“What makes you keep going?” is a question I’m asked all too frequently, but my answer has now become automatic: my friends and followers. The trip has for a long time become more about the friends I’m making than the miles I’m riding, but this doesn’t take away from the fact I’m getting very close to being able to call myself a true “round the world” cyclist. The point of telling you this? well this trip has been called “The Goodwill Tour” since I landed in Canada and without your help I could never have got this far, so thank you everyone who has helped (or is still helping) me continue my trip.
Guinness World Records has a set of rules which define what constitutes an around the world cycle. These include:
- Cycling at least 18,000 miles in a given direction i.e. east or west.
- Crossing every line of longitude around the world and two antipodal points (opposite points of the globe).
- Travelling a total distance – including flights and boats – of at least as much as 24,900 miles, the earth’s circumference at the equator.
I’ve now been on the road for 20 months and when I started this venture, my daily mileage was approximately 100 miles (160 km) and I was easily able to accomplish this. The biggest challenge now has become continuing to try and cycle a ‘worthwhile’ daily mileage and I set myself the target of 60 miles (or 100 km) many months ago. What’s changed is this 60 miles is now taking me a full day (between 8 – 10 hours) and it’s becoming very exhausting to keep this up continuously for more than a few days, hence why I am taking much more rest time than I have done before.
What’s also changed is I cannot write my blog immediately when I stop for rest days, because I’m honestly just too tired. OK so that’s my excuse for why I’m so far behind, but I am going to change the way I keep up with the blog and this should help in the future. Now lets get back to my trip…
Chicago was for me the realisation of a dream, as I’d wanted to come here since my childhood. It’s a truly amazing city of which I took the time to explore, both on my bike and by taking one of the many heritage boat trips along the river, which is by far the best way to see Chicago’s wonderful architecture. It’s also well worthwhile having a knowledgeable guide to describe the buildings and give you their history and this for me was the highlight of my time spent here.
I stayed with fabulous Warmshower hosts Lee and Cindy, enjoying a relaxed and restful period while eating some great food, including making my own pizza which was a first for me. My happiness was even further amplified when taking these photographs, not only because the subject matter is one of my favourites, but because I was also able to enjoy a boat trip!
So here’s my tour of Chicago, hope you all enjoy the pictures (or you can simply skip to the bottom of this blog if it’s not your thing and continue reading).
I could easily have posted many more pictures as Chicago is such a photogenic city, but I have to stop somewhere. My blog is a record of what I have seen and experienced during my trip around the world and will be (along with my book) the only thing I leave behind, so I make no excuses for the amount of photos I use – after all isn’t a picture worth a thousand words?
Chicago came to an end and next up would be my ride across to Detroit, then through the tunnel to Windsor returning into Canada. I’m now in Toronto and will try and catch up with my travel tales as I take an extended break here, so more soon. Stay tuned…
Heading down the shore of Lake Michigan, my next stop would be Racine and a stay with another Warmshower host. First though I would ride through Milwaukee, which would have been an overnight stop had I not been catered for on both sides. It seemed very industrial to me, even if at the moment I’m confused as to which photographs belong where, a result of falling well behind with the blog. Although I’m now Back in Canada (in Windsor), I am still writing about my travels of more than a week ago.
Being told not to miss the Milwaukee Art Museum on my ride down to Racine I’m glad I took John’s advice, because it is certainly a very impressive building which houses over 35,000 works of art. I couldn’t quite work out why the car outside was wrapped around the post though…
I didn’t really do much exploring in Milwaukee, but from what I did see there was not much of interest for a photographer other than the Art Museum, which is worth another picture. Maybe I was just looking in the wrong place? If so, sorry Milwaukee.
Arriving in Racine, another John made me very welcome and cooked a great meal as I sorted out my washing. As I was only staying the one night we arranged to take a look around the sights in the morning and then John would ride part of the way to Chicago with me. It ended up being a good tour as I got to visit and go up inside the local lighthouse, quite a treat.
After listening to a presentation given on the history of the lighthouse, the old lighthouse keeper was on hand to proudly show off the fresnel lens. I loved his passion and knowledge of his subject.
Struggling with the 144 steps (I counted them) to the top of the lighthouse, the view out over Lake Michigan was superb and certainly worth the effort to get there, even if my photography doesn’t do it justice. To be fair it was rather hazy.
Racine is a pretty nice place, especially the harbour area. Although this was just a quick look round, I could so easily have spent much more time here, but really needed to get to Chicago the next day. So we settled for photographing each other around the main highlights…
We parted company just after visiting Highland Park and John would have a long ride back to his vehicle, while I would continue onto Chicago. It had been nice to have someone to share riding with as I’ve not done this for quite a long time, so thanks again John.
