Sunday, June 24, 2012

Stop and Go

A new continent!  But it almost wasn’t as we had some trouble getting into the UK.  We stroll into the border control at Gatwick Airport and I thought it would be a breeze getting in.  Originally the plan was to enter with our Canadian passports because we wanted the entry stamp so we could travel onward with them while we get the Iranian and Central Asian visas for our Swiss passports done in London.  Turns out that plan failed big time.  Because we flashed our Canadian passports the border official asked where our return flights or ferry out tickets were.  We had nothing to show for because we are on bicycles and the plan was to pay for the ferry out whenever that time came given it is difficult to provide concrete dates while cycling.  So we stood there with nothing to show for pondering what to do.  Trevor suggested showing him the blog to prove we were doing a bicycle trip around the world.  He wasn’t interested in that.  Then the guy starts threatening to put us back on a plane to Canada if we cannot produce bank statements or some ticket out of the country.  Some border officials really annoy me, like they don’t have to make threats or be mean when questioning.  This was one of my worst border control experiences… not quite as bad though as getting into Israel or the USA.  I then proceeded to tell him I used to live in London and worked there using my Swiss passport.  I don’t know why it never occurred to me just to let him know we are dual citizens as that would have made things a lot easier.  I guess when you are faced with adversity you don’t always think straight.  In any event he then became super nice and stamped our Canadian passports on the basis we are Swiss citizens.  Phew! 

From there we cycled into London where I was reacquainted with cycling on the left side of the road.  The ride in was alright.  Spent 5 days in London running around trying to figure out what to do about the visa situation and getting our bikes fixed up.  After getting nowhere going to the Iranian consulate (which is closed in London, they refer you to Dublin) as well as some of the Stans’ consulates, we decided the best way to go about getting them was to first do the Iranian one and then get the others when we get closer.  With the Stans’ you need to provide exact entry and exit dates and that is something we definitely couldn’t do so we will be getting them later.  I think it should be fine though as many cyclists do it this way.

The other task needed doing was getting the bikes fixed up.  We took them in to a bicycle shop in Central London and got them booked in for the Saturday.  We brought them in first thing Saturday as we were keen to get going again the next day or day after at the latest.  Due to some miscommunication which I felt was their fault, the bikes were in their shop until late Monday!  I wasn’t pleased.  I thought it was understood what needed to be done when we took the bikes in.  But we were talking to the sales guys and not the mechanics.  The mechanics usually phone you back and tell you what they need to do and need our confirmation again.  I didn’t have a phone so it was tough getting a hold of me but we did go back to the shop later in the day to see how things were going and no one ever asked us anything so we thought all was fine.  Anyway, we both ended up getting complete new drivetrains and brakes.  I also have a new front derailleur.  The mechanic was adamant on me replacing my back tire as it is showing the inner green layer.  It probably is time for a new one but I feel it will hold its own until Turkey so I declined.  He was shocked and said he would be surprised if I make it out of England.  Well I did.  And some. 

Aside from sorting out visas and doing up the bikes, I met up with a few friends which was really great.  Always nice meeting up with friends.  I would have liked to meet up with many more but we needed to get going again.  In any event, I am sure I’ll be back again someday.    

One other task I managed to complete in London was patch up my Therm-a-Rest!  Basically I realized on the first night of camping back in BC that I had a hole in my mattress.  As a result I would get up in the middle of the night a few times to blow it back up.  This happened every night all throughout Canada.  I finally bought a patch repair kit in Toronto but was too lazy to fix it up then and there.  I am proud to say I finally got the job done here in London and have had uninterrupted sleeps thus far.  Yes, it took all of 2 months to do this but I got the job done.  Productive I know. 

The ride out of London to Dover wasn’t fun.  We didn’t really plan our route before because I thought I would eventually remember the good way to get down to Dover as I had ridden from London to the southeast coast many times in the past.  But I screwed up and things weren’t coming back to me en route so we ended up following the A2 more or less and that sucked.  Narrow roads and lots of traffic. 

