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August 28, 2013

Dear Canada

Dear Canada

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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 6, 2013

Team Planet Energy

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Distance: 149km
Time: 6:04:42

After a day off, a day of rest, swimming and a great BBQ, it was time ((insert author switch))
To take another day off from blogging and hand the trustee BlackBerry to Laura while I investigated a long standing issue with my front tire.

It was a GREAT day in the saddle. We couldn’t have asked for better conditions. More tailwind than headwind, great temperature, not too much traffic and beautiful scenery. We made great time crossing Ottawa via Hunt Club then switch to some back roads and kept up the quicker than anticipated pace.

It should be noted that Scott isn’t travelling alone right now. He’s been joined by me, his wife Laura and my brother Adrian for the leg of the trip between Ottawa and Montreal.

Team Planet Energy promo shots for the trading cards.

Team Planet Energy promo shots for the trading cards.

This plan was only hatched about a week and a half ago. Laura’s longest distance (this year) before an ass toughening 77K ride in tri shorts had been 55K back in May. Adrian’s longest ride in his life WAS 40K. It’s now 133K.

If you look fast, you are fast!

If you look fast, you are fast!

Once the route had been planned and details worked out. We all set about bike maintenance Sunday night, after the sun had gone down. It was then that we realized a pannier rack wouldn’t fit on the bike Adrian would be riding. Good thing he’d stored the bulk of his gear in Hawkesbury at his job site the week before. Laura took the couple of things he needed carried and we were all set.

We enjoyed a takeout pizza in Carlsbad Springs for brunch. It was the only place open, we were hungry and it was AWESOME. I think it rivaled Milano’s [sk – strongly disagree with this statement]. A couple quick breaks to rest, stretch and fuel up and we found ourselves in Hawkesbury where I (Laura) toured the wastewater treatment plant while Scott planned the next days route.

This is what you get when you bring two engineers biking.

This is what you get when you bring two engineers biking.

We had dinner in Hawkesbury then while Adrian drove the site truck to the campsite, Laura and Scott time trialed it across the border, against the setting sun to the campsite. Quick set up of tents and it was early to bed.

Goliath has fallen. 5 down, 5 to go!

Goliath has fallen. 5 down, 5 to go!

On to Montreal!

Ride on.

August 4, 2013

To Draft is Divine

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Distance: 191km
Time: 6:38:21

On a day with “flat” roads, there is nothing like getting into the big chain ring and burying yourself for speed. I was set to do that leaving Deep River and into Ottawa.

Then I got too Pembroke, the clouds lifted, as I stopped to put on sunscreen, two young guys zipped up beside me. In their matching green jerseys, they explained to me that they were the Epic Riders. Four friends from Cambridge, Ontario who were riding their bikes across Canada. Two of them are in their parent’s van, two of them pedaling away. They are raising money to help stop sex slavery in Cambodia. We chatted for a bit and then decided to ride together. For the sixty kilometers to Renfrew, we flew down the road, most of the time I stayed tucked in their draft, just about 30km/h. The difference a draft makes is wonderful. I encourage anyone interested to make a donation to go to EpicRiders.org and help these great kids make aa difference.

The Epic Riders and me, luckily I wore my green jersey to match!

The Epic Riders and me, luckily I wore my green jersey to match!

I stopped in Renfrew because my Uncle Randy and cousin Ian were meeting me there and riding back into Ottawa with me. For Ian it was going to be his longest ride yet. At Grade 10, he was beginning his dive into epic riding.

