Get Reel-ly Excited For This!

14 Feb

Remember our amazing Training Video?

Well, we entered our Training Weekend video into the Bicycle Travel Video Contest, and need your help to win! It’s easy. Just go to Vimeo and ‘LIKE’ our clip!*

*You don’t have to like our clip to ‘LIKE’ our clip. You just have to like us and our project!

And remember our intention to make a movie about the tour? Editing is officially underway. We’re sifting through tonnes of beautiful footage, carefully selecting only the best for your viewing enjoyment. Stay tuned.

 

The Sustainability Picture

14 Oct

After cycling all across the country, what did we find out about sustainability in Canada?

We spoke with over 50 people across the 10 provinces. Our encounters were amazingly varied, and each story was unique. We were inspired! Many Canadians we met are acting to move towards sustainability. Some of them don’t necessarily associate their actions with sustainability; others are aware of the way their actions fit into the sustainability picture. It is amazing that, even without seeking out “sustainable people,” we came across so many relevant initiatives.

Now, we can step back and look at the big picture, looking for patterns in the stories we collected and making some generalizations about the Canadian perspective on sustainability. Here’s what we found.

Consumerism and Waste

Q: What did one garbage can say to the other?
A: “I got totally trashed last night!”

Many Canadians are concerned about the vicious cycle of consumerism: work more, buy more, want more things, repeat. But once people are aware of it, they are better equipped to break free. Randy from Newfoundland sees this happen to people who go to work in the oil sands. Although he has worked in Fort Mac himself, he knows his limits: he won’t buy a skidoo or a big truck if he doesn’t need one!

There’s also concern about another side of consumerism: excessive production is detrimental to the environment and creates a lot of waste. Emily from Saskatchewan was inspired to minimize her own consumption: she re-uses things by shopping at thrift stores and garage sales. At the Nelson Food Co-op in British Columbia, a documentary about waste inspired the members to vote for banning plastic bags in the store. That’s 10 000 members reusing their bags every time they shop! Charlie from Nova Scotia used all reusable dishes and cutlery when she hosted an event for 200 people to reduce waste from single-use eating utensils.

Local Economy and Community

Lots of people had concerns about money draining from smaller communities and businesses to large corporations. Co-operatives offer one solution: they follow a business model that can be accountable to the communities they serve. In Grand Forks, British Columbia, a food co-op has re-started, providing an alternative to shopping at the chain stores in town. By connecting the residents with the local farmers and making the price fair to both farmer and customer, the co-op is improving the local economy. We found many other, similar food co-ops as well. For example, the Penokean Hills Farms co-op in Ontario is helping cattle farmers to butcher and sell their meat locally.

In some places, people were concerned about a lack of jobs in their area. The Bear Claw First Nations casino and hotel in Saskatchewan is a striking example of a community creating jobs for itself. The White Bear First Nations fought hard to make the resort a reality. Now it employs a large part of the community. The business is run by community members whose mandate is to keep the community in mind, providing income, job training, and funding for community projects. We also encountered a radically different solution to the jobs issue: people in Hutterite colonies live communally. Everyone helps out, and everyone gets what they need.

Self-sufficiency

Many Canadians are growing their own food. We’re not talking herb gardens: people manage to feed themselves, at least for most of the season. The Thiessens from Saskatchewan grow their own vegetables and only rarely need to buy food. Justin in Ontario grows vegetables and raises chickens on his permaculture farm. Gabriel in Quebec raised his own goat. Marianne from Prince Edward Island grows enough vegetables for 3 households and shares her harvest with her neighbours. Rose in Nova Scotia is fattening up two pigs for the winter. Kevin in Nova Scotia eats the mackerel he catches from his kayak and the organic vegetables he trades for his excess mackerel. If you’re lucky like Bridget in Newfoundland, and you have friends who are hunters, then you are guaranteed to have moose meat feasts for a while.