Cycling through Europe isn’t as easy as it was in Canada when it comes to relieving yourself, filling up on water, finding free wifi and navigating.  In England I had to use the little boy’s room so I went into a pub but the owner said there were no public washrooms, only for paying customers.  That was annoying because when you got to go you got to go.  A lot of gas stations don’t provide washrooms as well.  But we have noticed as we progress things are getting better on the washroom front.  We have seen some gas stations that provide toilets.  Sometimes though we (or maybe I should say ‘I’) resort to going in the forest on the side of the road.  I regret having to do this but like I said before, when you got to go you got to go.  We used to rely on McDonald’s for water fill-ups and wifi.  They have let us down… but we have managed to still top up our water there.  Except for when we tried in Denmark.  They charge 5 kroner for tap water!  I didn’t have it on me so we gave it a miss.  We tried using the wifi or WLAN as they call it in Germany but you need a cell phone and I think be on the T-Mobile network.  Not totally sure as my German is well, nothing.  I feel bad walking in talking in English in these countries… should at least attempt to speak a country’s language but we are going through so many it is tough.  We also used to get free washrooms at supermarkets in Canada but here in Europe they do not provide them.  With regards to the roads, there are many so there is a lot of stop and go, turn left here, right over there ,stop, remap, repeat.  This especially held true in the Benelux region.  Too bad we are not allowed on the freeways as those go most direct. 

On the whole, Europe has not been very exciting as we basically cycle through lots and lots of flat farmland, then pass through a quaint small town.  Funny though in Canada I would always wish for no hills or crappy roads and that is what it is like here in Europe.  They also have separated lanes just for cyclists.  So I should be happy right?  Well I am finding that all that stuff made cycling more exciting so overall it has been a bit dull cycling through Europe.  It is also confusing at times to ascertain if we are allowed to cycle on the roads because they have separate bicycle lanes on the sides of the roads.  Again, you would think we would like this but not always so.  One, you have to pass many others cyclists using these paths who are usually a lot slower and two, they have more bumps than the main road.

But I will say, everything has gotten better as we progress through each country.  That is, Denmark has been the best so far, then Germany, then the Netherlands, then Belgium, then France and then England (sorry England… but that was probably my fault for assuming the better route would come back to me). 

Now that we are in a new continent, we have new supermarkets to go to.  Trevor sincerely misses the Superstore and No Frills back in Canada.  He likes things in bulk whereas they don’t do bulk so much here in Europe.  For example, he would get 2kg bags of chocolate chips or peanuts in Canada but they come in 250g in Europe.  He doesn’t like that as it is too much packaging.  I don’t mind the new selection though as I have found stuff to my liking.  We have been stocking up at Lidl for the most part and they have what I need.  I miss my syrup but now my new thing is mixing chocolate powder with a bit of water and then throwing in some oats.  Super cheap.  And super delicious.  It is like having an oat chocolate bar.  Trevor is not keen on my new concoction.  He is missing out. 

 Europe definitely has more cyclists than North America.  I think though that has a lot to do with their well-maintained bicycle lanes.  It was kind of surprising though to see grandmothers walk out of Lidl with their groceries and then hop on their bicycles for the ride home.  Seriously, everyone rides bicycles here.  Everyone. 

We arrived at my Aunt Erna’s place in North Zealand on June 20th and have spent the last 5 days eating, resting, eating, meeting up with cousins and eating.  It has been really, really great.  We also took the down time to do some intense research like where good bicycle shops are ahead, how to take a proper crap in the bush, how long it takes for crap to decompose, important stuff like that.  Also started the Iran visa process.  I sent in our information to an agent in Iran back in London and they obtained the visa code needed to make a formal application.  In order to pay this agent for the visa code I had to do an international money transfer to Thailand due to the sanctions against Iran.  Funny how a task you think should take no more than a few hours takes 2 days.  Took me a full day to figure out how to wire the money and when I finally do I expected a receipt to be sent.  There wasn’t one, just debited my account.  As such, I had to call my bank and try and get this.  So I spent day 2 on the phone with my bank trying to obtain a scanned email of this receipt so I could send it to the agent in Iran as confirmation of payment.  I was on the phone multiple times throughout the day but finally managed to obtain what I needed at the 11th hour.  Happy to say I have the code and so we now have 3 months to enter and exit Iran provided the formal application process goes smoothly in Istanbul.  

