*NEW-NEW-NEW, Now an all new page under “cycling canada”: the map !
I had a really enjoyable stay with Michel and his family in Edmunston. Having three young kids hasn’t stopped them from doing some bicycle tours. That’s what trailers are invented for, right?! Obviously they go slower and less far, but the fact that they’re doing it is great and it’s exactly what I would do if I’ll ever have children. They’re planning a trip in Germany for 2016 with the kids on a tandem, I’m sure it’s going to be a great adventure for the whole family. I was talking with Michel about blogging and sometimes being too connected through internet while traveling. He was talking about what he called his “pre-internet travel” to Australia in ’95. Just like my sister now, he did some WWoofing while he was there. Obviously there was no internet, so you had to write them a letter and they’d send you a booklet with all the WWoofing places. I had no idea WWoofing already existed back then, I thought of it as a network that grew online. But obviously a lot of initiatives like this were already around before the internet came and took part of the adventure away. And of course I could do without, but yet here I am, blogging behind my laptop. With two cameras, a smartphone and a gps device on the table as well. The gear minimalist at work. (In my defence about the cameras: since I might be gone for a year I brouht the X-E1 with the 35mm lens along with the X100 that normally would be my sole camera. It would just be stupid to have such a great camera and lens collecting dust in Belgium for a year.)
Michel told me that a lot of people who ride their bike across Canada will traditionally take the Trans-Canada Highway from Fredericton up North to Edmundston. To make things clear: this is a four-lane highway. In the US you’d call it an interstate, in Belgiun an autostrade. It sure has a nice shoulder to bike on, but why on earth would you ride on a high-speed highway where tons of cars and trucks will zoom by you?! I don’t see the fun of that and I think it’s only reasonable that this is illegal in Belgium. I’m proud to say that I didn’t bike a centimeter on this highway on my ride to Rivière-du-Loup the past four days.
The first day I biked to Woodstock on the left bank of the Saint John river on what used to be the Trans-Canada Highway before the four-laner came. Somewhere halfway it actually dead ends and you’re supposed to go on the four-lane highway for a few kilometers. But I met a cyclist who told me that although it’s not on the map, the two parts are actually connected by two small roads down to the water with a little rails-to-trails bridge in between. It was great, why wasn’t this on my map?! The fact that the old highway dead ends for cars makes that there’s virtually no traffic on it since there’s not that many houses along it. Cycling this abandoned road with its rusty guard rails was a weird experience. A bit like one of those postapocalyptic eighties movies. Or more recently The Walking Dead. Luckily there were no zombies to fight against. But there actually was a continuous battle going on. I’ve been fighting against a feirce NW/NNW headwind over the past four days. At times it was really stormy and I just had to settle for going slow.
The landscape in the Saint John river valley somewhat reminded me of Virginia and Kentucky. In a certain way this makes sense because I am cycling through the Canadian part of the Appalachian mountain range. The second day I switched sides to the right side of the river. It began with a flat tyre. If I remember well it’s the first one since Jackson, Montana on my TransAm trip last summer. I think that puts me at about 2300km without a flat. Not too bad. A flat every now and then is just inevitable, no matter how good your tyres are. With the Schwalbe Marathon touring intended tyres like I have, I don’t have to worry much about glass on the road. To exaggerate a bit: my tyres will just crush it back to sand. It’s all kinds of fine metal wire that’ll occasionally get through and give you a flat.
I mostly rode on a gorgeous trail that is part of the Trans Canada Trail. The surface was pretty good and it gave me bit more cover from the headwinds compared to the open road. I met other touring cyclists for the first time that day. An Australian couple that had also done the TransAm a few years ago. Now they were on their way to Cape Breton. They were flying on the road while I was slowly moving into the wind on the trail next to it. If I’ll ever find myself in Australia close to Kangooroo Island, I’ll definitely visit them, they’re Warmshowers hosts as well.
That night I wild camped for the first time in Canada. It took a bit of effort to get my food and toiletries up in a tree with the cord I had bought for that purpose in Halifax, but it was a great camping spot. When I came through Grand Falls the next day I knew that the trail ends there. While I was cycling on the old highway again I saw that it actually was still there, but completely overgrown. As you can see in the photo this part is/was forbidden for atvs, so maybe that’s what you get when you ban the quads on the trails? At least in New Brunswick, because in Quebec they’re not allowed or they have their separate path and the atv-free Route Verte & Trans Canada Trails in Quebec that I’ve cycled on were in great condition. They don’t seem to need the quads.
