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The Millionaire Question

Posted July 26th, 2009

555km Warman to Dauphin

DSC_9539What would you do if you woke up tomorrow and found you’d won a million dollars?

Since the earliest days of our trip, we’ve asked this question of everyone we spend an evening with. “Camels. I’d buy camels,” said a nomad in Morocco, explaining that camels were the gold standard in that part of the world. Another man that night said he’d take his mother on pilgrimage to Mecca. Still others along the way spoke of buying tropical islands, going on shopping sprees and sailing off into the sunset.

But Brian, our newest friend from the road, gave an answer we’d never heard before. Sitting on the shores of Moon Lake in Riding Mountain National Park, listening to the waves gently lap up on the beach and the loons singing their first evening calls, Brian said simply that he wouldn’t change a thing.

It took us a moment to digest this idea. Nothing? Not a bigger house or a little hideaway cabin in a different spot or some other treat – anything – dreamed of but so far unaffordable? No, the answer came again. Nothing.

This, we thought, was perhaps the ultimate sign of true happiness: that you might have the potential to buy any number of new and wonderful things and yet saw no need for any of it.

DSC_9528And the more we looked at Brian’s lifestyle, the more we understood and admired and felt inspired, more than we have been by almost anyone else on our journey. We talked about how he managed to retire at 39 (no, we haven’t mistyped that figure). We stayed in his beautiful and entirely recycled home, built himself using materials that were salvaged from old barns, cabooses and other people’s abandoned projects. We learned about his winter vacations to warm spots and his summer’s challenge of building a log cabin to house a sauna and guest room. And all this on a pauper’s income but one used wisely to generate the maximum happiness and freedom.

This, we thought, is our dream.

We found our dream’s essence reiterated in a story discovered on Brian’s bookshelf:

“I’ve found one good way to live and be happy. There must be other ways too, but I don’t know ’em, so I mean to stick to my way-till I come to the end of it. The secret seems to be, to do everything you can yourself.

It’s difficult to explain, but take an example. Take travel. Allow yourself to be carried about the world in Wagon-Lits and cabins-de-luxe, and what do you get out of it? You get bored to death. Everything is done for you and you don’t even have to think. All you have to do is pay. You’re carried about with the greatest care and wrapped up and fed and insulated from everything. You see about as much of life as a suckling in the arms of its nurse. No wonder you get bored!

But get yourself about the world, on your own feet, or in your own boat, and you’re bound, you’re bound to fill your life with interest and charm and fun-and beauty. You’ll have your disagreeable and uncomfortable times, of course, but they merely serve to make the good times taste better.”

Those words come from the story The £200 Millionaire, written by Weston Martyr in 1932 . Words to think about as we continue further east…

The noisy non-stop talking day

Posted July 9th, 2009

135km North Battleford to Warman

Dark, threatening skiesUnder a darkening sky in the farming town of Radisson, we were just packing a bottle of wine into our bags and getting ready to make a run for the campground when a wiry man in his 70s rolled up and blocked our way with his own bicycle.

“Where are you guys travelling to?” he asked, his eyes scanning our bikes with unusually keen interest.

We didn’t really want to chat. Rain was coming. That much was painfully clear. But with no option for a polite escape, we answered his first question. We’d barely finished speaking when we were interrupted by a flood – not from the sky but rather a deluge of words, rushing out of our new friend’s mouth.

“The Olympics,” he began before moving on to how he had no stomach and used to be a world class runner and wasn’t supposed to drink tea but he did and how he worked as a pastor in Afghanistan and routinely used to eat breakfast with John Diefenbaker, Canada’s 13th prime minister, and how he’d been saved by God and still wore his wedding ring even though his wife divorced him because marriage is forever but she was a Ukrainian girl and and how he once worked as a teacher in the far north of Canada and how he lived here because the water was good and you couldn’t  get good water everywhere in Canada and how sometimes there was hail and we’d better watch out because the hail around here could kill a man and wasn’t the route we took through Oregon great because he thought it was because he had a PhD in geography and on and on and on…. (more…)

Headwinds on the prairies

Posted July 7th, 2009

394km Vegreville to North Battleford

DSC_9119.JPGThey say the winds blow from west to east in Canada. Cyclist after cyclist told us this. “It’s just the way things are,” they said. With this knowledge in hand, our trip towards Saskatoon had begun with the expectation of nothing less than tailwinds.

