flying through the prairies – winnipeg to saskatoon to edmonton to jasper

The inevitable moment has come: I’m falling horribly behind on my blog. I’m having a rest day in Lake Louise now in the middle of the Canadian Rockies. The past few days I biked from Jasper to here on the Icefield Parkway. I just don’t know which words to use to describe it, what an incredible ride was that!

But first things first: The Prairies. I flew through it: I did 1800 kilometers in ten cycling days. There’s so many topics to write about: the good winds, the bad winds, the horrible winds and how to deal with it, the flatlands and about how that’s a stupid word because there’s actually hills in the plains, that crazy day I biked 315 kilometers to Saskatoon, WarmShowers hosts who had a solar oven and others who were making an alcohol camping stove, another bear in a field right in  front of me (who doesn’t like oats?), endless canola and wheat fields, the meaning of that word endless,…

Sadly enough I don’t have the time for it all, maybe I’ll do some specials later when my tour has come to an end. Which it slowly is, I’m getting terribly close to Vancouver when I fold open that map of Canada. But first there’s many more mountains and passes to enjoy, This trip is seriously getting better every day. Yes, I’m in a bit of a euphoric mood right now after a hike to the top of Fairview Mountain earlier today (short video here), maybe I need some more oxygen? Or maybe I just love the mountains, who doesn’t?!

I selected what I think are sixteen representative pictures. I want to stress out that in contrary to what most people say, I don’t think the prairies are monotonous, boring or anything like that. If you make an effort to get off the major highways like I did there’s lots of beautiful places to discover in the plains of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, I had  great time cycling through it!

one year ago in lander, wyoming

I’m in Thunder Bay now, the trek around Lake Superior is done. But there’s something else I want to write about first. It’s a bit of a long long story, but hold on, there’s lots of nice photos in the end. Exactly one year ago today something great happened. I was about two-thirds into my TransAm trip. My journey across Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado2013-07-27_0532_internet 2013-07-30_0576_internetand part of Wyoming had been a solo experience for most of the time. Obviously I had met a lot of people, biking or not, but other than a few days in Missouri I hadn’t really biked together with anyone. But my trip had been great , I had never been in a better shape and I was cycling at an ever faster pace through these wonderful American landscapes.

As I entered Rawlins, Wyoming on July 31st after another one of those long days I had no clue that things were about to get even better. On my way to the campground I saw two long-bearded touring cyclists on the other side of the road. I went over to talk to them, one of them, Garry, was clearly Irish and the other one, Evan,  well he was clearly American. When they said they had met each other on the road and had been cycling as a group for some time together with a Portuguese couple I knew right away who they were talking about: Sara & Pedro! I had met them in Berea, Kentucky on the 4th of July just before they rented a car to skip most of the Kansas part of the TransAm due to visa limitations. Ever since I entered Colorado I had been chasing them as they left traces all along the route. Guestbooks, other cyclists I met going East,… they all told me about this Portuguese couple on a two-year honeymoon bicycle adventure. I actually only biked to Rawlins that 2013-07-30_0585_internetday because I met a cyclist who told me they were probably staying there that night.

I had to make my way through a crazy headwinded Interstate stretch of the TransAm and a big thunderstorm that day, but there they were: Pedro & Sara! I think they were just as surprised as me that we had caught up. It was getting dark and we only talked briefly as the four of them had agreed on getting a hotel room that night. After making plans to meet up in Jeffrey City the next day I headed over to the campground. It was in that ghost town, once a uranium mining boomtown, now just a pit stop for TransAm cyclists because it mysteriously has a bar, that I got to catch up on cycling stories with Sara and Pedro. As I also got to know Garry and Evan a bit better all of a sudden another familiar face turned up at the bar: Joe! The first time I had met him was ages ago in Roanoke, Virginia on my fifth cycling day. He was all about going fast and lightweight so I assumed he was already somewhere in Oregon. But there he was, slowed down a bit after some 2013-08-01_0608_internetknee problems and a short break from cycling with his wife.

The next day I biked together with him to Lander. It was quite a challenge as he continuously tried to go a little bit too fast for me becaue that was part of his game. But I think to his surprise I was able to hold on. And while we were taking a relaxing swim in the pool in Lander after a much earlier arrival than the rest of our group of six he congratulated me and said something like “You know Maarten, you could be fast like me if you’d ditch some of the weight you’re carrying.” It still makes me smile when I think about how he said that, all those who met him while cycling across the US last summer can probably imagine exactly how it sounded. He nearly lured me into cycling with him for the rest of the journey. But as we all went over to set up our tents in the city park the next day after an overnight stay with someone we had met in the Lander Bar and had kindly given us shelter for a stormy night, Joe said he couldn’t spare a rest day and he moved on West. While Evan was taking a 2013-08-02_0625_internetrest in his tent feeling a bit feverish, Garry, Sara, Pedro and I went over to the Lander Bar again for a lazy afternoon with beer, burgers, wine, ice cream and more beers.

As the sun was setting after a great rest day we were getting a little buzzed, or at least I was. At some point a group of five touring cyclists showed up at the terrace. After some inquisitive looks back and forth one of them, Annie, came over and asked us about our trip. With all the answers to the usual questions she headed over back to her four friends from Virginia who she was biking across the country with. A bit later one of the guys, Eric, came over and when he bought a pitcher of beer to share I was witness to the birth of the bromance between him and Garry. Annie had told us that one of the other girls in her group had studied in Belgium for a while so I went over to the rest of the group to talk about that. After many more shared stories and beers it was2013-08-03_0632_internet great to wake up the next day at the city park and see all those tents and bikes together. It was also clear that I wasn’t going anywhere that day, our original group of five happily decided to have another rest day in Lander.

And that was it: a group of ten cyclists was born. We didn’t always bike together and there were different group formations along the route, but for the next six weeks, the last 2300 kilometers of my TransAm trip, we would stick together and become friends. It was a truly glorious time and there’s simply too much that happened to write about within this blog post. That’s why I’ll wrap up this story with an extensive photo slideshow of our traveling together.

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As September came we all went our own way and I finished my trip on the Oregon Coast together with Annie. But we got to meet up again with Evan, Garry, Liz, Sara and Pedro in Portland before finally saying goodbye. Since then I’ve returned to Colorado to visit Annie and do a road trip along ten National Parks of the Southwestern States. She also biked with me for two weeks on my current bicycle trip across Canada. We’ll meet again. I for sure would love to see any of the others of our group of ten back at some point. Ireland and Portugal are only a stone’s throw away from Belgium, so that’s gotta happen at some point. Of course Sara & Pedro will first have to finish their honeymoon as they are still cycling in South-America right now. And maybe I should make plans to actually visit my sister in Australia including a possible meet-up with Kevin & Jeanné?! Dreams, dreams, dreams, I should keep both feet on the ground. Or better, keep them on my bicycle and pedal to Winnipeg in the next few days. There’s still a lot of Canada ahead of me!

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* new * – the map

*NEW-NEW-NEW, Now an all new page under “cycling canada”: the map !

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two friends on a bridge – a flashback

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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.
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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!
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