But I didn’t make it to Quebec yet that day. I went really slow between Grand Falls and Edmunston, I was being slowed down by American headwinds. The Saint John river forms the border with the Maine here, I dont think I’ll be this close to the US again untill I reach the Rockies. That night I stayed in the de la République provincial park a few kilometers past Edmundston. The campground here has a reduced rate for cyclists, you pay 10$ instead of 25$. Yes, camping in Canada is really expensive, 25$ is apparently between the lower prices. I had read on a blog that this particular campground has a cyclists rate, that’s why I went there. The weird thing is that this reduced rate isn’t posted anywhere, you won’t find it on their website or not even a the entrance on the price list. It nearly looks as if they want to keep it a secret. If it would be known, I’m sure they would get more cyclists staying there. And I actually think that all the provincial campgrounds in Canada should have specific hiker/biker sites just like on the campgrounds on the Atlantic Coast in Oregon and California. Right now there’s a lot of people who will just wild camp because it’s so expensive, but I’m sure there’s a quite a few among them that would be willing to pay 10$ every now and then for a shower. And no doubt that it would be beneficial to the promotion of hiking and cycling tourism. Just an idea.
The next day I entered Quebec (and a new time zone). The Route Verte brought me to Rivière-du-Loup on another beautiful rail trail. The RouteVerte cycling network in Quebec is known for its quality and beauty, even in Belgium. It’s a real joy to bike on it. For some reason I didn’t take any nice pictures of this trail, so here’s a few more photos fromthe the days before that. I’m pretty sure you don’t get to see these kind of things on that truck-filled Trans-Canada highway.
Today a dear friend of me flies to the US for a three-month hike on the Pacific Crest Trail in Oregon and Washington. I think the first time our paths really crossed was in the second year of highschool, working together on an assignment. We had to write and draw one page of a comic book story. As I remember we made something about a military battle around the Panama Canal in what I guess was some sort of World War III context. I’m actually wondering now what our teacher thought of that scenario. The things thirteen year old kids will come up with. That nuclear holocaust never came, but we stayed friends over the years. In the photo above you can see the eighteen year old versions of us in 2002, having a rest on a bridge in France on our Cévenol hiking trip. It’s a blurry scan of a disposable camera picture, but it’s one of my favorites. Now we’re both thirty, time flew by again. I don’t have a clue what we were talking about on that bridge, but I’m sure we’ve both succeeded to keep the spirit of such moments alive. Koen, all the luck on your journey. Break a leg, or whatever the appropriate wish for hikers might be.
p.s.: I’ll follow you on your You Gotta Move page, so you’d better not give up on posting things like I did last year on my TransAm blog :p. And who knows, maybe we’ll really get to meet each other in Manning Park somewhere in September!
The photo above is about the closest my fully loaded bike got to the Atlantic. The day before I had been cycling in the rain the whole day and I hadn’t found a good spot to go and dip my wheels in the ocean. While having lunch on this pier in Lunenburg I was contemplating on cycling 6 km to a spot where I could actually reach the water. But I would’ve had to backtrack after that, so I settled for this photo. I actually do have a picture of me and my bike in the Atlantic that James made for me. But it’s without my stuff on it. I also have a departing photo from Halifax. All three pics together should count as a wheel dip, right?! As far as I know extremism hasn’t ever done any good to the world anyways.
I wish to thank Jenna & Dale again for hosting me. They really welcomed me into Canada and the three days I stayed with them were very relaxing. It gave me the chance to explore Halifax a bit. Sadly enough it started raining on the fourth day. But just like James a few days before, I was eager to get on my bike myself now. So I set off in the pouring rain that continued all day long. There’s no point in complaining about the weather, so I won’t.
I mostly biked on the rails-to-trails on my first two days. The trail had quit a few rough spots with potholes and the gravel isn’t always as smooth. But it was beautiful. And my kind of MTB touring bike with its wide tyres can handle a bit of dirt. I wouldn’t ride a more classic touring bike here. It’s great that these old rail trails have been opened up for recreational use. But I think if they want to attract more cyclists to the trail they’ll have to put more work into it. And I’m sure it will happen over time, they were actually working on the trail close to Halifax. Banning the quads might help to avoid getting potholes like you see in the picture. But I guess ATVs are a big part of the recreational use of the trail, so that might not be possible (yet). I don’t want to come over too negative, I definitely enjoyed riding the trail, I’m just saying there’s a huge potential here to get more people cycling. Right now it’s more of a MTB trail.
After another great Warmshowers stay in New Germany with Bob and his family I set off on a bit of a race against the clock on my third day. I had to make it to the ferry in Digby by 16h. The rolling hills, a firm headwind and quite a bit of dirt roads didn’t make it easy. But I arrived in Digby by 15h40 after a tiring 130km. And that’s when I saw a sign St.John Ferry, 5km. I laid my arms down on my steer and started a 5km time trial with a fully loaded touring bike. I made it by 5 minutes. Once on the ferry I went straight to the cafeteria for pie and cookies to replenish my energy after that crazy race. Pfew!
While cycling to my WS host in Saint John (another thank you to Raymond!) after getting off the ferry, all of a sudden a bus came right besides me. While still driving the driver opened the front doors and shouted something to me. I couldn’t really understand him but I presumed it was something negative. But when I asked him to say it again he said “That brings back old memories. When I was 17 I biked from here to Key West, Florida”. He wished me luck and continued his bus ride. Just one of those weird but great encounters.
