Dino's blog for mini adventures and endurance challenges
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Day 22: Tyven to Redvers (167km)

The southern highway has been quieter than the rushing trans-Canada. However the trucks and cars still zoom past. Today the wanderers and I found a way of slowing down the traffic in Southern Saskatchewan.

Nice tan lines.

Nice tan lines.

A house to sleep in

June 27th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Day 21: Regina to Francis (87 km)

“I really hope this evening we’ll be sleeping in a house.”

When I said those words, sat indoors in Regina with the rain lashing outside, I hadn’t expected that the house would turn out the way it did.

We left Regina late morning once the thunder clouds and rain had done their worst and passed to the north east. Although now dry the weather forecast for the day didn’t look good – there was a strong south-easterly wind. And today we departed the Trans Canada highway to avoid the traffic, heading instead directly into the south-easterly wind in search of quieter roads.

We only succeeded in cycling a punishing 73km, many kilometres short of our intended destination of Fillmore. For lunch we sat on a patch of lawn to devour the usual selection of avocado, crackers, cheese etc. None of us wanted to move. I don’t know if it was the late start, the tired legs from many miles on the road, the oppressive humidity of the air, or the unrelenting headwind but we all felt very lethargic and didn’t want to get back on the road.

Cycling into a headwind isn’t very social. You can’t ride side by side and chat as it uses up so much energy and the wind will catch your words and toss them behind you before they reach the other person. To brighten things up, one of the wanderers suggested that we play leapfrog on the road.

We all had the same album on our iPods (Tegan & Sara, Hearthrob) to use for the leapfrog. We lined up in formation on the road. On three we pressed a simultaneous play on our iPods and punched into the wind. I started at the front, Sofi sat right on my back wheel and Katie right behind her. We pedalled fast, head down, punching into the wind.

After two songs the person at the back sprinted to the front and pedalled as fast as possible. We cut through the wind like the women’s team pursuit at the Olympics. Our average speed pushed up to 23km. My legs ached with lactic acid. They ached from all the miles I’ve cycled these last few weeks. They ached as they punched the wind. The music made me push as hard as I could until the end of the second track then Katie raced to the front. It was a relief to be about to cower on the back wheel, sheltered from the buffering wind. The pace quickened with the fast opening beats of each new song. The rider at the front picked up the speed with their fresher legs.

What we looked like today (for 15km...)

What we looked like today (for 15km…)

When the last song on the album began to close we were just 12 kilometres from Francis.

We pulled up at the gas station. Francis is a non-location: a scattering of houses, a small gas station, a pot holed gravel road to the south. The guy behind the counter, a young guy with a Canada Badboy tshirt and a hint of stubble, informed us that there wasn’t anywhere to stay. No motel, no campground, nothing. There nearest place was to backtrack north or continue another 30km along the highway. By now it was past five in the afternoon and none of us had the energy to cycle any further into a headwind.

A group of three men in boots and baseball caps were having a coffee by the window. One of them advised us that we could sleep in the sports ground in the town. Being outside in the wind didn’t look inviting so we sat in the gas station drinking diet coke waiting for the time to pass.
We were about to head off when Becky came over. Becky was a local and lived just 13 km down the road. She and her husband are in the process of building a new house. “It doesn’t have flushing water or anything,” she explained, “but you’re welcome to stay.”

What a relief. We cycled down the road and along a bumping, muddy track to the unfinished house. It stood like a white beacon on the horizon – it’s exposed walls shining in the low evening sun. It felt strange to be the first people staying in a new house but I’m really grateful to Becky for letting us stay. I got what I wished for: a house to sleep in.

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The people you meet

June 25th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (2 Comments)

Day 20: Moose Jaw to Regina (79.5 km)

“Oh, I would have thought you would have cycled further than this,” the man said by way of introduction. I gave him a blank stare. Apparently he’d seen us in the bike shop in Swift Current two days ago. Further than this? We biked 173km yesterday.

