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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 17, 2013

When the Goings Good…

When the Goings Good…

Distance: 234km
Time: 7:51:32

When all the variables fall into place, riding through the prairies is magnificent. Today was one of those days. The wind was blowing me east, the road was flat and nicely paved, the pedals seemed to be turning without hesitation.

I found an opportunity to almost make up the distance that I didn’t cover yesterday. As I got to my originally planned destination of Moosomin, I decided the border to Manitoba was right there, how could I not keep going. So I did.

3 down, 7 to go.

3 down, 7 to go.

Now the province of Saskatchewan is under no delusion that if you are going east from Moosomin, you are leaving and therefore, they don’t give a shit what shape the shoulders are in. It was like I was riding through the cobbled streets of the Ardennes classics. Then, once I crossed the line, newly paved brilliance. So good.

Another important piece of my journey today was how I tested my vehicle identification system. Because there were just a few vehicles on the road, I consciously tried to determine what type of vehicle based on sound. There are 5 different classifications: car, minivan/SUV, transport truck, dump truck, motorcycle. I went 43 for 50 when the standardized testing began. I was proud of the acuteness of my hearing.

The only other observation that needs to be discussed is the name of some of these small towns. The first is the most outrageous, Indian Head. In itself, the name is problematic. However, the town takes it to the next step by declaring, “A Progressive Prairie Town” on their sign. Like seriously, you call this progressive. No, instead they hoist a large head of a Native Chief on a platter at the entrance to the town. Is this some warning? Maybe it’s to celebrate the roots of their founder. Clearly my understanding of progressive means maybe toning down the imagery of a beheaded First Nations member at the town entrance.

Indian Head, a progressive prairie town. Seriously?!

Indian Head, a progressive prairie town. Seriously?!

Then the little town of Whitewood, I have no problem with the name, but the slogan, “A crossroads community.” It seems like a great town, however, what sort of existential crossroads are you having in Whitewood. You either go north to farmland, south to farmland, east farmland, west to farmland, not much choice to mean. I’m glad I wasn’t caught at a crossroads in my life in Whitewood.

Other than these snarky observations, today was perfect. Exactly as I was told it would be through the prairies. I’m glad to see another province in the rearview, I’m two days until Winnipeg and two rest days with Laura, I’m very excited for that.

Challenge Saskatchewan – Check.

Ride on.

July 17, 2013

When the Going’s Good…

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Distance: 234km
Time: 7:51:32

When all the variables fall into place, riding through the prairies is magnificent. Today was one of those days. The wind was blowing me east, the road was flat and nicely paved, the pedals seemed to be turning without hesitation.

I found an opportunity to almost make up the distance that I didn’t cover yesterday. As I got to my originally planned destination of Moosomin, I decided the border to Manitoba was right there, how could I not keep going. So I did.

3 down, 7 to go.

3 down, 7 to go.

Now the province of Saskatchewan is under no delusion that if you are going east from Moosomin, you are leaving and therefore, they don’t give a shit what shape the shoulders are in. It was like I was riding through the cobbled streets of the Ardennes classics. Then, once I crossed the line, newly paved brilliance. So good.

Another important piece of my journey today was how I tested my vehicle identification system. Because there were just a few vehicles on the road, I consciously tried to determine what type of vehicle based on sound. There are 5 different classifications: car, minivan/SUV, transport truck, dump truck, motorcycle. I went 43 for 50 when the standardized testing began. I was proud of the acuteness of my hearing.

The only other observation that needs to be discussed is the name of some of these small towns. The first is the most outrageous, Indian Head. In itself, the name is problematic. However, the town takes it to the next step by declaring, “A Progressive Prairie Town” on their sign. Like seriously, you call this progressive. No, instead they hoist a large head of a Native Chief on a platter at the entrance to the town. Is this some warning? Maybe it’s to celebrate the roots of their founder. Clearly my understanding of progressive means maybe toning down the imagery of a beheaded First Nations member at the town entrance.