While in line at the Tim Horton’s, a guy asks me about the ride, where I started and where I’m going. As I answered that I was headed towards St. John’s, the guy two spots ahead in line mentioned, “I was born and raised in St. John’s.” This started a conversation with a bunch of people in line. The man then told me that there was a pub on St. George street in st. John’s that his son owned, “Christian’s on St. George, don’t forget that name.” he told me that when I got there I had to go because my name would be on the “Buddy List”. The “Buddy List” is a list of people who will have their drinks paid for. There it was, Renfrew was turning into a good stop. 🙂

When Randy and Ian arrived, we set out. A beautiful ride along the Ottawa River. Ian pushed the pace and kept me pumping hard, yet still beautifully in the draft. With about 30km to go, Laura came out to meet us and she joined the bike train pulling me to Ottawa. What a divine welcoming party.

My welcoming party.

My welcoming party.

I got into Ottawa around 5pm, a beautiful ride, awesome stories and a divine draft almost the whole way. Now a day off, then Laura, her brother Adrian and I head for Montreal, with a night stopover in Hawkesbury first. The journey continues.

Ride on.

August 3, 2013

You Never Know Who You’ll Run Into

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Distance: 120km
Time: 4:36:13

Everyone asks me, “Is it lonely on the road by yourself?” and the truth is, sometimes. I’m pretty comfortable being on my own, but there have been times.

However, every once and a while I get the opportunity to run into a familiar face. In Vancouver, Tom Tran welcomed me into his home before I got started. My two uncles who biked with me.

In Calgary, Jill and Aaron emailed me and joined us for a wonderful dinner. It definitely made Laura jealous! (I’m cheering for them this weekend as they take on Xterra!)

Kevin O’Reilly, one of my vice-principals, messaged me when he noticed we’d be in Calgary at the same time and we met up at the Stampede.

All cowboys, right this way.

All cowboys, right this way.

While taking a break in Winnipeg, Ben and Erin, friends of ours from Kitchener, who have been in Ghana for the last three years, just happened to be passing through on their trip across. Laura and I were so happy to be able to share a crepe with them.

After three years away, why don't we rendezvous in Winnipeg?

After three years away, why don’t we rendezvous in Winnipeg?

In Deep River, I got a chance to stay with a colleague and friend Holly Chester. It was a great chance to discuss profound ideas about smalltown life. (Of course, it was going to be profound, it was in “deep” River.)

Just a small town girl living in a lonely world.

Just a small town girl living in a lonely world.

Then last night, at 7:10 I just happened to check Facebook. I had a message from Becca Shewfelt saying, “We’re going to be passing through Deep River, any chance we could meet you at Tim Hortons at 7:20.” I got the message just in time, skedattled to Timmys and had a great visit with another sweet family.

Last minute works too!

Last minute works too!

All along this great country, I get reminders just how great people are. My little encounters with friends along the way, sometimes random, sometimes planned, remind me just how lucky I am for the people in my life.

Tomorrow, Ottawa. Laura. Enough said.

Ride on.

August 2, 2013

Taking My Time

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Distance: 183km
Time: 6:36:12

At some point yesterday, I forgot how long it takes for a bicycle to get places. I got up and got started early, I was making good time and then I took a break. Then another. Then another. At one point I was in North Bay looking at the Dionne Quintuplet information (why? I have no idea)and I realized how late it was and how much distance I had to still cover.

You see, yesterday was supposed to be rainy with thunderstorms, but instead it was a gorgeous sunny sky with a few happy clouds. It was excellent. Then just after Dionne layover, the sky turned. I should have been at the campground. I should have been dry, without worries, but instead I was 23km from my destination when it started raining.

It was time for a time-trial. Generally, during a time-trial it is the cyclist against the clock, all aerodynamics are crucial. This time it was me and my non-aerodynamic saddle bags against the rain and impending thunderstorm.

I kicked it up a notch for those last 23km, didn’t get too wet and was able to setup my tent without getting soaked. Success in my books.

Tomorrow, a short day into Deep River to see a friend Holly Chester, no need to rush.

Ride on.

What 4000+ kilometers will do to a wheel. Probably because of my speed too.

What 4000+ kilometers will do to a wheel. Probably because of my speed too.

