All it took was a phone call from a very particular person and my whole schedule was changed. I had biked from Ottawa to Trois Rivieres over a period of close to two weeks and the distance between those cities was not two weekes worth. By the morning we were leaving Trois Rivieres, I was going a tad bit stir crazy. While waiting out behind Ciarins Residence for him to have his room checked over to receive his damage deposit I sat anxiously texting a friend back in Halifax. In conversation she mentioned that she was planning to attend my brother Ronnies going away party was to be held in ten days, August 14th, in Halifax. Up until this point I had never really thought about the possibility of getting home ahead of schedule. From texting we switched to a phone call and before you knew it I was figuring out how many KMs it would be from Trois Rivieres to Halifax. The answer: about 1200kms. At this point I had ten days to make it home in time. The thought of surprising my brother before he went away to Toronto for school and biking at that pace, pushing my body to a place I had never taken it before played over in my head like the trailer to a summer box office hit. If that wasn’t enough, the person on the other end of the phone was Heather, the biggest enabler in my life for the past seven years. I figured I had about ten days to cover the distance and planned to separate from the group the following morning from Quebec City while they took a rest day.
The ride to Quebec was entertaining, we got to catch up with Ciarin and found some nice spots for coffee and fries along the way. Cirque Du Soliel was running a free outdoor show that night in Quebec so that was enough motivation for me to get there as fast as possible. We arrived at our hosts home at 8pm and I was back on my bike heading downtown at 8:20pm to catch the 9pm start time for Cirque. Dominique, Courtney and myself were the three interested in seeing the show so we all booked it and made it just in time. I think we missed a few minutes of the start but whatever, not worried. Highly entertained and extremely impressed we headed back and went to sleep for the night. The journey to Halifax begain the very next morning, it was all I could think about.
I awoke decently early and was packed and ready to go by about 8:30pm. After a delicious array of goodies provided to us for breakfast I hopped on my bike and headed in what I thought was the right direction to get out of the city. It wasn’t. I went East, then South, then South East and then I asked for directions. After getting directions I went South West. I found the bridge and I was on the South side of the river and heading on the right path towards Riviere Du Loup. Three hours later I took another wrong turn and with a friendly escort from some fellow cyclists ended up on the 138 highway heading once again towards Riviere Du Loup. That day I ended up doing a solid 140kms, more than anything I was just happy to be out of that city. I love cities, they have a lot to offer but I much prefer the solitude of the open road or the comforts of a small town or village.
On that first day, after I left Quebec City I was met with a lot of rain. I waited out the worst of it enjoying the view I had looking across the St. Lawrence river and took the time to make some pasta for lunch. After all the time it took cooking the pasta I spilt half of it on the ground while attempting to drain out the water. I laughed it off and added some tuna to make up for it.
Once I was back on the road I biked for another couple of hours and ended up at a municipal park. Sadly the canteen there only took cash so I had to snack on the random food I had packed away, no fries tonight. The park had a nice gazebo tucked away in the back corner so I hauled my bike underneath it and read my book until the canteen folks headed home for the night. When they left I pulled out my sleeping bag and prepared to go to sleep for the night. It was an uncomfortable sleep the say the least. Sleeping right on the wooden boards since my thermarest does not hold air like it is supposed to. Also, the bugs were bad so I had to sleep with a t shirt pulled over my head and arms so I didn`t get eaten alive. I give the sleep I got that night a 6 out of 10 (this is high), the next morning the strong winds off of the river woke me up and had me on my bike by 6:30am.
The second day I crossed over into New Brunswick and reached Edmunston by the evening. This night I biked until it was dark, pulled off of the highway and pitched my tent on the edge of a farm. Before going to sleep I whipped up some Mr. Noodles with a can of tuna. Added some hot sauce and she was good to go. Also, before putting the noodles in the boiling water I made a cup of tea. After biking 220kms this day the tea and noodles were a relaxing luxury. This night it did not rain, however in the morning you would have thought it did by the state of my gear. The dew was horrible. Everything was drenched and the fog was so thick that there was no chance of drying any of it out in the sun. I was forced to just pack it wet and move on. This morning may have been the coldest one I have faced yet on the trip. Fog surrounded me like back in Marathon, Ontario, but this time was different, rather than humid and warm this fog felt crisp and cold. I quickly realized I was now closer than ever to the unforgiving Atlantic ocean and this was a bi-product of the waters ahead of me.
