Friday, July 30, 2010

Big City Livin'

Toby and I cruised down County Road 10 into Toronto, leaving the bushes, wilderness, and our tents behind us for a week of city living. It felt amazing to finally be dressed in clean clothes and find my person free of the bloody corpses of dozens of mosquitoes. Ahhh, the simple pleasure of a hot shower and washing machine :) We spent over a week bumming around, chilling out over beers and pistachio nuts with the Sheldon family round the picnic table in Toby's sister Tess's backyard. A bunch of Toby's siblings all live within the same four block area near Little Italy, so there was always something going on. The Sheldons are a pretty rad family of interesting, hilarious, and highly educated individuals. Plus, they like bikes :) So I was happy to get to know them and learn all about the "double rainbow" meme.

On the weekend that we arrived, Toby and his family had a wedding to attend and so I was left with the keys to his brother Jay's 17th floor bachelor pad for the night. Spending 24 hours alone, without the company of familiar faces, was a pretty strange experience for me. It did strike me as kind of funny that I set out on this adventure alone, but haven't had more than 15 minutes to myself since Canada Day. So I cooked us instant noodles, watched sitcoms, and tried to maintain a normal body temperature by standing naked directly in front of the fan. I was sure that the heat and humitidy of Toronto would be the end of me!

Wandering around the shops and stores of Kensington Market, between the high rises of downtown, and amongst the shady trees of High Park were some of my highlights of exploring T dot. I was stoked to see so many folks ride around on bikes; girls in skirts and heels on the way to the office and men with briefcases pedaling around on old junkers. After traveling around the city for a few days I could definitely see why the bike is a preferred transportation method for many. You can park anywhere (for free), you don't have to wait in traffic, and you can scoot through parks and narrow alleyways, no problemo. Admittedly, I nearly peed my pants the first time I rode out on my bike; riding in the city is a whole other world compared to the open road. Competing with the street cars, avoiding motor vehicles, and dodging pedestrians proved to be test of my safe biking skills. But you get used to it. And better at it.

Hmmm...what else? I was totally digging all the wild graffiti and street art. We hit up the art gallery on free night and it was all pretty awesome. While slurping up the last pearls of my bubble tea in Chinatown, I was struck with a pang of homesickness (but that passed pretty quickly). While listening to Jay and Toby discuss the possible consequences of a Godzilla attack on the city I was struck with a fit of giggles. During most of my stay here I was sweatier than when I was riding my bike. Stupid humidity. I blew $250 to have my drive train totally overhauled; the teeth on my front chain ring were starting to look more like they belonged in the mouth of a man eating shark than on a wheeled transportation device. I guess that's about all.

Oh, Toby's friend Dave from Edmonton joined us, so now there's going to be three of us making our way towards Ottawa. Onward, to the nation's capital!

Manitoulin Island and Georgian Bay

What I can say for certain is this: there are good people everywhere, you just have to open your eyes and your heart. I guess being a cycling bum is an ideal way to meet all these beautiful people, since wandering around with a touring bike and waving a BC flag gives people a pretty good reason to strike up a convo. Riding across the country with no planned route or guidebook also gives an excuse to talk to folks along the way. The most commonly asked questions revolve around sustenance and survival: "Can I fill up my water bottles here?" "Does this road have a decent shoulder?", "Can I use your washroom?", "Where can I find some good eats?". These questions lead to more questions, breaking down the barriers between us and opening doors and windows into a world of unknown possibilities and conversations. I love it :)
So Kevin, Toby and I pedaled from our camp spot out in front of the Webbly Motel in Webbwood through Espanola and down Manitoulin Island. Cruising along Lake Huron, seeing all the little bays and farms and paint peeling from the wooden farm houses made for a nice days ride. Kevin pulled over off the highway to pick wild raspberries from the crevices of the rock cuts, where the juicy red berries were dangling temptingly in front of us. We ate banana sundaes, took a series of photographs in front of a tee pee, and Kevin flew a spider man kite which he purchased at Giant Tiger off the back of his bike.

