t minus four…

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along came a bear, goodbye ontario – thunder bay to winnipeg

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Entering the Arctic Watershed just before Central Time

I apparently didn’t take too many photos the past few days. Not that it was boring or anything like that, it was just still the same old Ontario landscape. I guess there are only so many pictures you can take of  lakes, trees and rocks. After a late departure in Thunder Bay I still made it about a hundred kilometers. I stealth camped close to the Central Time Zone picnic area that night. There were literally a few hundred mosquitos buzzing around my tent, from inside it sounded like it was raining, but it was just the mosquitos flying against my tent. I’m one of the lucky ones when it comes to bugs because I don’t really get any reactions to their bites. But when there are so many of them it’s obviously annoying. I have a Deet spray but at this point I’m still too stubborn to use it as I still prefer some short-term annoyance over long-term skin cancer.

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Right in the middle, at the white tree, is where I went down along the abandoned old road stretch

The next day it was time for my third flat of the trip and my second bear encounter. Yes, a bear. At dinner. Around six I spotted a perfect wild camping spot next to the road on what used to be the highway before they upgraded it to the current highway. There are lots of these kinds of places where you’ll see a stretch of old road running next to or crossing the current road. I went down this apocalyptic looking road for about 400 meters to have dinner next to a small lake. After this I was planning to clean myself a bit and get some cool pictures of the cracked up road before heading back closer to the highway to put up my tent. But as I finished my second bagel – with Nutella, the first one was cucumber & cheese – something black and furry appeared in the distance… The bear must have been interested in one of the ingredients of my meal because it really seem to be impressed by my shouting and bear bell ringing. As the bear was stopped down a bit on it’s path towards me and still quite far away I quickly packed my stuff and headed back to the highway. Once back there I decided to combine my adrenaline rush with some beats in my ears and bike another 40 kilometers to a campground in Ignace. Don’t ask me how paying 30 dollar for a campground without bear boxes that’s filled with careless RV campers is actually supposed to be safer. I’m not too scared and I don’t want to be labeled as one-of-those-Europeans-who-is-obsessed-by-bears, “Look, he’s even carrying a bear spray on his bicycle!” But it is a thing, right? Better to be safe than sorry!

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GoPro bear escape action photo :) Heading back to the highway

I actually met a European-who-isn’t-affraid-of-bears-at-all the following day as he keeps his food and trash in his tent. When I went over one of the typical gravel bumps on the side of the road that they use to close off the entrance to old quarries, I immediately saw a tent and a guy making preparations for a campfire. Florent from Marseille, France happily shared this perfect quarry camping spot. Just like me he has a one year workholiday visa for Canada and he’s been traveling through Canada and the US on his motorbike for the past three months. He’s heading for Vancouver as well, but he’ll most probably get there a bit earlier than me :). Thanks for sharing that campfire!

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Cooking & eating by a fire close to the tent?! Relax! But still…

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Manitoba, the fifth province I’ll cross on this trip

The next day I made it a goal to make it to Manitoba. I’ve been cycling in Canada for 41 days now, 21 cycling days were spent in Ontario. It was truly gorgeous but I was really looking forward to something else. After more than 1500 kilometer on Highway 17 I left the Trans-Canada Highway as soon as it changed into the four-lane Highway 1 in Manitoba. Highway 44 or “Historic Hwy 1” brought me to West Hawk Lake and the next day to Lockport. I still stand by what I said earlier about the trucks on the Trans-Canada not being too bad – share the road, no? But it was such a pleasure to finally be on a road without any trucks and even barely any traffic in the beginning. As Lockport was only 30 kilometers away from Winnipeg I decided to head down there after all for a well deserved rest day. And here I am, in another great coffee shop in another big Canadian city.

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Winnipeg, Thom Bargen Coffee & Tea

Lots of people along the way said not too nice things about Winnipeg but I actually really like it so far. It probably sounds weird, but I prefer cities where not everything is perfect, or where at least they don’t pretend that it is. Problems are embedded within the concept of a big city, and they’re there to be solved. I think I prefer Winnipeg over Toronto, the marketeers haven’t taken over yet here. Next stop: Saskatoon. In the middle of the Prairies. Long bright ‘n sunny days. Wind battles. Something else!

and so it began – the first four days

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2014-06-11_3595_internetThe 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.

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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.

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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 2014-06-14_2441_internettyres 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 2014-06-16_2476_internetdidn’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.

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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.

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