CYCLING ACROSS CANADA - 1993
After a very pleasant and successful cycle trip on the North Island of New Zealand in 1992, I elected the following year to tackle a cross-Canada trip. This initially was to be a solo trip, but early in the planning stage, the son of a Canberra friend asked if he could join with me along with his girl friend (respectively Nick and Angie). As both were very keen, and certainly appeared to be in as good physical shape as me, I agreed to have them join me. Accordingly, we planned to meet up in Seattle late in April, after a brief holiday they had planned in Hawaii.
I left Canberra on April 29, arriving in Seattle the same day on a United Airlines flight (a 'freebee' resulting from points gained on previous United flights to North America).The next morning, I met up with my fellow travelers, and after settling in our motel, we were off to a huge warehouse clearance sale of bikes and related gear. The prices had all been reduced by up to 40%, so with over 3000 bikes on offer, it was not difficult to find something to suit us. We each settled for a 'Trek' Antelope model, in my case a mountain bike, while the others bought hybrid road bikes, costing about $350 each.
After a considerable amount of kidding assembling our new gear, we found a super-market, and bought enough food supplies to last us the next 2 days. Then we set out for Vancouver on May 1. Cycling through Washington, we had to travel on the coastal I-5 freeway, which was supposed to be forbidden to bikes. However, the shoulder on this road was so wide and safe that we elected to chance not meeting a member of the local constabulary, and followed that route all the way to the border. In any event, the journey north was without incident. However, we did run into some problems in the huge tunnel under the Fraser river. This too was supposed to be a bike exclusion zone, which we ignored, much to the chagrin of numerous motorists who shook their fists at us.
In Vancouver, we graciously accepted the hospitality of good friends, the McDonalds, were we stayed for 2 days. During this time, we made a few last minute adjustments to our gear, while Maryalyce plied us with delicious goodies for the long trip across to Halifax. These delicacies even included pacific salmon, which they had caught on one of their boating holidays out on the sounds off Vancouver. While in town, we were fortunate to meet up with the Hannemans (from Bathurst) who were on a working holiday in the area; unfortunately, Peter was off on a run with Mandarin airlines to Taipai at the time.
On May 5, we left the luxury of our Vancouver hosts, and set out for the east. On the way out of town, there was further gorging over a breakfast with other friends, Dyane and Jim Lynch. Then we were accompanied by Dyane and a friend to the east side of the city; I felt that both of them would have given a lot to join us on the whole trip! However, on my part, I was pleased they couldn't, for both at one time or another had participated in 'Ironman/lady' competitions, and would I am sure, have run us all into the ground.
After leaving the metropolis, we continued on east to the town of Hope, where the Fraser river turns abruptly north, to disappear into the depths of the province. Unfortunately, on the way to that point, Angie developed a severe knee problem (resulting from an old sports injury) and we had to put her and her gear on a bus to Banff, Alberta, were we expected to meet up with her later.
After waving Angie goodbye, Nick and I continued east, up and down innumerable passes in the interior of BC, including 2 near Manning Park, 1 at the town of Osoyoos, and the highest pass at 5000' close to Castlegar. We circumvented a further high pass near Grand Forks, BC, by following the valley of the Kettle river down into Washington state, and then back via another tributary into BC again, thus saving hours of grinding up steep slopes in low/low gear over the Phoenix mountains. With the loads we were carrying, it was no mean feat conquering these passes, but of course great fun 'barreling' down the descending slopes.
I shall never forget the night we camped in Manning Park, were at about 4000', the temperature dropped to well below freezing; even our water bottles froze solid. Needless to say, it was a very miserable night, with a less than adequate sleeping bag. Then, the next morning, as we roared down into the valley below (near Princeton) our hands and feet nearly froze solid, and the only thing to stop the frost pains were plastic shopping bags, which we wore on both appendages. That night we decided a warm night in a motel was warranted, were we took advantage of cooking facilities and prepared a sumptuous meal of bacon and eggs.
Cycling through the interior of BC was superb, with fine sunny weather, and wonderful scenery, particularly along the winding confines of Kootenay lake a veritable cyclists paradise. Wildlife were an ever present interest (and hazzard) with deer, mountain sheep and goats, marmots, foxes and squirrels common. Unfortunately, some of these animals found themselves on the highway at the wrong time, and signs of their untimely demise were common. In fact, at one point along the Kootenay river, just east of the town of Castlegar, a deer was struck by an approaching pickup, almost in front of my bike. The first that I was aware of it, the deer was literally flying through the air directly in front of me, and landed with an almighty thump just off the shoulder on my side of the road. Neither the deer nor the pickup came out of the encounter very well; the deer in fact had to be 'dispatched' by a following motorist who had a rifle in his vehicle. My fellow traveler, Nick, hearing the shot, came hustling back from his ½ Km lead down the road, thinking that the worst had befallen me (such as a drive-by shooting). I could tell by the look of relief on his face that he was profoundly pleased to see me, still sound and healthy, even though I was a bit shaken by the 'encounter'.
Log cabin beside Kootenay Lake, British Columbia.
In the same general area, we experienced another potentially damaging (but more humorous) accident. In this case, a large semi-trailer, loaded with crushed autos, apparently headed for the steel mills, had turned over. Flattened cars were lying everywhere beside the road; Nick and I were very tempted to take advantage of the humor in the scene with photos, telling all our friends it had been the worst car crash we had ever seen!
On the road to Banff in the Columbia River Valley, British Columbia.
So we continued past Cranbrook BC, on through the beautiful valleys of the Kootenay and Columbia rivers to Radium Hot Springs, and eventually over the high pass of the continental divide to arrive in Banff, the famous summer/winter playground on the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountain range. Unfortunately, the Banff area was thoroughly 'socked in' with low cloud, fog and rain, and certainly was not very conducive to enjoying the area on foot as we had planned. Such weather was forecast to continue for several days, so it seemed fruitless to wait around for an improvement. Additionally, many of the walking tracks in the park were still covered with snow, both at Banff, and nearby Lake Louise, so further delays seemed fruitless, and I suggested to Nick that we push off for the east and the long prairie crossing.
