Dino's blog for mini adventures and endurance challenges

Leg 3

August 7th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (1 Comments)

“Dino, you’re fat. Get off the sofa.”

This is the way that my loving brother would coax me to the gym.

I didn’t have much choice in the matter. Having returned home from Australia homeless and penniless I lived in Seb’s spare room while I saved up enough money to go back to university. At this point Seb was in the midst of training to become a fitness instructor. I was the live-in guinea pig.

I recall one day Seb took me to the gym to do back-to-back gym sessions. We started with aqua aerobics (we were the only two people in the class under 50…), followed by a frenetic cardio class, followed by a body conditioning class led by Seb. Followed by collapsing back onto the sofa. The only saving grace was that Seb’s ideal post-workout snack was a tub of Haagen-Dazs.

Never before did I know that you could be so tired, that you could ache so, so much and still keep going.

Cycling across Canada reminds me of those gym sessions with Seb. Each leg has tested, boosted and exhausted my body in a new way.

The Rockies: climbing
I loved the mountains. Maybe it was because I grew up in the bottom of a valley but I love hill climbing. You have something to aim for. You know how long it will take to climb. I had trained for the mountains. My legs changed shape a but mostly they just enjoyed themselves.

The prairies: spinning
Flat is hard. Flat meant you could never, ever stop pedalling. There were no downhills, I could never coast. A gear change was a rare and special event. The prairies were a week long spin class. For five, six, seven hours I day I could sit on my bike and spin.

Cranking up the iPod, Florence & the machine, Tegan & Sara, and America [sic] got me across the prairies. I spun 800 kilometres in 6 days. What a ridiculous distance. With their deceptive difficulty the prairies battered my body and reshaped my legs in a way I hadn’t expected.

The forest: intervals
One moment I would be tapping away with the ease and grace of a swan gliding over the water. The next minute my heart was pounding, my thighs burning, my knees breaking underneath. I struggled like a loon trying to take flight as I fought the gradient. I feared collapse. And then… Breathe. Another swift, easy descent and my heart returns to normal.

The forests of the Canadian Shield were one, long (very long) interval class.

I don’t think Seb ever had a fourth class. Canada does. After climbing, spinning, interval training, I still have the Maritimes to go. How will the east coast test my legs?

The original legs. May 2013.

The original legs. May 2013.

3 cycling classes later... My legs in Montreal.

3 cycling classes later… My legs in Montreal.

The end is in sight. I have only 2,500 kilometres to go before my legs and I can collapse back on the sofa with a tub of Haagen-Dazs.

Lost in Quebecois

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

Day 50: Brownsburg-Chatham to Montreal (85 km)

Once upon a time I studied French. In fact I studied French at school for 6 years. Cycling around Languedoc and Provence the French have understood my mangled requests for un cafe, jus d’orange, pain au chocolat etc. And I have understood them.

Not so in Québéc.

Today after a morning flying along at a silly 25km per hour, I bonked quite badly. So I decided to stop at Tims to pep up my energy levels.

I have done this. I have done this countless times before in Canada. It’s simple: just ask for a coffee and a doughnut. The man at the counter could apparently understand what I was saying but alas I could not, for love, money nor doughnut, figure out what on earth he was saying in reply. I believe our conversation was as follows:

Tim man: Bonjour!
Moi: Bonjour! Je prend une cafe et une doughnut Boston au chocolat, s’il vous plait.
Tim: Vous le voulez comment, madam?
Moi: [blank stare] Ici.
Tim: Vous le prenez ici?
Moi: [encore du blank stare] Noir, merci.
Tim: Vous ne comprenez pas ce que je dis, n’est pas?
Moi: Oui. [handing over $5 note]. Merci.

I really need to figure out this accent because currently I am lost. There are lots of Ukrainians in Canada. The first wave of Ukranians immigrated here in the 1890s and settled in the prairies. Many times I have been sitting in a cafe or at a campsite and overheard a Ukrainian family chatting away. My ears prick at the sound… What are they saying? Even though my Russian is now very rusty and half forgotten I can still make out words and usually understand the topic of conversation. With Québécois I am lost without GPS.