Fools. What fools. Both them and us.

Murphy’s Law says that when you’re primed for a good push from behind you’ll get a face full of wind instead and that’s exactly what we got not long after leaving Vegreville. We put it down to the same meteorological phenomena that creates the bi-directional opposing headwind – a veritable gale which blows toward the cyclist both on the way out and the way home.

No matter which way the road turned (and yes, it does curve occasionally out here on the plains), the wind seemed to be working against us. Still, at least it was sunny and we plodded along towards North Battleford at a steady 13km an hour.

DSC_9115.JPGAlong the way we met Stephen, on his way home by bike to Ottawa after tree planting in the far north. Maybe he’d go as far as Moncton, he told us, before announcing that to get there in time for an August wedding he’d need to do 150-180km a day. Our jaws dropped at his ambitious and slightly foolhardy target but we wished him good luck and waved as he sped away to Lloydminster. He needed those tailwinds more than we did. (more…)

On the road again

Posted July 3rd, 2009

92km St. Albert to Vegreville

There’s a voice that keeps on calling me,
Down the road, that’s where I’ll always be.
Every stop I make, I make a new friend,
Can’t stay for long, just turn around and I’m gone again.

Maybe tomorrow, I’ll want to settle down,
Until tomorrow, I’ll just keep moving on.
-Lyrics from the Littlest Hobo

Friedel considers a new career as a chimney sweep after cleaning the bikes.Canadians of a certain vintage know those words well: the theme tune to the Littlest Hobo television show, where a German Shepherd goes from town to town, helping people out of crises. We grew up on this homegrown version of Lassie and today we couldn’t get the song out of our head as we put bags back on our bikes after an extended break and hit the road one more time.

Ahead of us lie the prairies, stretching out in endless lengths of wheat fields. Behind us, the Rocky mountains and a wonderful and relaxing two weeks spent with Andrew’s sister Marlene and her husband Dave.

We won’t lie. It was hard to leave. As much as we had itchy feet, we also had those butterflies in our stomachs that seem to reappear every time we begin a new chapter in our trip and the sadness that comes with knowing you won’t see loved ones again for a very long time.

Oh sure, we’re back in Canada now but it’s a big country at some 7,000km from side to side so even if we settle here, family reunions will be too few and far between.

DSC_9092So it was hugs all around, a few tears and finally a quick wave as we pedaled off onto the Yellowhead Highway, loaded down with Marlene’s freshly baked cookies and a gourmet sandwich fit for 10 people in our bags. Destination Saskatoon, a good week down the road. Now some people say the prairies are boring… all those flat fields and not many towns but how can you call a place boring when it boasts such wonders as the world’s largest sausage, the world’s largest mallard duck and the world’s largest Ukranian easter egg all in the mere space of 100km?

The giant sausage in Mundere“Do you find this as tacky as we do?” two motorcyclists – James and Shana – asked as we took the obligatory photo by the giant sausage in Mundere. A little cheesy it might be but we love this kind of stuff. Some day we’ll do ‘Canada’s biggest tour’ and go all over the country snapping pictures by the biggest anything we can find. These ‘big things’ never fail to make us smile.

We smiled even broader as we arrived in Vegreville and discovered the town had kindly scheduled a free pancake breakfast in honour of our arrival. Okay, okay. It wasn’t for us. It’s a big festival but you can bet we’ll be there with our plates out at 8am. It’s a cyclist’s dream and the perfect way to fuel up for the road ahead.


Hello… taxi service?

Posted June 23rd, 2009

253km Cochrane to Winfield and a ride to Edmonton

Thunderclouds loom largeTo call or not to call. We sat under a picnic shelter, hiding from the pouring rain and wind, in the hamlet of Winfield, debating this very question.

A few days ago, Andrew’s sister Marlene, who’s been the  most dedicated member of our support crew since Day 1 and who we’ve probably given more grey hairs to than anyone else on this trip, had sent us her phone number along with the plea to “please, please do not hesitate to call no matter where you are”.

Now we were 140km short of her home. The weather had turned. We’d promised to be there in 2 days and the forecast wasn’t looking good. Headwinds. Rain. Thunderstorms. It was a pretty compelling argument to pick up that phone. On the other side of the coin, we wanted to cycle everything we could across North America. (more…)