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.