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Now could be the best time to plan that cross-country cycling tour

So you want to cycle across Canada, eh? I don’t blame you. The Great White North definitely has it all – urban centers, Rocky Mountains, expansive prairies, Great Lakes and more. It’s an experience that some people may only ever dream of, but for those that follow through with it, they have the memories (and bragging rights) for a lifetime. 

The biggest hurdle to overcome is just dealing with the sheer size of this country —upwards of 6,000km and 10 provinces will take three months on average… Has this got you feeling overwhelmed yet? If so, you’re not alone. But it’s not as uncommon as you might think. And now just might be the perfect time to hatch a serious cross-country plot.

Each year approximately 150 people make the journey across the country, each with a different purpose and agenda. I spoke with two different people who have completed parts of this journey. James did the trip solo in 2005, from Banff to Halifax. For him, it all began one night in the pub (Yes, we have heard this before.) after his friend spent the evening telling him stories of a similar trip. 

After being entranced by the tale, he grabbed a cocktail napkin, scribbled down a start date, and the rest is history.

Photo: Îles-de-la-Madeleine (Magdalen Island)

 

Another friend of mine Shanysa did an organized trip with a group of 14 people as a fundraising activity for a length of her trip, from Missoula to New York City, and then continued on the second half of the trip from New York City up to Newfoundland. The second leg of this trip was just her and her partner, and they took the time to enjoy the sights and move at their own pace.

Although a large part of her trip was through the USA, she enjoyed the delights of the East Coast of Canada during the last two months, citing Cape Breton, NS to Cornerbrook, Nfld her favourite part of the entire trip. She said, and I quote “Absolutely beautiful and I would do it a million times again if I could.” 

Even considering joining the ranks of these folks is impressive, so props to you for getting this far. Here’s the essential info you’ll need to know to start planning for the tour of a lifetime, with some tips and tricks from a couple of people who have done it before.

Plan your route

East to west or west to east, the decision is yours. Typically people start on the West Coast, as it’s considered to be a psychological strategy to start your journey with the challenging mountains of the Canadian Rockies early on and finish up with the seemingly less arduous terrain on the East Coast. 

The suggested time frame is the months of June, July, August. A hot tip from someone who has done it before — check the previous year’s snowpack, and be aware of lingering snow patterns in the mountains, as this may affect your anticipated start date. The trip is benchmarked to take approximately three months, give or take, depending on your need for speed and fitness. 

Things you should take into consideration while planning your trip include your training and fitness levels, planned stops along the way, and the weather. You might also run into some unexpected gear issues that may cause delays. 

Plan the budget

Budget is an important part of the planning process. You could choose to camp for the duration, or staying in a motel or bed-and-breakfast might be more your style, or why not pull up for a night at the Banff Springs while you’re at it? This is supposed to be fun, after all. Are you going to be eating out regularly for meals, or are you going to be preparing your own food? 

Both James and Shanysa camped nightly on their respective tours, although Shanysa did comment that they treated themselves to a couple of nights in a motel along the way which lifted their spirits when needed! Include in your costs any additional means of travel required (flights to your starting destination, ferries across bodies of water, additional fees for bike transport). And have a strategy for unplanned expenses (medical, gear replacement, supplies). If you’re looking for a ballpark figure to get you started, a three-month tour with a combination of motels and camping, and a mix of eating out along with preparing meals, can run approximately $6,500. 

Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean

 

Gear

There’s so many different touring bike options, and I highly recommend doing your research — it’s half the fun! Things to think about include the terrain you’ll be travelling on (mostly on-road versus off-road, gravel etc.) and whether or not you’ll be travelling ultra-lightweight, or fully-loaded. These will all be important when choosing your bike. If you’re not sure where to start, visit your local bike store and ask for some guidance, and take a few test rides.

