10 Questions: Cycling Across Canada
Canadian couple Scott & Becky left their home in Ottawa in 2008 to cycle around the world.
As part of their 16 month trip on recumbent bicycles, they biked all the way across Canada, including remote stretches in Newfoundland and Labrador.
In this week’s 10 Questions, Scott & Becky tell us about the highlights of their route across Canada, including seeing bear and moose in the west, meeting friendly people in the prairies and enjoying great value B&Bs in the east.
1. Can you describe your route across the country?
We took a rather unconventional route across Canada. We started in Ottawa and rode east through Quebec to Rimouski, took a boat to Blanc Sablon, rode around the north-western tip of Newfoundland before tackling the Labrador Coastal Highway. From there, we rode across Newfoundland and a bit around Nova Scotia before the summer ended and we needed to escape the cold. The next summer we rode from Victoria BC, up Vancouver Island, then from Prince Rupert across to Jasper, and then across the middle of the Prairies – between the Trans-Canadas (highways 1 and 16). Finally, we rode across Northern Ontario turning east at Wawa to Timmins, crossed over into north-western Quebec, then south down the Ottawa valley back to home. We rode over 10,000 km in Canada.
2. What were the highlights?
Beyond the wilderness, open skies, mountains, and oceans – the people make Canada interesting. We were surprised by the friendliness of the people in Saskatchewan and loved the opportunities for wild camping in Northern Ontario. The people in Newfoundland and Labrador were also very friendly, but we expected that.
3. Which parts would you skip, if you were to do it again?
That’s tough. Becky didn’t care much for Manitoba – too many smelly cattle and pig farms and the people were not as openly friendly as Saskatchewan. We only had one bad stretch of road, and that was between Thunder Bay and Nipigon – Aptly named the Courage Highway – but they are putting in nice wide shoulders, so in a year or two even it will be much better.
4. What was the traffic like? Were you able to find quiet roads or were you mainly on the Trans-Canada Highway?
The term “Trans-Canada Highway” is misleading, it really should be the Trans-Canada Highways. There are several different highways that make up the Trans-Canada system. We rode the Trans-Canada only where we didn’t have another choice (Prince Rupert to Jasper and Thunder Bay to Wawa, as well as a few other short stretches). On the stretches of the Trans Canada we chose to ride, traffic was almost always respectful – perhaps because of the giant reflective triangles we displayed. Otherwise, we rode on minor roads, often only seeing one or two cars an hour.
5. Common wisdom says you should ride from west to east because that’s the prevailing wind direction. Is it true?
Winds were mostly out of the north. We had very few days where the wind really helped us – mostly it was either a crosswind or a slight headwind.
6. Did you get a chance to cycle on the Trans-Canada Trail and is it a viable option for cyclists?
We did not intersect much with the trans-Canada trail, and where we did it was a snowmobile / ATV path and not suitable for loaded touring bikes. For our shakedown cruise, we had fun following the Waterfront trail (portions are Trans-Canada Trail), which follows the shores of Lake Ontario. It varied from bike lanes on busy Toronto streets to single track under hydro lines.
7. You used a range of accommodation types on your trip. Tell us where you stayed, if you were ever stuck for accommodation and the prices.
We found the B&Bs in Newfoundland and Labrador to be a great value, ranging from $40-$60 per night including a full breakfast. When the B&B hosts are happy to accommodate a cyclist’s appetite, that’s always good value! Most of the B&B’s also had sheds (sometimes bigger than the house), so there was always a place to store bikes and hang up wet camping gear to dry out.
On the eastern Canada leg of our journey, we stayed indoors more than we originally intended. We were still getting comfortable with touring. We did take advantage of hospitality when it was offered to us, whether that was a room or a spot on the grass, and met some wonderful people that way. We took inspiration from Kevin Kelly’s essay about being kinded: giving people the opportunity to be kind and generous. Only rarely were we brave enough to knock on a stranger’s door, but when we did it was a great experience.
By the time we rode across Western Canada, we camped and stayed with friends and people we met on the road almost exclusively.
8. Did you have any problems with bears or other wildlife?
In British Columbia, we had several moose and bears cross the road in front of us. We always stored our food either in trees or in some other bear-proof device (underneath the bags in the backs of bear-proof garbage bins among other places), so we didn’t have any trouble – although we did learn that hanging food in trees requires practice and a longer segment of rope than we were carrying!
9. Canada is a big country, with a lot to see. How long do you need to tour from one side to the other?
You need a minimum of the full Canadian summer (starting in mid-May and riding until mid-September) if you want to see most of the country. If you want to avoid the main highways and have time to enjoy the culture, then it is better to spend two summers riding across Canada. People do the ride in as little as 10 weeks, but then they spend most of their time riding on the southern tier Trans-Canada, with few side trips, and don’t have much time to stop and talk to people along the way.
10. What’s one thing every cyclist needs to take with them for a cross-Canada tour?
A tuque (a hat) and some good bug juice. Canada is a northern country. It doesn’t matter what time of year you are riding here, there is always a risk of things getting cool for a week or two. In the summer either the mosquitoes or the black flies can get vicious (depends on where you are riding).
Thanks to Scott & Becky for answering 10 Questions and providing the photos.
Need more information? Check out these helpful resources for cycling across Canada:
- 2010 Cycle Tour Across Canada – A well laid-out site with plenty of details on routes and gear