I have my first article published in a cycling magazine. For those of you that followed my journey across Canada last year - it will be familiar to you, but you may still enjoy the read. This story will become a chapter in my book, so you may like a taste of what I write.
|I finally feel like a real writer.|
HOW I BECAME AN AUDAX RIDER.
After Niel’s bike was lost by British Airways while on the global bike race, and my bike with everything I owned on it got stolen when I turned my back on it in Vietnam in 2012, we wanted to go somewhere ‘safe’, and I really wanted to cycle across a continent.
Canada is the biggest country in the world behind the USSR continent. After spending a long time staring at maps and guide books, and following the blogs of other transcontinental Canadian cyclists, we decided the most scenic route and the ‘path that was of least resistance’ involved crossing into the USA at a few places. All previous transcontinental cyclists had started or finished in Halifax Nova Scotia, so that had to be incorporated into the plan. Canada is a British colony just like our home of New Zealand, so we could travel there without needing a visa, but we did need a visa for the USA, and one with multiple entries and exits as we would cross the border between the US and Canada three times. We knew the wind was predominately from the west, so our course started in Vancouver British Columbia, and headed east to the province of Ontario, where we headed south across the border into Minnesota, east through Wisconsin, Michigan and back into Ontario (which is a very large province). At the Niagara Falls we crossed back into the US and through the states of New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. We were supposed to ferry from Maine to Nova Scotia, but simple plans can go awry and we ended up crossing from Maine into Canada’s New Brunswick province before heading finally to Nova Scotia. Approximately 7,500kms.
After a day of sightseeing and buying supplies in Vancouver, we pointed our bikes east and said goodbye to the Pacific coast. Little did we realize it, but this was going to be a trip of big kilometers each day. It’s a long way between places in Canada and not much in between. Our first day of 143kms was a good achievement (especially with the load we were carrying), but it actually became our average daily distance, and became easy and nothing to crow about. Allison Pass on day two was supposed to be steep, unrelenting and a natural wandering area for black bears, I won’t pretend that I wasn’t worried about it.
19/06/13 (from my diary)
I can safely say – that Allison Pass is up there as one of the hardest passes that I have ever done. 1350 meters from sea level and it climbed for 60kms with just one flat section in the middle. It was pouring with rain and only 5 degrees C – old enough to see your breath.
I was doing really well, and no incline was too much to cope with, when I ‘hit the wall’, and as a consequence I got hypothermia. I was nauseous – my stomach was doing somersaults and gurgling, my judgment was impaired and I was starting to feel like I was going to faint. When we got to the ski village of Manning Park, I insisted on a motel room to recover, warm up and dry everything.
On reflection though, I think doing that massive hill in the cold and wet, would’ve been easier than in the heat.
20/06/13 (from my diary)
Today was even colder than yesterday – if you can believe it – only 4 degrees C. The rain was even heavier than yesterday and we were so cold that our hands and feet weren’t working properly. Then Niel remembered that he had packed overshoes and wooly gloves, so I wore the overshoes and Niel wore the gloves – it helped enormously. The road wasn’t downhill; it climbed back up to the height of Allison Pass three times before finally descending to Princeton. It was still lightly raining here, so we stopped at a café that advertised all day breakfasts and we had an enormous cooked breakfast. So warmed up, and with our bellies full, we carried on to Keremeos. As we got closer, we could see a patch of blue sky in that direction. It had stopped raining and the temperature had risen to 7 degrees C, and we actually felt warm.
The campground manager here says that most cross country cyclists give up before Keremeos, because Allison Pass is so tough.
For the next few days we climbed enormous passes. First were Anarchist Mountain, then Bonanza Pass, and then a day of non- stop hills. This is British Columbia; wet, green, wild, and scenic full of wild flowers, rivers, lakes, mountains and Bears.
24/06/13 (from my diary)
Back to rain again, but guess what? We saw a grizzly bear cub – only two to three meters from us. Amazing – what a huge buzz. I didn’t see it until it burst out of the bushes on the side of the ride right beside us, and then it ran up a rocky bank. Niel saw it straight away and they stared at each other, and after it ran up the bank it stopped and stared at us. When we got to the next village, the café owner told us there is a mother Grizzly Bear with three cubs in the exact spot we told her of our sighting. God I’m glad it wasn’t the protective mother Bear we saw or we may not be here to tell the story.