However, Nick by now had other ideas, whereby he decided to stay on and spend a few more days with his lady friend Angie, who by this time had a job in Banff. Subsequently, he planned to fly out to Europe where other mates had scheduled some motor touring on the Continent. It was rather sad departing from my two friends, but I determined I would not let this change my plans, basically to cross Canada from coast to coast.
So, next day I continued on east alone, arriving in Calgary late on May 17. Fortunately, I had many oil industry friends there from past years, and gratefully was taken in by some old work-mates for a couple of days. A comfortable bed and some good home cooked meals were heaven after a solid two weeks of being perched on a bike saddle, not to mention weathering the elements under canvas.
Surprisingly, I was not to tired on reaching Calgary, even though I had done virtually no preparation for the trip before leaving Australia. It seems in long-distance cycling, the first few days are always the most difficult, with sore muscles and limbs most common. (Surprisingly, upper arm and shoulder muscles take the brunt of the aches and pains). However, once you are travelling the tracks every day, one becomes quite used to the ordeal, and can weather the ups and downs, literally and figuratively! Similarly, you quickly learn to take all the precautions with respect to traffic, keeping well onto the paved (or otherwise) shoulder when traffic is approaching from behind. A good rear-view mirror is a necessity on such trips, not to mention a safety helmet. The main problems I found with traffic (and this has been true of all my travels) has been from large trucks and especially mobile homes. The latter in particular are often real road hogs; whether this is from a lack of experience in handling larger vehicles, or from an 'I own the road mentality' I am not sure. Certainly, when you are cycling with 4 large panniers, which protrude significantly from the bike-side, the last thing one wants is a near miss from one of those beasts. However, I have to say, drivers of most vehicles give cyclists a good clearance, and will often bestow a friendly honk or wave as they pass by.
After 2 days of rest and visiting in Calgary, I headed east on highway 9, through the coal- mining town of Drumheller, and on to the Alberta/Saskatchewan border. I followed this route, in part to visit the great Drumheller dinosaur museum, but more than that, to take advantage of a significant tail wind, and to avoid the heavy traffic of the more main roads
Drumheller was an experience I won't forget. First of all, I literally blew into town, propelled by a storm that was about a kilometer behind me. On the windblown hill descending into town and the badlands of the Red-Deer river, I clocked 85 Kms an hour, trying to make the campground before the storm struck. The campsite itself turned out to be rather unusual to say the least, with bathroom facilities painted in garish dobs of paint, even including the mirror. In the environs, cars and trucks seemed to be moving about most of the night, while a nearby telephone, having an outside bell, rang incessantly. Then in the morning, after a lousy night's sleep, I groggily searched the campsite before I could find the proprietor, and pay my bill. Even the bird life appeared to be slightly daft, for on leaving I spied a woodpecker pounding away on a telephone pole, on a piece of metal plate wrapped around the pole! Certainly was a strange place.
After a tour of the dinosaur museum the following morning, I was out on the road again by about 11 am. The prairies east of town were endless, and I ground on across a number of large ranches, many showing the signs of a recession, with properties rather run down and in some cases, abandoned. This was contrasted with numerous gas and pumping oil wells, demonstrating the other side of the prairie resource picture. One of the more interesting points of this part of the prairies was a featured area along the road, showing the tracks of the wagons used by the early pioneers. The ruts were still plainly visible, and a short history of their migrations was shown on a roadside sign all very interesting. I wonder how many motorists bother to stop and examine such relics as they race by; another advantage of traveling on a bike!
And so it was, on and on past numerous 1,2 and 3 grain elevator towns, with strange names like 'Forget' (probably 'Forjay'), Plato, Wiseton, and Wartime. The latter interested me to the extent that I inquired at one of the 4 or 5 houses in the town, and discovered the name was derived during World War 1. The railroad being built through the area was stopped in 1914 at Wartime (then a nameless hamlet), because of a steel, money and manpower shortage, so they gave the town the name of Wartime. Interestingly, I also discovered there was an old railroad water tower on the edge of the town. As steam trains had long since gone, the town had taken the tower over to be used as a town reservoir, supplied with water from a nearby spring. Apparently very few of these towers are left standing any more, so it seems the villagers gained a real antique for themselves. This raised a query with me as to how these tanks were stopped from freezing solidly in winter, particularly when a train was coming and needed water.
On the long ride from the Alberta border to near Regina, I encountered some very strong westerly winds, which literally blew me down the road. These conditions helped me cover a total of about 230 Kms that day, one of the best distances I have ever completed in one day of cycle touring. During that same day, I encountered a young Japanese cyclist, grinding away against this same wind which was so helpful to me. I asked him why he had elected to ride east to west (his trip was taking him from Winnipeg to Edmonton); his reply was that no one had told him the prevailing winds on the prairies were almost always from the Pacific
About 100 Kms before getting to Regina, I left the tranquility of the secondary roads I had been following since Calgary, and at Davidson joined the main 4 lane highway between Saskatoon and Regina. Here the traffic was very heavy, worsened by the day being a Monday long-weekend (Victoria Day). The long lines of vehicles were quite a shock after the peaceful, quiet roads to the west. Fortunately, there was a good shoulder along the verge, allowing for safe, easy riding.
Close to Regina, I was stopped on the freeway by a delightful young couple I had met that morning at Gardners Dam to the west. They asked me to stay with them that night, which suited me well, as I was getting rather tired of my mediocre cooking. Fresh BBQ steaks and a comfortable clean bed, plus a hot shower, were so relaxing after all the rough campsites I'd slept in since leaving Vancouver. Over dinner, we talked far into the night about my cross-Canada trip, and also about Australia in which they were very interested. This is one of the great experiences about cycle touring, in that one gets to meet and visit with so many interesting people along the way.