On the outskirts of Chicago (Wilmette, just north on Evanston) I came across what I at first thought was a mosque, but in fact it is the oldest surviving Bahá’í House of Worship in the world, and the only one in the United States. The sun was directly overhead so I struggled to get a good picture and this is the best of them:
And then I was in Chicago, one of the places I have always dreamed of visiting due to my love of architecture. I would be staying a few days, taking both a bike and boat tour of the city and I’ll tell you all about it in my next blog coming soon…
Can’t wait? well here’s a taster of the fantastic scenery I photographed and some rather interesting information about it:
The world’s first Ferris Wheel was erected in Chicago for the Columbian Exposition in 1893. Built on speculation by George W. Ferris, a bridge builder from Pittsburgh, the wheel rose to 264 feet, surpassing the Eiffel Tower, and offering breathtaking views of the fair and the city. Here’s another interesting fact: the London Eye was until 2006 the largest Ferris Wheel in the world!
I’m sat in McDonald’s eating my French fries, which are smothered in salt. It’s hot and I’m pretty tired, even though it’s still morning and I’ve only covered a little over 20 miles. My bike is leaned up against the wall just outside the side door, always in view.
I catch a beautiful lady out the corner of my eye, wearing a green t-shirt with a slogan on. I like the slogan (sorry I’m not sharing it). She glances my way and I obviously pique her interest and half expect her to speak to me, but she sits at a nearby table. Despite my on-line self confidence, I’m far too shy to initiate conversation (and I say to myself – you fool Derek).
She’s leaving and casts me another glance. I know she just wants an excuse to talk with me and also know when she steps outside she will find it. Sure enough, she returns and asks if I’m the cyclist. We laugh, because it was such a dumb question. This lady is no dummy, that’s for sure. We chat, about her own battle with cancer and mine. I’m asked if I’ve considered going to one of the specialist cancer centres here in the USA and I’m too embarrassed to say it’s not possible, for many reasons, but funds being the main one.
Then she drops the bombshell: “what do you need?”
I mumble that I’m not used to asking for things, but wish I was not such a coward. I know exactly what I need. How do you tell a complete stranger the truth? That I need someone to ask me to stay a while so I can enjoy living a ‘normal’ life and offer the chance to get to know me. That I’d just like time without the pain, which has now spread to my lower back. That I need to stop worrying about dying and enjoy living.
“If you need anything call me, I can make it happen.” She’s speaking the truth, she almost certainly could. I want to speak out, but remain silent. Then she leaves and I feel I have lost something.
The cycling (and pain) make it easy for me. I can handle it. I can write my blog and everything will be fine. It’s so easy to wear a mask, it eventually becomes part of you and you stop even noticing you’ve got it on.
It would be another week of wild camping before I reached my next Warmshower hosts in Cedarburg. My decision to head south towards Chicago had me scratching my head and almost pulling my hair out in frustration, as the winds which had been blowing in my face now turned to blow from the west. Had I stayed on my original course I would have had a nice tail wind, instead of the difficult cross/head winds I encountered for all but one day of this leg of my trip. Seems I just can’t win at the moment with the weather.
Stealth camping in one of the many public parks along the way I had a bit of good fortune when found by a local officer, who informed me camping in this particular park was not allowed (which I knew!), but on hearing about my travels he simply asked me to be discreet and informed me he had not seen me. Moments later I took this picture of a rainbow:
When the sun did come out, I came off the main highways and took the back roads to find lakes or parks to break up the journey and have my meal stops, or just to go through small towns. After crossing through Green Bay, home of the famous NFL football team: The Green Bay Packers (interesting fact 1. The Packers are the only non-profit, community-owned major league professional sports team in the United States. Interesting fact 2. There is a 60 year waiting list for season tickets) and after passing Two Rivers, Lake Michigan would now remain on my left shoulder until I reached Chicago.
By the time I reached Cedarburg I was ready for a proper rest and my kind hosts John and Marie had allowed me to make myself at home until they arrived a little later from work, showing once again the trust and companionship in this wonderful cyclists network. It was a great weekend as we watched the Independence Day celebrations together and enjoyed visiting the local sights, which included my first visit to a Frisbee golf course. John is rather modest, but it turns out not only did he design the course (and others) but he is also a Frisbee world champion!
Here in Cedarburg their own personal street chairs had been put out as much as 24 hours earlier, to ensure a spot on the side-walk for the parade which lasted for a couple of hours.
The Americans rightly love Independence Day and so I left my union Jack at home, but here’s another interesting fact I discovered: three US Presidents in a row died on July 4th – Independence Day.
Much as I enjoyed the parade, the sightseeing tour was pretty special too. When told there was a covered bridge just outside town (one of only a few remaining in the USA) I simply had to see it. We actually had to go twice, because on our first visit the sun had gone too low and not only was the light poor, the mosquito’s were out in force.