After a day of very remote roads with no human habitation – so no food or drink stops anywhere – we finally made it to Revelstoke and the gateway to the road across the Rocky Mountains. Apparently all the rain has produced terrible flooding in Calgary on the other side, and the powers that be have closed the road. After a day off, we found out the road from Revelstoke to Banff is now open, but the road onwards to Calgary will not be open until the weekend. We judged that by the time we cycled there it would be the weekend.
27/06/13 (from my diary)
We made it into the Rockies and ‘Golden’. Rogers Pass is the easiest pass I have ever cycled. You follow a railway line the whole way, so that is an indication of the gradient. However after the pass, the railway line goes in a different direction, after initially descending, the road climbs a lot steeper, we climbed back to the height of the pass again before finally descending.
15kms out of Revelstoke we saw a Bear and passed our 1000th km. But the best sighting of all was as we exited an avalanche tunnel, and there was a black Bear right at the exit. Niel pointed to it, and his action of pointing meant that four cars screeched to a halt and people started running towards the Bear with cameras. What do the park rangers say? “Never approach a Bear”!! We got a quick photo and were off – so was the Bear, who didn’t look at all perturbed by the attention.
So after a long 150kms over very scenic roads, seeing amazing wildlife, and crossing from Pacific Time to Mountain Time, we made it to the city of Golden.
Another just as long day with just as spectacular scenery took us to Lake Louise, and to an enormous and very full campground as it is Canada day this weekend
29/06/13 (from my diary)
I got up early, as I knew it would be a long day, but not as long as this – 172kms.While packing, Niel noticed his rear carrier was broken. So he did a patch up job of taping up the break with the brace of an Allen key tool to get him and his gear down to the town and to the bike shop we saw when we came into town last night. Needless-to –say, we didn’t get away until almost lunchtime. While Niel was putting on a new carrier, I went to the visitor’s center to find out about the road ahead – that was flooded last week. Apparently the cycle track has been washed away and the bikes have to be put on to a shuttle bus to the next town, for which you have to pay.
It was hot and we were on the motorway (as the other route was still impassable), this was downhill with a tailwind, so we made up time on our late start. We decided to act like ignorant foreigners if we were stopped for riding on the motorway, especially on the part where we were supposed to be on a shuttle bus. It was no problem and we weren’t the only cyclists to use the road as we saw wheel marks in the mud. Sure the road showed signs of terrible flooding and there was debris everywhere, but why do the powers that be think that cyclists can’t ride on the road as well as a cycle track?
After passing quickly through Banff (which I found too artificial and soulless), we finally made it to Seebe, our destination for the day, but there was nothing there, and I mean nothing – just a road sign. There was no option but to go on for an extra 52kms to find human habitation. It was Indian reservation land, so there were no shops and we were definitely running on empty when we pulled into the next town at 10pm. We had a quick and nice Chinese meal while the restaurant was still open, and then tried to find accommodation. It being Canada day tomorrow meant every motel was fully booked. At 11pm – just as it was getting dark (thank god for the longest day), we finally found a camping ground that was closed for the night. We pitched our tent there anyway and very dirty, very tired, and very sunburnt we finally got to sleep at midnight.” If we can do this, we can do the Paris / Brest / Paris” I said as our heads hit the pillow.
We were told before we left home that there was a big area of nothing we would need to cross. That ‘nothing’ was the Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba plains. Calling it ‘nothing’ is insulting. Yes it is flat, and there are very few trees, but there are things of interest and the cycling was easy. For the first time in my life, I was riding huge distances every day, and I couldn’t blame it entirely on favorable winds. I was finding I could ride all day and felt good the whole time. One day it would be 150kms, the next 170, then 180 and then 150 again. I had never felt so competent. We were flying across the plains. After crossing into Manitoba and writing in the border visitors center what we were doing and issuing a challenge to all other cyclists to ‘catch us if you can’ , we spent the next 4 days clocking up 800kms to get just passed Winnipeg – the supposed half way point across Canada.
12/07/13 (from my diary)
180kms is my personal record I one day while touring. I found it easy and have never felt so fit. I feel like I can do anything. It rained for most of the day, which helped to keep things cool, but the highlight for the day was catching up with Jessie and Jackie.
Jessie and Jackie are the people who initiated the web site of cyclists doing the Trans – Canada. So you can follow others in their blogs to find out how they are going. Jessie and Jackie have already been on the road for 100 days. They have cycled from San Diego in the SW of California, all the way up to Alaska, across the Rockies to Jasper, and then across Canada to Labrador. They are still cheerful and not the least bit sick of the journey – good on them.
