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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

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.

Cape Breton

August 25th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Day 65: Antigonish to Port Hood (101km)

I must look as shattered as I feel.

I’ve battled with the cyclist’s nemesis: the wind. We fought for 45 kilometres. I wanted to go north north west. The wind wanted to go the other way.

The wind has two weapons: the push and the punch. The push is the softer blow. It is constant and, however hard it gets, your legs can adjust as you slip to a lower gear. The punch is a killer. The punching gusts hit you when you are not expecting. They wrestle you on the downhills and stab your knees on the uphills.

Battle commenced as soon as I crossed the Causo causeway that joins the mainland of Nova Scotia to the beautifully rugged Cape Breton. I turned left to the north north west, along the road that the locals call the Ceilidh trail. We fought up the hills and around the coast. Lace cuffs of surf dressed the coastal rocks and silky waves stretched to the horizon. A butterfly flew with me for a metre or two, it was encouragement enough. I was determined.

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My speed decreased to a pitiful 15km per hour. And I was pushing with my all might. But after 3 hours of fighting, I saw the sign welcoming me to Port Hood. I’d won.

At the beginning of this trip I used to get asked for ID when I bought alcohol. I don’t any more. After 100km on the road I wheeled into the liquor store to get a beer for the evening. No ID requested.

The lady at the campground took pity on me. She had long red hair, green glasses that framed the kindness in her eyes. She must have seen how shattered I felt after my long day in the saddle. I paid for the night and she pointed me in the direction of the tenting area. Moments later she was pulling up beside me in the car.

“Follow me, ” she said with a Scottish lilt mingling with her Canadian accent. I followed her car to the back of the campground where three huts stood. “You will sleep better in here. You don’t have to pitch your tent and it will be quieter.”

I helped her move a picnic bench to outside my new hut. The hut is nice. It is wind proof. It is warm.

I’ve checked the weather forecast and although it’s due to be dry and sunny tomorrow I fear that the wind will be blowing in the wrong direction again. The battle will begin again.

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The Hobbit

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

Day 60: Beresford to Miramichi (103km)

Today has been notable for its uneventfulness. I guess out of 60 days of cycling then at least one would be boring. Let’s keep it brief.

Top 5 notable events of the day:

1. Saw herd of wooden cut-out cows standing in someone’s front lawn
2. Cycled into headwind. Swore at wind.
3. Had roadside nap
4. Applied hydrocortisone cream to itchy sting / bite (?) on my derrière
5. Excited to find just ripe bananas for sale in gas station

That’s it.

But for entertainment for you, dear blog reader, I will now include a recent email from my Dad:

“For some reason I was thinking of your blog as I went to sleep last night, and thought that when your get your tyre (tire) sorted out in Charlottetown you could call it “The Two Tyres”. Then I thought “Why not make it a trilogy?”:
The day you were doing your washing by hand along with a number of other campers – The Fellowship of the Wring
Getting your bell back after you thought you’d lost it – The Return of the Ping.
Enjoy. Love, D”

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“It’s not far”

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

Day 56: Rivière du Loup to Rimouski

“It’s not far then.”

I glared. Not far for you, buddy.

This man, short, portly built with inset eyes and an annoying accent, had asked me how far it was to the Gaspe. How far? It’s a large peninsula, you idiot. That’s like asking far is it to the south west. I had initially taken him to be American because his manner so smoothly combined ignorance with self importance. I’m sorry to say he was actually from Ontario.

Once I had established that he meant how far is it from here (small picnic bench on rainy roadside 25km north east of Rivière du Loup), all the way around the peninsula along the coastal road and back to here, I told him it was “several hundred kilometres.”

“Where are we?” he asked. He had spread my provincial map across the picnic table and was now leaning over, studying it with purpose.

“We are here,” I said, pointing at the map, “and Rimouski – here – is 80km. So around the Gaspe will be several hundred kilometres.”

“Oh, it’s not far,” he said again.

“It’s several hundred kilometres,” I replied tersely, neglecting to tell him that it would take me the best part of a WEEK of cycling in a freezing headwind to get around.

