Excerpts from a Cross Canada Bike Ride (2010)

May 22, 2020


Game Plan?! (May 22, 2010)

Surrey, British Columbia

I like to tell people that I’m biking to Newfoundland.

The common response is something like, “What? Why would you want to ride your bike there?” and I’m like “Why wouldn’t I want to?”

I guess part of the reason I want to ride to Newfoundland is because I’ll have to cross the rest of the country to get there, making sure that I don’t shortcut my way out of experiencing a whole bunch of marvellous and fantastic things along the way. Canada is a huge and varied country, and I’m totally stoked on seeing the scenery change as I move eastward, and how people in particular places live differently. Plus, I’ve been told that folks from Newfoundland have a distinct accent, that they’re really hospitable, and that the coastal scenery is incredible. And although this all sound great, I think there’s got to be more to it than that (as there always is), so I’ll have to head across the country to check it out for myself.

I don’t really have it nailed down how exactly I’m going to get to the east coast. I mean, I know I’m going to be riding my bike, sometimes for long days, sometimes guerrilla camping or sleeping on the sofas of kind strangers, but I really don’t have my route planned. I have vague idea of how I’m going to travel out of BC (first to Vancouver Island with my father to cycle through Cowichan Lake, Port Renfrew, Victoria, Sydney, and then back to the mainland via Whistler, Kamloops, Vernon, Kelowna, Nelson, and then up to Calgary), but based on past experiences that’s pretty much guaranteed to change. I figure once I get to Calgary, I’ll try and plan for the prairies. And once I get to Ontario, I’ll plan out how to get to PEI. And once I get to PEI…well, you get the picture.

Beach camping at its finest
My father gearing up with bread bags for stormy weather

Ode to the West Coast (May 27, 2010)

Sooke Library, British Columbia

According to my calculations, it’s been raining 85% of the time. So, I’m kinda wet. Also, when I went to ceremoniously dip my foot in the sea at Port Renfrew, I kinda fell in, which didn’t really help. My tent is like a soggy garbage bag, but my sleeping bag is warm and cozy so I’m not experiencing any real hardships. Oh, except I broke one of my gear cables, and my father tried to mend it, but alas it’s time had come and the cable snapped leaving me with only two functional gears to make it through the hills into Sooke. Better now than later I suppose. We hit up the bike shop, purchased a new cable and obtained directions to the best-most-awesome-and-delicious-restaurant in town (Alternative Cafe) where I had the bacon Bennie of my dreams, three cups of coffee, and a giant cookie. I rested my soaking wet shoes in front of the heating vent (much to the disgust of the rest of the clientèle), and cleaned the caked mud off my face and knees in the washroom.

So that’s where I am now. Clean, caffeinated, indoors and full of Hollandaise sauce. My dad is fixing my cables (he not-so-secretly loves this kind of stuff), and then we’re off to Victoria. Tomorrow night we’re meeting up with my mom and sis, who are going to be in Saanich for a yoga workshop.

Even though the weather is less than ideal, the constant drizzle keeping us in a state of perma-wetness, I can’t help but be thankful to be on the road again. It’s been nice to spend time among the lush greenery of the west coast (massive skunk cabbages!) before venturing inland. After all, this place is my home. There’s something so wondrous about seeing the vibrant yellow broom in bloom, orange salmon berries dangling from branches, and fern fronds shooting through the pavement on the highway shoulder. I love the smell of the sea, the rocky coastline, pebble-filled beaches, washed up kelp, and driftwood stacks. These are all things I won’t be seeing again for a long, long time. Even in the rain, I appreciate that I get to be here.

Misty mornings in British Columbia
Beautiful British Columbia

Weather is a Fickle Lover (June 9, 2010)

Grand Forks Library, British Columbia

Favourite moment of the week: pedaling down the hill into Midway wearing nothing but a t-shirt and board shorts, getting poured on as thunder rang off in the distance while whooping and hollering with my new cycling companion Erik. Drenched and delirious, we wandered into the general store to restock before heading on to Greenwood (or something like that) to camp for the night. The folks in the store felt so sorry for us lunatics (and believe me, we looked like a couple of crazies; we were smiling and laughing as we dripped water all over the place) that they gave us complimentary cookies and coffee. Gotta love small towns.