“Do you have a pump I can use?” He asked. He’d flagged us down just as we were headed about 10km outside of Moose Jaw. He had been sitting on the verge with his bike strewn around him. He didn’t look like a tourer because he only had one small pack on his road bike. It was already mid-morning as we’d taken a leisurely breakfast at Timmy’s in order to catch up on blogs and drink a coffee that doesn’t taste like every other camp meal we’d eaten.

“Schrader or presta?” I asked.

“Huh?” He looked at us like we were stupid.

“Skinny or fat valve.” Sofi translated pointing at the difference between the tubes in her wheel and mine.

“Oh, skinny. I should cancel my taxi.”

Taxi? I dug into my pannier for the pump. The guy started talking to the wanderers. The usual conversation: where did you start, where are you going etc. Oddly this guy told us he was biking across Canada (albeit in stages) and was headed to Winnipeg. That’s 700km away I thought, overhearing the conversation. Would you not take a pump on a 700km bike ride?

The guy was clearly rich. A plastic tourer with a much greater credit card limit to pannier bag ratio than we have. Who else pulls out their cellphone in the middle of nowhere and calls a cab? Who else DOESN’T CARRY A PUMP WHILE CYCLING ACROSS CANADA?

The wanderers and I shared a glance: what a twat

Thankfully just as I was pulling out my pump a taxi pulled up and the guy decided he would head back to town. I would have thought he’d have got further than this… If only he carried a pump.

After meeting The Rich Twat With No Pump we merrily pedalled on in the sunshine. We passed through the Queen Elizabeth trees. Apparently, when Queen Elizabeth came to visit Saskatchewan in 1959 the powers that be decided to plant a corridor of trees on the road from Moose Jaw to Regina so that Her Majesty wouldn’t be bored by the endless, boring prairie view.

These are Her Majesty's trees

These are Her Majesty’s trees

The cycling today wasn’t too challenging but nor was it particularly exciting so Katie and I played Top 5, 20 questions and our own home brewed version of Sporkle to entertain us while Sofi focused on the pain of her chafing inner thigh hinge (!)

When we arrived at Regina we stopped at a bike shop so Sofi could fork out a small but worthwhile fortune on a shiny new Brooks saddle (it’s brown so it matches her handlebar tape).

We’ve spent the evening staying with a very friendly guy called Ron, a keen cyclist who has converted his basement into a bike workshop. After stuffing our bellies with turkey, strawberries and cookies we played bike mechanic with Ron. We all learnt a few things from Ron, clearly an expert, as he checked over our bikes. I was relieved that he wasn’t worried about the miscellaneous bump on my front tyre and chuffed that he approved of my true back wheel.

One of the greatest aspects of this trip is meeting people on the way: from friendly bike mechanic hosts to idiots without a pump. They all add a brushstroke to this expanding picture of Canada by bicycle.

Day 19: Swift Current to Moose Jaw (172.5 km)

The truck pulled over behind the zigzag of bicycles scattered across the hard shoulder. Two riders sat huddled on the ground. The third lay prone on the hot tarmac, her arms outstretched but her legs still bent awkwardly around her pedals.

“Oh, we’re fine,” Katie wanderer called, giving the driver thumbs up.

We were fine, all of us. We’d just decided to sprint 15km in order to reach an average speed of 30km by our 100th mile. This spot on the side of the highway, bordered by fields on all sides, under the heat of the sun cooling in the late afternoon, marked our first English century.

5 hours 17 minutes and 04 seconds.

This was the longest and fastest ride of my life. I felt lucky, and relieved, to be here as the ride to Moose Jaw had been riddled with problems.

Cooked Dino

Cooked Dino

Saturday morning
Yesterday we’d had perfect weather for the 173km ride but while loading up my panniers in the morning I noticed a problem. Uh-oh. Broken spoke.

As we cycled to the bike shop I was muttering under my breath” I don’t like bike shops, I don’t like bike shops.” Seriously, as a girl in a bike shop I usually get either ignored or patronised (sometimes they actually manage to do both). I was not looking forward to this.