A significant number of people strive to be self-sufficient with their electricity and energy needs. This is especially true in Ontario, where we saw solar panels everywhere. Thanks to Ontario’s government subsidies and the FIT program, people see solar panels as an investment and even a source of income. Pat and Sherri, for example, have enough solar panels to supply them with 110% of their annual electricity needs.

Several people we met were self-sufficient for their water needs. At the permaculture farm in Ontario, a pump connected to a solar panel channeled water from Lake Huron to the house and garden. Dany and Maite in Quebec draw water from a well for household use, and obtain their drinking water from a nearby spring.

Health

Q: Why did the chicken cross the road?
A: It can go wherever it @#*&ing wants, it’s a free-range chicken!

In Calgary, Alberta, Maria was buying some free-run eggs at the grocery store and the guy behind her in line commented to the cashier about how ridiculous the term sounds in French. They had a full 15-minute discussion about it in franglais. But many people we met were much more interested to know how their food was produced and where it came from.

A lot of people care about staying healthy, and one way they can improve their health is by eating better. Fresh, organic fruit and vegetables are important. Equally important is dairy, fish and meat produced in a healthy environment where animals are fed quality feed without antibiotics or growth hormones. Whether through local food co-ops and farmers’ markets or by growing their own food, many people we met found ways to obtain healthier food.

Several times the topic of vegetarian vs. meat diet came up – which is healthier? Jesse from Quebec became mostly vegetarian after moving to the city from his parents’ organic cattle farm. Fresh organic meat was in abundance when he was growing up but that was not so much the case once he moved to the city. On the other hand, Dwight who used to be vegan started eating local meat and dairy when he moved to Vancouver Island, British Columbia. When choosing between highly processed, genetically-modified soy products from overseas and fresh organic meat from across the street, Dwight prefers the meat.

Some people do encounter challenges with trying to eat healthy food. Everyone seemed to know the story of a couple in Quebec that transformed their front yard into a beautiful vegetable garden, but due to a ridiculous bylaw they were told by the municipality to tear down the garden or face a severe fine. A campaign was launched to save the garden and recent news celebrate their victory! Though it was an intense struggle for the couple, the campaign was all over the news and raised a lot of awareness, which brings us to our final category.

Education and Awareness

Spreading the message about living more sustainably can be a challenge. In some cases, information is not readily available: in New Brunswick, where the Irving family has a monopoly on the forestry and newspaper businesses, news is often biased. Several media co-ops have started up, providing people with a more objective and complete story.

Even when the information is there, it is not always easy to get people to listen. As Jesse from Quebec told us, those who work in inherently unsustainable professions, like mining and oil extraction, avoid the topic because they don’t want to be blamed or feel like they’re doing something wrong. Others, suggests Dany from Quebec, are just resistant to change and don’t dare to do something different. Aaron in Manitoba says that some people are just lazy.

At the same time, we did find several educational initiatives on our way, where dedicated people are taking on these challenges. Aaron in Manitoba started a sustainable campus group at the University of Manitoba to network and share knowledge among students. The permaculture farm on Manitoulin Island in Ontario holds permaculture design courses. Pat in Ontario teaches sustainable building design at Fleming College. Sustainable Antigonish in Nova Scotia invites guest speakers and sets up movie nights to raise awareness and share knowledge.

We also met parents who are passing on knowledge and values to their children. Charlie in Nova Scotia is teaching her kids about growing vegetables. Dany and Maite in Quebec are teaching their son Mateo about re-using by making crafts out of cereal boxes.

So many good things are happening all over Canada. Our project is not a scientific paper: we are not claiming to have gathered an unbiased statistical sample showing the current trends. But every story described and every person encountered is real. We hope that the stories we shared have informed and inspired our readers as much as they inspired us.

