It’s weird to think that a country can have a birthday, and even more weird to think they can get birthday presents. Canada’s decision to complete the Trans Canada Trail (TCT) to mark the country’s 150th anniversary is a shining example of a gift that benefits everyone.
My friend and I heard rumblings of the TCT as we cycled from Toronto to Quebec City in 2013, and we thought joining the celebration by riding the whole thing in 2017 would be neat.
So this summer we’re cycling across Canada.
Then after that I’ll continue solo around as much of the world as I can manage.
My dominant thought about the scale and scope of the ride is, and has been since booking my flight, “why?”. Asked in a slightly panicked, soul-searching way rather than as a quick prompt for information.
I’ll spare you details of the emotional luggage I’m carrying, though, and focus on the information. No one comes to Bikepacker.com to hear a grown man ruminate on the deeper aspects of his life.
The route we’ll ride
It turns out the TCT isn’t the idyllic and direct cycle route across the country that we’d imagined. True, it does connect the west and east coasts, but it does so with some wacky detours that aren’t particularly conducive to a coast-to-coast tour.
Notice the northward section that balloons out just above Edmonton, for example: a back-of-a-beermat estimate puts that at just over 3000 miles worth of distance. Notice also that the right side of that balloon is blue: 26% of the trail is water, and carrying a canoe on our panniers didn’t seem practical.
This isn’t criticism. The trail is a wonderful initiative and if anything, the fact it isn’t direct makes it all the more intriguing and inviting. But discovering its shape and nature did force us to redefine our ride slightly, thus our plan to ‘cycle the Trans Canada Trail’ became a plan to ‘adventure across Canada by bike, using The Grand Trail as a guide’.
(I forgot to mention: they rebranded the Trans Canada Trail to The Grand Trail in 2016, probably for fear of accusations of false advertisement when people saw the route!).
Our current route riffs on a coast-to-coast ride another group of tourers uploaded to RideWithGPS. We duplicated their route, made a few practical tweaks based on threads on reddit.com/r/bicycletouring, then a few social tweaks to visit friends and cool places along the way (Dinosaur Park, anyone?). Large chunks of it follow TGT:
It’s an ambitious 4643 miles: Cumulatively quite a lot more than any of us have ever done, but we’ve all ridden the average daily distances for at least a couple of weeks in the past without problems. If there’s a spectrum between recklessly ambitious and adventurously gung ho, we’re going to find out where we are on it when we start riding.
(You can find out too through these dispatches and others on my blog. They’ll either be wild accounts of adventure, or episodes of schadenfreude as it all goes sh*t shaped.)
In terms of the bike and the packing.
Perhaps understandably, this picture was met with laughter when I showed it to a friend who’s riding with me.
The guys at Leeds Bike Mill showed me the busted-up old frame when I asked about touring bikes at one of their sales, and for some reason initial appearances intrigued more than deterred. Ben reassured me that a Woodrup bike restored by his talented hand would treat me well, and I took his word for it.
I feel vindicated by the picture below – the transformative effect of Ben’s proficient hand is incredible:
I find something compelling about riding a bike that’s already been ridden, and already collected miles and stories that, presumably, will remain unknown to me. It’s a reminder to stay humble while riding and remember there’s nothing intrinsically special about your ride.
Having ‘Leeds’ emblazoned on the frame is appealing too (you can just about see the emblem on the head tube). Wherever I end up I can promote and retain some connection to the part of the world that was ‘home’ for a long time. That sort of symbolic connection is reassuring when you’re far from home, geographically and emotionally.
The things I’ll be packing
This tour will be three months’ minimum, with no upper limit, so packing has been interesting. Alastair Humphreys best articulates what I’m going for:
Nominally I had a goal but in reality I didn’t. I would travel until I didn’t want to any more, until I had cured my wanderlust, until I had learned enough for now, suffered enough for now, tested myself enough for now and done all the things that this journey demanded of me, for now.
Beyond beds and a couple of other key aspects (I’m sacrificing underwear to save valuable bag space, for example), kit and configuration is still being finalised. It’ll be traditional pannier set-up, front and back, and a full breakdown will be feature in a future post.
As a sneak preview, we’ll at least have: a cooker each, a Bugaboo, a slackline, a bunch of books, some juggling balls, clothes, and tools.
We’ll be wild camping as much as possible to save money and to satiate our inner vagabonds, so inconspicuous sleeping set-ups are a must. Various configurations were tested: hammocks with tarps, bivvy bags with tarps, tarps hassled into tent-like structures, survival bags with tarps (the latter mainly out of curiosity). I reluctantly chose a ‘proper’ tent, deciding that the tried-and-tested would be better than the hare-brained and unfamiliar over a long tour.
So this is my life for the foreseeable:
Stay tuned for updates from our ride.
Leeds Bike Mill take donated bikes at various degrees of disrepair and make them glorious again. Woodrup build frames and bikes of repute. Both are Leeds based, and I recommend them to anyone in Leeds / Yorkshire / the UK.