Cycling 378km from Prescott to Toronto

After having sufficiently relaxed in Gatineau and Ottawa, on July 23 we loaded my bike into Matt’s car again.

Matt, Jos, and I headed to Prescott, near the US border, where we had a Tim Horton’s lunch and coffee before I loaded my bags onto the bike and cycled off in the direction of Kingston. I started off on Highway 401, having been told that it had a wide shoulder all along. This is the nice wide shoulder on Hwy 401:

After a couple of minutes, however, the nice wide shoulder turned into a 1-foot-wide (30cm-wide) shoulder which was entirely rumble strip. Seeing as how this is a ridiculously busy and fast highway with many, many huge trucks on it, and it began raining like crazy, I wasn’t particularly happy about this change. However, after a few more minutes, I came across a car parked on the gravel shoulder and two people waving me down. Turns out they’ve done lots of cycle touring, and had stopped to tell me how to get to the nearby old highway which is much safer for cyclists. I managed to get off Hwy 401 within about half an hour, after being run off the road several times by semi-trailers blasting their air horns right as they came up on me instead of with a bit of warning. Luckily, my Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires were able to handle the gravel quite well at 30+ km/h and I was always able to regain the asphalt relatively quickly.

Once on Old Highway 2, cycling was much more enjoyable, even though my destination was 104km from my starting point. I have no idea what this tower is, but it’s old and strange so I took a photo:

Progress toward Kingston – only 77km to go:

I saw a lot of hay fields during my cycling adventures in Eastern Canada, and took photos of many of them for some reason:

Supposedly entering Kingston… in fact, I was quite some distance from the city itself, but at least I had something to look forward to:

I reached Kingston in the late afternoon, managed to arrange a place to stay at the very last minute through with a super nice guy named Will. After a shower and some great conversation, I went to bed (went to couch?) and slept like a baby. Up in the morning again, I refilled my three water bottles and cycled out of Kingston, stopping at Tim Horton‘s for breakfast just outside town. I ended up eating at Tim’s very, very frequently while cycling in the Maritimes and Ontario, and highly recommend it.

My destination on day 2 was a town called Belleville, 83km away. En route, as usual, I took a few photos. Some were from my onboard camera and others from the one in my pocket which I pulled out while moving or stopped, depending on the shot:

Canada’s oldest furniture store, in Napanee, where Avril Lavigne grew up:

More hay:

I took this photo specifically for my friend Sarina, who will understand why it’s funny:

As I was cycling up one straight stretch of the highway, I noticed something in the distance slowly crossing the road. As I neared, I tried to decide what it could be. When I got close enough to see, I realised it was a turtle! By the time I reached it, it had tucked itself into its shell because of several trucks and cars going by, which all just narrowly missed crushing it. I took this photo while still cycling. In Canada, a double-yellow line is the centre line dividing opposing directions of traffic (double means no crossing to overtake). My British friends might otherwise think this is taken curbside, but it’s the middle of the highway:

I pulled off the road and jumped off my bike, let one more truck pass by, then quickly picked the turtle up and carried it to the other side in the direction it had been walking, and put it down a good distance from the road, not far from a small brook. Having shown these photos to more knowledgeable people, it turns out to be a Blanding’s Turtle, a threatened/endangered species! Neat!

Continuing on my journey, more random photos:

I had to sleep in a motel in Belleville, as I couldn’t find any free accommodation, but I did have a nice chat with the girl working at the Pita Pit, so it wasn’t an entirely antisocial evening. In the morning, I set my sights on Cobourg, about 78km away. On the way there I saw a few trains, like this one:

As I was passing CFB Trenton and admiring the huge military aircraft through the fence while cycling alongside, I noticed something in the distance and immediately stopped to take a photo. It’s a groundhog! I tried to get up to the fence to take a better photo but even from a huge distance, the groundhog got scared and shot into its hole almost instantly:

Crossing a bridge:

On the way from Belleville to Cob
ourg, I had to pass through Colborne, which involved a ridiculous uphill I never want to see again. After conquering said hill, I was on my way out of town toward Cobourg when I noticed this fancy old car parked on the side of the road, so I grabbed my pocket camera and took a quick shot as I cycled past:

Not much further on, another fancy old car! I stopped to take this one:

45 minutes later, a bunch of these old cars passed me by (at very slow speeds, mind you), so I again grabbed my pocket camera and took a few shots while trying to keep up with them a bit. This is the back of the second car I saw parked earlier:

And a different one:

I made it to Cobourg before 5pm, found a wireless connection outside near the marina area to check email and find accommodation, but then it began to rain. I quickly zipped everything up and headed to a restaurant with wireless where I had a tasty lunch and found the cheapest motel online. Outside, the rain started coming down in buckets, and hadn’t stopped doing so by the time I finally left. This is the fancy town hall building in ‘downtown’ Cobourg, before the rain got into full swing:

I slept fairly well at the motel, and in the morning was back on the road after another Tim Horton’s breakfast for my fourth and final day of Ontario cycling, heading for Toronto. My tires were a bit low so I got the car mechanics at Canadian Tire to put some air in, as I couldn’t find a petrol station anywhere and my hand-pump only inflates my tires to the bare minimum level.