Eventually I was able to bike out of the wet blanket and stopped at a Tim Hortons. My new trick was ordering a cup of hot water when I ordered a coffee. The hot water I added quick oats to and enjoyed for a filling breakfast. While I ate and drank my wet tent hung up outside.
I know that some of this stuff was mentioned in my last post but remember, for the past week and a half I have been keeping the secret of my early return home and had to exclude some details, apologies.
I moved on from the Tim Hortons and was then greeted by one of the hottest afternoons of the trip. I would usually not complain about the weather but this time was bad. I went through several bottles of water and then, about 15kms before reaching Woodstock, NB, I emptied the last bit of water I had. This then lead to the beginning stages of dehydration and heat exhaustion. You can tell very easily when it starts to set in because it effects not only your body but your mind. The only way I can describe my experience with this is my brain felt like it was on drugs. Atleast what I think it would feel like to be on drugs. When I noticed the ability to focus fading away and my energy levels starting to drop I slowed my bike and crawled from the saddle. I leaned my bike against a guard rail and leaned my body against the bike. Shade was not an option, I was on a large embankment and the only shade was that which my bike cast. The asphalt beneath my rear end burned when I first sat on it, the same feeling when entering a bath that is too hot. However this was not followed by the comforting feeling that a bath brings. I reached across my bike and pulled out two apples I had purchased the day before. These were the only items I had that contained any form of water. I must say, those two apples were the best two apples I have ever eaten. They did not restore my energy but they helped in keeping my body from simply shutting down. I sat, leaned up against my bike for close to 45 minutes before finally standing up and pushing on. I still had no water, I had only the hope that the rest I had just taken would provide me with the strength to get to the next water source. To my luck it did, four or five kms down the road I reached a Subway. There was nothing else around, just the subway. The gas station it was attached to was closed for renovations and had made me think at first that the Subway was closed as well. When I realized the Subway was open I gunned it for the door. When I got inside I quickly filled one of my water bottles from the soda machine and chugged a litre of water. I was safe.
After a footlong veggie and several bottles of water I was finally back to full strength. While in the restaurant I had been texting a couple of my friends, no surprise one of them was Heather (the enabler) and came to the realization that my friend Ben was playing a show on the Friday prior to the Tuesday I had originally planned to be home for. Normally I would be alright with missing a show, I have seen his band before and plan to see many shows in the future but this time was different. Not only had it been awhile since last seeing him, but a couple days after the show he was heading across Canada for a month long tour. Just like before, my mind was made up. I would bike home in time for Fridays show and now bike 1100kms in 6 days rather than ten. I blame this, like other possibly ill advised decisions, on Heather, but it`s fine.
I got back on my bike and continued on. I made it to a gas station roughly 40 kms before Fredericton and went inside for a warm drink and a glimpse at some of the olympics. Big gas stations off of the main highway have been a good friend along this journey, carrying many of the things I usually need, being opened 24 hours, having an attached restaurant and being conveniently located all over the place. This particular gas station was all that and more. Before entering I had scoped out a possible place to stealth camp for the night up behind the gas station parking lot. There was a road with a dead end sign and grass growing up through the pavement so I figured no one would bother me if I set up several meters down it. Lucky for me my tent was not needed for tonight’s sleep. After sitting at a table for about ten minutes sipping my french vanilla an older, very soft spoken man working at the gas station came over and started talking to me. He asked the usual questions and then asked about my sleeping arrangements. I told him I was planning to head on down the road a bit and just set up my tent out of the way and go to sleep. He offered me something better, informing me that upstairs there was a loft specially for truckers with comfy chairs and a TV, he went on to tell me that this loft was hardly ever used and he`d be surprised if if anyone ever went up there. He then showed me a spot inside to put my bicycle and told me I was more than welcome to go up and get some sleep. I was quick to accept. For the ten minutes I had been sitting there the majority of it had been spent dreading the sleep to come, cold and probably a morning of wet gear to boot, not to mention taking the time to set up and take down all of my stuff. This random gentleman made my night and will probably never understand how much his small piece of advice helped me out. I got ready for bed, went up, watched a bit more of the olympics and passed out the moment the TV was turned off. A good nights sleep alas.