Another bridge built across the Milwaukee River in 1888 was moved (complete – quite a feat) in 1996 when it was replaced by a concrete bridge to handle the additional traffic. It’s new home was Lime Kiln Park, in the village of Grafton, just a few miles from Cedarburg. It is one of the few remaining steel truss bridges left in Wisconsin.
The park was once part of a lime quarry operated by the Milwaukee Falls Lime Company, which operated from 1890 until the 1920′s. Five lime kilns were built and now three have been restored.
It was an enjoyable tour and we didn’t have to travel more than a few miles from Cedarburg.
So ended my time in Cedarburg. I could easily have stayed longer, but I really need to keep moving and stick more to my schedule as I’m now well behind (after miscalculating the time it will take to get to St. John’s, Newfoundland) and will have to re-think my trip back across the USA to avoid the cold weather.
And that’s it for this quick update, more soon…
Once again my route plans have been changed, as I find different ways to cross both Canada and the States. My original idea of going to Sault Ste. Marie has been scrapped because I want to visit Chicago, and doing so on my way back from St. John’s disrupts far too much of my future plans, which will now include taking in the awesome Blue Ridge Parkway. So I’ve headed south and I’m now only about a week away from Chicago.
Here’s a brief look at my route: Marquette to Chicago though I will be following cycle paths for a while from Cedarburg.
My last blog covered Duluth and then onto Marquette, but along the way I stopped off in Ironwood where I met another touring cyclist staying with the same hosts. It was a bit unusual, because these particular hosts were not even there, their faith in the cycling community has led them to throw open their house to us travellers and it takes “the kindness of strangers” to a whole new level.
The ride from Ironwood to Marquette was hard, as once again I battled headwinds and my overnight camps were pretty wet affairs. I was pleased to see the sun come out when I arrived at my new hosts and this lifted my spirits tremendously, but then so did being part of another clan gathering. Jess and Jason had other visitors staying, including Curtiss, a friend from Alaska who was playing at the local brewery later that evening. I was invited to go along and had a great night out as Curtiss is a very talented musician, deserving of a much wider audience. Check him out for yourselves at: CousinCurtiss.com
I enjoyed my time in Marquette and it was a chance to finally see more of Lake Superior without the cold and dense fog as we all headed down to the beach, where a fun time was had by all.
Beach frisbee proved very popular, but there was no way I was going in the water – it was freezing!
Whereas Jess had the common sense to stay out!
And Jason got baby duty…
Jess and Jason took me around some of the sights, including a hilltop view of the city and Marquette’s claimed largest wooden dome in the world. It was a nice relaxed rest period with good food, good company and good weather, which made a pleasant change. Here’s a selection of the other pictures I took:
Another of Marquette’s claims to fame is it has one of the few remaining Iron Ore Dock’s in the world. Michigan was the largest producer of iron ore in the United States way back in the 1890′s and the dock is still in use today.
Too soon it was time to leave and as I mentioned at the start of this blog, I had made the decision to head south. My attempts at trying to arrange other Warmshower hosts proved unsuccessful, that is until I reached Cedarburg, my current location. It was a tough time with only the final day finding me riding with the wind behind, while in between there was far too much rain. The summer must surely arrive soon?
Anyway that journey’s for another blog, so more soon…
Emotions. They play a huge part in our lives and often can be difficult to handle, at least for me. I miss being around people and in particular families and children; its a lonely road I’ve chosen to ride.
Arriving in Duluth amongst a large family gathering (mum, dad, son, daughter, partners and grandchildren) was special, because I had no problem fitting right in. I’ve always been pretty gregarious and this journey has made me much more so, probably because now I truly value time in the company of others. My hosts Rich and Molly even organised a cake and celebration for my birthday, despite having a busy schedule with folks preparing to run the Grandma’s Marathon the next day.
I extended my stay, not just because I needed the rest, but because I so enjoyed being here and the arrival of another cyclist (Bala, coming from the East) gave me the opportunity to plan out my onward route. Molly writes a great blog and wrote an article about my visit:
How do you thank such people, who give so much? I feel truly blessed to call them my friends.
My only regret was the weather, late June and the cold winds and fog from Lake Superior made sightseeing difficult, although we did get sunshine one morning and headed down to the harbour area. Here’s a few pictures:
Living just a short walk from the lake and surrounded by woodland, wildlife would wander by on a regular basis and Rich showed me some wonderful pictures he’d taken. I never got to see the foxes, but deer came to within feet of the house.
The replacement lens I was able to get in Viet Nam is not great, as focus with wildlife is never pin sharp. I suppose that’s the chance you take when buying cheap – the same lens which I broke was great, so it’s just the luck of the draw whether you get a good one or not. This shot of a merganser illustrates my point perfectly.
It’s not a big problem with landscape shots, as I can use a small aperture (f16-f22) to give me a greater depth of field.