That night we stayed with a woman named Rachel who we bumped into at the swing bridge around Little Current. Rachel, her husband Todd, and their two boys welcomed us into their home for the night, made us dinner, invited us to sleep in the rec room, and encouraged us to leap off their dock which rolled out into the cool waters of Manitowaning Bay. It was a pretty cool experience to once again receive such awesome hospitality from complete strangers :) As well, Rachel and Todd live on Wikwemikong Unceded Reserve, home to Eastern Canada's largest powow (which was coming up in just a few weeks). After taking a dip in the lake, the three of us piling into their pick-up truck with Todd and rolled into town for a grand tour of the reserve.
"Have you guys ever heard Pow Wow music before?" said Todd, as we drove towards the setting sun. We shook our heads.
"Ok, well I've got some here for you then" he said as he changed tunes on his car stereo. "This is Cree...and you've got to listen to it loud".
So he cranked up the volume and the three of us cyclists sat smiling silently as the powerful drumbeats and whooping shouts rumbled through the speakers and into our eardrums. Todd tapped out a beat on the steering wheel as I let myself be carried away by the music, imaging that I could see the dancers moving to the music.

On our way back to Rachel and Todd's place we stopped in at the local convenience store for some delicious flat bread, "We call it crackbread" said Rachel, "because once you open it, you just can't put it down!". And it proved to be true; we didn't make it halfway back to their place before we cracked it open and began to devour the delicious crackery, bready, craisony goodness.
The next morning we took the ferry to Tobermory and pedaled down the shoulder less road along the Bruce Peninsula. and back to the mainland around Georgian Bay. More swimming and ice cream followed today, as well as wicked PB, nutella, and banana tacos. We spent a night with some friends of friends of a relative of Kevin's (or something like that) in the gorgeous Owen Sound. Our hosts Andrea and Matt were awesome! They have three kids under five, so we all had a good time playing with train set and reading books and goofing around in the backyard. Matt and Andrea fired up the BBQ, plied us with beer, put together some salads, and thus we ate and chatted late into the night. We left their home the next morning with our hearts warmed and bellies full :)
Kevin split off from Toby and I, heading down the 6 through Guelph and towards Lake Earie. Toby and I rolled on to Toronto, and spent the last week staying with various members of his family and bombing around the city on our bikes. More details on this later.


Saturday, July 24, 2010

Go to it, right now. Spend a few minutes checking out the site, then come back here and read this. You ready now? OK.

So, if you checked out the site you'll know that in a nutshell couchsurfing is a "worldwide network for making connections between travellers and the local communities they visit". When I first learned of the couchsurfing project from a friend, I couldn't believe that such a thing existed; this was something way more awesome and powerful than anything I could have ever fathomed in the deepest reaches of my imagination! I signed up immediately (it's free, although you can donate money to the couchsurfing project if you choose to do so) and have had dozens of interesting stories and positive couchsurfing experiences since. After spending time on the road I love wandering into someones home, the smell of the last meal cooked still lingering in the air. Flipping through books and magazines left lying around, admiring the art on their walls, scratching their cat behind the ears, and just soaking in the ambiance of a house that is lived in.

I've couchsurfed from Whitehorse to Mulege, sleeping on sofas, floors, beds, and futons along the way. I've stayed in bachelor pads, apartments, condos, houses, and multi-million dollar mansions. I've always been welcomed in to the host's home with open arms, often given the keys to their house, and usually been told to help myself to the contents of the fridge. I can't count how many amazing meals I've cooked with couchsurfing hosts, how many late night conversations I've had, or how many times I've said to myself "gee, I'm sure glad that so-and-so told us to check this out". I met my roommates in Terrace via couchsurfing, and had one of the best summers of my life living with them. I've hosted couchsurfers stay at my place in Surrey, each one bringing new foods, ideas, or points of view into my life.

Couchsurfing isn't for everyone though. I think it's for people who actually want to experience the local culture, not just view it from a third floor balcony overlooking the resort section of town. It's for people who are flexible, sociable, and interested in interacting with other people. I can assure you, however, that the day I decide couchsurfing isn't for me will be the day I die.

