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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.

 

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!

Coasting Along the Cabot Trail

1 Sep

The day we hit our 8,000km mark we also arrived on Cape Breton Island. The highway loop around the northern part of the island is called the Cabot Trail. Like Anya’s bike, it is named after the explorer John Cabot, who set sail from England over 500 years ago. After risking his life and enduring great difficulties, Cabot (probably) found this beautiful place. Today, getting here still poses a challenge for the cyclist: the loop is famous for its steep hills as well as its breathtaking views. In the clockwise direction, the most intense climb is North Mountain, with a 13% grade for 3km and a total elevation gain of 445 metres over 4km. Although it was possible to avoid this loop en route to Newfoundland, we accepted the challenge on our quest for rugged coastlines.

We started out on the scenic Trans Canada Trail along the coast. In Judique, we camped on the beach without setting up a tent. It gets quite windy around here. When we tried cooking on the beach, the lighter wouldn’t light, so we had to take it to the sheltered picnic table, where it worked just fine. We made a mental note to buy some matches at the first opportunity, just in case the lighter was running low on fuel.

Luckily, the next day our Warm Showers host, Kevin, cooked us a warm dinner with freshly caught mackerel. Kevin goes fishing for mackerel in his kayak practically every day. He says it’s a very cost-effective vessel. Though it lacks some of the comfort and reassurance of a sailboat or motor boat, and the locals think he’s crazy, Kevin loves fishing out of the kayak. He strives to enjoy life without excess, so that he doesn’t need to work a job that causes a lot of stress and takes away all his time. A lot of people, he says, work and save until they are old and unable to enjoy their savings, or they buy useless things just to be like the neighbours. The mackerel feeds Kevin both directly and as a bartering item: he trades his homemade smoked mackerel for fresh organic vegetables with a local farmer. To reduce cost on other things, he hunts thrift stores and garage sales for quality and unique household items.

Kevin told us about the limited work opportunities here. Tourism and fishing are the big ones and they’re seasonal. During the winter, an overwhelming number of people rely on unemployment insurance. Many people leave to work elsewhere, especially in the tar sands, where they earn big money. But Kevin wonders whether they are able to control their materialistic urges when they are suddenly given so much freedom.

The next day we summited two mountains, including North Mountain. We arrived in Cabot’s Landing and got ready to cook dinner on the beach. Again, the lighter was not cooperating. Of course we hadn’t bought any matches. Anya, who is not a big fan of pasta, suggested that perhaps a salad for dinner would do just fine. But Maria was outraged, and managed to light the stove just by using the sparks from the flint in the lighter. That’s what happens when you desperately want a warm dinner!

In the morning we woke up to see the sunrise and walked along the big spit closing off Aspy Bay from the Gulf of St Lawrence. We found some birds. We swam naked. It was pretty.

After cycling a long 15km, we stopped to feast on the deservedly famous fresh oysters on the half shell at Hideaway Campground. Continuing our seafood mission we took an ‘alternate scenic route’ (aka, hilly detour) off the Cabot Trail. We suffered on the uphills, but were generously rewarded. Stopping at the Chowder House was a particularly sound decision: we ate crab, clams, scallops, prawns, haddock, and mussels.

We were rather late getting to our next Warm Showers host, Rosie. Her friend, Mary-Beth, was visiting from Newfoundland. Mary-Beth told us about the ferry trouble that had been happening since the previous weekend: one of the two ferries was out of commission, causing overbooking and delays. We checked on the internet, and sure enough, the following morning was booked solid, even for cyclists. The next available space was not until two days later. So we were forced to take a rest day the following day. After all those steep hills, it wasn’t such a bad thing.

Rosie’s house has a composting toilet. Yep, inside her house. There are haiku instructions for how to use it and following them, we were able to set its wondrous mechanisms in motion ourselves. What an experience.

Rosie also keeps pigs and chickens, and grows vegetables. Her pigs will reluctantly eat store-bought animal feed, and they will not eat Rosie’s vegetable scraps which go in the compost. But they love the fatty or doughey food scraps, like the ones Rosie gets from the nearby cafe. It’s her first year of pigkeeping and she’s been pretty successful so far. But the big challenge lies ahead: she’s going to ask for help in killing and butchering the pigs in exchange for gifts of knitted things and bacon.

On our unexpected rest day, we visited a bookstore, conveniently located next door to Rosie’s. The store owner played his fiddle for us. He said the young people aren’t learning to dance, although fiddle music is meant for dancing. Later, we went to hear some local fiddlers in the nearby church. Sure enough, everyone was stomping their feet but both the audience and the performers were an older crowd, and nobody was dancing.

In an effort to keep their Celtic heritage alive, Cape Bretoners added the Gaelic town names to the English ones on all their highway signs. Oh, Canada, land of many cultures and heritages. Most people are confused enough by place names derived from French and various First Nations languages — and now this? Here’s a pronunciation guide.