Lo and behold I wheeled Monty in the door and over to the mechanic’s stand. The main mechanic takes a look at Monty and then before I’ve had a chance to open my mouth measures the chain and tells me I need a new one and possibly a new cassette. Seriously? I have a broken spoke. Please can we focus on that.

The guys in the shop were bimbling around and I was keen to get Monty fixed and on the road as soon as possible. “Oh, we don’t have a spoke that will fit so will have to cut one” the guy says. “I have a spare,” I interject, burrowing into my panniers.

Out comes the spoke. The guys in the bike shop are still bimbling so I thread it myself. “Excuse me, where’s the grease?” I ask. I fit the spoke and head over to the trueing stand.

Mr Mechanic has now spied what I am up to. “I have 30 years of experience.” Mr mechanic announces, puffing out his chest, “some of these guys in here have 5 or 6 years experience but I won’t let them do this.” There’s a pause as Mr Mechanic notices the flame of determination in the crazy English girl’s eyes. “But I’ll let you have a go.” Clearly he expected me to fail.

Wheel building is supposed to be a dark art. Mr Mechanic clearly didn’t expect his customers to start boiling the magical cauldron by themselves. But he hasn’t accounted for me.

Geez. 30 years experience to learn the hocus pocus of making a bit of metal straight? My Dad and I built a wheel on Boxing Day last year and its been good since. My Dad just printed the instructions off the Internet and we went through bit by bit. It’s not actually a dark art.

I carried on trueing the wheel. Then with the help of the wanderers put the cassette back on and was tightening it with a wrench when Mr Mechanic came over again. I’m sure he wanted to diss my work but he crouched on the floor, spun my wheel and it was true. Ha!

Given that I’d used only my own components and my own labour they didn’t charge me anything although I did buy a spare chain and some energy gels.

Not amused

Not amused

We wheeled out the bike shop. By this time it’s midday, the sky is beginning to cloud over and riding to Moose Jaw seemed a little ambitious. The wanderers suggested we make it a rest day- a wise decision. We wheeled over the road to the market. Folk music is playing in the town square surrounded by stalls of fresh produce and crafts. Last night’s host, Sarah, has already sold out of bread but is still at the stall selling the last of her cinnamon buns and cookies.

We stop to eat a scone. I check Monty’s back wheel again. Uh-oh. there’s a bulge in the back wheel. I take Monty back over the road to the bike shop for a second opinion. Mr Mechanic thinks he’s fine but just as he is checking it my Dad phones. My Dad advises swapping the tyres and fitting the chain. So I do. (Funny how I prefer the opinion of someone on holiday in the Azores over the opinion of a mechanic standing right next to my bike.) It’s now that we realise the the chain I’ve been sold is too short (note to self it’s a 114 link chain). They have to get a new one, soak it in paraffin wax etc. The wanderers have all bought new chains from the shop.

We sit on the floor of the bike shop, Saskatoon berry scone in one hand, greasy finger on other hand counting the chain links in their bikes. We count the chain links four times: yep, they are 114 link chains. Their chains are too short so they have to be swapped.

Eventually Monty has a new chain fitted and it fits. The wanderers have spare chains. We’ve been in the bike shop for the best part of five hours (!) and no way are we going to make it to Moose Jaw.

Sunday morning
This morning at the very same point in packing up our panniers Sofi noticed that her rear back wheel was flat. A nasty bit of metal that looked like a twisted staple had got in. Oh well. We flipped the bike over, changed the tube and were on our way in half an hour.

All morning we cycled to the sound track of the prairies: the rapping of the wind against anything that will flap, the occasional gull or black bird calling, the quick ticking of the freewheel hub and the off beat clunks of a gear change. The wind was behind us slowly picking up strength. This is cycling in the prairies at its best.

We cycled past treeless green fields. At one point we passed Chaplin Lake, the second largest salt water lake in Canada and home to sanderlings and plover. From a distance the piles of salt around Chaplin look more like smudgy snow.

