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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 23, 2013

The Goliath

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Distance: 207 km
Time: 8:03:12

When this thing got started, I always told people, “I’m not afraid of the mountains, the prairies or the east coast, what scares me the most, Northern Ontario.” I’ve heard of the bad shoulders to ride on, the tough Canadian shield and of course, the size.

I find myself 4 provinces down and now into Ontario, better known by me as, The Goliath.

The beginning of The Goliath.

The beginning of The Goliath.

As I crossed the border from Manitoba today, the landscape changed dramatically. Gone were the flat forests and fields, instead trees and rocks. Not to mention the presence of mini inukshuks along the road. The landscape suggested I had entered a more rugged land, something unforgiving.

I had been told of the highway of no shoulder. So far, that hasn’t been my experience, but I’ve still got almost 12 days of it, so only time will tell.

I got a chance to ride through the quaint town of Kenora and find myself in the village of Vermilion Bay. Along the way, another flat.

Often when I flat out, it almost seems a mystery what caused it. Not today, the culprit was too slow in leaving the scene of the crime. By the picture below, could you solve the mystery of the flat tire?

Exhibit A

Exhibit A

About 80km away from my destination, I was told there was a woman who was also biking about an hour in front of me. That was enough motivation for me to drop the hammer. I had to chase the breakaway, it had to be done.

With 50km to go, I caught her and rode with her right into Vermilion Bay. I got a chance to meet Karen. From BC she is making her way across the country partly as her form of protest to the Keystone Pipeline. She is most definitely an environmentalist, but also a teacher (who else has the time to do this). We spent our time riding together talking about our experiences biking, our teaching, and writing (she hopes to write an environmentalist book about this trip). It was a smooth ride where the final kilometers just melted away. Another cool interaction with a stranger on the road.

Another adventurer, Karen.

Another adventurer, Karen.

Ride on.

July 22, 2013

On The Road Again…

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Distance: 111km

Time: 4:18:15

After two days of rest, food and Laura, I found myself having to swing a rejuvenated leg over the top bar again. It was tough leaving Laura because we had such an awesome weekend in Winnipeg.

Before I got on the bike, Laura had convinced me to take part in the “Color Me Rad” 5km run that happened This morning. The idea of the run is every kilometer you get “bombed” with a paint-tinted corn starch. Thus starting out in all-white, you become a cornucopia of colour by the end. Sure enough, I tied on the old running shoes and Laura, my mom and I all participated. To say that running was foreign to these old legs is an understatement.

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At the end of the run, it looks like a paint factory blew up on you.

At the end of the run, it looks like a paint factory blew up on you.

After having run and showered, we also took part in a Winnipeg tradition the brunch buffet at the Fort Garry Hotel. To say I fueled up for my ride is an understatement.

And so, around 2pm I was on the road again. I pedaled, loosened the legs and soon enough had missed my turn for the Trans-Canada. After a little bit of figuring (Google Maps) I only went a few kilometers out of my way.

Today I hit the longitudinal center of Canada. I’m officially longitudinally halfway done. The reality is the Northern Ontario segment of the trip looms large. It will take me about 2 weeks to reach Ottawa from here. So I settle in.

I'm halfway there, longitudinally speaking.

I’m halfway there, longitudinally speaking.

Along the way, I was caught by another cyclist Greg who was going for a ride on the Trans-Canada. We rode together for 15km before he had to turn back around. He was a nice guy and we chatted mainly about the ultra-marathons he does.

And as he left around the 45km mark of my ride, the rain started. It followed me all the way to Prawda. Tomorrow, I cross into Ontario.

Ride on.

July 19, 2013

Into Winnipeg

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Distance: 147km
Time: 5:24:15

As the rain fell last night, the forecast told of a wet, rainy ride into Winnipeg, but as has been my luck the rain stopped just a few minutes before I left the campground. I rode the day in beautiful overcast weather that kept it from being too hot.

The ride itself was excellent. A nice, steady pace on even pavement.

Go Jets Go, I guess.

Go Jets Go, I guess.

All day I was excited to get to Winnipeg, and more importantly to see Laura. All day I was thinking about how lucky I am to be able to experience this adventure. I have an exuberance about the life I lead and this has been an energizing experience.

In no time, I was into Winnipeg. Rather than sleeping on the ground in a little tent, Laura and I are living it up at the Fort Garry Hotel, a national historic site built in 1913 to accommodate all the socialites traveling by train. Needless to say, an upgrade for a few nights.

The Fort Garry Hotel, living like we live in 1913.

The Fort Garry Hotel, living like we live in 1913.

On Sunday, I continue on, but until then I live it up in Winnipeg with my girl on my arm.

Ride on.

July 18, 2013

At The Hundredth Meridian

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Distance; 174km

Time: 6:45:48

I’m at the hundredth meridian, the hundredth meridian, the hundredth meridian where the great plains begin.

And I’m looking back at them.

Being someone who has never been out west save hiking the West Coast Trail last year or the couple weekends on Calgary with Laura, I’ve been won over by the magnitude and beauty of the country so far. This has been my unplucked gem.

Today while riding through rural Manitoba, I am struck again how similar, yet how different it is. As I got past Brandon, the trees start penetrating the lonely farms. It starts to be reminiscent of Ontario. I’m getting closer.

A few people have been asking about the logistics of a day, so basically I wake up (I set my alarm every morning for 5:30am and then snooze until 6:15, I always have the best of intentions). I get up eat a little and then get on the bike, hopefully being packed up and on the road for 8am. I bike for 30 – 50km and try to find a place for breakfast. Today, I went 36km into the Town of Virden. So far, I haven’t cooked any of my meals, which has been rough on the budget, but great on the energy/stomach.

I try to get at least 100km in by noon. That’s my daily goal. Today, I did about 75km, but that was because I forgot the time change and I lost an hour (thus leaving the campground at 9 rather than 8). After lunch, which is usually just snacks (granola bars, peanut butter on white bread), I power through for the rest of the day. Some days I get to my location around 4pm, today I didn’t get here until 7:10pm (two flats slowed me down).

Then I stretch, set up camp, shower and eat in a different order every night. The campgrounds I have been staying in have been all sorts. Tonight it is pretty generic, last night was basically a field in this small town with access to a public bathroom.

My little home, away from home.

My little home, away from home.

Then thanks to modern technology I blog, talk to Laura and read my Kobo. I’m usually in bed pretty early. And then I start all over again.

My first priority of the day is hitting my distance. If my pace is good, I do the tourist thing (stop in and look at the wonders of small town Canada).

I’ve been loving every moment, even the bad ones, as they keep reminding me how lucky I am to be doing this and how amazing this country is.

That’s the basics of a day in the life. I’ve got one more day of riding and then two rest days in Winnipeg with Laura. And it looks like tomorrow will be in the rain, sweet!

Ride on.

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.

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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