It had just started raining again so I folded close my panniers while the man continued to pour over my map. He started writing notes on a post it. So far I had cycled 25km. The north easterly wind had picked up force, muffling my ears and struggling my slow progress. It was cold. Too cold. I was wearing my arm warmers and gilet. My buff was wrapped around my head but I was still cold. i had just cycled past a nature reserve famous for its shorebirds. I had been looking forward to stopping and taking out my monocular to enjoy the wildlife but today, punching into a bitter wind, I kept on glumly cycling. If I stopped I would only get too cold. And in this weather the birds are probably hiding.

“Oh, it’s not far,” he declared for the THIRD TIME.

My eyes narrowed into malevolent slits. You said that again and I will swipe you. The man wandered off.

I cycled. It was cold. It was raining. And there was a headwind. I cycled to Rimouski, that 80km-from-here place. It’s not far.

My foul weather mood was punctuated by only two moments of amusement on the road:

1. Celebrating the 6,000km mark on the cold, windy roadside by chomping on 6 squares of Kendal Mintcake that, yes, I have carried in my pannier for the last 6,000km.
2. Discovering what happens to a mini packet of Haribo when it is squished into a hot pannier bag for over 2 months. The single Haribo slug still tastes the delightful same.

I am now in a private hostel room drinking Earl Grey tea (thank you Clayton and Catherine) and a box of chocolate chip cookies.

Congealed Haribo slug

Congealed Haribo slug

Blown to Quebec City

August 11th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Day 53: Pontneuf to Quebec City (69.5km)

What is that? I woke up in the middle of the night to a flashing light and muttering. I peered out the flat in my tent to see three dark figures sitting on my picnic bench. Monty was locked to that picnic table. They were speaking a strange, unfamiliar language. No, not French. Or Russian. It sounded sort of Eastern European though. The light was due to the campfire they had started. I unzipped the flap a bit more to get a better view. Monty looked to be okay.

It never ceases to amaze me why people, when given the choice of 3 picnic benches, will choose to sit on the one with someone else’s bike locked to it when there are another 2 benches available nearer their tent. I’m sure they were just BBQing but what if a globule of beef fat leapt off the BBQ and splashed onto Monty? I am sure he is a vegetarian bike.

I fell into a unease sleep of weird dreams. Thankfully, the thunderstorm that I had seen strobing on the far horizon when I’d gone to bed never passed overhead.

An early start meant I was on the road just after 8am. I have no idea how I managed to pack up so quickly. Usually the first two hours of the day are spent faffing with bits of kit and nipping repeatedly between my litre bottle of strong coffee and the toilet. Not so today.

My tent flapped dry quickly this morning. Because, oh boy, it was windy. Usually the wind takes a while to get going but this morning it managed to blow my tent off the line while I was packing up.

The fleurs-de-lys flags of Quebec, straightened by the wind, pointed in the direction I was going. I barely pedalled. I was just pushed along at high speed by the gusting wind. I flew past roadside stalls selling freshly picked strawberries and sweet corn.

I stopped by the river for second breakfast. There were white caps on the St Lawrence as the strong westerly wind caught the water, dashing the waves against the bank. Wind surfers were out gliding to and fro.

Note windsurfers on the river

Note windsurfers on the river

All morning I was overtaken by cyclists. Usually I don’t let myself be overtaken and chase after the offending cyclist. Today I didn’t bother to do anything except say “bonjour” to the roadies who sped by on their Cannondales and Pinarellos. I would assess their gastrocnemius and decide whether, if I riding a Pinarello rather than a loaded mule, I could cycle that fast. Today I was content to coast.

Going into Quebec, I had to ascend a few sharp hills but mostly it was flat as I merrily pedalled along. The paths and parks that bordered the St Lawrence were bustling with Saturday morning folks out cycling, skating, packing away their windsurfers, stopping for a picnic on the bench, taking a photograph of the intriguing artwork in the path. Soon the famous bits of Quebec became visible as I came round past the port. The cliffs! I imagined General Wolfe climbing these steep, rocky slopes up the side of the city to fight the French.

I knew that unfortunately famous cliffs also meant famously steep hill up to my hostel. But first I needed to sort out Monty.

I scooted into a bike shop. I had bought a new chain in Montreal but it was skipping so I switched back to the old chain. I needed a new cassette.

Amazingly I managed to have an entire conversation with the bike mechanic in French. Admittedly I had practised a bit of the vocab with John but it all went well.

