Tag Archives: epic

Moose-ion: Impossible

5 Sep

In Vancouver, when you have a ferry reservation you need to show up a half hour before it leaves. In North Sydney, it’s two hours! We became aware of this minor difference 70 minutes before scheduled departure time and with 30 minutes of cycling still ahead of us. To add to the fun, our reservation was only for 1 bicycle. We had to go through a complicated cancellation and re-booking process while the attendant radioed to the ferry guys to wait for us. It all worked out in our favour, and although we love an epic tale for the blog, we’re happy that we weren’t delayed another unspecified number of days.

This is the final round: our 10th and last province. Let’s review the wildlife scores. Bear sightings are 4-2 with Anya taking the lead. Moose sightings are 2-0 with Anya again in the lead. Since Newfoundland is famous for its large moose population, Maria has a fighting chance to see one before she flies home. Though the scores will likely still be in Anya’s favour, Maria is on a mission to improve her moose sighting score from nil to at least one.

We’re moving fast, but the seasons are moving faster. Fall has arrived in Newfoundland: it’s colder, and the days are getting noticeably shorter. The cold is pleasant, for now. As for the daylight, we need to budget our time accordingly and leave on time in the mornings. Also, Newfoundland is on its own, special time zone. The time here is not an hour, but just a half an hour later than Nova Scotia.

With the ferry arriving an hour later than expected, we did not have a lot of daylight time to cycle. We camped in JT Cheeseman Provincial Park, just 10km off the ferry. In Ontario we would always avoid the provincial parks due to the insanely inflated prices. But we were pleasantly suprised: camping was only $15 a night, there was a hot shower, and each site has its own blue box for recycling!

The next day the forecast was not promising. We had breakfast at the beach and enjoyed the majestic view of stormy clouds. As we were leaving, the rain started coming down a bit. To our surprise, the storm never caught up to us. We cycled with the the wind blowing at our backs and did the 144km to the Barachois Pond Provincial Park with no problem.

The day after, though, the weather gods figured we needed a thorough wash. Perhaps they thought we needed a blow-dry as well, because we got massive headwind. Somebody should tell the weather gods that blow-drying is usually after, not during, a shower. We hadn’t used rain pants in a while and of course forgot to put them on at the relevant time. Cold, wet, hungry, and more tired than one might expect, we stopped at the first restaurant we came across. We had covered just over half of what we had to do in total that day.

We really didn’t want to go back out and face the elements but the restaurant had no wi-fi and we needed to post. (Be grateful as you peruse our writings from the warm comfort of your favourite armchair.) Besides, we had a couchsurf set up for that evening and needed to make the distance. This time we used our rain pants — an improvement, although not total relief. “Waterproof breathable” is an oxymoron.

Wi-fi was available just 15 km further, in Corner Brook. We drank gallons of warm beverages at Brewed Awakening, the coffee shop beside a bike shop. By the time our blog was posted, it was really time to get moving. Just then, the clouds parted and the rain stopped.

How glad were we about couchsurfing that evening? Words can hardly express it. We were staying with Bridget, although we had originally contacted her daughter through Couchsurfing. Bridget’s daughter was out camping, so Bridget offered to take us in.

After eating a hearty dinner, Maria had the audacity to mention that she’s on a mission not only to see a moose but also to taste one. In Ontario, we were told that it tastes really good. Bridget happened to have some at her house! So that’s what we ended up eating for breakfast. It tastes very similar to beef.

The moose that we tried at Bridget’s had been given to her daughter by a friend who hunted the moose. Hunting moose is neither easy nor cheap. First, you have to win the license lottery and purchase a license. Then, you need to shoot a moose and transport it out of your area. And finally, you need to have the moose butchered, which usually costs money. Last year, Bridget says, moose hunting was allowed in the parks as well, but nobody wanted that license because you were not allowed to use a truck to pick up your dead moose: just muscle power!

Bridget said that her daughter only eats organic meat or non-farmed fish. Thanks to her daughter, Bridget has switched to a pescetarian diet herself, and avoids eating farmed fish because of the health risks of eating a fish brought up on an unnatural diet. But you won’t find Atlantic wild salmon in the supermarket: commercial fishing for salmon is not allowed here anymore because the stocks have been depleted. A personal fishing license only allows the holder to catch 6 salmon a year. With that kind of limitation, people tend to ration out their salmon for special occasions like holidays or birthdays, instead of mindlessly munching on it daily.

