Dino's blog for mini adventures and endurance challenges

Mile 0

May 31st, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (1 Comments)

Yesterday I wanted to crawl up into a small ball and cry. I hope that is how the Great Adventurers of the World all feel when they are about to embark on the adventure on a lifetime. Anxious dread seeped through me like I’d been dunked into a bottomless ocean.

What on earth am I doing? I packed up my panniers, trying to pretend i was only going as far as Victoria and was not about to set off 7,500km across a continent.

I spent my first 3 nights with a lovely couple of outdoor enthusiasts, John and Margaret, who were invaluably helpful to me. Together they helped me fix Monty, sort out a few things, allowed me to recover from the awful jetlag and still have time to see something of Vancouver (even though it rained!) They were such kind and wonderful hosts, encouraging me with stories of their own adventures of hiking and cycling. And yet the dread set in….

John kindly drove me to the ferry port. It was raining. Cycling didn’t seem a particularly inviting prospect.

Off the ferry at Vancouver island I cycled the 16km uphill to meet another adventurous couple, John and Kumiko. In 2007 they cycled across Canada. More amazingly they cycled from their home to Halifax in only 79 days, taking only 4 rest days. They did it aged 67. I was keen to hear of all their adventures and tales from road but first I had some cycling to do. John bundled me and Monty into his van and we headed down to Mile 0.


This is it. After 8 years of dreaming, 3 years of saving, 5 months of planning – here I am at Mile 0. Monty and I went down to the pebbly beach to dip Monty’s rear wheel in the ocean. John (of Vancouver) had advised me not to dip too much – salt water and bicycles don’t mix.

Monty's next dip will be in the Atlantic

Monty’s next dip will be in the Atlantic

And then we (we = Monty and I) were off. It was a pleasant 30km from Mile 0 back to John and Kumiko’s house almost entirely along dedicated traffic free bike route. Yes it was raining, but I was now in high spirits.

I’m here, I’m cycling across Canada.

Monty’s big bash

May 29th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (3 Comments)

Bikes have wheels not wings – they are not designed to fly.

So young Monty was feeling quite nervous about the prospect of being wrapped in foam and packed into a polythene bag for a 10 hour flight. We were both nervous about the flight given the horror stories of baggage and flying and the danger that I might fly to Vancouver while he jets off to Toronto or Dubai…

I was greatly relieved then to see his shiny wheels appear on the oversized baggage pick up in Vancouver airport. Phew. However, my relief however didn’t last too long.

Two friendly Canadian cyclists, John and Margaret, came to bike me up at the airport. Despite having never met, John was easy to spot because he was the only man at the airport wearing cleats. John and Margaret helped me unwrap Monty, slicing off the cable ties and padding, pumping the tyres and reattaching his wheels.

“Er… That doesn’t sound right,” John remarked, turning the rear wheel. The mudguard was rubbing in the tyre and it took a moment to notice the damage. The rear rack was bent out of shape and parts that were once welded together were now broken apart. Poor Monty looked like this:

Must have been a hefty big bash to bend solid metal like this

Must have been a hefty big bash to bend solid metal like this

Ouch. So lucky this bash didn't damage Monty's frame or wheels

Ouch. So lucky this bash didn’t damage Monty’s frame or wheels

We set about fixing Monty sufficiently for the cycle home. A couple of adjustments and cable ties held the mudguard away from the wheel so it didn’t rub. It worked for the 13.2 cycle ride home in the rain but it wasn’t going to last me for the 7,500km…

The first time Monty got scratched I freaked out. He was scratched, incidentally, by travelling by train. (There’s a pattern emerging here..) but this time although the damage was much worse I was calm and already thinking of the solution.

The solution appeared after lunch. John and I rode to the local bike shop and explained the “emergency”. The guys in the bike shop were thankfully not too busy and able to attend to Monty right away.

The rack was beyond repair (or at least beyond repair given it has 25kg to carry for 3 months!) so a new rack was in order. “Wow, that’s a high end rack,” one of the mechanics commented while hunting around for a suitable replacement. Thankfully they had one Tubus rack in stock.

About an hour of fixing later (which included bending the mudguard back into shape) and I parted with $150 before wheeling Monty out. Yep, it wasn’t cheap and indeed Monty’s mudguard is now partially affixed by cable ties which looks a bit naff.

But it’s sorted. And so I have learnt a few lessons:
a) contingency money was a wise idea (although a shame I needed to break into it on day one!)
b) cable ties solve all sorts of bike problems
c) bikes aren’t meant to fly

Monty’s big bash has made me realise how much I will need to be careful about looking after him on the road. But now he’s fixed he’s really for a more metaphorically kind of big bash- namely the adventure of a lifetime!