Considering you’ll be sitting on it for hours a day, a comfortable saddle will change your life on this trip. Tried, tested and recommended is Brooks Saddles. They’re designed specifically for touring and there’s a variety of different models to choose from, depending on your trip variables.

There are a few different options for hauling your gear. Investigate panniers, front and back racks, and perhaps a handle-bar bag. If you’ve decided to pack a little more heavy-duty, pulling a bike trailer might be required for you. Both James and Shanysa used trailers for their trips, as they found it easier. 

You’ll want to have these essentials for your bike: 
    ·    Bike lock
    ·    Bike pump
    ·    Spare tubes
    ·    Patch kit and tire levers
    ·    Bike multi-tool
    ·    Pedal wrench (required for disassembling your bike for travelling)
    ·    Bike lubricant
    ·    Bike computer
    ·    Helmet

You’ll spend most of your time on your saddle, so commuter clothing isn’t a necessity for a trip like this. Think light, and versatile, and also appropriate for the weather conditions you’re expecting. Here’s a quick snapshot:

    ·    1-2 pairs of riding shorts (or pants)
    ·    1-1 Merino base layer thermals
    ·    Cycling shoes
    ·    Warm weather clothes
    ·    Rainproof gear
    ·    Moisture wicking socks
    ·    Riding gloves

And then there’s the camping gear to think about:
    ·    Tent
    ·    Sleeping pad
    ·    Sleeping bag
    ·    Stove
    ·    Lighter
    ·    First aid kit
    ·    Headlamp
    ·    Pots and pans
    ·    Cutlery
    ·    Wash set (detergent)
    ·    Utility knife

And those necessities and optional extras:
    ·    Toiletries
    ·    Swimsuit
    ·    Hat
    ·    Buff
    ·    Flip flops
    ·    Travel towel
    ·    Phone
    ·    Chargers
    ·    Camera
    ·    French Press

 

Typical tour bike set-up

 

Fitness and training

Fitness and nutrition are crucial when committing yourself to a cross Canada bike tour. You’ll be using muscles that you maybe haven’t used too much before, and you’ll be using them repetitively, day after day. Sure, you could probably get through the tour with no training, but it will be a heck of a lot more pleasant if you set yourself up for success. At the bare minimum, make sure you do a test run on your bike. Ideally, you want to be able to handle up to five hours a day for at least five days a week. If you’re able to, try and include some weight and strength training routines for your training. You’ll want to get your major muscle groups ready for what’s ahead and make sure your butt can handle the time in the saddle. 

Start training as early as possible. You can start the week before, or you can start months before — you’ll get out of it what you put into it. If you already have a high level of fitness you might find it comes naturally, but otherwise, my recommendation is to begin a regular training routine at least three months before your start date. You may regret it if you don’t. Remember, you don’t have to go fast, but you do have to go.

Nutrition on the tour

Eat often, stay hydrated. Sounds simple, right? Your body is going to be consuming likely twice your usual calories, somewhere upwards of 3,000 per day. Three meals a day during your tour will work wonders, but you’ll find that snacks will help you keep those calories distributed evenly and help in keeping your energy levels up. When you get the opportunity, mix up the standard granola bars and sandwiches with some fresh fruit and vegetables from the grocery stores you’re passing, or delicious fresh baked goods from local bakeries! Another hot tip from James for those with a sweet tooth is wine gums, great for on the road snacking without having to stop pedaling to enjoy! In regards to hydration, if you’re struggling to drink enough water on the tour, try mixing it up with some Gatorade or sports mix. 

Those who have done it before all say the same thing — a cross-Canada bike tour will be one of the best experiences of your life. Set yourself goals and relish in the delight of achieving them. If your schedule permits, take your time, and enjoy the scenery. According to both James and Shanysa you will undoubtedly encounter hang-ups like flat tires, weather, traffic, bad ‘Google’ routes, hunger. Mistakes will likely be made, but at the end of the day, you will be doing what you love and the best advice we can give to you is to embrace it all!

by Meg Chapman

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