Saskatchewan

As soon as I cross into Saskatchewan, the woman working at the Visitor Centre invites me to dinner. Unfortunately, I’ll be far away by dinner time, but I know I’m in a friendly province! I pass through many tiny towns along the trans Canada, and though the land isn’t as flat as it appears from a car, I can spot a thunderstorm ages before it hits. I head for beautiful Regina, where I visit a museum and gallery (both free!) and the farmer’s market for some Saskatoon jam. On the way out of the city my hubs are rattling so I stop for some grease and repack them by the side of the road. The setback means Faez and I arrive in Moose Jaw after dark as the temperature threatens to drop below zero, but a very kind woman named Ev pulls over and invites us to her BnB for the night, free of charge. After saying a grateful goodbye to her in the morning, we have a fun brunch at the Senior’s Centre and then point our bikes south through the frigid, windy Cactus Hills and beyond. This part of Saskatchewan doesn’t see many visitors, and we’re greeted with warm curiosity wherever we find people. One friendly farmer named Wayne even has us over for coffee.

After a few days we arrive in Mankota, which looks like it’s straight out of a film about the wild wild West. It’s also our last chance to resupply for a few days as we’ll be heading into Grasslands National Park. When we mentioned our plans to visit this area at the provincial Visitor Centre, we were warned there were no supply stores and no drinking water inside the large park. That’s ok, I said, I have a water filter. “Let me rephrase that. There’s no water to put in your filter inside the park,” I was told. We were also warned about the rattlesnakes and black widow spiders we might encounter, and to prepare to be without cell phone service. Outside the single store in Mankota, I strap seven litres of water to my bicycle. I’m ready.

The park is incredible, surpassing my wildest dreams. The first night we arrive late and camp just inside the park gate to avoid disturbing the bison we can hear in the distance. The next morning we’re treated to a beautiful clear day and panoramic views unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I walk through prarie dog colonies (the only ones in Canada!), and spy many of the park’s famous bison, as well as a burrowing owl. The riding is difficult on the single coarse gravel road but we take our time. There are very few cars or other people. The second night we camp halfway up a coulee and the full moon is so bright I can read by it. Coyotes howl. There’s not a speck of man-made light, not one glimpse of human habitation for as far as I can see. From the tent the next morning I watch prarie dogs, mule deer and even more bison before heading to the west end of the park to hike the spectacular Eagle Butte and 70 Mile Butte.

 

Finishing the hike, we notice a black widow nest, and meet some folks from the nearby town of Val Marie, who invite us to the annual rodeo that evening – good timing! The rodeo is quite an experience, with steer wrestlers, barrel racers and bull riders in hockey helmets. Afterward we camp in the middle of town.

 

This far south, the rest of the province is mostly ghost towns, and after battling severe headwinds, we spend one night in the baseball dugout of an otherwise empty town, to avoid the hail coming down. I have probably my worst crash of the trip on a hilly, narrow dirt road made for tractors, but luckily despite being thrown several feet from my bike, I’m mostly unscathed. We meet some friendly faces in the 100-person town of Consul, where Ev’s sister lives, and where someone calls up the campground owner and gets them to give us a free night. After that, it’s a long, hilly, windy ride on another dirt road without services, until a tiny road sign tells me I’ve made it to the Alberta border.

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Manitoba

Crossing into Manitoba is beyond exciting after spending more than a month in Ontario! The monstrous hills quickly become gentle rollers, and then finally – flat land! The quiet old highway is a welcome change from the 17 but becomes busier and more treacherous as I approach Winnipeg. It’s a relief to finally get into the city, which has lots of cycling infrastructure and cyclists! I make a stop at Orioles Bike Cage and meet the lovely volunteers there. They tip me off to some great things to do in the city, like visit the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, and catch some live bluegrass at Times Change(d).

