Tag Archives: milestone

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.

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.

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…

Setting Sail for Nova Scotia

28 Aug

Avast ye, mateys! Lower the sails and drop the anchor. We approach a new land.

Aye aye, captain! Though we did not land in the port city of Halifax, we did spend a few days there. Anya’s friend Hamdi showed us the multitudinous ice cream and drinking establishments. We also went for a stroll along the vibrant waterfront boardwalk.

We even explored the Halifax harbour on a 30-foot sailboat, circling around Georges Island. The island has a fort and many, many snakes. We are told that an underground tunnel connects the island’s fort to the Citadel, which towers over Halifax.

It was time to replace our chains again, and we stopped by the Bike Pedaler bike shop in Dartmouth. The shop is involved in promoting cycling culture. For example, they have free bike parking for anyone working in downtown Dartmouth.

The shop owner, Marc, told us about an unfortunate new law that has aggravated cyclist-driver relations: drivers must give cyclists 1m distance when passing. The law is not enforced and cannot be regulated: even evidence like helmet camera footage cannot be used in court, although some have tried it. With the passing of the law, drivers feel like they’ve had some privileges taken away from them and now drive more aggressively, giving cyclists even less space when passing them and generally being unfriendly.

We took the scenic route out of Halifax, passing through the Salt Marsh and Shearwater Flyer trails. The trails are part of the Trans Canada Trail and are built on the old railbed. Birds love the salt marsh and you can see them feeding on small aquatic life. It’s also neat to see the tides rush through the narrow spots and into the shallow warm pools of the salt marsh.

In Antigonish we stayed with the Ten Brinkes: Charlie, Ronny, and the kids. They’re actually a family of 5, it’s just part of their last name! Charlie is really energetic and inspiring lady who’s involved in everything. Between working at the university, getting the kids to hockey practice and such, cooking for the family, and acting with a dinner theatre troupe, she also does a tonne of sustainability stuff.

The Ten Brinkes live just outside town, on a big beautiful piece of land. It hasn’t always been this nice: they built the house themselves and transformed the property from a rocky, rather barren field to a wooded area and garden. Charlie loves the trees and made a network of hiking trails for the kids. The wild critters love the trees too, and at one point Charlie had her yard certified with the Backyard Habitat Program. At the time, she ran a daycare where the kids could play around and connect with nature. Her two boys, Jesse and Jamie, have a fort in the trees. Charlie helped them build it using recycled materials.

Charlie also grows herbs and vegetables in her yard, to avoid the rising food prices. Feeding three kids is not cheap, especially if you want to give them fresh, organic vegetables. She also involves the kids in gardening. The two boys each have their own square of vegetable garden. At first, it was just a small patch, but this year they asked for a bigger area and now have a considerable garden plot each. Charlie says the boys feel very proud when the family eats vegetables from their garden plots.

In Antigonish there is a small but dedicated group of people who organize various talks and events to promote sustainabiity. The group is great for exchanging ideas, but as Charlie tells us, they have trouble reaching out to the rest of the community and getting them to see the importance of moving towards a sustainable lifestyle. Case in point: Charlie and Ronny recently hosted a 200-person picnic and Charlie decided she wouldn’t use any single-use dishes.

Yes, read that sentence again. 200 people. No plastic cups, plates, or anything. Let it sink in.

Anyway, Charlie said that people were so used to disposable dishes and so unaware of what she was trying to do that some of them threw her dishes in the garbage. She had to fish through the garbage at the end of the event to get her dishes back. These are the challenges she and the Antigonish sustainability crowd is up against.

With her kids, of course, it’s a different story: day in and day out, Charlie teaches them about recycling and not wasting water or electricity. Some days the kids still throw the compost in the garbage or leave the lights on in the entire house. But it’s not about getting it right each time, it’s about creating consciousness/awareness and instilling values. Charlie hopes to make the kids think about sustainability because she believes it’s important to their generation.

