The Writers Voice
Brown Brothers' Bike Trip Across Canada
To have an understanding of how three brothers can bicycle across Canada, a little background information is necessary. It began in March of 2001. I was attending U of C in Calgary, Alberta and had just read an article in the University paper of two brothers from Cape Breton who had spent the summer cycling across Canada. I became excited and thought there was no reason my brothers and I could not do it as well.
I had been doing a lot of biking due to a city transit strike and for the next few days I would think about it as I rode to school. I knew I had to try so I phoned my brothers Peter and Nicholas and there was no hesitation on their part. Peter was doing a Masters degree at Trent in Peterborough, Ontario, and Nick was doing an undergrad degree at Western in London, Ontario. It looked like we would be more or less finished school the following spring, so we decided to make the trip the summer of 2002.
Over the next year there was a great deal of talk of the trip and at Christmas a few related presents were handed out. There really was not much more preparation that needed to be done. The spring of 2002 we were not quite finished our respective degrees but the trip would go on anyway. Peter went to Yellowknife, toting his beloved bike with him, to make some money for the trip. Nick moved home to Nova Scotia to save some money, I stayed in Calgary to work. On his way to Yellowknife, Pete stopped in Calgary and helped me get a bike and all my gear. Nick had the Bike Shop in Kentville to look after him while Pete did his preparations in southern Ontario.
With Pete’s help we chose a good bike, and outfitted it with what I could afford. Riding for the first time felt great, a smooth, comfortable ride. I had to get used to the pedals that had become snapped onto my feet, a new feeling for me, but essential to long distance riding. For the inaugural ride we went to downtown Calgary where we stopped for lunch. I locked the bikes to a tree (Pete was riding my old bike), and we went inside to eat. We reemerged from the market, and to our shock and horror, my brand new bike was gone. Pete suggested we start running, but where? The bike was really gone, all that remained was the old bike leaning against the tree; I knew it was worthless. After a phone call to the police who said they would file the report, along with the thousands of others, we started the long walk back home.
This was not the start to the summer I was hoping for, as I went back to the old bike that barely worked and was not even worth stealing. Eventually I heard from a few friends that stolen property was insured by VISA. I was skeptical but decided to give them a call, as I was not insured in any other way. Sure enough, since I had purchased the bike and supplies with the credit card, and they were stolen, VISA would refund the amount. With restored faith in humanity I went to buy a second bike, this time with a huge lock (my faith in humanity apparently not completely restored) .
It was finally decided when we would start. I had left Calgary on July 12 to head to B.C. for a trip with friends before we started. As I waited on the west coast, I got a few short trips in to test out the rig. No problems. Nick had a couple exams to write and would be flying to Vancouver August 5. Pete booked his ticket for the same day.
We finally got together on August 6 and the final preparations were made. Groceries, tires and any last items we needed were gathered up at Chris McBeath’s, a friend of Nick’s in Vancouver. We spent the night at McBeath’s, ready to go the next morning. As part of our preparations we had hoped to bike about 100 kms. a day. The approximate distance was 6,500 kms, which would give us a total time of 65 days.
August 7- Day One
This morning we got up at a fairly leisurely time. We went to breakfast to have a hearty meal before getting on the road. A phrase was coined this morning; “the boss” refers to the person who is in charge of the finances for the week. We have set a budget of $600 a week, $200 each is put into a pot to be handled by one person each week. We ordered 2 breakfast specials each, including Chris who wasn’t even biking. The counter lady said “ oh the boss pays,” which this first week is Nick.
Back at McBeath’s full and packed, the new tires on and we are ready to go. We stood around in the backyard as the reality set in of what we were about to do. After thinking about it for so long the time was finally here. We seemed to stand there a long time almost unsure of what to do. Finally we slowly started rolling down the alley to the street and set off on our journey. For Pete and Nick this was the first time they had ridden fully loaded as we headed out to tackle Vancouver traffic and make our way to Abbotsford. As we made our way south to the Fraser River the reality was sinking in, this is it, our bikes and each other is all we’ll have for the next couple of months until we reach Nova Scotia.
Not long after we left Nick was having trouble with his brakes. He had the “stickies” Pete proclaimed after consulting his bike book. We had stopped off the road to fix the problem and had ended up on train tracks. Suddenly, we were caught off guard when a train came bearing down on us from around a corner. I was on the other side of a nearby fence with my bike lying on the tracks. Desperately, I yelled to Nick to grab my bike and seconds before the train came he dragged it around the fence. That was a bit too early in our trip to have a close call.
The rest of the afternoon went well and once outside Vancouver, the biking was beautiful. It was one of those warm summer afternoons with a light breeze at our backs. According to my computer we were easily maintaining 25 kms /hour. Late in the evening we stopped at Fort Langley, a beautiful historic town. We ate at the pub leisurely without knowing we should be on the road. We still had a good ride to Abbotsford and dusk was coming quickly. We had not adapted our bikes to night riding and it was getting dark quickly. Luckily, Pete did have a flashing reflector and he rode in the back. Apparently, I am virtually invisible in the dark with not so much as a reflector.
We finally made it to Abbotsford where our uncle John had another late meal prepared. We realized our weariness as we fought to stay up to enjoy his company. We had done it however, day one was over, we had biked 95 kms which is more than any of us had ever biked in one day before.
We woke up refreshed this morning, fortunately not too sore and had a great breakfast. (A good breakfast will be the key to our success on the trip.) Before leaving town, we stopped to get Nick’s bike shipshape. Luckily, a new brake cable was all it required. Later on, we stopped at a beautiful mountain lake for a swim and a leisurely lunch. The local boys have told us to watch out for giant sturgeon. We stayed and picnicked for a long time before continuing on our way. Our uncle had suggested we stop at Harrison Mills Provincial Park . We found the park, however it was full. We continued on our way past all the sites and found the beach stretched around the corner. This was the perfect place to set up camp. Secluded from the other campers, we had our own private beach. Looking around, the mountains in front of us are reflected on the glass-like surface of the lake. Stripping down, it felt great to cool off in the lake. While collecting firewood, Nick hit his head on a branch. As the blood streamed down his face I grabbed the camera to take a picture instead of ensuring he was all right ( anything for a dramatic picture!). He was fine and we got the fire going. We cracked open a case of beer carefully strapped to my bike, and enjoyed a meal of sausages and beans over the fire. We had biked only 60 kms today but sleeping on the sand on this warm bug free night is completely worth it.
Today was the start of our uphill climb. In the morning, the terrain was relatively flat. However, after our afternoon break of ice cream and pie, we started to climb. The climb was tough and we had only gone 70 kms when we stopped for the night at Niculum River. It turns out that this Provincial Park is full also, so we decided to camp at the day use area. As we are on bikes there is no choice, we are definitely not going back to Hope to climb that hill once again. After exploring the river and making a daring crossing with the camera we cooked supper over a fire. Our surroundings are lush and green, ferns and mosses blanket the ground. The trees tower over us almost blocking the sky. It is a steep rocky cliff to the river which we can hear rushing below us. On one of the rock cliffs there is a blueberry bush, which we sit and enjoy for a while. Late in the evening a ranger came by and agreed to let us stay as long as we were gone early in the morning. We set up tents on the mossy, uneven ground, prepared for an early morning.
We only managed 60 kms today, not much compared to how much we should be doing. It was a grueling uphill climb all day. We entered into Manning Park and for the first time, paid for a campsite. After setting up, we walked a kilometer to the lodge for food. The lodge is beautiful and we relaxed on leather sofas sipping on the local favourite ale, Brown Bear. We decided not to eat there and instead grabbed supplies to head back to cook our own dinner. We purchased a small travel saw and put it to good use, cutting our own wood for a fire.
August 11- Day 5
The terrain has leveled off a little, and we’re getting used to the hills. We managed 75 kms today which landed us in the little mountain town of Princeton. We were greeted by a giant Chinese buffet and another campground. We showered and cleaned up and headed back to town for provisions since the campground owner has told us there is nothing for a while up the road. We biked back unloaded, a weird feeling after so many kilometers with all our gear . After a very long game of Frisbee golf ending with an errant toss onto the highway we turned in for the night.
As we biked east we came across numerous campgrounds and stores so it turned out that the man at the campground lied, probably to ensure that we stayed. Oh well, lesson learned. You can’t always trust the locals, however, we will have to most of the time as it is their knowledge we are going to be depending on.
Tonight we are camped on a beach in a desert oasis, in the small town of Osoyoos. It’s the heart of B.C’s wine region at the southern end of the Okanagan Valley. The area is the northernmost point of a desert region extending up from Mexico, known as Canada’s only desert. It feels and looks like a desert, very hot and dry, the vegetation is small and suitable for these arid conditions. Coming down into the valley, I felt a blast of adrenalin as my computer showed we maxed out at 73 km/hr. That’s a good speed for a loaded rig. Also for the first time we exceeded the 100 km mark in one day. We’ll need many more days like this to make it home.