Dean catches back up to Alexis, Faez and I, and we all share a dorm at the Winnipeg hostel. No-one can quite take over a room like four fully-loaded cycle tourists, but somehow we’re able to organize our mess of gear enough to do some laundry and tune up the bikes. After the four of us leave Winnipeg we have to say some sad goodbyes, as Alexis and Dean head north and Faez and I continue on to Brandon.

Between flat land and decent weather the landscape passes by quickly. Long, long trains thunder past with no hills to slow them. Hay bales and grain elevators dot the fields. Before I know it, I’ve reached Virden, and after that, the western border of the province.

Ontario – Sault Ste Marie to the Manitoba Border

 

 

The day after leaving Sault Ste Marie, I meet many motorists warning me about the hills I’m headed toward. I also meet Alex, who turns out to be the only other solo female cycling every province that I’ll meet this trip. She started in BC and is heading east, but she tells me about an awesome secret camping spot on Lake Superior. The free campsite doesn’t disappoint, and warrants a dip in the chilly lake the next morning before I tackle those hills. After many kilometres of climbing I arrive at the Agawa Campground of Lake Superior Provincial Park, and find out that the toughest hills are still ahead.

The north shore of Lake Superior is spectacularly beautiful, and a spectacularly difficult ride. Transport trucks groan up steep grades next to me while the August sun beats down. Services are few and far between, but the people in small towns are friendly. In Wawa, I leave a pizzeria to discover an anonymous stranger has tied a pack of chocolate bars to my pannier. White River offers free camping to travelers in the town park. The park is apparently overrun with bears, but the noise of the town’s Winnie the Pooh Festival seems to keep them away the night I stay. This is lucky because to keep out of the rain I camp tent-free in a gazebo with Josh, who is another cross-country cyclist headed east, and Faez.

Faez and I are joined by Tarek, who cycled from Montreal, for the ride to Marathon. The 98km day ends with a brutal 7km uphill into a strong headwind, in the pouring rain. When we reach town we order a pizza each, and split two large boxes of fries between us.

Day after day I pedal up and down Ontario’s hills. Once, when I’m 50km from any town, I make the mistake of opening my mouth on a downhill, and a hornet flies in and stings me. Luckily, quick work with my first aid kit keeps the swelling to my lips and I can still breathe freely, though I look like a Kardashian for the rest of the day.

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All-natural lip filler.

The bad always comes with some good. The day of the hornet incident, Faez and I meet Alexis, from France, who is cycling Montreal to Vancouver, and that night in Nipigon the three of us see the northern lights for the first time. Entering Thunder Bay I get the first flat tire of my trip, but then a van pulls over while I patch it and the driver offers cold bottles of water, and a friendly road cyclist changes his training route to guide us tourists into town.

Faez, Alexis and I often ride and camp as a pack, though sometimes the boys go off together and I enjoy my solitude. I cross into the Central Time Zone and the Northern Arctic Watershed. Upsala, Ignace, Dryden, and many many hills are put behind me. I meet Dean, who is riding Toronto to Vancouver, and who wins the award for most gear fit onto a bicycle – his set up even includes scuba flippers!

The province seems to want to leave an impression and keeps up the challenging hills until the end. Overall, I gain more elevation in Ontario than I will in Alberta and BC combined! In Kenora, I reward myself with a pass to the local aquatic centre for swimming, sauna, and a much-needed shower before enjoying some beer and nachos at a brew pub while my clothes visit the laundromat. The next day – at last! – I reach Manitoba!

 

Ontario – Saint Catharines to Sault Ste Marie

After a long rest in Southern Ontario it’s time to push on. Escaping the cities seems to take forever, especially in the sweltering  summer weather. Finally I reach farmland, and hills!

I head for Owen Sound to meet Jon, a writer for the community newspaper. He’s arranged accommodation for me with Anne, the paper’s editor. At breakfast, a small group of us have a thought-provoking discussion about violence against women in Canada.

Next I venture to Lion’s Head, where Megan has offered me free camping space in the yard of her fabulous hostel, The Fitz. In the evening, we head to Tobermory in her VW Westphalia for some wine and live music by the water.