So, here I am in Grand Forks. Not to be confused with the town of Forks in Washington State, made famous by the Twilight series. We’re here because I needed a bike shop after I blew out my tire while cycling on the Kettle Valley Rail Trial out of Kelowna. Apparently, it’s more for mountain bikes than touring/road bikes, but I didn’t know this until I was on the trail, headed off into the middle of nowhere with no one but the friendly chipmunks for company. Then, BANG! In one quick moment my tube was shot, tire destroyed, and rim cracked.

But I made a friend, Erik from Victoria, while I was fixing my gear on the side of the path. The first soul I’d seen in hours, he stopped to make sure I could get my spare tire on (thank goodness I brought one), and we just kicked it down the path together after that. We’ve spent the last few days cycling along the old rail trail, powering through puddles of unknowable depth, camping near lakes and streams, and conversing around the ol’ cooking pot. The other night we had the opportunity to sleep in a renovated old caboose, which was totally rad since we got to listen to the  rain pour on the tin roof all night long. We arrived in Grand Forks this afternoon, zipped straight to the bike shop where my rim (special ordered from Norco) awaited. A couple of hours later and $225 in the hole, I’m good to go. Note to self: to avoid future minor disasters, research trail conditions prior to heading out.

The weather had been rotten/awesome. Don’t know what more to say, except that I’m sick of lubing up my chain and having it all washed off each day and replaced with a thick layer of grit. The sun, when she shows her lovely face between storms, is brilliant. I hope to see more of her, and less of her lousy rain cloud friends, over the course of the summer.

Biker gang on the Trans Canada Highway
My father, Kevin and Tim. Four-star cyclists, Five-star beer drinkers.

Biker Gang on the Trans Canada (June 25, 2010)

Moose Jaw, Manitoba

Tim: “Hey kid, I see you’ve got a new hairstyle!”
Me: “What are you talking about? I just took a shower.”
Tim: “That’s what I mean,” laughs. “It’s not all greased down anymore. You’ve got some volume.”

I should mention that shampoo wasn’t included in my efficient packing scheme, so I used the pink soap from the hand cleaning station at the campground to wash my hair. The shower was akin to a pressure washer, removing all the grimy filth built up over the last few days. And, believe it or not, the pink soap really did the trick.

Tim, Kevin, my dad and I procrastinated for a while before kicking it out of Chaplin, Saskatchewan at 10:00 am, mulling over the effects of a headwind brought in by the storm last night. We debated what route to take over half a dozen cups of coffee at the local billiards hall, chatting with the locals and some other crazy guy on a bike. Eventually, we realized that we’d better get moving before the blazing sun melted the skin off our bones, kind of like that scene from that Arnold Schwarzenegger movie Total Recall. Kevin led the way, the rest of us drafting off of him as we pushed through angry winds. It was exhilarating; riding in a pack, a gang of cycling nomads all free from the restraints of ordinary life. Definitely one of the best days so far.

We stopped in the tiny town of Mortlach for lunch at the HollyHock Market, where we were treated to fresh moose stew and hot paninis. The four of us dined under the shade of an umbrellaed picnic table out back with the lovely store owners, Lois and Clayton, who brought us icy cold water and watermelon. I will say this again: the people in Saskatchewan are amazing.

Once in Moose Jaw we found ourselves in the midst of a jubilant parade. Pretty wild. The local paper reported “Hundreds in attendance.” We all agreed that the highlights were the mini-cars and mini-bikes, and schemed about entering the parade ourselves, since technically, we were a biker gang. Instead, we decided to be satisfied chilling on the sidelines with free Canada flags and Freezies.

Zach’s Burger Bus
Wayne and Bev cookin’ up your orders, hot and fresh!