Salmon are not the only over-fished species: trout and cod stocks are also low. Bridget said that the cod stocks were depleted because of insufficient regulations as well as too much foreign fishing in the nearby waters. For many people here, cod fishing was their livelihood. But before you rush to ship parcels of food to your Atlantic friends, don’t worry! There are new iconic Newfoundland foods: moose and unique local berries.

Mmmm. Bakeapple cheesecake — delicious and unique local flavour.

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Mosquitoes Gone Wild

13 Jul

To say that there are a lot of lakes in northwestern Ontario would be an understatement. The area is dotted with fishing and hunting resorts, which attract many visitors from the States. Riding along the highway, we see at least one lake every half hour. The abundant water provides habitat for moose, deer, beaver, brook trout, and walleye (also known as pickerel), but you are more likely to notice the mosquitoes.

It just so happens that it’s peak mosquito season right now.

We left Fort Frances pretty late and had to wait out a sudden and intense thunderstorm at one of the fishing resorts, so we cycled only 75km that day, and set up camp in Mine Centre. The campground was populated with perhaps 4 or 5 RVs, and one couple had a huge net set up, where they were eating their dinner. We scoffed at this luxury item.

As soon as we put the water on for dinner, however, we were viciously attacked. The bugs were so bad that we could barely stop to stir the pasta, despite being totally smeared with our heavy-duty insect repellent. We instantly became very efficient in packing up all our things, preparing to move into the tent. We took precautions such as only opening the inner entrance once the outer entrance was closed, and were doing very well, until we had to transport the dinner from the vestibule into the tent. At that point a cloud of mosquitoes invaded our tent. For the next twenty minutes we had our work cut out for us, destroying the intruders: at first just clapping at random would kill a mosquito. Once that was done, we could still hear the hungry swarm outside, buzzing like a high-voltage power line.

The other problem we ran into was the heat. The following day it was so intense that we stopped to swim three times, and went again at sunset. We also decided on an extra-early start for the day after. Maria went for a morning dip and we packed up camp in record time: we were cycling by 6am.

We were a little frustrated with the constant uphill and slow pace, but then we found the explanation.

If you are fascinated what happens on the other side, well here is your answer:

One neat thing about this sign is that the rocks used for it all contain amethysts, which are plentiful in the area.

From Quetico North to Shabaqua is a 100km stretch of nothing – in terms of people and services. As we cycled towards lunch we imagined the culinary delights Shabaqua might hold. Perhaps there would even be several restaurants to choose from! Not seeing much of a town center, we followed the first sign we saw, which included the phrase, “Home Cooking.” The lady there was a little surprised to see visitors: summer is her slow season, as she caters to mine workers. She said she would “check what was in the fridge.” We came inside not really knowing what to expect, but remember, in the wintertime this lady feeds 30 hungry guys three meals a day! We got large fruit smoothies, salad, a baked potato and sizable chicken breast each, homemade bread, cheese, coffee, homemade desserts, and wifi.

Being connected has never been tougher than here in northwestern Ontario. The hills make for spotty phone networks. As for internet, the lady told us she had to have a satellite dish installed, and they charge her an insane amount per month. We have no idea how a household (as opposed to a lodge) can afford internet around here. But that’s what life out here is all about, right? Connecting with nature, rather than connecting to the internet.

We Have a Beef with our “Rest” Days

14 Jun

We arrived in Calgary by following Google Maps cycling directions (which are in beta, the app warned us). The directions took us on a 15-km gravelly road through First Nations land. Despite the huge NO TRESPASSING sign, nobody kicked us out although Maria was very worried.

Incidentally, Maria’s tire had gone flat again, and we had to stop a few more times to inflate it. As we later found out, the culprit was the other half of the staple-like thing that caused the first flat.

