Day 4: Hope to Hedley

Day 4 started with us heading back to Tim Hortons for breakfast this time. Matts knee was still not better and we were now a little worried about how the rest of the trip would go. Matt text his physio, Lou, who from a Scottish athletics event very kindly video called us as we stood outside Timmy’s to discuss the issue. Reassured that the knee pain would be alleviated with more stretching Matts mood instantly lifted. 

This was now the second time in less than 24 hours we had fuelled for this 60km climb so we thought we better get on and do it. 


The way the climb had been described you would have thought we were going to be going up the Rocacorba or Bealach Na Bà for hours on end. Now don’t get me wrong going from sea level to almost 1400m is hard going but it was by no means the 5 hour climb we had been told it would be. We reached the top in a respectable 3 hours, passing a campsite half way up that the locals, the book nor google maps had informed us about. When we reached the top both of us agreed that we could have made that the previous evening or at least to the camp ground half way up. Lesson for us that people’s perceptions of things are just that; perceptions and you have to go with what you feel is achievable for you.

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Nevertheless when we got to the top we were quite proud of our efforts and our legs. We stopped at the restaurant in the resort/campground we were aiming for the previous day for a spot of lunch. The resort itself was an oddity that Matt couldn’t quite get his head around. It was quite literally in the middle of nowhere on one of the lesser highways through the mountains, likely cut off in the winter, yet the staff were all young foreigners, mainly Australian. We couldn’t work out how or why an Australian could end up in a tiny resort out here. One of the girls who served us had lived there for 2 years and was only leaving because of visa issues, honestly 2 weeks there would have seen us crawling the walls. 

The main attraction to the resort for us was the Colombian Ground Squirrels and a bit like the Aussies, we wondered how on earth they had gotten here or adapted to the harsh Canadian winters. 

We shared our lunch with them while Matt talked me down from stealing one and taking it on our trip as a mascot. After accepting that they probably had a better life at the resort with tourists feeding them than we could give one on the road we gave them the last of our sweet potato fries and headed off. 

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The next 30km section of our cycle was down hill, which at that altitude meant putting some layers on for. Whilst the sun was warm, the wind on the descent was not. 

Climb number two of the day was shorter, only about 15km but it was steeper and the legs were starting to feel the effects of the 60km morning climb. Once we had reached the top we knew we had a fairly easy ride down into the next town. Well, easy ride down would be how Matt would describe it, I would describe it as something more treacherous. One descent consisted of dropping 500m in 6km. Steep under normal circumstances but when it’s a newly paved road and they haven’t put the safety barriers back up, steep looks a whole lot steeper. 


Matt loving life, recorded the descent whilst I gripped my handlebars and my brakes for dear life watching with horror as Matt negotiated the steep descent with one hand and no brake. 

By the time we got down to the next town it was getting close to 7pm. We thought about stopping here for the night but realising we had cut our day short yesterday we wanted to get another 40km under the belt so pushed on to the next campsite. A gentle downhill gradient and the wind on our backs meant the next 40km flew by and we arrived at our destination before dark. 

We were hungry after a long day on the bike but after being told there were no restaurants around we cracked into our emergency ration packets...yum! 

Up until that point neither of us had paid much attention to the other campers in our campsites/there were also so few that there wasn’t much to see but as this was our first weekend night in a campsite there were a few more people around and we indulged in everyone’s guilty past time of people watching. 

Having not spent much time in UK campsites, we cannot profess to know if this is a North American trait or a universal one but it seems like there’s an unspoken one-up-man-ship going on in the campsite we were in. As in, who had the biggest camper, or who had the biggest camper pulling the biggest pick up truck, or worse yet who had the biggest camper, pulling the biggest pick up truck containing the biggest quad bike. 

We were the only people in the entire campsite in a tent and as all the other campers sat around discussing the features of their R.V.’s, drinking beer and feasting on something they had made in their kitchens, we sat quite literally in the corner of the campsite eating rations next to the one obviously hired R.V. containing a lovely German couple. And right then the worlds smallest violin started to play a tune just for us 😉 

Day 3: Mission to Hope

We woke up after our second night in the tent to find it had rained over night and everything was a little damp. This meant that packing up everything took longer than anticipated as we attempted to dry everything out before packing it away. We knew the tent was eventually going to smell musty but we didn’t want it to be as soon as day three. 


