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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

July 9, 2013

I’m Alberta Bound

Banff

Distance: 80km

Time: 3:21:08

I’ve spent seven days riding the rugged, challenging Rocky Mountains and today, I start seeing them in my rear view. I’m taking the memories of category 2 climbs, ridiculous descents and a chapped ass with me as souvenirs.  I’m sad that I’m leaving the challenge of the Rockies. I’ve loved every crank of the pedals, in granny gear and beyond. I’m sad to see that challenge be done. But another challenge awaits. The challenge ahead is Alberta.

Before we got to say goodbye to BC, it gave us a little something to remember it by. First it gave us a six kilometer climb directly (within 2 minutes) of our campsite. No chance to get the legs warmed up, oh no, go right now and pedal up a mountain. Kicking Horse Pass is not for chumps.

Secondly, BC gave us rain, just 5 minutes into our ride. At first just a sprinkle, then a full British Columbian onslaught.  The rain came down in waves as we climbed our last big climb.

Thirdly, it was cold. It was about six degrees when we got riding this morning. That’s freakin’ cold to be wet and slowly trudging up a mountain. But we did it.

Now being the Canadian history buffs we are, we still took time (mid-climb) to check out the fascinating display about Kicking Horse Pass and spiral tunnels, whereby the train does a figure eight over itself as a way of making the hill less steep. It really is something else.

After spending 10 minutes standing in the rain, we got back on our trusted steeds and powered to the top of the climb. Total distance done 8km at an average speed of 11km/h. Then, like an oasis, we saw a little hotel/restaurant, a refuge from the storm. We jumped at the opportunity and tried to wait out the rain. Now, unlike other rain systems, this one chose to hunker down and try to wait us out. It was a showdown who would break first. We lost.

This point in the day we discovered I wouldn’t get my cheesy, though desired, picture of me in front of the Welcome to Alberta sign. Unfortunately, the sign has been temporarily taken down due to road construction. Oh well, there is always Saskatchewan.

We got bundled up and powered on. We were like a train tearing up the tracks. It helps when the road is flat and slightly downhill. My feet felt like one solid block of ice attached to the pedals. Our need to ice the muscles after workout, not needed, we iced them as we rode. It was a cold, wet day in the saddle so we pulled the plug 30km early and stayed in Banff (the first National Park of Canada)

The rain, soaked warriors return from battle to stay in the lush tourist area.

The rain, soaked warriors return from battle to stay in the lush tourist area.

And so the cushy confines of a modest inn in Banff will be our home tonight then we push on for Calgary tomorrow.

Challenge BC – check

Challenge Alberta – here I come.

Ride on.

P.S. Thanks so much everyone for the comments, I got a chance to read them all today. I’m glad to have you all aboard this journey with me. Now get off the computer and go for a bike ride. 🙂

July 8, 2013

Easily Inspired

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Distance: 110km
Time: 5:19
Today was one of those days you get while biking that allows your mind to separate from your body and just take in the world. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been specifically trying to take in the splendor of the Rockies. I mean, tomorrow is our last day of climbing. It’s just that today was an exceptional day in the saddle. It wasn’t too hard, it wasn’t too easy, it wasn’t long, there wasn’t too much traffic. It was nearly perfect.
As we started out in the morning we had 50km to breakfast in Golden. It was mostly flat with some significant descents.
I got a chance to see a train hauling easily 100 cars of potash through the mountains, I mean talk about an impressive operation. The technical wizardy people have to have to think, design, build, defend against avalanches, it reminds me just how smart people are. I mean all people.
I got a chance to ride through this beautiful day with my two uncles. I kept thinking how much my Dad would love that we were doing this. But talk about inspiring, for the last week and a bit, my uncle Kevin (59) and Uncle Randy (52) have been putting their bodies through hell. Yet, they swing their leg over the top bar everytime, granted as the day goes on the swinging leg needs a little running start. They are unfazed by all the variables that crop up, namely another flat for me. I can only hope I get the chance and am able to participate in the adventures of all the kids in my life as I, and they, get older.

