From Pacific to Atlantic: An 8000-km Bicycling Odyssey
July 29, 2011 Halifax NS

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Photo Finish!

"Of all the distance travelled during an adventure, it is often the last few kilometres that one remembers most vividly and fondly."

The feeling of jagged stones being squeezed beneath a pair of spinning tires, the contrast of soft, moist leaves and sharp, rigid branches brushing against skin, or the taste of salty ocean air getting thicker by the minute; these are the sensations one can expect to experience while riding a bicycle down a rugged trail towards the coast, the finish line of a long, hard journey lying just around the next corner or two.

I remember the screaming in my calves and the pounding of my heart – part exhaustion, part euphoria – but I remember just wanting to peddle faster no matter how much it hurt, just to savour the final moments of this adventure. I couldn't see the beach, but I knew it was only a few minutes ahead. I could have sworn I heard the waves crashing on the sand. The midday sun was intense, and I felt drips of sweat running down my cheeks. Thinking back, they could have been tears. Nearly 80 days ago, I had dipped my feet in the Pacific Ocean and hopped on my bicycle. Now here I was on the other side of the continent, over 8000 kilometres later, ready to dip my feet again - this time in the Atlantic.

Stinky Feet? Check!

The trail was thickly lined with bushes, my vision ahead blocked by tall walls of stones left by storm waves. Strapped to my handlebars, my GPS confirmed the ocean was no more than a couple hundred metres away, but the trail – actually an old railroad – swung widely and begun to follow the shoreline, stubbornly refusing to reveal open water while it meandered its way to Lawrencetown Beach. It wasn’t at all what I expected.

I had been picturing the ocean in my head for weeks and weeks, ever since pulling myself up and over the first range of mountains in Canada’s west. Since then the imaginary vision of the Atlantic, invitingly laid out ahead on the horizon, kept me going through the hardest times; the frigid, torrential rainstorms, the endless onslaught of persistent, blood-sucking flies, the crippling headwinds, agonizing mud with a consistency of wet concrete, and the long, exhausting hills that came one after another like waves on the ocean itself. The sound of snapping spokes and cables, popping tires, grinding chain rings and bending metal became a soundtrack of the journey, often serenading me at the least appropriate times and the loneliest places. I would be left standing at the side of the road under an oppressive sun beating down on my shoulders, while swatting away bugs with one hand and rubbing my chin with the other, wondering aloud, "Now, how am I going to fix that!?" My imagined Atlantic Ocean may have seemed even farther away than it actually was in reality, but continuing forward was the only option; there was no way I was going to turn around and bike back through all the obstacles I passed to get this far. It would be easier from now on. All the tough parts behind me, weren’t they?

The Entire Route
Each split in clour indicates individual days.
68 riding days in total

Indeed, there were many times I happily imagined that I would never reach the Atlantic at all. Travelling by bike has its moments of absolute perfection, when life couldn't possibly get any more interesting and fulfilling. During those moments it seemed a shame to have a finish line at all. Often the thought would hit me in the late afternoon, with the sun lying low in the sky behind me and its light illuminating the trail just the right way. The trees shimmered in perfect hues of greens and browns, and the trail itself seemed to glow as though it were paved in gold. My shadow lay ahead, and I could watch myself pedaling forward, making progress. I was witnessing the power of the human body turn something as seemingly simple as a bagel or apple into enough kinetic energy to not only transport itself across a continent, but carry along a bunch of extra goodies along for the ride. These afternoons were when I would experience that perfect blend of exhaustion and euphoria - partially starved and delirious perhaps – having spent the entire day living in the moment, breathing fresh air and pushing pedals; in other words, feeling strong, alive and free.

The Ferry Ride from NS to PEI
Another province, another bottle of champers!

The evening routine of setting up my tent, boiling a pot of pasta, washing up and bedding down were all that laid between me and another day. With the sunset quickly fading, I would zip up my tent flap, tuck myself into my sleeping bag, turn off my headlamp and take a moment to listen to the loons and coyotes sing me to sleep. The next day I would wake up somewhere in Canada’s wilderness, ready to live another day of entirely new challenges and scenery.

In the grand scheme of things, the only morning that was truly any different was the last; it would be my last bowl of cold oatmeal, the last time I would cringe while rolling up my pungent sleeping bag, and the last time I would gasp while slipping on a pair of cold, damp biking shorts which never quite fully dried overnight. For the first time – on this last and final day - each made me laugh. These small tribulations – along with the headwinds, the bugs, the mud and the hills - were all behind me now; pain is merely a temporary inconvenience, but when it fades it often leaves fond memories in its place.

Entering Nova Scotia
Arriving in Pictou, NS with fellow touring cyclist David (France)

Before I started this bicycle trip, I doubted my ability to go much farther than the Rocky Mountains. I wasn't even sure if I would enjoy it. Somewhere along the way though, I got into my own groove, following a route that was as unique as the people I met along it. My body had become an engine, fueled by passion, determination and several kilograms of pasta. I grew to crave each day of riding, never dreading the 6-7 hours of pedaling that lay ahead, and never growing weary of my surroundings. The country seemed to fly by at times. I was satisfied with how far I had come and the experiences I had along the way, yet ready to cross this item off my list at last.

Finally, after one more bend in the trail I saw friends waving to me in the distance, one holding up a brown long-necked bottle. They had flown in from Toronto to greet me on the finish line. Behind them was the Atlantic Ocean. I felt a big smile spread across my face. The journey was over and now I could put my feet up and rest. I'd done it; I'd bicycled across Canada!

Danger! Danger!
The Rail Trail to the Coast
Musquodoboit, NS (word of the day!)
The Final Few KM's as seen on the GPS
The Final Kilometre
Approaching the Finish Line..
The Final 100 Metres..
Beer, please!
The Trail Ends Here
Lawrencetown Beach, NS
Rest, Little Warrior
Anjali and Matt
They put the "party" in Welcoming Party.
Time to dip the toes!
C'mon in, the water's great!
Tricked you! It'sactually freezing!
Bonus Round
The Trail from Lawrencetown to Halifax
Shuckin' for Lunch (or is it supper?)
The "Other Finish Line"
Alexander Keith's Brewery, Halifax NS
Tou Anyone?
Hands up if you want to sample some brew!
Where the Magic Happens
Proper Thing!
Apres Tour!
Celebrate Good Times!
Halifax by Night
The Bicycle... what!?
Party like it's 1899!