Refuelled by doughnut and coffee I recommenced my journey into Montreal. At the outskirts of the city sprawl I hopped onto the bike path that weaved its way around the quieter suburban streets, through parks, over bridges, under highways and alongside the river. At first I enjoyed the novelty of navigating. But it was hard work to sustain for 30km as I checked my iPad map on the move while swerving to avoid another pothole in the rain.

I read the lines of street names. The city was a book of famous names. Rue de Gandhi, Gauguin, Dion (presumably Celine), Avenue Christophe Columb. And Rue de Brian. Who is Brian? I wonder.

Finally I arrived at the Millers’ house. The Millers are family friends who I haven’t seen in a long 8 years. As soon as I was offered, “beer, orange juice or tea?” I felt immediately at home. It is so lovely to see them again that I will take a few days off the bike to catch up with them.

Ironman training

August 4th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Day 49: Ottawa to Brownsburg-Chatham (130.5km)

“Get off the course please!”

I hadn’t intended to join the course. I was just trying to follow the bike path along the Rideau canal. But since I was here, hey what fun to have so many cyclists around me. A woman nipped by, crouched over her tri bars, and I felt my speed pick up as my competitive side kicked in. I think I might have kept going to transition and then racked Monty while I headed out on the run… Until I heard the marshall yelling at me.

I guess the multitude of panniers and the bear spray strapped atop the tent bag gave me away as not the true triathlete.

Oh well, I better leave the course then. I waited for a gap in the bikes, darted over the road and heaved Monty up the kerb onto the opposite bike path.

The triathlon course paralleled the Rideau bike bath for several kilometres. So I got to enjoy watching the triathletes puff past with faces contorted by varying degrees of steely focus and enduring misery. They came in all sorts of shapes and sizes. In triathlons I’ve done in the past I have been on the podgier, slower end. The first triathlon I ever did was also the first time I ever saw a woman with a six pack (!) Yes there were a few people who had entered it for “fun” like me, but the majority of the lean, muscly competitors looked like they lived off a diet of protein shakes and raw tofu. They themselves looked to have a lower fat content than a slice of cucumber.

Cycling across Canada courses into triathlon

Cycling across Canada courses into triathlon

Had I known Ottawa was putting on a triathlon this weekend I would have entered. I am only a pair of goggles and a wet suit short of having all the gear with me, I realised. Plus it would be excellent training for my next challenge.

I have decided that my next challenge (post cycling across Canada) will be to do an Ironman triathlon.

To be clear, my aim is not to beat the cucumbers with six packs, but rather to get around in one piece. To complete it without major injury. To enjoy myself for at least a moment. To discover whether ordinary folk like me can accomplish such a feat. For though I have currently developed a habit of saying things like “oh it’s only 90km” and can now, as I did this afternoon, whip 60km down the road without braking for a break or breaking into a sweat. I still consider myself to be in the boundaries of normal.

As my school friend Beth can attest to, I was never the best at PE in school. I used to walk the cross country whenever the teacher wasn’t watching, I despised the beep test, and I would juggle the bats instead of playing rounders.

Thankfully the PE teacher never bothered me much (unlike poor Alex who was berated and told his heart would give out if he didn’t do some exercise). Because each morning the PE teacher would drive past me as I cycled up the hill to school.

Today I cycled an enjoyable 130km along the route verte bike path. I enjoyed views of the Ottawa river over the ripening farmland. Big, puffy clouds as big as a mountain range rolled overhead but thankfully the rain held off. My legs pumped effortlessly up the inclines. With each kilometer my speed increased. Was it the effect of seeing the triathletes this morning? I laughed at the vision of Monty and I taking part in the Ottawa triathlon, laden with tent and panniers. But who needs that puny 40km time trial when I have all of Canada as my bike course?