Matt mentioned his knee was hurting and he already had quite bad chaffing but both of us assumed his knee was just a bit stiff and would ease up once we got going and that the chaffing was well normal when you spend long on the bike. We set off for the centre of Mission for breakfast; Starbucks if you were wondering what corporate chain restaurant we would be propping up this morning. After ordering and consuming enough food to apparently warrant a disgusted look from the cashier we pedalled on to Hope. 


The riding was easy; fairly flat, low traffic and good roads. Matts knee however was getting considerably worse and we had to pull over every 10km for him to stretch it off. After a few stops we realised that his seat had not been properly secured when we rebuilt the bikes post flight and a low seat post had seemingly given his bad knee pain. After 90km this pain was now agony and as we stopped in for lunch at Tim Hortons, the mood in camp was particularly low. 

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We knew ahead of us was a 60km climb. That is not a typo, that is indeed 6 0 kilometres. The book that we were following, Canada by Bike, had the next 60km down as a single days riding and had described it as the most physically demanding day you’ll do on the bike all trip. So an easy late afternoon ride then when you’ve got a hammy knee that you don’t know how to fix. Our enthusiasm for the climb was further dashed by a group of 6 people, who said they were cyclists, who told us it would take us 5 hours to get to the top. We had only a little over 4 hours of light left and were only half way through a late lunch at this point so based on that timing it was looking touch and go. Turns out that unlike the name suggests, we didn’t find much hope in Hope. 

Knowing that there was a campsite in Hope and then one at the top of the climb and with Matts knee hurting we decided to put off the climb for tomorrow. We stopped by a pharmacy to get an ice pack for Matts knee and in a half hearted attempt to make his saddle more comfortable, we bought a gel pad. With little else to do we checked in to our campsite, set up the tent and then headed back into town to try and find some dinner. 

Since we felt we should support at least one local eatery whilst in Hope we went to the only open restaurant: a Chinese with the word smorgasbord in its title, not a word I’d necessarily associate with Chinese cuisine but it was this or McDonald’s again. We bet against our better judgement and went in and were offered a choice of a menu or a buffet. Hannah chose menu while Matt chose buffet. Both were incorrect choices. Hannah, fearing that the ‘chicken’ she’d been served would eliminate the possibility of cycling for a few days, pushed her food around the plate and ate some of the rice not touching the chicken or the bland neon yellow sauce pretending to lemon flavoured. 

Turns out included in the price of the food was the entertainment of the husband and wife proprietors arguing in Mandarin with one another while an inebriated patron provided and alternative voice over commentary to what he believed the couple were loudly arguing about. 

After what felt like a long day despite short mileage we returned to our campsite and headed to bed. 

What we hadn’t quite factored in when looking at our route across Canada or really any route across Canada is that the roads very closely follow the railway and in fact most towns are centred around the tracks. Unlike in the UK, trains here have little consideration for the noise they create in the dark and our second night camping on the mainland was much like our first: loud. 

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Day 2: Whiskey Creek to Mission

Day two was an early start. We needed to leave the campsite by 7.45am at the very latest in order to catch the 10.15am ferry some 55km away. Conscious that camp pack down was likely to take us a bit longer on the first morning, while we perfected it, we set our alarm for 6am. However after a terrible nights sleep due to a combination of wind whistling through the trees and setting used to camping we were up before it went off. 

Pack down done, we were off. The first 10/15km were very pleasant on the quieter roads of Vancouver Island. It was around the 15km mark where we joined the main highway down the island; a busy dual carriageway which conveniently we hit during rush hour. It was there that we first experienced cycling next to huge lorries hurtling along the highway. It was an incredibly stressful and scary situation. Being from a country where the lorries are the same size as a large pick up truck over here, didn’t exactly prepare us for the huge lorries that tore along the highway with little consideration for us on bikes a few feet from them. It was at that moment that we realised this could be a very long cycle if this was going to be the norm for the next 6500km. 