Let me tell you about my last couchsurfing experience in Thunder Bay to give you an idea of that I'm talking about.

Toby and I arrived in Thunder Bay in the early evening after spending a better portion of the day hanging out at the outstanding Kakabeka Falls with Sebastion, another TransCanada cyclist. I called up Ayla, whom I had contacted a few days earlier about staying at her place while I was in the city, but got her answering machine, "Hi you've reached Ayla's home. If this is Meaghan, the keys are under the flowerpot-make yourself at home! Otherwise, leave a message!". Address in hand, we moseyed on over to her place in the late evening, got lost, asked for directions, got sidetracked when the folks we asked directions from insisted they buy us a couple of beers, eventually arriving at her place half past eleven.

Ayla and her boyfriend Ian greeted us with smiling faces and friendly questions about bike touring. We both had a comfortable night's sleep; Toby up in the attic and me on mattress in the guest room. Ayla and her boyfriend are both college students who love the outdoors, both trying to live a sustainable lifestyle with a focus on eating local whole foods and living in a good way. They not only provided us with beds to sleep on, food to eat, and our first showers of the week, but also gave us an insiders perspective on living in Thunder Bay. We shared stories, cooked together, listened to music, and talked about everything from renewable energy to back country camping to the multiple uses of socks (Ayla and I both use them to store our cameras, while Toby has created a handy ipod armband with one of his).

When we awoke the next day, the four of us took off on our bikes to the Saturday Farmer's Market, where we devoured cinnamon buns, bought some homemade jam, and picked up veggies for dinner. Toby and I spent the rest of the day exploring town and hanging out by the lake, arriving back at Ayla's place to the smell of fresh baked bread. Not being able to resist ourselves, we broke off pieces of her delectable bread while she and Ian cooked up pizza (crust from scratch, pesto from basil in the garden) and tossed together a mammoth salad. We dined late at night, up on the roof with plates on our laps and wine glasses by our sides listening to the sounds of a blues concert in the background. Dinner was followed with homemade banana bread and star gazing, the four of us falling easily into conversation as the hours of the night slipped by.

The next morning we broke fast at Thunder Bay Cafe-probably one of the most interesting and unique dining establishments in all of Canada. The place is a one woman show run by Denise, a fast talking woman who warned us that the food wouldn't be coming quickly and we better be prepared to wait. We told her that we were cycling across the country, so waiting a couple of hours for breaky wasn't going to be a problem for us. The diner was full of vintage posters and memorabilia and every seat was taken. A lively woman named Lilly took our order on a scrap piece of paper place mat; she wasn't a waitress, merely a visitor from Sault Ste. Marie waiting for her food to arrive. Her daughter and her were waiting on tables, running food back and forth from the kitchen and chatting with the rest of the customers. We were told that if we wanted more coffee, we should help ourselves, "any offer some to the rest of the folks too". The entire cafe was chatting with each other as we waited for the single cook in the back to make up dozens of orders of pancakes, omelettes, and waffles. Teenagers used crayons to decorate their place-mats while they waited, and Denise threatened to boot anyone out if they so much as thought about complaining. On top of scolding you, she also slammed you with a monetary fine if you failed to devour entirely what was ordered. The whole experience was a little like eating at your grandmothers place-we even got hugs when we left! "Stay safe you guys," Denise said as we paid our bill at the ancient looking cash register, "and be sure to drop by next time you're in town!"

So that was couchsurfing in Thunder Bay. Ayla sent us packing with the rest of her glorious bread and a list of people we could stay with in a few other Ontarian towns along our route. Toby and I did some colouring and posted it on her fridge as a thank-you for having us; I hope to see her and Ian at my place on the West Coast somewhere down the line. Couchsurfers around the world now number over 2 million, which totally blows my mind. The infinite possibilities for travel await...