South-east of Regina, I was back onto secondary roads again. At first, the weather was pleasant enough, with light winds, and partly sunny skies. About midday however, a low- pressure centre blew in, with strong south-easterly winds, and increasing squalls of rain (and some sleety snow). This weather continued for the next couple of days, and at one point, it was so cold and miserable, I almost gave consideration to hitching a ride. However, I decided to battle on (with plastic bags over my hands and feet), and at the end of the second day I finally made the village of Stoughton, a miserly 100+ Kms from Regina - not much to brag about after 2 days of very hard riding.
However, in Stoughton, my fortunes again rose, when I was asked to spend the night with some locals in this case a nearby farmer and his wife. Their hospitality was such a welcome relief after the very bad circumstances which had confronted me the previous 2 days. By now, I was quite convinced that prairie folks were a most friendly lot!
Continuing east towards Manitoba, the weather still continued to be disagreeable, with squalls of light rain and head winds. I made very poor time over most of this stretch, but fortunately, I often was always able to find a covered campsite at night BBQ areas etc, which in the off-season were virtually unused. This of course was great protection against the inclement weather, and cheered me up considerably after a hard day of riding. One quickly learned that a 2 and 3 grain elevator town meant a place one could usually find such a campground, plus a store for purchasing the next days food supply. A one elevator town with a rain-squall meant camping in a wet grove of saplings, and relying on yesterdays dwindling food supplies.
In central Manitoba, I passed through the ancient western shoreline of Lake Agassiz, which was the collection point for the melt-water draining from the last ice age. This was a large lake in its time, some 12,000 years ago, covering about 120,000 square miles in area. The drainage brought with it numerous sediments, now forming part of the excellent farmland of that region; in fact, the so-named Red River Valley is probably the richest grain-farming region in Canada. However, there are disadvantages in that during years of heavy spring run-off from winter snows, the local rivers often flood the low-lying basin, causing havoc in the prairie farms of the region. The last such major flood was in 1998.
My home town of Sanford on the prairies, 30km SW of Winnipeg Manitoba.
My home village of Sanford, is on the eastern side of this drainage basin, and I continued riding towards it over the next couple of days. On the way, I stopped in the small town of Carman, where there was an excellent camp ground. Unfortunately, a motorcycle meet had been held in town that day, and much to my concern, they had gathered in the camping area, I thought for a night of revelry and carousing. Expecting the worst, I was surprised when, with a flourish of noisy engines, they gathered together about 9:30 to leave for parts unknown, and I had a very quiet restful night. They appeared from nowhere again next morning, headed east on Highway 3, riding 3 abreast in their respective lane. Needless to say, I kept well to the edge of the road, even though the shoulder on that road is not favorable for cyclists.
A great welcome awaited me in Sanford from relatives and long time friends, including a school mate, who like myself, is a vintage car freak. He took great pleasure in driving me around town in his latest restoration job a 1934 Terraplane sedan.
Sanford to Winnipeg was an easy ride of 20 miles, and I spent a brief hour or two calling on other friends, and having some minor adjustments made to the bike. Then I set out east for Kenora Ontario, where my sister resides. On the way, I stopped in an excellent camp ground in the sand hills about 50 Kms east of Winnipeg; these hills are the eastern edge of lake Agassiz, and the shore-line is again a prominent feature. Just before reaching the camp-site that evening, I was surprised and delighted to encounter another long-time friend, Ardythe McMaster, driving up to Winnipeg for a late afternoon meeting. The passing traffic must have wondered what was going on, as we hugged and kissed in the ditch between lanes. It really is a very small world!
Manitoba / Ontario border east of Winnipeg.
Kenora was a wonderful haven for a full 7 days, after battling through less than ideal weather over the previous weeks. I can't say how much I enjoyed sleeping in clean sheets, not to mention the great food my sister prepared for me; I was certain she thought I was totally undernourished! The Kenora district had another advantage in that my friends, the McMasters had a summer cottage nearby, on a delightful lake setting. I spent several days with them, talking about old times at school and university, and with me trying to encourage them into a trip to Australia. (Note: I finally succeeded in this latter regard, but not until 1998)
By the end of my week of r&r in Kenora (during which time I was interviewed by the local 'Miner and News' newspaper), I was ready to get back on the road again, and I set out for the east on June 10. Sister June (and Gordon) accompanied me a short distance on a couple of borrowed bikes, but they were rather unused to riding, and I went on alone. However, they did organize a group of friends to wave me on at a nearby crossroad, which made me feel like a bit of a celebrity!
The first couple of hours of travel that morning were rather grueling (tiredness, sore legs, and lethargy) By lunch time I was well and truly ready for a stop, which made a significant difference. But as I tried to mount the bike after lunch, my legs were giving me agonising pains, and it was all I could do to ride. For the next hour, I was cursing myself for not getting more exercise in Kenora; but then, shortly after, all these sensations left, and things were back to normal. My return to good spirits was also helped by the afternoon weather, which was sunny and mild, and with a helping tail wind. Although the traffic was light, the road was less than ideal, being only a 2 lane highway, and with only a narrow gravel shoulder. Here again, the mountain bike proved it's worth, especially when two big trucks were passing, forcing me into a ride in the 'rough'.
Although I was only just starting my travels through the Pre-Cambrian shield country, I feel this is an appropriate point to mention the beauty of this area, with its numerous lakes, and carpets of forests. This type of landscape virtually continues much of the way to Ottawa. Although it's a long arduous trip by bike, only equaled by the unending prairies, it has a particular haunting beauty of its own, probably only surpassed in Canada by the numerous mountainous areas of British Columbia. The other points worthy of mention here are the excellent campsites and picnic grounds, scattered a convenient day's cycle distance across Ontario. Although most are devoid of showers (at least hot water ones), they are none-the-less very nicely laid out, and often in most picturesque locations, such as on a lake shore, or a hillside viewpoint. The picnic sites (no camping allowed) usually occur about every 50 Kms, and always have toilet facilities, a very welcome addition on long distance bike travel.
