In Hope I was only one cycling day away from Vancouver, but I felt like I wasn’t ready yet to go down there so I decided to do some extra kilometers. In fact I wasn’t planning on going to Vancouver at all before exploring Vancouver Island. But my trusted Brooks saddle broke on the way to Squamish, so ended up going to Vancouver after all to get a new saddle. More about that on the Camera/Bicycle Wanderings Facebook page, your place for updates in between blog posts :). I’m on Vancouver Island now and I’ll be in Ucluelet tomorrow. Coast-to-coast, Atlantic to Pacific, Trans Canada, check!
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 :).
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!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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!
I’m on my second rest day in Sault Ste. Marie, time for a quick update. I moved 786 km up Northwest in six days after leaving Toronto. I guess the short days are over, by the time I get to the Prairies I’ll be ready to beat that record of 232-km-in-one-day in Kansas last year. My route through the Bruce Peninsula and Manitoulin Island was very quiet and beautiful (yes, there’s that same old word again). After cycling about 2900 km trans Canada the moment came in Massey that I couldn’t escape anymore from the Trans-Canada Highway. The shoulders were very small and there were quite a bit of trucks but all in all it wasn’t too bad. Being afraid the whole time doesn’t help, just put some music in your ears, give your mirror a glimpse every few seconds, stick to the white line and enjoy the landscape. That would be my advise right now, but I still have a lot of that highway to cover in the next weeks so I probably shouldn’t speak too early. Obviously I’ll continue trying to avoid the Trans-Canada whenever possible, just like I did between Thessalon and Sault Ste. Marie two days ago. That morning I biked for about 40 km on a logging gravel road through the forest. It was slow and hilly, but there was no traffic whatsoever and it was great to be really inside the woods instead of kinda next to it on the highway with all the trucks zooming by (click here for a twenty-second video of that ride).
The past nights I’ve been camping behind the Vélorution Bike Shop. They provide free camping (with showers!) for the many touring cyclists that come through Sault Ste. Marie. Just like the Newton Bike Shop in Kansas it’s a great place to relax for a couple of days, clean your bike and get it tuned up for the next stretch of your trip. Whereas last year in Kansas I was fine with just a new chain after cycling about 3000 km, this time I had to change the cassette as well. Apparently the Canadian gravel roads have done more damage than I expected. My bicycle looks brand new now. I’m ready for the trek around Lake Superior to Thunder Bay in the next few days. Guess what: it’s supposed to be b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l. :)
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!