Down on Lake Superior it was cold. The ice had still not gone in early June and so the winds coming off the lake brought the temperature down considerably, but it was the fog which made it feel almost like winter. It’s a beautiful area though.
The port is a great place to wander around and the small maritime museum is free, well worth a visit along with taking in one of the port city highlights, the Aerial Lift Bridge. It began life as an extremely rare transporter bridge, the first (of just two) built in the USA in 1905 and upgraded to a vertical lift bridge in 1929-30. It is still in use today.
The cycling here in Michigan (so far) has been much the same as what has gone before, mostly flat roads. Of course being by the great lakes has added to the scenery and it’s just such a shame that I passed through a period of very poor weather, making the photography I love so much difficult and the reason there are not many photos of my cycling. It’s warming up now and I’m seeing more sunshine, I just need the wind to change direction as I’ve battled it for more than two weeks constantly.
I’ve now made it to Marquette, where I’m going to enjoy a couple of days rest with another nice couple from Warmshowers. I’ll post details and pictures soon, stay tuned…
My route: Winnipeg to Duluth
It took eight days to reach Duluth from Winnipeg and I arrived totally exhausted. They were hard days cycling in driving rain trying to avoid the severe storms (it rained all but one of them), but the biggest struggle was the winds. I thought going West to East was supposed to take advantage of following winds, so where were they? It was pretty demoralising.
In a recent radio interview I told my interviewer (with tongue firmly in cheek) “the cycling is the easy part” as I tried to make light of this aspect of my journey. But is it really? While I may try and make light of it, my bluster hides the reality and this was brought home to me very recently when a friend from Winnipeg rode out to the city limits with me. I was embarrassed at just how slow John had to ride to stay with me (not because of our different loads either) and I know he is far too kind to say anything, but he must have been concerned at my initial struggle to bring my breathing under control.
It’s getting much harder and not because I’m still trying to do what I could easily do six months ago, but because I’m spending much, much longer doing the daily mileage and this is wearing me down a lot sooner.
OK moan over (for now), this update will be more than a little bit disjointed as it’s out of order, I’m simply writing it as it enters my head and taking the opportunity to publicly thank those who have helped me, although I’ve used my Facebook page to post pictures and do this too.
Despite the difficulties, I have no intention of quitting and in this blog I hope I can go some way to explaining why.
As I was approaching the outskirts of Karlstad in the pouring rain, a car draws up alongside me and slows to match my pace. The window comes down and the passenger is obviously reading the sign on the side of my pannier before he asks “where are you going?” to which I reply ‘the next town’ and put my head back on the crossbar to avoid the driving rain. After a discussion with the driver, he calls to me “will you pull over for a minute?” and the car pulls ahead and then stops on the shoulder. As I wearily pull up by the car, the passenger and driver get out and tell me there is a motel in Karlstad, the next town and I should get out of the rain. I tell them that Motels are beyond my budget and I’ll be camping, but the passenger hands me $60 and says “that should cover it” but just in case, the driver gives me another $20. They are both soaked through and as they climb back into their car I ask the passenger through the still open window ‘what are your names, (for my blog)?’ he replies “just call us the good Samaritans” and the car disappears up the road.
Free meals are not something I expected, but there have been a few including the people who have come and chatted with me, told their own stories and bought me lunch. Goodwill is all around and I seem to be attracting it like a magnet. I met a lovely lady called Eve who opened up about her own depression – not something you expect from a total stranger.
Going back to my arrival in Karlstad, the Motel owner was at an event, so I sat in the local fuel station drinking coffee to warm up and across to my table came a border guard to check my passport. On learning about my trip he gave me a free meal ticket (value $20) so I could get a hot meal – I bought a lovely huge pizza and ate it for breakfast too! Then the motel gave me a $10 discount, so thank you all if you are reading this.
Let’s rewind a bit to my arrival in Winnipeg, where I stopped with Brian and Pat’s friend Margaret and her lovely dog, Mr Thompson. It ended up being a longer stay than planned, but on reflection I think I needed the extra rest. What I never expected was to be asked to give a couple of radio interviews, one with Dahlia from CJOB, a local station in Winnipeg and another from CBC Radio-Canada.
CJOB Interview – 23 minutes < Click Here
CBC Interview – 7 minutes < Click Here
I also had to pick up other bits and pieces in Winnipeg, including a set of new tires and some more business cards (these are used to give my blog and Facebook page details) as well as see something of the city. Thanks to Margaret I got it all done and special thanks have to go to Bikes & Beyond, who not only got the tires in for me, but gave me a huge 30% discount.
The business cards were printed by Kellett Copy, who only charged me a small nominal fee to cover costs and I was able to thank Mr Kellett himself.