I soon head back to Tobermory on my own, and spend three days enjoying the town and the wonderful hiking and swimming in Bruce Peninsula National Park – a little vacation within a vacation!

Next I’m re-joined by Faez and we take the Chicheemaun to Manitoulin Island where I remark that the locals are as kind as Newfoundlanders. We’re informed that the island is known as “Freshwater Newfoundland.” Some of the folks we meet include Penny and Ed, who take us out for breakfast, and Nimkii, who gives us permission to camp on Native land. The whole island is experiencing a severe drought but the scenery is still breathtaking.

After Manitoulin I head to Espanola and begin my journey on Highway 17 – the road many cycle tourists describe as the most difficult and dangerous in the country. I’ll ride the 17 for over two weeks, but within the first few days I make it to Sault Ste Marie and the fantastic hospitality of its bike shop, Velorution. Velorution offers free camping and showers to cycle tourists, a great opportunity to meet others on the road and to tune up Marigold before tackling the rest of the country.

 

 

Ontario – Ottawa to Saint Catharines

I arrive in Ottawa after dark and head for the hostel. While unpacking, I discover that my front rack has failed, but the next day a nearby car mechanic removes the broken screw for me and I’m able to continue my trip after a few hours exploring the city with Faez.

I ride through beautiful Ontario wilderness full of rock and lakes, and small Ontario towns full of friendly people. Toronto is a shock after so much time away. No strangers want to chat or even make eye contact and the only thing said to me is that my bike is taking up too much space. Strange that the city with the most people seems like the loneliest place around.

Next I head to Saint Catharines, where I feel anything but lonely. Gillian’s Place welcomes me with a party, complete with cheerleaders, reporters and members of the local government. I’m so excited to be raising money and awareness for such an important cause, and so honoured that my trip has become much bigger than me.

Quebec

I celebrate my crossing into Quebec with a poutine at the first rest stop – perfect fuel for the mountainous hills ahead. On one particularly difficult uphill a car stops on the shoulder ahead of me. Annoyed, I move over to the gravel to pedal around but then the driver gets out – it’s Steph, a friend I made in Saint John’s! What a small country. I sit in her stopped car to catch up and enjoy a brief reprieve from the rain before continuing on.

I soon get my first glimpse of the Saint Lawrence River, which I follow for days. Through Rivière-du-Loup, Saint-Jean-Port-Joli and Montmagny the water is a constant and beautiful companion. The weather is cool and at a campground, Gisèle and Lloyd kindly insist that I stay in their camper. Their dog Mia keeps me company on the sofa bed and in the morning they send me away with homemade maple sugar.

In Quebec City I stay in a hostel  and meet people from all over the world here to explore this beautiful province. I also run into Victoria, a friend I made in Charlottetown. Small country again.

After Quebec City it’s onward up the river to Montreal. Amahl comes from Toronto to visit me here and we get to see my friend Xander perform in the circus festival. I relax and enjoy the city for a couple days. Faez the didgeridoo player, who has cycled out to Halifax since we parted ways, catches up to me and together we head toward Ottawa.

New Brunswick – Moncton to the Quebec Border

After spending so much time in and around Moncton, I’m in a hurry to leave the province, but New Brunswick still has plenty of beauty to show me. I make it to Fredericton for Canada Day and enjoy a free public party in the historic city.

For the first time this trip, I feel lonely. Leaving my new friends in Moncton has been hard, but I’m never alone long. In Mactaquac Provincial Park, a family invites me to their site for dinner. The kids have lots of questions about my ride, and in the morning they all get on their bikes and I have an entourage riding with me to the edge of the park!

My route follows the St. John River along a peaceful old highway. One night I camp near the longest covered bridge in the world. In Perth-Andover, I forget my phone in a shop that’s closed by the time I realize, but luckily a neighbour knows the shop owner and drives me to his house! (Thanks Amanda!) We retrieve the phone and all is well. New Brunswick rivals Newfoundland in kindness!

