Cycling – Across Canada Style

I’ve never cycle toured before, but I sure would like to one day.  To get a taste for what it’s like, today I am posting a story by Maximillian Birkner who did a 9,000km ride across Canada this past summer.

I got home from Afghanistan in May and two weeks later I left to bike across the country. I’ve bike toured twice before, the longest stretch being four weeks, and living in the city I do a lot of commuting this way.

Because of my overseas deployment, preparation had been interesting. My buddy Jono and I had begun planning the trip in December via email. We bounced back and forth for months discussing gear and route plans. Jono knows a lot more about bikes than I do, having been in the industry for years as a racer, and he’d found a bike online called Surly Long Haul Trucker. When I got home it was waiting for me, plus panniers bags from Ortlieb, and another few days of prepping saw us breaking everything down and boxing it for the flight from Vancouver to St. John’s, NL, a nice little town with a deadly night-life that almost killed the trip before we even started.

Here comes the bad bit: We got as far as Clarenville, Newfoundland before the trip’s first hospital visit. Jono, used to carbon-fiber racing bikes, had matched his knees against a steel frame and a load weighing eighty+ pounds, and lost. It goes without saying that he had neglected to train, due to work and time issues, and the only thing that saved me from the same fate were the countless hot days of lugging water and weapons in the desert, moulding iron quads.

It was hard to leave Jono behind, but in the end I carried on alone. Through Newfoundland I had no tent, just a worn-out bivy bag, and most nights I got soaked. By the end of 700km I was nursing a knee injury as well – repetitive stress and over-rotation – but in Corner Brook is saw a doctor who gave me an orthotic insole which helped a lot. That’s also where I got rid of half the luggage – the front two panniers plus the stove. If packing light means eating cold, I’m up for it.

The rest of the Maritimes were good to me. In Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island I bought a one-man tent for a hundred bucks, and Montreal where I stayed for four days in Old Town, was a blast. During my time there it was forty Celsius and humid, the view from Mont Royal hazy, and after dark the clubs downtown throbbed and bounced.

I continued along the St. Lawrence and stayed in Ottawa for another three days, right in time for the Blues Festival, and in Toronto I met a buddy I haven’t seen for several years. The ride in to the big city was easier than I’d expected and three days of the CN tower, Kensington Market, Canada’s Wonderland and Korean BBQ had me ready to roll again.

Wasaga Beach, Manitoulin Island, Sous-Saint Marie and Thunder Bay were all good. Beware the northern route along Lake Superior. If you think you know what hills are, you don’t. The only thing to match it was the Cabot Trail that I detoured for in NS. But it was gorgeous and the lake was warm.

I came out of Ontario via Kenora and spent a day or two in Winnipeg, Manitoba to rest up and meet another friend, Sarah, that I hadn’t seen for years – a nice red-head from summer camp. The Crime Capital’s a nice town, if a little crazy. While i was there three houses burned down, one very close to the hostel. It had been raining a lot and the walkway by the river was flooded, but I biked it anyway. I also went to MEC and got a second tune-up. The Surly is a tough bike and all it needed was gear and brake adjustments. It was already on its second set of tires.

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