Getting to the ferry terminal turn off was euphoric, maybe a little too euphoric for Matt’s phone and the excitement made it bounce out of matts top tube bag and on to the ferry terminal slip road. We quickly pulled over and watched intently as all the cars behind us miraculously avoided smashing it to smithereens. We retrieved it from the road delighted that it was completely unharmed as that could have dampened the mood quite considerably on the second day of the trip. 

Having only had the remainder of our petrol station snacks for breakfast we headed straight for the restaurant on the ferry and loaded up on a nutritious breakfast of hamburger and fries. 

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We arrived back on the mainland having only left it 3 days previous. Not due at Matt’s aunts for coffee and cookies for a couple of hours, we felt no immediate rush to leave the ferry terminal and we ended up hanging around whilst Matt caught up on admin and Hannah scared off the ravens trying to peck their way through a bag of pretzels attached to Matts bike. Setting off from the ferry terminal we had two options: the highway or the lovely sounding Marine Drive. We opted for the later as the name suggested it was by the sea which generally meant flat and we needed to save our legs for the hills to come...it was not and the burger and fries from the ferry started to feel rather heavy on the short sharp hills into Vancouver.

We made it to Matts aunts and aware this was our last chance before Calgary we had to ditch anything we had, as inexperience bikepackers, previously thought of as necessary and might after the hills on the island no longer believe them essential to our trip. Hannah ditched a DSLR camera as between the drone, GoPro and two iPhones we were covered on the photography front. Both of us asked for our casual shorts and t-shirts to be posted to Calgary as we realised we were unlikely to need them in the evenings around camp in the Rockies. Admin done, coffee and cookies consumed and a group photo taken we were on our way again. 

Keen to also meet up with one of Matt’s friends from school, Chris, who lived in Vancouver but also aware we needed to get some miles under our belts, we were told by Chris to turn on our live tracking on WhatsApp and he’d try and catch up with us on his way home from work. As we pedalled our way through Vancouver chatting to fellow cyclists who were commuting home from work, Chris and his fiancé Were chasing us around greater Vancouver in what Chris described as like real life Grand Theft Auto. I imagine or hope at least, with less prostitutes or guns though. They eventually caught us on a quiet residential street in the east of the city and seeing them gave us a real boost before our evening cycle to Mission.

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Leaving Vancouver at 5ish meant that after a dinner stop at McDonald’s, our second burger and fries of the day, we didn’t arrive at our campsite until dark. Whilst a bitty broken up day with only 141km due to a 2hr ferry ride, it was great to see so many people and it put us in a good mood to go into day three. 

Day 1: Tofino to Whiskey Creek

We woke up a little nervous, after all we were about to embark on something that 6 months ago was just something we casually talked about over the dinner table. Flying over Canada, and the many hours that it took, gave us an idea of how far 6500km actually is and truth be told it a little daunting. 


Now the morning was here, May 1st, D-Day for our thighs and bottoms. We left our Airbnb, which was conveniently located 50m from the start of the Trans-Canada highway, pedalled to the sign, took a few pictures and then pushed on to McKenzie Beach, where Matt’s mother’s ashes were scattered and where officially we started our cycle.

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It was a lovely morning on McKenzie Beach and when we arrived there was no one else about which was both special but a little sad. Obviously being a place that is very close to our hearts, it was emotional being there about to set off on this huge challenge in memory of Andrea. Both of us had a good old cry on the beach which is just what you need when you have a long day of cycling ahead...dehydrate and emotionally exhaust yourself before you’ve even gotten going. 


Eventually we composed ourselves and Matt never being one to miss an opportunity to use his drone decided now was the perfect time. At that moment, a dog came running and barking down the beach, enraged at the flying object in the sky and attempting to scare it away. If the moment wasn’t ruined by Matt spinning round in circles attempting to calibrate the drone, it was ruined by the continual barking from the somewhat irate Labrador. 