Would You Like Fries With That? (July 6, 2010)

Hadashville, Manitoba

After a wicked few days in Winnipeg celebrating Canada Day, reuniting with the TransCanada cyclists, and listening to free music on the streets, I continued my journey eastward towards Falcon Lake. I planned to get an early start, since the ride was about 145 km and it was supposed to be scorcher, but my 7:00 am alarm coincided with a violent clap of thunder and thus I retired to sleep for another hour or so. By 10:00 am the storm had passed, leaving nothing but a few puddles on the road and blues skies in its wake. So I ventured out of Winnipeg, saying farewell to my host Jocelyn and her mom, hoping that our paths may cross again.

The wind was still against me, which really pissed me off. I thought the prevailing winds were supposed to be from west to east! The past four riding days the wind had been slapping me in the face, making life altogether a bit uncomfortable and tiresome. Someone in Winnipeg just told me that storms often arrive from the east on the prairies, which makes sense considering all the wretched weather I’ve been riding through. So, I pedaled on, grumbling to myself in the face of adversity. I tried to take a water break in the shade on the side of the road, but I couldn’t relax with the constant buzz of mosquitoes and helicopter hum of horseflies, so I just kept biking. The weather was really hot and muggy, but the constant breeze from the wind in my face kept me cool.

Somewhere before Hadashville, I pulled into a rest stop to relax on a picnic table and get out of the blazing sun. When I went head out, I noticed that the sun had disappeared, the storm clouds were moving in fast. Blue sky replaced by white clouds which were being buried under dark and ominous grey clouds. I had about 20 minutes to find somewhere safe to wait out the thunderstorm.

I walked up to Zach’s Burger Bus, an old school bus converted into a mobile fast food outlet, and asked (slightly concernedly) how far to the nearest town. The woman behind the counter said it was quite a ways yet, and that there wasn’t really much at the town. She saw the look of disappointment on my face, and kindly offered to give me a ride to the nearest campground, which I accepted after glancing at the sky and seeing that the dark clouds closing in fast.

I loaded my bike into the back of Bev’s pickup truck (her husband Wayne drove the burger bus) and we headed for town. Near Hadashville I think. Once we got close to civilization and the heavy drops of rain started to smash down on the car windshield, Bev offered to have me sleep in their shed instead of the campground. I gladly accepted, and soon found myself curled up in a pile of sleeping bags on the floor of a tidy storage shed. Freezers on one side, cardboard boxes of supplies shelved on the other, and a pile of laundry in the corner. Before crashing out for the night, Wayne cooked us up a couple of bison burgers for dinner. I learned that the business was named after their grandson, whose name is Zach. While a roaring storm raged on outside, I slept soundly to the hummmmmmm of the freezers in the air conditioned shed (despite the rotten weather, it’s still really hot out).

I woke early the next morning, only to discover that I was forbidden to ride on the wet road alongside long weekend traffic.

“You can either stay here, or make milkshakes and scoop ice cream on the bus and earn a few dollars,” Bev said to me as I lay in bed, half awake at 7:15 am.

A smile tugged at my cheeks: I’ve always secretly dreamed of being an ice cream girl. And now, at age 25, my wish has finally been granted!

I had a blast. The three of us dashed around claustrophobic bus in a state of organized chaos. I think I’ve found my one true calling. I fried French fries, mixed up milkshakes, and scooped mountains of ice cream into waffle cones.

“That’s not enough. These folks are used to Wayne’s scoops,” said Bev.

And so I plopped more on, turning my standard one scoop into a ginormous “Wayne sized cone.” 

I got a kick out of the look on kids’ faces when they were handed a hefty cone of ice cream and you could see them strategizing in their little heads how to tackle the monstrosity before it melted.

I loved being around Bev and Wayne. Their hearts were in it; they weren’t out there to get rich or make a fortune selling hot dogs and hamburgers and various frozen treats. They were doing it because they genuinely liked doing it it.

“I just love seeing the return customers. You know, the cottagers that come here week after week. It’s great to see these people, and hear what they’ve been up to,” said Bev.

They enjoyed the people, and even more they loved seeing folks enjoy their food (and how could you not enjoy a Zach Burger? Two 1/4 pound patties, bacon, onions, the works). They sold fresh home-cooked food at prices that were affordable for the entire family. And, the ice cream portions were utterly ridiculous.