The balmy weather with favorable winds continued most of the way to Thunder Bay. This is a major sized town on the north-west shore of Lake Superior, famous for it's grain shipping terminals, and for freighter transport on into the St. Lawrence seaway. On the way to the latter town, I had my first experience with deer and moose, both munching greenery along the shoreline of the numerous nearby lakes. Moose in particular seemed oblivious to the passing motor traffic, but were very wary of the bike. This suited me fine, as I had no desire to tangle with one of those huge beasts!
During this stretch to Thunder Bay, I had two interesting encounters worthy of mention. One involved a small car parked beside the road early one morning. The roof of the car was badly damaged, but the balance of it appeared to be unharmed. It seemed odd to me that a car could be 'rolled' (so I thought) without having other body panels showing signs of the accident. I rode off, pondering on this aspect (it is amazing what can amuse one, cycling long uninhabited stretches). Then I came to the answer, some 700 or so meters down the road a very mutilated moose lying beside the road, obviously having been hit by the car the previous night. (Perhaps the moose was thrown over the top of the car; thus the severe roof damage.) I was later informed that such confrontations are very common in these parts, and many vehicles are severally damaged as a result, not to mention the effect on the moose population.
Then, nearby this episode, I encountered my first and only situation that had the potential for disaster. As I rode on, I came over a low hill, at the bottom of which I saw 2 hitchhikers about 500 meters ahead. Immediately they saw me, they crossed to my side of the road. In this deserted part of the highway my heart started pounding. What were they up to only wanting some information, or did they want 'more'. I had to make a quick decision to stop on the hill and wait for traffic, turn around and go back, or ride on and face the enemy. I decided to follow the latter course. Considering the best defense is an offence, pedaled furiously downhill. My 'antagonists' scattered as I roared past them at the bottom of the hill, bristling with all my worldly goods. As I flashed by, the humor in the situation came when, in a wisp of wind I caught "What time is it" from the hikers. Still pedaling furiously, I howled back "About 7:30". I also caught a faint "How far to the next town", but by then I was so far past I doubt they would have heard my reply. Perhaps this encounter was completely innocent, but in such deserted locations, one can't afford to take chances.
East of Thunder Bay, I stopped at a roadside commemorative statue of Terry Fox, the famous Canadian athlete, who with a severe case of cancer, none-the-less tried to make a one-legged running/walking trip across Canada. The object of this effort was to raise money for cancer research; unfortunately, he never got further than Thunder Bay, were he became very ill, and died shortly after. Fox is now regarded as a hero, not just in Canada, but in many parts of the world were "Terry Fox Days" are held, usually foot races to raise money for the local cancer society. Many people in Canberra will be quite familiar with our local event, put on by the Canadian High Commission, and at which about $15000 is raised each year.
Further east of that point, at the town of Nipigon, the highway splits, with the main trans-Canada route following along the shore-line of Lake Superior, the other route heading north (Highway 11) through rather more remote countryside. Unsure of which to take, I asked a local store-keeper, who said "Frankly sir, if I was cycling as you are, I would take the northern route; there is a lot less traffic that way and there are very few hills". And he was right, for when I headed north on highway 11, the traffic was noticeably thinner. However, for a short part of the morning, I was bothered with heavy fog, so much so that I had to use my strobe tail-light to warn oncoming traffic. Again, I cannot stress more strongly the importance of such safety items when on long-distance cycle trips.
The country north of Nippigon is unusual in that it is almost mountainous something not expected in the Canadian Shield. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the country along the shoreline of Lake Nippigon, where the rock walls along the roadside rise to about 1000 feet. There are so many lakes in the region, and the road gently winds between these attractions, making for some idyllic countryside to cycle through. It is at such times that any cyclist is overawed by his surroundings, and gives thanks to his maker for being able to experience nature in such pristine surroundings. I might add here that I had many other times on this, and other cycle journeys when such feelings of reverence overcame me.
Across the 'top' of Highway 11, one comes fairly close to James Bay, which as the reader will know, is a southern protrusion from Hudson Bay. Signs along the road showed that I was in the James Bay drainage area, and my mind immediately locked onto the bitter cold conditions this region must experience in the 'dead' of winter. On the other hand, I would have gladly welcomed a few frosty mornings if such conditions could have dispensed with the black flies/mosquitoes that were now giving me such a bad time. These insects were horrendous, and the only time one had peace from their continuous onslaught, was while on the road riding (I was faster than they were), or in the tent at night. It seemed such a shame to have so many idyllic picnic sites along the way, and yet only be able to use them fleetingly for morning tea or at lunch. I don't know what I would have done without the continuous application of insect repellant, applied liberally before every such stop. Getting into the tent at night with all the gear was also a challenge, requiring each item of equipment to be tossed in, then quickly zipping down to select another item until, using similar methods, all was inside. Without these sorts of tactics, one ended up with hoards of these little critters sharing your accommodation.
Beaver dam, Northern Ontario
This region of Ontario, being rather remote, is well endowed with wildlife, and it is common to see moose, deer and many smaller animals (porcupines, foxes, squirrels, etc) along the way. In addition, near the town of Kapuskasing, I saw my first and only live bear running across the road about 300 meters in front of me; fortunately, he kept on running! I also saw a dead bear early one morning, that had been hit by a truck. In this same stretch, I stopped at one point to assist a young woman with her disabled car (broken fan belt). She was a bit apprehensive at first, but after I assured her I only wanted to help, she was grateful I had stopped; (after all, touring cyclists with huge loads would have to be pretty innocuous!) Anyway, with a bit of spare rope I had in my gear, we devised a make-do fan belt, and after filling her radiator from ditch water, I directed her to a garage I had seen about 4 miles behind me. I wonder if she ever made it?
