Tag Archives: milestone

The Fickle Heart of Canada

5 Jul

After biking 100km, what better way to spend the evening than to get a tour of Winnipeg – on bikes?! Yep! That’s what we did and we loved it. Our host, Aaron, told us he’d been a cycling tour guide in a past life. We got to see the architecture downtown, Assiniboine Park, the Flaming Trolleys band practicing in a square, a lone guy practicing banjo on his front porch, to name a few.

Aaron loves cooking so we fired up the BBQ and had an amazing dinner at his place. We talked about green construction, city planning, and green campuses. Since he is studying at the University of Manitoba, Aaron was angry that he was studying in a place that was doing so little in terms of sustainability compared to other universities. He started several initiatives, in particular a campus composting program and the Sustainable Campus Student Group, that provides students with learning and networking opportunities in the Green Building industry.

Initially, Aaron said, some people were reluctant to change and his initiatives were met with a lot of resistance. However, he saw things through until his goals were met, and those same people are now seeing that these initiatives were a good thing for everyone involved. He has also recently been recognized with an award from Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC) for his strategic plan to green the University of Manitoba campus.

As if that were not enough work, Aaron also coordinates a weekly farmer’s market in Winnipeg. He said his strategy was to make the market hip and connect it to the local community. He invited local bands to come and play and said that the number of people coming to the market almost doubled from one year to the next.

It was difficult to leave Winnipeg with its hipster cafes and music scene, but we had to move on. Before we knew it, we were officially halfway through the country.

On our way to Falcon Lake we came across a fruit stand. Ah, fruit! Perhaps it is from Ontario? Nope… it’s from California and sometimes from BC. Money is no object for most of the customers, so it makes it worthwhile to truck in fruit from distant parts of the globe and pose as a peddler of local produce. The only local thing we found was the honey, and the Saskatoon jam. We purchased both items.

With a strong wind blowing at our backs, the 158km to Falcon Lake was a breeze. Our Falcon Lake host, Eric, welcomed us with tasty smoothies, a dip in the lake and yummy vegetarian dinner: quinoa buckwheat salad with broccoli, cheese, fresh basil, and an olive-balsamic dressing.

We got to spend the night in a spacious screened porch. The porch is constructed using trees from the backyard, but the most notable part is the ceiling: an intricate tangle of tree roots forms an integral part of its structure. The roots are from a huge tree from Eric’s yard, uprooted during a storm. Eric’s brother designed the porch to showcase the impressive stump.

Eric’s dad asked Maria whether she wears a bicycle helmet. Bike helmet laws are a hot topic in Manitoba: there is talk of making helmets mandatory. In BC, this is already the case, but bike helmet laws are also a hot topic there, because Vancouver is setting up a bike share program, and some people are concerned about how the current helmet laws will affect its success. Bicycle helmet laws are not a clear-cut issue: there is much controversy about it.

Of course, some people will still choose to wear a helmet even if they are not legally bound to do so. As for Maria, she’s decided to try the helmet-free lifestyle in the provinces where it’s legal.

Spirited Randomness

30 Jun

Recently, Manitoba spent $5 million to change their old slogan — “Friendly Manitoba” — to something more stylish and modern. They came up with “Manitoba. Spirited energy.” From what we heard, people would not have been angry if they had an appreciation for the absurd. Anyway, we interpret the slogan thus:

When you’re on a long trip you often forget the day of the week. The next day was Sunday, and we remembered this only when we were unable to obtain any breakfast because everything was closed. We thought we’d just get to the next town, but were confronted with a strong headwind. So we cooked our leftovers on the side of the highway: red lentils with little pieces of ginger. Anya ate some of the remainders of our granola as well, sans yogurt. Oh, if only we could find an omelette:

That same day we met two westbound cyclists, Peter and Sara. They were very happy about the tailwind, but nevertheless they stopped to chat. They were interested to hear about our project. Peter told us about his interest in natural buildings. He hopes to build his own house one day and is looking into earthbag construction as a potential technique. To learn more, he had built an earthbag structure during his travels in Thailand. On their cycle tour, he planned to see some buildings constructed in this fashion in Alberta, and find out whether they are suitable for a more northern climate.

The demoralizing headwind continued all day, but we kept going. We stopped in Wawanesa, where we found The Schnitzel House, possibly the best schnitzel (and also cheesecake!) outside of Germany. The campground had been flooded last year, so it was still ‘closed’ but we camped there anyway.

Further on, there was more spirited randomness offered up by the province of Manitoba. The town of Holland, for example, is named after a postman who is of English descent but had the last name Holland.

And then there was the 10+ km of surplus train cars stretching on the way from Holland to St Claude. Besides blocking the vicious cross-wind, it made for some fun graffiti viewing.

Zen Beneath the Living Skies

19 Jun

Gathering our Zen for cycling through the Province of the Living Skies.

We’ve crossed another border. Though we were told we’d need a lot of zen to get us through the tedium of prairie scenery in Saskatchewan, we are actually enjoying its rolling hills (nope… it’s not really flat) and varied avian life.

 

I imagine these prairies some 65 million years ago: wetlands covered in lush vegetation and crawling with extraordinary creatures. Today, Saskatchewan thrives on their remains: we pass a sign for a museum containing a T. rex skeleton; the prehistoric plants have become oil deposits.

There are only a few larger towns on our way, but they do have campgrounds! This one has a tropical theme.

Can’t afford an all-inclusive in Mexico? No problem!

Where there are towns there’s couchsurfing. We landed a couch at Emily’s in Swift Current. Emily gets a lot of couch requests from cyclists: we are now on the main route for transcontinental tours. She was interested in Tour de Sustainability, and shared her own perspective with us.

Some time ago, Emily saw a presentation by the Otesha Project, and was inspired to make changes in her life to reduce waste. It’s ridiculous, she says, how many things are thrown out so that the owners can keep up with the latest and greatest. Emily loves garage sales and thrift shops; there, she can get treasures for cheap and use them again instead of them ending up in the landfill.

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.

Change is in the Air

3 Jun

On day 14, we awoke to the pitter-patter of rain on the tent, and I thought:

…well, that was useless.

After that it turned sunny for a while, and we pleasantly pedaled in the sunshine, but around 7pm it suddently started pouring. Within 10 minutes it went from sunshine to heavy rain to hail. Then the lightning and thunder rolled in. Luckily a rest area was conveniently around the bend where we waited out the storm. And in this part of town (or country), you don’t need to wait very long for the weather to change.

Speaking of time, we actually crossed into the mountain time zone:

Also we passed our millennium mark – 1000km. We deal in metric here, not like these people:

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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