We immediately found the beach and went for a swim. This is a perfect place to camp for the night. We have a large grassy area, on the shore of the lake. It is hidden from view of the town by a wall directly behind us. Nick made an observation about how lush and green the grass is , and wondering if the irrigation system will come on in the night, we fall into a comfortable sleep on the desert grass.
August 13- Day 7
And on the seventh day we rested. Today, we enjoyed a day off from cycling to lay in the shade from this almost unbearable heat. Sure enough, last night we we’re awakened at 3 a.m. to the whirr of sprinklers.(Nick’s prediction was right). I was prepared and grabbing my sleeping bag and bike was out of the range of the soakers. Nick and Pete, perhaps a little more relaxed, were not as prepared and got a few revolutions before making it to the dry sandy area. We spent the rest of the night on the warm sand, drying quickly.
The idea for the day off started at breakfast. We were all thinking the same thing- wouldn’t it be nice to stay at the beach and relax. It is very hot and we can see the hill leading out of the town which the locals have told us is called Anarchist. Not very inviting, so after determining that we all felt the same way we headed back down to the beach. We took the opportunity to do laundry. It turns out the town does not have a Laundromat (business opportunity?). Nick and I headed off to the Best Western Hotel where we heard we could use their facilities. Indeed it worked, not only did we get our laundry finished, but we snuck into the pool area and soaked in the hot tub. A day at the beach is relaxing except for the one nagging sight,- the hill we must climb torments us from across the lake. We have been hearing stories of how hard it is; that it will take us days to climb, how people have given up and biked back down. We are determined however to attempt it tomorrow.
After 25 kms of climbing, and half a day, we made it up the hill to have lunch at the summit. We were visited by some guys from Quebec in an interesting van who gave us fruit and took our picture. Slightly confused from this visit we continue on our way. We are proud of our day as we did 85 kms to end up in Greenwood. This is Canada’s smallest city. It can not be more than a couple hundred people. It was incorporated as a city in the early part of the 20th century when the area had great mining potential. We ate a great meal at the pub and took pride in our accomplishment. We’re prepared now to take on any hills that come our way. Tonight, we’re camped at a $5 campsite, appropriately priced as we try to sleep under a street light.
Today was a short day of riding. I am getting a little anxious of our progress since there are just too many nice places to camp and swim and it is hard to make a lot of distance. It will end though after B.C. so we should take advantage of the weather and mountain scenery.
We made our destination of Christina Lake Provincial Park early this afternoon. Pete had to get to a bike shop for tubes so Nick and I took advantage of the beautiful afternoon to swim in the lake where we met an interesting character who was collecting wasps. He told us about a great place to camp at the town party pit.
It sounds impressive to say we’re biking to Nova Scotia, but sometimes we still look like we don’t know what we’re doing. Pete demonstrated when he got on Nick’s unloaded bike to go to town, he got his feet clipped in just before sliding in the sand and having one of our slow motion tip overs. The bee guy laughed, as did Nick and I.
We found the party pit and set up camp. So far there is not another person around, just a forest full of animals. We have nicknamed this place “the zoo”, as we have seen or heard numerous animals;- deer, frogs, snakes, birds, dogs, muskrats and more. It gives the place an eerie feeling as it is getting dark. We also do not know what local partiers, such as the bee guy, might come along in the middle of the night.
August 16- Day 10
During the night we were pounded by a ferocious wind storm. The place had a weird feeling already but with the strength of the winds it got worse. We could hear trees crashing and sirens in the distance. We got out of our tents as they were collapsed anyway and were surprised to find it a clear night with lots of stars. The crashing of trees did nothing to sooth us to sleep and when we woke up Nick had his tent collapsed around him. (Nick always gets to sleep alone in Pete’s tent but this time it might not have been an advantage.) You see, every night we play a game to decide who gets to sleep alone. Nick almost always wins, whether its rock, paper, scissors, or frisbee golf he seems to have the upper hand.
We did manage 90 kms today to end up in Castlegar. Immediately we were on the lookout for food and when I stopped suddenly to check out a buffet Nick ran into Pete and took a spill. It was a minor incident as he walked off with a few bumps. We set up in the local campground next to some country music fans. My worst nightmare came true as they continued blasting the same five country songs over and over. We escaped to a communal bonfire where after a few minutes of sipping on scotch we were ready for sleep.
Everything went really well today. This morning Pete got his rim trued in Castlegar before we headed north along the shores of Kootenay Lake. We headed for a ferry to cross the lake. (We chose this route on advice of others to avoid the Kootenay pass, an extremely difficult hill.) This route is relatively flat, but further in distance. We are happy we made the decision since this camping spot is beautiful. Set on the shores of a mountain lake, there is nothing but trees and water all around.
During the day we stopped for lunch in the town of Nelson. We were all impressed and even enjoyed a beer with lunch. We were warned of the transients who hang around in Nelson, but we fit right in and enjoyed the atmosphere. With the bike repair, ferry ride, and prolonged lunch we still managed almost 90 kms today.
Tonight we are in great spirits and relaxing after a terrific stir-fry over an open fire. We are camped on a beach just off the road. It seems to be another party pit but nobody is around. The sun just set across the lake as we sit around the fire looking at the stars and listening to the silence.
August 18- Day 12
After such a perfect day yesterday today took a turn for the worse. Early this afternoon, while coming down a hill, I cut in too close to Nick who was gaining more speed than I was and we collided. He ran into my back tire and while I continued without a scratch, Nick went down hard on the pavement. With the weather being so nice we were not wearing shirts and Nick left most of the skin from his chest and almost a nipple on the road. We briefly wondered if the nipple would come off and if so, would it grow back.
While Nick was running around cursing in pain Pete and I assessed the damage to his bike. Most of it was fixable except his front rim which resembled a taco. This was going to need professional repair or a new one. Fortunately from her garden a very generous lady heard the crash, or Nick’s yelling, and came out to offer assistance. She was very helpful and offered to drive Nick and his bike into Creston which was going to be our destination for the night, still 35 kms away.
While Nick was on a boat being entertained, fed steaks, and wounds tended to, Pete and I continued on to Creston to a campground hopeful to meet up with Nick later that night. It is a Sunday evening and the only bike shop in town does not open on Mondays, so we’re here until Tuesday at least.
Yesterday was our second day off. Nick was in no shape to bike even if his bike was fixed. His wounds look nasty and will take a while to heal. We spent the day relaxing, eating, washing, it’s a nice campground and is next to the Columbia brewery, whose smell fills the air.
The repairs to Nick’s bike went really well . The man was a magician, and actually fixed the rim for a very small fee. We managed to get out of the town at 2 o’clock with a storm chasing us. The wind helped as it blew us along in front of the storm. Looking back, we would occasionally catch a glimpse of the black clouds threatening us with the first rain of the trip.
Not knowing the extent of our tail wind we met a lady coming the other direction who looked like she was climbing a big hill. We had pulled over at a rest area, she came in once she saw our bikes. She had come all the way from St. John’s in just over two months. It was great to talk to somebody who was almost done to get any information we might need. We asked questions about her trip and were disappointed when the topic of Northern Ontario came up. She had put her bike on a bus and skipped that region. She had still come a long way, and by herself, her courage needs applauding but we were a little disappointed. We continued on our way as the storm veered off and missed us.
With our friend the wind behind us, we did over 75 kms in less than 3 hours to end up in a tiny town of Moyie. After supper at the pub and a chat with a colorful chap about where to spend the night, we declined his offer to stay where his tent was pitched and we opted for the church lawn. This quiet little town of just a few buildings is along the highway and we are in the middle of town and there is not a sound. We apparently have not been noticed by anybody and are quite relaxed with being back on the road with all members accounted for. Nick is having some problems with his wounds always sticking to his shirt.
When we got up this morning nobody had seen the two tents beside the big white Catholic church, so we packed up and headed to the only store in town for breakfast. The guy inside was a real prick; we couldn’t bring our bikes near the store, and there were signs all over of things people could not do. He told us we couldn’t even use the bathroom. We couldn’t wait to get out of the town. It was also the coolest morning yet and until the sun appeared over the mountain, we were quite cold. We started pedaling hard to warm up and found the kilometers were flying by. From what we hear the hard hills are over and its fairly flat all the way to northern Ontario.
For our afternoon snack we stopped at Steve and Maggie’s ice cream shop. Two Scoop Steve, as he calls himself, has the best ice cream with a marshmallow at the bottom of the cone. The place was quaint, set in the mountains. They have a craft store, and in the backyard there are tables under the trees, accessible by a stone walkway.
We have stopped for the night in the town of Elko. It can’t really be called a town, since it consists of one store and a campground. It is at the entrance to the Crowsnest Pass and over 100 kms from Moyie. The camp proprietor has put us in a site he referred to as “The Hole”. We like it,- very secluded, at the back completely surrounded by trees. There is a view of a high peak every where you look. We enjoyed a long intense game of frisbee golf before cooking a lot of canned food over the fire. During our meal we were visited by a Husky who seems to have moved into “the hole” with us for the night.