Tour de Ontario

So usually I'm the kind of cyclist who likes to take things easy, you know, enjoy the sights and sounds of being on the road. I relax in the comfort of knowing that I don't have to make it anywhere on any one's time by my own, indulging in long coffee breaks at greasy diners and afternoon naps on picnic tables. But sometimes, I've gotta kick it up a notch and find out what I'm made of. Sugar and spice and everything nice? I think not. Muscle and bone and a heart of stone? Not quite right either. I guess I'd like to think that after nearly two months on the road, I've developed some sort of superhuman strength, which enables me to cycle for extended periods of time without exhausting myself entirely, still possessing sufficient strength to have a night time conversation or two and cook up a scrumptious meal.

So my endurance was put to the test the other day as we left Sault Ste. Marie. Toby and I and Kevin had all joined up three musketeers style for the ride into Toronto, leaving the Soo with a gusting tailwind at our backs and sunshine on our faces. The terrain was reasonable, the sights were scenic but not breathtaking, and our energy levels were high after taking a day off to rest and recuperate. We pedaled through Bruce Mines, Iron Bridge, Blind River and Spanish, stopping to mow down on avocado wraps at a marina and wade out into the waters of Lake Huron. Our average speed was running at 25-27km/hr, so we just kept riding the sweet sweet tailwind and pedaling forth down the road. Kevin was the carrot dangling in front of Toby and I, leading the way with his superhuman strength and unrelenting drive to break his own record of 213km in a single day.

At Massey we reached 210km and made a pit stop to top up our water bottles. We crossed paths briefly with a couple of kids from Montreal (well, they were probably 18 or 19) who were hitchhiking to the West Coast. One was a lanky fellow with blond hair and an over sized tie dyed shirt. The other boy had the most gorgeous blue eyes framed with thick eyelashes and wore a plaid shirt, a red bandanna wrapped around his curly brown hair. "What are you gonna do when you make it to Vancouver?" we asked them. "I dunno, hike some big mountains I guess" the curly haired one answered. I looked down and saw he was wearing hiking boots. They wanted to make it to the Soo by nightfall (it was already 7:30pm and they were still over 200km away), but if they didn't make it was no problemo, they would just "camp in the bush or something like that".

I smiled as I watched these two bright eyed young fellas wave to us as they walked off to the other side of the highway after filling their water bottles up at the tattoo parlor. I thought of summer and all the traveling nomads and hobos, the thousands of pedaling velotramps, train hopping vagabonds, hitchhiking treeplanters and roadtripping fruitpickers making their way around the countryside. I thought about all the folks sleeping in the bushes and cooking up cans of beans over the fire and sharing conversations about everything under the sun, and I felt my heart warm to know that others in the world share the same simple pleasure found in discovering a beautiful place to sleep for the night, a simple meal, and companionship on the road.

So the boys did a little dance, waving a cardboard flap reading Sault Ste Marie in black sharpie marker as the cars and trucks and RVs passed by and the sky darkened with rainclouds at the end of the day. Within 5 minutes, they were picked up. We watched as they tossed their belongings into the back of the pickup and hopped in the backseat, then we kicked it down the road to Webbwood, clocking in at a remarkable 225km. We stopped at the Webbly (the local motel and only business still open at 9:15pm) and asked permission to throw up our tents on their front lawn. Permission granted and water bottles refilled, we set about making up a high calorie dinner before crashing out for the night.

And that was the farthest I've cycled in a single day. Now I know that it's not fair to compare, but the fellas competing in the Tour de France usually do less than 200km a day, and I would like to point out that they don't have to do it in fully loaded touring bikes. But I guess they do climb up and down insane slopes and ride at killer speeds. Nonetheless, I'm pretty stoked about my new record, and wouldn't have been able to achieve such a feat without the support and encouragement of my cycling buddies :)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Vive la Velorution!