It was really nice spending time with Margaret and she proved to be an excellent guide, showing me around some of the Winnipeg highlights and making my stay very restful, which is exactly what I needed. Here’s a few of the images we captured:
Leaving Winnipeg I had decided to head South, as it seemed most people were warning me off taking the Northern shore of Lake Superior. There were a few reasons for this, but it was a clear decision when I heard about the dangerous road just outside of Kenora which had no shoulder but lot’s of traffic. An elderly couple cycling it were killed last year and another reason to avoid it was the long distances between services – if I ran into difficulty I could easily have serious problems.
Here is my proposed route: Winnipeg to Sault Ste. Marie
I have been very lucky in my camping, with just about every park giving me a warm welcome and usually not charging me. That is until St. Malo Provincial Campground, where I camped close to the washrooms out of the way in a quiet grassy area. I just about managed to get the tent up before the thunderstorms started, then tried to get some sleep. At 11:00 pm I was woken by the campground ranger, who told me he had read my sign but it made no difference, he could not make an exception for me and I would have to move to a designated area. On checking there were none free, so I was chucked off the campground in the thunderstorm and camped just 100 yards outside the park by a river. I never expect special treatment, but common decency seems to have escaped this guy.
Scenery wise it wasn’t the best as the roads were pretty similar to the flat prairie roads I had been cycling for weeks and the following day after the storms was the only dry one of the whole ride to Duluth. In the evening I camped in a lovely spot near a roadside rest area (and lake) after asking permission, which turned out to be the best of my seven nights of wild camping.
The American border was a breeze once I’d filled out the forms, with a very pleasant official helping me with the procedure. I explained I would be returning to Canada at Sault Ste. Marie and asked about getting extra days to cross America on my return, which I discovered would not be a problem.
I had arranged a stopover with hosts in Bemidji, but because of the storms and horrendous head winds I was behind schedule and my hosts were going away, so I had no option but to continue on to Duluth where I had also arranged hosting with a Warmshowers couple.
So that just about brings me back up to date as I’ll be stopping here a few days to recover and relax. More soon…
Things have been a little quiet with the blog lately and this is because I have had so much else going on apart from the cycling. My need to take more time with rest and recuperation seems to have brought me into a very special place, where I am seeing first hand just how amazing (and resilient) people can be. I already knew this from my travels so far, but here in Canada I’m seeing a whole new dimension to the kindness of strangers and the idea to try and cycle across the country (and then later America) on ‘good will’ alone doesn’t seem such a daft idea after all.
I’ll get back to the cycling a little later in this blog so you can follow where I am and what I’ve been doing, but first I feel I have to speak about the events and meetings that are changing not only my trip, but my whole life. I have struggled since day one of this journey with my faith, which was once a very big part of who I am. Now I’m confused, because their is no doubt in my mind many of the events taking place were meant to happen, whether I knew (and therefore planned) or not. You’ll understand this a little more in a moment when I discuss the incredible events of the last few weeks.
Arriving in Calgary I once again had organised a stay with Warmshower hosts. There are 51 such hosts in Calgary, so making a choice of who to stay with was difficult to say the least and I chose a lovely couple called Lorie and Paul, who made a great fuss of me on my arrival. It was a very special stay for me for a number of reasons, but none so more than the heart to heart talk I shared with Lorie. They helped me in so many ways and gifted me a cyclists mirror which is probably the most useful (and genuinely life-saving) gift I have been given on the trip so far:
Riding on Canada’s shoulder-less highways, this little mirror means I can see trouble coming. Trust me, it is truly brilliant. But this in itself was not what made my choosing Lorie and Paul so strange. I had broken my solar panel and GPS charging battery before I arrived and had attempted to get them fixed up in Canmore with no success. This is a major piece of kit and very necessary to the continuation of my journey, but I could not afford to replace it. So what are the odds that I would choose to stay with a couple who had bought one, decided it was not for them, parcelled it up in gift wrap and were just waiting for someone to give it to? Yes, that’s exactly what happened.
I never really went exploring in Calgary other than the designated bike trails which followed the Bow River right into the centre. The reason was most probably because of my aversion to big cities, and my trip to MEC (bike store) was my furthest destination, to pick up a few bits including a new pair of bike shorts as my old ones had now fallen apart. Too soon though it was time to get on my way and move on, my next destination being the small town of Bassano where the local campground welcomed me and refused payment. I hadn’t heard this phrase for a very long time, but would hear “Pay it Forward” quite a few times in the coming days.
Next morning I Followed the Trans Canada Highway (No. 1) towards Medicine Hat, the roads now pretty straight and quite boring (sorry!) for a cyclist, just mile after mile of nothingness as you looked to the horizon. Flat took on a new meaning with me.
