Saturday, July 27, 2013

Mental Maintenance vs Mechanical Break Down

                I’ve been wanting to write more about this bike trip, to document it properly, to explain the obstacles only present in an endurance of this scale however when I write about the day to day events, I find myself at a loss for creativity and excitement. As I’ve hiked 1000km, kayaked 2500km, been lost in the mountains of Papua New Guinea to name a few, I never have to second guess myself as if I can accomplish this trip with previous endeavours like those under my belt. Yes, prior to this cycle I’ve never ridden a bike further than 40km in a day but anyone with great perseverance will know that they will make it to the end, no matter what, even if it means slugging out thirteen hour days of back breaking work for four months straight, or longer, whatever it takes, I will make it. So when a decision is made to cycle across Canada, that’s final, it will happen and I won’t give up until I either finish or get killed trying. It might sound a little dramatic but when you’re soaked through lying in a cold dark tent huddled in a wet sleeping bag as you listen to the wind howl in the trees above, the same wind that’s impeded on your progress for the past four days, it takes a constant reminder that dying trying is much more honourable than giving up on your dreams. It’s not that the fame of cycling across Canada is worth dying for, rather its dark lonely moments in a tent like these that make the rest of my life worth living for.
                I hate writing anything without meaning. Meaning for me is something that comes from the heart and can be implied every day for the rest of our lives, so as I rewrite this now I’m scraping the 3000 words bellow that I just spent the past four hours working into an adventure about the events between Saskatoon and Winnipeg. I’ve realized that this cycle trip is tough, I mean really tough but contrary to what most people might get out of a trip like this is not a self-discovery of overcoming physical feats, it’s an emotional journey for me to reconnect with the people in my life which have meant so much to me in the past and of course meeting new and interesting people along the way. Being gone from my family for three years I can honestly tell you there were times I thought I would never see them again. There were times when I lay on a bamboo shelter in the jungle not knowing if I’d see the light of day tomorrow, there were times on the beach when I saved people and gave them another chance to see that light again, and there were times on the road when I witnessed people who would never wake up to see that light again. Now as I’m already half way across Canada it’s slowly starting to reveal itself. Every time I drive by a lake I’m reminded of my summer home in which is the catalyst for my love of the outdoors. Every time I sip a coffee I can smell the slow drip pot in my parent’s kitchen brewing a fresh cup. Every time the daisy seeds blow in the wind, they swirl like flakes of snow dropping from the sky at the Halifax waterfront on Christmas eve. These are my memories and each and every day they get stronger and more vivid. It’s a horrible aching tease for myself to want these things so bad and yet I throw in more obstacles to overcome before getting what I really want. I often times wonder why I couldn’t have just bought a plane ticket and see my family again. I often times wonder what I’m holding myself back from. What am I going to find at the end of this trip that I’m so afraid to see that I need to spend four months on a bike clearing my mind and writing about it. What is it that we all seek in life but are afraid to find?
                On a trip like this it only really starts getting tough when your mind becomes harder to push than your muscles. On average I spend ten hours a day on a bike, prying myself awake at 4:00 am when everything is still soaking wet, cold, and uncomfortable. The early morning clouds offer no protection from the plagues of mosquitoes piercing my skin in hundreds of different locations and sucking that precious hard earned blood from my body. My back is sore from the log beneath my tent, the third time this week. The passing trucks during the night would lay on their horn when spotting your tent off the side of the road, just to be dicks. When the trucks don’t wake me, the curious moose, rodents, and mice trying to get into my food will. All a great nuisance however trying to cycle against a 25km/h or more head wind is the biggest moral thief I have ever experienced. Cycling hours into a head wind only to gain a measly 30km on the day is enough  kill your spirits and send you into a depression. I had my first mental break down on my way across the prairies last week when I fought these conditions day after day. Eventually I couldn’t push on and I spent an entire day huddle in a cold wet tent all alone, contemplating my motives to finish this trip and contemplating pulling the plug on my entire adventure. I know better though, I’ve been among these ruins before and it won’t be the last for this trip, hang tight relax and things will get better, they always do.  In hindsight I’m glad I have days like that because it makes the good days really good and ultimately when I do finish this trip Il remember every one of those thoughts and be happy I pushed through and didn’t give up. The reward is worth the misery.