We will be leaving North Zealand for Sweden on Tuesday morning as Trevor needs one more day to improve the map on the blog.  He is adding pictures to the exact points where they were taken en route.   On the topic of additions to the blog, I have finally added a video section!  I have taken a lot of footage from the 1st attempt as well as the current one but have just been too lazy to post them to Youtube.  Well, maybe it was just I didn’t really know how to upload them before to Youtube which turns out is very simple.  Anyway, they aren’t very exciting and at times the wind overpowers my voice so they likely won’t win any Academy Awards.  Oh drat.  Plus I have noticed a few instances where I have spit or food on my face.  This happens at times when it is windy and when I eat oats from the bag.  Trevor of course isn’t kind enough to let me know I have stuff on my face.  Thanks.  


Once we got our boxes holding our bikes we pushed them through Gatwick Airport outside.  There, Trevor worked his magic and assembled the bikes while I went to the washroom numerous times.    

Here I am with my good friend Ewa and her young son Emil.  A huge thanks goes to her and Eddie for letting us stay at their place in London while we got the bikes fixed up.  They introduced us to a new game called Carcassonne which occupied many of our evenings.  Good times! 

Here is Trevor confounded in Dunkirk, France.  So many roads and no real direct route makes Trevor scratch his head.

Here is a donkey trying to get it on with a llama on a farm in Belgium.  A llama in Belgium!?  Anyway, I felt sorry for the llama as it was not keen for some loving. 

Trevor on the outskirts of Bruges. 

Trevor posing in front of a windmill in you guessed it, the Netherlands.

So we are cycling down this road in Holland and all of a sudden I smell candy.  Next thing you know I look right and there is Candy Castle!  Smelt so good sniffing the candy.  Shame though I couldn’t stroll on in and take samples. 

Germany is taking a lead in renewable energy and it sure is showing.  We have passed many wind turbines and solar panels along the way.  Good for them. 

In some small village in Germany we see this bus stop with a beat up couch so we stopped and took a breather.  Too bad all bus stops weren’t like this one. 

I guess Germans sure love smoking their cigarettes because they have these vending machines all over. 

You know you are in Denmark when you see that post box.

We don’t just cycle, we also kayak!  We spent an afternoon with our cousin Jan doing some kayaking in and around the canals in Copenhagen.  The goal was to kayak to the Little Mermaid statue but Trevor wasn’t interested as he wanted to take a dip in the water instead.  So he toppled over into the water and made a quick sprint to shore carrying his kayak in the water.  He quickly realized he didn’t like the cold water so we continued kayaking… slowly but surely.

There were plenty of bonfires on June 23rd in Denmark for Sankt Hans aften.  We took a stroll around our Cousin Martin’s place with him and his family checking out a few bonfires.   Here is Trevor with our Aunt Erna in front of the biggest bonfire we checked out.  A huge thanks goes to her for letting us stay with her these past few days and ensuring we each gain 15lbs before we head off through the rest of Europe. 





Monday, June 4, 2012

Coast to Coast Complete!

Trevor had high expectations with Newfoundland and was let down as the weather got colder and windier as we cycled east.  It started off great with sunny skies in the western region but once we hit central Newfoundland we found ourselves having to layer up again much like we did throughout most of Canada.  Definitely didn’t expect this in late May!  But apparently it is warm for Newfoundland standards this time of year. 