Roll the Credits

2 Oct

This project would not have been what it is without all the amazing
people we met along the way. So, in the order that we met, thank you:

To Daniel and Gary, for setting the standards so high for our next hosts
To Nat, for soup, books and cats
To Jarrett, for crazy firefighting stories
To Nancy, for the best yam soup in Canada
To Alison, Steven, Elliot and Bushy, for hemp beer and sky pie
To Jocelyn, for co-op insights
To Lia, for wine and art appreciation
To Katia, for the hot spring adventure
To Rose, for being wholesome
To Nicole, for furry ferret fun
To Emily, for the best bubble tea in the prairies
To Henry and Vivian, for an authentic Moroccan tea ceremony
To Alex, for philosophical musings
To Brennan and Edward, for luxurious hospitality
To Josiane and Robert, for chasing after us to invite us in
To Aaron, for the fun Winnipeg bike tour
To Eric, for a very pleasant ambulance ride to the lake
To Amanda, for the shiny rocks
To Al and Maria, for late night Carcassonne play off
To Pat, for a spontaneous welcome
To David and Cayla, for extending our couchsurfing
To Mary Jane and Dennis, for the thoughtful gifts
To Cory and Les, for a night with the pottery
To Justin, Shanti and Jeff, for a permacultural experience
To Yura, Katia, Nicola and George, for the fishing lesson
To Ed, for not arresting us
To Pat and Sherri, for architectural wonders
To Natasha and Ilya, for saving us from your cat
To Pierre, for a mindblowing four course dinner
To Sasha and Asya, for fireworks and Scrabble
To Cedric and Anika, for homemade kombucha
To Sharon and Andre, for the best free cyclists’ hostel
To Dany, Maite and Mateo, for not conforming
To Benoit, for garlicky goodness
To Iris, Alfred and Ernie, for pizza pockets and wine
To Charles and Marthe, for speeding uphill
To Amanda, for the Acadian partay
To Sebastien and Marianne, for homegrown dinner
To MacPhersons, for stagette madness
To Bob and Glenda, for real maple syrup
To Hamdi, for sailing and boardwalking
To Charlie, Ronny, Tessa, Jesse and Jaime, for backyard wilderness
To Kevin, for kayak-caught mackerel
To Rosie, for the fiddle music
To Allan, for random talks on the couch
To Bridget, for moose breakfast
To Randy and Sharon, for Newfie slang interpretation
To Jeremy, for spectacular views and history lessons

And most of all, a huge thanks to our dear parents, who provided us with constant moral support and occasional pampering.

Famous Again

27 Sep

You know all those things you were supposed to do before we’re famous? .. Too late.

Don’t live in Delta? Check out the online version of this article.

Excluding Greenland

19 Sep

We’ve cycled 9601 km in 114 days. Hard to believe, but this journey is over. In our minds we’re still labeling these as ‘rest days,’ but there is nowhere further east to go. We made it before Hurricane Leslie hit, and that’s a good thing.

After it passed we had a chance to explore the city. St John’s has a rich history. It is the oldest English founded city in North America. The city was destroyed by fires several times, so very few old buildings remain, but there are some scenic historical sites here. We visited Signal Hill, Fort Amherst, and of course Cape Spear – the easternmost point in North America, excluding Greenland. “Canada begins here — or ends, depending on your point of view,” reads a sign at Cape Spear.

For city people, Hurricane Leslie meant a school closure, a few power outages, and some toppled signs. But on the agricultural land surrounding the city, the hurricane’s aftermath had a more immediate effect. At the weekly farmer’s market (where Maria stocked up on souvenir jam), a couple was selling their last tomatoes for the season, salvaged from a toppled greenhouse.

Maria also had the opportunity to visit the Seed to Spoon Co-operative in Portugal Cove. Their farm had not been as damaged by the hurricane, with the decorative flowers being the most damaged of their crops. The co-operative is run by its 4 members, younger farmers who are passionate about what they do but who can’t (or would rather not) purchase farmland of their own at this stage. The land belongs to a lady who had her own organic farm there for 40 years before deciding to rent it out.

