Tag Archives: ridiculous

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…

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:

Fear and Cycling in Toronto

25 Jul

Those who know Maria will be surprised that in 5500km she has not once flipped the finger at an erratic driver on this trip. But never has she been so close to breaking this marvellous track record as when we entered Toronto city limits. Immediately drivers change from friendly and road-sharing to stressed and angry. For the first time on the trip, we were honked at and we knew for a fact the message was not “hello.”

Once past the initial hurdle of getting into the city, we were cordially greeted by Anya’s parents. Some of their friends were excited to hear about our journey, so they hosted a BBQ/storytelling session, so that we could be fed while recounting exaggerations about our cycle tour.

One of the guests suggested that because of the second law of thermodynamics (entropy always increases), sustainability is a pipe dream akin to a perpetual motion machine. This theoretical limitation would not apply to the earth alone because energy can be exchanged between the earth and the rest of the universe. Then we are talking about the universe. But the fate of the universe is a hotly debated topic and perhaps it will be renewed in a big crunch followed by another big bang. Also, this is so far into the future that first, giant crabs will take over the world, then the sun will engulf half of the planets in our solar system, and only much much later can we anticipate the heat death of the universe.

We also visited Evergreen Brick Works, where they had a fascinating exhibit called ‘MOVE‘ about transportation in Toronto. It was put together by Evergreen in collaboration with Institute Without Boundaries. It shows the history of transportation in Toronto, has cool data visualizations for current transportation stats, and suggests a whole host of ideas for how to make transportation more sustainable in the future.

Here’s one amazing guy’s collection of bicycles, displayed as part of the MOVE exhibit.

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.

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.

Nature Bugs Us

22 Jun

It’s that time of year again… tick season! Anya spotted them as we were doing some post-ride stretches at the campground. She alm0st couldn’t believe they were ticks because there were so many. We found about 5 on our “yoga mats” (actually just our sleeping mats) and brushed about as many off the tent exterior in the morning. The locals confirmed it: 2012 has seen record tick numbers.

To add to the fun, Maria’s front derailleur, having suffered from stiffness for some time now, had stopped working entirely:

Maria even woke up early to fix the problem herself but discovered that we had lost both our spare cables. Luckily in the prairies middle gear is often sufficient.

In the prairies you can see your dog run away for 3 days.

It wasn’t only the cables that were missing. Somewhere along the way, Maria had lost both her warm sweaters. Anya, lending Maria her down jacket for the evening, decided we’d do some clothes shopping in Regina.

We rode into Regina on the Trans Canada. Bad decision. On the stretch of highway past Moose Jaw, there was more roadkill than anywhere else so far on our journey. We saw four dead deer in just 80 km — compare that to zero dead deer in 2,000+km! Not to mention the increased number of the typical victims: birds and rodents. To spare our viewers, we will refrain ourselves from posting photographic evidence.

Our Regina connection is Maria’s family friend, Alex. He actually managed to feed us too much food! This is a most impressive feat of hospitality.  He also gave us a tour around town, and kept us entertained with philosophical conversations.

One thing we talked about is connection to nature. Having lived and worked both in large cities (like Vancouver) and small ones (like Regina), Alex can say that he prefers the smaller cities. Aside from the fact that it is easier to get from A to B in a smaller town, it is also often easier to access nature.

For Alex (and for us, actually!) being around nature is a way to get away from distractions, clear your mind and better understand yourself. Access to nature is important, but in large cities, it’s not always available.

Exploring Alberta Along the Trans Canada

17 Jun

On our way through the flatlands of Alberta, we caught up with Frank, a lone cyclist with his belongings stashed in four panniers on an extended rear rack. Frank is from Salmon Arm, BC, but cycles east every summer for work, living on the cheap out of a tent. This time he was cycling to Medicine Hat. How’s that for a work commute?!

We stopped in Bassano for lunch at a place called Bakafe (a bakery and a café, see?). Rose, the owner, was ultra nice to us and we talked for a while. At her café, Rose serves fresh, homemade products with no preservatives whenever possible. And it’s delicious!

Rose was surprised that we had taken the detour into the town. In the 1980s, before the Trans-Canada was re-routed 2km north, Bassano was directly on the highway. Back then, a lot more visitors would come through; nowadays business is slow, except on rodeo days. Rose talked about the challenges of keeping the younger crowd busy in such a small, remote town: some are very active in the community, but others turn to drinking for entertainment. The Bakafe is one of the only places in town that does not serve alcohol.

Heading further east the next day we noticed a darker patch of sky behind us. We hoped it would go away, but it kept getting closer and making thundery noises. In this sparsely-populated region with towns at least 30km apart, and considering half the towns don’t even have a café, we were very lucky. We reached Suffield only 10 minutes before the rain started, and waited out the worst of the storm in the town’s only diner, adjacent to the town’s only gas station. Here we ran into two cool crazy guys from Quebec: a rollerblader and a longboarder, making their way east on their own wheels and by hitch-hiking.

Once the storm quieted down a bit, we set out for Medicine Hat, where we had a couchsurf set up.

The Couchsurfing scene in Medicine Hat is awesome! We were slightly overwhelmed by the amazing response to our surfing requests. Nicole, the host who won us over, told us that she really has to be on the ball to snatch couchsurfers coming through town. There is a fierce competition between the hosts in town to get surfers on their couches.

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