Friday, September 16, 2011

A quick update

Cross Canada By Bicycle: 7260 km from Vancouver to St. John's from Alexander Holton on Vimeo.



Vanessa and I are now comfortably settled back into our apartment and starting to find our way back to normal. Neither of us has had time to put together our final thoughts on the trip but that should come soon. For the moment here is a slideshow I put together that shows some of our favorite photos from the ride.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Celebrations in St. John's: Photos

Celebrations in St. John's

Your body does something funny the day after a 7260 km bike ride. It suddenly becomes absolutely exhausted. Fortunately for us, we had some great friends and a lovely event to get us through the day.

After an included breakfast at the Delta, Vanessa and I hopped on our bikes and headed to our last rehab class run through Eastern Health at Memorial University's Field House. There we were greeted by hospital representatives Wendy Decker, Dr. Michael Furlong, Sharon Meehan and a wonderful rehab class that made us feel right at home.

We were also thrilled to have a few special guests, including St. John's East MP Jack Harris, a representative of St. John's South-Mount Pearl MP Ryan Cleary and St John's Mayor Dennis O'Keefe. I also hesitate to call them guests and not simply good friends, but we were grateful as well to have Barbara Kennedy, Executive Director of the of the Cardiac Health Foundation of Canada and Leo DelZotto, President of Tridel Corporation and The Cardiac Health Foundation of Canada, on hand for the celebrations. Both Barbara and Leo have been incredibly supportive of the campaign and have done countless hours of work to promote the Ride for Rehab. We can't describe how grateful we are for their unwavering support. While we have the chance, in abstentia, Vanessa and I want to give a big thank you to Cristina Mellos of the Cardiac Health Foundation for her work on the campaign as well.

Our last Rehab visit began with some very kind words from MP Jack Harris and Mayor O'Keefe. Mayor O'Keefe recently went through a cardiac health emergency of his own and was gracious enough to share his experience of personal crisis and eventual recovery.

Following the introductions, Leo DelZotto presented Vanessa and I with a check for $22,000.00 on behalf of Tridel, made out to the Cardiac Health Foundation of Canada which we Promptly passed off to Barbara (No one should have a check that large in their hands for too long!).

A big part of this campaign has been to spread awareness about the benefits of cardiac rehabilitation programs and to make sure that people know that they are available. Part of this has been trying to attract media attention to cardiac rehab and today was no exception. At the event we were fortunate enough to have television coverage from CBC, NTV and Roger's TV. We were thrilled to have them there to help get the word out.

Following the presentations, Vanessa and I took a quick ride back to The Delta where we had a celebratory luncheon hosted by Leo DelZotto and attended by hospital representatives.

It's hard to digest that the trip has finally come to a close. When you consider the time it took to plan and prepare for the ride, it's been the focus for about seven months of our lives. From here we're taking a few days to enjoy St. John's before settling back into our lives in Toronto.

The iphone has a lovely feature where you can view your photo collection as a musical slideshow. This afternoon Vanessa and I sat down and watched snaps of our trip from start to finish. Looking back at the early photos from Vancouver, they seem like a lifetime ago. In some ways it's hard to group all of the memories together as a single trip. It's difficult to convince yourself that you've experienced so much in such a short period of time.

There is a wonderful rhythm to the images. These stunning photos of landscapes lead into the rehab centres and the people we had the privilege to meet, and then fade back out onto the road. Chronologically they really convey the extreme contrasts we felt floating back and forth between wilderness and civilization.

As we've said before, the real weight of this trip is only starting to sink in and we need a bit of time to really process it all. In a week or so Vanessa and I are going to publish some final thoughts, but this is our last post of our day to day.

All we can say is thank you all for supporting a cause so close to us and for supporting us personally through what will likely be the one of the most difficult and lovely experiences of our lives. We feel privileged to have had the chance to share it with you and we sincerely hope you all enjoyed coming along for the ride.

Thank you from the bottom of our hearts,

Alex and Vanessa

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Day 95: Daily Photo

Day 95: Fitzgerald's Pond to St. John's, Newfoundland! (105km)

There are so many posts that I have wanted to start with, "we're in (blank) city!" And of course, arriving in St. John's deserves that kind of excitement, but it is also so hard to fathom that we haven't yet had the chance to react to it. As momentous as this occasion is for us, it comes along with a touch of sadness and even loss. Don't get me wrong, there have definitely been many moments, days, and even weeks we have simply wanted to just be finished, and we are eagerly anticipating our return home. But out of all of the days and places that we've ridden, Argentia to St. John's is the only route where there has been no hesitancy about whether to go forward, no desire to turn back. Starting out in Vancouver, we tried daily to quell the innumerable doubts about our abilities while suppressing anxieties about the battery of risks involved in taking this trip. Three months later, all of the time, costs, sweat, and struggle have introduced us to hundreds of people and communities, and fostered a lifetime's worth of laughter, joy, and memories.

If there was any lingering uncertainty about whether going the full distance was 'worth it', arriving in Newfoundland yesterday was more convincing than any conceivable argument. Riding onto the expansive island was like entering another world, one with a mystifying sense of openness. Our ride today took on a similar mystical quality as we rode undulated along the steady hills. The roads were in great shape and the grades were just steep enough to remind us to slow down and savour the sweeping vantages of densely treed peaks cutting sharply into valleys.