Towns in this area reflected the rather wild nature of the countryside, and usually stretched back from the highway a distance of only one property. Homes often were rather junky, with numbers of abandoned cars scattered about, while the dwellings often suffered for a good coat of paint. Things improved however as the highway turned south (around Iroquois Falls), with towns seeming more civilized and orderly. Famous mining districts appeared, including the towns of Kirkland Lake, Cobalt, and some distance away, the famous nickel center of Sudbury. It was particularly sad to me to see the famous center of Cobalt closed down, probably as a result of the (then) world recession, and perhaps a lack of any further economic reserves.
The populace too, across this part of Ontario, were less than friendly. In some cases my greetings to people whom I passed along the road (walking or occasionally cycling) was often met by stony silence. Perhaps there is a lack of trust of strangers, or maybe just the loneliness of this wild country. Then again, it may be that people lacked faith in non-French speaking folks, for the French language appeared to be the principal 'lingo' in the area. In general, I didn't feel particularly welcome in the district, and outside of my appreciation for the stark beauty of that part, I wasn't disappointed to get on down the road to more settled areas of the south.
Shortly however, my faith in human nature was completely restored. Near the small town of Tomogami, I rode into a heavy rain-storm, which turned the highway (under reconstruction) into a muddy quagmire. As I miserably slogged my way through this mess, steadily being splashed by passing traffic, I was suddenly confronted by a young man collecting firewood along the road where it had been cleared during reconstruction. After the usual queries of "Where ya going, where from, how long travelling, how many Kms/day etc", I was invited to this chaps near-by home for a cup of tea. Now one always has to be a bit cautious of complete strangers, but I had a feeling this chap was 'on the level'. Well, I wasn't disappointed, for on arriving at the house just around the corner, his cheerful mother and father came out to greet me, and invited me in for the tea. The house, I might add was located on a very beautiful lake, studded with pine covered islands a most idyllic spot. Of course with the rain still pouring down, I was more than happy to be indoors. The cup of tea expanded into a glass or two of brandy, and a long talk with the father about life in those parts, and finally an offer to stay the night. After a good scrub-up (in a real bathtub!) we got onto further interesting conversation, followed by a delicious meal of lobster! Only then did I realise it was fathers day, and this special meal had been planned for the family head; how lucky for me his wife had purchased extra provisions.
Next day, the rain ceased, and with clear skies and only a few broken clouds, there were ideal riding conditions. The country through that area must be described as some of the most beautiful in Ontario, with numerous island studded lakes, a myriad of green forested land, and very picturesque winding roads. Travelling on to the major town of North Bay, I was further cheered by a following breeze, which made riding even more enjoyable. It is amazing how we humans can cheer up and forget our past difficulties (eg, rain, bad roads and sullen townsfolk) when changes occur for the better.
In North Bay, I discovered one of my tyres was developing a severe bulge, and had to be replaced. This was not a bad effort, for as it turned out this was the only replacement required for the whole trip, although I did have a total of 3 inner tubes needing repairing across the nation.
East of North Bay, roadside signs indicated canoe routes traveled by our early 'Couer de Bois' explorers/traders; I stood by these signs 'wrapped' in the history and events that had taken place as a result of those travels. Numerous famous individuals came to mind that had worked in the early fur trade, missionaries to the native people, and several of our early day explorers such as La Verondre etc. Again, this is one of the great advantages of cycle travel, in that there is always time and spontaneity to alter plans at a moments notice. How often would a motorist, roaring down a road, screech to a halt to so closely observe such notices very seldom I would suspect.
The Ottawa River, major river draining into the Atlantic via the St Lawrence River.
Not far east of that point, I came to a major factor in those canoe routes, namely, the Ottawa River, and at that point, complete with a camping site. Being the 'off-season' I found that such camping spots throughout most of Ontario were very quiet, with no throngs of families on their summer holidays, and plenty of select sites for my tent. Only the wildlife had to be contended with, and leaving any items (especially food) lying around on picnic tables at night was a definite no-no. Racoons were the biggest nuisance in this regard, although one always had concerns for bears-one of the reasons I always chose commercial camping spots (they were usually well fenced).
Two more days were spent riding along the Ottawa river corridor on my descent into Canada's national capital, Ottawa. This route also skirts the renowned Algonquin National park, a very large conservation area immediately south of my route-highway 17. I am told this park is a canoeists paradise; however, that was an activity I felt would have to wait for another time, and for the present, concentrate on cycling. In a way, I didn't mind, for the riding conditions through this section were superb-excellent roads, a gentle tail wind and very inspiring surroundings.
Shortly before Ottawa, I had two experiences worthy of mention. One concerned the small center of Petawawa, wherein is located a large Canadian army training camp. My father had done his basic training in this camp in preparation for departure to the 1st world war in 1916; then he was only 19 years old. It was a very strange feeling to traverse this area, with the training grounds and the main camp paralleling the highway, and realise that dad had frequented this region when he was only about º my current age. As he died at 96 years in 1992, I couldn't help wondering if he was up (or down?) there somewhere watching my progress through his old stamping/marching ground!
My other experience involved a lady barber about 20 kms before Ottawa. Not having had a haircut since leaving Canberra, I was convinced that a thorough trim was definitely on the cards, especially as I would be visiting with several friends in the capital. This particular barbershop was in a private residence, out in a rural area ideal security for my bike. On entering the ladies house, I found I was quite unable to understand her speech; I was sure it wasn't any form of a French dialect, but what was it? Not until settling myself into her barber chair in the basement did I come to realise that she was quite deaf, and her lingo was the usual rather garbled speech of a deaf person. This didn't stop us from communicating however, for on a shelf in front of my chair there was a pad and pencil. The haircut was interspersed with all kinds of written questions (and my written answers) about my cycling trip she had seen my bike when she came to answer the door bell. That bell too was an interesting point, in that it must have activated the house lights; I realised this during the haircut when the phone rang, and the lights blinked for each ring- the phone had some sort of teletype instrument connected to it. Anyway, I felt she was quite a remarkable lady, trying to earn a living with a major disability, and giving a darned good haircut at the same time.