After that, Google took us onto a network of amazing off-street bike trails extending along the shores of the Bow and Elbow rivers. The paths are divided into two bike lanes (one in each direction) and are in perfect shape with not even one crack in the pavement. We heard these paths get the snow cleared off in the winter and many people continue to ride year-round. Go Calgary!

(Sorry, no time for editing. Just wanted to show you the awesomeness of Calgary bike paths. Fast forward when you get bored.)

In general, Calgary has a great bike route network with on- and off-street cycle paths covering much of the city. From what we saw, lots of people were on bikes, with many velo-connoisseurs on high-end road and racing speed machines.

It’s thunderstorm season, and although we were originally planning to stay in Calgary for only a couple of days, we decided to take a few extra days to avoid foul weather. So our dear Calgary friend, Katia, took us on a CONS (Calgary Outdoor NutS) trip to Dewar Creek Hot Springs (yes, back in BC). After a series of spectacular failures we finally ended up in some hot springs, although we had to settle for Fairmont, a resort-style hot spring.

Spectacular failure #3: unexpectedly high snow cover on trail.

Once a hot spring gets commercialized like that I don’t know how “natural” you can call it, for me it feels as natural as bottled water. The energy required to run the resort is probably an order of magnitude greater than the benefit of using naturally heated hot spring water. Nonetheless, Fairmont is doing their best and they did provide us with some much needed relaxation, so no complaints there.

We also talked to the trip organizer, Trevor, about his perspective on sustainability. He brought up the issue of diet. “If everybody ate like I do right now,” Trevor admits, “there wouldn’t be enough food in the world.” He doesn’t eat most grains for health reasons, and therefore ends up eating a lot of meat. Since Trevor grew up on a cattle farm in Saskatchewan, he certainly knows his steak, and how resource-intensive it is to produce. Even taking the eating local philosophy into account and the abundance of cows in Alberta, meat intensive diet is not sustainable.

Alberta Blows Us Away

8 Jun

We reached the Wild Rose Country! Yay! (Technically they are still part of Canada.)

In the morning, we were well-rested and the sun was out. Everything seemed great, and we were cycling at a solid pace. Turning onto Highway 22 we saw this sign, and poked fun at it by taking silly pictures.

Little did we know what the weather gods had in store for us. Also, Maria’s rear tire was partially deflated and we had to pump it up. We assumed that was the end of it.

At first we were confronted with massive side- and headwind. Our pace slowed noticeably. For the first time during our trip, we had to cycle close together such that the person in front would block the wind for the person in the back. By this point we realized Maria’s back tire had a slow leak, as we had to pump it up again. Our ambitions of getting to Black Diamond (a 140km day) crumbled.

Around 5pm the rain started up. By this point in the trip we knew a rain-bringing cloud when we saw one, so we quickly put on our rain gear – and not a minute too soon. But unlike previous downpours, this one just kept going and going. In addition, we started seeing some lightning and hearing thunder, although it was still far away.

The particular stretch of highway we were cycling along is interesting because from the turn-off onto it and until Black Diamond, a 130-km stretch, there is literally nothing. No gas stations, no corner stores, no campgrounds: just fields with grazing cows. We knew this in advance, too, because there was a sign. So we were slowly making peace with the idea that we would camp on the grass beside the highway.

Our spirits were low when we had to stop a third time to inflate Maria’s tire. It was already 8pm, and our waterproof-breathable jackets were soaking through. We got going again, but the lightning was getting closer (we were counting the time between the lightning and thunder). After cycling another ten minutes we both had the idea to just stop for the night already.

Within a few minutes we were lucky enough to discover a bridge. So we did the hobo thing, and set up camp right there.

In the morning, we finally cobbled together enough enthusiasm to change the tube in Maria’s tire. It was still cold and wet, though it was not thundering anymore.

 

Grudgingly we started out, in full rain gear, preparing ourselves for a half-day of cycling followed by warming up in the nearest B&B. But within an hour the sun caught up with us!

We stopped at Bar U Ranch for breakfast/lunch and ate the most delicious, largest brunch in the world: soup, burgers, chicken wings, and dessert. The attendants there told us there had been 2 tornadoes that touched down near Medicine Hat the day before.