Our lack of moose sightings during this trip has become something of a joke after months of riding past 'moose night danger' signs on the highway. By the time we reached Bathurst and Miramichi, people would chuckle and say, "just wait. You're in New Brunswick." The chuckling stopped as we cycled through Nova Scotia but we were assured Newfoundland would bring us better luck. Today, with the passing of every boggy pond or glistening lake, we expected to see moose in such an idyllic habitat. At one point Alex stopped and peered into some trees, proclaiming, "now there's a moose if I ever saw one."

I looked in and saw a long tail swishing back and forth, "really? Are you sure that isn't a horse?" Sure enough two horses came trotting toward us, excited by their own wildlife encounter. It seems that moose have continued to evade us on this ride but I'm sure we'll see them again in Ontario.

Riding into St. John's after hours of boundless wilderness felt like we had parachuted into a city. We stopped at the welcome sign and felt awash with so many emotions that have so far mostly manifest as disbelief; after 7262km, 739 granola bars, and 23.5kg of loose granola, we are finally here. I'm sure the realization will sink in over the next few days as we enjoy St. John's and make preparations for our flight home. So far we have found a warm and delicious welcome at the Delta Hotel St. John's, which has very generously donated two nights stay on their Signature floor. We have already delighted in a gift box of chocolates and complimentary hors d'oeuvres this afternoon. Tomorrow we have a big and exciting grand finale planned at a rehab centre here in St. John's along with Mayor O'Keefe and other distinguished guests, you won't want to miss Alex's post on the event!

Day 94: Daily photos

Day 94: Argentia Ferry Terminal to Fitzgerald's Pond NL

A few hours after our post yesterday we climbed aboard Marine Atlantic's brand new ferry and started on our graciously donated passage to Argentia. The ride was relaxing and smooth. Neither Vanessa or I have ever been very far from land on the ocean and it was a treat to leave the shoreline behind and see nothing but blue in all directions.

We docked in Argentia around 2:30 pm and made the short trek to a campground about 26 km from the terminal. We wanted to go further, but by the time we were finished with pictures of the Newfoundland sign and the rugged coast it was 4:30 by the time we reached site and pushing to the next campground 80 kilometers down the road might have been pushing our luck.

Tomorrow we have a full day's ride into St John's and will complete our cross country trek. It's hard to believe we're so close to completing this challenge. We've been riding for so long now that it's become more of a lifestyle than a journey.

If you are reading this post we are most likely minutes from our goal. Tonight we're camped in a valley and are without reception. We'll post this as soon as we can.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Day 93: Daily Photo

Day 93: Sydney to North Sydney/Newfoundland Ferry (34km)

If we thought that the prairie winds were a force to be reckoned with then the post-tropical storm Irene gusts were probably better not to be confronted with a bicycle. This morning we started out in the wake of the rain storm to make our way to the Sydney Heart and Lung Wellness Centre before turning back toward North Sydney.

The wind gusts along the coast were powerful enough to force us to a stop and/or push us off (or into the middle) of the road but we rode carefully and made it to the centre. We had a great visit with the remarkable staff and members of the centre's programs. It's so inspiring to meet with people who have recovered from cardiac episodes and the workers who provide support. It's always tough to pull ourselves away.

Luckily when we poked out again the rain had cleared into sun but we still had the wind swirling recklessly and hurling sand and gravel at our faces. If today's wasn't just a short ride to meet our ferry connection I think we would have stayed off the roads. Though for once I think that our overly weighted bikes helped by keeping us grounded during the aggressive gusts. We made our way slowly along secondary highway 305 to take advantage of added tree cover and less traffic to be swept toward. In the end, because we made it here safely and got off exceptionally easy as far as hurricanes go. The ride was pretty fascinating. We watched traffic poles sway and birds flap motionless against the wind. For the last stretch the wind was behind us and propelled us into North Sydney like motorcyclists.

Now we're staked out at a library and blogging early since we made it to North Sydney with nine hours prior to sailing. The forecast suggests the winds will dissipate in the evening and Marine Atlantic is not expecting any cancellations or delays. Marine Atlantic has generously sponsored our passage to Argentia and we're really looking forward to our ferry trip. All week people have been telling us great things about the vessels and staff onboard. Our first overnight boat ride promises to be an interesting experience!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Day 92: Daily Photo

Day 92: Rest in Sydney

Today was one of our more relaxing days. The most strenuous activity we took part in was tracking down a pleasantly priced all-day breakfast place in the downtown.

Mostly we've been monitoring the weather and updates from Marine Atlantic on our ferry trip. We're leaving for Newfoundland late Monday and so far, it looks as if Irene probably won't be an issue, but it's hard not to keep a watchful eye on the sky.

Tomorrow morning we're visiting with a cardiac group in Sydney and then taking the short 20 km ride to the ferry terminal.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Day:91: Daily Photo

Day 91: St. Peter's to Sydney, NS (87km)

If it were possible to condense our whole cross Canada ride into a single day it might look like this one. We started with a series of intensely steep climbs with no shoulder and plenty of traffic. We also hit construction that forced us to ride gravel up to the highest point of the day. But at the same time, the sea- and landscapes around the Bras D'or lake were truly magnificent (a word I can't recall ever having used before). We paid for those views through sweat and lactic acid production, but it was definitely worth it.

