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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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!

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!

around lake superior – sault ste. marie to thunder bay

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 2014-07-28_2969_internetfurther 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!

 

toronto to sault ste. marie

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. :)

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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