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August 28, 2013

Dear Canada

Dear Canada


Dear Canada,

Over the last 55 days, I have had the privilege of riding your roads, seeing your landscape and meeting your people. I have been in awe every day since I embarked on this journey. For not one day did I not experience love, pride and respect.

From the majestic mountains to the expansive prairies, from the rugged Canadian Shield to the memorable Maritimes, each region in Canada offered something different, yet wonderfully similar. You are an amazing country that challenged me physically and emotionally. Yet, I loved every climb as much as every descent, as I try to embrace that what challenges me.

Over the course of these two months, you showed me how simple acts of generosity and kindness can have profound impact on even the most self-assured amongst us. I felt this continuously with every front porch wave, toot of a passing car, and every curious customer in a convenience store. I rode solo, but I was never alone. When climbing up a steep hill outside of Nipigon, Ontario in the cold rain, a group of kids returning from camp all hung out the windows of their bus and cheered me on, when grinding up Sunday Summit Pass in the Rocky Mountains a lady driving by rolled down her window and offered me water and cookies. I could tell story after story of simple acts performed by Canadians that offered me a glimpse of the fabric of people in this country. Being on the bike, the act of a car, transport, or pickup truck hauling a boat swinging wide, crossing the centre line to give me space was an act of kindness I never took for granted. And everyone did it.

Canada, it is easy to write up a list of exotic locales around the world that offer intrigue and mystery, however, you populated my list with places, towns, parks and monuments to visit. I will encourage everyone to visit Cape Spear, Newfoundland, the most easterly point in North America, if for no other reason to feel like you’ve reached the end of the world. I will insist that every Canadian make it to see the Terry Fox monument in Thunder Bay and then the road sign indicating his Marathon of Hope’s end and share the goosebumps with them. I will explain the cathedral presence of grain elevators breaking the endless horizon in the prairies and implore people to witness them firsthand. And of course, I will return to the laid back attitude of Prince Edward Island and the breathtaking Rocky Mountains and cajole others to join me.

The landscape and the people are each integral parts of your whole. Each piece connected to the other, influencing the other and shaping how we understand ourselves. Once I finished the mountains, I thought the hard stuff was behind me, however, with the winds in the prairies, the weather in Ontario and the hills in the Maritimes, each region taught me that this wasn’t an easy task. It meant something to make it through. It humbled me when I took distance for granted. It reminded me that you earn accomplishment. It isn’t given away.

I spent many days in awe; this country gave me a literal understanding of awesome. Some days my legs got me to my destination and I didn’t remember pedaling. I had time to think, reflect, and live in wonder about the lives of the people and places I passed. I was witness to the industrious habits of many as they worked towards common goals. Road construction is a unifying summer Canadian experience.

Thank you Canada for showing me that life in a rural small town is as rich as one in a metropolitan centre. For this country is populated by more small towns than I ever imagined and each place exhibited a power of its people. I eavesdropped on a group of old men sitting around the town diner in Gull Lake, Alberta and neighbours chatting at the general store in Crapaud, Prince Edward Island and their conversations around the role of the Senate reminded me that Canadians, everywhere, genuinely care about Canada despite what our politicians may suggest.

I can’t capture the feelings of being on a bike and experiencing this country. It’s something you have to do to fully grasp. All I know for sure is that Canada; you are in my blood thicker now than before. I will cheer louder for your grand achievements and for all your subtle ones too. You are more than arbitrary borders on a landmass, more than a vast collection of trees and rocks, and more than a figurative mosaic of cultures, for over the course of 6,734 kilometres I came to understand that you are home.

With love, respect and pride,
Scott Kemp

August 21, 2013

Last Stop on the Mainland


Distance: 101km
Time: 4:18:32

Well, it is official, I am leaving mainland Canada. I have traversed upwards of 6600km and look behind me and see a majestic country that has both amazed me and challenged me. So it was fitting that today as I rode along Cape Breton Island I was both amazed and challenged.

The amazement comes from sweeping beauty and a feeling of serene coastal living. There was a distinct call to nature with signs to the Cabot Trail and the visions of sailboats in the harbour. It was challenging as I faced a nice crosswind the whole day, climbed my “final” mountain pass up Kelly’s mountain and traversed a panic-inducing bridge.

The mountain pass was a solid six kilometers of climbing at a 4-5% grade. It didn’t rival the mountain passes of early July but it definitely has been awhile since continued climbing like that. It was cute when an old couple who had pulled over at a lookout near the top shouted, “Woohoo! You’re almost there! You are winning the race.” I wondered how they knew. The decent was pretty sweet too.

Could this be my final mountain pass? Although the elevation is not huge, the legs and lungs were burning on the climb.

Could this be my final mountain pass? Although the elevation is not huge, the legs and lungs were burning on the climb.

I have always had a little bridge phobia, however over the course of this trip and all the bridges I’ve crossed, I thought I had beat it. Nope. With a strong crosswind, no shoulder and steady traffic I couldn’t help but picture me going over the side. Luckily, didn’t happen. It even got to the point where I unclipped my shoe thinking it might help me survive.