After lunch and 54 kilometres, the grades became less extreme and we coasted on smoother, rolling hills as we eventually reached a paved shoulder for the last bit into Sydney. It is hard to believe that we're here at the furthest eastern point on continental Canada. We won't be rushing away from the hills of Cape Breton just yet, the next two days are ours to rest and visit the area as well as a rehab class here in town on Monday morning.

Our ferry departure to Argentia, Newfoundland is scheduled for 10:45pm on Monday evening, the crossing takes about fifteen hours! It is too early to tell whether or not Hurricane Irene is going to complicate those plans but for now we're trying to keep tabs on the expectations for Atlantic Canada. In any case, for the sake of everyone on the storm's path, we hope it peters out soon!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Day 90: Daily Photo

Day 90: Monestary, NS to St. Peters, Cape Breton (70 km)

This morning as we crossed the Canso Causeway we left mainland Canada
behind and started our ride across Cape Breton, and soon, to St.
John's. Very fittingly to commend this landmark we passed the 7000 km
mark around the 63rd km of our ride today.

It's kind of incomprehensible to think we only have two full days of
riding left in our cross Canada journey. Because of the sheer
distance in front of us, until recently we didn't really allow the
idea of an end into our minds. Now that we're so close it's hard to
grasp.

Today we may have set a personal record for pre-lunch kilometers. We
have a shorter day due to sporadic campgrounds in this stretch and
ended up reaching our site in Battery Park at 70 km for a late lunch.
Right now we're enjoying the sun on the porch of the St. Peter's info
centre and making use of their Wi-Fi.

Tomorrow we'll push about 83 km into Sydney and take a rest day while
we wait for the ferry and visit with our last Rehab Centre before St.
John's.

Just as a side note, the Canso Causway was not built for bikes. Thank
you to each and every car on that bridge for being so patient!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Day 89: daily photo

Day 89: Sherbrooke to Monastery, NS (95km)

Before embarking on this trip I often dreamt about Alex and I riding the open road, coasting alongside beautiful vistas to the rhythm of our pedal strokes. We've definitely experienced plenty of that; this trip has been wonderful and amazing. However, lately my dreams have taken on a new tone. The other night I had a vivid dream in which I was sleeping in a bed. When I awoke to find myself in a wet tent with my head on my camp towel/pillow I realized just how ready I am to have a home again.

The above being the case, our last week of riding has been a particularly rewarding homestretch. The seaside rides on the first two days out of Halifax were nothing short of idyllic, it felt like we were riding through a travel brochure for the province. Today we cut north up highway 7, past Antigonish and eastward toward Cape Breton. Our route, if again a little bumpy and hilly, also ran parallel to a river for much of the way and until we reached highway 104 there was little in the way of traffic. We have loved travelling through Nova Scotia this way and can see how a trip around the coast and Cape Breton could and should be exceptional trips to do in themselves. Now we are just two riding days out of Sydney, which we'll have some time to enjoy while we await our ferry departure on Monday night. We will be sailing into Argentia rather than Port Aux Basques primarily because we really need to get back home and back to work! The shorter route through Newfoundland will cut our trip down to about 7200km total and get us home by the end of Labour Day weekend. Suddenly Vancouver to St. John's doesn't seem so far!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Day 88: Daily Photo

Day 88: Spry Bay to Sherbrooke (95 km)

As we roll along highway 7 we never seem to be too far from people. On average every 200 meters there will be some kind of costal residence or business that has been sparsely scattered along the way. However if we were to walk 200m north, with the exception of a few small towns, we would find ourselves in wilderness. This means that we've had gorgeous views of the ocean and colourful Maritime homes, and have seen many coastal communities.

The disadvantage to this kind of back route is that we've had to deal with unrelenting hills. Big ups and downs are now pretty standard to us. In this region we're meeting constant and quick climbs and drops that slow our advance a bit. Also, as some as you may have noticed with our late post for yesterday's ride, cell reception is non-existent down here. So far on our journey we've had some pretty incredible luck and we have to thank Rogers for that. Short of backcountry BC, up until now we've never been skunked on a signal. Even through Northern Ontario, as long as we were within range of people we had reception, which was more than we expected.

Tomorrow is another day of big climbs as we cut through the province to the north shore and advance towards Cape Breton and Sydney.

Day 87: Daily Photo

Day 87: Halifax to Spry Bay (99.61km)

This morning we headed back over the Macdonald Bridge and out of Halifax on highway 107/7. At first it was pretty heavy traffic for a shoulderless road but the cars dwindled as the population grew more sparse. We'll be sticking to the southshore again tomorrow before cutting inland to head north. It's refreshing to ride within range of the ocean scents and often views. We've been laughing because it seems as though every community we pass through has a name that contains either the word 'clam' or 'harbour', sometimes both. The only small downside to riding in this region is it is fairly remote and we're without cell reception so our posts may be late for the next couple of days. Please stay with us.

I suppose the other 'downsides' come on the reverse of the many hills we've been climbing. We lost some time this morning when I ran over a staple that punctured my tire on the way up a hill. By the time I stopped to check it and noticed the flat, Alex was cresting and then out of view as he descended the other side. As the keeper of tubes and tools, Alex is vital to have around at such a time. I started calling his name and ringing my bell maniacally but he couldn't hear me over the wind. By the time Alex came back in sight he was climbing another hill about half a kilometre away and definitely out of earshot. I started to scheme that I could probably change a tube without tire levers (if I had a spare tube on me) before I realized that Alex also had my wheel key and the pump, two other essential tube changing items. Fortunately, I didn't have to wait in despair very long. A woman driving in the opposite direction stopped to see if she could help and was more than happy to turn around to flag down Alex and send him back. We didn't catch her name, and she didn't get ours, but it was a huge relief to have her there and eager to help us out today!