“C’est plus chere parce que c’est XT, eh?”

I know what you’re thinking: fluent.

Having forked out a small fortune for a shiny bit of metal, Monty is now fashioning a brand new 11-32 shimano XT 9 speed rear cassette. Whoop. To test it and the new chain out we fought up a hill that resembled a cliff edge. I am amazed we did not fall off backwards. The chain and cassette survived.

I dropped Monty off at the hostel and wandered into the old part of the city. Old buildings! I had forgotten that buildings could be old. The old stone and narrow-ish twisting lanes of the old city give Quebec a European flavour that I have been missing. I joined the hordes of tourists bimbling around Rue St Jean and stopped to be highly entertained by a busker capable of juggling 7 batons. (I’ve never seen anyone juggle so many.) The traffic was dammed by the meandering tourists and the occasional horse-drawn carriage. I found a beer but I have yet to find any poutine.

Chateau Frontenac - probably where the Wanderers stayed

Chateau Frontenac – probably where the Wanderers stayed

Old streets and modern traffic

Old streets and modern traffic

The long slog to Pontneuf

August 10th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Day 52: Louiseville to Pontneuf (111.5km)

I am an encumbered tortoise on a treadmill.

There was a headwind all day to make my life tough. To be fair, it was also extremely flat. I ponder the endless cyclists’ debate of hills versus wind. I vote wind. Yet, be it the wind or my legs, I was feeling tired and sluggish. An early Second Breakfast (after only 12km) did little to increase my speed although it did mean I am now out of homemade muffins. Woe.

I slogged on to Trois Riveres (note: my iPad doesn’t appear to do accents). I was still in need of a boost so stopped for a coffee and donut. Alas even caffeine and sugar did little to increase my energy levels. I plodded on like a harnessed donkey.

I stopped at a grocery store to restock my panniers. Outside I was met by a guy in a large, loose-fitting shirt and a pair of bug-like sunglasses. Michael was friendly and seemed to be a keen cyclist. Yet I also feel a bit nervous when folks (other than mechanics in bike shops) start asking too many questions about Monty.

Michael seemed admiring of Monty yet also apparently didn’t have the foggiest what a fine specimen Monty truly is. ” How much did it cost? About $2000?” He asked.

“Er… Yea about $2,000,” I confirmed. (Monty is worth considerably more than that. And to me he is priceless.)

“Aren’t you worried about strange men?” He asked, without irony. “I mean, I’ve never heard of a cyclist, a woman, like you being attacked in Quebec but you never know.”

Oh, is that he type? I had best pedal off else I’ll be late.

A hard slog of cycling later and I met some friendly bikers at the lunch stop. They have a resectable amount of leather, shiny metal and protruding beer belly between the four of them. One, a large man fully clad in leathers, was so impressed he took a photo of me posing next to Monty. One of his friends boasted he could get to Halifax in 14 hours. 14 hours!! Please don’t say stuff like that. I have 3 weeks of cycling to go. I asked if any of them wanted to swap their Harley for my Monty. They did not. Yet it was nice to chat to the bikers as I get the impression that bikers have a better sense of distance than the average Joe. They seemed to appreciate the joy of watching the world zoom by, the shiny bits of your bike gleaming in the sunshine, as you cruise/slog down the open road.

Despite the headwind I enjoyed the scenery today. The quiet route 138 continued to follow the side of the river. I passed the pastoral scene of ripe corn fields, lowing herds of cows, pick-your-own blueberry fields, colourful boxes of beehives, and butterflies fluttering among the wildflowers.

Ripening cornfields.

Ripening cornfields.

The lowing herd winds slowly o'er the lea. Or not. Or they just sit there.

The lowing herd winds slowly o’er the lea. Or not. Or they just sit there.

Finally made it to campground after a long day on the road.

I am sightly bemused by this place. It is jam packed. But so jam packed that it resembles a car park (translation: parking lot). The campsite is set out in a grid pattern and every small rectangular lot is filled with an RV. Goodness knows why it is so popular as it is not particularly near a lake, river or anything else. It’s also one of those places where people ride round in buggy carts (like the ones they have at golf courses) because clearly it is so far to the toilet, garbage etc.

