Gravel Is My Friend; It Brings Strength

Another observation along our journey cycling across Canada:

Gravel is my friend; it brings strength. We ride road bikes. They don’t have big thick tires. Our bikes handle really well on pavement and not so well on gravel. Loose gravel or sand can put you into a slide. We stay to paved trails and roads and when entering a gravel driveway or parking lot we are extra careful. We took the Trans Canada Hwy and had heard it has been greatly improved in the last ten years. We did run into some narrow shoulders in Saskatchewan that were half gravel but were able to stay on the pavement. We had to take a couple of side access roads (to get to a restaurant/rest stop), but not for a great distance and in Manitoba when the access road was going to be long, we walked the bikes through the ditch back to the highway.  We really like to avoid gravel.

Imagine our surprise when after doing 110 km and coming into Portage la Prairie, we hit an all gravel shoulder for about 5 kilometres.  Because they were rebuilding the roads in that area, it was fresh loose gravel too, and we had to ride in it. Gripping my handlebars, I was feeling like a mountain bike rider navigating bumpy trails, trying to keep the front wheel on task and both wheels from slipping out from under me all the while the death grip on my handlebars making permanent imprints in the padding. We saw a side access road and opted for that for a couple of kilometres. Who knew the type of road we had avoided a few days earlier would be our road of preference at some point.  The side road at least had the tracks in the middle of the road where traffic had pushed aside the gravel a bit, and we were able to ride down one of those less gravelly trails. We ended up back on the shoulder of the highway when that road ended, and we fought the gravel some more, sweating worse than we had all day in the 30˚C heat. At the end of it, we were on some rough pavement, which was then considered a huge blessing in comparison.  We got new pavement as we got closer to the city and continued on the portion of highway that was built to go around the city.  We found a place to stay along the highway there and the girls had been in town and met us there.

As an aside, we have our support vehicle and the crew goes ahead and stop at scenic places along the way.  I will do a post on the support vehicle sometimes soon.  We found it was nice to ride to a motel and have them meet us there so the next morning we could get up and go and the girls could take their time to get up and get ready before starting their day, instead of having to all get ready so they could drive us to where we stopped the day before.

The next day, we had a short day to Winnipeg and the roads were good, but we had some stops on gravelled drives. I had confidence going over the gravel; it seemed easy. It was really easy compared to what we had done the day before.  Not only that, the few metres we had to travel on the gravel seemed like a cake walk in comparison to what we had done.  The work done the day before and other days had given me the strength to hold my balance and I felt so much stronger for having fought the kilometres of gravel before.

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This was a side road in a small town in Saskatchewan. The gravel wasn’t too bad here and we could stay closer to the pavement.

We often run into gravel in life; those things that can make our life more difficult or even a bit miserable, and we feel like they are such a pain to endure. We get through, and the next time we realize it isn’t so bad. When we learn a new sport or try a new activity, it can be difficult. We don’t feel comfortable and it feels like it could take forever to get comfortable and have some semblance of control. It may be that first time you try to jog after years of not putting that action into motion, and it feeling totally foreign. Or getting on a bike or skates or skis after a bunch of years and fearing the lack of control before you even start, then navigating through those first shaky moments until you find that long-lost balance and muscle memory.

It could be the gravel we face is a task becoming more difficult; facing obstacles along our journey, dealing with setbacks in our progress or just feeling discouraged. Perhaps the gravel is an uphill battle in our mind; those times when we think we can’t do something, when everything seems sooo… difficult.  That is when we need to remember: this will only make me stronger; carry on!

Some Will Call You Crazy

As I mentioned in my blog post Cycling Canada, I have been writing articles for a magazine and will be taking some of them and reworking into some blog posts.  This article had a bunch of things that became clear along our cycling journey.  I will do each as a separate blog post, with edits and additions and maybe some photos. So we begin:

One can gain a lot of clarity riding a bike for a few hours a day. When we plan our distance bike trips, we aim for 100 km a day and hope to go about 25 km/hr.  That is quite a few hours in the saddle especially if we are bucking the wind or climbing a mountain. I will share with you some of the things I learned along the way, and how it applies to our fitness journey and other areas of life.

Some will call you crazy; some will be inspired. We stopped at a small place in Saskatchewan where there were only a couple of food trucks. They said they were half way between everywhere. The ice cream guy asked us, ‘’Are you riding for a cause, or riding ‘cause you’re crazy?” We weren’t riding for a cause, so that left the second option. People express their amazement and admiration by asking if you are crazy. Other people simply  ask (or make the statement), because that is what they think.