August 22-Day 16
Into our second province today, Alberta. I never thought I would be glad to see it but I am. We are definitely making ground now with our second day of 100 kms.
The husky did spend the night with us, he slept so close he was keeping me warm all night. After our farewells to the dog we had a breakfast at the town store. While we were in there a lady approached me and asked if I was with the biking group passing through. I thought she meant another real group as I still think of ourselves as three people who spend their days riding on bikes. I said I was not with the group and was just with my brothers. She then told me about these three guys who came in last night and were put up in “the hole”. Apparently they had a huge bonfire and she was concerned as to whether they had put it out. So it turns out I was with this group of pyromaniacs and only replied that I was sure they had put the fire out.
Biking through the Crowsnest Pass was beautiful and surprisingly easy. We had been preparing for real hardship through the Rocky Mountains but we just breezed through them. We felt we were going down hill most of the day and stopped for lunch in the little resort town of Fernie. As we approached the Pass I couldn’t wait to see the rivers flowing with us as we cross over the divide. There is a beautiful green lake at the Pass and then the “Welcome to Alberta” sign. We stopped for pictures and headed for the next town.
We had some celebration beer at the pub in Coleman. And started looking for a place to spend the night. We went into the town and were appalled at the sight. The town is run down and practically deserted. This seemed so different from the Alberta I know of wealth and clean busy cities. This town is a reminder of what happens when the area’s only industry is gone. The coal mining in the area was once booming and the buildings are still here only the people are not. The new town exists along the highway with a large collection of restaurants, and motels. We found a nice park that offered a good place to play frisbee golf, and after Pete threw an errant throw, pop 500. We welcomed the exercise of different muscles, and some rough play. I would also be remiss if I did not mention the worlds largest truck we saw today at Sparwood.
Our third day in a row of over 100 kms has brought us to the historical Fort MacLeod. As we biked today, we left the mountains behind and were welcomed onto the prairies by the blistering hot sun and no shade. The morning ride was nice, and we did a couple extra kms to get a view of the Frank slide. The old town of Frank was covered by devastating rock slide in 1903. The landscape today is still amazing. The pile of rubble is many meters deep so you can see where the new highway and train line has been cut through the rubble.
We also got a glimpse of the wind power that is being created in this part of the country. Powerful winds come through the Crowsnest Pass and on the Alberta side there are hundreds of giant windmills. We began to notice the heat as we stopped in Pincher for lunch. We also notice the absence of any trees to offer us shelter as we stopped to rest. The most unreal and unusual experience yet has to be the grasshoppers that are on the highway. They are literally in the millions. There is a layer of dead ones where cars have squished them and as we hit them there is a constant crunch under our tires. The ones we do not run over try to jump over us. They land on our legs, arms and even our heads.
During the hottest part of the day we had to stop in the shade of a billboard in a field to get some relief from the sun. It was easily over 30 degrees and arriving in Fort Macleod was a relief as we immediately headed for an ice cream stand and some shade. We got information on a campground that sounds nice and has a pool. Our first impression of the campground was nice but after Pete’s negotiating with the far from nice lady behind the counter we had a change of heart. Our first site was not equipped with a fire pit so poor Pete had to put up with the lady inside for a second time. She sent us off to a site called the “hole in the wall”. After the good experience in “the hole” back in Elko, we were optimistic about the “hole in the wall.” We were dead wrong. This site is in a mosquito infested swamp. We decide to forget about the bugs and just use the pool for the afternoon. While hanging around the campground it does not take long to notice the signs everywhere of what you can’t do. A person is immediately evicted if not following the rules. I got in trouble for leaning my bike against the pool fence. The man treated me like a twelve year old. I held my temper but we all hated this campsite.
We went to town for supper and just after arriving back was greeted by a familiar face. I had phoned Laila to say we were in Fort Macleod and she drove down from Calgary to meet us. I welcomed her to our swampy hole and we headed to the pub for drinks. It was my first time in a car in 18 days and I noticed the ease that you could travel, also the speed and smoothness. In the middle of the night Laila and I decided to break some rules so we snuck into the pool where we proceeded to run, and even dive,- immediate eviction for sure. I warn anyone of ever camping at the Daisy May.
It’s a Saturday night and we are playing cards in a little Mormon town of Stirling. It’s cheap and we have a shelter in case it rains. There have been more clouds threatening us today, but still no rain. Sterling is another town of one store and one campground. Its so quiet we were able to play frisbee golf up the main street on our way to supper. The girl at the store was having a busy evening, as she was cooking our food she was also serving ice cream, renting videos, running the convenience store and pumping gas. She served our supper to our amazement still in good spirits, most people would have quit a long time ago.
As today is Sunday we found ourselves in a bad situation. The entire town was at church, with the exception of one man who was working in his yard. Nothing was open and we had no breakfast. He told us there was a town 30 kms down the road called Wrentham. It sounded promising so we headed off. The biking was good so we arrived quickly. Just as quickly we found out there was not a thing in the town, not even a coke machine. We had to resort to eating an emergency can of chili which we were carrying with us.
We are on a highway that runs through the deep south of the prairies. It is known as the Red Coat Trail and is the route the Mounties took when they were establishing the border with the United States. It seemed like a good route, but the only problem is, there is nothing on it. We hope to continue on as it goes through the Cypress Hills as it would be an exciting route to take, traveling through the harshly dry area of the prairies.
It was while we were eating a strange thing happened. A man appeared from nowhere and we started chatting. We told him our story and where we were planning to go. He told us the highway to the east was gravel and our tires would not make it. We were aware of our inability to ride on gravel and thanked him for the information. He then disappeared without us noticing and we were left alone again. That was a stroke of luck, had we continued on our way we would have been forced to backtrack a days riding.
We made a decision to go back a little and take a road to the north and go to the Trans-Canada highway. We were 45 kms from Taber and made it there in the early afternoon. We were very hungry having only eaten our can of chili, and we happened to come across a buffet at a hotel. We ate like pigs and lay out on the grass after and let the food digest.
Tonight we have made it to the town of Bow Island 130 kms from where we started the day. There is no water and the name Island is a mystery. The town is very run down and reminds us a great deal of Coleman. We are camped at the ball fields hopefully out of sight of any curious locals.
This morning’s breakfast was a little unusual. We ate at Bobby’s; a bar by night , greasy spoon by day. Bobby himself took our order, then cooked it, and served it. The coffee was presented in a giant thermos on the table which pleased the boys. I ordered the “Alberta toast” and apparently Bobby’s favourite joke is to ask if you’ve heard of it. When I replied no he laughed and said its really only French toast. (At least he keeps himself amused.)
We got a good morning of biking in, pedaling 75kms to Medicine Hat. The Pizza Hut seemed like a good place to stop for lunch. Afterwards, as we lay around on the grass letting the food digest, a giant storm approached from the north. As it started to rain, we took shelter at a fancy hotel where we sat in the lobby until the storm passed. This was the first rain we had encountered on our trip and we were not too sure if we wanted to continue while it was pouring. We sat in the lobby most of the afternoon as the rain continued. At five o’clock we decided we would not get any further, so we headed for a campground back a couple of kilometers into town. We got soaked on the way and when we got to our campground decided to check out the prices of some motels across the street. They were a little much and the rain was letting up so we headed for the campground. After setting up the tents and putting everything inside, we called for a taxi to take us to go see a movie. It was an awful, Mel Gibson flick and we realized with the price of the campground, taxis, and 3 movie tickets we could have stayed in the motel and watched a better movie on T.V. Live and learn, I guess.
In hindsight, we should have seen it coming,- the omen was there, but we ignored it and paid a bit of a price. I’m talking about a flood, not the one when Noah built a boat, but close. Before we had left for the movie we were greeted by a familiar couple, they had camped beside us in Creston after Nick’s crash and now were visiting someone in this campground. It was the sign, (also the name of the stupid movie) but we missed it. We had not noticed it had rained during the film, but when we got back to the campground things were different. Pete and I noticed it first while Nick was in the bathroom. We came up to our site and all we could see in the darkness was shimmering from the streetlights. As we got closer we noticed a pond had formed where our tents were. Our first reaction was to laugh since there wasn’t much else we could do. We got the frisbee off the picnic table and threw it back and forth in the darkness waiting for Nick to return. When he came near we told him to catch and threw it toward our sunken site. What a surprise for him to see the lake! It was too dark to assess any damage so we decided to forget it and head back across the street to the motel, luckily we already knew the price and ended up paying double for everything we had already paid for, including the waterfront lot. Before we left, I waded through the tent to get my camera which was floating in its waterproof case. As we walked the water was past our ankles and inside Nick’s tent, the water had poured in just as deep. Pete and I had set up in there and as I went for the camera , our thermarests and sleeping bags were rubbing on my shins. The light from the flash gave us a good idea of the surroundings, but we knew we wouldn’t really know what it looks like until we see the pictures .
