Dino's blog for mini adventures and endurance challenges

To Cheticamp Island

August 26th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Day 66: Port Hood to Cheticamp Island (95.5km)

Is 11am on a Sunday morning too early to drink whisky?

After yesterday I think I needed it.

Canada does not stop amazing me. And you would have thought that after cycling across the Rocky Mountains, the prairies and the Canadian Shield then there would be no terrain left that I couldn’t pedal like the garden path. Think again.

Cape Breton is not the garden path. This terrain manages to combine the steepness of the Rockies with the relentless undulating mounds of the Canadian Shield and, as it showed yesterday, it can throw in a headwind reminiscent of the prairies. It’s a very good thing I’ve done 7,000 kilometres of training because this is Tough. There is not an inch of flat ground on this island.

I woke up this morning in my cosy little hut. Even before I’d shed my cocoon a flex of my leg told me that I would be in trouble today. My quads, hamstrings, piriformis all felt like they’d been through a mangler. You know that feeling when you hobble around the office the day after you’ve exerted yourself on something like a 10 mile run? You laugh merrily about what a fun weekend you had while all the time being extremely grateful that you get to spend the day sitting in a chair. My legs were not laughing merrily. You want me to cycle 100km today? They laughed, but it was in disbelief.

I was on the road by 8:45am. The road was empty save for a single exhausted cyclists with legs laughing in disbelief. The sky was empty save for a scrap of white cloud that looked like someone had pulled a comb through icing sugar. Since it was Sunday, the birds and butterflies were having a lie in and they did not stir from the wild flowers or flap from the bush as I pedalled past. The wind was tranquil. It was so quiet I could hear my own breath as I rasped up another steep incline. My legs burned with each upward pedal stroke.

Each five minutes of tormenting climb would be rewarded by one minute of fast descent. It seemed an unfair trade for my legs. My thighs dreamt of soaking in a hot bath and falling asleep in fresh sheets. But I know, when I am next bathing in Radox bubbles, I will dream of cycling in Nova Scotia again.

I stopped for supplies in a small town. The grocery store had decorated its foyer with a large stuffed moose head which peered over shoppers’ heads as they nipped in to get milk. I decided I needed to have at least one more campfire. So I purchased all the makings of a great Canadian campfire feast: baked beans in maple syrup (yes, that’s real), spider dogs, and s’more ingredients (chocolate, marshmallows, graham crackers).

After a further burst of cycling I pulled off at the entrance for the Glenora Distillery. This distillery, a cluster of white washed buildings festooned with the brightest ruby red flowers, produces the only single malt whisky in North America. Nova Scotia isn’t called Nova Scotia for nothing. Approximately 20% of the people claim Scottish heritage although that proportion is higher in areas like this. The distillery tour finished with a wee dram. I would have liked to have bought a bottle in the gift shop but I feared the extra weight on my panniers.


The day continued to offer a blend of challenging hills, sunshine and, thankfully, calmer winds. As the road bent towards the coast I joined the Cabot Trail proper. I passed a number of small villages, their painted wooden houses facing the sea. Fishing boats bobbed in the harbour. A tangled turquoise pile of lobster pots stood for sale. Rocky, sloping headlands protruded into the surf.


My destination for the evening was a sandy campground hidden in the corner of Cheticamp island. Cheticamp island isn’t an island any more. It was over a hundred years ago that the sand bar moved. Now a pile of rocks has turned the sand bar into a causeway connecting this sandy comma of island it to the rest of Cape Breton.

What a beautiful evening. I have waited 3 months for this evening: it is dark and I am still awake. The sky is clear but the moon is hidden. I am far enough away from anywhere that the land is dark. The bugs are in bed and I have a campfire to keep me warm. I lie on my back, nestled by the fire. The blue of the evening dims to the black of night. I look up as the full beauty of heaven’s cloth is unfolded across the sky.

