcome to Nova Scotia! Well, yes, it is quiet Scottish isn’t it? Because its raining again. And there is a sign post for New Glasgow.

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It had started to rain as the ferry from PEI as we approached the misty coast. Just after the ferry port, I stopped for a quick cup of tea hoping the rain would abate. It didn’t, it just rained harder. It poured. A man walking outside with a cardboard tray of coffee saw me and commented cheerfully “at least my bike fits on the back of this!” Nodding at his SUV. Oh, because that’s a helpful and encouraging comment. I did not respond.

Monty and I splashed off down the main highway. Monty’s tyres made a slick hiss as they wove through the pooling rain. We approached an intersection. And there it was: HALIFAX.

The first sign of the end. I could get to Halifax in 2 days, just turn West and pedal. i laughed to myself as i cycled past the turn to Halifax. I want to prolong the fun. I am headed East.

All day I was in a ridiculously cheerful mood. My joy was unrelentingly upbeat despite the pouring rain. I only have 9 days left of cycling but I am determined to enjoy them.

I could barely see anything in the grey fog of rain. Cars zoomed past. The rain seeped through my jacket. My socks squelched.

Eventually the rain abated although it made precious little difference given that my socks were saturated and the road was still covered. Each passing truck sprayed the pooled rainwater sideways into me and Monty. But the lifted clouds had improved the visibility. I could now see the next hill approaching, the neighbouring mounds piled with trees. The verge was decorated with white flowers and tangled grasses. There wasn’t a lot else to see. No towns, no roadside stops. Just hills. Blimey, lots of hills.

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I saw a sign welcoming me to Antigonish county. It was in English. But the second line underneath was written in a second language… Gaelic.

Given how drenched through I was I decided to treat myself to a motel. The motel owner, a former police officer, was very friendly and equalled inquisitive as he interviewed me about my trip. He couldn’t quite believe I biked here from Victoria, BC. (Neither can I, to be honest, it is such a long way). We chatted for a while before I turned to go to my room.

“Oh, and if you see a load of police cars here later,” he added, “don’t worry.”

He’d had a woman here before demand to leave when the squadron of police cars had ferried round in the darkening night. Suspecting the police to be cracking down on the drug den located in the motel she was indignant that she wasn’t going to stay at a place of such lowly repute.

“They just come over here for coffee,” the owner smile. “They just want to hang out but if someone commits a crime and they are in McDonalds then all the locals will complain that they didn’t stop the crime because they were drinking coffee in McDonalds. So they come here.”

While my socks hung over the shower rail, I ended the day lying on my huge, comfy bed eating take away pizza. It was worth the $3 extra to have it delivered. I will sleep well. Tomorrow I head to Cape Breton.