After 110km of flat today it really does feel like the last 5,000km have caught up with me. If someone could post me a large, squidgy armchair that would be perfect. Or better still a body-enveloping sofa or bed with fresh linen. I hope that I get my energy back as I still have 2,000km to go. It is now 8pm but I will just wash the Kraft dinner remnants from my bowl and head to my tent. Tomorrow I will be in Quebec City. But for now I wish only to be horizontal.

The study of sunshine

July 7th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (2 Comments)

Day 27: Kenora to Nestor Falls (120km)

Today the shadows of my pannier bags have been cast at every angle. In the 12 hours on the road it took to travel the 120km south to Nestor Falls my bike’s shadow has turned 180 degrees. Today has not been a bike ride so much as a study of the heat of the day.

After yesterday’s hot frazzling in the heat we wanted to ride in the cool of the morning. We were awake 6am, just as the sun was beginning to climb over the trees on the campground. It was so warm overnight that there was no condensation on my tent. I had slept in my underwear covered by only a thin silk sleeping bag liner. From now on it was only going to get hotter.

It was so much more pleasant cycling in the low 20s than it was yesterday in the heat of the day.

The hills continued relentlessly up and down. The ceaseless rise and fall of the hills was as sure and predictable as the inhale and exhale of breath in a yoga class. Inhale for 3, exhale for 5. We made steady progress against the hills although the wind was against us. Still the forest protected us slightly from the headwind. I would take the hills over the prairies any day. The scenery here is so beautiful.

The scent of pine wood drifts in the wind from the forest. Lakes and pools appear, cool and inviting, the water surface decorated with lily pads and reed. The road side is sprinkled with giant daisies, small fiery-orange flowers, and piles of jagged rocks which provide the occasional shelter from the igniting heat of the day.

The road is much quieter than I expected. I am already glad that we took the 71 highway south rather than continued on the busy, truck-heavy Trans Canada. This route is about 100km longer. But I think the distance is very much worth it. There often isn’t much of a shoulder but there are so few vehicles (and very few trucks) it feels a lot safer.

Sofi’s gears were skipping. And later in the day so too were Katie’s. But there isn’t another bike shop until Thunder Bay – another 4 days away. I managed to fix the problem by replacing the chain and tweaking the rear derailleur. I realised later this is the first new chain I have ever fitted entirely by myself. I know it’s not a hard job but it’s one thing to fix a bike in comfortable Oxfordshire with either a Dad or a Ruth peering over my shoulder and quite another to have two Wanderers peering over your shoulder while you fix their bikes miles and miles from anywhere.

We stopped for long break from midday sun at Sioux Narrows. During our siesta we swam in the lake. I dived in off the dock (nearly lost my knickers to the water) and swam lengths back and forth to a dock on the opposite side of the inlet. The cold water and swimming felt both refreshing for my tired legs and restorative for my knee.

The last 46km to Nestor Falls was a slog. Katie Wanderer and I have matching knee pain. Sofi Wanderer was experiencing sharp pain in her shoulder throughout the day. It only seemed to be getting worse. One shoulder is visibly lower than the other while cycling. None of us were feeling very chippy or chirpy. The hills didn’t stop as we ploughed into the headwind in silence.

I am continually amazed on this trip. When something goes wrong, feels awful, feels too tough then something happens that picks me up again.

Finally we pulled up at a place called Canadian Haven. It was listed as a campground on Google. but clearly there wasn’t anywhere to camp. The guy who now runs it had just taken it over. He showed us a small patch of grass, asked about our trip. Then paused. Then he offered us to stay for free in a log cabin overlooking the lake. He only asked for us to take our cleats off outside.

While the Wanderers made dinner, I sat outside fixing Katie’s bike and cleaning Monty in the warmth of the summer evening. There was chatter from the docks. Two American fisherman drinking beer on their porch discussed their best catches in the slow drawl of their accents.

The day closed as I was sitting on a rock by the lake shore watching the last of the watery light receded behind the hills on the far shore of the lake. I listened to the lapping of the water, gently stirred by the wind, against the rocks on the shore. I watched the silhouette of two spiders spin fine and fragile webs between a trio of pine trees. The air was cooler now and the frustrations of the day slowly melted with the disappearing colours of the sun.