It seems that working collaboratively as Seed to Spoon does, there is a lot of energy and exchange of ideas going on. Sarah, one of the members, keeps bees, and the knowledge as well as the pollination gets passed around to everyone. The four members are signed up for their own weekly harvest box, experiencing their own produce the way their customers do. Maybe that’s why their vegetables are so tasty! Maria had an omelet made with duck eggs and vegetables from the farm when she was there, and can attest to the amazing taste qualities of all the ingredients. The journey finishes on a delicious note.

So what’s next?

We are making our way home, on motorized transport. Anya is off to Toronto (with some detours), and Maria is off to Vancouver. It’s a funny feeling, to see the speed difference in the return trip. At the same time, there is a feeling of power. The world has shrunk from an unfathomably large size where we are infinitesimally small in comparison. We can get anywhere on our own power, on a very tangible though extended time scale.

There are so many memories to sort through. In the immediate future, Maria will be putting together a slideshow, so stay tuned.

We’ve collected lots of sustainability stories. Though we’re done cycling, the journey is just beginning for these stories. We hope they’ve inspired you, and will continue to inspire others. And there are other stories waiting to be discovered all over the country.

Vicious Cycling

11 Sep

Newfoundland is kind of inkblot-shaped, with peninsulas jutting out in every direction from the line traced by the Trans Canada Highway. Here, everyone just calls it the TCH, which makes it sound like a mind-altering chemical compound. We’ve mostly been following the TCH, since it’s the only way to get from west to east in most parts of the island.

Based on overwhelming recommendations, we made a detour for Gros Morne National Park. The park is situated on the largest of Newfoundland’s many protrusions, and to get there from the TCH is a day’s worth of cycling on hilly terrain. We were obliged to add 3 days to our journey: one day there, one day to hike, and one day back.

Gros Morne Mountain is the 2nd tallest peak in Newfoundland, a 806m summit. The hike is 16km to the top and back, and it’s described as ‘strenuous’ in the information booklet. We were stationed at the nearest campsite, a hilly 13km away from the trailhead — a warm-up for our rest day. With pedal clips on our shoes and a pannier for a backpack, we headed up.

We won’t lie — it wasn’t easy. Our legs were sore for the next few days. But the unique tundra landscape made it all worthwhile.

Lately we’ve been doing a lot of ninja camping. It’s called ‘ninja’ camping because the idea is to remain well hidden, possibly because you are not technically supposed to do it. In Canada, though, it’s legal to camp on crown land, and most people with huge properties wouldn’t care or know you were camping there. It’s free, it can be more peaceful than paid camping, and it’s very easy to do in remote places. However, one forfeits access to a shiny (or not-so-shiny) flushable toilet, sink with running water, laundry room, wireless internet, a manicured lawn or wooden platform to put up your tent, and other goodies that might be available at a paid campsite. We have found that ninja camping is a good excuse to spend extra money on pies.

The fall weather has moved in already: we had another wet and windy day. It felt like cycling through a cloud with the wind spitting the misty precipitation in our faces. It was a relief to finally arrive in Gander, where we couchsurfed with Randy and Sharon. They were wonderful hosts, and made sure we got plenty of calories for the road.

Randy told us about the job situation in Newfoundland. Historically, cod fishing was the main industry, but in 1992 the government put a moratorium on cod fishing and compensated the fishermen who lost their jobs as a result. Since then, there’s been a trend for people to go work in oil extraction “out west,” that is, mostly in Alberta. A job in the oil sands pays significantly more than an equivalent one in Newfoundland. Randy has worked in Fort McMurray and shared his first-hand experiences with us.

“Fort Mac” is not a fun place to be: that’s why the pay is so high. It’s hard work in an unpleasant, toxic environment. There is not much to do besides work, and nowhere to spend money, but the money keeps pouring in. Gambling is not allowed but of course people play poker for high stakes, and some end up losing their earnings.

