Monday, 6 September 2010

2010 Cycle Tour Across Canada. Job Done.

As you can well imagine, I’m truly ecstatic to have successfully completed my 2010 Cycle Tour Across Canada from Vancouver to St. John’s! Congratulations to me! It was the realisation of a longstanding ambition, certainly a trip of a lifetime and something I’ll never forget.

I cycled in all ten provinces of Canada: British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland & Labrador. I also cycled in the following States of the USA: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and New York.

My odometer, despite having a broken mount since day 3, recorded 8,302 km. (The actual total was a little more but I’m not worried). I was on the road from Thursday June 10th 2010 to Sunday September 5th 2010, a total of 88 days. I rode the bike on 77 of those days and had 10 rest days and one day off due to an injury. I averaged 94km a day or 108km a day when actually riding. My furthest points west and east were Ucluelet (125°32′31″W) and St. John's (52°42′26″W). I crossed 73° of longitude on my ride. That’s about a fifth of the way around the planet!

My original route schedule was 8,970km, 88 days, 76 days riding at about 120km per day. I didn’t quite manage that, hence I changed portions of my route to compensate. I straight-lined Minnesota and the Upper Peninsula, Michigan more than I wanted to and I didn’t ride the long way across Newfoundland. I actually rode further in Manitoba, first with a detour to Clear Lake and then taking back roads to escape the bad road shoulders and traffic! Unfortunately, I turned off the Cabot Trail because of the threat of bad weather. Other than that, I followed my published route pretty closely.

I had brilliant weather all summer. I think I only had about 7 rainy days in total. I had a ridiculous amount of tailwind! It was a little hot and sometimes humid from Saskatchewan onwards but it was only bad a few days. I managed to successfully miss the rains across the Prairies, the heat wave in Ontario and Quebec and even a hurricane in Nova Scotia!

I had absolutely no trouble with my bike, the indestructible Thorn Raven Nomad. Nothing broke (computer mount excepted) or malfunctioned. Amazingly, I had only one puncture (front, tiny piece of wire) which I mended before setting off on the last day to St. John’s! I changed the back tyre in Montreal at 6,400km. The front did the whole trip. I could have rotated the original tyres in Montreal and probably got to the end safely. The chain did the whole trip also and still has some life. I only wiped and oiled the chain a grand total of 4 times. The Rohloff Speedhub was faultless. I did the scheduled hub oil change (a little late) in Montreal.

I only had one small cycling injury. I picked up a random tendon strain on the outside of my ankle between Superior and Ashland, WI. It healed quickly. I had virtually no aches or pains that were cycling induced. I can only remember some cramp from the first hilly day. I had no saddle soreness at all. (Thank you: Brooks saddle, Assos Padded Shorts and Assos Chamois Creme)! Truly amazing, considering the various water sources and food sources I used during the 3 months, I did not get sick. I weighed myself in Montreal and I was the same weight as when I set out from the UK. I expect I’m still similar writing this text in St. John’s.

Some “accidental” things did happen that I sometimes but not always reported. I stubbed my toe badly on a bed leg in a motel in Saskatchewan, I had indigestion for a week approaching Montreal, I strained a muscle in my ribs really badly during sleep one night. (That required vast quantities of Ibuprofen for over a week in order for me to be able to lie down at night)! I crippled my calf muscles climbing the many steps up to Mont Royal in Montreal. I got stung by a bee right in the ear-hole. 

How tough was this ride? There’s no two ways to put this, it was very tough. Actually, physically it wasn’t too bad. I rode within my capabilities, ate well (most days), was able to recover successfully each night (motels and restaurant meals most nights helped) and I stayed remarkably fit and healthy. Mentally, it was a different story and I suffered on several fronts. I found I just didn’t want to ride 120km (about 6 hours) each day every day. It was just too much to do on my own with my own thoughts. I found the first 40km of each day a particular trial, fighting with myself about “how far I still had to go”. The remaining 80km nearly always felt easier and faster than the first 40km! I got freaked out by mosquitoes after being bitten badly in BC. (I’d not encountered mosquitoes particularly before). I nearly gave up in Prince George at a result. I never got on with camping, partly because of the bugs, partly because food was more limited, partly because I could never sleep properly, partly because most serviced campsites were noisy and crap, mostly because I just loathed making and breaking camp. I think my issues stemmed from doing this ride on my own. I perhaps underestimated this aspect. Three months was a long time to be alone on the road. I never got “lonely” per se, but I think I would’ve benefited greatly from having company to help stay motivated and sane. Bottom line, I don’t think I’d do a trip of this magnitude on my own again.

