9000 kms 100 days of riding
We arrived in The Miramichi, our destination, not a minute too soon when the cool, dreary, heavily clouded skies opened up in a now familiar maritime downpour. This storm, locals warned, “would be witt us pour awhiles”. Our original thought was to “close the gap” in Miramichi and then, weather permitting, continue to ride westward as far as Montreal perhaps. We took the stormy weather as a sign. That, and accommodations, restaurants and even grocery stores were closing due to both seasonal closures and Covid related labour shortages. These are all mandatory elements for us bourgeoisie travelling cyclists. So instead of continuing, we took a few days to count our blessings, re-group, and, finally, decide to end our cross Canada bike adventure in The Miramichi. From St. Johns, Newfoundland to Miramichi, New Brunswick, we rode about 2,000 kms in 26 days. We originally estimated this stage of the ride at about 1,200 kms but we did almost that distance in Newfoundland alone.
We apprehensively drove by the scene of the 2019 crash. Gear Guy remembers it well. Me, not so much. It is now a very nicely manicured section of pavement. The impact dent is gone and forgotten by most. We reached out and thanked Jason and his team that helped us through that day and also to the family that received a Freedom Concepts bike. Then we stole the sole rental vehicle from a poorly guarded Enterprise dealership and pointed homeward.
Our retirement goal was to gravel bike across Canada on routes less travelled. Canada does have a deluge of bike routes as diverse as the country itself. Start in Victoria end in St John’s. How hard can that be? We delighted on beautiful gravel roads, suffered on unpassable animal trails, and noticed millions of details beside us that we would miss if not on a bike. You may not see as much on a bike, but what you see, you see, feel and experience deeply – whether bone rattling gravel or people sharing a cold beer. You gotta take the good with the bad.
We started out with a plan to average 80 kms per day but ended up with an average of 90 kms per day. Our main route finding app was GAIA, a backcountry app suggested to us by Steve K, for which we are eternally grateful. If you cross Canada via the Trans Canada Highway, you would travel about 7,800 kms. Our back roads and trails route included diversions to visit friends, family and to buy beer, but also the occasional mis-step by Nav Man, took us 9,000 kms.
“Oh the places you’ll go and the people you’ll meet.” Dr Seuss.
The much complained about mis-steps are estimated at about 500 kms including 2 un-passable fences with barbed wire, 2 dead end paths with un-passable rivers, one compete Zen out moment west of Ottawa that took us about 75 kms out of the way in one day, and about 20 times where we were just, well……lost. But like learning how to work the PVR, there is no point in both of us navigating, so Nav Man is thrown under the bus here.
We learned that if you are bound and determined to bike across Canada without ever taking a main road or highway, you could do that – mostly. But it’s desperately naive to think you could do that without ridiculous challenges. Like 3 kms of knee deep snow on Coal Creek Road east of Fernie. Or the impassable so called “Trans Canada Trail” in Northern Ontario. Or the rail trail in Newfoundland where the trail is, well, you know. And of course Manitoba, where gravel roads are plentiful, but mainly in non-contiguous, anti-geometric patterns seemingly designed to confuse. In the end, we believe we crossed Canada as back road as possible given our general routing, type of bikes, aversion to riding in tornadoes, hurricanes, heavy snow or horizontal rain. Which left – hot, cold and headwinds. Our well considered estimate is that we accomplished about 75% of the kilometres off main roads.
All our days were fantastic but some were fantasticer.
Our Top Biking Province list includes – British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Quebec, Nova Scotia and PEI. An absolute joy to ride in with bike paths and back roads practically everywhere.
The Provinces and places we would not bike again (at least not the same route) are Manitoba (ridiculously pathetic roads with steep gravel shoulders everywhere); Northern Ontario (as bad as Manitoba but with more traffic); Newfoundland (we loved the people but the rail trail (as we were warned) is only for the most masochistic of riders).
Here’s some of our observational trivia about stuff that we noticed as we rode:
- In BC we noticed a strong scent of marijuana by an astonishing number of passing vehicles. This strange phenomenon did not appear anywhere else.
- Worst vehicles and worst drivers on the roads are hands down – half ton trucks and the people that drive them. Many have 6” exhaust tail pipes, apparently compensating for something. Now, it should be noted that Gear Guy drives a half ton truck but he promises his truck comes with a standard exhaust system.
- PEI has more tractors per capita than anywhere. If there is a tractor heaven, it’s in PEI.