One highlight was meeting Joseph, a unicyclist riding for a pretty good cause, Unity for the Climate a 5,000 kilometer ride across Canada. As I slowed down and rode alongside he told me his story (as he skilfully kept his balance while taking a picture) – and you think I’m crazy? I’ll keep in touch and update you with his progress though…
Medicine Hat came next and another chance to enjoy hospitality from Warmshower hosts Doug and Bonnie. I’m making full use of this wonderful cyclists network as it is helping me with my very limited budget. The chance to rest up, be well fed and have a warm shower is not just what it is about though, because I’m now taking more time out and actually recovering before moving on. While doing this I’m finding as I spend the extra time with people I’m growing, sharing much more than I have ever done before. It’s a wonderful feeling as I realise that the cycling is just one small part of my journey. For those Warmshower hosts who are not mentioned in my blog I want to say a huge “thank you” for helping to make my dream a reality.
Saskatchewan was hard going, as the winds were mostly either across my shoulder or against me and twice I had to extend my stay due to waiting for tornado warnings (and the ensuing storms) to pass. The terrain is wide open on the prairies and there is nothing to shield you from the winds, which can make riding almost impossible. On one occasion I ended up hitching a lift as after battling for four hours I had covered just 40 kilometers.
Often I would drop off the main highway and call in a small town to try and pick up food supplies (I was not always successful), park my bike outside the store and wander in. Stopping for a coffee I would have someone come up to me asking if that was my bike outside and then either drop me a few dollars, or offer to buy me lunch. This has now happened on quite a few occasions and I’m truly in awe of the kindness and generosity I’m being shown, but no longer surprised. As I hear people say “Pay it Forward” I begin to understand the true meaning of it.
The Trans Canada Highway was followed through Swift Current and Moose Jaw (don’t you just love those names?) where I once again found a free campground, before making my way to Regina. I stayed an extra night due to a tornado warning being in place and when I did decide to leave it was very windy after the passing storm, but with clear blue skies.
I left the Trans Canada Highway shortly after and headed north on route 10, through a lovely little town called Fort Qu Appelle, where the only sign of a fort was the wooden structure they had built to surround the campground. However this was not my overnight stop as I had an appointment with another Warmshower host in Abernethy. Coming out of Fort Qu Appelle I used my climbing gears for the first time in many hundreds of kilometers as I climbed the short but steep hill out of the valley.
My trip is being defined by the people I’m meeting, and in Abernethy I met up with a very special individual, Crystal, who shared her own amazing story. It is encounters like this that make me realise the good I can achieve on this tour and help me also to heal. Thank you Crystal for opening up and sharing with me.
But that wasn’t the only great thing about us getting together as Crystal and her partner Scott introduced me to their friends in Yorkton who were kind enough to look after me for an evening and cook me a great breakfast the next morning. The time I spent with Terry and Dana and their two lovely children was very special and reminded me just how much I miss family gatherings.
Camping just outside the town of Roblin brought the really bad news that the mosquito season was now in full swing and I took to putting on my waterproof jacket and trousers to protect me while putting up the tent (I would have to find a better solution though). Then it was on to Dauphin following route 5 and yet another Warmshower host, Brian, who lived in a beautiful house he’d built himself out in the sticks surrounded by 6 acres of woodland. A few years older than me, Brian is a true adventurer who has seen a good part of the world and is still planning trips – in July he will be cycling in India.
I have wanted to go boat fishing for a long time, but the cost of going on an organised trip was prohibitive. I jumped at the chance to go fishing with Brian and his brother Pat and had one of the best days off the bike I can remember. We launched the boat in the canal which feeds Dauphin Lake before speeding out to fish in the middle of the vast lake, until the wind got up a few hours later and we came back closer to shore.
The fish (walleye) were plentiful and provided us with good sport throughout the whole trip, as we released more than we kept. It was a fantastic day out with two great guys – we had good banter along with the good fishing and I got to eat what we caught later that evening as well as tick off another thing on my bucket list!
Even Sam (Brian’s dog) had a great time as he chased thrown sticks while we sorted out the boat. It was a day I’ll remember for a long time and a fitting way to end my time in Dauphin, as I would leave the next morning.
Leaving Dauphin was hard for me and I could quite easily have stayed longer. Brian had been a wonderful host and really taken good care of me, but it was definitely time to move on. My next leg would take me into Winnipeg and a meeting with one of their friends, an incredible lady who is going through her own battle with cancer. It would prove to be a healing time for both of us and I’ll tell you about this in my next blog.
Mid-May and there was still too much snow around on the Icefields Parkway and surrounding areas. I’d crept into Waterfowl Lakes campground overnight (as once again it was closed) and found too much of the white stuff to put up my tent. Even getting to the sheltered picnic area was a major expedition and I spent a cold night with just a few lethargic mosquitoes for company.
The climb up to Bow Summit was slightly steeper than the previous climb (to Wilcox Pass) and I ended up using my ‘bail-out’ gear, yet still managed to do it without resorting to walking. My plan had been to wander off and visit Bow Lake and Crowfoot Glacier, but I would have had to leave the bike behind a fair ways (because of the snow) and the glacier path was closed up anyway. Dropping down the other side, the descent was pretty tame and it was a good while before I reached the valley and the beautiful Bow River, which I would then follow for the remainder of the Parkway.