Just going on a bike ride

May 28th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada - (1 Comments)

“I’m just going on a bike ride, eh?” I said to my Dad, trying to play down the epic-ness of my adventure, When 7,500km are stretched out ahead of you it makes sense to focus on what is achievable and fun: going on a bike ride.

Yesterday evening I gave a small whoop of glee: I’m packed. After 8 years of dreaming, 3 years of saving, 5 months of planning and a packing process that I started sometime in mid-March. Yep, I am finally packed and ready to go.

I spent the last dregs of Sunday evening flipping through an Atlas and looking through an old book of Canadian photography. I couldn’t get to sleep. My head felt inside out. My dreams were so vivid they seemed like wakefulness and I jolted myself awake several times. I woke at about 4am with my head feeling like a mashed banana.

My Dad drove me to the airport. Getting up at 4am to drive me to the airport is probably not his ideal Bank holiday birthday (yes,it’s his birthday today) but I am very grateful.

Thankfully Monty and my large, shabby looking bag of pannier bags made it okay through check in. Monty didn’t much enjoy being wheeled around the airport as some of corridors and lifts were only 2mm wider than him. Poor thing felt like a fat person in a cubicle toilet.

Thank goodness I am not flying Cattle Market. The Air Transat check in was a yoga retreat of calm compared to the noisy, crowds hordes queuing lengthily at the Easy Jet counter.

I hugged my Dad goodbye. I nearly felt tearful but my banana brain can’t quite comprehend what is about to happen.

Generous folks have called my brave. Canada is a huge country but it is not the size of my courage. I have only the Courage to Dream. Then I have the Credit Card to Pay. And once the credit card has paid (for non-refundable, non-transferable flights) then I do not need courage any more. The pieces of my trip in the last 5 months have fallen like dominoes. The click of my computer mouse was the first push that set my trip in motion. one by one the tasks were lined up and fell in turn. Flights lead to insurance, bear research, friend contacting, route planning, cycle training, back stretching, blogging, tweeting, kit testing, new kit purchasing, and finally packing.

At the moment I am trying to imagine that I’m only cycling as far as Lake Louise. Because 4,500 miles across the second large country on earth seems a tad far, eh? Whereas a 2 week jaunt through BC sounds like quite a jolly summer holiday.

So I’ll have my jolly summer jaunt in BC. Then hopefully after that I’ll fancy a 2 week break to Winnipeg. Then after all that cycling I will need a vacation so might nip on my bike through Northern Ontario for a bit. You know the rest…

Does playing dominoes require bravery? No, only the courage to push the first piece into motion. I hope now that the journey continues in the same way – one domino pushing into the next. Each pedal stroke leading into the next stroke, the next kilometre, the next day. Victoria, Mission, Hope…

After all, I’m just going on a bike ride, eh?

The Adventure Begins

May 27th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (2 Comments)

I thought I’d take the opportunity of Dino being up in the air for 10 hours or so to sneak in another guest blog post.

Arrival in Vancouver at 11:10 sounds quite civilised – until you factor in the 4 am alarm and the 8 hour time difference.

Our intrepGatwick Airport 0630id traveller looks surprisingly chipper and unstressed as she arrives at Gatwick Airport at 6:30 am. As she remarked “Good thing I’ve got a small bike for negotiating these walkways”. There was a little more stress to be had yesterday, when the important songs refused to transfer to the iPod and the panniers were still to be packed. Eventually everything disappeared into its place and got swallowed up inside the big tartan bag – at least we’ve not found anything she forgot yet.

Bon Voyage Dino. Have a great trip. Bring back lots of photographs and memories (and a small pot of maple butter).

You would expect people who work for an environmental organisation to be interested in the diverse, colourful and endemic wildlife that Canada has to offer.

Yet for the the last 5 months my colleagues have been captivated by only one animal: bears.

Paw jokes
Colleagues have shared with me unbearable puns, grizzly stories and concerns that I will be munched by a bear. One colleague has even taken it upon herself to send me a daily bear joke. Given her efforts, I thought it only fair to share one:

A policeman in the big city stops a man in a car with a baby bear in the front seat.
“What are you doing with that bear?” He exclaimed, “You should take it to the zoo.”
The following week, the same policeman sees the same man with the bear again in the front seat, with both of them wearing sunglasses. The policeman pulls him over.
“I thought you were going to take that bear to the zoo!”
The man replied, “I did. We had such a good time we are going to the beach this weekend!”