(I’m skipping over Ontario, Quebec, PEI, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and most of Newfoundland in the interest of time. Just several thousand kilometres. In brief: it was marvellous.)

Cape Spear, Newfoundland

Satisfaction (October 4, 2010)

Cape Spear, Newfoundland

“I think that every Canadian should cross the country at least once. First of all, to appreciate it’s vastness. Secondly, to comprehend it’s diversity.”

– Bob Gardiner, Fox Valley (Saskatchewan)

I made it! Cape Spear, just 15 km from Newfoundland’s capital of St John’s, is the most eastern point in North America, geographically closer to Ireland than the province of Saskatchewan. I’ve been on the road for a total of 130 days, a time span exceeding the sum of my employment over my last four jobs and all of my previous relationships. Ha! So with a commitment to my journey that surpasses most other arenas of my life, I rode my steel stallion through the gorgeous autumn afternoon, stopping when I finally reached the continental limit.

My travels have taken me though thunderstorms and hurricanes, floods and excruciating heatwaves. I’ve been tried and tested, and both bicycle and spirit have proved their worth, holding steadfast to the spirit of adventure. When I rounded the last corner on the road to Cape Spear, my ultimate destination appearing before me like the sudden end of a giant roll of carpet, I (embarrassingly) burst into tears. Even thinking about it now, I can’t find words to convey the welling and exploding of emotion inside my heart. The cape, illuminated splendidly under late afternoon sun, was more glorious than I could have fathomed. I rode the final kilometre of winding road, absorbing the sound of wild Atlantic waves crashing up against the high rocky shores, my target set on a lighthouse perched upon a tip of rock, jutting out into the sea.

After spending so much time in the company of others, it was strange to be alone for such a monumental part of my journey. I sat down at a wooden bench with a view, made up a peanut butter and jam sandwich with the last of my bread, and drank a thermos of coffee that I had picked up at Tim Hortons over an hour ago.

Looking at my bike, I couldn’t help but be proud of my two wheeled friend: over 10,000 km and only five flats! Oh, the places we’ve been, the people we’ve seen, the friends we’ve made, and the days that will fade into foggy memory. When I look back and think about how I rolled out my front door with my father on that sunny Monday in the end of May, on route to Port Renfrew to dip my foot into the Pacific, it all seems so far away. When people asked where we were going, I would turn my head and holler, “Newfoundlaaaaaaaand!” and they would shake their heads, “You’re going the wrong way…”

Traveling is transformative. I thrive on the road. Hours slipping away as I pedal forth on smooth pavement, surrounded by an ever-changing landscape of incomprehensible beauty, my only concerns those of immediate survival. Food, water, shelter, swimming (which doubles as showering), and companionship my only real needs. Focused solely on living, without the overwhelming burden of society’s expectations weighing me down, I’m more me. I feel that each day I go without watching TV, using the internet, setting my alarm clock or using a microwave, I become a bit more real and a little more human.

I suppose the next challenge I’ll face is to bring the self-awareness and enthusiasm that I’ve found and nurtured on the open road into my everyday life, wherever I am at.

I’m going to miss pulling over on the side of the road to pee in the bushes, stopping in roadside diners with greasy breakfasts and coffee refills as far as the eye can see. I’m going to miss sunset’s nightly entertainment, and the waking glow of dawn on my tent. Most of all, I’m going to miss rising each morning with a giddy, bubbling feeling in my tummy, and the knowledge that I have no idea what it going to happen over the course of the day.

So what have I learned?

  • Each day brings new surprises.
  • The unknown possibilities of the world will simultaneously amaze and terrify me for as long as I continue to roam.
  • My body is my most prized possession. I vow never again to take for granted such a beautiful and fantastic thing. Without it, this journey wouldn’t be possible.
  • Canada is an awesome country; a place of outstanding natural beauty, overwhelming geographic diversity, pulsating urban communities, and open-hearted people.
  • Family, friends, and food are more valuable than gold.



Riding fast, dryin’ undies #roadlife