Sunday, 30 December 2007

On how I got into cycle touring, part 1

There is no one reason why I got into cycle touring, only a history of sorts. To be quite honest, I sort of fell into it. Growing up in North Hatley, I used to bike around the village a fair bit. However, leaving the village was not a very attractive proposition as all the roads leading out involve significant hills. However, even as early as my last years of primary school, I did on occasion venture further afield. There were several school trips on bicycles which, ironically, went to North Hatley. (My primary school was in the neighbouring village.) On one occasion, I biked to school, went on the trip to North Hatley, and then rode home by bike!

Another impetus was the proliferation of bike tours in Quebec in the early 1990s, such as the Tour de l'Île. These showed me just how far I could cycle with relative ease.

One of the most significant events was the brainchild of a former college chemistry teacher of mine. In his capacity as one of Lennoxville's town councillors, Michael Sudlow got the town to first buy the Massawippi Valley Railway bed from North Hatley to Lennoxville and then to turn it into a bike path. Now, I had an easy way to get out of North Hatley on my bike. This truly expanded my horizons as a transportation cyclist as well as a more serious recreational cyclist. I eventually cycled from North Hatley to Montreal for fun.

While, I was cycling long distances, these were all one day affairs. All the touring I had done, was relatively short distances with a minimal load. Not to say that necessarily anyone could do it, but that they were short jaunts. (One of my favourites was to cycle from Bangor, Wales to Beaumaris and then Caenarvon castles and back on a rented bike.)

A significant step occurred in 2004 when I brought my bicycle with me to Vancouver. The bike was intended to facilitate my getting around the city more than anything else. However, as I intended to visit my eldest brother in Victoria, I had always been thinking about travelling by bike between the two cities. (Well, by bike and ferry.) The trip was done with improvised gear. The bulk of the carrying was done with a milk crate strapped on the back to which two backpacks were attached. Hardly elegant, but it got the job done. The trip over was fun as it was an absolutely gorgeous day and I had very good luck. To get to the ferry terminal from Vancouver, it is necessary to take a tunnel under the South Arm of the Fraser river. As bicycles are not allowed to use the tunnel, the B.C. government has instituted a free shuttle service for cyclists. I had been told about it but didn't know what to expect. As it turned out, I arrived about a minute or two before its hourly run. I had barely any time to wonder whether this was right spot to wait before a van with a bike trailer rolled up, driven by a Sikh gentleman (at least I guessed he was a Sikh from his turban, the lack of a spot on his forehead and his magnificent beard.) He cheerfully helped me get my bike on the trailer and off we went through the tunnel. (I have since heard from my Aunt Margo that he sometimes brings his own bike along so he can use it between runs.) I was sufficiently impressed by the service that I later wrote to the BC Ministry of Transportation to thank them.

In any case, cycling to Victoria was lots of fun. My example may have also stimulated Margo and Chris into doing the same. Then again, they were heading that way anyway. They then took cycling one big step further and went whole heartedly into cycle touring, starting with a significant bang by spending about a month cycling around much of Cuba. Rather than my admittedly ad hoc approach, they did things properly with proper touring bikes, bags, etc. Margo had done some cycle touring in her younger days, including cycling from Montreal to Halifax, but for any number of reasons had given up major cycle-touring.

Just as a digression, I have a very happy memory of cycling around the sea-wall in Stanley Park with Margo just before her wedding along with my mother, my brother Philip and my grandmother. (And I have photos to prove it!) Looking back, it was very neat to have three generations all on our bikes, all enjoying ourselves.

Digression aside, Margo talked about cycling to Santiago de Compostela as a future trip. This rather caught my imagination. I began a dialogue with her about when we would go and what I would need. This took place over several months during the summer of 2006. In September 2006, I returned from a week-long trip to Jersey (where I had rented a bike as transport) to a nasty situation at work and a serious bout of self-doubt about whether I was physically (not to mention mentally) capable of cycling all that distance. The end result of all this angst was that I went out to Vancouver in November 2006 with the Castafiore (my old Bianchi bike) with the idea that it would be adapted for touring at the bike shop where Margo worked part-time. Once this was done, Margo, Chris and I would go on a short bike tour of the San Juan Islands in Washington State.

To explain what went horribly right with this plan, it is necessary to state that I had been putting off maintenance on my bike for months on the grounds that there was no point in spending money when I was "just about" to have it rebuilt. Margo was horrified at the state of my tires (and rightfully so) among other things. As well, the changes needed for the Castifiore would have cost roughly $700. On the other hand, the store had a 2006 De Vinci Destination in my size (XL) which they were prepared to sell at nice discount in order to make way for the 2007's. After some thought, a trial ride up the hill and a night's sleep, I went for the new bike, which was soon dubbed Leonardo. (The choice would have been easier had it come in a more attractive colour such as bright red, but then, that's just me.) I also got many of the accessories, etc. Not all, as I still wasn't convinced. Ironically, one the things I didn't go for, probably came close to adding cost. I didn't feel confident enough to go for clipless pedals and instead opted for toe clip pedals.
After some day tripping around Vancouver to get used to new bike, I was more or less ready to start my first cycle tour. Unfortunately for you, you will have to wait until my next post to find out more about it.

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