There’s once more so much to write about. But the perfectionist in me hates half told stories. So I’ll keep some blog post ideas in the back of my head for now and continue down the path of photo blogging. Valleys and Passes is what the Crowsnest Highway (Hwy 3) is all about as it zigzags along the US border. The road follows a valley untill you get close to that border, which then means you have to go over a pass to get away from it. The river on the other side of the pass of course flows South as well, so the game continues… Some of the climbs in British Columbia are definitely more challenging than in the rest of Canada. But beautiful is that same old word again to describe all this. Photo blogs are so much more fun :).
Just photos, not too many words. I need some time away from my laptop after that rather extensive one year ago in lander, wyoming post and I still have to do my laundry and get some groceries for the next few days. Highway 17 will continue to be my guide as I bike further out West towards Winnipeg. Although I did hit some rainy and cold weather between Sault Ste. Marie and Thunder Bay, the scenery fulfilled all my expectations in terms of natural beauty. My wild camping spot in the Lake Superior Provincial Park was without any doubts one of the highlights of my cross Canada trip so far. Although none of them are in the pictures, I met quite a few cyclists heading East in the past week. Special mention to Jason from Taiwan who I actually met on my second rest day in Sault Ste. Marie. It’s truly inspiring to me how he’s been cycling across the world for the past year and has only payed once for overnight accommodations. Follow him here. Here’s some photos!
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, Colorado and 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 day 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 knee 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 rest 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 was 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.
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!
For some reason I didn’t take a single picture on the P’tit Train du Nord bike route. You’ll just have to believe me when I say this rail trail is beautiful. And it has a great surface: Annie had no problems biking it with her race tyres. It’s also a very popular trail, the day we biked to Montreal (Saturday) we saw more bicycles than cars, not kidding.
After a fun night out at the Terrasse St.-Ambroise with our WS host Héloïse and two of her friends Annie and I both felt a bit hungover the next day. Luckily the Atwater market was close by. This covered public market was the ideal place to wake up a bit before we started exploring the city on our Bixi bikes. By using this public bike system we didn’t have to worry about our bikes getting stolen and it also gave us more freedom because we didn’t always have to walk back to where we left our bikes. Apparently it’s costing the city of Montreal a lot of money to keep the whole Bixi project running. It even went bankrupt earlier this year, but it’s saved for this summer. Some people want to shut the whole project down in the future, but I think that would be a shame. It’s a great public service. It just shouldn’t be seen as a profit-making company. I’ve used similar public bike systems before in Paris and Brussels and it’s an incredible way to explore any big city. That being said I have to admit that we had a problem with our Bixi bikes. The first day Héloïse and her sister Andrea gave us their year pass keys to use (thanks again!) and everything went smooth. On out third day in Montreal we bought a 7$ day pass. At some point during the day we wanted to get two new bikes after a walk down at the Old Port. But the terminal said that our previous bikes weren’t registered as returned although we were 100% sure they had been properly locked into the system. Obviously we didn’t want to pay the 250$ deposit per bike they put on your credit card in case you’d be thinking of stealing one of the bikes. So I called the phone number on the terminal. Long story, but we found the two specific bikes at the station, locked but not registered as such, and the person on the phone couldn’t do something before a technician would come and check if the bikes were actually there, which could be at any time during the afternoon. So that would be the end of our Bixi story, but just as I hung up the phone, a technician coincidentally arrived at our station. So he helped us out and another fifteen minutes later we were biking again while he was closing down the whole Bixi station because of a problem in the computer of the terminal. To sum it all up: even though we clearly had some bad luck I still love the Bixi bikes!
In the evening it was time to pack Annie’s bicycle and after another sad airport goodbye the next morning I started cycling across Canada on my own again towards Ontario. Annie, thank you so much for flying to Quebec and biking with me for two weeks. It meant a lot to me and I think you’ll agree with me that it was gorgeous and unforgettable. See you!
More than two weeks without a real update… where should I begin? Maybe I’ll start with the why. My route between Halifax and Quebec was planned in such a way that I would arrive in Quebec on June 25th. Annie flew over from Colorado to bike with me to Montreal in the past two weeks. When you’re having a great time together it’s just no fun to be behind your computer. And a great time is for sure what we had.
But let’s take up where I left off. When I explored Rivière-du-Loup more than two weeks ago now, I really felt that I was “somewhere different” compared to the days before in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Or compared to my time in the US last summer. Obviously Quebec isn’t France, it’s recognizably Canadian or North-American on a larger scale. But the French influence, history, cultural baggage, identity or however you want to call it is much more visible and alive than I thought it would be. It’s more than just the language. I definitely experienced this on Saint Jean Baptiste Day or the Quebec National Holiday on the 24th. My Warmshowers guests in Saint-Roch-des-Aulnaies invited me to a local event for Quebec day. Everyone had brought some food, a band was playing music, there was a play area and popcorn for the children, plenty of Quebec balloons and flags. There was even a passionate speech about these flags and the national identity of the people of Quebec by an older guy who clearly wanted to inspire the many children that were present.
Between Rivière-du-Loup and Quebec I biked along the Saint Lawrence River on the Route Verte. The river is about 20 km wide here and it feels more like you’re cycling along the coast. The mountains on the other side of the river were screaming at me to take a ferry across and start biking & hiking there.
But I resisted and I arrived on time at a campground about 3 km away from the airport. A few hours later I met Annie in the airport. It was obviously great to meet again, but there was one problem…
I was ready to help Annie to re-assemble her bicycle, but it appeared to be still in Toronto! Even though she had two connecting flights with Air Canada, she apparently still had to declare the bike at customs in Toronto. All we could do was go to the campground after a promise that the bike would be in Quebec the next day. And so it was. Even better: they delivered it for free at the campground.
After a relocation from the not too special campground to a hotel closer downtown to visit the city for two days we were ready to start cycling in direction of Montreal. Touring together again for the first time since September last year when we finished the TransAm on the Oregon coast.
The first two days were still along the Sant Lawrence River. On the other side this time, on a part of the Route Verte that is called Le Chemin du Roy. When we reached Trois-Rivières it was time to head up more North: the Laurentian Mountains awaited us…