The rest of the ride was fairly smooth and we're finding it comforting to have relatively reasonable distances for this last stretch. At this point, to be honest, we're feeling a little tired so it's a lot easier to mentally gear up for 100km than for 120, 130+ and so on. This means we can have later starts and some time to play with during the day without feeling too rushed. Tonight we made it to camp early, leaving plenty of time for the mosquitoes to feast on us!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Day 86: Daily Photo

Day 86: Rest in Halifax

Shortly after waking up we heard the news about Jack Layton. Vanessa and I used to live in his riding and now reside in his wife Olivia's. He's someone who's really been an inspiration to both Vanessa and I and the news set a solemn mood that made it hard to get ready for a presentation.

Our mood significantly brightened when we saw the lovely signage shown above, welcoming us into the Health in Motion Program. We were greeted by a wonderful rehab class and "Team Valentine" a group of past rehab participants who advocate for Cardiac Rehab and outpatient programs to current patients. I participated in a similar program at the Toronto General Hospital and I salute them for doing what is extremely rewarding, but sometimes very emotionally draining and difficult work.

All around we had a lovely visit. We had a great Q and A with current participants and did a quick interview with Snap. Thanks to the staff, volunteers and participants of the Health in Motion Program for making us feel so welcome.

Maritimers have absolutely blown us away with their warmth. At every rehab centre and city we've visited, people have greeted us with warmth and encouragement that has gone a long way to helping us push our way into the final stretch. Today we were asked about the fact that we travel without vehicle support and it occurred to us that the rehab centres we've visited have almost felt like a country wide safety net. Every centre has gone to great lengths to make us feel welcome and in many cases have found us a warm place to stay. Vanessa and I thank you from the bottom of our hearts. It's hard to imagine doing this trip without the support and encouragement you've all given us.

Along with our visit today we did what we hope will be the last bout of service on our bikes and prepared our gear for our final push to Sydney and then St. John's. Only six full cycling days to go!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Day 85: Daily Photo

Day 85: Truro to Halifax, NS (92.74km)

I think we've now realized why so many people end their trips in Halifax, once you get here it feels like you have arrived. The city is remarkably beautiful and has a friendly and relaxed culture that has us wishing we could stay for much longer than one day.

On our way from Truro to Halifax we took the scenic route along highway 2 instead of the major highway 102. Number 2 took us over more hills and potholes than we would have covered on the freeway but also weaved us through numerous small communities and panoramic views of the countryside. Today's blistering heat was also reason enough to take refuge on the tree-lined backroads rather than risk instant heatstroke on the exposed tarmac of 102. Although a little bumpy at times (see picture of our 'road to Halifax' above), the traffic on highway 2 was light enough to offer a reprieve and the pavement was generally in decent shape (outside of the rough stretches).

About ten kilometres northeast of Dartmouth we switched onto highway 318, which launched us onto a series of hills surrounding a sparkling lake. Around every bend Alex remarked on how beautiful the route was and I had to allow social convention to restrain me from jumping in the water (the whole shore seemed, sadly, to be dominated by private development). Despite that we couldn't access the lakes we were awed by the gorgeous feel of the area.

Next we had to cross the kilometre-long Macdonald bridge from Dartmouth to Halifax. There is a designated bike lane sectioned away from traffic, which makes passage much safer than our usual bridge experience. The ride across offers incredible views of the Harbour and makes for a pretty grand entrance to the city.

Since arriving we've had a celebratory dinner and some time to relax. We can't wait to spend time getting to know the city and visiting with a rehab class tomorrow.


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Day 84: Daily Photo

Day 84: Amherst to Truro, NS (120.20 km)

One unfortunate fact of this trip is that you inevitably must spend a
lot of time on road conditions that are less than ideal. Although we
have had some pleasure of wide curbs and bike trails, more often than
not we have to weave through obstacles like crumbling or an all
together absence of curbs, high traffic, construction or a combination
of any or all of these things.

The photo above shows Vanessa on a curb which probably measures about
a foot in width. normally this is just enough for us to squeak by on
a busy road, but for a portion of today about eight to ten inches of
this safety zone was taken up by rumble strips, narrowing the usable
space to something slightly larger than a tire width. Fortunately for
us, after a few kilometers the curb widened back out, but these are
the kind of things that challenge us on a daily basis.

Crummy curbs aside, today was a pretty interesting ride. We were
diverted from the main highway 104 to avoid a toll road and took
number 4 through rolling hills and Folly Moutain for the majority of
the day.

It's been almost unbelievable to think that we're biking through Nova
Scotia. When we're out of sight of the ocean it's easy to
occasionally slip and imagine that we're on an Ontario back road. It
hasn't quite sunk in that we've now traveled more than 6,500 km and
are now a day's cycle out of Halifax.

