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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 12, 2013

These Days Are For The Riders

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Saturday (Montmagny – Pohenegamook)
Distance: 162km
Time: 5:48:23

Sunday (Pohenegamook – Perth-Andover, NB)
Distance: 204km
Time: 7:12:14

If you were driving in your car this weekend through Quebec or New Brunswick, you probably didn’t notice it. Sure, you may have noticed the beautiful blue cloudless skies and the just-right temperature, but the subtlety of these two days was left to the riders.

From the get go both days a nice, cooling forceful wind blew me east. When you stopped, you could barely see it, but as you rolled down the wonderfully maintained, bike-friendly roads it was easy. Pedaling was easy. I stayed in the big ring all day, just turning over the feet getting closer to the ultimate goal.

The flag flapping and pointing me In my direction. Sweet!

The flag flapping and pointing me In my direction. Sweet!

Generally, when I camp I get the opportunity to meet people. They’ll see me with my bike and ask questions and the like. When I pulled into the campground in Pohenegamook, it was empty.On a Saturday night. Not one person around, at dusk. When I text Laura to say where I am and tell her this, her response, “It’s like the start of a horror movie.” Great, now I’m a little on edge. There is no running water, no electricity. Nothing. Sites are numbered, picnic tables at each site, but just me. Luckily, later on another cyclist showed up. Or was it lucky…duh, duh, duh, duh.

There is something unsettling about a vacant campground. I know what you did last summer?

There is something unsettling about a vacant campground. I know what you did last summer?

On Sunday, I crossed into New Brunswick. Without a doubt, Quebec has had the most consistent bike friendly roads, I will miss that. I won’t miss trying to communicate in my broken, it should be better, French.

Province #7. Starting to feel accomplished now.

Province #7. Starting to feel accomplished now.

But alas, New Brunswick, a quick trip through it and the reality of this epic trip’s end become’s closer to reality.

Ride on.

August 10, 2013

Le Gars En Sueur Vetu de Spandex

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Distance: 208km
Time: 8:24:38

About three minutes after leaving the comfortable, welcoming house of Agathe, I was a sweaty mess. The humidity in Trois Rivieres was palpable. It formed little droplets on each of my arm hairs. I wouldn’t be dry again, all day.

The riding was wonderful through the quaint riverside towns. The roads started to roll so making time wasn’t so easy. I started early today because I wanted to get to Vieux Quebec with enough time to be a tourist for an hour or two. Little did I remember that the old part of town hulks above the rest of Quebec City. I had to do a final climb of maybe 300m, but it was at a consistent 10% pitch, with one stretch flashing 15 on my Garmin, which I think is the steepest I’ve ridden yet.

As I got into the cobbled, busy streets I immediately became aware of my absolute drenched, spandex clad body and decided to tour around but not really mingle with the tourists, for everyone’s sake.

The crowded streets of Vieux Quebec, not necessarily where you want to be the sweaty guy in spandex.

The crowded streets of Vieux Quebec, not necessarily where you want to be the sweaty guy in spandex.

Taking the ferry across the St. Lawrence I started my track towards Montmagny. I definitely felt it in my legs and I may have under fueled because the final 50km felt way more difficult then they should have. But alas, I arrived.

Vieux Quebec, from the ferry.

Vieux Quebec, from the ferry.

Tomorrow, I ride to within 30km of the New Brunswick border and prepare to say goodbye to my 6th province.

Ride on.

August 9, 2013

La Culture du Velo

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Distance: 152km
Time: 5:37:16

Parce que je suis dans Quebec, j’ai devrait ecrit ma blog en francais ou les policiers de langue me remttre en prison. Mais apres parler a lui, et lui ecoute ma francais terrible, je suis excuse par ce regle. Chaque foic j’ai entrer un magasin et dit “Bonjour” le response et tout le temps en Anglais. Donc, ce paragraphe est le seule qui devrait en francais.

After having Laura by my side for five days, it was hard getting started alone again. Team Planet Energy is now defunct. Luckily, I got started today with a wonderful breakfast with my great-Uncle Bill. I also want to add that yesterday was not a real rest day because we rode Mount Royal, a frickin steep climb at a solid 8 or 9 percent grade. The legs were feeling it by the top, and that was without anything strapped to the back of the bike. Laura and I did that while Adrian slept. Good choice Adrian!