Grizzly stories
Only one sensible colleague has said anything useful about bears (having been to Alaska.) Other colleagues have worried me enough with fanciful stories that I have done extensive research on bears. Here are some of the more interesting facts:
* Bears can run up to 30mph – that is faster than me cycling on the flat. Although doubtless I’ll find a surge of strength if I am being chased by a bear.
* Grizzly and black bears are not attracted to the smell of menstrual blood – but polar bears are. (I love that someone has clearly done a PhD on dangling used tampons in front of bears. Bet they are a good dinner party guest.)
* It is actually more dangerous to go to work. 173 people die at work each year in the UK, compared to only 3 people in North America killed by bears. I can see my colleagues now all reaching for the unpaid leave request form…*

Bearing gifts
I was very touched yesterday (last day at work until September) that a thoughtful colleague arrived at my deak bearing a parting gift:


And inside…

Nattily packed in a box 10x larger than the item

Nattily packed in a box 10x larger than the item

Alas I was too polite to point out that scaring a grizzly witless by tooting a loud horn is a sure way to end up as the hors d’oeuvres at a teddy bears’ picnic.

However the horn will come in very handy into scaring witless the annoying dogs that meander across the bike path to work – the dog on one side, the unobservant owner on the other and the leash-cum-lethal-trip-wire stretched across the path.**

And finally…
I just want to say thank you to the team. I may have heard the same puns over and over, and you may be bored of my endless Canada chatter but I am very grateful to my employer for giving me the time off work and to my friendly colleagues for being so much fun.

* The geeks among you will be keen to point out that there are lies, damned lies and statistics. Clearly the population sizes are different and more people work in the UK than there are people who come into contact with bears in North America. Still, all my colleagues will be safer now that I won’t be driving into work or parking directly into their cars for 3 months…

** I should point out that yes we do share the path and cyclists should take care to similarly avoid running over dogs and children. However, cycling to work earlier in the year I did have to make a sharp skidding diversion into a fence to avoid tripping over a lethal dog trip wire. The owner was a grumpy sod.

Mind mapping

May 22nd, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

It’s difficult to focus in stuff like brand, development, restructures etc when an adventure is hanging on the horizon. Or indeed the office wall.

2pm yesterday – I was sat in a team meeting at work. A huge map of the world was pinned on the wall. Try as I might to focus, my eyes wandered over to the smudgy brown relief of the Rockies.

Today – on the request of my boss, I printed off an A2 Google map of my route and pinned it onto our noticeboard. Given my colleagues keen interest in the wildlife of Canada I added “Here Be Bears” at the appropriate sections. Tomorrow (my last day at work) I may draw on moose, whales and eagles.

I love a good map.
A map is adventure on paper. You don’t even need to leave the house. You can just pull out a good map out, trace a route with your finger and start imagining…

A map isn’t just a picture of the world. It’s a picture of our minds, and a reflection of the way we think about and have acted upon the world. We draw neat lines, boxes, smooth edges and neat corners upon a rugged and tangled world.

Just look at a map of Canada – those dead-straight lines along the provincial borders are the products of history, not geology. Recently I’ve been reading a interesting book about Canadian history. The book points out that having two nations running in horizontal stripes west to east across the North American continent is pretty odd because the physical geography runs more vertically like this:

So over the next 3 and a half months I will be cycling across a single country. But this map shows I’ll also be cycling across 7 different physiographic provinces. What will it be like to witness the transition from the Rockies and the interior highlands to the great plains and Canadian shield?

I can’t wait to watch, at the speed of a bicycle, the slow and majestic unfolding of the riotous colours, vegetations, smells, storms, squawking wildlife spectacles, rock formations and sandy shores that Canada has to show.

I can’t wait to turn my imaginations into memories.

And through the ceaseless tapping of my pedals, I can’t wait to turn the neatly plotted line on the map into my own meadering path across this great and varied continent.

Sunshine and peanut butter

May 20th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada - (1 Comments)

When you imagine living on a boat isn’t the sun always shining?

You picture chugging up and down the leafy waterways of timeless rural landscapes, waving your straw hat in greeting to passing boats, licking ice lollies and lolling on the desk applying sun cream every hour. Bliss.

Cycling across Canada will obviously be a lot like that. Just replace the ice lollies with a peanut butter and jam sandwich, the straw hat with a nodding bike helmet, and the leafy waterways with the Trans Canada Highway and that is exactly what I am expecting.

I have just checked the weather forecast for Vancouver. Next Monday the sun should be out to greet me as I pedal out the airport.

I can hardly believe that I am only 1 small week away from my trip. I’ve spent 8 years dreaming about this. 8 years! What were you doing 8 years ago? I was getting excited about going to Canada for the first time*: packing my bag, emailing friends in Canada, checking my passport for the third time that day to check it hadn’t magically expired since breakfast.

Algonquin park Summer 2005. This isn't instagrammed. It's just a photo taken on a film. Remember those?

Algonquin park Summer 2005. This isn’t instagrammed. It’s just a photo taken on a film. Remember those?

Peanut butter
So not much has changed in eight years then? Nope. I am still me: a Dino is search of adventure and on a mission to discover the land of my birth. Even though I rightly know from my Oxfordian vowels, my inability to ice skate smoothly and the fact that I say ‘alright’ rather than ‘for sure’ that, yes, I am a Brit. However, I do love a good peanut butter sandwich made with jam. I love a good adventure. And I love this sign post:

I took this photo along 8 years ago. Note: perfect blue sky.