Tomorrow our plan is to bike our way into the downtown where we're
looking forward to doing a bit of city-walking and visiting with a
cardiac rehab class in the afternoon of the 22nd. As Vanessa
mentioned yesterday, Halifax is often used as an end point for a
cross-Canada bike trip and being so close is really starting to make
Vanessa and I think about our own end date in St. John's. Its hard to
believe that in eleven days our three month journey will be coming to
a close.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Day 83: Daily Photo

Day 83: Moncton, NB to Amherst, Nova Scotia (70km)

I often tease Alex about his frequent 'landmarks' but today I think we both felt a surge of adrenalin when we crossed into Nova Scotia, our final landlocked province. Throughout our trip we have met a number of other cyclists touring all or part of Canada. Many of them were stopping in Toronto, Montreal, or Quebec City but of those doing the full crossing most were ending their ride in Halifax, some in Sydney. But as Alex says, "you don't quit your job to stop in Halifax." Halifax is a full coast-to-coast trip but we are really excited about a visit to St. John's via leg power. We have two more days until we reach Halifax, a rest day/rehab centre visit, and five more riding days to Sydney where we'll catch the ferry to Newfoundland. Recently we've learned that Marine Atlantic has generously agreed to sponsor our ferry tickets to the Rock. This helps enormously in making the island accessible to us!

Back to today, we started with another great visit with Cardiac rehab staff and program members at the Moncton Hospital. Thank you for your kindness and attention! After our visit, we left Moncton on the hilly 106 highway until we caught up with highway 2. We continued with gentler grades that felt a little bit rougher than necessary on account of strong winds. Thankfully we only had a short distance to cover, which allows for things like headwinds, and long lunches with ice cream.

At the Nova Scotia welcome sign we were impressed by the ornamentation and felt a strong desire to climb the lighthouse (see picture). Unfortunately, this dream was not to be had since the structure actually serves as an office. We saw someone peering out with binoculars, scanning the highway toward New Brunswick. At first we thought this might be a performance piece and joked that 'there are cars on the horizon.' Later, after Alex's tire tube blew as we walked across the grass back to the road, we had the chance to speak with the lighthouse worker and learned t she was recording traffic for tourism statistics.

A little ways down the road we found our way to our first campsite in Nova Scotia. We are again hanging out in the laundry room, this time to avoid ferocious mosquitoes rather than rain. Alex is reading the newspaper as I tend to the 'office' all while people come in and out to ask us where the bathrooms are or how to dispose of garbage. This is the life!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Day 82: Daily Photos

Day 82: Rest in Moncton (5km)

There's nothing better than earning an extra rest day. The push we
made into Moncton last night meant that the only time we had to hop on
our cycles was to ride them to some much needed maintenance.

We replaced our chains and rear cassettes which should hopefully give
us a smoother ride for the remainder of our journey.

One thing that has really been eye-opening on this trip is the
prevalence of french speaking communities throughout the country. The
widespread dominance of French through Northern Ontario and New
Brunswick has really been fascinating. Our time in New Brunswick has
corresponded with Acadia Day, which has been a wonderful showcase of
the deep French roots in Atlantic Canada. The pride and proliferation
with which Acadian flags and decorations are sported puts winter
holidays to shame.

After a visit to a rehab centre in Moncton tomorrow morning, Vanessa
and I will cycle down highway two and into Nova Scotia, entering the
second to last province of our trip. In the last few days we've
finally started talking about our arrival in St John's and the end of
our ride. Up until recently, superstition and the daunting distance
remaining tended to stifle talk of the final days of our trip.
However, as of tomorrow there will be only twelve full days until our
arrival in St John's, which is a bit hard to fathom after two and a
half months on the road.

Tonight we are lucky enough to be enjoying a donated stay at the
Ramada Crystal Palace Hotel in Moncton (Dieppe). As you can see from
the photo above we're quite comfortable and more than happy to be
enjoying another night away from our tent. Since this is a rest day
Vanessa and I will likely cuddle up with a movie or a sitcom and make
the most of our temporary moment of luxury.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Day 81: Daily Photo

Day 81: Miramichi to Moncton, NB (145km)

Over the course of the past eighty-one days, there have been a precious few where ideal weather, smooth road conditions, and gentle terrain intermingle in perfect harmony. Today we had just that. It was sunny and warm (the first day in recent memory where we didn't feel a drop of rain). The hills were long and gradual and the highway had wide, paved shoulders.

We started late out of Miramichi in order to enjoy the comfortable bed as long as possible. By the time we finished breakfast and a quick grocery shop it was already 11am but we were full of revived energy after the surge of support and encouragement we received from the amazing staff and rehab program members in Bathurst and Miramichi. Our first 45km along highway 11 were fast and wonderful, the kind that remind you of why it's fun to do this kind of trip. Just before St. Louis we were re-routed due to an accident on highway 11 that closed a section of the road for the better half of the day. We ended up on secondary highway 134, which is a little bit bumpier and sometimes without a shoulder but its advantage is it runs through communities whereas highway 11 bypasses them.
We enjoyed chatting with local residents as we rode and stopped for food and water breaks. We have been incredibly touched by the kindness and generosity of people we've met along our route and everyone following our story. Whether it's encouraging words, a night indoors, or a free slushy, all of the things and sentiments people have shared are what we'll appreciate most when we reflect back on this trip years down the road.

More immediately, tonight we had intended to camp close to Moncton and skirt our way in tomorrow. We're visiting with a rehab centre in Moncton on Friday morning and are lucky to have another donated hotel stay at the Ramada Crystal Palace lined up for Thursday evening. Our plans for this evening changed as we got ever closer to Moncton with no camping option in sight. We were still feeling fresh so we continued all of the way into the city. Now we have tomorrow to get acquainted with a new city and find some service for the bikes, they need and deserve it!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Day 80: Daily Photos

Day 80: Bathurst to Miramichi (98 km)

Oh my what a day we've had. After a short ride to the Bathurst Regional hospital we had a wonderful visit with a rehab class and the incredibly welcoming staff. Thank you again to Nancy for organizing our visit to Bathurst and thank you to the class for giving us your time and attention.