This morning the water had receded leaving a mucky film on everything. We were dry and clean after our night in the motel so we felt relatively good. Everything Pete and I owned was soaked however Nick had fared much better. He had left his stuff in a tree, not on the ground, ( I wish he had let us in on his secret) and his stuff in Pete’s tent amazingly had stayed dry. There was a line on the outside of the tent about 10 cm up where the water was but not a drop inside, bravo for that tent design. We dragged everything into the sun and headed off for a breakfast. It wasn’t until the middle of the afternoon that we left the city but we still managed 55 kms to get to the border of Saskatchewan and the town of Walsh. The tourist information center had a beautiful park and lawn so we hung out playing cards behind a wall after of course a great game of frisbee golf.
August 28- Day 22
First thing this morning we entered Saskatchewan. As we took a picture at the provincial sign, we celebrated entering our third province and then we were on our way. We want to get back down to the Red Coat Trail and are planning to do so tomorrow. This section of the Trans-Canada has nice wide shoulders and the road is flat and straight. Our bodies are holding up well. Our rear ends are used to the saddle and our muscles are good. We have minor afflictions from time to time such as sore wrists, and chaffing but basically we are in good shape. Tonight we are in Gull Lake cooking chicken over the fire. It will be ready in an hour later and I know it will be worth the wait.
I was awakened last night by screeching tires and a roaring engine. Some local was tearing around in an old pickup. It sounded as though he was coming through our site, squealing around a few corners then speeding out of earshot in a matter of seconds.
Heading south to get back with our old friend the Red Coat proved to be quite a challenge this morning. The wind was coming at us head on and was very strong. Many times it felt we were not getting anywhere and it was hard to get over 15 km/hr. After a couple of grueling hours we had covered the 30 kms and headed east again. It wasn’t much better as the wind pounded us from the side. We ate lunch on the side of the road since we have not seen a store for four or five hours. This has to be one of the more desolate parts of southern Canada, only a few kilometers from the U. S. border and we have not seen anything all day. Only occasionally does a car pass by, where they are going I can’t imagine. There doesn’t seem to be anything anywhere along this road.
We eventually made it to the town of Cadillac. It is one of the biggest towns in the area, population 200. On the east side of town, we happened upon an abandoned campground. We were greeted by millions of mosquitos that swarmed over us and covered everything. We were invited to sleep in the arena which at this time of year is used for rodeos. It was dark, smelly and muddy so we decided to put up with the mosquitos. I have never seen a swarm this bad, even the locals are admitting they are worse than usual. At night there is a constant hum of them trying to get in through the mesh. The locals take to driving their car even a block to avoid them and when we’re biking we can’t stop or we are immediately covered. They seem to be waiting and wherever you are, so are they.
As we lay in our tents tonight the sky is dancing with the green luminescence of the northern lights, while to the south a lightning storm gives off a series of flashes. It is spectacular. I tried to capture the images on film, but as I was doing so it started raining. We covered up the tents and hope for a dry night.
This was our best day so far, for after almost six hours of biking and 145kms we have arrived in Assiniboia. Upon arrival we were greeted by elephants, - unusual in this part of the world. It turns out there is a circus in town, next to the only campground in town. This is the largest center we have been in since Medicine Hat, and gives us a bit of shock to see this many stores and people. It is still a small place, not much bigger than Kentville, pop. 5,000, but after the one horse towns we have been in it feels much bigger.
We have learned a lot about small town life and how many of these small towns are disappearing. We have passed by many towns that have run down ballfields, and other services that are so big its hard to imagine the town ever being big enough to support such facilities. The population of these Prairie towns are older than in the cities. It makes us wonder how much longer many of these towns can hold on. They could be such nice places, quiet and laid back, but they seem too run down for someone to enjoy living in them.
Tonight we decided to wander into town to check it out, and found a party with a few drunks spilled out on the street, but basically it was very quiet. When we were walking back, a car passed us and they yelled out the window and called us “circus folk.” We do look a little weird dressed in a mixture of pajamas, sweats, and biking clothes.
August 31- Day 25
Another record breaker. nice wind and favourable roads made it possible to do 172 kms to Weyburn. We had some rain today, and pedaled 80 kms before lunch. After lunch we could not stop due to the mosquitos, and we would rather ride for hours without a break than stop and face the hoards of bugs. We go from one town pub to the next just to stay indoors when we are not riding. After arriving at a pub it’s a mad dash to get inside without being eaten alive. The people are so wonderful and interested in us that sometimes they call ahead to tell the next town we are on our way. The people of Saskatchewan have been very friendly and every local wants to know what we are doing in this part of the world. I guess they don’t get many cyclists down here. When we tell them we are following the historic Red Coat Trail and they get confused and say they have never heard of it.
We found out there has been a boil water order on for the whole region and we have been drinking litres of it every day. Tonight I have a bit of a stomach bug, but its nothing serious. The grasshoppers are still bad, I can’t believe mile after mile it is the same thing. We could have been biking the same little area for the past few days and not known it. The only way we know we are making any ground is that the line on our map is getting longer.
On our way into Weyburn we were greeted Prairie boy style. A truck drove by yelling at us and calling us names. One of them gave us the finger, so one of us returned the favour (I won’t say who) and the truck slowed down. For a moment I thought there was going to be a wild west show down but the truck sped up again. A while later it passed again, this time we ignored them and continued on our way.
The people at this campground have been very interested in our trip and offered donuts and coffee. There is a lady here who is the mother of a boy that once played on Pete’s hockey team (small world). We have chosen a site at the back with a nice pop 500 field behind it.
This morning we woke up to a very strong wind. It was blowing out of the south and would not be very favourable to us. We took advantage of the wind and sun to dry out our stuff that was still damp and smelly from Medicine Hat and various rains experienced since. We played frisbee for a few hours and left late in the afternoon. We have made it to Stoughton, and another campground where we are the only tents. Everyone has big R.V.’s and seem to be in considerable comfort as we pedal up on our loaded down rigs. The wind has died down which made it perfect for a game of Frisbee golf. I have gotten better as I am undefeated since acquiring a new frisbee in Taber, so tonight I get to sleep alone in Pete’s tent.
During the night a storm blew in with high winds and rain. That new frisbee is paying off as I was comfortable in Pete’s tent. The others complained of a few loose flaps that made a lot of noise in Nick’s tent. Pete says he only slept 3 hours all night which is amazing since for the first time we spent over six hours on or bikes today. By the morning the rain had gone and left a wonderfully strong wind from the west. It literally carried us over 200 kms at speeds around 40 km/hr. Even without pedaling and holding our jackets open we could maintain 25 km/hr for a while.
When we finally stopped we had crossed into Manitoba and were in Souris, where we were shocked to discover the last S is pronounced. The town’s claim to fame is the worlds largest swinging bridge. During supper we were asked a bunch of questions but none as strange as the one man who asked, “How many pairs of shoes have you guys gone through?” We replied we still had the same shoes as when we started and wondered why we wouldn’t. He didn’t ask about our tires which we still have the same ones as when we started.
Camping tonight is ideal. The town has a beautiful valley park full of trees, (boy have we missed those.) Everything seems so green and fertile after Saskatchewan. We are next to a campground and have decided to sleep under the stars in a day use picnic park. It is a beautiful night, warm and starry, and there is no breath left from the powerful wind that has brought us all the way here.
I remember back to British Columbia and the feeling that it would take forever to get across Canada. Now, only a week later and we are in Manitoba, it feels like we just night be able to make it before winter.
The wind was not as strong today and we still managed over 100 kms to get to Holland. We ate at the local pub and had a few celebration beers on making it to Manitoba. We needed to get groceries and the only store in town was just broken into. They were nice enough to let us in and we got our supplies. Tonight we are camped beside a race track but can’t find anyone to pay. The same situation as in Weyburn, however at least there they had a drop box to put the money. Here, we can’t even find an office. More great frisbee golf and again no tents were set up tonight.
We are loving Manitoba because it seems so green and lush. Everywhere people are mowing their lawn and are very friendly. What a difference from the drought ridden part of southern Saskatchewan we came through. Here the towns are clean and closer together. Most importantly, the mosquitos and grasshoppers have died down. We are able to roll out under the stars and enjoy a peaceful night.
I don’t know how, but we still managed over 100 kms today after being forced off the road due to a fiercely strong wind at our faces cutting our day short.. The morning was nice and after stopping for lunch at St. Claude, home of the worlds largest pipe, the wind suddenly whipped up. We attempted to get on the road but realized the futility of the situation and pulled into a café for a game of crib and coffee. The wind eventually died down and we made it to Starbuck- the absolute worst town yet. We assumed that they don’t like transients since there are “no trespassing” signs everywhere. You will be prosecuted for camping anywhere in the town. So we made camp along the highway, right under their welcome to Starbuck sign. At least there is nice grass and a picnic table.