Camera equipment landed and away it was now 10am in the morning, two hours after our planned departure time; anyone who knows Matt will not be surprised by this. We looked at one another a bit confused as to what to do next, the obvious answer is cycle but it felt odd, all this build up and the start by comparison was fairly anticlimactic. Starting a 12 hour flight and a decent drive away from most of our friends and family this was always going to be the case, it just felt a little strange. The good luck messages coming in from home were lovely and let us know that everyone was there in spirit if not in body. 


The first two hours of cycling were a little stressful, leaving later than planned meant that we had to rush to get 50km along the road as at midday they were shutting it for a bit for construction work. We had been warned about and seen the construction work zone on our drive to Tofino and it was suggested that we try and ask a pick up truck driver to stick our bikes in the back of their truck and drive us through it as it wasn’t an ideal place to be cycling a bike: it was a single lane, partially gravel bit of road where they were obviously blasting the rock at the side. It was also on one of the steepest hills we were going to do that day and it went on for 2km meaning that we would likely hold up all the traffic behind us. When we got to the construction zone, at 11.58am, the traffic on our side started moving and with no time to hitch a ride, we joined the traffic and cycled through it. With our briefing from one of the construction staff being “go quickly and please be safe” I think it’s probably save to say neither of us have ever cycled so fast up an 18% gradient before. 


The effort we put in to get through the construction zone was however richly rewarded with two traffic free hours as they closed the road. Once cars started reappearing we stopped for a bite to eat pleased at the progress we were making and surprised that the hills we seemed to be constantly driving down on our way to Tofino, weren’t that bad cycling back up. That was however until we got 125km in and had a 10km relentless climb and another 18% gradient during it. Fuelled on a Tim Horton’s cinnamon bun (Hannah) and a maple dip donut (Matt) we slowly started to make our way up it. Hannah has been having trouble with her back tubeless tire all day, pumping it up every thirty minutes to an hour as it clearly hasn’t sealed properly, so after pumping it up at the bottom of the hill it required a further top up half way up and then at the top. These stops also provided rather convenient breaks for the legs and the lungs even if Hannah’s toys were about to come out of the pram as she pumped it up for the 8th time that day. 

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Ascent done, it was time for the descent. Whilst we might have been what felt like 1000 degrees climbing the hill, the long 5km descent certainly cooled us right down again. 


Only an hour of so from our campsite, we started thinking about dinner. We had been warned there were not many eating options around Whiskey Creek, in fact there was only one option: a burger bar next to a petrol (or gas as they call it over here) station. Hannah has messaged them the day before to see if they would be open and check their opening times. The message back was that they would be open until 7pm so at 6.15pm we rock up really looking forward to burgers and fries. The place looks empty but the sign still said open so we went inside. Whilst they were indeed technically open they were no longer serving food as they had run out of beef. With no where else to eat we went next door to the patrol station and got the last remaining hot dog, which we shared, and a whole lot of snacks. 


With the lure of being able to eat our petrol station snack when we got to the campsite, we headed the further 2km up the road to Whiskey Creek R.V. Site and Campground. The campground itself was fantastic and the owner was so lovely. After enquiring what we were doing she insisted on giving us our stay for free as her contribution towards our charity challenge: very kind of her indeed. 


Pleased we had gotten day one under our belts, we set up the tent, had a shower, ate our snacks and Hannah ditched her tubeless system for a good old fashion trusty inner tube. 


And after a long and emotional first day, we turned in for our first night in what would be our teenie tiny home for the best part of the next 2 months. 

Canada: Pre Cycling

Saturday: day of travel

After relatively painless flights from Glasgow to Iceland (first class thanks to Iceland Air) and Iceland to Vancouver, we were ecstatic to see our bikes had also arrived; whether they were in one piece or not was still to be determined. 


Matts cousin, Paul, very kindly picked us up from the airport in the evening and was hosting us for the next couple of nights. After a quick supper and catch up with Paul’s wife Penny and their son Ben it was off to bed for us, after all we had been up for around 24 hours at that point. 