But alas, I made the easy distance today and have been waiting to disembark on my seafaring journey. Newfoundland awaits in the morning. Tonight I sleep on the Blue Puttees. A 7 hour crossing, which has been made here for over 200 years. In fact, this crossing was a key piece of the negotiations that brought Newfoundland into the Canadian fold in 1949. Canada had to agree to run this connection in perpetuity.

Better than a thermarest on the ground for sure.

Better than a thermarest on the ground for sure.

To top it all off, finally, cyclists are given special treatment and treated like royalty. As cars and trucks sat and waited for entry, I biked onto the ferry. The first one allowed on, giving me the pick of the ship when it comes to seats. Sweet!

Treated like royalty, just for riding a bike.

Treated like royalty, just for riding a bike.

Tonight I sail. Tomorrow I bus. Then, after some deliberation, I bike. One more day, probably 140km or so to Cape Spear and then St. John’s harbour where I put this epic adventure in the books.

Ride on.

P.S. In a follow-up to a previous post, apparently in Nova Scotia the moose wear fur shawls and stand majestically eyeballing the taffic as it rolls past. You’ve been warned.

It must get chilly in these parts, even the moose wear fur shawls.

It must get chilly in these parts, even the moose wear fur shawls.

August 20, 2013

Why Not A Little Further?


Distance: 180km
Time: 6:20:27

There is something wrong with me. My goal today was Port Hawkesbury, smack down in the middle of the remaining distance to the Newfoundland ferry. But when I got there today, it was only 4:30. I had biked 130km and the legs were feeling good. My mind automatically starts thinking, “I’ve still got time to go further. Might as well ride some of tomorrow’s ride.”

Sure, I could have stopped enjoyed the nice town, relaxed, instead I put another two hours on the bike.

And so, I sit in Waycocomagh, Nova Scotia on Cape Breton island. My legs are tired. But I have some satisfaction in having gone further. As you can imagine I was belting out some Bruce Guthro, one of my favourite singers who happens to be from Cape Breton, while I was making my way.

Tomorrow will be my last day of real riding. Now that I’ve taken 50km out of it, it is a small 100km to the Ferry Ramp. Piece of cake.

Ride on.

A lawn of Simpsons characters.

A lawn of Simpsons characters.

August 19, 2013

The Final Chapter Begins


Distance: 114km
Time: 4:13:21

I took three days off and cottaged. I rode my bike only once to the corner store and back to get more food. I did what any self-respecting cottager would do and eat, eat and eat some more. Getting on my bike this morning was a rude awakening. Leaving Laura once again was incredibly difficult. I have to say, I’m tired of having to say goodbye to her. But this journey still has two provinces and about 600 kilometers.

Laura, queen of the corn.

Laura, queen of the corn.

My biking on PEI had been minimal. Today was only my second day of biking and I was headed to the ferry. Two things will strike you if you cycle the island: 1) It’s freakin’ hilly. 2)You’ve got to watch the road because you may have to dodge a potato or two. (There were about a dozen on the road all told.)

Getting on the ferry with a bike is a dream because you get to roll right past all the other cars and be one of the first on, thus procuring the best seating.

Shoving off the island headed back for the mainland.

Shoving off the island headed back for the mainland.

The ferry was quick. I spent most of it reading and playing hide and seek with the little boy who was sitting by me as he’d tuck his head behind the chair and peek up and when he did I’d make an expression and he’d duck back down. Between those things, I was in Nova Scotia before I knew it.

Good ol' New Scotland, province number nine.

Good ol’ New Scotland, province number nine.

Luckily for me, I was able to stay in the quaint little town of Pictou for the night with my aunt and uncle. They put me up, served me a great dinner and we wandered down to the pier where they have live music. We heard a few fiddling reels as the sunset over the water. A truly gorgeous night.

On the wharf in Pictou enjoying a few reels on the fiddle.

On the wharf in Pictou enjoying a few reels on the fiddle.

Tomorrow, I roll through Nova Scotia on my way to Port Hawkesbury, perfectly halfway to the ferry to Newfoundland. By Wednesday morning, I’ll have made it 10/10. As of today, 9/10. As a teacher, I’d say 90% ain’t bad.

Ride on.m

June 11, 2013

What’s Next?

What’s Next?

When I was 12 years old, after having read about John Goddard in Chicken Soup for the Soul, I sat down and wrote a list of 50 Things To Do Before I Die.

In my twelve years of infinite wisdom, I wrote all manner of things. I wrote meet Oprah, visit Australia, and own a pet monkey. Some things stand out as foolish imaginings and some have found themselves festering in the back of my mind.

The idea of biking across Canada has been scrawled in my twelve-year old penmanship on that tattered piece of lined paper for twenty years. As other things have been completed and achieved, that one lies untested.

Until this year.

On July 1st, I start the adventure that stretches out for 7,200 kilometres.

Starting in Vancouver, British Columbia, I ride until my final destination of St. John’s, Newfoundland.

I hope to document my trip here. I’ll blog as often as possible and with as much insight as I can muster.

By all means, ask questions, provide comments, let me know if there are things I can’t miss.

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