Speaking about encounters: the next day I was biking on another rail trail in the middle of nowhere when I suddenly saw something big and black ahead of me. In the US I saw a bear on my fifth cycling day, in Canada it was bound to happen sooner. It took four days. And this time it won’t be the last one either, that’s for sure. I was quite far away and after taking some pictures I saw one cub, two cubs and eventually three. I tried to get a bit closer in the hope that they would just leave the trail. But they didn’t, so all I could do was turn around and bike about 9km back to find another route off that gorgeous rail trail.
I’ve biked 450km in the past four days. Right now I’m enjoying a well deserved rest day in a coffee shop in Fredericton. The pouring rain outside can’t harm me. Being back traveling on my bike feels good. My shape isn’t at the same level as it was a year ago when I started cycling in the US and I’m definitely a few kgs heavier. But it’ll all get better. My trip across Canada is off to a good start. I’ve already seen a lot of beauty and met some interesting people. I’m ready for more. And there will be a lot more. People. Nature. Bears.
To bike or not to bike? Tuesday, 9pm, Halifax airport. I had just picked up my bicycle at the drop-off after going through immigration for my work visa. Everything went smooth, no fuss, with the visa in my passport my Canadian year had just been officially launched. Yeah! So I guess I was in a bit of an euphoric mood when I decided to ride my bicycle to Dartmouth even though it was raining and getting dark. I had just been told that taking a taxi van would cost me $70. Call me a scrooge, but me and my bicycle had just flown into Canda from the other side of the world for €360. Compared to that the price of the taxi just didn’t sound right to me. For the first time ever I have a reflective vest with me while touring, so here was my chance to use it. Optimistic thought is what it’s all about at moments like this.
Unpacking and assembling the bike didn’t take too long since I had an enormous box. Off I went for the first 35 km of my trip! I was prepared for this. I had a Google Maps route loaded into my Garmin gps. And that’s where it went wrong. At first it was all ok. I was just cruising through the pitch dark in the pouring rain. But when my gps directed me into a gravel road I should have turned around right away. Obviously I didn’t and what started as a gravel road soon became a bumpy rocky road and ended up to be a muddy road full of puddles. When I finally got back on the main road my morale was down and the jet lag started to kick in. After twenty more tiring kilometers I finally arrived at my Warmshowers host. My bicycle and my panniers looked horrible. But Jenna and Dale were really welcoming and soon I was settled down and everything was more or less forgotten.
It turned out that there was another touring cyclist staying at the house. James had flown from Scotland to Halifax over Reykjavik. What?! Yes, he was on the same flight as me and had arrived by taxi two hours earlier! If only I hadn’t been the last one to leave the baggage drop-off, we could have shared that taxi! Just like me, James has the plan to ride his bicycle all the way to Vancouver. After a good night’s rest we both went down to the water to perform his official wheel dip in the Atlantic Ocean.
He wants to be at the Pacific in about two months and left this morning. Hopefully we’ll meet again at some point. I’m eager to start cycling as well, but I’m staying two more days in Halifax to explore the city and get some administration done. And maybe deep clean my bicycle :).
This photo was taken during my bicycle tour across the US last summer. The dirt road I was on is actually not part of the TransAmerica Trail. My WarmShowers host in Silverthorne, Colorado had advised me to take this scenic route over Ute Pass. The rain started pouring down on me when I reached the top. And as I was going downhill I started to discover the true meaning of the word dirtroad. I wasn’t in the best of moods when all of a sudden I saw two other touring cyclists in front of me. Out there in the middle of nowhere?! Apparently the road I was cycling on was part of another ACA bicycle route: the Great Divide Route. Those two people, father and daughter, had been cycling on these kind of roads all the way from Canada! Their feet were soaked and they were highly jealous of my waterproof overshoes. But the weather couldn’t bring down their joyful mood. And as it started to clear up a bit after we said goodbye it came to me how beautiful it actually was around me. Of course it didn’t take long before I started dreaming about cycling the Great Divide one day…
That day isn’t here yet. But I might find myself on that route again this summer and maybe even ride the Canadian part of it. Before I’ hit Rockies, there are many kilometers to be ridden though. We’ll see where the road takes me. Halifax, Nova Scotia is where my journey starts. In two days!
I hereby officially launch my new bicycle touring blog. You’ll find a lot of information about me, my passion for cycling and photography, my past bicycle tours and my Canadian plans. In the next months I’ll be journaling about my journey across Canada on this blog.
p.s.: Up untill this date we Belgians still speak either Dutch (like me) or French. Obviously I have a solid knowledge of the English language, otherwise I wouldn’t be blogging in it. But my writing skills aren’t impeccable. So I’d like to apologize in advance to all native English readers for any wrong sentence structures or weird formulations they might come across. Luckily photos are language-free.