August 1, 2013

The Stress of Safety

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Distance: 145km
Time: 5:25:07

Gripping my handlebars any tighter would have had them disintegrate and turn into ash. This was 60km today between Espanola and Sudbury. My neck, shoulders, arms and legs a ball of stress as I danced on the tightrope of shoulder on highway 17 today. At times, the shoulder would disappear, forcing me into the lane. Because it is only two lanes, everyone feels squeezed in, it doesn’t give other vehicles room to give me buffer. But I made it.

Yesterday at the campground, the cross-Canada tour group “Tour de Canada” also stayed. It gave me a chance to chat with them about a supported ride (they don’t have to haul their gear), but more importantly it gave me an opportunity to talk with a few of them about the accident a week ago that cost two of their members their lives. A husband and wife got hit by a pickup truck when he apparently dozed off at the wheel. No doubt talking with them weighed on my mind this afternoon.

I am as safe as I can be. I am very visible two big, bright yellow panniers at the back of my bike calling out. Thus far, all drivers have been incredibly courteous. Even today as stressed as I was and as narrow the space, drivers were never careless. Unfortunately, it is the roads. Why is Ontario the worst?

Every other province, so far, have used the space they have to have wide paved shoulders, often with a rumble strip between me and cars. Not Ontario, instead they have a thin shoulder with wide gravel shoulders. If they paved another three feet, everyone would feel less on edge. I will be writing a letter to the Minister of Transportation when I get home.

Needless to say, I safely made it to Sudbury. I even found some change on the street.

I found a loose coin on the street.

I found a loose coin on the street.

Just three more days until Ottawa, a day off and my beautiful wife. After that she’s joining me until Montreal, woohoo!

Ride on.

July 31, 2013

Am I A Whack-A-Doo Too?

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Distance: 171km
Time: 6:45:21

I’m standing in the circle of eight of us listening quietly (some of you can’t believe it, but I’m actually very shy). The first guy, 21 from Toronto, is telling a story about a descent he took on his single-speed fixed gear bike he’s using to go across the country (west to east). The second guy, 28 from Victoria, knows better than to try to top the story so instead starts talking about something to do with his favourite porn star. The old guy, 57 from Halifax, tells me later that he has to get back to Halifax before October because he has a sea-kayak expedition to do. When asked about schedule all seven of them laugh it off, “No, I’m a free-spirit, I just get to where I end up.”

This is how I started my day, the collection of cross-Canada cyclists gathered together outside of Velorution bike shop. For most of the conversation, I’m thinking, “These people (two girls) are all whack-a-doo.” Then they ask me about my schedule, my daily goal, etc. In which three of them reply, “Wow, that’s crazy,” in unison. Hold on, I’m the crazy one?

As I rode today, on a beautiful day from Sault Ste Marie to Serpent River, the question keeps rippling through my mind, am I a whack-a-doo too? And I come to the realization that yeah, I am.

What follows are some of my thoughts today:

1. I’m not one to complain about pavement, however, going 20km on “grooved pavement” is crazy. Thank you to the Township of Tarbutt and Tarbutt Additional (seriously, this is the name of the township. I don’t even understand the additional part. It makes me die with laughter thinking they wouldn’t let the folks from Tarbutt Additional just be from Tarbutt, but I digress) for giving me that sacred hour of cycling.

2. I decided halfway through the ride that businesses that advertise how far they are by minutes (KFC – 10 minutes ahead) will no longer receive my patronage. I broke that rule when the campground I was headed for did it. The next campground is 30km away, give me a break.

3. I rode for an hour along Hwy 17B through Garden River and Echo Bay, thanks to a suggestion from a friend, and I was passed by a total of three cars, in an hour. For someone who has been riding the Trans-Canada for days, this was bliss.