It’s been asked whether this ride was harder than my ride across America in 2007. Well, probably yes, but not in the obvious way. The American ride had a very aggressive riding schedule of 200-250km per day for 26 days with no rest days, but you didn’t need to “think”. It was run as a military operation, with motels provided, route sheets to follow, daytime food and energy drinks to rendezvous regularly with. Obviously, as a group ride, there was plenty of company and comradeship on offer. The American ride was certainly more physically demanding than my ride across Canada, but the mental component on the Canada ride far outstripped the physical component. On balance, the Canada ride was harder because of the mental “pressures” of riding solo and unsupported. The additional length of time on the road also played it’s part towards the end.

Nearly finally, I’d like to thank the people of Canada (and America) who made me feel so welcome. I was the subject of many acts of kindness both large and small. The people I met on my travels, especially the countless roadside chats with inquisitive strangers, were often the highlight of the day. They really helped me along in many ways.

Finally, this will be my last post “from the road”. If you’ve been following this journal during the summer, I hope you’ve enjoyed the ride! It took me about 1.5hrs per night to first edit the day’s photos and then write some accompanying words. The journal was a labour of love, but it was sometimes a pain in the butt when all I wanted to do was sleep. I hope my efforts have been worthwhile.

Cheers everyone!


Riding to St. John's

5th September: Dunville to St. John's

Odometer: 127 km, Start: 8.15am, Finish: 3.45pm, Avg: 24.1 km/h,
Weather: Sunny, strong SW wind, Temp: 15-24°C
Road Conditions: #100, excellent 1.5m shoulder, very light traffic. #1 (TCH) to jct. 35, good 1.5-2m shoulder, light traffic. #90/#60 to Conception Bay South, no shoulder, reasonable road surface, light (became moderate) traffic. #2 to St. John's, excellent 2m shoulder, moderate traffic from Mount Pearl. (Staying on TCH from jct. 35 to 44/45 may even be better)? Services: Whitburne at #100/#1 junction (41km), food stops from Holyrood onwards (75km). Rolling terrain throughout. Ascent: 1250m/1225m

I left bright and early (for me) this morning. This was to be my final day on the road. Just a days ride to St. John’s to complete my cycle ride across Canada! By leaving earlier, I’d thought I would have the added boost of mixing it up with the Tour du Canada (TdC) riders. (They were camped overnight a few kilometres behind me). I couldn’t keep pace with most of them pedalling a 40kg bike but I wouldn’t be too far behind…

Finished my cycle ride across Canada 2010! On Signal Hill overlooking St. John's

It was blowing a gale when I left Dunville but luckily the wind was coming from exactly the right direction (SW) to help me to St. John’s! I’m rather glad it was a tailwind because on the odd occasion I turned into the wind or encountered crosswind it was hard to steer a straight course.

St. John's from Signal Hill

Most of the TdC riders were at the restaurant in Whitburne when I arrived there for a mid-morning snack. After “short-stopping” I was ahead of some of them and that meant some whoops and hollers when they inevitably caught and passed me up the road. It was great fun!

Cabot Tower, Signal Hill
Cabot Tower

I wasn’t sure which route to take into St. John’s (the #1 TCH or another route). In the end I followed the TdC riders through Holyrood and Conception Bay South. (I’ve a feeling the TCH may have been as good, if a little remoter). After Conception Bay, I joined the #2 (a TCH clone) and had a rolling ride towards Mt. Pearl and then St. John’s. The run in to St. John’s was extremely fast with the strong tailwind. In fact my average for the day was one of the fastest of the tour, despite the constant rolling hills. Tailwinds rule!

St. John's Bay
Cape Spear (most easterly point in North America)

When I reached St. John’s downtown things were getting a little emotional for me, but I held it together and decided to make the final effort and climb Signal Hill, which overlooks the city. It was a very steep climb most of the way. Towards the top I could hear cheers and my name being called! I think I also heard “Do it for England”(!), as I struggled up the final few metres. The TdC crowd were there obviously, cheering each of their riders (and me!) up to the finish point.