- In Saskatchewan, several farmers or retired farmers stopped to chat with us in the middle of nowhere. One thought we were lost. We were, but denied it. Another, Bob, we still enjoy regular contact with. A retired farmer who pilots his own plane and has a passion for electric vehicles and planes.
- We carried our tent for 100 days and didn’t set it up once – “It’s a bike trip not a camping trip” we kept telling everyone. But carrying it gave us the confidence to try some routes that MAY have required an overnight. During the 2 year gap in our trip, we discovered that we had carried a leaky tent for the first 7000 kms, so it was a good thing we didn’t need it.
- We also carried a dried Beef Stew meal for 9000 kms. Expiry date is 2087 so perhaps next trip?
- Our accommodations varied greatly, some inadequate for humans. Like Spruce Woods, Manitoba. There, Gear Guy chose to sleep in his sleeping bag on a broken table rather than on the sleeping cots provided. In fact, we donned sleeping bags several times – prophylactic style. But really, there is nothing like a hot shower and a cold beer at the end of a ride. So we put up with a lot to get both at the end of the day.
- Best beer we ever had – like, ever. Annica somehow found and rescued us with ice cold beer in her van when we had one of our mis-steps and found ourselves in the middle of a jungle of pterodactyl size, swarming, biting, knawing deer flies near Muskoka. Never have two people lost so much blood, so quickly, by such crazed, blood thirsty insects as we did that day. We practically needed stiches to sew us up. Really, only tripping into a pond of piranhas could be worse.
- Local craft chocolate is almost a popular as local craft beer. We indulged in both. Frequently. But M&M Peanuts are still the best alternate road snack in a pinch – easy to share so there is only fighting over colour.
- We get asked about animals alot. So here’s the thing, we were chased by just one dog – in PEI. There was one other large scary looking dog on a remote Alberta gravel road seemingly scheming a U Boat type of attack, but in fact, it was just seeking some shade behind a tree. As we passed the old guy appeared to have a stroke, apparently surprised by us. A couple of bears, tons of deer and antelope and horses. That’s it. Folks that ask us about animals (especially Americans) seemed disappointed by our reply so we started to make things up like, “Ya, we saw a Sasquatch in Saskatchewan.”
We consider ourselves remarkably lucky. Lucky to live in a country like Canada; lucky to be able to bike across it; lucky to have the support of friends and family along the way. Lucky to have each other. Nav Guy should add – lucky to have escaped death by torture on the number of mis-guided navigation adventures along the way.
But most of all, we are lucky for JoyRide. JoyRide was our plan to give away a Freedom Concepts adaptive bike to a child or young adult in need in each province in Canada. With your generous donations we were able to almost double our initial donation by giving away 18 Freedom Concept bikes, including 3 bikes in Fernie. Thank you so, so much. We are humbled by your generosity and were privileged to personally or e-meet all of the recipients. Special thank you to Ken, Gabrielle and the Freedom Concepts team who supported us and do amazing work.
Here are the 4 recent recipients of a specialized bike who will benefit from your generosity.
Oliver lives in St John’s, Newfoundland. He is 3 1/2 years old and has triplegic Cerebral Palsy. Oliver loves being outside and learning new things. He is a big brother to two siblings. His favorite colour is blue and his favorite food is soup! Oliver loves the bike he can use at physio and now he will have his own to use whenever he wants. Go get em Oliver!
Simone lives in PEI. She is 10 years old and has endured 16 surgeries with grace and determination. She has mild Cerebral Palsy and a chromosome syndrome that has caused her some malformations and delays. But in daily life, Simone is a social butterfly, loving grade 5 and is a great swimmer and ball player. Not sure how her mom Anna will be able to keep up once Simone has her new wheels!
Zander is 6 years old from Fernie. Zander had a genetic condition called Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia. This condition unfortunately caused Zander to have a stroke and brain aneurysm at day 6 of life. Zander is a very happy, social little boy that loves life. He loves scooting, swimming and snowboarding. Zander’s family are a bike family and can’t wait for Zander’s new opportunity to ride a bike.
Mackay Centre School and Philip E Layton School in Montreal operate out of the same building and accept students from all over Quebec. Philip Layton services students who are blind or visually impaired along with any associated disabilities. Mackay Centre School services students who are deaf, physically disabled and/or have a communication disorder. These schools provide a safe, caring academic environment for children and young adults from the ages of 4 to 21 years of age. The schools offer rehabilitation services to optimize the social participation and autonomy of students. Their abilities-based approach looks for the unique functional skills every child possesses and tries to select games, sports and activities that match these skills. This bike will allow more students to enjoy the benefits of being on a bike!