Blog

Welcome to my blog, where I share all the stories from my L2L expedition as I row, cycle and kayak a continuous loop of the planet. I hope you'll enjoy experiencing the highs (and lows!) of my journey so far and the adventures ahead on my way back to Tower Bridge. You can also have a listen to my Phonecasts recorded en route.

Report Card: Week 2

Settling in to life on the road

On our way to altitude

Hello Blog Followers, this is Lucy here.

I sit writing this in Regina watching the sun melt the snow outside and listening to the locals exclaiming at this extraordinarily warm weather for December in Saskatchewan. Extraordinarily warm has meant highs of plus 9 these last few days and lows of minus 10. Tropical!

 

It seems hard to believe that it has been two weeks since we set out together. My first two weeks of bike touring have been fantastic, but a steep learning curve too. My first days on the road were pretty exteme. It was a constant mission to cover up any skin that might be exposed to the elements (deep into the minus temperatures) and really tiring staying on top of everything to stay safe and unfrozen. We are tentatively enjoying this weather break, though are slightly nervous for when the weather turns again.

 

Only minus 10 - toasty..

Only minus 10 – toasty..

Exhausted at first by the constant unpacking and packing of the tent, (I call it ‘tent faff’) and putting on seeminly every available item of clothing to cycle in seemed to take forever and I was questioning if we would ever make it into Saskatchewan with such short hours of cycling. Emotion got the better of me a couple of times in the first week, heightened by the extreme temperatures, but now my quads scream less at the end of the day which tells me my cycling legs are establishing themselves and we have our tent routine down to a fine art, so life feels less stressful and the miles each day less daunting.

 

There are more cows than people in the Prairies (probably)

There are more cows than people in the Prairies (probably)

Sarah has been amazingly patient and a great teacher, showing me what to do (and not to do) and little tricks here and there to help make life easier and more comfortable. Everything is so fun with her and if I make a mistake her line is usually, ‘Ah, I wouldn’t worry about it. Worse things happen at sea.’ Only she would know this… A few times Sarah has looked at my panniers and pulled everything out, squashing everything down to within inches of its life to make double the amount of room. I am constantly amazed at what she manages to fit in hers – they seem like magical bottomless treasure chests, normally with a Mars bars hiding at the bottom (always a fab find in the dark and cold).

 

There are more cows and people than trees in the Prairies (definitely)

There are more cows and people than trees in the Prairies (definitely)

Last week we took a few days cycling on the back roads which were stunningly beautiful and quiet. One day we only came across 2 cars and the road was our own. We were stopped a couple of times by drivers asking if we were lost and ‘Why are you going to X? You do know there’s nothing there.’ They would explain that no one ever cycles on the back roads, not even in good weather, instead favouring the major highways. We found it hard to understand why not. Rolling hills, herds of antelope crossing the roads infront of us, cows mooing and being chased by enthusiastic dogs, melting snow for water and camping with beautiful sunsets – it felt like our own world. Perhaps the funniest encounter was one lady who told us we would be going to altitude that evening on the road ahead. We both looked at each other with politely raised eyebrows, accepted her kind offerings of water and giggled as we pedalled away. The Rocky Prairies – here we come! Even at home we have bigger hills than the Prairies.

 

Hercules and Ovlov in surgery in Darrel's workshop

Hercules and Ovlov in surgery in Darrel’s workshop

About 150 km from Regina, Sarah and I decided to have a go on each other’s bikes for half an hour or so. Just as I got off Hercules Sarah shushed me and we both listened  to the hissing of a tyre going down. At the same moment we noticed that the phlange of the Rohloff hub (the centre barrell of the wheel which houses the gearing mechanism) had cracked in two places and would be causing bigger issues in time. Over the next few hours we stopped 4 times to take Herc’s back wheel off and figure out what was causing the flats. A ruined ‘bead’ (the rim of the tyre) and a cheeky length of wire poking out was irreparable, despite our bodge efforts so we hitched to Regina  to meet local bike whizz Darrell Kaczynski who had previously arranged to help us.  While Darrell has been working on rebuilding Hercules Sarah borrowed his bike and we had a ride back down the road in the wee hours of yesterday morning to make up the miles to the city. We were blessed with 8 degrees of warm weather and useful winds – it was lovely.

 

Darrell the Bike God works on Herc's back wheel

Darrell the Bike God works on Herc’s back wheel

We set off to Winnipeg in the morning, crossing everything for another warm snap. For now it’s back to washing and kit sorting.

 

Eastwards!