                On a 7000km bike ride your own mind and will power will most definitely be your biggest obstacle however from time to time some broken equipment can be a good distraction from the emotional side of it. My bike has been increasingly impressive. Each day I realize the bike I’m riding is much more capable than the legs that push it along but everything has its breaking point and as my legs get stronger, the hardware on my bike gets weaker. As I was chugging along down the #1 highway into Winnipeg the dreaded sound of a crack pierced through the hollow swoosh of cars and trucks blowing past my shoulder. Instantly my front pannier buckles and mangles itself into my front tire with bouncing metal against metal as the front spokes repeatedly hit the front pannier rack PING* PING* PING*. The constant bumps, bangs, and vibration from the imperfect roads between Vancouver and here have paid its toll on the lightweight aluminum front rack. The main support bar sheared off leaving my front right pannier in a sloppy flopping mess. Having done 195 km already that day I opted to throw up my thumb and hitch hike into Winnipeg where I could find a bike shop to have it replaced with a new strong one.
                Winnipeg has been one of my favourite stops to date. Having no expectation what so ever and knowing nothing about the city at all set me up for a great surprise when I was greeted and hosted by my friend Bailey who I partied with in Vietnam for a week. Let me tell you that the location in which we find ourselves in has no effect on the amount we party, and partied we did. I’ve had an incredible time this week being shown around the city and exploring bars, geocaching, and riding the many bike trails that zig zag the city. I was so surprised to find so much culture and diversity here with an apparently limitless amount of things to do. The city has done a great job of keeping green spaces and public facilities, it almost seems as if every park has a little concert, show or gathering going on in it. I really like it here and I think I’m lucky to have been shown the things I have in the amount of time given, as an east coaster Manitoba is the black sheep of Canada and I’m so happy to have seen it with my own eyes and experienced it with my own hands. I spent an entire day at mountain Equipment Co-op where I met and hung out with the mechanic. I spent the entire day tuning up my bike in his shop as I replaced my broken front rack, put on a new back tyre and tube, and had my rear hub rebuilt cleaned. It’s been a great stop for me to drink up, sleep in and prepare my bike for the longest most isolated section yet, northern Ontario. Time to push off and head for the border into the USA where I’l reconnect and make my way into Ontario. Its been swell Manitoba but its time for me to push on and close the 2300km gap between me and my friends in Toronto.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Friends and Family

               Since leaving Canada years ago, the smell of pine trees, the sound of blue jays, and feel of frigid salt water weren’t the only things left behind. The longer I’m gone the more I come to discover how meaningless those memories can be and how important the people who fill them are. One of those people in particular is my childhood companion, best friend, and Cousin Lorenz Arsenault. I’ve known him for as long I can remember and being hardly a couple month apart in age, we’ve always challenged each other throughout our youth in which ultimately shaped us to the men we are today. Much of the mentality I have now probably wouldn’t have been inspired without him by my side in those developmental years where we’re in full awe of discovery and curious of limitations. It was Lorenz who made a deal with me at 17 years old to run our first marathon. Two weeks before the race day I received a call reminding me of our deal in which I couldn’t back down from. Two weeks later on one over cast rainy day in May, we both completed our first marathon without a single kilometer of training. The medal around my neck wasn’t a symbol of running 42 km/s but my first realization that I could push myself to accomplish things in which most people would never try and others would consider impossible. More important yet, those medals were proof of friendship bond that would last a lifetime. 
                The years went on so did our challenges as we ran another marathon together the following year, dressed in black and broke into active grain elevators, spent long nights with a bottle of rum in fishing boat looking for parties to crash, and swamped the competition when we played on sports teams together. An incredible companion to have growing up but life has separate plans for all of us. On the last night before my plane left Canada we sat high above the street lamps on the peak of my parents’ house drinking a beer and smoking the last of my Cuban cigars before saying goodbye. Both twenty years old we sat gazing at the same glow of city lights but were looking at perfectly opposite futures. As I wondered how many countries I would see in the next couple years, he wondered how many diapers he we need to change as it was that night he told me he was going to be a dad. That’s why it was so important for me to push out over 800km in 5 days from Calgary to Saskatoon in order to be reunited with my long lost friend and spend time with his new family.
               An unequal heat spread itself throughout the cottage in a gentle crackle and pop. The occasional backdraft emits a smoky plume into the building lingering in a dull wonderful aroma of burnt hard wood. There’s just nothing like a real wood fire in a cottage that warms me to the bone. Maybe it’s the fact that I spend most of my nights huddled in a cold dark claustrophobic tent with the horrendous smell of my feet and clammy body that make an environment like this so appealing. I’ve spent the entire weekend now, sitting back being immersed in this wood fire while drinking ice cold beers and playing games with my two little second cousins. I love adventure and can’t sit still for more than a few minutes at a time but sitting here in this cottage doing a whole lot of nothing and spending some much needed time with my cousins kids fills me with such an overwhelming sense of satisfaction.