After arriving at the hospital we noticed a marked up map of Canada and thought for a moment someone had traced our route. In fact the map showed the cumulative distance the participants of the centre had walked. From the looks of the map they're giving us a run for our money on total distance!

After our talk we rushed out the door to start our cycle to Miramichi. Today is the first time on the trip we've attempted to visit two centres in one day and we were a bit apprehensive about making it to our 7:00pm presentation over 90 km away. On top of the distance, we also had to slush through our standard dose of Maritime rain. Although wet, the ride turned out to be fairly enjoyable. We mostly traveled on a well-paved secondary road and finished the day on yet another well kept New Brunswick highway. In the end, we actually managed to arrive two hours before our presentation time at the Miramichi Hospital. After entering the lobby of the hospital we were greeted by a fantastic board with our trip info posted in english and translated to french. Thank you to Chantal for making us accessible in two languages! The harsh weather kept the crowd small, but a few brave souls ventured out in the rain to make us feel at home. Thanks to the staff and participants of the Miramichi rehab for the great visit and making us feel so welcome.

On top of arranging our talk, Chantal also connected us with the Rodd Miramichi River Hotel. They were kind enough to donate a ground floor room (always a plus for the bikes). After a quick dip in the pool, Vanessa and I have settled in on our remarkably comfy bed to watch an episode of Seinfeld while enjoying our view of the river (we could literally walk out our back door and into it).

The last photo above is of the bridge over the Miramichi River. I am so glad that both our hotel and the hospital are on the same side of the river. Beautiful view, but it would take some convincing to get me to bike over a bridge that high and gusty again!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Day 79: Daily Photo

Day 79: Beresford to Bathurst (Rest Day; 16km)

Today we turned what should have been a quick 7.7km to Bathurst into a 16km hilly hunt for a new back tire. We were only marginally successful in tracking one down at a general outdoor supply store since there aren't any bike shops in town. We have less confidence in the cheap, knobby replacement tire than in my patched marathon so I'm going to continue riding with my little piece of plastic until we hit a fail. Part of this is also that we're simply curious to see how long it can hold up, it looks pretty stable.

Tonight we are thoroughly enjoying a rest at the Lakeview Inn and Suites here in Bathurst. They have generously donated our night's stay, which is especially appreciated after a wet week and some loud campgrounds. The service at the Inn has been fantastic and we're about to curl up with an onsite movie in our suite. These rare moments of comfort and normalcy go a long way to restore us and keep us moving.

Tomorrow is a big day. We'll start with a visit to a Cardiac Rehab class at the Bathurst hospital before we take off for Miramichi, where we'll have another event in the evening. Should be lots of fun!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Day 78: Daily Photo

Day 78: Campbellton to Beresford (98 km)

I am a lot of things: bicyclist, picture framer, outdoor enthusiast.
One thing I am not is a fire builder. How forest fires start is
beyond me. The fire shown above took a good hour and the pity of a
neighbor with dry kindling to get started.

Today was a pleasant surprise. We were expecting a long slog over
steep hills and after a last minute route change, we ended up riding
an eight foot paved curb through gentle, although long, climbs and
descents. Vanessa retracts everything she posted about highway 11.
Today's stretch was a dream.

We experienced one exception to our bicycling bliss. Vanessa cut a
hole in her tire big enough to be a mouth. This was a bit alarming as
we were on a sparsely populated section of highway with no bike shop
in range. Fortunately, earlier in the trip, I helped another
bicyclist problem solve his way through a similar gash. In that case
a piece of our map binder topped off with some duck-tape on the inside
of the tire acted as a suitable, temporary barrier between the tire
and the road. With a similar fix, sixty kilometers later, Vanessa's
tire is still going strong.

Tomorrow we have a short ride into Bathurst, New Brunswick for a rest
day followed by a visit to a rehab centre the following morning. This
is our first official stop in this province and we're looking forward
to meeting the staff and participants in Bathurst.

For the moment however, Vanessa and I are going to enjoy some fire
roasted veggie dogs and toasted bananas with a dollop of
chocolate-hazelnut sauce. We may not be master fire builders, but we
know how to make thew best of them once they get going.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Day 77: Daily Photo

Day 77: Val Brillant, QC to Campbellton, NB (114km)

We're now in New Brunswick and on Atlantic time! We're also just one kilometre away from cracking 6000. When I realized this I felt like getting back on the bike to circle the campground but Alex assured me we will hit the marker tomorrow and that our dinner needs were more immediate.

Our last day of riding in Quebec rewarded us with some unbelievable vistas and the first rays of sunshine we've felt all week. It was a beautiful to ride through the Matapedia River Valley with moving water on one side and lush crests on the other. Along with the landscapes, we're really going to miss the bike culture in Quebec. Besides the fabulous cycling infrastructure there is also, as might be expected, a very vibrant velo-culture. Quebeckers are so far the only drivers we've met who regularly stop their cars to give us advice or just to ask about our ride. We've met so many cyclists on the highways, trails, ferry, and campgrounds. Because cycling is so well supported in Quebec, it really is a way of life or primary mode of transportation for many residents.