Fingerpost on Signal Hill
The climb up to Signal Hill (actually >10% grade but camera doesn't show it)

I had finished my ride across Canada! I stayed on the hill for most of the afternoon, cheering the remaining TdC riders to the finish and chatting to interested tourists who were wondering what was going on! Finally, after a long wait (because they’d stopped in town), I cheered the riders I’d become friendly with from the ferry crossing. They ended things in style, cracking open celebratory bottles of champagne! Nice one and well done! For all of us, it has been an incredible journey and reaching the end safe and well is a fantastic achievement!

Looking out for Tour du Canada riders
Tour du Canada riders celebrating with Champagne!
Jay, John and "The Girls". Some of my Tour du Canada friends.

Ferry to Newfoundland

3rd/4th September: North Sydney to Dunville, NL

Odometer: 18 km, Start: 10.30pm, Finish: 5.30pm, Avg: 19.0 km/h,
Weather: Dark then foggy during crossing. Sunny in NL, Temp: 16-23°C
Road Conditions: #100 (from Argentia, NL), sometimes had a 1m shoulder.

It felt very strange checking out of the motel at 10.30pm, switching on my bike lights and riding the 2km to the ferry terminal in the dark! At the terminal, I met up with the Tour du Canada crowd. I spoke to Andy, the only Brit on the tour while we waited for about an hour for loading to begin and then waited some more as bikes weren’t being put on first as usually happens.

First sight of Newfoundland

The ferry car deck was only about half full when I took my bike onboard and lashed it to an immovable object for the voyage. It seemed unlikely that this would be the normal state of affairs on a Labour Day holiday weekend so I presume many people had cancelled their travel plans because of the incoming storm.

We sailed at 1.00am, on time. The crossing was actually pretty smooth and it wasn’t affected by Hurricane Earl in any way. I couldn’t see anything at all on the way across. At first it was dark and then during the day we steamed continuously through fog with the ship’s horn sounding every few minutes.

Closer view of the two rounded islands

It wasn’t until we got into Placentia Sound that the fog cleared and nice views of Newfoundland’s coastline greeted us, causing a mass exodus from the ship’s interior to the sun decks.

Ship wake in Placentia Sound

It took very little time after that to dock and unload the ship. On Newfoundland the clocks have gone forward again by a strange 0.5hrs. I’m only 3.5hrs behind UK time now!

I was soon on my way from the port and in my tenth and final province! I only had a very short ride to do, but I didn’t feel good. I was decidedly groggy after 14 hours of disorientation caused by the continuous vibration of the ship’s engines and the rocking motion on the water.

I'm on Newfoundland!

Hopefully I will have recovered enough by the morning. I’m only about 130km from St. John’s by the direct route. I’ll probably try to do it in one go and that means I could complete my cycle across Canada tomorrow!

Friday, 3 September 2010

Day off in North Sydney

This should (hopefully) be my last “day off” report of the tour! I’m spending the day relaxing, occasionally logging on to check the progress of Hurricane Earl and Marine Atlantic’s website for news of my ferry crossing to Newfoundland.

It looks like I might be lucky with my crossing. It’s still scheduled to leave overnight, slightly earlier than planned. The ferry port is going to shut down in the morning as a precaution against the incoming storm. We’re leaving just in time! Quite a few ferry departures after mine have delays of at least 12+ hours.

As for Earl, it’s still expected to hit western Nova Scotia sometime early Saturday morning. It has weakened slightly, but very strong winds and heavy rain are predicted throughout the maritime provinces during Saturday.

On my walk this morning (primarily to get some travel sickness pills – “be prepared”, I say) I met a large group of cyclists in town. They were the Tour du Canada cycling group. They have also been cycling Vancouver to St. John’s, but on a supported group tour. It was nice chatting to several of them during the morning. They are all on the same ferry as me tonight and due to finish in St. John’s on Sunday. I’m not going to race them, though, as they are on lightweight racing bikes for the most part!