4. I’m always interested in who gets recognized by a town on their sign. You know, Sault Ste Marie hometown of Roberta Bondar, Dryden howetown of Chris Pronger,
Marathon home of Kris Wirtz, but none have made me smile as much as the native community of Garden River hometown of Jordan Nolan of the LA Kings. Almost every house had a sign saying, “Go Jordan” or “#71 LA Kings”, almost all of which were sheets of plywood spray painted. So cool!

5. As impressed with Lake Superior as I was, Lake Huron is no slouch of a lake. It’s an easy place to stop for lunch.

Lake Huron for lunch.

Lake Huron for lunch.

I’m into and through Sudbury tomorrow, on my way to Ottawa for the weekend.

And so, it is my statement henceforth, that I realize and accept my whack-a-doo status.

Ride on.

July 30, 2013

Glory!

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Distance; 194km
Time: 7:17:43

When the rain stopped today, the world decided today was going to be a day for the bike riders. Beautiful blue sky, wonderful roads, and a nice little tailwind most of the way.

Starting my day in Lake Superior Provincial Park allowed me to be surrounded by the protected wonders of nature. Pure bliss, when the sun is shining on them. Some of the vistas almost take your breath away. Glory!

My, that lake is superior.

My, that lake is superior.

When I stopped at the Visitor’s Centre the attendants were excited to tell me all the real climbing was over and, “you get to go down a huge hill. I love telling cyclists that.” Glory! The descent, by the way, was worth the excitement.

I stopped for a break at the Agawa Indian Crafts stop just beside Pancake Bay Provincial Park. It was flush with little kids with ice cream over their faces, old men ‘stealing’ a bite from their loves cone, people galore asking me about my trip and a man whose father built a house a few doors down from mine (talk about a small world). Glory!

In fact, I was feeling like a bit of a celebrity with everyone so impressed by my adventure so far. That is, until a guy asked, “so what do you cover 300 – 400 kilometers a day?” When I answered, “oh no, maybe 160 or so.” He responded, “Oh, that’s it,” as he walked away. A nice little ego check for me. Glory!

An as"Sault on Ste. Marie

An as”Sault on Ste. Marie

Then, the piece de resistance, I pulled into Sault Ste. Marie and turn to go the bike shop for some extra tubes (always good to carry) and voila a small cove of cross-Canada cyclists who are encouraged to camp behind the shop. We have access to a shower, bathroom and all to encourage the community. Velorution opens their doors, literally, to all touring cyclists. All they ask, leave no garbage, sign the guestbook, and ride. Glory!

The cycling community continues to astound me.

The cycling community continues to astound me.

Then, to top it all off, the weather looks perfect for tomorrow. I am in my glory!

Ride on.

July 29, 2013

What’s a little rain to a goose?

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Distance: 121km
Time: 4:28:07

Every town has got theirs. The reason you should stop and check it out. White River, where I started the day, is “famous” because that’s where the original Winnie the Pooh was sold to a Lieutenant by a trapper. The black bear named “Winnipeg” was brought overseas with the platoon and caught the fancy of A.A Milne. Thus, you need to stop in White River, to see where it all began.

This is where the myth began.

This is where the myth began.

And 90km later today, I came into Wawa. The sight of the “infamous” Canada goose that overlooks the Trans-Canada and symbolizes the “toughest stretch of Trans-canada built east of the Rockies.” The Wawa goose is looking worse for wear, that’s why they are fundraising for a new one, but it calls out for you to stop and check it out.

The goose that can't fly.

The goose that can’t fly.

Now I know I’ve done a little bit about these before, the tallest teepee in the world, but I it caught my interest and my thoughts again today.

Also, isn’t there something special when a day when you start riding in the rain and you ride for 85km in it, suddenly stops and turns beautiful. That’s what happened today. Just magic.

Then I got to Rabbit Blanket campground (don’t even get me started on why a rabbit would ever need a blanket) to a dry tent, met wonderful people, many who were curious about me, then stayed dry in our nightly rainfall.

All in all, a nice day to set me up for a great day of riding into the Soo.