My next brush with wildlife came as I passed two Bighorn Sheep who seemed in no hurry to go anywhere, as cars and RV’s stopped to take pictures of them. I also spotted what I think may have been fish eagles over the wider sections of the river, but these were too far away to take photos of.
I was coming to the end of the Icefields Parkway at Lake Louise and reflected that in hindsight I wish I had waited another week or two. Yes the bonus of the campgrounds being closed was nice, but so was just about everything else (closed) and it was (weather wise) still too early in the season for all but a few hardy souls. That being said, it is still the best road I have ever ridden, bar none.
Lake Louise was (if I’m honest) nothing like what I remembered, but then it was over 30 years since I was last here. Close by Herbert Lake was supposed to give panoramic reflections in its crystal clear waters of the whole mountain range, but like many of the other lakes was not just iced over, but covered in a thick blanket of snow. It was beautiful, though I pined for the reflection I had been promised by my guide and decided I would keep the memory of my first visit here rather than wander off on the (mostly closed) trails.
Although Lake Louise marks the end of the Icefields Parkway, the road to Banff offers more stunning scenery as it follows the course of the Bow River and rolls along the banks of numerous lakes. It is idyllic for cyclists as it is all gently downhill, the hard work having been done on the previous ascent of Bow Summit. For me, this was the most beautiful place I have ridden my bike and given the places I have already been on this journey so far, that’s quite a statement.
I was here in the closed season and some tourists had also made the trip out early, taking advantage of the cheaper prices and deals that were on offer. They could be seen either being guided round the various tourist attractions that were open, or out on the lakes and rivers in boats or canoes. Rafting on the Bow River is another extremely popular attraction, but back with cycling and I’m pleased to report you’ll see (local?) leisure and racing cyclists everywhere you go and I’m told many touring cyclists when the season begins in June.
Approaching Banff the roads were almost devoid of traffic, something that would change in a few weeks time. I have to say though that I have found the Canadians some of the most respectful (to cyclists) drivers encountered and I had no worries about my safety, even on the roads without shoulders. Obviously there are exceptions, so care should be taken at all times, but it really is great cycling.
Banff is a very picturesque town and bustling with outdoor types. The café’s are a great place to hang out (I did so in Starbucks!) and check your emails, before deciding on where to spend the night. Still in the National Park I could not legally go wild camping, so made my way to the local park and chatted with a group of mountain bikers, who were more than happy to point me to a spot where I could hide myself away. As I thanked them and pedalled off, I heard one of the group shout “watch out though, there is a grizzly in that area”.
By the time I reached my overnight camp it was falling dark (this was a deliberate ploy on my part) and I quickly erected the tent and made a start on the evening meal. I had been worried about mosquitoes being in the woods next to a small stream, but it was still a little too chilly and those that did try and make an unwelcome visit were quickly dispatched due to their lethargy. After cleaning up and packing away (all food has to be sealed so as not to smell) I drifted off to sleep with no effort, only to be woken some time later in the early hours. I could hear a snuffling and guttural sound close by and knew instinctively it was the grizzly nosing around, so put on my headtorch and made a lot of noise as I got out the tent, flashing my light everywhere. I never actually saw the bear, but heard it making it’s way through the woods. I wasn’t scared, but have no doubt the grizzly probably was.
Only a short ride from Banff I had arranged a stop in Canmore with a Warmshowers host, Katja & Yves. However they were away and had left me in the capable hands of their friend Marc, who helped me during my rest days and ensured I got well fed. It felt good to sleep in a proper bed again and have a nice hot shower. Next morning I spent time trying to fix up my solar panel which had finally given up working, along with the battery pack which had been repaired in China. This repair was now broken and after unsuccessful attempts to fix things, I left the whole thing with Marc to try and sort for me, then post on.
The ride out of Canmore was quickly diverted onto a rather splendid cycle path which took me all the way to Calgary. It followed the main highway, but cut through parks and wooded areas keeping me away from the busy traffic. It was nice to just relax and enjoy the trail along with the other cyclists, of which there were many, including whole families out for the day as it was still the public holiday.
I’ll tell you all about Calgary and leaving behind the mountains in my next blog. More soon…
Leaving Jasper, I stopped to look back at the impressive backdrop of the mountains towering over the small town. From here on in I would be surrounded by the huge peaks of the Rocky Mountains, hopefully see lot’s of wildlife and experience true wilderness camping in one of the most beautiful spots on earth. All I had to do was climb the hills and avoid being eaten by the bears – that wouldn’t be a problem would it?