We cycled into Corner Brook to have my bike checked about my front derailleur and to pick up some chain lube.  I need a new derailleur but declined to have the work done because I want to get a new drivetrain in Europe.  The guy then charged me $10 for a replacement cable.  I felt that was a bit too much for a replacement cable so I left feeling kind of ripped off.  Thought maybe he was annoyed I declined service.  I told him beforehand though I didn’t want anything done because I was fine riding with the 9 gears.  I just wanted to know if there was a quick fix.  One good thing though that came out of going into Corner Brook is we got a stellar deal on Italian Cake at the Dominion at 50 cents each.  Seems the Italian Cake didn’t fare well they had to reduce the price drastically.  At first I regretted picking up 7 cakes because they were all filled with candied orange peels.  Ugh.  Who puts orange peels in anything?  Made me a bit sick in the stomach after engulfing one cake right there on the spot.  But from then on I handpicked all the orange peels out of the cakes and it was super delicious.  It was my breakfast, snacking food, and dessert for a few days in Newfoundland. 

Feels good to have finished up cycling the homeland.  On the whole it went quite well.

Here is my personal ranking of the provinces from best to worst (although they all were pretty good):


1. British Columbia: beautiful scenery, great roads, plenty of rest stops
2. Quebec: relatively flat, loved the Verte Route which is made for cyclists
3. Ontario: solid roads, liked the wilderness in the western part of the province, the Waterfront Trail made things a whole lot easier from Niagara Falls to Quebec, did not like the stretch from Sudbury to Toronto
4. Nova Scotia: nice coastal cycling, did not like the treacherous climb over Mt Thom
5. Alberta: great scenery in the Rockies, nice flat roads after that
6. Newfoundland: nice scenery, easy to pitch a tent as there is a lot of barren land, too cold and windy for late May
7. Prince Edward Island: nice rolling hills, relatively flat, lots of farmland, could get boring after awhile though
8. New Brunswick: it was alright just nothing spectacular
9. Saskatchewan: wheat fields got boring after awhile, too much wind which was more in our face, stretch of road with no shoulder did not appreciate
10. Manitoba: crap roads, windy, I liked Assiniboine Park though in Winnipeg

Next up Europe and sorting out Visas... 

Our first day in Newfoundland we meet… well a Newfoundland.  Not sure her name but her owner said she is 8 years old and doesn't slobber. 
Everyone insisted we would see moose en route so I had my eyes wide open early on to try and spot one.  It took a few days but we did end up seeing a few… unfortunately they all ran away quickly into the bush as we approached.  According to a sign we passed they had about 650 collisions with moose last year.  Definitely have to watch out for these creatures.  I got a good look at one that lay dead on the road, they are massive beasts that could do some damage.  I was keen to have a moose burger in St. John’s as a celebratory meal but the only place that serves game did not have it in stock.  Argh.  Above is a picture of a caribou… or at least that is what we think it is.  At first we thought it was a baby moose but after seeing a few we don’t think it is. 
Met three coast to coast cyclists riding west from Cape Spear to British Columbia.  First we met Dave Wilson (pictured) who is raising money for arthritis research (www.watchmyback.ca).  We chatted for awhile in the cold.  He was super nice to us as he gave us two complimentary Big Mac and small fries coupons from McDonald’s as well as some energy bars.  The other two people we met a few kilometers outside Cape Spear.  They were starting their journey across Canada and we were just ending it.  They are trying to raise funds and awareness for organ transplant research (trekking4transplants.ca).        

Wasn't expecting to see a black bear but this one caused a lot of passerby’s to stop and look.  It parked itself on the side of the road and didn't move around very much, just kept chewing on some twigs.  Very cool to view it up close… don’t think I have been that close to a black bear before. 

There we were just taking a breather on the side of the Trans-Canada Highway and a nice lady in her car stops and asks if we want some cookies.  Of course we accepted.  They were super delicious too… chocolate cookies with caramel chips.  A few days later in St. John’s I ran into her again at the Dominion supermarket.  Quite random! 

Trevor at the Mile One Centre in St. John’s.  This is supposedly the starting point for the Trans-Canada Highway out east. 

From St. John’s it is very hilly to Cape Spear.  But en route we got a glimpse of this iceberg.  Pretty cool.  And I mean that literally and figuratively. 

The easternmost point in all of North America and the final destination for our Canada leg… Cape Spear!  Also super windy and cold.  I was freezing just sitting there.

We certainly ate lots of jelly beans en route so it was only fitting to finish in a city that has jelly bean houses all over… St. John’s. 