September 5- Day 30
Last night was one of the worst sleeps I have ever had. It was very hot and muggy, and the mosquitos were back in full force. They were relentless all night. Inside the sleeping bag the heat would cover me with sweat from head to toe, outside the mosquitos would cover me from head to toe. Due to our situation and the towns obvious dislike of campers, we decided not to set up our tents to remain better hidden. I really wish we had been in a better position to set up our tents. Oh well, we can rest in Winnipeg.
Luckily we were only 40 kms to Winnipeg where we were to meet with some relatives. This distance was covered before noon and we found our Great Aunt Audrey’s apartment before lunch. The very first thing we did was shower and rummage through her medicine cabinet for Q-tips. We all have an obsession with clean ears and forgot to bring Q-tips.
Nick’s bike is in need of serious repair. His back wheel is wobbling and he has broken a couple of spokes. He barely made it into Winnipeg so this afternoon he and Pete went off to fix it while I stayed and did the laundry. I washed everything and the smell from Medicine Hat is almost gone. This evening we are comfortable, well fed, clean, and bug free. We spent the evening at our cousin Kathleen’s house and were treated to a big t.v. and a comfortable couch. It feels a long way from nights on the deserted Red Coat Trail under the stars. We had said good -bye to our old highway and will be on the Trans-Canada now for a long time.
We have found a Manitoban paradise, its called Lilac Resort. Just off the highway and only 50 km East of Winnipeg, it sucked us in with its sign of a giant water slide and we were glad for it. We spent the evening with pizza, root beer, and sliding. We don’t need a break but it was late when we got out of Winnipeg. We had spent the morning wandering the campus of the University of Manitoba feeling a bit like grubby old men with our beards and dark tans.
We woke up this morning to do some more sliding. We had the pool to ourselves and must have been having too much fun because the young staff told us to stop jumping on the slide. I wonder if she had any idea how old we really are?
It was a good day of biking and we managed to get back over the 100 km mark for the first time in a couple of days. We ended up in a resort town of Falcon Lake, not far to the border of Ontario. It is now past Labour Day weekend and these tourist areas are almost deserted. The only ones who haven’t left are the bugs. We tried to hang out on the beach and play cards but the mosquitos got the better of us. They were not as bad in the middle of town so we played cards there. I can’t believe how warm it is. We have to cover up due to the bugs but get sweaty and hot with all our clothes on, even at night. We have found a park in the middle of town to set up our tents.
A light rain woke us up at 6 o’clock with girlish cries from the boys. It rained for two minutes but was enough to make us get up and put the covers over our tents. Apparently, I made the boys laugh when I wasn’t going back to bed because I was bored and headed off to the café for an early breakfast.
Today is the Sunday of the U .S. Open mens final. Two veterans Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, both over 30 are battling it out. We stopped early to watch the match in Kenora after passing into Ontario. We found great free camping on a beach just out of town. The beach was narrow and made a perfect place for pop 500 which we played for what seemed like hours. No need to set up tents tonight , since a gazebo is right here to offer any shelter from the occasional rains that keep coming.
September 9- Day 34
For the first time since Medicine Hat our biking was stopped due to rain. We had stopped for an ice cream break at Vermillion Bay, and had covered 100 kms when the rain started. We briefly talked it over with a stuffed moose and decided to call it a day. We had thought about a motel after our experience in Medicine Hat, but after a couple of phone calls decided against it. There more pricy then in the Hat and didn’t fit into the budget. Getting a campsite was more difficult than it should have been. The lady was very unhelpful and tried to point us way off the highway to camp. We rode into town hoping for the best and came across another campsite. We took it since it was reasonably priced and set up our tents.
A game of frisbee golf was in order to determine who would sleep alone and this time, Pete emerged victorious after a thrilling “come from behind” victory.(There is a first time for everything). The rains had let up by evening as we sat in a bar having supper and some beer. We were the only ones there besides the old woman running the place who was watching some weird television shows. Eventually some girls came in and started playing country music on the jukebox, much to our chagrin. Pete went up to counter their offer and put on some reggae music. Then came the heavy metal when Nick made his selections. It is rare we get to have music of our own selection in the background and it’s a great feeling. The bar was rocking and again, there was nobody there but us. It has been hard without music, we are forced to listen to a bad selection of Emenem and country. The soundtrack of the trip would be songs that we would not normally have listened to. It seems to be the same songs everywhere we go, from small towns to the larger cities. Is it really gettin’ that hot in here?
It didn’t rain much last night and our possessions stayed dry. We were able to shower this morning and felt good heading out. We traveled the highway for 157 kms and arrived at Ignace after only stopping once all day for a Pizza Hut buffet in Dryden. Pete and Nick got new noise makers so a wonderfully annoying medley can be heard whenever we pass one another.
Once again we are camped at a Tourist Info Centre. This one is brand new and we are lying in the shadows of some trees in a playground at the back. This is tree planting territory and Pete is feeling at home in these small northern towns. He recommended the restaurant we ate in and we were not disappointed. There is an old watch tower used for detecting forest fires and as we sleep, it towers over us.
Steve has been having a blast recently. I refer to Pete’s toy monkey Steve who has accompanied him on many trips and joined us on this one. He mostly makes himself useful as Peter’s pillow but is always on the lookout for giant things. Its not unusual to see Steve posing under a Giant Camel, Moose, Ape, Truck, or Goose.
We are continuing to make up for lost time. The biking is going very well and we are excited to cover so many kilometres. Today we stopped at 3 o’clock at a town called Upsula. We found a nice campground on a lake and could not pass it up. It’s an absolutely beautiful day and the swimming is fantastic. We hung out and played pop 500 on the beach until it was getting dark. Later we bought some groceries and got a fire going to cook our food. The evening ended perfectly, after a nice sunset, we laid out under the stars.
The towns dictate where we will stop for the night. They are few and far between, sometimes we go 100 kms with nothing in the middle. We are forced to take our lunch in the morning and go from town to town . Today we have made it to Kakabeka Falls, near Thunder Bay. The falls are known for their beauty and an old Indian legend of a Sioux woman named Greenmantle who paddled off the falls while being chased by a bunch of Cree warriors who also plunged to their deaths. We are camping near the falls and can hear the water rushing over. The legend has it that the screams of the Cree can be heard in the rushing water.
It was Friday the 13th today but no bad luck came our way. We rode through Thunder Bay in the morning but missed the Pizza Hut buffet. This turned out for the better as we got a cultural experience eating at the Finnish house, called Hoito.
We stopped to admire the Terry Fox monument and marvel at how he accomplished running a marathon each and every day, on one leg. We did not take our picture at the monument as we can in no way compare what we are doing to what that great Canadian hero did.
We still made it 155 kms to Nipigon before a spectacular bright red sun set. We managed to get our pizza and are camping at yet another Info Centre. One problem we are having by not setting up tents is getting wet with heavy dews which seem to accumulate. We can’t really complain about dew as people would laugh, but it really is our only problem right now.
Over the past four days we’ve accomplished over 500 kms. Yet we still feel we are not getting anywhere. Just outside Thunder Bay there is a sign that says Sault Sainte Marie is still almost 700 kms away. We have felt we have been riding a long way in Northern Ontario already, and now to find out we are still a long way from a city that is still considered a part of Northern Ontario. The immensity of this huge province can be overwhelming at times. It is no surprise to us now that the woman we met in B.C. skipped this section of the country.
Tonight we are camped at Terrace Bay at still another Information Centre. When we arrived in the town, we decided to ride down to the water. It turned out to be at least three kilometers downhill! The tough part was biking back up. However it turned out to be worth the trip. The beach was fabulous but as we didn’t have any food with us, we knew we were going to have to get back to town for supper.
Our trip was put into perspective by the chance meeting of a paddler. His name is Matt Smith and he came over to us as we arrived on the beach. He told us he was canoeing from the continental divide in Alberta to St. John, New Brunswick. This is a very impressive feat and he was doing it by himself, hoping to be done in a total of 7 months. We were humbled and impressed. He joined in our game of frisbee for a while before we headed back up the hill to town. There seems to be a party at the curling hall next door but they don’t seem too aware of our presence, except a few who have noticed us lying on the grass.
The town of Marathon can boast one of the finest campgrounds we have seen. Situated on the shores of a little lake, it is thick with foliage and most sites are hidden from one another. There is a giant communal fire pit, but for this time of year there is nobody around. After a quick dip to wash up, (all the facilities are closed), we headed into town for provisions. Baked potatoes, steaks, sausages, onions, peppers, were all brought back to be wrapped in foil and left on the fire. It was a truly great feast, dripping with butter as it roasted, we couldn’t wait to devour the lot.
September 16- Day 42
Another 100 kms, another small town called White River. The town has the world’s largest thermometer, however it is not working any more. Most importantly, this is the home town of the original bear who was later named Winnie the Pooh. Steve got his thrills at meeting a hero of his and photos were taken at the statue. There are some colorful people in this town in the middle of nowhere. Hitchhikers who are afraid of taking rides to Wawa are standing by the highway. It seems people are so aware of the horror stories of hitchhikers being stranded in Wawa that they will strand themselves in White River to avoid Wawa.