As yet, we've only cycled about 23km into New Brunswick so we have little experience to assess how the culture and infrastructure compare over here. Entering on highway 11 doesn't set high expectations for the quality of roads (we bumped along on one cracked traffic lane since it was without a shoulder). But the people make up for the shortcomings of the passageways, Alex has already proclaimed that "New Brunswickers are Super Nice!"

We have a lot of Maritime hospitality ahead of us. Within the next week we'll be visiting three different Cardiac Rehab Centres in Bathurst, Miramichi, and Moncton. Pretty Exciting!

Note:
We are delaying our granola update because another thunderstorm has crashed our evening so we're going to get ourselves settled in and worry about tallying another time.

Good Night



Friday, August 12, 2011

Day 76: Daily Photo

Day 76: Rimouski to Val-Brillant (95.08 KM)

The photos above show at least weather wise the progression of our
day. We woke as we have many mornings in Quebec, to fog and a light
shower. At this point, after hitting pretty much uninterrupted days
of rain since Quebec City, everything was pretty much soaked including
our spirits. It takes a huge amount of physical and mental energy to
bike through the rain day after day and it was starting to take a bit
of a toll.

Fortunately our luck finally changed around lunch as we shifted our
course off the St. Lawrence and began heading inland and south to New
Brunswick. It seemed like the further we went inland the more sun we
started to see, finishing with a beautiful, sun bathed campsite by a
lake. Our shorter distance today meant we had some time to dry out
our gear as best we could. I also got to put my sleeping bag through
the dryer which should reduce the extreme "wet dog smell" in the tent,
as Vanessa so aptly describes it.

As well as our return to the sun we also hit some hills today, the
likes of which we haven't seen in a while. We climbed a total of 350m
today; something we haven't done since Northern Ontario.

After having a bit of a break from major hills in the last few weeks
it was fun to marvel that we can push a bike and 80 pounds of gear up
near vertical climbs. Sometimes we hit grades so steep it feels like
sitting up straight would topple your bike backwards down the hill.

Today was our last full day of cycling in Quebec. Tomorrow we hit the
New Brunswick border. Something we keep forgetting to mention is that
some time in the last day or two we hit salt water which means we have
biked from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean. We still have a ways to
go, but the bragging rights that come with that feel pretty good.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Day 75: Daily Photo

Day 75: Riviere du Loup to Rimouski, QC (97km)

We didn't get to see any seals today but we did get an immersion into Maritime weather. Overnight the rain continued to pour but it subsided long enough for us to pack the tent without adding to the already water-logged fabric. For breakfast, the campground manager let us eat in the onsite gym, featuring two pieces of equipment in a 12x12 room with a cement floor. We tucked next to an exercise bike and another relic device from the 1970s to pull out our breakfast fare. Today's breakfast was supplemented with some delicious donations of fresh fruit, bread, cheese, and drinks from Tanishka, whom we met in the laundry room last night. She is working for a company that runs supported bicycle and adventure tours so she has a keen knowledge of how to make hungry cyclists happy (Thanks Tanishka!).

We were also lucky enough to have clear-ish skies when we were forced to ride through 8km of muddy construction on the way out of Riviere du Loup. The road was actually closed for said construction, so it was our own fault for assuming that 'local traffic only' would mean the route was okay for bikes. None of the workers tried to stop us but for about a kilometre there was a 10-foot deep trench instead of a road so we had had to trudge over the lawns of the poor individuals whose homes face that section of highway 132. If there are any cyclists on the road behind us we would suggest finding an alternate route out of town.

Our reprieve from the rain seemed to last just long enough to lull us into a false sense of comfortable riding. By lunch the downpour was torrential and it remained steady all day. Our campsite again has a gazebo, which we were grateful to have for cooking. Finally, the rain seems to be on pause for the moment so we're hoping we can downgrade the tent water level from soaked to damp.
The scenery today was breathtaking with rugged coastal views cutting into farmland. Unfortunately, on days like this we miss out on photo ops for fear of allowing water into the panniers and electronics. Alex's strategy to adapt to these conditions has given start to a photo series from underneath gas station awnings, quite beholding!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Day 74: Daily Photo

Day 74: L'Islet to Riviere Du Loup (109.9 km)

Last night we were warned that today was going to be rainy and wet and the weather most certainly lived up to the hype. Rain started coming down at about 5am and has pretty much continued uninterrupted until the time of this post.

Once we forced ourselves out of our cozy sleeping bags, we waterproofed ourselves as best we could and had cold breakfast huddled under a park bandstand.

No matter what preparations you take, after a few hours of cycling, rain gear or not, you get pretty much soaked to the bone. Fortunately, the weather was relatively warm so besides being generally uncomfortable we weren't shaking from the damp.

One fun thing about rainy days is that about the only living thing you'll see on the side of the highway is other bicycle tourers. Seeing your cold wet self mirrored by another cyclist makes you laugh a bit at the ridiculousness of biking 110 km in pouring rain.

Weather aside, as you can see from the photo above the landscape today was absolutely beautiful. We rolled through picturesque villages, farmland and breathtaking views of both the St Lawrence and the Appalachian mountains. Besides a few rough sections of construction it was pretty much picture perfect.

