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Niamh & Matthew - We are teachers working internationally. We met in Togo, West Africa and most recently lived in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. We both love to travel and visit new places - especially by bike.

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Copyright 2019 by Pedalgogy

A collection of tales from the road #13 - Canada

December 15, 2018

 

 

I have a feeling that our recent crossing of a good chunk of Canada will not be the last.

 

During this visit, we entered Canada in Manitoba and rode in the wrong direction to the Pacific. Why the wrong direction? Well I wrote that because we we told this nearly every day, by generally well meaning and typically apologetic Canadians. The prevailing wind is indeed from the West and the Prairies of the Great Plains are a breeding ground for gusts, so it's true that some days we struggled. I remember long, straight, flat roads surrounded by pretty much nothing. For a good few weeks, heads down, gritted teeth, trying not to think too much about how we were two very slow moving, very tiny dots on a featureless map of vast scale; there is only so much horizon a man can handle. 

 

Considering we had a week off to party and a good few necessary rest days, we had made it from Chicago, Illinois, to our Uzbek friend’s house in Winnipeg rather quickly. Alisher and his family treated us to some perfectly familiar hospitality and food, so we were soon feeling pretty good and were keen to get a fuller taste of Canada. Cycling west, we sometimes cruised on the Trans-Canada Highway. Other times we were disappointed after finding impractical sections of  “The Great Trail” that we had initially planned to use to cross this massive country.

 

Most days we met plenty of friendly people, many of whom were again keen to assert that we were still going in the wrong direction...because of the wind…don't you know? Nevertheless, we had done pretty well up to that point around the world with wind of the weather variety, and we knew that we would later benefit from the winds from the north along the western seaboard, which have indeed helped to push us south to California, from where I write now. All in all, the conditions in Canada were kind to us, if one accepts that the wildfire haze from British Columbia and the 40c temperatures were just adding to the reward, by adding to the challenge.

 

By the time we arrived in Calgary, the fires, thankfully for everybody had calmed down. We spent a week regrouping as best we could, and as soon as the bikes had been serviced we saddled up and climbed into the Rockies. Oh did it rain. Nearly every day there would be some and it was bitterly cold. We had to do laundry every few days as we were wearing our entire wardrobes on most rides. It was tough, but we were fit as fiddles so we blasted from Banff to Jasper on the Icefields Parkway. Apparently it is one of the most spectacular routes in the world, and we could just about appreciate from the glimpses through the clouds, just how epic it is.  We then wiggle-wound our way down to Summerland in the Okanagan to see more friends, and then back down to sea level across to Vancouver Island.

 

Two themes of adventure run through our part crossing of Canada when I think back.

 

The first is just how wild the place is.

 

I tend to take most things in my stride, rather than fear the what ifs? There are measures one can take to mitigate the risk we put ourselves in of course, but when it comes to mother nature, we just have to accept. Be smart, but accept. A bit like flying I guess. Even before we crossed into Canada we had been warned about bears on the road to the rural border at Lancaster/ St Malo, so we prioritised the purchase of pepper spray which was easy to find in Minnesota. Thankfully, the cans remain un-used, but there were certainly times when I realised that having it in the bottom of your handle bar bag is not accessible enough. Inevitably we had bear encounters, but they were not aggressive. Rather, they were just going about their business. Most bad bike and bear encounters are because we startle them, so we knew that playing music or singing on the forest trails was important. It may even have saved us, as on occasion they had already clocked us coming and nonchalantly wandered across our paths.  Of course, camp stove cooking and creatures go together, so we had to be extra careful to stash our dry-bag of food in a lofty position, wash pots and pans, even change our clothes after eating. Whether or not these behaviours made the difference and are the reasons why I write here, we will never know.

 

The second theme is how a plan should always evolve. 

 

There are so many factors that can and will affect a bike tour that its daft and often pointless to have a rigid schedule. You either feel restricted by a timeframe, or rushed by an agenda. I have learned over these last 6 months just to take each day as it comes. Some days are going to be terrible, when you will doubt that you will ever make it to your goal, but other will be bliss, when you feel like a superhuman. Making the most of these moments is the key to a successful tour, not whether you are going to meet your own prescribed framework of success indicators. 

 

Our original schedule for the relatively visa-hassle-free second year of the 2-year ride was to cross the continent from Chicago, Illinois in July, to British Columbia for the Christmas holidays. We were thinking that we would restart in the New Year from Seattle, Washington and ride south to the warmth. Finally, we would then fly from L.A. to Detroit and begin the eastern part of Canada, to get as far as we could towards Ireland before June 2019. Due to a combination of riding a lot faster than we had expected, and likely being fearful of the scale of this land, we have already achieved much of this having cycled 10,000km in North America in these few months.

 

Knowing now that the world tour will soon come to an end six months ahead of 'The Plan', I do not feel one bit regretful that it has changed. It has also left the tantalising thought of one day, maybe with a family, finishing the crossing of Canada in the east. Oh, this is the stuff that dreams of future bike tours are made of.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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