Escape from the KVR Trail

29 May

Since last summer I’ve had this idea that it would be so awesome to cycle the Kettle Valley Railway (KVR) trail. The trip never got organized but now that we were going through the Okanagan on bicycles, I was going to make sure we didn’t miss it. So in Naramata we got on the KVR headed for the renowned Myra Canyon. It sounded great: a steady 2% grade uphill, off the highway, with trestles, tunnels, and beautiful scenery.

Not gonna lie — it was worth the trouble! But it was slow going: we reached Chute Lake (~30km from the start) in five hours. Chute Lake Resort serves food, and we were probably its best customers that day: we ate a burger and a giant slice of apple pie each. The people on dirt bikes hadn’t worked up an appetite at all: they just came in for beers.

The KVR is really rocky and bumpy, and actually is more suited for mountain bikes. At one point there was a puddle so deep we had to take our panniers off and walk the bikes across. We made a unanimous decision to get on the highway as soon as we could after seeing the canyon. But a connecting road was not available, so we camped at Hydraulic Lake.

The few roads that do cross the KVR are logging roads in moderate to poor condition. The following day we were still looking for escape routes, until at one point we decided to just take that sketchy logging road forking to the left — couldn’t be that much worse than the trail. Luckily the highway was downhill from the KVR. The sketchy road ended here:

After the KVR, Highway 33 was a big pile of downhill fun! We scanned the roadside for restaurant signs, but there was nothing up until Beaverdell, where we saw an entire two signs! Wow! Choice! Actually, when we got into town we found the second restaurant had closed, and only It’s Mom’s Good Food roadside burger stand was open. (It really is good food!)

Beaverdell, population 400, is a town just off the KVR trail. We talked to Howie, who coaches the girls’ baseball team in town, as well as the lady who runs It’s Mom’s Good Food. They told us that just a few years ago the town would get hundreds of cyclists coming through. But ever since the local keeper of the trail passed away, they’ve heard more and more complaints about trail quality, and the number of cyclists has been dropping. The town’s businesses aren’t doing as well as they did. At the general store, we got another angle on this problem: the motorized dirt bikes and ATVs using the trail are smashing it up quite a bit more so than the bikes, making it harder to maintain.

As Howie said, the good news is that there is a solution: the townspeople can start maintaining the trail. It would be hard to organize, and there doesn’t seem to be very much funding for such a project. But it’s been done. So stay tuned: maybe Beaverdell will put itself back on the map as the town for a stopover when you’re cycling the KVR.

Rain, Snow, Hills, and Bears

23 May

In our silly culture we have this idea of ‘conquering’ mountains, nature, and so on. That is total bunk. One can’t ‘conquer’ nature; one can only be spared. In the past few days the BC wilderness has been reminding us of this fact nonstop.

How rainy did it get? Well, on Day 2 it was so wet that Maria’s leather saddle transferred its protective coating to Maria’s waterproof pants. 19 mm of rain came down that day.

Yeah, that’s right. We were lucky to get a great couchsurf at Nat’s place in Hope for that evening. Nat, who used to work at the Visitor Info Centre, advised against cycling the Kettle Valley trail out of Hope, for two reasons: there might be snow at the 1340m high point, and the trail has not been maintained since winter, so washouts were possible. Therefore, we would take Hwy 3 to Manning Park on Day 3, and continue down to Princeton on Day 4.

So on Day 3 we hit our first Big Hill Climb: from Hope (elevation 42m) to Allison Pass (elevation 1342m). Our average speed that day dropped to 10km/h. After the first hill of the day (a 7% grade) we thought we were tired, but then we had to redefine ‘tired’ for ourselves as the day wore on. We had a late start — 12:30pm — and only reached the summit of Allison Pass by 7:30pm. At that point we had a little party and got moving because, man, it was getting cold, and sure enough there were snow patches all over.

Allison Pass Party!

Oh, we also saw some bears, just off the road. Here’s the first one:

Passing cars started warning us well in advance. First they warned about a bear in the middle of the road, then a bear to the side, and then a long silence — we thought he was gone. But eventually we climbed the hill all the way to the bear.

It’s not all bad: that evening, when we finally reached Manning Park Resort, we soaked in the hot tub — a well deserved rest.

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