Spent our last day in St. John’s pretty much at the airport packing away the bicycles.  At first we were wondering how we were going to get the boxes for the bikes to the airport.  The visitor’s center and the bike shop said there was no bus to the airport and we must use a taxi which costs $25 to $30.  Ouch.  I always hate it when people say there is no way to get somewhere and you must use the taxi which is very expensive.  As a result we did some research and it turns out there is a way by bus but one has to transfer and it drops you off a few hundred meters from the airport.  Given I am confident I can walk a few hundred meters, I set out in the morning to downtown St. John’s, picked up the boxes and carried them on the bus back to the airport.  All in all it wasn't that bad and we saved a lot doing so.  Just goes to show you sometimes need to do your own research on things. 




A Day in the Life - Episode IV: Canada (Newfoundland)


By rights, as each province is different from the other, I should’ve written 10 A Day in the Life posts. I didn’t. Mostly because it was frequently cold and writing out the day’s events is rather difficult with my thick lobster gloves on. Then, when it was warm, I was just lazy. At the very end of Canada I finally got off my ass. Newfoundland, I think, is a good summary of all the provinces combined.

***
May 31st, 2012 – Started from a camp spot in the forest off the road between Gander and Benton

4:50am – Kevin is woken by his alarm.

4:52am – Kevin gets up and snacks on food.

4:59am – Kevin goes to the washroom and then returns to his tent and resumes snacking.

5:45am – Kevin finishes snacking and starts packing.

6:30am – Kevin gets out of his tent and starts tearing it down.

6:35am – Kevin calls out to Trevor, “It’s time to get up.” Trevor gets up and starts packing.

6:42am – Trevor emerges from his tent and takes a leak.

6:44am – Trevor returns and removes slug found its way into his tent and then tears down the tent.

6:50am – Kevin finishes packing and is ready to go.

6:58am – Kevin heads out to the road.

6:59am – Trevor finishes packing and heads out to the road.

7:01am – We both make it out to the road.

7:05am – Trevor puts on his MP3 player and headscarf.

7:07am (0.00km) – We go.

8:37am (28.35km) – We stop for a break at the Gambo lookout rest area. We both snack on our Italian Specialty Cake.

9:03am – Trevor prepares his (Trail) Mix for munching on the road.

9:05am – Trevor is ready to go.

9:08am – Trevor takes this photo.
Kevin getting out his camera at the Gambo lookout.

9:09am – Kevin takes this photo.
The town of Gambo.

9:10am – Kevin resumes eating his Italian Specialty Cake and picking out the candied orange peals which he doesn’t like.

9:13am – Trevor does some push-ups to warm up.

9:18am – Kevin starts cleaning the accumulated garbage from his bags.

9:22am – Kevin throws out his garbage and then takes a leak in the bushes.

9:24am – Kevin drinks some water.

9:26am – We go.

10:47am (54.08km) – Kevin spots a moose which runs into the forest as soon as he stops to get the camera out. We stop so Kevin can take a closer look. It’s long gone.

10:48am – Trevor drinks some water.

10:50am – Kevin snacks on jelly beans.

10:54am – Kevin puts away the jelly beans and brings out the tourist map.

11:05am – Kevin has some water. The mozzies are out and Kevin kills one in his ear.

11:07am – We go.

12:43pm (84.23km) – We stop for a break at a look out rest stop.

12:45pm – Kevin takes this photo.
Terra Nova National Park lookout.


12:46pm – Trevor has some water from his second bottle and the last of this (Trail) Mix he prepared earlier in the day.

12:47pm – Kevin gets out the map and his jelly beans, then sits down on the bench and says, “Arghh.”

1:04pm – A Newfoundlander in a pickup stops and tells us about a black bear 100m up the road. We drop everything to go check it out. Well mostly Kevin does who runs up the road. Trevor slowly walks up the road.

1:14pm – We return from the bear. Lots of cars stopped to check it out. The bear didn’t seem bothered by all the onlookers and just chilled on the side of the road eating plants. Kevin and Trevor got to 10m from the bear. Kevin took photos.
A black bear that can't be bothered by passing cars and onlookers.