As an aside, when we were traveling through the prairies and northern Ontario, there wasn’t always a large town, or even a small one along the highway in which to get food.  We did plan our days and relied on people letting us know if there was something on the way.  We ate at some pretty interesting places along the way and decided against the bar in that one tiny town that had a bunch of Harleys parked out front.  Somehow walking in with our bike shorts didn’t seem like a good idea, so we got on our bikes and headed to the next town.

Along the way we met other cyclists cycling across Canada only faster or farther in a year. We met people along the way who met many cyclists going through their area. It wasn’t weird to those people, nor uncommon. It isn’t strange or crazy to us.  We know people who have done it and are doing it. We have been to events where cyclists are way faster than I am, where they are going further distances and they look a lot fresher afterwards.  We have met and also know other cyclists who would be considered much better (more skilled) cyclists. The circles you hang in become your normal and are not as crazy as some may think.

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This was in British Columbia and it was cold and foggy while we climbed to the summit over 2 days.  A couple of kilometres later we had sunshine and warmer weather and it became much more fun, in part as well, because we were going down a bit more.

This past week I was talking to a friend’s mom who has been following some of my activities on Facebook and really enjoyed my updates last year as we did our trip.  This week I was talking about the Spartan Race and she expressed that she “Just can’t get into my head”. My mom kind of had the same response in asking me why I would do it. Neither understands why I would do such a thing because it isn’t something either would do or even think about doing. But that’s okay.

As you venture into a new, perhaps uncommon activity, you will have similar questions and comments. Do it anyway. Be inspired by someone who has learned a new sport, someone who started running after years of not, someone who is becoming fit and healthy. Find a sport, or activity you want to try, and just do it. Injuries and disabilities aside, your body is amazing and can do more than you think it can. Call me crazy, but I can do it!

Cycling Canada

In White Rock BC 4 years ago in 2012, my husband and I started our disjointed cycling trip across Canada.  Disjointed because we could not take the time to do it all at once so we decided to do it in different legs, starting each subsequent leg in the very place we stopped the year before.  That first year we made it to Calgary.  We have had a support vehicle to haul our stuff and meet us that the end of the day.  The first year our 2 daughters (17 and 15) and our great-niece (14) came with us.  It was an 11 day trip and we covered over 1100 km.

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Dipping our bikes in the Pacific Ocean at White Rock, BC.  Our first day was short.  We went to Abbotsford where we were staying.

That trip was quite rainy.  When we were entering Hope, there were signs about a road closure ahead due to flooding. That would have been a concern had we been in a vehicle but we had 7 days before getting there so we weren’t worried.  We camped 4 of the 11 days because at the end of the day, we just wanted to be warm and dry.  The days we did camp, the girls set up the tent, and the next morning took it all down.  They even cooked a meal or two.

The next year, we went from Calgary to Winnipeg.  We had our daughters and great-niece as our support again. We arrived in Calgary a week after the big flood of 2013.  Some of the trail areas we were wanting to go through were flooded and off-limits, so we had to navigate getting through the city other ways.  Navigating the cities are not much fun but leaving out parts of the trip would be cheating. The weather on that trip was hot and dry.  We camped 4 of the 13 days (1372 km), because at the end of the day we really wanted to be in air-conditioning, and have a good shower.

Unfortunately we had to take 2014 off due to family commitments.  We actually didn’t go cycling much at all that summer, a total of 3 times earlier in the summer; there was really no motivation, and time was limited.

Thankfully things improved for 2015 and we were able to head to Winnipeg and start our trip where we had left off two years earlier. Our 20-year-old daughter and her boyfriend’s 13-year-old sister were our support. We decided not to take our camping gear based on our minimal use of all that gear we were hauling the previous two trips.  We started off on the ring road for a short portion of the trip in Winnipeg, then got on a back road, then a trail, then got directions to the end to get back on the Trans-Canada Highway.  The weather was great for the trip.  We didn’t have rain except the one day we were headed in to Terrace Bay and the rains came down half an hour after we arrived (and by the look of the road, shortly before we arrived as well). We made it to Sault Ste Marie in 13 days (1424 km).

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On the road in Northern Ontario.  

The plan for this year was to continue from there.  However due to circumstances beyond our control (economy-job instability-vacation time now all used), we are unable to go on our trip this year.  So we hope for next year to continue on to wherever our time allows.

This gives me the opportunity to write about what we have already done.  I have been writing articles for a home school magazine for the last few years and have written a couple of articles about what I have learned while sitting in the saddle.  The first article in particular is about gaining clarity while cycling which has a number of points.  I will take them and add in some stories of our trips that relate to the point.  And I will just keep cycling around here when I can fit it in.