The Icefields Parkway runs from Jasper to Lake Louise on Highway 93 for a distance of 230 km (or 140 miles), and is pretty much a two lane road with plenty of passing places and for the most part, a decent shoulder. However as I was a few weeks early, the salt from the road had washed into the cycle lane shoulder and I spent much of my time cycling on the road, which wasn’t a problem at this quiet time of year as the season doesn’t really get under-way until June.
Jasper is at 1,063 m and the highest point of the Icefields Parkway is Bow Summit at 2,069 m before you drop down to Lake Louise at 1,534 m. There are two significant climbs to tackle, the first being Wilcox Pass just after passing the Icefield Centre and the second being Bow Summit. I chose the easiest direction to tackle the climbs, as it is virtually impossible to cycle up the steep hairpins of Wilcox Pass with a loaded touring bike and this was confirmed when I met a Taiwanese family (son, mum and dad) who walked (most of the way) up it.
The road follows the Athabasca River as it winds it’s way down past the beautifully named Honeymoon Lake and onto Sunwapta Falls, where I stopped for lunch. I had been steadily gaining height but my riding had been very leisurely and I’ve learned to do this more and more when surrounded by such scenery – I don’t want to miss a thing!
Round almost every new bend I would be faced with another imposing peak, dominating the skyline. It was difficult deciding which ones to stop and capture a photograph of, as each time I’d have to find somewhere to lean the bike while I accessed my camera (I’d learned long ago not to try cycling with it around my body) and then spend time composing the shot. I eventually became mindful of the fact that I actually needed to cycle as well as take pictures, but it’s very hard when you love landscapes as much as I do.
I think even if I had not been taking pictures I would still have stopped regularly, as it was good to just get off the bike and wander around a little, often just down to the riverside to fill up my water bottles. Everyone I met wanted to hear my story and it was really nice when I was handed an energy bar and snickers by a young girl. The Canadian people have proved to be extremely friendly thus far.
Up to this point I’d seen some of the very diverse wildlife from a distance, including eagles, herons, deer and those cute little gophers. What I never expected was to have a (very) close encounter with a grizzly bear! As I cycled along I saw this fellow feeding on the ridge above the road, separated from me by just a narrow ditch. I quickly put down the bike and got out my camera, snapping away at the totally disinterested grizzly. Perhaps he’d seen too many tourists (and maybe even eaten one or two) to worry about a scrawny cyclist with hardly any meat on him at all. By the time I’d got my picture a crowd had gathered, so Mr Bear just wandered back into the woods.
I was really surprised by how soon a fleet of campers and trailers had gathered, given that the roads were so quiet most of the time. Was I just getting used to sharing the roads with them and hardly noticing their presence? Whatever, the riding was sublime and not difficult as I continued to climb steadily towards my first nights destination on the Icefield Parkway.
My campsite for the first night was Jonas Creek Campground, which if it had been open would have been well beyond my meagre budget (cyclist’s pay the same fee as a 40 ft camper!). However like all the national campgrounds along my route, the season had not yet started and so I crept in and found a spot to pitch my tent. In some of the campsites later on this route I would not need to erect my full tent, as I slept under the covered picnic area using my inner tent as a mosquito net with my sleeping mattress and bag inside.
The next morning and the climbing began immediately, but thankfully at a nice easy gradient to begin with as I’d filled myself up with porridge and was feeling more than a little ‘gippy’. After 20 km though the real climb began and as I clicked through my gears, I stubbornly refused to use them all, figuring I’d leave my lowest gear as an emergency before bailing out if I had to. I needn’t have worried, as although the climb was relentless (for it’s 10 km length) I got into a nice rhythm and never needed to use the last gear I was holding in reserve – I was quite pleased with myself!
As I approached the summit I pulled up outside the ‘Skywalk’ building, where tourists arrive by the bus load to walk out along the metal gangway and then onto a glass bridge that appears to hang out over the gorge. I settled for a photograph rather than (paying to) experience the real thing. You can just see the bridge in the left hand middle of this photograph below:
No sooner had I raised my camera to take the above picture than I was accosted by two lovely girls from the Icefield Centre who assumed I was part of a coach party. When I showed them my bike and told them where I had come from they were pretty incredulous and insisted we took some pictures, before inviting me to call at their homes later to have a meal. Sorry girls if you’re reading this, but it was only lunchtime and I would have been waiting around instead of cycling for the rest of the day, not really an option at that time.
I took one last photo of the road down, before I put on my jacket, gloves and tightened my hat for the cold descent, as I would drop like a stone to the valley floor.
The road down from the pass was insane, as I screamed past anything in my path on the switchbacks, showing total confidence in my disc brakes and grip provided by the schwalbe tyres, leaning the bike over on the bends – hey, this was real fun biking and worth all the sweat I’d poured out on the climb. Once I got down into the valley I set up my tripod for an attempt at a self portrait of me riding along with the mountains behind and after a few botched attempts, managed to capture myself:
To be continued…