In praise of Canada

In praise of Canada

Published on October 27 2017

Part of a series about


4472 miles cycled,
5349 miles travelled (click here for a full screen, interactive version of the map);

10 provinces traversed;

3 nights in hostels,
65 nights camping,
24 nights accommodated in friends’ houses or cabins,
1 night on a train,
1 night on a ferry;

28 blog posts;


Peanut butter and jam, peanut butter, peanut butter and syrup, chocolate spread, chocolate spread on cinnamon bread, boiled egg, fried egg, peanut butter and lemon curd, cookie;

Flavours of jam:
Strawberry, raspberry, grape, apple and raspberry, apricot peach and passion fruit, three berry;

Genres of water:
Fresh from a cold tap, warmed up all day in the sun, suspiciously eggy, purified from mountain streams, filtered from fridge doors, in lakes, from water coolers, from the secret button on the Iced Tea dispenser on soda fountains, anywhere on the spectrum of clear to orange, with potentially dangerous amounts of elements including iron, sulphur and uranium;

Heatwave sun, lazy drizzle, muggy sun and clouds, storms with vibrant lightning headwinds, hail the size of golf balls (luckily the day after we rode through the area), rain while cosy in our tents, rain while sitting ducks on our saddles, the tail end of a hurricane, soggy days followed by uplifting bright days to dry us off and air out our gear;

Uphill, downhill, ambiguous gradients where you could be going gently upward or flat, flat; smooth, rough, gravel, made of potholes; pounding highways, quieter roads, secluded bike paths – some excellent and some poorly thought through;

Especially beautiful: the Old Hedley Road from Princeton to Keremeos, Highway 17 from Kenora to Borup’s Corners, Highway 17 from Nipogon to White River, Lake Superior Provincial Park – especially the downhill into Old Woman Bay, Government Road just after Sault St Marie – especially from the Big Dollar to Bruce, Highway 6 near Whitefish Falls, Road 1 in Wiarton, Highway 35 north of the 118 (except the surface!), the Route Verte into Gatineau (the first non-Walmart entry to a city), the ferry to Quebec City, the hill down into St-Fabian-Sur-Mer, Highway 11 towards Matipedia, the coast road in Prince Edward Island National Park, the Cabot Trail, Highway 100 from Argentia to the Trans-Canada;

Inevitable and grim: the grey concrete kilometres leading into pretty much every major city – long busy fumey roads past Walmarts and McDonalds and similarly uninspiring establishments;

Thousands of cars but only one angry driver, honkers (all honks perceived as encouragement regardless of drivers’ intent), enormous semi-trucks, hot-rods and a mobile museum of perfectly maintained cars from the 50s 60s and 70s, other cross-Canada cyclists, Lycra cyclists, walkers, bikers (so many bikers);

Rest stops:
Roadside lay-bys, hard shoulders, crash barriers, in fountains, benches by riversides, viewpoints, points of interest, Canadian shield ledges, grocery store car parks, gas station forecourts, picnic tables and shelters, swing parks, beaches;

Mountains, hills, endless fields, lake shores followed for tens to hundreds of miles, waterfalls, escarpments, snapshots of prehistory in the Badlands, rugged coastlines with ocean spray, gentle coastlines with sandy beaches, long highway corridors through repetitive trees and shrubbery, swamp filled with every flying creature;

Flying creatures:
Mosquitoes, no see ems, mosquitoes, bluebottles, mosquitoes, horseflies, mosquitoes, vultures, mosquitoes, glow flies mosquitoes, clicking flies, mosquitoes, dragonflies mosquitoes, birds of prey;

Less objectionable wildlife:
1.5 bears, elk, deer, bobcats, bald eagles, osprey, beavers, horses, moose, chipmunks, squirrels, seals, whales, clouds of jellyfish beneath the water surface;

Activities to pass the time:
21 Questions, bird spotting, nature watching, wifi hunting, swimming, urban exploring, sauna, jacuzzi hunting, ladder golf, crazy golf, dares, dreaming up elaborate pranks, bingo, canoeing, sleeping off migraines;

Potential dangers that never materialised:
Catastrophic bike failure, crashes, Lyme disease, bear mauling, moose trampling, ticks, rattlesnakes, being crushed at roadside campsites, bad stuff happening after talking to strangers;

Stuff that went wrong but wasn’t that bad:
Theft, possessions being taken to landfill, upset tummies, 7km of gravel, a pan of food falling onto the floor, proximity to an electrical fault;

For Kristian: outside the first tunnel down Rogers Pass, just before Kakabeka Falls – and just after, Norland (valve broke while pumping), before Barry’s Bay (x2), then too many in too quick succession that I stopped counting…

For me: Happyland RV Park, just before White River, just before Espanola, Wiarton, Collingwood, Orillia, Oka, then too many in too quick succession that I stopped counting…

For Alex: Neguac

Temporary torso adornments:
Life jacket on the way to canoeing, a spent tyre being taken to a bin, a cable lock and D-lock combined into a necklace, T-shirts when it was time to go in a store;

Stuff in hard shoulders:
Rubbish – but much less than you’d expect, old fashioned oil cans, snakes, USB cables, license plates, clothes, hats (so many hats!), Mathieu the shit-faced Quebec-bound hitch hiker, anonymous crosses (RIP), an upturned truck, inuksuit, grit gravel and cracks, other cyclists, nuts and bolts and bits and bobs, a porn DVD;

Things offered to us:
Beer, water, lifts, lawns to camp on, trail bars, apples, money (weirdly often), advice, stories, suggestions, bikes to borrow, spare tubes, assistance fixing punctures, places to camp, cabins to sleep in. Endless and unbounding generosity;

Wild, paid for, scenic, a bit shit, buggy, municipal, gravelly, gravelly with tantalising off-limit grass nearby, waterside, on rocky outcrops, on beaches, behind shops, in abandoned shacks, in scrats of woodland. Everywhere from fully private to distractingly public. One night, beneath the watchful, slightly creepy eye of crucified Jesus.

Night time noises:
Trucks, all manner of animals (all diagnosed as bears early on in the trip), actual clouds of mosquitoes, neighbouring campers, AC systems, trains and their incessant terrifying horns, rain;

Place names:
Hawkins Pickle, Beef Research Road, Moose Factory, Dildo, Gun Cub Road, Wabigoon, Eton-Rugby, Bear Rump Island, Tip Top Mountain, Old Woman Bay, Chummy Bank, Dafter, Baldy, Goobies;

Leeds place names:
Headingley, Brudenell, Wakefield;

Floral, alpine, rained on, butane and woodchip from passing trucks (the latter smelled like gin and tonic), cattle, poop, skunks;

Opinions on Justin Trudeau:
Pretty face, charismatic presence on the world stage, charlatan, necessary counterbalance to Trump, too liberal, not liberal enough, too generous to First Nations, not generous enough to First Nations, unable to deliver on campaign promises, better than Harper, worse than Harper, a clown;

So many. All kind, generous, hospitable, helpful, polite, inquisitive, and pleasant.