We stopped for lunch at a shabby looking road side cafe that looked like it had been abandoned for years. A sheet of roofing had partly peeled off and was crashing in the wind. In classic Sofi style, we were just about to pedal off when… Uh-oh. Another flat. It looked like a slow puncture so we thought we could “save time” but just re-pumping it up and then Sofi could ride on it for the next, er, 57km…

But in the process of pumping up the inner pump (or more precisely Dino and Sofi shuffling around to change turns pumping while holding both bikes all upright) Sofi’s bike fell over.

Pssssssst!

All our hard pumped air burst out as the nozzle bit of the inner tube snapped off. Erm… Time to get the spare tube out. Fail.

We pedalled on happily all afternoon. At 145km I noticed that our average speed was, thanks to the wind, 29.7km per hour. Do you reckon we can get to 30km per hour? We set ourselves the challenge of pushing our average speed up to 30km by the time we reached our English century (ie the 100mile mark). With 15km to go we pushed up the pace to 37km per hour on the flat and raced up every curving incline. Katie and I had it in our minds to reach the desired 30km per hour speed and then just maintain it. By 150km we’d ticked over to 30km average speed. But Sofi hadn’t got the memo about just maintaining the pace and pushed off faster and faster – now up to 40km per hour. Katie and I pedalled as fast as we could to keep up. The tempo got faster and faster. The kilometres dropped.

“Century!” I yelled. Slamming in the brakes and rolling onto the hot tarmac to cool down. My heart pounded throughout my body, I could feel it beating against the road. Our wanderers too had screeched to a halt and their bikes lay like road kill smeared across the shoulder. We were fine. We’d just done the longest and fastest ride of our lives. And we still had 13km to go to Moose Jaw.

172.5km we get to meet the Moose of Moose Jaw

172.5km we get to meet the Moose of Moose Jaw

Am I hallucinating?

June 23rd, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Day 18: Eagle Valley Campground to Swift Current (137.2 km)

Is this happening? Or is this just a dream?

As previously mentioned, the prairies could drive you crazy. Today I began to wonder whether I was hallucinating in the heat – in a good way. It’s been that sort of day.

I was fired up for our epic 137km of riding today. It would be the longest ride I’d ever done so to energies I drank a litre of coffee. We all plugged in our iPods to listen to some tunes to make the ride more enjoyable.The surrounding hills all look like an endless… Golf course. Undulating slopes. No trees. Green, green freshly mown grass. You need a few tunes to make the five hours of cycling through an monotonous golf course just that bit more interesting.

Mid morning Sofi got a flat. We swapped the tube and no sooner had Sofi said “the worse but of getting a flat is pumping up with this thing” when a man pulls up in a car (bikes on the roof.)

“Hey, do you wanna borrow a track pump?”

Yes, this really happened. We had a flat in the Middle of Nowhere and a track pump turns up.

A few kilometres later we are still in the Middle of Nowhere (theme emerging) when we swing round a rare bend in the road to find..

Ice cream oasis in the Middle of Nowhere

Ice cream oasis in the Middle of Nowhere

Are you serious? An icecream stall with 20 flavours of delicious and colourful calories lovely piled into a waffle cone? You’d be lucky to find Kalua Chocolate Fudge icecream in the centre of Oxford and here it is in the Middle of Nowhere.

As we were tucking into our cones an RV (translation: caravan) turns up with 9 men looking like leprechauns dressed as Tiger Woods. Eh? In turned out these guys were doing a mini gold tour of southern Saskatchewan. The whole get up of these guys seemed very Hunter S. Thompson. We witnessed the grim sight of one of these guys (the one who’d lost the last golf game) being cajoled by his mates into eating an icecream decorated with their choice of toppings.

“Wait, lemme get some dead bugs off the windshield,” one of them called. Returning a few minutes later he added his toppings to the collection of dried grass and dandelions already on the vanilla scoop. They filmed as this guy munched the icecream. Eew.