 

Lucy

 

P.S Thanks to everyone who has helped us this week including the McNary family, Walter Hancock, Marty Hansen, Jacqui from down the road, Anita of the Cupcakes, Western Cycle and Bert the Driver, Italian Star Deli for the yummy food and the ever persistent and focussed Darrell Kaczynski for all his bike and hosting efforts.

 

P.P.S After many hours of work by Darrell and lots of input from various people around town, Hercules is doing well and his rear wheel should last until we reach Winnipeg and meet up with the replacement Rohloff hub, kindly provided by Santos bikes in the Netherlands.

 

 

 

 

 

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It’s not even winter yet…

Snowy roads on a quiet sunny day - bliss

Snowy roads on a quiet sunny day – bliss

Chilly has come to take on a whole new meaning lately as Lucy is plunged into the Canadian subzero temps during her first week on the road and my ‘record’ reaches new lows with a run of minus 30s and minus 40. It is still novel and exciting for the most part but it has been a bit frightening too. It is frightening to see just how quickly things freeze and how mind and body and bike slow in the (really) cold stuff, and know that there is more of it ahead and that frozen digits or bits of face would be really annoying (amongst other things). So far Luce and I have both agreed that this might count as ‘polar’ enough for us when out in the cold, though now I type this from the warmth of indoors I find myself dreaming of beautiful snowscapes of those permanently snowy climes and thinking it would still be an awesome place to visit. The funniest thing is that a seven year old pointed out that it isn’t even officially winter yet…

 

Lucy's first day on the road

Lucy’s first day on the road

Snuggled into our sleeping bags with hoods cinched round our faces and Buffs over every bit of exposed cheek and nose on her second night in the tent, Lucy turned to me and said ‘What are we doing?” after the circus of going for a tent pee (in a saucepan) and then getting back into the sleeping bags as quickly as possible. We both burst into giggles. A snowstorm was raging outside and drifts building around the various buildings of ‘Larry from the Prairie’s’ house that we could see from our tiny tent window. Even with both inner doors open and the outer vents open we still had our very own crystalline wall paper inside, showering us with hoar frost each time either of us sat up or knocked the tent wall.

 

For this is what adventure is all about – that heady mix of excitement, discomfort, challenge, satisfaction, new experiences and generally figuring things out. We have certainly been doing that in our first week of cycling together – not only for the fact it is Lucy’s first time cycle touring but also for the timely arrival of a cold snap. A very cold one, in fact.

 

Life's better with two

Life’s better with two

On our first day we pedalled for a couple of hours (not very far) into freezing rain and biting winds on snowy, yucky roads. I am glad we turned down the offer of staying inside at the house we knocked on in favour of trying out our new tent, for the next morning when we went in to make breakfast, we discovered it was full of discarded beer bottles and mouse poo. The owner (a truck company boss) and his colleagues clearly just use it as a drinking den. Our second day saw us venture out for a couple of hours to pedal a couple of kilometres in a snow storm on even snowier, yuckier roads. We camped next to “Larry from the Prairie’s’ house to escape the wind and woke to brilliant sun and freeze-your-wotsits-off weather the following morning. The irony is that it took us longer to pack up and get ready and then unpack and set up camp each day than we did pedalling for the first few days. Everything takes longer in the cold. Everything breaks, too.

 

Camped outside Wei-Fung's house was a chilly experience

Camped outside Wei-Fung’s house was a chilly experience

I cursed the stove on our third evening when it decided to stop working part way through boiling water for the pasta. As the mercury slid towards 30 below I was to be heard shouting naughty words and dancing around trying to warm up my fingers as I tried to get it going again. Lucy sat in the tent sobbing at the overwhelming emotion of those first few days of an expedition, paralysed by the cold and said emotion into a teary camper. You can imagine the relief of both of us when we closed the door on the razor-like cold and tucked into a steaming pan of pasta, wrapped in our sleeping bags and hugs – suddenly everything felt better again once the toes came back to life. It has been a week of learning, that’s for sure.

 

Sun on snow - mesmerising

Sun on snow – mesmerising

A week of beauty, too, even on those ridiculously cold days. Bright blue skies and brilliant sunshine turning snowscapes sparkly and then pink and orange at sundown. Riding under an almost-full moon, watched by Orion and pals on a quiet night and seeing the Rocky mountains way off on the horizon, turn purple across the skyline in the morning sun. Someone told me that the Prairies would be boring, but I think their mind must be a boring place for it has been anything but, and it is far more varied than he would have led me believe. We have met curious ponies and cows with ice moustaches, watched coyotes and foxes trot over snowy fields, and been chased down the road by enthusiastic dogs with a mixed up death-wish-cum-hunger-for-cyclists. We even saw some llamas (or they might have been alpacas) looking as out of place as we did.