I took this photo along 8 years ago. Note: perfect blue sky.

So next week I will adventure** in search of sunshine, peanut butter, and a piece of Canada all to myself.

*I’m not including “being born” in first time.
** ‘adventure’ can be a verb

Guest blog: Digital cycle touring

May 14th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Guest blog - (0 Comments)

Is cycle touring genetic? It’s certainly in the Rock DNA. Last year my Dad cycled coast to coast across France, navigating his way using just his smartphone. So I invited my Dad to write a guest blog on his digital cycle touring experience…

Steve Rock (aka Daddy)  in the Gorges du Verdon

Steve Rock (aka Daddy) in the Gorges du Verdon

“This time last year I was cycling my bike (or sleeping in my tent – I didn’t do much else) somewhere in France between Caen and Cannes. I was celebrating my 60th birthday by fulfilling an ambition to cross France coast to coast.

This year I will spend my birthday driving Dino to the airport at 5am! But she’s also asked me to write a guest blog spot about digital navigation.

Paper v. phone
The traditional way for a Brit to do a long cycle ride such as Le Jog (not French, but Lands End to John O’Groats) was to buy a road atlas, rip out the pages that didn’t cover his or her route and discard the remaining pages as they pedalled cycled north (traditionally south-to-north because of the prevailing wind). The modern hi-tech way is to dispense with paper maps and do it all on a smartphone. It worked for me but would it work for you?

The idea is you have a map app on your phone or tablet showing the relevant part of the world, with or without your planned route plotted on it. The device is GPS-enabled, so it can indicate where you are. In theory you’re never lost – how great is that!

But like most electronic devices: great when it works, useless when it fails. It may not even fail itself, but have failure thrust upon it when you drop it, drown it, bake it, lose it, find it’s eaten by a bear and so on. Whatever the reason, you need backup.

Back up
My backup in France was the confidence that I could find my way to a village large enough to have a service station selling a road atlas, then tear out the pages I didn’t need. This approach might not work so well in other parts of the world.

In places like Britain and France where there are lots of wiggly roads it’s very useful to be able to plan a route away from the busy roads and make sure you stay on it. It’s also quite likely you won’t need to travel for more than a day or two before you stay somewhere you can recharge your phone and spare battery pack(s).

Somewhere like Canada there are not so many roads and they all go in straight lines at right angles to each other, so your navigation needs are different. It can still be reassuring/depressing (delete as per your experience) to know exactly how many more kilometres and hours of cycling there are before the next bend in the road, although I’m told sometimes you could be days between campsites with electricity.

So how good is digital touring?
It’s good for showing you:
* Where you’ve been (if you switch on tracking with GPS and/or mobile data). GPS will use your battery, mobile data will eat it even quicker and also clock up data charges)
* Where you are (if GPS is on)
* Where you should be and how to get there (if you’ve planned a route and stored it)

But you need a backup plan.”

You can read the full article my Dad wrote for Cycle magazine about digital cycle touring.

Do get in touch if you are a digital cycle tourer. We’d love to hear about your experiences.

For the (medical) record

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

“Where are you starting from? Which direction are you cycling? What bike will you take?”

The doctor showered me with eager questions. None were, you might think, medically relevant.

I’d gone to the doctor to get some antibiotics and period-delaying tablets. Next thing I knew the doctor was prescribing Goretex socks and propounding the merits of cleated sandals in hot weather.

On the wall in his surgery Dr Bike had pinned a map of the world. Clearly, he is a man with a similar mind set to me as we both sat gazing at the map and seeing not political boundaries or time zones but past and possible cycling adventures. Impressively Dr Bike and his wife have cycled most of the North Sea Cycle route and so plotted a line of bicycle tyre from Norway to Barcelona.

“Imagine being able to look at that map and see a line all the way across Canada,” the doctor gushed, gazing at the expanse of green above the pink triangle of America, “and knowing you’ve travelled that line with nothing more than a bicycle and your own quadriceps.”

Having discussed the ins and outs of my trip we moved on to discuss medical bit. My medical record was up on the computer. Dr Bike started typing: “Cycling from Vancouver to St John’s!!!”

Yes, with 3 exclamation marks.

A smile broke across my face as I leant over to watch him type.

A medical record ordinarily details the mundane sicknesses and wariness of our lives. A life of pain and mild embarrassment. A life of ear infections, hypertension, vaccines, stress, sores, sprains and sickness. A medical record states that we moan a lot, get old, feel old, feel ill, fall sick, and slowly or quickly pass away.

With the thanks of the friendly Dr Bike, my medical record now wonderfully states: “I lived!!!”

Yes, with 3 exclamation marks.