Saturday, 15 November 2008

On a possible long-term biking mega-project

When I began planning and thinking about the Newfoundland trip, I was quite adamant that this was only a Montreal to Newfoundland trip and not part of a larger biking project of biking across Canada. I didn't want the expectation of people that I had to go the full distance across the continent, even in small sections. My principle rationale for this can be summed up in two words: Northern Ontario.

Not the mountains of the Rockies or vast distances of the Prairies, but the sparsely populated, undulating, forested Canadian Shield. Come to think of it, the distances of the Prairies are shorter than Northern Ontario. I did some work with Google maps this morning and discovered that Calgary to Winnipeg is about 1300 km, whilst Kenora to North Bay is 1600 km. What's more, there is little of interest in those 1600 km. My memories of having driven through Northern Ontario in 1985 suggest that it mostly trees, small hills and the occasional moose, the latter being a plus. Very few vistas and even fewer towns. The thought of spending several weeks with little change in scenery doesn't appeal.

And would be cool to say that I have biked from coast to coast, at least in sections. When I started thinking about it, I mentally divided the mega-project up into four sections: Vancouver to Calgary, Calgary to Winnipeg, Winnipeg to Montreal and Montreal to Newfoundland. (The rationale for doing the trip West to East is that the prevailing winds in Canada are West to East.) Technically, there is an additional section, namely Victoria-Vancouver. However, I have already done Victoria-Vancouver by bike. Twice in fact.

The Vancouver-Calgary and Calgary-Winnipeg sections both seem very doable by my current standards. Both sections seem easy enough distance-wise to complete within a three week period, thus fitting into the maximum length of holiday, I am allowed to take from work. In addition, both sections seem fairly well populated with towns thus allowing my "credit-card" style of cycle-touring to function.

Conversely, the Winnipeg-Montreal section doesn't work with my current practices. For one thing, it is simply too long. However, this could be dealt with be cutting it into two trips, such as Winnipeg-Sault Ste Marie and Sault Ste Marie-Montreal. I could also "nibble" away at the length of the Sault Ste Marie-Montreal section by doing shorter (one week or less) trips such as Ottawa-Montreal.

However, there is also the "Canadian Shield factor" described above. One way of dealing with it would be to change either to a more independant style of cycle-touring, such as cycle-camping or, ironically, a more dependant style, such as going with an organised tour. Another possibility would be to opt to go via the United States, where the Canadian Shield portion of the trip would be shorter.

In any case, I have plenty of time to think about how to do it as the earliest I would likely be doing any of these trips is 2010. (This assumes that next year my main biking trip is joining Margo and Chris for the last leg of their epic.) Even then, assuming one section per year, it could be 2012 before I would have to make any hard choices about how to tackle the Winnipeg-Montreal section, by which time, I might well be tired of cycle-touring or have evolved a new style of cycle-touring. Then again, I might have the opportunity to go on a non-Canadian trip of some description, therefore have to "waste" my vacation time on something else.

One case in point, Alice is likely to be in Southern Africa for two years which might be my opportunity to go there. Then again, maybe I should stop planning my vacations around her. In the last eight years, I have used her perigrinations as springboards to visit Belfast, New Zealand, Edinburgh, Halifax and, of course, Newfoundland.

Anyway, these are only possibilities for the long-term, and therefore nothing to really worry about. No decisions have to be made any time soon.

1 comment:

Victor Chisholm said...

Ah yes, Northern Ontario, the bane of many a cross-Canada cyclist. See, for example, or

It is a lot of trees, rocks, streams, and oh yes, flies. I enjoyed the scenery (nice at times when you have great-lake-views, okay at others) but I only did half of Ontario (from White River then south and east) though some find the scenery monotonous and painful.

My dislike was more about the road. In many places, there is only one through road which you share with a lot of traffic. That might not be so bad if the paved shoulders were wider (or not cracked to pieces or weren't covered in sand, or just existed), and if there weren't so many mobile-homes, RVs, and travel-trailer-towin' trucks on the road (in my experience they're the most dangerous thing, much more so than transport trucks).

You also need to be semi-autonomous and ready for long stretches without any services. The scale there is automotive, and 100km is "only" an hour's car-drive.

You could break Ontario into two sections, with a division at White River or Hornepayne (for VIA connections) or Marathon or Wawa or many other places (for Greyhound connections). Greyhound serves the same route you'll probably be taking but their fee for bike transport is pricy. Also consider the Algoma Central Railway from the Sault through the Agawa Canyon north to Hearst, and points between.

If you go, consider cycling from Espanola east to North Bay and through the Ottawa River Valley and thence to Montreal, as a shorter alternative to Manitoulin Island and southern Ontario.