Yesterday evening as the sun began to fall lower in the sky, Toby and I pedaled over Blueberry Hill into Sault Ste Marie. Word from passing cyclists had spread to our ears of the glories and wonders of the Soo, so I eagerly anticipated our arrival. Pleased to say that I was definitely not let down :) We arrived just as some sort of music festival kicked off downtown; Queens Street was closed off to traffic, live music and beer gardens spilling out onto the streets. We ran into another cyclist, Nick from Quebec, who we had been leapfrogging for the past couple weeks, who directed us to Velorution Bike Shop where we could pitch our tents for free and take a shower. So we kicked it back up the hill to Velorution, where we found a grove of trees with an assortment of tents and bikes hidden amongst them, as well as a picnic table with a couple of other cyclists cooking ups some grub on their whisperlight, a wildly beautiful bathroom/shower, and a BMX course. Within a few minutes, we ran into a few familiar faces, cyclists who we had been running into over and over again over the last two weeks. Ate, showered, tents up, we headed back downtown to meet up with Nick and listen to some music. Imagine taking your first shower in 7 days after spending five-seven hours on the bike everyday and you might understand how glorious I was feeling when I rolled back into town.

It was easy to find Nick, he told us to look for "the drunk french man at the bar", but no, he wasn't that drunk, just merry. We chilled out on the patio, enjoying cold beer and catching up on the last few day while absorbing the festive atmosphere of the place. Once the street music stopped, we headed inside the bar and Toby took advantage of the fruit platter (what was fruit platter doing at a bar anyways?) to load up his handlebar bag with bananas and nectarines. True cycling hobo at his finest.

We started pedaling back to the bike shop around 1:30am. Toby decided this was a good time to practice his French, and proceeded to spout out all the phrases he knew as we climbed the mammoth hill back to our tents. "If there's one thing that I know, it's that 'hot dog' in French is 'l'hot dog'. Je voudrais une lot dog, silver plate!" Nick groaned, tried to correct him, Toby insisted he was right, I questioned why Toby would want a 'lot dog' if he was a vegetarian, Nick asked what a vegetarian was, I laughed hysterically as Toby shouted out "Tabernak!" and Nick cringed and warned him not to say that once he got to Quebec, I laughed harder as their discussion on French pronunciation continued and Toby went on to further brutalize the French language with his enthusiastic attempts to learn the local lingo. This was followed by our (attempt) to subtly find our tents in the dark without wandering into trees, other tents, or BMX ramps. My first night out in a city in a long while, this was definitely one to be remembered.

This morning Kevin (who I cycled with in Saskatchewan for a few days) arrived at the bike shop after riding the southern route through Michigan. The three of us plan on formingg a biking triad and cycling through the Manitoulin Islands and into Toronto together. We ate a late breakfast at a diner in town, filling the time between coffee refills by talking about our journeys. I ate three pieces of french toast, three pieces of sausage, and drank like, five cups of coffee. We left the diner (pockets full of peanut butter and jam packets), and it was pouring rain. We plowed through it, smiling as our tires made massive splashes in the puddles, glad that the water was warm as it soaked through out t-shirts :)

So now 5 or 6 of us are hanging out at the shop, hiding from the rain and eating apple fritters that Toby picked up (bag of 20 for 6 bucks) from the bakery. Hopefully the rain will cease so we can have a big ol' bonfire and make up some s'more tonight, before hitting the road again tomorrow morning.

God Bless Lake Superior

My oh my, I don't think words can express my experience these last few days along Lake Superior. I've been riding along the northern length of the lake with Toby, our days long and stretched out from sun rise to sun set. Rising early, we munch on cold oats mushed up with banana and trail mix before packing up our temporary camp and heading out onto the road. On the road, our conversations are sometimes silly, sometimes serious, often peppered with Arnie quotes and "that's what she said" responses followed by belly aching laughter. The other day we successfully pulled off the great ipod switcheroo, creating playlists and trading music for the day. Amazing views, harder climbs, and views of sweeping sandy beach and blue, blue ocean...I mean, lake. It's just so big that it feels like the ocean, especially with the raging wind and the crashing waves. No salty sea smell though, or seaweed.

On the road, you hear bits and pieces of whats to come from other bikers and drivers. "Stock up on food and water in Wawa, because after that, there's NOTHING 'til you reach the Soo" "Free camping on the beach at mile post 1148" "You know about Montreal Hill, right? And Blueberry Hill? Real killers..." "Bike shop in Sault Ste. Marie where you can stay for free; they have showers and everything!" Stuff like that is all valuable info when traveling without a guidebook, using only a crummy free map of Ontario that I found at the Ontario visitors center.

