On the morning of June 1, 2018 we dipped our tires into the Pacific Ocean waters in Nanaimo B.C. and headed off on a three month biking adventure across Canada. Five of us embarked on this cross-Canada tour, four cyclists and one driver. All our possessions, spare tubes, tires, repair equipment, food and a spare bike each were loaded in a two-bedroom trailer and the back of a half-ton truck. We had a rough idea of what to expect, having studied blogs and books written by others who went before us. We had our route mapped out with campgrounds identified along the way. We were pumped!
Four of us had planned this trip one year in advance. Three of the cyclists had completed a number of endurance events including multiple marathons and ironman competitions so we had a pretty good idea of the toll it would take on our bodies. We had planned to ride approximately 100 kilometers a day, six days a week. The seventh day would be spent doing laundry, grocery shopping, sight-seeing and resting. We had spent two months in Mexico riding our bikes to get us fit enough, we hoped, to get through the Rockies. After that, we figured, our fitness would continue to grow. We planned a meal preparation schedule where we would rotate preparing dinner for all of us while breakfast and lunch were our own to prepare. We spent about a month meticulously planning our route, mapping it out based on kilometers, elevation, and campgrounds that could accommodate a 32 foot trailer. We had to consider that the last ferry back from Newfoundland to Nova Scotia sailed on September 5 so we must be finished our trip by then. We discussed what we would do in the event of sickness or injury. We even designed and ordered bike kits (shorts and jerseys) to commemorate the trip. We thought we had taken care of pretty much everything we could think of. But of course, life sometimes gets in the way of our best laid plans.
It took us from June 1 to June 16 to cross B.C. We knew this was going to be a tough section because of all the climbing we would have to do. We eased into the ride the first week with fairly short distances and the sight of the mountains in front of us. This was pretty easy so far! The climbs going through Hope, East Manning Park and Hedley were preparing us for the real climbing to come – out of Osoyoos and Christina Lake. But the views were stunning!! Our first day off was in Osoyoos and we met up with friends who had come to visit us. We rode through Greenwood, Christina Lake, Castlegar, Yank, Cranbrook and Fernie before climbing through the Crowsnest Pass in the pouring rain and hail. It had taken us 16 beautiful days to cross B.C.
Alberta, by comparison took us 4 days, Saskatchewan 7. By this point we were routinely riding over a hundred kilometers a day. We often passed a number of ground squirrels squished on the side of the road as we marked our path via grain silos. We were counting on a pretty speedy trip going through the Prairies because we’d be riding with the prevailing winds. Unfortunately, the winds in the summer of 2018 were prevailing from the east and we spent many a day battling them with me often tucked in behind my husband Dave to block the wind. We stopped into a number of Chinese restaurants for lunch on our way through the prairies including one around Morden where the owners could not speak any English and were only open from 9-11 and 2-4! We had fun trying to communicate with them. One day we waited out a lightning storm in Red Jacket Saskatchewan with Bob who was building a Quonset hut in the exact spot where the lightning started, and he took some time off to visit with us in the shelter of his hut. It was also in Saskatchewan where we encountered our first wildlife experience – being chased by a coyote down the highway. A bit scary when you realize there are not many vehicles to flag down if he managed to take a bite out of one of us. The roads in Saskatchewan were the worst with narrow to non-existent shoulders.
On June 27, we crossed the border into Manitoba, riding through Brandon and Winnipeg. Just after entering Manitoba we stopped in Virden for some lunch and outside of the restaurant we spent about 30 minutes talking to a woman who was born and raised in Virden. She noticed our Canada bike kits and was asking about our trip. Just east of Virden, a car passed us and pulled ahead and stopped. The driver was a reporter for the Virden newspaper and she had heard about us from the woman outside the restaurant and drove out to talk to us. We had a nice article written up in the Virden paper. We were famous! Again, it was a pretty straight shot through Manitoba with the big open skies and favourable weather through most of the province. We had a rest day in Winnipeg where Dave and I spent the day visiting with some friends from when we lived there. And then shortly east of Winnipeg we passed the half-way sign – the geographic center of Canada. We were half way across the country geographically but not quite half way through our trip.