As ever, the people we have met will become etched into our memories. From Larry who declared us the ‘most hardcore people he had ever met’ to the laughing, wide eyed Wei-Fung who seemed incredulous that we wanted to camp outside her house at -30, and then even more so when she found out we had survived the night! The car drivers who toot their horns in support… and the train driver who did the same…. and even more car drivers who turn their heads in disbelief at seeing two begoggled wrapped up biking things headed along snowy roads.

Hooray for the moon

Hooray for the moon

There was Mike and Mikaela and their hatch of 2-week old beagle pups. Not only did we camp in their garden (we would have slept inside were it not for Allergy Features here) but they plugged in a heater for our tent overnight and brought us a bag of delicious home made food, bread and fruit for supper. Heroes indeed.

And then the community of Hussar – a small village of 180 something residents that we pedalled into one night. We were invited to go and watch the ice hockey training in a stadium that they had fundraised for over a decade and built themselves. Once there, a gentleman footed our bill without us knowing, while others chatted with us about anything and everything and invited us to sleep inside. With our tent already pitched outside we opted for the latter before going into the school the next morning to listen to the 50 studentsbelt out their School song and give them a talk on the journey. We pedalled out of Hussar with big grins on our faces and fire in our legs, snippets of the Hussar school song ringing  in our heads over coming days.

 

H-U-S-S-A-R = We're the Grizzlies of Hussar!

H-U-S-S-A-R = We’re the Grizzlies of Hussar!

I always think that the first week (or more) of a trip is about settling in, and to me it really feels like Lucy has settled in this week, every day being a bit more comfortable with life on the road, in the cold, on a bike. I have had three months to get used to it and she has been parachuted right into the (chilly) cauldron. I am so happy she is out here – having each other to look after and to be looked after by the other is such a good focus. Most of all though it is about sharing in the journey together. Hugging out the tough stuff, making each other giggle all the time, and just being together – everything feels easier and lighter as a duo and I love it. I am really grateful to my sponsors for agreeing to let Lucy join in with this phase and am as happy as a llama in the snow.

 

Also available for face painting services...

Also available for face painting services…

As much as we are loving the novelty, beauty, misery and learnings of life in the really cold stuff, we are both pretty excited by the idea of warmer temperatures this next week with the arrival of a Chinook ( a warm air system sweeping in from the Pacific). Temperatures are forecast to go above zero, even during the nights. Wooop woop and wooop!

  Pedal on.

 

Sarah x

 

P.S Thanks to everyone who has donated to the L2L Charities recently. Please consider doing the same at: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/showFundraiserProfilePage.action?userUrl=sarahouten

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Turning left

It is half past midnight and Lucy and I are tapping away to tie up final bits of admin before we head out on the road in the morning, leaving our new friends in Calgary for the road east. We are surrounded by panniers and bits of kit, enjoying the warmth of our host’s house ahead of the slightly(!) chillier climes of our tent.

We are aiming to stay off the main highways now that there is a choice of roads

We are aiming to stay off the main highways now that there is a choice of roads

The last few days have been pretty busy as we ready ourselves, divvying up parcels of medication and kit for the onward journey, sending now redundant summer kit home and getting bikes and pedallers ready to hit the road.

The guys at TCR Sport Lab put us through our paces with a VO2 Max test too

The guys at TCR Sport Lab put us through our paces with a VO2 Max test too

My squealy back and leg muscles have been battered into submission again by an Olympic masseur, Hercules’ prone back wheel has been coaxed into the best possible shape in the hope it will make the new wheel build in Regina (a few hundred km down the road) and Lucy’s bike has received it’s final pimping. We were also treated to a VO2 max test by the guys at TCR Sport Lab – a test where we pedalled at different workloads while wearing a Darth Vader mask to ascertain (among various things) the way in which our body burns fats and sugars, which provided some interesting observations and suggestions.

Pedalling is faster with two

Pedalling is faster with two

The original plan was for Lucy to have a gentle introduction to life on the road, however we somehow thought it was a good idea for her to ride out and join me on my final ride into Calgary. Being a through-the-night, into-headwinds mission this ended up being a 160km (100 mile) round trip for Lucy on her bike with no sleep. It was such a brilliant thing to find her snoozing in the lobby of a truckers’ inn at 2am, 80 km north of town. Suddenly the miles felt easier and riding along in the relative warmth of a Chinook phase, we rode through the dark into the dawn and the crisp blue of a sunny day in Calgary.