Ride on.

July 28, 2013

I Get Knocked Down…But I Get Up Again

I Get Knocked Down…But I Get Up Again

Friday
Distance: 157km
Time: 7:46:47

Saturday
Distance: 125km
Time: 5:01:17

Dear Northern Ontario,

Up to this point you had been fair to me. You gave me reasonable roads, nice weather and friendly drivers. I have seen and met more cyclists among your scattered towns then the rest of my trip. I was starting to think you weren’t all that tough.

Sure, I had that day where my head wasn’t in it. You had something to do with it, but mainly that was just a ‘me’ thing. Then yesterday, you thought it about time to knock some Northern Ontario sense into me. I had become too cocky on your roads. Yeah, my plan was to ride 180km from Nipigon to Marathon. In fact, I had to get to Marathon because my mother was waiting to show me around on her first visit to her hometown since she left in Grade eight.

You started the day with a nice steady drizzle. Get me damp, but not soaked. Cool me down, without freezing me. You left that drizzle in the sky just to wake me up, because I left especially early to be in Marathon early. Smart play. After about 30km of reasonable riding you started up the north winds. You decided I needed to be knocked around a bit so you added gusts around 40km/h, but I persisted.

The road construction for 30km was like a reminder from home. There’s always construction in the summer, why would you be different.

Northern Ontario, you weren’t satisfied were you? So, you turned down the thermostat like my Dad used to. Down towards 7 degrees, you kept the drizzle and the winds. Then I rolled into your secret weapon, hills. Not little rollers for you either, nice 2km climbs often at a 6% pitch, but sometimes blasting up to 9 or 10%. Really giving the legs a punishment. Good on you. But like a boxer in the late rounds I kept swinging.

That’s about the time I left Terrace Bay, cold, wet yet still smiling having just run into some other cross-Canada cyclists an just 80km from Marathon. Thunder, lighting and a downpour that had me questioning my brain capacity were your last little trick.

Needless to say, you won. I threw in the white towel, twenty-five kilometers from Marathon I knew I wasn’t going to make it before dark. The two hours of shivering while pedaling despite throwing layers on, the toes I was convinced might get frostbitten all little pieces of my decision. I stopped at Neys Provincial Park. I wasn’t going to make it Marathon by bike, so I called my mom for a ride into town.

But then you showed the welcoming side of you Northern Ontario, the people. Mae and Chaz Chesnick from Marathon, who had been friends with my grandparents over 50 years ago, opened their door to me, soaked and freezing. They had started the woodstove, cooked a meal and brought colour back into my hands and toes. You showed me that the people of Northern Ontario are some of the best.

Me, Mom, Chaz and Mae

Me, Mom, Chaz and Mae

After a good night sleep, a warm breakfast and a trip down memory lane with my Mom, I was driven back to Neys Provincial Park to rejoin my journey from where. I left off.

Northern Ontario, you gave me a little fog and twelve degree weather to start but I had earned your respect as the last forty kilometers into White River you even gave me a nice partially sunny welcome.

You’ve earned my respect, Northern Ontario. I won’t take your distances or weather or terrain for granted. I will spend the rest of my time here recognizing your rugged beauty and peaceful isolation. Most importantly, I will take with me how great the people are.

Sincerely,
Scott

Ride on.

P.S. To the bus load of kids who all hung out the windows in the rain on Friday to cheer me on as you rode past, thanks, you warmed me up when I needed it.

P.P.S. Just as a side note, I walked into the little restaurant in town tonight in White River and ran into Karen, who I had last seen in Vermilion Bay. I said, “Wow, I’m so surprised to see you here. I’ve been doing some big distances and you’ve kept up. Good on ya!” She replied, “Oh, I’ve gotten picked up and driven every day it’s rained, so that’s been helping me keep up.” Needless to say, we had dinner together like old friends. Anyone who rides a bike is a friend of mine.

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