Spending time with my younger nieces and cousins fills me with a feeling I had never expected to feel prior to grandparenthood. I know that these kids won’t remember me the next time they see me, whenever that may be. I do my best to absorb their company in the short amount of time I have to visit but there’s no making up for the years of absence that have gone by. I can’t help but to feel guilty in a way for missing them grow up. Traveling the word is probably the most liberating and satisfying feeling il ever have but like Isaac Newton put it so honestly (For every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction) My own uneducated interpretation of this is for every moment gained is a moment lost somewhere else. As much as I want to stay and spend more time with my family here in Saskatoon, I know that there are friends and family anticipating some cold beers by the fire and an earful of ridiculous stories at my destination. It’s time to push on and get these wheels back on the road, next stop Winnipeg Manitoba.
It’s tough to leave but I’ve learned a valuable lesson in the past few weeks that life is too short to be a stranger to the ones in your heart. I’m no longer a stranger to myself but there’s no way I want to spend any longer being a stranger to the ones who fill my memories. Bring it on Manitoba!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Continental Divide

At the top of the Continental Divide
               The tallest of trees begins to thin. The snow upon the peaks recedes. The land begins to drop as the lush green valley’s spreads its mighty girth. Even the air smells different, laced with thick wheat and canola field pollen. It is without a doubt my rocky mountain crossing is coming to an end, not abruptly in any sort as one loathes the flatness of the plains for nearly 1000km’s of treacherously steep mountain passes. An end which is welcomed but will thoroughly be missed. The feeling of threading through these giants of the world is something in which can only be imagined but hardly explained. The sheer mass and beauty is neither shy nor inaccessible in these parts as we are reminded of our inferiority to these giants in which surround you upon your journey through. Healthy and in good spirits I am welcomed to the gateway of the Canadian prairies without incident, it’s not always the case as these lands are still lurking with wild beast and natural disasters around every corner. This is how my journey went.
Walwa Falls 40km outside of Golden
                Leaving Revelstoke was tough as it remains my favorite mountain town but it was time to push on. I had been procrastinating leaving for a few days already to avoid the heavy rain showers that continued to fall but I realized that cycling for 3 or 4 months I would need to toughen up and get on with it, and considering what I’m dealing with now, a rainy day would be praised beyond belief. I cycled a good five hours stopping in at every board walk and nature walk along the way. Cycling is a great way to force yourself to do all the touristy crap because your ass and legs are screaming for any reason to take a break. Making sure to read every plaque and information board slowly and deliberately for the sake of time rather than absorbing the information. Rogers pass was next up. I had read a lot about it and heard from other people how treacherous It was so it was anticipated beyond reasonable doubt. The steep climb only lasted about 5 km before I pulled out of the rain cloud and found myself at the summit fully relieved. At the top I found 3 young guys on Canadian tire mountain bikes carrying skate boards, hatchets, water, and of course a few ounces of marijuana. They passed the pipe to me for a hit but I had to decline as getting stoned before descending the other side of the mountain at 70km/h seemed like a bad idea.  I have to admit though that cycling from Calgary to Vernon to fruit pick for the season with nothing but skateboards and weed is pretty ballsy so hats off to those fella’s.
ahh shit..
With 10km to go into Golden the highway information screen flashed up before my eyes “Multiple wash outs ahead” “Route #1 closed east of golden” Well shit, all that rain I had been hiding from a couple days before ended up washing out roads, bridges, and towns down the track, luckily though I was in good hands as a good friend of mine I met in Vietnam offered his house for me to crash in where I met some awesome people and drank way too much. It was going to be at least a week before the road would open again and the only other road would take me 700km out of the way in the direction that I had just came. River rafting, mountain biking, and partying were all good reasons to hang tight and let the road crews do their thing. I spent most of that week building and setting up dance platforms, teepees, stages, and bars in the forest for one of the coolest Canada day parties I’ve ever been to. 13 Dj’s 300 people and lots of drugs kept the party going from 7 pm to 8 am (at least that’s when I passed out). Golden was my last frontier for partying and getting crazy as the next couple months will be only about getting fit, healthy, and smashing off kilometers. No more messing around, its time to get some real km’s on these wheels.