Shortly, I arrived at the outskirts of the city, and after calling my good friends, the Hutchinsons, proceeded to get lost trying to locate their home. I even managed to 'bowl over' a man at a crosswalk (he jumped the lights), but after establishing he was OK, with both of us admitting some guilt, I cycled on to my destination. There the Hutchinsons had a royal lunch prepared for me and together with several other friends, we got down to discussing our respective lives since we had last met two years previously. I might add their residence was a particularly fine 22nd story apartment, overlooking much of south Ottawa. This was only surpassed by thier lovely log cabin up in the Quebec woods, were we spent a good part of my visit with them, canoeing and just enjoying the surroundings. So it was a round of dinner parties, BBQs and even a farewell party for the Australian ambassador who was leaving for a post in Washington. As in Kenora, by the time I was ready to leave, I was so spoiled and overfed it was all I could do to start cycling again.
After a great send-off on Canada day (July 1), I crossed the river in bright sunshine, and headed in an easterly direction in Quebec province. My route skirted around the northern confines of Montreal, where I felt sure I would easily find a campground. This was not to be however, so I slipped quietly into the bush on a convenient side-road, and made camp for the night in a grove of saplings. After the feasting of Ottawa, my meager rations that night were pretty sparse, but fortunately I was able to spruce these up with some delicious wild strawberries growing abundantly nearby the tent.
The following day, I got my first glimpse of the mighty St Lawrence river which I crossed by ferry at Sorel, Quebec. There in the local campground, I was treated as quite a celebrity when officials saw the Australian stickers on my bike. One chap couldn't seem to get enough photos, and even wanted to call the local newspaper out for an interview, until I suggested these trips were no big deal and there were plenty of cyclists making similar journeys. Besides, I convinced him I was very tired that night, and certainly not in my best form for being interviewed.
It took another couple of days to make Quebec City, with the road following the river most of the way. There were a lot of pleasant little villages along the track, and some very fine homes. The international tanker and freighter traffic on the river was also very interesting; in one case I tried my best to outrun one of these boats, but it was a lost cause, particularly as he was headed downstream with the current in his favor.
Taken from the boardwalk, overlooking the St Lawrence River at Quebec City.
Quebec City was an fascinating melding of the old world with the new. The old part of the city, complete with an historic wall, has many narrow winding streets, delightful side-walk cafes, and numerous buskers and public entertainment in the downtown parks. I stood for some time on the central boardwalk, high above the river, and contemplated the famous battles between the English and French for possession of the city and eventually the whole of Canada. One of these battles, the Plains of Abraham, is depicted in an interesting museum in the central downtown square, with the competing generals, Wolfe and Montcalm being well portrayed. Across the square, the famous railroad hotel, the Chateau Frontenac exudes that charm of yesterday and is a haven for the well-heeled tourist.
Leaving old Quebec, I elected to travel up the north side of the river, as suggested by friends in Qttawa. Their advice was not over-rated, for this afforded some even better views over the river traffic, and the very picturesque rolling countryside. Some of this 'rolling' became very severe in parts and I found on the steepest grades, (one over 18%) there was an awful lot of pushing to do to get to the hilltops. As the weather was very warm, I found I was steaming hot on the ascents, but pleasantly cooled on the down-slopes, particularly at river side, were the cold water significantly reduced the localised ambient temperature. My other problem in this area was with the numerous recreation vehicles, which well and truly used up their share of the road, often requiring me to take to the shoulder, and in one case, actually forcing me into the ditch. Needless to say, I verbally abused such drivers, and even though it seemed unlikely they heard me, it satisfied some of my anger and frustration.
The down-river ride took me as far as the ancient Indian village of Tadoussac, now a thriving tourist centre partly dependant on whale watching. On the way, I had a further invite from a couple living at the riverside village of Les Eboullements. These people were friends of friends in Ottawa, and treated me to some great hospitality, including a BBQ on their deck, overlooking the river. Their house was a gem of a place, two stories, and with several garret rooms overlooking the river (I slept in one of these). I shall never forget the balmy evening on their front deck, watching the international river traffic pass by, and enjoying good food and conversation, with the whole scene bathed in moonlight. Without doubt, cycle touring has its many advantages!
The village of Escoumins lies about 12 kms east of Tadoussac, and marks one of the last major ferry connections across the St Lawrence to the south-shore. Surprisingly, this area is pretty wild country, and the further one travels south towards New Brunswick, the more uninhabited it becomes. However, this part of the maritimes has many other attributes, particularly the profusion of wildflowers,
A profusion of wildflowers growing along the road in the countryside in Northwestern New Brunswick.
that seem to inhabit the countryside. It was sheer pleasure to ride through this region, and several times I stopped, just to bask in the abundance of colour from the many, many varieties of blossoms.
Near the New Brunswick border, the back road I had been following connected with the trans-Canada highway again, and followed south along the confines of the St Johns river, leading towards the provincial capital, Fredericton. En route (at Edmunston) I experienced my worst camping location of the whole cross-Canada trip. The campsite was wholly overcrowded and when combined with a late night raucous dance party on site, I finally complained to the management about 1:30 in the morning. This nearly started a riot amongst several well-lubricated locals, and I quietly retreated back to my tent. Fortunately, things 'slowed' somewhat not long after, and I finally got some sleep after about 3:00 am.