The next day I had my coffee and oatmeal on a picnic table outside of the gas station and prepared my things for the day ahead, Next stop Moncton, almost 250kms away.
I made it to Moncton, it was a long day but rewarding. I had never biked so long a distance in all my life and it felt great to push my body to its limit. By felt great I mean that it feels great now, while I sit here writing about it from the comforts of my parents home in Nova Scotia. That day was anything but comfortable. By this point my butt was met with a stinging sensation anytime I mounted my saddle and the pain was becoming hard to ignore. When I arrived in Moncton, I was ready to lay down and die. I had again reached the end of my water supply just as I got off of my bike and figured I could hold off until morning and bike to the next available source. At this point I just wanted to lay down and be down moving for the day, water or not. This night was again an interesting sleeping place. I biked off of the highway and the on ramp to get back onto the highway created a triangle of land with a small wooded area on the back half. If positioned correctly in front of this wooded area I would be hidden from the cars preparing to merge with the highway. I did not trust the spot fully and did not like the idea of speaking with a police officer at 2am and possibly having to take down my tent and move on so I again kept the tent packed away in my pannier bag. I guess I also didn`t like the idea of pulling out my tent and setting it up, you could say at this point I did not feel like doing anything more than what was absolutly necessary. So I took the footprint (tarp) for below the tent and put it on the ground and fell on top of it in my sleeping bag. I used the same T-shirt over my head technique to help ward off mosquitos.
After a few hours of sleep I was stirred awake and launched into a sudden craving for water. My body had obviously taken all it could of its lack of water and was now demanding it of me. Without hesitation I rose up, retrieved my bicycle and headed down the road towards the city in hopes of finding a hose on the side of someones house or a tap attached to a random building that I could drink from. Neither of these were available and 13 kms later I finally found a Greco that was in the process of closing but had the back door slightly ajar. I leaned in and asked very politely but desperately for them to fill up three of my water bottles. The weird-o by the door slowly agreed and went on to ask me some questions. I cannot honestly recall what the questions that they asked were but I remember my answer was simply, `Ya, I`m pretty thirsty`
Filled up and back on the road I headed back 13kms and went to sleep, this time sleeping much more soundly than before.
The day I left Moncton was one of the more testing, waking up to find my rear tire was flat foreshadowing the events of the morning to come. Out of Moncton I attempted to take the Trans Canada. This did not work. There was no shoulder and when there was a shoulder it was filled with rumble strips, multiple times I veered off onto the dirt and 3 of 5 times I came away with another flat tire. I had enough, I pulled out my map and figured out a new route to take to get to Sackville, NB and then on to Nova Scotia. After a successful 50km down my new route I encountered another flat tire. I guess some days are just harder than others. Shortly after getting back on the bike I arrived in town and was able to meet up with my old buddy from school and football Quinn.
Being the man as always, he had prepared for me two sandwiches and two granola bars when I met up with him at the sports center. We went to his apartment and caught up for a bit. Later when he had to go to work I got back on the saddle and headed further east.
With all the troubles of the morning I had been feeling a bit down. Seeing Quinn was certainly a motivator and as I pulled out of Sackville it was sinking in that before I went to sleep that night I would be crossing over the border into my home province of Nova Scotia. When this thought entered my head it never left. I wore a smile on my face all the way to Amherst, NS. Everything up until this point no longer mattered, the stress on my body, the heat, exhaustion, my burnt face, all of it was now off of my mind and all I could think of was Halifax. I made it to the Cobequid Pass that night, 50kms before Truro. The shoulder was just rumble strips so I had to bike on the road. When the sun strarted to go down I found a great place to camp just on the side of the road maybe fifteen feet from the highway. I climbed up an embankment and found a perfectly leveled off spot for my tent. I went to bed that night knowing that the following morning I would be entering the city I knew and loved so much. Three and a half months and it was officially over. No matter where I go from here, PEI, NFLD or both since the beginning of this trip my true destination has been home, Halifax.