Indian Head, a progressive prairie town. Seriously?!

Indian Head, a progressive prairie town. Seriously?!

Then the little town of Whitewood, I have no problem with the name, but the slogan, “A crossroads community.” It seems like a great town, however, what sort of existential crossroads are you having in Whitewood. You either go north to farmland, south to farmland, east farmland, west to farmland, not much choice to mean. I’m glad I wasn’t caught at a crossroads in my life in Whitewood.

Other than these snarky observations, today was perfect. Exactly as I was told it would be through the prairies. I’m glad to see another province in the rearview, I’m two days until Winnipeg and two rest days with Laura, I’m very excited for that.

Challenge Saskatchewan – Check.

Ride on.

July 16, 2013

Tornado Warning!

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Distance: 98km
Time: 5:08:36

Ignoring the wind is easy for the first few kilometers. In fact, you can laugh in the face of the wind by lowering the gear and pedal despite the fact you aren’t going anywhere.

I didn't take a picture today, so I'm longing for tomorrow to look more like this.

I didn’t take a picture today, so I’m longing for tomorrow to look more like this.

That’s what I did for 5 hours today. That’s how long the battle was. Unfortunately, when rain, lighting and the constant tornado warnings continued, I had to pull the pin and stay in Balgonie. The sky was wicked looking. I did what I could, I fought the valiant fight. But as the cliche goes, I’ll rise to fight tomorrow.

The lack of progress today has changed the plan for the next few days. I still believe I can make it to Winnipeg By Thursday.

Until tomorrow.

Ride on.

July 15, 2013

Thoughts from The Saddle

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Distance: 174km
Time: 8:03:45

After a second long day of pushing pedals, I thought I would share a few random things that rippled through my wind-addled brain.

1. Despite fields as far as you can see, two days of riding in Saskatchewan have yet to provide even a glimpse of a farmer working. Now granted, it is the weekend but I assumed someone would cutting hay. Instead, the fields are devoid of the salt of the earth.

2. As a means of passing the time, I often sing to myself, like you would if driving. I try to create a songlist based on what I see, today’s song list: Fare Thee Well Love (I always sing this as I leave the place I stayed the night before), Against the Wind, Wheat Kings by The Hip, Fiddlers Green by The Hip, Fields of Gold by Sting and of course, the Canadian classic, The Log Rider’s Waltz (which has nothing to do with what I was seeing but when something is in your head, you go with it). Trust me, the hundreds of heads that turn to listen to my sweet melodies all moo in appreciation.

"Will you remember me when the west wind blows, upon the fields of canola"

“Will you remember me when the west wind blows, upon the fields of canola”

3. I’ve started writing poetry in my head. Today’s piece was the beginning of an epic ode called, “An Ode to my Sore Ass”. I figure it is better to celebrate it then complain because it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

4. The major farms seem to erupt out of the land like cathedrals. They rise with reverence and seem to call together people, trains, and trucks. I don’t know why but I feel a sense of community just rolling pass them.

The Cathedrals of the Prairies.

The Cathedrals of the Prairies.

5. I was struck by the little town of Chaplin. Out of nowhere comes these piles of what looks like snow. But, of course, it isn’t snow it is salt. In these big piles, there is an industry all the same. I don’t even fully understand it except to say, it comes from the weird phenomenon in the water.

Snow in the middle of July? Say it ain't so. It ain't!

Snow in the middle of July? Say it ain’t so. It ain’t!

Anyway, these are some of the random things that ricochet around my skull as I push my way forward. I find myself tonight in Moose Jaw, a cute little town known for its underground tunnels that helped Capone and his rum-running. A cool history for a town in the middle of the prairies.

What would Moose Jaw be without a giant moose? I was hoping for the world's largest jawbone of a moose, but nope.

What would Moose Jaw be without a giant moose? I was hoping for the world’s largest jawbone of a moose, but nope.

Tomorrow, my last night in Saskatchewan.

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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