a video!

Long time no post (five months, really?!). Here’s a music video Annie made for Dr.How and the Reasons to Live using my GoPro footage. Ready for a roller coaster bike ride across Canada?!

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valleys and passes: crowsnest highway – radium hot springs to hope

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 youSchermafbeelding (141) 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 :).

montreal to ottawa to toronto – farmlands, lakes & rail trails

Leaving Montreal also meant leaving Quebec. I’m in Ontario now and will be for quite a while, it’s a long way to Saskatchewan. I’ll be leaving Toronto tomorrow, heading North through the Bruce Peninsula. While falling asleep telling that boring Bixi story in my last blog post I completely forgot to mention how much I loved Montreal. It’s joining a long list of cities I’ve had a crush on. Before Montreal there was Paris, London, Vienna, Berlin, Istanbul, Milan, Portland, San Francisco and many other medium-sized cities such as Gent. Other than Ottawa and Toronto, Montreal is a real cyclists city, the biking infrastructure is supreme. It’s also a sort of a mixture between a European and North-American city which is very appealing to me. Montreal for example has everything I like about Portland, but on top of that there’s a more lively sense of history.

Thank you to Marjolaine & Jean Luc, Myka & Dax, Kris & Gord, Kt & the Bloomfield Bicycle Shop, Judith & Bart and Kate & Andrew. You’re all part of my ever-growing list of great Warmshowers stays! And Reece, thank you for selling me your old GoPro, I probably won’t have the time now to do much with the footage but it’s staying on bike for the rest of my trip!

le p’tit train du nord & montreal – quebec, part three

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 we2014-07-08_2726_internet 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 2014-07-06_2678_internetyear 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!

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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!

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* new * – the map

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

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appalachia – along the saint john river into quebec

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.)

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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 2014-06-21_3730_internetgoing 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’s2014-06-20_2515_internet 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.

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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.

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2014-06-20_2538_internetThat 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.

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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 2014-06-22_2553_internetpay 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.

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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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