In the end, taking a later ferry worked in our favour: we waited out two days of mediocre weather, and a reporter contacted us for an interview. We made a brief appearance on the Cape Breton Information Morning show on CBC Radio. It’s on one or several of the the Aug 30 shows, but only our most dedicated viewers would listen to hours upon hours of radio just to find it…

The Microprovince

26 Aug

We hereby claim intellectual property rights on “PEI is so small” jokes. For example:

PEI is so small that the bridge to the island is bigger than the island itself!

PEI is so small that if someone doesn’t know you, they’ll ask your last name because they probably know your relatives! Actually, this one’s not a joke. But it’s still funny!

PEI is so small that it doesn’t have a provincial welcome sign. Wait, that’s not a joke either. We did not find any provincial welcome signs. We had to take a picture at Granny’s Tea Room instead:

The tea room is conveniently situated just off the Confederation Trail, a cyclist’s paradise. It’s an impeccably-maintained gravel path, built atop the old railroad. It covers the entire island and is used by pedestrians, cyclists, and cross-country skiers in the wintertime. It inherits the convenient railroad grade, avoiding PEI’s many hills.

On our first of two nights on the island, we couchsurfed with Sebastian and his mom, Marianne. Marianne has an amazing food garden in her yard, as well as a chicken coop. She’s got two kinds of chickens: some for laying eggs and some for eating. We were there at just the right time: the chickens had just been slaughtered and we ate really fresh chicken for dinner. Marianne grows enough food for two and a half households. She does a lot of food preserving so that she has food from the garden through the winter months. This involves freezing the chickens and preserving a lot of the vegetables.

Sebastian is in PEI for the summer working on an organic farm, but lives in Halifax for the rest of the year. He travels between Halifax and PEI a lot, but since he doesn’t have a car, he hitchhikes or takes the bus. However, the inter-provincial bus company providing service to the Maritime provinces, Acadian Bus Lines, will stop running this November. This will significantly limit the travel options between cities for people who do not own cars and will certainly increase traffic.

Sebastian has also done tree-planting in New Brunswick and mentioned that a lot of forest there is owned by the Irvings. As Amanda told us earlier, in the Maritimes there are several powerful families with a lot of money who own a lot of land and businesses. The Irvings are one such family. They started out with just a few gas stations, but now they own most of the forests, mills, trucking companies, gas stations, and newspapers. Since the Irvings own the entirety of the newspaper business, from the raw material to production and distribution, it is difficult to get independent newspapers in these provinces. Of course, the Irving-owned news media is biased in reporting on Irving-owned industries.

On our second day on the island, we visited Charlottetown. We met Guy, a guitarist from Montreal who comes to Charlottetown for the summer to busk. He asked us to watch his guitar and amp while he went to grab a snack.  When he came back, he had some cool drinks for us. We ended up talking to him, sitting around for a few hours enjoying the sun and the sea. It all ended with Guy passing the guitar to Maria, and her classical tunes brought in some cash. Still got it!

L’Acadie Sur Mon Bike, C’est Awesome

18 Aug

Tour de Sustainability’s team has temporarily increased in numbers. Amanda, one of the original team members, joined us for the weekend. As luck would have it, just then we hit three consecutive days of rain and headwind, after weeks and weeks of good weather. In 4 days Amanda covered 471km, without prior training — impressive! Stay tuned for her side of the story: she’ll be writing a guest entry in our blog.

As we headed further south-east, towards Acadia, the French accents became less and less intelligible to our untrained ears. Thankfully, Amanda, who is New Brunswick born and raised, is bilingual. As our local tour guide she made sure we visited all the not-to-be-missed spots, and she also taught us how to eat this traditional NB snack food. Believe us, it requires a special skill.

In Charlo we stopped for lunch in a quaint seaside restaurant called Le Moulin A Café. Amanda was very eager to get a copy of the paper, because she was supposed to be in it. By coincidence, the paper also had an article about the restaurant, as well as a bike event that we saw along the way! Talk about relevant news.

To translate and summarize: back in Moncton, Amanda and five others are opening a co-operatively owned bike shop, La Bikery. Members will have access to the shop and tools, a cheaper and more hands-on option for basic repairs and maintenance. This will make it easier for budget-conscious people to cycle more and let people practice their bike mechanics skills. La Bikery will also promote cycling culture in the Moncton area by putting on bike mechanics workshops and cycling events.

Our arrival in Moncton was timed just right for August 15 – La Fête Nationale D’Acadie! On this day, Acadians wave their flags and there is a parade called the Tintamarre, with everybody making lots of noise, whether it’s with the traditional pots and pans or some party noise toys from the dollar store.

Where the parade ends, the afterparty begins. We biked to the nearby Dieppe for their superior afterparty, and got to hear some awesome music live including the Hay Babies and Radio Radio, who sing in Shiac, a dialect of French that’s only found here. We also got to hear a little too much of the extremely popular Cayouche. And we felt like real Acadiens:

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