13/07/13 (from my diary)
Manitoba turned on a beautiful day with lush forest, rocky outcrops, and scenic lakes everywhere. We passed the border into Ontario province, and the scenery continued to be spectacular, particularly the town of Kenora, with views of the ‘Lake of the woods’, with forested islands and boats everywhere. It is a hot, sunny blue sky day and it is possibly the most scenic day of the trip.
We left Jessie and Jackie after a lovely lunch together, as we wanted to go further than them today. We spent the night in a forest park campground big enough to be a tent city. And I feel asleep to the sound of wolves howling in the distance.
The next day we crossed into the USA – Minnesota to be exact – at a place called International Falls. We were heading for the city of Duluth. Duluth being the western most edge of Lake Superior. It seemed that Duluth didn’t want to be found, as we were beset by delays; a bridge was out due to repairs, and we had to in the opposite direction to find a road we could use; we missed an unseen fork in the road, and once again went 30kms in the wrong direction before we realized it and managed to get back on track. Campgrounds did not exist but only after doing circles of 30kms looking for them.
It was very hot, and we had gale force headwinds to content with. We started to scan the horizon for the water towers and platforms that indicated a town coming up for food and drink stops. It is just as well that we are fit and used to doing long distance. We eventually made it to Duluth and the great lakes.
21/07/13 (from my diary)
It was cool today, which makes cycling easier than in the heat. The road was all in the ‘Ottawa National Park’, so there were trees all day. However we were both a bit jaded and homesick.
I’ve been through the roller coaster of emotions today. This morning I saw a father teaching his young son to shoot a rifle. That made me so angry. That boy is being taught that it’s okay to shoot to kill. His target was a human figure. Along with the homesickness – I wasn’t feeling very happy. We got our airline tickets out and started to talk about going home. Then a couple of things happened to snap me out of it. We realized that we only had 30 cycling days left until we reach Halifax in Nova Scotia. And then we met some people from Halifax at our lunch stop, and we felt like we were on the home straight.
‘It rained and rained and rained, the average drop was well maintained, and after a drought of half an hour, we had a most refreshing shower’. This is part of a poem I’ve seen about the weather on the west coast of the South Island of New Zealand. Michigan was very wet. But when we crossed the St Clair river (which is the border between the US and Canada) on the ferry, we were back into Ontario province again.
We passed through several pretty ‘port’ towns. They were busy and thronging with people. We are not far from the most populated part of Canada – around Toronto. So many people throng to to beaches at the ‘ports’ on the weekends and this weekend had a public holiday as well. We are amazed to find out that Canada has a day off every month, even if there is no particular reason for a holiday.
04/08/13 (from my diary)
The road was like Cornwall in England, dropping down to ‘ports’ and then climbing really steeply out of them. Pretty as it was, I got sick of it, and when a direct route presented itself, I decided to take it. The weather stayed nice, but with a strong crosswind. About 20kms from Dunneville, a group of Harley riders gave us problems.
They rudely overtook us and immediately turned right – right on top of us (Remember we are riding on the right side of the road). The leading rider almost took Niel out, and then the second rider was trying to turn in the 1 meters gap between Niel and I, almost taking me out. Swear words were exchanged. Then they all turned around and decided to harass us, by accelerating up to speed and cutting us really closely. Actually that is just a normal New Zealand driver, so it didn’t scare us. But no more than 10mins later we saw them stopped getting petrol. We rode in amongst them and started pointing and memorizing their number plates to tell the police and suddenly they looked frightened and sped off.
Then we found the camping ground and it was so full that it actually gave me shell shock. After seven weeks of quiet campgrounds, we get this one with boy racers and their loud stereos on one side, a loud drunk family behind us who couldn’t stop laughing, and on the other side – family with untold kids who thought our camping spot was their personal playground. Suffice to say after 3 hours of sort of sleep, we left tired and irritable. We were no longer talking about doing the Paris / Brest / Paris, basically because we had stopped talking.
This demonstrates how important food, drink and adequate sleep are - to being able to carry on. Yes we were fit, but physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted. Even seeing the stupendous Niagara Falls couldn’t get back to our old selves. It took many days of forcing ourselves to slow down enough to ‘smell the daisies’, before we were talking and smiling again. By now we were in the Adirondack Mountains in New York State. We know we are going to make it now. When we tell people that we are heading for Halifax, not only do they know where it is, but they all say “oh you are almost there”. If only things had worked out as simply as that.