August 3rd, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Day 48: Shawville to Ottawa (96.6 km)

Famous last words: “I’ve never had a day of continuous rain.”

Last night I met Tina at the campground. She’s biking around Ontario and we stayed up late (ie 10.30pm!) chatting, barely visible to each other in the dull light of a single orange glow stick. She asked me how my tour had been so far.

“What’s the weather been like?” She asked.

Note to self: do not tempt fate by saying silly things like “I’ve never had a day of continuous day.”

In the night I was woken up by rain. The flaps of my tent were already flapped down so I just rolled over and was lulled back to sleep by the pat-pattering of rain on canvas.

In the morning I was woken up by the rain again. The pat-pattering had become louder. I peeked out through the zip. Oh. The sky was a bleak sea of grey. I dug out my waterproofs and crawled out. If ever there was a reason to get out of “bed” and step into the rain it was this: maple syrup and pancakes. Did I not tweet my wish for maple syrup and pancakes yesterday? God is clearly on twitter.

I wandered over to Tina’s picnic bench with my French press (translation: cafetière). While Tina rustled up some of Aunt Jemima’s finest, I cut open a new bag of fresh coffee. We may be in a public park, we may not have washed in days, it may be pouring with rain but we can still eat breakfast like it’s Christmas morning.*

Tina making pancakes

Tina making pancakes

It was still raining. In fact, the rain seemed to have got wetter. I wandered back to my tent to discover, uh-oh, I had left one of my bike shoes poking out the tent all night. It was now soaked. Well, I guess they will both be that wet soon, I thought, wringing out the drenched sock which had resided in the shoe overnight.

I rolled up half a pond of water in my tent, clipped on my panniers and merrily cycled off with splashing tyres. It might be raining, but I had 95 kilometres of bike path to look forward to. The route verte (green route) is a huge bike trail that stretches all the way across Quebec. I would join it only a few hundred metres from my campground and only have to leave the bike trails again for a few hundred metres in Ottawa. After all this time cycling on highways it was bliss. Even the strengthening rain couldn’t dampen my spirits.

By 2pm I reached the outskirts of Gatineau and stopped by the beach for lunch. The beach was deserted save for a lone seagull eyeing me suspiciously. The snack kiosk was empty of customers. The only people in sight were a laughing group playing on the Ottawa river. Some were in motor boats, a few were on windsurfers, the majority were in kayaks and a few were out of their kayaks and squealing in the water. I imagine those in the water were equally as dry as those on it.

I watched the water folk splashing around while I munched my daily allowance of avocado and crackers. Munching cracker number one I could see the buildings on the far side of the river. But by cracker four the clouds rolled in again. Ontario disappeared in a damp, grey fog as the river met directly with the sky.

Back on the trail I enjoyed a wonderful final 30km to Ottawa. The bike trail was smooth, clean, signposted and surprisingly empty except for a handful of very keen folks skating along with ski poles (off season cross country skiers, I assume.) I couldn’t stop smiling as the familiar view of Ottawa rolled into view. Parliament! The Rideau canal! Yes, i was soaked like a drowned rat but I was dreaming of the hot shower and warm bed that awaited me.

Glorious bike path to the capital. Note roof of Parliament poking through the trees.

Glorious bike path to the capital. Note roof of Parliament poking through the trees.

On cue, as I rolled into downtown Ottawa, the clouds parted to reveal a warm blue sky. The sun warmed my prune-like, waterlogged skin and dried my drenched clothes.



I still had time to nip to Byward Market to get some beavertail. Beavertail is what you might call a local delicacy, although it is anything but delicate. It is deep fat fried cake-like pastry smeared in any number of artery-blocking toppings. I ordered one and demolished it. The dripping butter tasted so, so good. So I ordered another. I was tempted to go for a third but figured it might ruin my dinner.

Maple butter beavertail. A Canada delicacy.

Maple butter beavertail. A Canada delicacy.