I wake up, pack my tent and all of my things, toss back a couple of bananas and get on my way. I wanted to get an early start in hopes the traffic wouldn’t be so bad. Also the quicker I am on my bike, the quicker I am in Halifax. My hopes were lived up to and I was passed by a handful of vehicles on my way through the toll section. I did not see a sign stating an amount of money for bicycles to pay so I simply zoomed on by the toll booths and kept up the momentum I had gathered. I biked 50 kms straight with out stopping and made it to Truro. After some hashbrowns and hot cakes, plus a brief update phone call to my mom (she was in on the surprise for my dad, my brother and Ben) I was back on my way. No flats so far and I figured the faster I got home the less amount of time for something to go wrong. I was right in doing so because another 50kms later I had biked straight to Elmsdale and now as I sat there chugging back water it was sinking in once again how close to the finish I was. This was a race against myself. A final push to the finish and then a long well deserved rest. I started picturing hugging my family and seeing my friends after such a long time. This was all the motivation it took. I did not stop to eat, I walked outside got back on my bike and did not get off of it until I was in Point Pleasant Park, downtown Halifax looking out over the mouth of the harbour. This was it. That moment. I was done and it felt better than I had ever imagined.
Over those last six days biking from Quebec City to Halifax my bike computer read these stats:
Day 1: 140kms average speed: 23.5kms/hr
Day 2: 220kms (a personal best) average speed: 22kms/hr
Day 3: 160 kms average speed: 23kms/hr
Day 4: 250kms (a new personal best) average speed: 22kms/hr
Day 5: 150kms average speed: 20.5kms/hr
Day 6: 150kms average speed: 25kms/hr
So much has gone into this trip. All winter I worked my ass off to ensure I would have the funds to do such a trip and all winter I pushed myself to achieve happiness in the work I was doing. I brushed off stress and bull shit spit at me by a person I worked for and came out the other end with stronger character and a better sense of who I was. I went into this trip having found myself and unsure what was left to learn. I had no idea what this trip would be and what I could take from it. Thinking about spending that much time on the saddle of a bicycle, I was unsure where my thoughts would go, I was concerned how my body would react. Well my mind went a lot of places, I have thought about every retained memory I have and contemplated and debated over my opinions and feelings for hours straight. I now sit here content. I have made a conclusion from it all. The end result is I am ever-changing, I will always remain the same person but I will also become a completely different person, evolving daily. My thoughts will always change as rapidly as my feelings and like the events in my life and the roads I take things will come fast and require initiative and ambition, just as often as things will come slow and need my patience and self motivation to see them through. So again, I am content. I am content with my thoughts and me as a person. I love myself as I love so many people I have met. I have realized how truly meaningful certain people in my life have been. People who I would never have thought to be in the past. I have such a better appreciation for the things in our day to day lives which bring us pleasure.It could be as simple as having the time to sit down and enjoy a coffee. I appreciate being in the presence of such amazing, positive, happy people, I appreciate all real conversation and the interesting topics discussed. Through my work over the winter and this recent bicycle trip, I appreciate the mystery that is in the unknown and the mystery in what I thought was known but it is not known by me. I appreciate my family and all of my friends, every single person I share a unique relationship with. I now see that all of these things, all of these people and actions are not only what shape us but what shape the world around us. Simply put, you and I and the things we do are the world we live in and it is beautiful, so beautiful.
Now I sit writing this in the living room of my parents home, I arrived here a few days ago and have been resting. My muscles are swollen and sore just as my face and lips are burnt but in time it will heal and I will be back to normal. I will enjoy my time back home, I will do my best to see the people I want to see and hope to see some of the great places this province has to offer because before I know it september will have arrived. I will spend the first two weeks of September organizing, packing and planning and then after a wedding I am sure will be a lot of fun and great way to say good bye once again, I will be back on my bike. This time heading further east. First I’ll go up the coast to enjoy the simple pleasures of PEI and then further still to where I will catch the ferry and venture off over the unforgiving Atlantic ocean where I will land on the rock hardened shores of the tough, majestic Newfoundland.
At this moment I feel full. I have just taken in so much from life and as I sit here tasting how easy life can also be I know that very soon I will be hungry again. I will be hungry just as I was last July when I started organizing the bicycle trip. I will be starving as I was in November when I jumped on a plane and headed out to the Rockies to embark on a world completely unknown to me, the world of dog mushing. I feel full right now, I know that I need the rest and I want to enjoy everyone’s company while I am home. I just understand that soon this feeling will fade and the hunger will be back. I look forward to it because it is what drives me forward and encourages me to take leaps of faith onto steps I can’t see. I think this hunger has been with me my whole life, only recently have I been truly feeding it.