Day 24: Wawanesa to (almost) Winnipeg (142km)

Here I am sitting cross-legged by the side of the road. As I look up I could be just a few miles from home. I know those fields of rape seed. A horizontal band of ripe yellow under drifting cumulus clouds. But scanning the level horizon I cannot see a hill. No Wittenham Clumps. No Didcot power station. No signpost to Henley or Reading. In that momentary pause between sight and recognition my optimism peaks and falls with a slump of the shoulders. I am not in Oxfordshire. I am in pain.

Yesterday I learnt how to keep going – today I learnt to stop.

I woke up at 6am this morning. Given I’ve just crossed a time zone it felt like 5am and the morning sun hadn’t yet climbed over the line of trees on the far shore of the river. The mosquitoes, however, were awake and out in force, biting any patch of skin that wasn’t covered by at least 3 layers of deet and clothing. I was on the road by 8am with a daunting 200km ride to Winnipeg ahead of me. My cellphone was completely out of signal and I felt quite isolated as I plodded alone along the highway.

There is no hard shoulder on highway 2. The edge of the road just deteriorates into puncture-inducing gravel. I find I can’t relax while cycling as I always have to keep my eye out for traffic. The truck dodging that I commented upon in yesterday’s blog post is like a fatal video game of judgement. But every time an oncoming truck passes me the air current it creates overwhelms me like a crashing wave. It reminds me of swimming in the surf: a wave approaches, you can see it coming and count down. You gasp for breath, duck your head and grip tightly onto the security of your handlebars. Sometimes it’s a relief that the wave doesn’t crash on you but glides past. Sometimes the wave tears at your body and shoots a jet of grit at your skin. It has almost torn the helmet from my head.

The only benefit of these trucks is that, like the sand on a surf beach, the grit that is blasted onto my exposed skin becomes stuck on my sweaty sun-creamed limbs. When I next rub in some more sun cream the effect is very exfoliating. Who knew that the highway could provide its own beauty regime. I also am beginning to develop a Heading East tan. As I continuously pedal east on the highway, my right side is exposed to the southern sun. So while my left side glows a pleasant peachy-brown, my right side is increasingly beetroot.

All morning I fought against the heating sun and the blasting waves of trucks. I managed to keep up a decent speed by consuming an enormous quantity of energy bars, water and fruit. But my legs were beginning to weaken. My knee pain was gradually getting worse. I took painkillers. But my knee wanted rest. I stopped for lunch after 110km. It was still a long, long way to Winnipeg.

After lunch I turned north into a brutal headwind. My speed dropped to less than 16km per hour. At this rate I wouldn’t get to Winnipeg before nightfall. A truck whipped past me and the speed of its wind turbulence swept me off the highway into the gravel. I lay Monty down carefully on the gravel shoulder. I pulled out my emergency ice pack and stuck it on my right knee. I cut up an orange, slurped every bit of its juicy goodness and waited for meaning to come back to me. I put some music on my ipad. And waited. The wind did not abate. The trucks streamed by. And still meaning did not come. And the pain in my knee only seemed to feel worse.

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I looked down. I forgot myself. I looked up and saw that horizontal band of ripe yellow under drifting cumulus clouds. I felt at home. But in that momentary pause between sight and recognition my optimism peaked and fell. I am not in Oxfordshire. I am in the middle of sodding nowhere with an inflamed knee.

Today has made me question why I am doing this. I have exchanged the comfort of my own bed for a thin thermarest. Instead of soaking in a hot bath, I have swam in a glacier-fed lake. Instead of contentedly ignoring the cool air conditioning in my car I have learnt that mosquitoes can bite through bike shorts. Instead of reading books and browsing BBC news I have begun to read the sky. I swapped the office for the great outdoors. I swapped security for the unknown. I swapped contentment for the oscillating misery and euphoria of life on the road. Why? I still don’t know.

Could I have pushed myself another 63km? Probably yes. But I still have another 5,000km to cycle this summer. I feel a bit crushed to have had to call for a lift to Winnipeg. I had only done 142km of what was supposed to be the great 200km+ ride. The pain in my knee is sharp and stabbing. The tiredness of my body is slow and dull. In the last 6 days I have cycled over 800km. And more than I want to push myself to the limits – I just want to continue.

I hope that my lesson for today will prove to be that knowing when to stop is the same as learning how to keep going.

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.