1:23pm – Another Newfoundlander drives up and tells us about the black bear. We didn’t understand the last part of what he said. We just nodded and laughed as if we did.

1:24pm – We go.

1:27pm (84.55km) – We stop again by the bear and Kevin takes a video of it.

1:31pm - Kevin fiddles with his MP3 player to find a radio station.

1:33pm – We go.

1:48pm (90.28km) – We stop to change the radio station which has started cutting out.

1:50pm – We go.

3:01pm (113.5km) – We stop for a break. Trevor immediately rushes off to the side of the road and takes a leak. Kevin gets annoyed and asks why Trevor needs to take a leak so far off the road. Kevin probably thinks that Trevor should take a leak right at the edge of the road so all the passersby can have a gander. Just as Kevin did the day before where two cars honked while he was taking a leak right in the open at the side of the road. Trevor thinks they honked because they were displeased. Who wants to drive through nice scenery and then come around the corner to see someone taking a leak? Kevin probably thinks they were supportive honks.

3:03pm – Trevor returns to find Kevin munching on his peanuts.

3:10pm – Trevor takes off his shoe covers since he is overheating.

3:12pm – Kevin packs away the peanuts and has some water.

3:15pm – We go.

4:15pm (133.3km) – We stop to see where No Fills is in Clarenville. Kevin asks in a Canadian Tire Gas Station.

4:21pm – Kevin emerges (after having gone to the washroom) and says No Fills is just down the hill.

4:22pm – We go.

4:27pm (134.8km) – We stop at No Frills. Kevin goes in. Trevor lubes his chain.

4:36pm – Trevor finishes lubing his chain.

4:49pm – Kevin comes out with:
  • A can of diced tomatoes. 
  • 2 packs of chicken flavoured oriental noodles
4:50pm – Trevor goes in to have a look.

4:58pm – Disappointed, Trevor emerges with nothing.

5:00pm – Kevin notices that Trevor hasn’t eaten his energy bars that we got from Dave (another touring cyclist we met the day before) and gets annoyed, “Why do you always save stuff? Eat it.”

Trevor responds, “What?! Why does it matter to you if I still have my energy bars? I’ll eat them when I like. I’m not hungry. I’ll eat them when I feel like eating them. I don’t need to eat mine when you eat yours.”

To which Kevin responds, “You always save stuff. Stop doing it.”

“Whatever.”

5:02pm – Kevin goes to Co-op to see if they have a washroom to fill up our water bottles. Trevor has one of the energy bars.

5:08pm – Kevin returns saying there’s a washroom so we walk our bikes closer.

5:09pm – Trevor goes to use the washroom.

5:14pm – Trevor emerges and Kevin goes in to fill up all the water bottles.

5:20pm – Kevin emerges with full water bottles. Trevor goes into Co-op to see if he can find some food at a reasonable price.

5:26pm – Again Trevor comes out with nothing.

5:27pm – We go.

6:20pm (151.8km) – We stop to scope out a camp site. Kevin goes into the forest and checks the scene.

6:30pm – Kevin returns and we discuss the two choices (one on either side of the road).

6:33pm – We decide to go with the spot on the opposite side of the road.

6:36pm (152.1km) – We get to the camping spot and start setting up.
Our prime camping spot.

6:57pm – We finish setting up camp and we head into our tents.
Our homes have been built.


7:39pm – Trevor finishes eating dinner (1/3 of a loaf of Italian bread dipped in syrup) and brushing his teeth. His laptop is out of juice so he goes to sleep.

9:45pm – Kevin finishes eating dinner:
  • 1 can of diced tomatoes,
  • 200 grams of jelly beans,
  • Oats mixed with sugar and banana jello mix,
  • Oats mixed with sugar and chocolate jello mix,
  • A swig of syrup.
Brushes his teeth, uses his laptop (watched one or two episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm), records some notes of the day and looks at the map. After which he goes to sleep.

***
Ended at a camping spot just after Hillview

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