On July 2 we entered Ontario. We had heard a lot about biking in Ontario. We had driven through northern Ontario and we were dreading it! Poor roads, black flies, bush and more bush, restaurants and places to buy food few and far between. We were expecting the worst but the worst was yet to come. Just west of Nipigon Mike, one of the riders that joined our group just two weeks prior to us leaving in June, had a bike crash and spent 10 days in the hospital in Thunder Bay with fractured ribs. We spent an extra day in Nipigon making sure that Mike was settled, packing up his belongings and delivering them to a bike shop who would hold them until he was released from the hospital. He took the train back to Nanaimo while we continued on our trip. That was the saddest day of our trip, Mike was very accommodating with a big smile; we were going to miss him. It was in Nipigon that we heard about the forest fires in northern Ontario and we made the decision to change our route to avoid them. This would mean more kilometers and more elevation but we felt it was the best option. We headed south along the eastern end of Lake Superior down to Sault Ste Marie and then across to Sudbury, North Bay and then Ottawa. This turned out to be a great decision because we rode through some of the most beautiful scenery of the trip. Waterfalls, gorges, rivers, granite-pebbled beaches, beautiful sunsets, warm weather, great food and friendly people. And black flies – lots and lots of black flies! In Forrester Falls we took a rest day to go white water rafting with a friend we had met on another biking trip in Croatia. Dirk and Claudia owned and operated Owl Rafting and he put us up in a cabin for two nights, fed us, and arranged for us to spend a day on the Ottawa River. It was heaven! Ottawa was great and we took in some sights as we rode through it. It turns out Ontario is where we saw two moose, not in Newfoundland as we expected.
On July 27 we crossed into Quebec, the cycling capital of Canada. They have bike paths, fantastic food, super friendly people, and gorgeous landscape. We had planned on riding around the Gaspe Peninsula and we were so glad we did. Every year cyclists in Quebec make the pilgrimage around Gaspesie. We had some of the toughest climbs there but with breathtaking views and great poutine! I had never eaten poutine (it sounds disgusting!) but when in Quebec….. Stopping at a trailer at the side of the road, Dave and I decided to split an order that left me begging for more! It was also on the Gaspesie that we ran into a couple from Quebec who were also cycling across Canada – the hard way – they were carrying all their gear on their bikes and camping in farmers fields whenever possible. But then they were only 30 years old. We ran into them many times over the rest of our journey.
It took us 5 days to ride through New Brunswick, 3 days, including a rest day in Charlottetown, to ride through PEI, and 11 days to get around Nova Scotia. We experienced Acadia Day, lobster rolls, fantastic clam chowder, fresh fish sold from a shack, flooded campsites, a tour of the Blue Nose II in Lunenburg, Rita McNeil’s tea room, and welcoming people everywhere we went. The maritime hospitality truly is amazing and we were getting close to our destination!
We took the overnight ferry from North Sydney, Nova Scotia to Argentia, Newfoundland on September 1. Although it was only 140 kilometers from the ferry terminal to St. Johns we decided to spend the night in Holyrood and ride into St. Johns refreshed the next day. The winds were howling at our backs on our final ride and we were flying into St. Johns. At one point we were going 53km/hr on a slight uphill with huge smiles on our faces! We arrived in Quidi Vidi early in the afternoon and were met by our friends Mark and Penny who had seen us off earlier from Nanaimo. Two bottles of chilled sparkling wine were consumed after we had dipped our bike wheels into the Atlantic on September 3 and before the celebrating commenced.
Overall the entire trip took 96 days, with 82 of those spent on the bike. We rode 7,961 kilometers and climbed 51,841 meters, averaging 97km/day.
People generally think this is a pretty amazing accomplishment. But the riding itself was not really that difficult. We went to bed at night knowing we were going to be tired in the morning, but once on the bike the fatigue faded away and we enjoyed the ride. And we finished in the best shape of our lives. Apparently approximately 2,000 people a year cycle across Canada, many from Europe and the USA. Most travel west to east and take as short a route as possible to complete the trip.
My three favorite legs of the trip were B.C., northern Ontario, and Quebec. The biggest take-aways from this trip were: our bodies are pretty amazing things, able to do so much more than our minds think they can; Canada is huge – I mean really huge – and diverse with spectacular world-class scenery; Canadians as a whole are very friendly, welcoming, and willing to go out of their way to help you. The scenery, food, and people we met along the route, both locals and other cyclists crossing our country, were all fantastic and ensured the trip will remain one of the highlights of our lives.