After supper we came across a skinny guy from Vancouver who was camping next to us at the Information Centre. We invited him to join us in a game of cards. Josh has been biking from Vancouver hoping to make it to Montreal. He left a month before us and did most of the trip by himself. We got the impression he was losing some sanity by being alone in such a barren stretch of the country. We agreed he could join us for as long as he wanted.
Later, when it came time to hit the hay we did what we always do, unroll sleeping bags and lie down. We don’t unpack unless necessary. Josh made the comment that he had heard about us Maritimers and that we were easy going. We couldn’t get him to admit he meant lazy but that’s fine. We also got some yells from locals who called us “hard core,” I guess we must be getting used to roughing it because I find it quite comfortable.
Now I know why Josh has taken a month longer to get to the same place. He travels much slower than we do. Each time we stop, we arrange the next place we are likely to be. It seems important to his sanity that he stay with us for a while, not to mention our luck with campsites is remarkable.
The same goes for tonight, we are lucky to have made it here. We stopped for a long time in Wawa and wanted to get to a place called Old Woman Bay on the shores of Lake Superior. It was getting late and almost dark before we arrived but what a greeting we got. There are no words that can describe its full beauty. It is a moment that I had visions of before the trip started.
Just as we arrived we caught a spectacular sunset. The bright orange ball seemed to dip right into the calm surface of the lake. The water is so clean and clear it would not be a problem to drink straight from the lake. We are camped on a white sand beach. The place is supposed to be used only as a day park but as it gets darker we grow more confident that our little paradise will not be disturbed.
The biking in this stretch has been good, although there are no shoulders and the trucks blow us around . You can’t beat the scenery however, (with the small exception of the west coast mountains.) We have noticed that many people are interested in where we are going and where we have come from. One bold couple videotaped us go by then pulled up beside Nick to do an interview as he rode along.
For the second straight night we have found a perfect beach for camping. With our care- free and easy going ways, Josh is amazed at our progress and ability to scope great camping spots. He still manages to catch up while we’re eating or resting. This beach is rocky and perfect for a big fire. Between the road and the beach, there is a thick canopy of trees that is perfect for sleeping under. Our terrain today was the hilliest we have seen in a long time. People have been warning us for a long time about the hills around Montreal River, but as we went up and down we didn’t find them as tough as expected. We are still doing over 100 kms a day.
Last night our canopy of trees did not prove to be enough to keep the annoying rain off our faces. I reluctantly gave up and set up the tent in a tiny clearing, Nick soon became frustrated with the drops and joined me. His side was on a big root I had failed to notice when setting up and he had an uncomfortable sleep. After also giving into the rain, Pete set up his own tent. Josh still has not adopted our lazy ways, so he still sets up his tent upon arrival.
We arrived in Sault Sainte Marie this afternoon and made our way to a predetermined park to meet Josh. We are relieved to have made it to the Sault! What a trip it has been through the bareness of northern Ontario. This is still considered northern Ontario but to us right now it feels like the south. Josh arrived a while later and we locked our bikes under a picnic shelter and went up the street for some food. Only taking my camera and wallet, we left everything else. It was a bold move but we figured no one would take a bike they likely couldn’t figure out how to ride. We were in need of a buffet and were not disappointed. We literally cleared the buffet. As we were the only ones in the restaurant we still managed to make them replace a couple of trays of food. We were being a little glutenous and topped it all off with cake. The cake pushed us over the edge and as we left, not one of us was feeling great. As the food expanded in our stomachs, we laid down on the grass across the street. A few moments later, the owner of the restaurant came by to give me my camera that I had apparently left on the floor. As he found us sprawled on the grass I can only hope he was amused.
As it started to rain we decided to make our way back to our bikes. By the time we got back it was pouring, so we were lucky to have a roof. Later the winds picked up and the roof was of little good since the rains blew in sideways. We lay there getting soaked but having a good time anyway. Since being with us, Josh has loosened up and didn’t even set up his tent. He has decided to stay in the Sault to clean up tomorrow.
After breakfast this morning we said good-bye to Josh, he had decided to go to the YMCA for laundry and a shower. We are determined to get to Orillia where showers, laundry and a day off from biking will be waiting for us. Today it rained off and on most of the day. We had pedaled 150 kms to end up in Blind River This evening we decided to stay in a hotel for the second time of the trip. It was an easy decision since everything we had was wet and the manager put us up in a huge room so we could put all our things out to dry. For supper there was a treat of fish and chips. Ron, a transplanted Newfie, cooked it up and made a terrific feast. He continues all the traditions of Newfoundland right down to making his own homemade malt vinegar. The restaurant is a shrine to Newfoundland and sparks determination in us to make it home to the east coast.
There was no rain today and another 150 kms has brought us to the northern end of Manitoulin Island. We turned off the Trans Canada at Espanole and headed for a town called Little Current. There is another cyclist camped on the other side of the Info Centre that we have chosen to call home for the night. We remember breezing past him on the road. It seems no matter how slow these guys are they make the same destination we do. I try to remember this as I fall behind Nick and Pete. I curse their speed and get frustrated at not being able to keep up with them. There is a reason I have a turtle on my handle bars, for slow and steady will get me there. I remember this as Nick is flying way up ahead.
September 22- Day 47
It started raining this morning at 7 o’clock. We were forced to get up and get breakfast. This was not a problem since excitement was overriding any tiredness. We could feel how close we were to southern Ontario. We were excited about this particular leg of the journey because today we travel across Manitoulin Island and enjoy a ferry ride to the Bruce Peninsula. The Island is supposed to be a beautiful place, however today there was a heavy rain, a blanket of fog and mist is covering the scenery. It was cold and all we wanted to do was keep our heads down and get to the ferry terminal. We don’t even have any pictures of this area that we had heard about.
We arrived at the ferry terminal early and had a couple of hours to spare. At least it was warm and dry in the terminal. Our friend “Charlie”, as we call him, who camped in Blind River eventually arrived. It seems we are taking the same route. The boat ride across the water that separates Georgian Bay from Lake Huron was more of the same cold and dreary weather.
We arrived in Tobermory in the afternoon and knew we had to have a campground in case of more rain. The town is a tourist stop and not much else,- nice restaurants and gift shops are about all it has to offer. We found a campground a couple kilometres outside of town and set up our tents. We couldn’t find anybody around to register but figured it couldn’t be too expensive. We went back to town where we got a good take-out meal from the basement of a fancy restaurant. (We had to pull Pete out after Nick and I saw the menu.)
The evening turned out to be nice. The rain stopped and the sky cleared just as the sun was setting giving a brilliant pink glow to the sky. The temperature is noticeably cooler tonight than it has been so far. We finally found someone at the campground and found out the price was steep. Twenty-five dollars is extremely high but we had no choice as we were not about to take down our tents and find somewhere else in the dark. We’ll just live with it and know for next time.
We made fantastic ground today to end up in a nice little town of Meaford, 155 kms from Tobermory. We ran into our friend “Charlie” off and on but I think eventually we left him behind, In the few times we spoke, he had some good stories and was an interesting character. We have come all the way down the Bruce Peninsula, through Owen Sound and are on the shores of Georgian Bay. Arriving in Meaford, Pete and I lost Nick for a while. We had all been searching for the right criteria for a campsite when we got split up. We need a picnic table, grass, and a light. Many places had all three but we eventually found Nick and settled on a nice spot by a playground.
Tonight is the coldest evening yet, so cold I played cards inside my sleeping bag. A local man came by to offer us a warm place to sleep. We politely refused knowing we would be fine. We seem to have a real sense of adventure and want to sleep outside in all conditions. We also know its not going to be getting any warmer as we head into October.
Some ladies out for a morning walk woke us up this morning. They did not seem to find it strange for three guys to be sleeping outside on a cold night. They just greeted us with good mornings and comments on the brisk morning. We pedaled hard and were determined to get to Orillia today. There were lots of steep hills on the way, some of the hardest terrain we have seen. The hills are short but steep making the climbing tough. It was a beautiful ride however, along the shores of the bay and through the Blue Mountains.
This morning we stopped for our second breakfast just outside Collingwood and were treated to one of the most colorful characters of our trip. We stopped at roadside diner called Carl’s diner. We assumed it was Carl himself working the grill and his daughter waiting the table. The set up was weird as you walked through their office to the bathroom which had a window looking into their place of residence.
Nick and I ordered pancakes with syrup and butter and Pete the traditional breakfast that we have grown accustomed to every morning. Carl came over to check on us and talk about fresh potatoes that he serves versus Macdonald’s that doesn’t. He seemed to be overcome with surprise at our pancakes. “Whoa!!!” he shouted, hands on his face then pointed at our plates. We had just seen him make them and were surprised at his surprise. He was probably referring to the half inch thick slabs of butter that would take 5 minutes to melt on a hot griddle that were still sitting on top of our pancakes! I’ll always remember that breakfast at that diner.