The stretch from Wawa to Sault Ste Marie (lovingly know as "the Soo" by all who live there) was pretty devoid of settlement, but incredibly beautiful. Much of the lakeside is Provincial Park, dotted with outstanding sandy beaches and lush forests. We were slapped in the face by a ripping headwind on our way out of Wawa (where we camped on a snowmobile track that veered off the highway, guessing that no one would be using it this season), which didn't do too much for our spirits. As soon as we made it through the forest though, and had our first sweeping views of the great lake, all the pain and frustration of riding against the wind was forgotten. Soaring down a gigantic hill a stupendous view of Old Woman Bay came into view. Blown away, I tucked down and let out a gleeful whoop whoop!

One of my fav things about bike touring is the freedom to do whatever I like. And one of my greatest pleasures in the entire world is swimming in a lake, stream, or sea. The second we hit the bottom of the hill at Old Woman Bay we tore off out sweaty cycling clothes, pulled on our swimsuits, and ran screaming through the fine grained sand and into the crashing waves of the tropical blue water. Wow. I love being an adult and feeling like a kid. The waves tossed and tumbled our tanned limbs and pale bellies as we frolicked about in the surf. So loud, I could hardly hear myself thinks as the power of nature threw me about in the water. We lazed about on a picnic table, sunning ourselves and munching on PB and banana tortillas as we talked about our spirit animals. I thought that mine would be a seal, Toby figured his was a frog.

That night we made it just past Montreal River before we started searching for a place to camp for the night. Toby unexpectedly pulled off the hwy along a spooky looking dirt road with thick bush lining both sides. I followed, not knowing what we were in for. Thump thump thump, my saddlebags and water bottles shock as my bike absorbed the dips in the poorly used path. After 2-3 km of winding downhill, we began to hear the crashing waves of the lake again, and found ourselves on the precipice of a cliff overlooking the lake. There were a few old cottages overlooking the water, but no one was around (and judging by the dandelions and foot high grass, this place hadn't been visited in a while), so we set up camp on a mossy ledge. A breathtaking view of the red-pink sunset and breaking waves beneath us, 130km of pavement between us and the snowmobile path we camped on the night before, and a belly full of home made shepherds pie. Asking for more in life would just be greedy.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Ontario: Yours to Discover

Last week as I passed into the province of Ontario I re-entered a world of trees, lakes, and hills. I also found myself with a new cycle companion: Toby, a bright eyed and optimistic aspiring physics teacher from Edmonton. The past week has, in a nutshell, been a quest to find the best (free) campspots in Norther Ontario, eat the most delicious food that we can cook or buy, and cycle over 100km a day. Life has been good :) Northern Ontario is pretty wild; there's really not much between towns (which are spaced a good 60-80 km apart) except small lakes, rivers, and the occasional waterfall. I totally dig it. My one major gripe in the world revolves around the constant heckling from the thousands of flying critters which share the same atmosphere as I. Sometimes I feel like I'm in a blood donor clinic. Stupid mosquitoes. Also, the shoulder pretty much disappears for much of the Trans Canada Hwy, forcing me to give the award for Canada's least cycle friendly roads to Ontario.

So I'll give a quick rundown on the places we've slept over the past week. Toby sleeps in a hammock, me in my hubba tent, so our tenting spots must fit certain requirements to ensure we both sleep soundly (namely the presence of trees and the presence of dry flat ground).

Our first awesome spot was on Jackfish Lake, near Borup's Corners (which basically consists of a bulldozed hotel, a bright yellow snack shack, and a smattering of homes alongside the highway). We ducked off the highway, wandered down a little path behind some large boulders, and found ourselves on grassy little jetty pointing in to the lake. While we cooked dinner down by the water on some rocks, we listened to the call of the loons and watched truck traffic pass by, oblivious to our presence. I started the next morning with a quick dip in the lake.

