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!

 

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one year ago in lander, wyoming

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, Colorado2013-07-27_0532_internet 2013-07-30_0576_internetand 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 2013-07-30_0585_internetday 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 2013-08-01_0608_internetknee 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 2013-08-02_0625_internetrest 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 was2013-08-03_0632_internet 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.

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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!

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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. :)

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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the land of the saints – quebec, part two

We had two weeks to spend together, so instead of going straight to Montreal along the river we went more inland to explore Québec a bit more.2014-07-01_3792_internet We biked through a region that is known as the Laurentides. Further up North this mountain range has some real mountains, but the part that we were in consisted more of a series of steep but short hills. Together with the warm and humid weather these rollercoaster hills made us both think of our passage through the Ozark mountains in Missouri last summer. It was also the land of the Saints: Saint-Paulin, Saint-Gabriel, Saint-Donat, St.-Faustin-Lac-Carré,… Yes, nearly all the village names here start with Saint. The most original one we biked through was Sainte-Émilie-de-l’Énergie. Still not as cool though as that place called Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha! I biked through on my first day in Québec, you can’t beat that.

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In Saint-Jean-de-Matha we were welcomed by Alain & Véronique. We had a great time together and it was a pleasure to talk with Alain about bicycle touring, cycling and lots of other things.  I recognized my own passion in him and I think we could have easily talked for two more days. Right now they’re on their own bicycle trip with their son and a friend of his along the Pacific Coast from Portland to San Francisco.I wish them a great trip, which it undoubtedly will be, the Oregon and Californian coasts are beautiful.

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We mostly biked on quiet roads. The hills and the heat were persistent, but the lush and green landscape made up for that. Between Saint-Donat and Lac Supérieur we basically had the road to ourselves on the Chemin du Nordet, a 40 km route highly appreciated amongst cyclists with some views on the higher Laurentian mountains further up North.

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2014-07-02_2659_internetIn Saint-Faustin-Lac-Carré it was time for a well deserved rest day after five days of cycling. The Camping Domaine Desjardins must be one of my favorite camprounds. Over the past years I’ve stayed at a couple of hundred campgrounds while bicycle touring, so that says a lot. At 24$ per night with cyclists reduction it’s still a bit expensive. But their camp spaces for cyclists are gorgeous. In fact the whole campground is set up with respect for nature and it basically feels like you’re camping in the woods, but with all the amenities of a normal campground. Luckily they also had a shelter where we could cook on our first night while the rain kept on pouring down with heavy force.

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After this rest day we were ready to head down South in direction of Montréal for the next two days…

* 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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two friends on a bridge – a flashback

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Today a dear friend of me flies to the US for a three-month hike on the Pacific Crest Trail in Oregon and Washington. I think the first time our paths really crossed was in the second year of highschool, working together on an assignment. We had to write and draw one page of a comic book story. As I remember we made something about a military battle around the Panama Canal in what I guess was some sort of World War III context. I’m actually wondering now what our teacher thought of that scenario. The things thirteen year old kids will come up with. That nuclear holocaust never came, but we stayed friends over the years. In the photo above you can see the eighteen year old versions of us in 2002, having a rest on a bridge in France on our Cévenol hiking trip. It’s a blurry scan of a disposable camera picture, but it’s one of my favorites. Now we’re both thirty, time flew by again. I don’t have a clue what we were talking about on that bridge, but I’m sure we’ve both succeeded to keep the spirit of such moments alive. Koen, all the luck on your journey. Break a leg, or whatever the appropriate wish for hikers might be.
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p.s.: I’ll follow you on your You Gotta Move page, so you’d better not give up on posting things like I did last year on my  TransAm blog :p. And who knows, maybe we’ll really get to meet each other in Manning Park somewhere in September!
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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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