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.

Getting out of Winnipeg in early August, I began feeling some time constraints. My brother’s wedding in Vancouver was coming up on the 24th. This was one of the reasons I’d gone East-West, unlike most people because they’re afraid of a bit of wind. Long, flat story short, I did the 1500+ km from Winnipeg to Edson Alberta, just east of Edmonton, in 8 days, re-aggravating my knee. Having left the bike at a friend’s place I hitch-hiked home in time for cake and returned a week later to finish the trip. From there it was all I could do to maintain a hundred km a day. Anything more would have turned an aggravated knee into a blown-out mess. The big town behind the Rockies was Prince George and 700km later I hit the Ocean at Prince Rupert and jumped a ferry to Haida Gwaii where I did the final sprint to the Yellowhead Highway Mile Zero at the northern end of Graham Island. On a rainy day in mid-Sept I flew out of Masset – just threw the bike on the plane, no hassle since the airport there is so small, and arrived in Vancouver two hours later – the real end of my trip.

People sometimes ask me what profound ideas I have about Canada and cycling after my epic trip. Usually I just have two things to say: Canada is huge- much bigger than most people think – after all the zig-zags the total distance biked came out to 8924Km. My advice to long-distance cyclists is this; pack light. All along the trip I came across fellow riders under mountains of gear – front and back panniers and large bundles on top their back racks, not to mention elaborate handle bar panniers. If it wont kill you to miss it, don’t bring it. The experience lies in the trip, not the the gear.

Enjoy Your Ride

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4 Responses to “ Cycling – Across Canada Style ”

  1. Theo on November 13, 2010 at 12:36 am

    Max, love the tale and how it was told (and hearing about it bit-by-bit while in the making), but I have to laughingly note that our wedding was on the 21st, not the 24th… 🙂

  2. Tim on November 12, 2010 at 8:48 am

    Nice. I love the pic at the Welcome to British Columbia sign. BC is one of my favorite places on the planet.

  3. Clive Chapman on November 12, 2010 at 6:53 am

    Oh and I forgot say, the “travel light” thing, that’s a Squaddie talking if ever I’ve heard one! Very true too.

  4. Clive Chapman on November 12, 2010 at 6:52 am

    That’s very cool, I’d love to do something like that!


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