There was a lot of cycling today. 137.5km in the end. So please imagine 3 hours of cycling through a golf course…

Photo credit: Sofi (taken while riding- kudos to you)

Photo credit: Sofi (taken while riding- kudos to you)

Finally we arrived in Swift Current. Luckily we are staying with a baker. As soon as she opened the door to greet us a warm smell of fresh bread waffled out the hallway. We merrily munched away at the still-hot cheese and jalapeño scones we were given, pleased to have completed our longest bike ride ever. A sweet end to the dream of a day’s cycling.

This is what a bakers front room looks like the evening before market day

This is what a bakers front room looks like the evening before market day

Entering Saskatchewan

June 23rd, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Day 17: Redcliff to Eagle Valley campground (101 km)

I was abruptly awoken when the bright motion activated lights were activated by a Wanderer wandering around the washroom. I can honestly say this is the first time I have woken up in a shower cubicle. It took a moment to get my bearings. I had slept very well (bar for the usual midnight midgy bite scratching fest) whereas the Wanderers had barely had four hours of sleep between them.

“Were you not woken up by the hailstones crashing on the roof?”

Nope. Turns out that even if you’re sleeping in a shower cubicle you can still snooze through apocalyptic hailstorms if you have used micropore tape to seal your ear plugs in (top tip from the road).

We were all glad not to have slept outside. I guess the awful weather that had showered, thundered and crashed on the washroom roof would have been far, far worse in a tent. We are also extremely, extremely lucky to have already passed Canmore and Calgary. You’ve probably already seen on the news that the main highway (which we’d cycled on just a few days ago) had been closed by the severe floods. My thoughts go out to those who live there.

On the road we headed due east (as usual). The wind swung east south east and then swung again so it felt like a complete headwind. Fractional differences in the direction of the wind really push down or pull up your average speed. The winds here can be so exhilarating and depressing – and you cannot even see it.

After a couple of kilometres we were looking for a spot to eat a protein bar when we saw Stan and Shirley ahead who were fixing a puncture. (Stan and Shirley are a couple from the Okanagan who are biking across Canada.) We stopped to exchange stories from the road.

We cycled happily until lunch (not withstanding Katie’s flat tyre and panic attack) and were grateful that it was sunny and the threatened thunderstorms did not appear. Over lunch the wind changed direction. You could tell by the Canadian flag flapping overhead outside the tourist information where we sat (tourist info for what exactly? The place we were in, which you could hardly call a village, consisted of a gas station, a trucker restaurant,one house and the tourist info).

At lunchtime I thought I saw the woman who had served us at the tavern yesterday evening. When she came over to put some rubbish in the bin I greeted her in an overly enthusiastically friendly. “Hey, how’s it going!”

Oh, it’s not the same woman. Still she was friendly and asked where I was biking to. She had a friend who cycled across Canada a couple of years ago. We chatted. She wandered off. Five minutes later she was back again with a piece of paper in her hand.

“If you get to Kakabeka Falls then you can stay with us,” she said handing over the piece of paper. “We don’t have a spare room but you can sleep in the living room. And, you know, have a warm shower. We have a sauna too.”

Wow.

I remember asking Kumiko back in Victoria what she thought was the best thing about cycling across Canada. She paused for a moment. Then replied thoughtfully “the kindness of people.” I would agree.

Shortly after lunch we arrived at a huge signpost announcing our arrival in Saskatchewan. We pulled over to take photos. The sun was now shining, we had a tail wind and the two trimmer that had just gone by threw off the smell of freshly cut grass. I could really like Saskatchewan.

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Just as we were about to push off Sofi tripped and somersaulted off her bike. This is no exaggeration. From basically standing on a static bike she managed to land on her head and scratch her helmet. We were worried that she might be concussed. Still miles from anywhere this was not good. After another 10k of cycling we stopped so Sofi could rest as her head was hurting. Luckily she didn’t feel nauseous and painkillers and fizzy cherry sour sweets seemed to do the trick.

The scenery today has actually been quite exciting. We’ve had a couple of rolling hills. Apple green fields. Cows. Hardly any traffic. I felt like to could cycle for ever. In fact, I ticked over 1500km today.

Our campsite for the night. Monty doubles up as a washing line.

Our campsite for the night. Monty doubles up as a washing line.