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Published: July 17th 2017
Finale: Brandon to Home
The bigmikeride was complete for this year, but I still woke up at my usual insanely early hour. Paul and Mariette are also early risers and for the last time I watched them perform their precisely choreographed morning routine of packing up. They work silently, each doing a different task - one rolling up bedding and packing dry bags while the other collapses the tent - in no time they had turned their camp into a pile of tight bundles, which they then carefully loaded in their panniers and bob trailer. It had become my habit to offer them a coffee each morning when they had finished packing their bikes. Making coffee was my only real job in the morning, as Michele - our team’s self titled “Sherpa” - did everything else when she awoke later. I learned that Mariette did not want coffee in the morning but Paul always accepted my offer. Michele and I had noticed that Paul was one of those people whose default answer was yes! when the universe offered him something. Of course, we bike riders all ate voraciously, but Mariette and Doris seemed more selective in what they
consumed - Paul, Raja and I would eat anything on offer. So that morning in Brandon, I gave Paul the last cup of coffee I would make for him - we then agreed to meet for breakfast just up the highway at McDonalds. Usually I would eat a piece of toast in camp with my coffee and then get an early start on the road ahead of everyone else - the only way I could stay ahead was to start earlier and take shorter breaks. Paul, Mariette (and Doris before he went off on his own) generally breakfasted and lunched in restaurants.
Paul, a retired High School principal, speaks High School English better than I speak High School French - the main difference being that Paul is not afraid to actually speak his second language. He manages to make himself understood and that is all that matters. Our language barrier did not prevent me from mining Paul’s wealth of cycling wisdom. He has ridden his bike all over Quebec, the Atlantic provinces, France and Spain. He has done many of the great Tour de France climbs, including the daunting Mont Ventoux in Provence, which gains 1617 metres of altitude in just 22 km - an average incline of about 7.5%! (MISSING)He taps his head when he talks of how to ride a bike up a steep hill - the secret is in your mind, not your legs. Be in the moment, do not think of what is coming or what has past, think only of each revolution of your pedals as it happens. Do not compare yourself to others, every metre you gain is a victory whether or not it is gained faster or slower than someone else. Notice there is a tiny fraction of second in each revolution of the pedals where you are not pushing down or pulling up with your legs and that is where you get your rest. When you reach the summit, you will forget all the suffering and the ride down the other side will seem like a gift. Be grateful that you are able to cycle up and down beautiful hills in our beautiful country.
Mariette is married to Paul, but they now live separately and their relationship has evolved into one of friendship (a detail that Michele found “intriguing”, a reaction I found somewhat disturbing.). She speaks good English and was a nurse until she retired a few years ago after suffering a heart attack and then a stroke. She has recovered her health and is now very fit - in no small part because she is an accomplished cyclist. When I first got to know her, she seemed to be all business and maybe even a bit hard edged. That turned out to be a misperception - a result of her role of facilitator for their trip. After riding all day, it was she who arranged for the campground the next day, it was she who rode to a store to do laundry or buy provisions (“I get the groceries and he eats them!”) and she took those duties seriously. When the work of keeping of her crew organized was done, though, her warm personality became evident. She is an avid bird watcher and she can imitate the calls of many species- it was interesting to hear her give the Acadian word representations of common bird calls (“the chickadee, he say cheeeese burger”). When our groups coalesced, she was grateful that Michele took over some of her organizational tasks - since we were going the same way and riding the same distance, Michele began to arrange for their campsite as well as ours. Also, Michele began driving Mariette in our car to get groceries or do laundry. By the time our journey was over, all of us had become very dependent on Michele!
We met Raja at the campground in Hope. He had flown to Victoria from his home in Sarnia and started his ride at mile zero of the Transcanada. He told me that this journey was his way of saying thank you to Canada for all the ways his life has improved since immigrating here. After getting to know what a truly fine person is Raja, I think Canada should be thanking him. Raja is fearlessly friendly. It seems to be part of his mission to learn the first name and get a photo of everyone he encounters on his trip. When Michele offered to carry his packs in our car, he gratefully accepted, and from that moment until our journey ended in Brandon, we shared campsites. Raja’s wife and four children stayed at home in Sarnia (finishing the school year) while he went on the road. Though he is clearly a dedicated family man, when the opportunity to take some time away from his business (he is self employed), he felt he had better take it. Renee, his wife, agreed to let him take 60 or 70 days to fulfill his dream. So that is what he is doing, leaving in his wake a host of new friends. He got the idea of riding his bike across Canada from reading bike blogs. He told me that his family and friends back in India do not understand the appeal of cycle touring - for the most part, bikes in India are utilitarian and only used by people who can’t afford motorized transport. Kids only learn to ride when they are big enough to ride an adult-sized bike since kid-sized bikes don’t exist. Raja learned by riding with one leg through the triangle of the frame, a technique that some of we older generation Canadians may remember. When Raja got the touring bug, he set out to become deeply knowledgeable about all aspects of the subject. He researched the best touring bikes and was able to get a second hand Surly Long Haul Trucker for a great price. He became a total gear head. Ask him anything about touring bikes or camping gear and he will give you chapter and verse. He purchased his equipment for the trip only when he was sure it was the best he could afford. Then he went on long bike rides with full panniers to train so that he would be prepared when the time came. Well, the opportunity came and he took it - it was too bad, he said, that there are no hills around Sarnia that prepared him for the mountains.
So I bid Mariette and Paul adieu after we finished breakfast at McDonald’s in Brandon and then walked back to Meadowlark Park (Allan was already strapped in the bike carrier). Raja was having coffee there with Michele and it was not long before we had to say goodbye to him as well. Raja, Paul and Mariette had agreed to camp together at Portage la Prairie that evening (I advised them that if they used the correct French pronunciation of Portage la Prairie, no one would know what they were talking about!). Michele and I finished packing the car and we began our last day on the road. We were expecting Raja to visit us when he passed through Dryden - Paul and Mariette were thinking of going the southern route on highway 11. With this in mind, we kept track of road conditions so that we could let them know what was coming. We also put our “tourist eyes” back on so that we could freshly appreciate just how truly beautiful is our part of the country.
Of course, the last 20 km of highway 17 before Dryden was totally torn up and would be a nightmare to ride a bike through. We decided that we would offer to pick Raja up and drive him through the construction when he got to that point.
And then, after about 5200 km of driving, 2600 km of pedalling, 35 days on the road, 30 nights in a tent and 29 days in the saddle, we were home. And there was Robin and Henry and our little homemade home in the midst of the green lushness that is the forest of Northwestern Ontario in July. We arrived home with a wealth of new friends and memories and favourite pastimes (like tenting). We found out you can go anywhere on your bike, you just have to start pedalling.
Next year we go east.
Tot: 2.505s; Tpl: 0.048s; cc: 7; qc: 57; dbt: 0.0404s; 2; m:saturn w:www (220.127.116.11); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.3mb