At the entrance to Lake Louise Village
               I left Golden early afternoon which was a bad idea as the weather went from cold and rainy straight into a heat wave of high thirties. The climb out of golden is in no way for the faint of heart either starting off with a section of road literally called “Ten mile hill”….FML. I didn’t make it more than 20km before ditching my bike on the side of the road and hiding under an animal overpass crossing to hide from the sun. I snuggled up on a cold hard piece of concrete and fell asleep regardless of the motorcycles and trucks wizing by a few meters away. I waited for the first shadows to be cast upon the mountains before getting back on the bike and cycling a measly 20 km more to the base of Kicking horse pass, the final frontier of the Rocky Mountains. It was already 9:00pm and I was really contemplating suffering the next couple of hours to the top and leaving myself a cruisy day ahead but my body protested and I’m glad I listened to it, I would have never made it in the condition I was in.
Lake Louise
I didn’t waste any time the next morning waking up at 4:00am to cook a hearty mr noodles and hitting the 12km hill before the sun could hit me. I hadn’t heard anything about this pass at all but it turned out to be the most extreme elevation gain of 6.6% in all the TransCanada highway. The Rail Way had nic-named it “The big Hill” being the most fatal and dangerous section of track where runaway trains and derailing’s were often and disastrous. I’m not sure exactly how long it took me to get to the top but the sun was high above the horizon and already licking the sweat from my arms when I reached the peak in a sweaty panting heap in a half-conscious state. I made it! At the top was the continental divide and the border into Alberta, the peak of my climbing had been reached and all water flows to the Atlantic ocean 6000 km due east from here. It was a great feeling knowing that the mountains I had just spent the past month lingering in had been conquered; I won’t be seeing anymore hardcore hills for at least a couple thousand km’s into northern Ontario.
Summit of Rogers Pass!
Lake Louise was my next stop down the road for some food and rest. I wanted to take the old highway down because it’s closed to traffic but the barricades told me there was grizzly bear research being done and it was closed to everyone. Normally I’m more rebellious but for some reason it didn’t seem worth the risk. There was no messing around on the way down though as I followed the gradual slope of the river into Lake Louise it almost felt unnatural to be cycling without so much resistance. The mountain training paid off as my legs pumped hard at a steady 40km/h. being in high spirits and stoked to finally be going downhill into Calgary I decided the extra 10km round trip from Lake Louise Village to the Lake above was worth it. I had seen it before in the winter and wanted to see the summer perspective so I set off up the hill….. Worst mistake ever. Looking back now I would have paid $50 to get a drive up because the 5km climb at 8% grade nearly finished me off. I stopped several times on the way up to roll into the grass and catch my breath and stop my heart from exploding out of my chest. I got passed (slowly mind you) by hard core cyclists with fully dropped jaw in awe of this retarded kid with an army helmet pushing a touring bike loaded with 105lbs of gear up the hill. I good round of high fives and cheers welcomed me at the top however.
The loaded up Canadian tire bikes
It was nice at the top as expected but the hordes of tourists snapping the iconic Lake Louise photo was a bit of a turn off so I high tailed it down the mountain flying past cars, and other cyclists making sure not to waste any of that hard work I put into getting up there on rubber from my brake pads. At the bottom I was starving and my hands were quivering from over exertion, it was nearly mid-day and the sun was relentless so I stopped into a restaurant and loaded up on a burger and beer. I made it through some of my fries and most of my burger before passing out cold on the window bar. I was asleep for 45 minutes before the bar tender startled me with an offer for another beer. I had only 60km to go all downhill into Banff and the shakes had gone away so I pushed on out of Lake Louise early afternoon despite the heaving sun above. I had my bike clicked into low gear feeling great for cruising at 35km/h on the flat sections and even more on the downhill’s but the sun was just too much. I couldn’t seem to physically drink enough water to replenish what I was sweating out. At one point I crawled down to a nice cool snow melt river to drink and passed out again on the river bank in the direct sunlight. The day got hotter and hotter; one perk was spotting four grizzly bears frolicking in a field just off the highway which was surprisingly only the second time in my life to see a wild bear and the first time ever for grizzly’s. I was able to get within 15 feet of one for some incredible photo opportunities.
At last I’m in Banff meeting up with an old friend I met in Australia. Hiding from the sun and recovering from heat exhaustion things are looking good and I’m on pace now to get back home. The days are way too hot to be cycling so my new strategy will be cycling throughout the night across the parries and hiding in the shade during the day.  

Next stop, COW TOWN!