I continue on, past Grand Falls and Edmundston, through rain and hills and more lush scenery until – at last – the Quebec border!

New Brunswick – Confederation Bridge to Moncton to Hopewell Rocks to Moncton again

“Serendipity, noun: luck that takes the form of finding valuable or pleasant things that are not looked for”

After crossing Confederation Bridge I make my way to Murray Beach to camp with yet another unforgettable sunset. I leave the next morning with the intention of heading all the way to the Hopewell Rocks but my bike is making funny noises with every pedal stroke and I think my bottom bracket is failing – one of the few parts I lack the tools to repair.

On the road, I run into John who has cycled from BC, and tell my troubles to him. He recommends I head to a bike shop in Moncton that he had some work done at yesterday, so I give them a call. Not only do they have the parts to fix my bike, their employee invites me to his house for the night AND he’s hosting a folk concert in his attic!

I spend my evening listening to fantastic music and mingling with awesome people from the cycling and arts community in Moncton. The next morning my host, Cory, recommends a great cafe and I have a delicious breakfast before heading toward the bike shop.

Before I can reach the shop though, another cyclist stops me on the street. Faez biked from Toronto, and like me never intended to stay in Moncton. He forgot his camera in a shop that closed Friday night and didn’t open again until Monday morning! Faez inquires about the tube containing my travel fiddle, so I show the instrument to him. To my surprise, he can play it beautifully! He used to play with a symphony in Iran, but these days travels with one of his other instruments – a collapsible didgeridoo!

After getting my bottom bracket replaced (thanks Consolvo Bikes!), Faez and I pick up some food to share and bring it to a drum circle he heard about, in a park by the river. Here we get to see the tidal bore come in, complete with a surfer! We also meet Justin and Isabelle, two locals who later show us a great camping spot near the city, where Faez cooks Persian food over the fire and we play fiddle and didgeridoo all evening.

The next day, Faez and I bike together to the Hopewell Rocks in time for high tide. We camp nearby and return for low tide the next day. The rock formations are beautiful and a cave mouth is the perfect place to play some more music. I overhear a tour guide joke that the park brought us in to play for everyone.

We return to Moncton for one final night of camping and jamming, joined this time by Justin and Isabelle. The next morning I get stuck in knee-deep mud and nearly lose my shoes – it’s as if Moncton doesn’t want me to leave! But after cleaning up it’s time for some difficult goodbyes. I need to continue west on my journey, and Faez needs to continue east. Justin and Isabelle tell us they’ll come visit in Toronto, Faez tells me he’s glad he forgot his camera in Moncton, and I tell him about the word “serendipity.”

 

Prince Edward Island

“I’d rather die on a mountain than in my bed.” – Natasha, at the hostel

PEI has a cultivated beauty. I bike red dirt roads to red and white lighthouses, followed by red dirt fields full of red potatoes.

The hostel in Charlottetown is full of fun and interesting people, like my new friend Natasha who says the most profound things. We’re all on adventures.

After two great nights in Charlottetown, I’m clean, my clothes are clean, my legs are rested and my saddle sores are healed. Life is good as I pedal toward Confederation Bridge.

Nova Scotia

I ride my bike off the ferry with intense satisfaction and head for Sydney. Just inside town, two people are frantically waving and jumping up and down in a Tim Hortons parking lot – it’s my parents! I have a lovely time visiting with them in Cape Breton, especially staying at the beautiful Heritage House B&B in Baddeck (thanks Liz and Dick!).

Next I head over to Inverness where I get to know the locals at the Legion, then down the west coast of Cape Breton along a beautiful off-road trail. I visit a restaurant owned by the Rankin sisters in Mabou and the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre in Judique. After crossing to the mainland, I ride hard through hills and rain to the PEI ferry in Caribou.

 

 

Distance biked in Nova Scotia: 409.3km

Total distance: 1547.3km