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:

On The Green Path

5 Aug

The Ottawa River, or la Riviere des Outaouais, separates Quebec and Ontario. There is a beautiful cycle path along its shores, extending about 30 km on either side of the capital. We were fortunate to bike into Ottawa on Sunday morning, when several waterfront streets are also closed to cars and open to bikes.

The population on either side of the Ottawa River is a mix of francophones and anglophones, not correlating with provincial boundaries. The Frenchies are a proud people and the ones living in Ontario have their own Franco-Ontarian flag. They certainly have reason for patriotism. Our Warm Showers host, Pierre, stunned us with a four-course dinner with a wine pairing for each course. C’est ça la belle vie!

Santé! We made it to Quebec, the land of poutine and bicycles. Canada’s belle province has a network of designated bike routes, called Routes Vertes, or green paths. Also, there is a designation for lodging and camping called Bienvenue Cyclistes (welcome cyclists) which essentially means that these places are bike-friendly; the campsites can always accommodate cyclists, even if they are fully booked!

 

That’s part of the Route Verte we took into Montreal. Our final stretch was along the Lachine canal, and by that point it was already dark. It seemed like everyone was enjoying the warm summer night: lots of people were out for a stroll, and we even passed by an outdoor cha-cha lesson.

It was an unusual time to be in Montreal: there were actually no festivals going on, except the fireworks, which are just like the ones in Vancouver. But that didn’t stop us from enjoying tourist classics such as street performances, cafes with patios, and cobblestone streets. Although we’ve been to Montreal before and visited the Notre Dame basilica, it was definitely worth seeing again.

Leaving the city, we passed through downtown and were overwhelmed by the cycle traffic: often we’d be waiting at a red light with several other cyclists. Many were riding bikes from Montreal’s famous bike share program, Bixi. A few had ridiculously large loads. Some rode cautiously but most rode like they owned the road, weaving back and forth in the traffic, passing each other and running red lights. (Disclaimer: Tour de Sustainability does not recommend running red lights just because you are riding a bicycle.)

Sunny Side Up

8 Jul

We’ve officially left the prairies. Instead of fields stretching to the horizon in every direction, we now travel on roads surrounded by trees on either side. The sky has become smaller. By force of a quickly formed habit we try to check the weather forecast by observing the clouds, but they are blocked, and we feel a little claustrophobic.

After doing 284 km in two days, a rest day was in order. Luckily for us, Maria’s parents flew in for the long weekend and made sure we relaxed to the max.

We stayed in a cabin right on Lake of the Woods, near Sioux Narrows Provincial Park. We swam in the lake, hiked the trails of the park, and picked mushrooms and wild strawberries. We also spotted a beaver in the area:

Well rested and fed, we got ambitious again. We rode 90km in the scorching heat to the town of Finland, where we stopped to eat. The host informed us that there would be Canada Day fireworks at 10pm in Fort Frances. Well, it was 7pm and with Fort Frances 60km away, we figured we could make it! We quickly settled up the bill and booked it. Full of partiotism we finally arrived at 10:30pm, just barely making the tail end of the fireworks.

We camped in the park in town and in the morning Anya received a gift from the heavens.

Bon appetit. We ate breakfast in the Chinese restaurant in Fort Frances. We would never have thought to go there but it was recommended by a local guy named Kasey. We randomly met in front of Safeway and he ended up joining us for breakfast. Upon hearing about our project, he told us about his dad, who wants his house to be the first in Fort Frances to go completely off the grid. He has already installed solar panels on his roof for electricity, and he has obtained a large cistern for collecting rainwater, which he will be hooking up to the house’s plumbing system shortly.

We spotted quite a few solar panels on our way to Fort Frances, and asked Kasey about them. Ontario has a program for subsidizing clean energy projects. This program pays owners of solar installations for the energy they generate. In particular, energy produced by residential rooftop solar installations is bought at a rate 8 times the cost of buying the same amount of electricity. As a result of the subsidy, many people have installed the panels. Many community-use places such as schools and municipal halls had the panels installed as well.

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