Just short of arriving in Orillia we ran into our cousin Sarah’s husband, Eric. It was great to recognize a face other than each others. He was impressed with our speed as he passed us on the highway. We chatted for a few minutes but were still anxious to get to Aunt Deb’s house.
We’ve made it to Orillia and are now enjoying the comforts of relatives at last. We seem to have surprised everybody at the speed we came from Tobermory, even surprising ourselves I think. We are looking forward to taking our first day off in over a month. We arrived dirty and smelly and Alice had to put on a brave face as she hugged her three cousins. It’s been 2 weeks since laundry and 6 days since a shower. We can relax in the welcome comforts of home while we visit family. The evening was spent hanging out at Debs, indoors as it is expected to go down to 3 degrees tonight. We made arrangements to meet with grandparents the next day and got our much needed laundry done.
September 25–Day 50
Our wonderful day off was spent visiting. Lunch with Gran and Jay included an interview with the town paper. Later we had dinner with Luke and Lorna and had a visit from Claire. I did some minor repairs to the bike, including putting the warn out back tire on the front. I can’t believe our luck. We have had 20 flat tires but nothing major. Nick’s new rim is the biggest expense and the work on his front rim is holding up as is the work on Pete’s back rim.
We biked away from Orillia this morning with much fanfare. Deb, Luke, and Claire all cheered us on as we left. It feels like there is only one stage of the journey left. Deb has hooked us up with a variety of Veggie and energy bars. We typically eat a couple a day and they are a great snack to pull over and enjoy. We are refreshed and even though we know its 1800 kms to go and is a ridiculous distance to bike, we feel it is so short since have covered most of the trip already.
We traveled east today through nice rural countryside. We know now that all stretches left will be more populated than most of the distance covered so far. A man from Lindsay joined us for a while. He made me wish I had a speed bike as he effortlessly cruised along. The weight is a factor but we have learned a good deal about sprocket size and gear ratio that will be helpful on any future trips. The man led us on some back roads away from the busy highway.
We have ended up at Fowlers Corners and are staying on a farm with one of Pete’s friends from Trent. We spent the evening in front of the T.V. Its Thursday night and all the season premiers got us caught up and made us realize we are not missing anything. We have enjoyed our night playing cards and amusing ourselves with various games. It is another cold night and we are lucky to be sleeping indoors. Our sense of adventure goes down when we know the people offering a warm place to stay.
The day started out rainy and as we went through Peterborough it intensified. A couple of kilometers outside Peterborough we decided to pull off the highway. It was for our own safety, since there was no shoulder on the highway and it would have been dangerous in the pouring rain. We were trying to make it half way to Carleton Place where we have Uncle Pete and his family to visit. After a couple of hours in the coffee shop, the rain continuing, we realized is was futile to get much further. We started back out in the rain and looked for a campground. We rode to Havelock before deciding on our third motel of the trip. The rains let up in the evening and we had the night indoors to try and dry off.
The weather has improved, for today at least. We gave our Uncle Pete a call in Carleton Place to say we wouldn’t make it that night. We still did well and covered a lot of ground so that tomorrow should be a short day. We stopped for the night at Sharbot Lake Provincial Park campground that is closed for the season. Luckily with our bikes we can go around the gate and find we have the whole park to ourselves. This place is nice, one we wouldn’t mind paying for, and we get it for free. Our site is the best there is in the campground, right on the lake with a big fire pit which gives us a nice fire to cook our meal.
With a whole campground at our disposal we played a game of frisbee golf. This lasted until I threw an errant toss into the lake. I had to swim to get it and after I needed to warm up by the fire. We are feeling more like ourselves and getting back to the old ways. After 4 nights indoors, its nice to be back to nature again.
The stop in Carleton Place yesterday was great, I got more acquainted with cousins I have rarely seen and we enjoyed a relaxing meal of pasta and beer with Pete and Jenny. We woke up this morning ready to get back on the road. I don’t know how, after all that happened today, we still managed to make it 110 kms.
We went to breakfast in Carleton Place and had our route planned how to get to Quebec. Not long after we were on the road it started to rain. We happened to be going through Kanata and stopped in at a Pizza Hut. During our lunch it started pouring, with no sign of letting up. We decided to get on with it and headed out in the rain. It continued to pour all the way through Ottawa. We biked along the paths that take us along the Parliament buildings and into the downtown.
After a couple of quick photographs we crossed the river and into Quebec. It felt great to leave Ontario after spending three weeks in one province. Nick and I had a scary experience as we crossed the Ottawa river. The bridge has metal grates and in the rain it was very slippery. Pete had found a side walk that was not metal and had no problems. To make matters worse, I had completely lost all breaks. To stop I had to drag my feet on the ground. I almost took a spill coming off the bridge and I don’t know how I kept my balance.
The bike paths in Gatineau are excellent and after a brief stop to purchase some brake pads, we were on our way. The problem now was what direction. We were in a strange city with no map. My frustration boiled as we headed in circles. With everything soaking wet, I was in no mood to be lost. Eventually we found the right road and headed on our way. To add to Nick’s already tiresome day he fell hard coming over a set of railroad tracks. We have always been careful of the tracks but this set was especially dangerous, they ran at an angle to the road and if you do not change your course you get caught in them. Nick was basically unharmed and we ventured on.
We have made it to the town of Thurso where we found a nice church lawn to sleep. The rain has stopped for now and we hope it doesn’t come back. It turns out this is the home town of Guy Lafleur. We saw the arena (named after him) as we looked for a place to eat. No one speaks English so we will be tested on our ability to communicate in French. We had fun ordering our food and beer and to our surprise the waitress came over with another round and pointed to a man at the bar. He didn’t even know why we were there, but we gave our thanks and headed back to our church for the night.
It is Mom’s birthday today, so we called from St. Jerome, directly north of Montreal. She was glad to hear of our progress and looks forward to us arriving in Nova Scotia. It was very warm and muggy today, unusual for the first day of October. The nights are also warmer and it didn’t rain last night. We ended up biking 135 kms today to get to Ste Sophie. The terrain is flat and the bike paths continue to be on the road making cycling a dream in this province.
There was nobody working at the campground and we have learned now not to set up until we know the price. The restaurant was also closed and as it was a couple of kilometres out of town, we decided to head back for supper and find a park in town to spend the night.
It’s a nice warm night, with no bugs. We are at a community centre and Pete has a workshop to work on his bike. His back rim is starting to wobble so he spends a little time truing the rim each day. He wants to make it home on the same rims. For some excitement we were visited earlier by the local police. At first I thought they would make us leave but instead they wanted to make sure we were alright with sleeping outdoors. The surroundings are great, in fact its one of the best accommodations we’ve had.
We had another great day on these bike paths. The town of Joliette was a nice surprise as we stopped for lunch. Very European in character, with shops and restaurants it seems a very cultured place. There was only one thing we didn’t understand, the drinking water. We had stopped in a park so Pete could fix his rim when I saw a fountain. I went over to have a drink and was disgusted by the taste. smelling and tasting of sulfur I spit it out and thought I might be sick. This obviously wasn’t a place to get a drink. Then I noticed people getting out of their cars with jugs, filling them and taking a drink before they left. Confused, I got Pete and Nick to try the water, and they too found the water disgusting. It’s still a mystery to me how the people of Joliette drink the foul water. I’m really glad we didn’t get stuck there for longer.
Tonight we have stopped at Yamachiche and camped behind an impressive Catholic church. Pete spent considerable time tonight trying to true his rim. He has put glue on it to keep it straight. He is still determined to make it home on that rim.
Today the inevitable happened. We had only gone 60 kms and were about to stop for lunch in a town called Batiscan when two spokes snapped on Pete’s bike and his rim became useless. Earlier in the morning we had gone through Trois Riviere, likely the best place to get a new rim. However Pete was sure the glue he put on the night before would hold so we continued on traveling on the north side of the river.
After the wheel broke he decided to hitch a ride back to Trois Riviere. When he was walking down the road a man approached and told him there was a bike shop in the town we were in. Pete turned and went the other way only to find nobody at the bike shop. Then, he was given a ride back to where Nick and I were by a nice lady who was a biking enthusiast herself. Pete brought with him a rim he had found lying outside the shop that he hoped he could use. It didn’t fit, so he decided to call the bike shop. Eventually he got a hold of the owner who said he could meet Pete at 5 o’clock. We had the afternoon to waste so we played cards. Pete then went back to the shop taking the rim he had found. Nick and I continued to hang out at our picnic table. Pete came back a short while later saying since his bike is a 27 speed the shop didn’t have a rim to fit his bike. His only option was to go to Trois Riviere. Frustrated he started off in the other direction again. Nick and I played frisbee, there wasn’t much we could do. An hour later it was dark and Pete came back with no luck getting a ride. He decided to wait until the morning. We were hungry and since Pete was getting to know the town we made him go to the Casse Croute to get supper. Off he went again in the direction of town.