I gaze up at the finest black velvet embroidered with a multitude of stars. Another star seem to have been sewn on each time I blink. The campfire crackles and purrs its way through another log. Bats fly overhead, darting like swallows. As I look up at the night star I wonder how small I am in all of this. Smaller than a pebble on a beach. Smaller than a leaf in the forest. Smaller than an island in the ocean, but still connected to the mainland.

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.

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?

The 2000th kilometre

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

If instead of cycling to work I’d started cycling from Vancouver then I’d be here by now:

Congratulations! You've reached the, erm... Middle of Nowehere

Congratulations! You’ve reached the, erm… Middle of Nowehere

This is the stretch of road just inside the Manitoba border, near a town called Russell. It sits in an area known for its grain and cattle. But as you can see – there ain’t much going on.

But this spot marks 2000km from Vancouver. And today marks my 2000th kilometre since training began on January 1.

Thank you accosted dog walker for taking the snap. And not running off with my iPad.

Thank you accosted dog walker for taking the snap. And not running off with my iPad.

It was quite fitting that today I cycled my 2000th km on my way back from work. As indeed most of the distance (62% to be precise) has been gained pedalling to work.

Cycling to work doesn’t feel like ‘commuting’ in the regular (horrendous) sense of the word. Cycling to work is not a waste of time spent swearing at heavy traffic or waiting for a delayed train. I’m lucky because my cycle to work is a 18.4km off-road jaunt along the Sustrans Route 51. A route so fabulous it has it’s own guide.

My journey is a joy, a bliss, a wonder to behold. I’ve enjoyed seeing barn owls, badgers (live ones, not just road kill!) fieldfare and green woodpeckers. I’ve watched the sunrise and the sunset countless times and enjoyed watching the slowly shifting cloudscapes of the open skies.

I’ve cycled in rain, mist, fog, snow, and – very occasionally- sunshine. I’ve fought a 40mph gusting headwind and been blown home at record speed by an easterly so strong it felt like being on a conveyor belt.

My brakes froze solid in the cold and my front derellaier has refused to budge since. I’ve soiled the office shower with muck and sand, and hung up my socks and thermals to dry on the radiator. I’ve nodded good morning at the same hi vis orange woman every morning and said hello to a hi vis yellow man on the way back.

I’ve burrowed through deepest, darkest winter with a bike light that dazzles the sun. I’ve cycled through winter. And I’ve survived.

Now spring has sprung and I’m fitter than ever. Which is just as well – as I’ve only just crossed into Manitoba. And next month instead of cycling to work I’ll be starting again in Vancouver.

Buttocks of Brick

April 23rd, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (1 Comments)

“Your piriformis is like a brick,” she says while jabbing into my buttocks. The comment is intended as an explanation for why my back is wonky but I take it as a compliment.

I’d pedalled off to the Osteopath this morning to get advice on an old back injury that has come back to bite. Before she attacks my piriformis, the Osteopath hands me a large cardboard tube.

“This will hurt,” the Osteopath warns me, “so you can hit me with this tube.”

Argh! I let out a small yelp and tightly grip the cardboard tube as her elbow digs deeper into my buttock.

But as she’s twisting and stretching me back into position, I feel oddly chuffed to have managed to cycle so many miles that my buttocks have officially been declared by a physio to be “like a brick”.

Buttocks of brick. That’s practically the same as having Legs of Steel. Which basically puts me in the same category as this chap:

These Legs of Steel belong to the German sprinter Robert Forstermann. His father was an elephant and his mother was an oak tree.

But it turns out however that having Buttocks Of Brick isn’t very useful as it causes huge amounts of pain.

The word piriformis is Latin for ‘pear-shaped’. This is unfortunately apt given my ample thighs and the shape things are going…

Here I am, about one month before I’m due to cycle, with a wonky back. I’ve spent years (about 8 in fact) dreaming of this trip and many months planning it. I am not, repeat not, going to be stopped in my tracks by my own back.

Thank goodness the osteopath that I found was brilliant. Should I, the person sometimes so crippled with pain I cannot move, have to take the train across Canada?

No: “We’ll patch you up and keep you pedalling.” She says.

For what is the point of having Buttocks of Brick if you cannot use them to cycle 7500km?