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… We were crazy enough to attempt this feat by bicycle and it sparked the beginning of one of the greatest adventures of our life…
Beginning in Vancouver he’d already followed the Trans-Canadian trail through canyons, beside rivers, through Colombia and into the Rockies. He’d traversed the Icefields Parkway and cycled through Banff and Calgary (read the previous post here).
Rested and recuperated, we left Calgary and waved goodbye to the Rockies to head into the flat Prairie lands. Known as ‘The land of the living skies’, with no hills or trees to obscure our view, the sky took up about 70% of your view.
For many days, we cycled straight roads for 80 miles surrounded by unchanging, treeless, flat, landscapes of barley, wheat, flax, sunflower and canola or gas/oil plants (‘black gold’). Were it not for the bike computers ticking over, you’d struggle to know you were even moving.
Our favourite part of the day was the last twilight as the sun set behind us, casting our shadows in front and making the crops blaze with a fiery glow as the sun turned them from yellow to a beautiful red.
At night, we were entertained by lightning displays from distant storms, under a blanket of brilliant stars gleaming brightly with no little light pollution to dull them. We witnessed dramatic weather changes and the locals boast they can experience all 4 seasons in a mere few hours.
One evening, after cycling all day in the sunshine with not a cloud in sight, we looked behind to see the biggest storm cloud gathering behind us. The race was on as if we were in the Olympic final – us vs. the storm… could we make it to the next village to find shelter in time? Nature won the gold on this occasion, and gave us a torrential downpour only for it to completely disappear 10 minutes later.
We travelled briefly along the busy Trans-Canada Highway but quickly found quieter roads to lead us through the stunning ‘Badlands’. Here we found canyons and strange formations known as Hoodoos, where hard rock protects the softer rock below from erosion.
This region is home to some of the greatest dinosaur discoveries in the world as well as claims to some global records. We saw the world’s largest dinosaur, followed by the world’s largest axe and the world’s longest covered bridge.
Although the scenery is fairly monotonous throughout the Prairies, we had a fantastic time because the local people who were so warm and welcoming. People waved, shouted hello and bought us drinks or breakfast.
We experienced this hospitality throughout Canada, but it really stood out in the Prairies. We began a trademark tactic which involved knocking on houses asking to camp in someone’s garden. Nearly everyone agreed, and often showers, beers, food and spare beds were offered to us. We chatted with them into the night, trading stories and hearing about local life. They say travel is about meeting the locals and getting to know a country. Well, cycle touring introduced us to some incredible people all over Canada.
After another week, we reached the lovely town of Saskatoon, the Paris of the Prairies, where we enjoyed a couple of days rest. A very last minute decision took us on a detour via Riding Mountain National Park, which was well worth it; set on an escarpment rising above the plains and it is covered by forests and lakes.
One more week led us to Winnipeg towards the edge of the Prairies until we were back amongst the hills and lakes of the Canadian Shield in Ontario. Here we had our first accident of the trip, with Debs falling off her bike as she skidded on wet railway tracks.
She was a bit shaken up, and although it seemed a graze to the knee was the only physical damage, camping that night, a large crack signalled a broken rib and she lay in agony. Being the hero she is, after just one day’s rest we were off again.
Back on the road, we cycled past beautiful lakes and lush green pine forests everywhere. As we entered Whiteshell Provincial Park, we spotted our first black bear! It was incredible to see these beautiful animals, even just for a couple of seconds, before it ran behind some rocks.
Approaching Lake Superior, we were headed towards the largest freshwater lake in the world. In preparation for the next week of cycling, we stayed with a’ Warm Showers’ host in Lake Superior.
Warms Showers is a similar website to Couch Surfing, where people open up their homes and you can stay on the sofa/spare beds, but it is aimed at touring cyclists. Our host, Frank, in Thunder Bay had led an amazing life; he only had 3% vision in his eyes so was classified as blind yet still managed to cycle around the world for 12 months, sometimes on his own. He warned us that the hills of Lake Superior would be worse than the Rockies. We were not convinced having heard this many times before. How wrong we were!
The next 7 days were our hardest yet. We faced not just one huge hill a day (as in the Rockies), but several, unrelenting hills. Each day we finished completely shattered but were rewarded with some of the best places to camp, on deserted pristine white sand beaches with no one around for miles.
A freshwater lake provided the most revitalising shower ever and we were in paradise as we cooked dinner whilst watching the sunset. Every tough hill gave us another panoramic view of the lake with its crystal clear water, beautiful turquoise blues and greens glistening in the sunlight and made the climb worthwhile.
On the shores of Lake Superior, we had our closest bear encounter. The advice is confusing but the one thing everyone agrees on is ‘you must stay in your vehicle at all times’. Well that helps, when you’re on bikes.
We were looking for a place to camp and took a dirt track leading down to the shore. We flipped a coin to decide on path to take, and whilst we were chatting away, a large hare ran past us and into the woods. It looked spooked. I glanced up to see a huge Black Bear run into the path not more than 20m in front of us. Thinking it was heading towards us, our hearts skipped a few beats and that bear bell was looking extremely inadequate.
Thankfully, the bear ran through the path and disappeared into the woods. It was incredible to see this powerful and beautiful creature so close, but at the same time, a huge relief to see it run away!
We skirted the shores of Lake Heron before heading inland towards Algonquin Provincial Park where we spent a couple of chilled-out days. Autumn was approaching Algonquin and the colours of the leaves were just starting to turn.
Next we cycled towards the capital, Ottawa (which has an English feel) then crossed into Quebec, with its rich French history. Locals in Quebec see themselves more as an independent nation than part of Canada - in fact in the 1970s they very nearly left Canada completely.