Firstly thanks to the special group who followed me the entire journey, family and friends kept my focus and made the solo moments not so isolated
This journey has had the support of so many people, I will do my best to cover all:
The Finish - Reflections
Glace Bay the finish point beyond the classic lobster fishing port
The last morning was fifty kilometres short. Focus on Glacé Bay, end point of the journey and the Atlantic end point. Beyond was the lure of Newfoundland, another thousand kilometres of beauty and hospitable people. But it was time to finish. The other places now must take their places on the bucket list.
There was emotion. Two years focus which produced moments of doubt. The climb out of the McKenzie delta. Loose gravel dropping one hundred kilograms of load and struggling to restart. Was it beyond my capability? Realising the ten kilometre rule past the last bear sign was impossible.
The emotion I felt was about those who were with me on the journey. They were there every day looking at my GPS dots. Knowing that support is there gives the strength beyond anything you can muster as an isolated individual.
I have had some incredible gifts. My hours with Ernest the Gwich’in elder beside the Peel River. Exploring the special places of Trish and Wayne around the Banff area. Similarly sharing with Buck and Lee around Grand Marais and Alex in Ottawa. Thanks to Buck I have had dinner with a famous Arctic explorer and mountaineer, Lonnie Dupre. Things don’t happen by chance, chances are created.
There has been days when things occur as if pre-ordained. The navigation error which gave me the last beautiful campsite on the Merigomish Harbour; the chance encounter with Bill in Fort Frazer (giving an incurable addiction to Tim Hortons muffins); meeting GG on the street of Somerset Manitoba and seeing her photo of Gunlom pool Kakadu.
It was impossible to look to the Atlantic battling the cold wet days of the Alaska Highway. The focus was on the warm tent at the end of the day (and the delight of 1500 calories of quinoa and nuts that has a distinctly similar taste to last nights gourmet offering). Day by day the kilometres built up behind the little trailer wheel. Suddenly I could look back on half a continent. It was not that hard in small daily bites.
My meticulous route planning was blown apart by realities. The choices I took were simple: avoid big towns, back roads only, don’t be afraid of gravel and never ride backwards. It worked. It showed me a back country view of Canada and its people which was a pleasure.
I just have so many thank you’s to deliver. If you are reading this consider yourself thanked. I will compile a proper thank you list in the next few days.
Canada was a country of two languages - until Novia Scotia threw in Gaelic
The shores of Bras d'or Lake Cape Breton Island
Nova Scotia industry out of New Glasgow
Scenes along the Picton Nova Scotia coast
Classic lobster Port at the finish in Glace Bay
Atlantic journeys end
Inspiration from Jock Hobbs
The Atlantic Coast
The key elements on this ride are food, sleep and mental focus. I had some inspiration from Jock Hobbs (All Black and rugby administration great). In his last months of his battle with cancer, Jock was asked what motivated him. His response was “When I get out of bed in the morning I try to be world class”. Jock was world class in many aspects of his life.
My modest take on this quote is “to make a positive impact on someone along the way today”. That mental focus helps relegate the more mundane. The ride is out of the ordinary and sharing it offers a gift. Access to someone’s own adventure, past or planned or simply allowing them to be part of it. It is fun to see where it goes with each conversation.
In terms of the ride it is difficult to shift the focus from the end point now so tantalisingly close. The ride up the Saint Laurence River offered an amazing shift in geography on the last day. Vast flat flood plains punctuated by rocky island-like outcrops, each with a village on top. The villages separated by no more than fifteen kilometres also offered seductive temptations. Coffee shops with muffins, quaint motels with beds much more comfortable than the tent.
I agonised over a route change to follow the Saint Laurence to the mouth. It was already becoming distinctly tidal a thousand kilometres upstream. But it was time to get back to the wilderness, classic Canadian riding. I turned south into New Brunswick. I hit some big industrial mill towns like Edmunston, so I headed east, right across to the Atlantic shore. Nice towns like Campbelton and Miramichi. A coastal road alternating between classic Atlantic beach holiday coast and giant timber mills belching clouds and dust.
Hurricanes, having devastated the south of USA are creeping nasty weather up the coast, so far the sun has largely held it’s own. Nights are a different story, deep sea mists roll in cold and damp. The tent ends up terminally soggy. The night in the Miramichi Enclosure camp (why would you name a camp that?) also brought out a very fat raccoon wrestling with my bear-proof food container. He was determined to outdo grizzly power with ingenuity. A hail of rocks eventually sent him scuttling.
The holiday season also ended abruptly with school starting last week. Camping grounds I have targeted from over a hundred kilometres away, appear with “closed for the season” signs. Cafes and Icecream shops are boarded up already. Summer is also road construction season in a big way. Diversions cater for the traffic on the highways but my insignificant back roads are led in confusing loops. Twenty extra kilometres today.
Saint Laurent villages
Colours starting to change
From big timber truck lineups...
To lobster boat lineups
Still no Moose
Cycling friendly Quebec
Cycling friendly but not so friendly Quebecians
The standard of Canadian generosity and friendliness has dropped markedly in Quebec. In the province that has delivered cycle trails which are totally bike friendly, the people seem blind and deaf to the waves and “bonjours” I fire randomly. Even fellow riders avert their attention as I pass. Maybe it is just the recognition that I am English speaking and represent a potential difficult conversation. In every other province every road sign is meticulously duplicated in both English and French. In Quebec there is just French.
The generosity of my friend Alex and wife Marion in Ottawa more than compensated. A few days recharging beside their balcony side lake in the central city refreshed mind and body. Marion's late night tour of the city revealed tree lined waterways and some classic architecture. A city with a good feel in the heart.
The ride down the Ottawa River followed one of the “route vertes” a network of green safe cycle trails throughout the province. Signage that connected every diversion with clarity (apart from a major miss in the middle of Montreal which saw me sail past the major junction to Route Verte 5 eastward).
I emerged into downtown Montreal through archways of green forest and back streets. A long day's pleasant ride but sadly lacking the planning I needed to find a place to sleep. Darkness descending, motels full for the long Labour day weekend. I killed time with the necessary chore of eating. The city was fully dark and just as busy when I finished. A lady outside one of the full hotels took charge and directed me to the only cycle-range accomodation in the area. I arrived, heart sinking when I saw the style of the place, no way my rest day budget would squeeze a room here. No choice, so an enforced night of 5 star luxury, damn.
Exit from Montreal in cold wet backlash from hurricane Harvey. Cycle trails lead me perfectly through the maze, until this uneasy feeling that it was a long time between the familiar green “Route Verte” signs. Emergency extract of the iPad, the cycle trail I was on should intersect downriver with the eastward route. In the end a painless extract from the big city.
Cycle touring works much better through the back country small town routes I have been following. Small town folk also have more time, to talk, to help.
The ride down the Saint Laurence has been picturesque. Classic waterside cottages, old farms and limited traffic. An emergency repair of my front suspension fork required a long French/sign language conversation with an elderly bike mechanic. No bolts with thread small enough for the repair. Then the eureka moment matching the threat on the end of a spoke for a number eight wire repair.
From here, after extracting myself from Quebec City, I will cross to the south bank of the Saint Laurence to head to New Brunswick.
Alex drops me at the start of Route Verte 1 in Ottawa
Looking back at the Ottawa skyline
Down the Ottawa River
Onto the giant Saint Laurence
Saint Laurence riverside country
Heading into Trois Rivierres
Les grand Maisons sur la rivierre
Every small village has its classic church...
...and old classic barns
...and classic cottages