Quebec is a remarkable place to bike. The entire province understands the culture of biking, encourages it and puts its money where its mouth is. Today’s ride, once I got out of the city (not that Montreal’s a bad place to ride, it just wasn’t as pristine as the rest of the route) the roads/paths were paved in gold. I stayed off the highway, because I could, and followed mostly “La Route Verte”.

La route Verte is dedicated space for cyclists. It was often nice, wide shoulders along the road but often jutted into bike specific paths that wound you out of the traffic and popped you back when the traffic was lighter. The signage for all vehicles was clear, cyclists are welcome. The number of cyclists out and about, with a wide range of seriousness, was a revelation. It’s true what they say, “If you build it, they will come.”

The big sign saying, "Respect the folks pedaling." The small green sign saying, "Cyclists we made this for you." Brilliant!

The big sign saying, “Respect the folks pedaling.” The small green sign saying, “Cyclists we made this for you.” Brilliant!

The riding was peaceful. Not having to worry about the roads, traffic, even distance allowed me to float along the kilometers. The only thing I had to worry about was where can I camp when I get to Trois-Rivieres? I would find it when I got there, that was my plan.

When I rolled into the city, my first idea was to go to visitor’s information. Not knowing where that was I rolled up to this nice lady eating an ice cream cone, “Est-ce que tu parle anglais?” I asked. “Un petit peu,” she humbly replied. I asked her about camping, then asked her about visitor’s information. She answered and I was on my way. Not 200 metres later she pulled her car up beside me and offered me to stay at her place. Being cautious, I hesitated. She explained that she belongs to a “couch surfing” organization on the Internet and was willing if I wanted to.

I ended up saying yes and that is how I come to write this blog in a warm comfortable bed. Agathe is a doctor who believes in offering her place to strangers and has couch surfed herself. She has had people from all over the world stay with her. We had a great evening eating, having a campfire and talking about our lives. It is something totally out of my comfort zone accepting this offer for kindness, yet another example of my basic premise in life, people are good. They have an innate desire to do good to others. Agathe is a shining example.

Agathe et moi, on commence des etrangers.

Agathe et moi, on commence des etrangers.

Tomorrow a big ride past Quebec City, after a good night sleep 200km will be no big deal.

Ride on.

August 6, 2013

Les joies de la bicyclette

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Distance: 84km
Time: 4:14

The struggle of riding across Canada is always the next day. Anyone can go for a long bike ride one day, the secret to making it is being able to string together a series of them. Laura and Adrian seem ready.

With Montreal in our crosshairs, Team Planet Energy (me, Laura and Adrian) turned the pedals over and rolled down the lovely roads just east of Chatham, where we stayed. The “Piste Verte”, Quebec’s long and interconnected network of bike paths, gave us some respite from traffic. Knowing we were headed for the city that respite was welcomed by all of us.

The other struggle of bike touring is dealing with mechanical issues on the side of the road. Today, it was Adrian’s turn to have some trouble and inevitably, I got a front tire meltdown. Luckily, Laura was able to go to the nearest farmhouse and borrow some pliers, which are called “des pinces” in French which helps so you don’t have to repeatedly act it out by squeezing your hand together in a plier-like action.

You know it is going to get dicey when I'm the most knowledgeable one of the group.

You know it is going to get dicey when I’m the most knowledgeable one of the group.

Side note: For the last few days of riding my front tire has been slowly deflating. I searched and searched for the problem, finding nothing. New tubes would all suffer the same fate. Today, I finally found the demon, a miniscule little metal sliver.

The demon sliver.

The demon sliver.

We made it into Montreal with enough time to shower and jump in a cab, just in time to see Milos Raonic win his opening match at the Roger’s Cup. Novak Djokovic wasn’t bad either.

A perfect night to cheer on Milos.

A perfect night to cheer on Milos.

Tomorrow a rest day in Montreal with my beautiful Laura, and Adrian too. Then they leave me back to Ottawa and I continue on solo towards the East Coast.

I’m nearing the last stretch, this next week will find me through Quebec, New Brunswick and into PEI where I’m taking three days off with Laura. After that a quick swing through Nova Scotia and onto Newfoundland. But first, a day off tomorrow.

Our plan, besides some rest, a time trial bike ride up Mount Royal. How can you come to Montreal with your bikes and not ride Mount Royal?

Ride on.

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.

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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