When the workers are back home on their time off, they spend. The cash seems endless, because there’s a lot of it all of a sudden. Many people buy expensive things: a truck, a house, a boat, an RV, a skidoo… They end up with debt. No matter how much they hated Fort Mac, they need to go back again because they have loans to pay off. Randy has met some people who started with a financial goal in mind, but are unable to stick to their plan, accumulating more debt instead of saving. Of course, those without a plan to begin with are even more susceptible to the lures of expensive stuff. Randy says a lot of younger people are unable to keep tabs on their budget.

Nowadays you don’t need to travel to Fort McMurray for oil jobs. For example, we cycled past a foul-smelling refinery near Arnold’s Cove. In the last decade, the offshore oil industry has been rapidly developing in St. John’s. This has brought new job opportunities and capital into the city. The city is now considered one of World Energy Cities and the unemployment rate is one of the lowest in Canada. These benefits come at a price: inflated prices for living, environmental degradation, and more big trucks on the narrow roads of St John’s.

Amanda VS The Plastic

6 Sep

After speaking and planning with the Tour de Sustainability team for over a year about this trip, I hopped on the train with my bike and finally met up with Anya and Maria in Amqui, QC.  As luck would have it, I joined them for the rainiest part of their trip, it rained 3 of the 4 days I was with them from Amqui, QC to Moncton, NB.  It was so great to see Anya and Maria and hear firsthand about all of their experiences during the cycle trip across Canada.  These ladies are machines!!

During our first stop for lunch at a roadside café somewhere near Matapédia, QC we decided to eat outside to continue enjoying the lovely day. Good job we did ’cause it rained for the rest of the afternoon!  Our food came in styrofoam containers just because we were eating outside on the patio. I am sure our table was closer to the kitchen than some of the tables in the dining room.  This got us into a conversation about plastic and how our culture is so quick to use disposable items.  During our continental breakfast the next morning at the hotel (so generously booked for us by some colleagues in Campbellton, Thank You Jocelyn and Bob!) all of the plates, utensils, cups, and condiments were wrapped in and made of plastic! After breakfast we headed off towards Bathurst on a beautiful ride along La Baie de Chaleur.  During the many pedal rotations I decided to write a guest blog for Tour de Sustainability about plastic and Anya has held me to it!

The poster above depicts the way we have come to rationalize using disposable items made of plastic. ‘Throwing it away’ saves time on cleaning and money on staffing.  So where does all of this plastic go when we ‘throw it away’?  While we are currently recovering about 5% of it, much of it eventually makes its way to one of the 5 gyres in our oceans which then gets mistaken for plankton and eaten by sealife which gets absorbed up the food chain and eventually makes it back into our own diets.  So much for ‘throwing it away!’

So big deal if we eat a few pieces of plastic in our seafood.  It shouldn’t change the taste, right?  Well, plastic leaches harmful chemicals within our water systems, wildlife, and in our own bodies!  Here is a cheeky video that might not be too far from reality.

Even the amount we do recycle gets down cycled to less valuable products which eventually end up with the same destiny. It might be time for us to start rethinking the way and frequency with which we use plastic.

Once you start paying attention and avoiding using single use plastic, it becomes second nature.  This goes beyond carrying your own bags to the grocery store, although this is a good start.  This means being ready to refuse certain products if they are packaged in plastic, saying no to straws, bottled water, and using containers instead of plastic wrap. Mason jars are super handy and multi-use! In fact, you will probably even begin to notice that food that isn’t stored in, wrapped in, reheated in, or served on plastic actually tastes better!  If you don’t believe me give it a try for a few weeks.

“Plastics are made to last forever, designed to throw away” 5 gyres.org

If this is something of interest to you and you would like to learn more here’s another great website worth visiting: http://plasticpollutioncoalition.org/

Despite my plastic rant, the bike trip was fantastic.  It felt great to bike through my home province and I felt so accomplished after biking 470km in 4 days and blown away by the enthusiasm in Anya and Maria as they crossed 7000km (now well past 9000km).  Covering distances by bicycle makes our communities, provinces, and even our country feel more scalable to human pace and life.  Way to go Tour de Sustainability – All the best to Anya and Maria on the last leg of their trip!

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