Not to mention, they are putting on a clinic about how to take rest stops. Today, an hour and a half snooze with their feet in a glacier fed pond.

The masters of taking it all in!

The masters of taking it all in!

We stayed just outside of the beautiful sleepy town of Field. Just wonderful.

The town of Field, inside Yoho National Park.

The town of Field, inside Yoho National Park.

Onto Alberta tomorrow.

Ride on.

July 7, 2013

The Gorgeous Rockies

Rogers Pass

Distance: 132km
Time: 5:21

I have seen the Rockies from Calgary and I have seen them from Vancouver, but there is something spectacular about being in amidst them day after day. There is something spectacular about digging deep and seeing if the climbs will beat you. Today was a day where we were immersed in the spectacle of these mountains.

It was going to be a challenging three climb day. It was made more time sensitive when Kevin got a puncture three times. But all in all, when you keep the legs moving, in good ol’ Granny Gear at times, you’ll eventually get over the hills.

The sun says good morning over the hills.

The sun says good morning.

While preparing to climb Roger’s Pass and reading about it’s history (it was the last stretch of highway to be completed to connect all of Canada with the Trans-Canada highway), it blew my mind thinking how someone came to find the place that we could get through these looming mammoths. Rogers and a group of Kamloops Indians were the first to recognize the possibility of the easily bringing the train through the mountains. Incredible.

If you are going to flat out, do it in Glacier National Park so you can admire the view.

If you are going to flat out, do it in Glacier National Park so you can admire the view.

Our last climb of the day, up and over Roger's Pass.

Our last climb of the day, up and over Roger’s Pass.

I can’t finish the post without talking about the descent from the Rogers Pass. It was INCREDIBLE! Picture seven kilometers of drop at 6% grade. No roller coaster could compete. None, whatsoever. I took it a little easier than normal because, heck, I am carrying a big load at the back of my bike. Six kilometers of riding without the need for a single pedal stroke. Awesome! Beyond awesome. It was so much fun. Only the Rockies could do that. If it wasn’t at the end of the day and we were chaisng nightfall, I might have ditched my panniers, climbed back up, just to do it again. Unbelievable.

Tomorrow we climb some more. Tomorrow’s the day we’ve been looking forward to, a little 45km ride to Golden and then a 70km, consistent slope up to Field, BC. Tomorrow is the day when my colleague Jason Fallaise was most excited for me to have.

Ride on.

July 6, 2013

Day 4 – Travelling Companions, Ricardo, By Nightfall…

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Distance: 183km
Time (actually pedaling): 7:15
Today, I woke up and I didn’t want to ride. My legs were still aching for yesterday, Kelowna was beautiful, and my legs were heavy just throwing them over the bar. But I did. I mean how could I say no, I had two new travelling companions. My uncles Kevin and Randy had decided to “ride the hills with me.” And so to coordinate we were meeting in Kelowna. They had been there for two rest days and they were chomping at the bit to get going.
So we got going. It’s also important to note that last night, we had discussed trying to shoot for Revelstoke today (210km). We thought it set us up better for the next two days of climbing. Needless to say, Kevin may have missed that discussion.
And so, after a nice leisurely ride we were in Vernon (60km) by lunch. We stopped for a wonderful siesta. The sleeping in the cafe was new for me.

Uncle Randy just dozing off, "Well, if Kevin is going to."

Uncle Randy just dozing off, “Well, if Kevin is going to.”

After a nice break. We knew we’d have to really push to make Revelstoke and we knew we were going to get there late. So we pushed on.

Apparently, I pushed too much. About 1dkm outside of Vernon my spoke pops out of the rim, taking a piece of the rim with it. Knowing Happy Bikes didn’t serve this location, we called in a pit crew.

The infamous "popped spoke".

The infamous “popped spoke”.