Next spot: English River, in the backyard of some folks who ventured up from Florida for the summer. We were pretty much done for the day after clocking 130km, and wanted to get off the road before sunset. "Hey, take a look at the nicely manicured lawn. I wonder if we could camp there?" So we moseyed on over, riding around the NO TRESPASSING sign and knocking on the door of the small cabin on the property. I heard voices, and a short tanned man wearing a t-shirt with three wolves on it answered the door.
"Hi there, how's it going? Umm, so we were wondering if we could pitch a couple of tents, well, a tent and a hammock, on your property for the night."

The man's name turned out to be Larry. He not only permitted us to camp on his property ("go ahead and pitch your tent out yonder by that seagull") but brought us some of his wife's home cooked Italian sausage and zucchini pasta for dinner. We dined on the rickety dock down on the water, watching in awe as the sky changed colour over our heads and reveling in the delight of having a belly full of warm food. Fireflies flickered past our seated figures as we watched, completely mesmerized.

The next night we found ourselves cycling in the company of five other cyclists. We ended up setting up a hobo camp down under the power lines in an abandoned and overgrown gravel quarry in Shabaqua Corners. A roaring fire, seven bikes, six tents (one hammock), a couple bottles of wine and some Moosehead lager made our vagabond cycling camp a pretty happening place. Not to mention the beautiful sight of the milky way floating above our heads.

The next couple nights we couchsurfed with an awesome girl named Ayla in Thunderbay, then we found ourselves camped in a construction lot on the way to Ouimet Canyon. The sunset over the tiny reed filled lake was out of this world, but the 6:00am wake up from the workers arriving at the site was abrupt and unsettling. The canyon was definitely worth the detour though; totally rad! Apparently the snow doesn't melt in the bottom of the canyon until the end of summer and so all these bizarre arctic species grow down there. Coolio.

Then, we found ourselves cycling into darkness and failing to find anything larger than a 6 by 6 patch of grass and a picnic table on the side of the road. Out of curiosity, we pedaled up an old paved road with was blocked off from the hwy with a pile of rubble. The forces of nature had taken back the road, which lead to a bizarre undeveloped cul-de-sac with a view of the lake at the top. So we camped there, listening to the sound of howling canines through the night.

Ahhhh, running out of internet time. The rest will have to come later. Last night Toby and I were too lazy to set up our sleeping quarters so we crashed on a bed of moss, under a roof of stars on the shores on Lake Superior. This pretty much topped any camp spot I've ever been to, ever.

Say what?

So here's a few of my fav quotes from on the road. When I'm slugging it up a killer hill, I just think back to these moments and have myself a good chuckle.

Yeah, you can drink the tap water here, but it's kind of...hmmmm, a laxative.
-fellow at a gas station in Saskatchewan. Information that would have been much more useful before hand...

You know it's gonna be a good day when you wake up to a clean pair of undies...followed with a fresh cup of coffee
-Alisha, while cycling the Pacific Coast

Dude fueling up at a gas station in Upsala, Ontario: So do you have to be completely insane to ride your bike across the country?
Toby: Hmmm, actually, I think biking actually makes you crazier

I'll say it again, for like, the 17th time: I can't believe your Dad didn't blow you up when you were a kid!
-Cyclist Tim, in response to one of Dad's tale of how he attempted to build a zip line between two trees in the back yard

Where the heck are we? I mean, really. Where on earth are we?
-Toby, after finding ourselves (yet again) in a bizarre but wildly beautiful bush camp spot in Northern Ontario.

I've come to realize that the price you pay to pitch your tent has absolutely NOTHING to do with the quality of camping.

-Dave, another Trans Canada cyclist

Geeky guy in Dryden: So, do you know who's playing in the world cup game today?
Me: Ummm, what sport is that again?