The evening was cooling off as we sat at the same picnic table where we had lunch. We got out our sleeping bags to sit and play cards when our luck changed. The man living in the house next to the park had noticed us sitting there all day and came over to offer us a warm place to sleep. He introduced himself as Claude and spoke fairly good English. We agreed to let him help us and explained our situation. He went further to say Pete could get a ride in the morning into Trois Riviere with his daughter who attended school. We settled down in the house, happy that part of the problem was solved.
This morning Pete got up early and met Claude’s daughter. The family invited him in for coffee, then off to Trois Riviere. The conversation was not easy for Pete as he was forced to speak in French. We have all become more comfortable speaking French and get better every day.
Nick and I slept in as we had nothing to do until Pete got back. We rode up the road to a restaurant where we said we would meet Pete. We ate a leisurely breakfast and played some cards. After a long while, we decided to go back to town and wait. We were out of money and Pete was “the boss” this week and had all our cash with him. When we got back Pete had just arrived and was packing up. Immediately things picked up, we could afford lunch and were close to getting back on the road.
We biked all afternoon and by evening had made it to Quebec City. As night fell, we were getting lost in the city. Luckily, it is well lit and we made our way through to the bridge that would take us across the St Lawrence River. That was an amazing experience. Looking way down from on top of the immense structure I was in awe of the surroundings. You get a much different feeling on a bike than in a car since you are closer to the edge and feel more vulnerable about falling off. The paths on the south side were lit for a while and at the end of the lights was a campground. We set up camp and went for a pizza, extremely happy with our accomplishments for the day.
October 5- Day 60
After waking up this morning we tried to pay for our campsite. Pete couldn’t find anybody around and even when he knocked on the door of the house, nobody answered. We haven’t paid for a campsite since Tobermory and even when we try, we can’t. We didn’t have all day to wait around so we left.
I had done some tweaking on my bike this morning and made things worse. We had a very strong wind at our backs which promised to take us a great distance. After breakfast my gears fell apart, nothing worked. We stopped on the road east of Quebec City and spent an hour trying to fix the problem. The wind was doing nothing for my patience and I was getting mad. Nick had found a bike shop nearby so we took the bike in there. The guy inside must have been a genius for in a matter of minutes he had fixed the gears. However, he said there was a problem he couldn’t fix, my bottom bracket “is toast,” as he put it. It was an experience trying to explain the problems of my bike in French. Back on the road, the wind was still strong, we had lost about 30 kms, but at least we were finally on our way. We still managed 140 kms even after the wind died down in the early afternoon.
This was some of the most beautiful riding of the trip. Along the St. Lawrence, we traveled over gently rolling hills with the mighty river beside us the whole way. I was exhausted by the time we reached Riviere Ouelle and could not have gone any further. There was no restaurant in town and the campground was a few kilometers off the road. I was hungry and the boys knew not to mess with me when I was that hungry. We went to the Co-op and bought some food to cook with our stoves. We decided to camp along the river for the night. It was getting cold so we crouched behind a sign for shelter and got in our sleeping bags to keep warm. For the first time since leaving Vancouver we noticed the river was tidal. We are getting close and can feel it.
A cool, clear morning brought us along the shores of the St Lawrence where we stopped for breakfast at Kamouraska. The man who served us breakfast said it is the third most beautiful town in Canada. We could not argue with that but we failed to find out the first two . Shortly after breakfast, we turned south and away from the mighty river. We were on the last road before reaching New Brunswick. We stopped for a second breakfast as it was still before 11 a.m. It was a magnificent day, with the sky clear and bright blue. We cycled through an area where the leaves are starting to turn red and orange. It was one of those perfect days we were hoping for. We made 155 kilometers and are now in Lac Baker, New Brunswick.
Last night was the coldest one yet. It went below freezing as we lay in a park without setting up our tents. There was not much in this tiny town except a good park for camping and a nice little restaurant (all we really need). I was awakened frequently through the night due to the cold. There is also a wind from the north which helps us but does not make it any warmer.
Finally, it was morning and we bundled up to get to the restaurant. We all realized we had no cash left, so Pete started heading to the bank when a man from inside the restaurant came out and insisted Pete take his car. Pete had some trouble getting cash in the little town but finally managed to find a place. We ate our breakfast but when Pete went to pay the bill, the waitress said the same guy that loaned us his car, also paid for our meal. What luck!
The rest of the day we biked 100 kms to Grand Falls through beautiful rolling countryside. Up and down little hills and through the red leaves, we didn’t mind the cold so much. While having lunch, we ordered in French and English and the waitress asked which language we normally spoke. That was the best compliment yet.
Arriving at Grand Falls, our spirits were very high so we had a nice meal at an Italian restaurant, along with some celebration beers at reaching New Brunswick. The camping here is perfect, hidden under the bridge that crosses just above the falls. We played cards at the Info Centre as it seems to have warmed up a bit from the last couple of nights.
While we were playing a guy pulled up in a car. He invited us to his trailer for the evening. He told us he was from Maine and finishing the camping season. He was pitiful and we felt sorry for the poor lonely sap with his high voice and pudgy face. He thought we could not sleep in the park and would be better off in his warm trailer. We said we would think about it but had no intentions of taking his offer. While he was pulling away he turned and in his soft high voice said, “ I like to play cards too.” That was almost too much. I felt so sorry for the guy but he was just too creepy and besides, we were happy where we were, sleeping out under the stars with no tent. It feels great to look way up night after night and have nothing but the night sky above us.
October 8- Day 63
We spent the day admiring the St. John River as we took the old highway out of Grand Falls. The hills are short and very steep as the road winds along the bank of the river. Halfway through the day we stopped at the worlds longest covered bridge and rode through it.
Another perfect autumn day of biking and another 130 kilometers closer to home. We are in the not very appealing town of Woodstock, however our campground is nice. Here we finally were able to pay for a site and know we are going to need it. It is supposed to go down below freezing again tonight.
We spent most of today on the new double highway that cuts straight across the province. Not the most scenic ride, but every once in a while we could see the river. The highway circles around Fredericton so we did not go into that city. We stopped this afternoon at an Irving Big Stop to get directions to a campground. We found out that it was out of our way and the best place to camp would be right at that Big Stop. We hung around and played cards until night when we discovered that it was not the best place to camp, since you couldn’t hide anywhere, from the lights. We crossed the street and found a nice dark lawn at a community centre that provided a great place to sleep.
When I got up this morning, Nick was already off at the restaurant having breakfast. Maybe it’s the excitement of knowing we will be in Saint John today but we were ready to get off to an early start. It was an easy ride to the port city where we will catch our ferry. We arrived early this afternoon and found the ferry leaves at 11 p.m. We spent the time lounging around the ferry terminal and watching a t. v. on so we could catch up on our shows. As it was just before Thanksgiving weekend, the terminal was filling up with students all returning home to Nova Scotia.
We don’t know what to do tonight. We have not slept on the ferry and are so anxious to get home and are even discussing biking at night so we can arrive in the morning. The ferry gets to Digby at three a.m so we’ll see.
October 11- Day 66
We had decided to sleep at Digby as there was no place to eat at 3 a.m. so we slept behind another Big Stop and waited for morning. After a good breakfast we got on the road. It was probably the nicest scenery of the trip. Following the old highway down the Annapolis Valley, we went through town after town knowing each one was closer to Kentville. It was another perfect day, we wore shorts and there was no wind and the sky was clear.
At Berwick we could feel we would make it and by Coldbrook we were practically home. Nick wasn’t finished hurting himself however and decided to take one last spill. He ran into the back of Pete’s bike after a bad shoulder and equally bad drivers forced Pete and me to stop suddenly. We stopped for a quick picture at the Kentville sign then it was off to home.
Home at last!!
We arrived early this afternoon and climbed our last hill to the house and Mom who was anxiously waiting for us. We had not thought we would get home so early but we had pedaled hard all day.
Suddenly the trip was over. After waiting so long for it to arrive it was sort of shocking to realize we had accomplished such a tremendous undertaking. I am proud of what we did and will fondly remember it forever.
Here the story ends. After a couple of weeks at home, we went separate ways. I went back out west to finish my degree, while Pete and Nick moved to Halifax to pursue different goals.
Through it all we stayed together and lived to tell the tale. The unimaginable in some families, but three brothers spending 66 days together came easy to us. Even when we got home we were not finished spending time together. The three of us went to pick apples to earn some money. It proved to be non profitable so after a couple of hours we gave up. It happened to be Tuesday and the pub in Kentville has pints on for two dollars. We went home to collect empty beer bottles and took them to be recycled. With the money earned from this, which was considerably more than apple picking, we went to the pub for one last game of crib and some beer. I must thank you, Pete and Nick, for making the trip so enjoyable and even though I hated you when I was falling behind, I couldn’t imagine doing it with anyone else.
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