Ricardo from Sun Country Cycles came flying out to meet us on the side of the highway, within an hour I was back pedaling away. Amazing service! I asked him if this happens lots and whether he does a lot of roadside assistance, he laughed and said, “No, but anyone who cycles is friend.” Words to live by. Thank you Ricardo.

Waiting for the pit crew, about 15km outside of Vernon.

Waiting for the pit crew, about 15km outside of Vernon.

Me (yes, I'm wearing the same clothes), the man who saved the day Ricardo, and Uncle Kevin.

Me (yes, I’m wearing the same clothes), the man who saved the day Ricardo, and Uncle Kevin.

With this little delay our shooting for Revelstoke looks more precarious, but we ride on. Fifteen kilometers later, I blow a tire. My tube pinched and I had to do a roadside tube change. My travelling companions must have been considering leaving me behind, they’d cover more ground without me.

In the end, we kept going. As night quickly approached, we kept on the pedals. Just a quick respite to take in a Canadian Heritage moment at the site of the “Last Spike”.

The prestigious monument to the engineers and surveyors who supervised the slave labor.

The prestigious monument to the engineers and surveyors who supervised the slave labor.


Not to be beaten yet, our goal of Revelstoke was not going to be had, but our goal of getting as close to Revelstoke as possible was met as we precariously screamed down the highway finding our campsite with headlamps on.
When all was said and done, we made it 180km. Apparently, the furthest either of my companions have ever biked.
Day 4 was quite something. Just two more days of pedaling up mountains and then downhill until Newfoundland.

Ride on.

July 5, 2013

The People Along the Way

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Distance; 184km

Time: 8:40

Today was one of those days when all I have to do is throw my leg over the bike, sit on the saddle and keep pedaling. That’s what I did. First from Princeton to Keremeos, then off to Penticton, then the last leg into Kelowna. The whole ride was up and down.

But today wasn’t about the ride, it was about the people I came across. Even with only three days, it seems that every time I stop somewhere I’m asked, “Where you riding to?” When I answer across the country, they inevitably have something to say.

The one I encountered who didn't ask me where I was riding to

The one I encountered who didn’t ask me where I was riding to

The old couple at the rest stop, “You’ve got to watch out for those Alberta drivers, they have lots of money, no brains.” Or the old motorcycle guy at the same rest area, “Forget the Albertans, it’s those damn Americans.”

I was told by an old couple in Penticton, “It”s flat between Penticton and Kelowna,” which gives me opportunity to remind the non-cyclists that flat in a car and flat on a bike or two very different things.

There are other stories I hear, like the guy who camped beside me who was up at 6am, smoking in his tent. While I was packing up, he wanted me to know that he was only camping there until his old lady let’s him back in the house. “She does this all the time.”

Now all this is to say, that people have all been curious and supremely kind, honking as they pass and waving. For whatever reason, when people see a sweaty overweight cyclist with a bike full of gear, they want to know more. As I’ve been riding on my own for the last three days, it’s been nice to chat.

Now I’ve joined my two uncles, Randy and Kevin, and we ride until Calgary together.

Ride on.

July 4, 2013

Can You Feel The Love Tonight?

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Distance: 138 km

Time: 6:36 (approx.)

I never thought I’d find love for the second time in my life. I thought I was lucky in finding someone like Laura who curiously supports my two-month adventure and absence. I thought I’d only strike gold once. But alas, I found love for the second time.

Like a cheesy romantic comedy, she wasn’t the obvious choice. It was someone who had hid in the shadows for years. She had silently been with me through all my other adventures. Sure, I had brief fling with her through the Halton Hill a few years ago, but at the time, I felt nothing. It didn’t mean anything. But not today, the old girl showed her true colors today.

 

The second love of my life.

The second love of my life.

Many people call her “Granny Gear”, but that name doesn’t do her justice. Today, about three minutes into my ride, I discovered her again. I was told there would be three climbs today, and boy, was there. The climbs were tough. Picture ten kilometers at an average of 7% grade. The legs were saved by my new love “Granny Gear”.

