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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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Dreaming of England

July 21st, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Day 40: Whitefish Falls to Tobermory (97.5 km)

Darkness. Then brilliant white light, the stunning silhouette of the trees. And darkness again.

I’ve never seen a heat storm before. We were standing outside our tents in the dry, warm evening, wearing just our pjs (or what passes for pjs while cycle-touring). The dramatic interplay of light and dark, white and night was awesome. But it was also bed time so I crept back inside my tent to sleep.

Then the storm came overhead. It wasn’t just heat any more. Rain as powerful as bullets fired against the side of my tent, battered by the wind. I felt like I was on a sailing boat: quickly I set to work shutting the hatches of my tent, closing zips, checking my kit bags were sealed and safely inside. There was no need for a head torch – the lightning itself exploded light across the tent. The thunder roared like a line of canons firing into the night sky. Then a booming crack of thunder, right above our damp, tiny tents, exploded like dynamite. Oh no, why did I camp near a tree.

I stuck in my ear plugs and tried to catch some sleep in the midst of the warzone of weather. Nonetheless I was awoken again in the night by the rain lashing on the tent. But in the morning, thankfully, my little green tent had withstood the test of the storm.

In the morning it was calm. My tent was covered in slugs. The trees, the grass, everywhere was all wet so there was nowhere to hang out my tent to dry. I tried as much as I could to flap and shake off the remaining slugs. But sadly and glumly I packed a wet tent.

My knickers and sports bra which I had worn to go swimming in yesterday had been “drying overnight” on Monty. Both were now soaking wet again. I strapped them onto the back of my bike so they could dry off as I cycled along. Off we set on the road south to Manitoulin island. For a moment I was enjoying myself and anticipating the scenic views of the island.

Oh, except then the rain came.

Again it felt like being on a boat, zipping up the flaps of my jacket and trying, in vain, to stay dry as the rain lashed down like pellets. Cycling felt okay to begin with but I soon began to struggle. I was zapped for energy. Usually this problem is fixed by eating a protein bar but on this occasion I was just so, so tired..

Cycling over the swing bridge to Manitoulin island I tried to appreciate the damp views of the rocky coastline. Its a real shame that the weather was so bad as I was looking forward to seeing the island. Jutting out into the north of Lake Huron, Manitoulin is the largest fresh water island in the world. Hay bales lay in the fields, wild grasses intruded into the road, mauve clouds loomed overhead bringing rain, then drizzle, then rain again. And of course there was a headwind. My average speed slipped slower and slower.

I stopped in a lay-by and ate a few mouthfuls of leftover chilli while sheltering in the public washroom. (Why has hanging out in washrooms had to become such a feature of this trip?) I hoped the refuelling would boost my energy but after such a broken night’s sleep I was too tired to push. My eyelids slowly flickered shut. I pushed a few pedal strokes, trying to keep my eyes open. The hills ascended. The wind pushed against me. A dead cat lay on the side of the road. It started raining again. Goose pimples appeared on my skin as the wind blew the cold rain off. My socks and gloves were soaked. My hands had turned to prunes and the skin felt sore as I gripped tightly on the wet handlebars.

Yes, this was the lowest I have felt all summer. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine that I wasn’t here. I tried to imagine to that I was playing Settlers with Seb and Ruth while drinking hot chocolate in our new flat. I tried to imagine that instead of being soaked through in unwashed Lycra I was wearing my soft, warm koala onesie. I opened my eyes: it was still raining.

I stopped to eat M&Ms. My hands felt too numb and weak to open the packet. i tried ripping the corner with my mouth. The packet burst open and a handful of M&Ms fell into the wet gravel. I could have cried. From that spot on I stopped every 8 kilometres to eat a handful of M&Ms. Those chocolate peanuts saved me.

Inch by inch, M&M by M&M, I crawled slowly towards the ferry port. With only a few kilometres to go to South Baymouth (and almost none of my family-sized pack of chocolate peanuts left) it stopped raining and the sun almost came out. I noticed a public beach with a nice, dry spot to sit and a railing. So after laying out my tent to dry on the railing, I lay my exhausted body in the shade of the flapping fly and snoozed.

The quick sleep gave me the energy to cycle to the ferry port. The small town of South Baymouth reminds me of coastal England. Gulls circled over the numerous signs for icecream and fish and chips. Waves rolled and crashes slowly on the grey rocks. The only thing missing was a sunburnt woman wearing an unflattering strappy top and bald man drinking beer.

It was nice that it reminded me of England as today, in the rain, cold, exhaustion etc, I had moments of really wishing I was not so far from home. On the ferry to Tobermory I feel asleep. And probably dreamt of England.

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.

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

“How quickly can you pitch a tent?”

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

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

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

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

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

Photo taken after the thunder and lightning had ceased

Photo taken after the thunder and lightning had ceased

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