The trip from Cobourg to Toronto isn’t particularly short – it’s about 113km on the route I took.

You may think this village has erected this sign to welcome people to their area, but in fact the name of the village is Welcome, Ontario. You can find it on any detailed Ontario map, or Google Maps.

I have no idea how/why this double decker bus got into some guy’s field in the middle of nowhere in Ontario, but it’s painted in gold-coloured paint and has Big Ben painted on it.

Car and business nearly colour-coordinated:

I finally entered the outskirts of Toronto after a physically tough day of cycling, and the smell hit me much harder than it has in a couple of past visits to Canada’s biggest city. I often joke about how bad Toronto air is, and I still stand by that, but this last summer there was something making it even worse than normal: a garbage strike.

You think this is a lot of garbage?

Let’s zoom out a bit, now it’s clear that there’s a LOT of garbage:

But if we zoom out even further, it’s possible to see that it’s a REEEEALLY big pile of garbage, and there’s another one to the left!

Aside from the air, the garbage strike (which ended while I was in town), and the terrible condition of many of the city’s roads, I had a great time spending a week in Toronto just looking around and catching up with old friends. More on that in the next post.

Cycling from New Brunswick to Nova Scotia in 56 photos

With a bare minimum of words, here’s my one week journey in 56 photos. I landed in Fredericton, New Brunswick on June 30th, reassembled my bike in the airport parking lot, cycled into town and spent two nights there. Then on July 2nd I cycled 110km to St John. On July 3rd I took the ferry to Digby, Nova Scotia, and on July 4th I cycled 120km to Crescent Beach, just outside Bridgewater, Nova Scotia. On July 5th I cycled 95km from Mahone Bay to Halifax, and on July 6th I cycled 82km from Halifax to East Ship Harbour, where my grandmother lives. 4 full days of cycling + some cycling within cities = 440km total.

Leaving Toronto:

Fredericton, New Brunswick:

Late-night videogames at The 476, home of Emily and the rest of my hosts and hangout place for many randoms:

Canada Day fireworks:

En route to St John:

St John, New Brunswick:

Hayley, my host in St John, with her friend as we enjoyed an evening drink at a local pub:

The ferry trip from St John, New Brunswick to Digby, Nova Scotia:

Billy Baker, a friendly and entertaining off-duty Coast Guard worker with whom I spent the ferry trip laughing a lot:

Entering Digby as the fog began to lift:

Digby, Nova Scotia:

Dianne, the wife of my host in Digby, with the terrifically delicious meal she made for her husband and me:

Lawrence, my host in Digby, who showed me around town and with whom I had some great conversations:

Driving the first 43km out of Digby in a torrential downpour. Lawrence saved me from what would have been the worst three hours of cycling of my trip! I still did 120km on the bike after being dropped off.

Cycling across Nova Scotia toward Bridgewater:

An old Canadian Navy warship, docked in Bridgewater harbour for many years since being decommissioned, and removed only weeks after I saw it. See for more info.

On the wall of a bakery between Bridgewater and Crescent Beach:

My host’s home in Crescent Beach:

With Simone, another CouchSurfer, from Germany:

The barn!

Simone, who was also staying at the same house as me on July 4th, had a goal to visit a particular nearby restaurant owned by her mom’s former classmate, so our host drove us there, which included a short ferry trip!

With the friendly ferry guy!

A few of Lunenburg:

Lunenburg Academy, a local (and very old) primary school. Imagine going to school in this place!

David, our host, playing a good game of ping pong in his barn. He was better than Simone, and better than me, but he let each of us get a few points to be nice. It was really fun playing late-night ping pong in his vintage barn.

Made famous in a popular postcard, the three churches of Mahone Bay:

A loon:

In the home of my fun hosts in Halifax:< br />

Cycling from Halifax to East Ship Harbour, Nova Scotia:

Mid-to-late-June, bicycle building

Having returned from Asia to Vancouver on June 10th, I had only 19 days to build a bicycle and see a bunch of family and friends before flying to the other side of Canada for a cycle trip and more family visiting. So I went to a terrific bicycle store called Our Community Bikes, on Main at 17th Ave in Vancouver, and got them to teach me how to build a bicycle.

This is my bike after a fair bit of work had already gone into it:

During one of the days I spent working in their workshop, I went for lunch nearby with a friend. Check out the tasty menu:

On June 20th, 2 months shy of her 100th birthday, my granny died, and we had the funeral and burial on June 25th. It was a nice ceremony and my sister delivered a terrific eulogy.

