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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 14, 2013

Just Keep Pedalin’

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Distance: 228km

Time: 9:08:35

To say today was a long day in the saddle, would not do it justice. I woke up in Medicine Hat having, somehow, avoided get my tent wet, despite the rainstorm. I had placed it perfectly under the tree in the campsite. I’d like say I meant to do that, but in fact, it was dumb luck.

Then, feeling good, I got it in my mind early that rather than stopping at the possibly sketchy town of Gull Lake, Saskatchewan, I’d push on through to Swift Current. This plan couldn’t fail.

Because I was so cocky. I even stopped at another roadside attraction and snapped a picture of “The World’s Tallest Teepee”. I am curious who holds 2nd place because I feel like it would have been a big disappointment losing the distinction. I mean, is there a heated contest in the teepee building business, every town trying to outdo the other. Do they one day just decide, “Alright boys, that’s it, we just can’t go taller. They win.” But I digress.

The competition was stiff, but Medicine Hat pulled it off. The Tallest Teepee in the World.

The competition was stiff, but Medicine Hat pulled it off. The Tallest Teepee in the World.

A quick break at the Alberta Visitor’s Centre, allowed me to somehow miss another rainstorm. Who knew I had such timing. After 56km, another province fell away. Challenge Alberta – check. Only 8 more provinces to go!

I feel like I'm in a Shreddies commercial.

I feel like I’m in a Shreddies commercial.

After 125km, I was perfectly paced to roll into Swift Current right around dinner. Another 100km and I was home free. This is where I made my fatal flaw. It was hubris, really. For the first time all trip, I gave all my gear to my mother. She happened to be going to Swift Current as well, so I thought what the hell. I had carried all my gear this far, what was 100km. I did have a moment of self-doubt when I questioned whether it was cheating, but I did it.

About 20km later, the winds changed. The wind gods laughed at me and forced a strong cross/headwind right in my path. Having given up all my gear, I was stuck to my “better” plan. I had to pedal through. So I did. It was mind over matter. The legs came out ok, it was just slow going. Of course, it had to start drizzling with 20km to go. I have learned my lesson. My gear stays with me. All of it, always.

I have learned my lesson, oh gods of the winds, please let today be my penance.

Ride on.

July 13, 2013

And Along Came Phil

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Distance: 163 km

Time: 6:54

My blog post today was going to be laden with prayers to the Wind Gods. It was going to ask for forgiveness, I mean why else would they have the prairie winds blowing into my face for 100km. It was going to be all about being beat up by the wind. But then something happened, that re-wrote the story of the day.

I was about 110km into the ride, knowing full well, Medicine Hat, was still another 2 or so hours. I had gone through multiple renditions of the Canadian classic, “Four Strong Winds”, when I saw up ahead a minivan pulled to the side of the road. Because it’s the prairies, you can see for miles and I slowly approached the van. Slowly, truly slowly.

Just as I was about to pass the van, out from behind it comes a guy on a bike. It was a beautiful Cervelo P2 triathlon bike and the guy just started easy-pedaling. I caught up to him and he picked up his pace. When I asked, “Going for a little ride?” He told me that he and his wife and kids were on their way back from Edmonton. He had just finished his first half-Ironman distance triathlon. As they were driving home, he saw me biking away on my own and decided he wanted to ride along. So, he pulled over, quickly threw on his bike shorts (blocked by the van) and pulled out his bike.

For the next 50km, we rode side by side (the shoulders were huge) and chatted about all things triathlon, Ironman, and Tour de France. The pain, frustration of fighting the wind vanished as we talked about our feelings on Lance, tri training, and the pursuit of physical challenges. The kilometers melted away and soon enough we found ourselves on the outskirts of Medicine Hat. We stopped briefly for a quick picture (in front of the sign) and then he peeled off home and I to the campsite.

Phil and I enter Medicine Hat.

Phil and I enter Medicine Hat.

What could have been a brutal, beat-up day, turned into a day where humanity is once again shown to be wondrous.

Tomorrow, I leave Alberta in the rear view and begin to tackle Saskatchewan.

Ride on.

July 12, 2013

Flying Solo

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Distance: 148km

Time: 5:13:31

While riding down a lonely, country road east of Calgary, I looked behind me hoping one of the other guys would take a turn in the lead and give me a chance to draft. Unfortunately, there was no one there, just me. It made me really think who I had been cracking my jokes to for the last two hours.

 

I didn't realize that I was the only one laughing at my jokes today.

I didn’t realize that I was the only one laughing at my jokes today.

Today, the road lay before me like a gift. Nice, rolling, quiet roads. Even when I finally got back on the Trans-Canada the traffic just didn’t join me. I was cooking on the road, a nice tailwind.

Endless roads, endless skies, endless beauty.

Endless roads, endless skies, endless beauty.

The ride was uneventful until two missionaries from Billy Graham tried to take a crack at my faith while I was sitting and resting at a gas station. I also ran into a man working for the Canadian Red Cross specifically with the First Nations communities in Southern Alberta, in the Siksika Nation they lost almost 300 homes in the flooding as 100km of the Bow River flooded. He offered me some water and granola bars, just in case.

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If you are in this part of the country, skip Bassano. It gives me the creeps, especially when I flagged a car down to ask directions to Shady Nook Campground and she just said to me, “Don’t stay there.” I asked, “Why?” To which she replied, “Trust me, just don’t stay there.” She directed me to where I stay now a ghost town campground. It’ll do.

Tomorrow it is on to Medicine Hat. Meanwhile, I get a day of riding through “The Badlands”.

Ride on.

July 10, 2013

Rolling Into The Heart of the West

Banff Bridge

Distance: 140km

Time: 6:02

According to the sign on the road, this is where the heart is, Calgary. I don’t know I may have left my cycling heart in the big hills and mountains of the Rockies. But alas, the road to Calgary held something else.We started the morning in Banff with a quiet moment remembering my Dad, who as a 20 year old, came to Banff and lived, worked and chased the ladies here. He always talked well about his time. So, standing on the new pedestrian bridge over the water I got a chance to really think how special it was to be here and to think of how much my Dad would have either loved to be part of it. We joked that he’d probably have driven his RV through the mountains had it all set up for us at the day’s final destination, that’s if he didn’t jump on a bike himself and try.

Thinking about my Dad.

Thinking about my Dad.

As we trucked our way to Canmore for breakfast, it quickly became evident that nature is not just beautiful, but powerful too. The trees torn out by the root, the parts of the landscape wiped away by last month’s floods in this part of the country. We were lucky that we were able to ride on the roads. After eight days being surrounded by the serenity of nature, this was a stark reminder that we can’t control nature. As much as we can try, nature can hit us back. It was a profound moment for me, especially as I move forward across Canada.

Taking in the beauty and the power of Mother Nature.

Taking in the beauty and the power of Mother Nature.

After a little over 5 hours in the saddle, we hit Calgary.

 

Howdy pardner...

Howdy pardner…

The directions to where we were staying said to take Stoney Trail. The three of us thought, clearly this would be a leisurely roll around the north end of the city, a chance for us to get off the Trans-Canada and ride on an easy trail. Little did we know that in Calgary, the “trails” are their freeways. Also, in Calgary, everyone feels the need to drive the biggest vehicle as possible and haul a ship or something. Alas, a few moments that tested our mettle.

But we are now here, in Cow Town, tomorrow my first rest day. We’ve got tickets to see the Stampede and I’m going to take in all the city has to offer. Then Thursday, I am off again.

Ride on.

 

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. 🙂

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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