The phrase 'We're cycling across Canada' is usually met by two reactions; shock, amazement and horror that we were stupid enough to even attempt this, or a simple nod of the head –people assuming we’d be travelling by bus, car or at the very least motorbike. However, we were crazy enough to attempt this feat by bicycle and it sparked the beginning of one of the greatest adventures of our life.
The statistics were frightening. In 3 months, we would cycle 7500km from Vancouver on the West coast to Halifax on the East across the second largest country in the world, a route chosen so that the prevailing winds would be behind us. Within the first week we would hit the huge intimidating Rocky Mountains with climbs up to 2000m. Prior to this we had very little experience of this kind of trip, having only cycled from London to Paris over 4 days. Having loved this smaller trip, we wanted to try something a little bigger and decided on the ‘small’ country of Canada!
Landing in Vancouver we had a few days to get ready whilst staying at friends. One of our main concerns was ‘what about the bears?’ On our first of many visits to the excellent Mountain Equipment Coop (MEC) we discussed various bear-protection options available to us, including choosing airtight food containers (to keep the smell of food from escaping), to a bar bell, to pepper spray, to flare guns and even guns with live ammunition. Reckoning that we would cause more damage to ourselves, we settled for the bar bell and airtight containers – those bears better watch out!
Heading out of Vancouver, we initially followed the Trans Canadian Trail – at 22,000km it’s one of the longest cycle trail networks in the world.
Our first week took us through Fraser Canyon, with quiet roads winding beside a stunning canyon created by the Fraser river. We passed Rearguard Falls, the furthest up-river destination for Salmon to swim and lay their eggs. After 800 miles swimming against the flow of the river, jumping up waterfalls and dodging bears, the salmon finally reach home, lay their eggs and die (no doubt from sheer exhaustion). That certainly put our trip into perspective…
Along the way, the weather varied by 40 degree extremes, with humidity making hills extremely tiring. Tailwinds we loved - racing along barely touching the pedals. Headwinds, however, are a completely different kettle of fish making you sweat and work for every mile. We soon learned that one day of headwind meant another day of tailwind would be coming along, so we tried looked for the positives, telling ourselves how fit we’ll be by the end!
The ups and downs you experience whilst cycling these distances are extreme and vary, dependent on gradient, tiredness, weather, distance, and food (or lack of it). So began our life of eating as much food as possible; porridge for breakfast often followed by a full Canadian fry-up in a cafe within the first hour.
There were hourly fruit snacks, chocolate bars, ice cream and nuts. Gone were our days of watching what we ate - we were ‘forced’ to choose the highest calorie snack on the shelf and how we loved it!
As the miles ticked by, the gradients increased through the Colombia Mountains into the foothills to the Rockies. We cycled past Mount Robson at 3,954m, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies (thankfully we didn’t have to go over it).
Crossing into our second province, Alberta, we celebrated with a day off in Jasper, to enjoy the spectacular view from the top of the tramway on Whistlers Mountain overlooking Jasper National Park.
Next, we prepared to cycle the Icefields Parkway, advertised as one of the most spectacular roads in the world. Every corner led to another jaw dropping sight, with classic views of high snow-capped peaks in the background, breathtakingly stunning turquoise lakes (created by glacial silt in the water) and fir tree forests.
For four days we cycled through mountain scenery as if from a dream, with every corner bettering the last as we meandered past glaciers, lakes, forests, peaks. We took it easy with shorter days of about 40km cycling, which meant we could enjoy the many walks just off the road.
We may not have cycled all the roads in the world, but we would think there can be few more scenic than this one. These days were a highlight of our whole trip.
We cycled on through the touristy towns of Banff and then Calgary, the cowboy capital of Canada. Sadly we’d missed the world-famous Calgary stampede by a couple of weeks but had a great time staying with a friend and doing some urgent bike maintenance.
We’d suffered one broken spoke (our first ever) leaving us to hitchhike to the nearest shop. My front pannier rack needed replacing after it snapped as I flew downhill at 40mph (luckily no crash resulted). Debs became my ‘pack horse’ for a few days, having to carry an extra two panniers leaving many to claim I broke it on purpose.