South of Edmunston, there was a secondary diversionary road across the river, and I was able to follow this route most of the way into Fredericton. To make amends for the terrible camping of the previous night, the following evening I located a delightful campsite in a provincial park on a winding river road. The locale was quiet and peaceful, and the management even offered me ice (it was very hot) as part of their service. The only problem came from noisy racoons, that insisted on raiding a nearby garbage barrel. As tired as I was, I only heard this for a short time, and soon was in the land of nod.
Longest covered bridge in the world, Florenceville, New Brunswick.
It was sheer pleasure following the winding secondary road down into Fredericton, with many peaceful little villages, and very little traffic. Across the river, I could see the mad-house of cars on the trans-Canada, and needless to say, it was pleasing not to be a part of it. On my side of the river, it was almost as if time had stopped about 20 years ago. Numerous facilities such as general stores, blacksmith shops, and even some vintage cars moving about gave the area a 'days gone by' scene. Near the town of Florenceville, I encountered 2 covered bridges, dating from around the turn of the century. One of those is about a º mile long, and resembled a tunnel inside; it is famous for being the longest such bridge in North America. The town of Florenceville also has further claim to fame, being the world headquarters of the giant McCains food organisation. One could detect the odors of food processing long before arriving at the site. I was surprised to find this major company located in such a small town.
After another nights camping in a provincial site, I rode into Fredericton on July 12. Originally, I had thought of stopping over in town, and although I liked some of the old buildings and general character of the place, couldn't see enough to interest me for a rest day. Accordingly, I continued cycling along the north side of the river (still the St Johns), eventually coming to a point were the road left the river, and turned north-east towards the town of Moncton, and subsequently Nova Scotia. Before the latter border however, I diverted on a side trip to Prince Edward Island, Canada's seat of confederation.
There are two main ferry routes for this traffic one crossing from Cape Tormentine in New Brunswick to Summerside in west-central PEI, the other from Wood Island in eastern PEI to Picton in NS. I elected to cross over by the former (Note: this route is now serviced by a bridge across the Strait) and to return to the mainland again by the latter route. My island cycling venture took me on an 'arcing trip from Summerside, north to the town of Cavendish (Ann of Green Gables fame), then south east to Charlottown and Wood Island, requiring 2 camping stops. However, my expectations of PEI had been, I'm afraid, set too high, and I was rather disappointed by several factors, one being the roads (narrow and quite busy), the other was the weather, (cold and wet most of the time). 'Annes' home town of Cavendish was also a let-down and was rife with commercialism, seemingly having no connection with the book or story. Although I did enjoy a brief look through the "Gables" cottage (which incidentally was besieged with Japanese tourists), I was not discouraged to continue on down to the Wood Island ferry and the crossing to Nova Scotia. However, Island weather was so bad the night before, I abandoned any thought of camping and found myself a motel in Charlottetown, were I was able to at last dry out some of my gear.
The weather fortunately cleared on the ferry crossing to Picton, and from there it was an easy run to a campsite near Truro; there I spent the balance of the day studying my Nova Scotian maps. Then, next day there was a 4 hour ride into Halifax on a main freeway, along with much heavy traffic. In fact, I had the strong feeling the highway I was travelling (route 102) was forbidden to cyclists, judged by a few scowls I received on the way, although I wasn't bothered by the law, nor did I see any cycle warning signs.
Halifax is a very interesting city, with many historic landmarks. I particularly enjoyed the old 'Citadel' fort situated on a hill overlooking the city and harbor what a colourful past that edifice has seen with its numerous battles between the French and English. I also found the inner harbor area very thought-provoking, considering all the naval convoys which must have been made up and set sail from there during the last 2 major European wars. Then my thoughts turned to the huge explosion of a nitrate-laden French ship at this point in 1917 still the largest conventional man made explosion in the world. A significant portion of the city was destroyed in the disaster, and many hundreds of people were killed.
After a couple of days in town, I left Halifax for the west on July 19, taking highway number 1, and subsequently, a secondary road paralleling the main highway. This was a very agreeable ride, with favorable winds out of the north-east, and rolling forest covered countryside. The latter aspect rather surprised me, as I had always thought Nova Scotia would be fairly heavily settled, but this certainly wasn't the case, at least in that part.
That evening I met up with acquaintances of more friends in Ottawa, the former managing an historic inn near the University town of Acadia. This inn had originally been built by the British army in 1788, and used then as officer's quarters during the early history of the province. I was very impressed with what had been done with the building to adapt it to tourist use, and when the proprietors offered me a room at a nominal rate, I was happy to accept. That evening turned out to be more interesting than expected, when the proprietor (Allen Sheeto) and I made a trip by car, back over part of the road I had traveled that day. This was to inspect a 1931 Chevrolet sedan that I had seen for sale, and in which Allen was interested. I have no idea whether he purchased the car or not, but certainly the interest was there. Quite frankly, as a vintage car 'freak' in Australia, I wished I could have bought the vehicle myself and shipped it back home, but that was not possible.
The following morning, I bade my new friends au revoir and headed on south, following the Bay of Fundy, which fronts onto the west side of the Nova Scotia peninsula. This is one of the oldest settled areas of Canada, dating well back into the 17th century. Many of the towns were very quaint and picturesque, and having names that were more English and Scottish than the 'olde country' itself. Along the way, I visited the famous Annapolis Royale tidal power station that benefits from the huge tides in the bay. Later I stopped to contemplate the harbor and bay at the town of Digby, were so many privateers and sailing-ship raiders had entered and pillaged the coastal settlements in the historic past. Also of interest nearby was historic Fort Anne, formerly a British stronghold, protecting against the region against marauding parties of French, and later American raiders. What an incredible history this area had!