Incidentally, they’d just come off the Cabot Trail. It had been a little windy yesterday, especially on some descents. One said dangerously so at one point. It was a bummer to miss the Trail (one Tour du Canada rider described the exquisite hills they’d climbed!), but I’d not have liked the windy conditions as my loaded bike is much harder to control than a racing bike in strong wind. I’m perhaps happy with my decision.

And so, dear readers, a delightfully long ferry crossing awaits me tonight. Heave-ho and all that! And not too much barfing on board, please…

To the ferry terminal at North Sydney

2nd September: Baddeck to North Sydney

Odometer: 69 km, Start: 10.30am, Finish: 3.30pm, Avg: 21.0 km/h,
Weather: Sunny, humid, Temp: 21-32°C (Humidex: 36°C) 
Road Conditions: #105 (TCH), 2-3m shoulder, excellent condition, light to moderate traffic. Restaurant at South Haven (25km), small gas station (50km). Climb 7km @ 4% Kelly's Mountain (30km). Ascent: 560m/560m.

It was perhaps the hottest day of my entire tour today. Luckily I only had a relatively short ride to North Sydney where I will catch the ferry to Newfoundland. I rode it all on the #105 TCH which wasn’t too bad as it had a wide and well surfaced shoulder and the traffic was reasonably light.

Baddeck Inlet

The lakeland area around Baddeck was pretty with good views out into St. Patricks Channel. It was hazy viewing, though, in the humid heat of the morning.

Baddeck Inlet, a bit further on

I had a good lunch at South Haven with a glorious vista across St. Anns Harbour. It was maybe one of the best lake views of my entire trip.

St. Anns Harbour (looking NE)

After my lunch had settled, I started the one big climb of the day, up and over Kelly’s Mountain. It climbed 240m in 7km, so not particularly arduous (the Duffy Lake climb in BC was 1150m in 13km!), but it was extremely hot and humid. There was no wind on the climb, the air was still. I was glad of the excuse to stop and enjoy the (very hazy) view from St. Anns Lookout, three-quarters of the way up.

Bridge over St. Andrews Channel (taken coming down Kelly's Mountain)

The downhill was a fast descent. Not quite steep enough for any records, but good fun until near the bottom where the wind was quite gusty. I took a picture of the bridge from the Bras d’Or lookout half-way down. I crossed the bridge five minutes later after finishing the descent.

I rolled into North Sydney, just about done in by the heat. I have a day off tomorrow and a wait for the ferry. We’ll have to see if Hurricane Earl has anything to say about the ferry’s expected sailing time of 1.30am Saturday…

Away from the Cabot Trail

1st September: Margaree Harbour to Baddeck

Odometer: 55 km, Start: 11.00am, Finish: 4.00pm, Avg: 19.8 km/h,
Weather: Sunny intervals, humid, Temp: 20-28°C
Road Conditions: Cabot Trail (south), no shoulder, good road surface, light traffic. Gas station and shop at Margaree Forks (14km). Ascent: 320m/320m.

I took the decision this morning not to continue around the Cabot Trail. If I carried on, I was committed to three days on the coastal road around the Cape Breton Highlands. I couldn’t guarantee I wouldn’t get caught out by strong winds heading down the east side of the trail from the incoming storm. Some locally gusty 40km/h winds were already in the forecast for the Thursday anyway.

Margaree River valley. Very reminiscent of parts of mid-Wales.

Never mind, I can come back and do the Cabot Trail another time. There’s plenty of other parts of the Maritimes I’d like to see too. The region deserves a dedicated trip to do it justice one day…

My decision means I’ve got a couple of short cycling days to get to North Sydney and then a wait for the ferry (which could be affected by the storm). It’s a disappointing end to my cycling in Nova Scotia but I’m pretty jaded at the moment to be honest, so to get some extra, unscheduled, recovery time is no bad thing.

Sunflower field and hills

I rode gently towards Baddeck today along the Cabot Trail south road that ran along a couple of river valleys. The landscape was very reminiscent of certain parts of mid-Wales in the UK that I know well. I had just the one climb, over Hunter’s Mountain. It was taken on a hot and very humid afternoon. 


Writing this evening, Earl is expected to make landfall, possibly still as a Cat. 1 hurricane, in western Nova Scotia Friday night / Saturday morning. It’s veered slightly away from my area in NE Nova Scotia. That may mean my ferry to Newfoundland won’t be too badly affected. Maybe…