Fuelled by beavertail, I pedalled alongside the Rideau canal to the house of my lovely hosts, Dale and Natalie. The sun was now shining enough that I needed to peel off my wet jacket and stick on my silly sunglasses. Because, after all, it never rains continuously for a whole day.

*in the Rock house we eat Canadian pancakes for breakfast on Christmas morning.

Reasons to celebrate

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

Day 47: Golden Lake to Shawville (88km)

“Congratulations!” She beamed with a broad, excited smile on her face. She had a copy of the Merchant of Venice tucked under one arm.

We were standing outside the pubic library in Eganville, a small town straddling the Bonnechere river in northern Ontario. I had a large grin on my face too. Thanks to the library’s free wifi I had just found out that I had a new job to look forward to when I return to the UK. But the Merchant of Venice lady didn’t know that. She’d just asked me where I’d biked from. Congratulations, Dino, you’ve just cycled from Victoria.

Resisting the urge to whoop and yahoo inside the quiet library, I saved my woohoo moment until I was safely 2km out of town with the noise of the wind and traffic to disguise my private celebrations. All day I rode with a smile smeared on my face like chocolate round a kid’s mouth.

The morning routine of stuffing bags, drinking coffee, stretching hamstring etc, had been interrupted by a telephone job interview. Even in northern Ontario, sitting under dew wet trees on the shore of Golden Lake, I couldn’t shake off the pre-interview nerves. Last night I went over possible questions in my head, explicating my vision for the future while poking the charcoal of my campfire. And what should I wear from my interview? At 6.45am the air still held the cool freshness of night so I dug into my stuff sack for my thermal leggings. I munched blueberries, watched the blackbird hopping across the sunlight-dabbled grass, and waited for the phone to ring.

Interview over I pedalled off in high spirits. The scenery was changing, the forests were giving way to farmland. And I knew that by the end of the day I would be in a whole new province. It felt like the start of a whole new adventure.

After 26km I stopped in Eganville for second breakfast and to check my emails at the public library. Discovering I had a new job and the congratulations from the Merchant of Venice lady only boosted my mood even more. I spun fast out of the town and headed along the highway east.

I passed stretching corn fields, shining like pots of honey in the sun. Barns painted in fresh vermillion, looking like Monopoly hotels, stood squarely in the corner of the crop fields. Fresh green hay bales lay in the fields. I turned off the highway towards the Ottawa river.

In the distance the grain stores stood like colourful minarets calling birds from across the fields. Swallows dipped and dived over the swaying fields of corn. Whisps of cirrus cloud floated in the sky. A chorus of cicadas buzzed from the tall grasses. A herd of cows munched languidly.

A long bridge carried me over the Ottawa river. After 2,500 km and a whole month of cycling I was leaving Ontario. Ontario had been an adventure inside an adventure. It’s shown me fireflies, bears, the northern lights and just how bad mosquitoes can be. It’s showered me in terrific thunderstorms and fried me in the sticky heat. Your lakes and forests were so beautiful I didn’t think I’d ever get bored. And I didn’t.

Left: Quebec. Right: Ontario. Middle: Ottawa river

Left: Quebec. Right: Ontario. Middle: Ottawa river

Quebec appeared on the other side of the river promising poutine and bike paths. Soon enough I arrived in the town of Shawville. I pedalled off in search of a celebratory drink and returned to the campground with two beers and a pot of poutine. One beer to celebrate the new job, the second to celebrate cycling across Ontario and the poutine because I was hungry.

Left: beer to celebrate new job. Right: beer to celebrate cycling across Ontario. Middle: poutine

Left: beer to celebrate new job. Right: beer to celebrate cycling across Ontario. Middle: poutine

I am camped by the stream in the town park that doubles as a free campground. My tent is pitched next to the small stream, bordered by a bush or two of pink fuchsias. I can hear the soft, rhythmic thud of the old water mill churning. I am sitting drinking my cold beer and picking at the flaking emerald paint of a roofed picnic bench.

I raise my second drink to the sky: here’s to you Ontario. Here’s to cycling across Canada.