In this area, I ran across a young couple, cycling north along the same coastal road I was following. They had come across from the western portion of Ontario, near Thunder Bay I believe, and expected to finish their trip in Halifax - she was Australian and he was Canadian. The interesting point regarding their travels was their young son-travelling along with them, securely tucked into a child trailer attached to the rear of his bike. What an incredible 'show' to tow such a load all that way; it kind of made my load seem 'like small potatoes' after seeing their great effort.
The final sector of this vast cross-Canada ride took me from Church Point, just south of Digby to Yarmouth at the very bottom end of Nova Scotia. There I purchased a ferry boat ticket across to Bar Harbor in Maine, confirmed new return flight times to Australia from Boston, and obtained some US currency. The ferry sailed about 4:30 pm, and took about 6 hours to cross to the US side; fortunately the sea was relatively calm most of the way (I am a lousy sailor!)
In Bar Harbor, I searched in vain, late in the evening for accommodation. Everything was booked, so I had no choice but to try and locate a camping spot in the adjacent bush-land. This was less than ideal, for the night was very dark, my flashlight was 'dead' and the bush area was extremely rough. I temporarily left me bike beside the road, and after floundering around in the bush for 10 to 15 minutes, searching for a suitable spot, I returned to retrieve the bike, only to find myself confused and lost. Eventually, I did get re-oriented, found the bike, and set my tent up as best as I could, but it wasn't a very comfortable night. What a lousy introduction to the USA!
In the morning, I groggily set out for the mainland, traversing the bar for which the town is named. From there, I followed a south-westerly direction, more or less paralleling the Atlantic shoreline. Although the road was very busy with weekend traffic, I made good use of an excellent shoulder that afforded easy cycling. The gently rolling countryside, and the turn-of-the-century homes with their large open verandahs along the way made for very pleasant travel, such that I totally dismissed my problems of the previous night. Also of interest along that route were a number of weekend road-stalls and flea-markets. I stopped for a stroll in one or two of these, but found the varied items for sale a bit junky and pricey. Besides, I had collected enough "objects d'art" on the Canadian travels (not to mention the lost tools, coins, car emblems and so on I had retrieved at road-side), and certainly had no more space for additional items.
That evening I camped in a very well laid out, but expensive ($16 US) campground near Camden, Maine. Close by was a fine lookout (Megisicook Mountain) offering sweeping views along the New England coastline, with a fine yacht harbor in the for-ground. Just before camping, I met another cycling couple from Washington, headed north and eventually to California. They were very interested in my Canadian cycling experiences. Also nearby, I chatted with a vintage car enthusiast with several nice cars, including a 1921 Packard roadster, as well as a restored airplane -a J-3 Cub.
Next day (Saturday, 24 July) was fine and sunny; however, the roads were extremely busy, and if there hadn't been a wide shoulder, I should have been in some difficulties. Again, there were some fine old homes stretched along the highways, with scores of weekend market stalls in many of the towns. Traffic in some instances was backed up for over a mile near the more 'touristy' centres, and in one or two cases, I had great difficulty even crossing the highway (eg, to visit museums etc). The traditional New England building architecture along the way was a never-ending source of enjoyment. In particular, I loved viewing the old government office buildings, with their brilliant white paint, fine landscaped grounds, and often with a huge old cannon pointing at some bygone enemy, standing out in front.
That Saturday evening I found all the campgrounds packed out, so I stopped at a farm and asked if I could pitch my tent in a paddock adjacent to the house. Fortunately, I was well received and able to set up on a dry flat site near a grove of birch trees. In such warm weather as was currently occurring, shade was all-important to keep the hot sun off the tent. The farmer refused any payment for my stay, but I left him a 'souvenir' Aussie $5 bill when I departed early next morning.
On my ride south that day, I by-passed Portland in Maine, covered a coastal corner of New Hampshire, and crossed the border of Massacheusettes. After a visit to yet another car museum and a restoration garage, I arrived in the final destination of my trip, namely, Boston. In order to get into the downtown where the Youth Hostel was located, there was a choice of a bridge or a tunnel under the Charles river. Several people had warned me not to cycle in the tunnel, so I elected to use the Tobbin bridge a huge structure high off the water to allow ocean-going ships to pass underneath. Half way across, I realised the bridge too was not a cycling zone, and was shortly made very aware of this when the toll gate operators abused me at the city end. I appreciated their many points about the dangers to cyclists, for with multi-traffic lanes separated by concrete barriers, there was little space remaining for a car to pass a bike.
The result ended in quite a humorous fashion however, with one of the operators directing me over to an adjacent freight elevator, that flashed me to ground level beside the river. I might add that I was warned never to take such a chance again, with advice it was a good way to get oneself killed!
From the docks and wharves area, I cycled the short distance west to a university district where the hostel was located. On check-in, I found the rooms were rather crowded, and I had to bunk in with 3 other residents. However, everyone was very friendly, and we enjoyed a pleasant evening preparing meals, and discussing around the dinner table, experiences during our respective travels.
Trinity Church, central Boston
Over the next couple of days, I did the usual touristy things, visiting such interests as Harvard University, MIT, the excellent fine arts museum, the Quincy markets, and the historic naval dockyards. The famous planetarium in the Christian Science church with it's novel vistas of our planet from 'the centre of the earth' was most intriguing, giving one a whole new slant on our world. I thoroughly enjoyed Boston, and found it to be a most interesting city with numerous tourist attractions, none of which were expensive.
Sadly, Boston marked the end of this invigorating cycle experience, across a very significant portion of North America, about 8000 Kms in total. It had been a wonderful and stimulating ride covering so many topographic regions, - mountains, flat endless prairies, pre-cambrian shield country, and the gently rolling maritimes. Each part had its own particular advantages (and disadvantages), but I would have to select the mountainous cordillera region of British Columbia as my favorite. And not to forget the inhabitants of this vast stretch of land, I am convinced that Canadians are the friendliest people that I have met anywhere in the world. Having now completed 5 such cycle journeys on 4 continents, I would be hard pressed to find better.