Chilling out around the fire at our hobo camp with 5 other cyclists, Toby and I contemplated life as we ate a delightfully satisfying dinner.
Toby: Ahhhh, so this is life
Me: Correction, this is THE life, my friend

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Zach's Burger Bus

So after spending a wicked few days celebrating Canada Day, reuniting with the TransCanada cyclists, and listening to music in Winnipeg, I continued my journey eastward towards Falcon Lake. I planned to get an early start on things, since the ride was about 145km and it was supposed to be scorching hot, but my 7:00am alarm coincided with a violent clap of thunder and thus I retired to sleep for another hour or so. By 10:00am the storm had passed, leaving nothing but a few puddles on the road and blues skies in its wake. So I ventured out of Osborne village, saying farewell to 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. Later, someone told me that bad weather comes 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-like 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 for a bit and get out of the blazing sun. When I went to go on my way, I noticed that the sun had disappeared and storm clouds were moving in fast. Blue sky was quickly being replaced with white clouds which were being hidden by dark and ominous grey clouds, meaning that 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.

So 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 this opportunity, 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. We talked easily about human nature, people who were close to us, and I told them about my bike adventure so far. I learned that the business was named after their grandson, who's 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 find out that I was forbidden to ride on the wet road alongside the 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 lie in bed, still half awake at 7:15am. A smile formed in my mouth and spread slowly across my cheeks: I've always secretly wanted to work as an ice cream girl! And now, at age 25, my wish was finally being granted.

I had a blast. It was totally awesome: the three of us running around inside the slender bus in a state of organized chaos. I think I've found my calling in life. I fried up 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" and so I had to plop 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 weighty cone of ice cream and you could see they were strategising in their little heads how to tackle the mammoth thing.

I thoroughly enjoyed talking to and working with 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 liked to do 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."They liked the people and they loved see folks enjoying 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 ridiculous.

And so, a word to the wise: if you're on the TransCanada and see the sign for Zach's Burger Bus near Hadashville, make it a stop. You will not be disappointed! Give Bev and Wayne a high-five from me; a lone wayward cyclist who was rescued from a storm by the hearts of these two generous individuals.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Out of the Prairies and into the Wild!

I'm pleased to announce that I've passed a couple of major milestones in my journey over the course of the past week. The first was passing through the longitudinal center of Canada at 96 degrees 42" 35', not too far out of Winnipeg. The second bit of news is that I've crossed the provincial border into Ontario, leaving the vast openess of the Prairies behind me. Now, I don't think I reall grasped how big Ontario was until I arrived here. I'm in Kenora right now, and it's 1,767km to Toronto (I google mapped it). I don't have much time here to dive into the experiences I've had in the past week, but I will highlight a few of the more entertaining things that have happened to me since I last updated:

-Being invited into the Holloway's place (an elderly couple living in Wapella, Manitoba) for coffee and cookies after I was informed that the cafe doesn't open until four, and that the church no longer served coffee.

-Fighting for ground in a roaring headwind for a good 10 hours because I was deadset on making it to Winnipeg for Canada Day. I covered a total of 165km, strained my achillies, and refused three separate rides from pick-up trucks into the city.

-Celebrating Canada Day by listening to live music, having a couple of drinks, and watching fireworks with Jocelyn, her mother, and Tim at the Forks and Osborne Village in Winnipeg.

-Getting to check out the inside of a radio station (Winnipeg's own CKUW) firsthand with Jocelyn, my couchsurfing host who hosts not only couchsurfers but also her own raidio show.

-Catching a few free performances at JazzFest in Winnipeg.

-Finding myself once again caught in raging thunderstorm, only to be rescued by a friendly couple, Bev and Wayne, who invited me to take refuge on the floor of their airconditioned shed.

-"would you like a shake to go with those fries?" Spending the entire day frying french fries, mixing up shakes, and scooping icecream at Zach's Burger Bus on the TransCanada

-Meeting a couple of random cyclists on the road this morning and flying into Kenora at top speed; gasping for air when we were struck by the incredible beauty of Lake of the Woods as we crossed the bridge into the city.

Hopefully I'll get a chance to elaborate on some of the stories behind these events later in the week. All I can say for now is that I've learned what sunsets are really for: they're the world's way of stretching out the day, giving us one last chance to say the things we wanted to say and express the feelings that we've held within our hearts throughout the day. Clocks seem to tick slower as that big glowing orb falls from the sky, giving us one more opportunity to express ourselves before the night falls and a new day begins. Adios amigos,