Sunday: shopping for supplies 


We had a slow start to the day on Sunday morning before heading to MEC to stock up on supplies. For the non Canadians reading this, MEC (Mountain Equipment Cooperative) is like a porn shop for the outdoorsy and the adventurous, filled with every type of sporting good you can think of. You want a canoe? Sure just nip down to your local MEC and pick one up no problem. A set of climbing holds for that blank garage wall? Yet again they’ve got it. 


Just like when you go food shopping when you’re hungry, we bought far more than we intended to go in for. One thing we had originally gone in for was bear spray, yeah seems kind of crucial. However after seeing the size of the canister we weighed up, quite literally, if we needed it or not. We decided to go with the bear horn instead as it was smaller and lighter and the guy in the shop said it works most of the time. So if a grizzly bear fresh from hibernation is running towards us we will have our loud noise that works most of the time to protect us... we will see how that decision pans out in British Columba and Alberta!


The rest of Sunday involved catching up with one of Matt’s friends who he did a ski season with many moons ago, unpacking our bikes (they arrived pretty much unscathed) and having a lovely dinner with aunts, uncles and cousins. 


Monday: travel to Tofino 


Paul’s Uber service continued in to Monday where he very kindly drove us from Vancouver to Tofino with only a minor detour to have a quick cup of coffee with another one of Matt’s aunts and uncles. Official Uber review of Paul: We would rate him 5 stars for his driving, general banter and patience with our requests to stop and Matts insistence on flying the drone in Cathedral Grove and another attempted flight on Long Beach which is situated less than a couple of kilometres from Tofino Airport. Unlike the Gatwick incident, Matts drone wouldn’t allow him to launch it in a restricted zone, probably for the best. We would also rate him a 5 star sh*t stirrer for the amount of glee he took in pointing out all the hills we were currently driving down and which we would have to cycle up on our first day. 


When we arrived in Tofino, Hannah who was still suffering from jet lag had a nap and Matt and Paul went for a walk and a swim on MacKenzie Beach...oh and Matt obviously had to fly his drone again.


A quick take away pizza later and it was an early night for us. 


Tuesday: the day before the first day 


On Tuesday morning we said goodbye to Paul, who noted how much pleasure he would take in driving up all the hills on his way back to the ferry. 


The rest of the day was spent doing pre trip admin. We rode our bikes down to ‘Chocolate Tofino’ to test them out/get an ice cream each the size of our heads and whilst doing so bumped into a fellow Scot from Perthshire who recognised “Fife” in the Tofino to Fife on our t-shirts. (Merchandise is available on a custom order basis only 😉) 


After a quick ride and a long ice cream we headed back to the apartment as Matt’s bike had a gearing issue which miraculously we managed to fix ourselves. For those who know bikes: the hanger got knocked in transit and was not sitting flush to the frame making the gears slip, thankfully however it was not bent. We repositioned the hanger and then tuned the gears until they were shifting smoothly. Fix number one of the trip went well and without too much flapping and ‘this is the end of the world’ nonsense. 


Bikes fixed, we headed back down to the beach for a sunset and a swim, well Matt swam and Hannah watched. And that concluded the pre cycling part of our Canada trip! 

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South of Scotland Training Weekend

When we decided to cycle across Canada and run across Scotland neither of us were experienced bikepackers and I should note, we still aren’t by any sort of stretch of the imagination. Matt had done a bit of multi-day cycling around the Hebrides when he was younger, and could actually feel the wind in his hair, but apart from that the two of us were rather new to the whole thing. Given the enormity of trying to cycle across the second largest country in the world, we thought we better get some form of a test run in first, see how we fair after 3 days cycling around the South of Scotland or if I should be rescinding my resignation from my job and cancel the whole thing. 

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____DAY 1____

Humbie - Dumfries

Our initial plan on the Friday had been to go from Humbie via Duns to Dumfries, getting 180km in on our first day but after an emergency dental appointment on the Friday morning for a cracked tooth we set off on the direct route for Dumfries at around 1.30pm. Having never put anything more than the essential tools on our road bikes before, the first thing we noticed was how much slower life was when you cycle tour which took a couple of hours to adjust to mentally more than physically. Being slaves to our Garmin watches and constantly checking average speeds was not going to work well with this new pace of cycling and adapting to the attitude of ‘we will get there when we get there’ was harder than we both thought it would be.