Not every campsite we settle into is a wilderness paradise. This evening we're camped across from a large castle apparently owned by Jolly Old St. Nick. Nothing is more surreal than biking out of a summer storm and into rousing rounds of Jingle Bells being projected from an eleven foot statue of Pere Noel. This aside, the site has really fit the bill. We found a gazebo to cook under and are currently running every article of clothing we have through the dryer. (I really wish I took a photo of the castle, I'll try and include it in tomorrow's post.)

From what we hear, as of tomorrow we will potentially start to see seals in the St. Lawrence. Salt water here we come!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Day 73: Daily Photo

Day 73: Quebec City to L'Islet (84km)

Our last taste of Quebec City entailed ripping down the tight streets of the historic quarter to reach the ferry to Levis on the south side of the river (it is quite amazing to see the way delivery and postal truck drivers handle the inhospitable topography and narrow passageways). The ferry itself seems to be used primarily by cyclists; it does accept cars but while we were onboard there were only two vehicles and at least fifty bikes. This being the case, it was a great opportunity to talk to people about cycling and our trip. Given our rudimentary French language skills these weren't our most articulate conversations but it was nice to share some camaraderie.

When we emerged back on land we were smacked by a brutish wind that continued to fight against us for the rest of the day. We made slow progress, occasionally stopping to complain about the headwind or marvel at the view of the north shore across the river.

Quebec is a 'must bike' province, and it shows, everyone is on a bike here. The towns and people are wonderful and would be worth visiting even if not for the gorgeous landscapes and velo-supportive roadways.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Day 72: Daily Photo

Day 72: Quebec City (0km)

Today was exactly what Vanessa and I needed: a restful day with lots of food and a chance to try and kick the rust off our french. Vanessa definitely has a much higher mastery of the Parisian tongue than I, but both of us have struggled more than we would like to admit in the past few days.

Something clicks in our bodies on rest days that pushes us to eat anything we can get our hands on. We had our first breakfast at the Inn quickly followed by two more in the old city. We supplemented that at lunch with poutine and veggie burgers, and topped it all off with a jumbo pizza in the room for dinner. This doesn't count the bananas, granola and cookies we fit in-between.

It's always fun to explore a new city especially one with as rich a history as Quebec. Tomorrow it will be tough to roll out of our comfy bed and back onto the road to St John's, but we definitely have some fun coming along the way.

- Ride For Rehab
www.avclubbiking.ca

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Day 71: Daily Photo

Day 71: Cap Sante to Quebec City (53.20)

Well, after a week of cycling through unbearably hot weather, today we were hit with all of the water we could handle. In the grand tradition of 'easy days' being transformed by the weather, we awoke to a thunderstorm and powerful winds. By the time we finished breakfast (indoors) and hit the road, the lightening had stopped but the rain was reaming down. We sloshed along slowly, relieved at least that the temperature was finally below 30 degrees.

After lunch, crouched under a bargain store awning while occupying their display chairs, the rain lessened and we sped the rest of the way into Quebec City. We're staying at an Inn about 5km west of the old downtown and find it nice to get to know other neighborhoods beyond the major sites.

We've already had a good walk in search for food, which successfully culminated in an Indian feast and panniers full of treats to bring back to the room. Alex has never been to Quebec so tomorrow we will visit the historic centre and other regions. It's been a while since we've had a totally free rest day so we're looking forward to meandering our way through the city.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Day 70: Daily Photo

Day 70: Louiseville to Cap-Sante (112.84 km)

Since reaching the St Lawrence we've been seeing large ocean going
freighters like the one above with some frequency. It's encouraging
to think that at some point recently they were all in salt water.
It's starting to make reaching the Atlantic a much more tangible
concept.

Today was very similar to our last few days in Quebec: Beautiful
roads and towns, but intense heat that makes them difficult to enjoy.
Vanessa and I have really been struggling in the extreme humidity of
the last few weeks. It can turn what should be an easy and highly
enjoyable ride into a real challenge.

We've both been taking extra care to drink as much as possible and
snack throughout the day to keep our energy high and make sure our
muscles don't seize from dehydration; this is made significantly more
difficult by the tendency of our water to become hot and much less
refreshing after mere moments on the bike.

Tomorrow we have a bit of a treat. Vanessa and I will roll into
Quebec City for a rest day. Vanessa has been teasing me on this trip
for my obsession with historical sites and has said that Quebec City
will give me my "history fix" for the next while. Tomorrow's a
shorter ride so hopefully we'll get into town early and treat
ourselves to dinner on the town, probably something other than
spaghetti!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Day 69: Daily Photo

Day 69: Montreal to Louiseville, QC (108km)

We were slow to leave Montreal this morning, partially because it's hard to get out of a cozy room but also because we hit every stoplight on our way out along Sherbrooke. Of course, we still found time to have a diner breakfast, er actually, I should probably say breakfasts since our tendency is to eat one round and immediately order another. In any case, it was 11am by the time we got moving in stop and go fashion.

Once we got beyond the traffic lights highway 138 was a dream to ride. The pavement was smooth and we had the rare privilege (for us) of flat terrain without a headwind. Our glycogen stores must have been recharged after our rest day because we flew through the afternoon, averaging about 5-8 kph faster than usual. Not that the surroundings were worth missing. We rode parallel to the St. Lawrence for the majority of the day and were completely charmed by the towns and people of Quebec. Our faster pace meant we could spend more time chatting and longing to live in the beautiful and friendly communities we met along the way.