It was slow going today because of the mountains, heck they are the Rocky Mountains, but the legs kept spinning.

 

The final summit. Sorry for the extra-super close-up!

The final summit. Sorry for the extra-super close-up!

Then I got to experience the roller-coaster style descent into Princeton. I have never gripped my handlebars tighter as I dipped and dove down and around. It was incredible! Unfortunately, my Garmin’s battery had died so I don’t know my top speed, but I can attest it may be my new record.

And now I sit at my picnic table, ready for bed and ready for a ‘relatively’ easier day to Kelowna.

Ride on.

July 2, 2013

I’m Very ‘Hope’ful.

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Distance: 158km
Time: 6:04:54

Start adventure – check.

By the time I squeezed into my lycra bike gear, pedalled the 5k from Tom Tran’s place (where I was treated to the utmost in Vancouver hospitality) to the beach/ocean, I was ready to just get this thing underway. But before I could pedal in the right direction, I had to participate in the official ceremony. Since the days of Terry Fox dipping his prosthetic leg into the Atlantic, no cross-country trek is complete without the ocean baptism. For me, it was the rear wheel on my bike (Ian explained to me that the rear wheel in the Pacific, the front wheel in the Atlantic). The ceremony was quick, I dried off my sandy feet, slid into my bike shoes and joined the East bound commuters.

The ceremonial 'rear-wheel' baptism.

The ceremonial ‘rear-wheel’ baptism.

The thing is my racer’s mentality (Laura would say foolish mentality) is to push hard when you can.

So, as the day started I pushed hard. Luckily for me, the roads were all relatively flat. A few short tough climbs, but nothing serious. Yet, all day I stared at the mountains that lay in front of me. They kept telling me, today is not the day to tire yourself out. It is only day 1.

 

Each kilometer they grew bigger.

Each kilometer they grew bigger.

As much of today’s ride was rolling beside both the river and the railroad, the sweet smell of just cut wood permeated the air.

Around 10am, I came up alongside three Belgians who were spending a month biking in and around Western Canada. They told me each year they pick a country and then go and ride around. The lauded me with tales of the Belgian bike culture. As they took an early lunch, I bid farewell, only to be passed by them later as I was taking my lunch break. After I caught up to them again, they told me that on average, not counting these trips, they ride about 10,oookm a year, “Because in Belgium, that’s what you do.”

After 6 hours in the saddle, only one wrong turn and the need to turn around, I made it to my first destination. The little town of Hope.  It’s down in a valley, right beside the rushing Fraser River with the mountains in 360 degree views. Just gorgeous.

Time to be 'hope'ful!

Time to be ‘hope’ful!

Now it is early to bed, tomorrow I’ve got three hard climbs to start the day and I have the delusion of maybe going past my original destination of Princeton and pushing on for Keremeos, a paltry 200 kilometers from Hope. Will I be able to pull it off? Here’s hoping! 🙂

Ride on!

July 2, 2013

And it begins…

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As the plane dropped precariously out of the sky, I glanced out the little porthole window. On one side of the plane, the blue ocean. On the other, the mighty Rocky Mountains. Their snowcapped peaks beckoning.

To be honest, looking at them, my stomach filled with butterflies. Yikes, they are much more daunting then MapMyRide would suggest.

But alas, I am on the west coast. My bike is here beside me, pointing East.

The good people at Simon’s Cycles, built and prepared my bike for the journey. They were kind and curious. The perfect local bike shop.

The first hiccup, of what could be many, came when I came to discover the racks for my front panniers are not compatible with my bike. Yes, Laura did quip that this is probably something I should have checked out weeks ago rather than the night before my trip. But, where would be the adventure in that? So, I’m travelling lighter and leaner. I’m merging everything I own into my back two panniers and stuffing the tent with everything else. Leaner means faster and easier up the hills, right?

Tomorrow morning, I dip my wheel into the Pacific Ocean. Then head on straight to Newfoundland.

Ride on.

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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