After a few hours of cycling, my bike started to play up, making a clicking noise from the rear cassette in certain gears.

Lesson 1: never get your bike serviced right before you set of on a long cycle ride or race, always ride it first to make sure any issues from the service are picked up when you are close to an open bike shop.

After sending a video of the issue followed by a quick text exchange to my bike shop (phenomenal service…even if that’s probably not what they intended their shop mobile to be used for) the advice was, try and stay out of the gears where the bike is making the noise and bring it in as soon as you get back, we set off again. The worst part of that advice is that I don’t do repetitive noises…a click or a beep is enough to drive me somewhat demented and therefore the next 400km of potential clicking was going to be a potentially toys out the pram experience for me.

At around 7.30pm and 134 hilly kilometers later, we arrived at our hotel. In Canada, we will be camping but for our first experience I was pretty insistent that we would be easing ourselves in gently to the whole thing.

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____DAY 2____

Dumfries - Ayr

After a slightly slow start to Saturday morning, we finally set off cycling at 10.30am, this was mistake number one of the day.

Lesson 2: leave early in the day. Morning miles are easier than afternoon miles.

After about 45 minutes we had a quick toilet stop (thanks to my child sized bladder) and in doing so bumped in to a fellow cyclist who well-meaning as he was took us on a somewhat circuitous route of Dumfries & Galloway, including a stop at a museum to/birth place of John Paul Jones (founder of both the American and Russian Navy’s…hopefully the irony is not lost of you) and a stop at a café where the food was good but the service somewhat reminiscent of Faulty Towers. Therefore, after a couple hours of stops we hadn’t intended on we were a little behind schedule.

After 90km of riding with our personal guide to all things Dumfries & Galloway, we set off on our own up to Ayr. The weather which had been lovely and sunny up until that point, changed and as it started to get gloomy we found ourselves cycling through parts of the country that felt somewhat left behind when the mining industry closed up shop.

As we approached Ayr, wildly behind schedule, we realised that we had booked a hotel that required us to travel along a dual carriage way to get to. As I called to check if we could change to the hotel chains other hotel in Ayr, which we had just passed and was clearly accessible on bikes, Matt decided that there was nothing else to do but watch the Edinburgh v Scarlets rugby match on his phone at the side of the dual carriage way in the dark.

Lesson 3: unless you want to be delayed and end up at the side of a dual carriage way at 8pm then be clear to any cyclists you meet/chat to/cycle with that you have your route and your timings and you’d like to stick to them

Hotel switched over and a short cycle back to the original one we saw and we were done for the day, 174km of Dumfries & Galloway, East Ayrshire and South Ayrshire later.

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____DAY 3____

Ayr - Humbie

Sunday was nothing except for a slog. From Ayr we were heading almost due East back to Humbie, where the promise of a Sunday Roast awaited us. The only thing that stood between us and Mum’s roast potatoes was 144km of misty Scottish countryside, oh and a bitterly cold Easterly headwind to contend with.

After our Tim Horton’s breakfast (yes, we took this test run for Canada very seriously and obviously had to try the local cuisine) we set off for home. While we may have taken a circuitous route on Saturday to see some of the best parts of Dumfries & Galloway, the circuitous route we took on Sunday was 100% down to Hannah’s absolutely shocking sense of direction.

Lesson 4: Never ever take directions from someone who frequently mixes up their lefts and rights.

After a couple of morning pit stops to put on more clothes and scoff a bag of sweeties, morale was somewhat low when we reached Biggar for lunch. As a result of us finding excuses to stay inside the warm café, we had a very leisurely lunch whilst watching James Cracknell make history in becoming the oldest man to compete in the University Boat Race.

The 56km to cover after lunch were slow, cold and hilly but they ticked by as they do when you just keep turning the pedals and finally home was in sight.

All in all we had a great weekend covering 450km and climbing 4600m, here’s to doing that 14 times over in Canada…