On the drive home, our car made some funny noises and reversing into our driveway the rear wheels came totally out of alignment so that the car wouldn’t move at all. Note that rear wheels should always be parallel to the car, never turned:

The car got towed and repaired, and I spent more time at the bike shop, which included altering certain parts that I was putting on my bike. I got one of the employees to grind down an axel that was a bit too long:

We also had a family gathering at my parents’ home the day after my granny’s funeral, which was really nice. All of my siblings and parents in one photo:

And here’s my mom with all of her living siblings:

Having nearly finished building my bicycle, by June 28th I was riding it around the city to get used to it, as I’ve always ridden mountain bikes and city bikes in the past. I made a camera mount for the front handlebars out of a red reflector attachment, and experimented a bit with onboard photography. Sometimes it turned out a bit slanted…

A bike with drop bars needs bar wrap otherwise you’re holding bare metal which isn’t very comfortable, is terrible for grip, and can do a lot of damage to your wrists, so I bought some stupidly expensive leather bar wrap and got a pro to put it on for me so I wouldn’t have to buy another pack of the stuff if I did it wrong:

And here’s me with my completed bike, on the 28th, before packing it into a box and flying the next day to Fredericton:

Mud vs Sheep vs Bike 2008

My boss during my 4 week internship, Fraser, will soon be turning 40. Most years since 1993, he has organised an annual bike ride with friends, which they call Mud vs Sheep vs Bike. This year he organised to hold the event in Slimbridge, Gloucestershire, for the weekend of September 5, 6, 7 and invited me to join him and his friends. One of his friends lent me a decent bike with front suspension and we hit the trails. Having had knee surgery at the start of June, this was the point at which my new Anterior Cruciate Ligament should theoretically be at its weakest strength as it has lost its original strength (from when it was actually 2 lengths of hamstrings before the surgeon turned them into a single ACL) and is just now establishing a blood supply with the bones against which it is held by screws. So, while my knee feels fairly good, I have to be even more careful right now to avoid injuring it.

I took it quite easy on the ride as a result, walking when the uphill or downhill slopes were too difficult or risky. It’s been years since I’ve been out on trails, and I had a tonne of fun sliding through mud, fishtailing along slippery tree roots, and not falling off any of the cliff edges. The stuff I used to do with my brother Dan in Vancouver was tougher in terms of jumps and stuff, but this was more difficult in terms of endurance, as we did something around 44 km on Saturday which was 3 hrs 40 mins of movement (felt a lot longer than that) with 524 m of total climb. On Sunday, what was supposed to be an easy, one hour trip, turned out to be 2 hrs 40 mins of movement (this is the figure from Fraser’s wristwatch GPS, but I actually spent a lot longer than this as I wasn’t with Fraser the whole time) covering 34.6 km (in fact, I went approximately 6 km farther than Fraser as I was at the front of the pack following two people who took a wrong turn, so the three of us had to turn around after a long time and find the correct way; I’d say I cycled about 42 km on Sunday). The total climb that day was 459 m for Fraser, but that extra 6 km I did was a tough 19 m of extra vertical climbing!

All in all, the weekend was a great success and I got a helluva workout for my legs and lungs. My knee held up well, and it only took 4 days for my shoes to dry after I cleaned the mud off them in Bristol on Sunday afternoon.

Well, wasn’t that interesting. Photos might be a little MORE interesting, so here they are:

This is the map of our Saturday ride. The yellow bit is where everyone else went, the red is where I went (I was going too fast for the others on the way home and they had told me to just keep going straight, which turned out to be wrong hehe).

Info from Fraser’s wristwatch GPS:

Ready to start off into the trails after a few miles of road cycling:

High up somewhere, looking westward, we could see the bridge from England to Wales from here but it doesn’t show up in this pic.

There were around 20 people riding the first day.

Getting started again after a short break:

At the end of our trail riding, about to enter the pub where I ate two plates and two drinks to replace all the energy I’d lost on the ride! The mud was worse than it looks in this pic:

Adam’s legs show the mud a bit better:

That evening we had a bit of a birthday celebration for Fraser, as he’ll soon turn 40. This is the cake his friends got for him, showing a photo of him on a Mud vs Sheep vs Bike many years ago:

Here’s our Sunday trail map. The bit between the two yellow spots is the extra 6 km (3 km each way) that three of us did accidentally on our way home. We nearly went to Gloucester!

And the info from Fraser’s GPS:

Starting out, it was pretty easy going on the roads, but it got nearly impossible soonafter and I had to walk up a steep road for about 10 minutes as I just couldn’t manage the hill.

You’ve seen mud, you’ve seen bike. Here are the sheep:

When we finally got to the top of the hill, called Frocester Hill, we saw two large gliders appear from nowhere in near silence and float around above us for a while. Very cool!

On top of Frocester Hill:

Cliché, but I was never strong enough in the past to lift a bike over my head like this so I had to do it! As it is, I barely could hold it up there!

Adam posing with the scenery:

More scenery of Gloucestershire from another hilltop:

Just before we finally headed back down to the hostel, someone spotted an ice cream truck and Sandeep kindly bought us all ice cream cones with chocolate sticks in them. Fraser definitely enjoyed his. See the look of happiness on his face?

Whew. All done.