14/08/13 (from my diary)
I’ve had the worst thing that can happen to a cycle – tourist last year – when my bike (and everything I owned), got stolen in Vietnam. However today would take a close second place when it comes to drama. I believe it’s how you cope with these dramas that define you as a true adventurer.
After climbing a hill that went on for 15kms, I finally summited and put the brakes on for the downhill, and ‘boom’ – my back tire exploded. I’ve had a ‘donk, donk ‘ noise in my rear wheel when I put on the brake for 10 days now. Niel looked at the rim, didn’t see anything wrong and reckoned it was oil on the rim, but it obviously was something far more dramatic to make my rim rip apart.
I started walking as Niel had sped off enjoying the downhill. A kind motorist stopped and asked if he could help. I asked if he could drive on until he saw a cyclist in white Lycra bike shorts just up ahead, and tell him to stop and wait for me. When I finally reached an impatient Niel – who was sitting on a railing, we realized my rim was unrepairable.
We were in the middle of nowhere, there wasn’t even mobile phone coverage, and I had to put out my thumb try to get a ride to civilization. No one picked me up. After walking for a few kilometers, Niel was waiting for me outside a house where the people ‘looked friendly’. Initially we asked to use their phone to ring a bike shop in the next town 60kms away, but by now the shop was closed for the day. These lovely people drove me and my bike 30kms to the nearest habitation that had a motel.
It is now 30kms to the town with the bike shop, so Niel will ride there first thing in the morning, get a new wheel and cluster (as I only have 3 gears left that work), and a chain as well; ride back to me waiting at the motel, put it all back together, test ride it, and then ride back to the town together. Thank god we still have 2 emergency days up our sleeves.
Then: this evening we had WIFI at the motel, so we decided to check on some of the other Trans Canada cyclists. One couple found their ferry to New Foundland had been cancelled and they didn’t know what to do, so we decided to check ours as well. My god, that had been cancelled too. After frantically looking at maps and searching for a ferry that still existed, we found one from St John in New Brunswick (Canada), to Digby in Nova Scotia. But St John is an extra 300kms off our original route. Do we have enough time to get there? Well we have decided to do even bigger distances for a few days to get there. Hopefully nothing else will go wrong.
18/08/13 (from my diary)
Everything seems to happen in three’s and the third almost disaster happened today. Niel’s rear wheel was ‘not feeling right’, and it was moving a lot from side to side. He reckoned the bearings were the problem. Even though we are pressed for time, we decided to stop in Bangor instead of going on. There is a bike shop here, where we can get parts, if we went on; his bike might fall apart in the middle of nowhere – like mine did. Unfortunately it is Sunday today and the shop isn’t open until tomorrow. So we got a motel for the night, so that Niel can take his hub out of the wheel, it was as wrecked as my rim had been. Luckily Niel kept the hub and spokes off my wrecked wheel and he built these into his good rim, so all he needed to buy was a cluster that fit that hub and a new chain. There goes our last emergency day.
We will now have to take a shorter route to St Stephan’s tomorrow, as we don’t have enough time to go around the coast.
19/08/13 (from my diary)
Niel finished fixing his bike by 10 am and we didn’t muck around as we were trying to do 150kms today. Not a hope in hell. The road was non-stop sharp ups and downs with no shops except what I would call a ‘roadhouse’ – café / motel / RV Park. I ran out of energy at 7pm and called it quits at a rest area that had a private patch of grass hidden from the road, a public restroom and a river nearby. We had no dinner just what we had left over from lunch and we had to drink the black colored river water as the cooker was playing up. I hope I don’t get sick from it.
Famous last words – the next day I got food poisoning, but that misery was counteracted by finally reaching the Atlantic coastline. Yes – we had made it at last – I can now call myself a transcontinental cyclist, and no one can take that away from me.
We made it to Halifax in time to fly home. And I have realized that I am pretty good at riding long distance. This eye opening fact was to change me and what sort of riding I was to do in the future.
The first thing Niel and I did when we got back to normal on arriving home was to join UK Audax. New Zealand doesn’t have a club, although there is now a Kiwi Randonuering club. We needed to learn all about long distance riding and your Arrivee magazine is our bible on inspiration and learning.