 Meeting the local WaterAid Supporters at the Olympic Park

Meeting the local WaterAid Supporters at the Olympic Park

 

Meeting the WaterAid supporters and cyclists at Canada Olympic Park underneath the national flags was a very cool way to arrive in town and mark our time together. WaterAid is one of my four supported charities and having recently launched in Canada (as WaterAid Canada) made for a great teaming up. Expedition life continually reminds me of the importance of resource management and I have many tales to tell of not having fresh water, yet a lack of safe drinking water and santitation is a daily reality for thousands around the world.

And so tomorrow we head out as a pair. I am excited and a grinning Lucy has just told me she feels apprehensive and excited, too. We look forward to letting you know how things go.

And finally  - turning left in the title? This is because Calgary represents the corner of my route for now, having pedalled south over recent weeks. Next turn, Winnpeg.

Sarah x

P.S Big thanks to local folks at TCR Sport Lab for their support in the bike efforts, Zoe and Maya in the errands, Chad and Laura in hosting us and WaterAid Canada.

 

P.P.S  To donate to the L2L Charities please click here: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/showFundraiserProfilePage.action?userUrl=sarahouten

 

P.P.P.S Thanks for all recent comments – will respond as and when time allows. In answer to kit request, yes, I shall post details on kit at some point.

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Canada bound

This is Lucy here – Sarah’s fiancee….

I am sat in my kitchen tapping away at some expedition admin, knitting some Christmas hats, dressed in my shorts and a T-shirt. Why? Because I can! I have piles of cold weather and camping kit dotted around the living room, which my lodgers kindly jump over every time they enter and exit the room. My bike has had a refurb and is in the kitchen waiting to be boxed up for the flight.

As I listen to the boiler kick in and the bubbling sounds of the kettle, feeling the fluffiness of the slippers I’ve just found under the table and put on, I find it impossible to imagine what I shall feel like in a week’s time, once I am with Sarah in Canada for the bike ride.

I like to think I’m used to the cold – working on the farm in winter, but -22 degrees in the day time?! This is something I cannot quite comprehend as I merrily tell people of the conditions ahead. They stare back – somewhat awkwardly with contorted looks on their faces, and the best of my friends dare to question and say, ‘Luce, er, I’m really quite worried for you. We know Sarah’s a bit bonkers but you’re not quite on that scale (yet?!). Have you trained? Have you been living in the freezer to acclimatise? What socks are you taking? Have you been eating everything in sight?’ (Yes – of course to the latter, that’s standard!)

One question leads to a ream of kind curiosity and concerned confusion, which leads me to think I should be a bit worried about what the next couple of months will bring. Maybe the fear will kick in on the plane, but for now I’m quite happy living in ignorance and knowing I shall be in good hands, that the bears have gone to sleep and hopefully I can be of some use to Sarah out there too – Chief Tent Putter-Upper perhaps, Sock Warmer, and Christmas Carol Singer – that kind of thing.

If you read Sarah’s blogs back in the summer, you’ll know that she surprised me for my birthday inbetween the kayaking/biking legs and what a fantastic surprise. It was the bestest ever surprise. We had a whirl wind week, nearly giving my Gran a heart attack when Sarah waltzed into the living room where she was quietly knitting. Sarah learnt how to drive the combine (a little too excitedly at times) but did very well and only fell asleep twice. She got a little taste of the farm in the summer before getting back to Alaska, worlds apart from home. I didn’t quite have time to experience all the emotions I normally do when Sarah goes away (which is a blessing!) knowing that just in couple of months I would be seeing her again.

Sarah mucking in with the harvesting

Sarah mucking in with the harvesting

So, as I wind down my life for this year in the UK, wishing my hockey and rugby teams that I’m leaving behind luck in their remaining matches and apologising for my absence, I am filled with pure excitement thinking of the adventure ahead. Albeit, it is a pixel in a picture compared to Sarah’s days and months out there, but nonetheless, an adventure. A very big thank you to my fantastic parents (and the animals!) for letting me have such a lovely chunk of time away with Sarah. The best Christmas present ever. All in all, I’ve had a very lucky year.

I am raising money for Sarah’s charities, aiming to raise £1 for every km I cycle to make my trip count. So if you’d like to sponsor me a km, then please donate through Sarah’s usual page but add in the acronym, MIC (make it count). Donate here :)

I am hoping the next blog is a happy one, whereby the risk of nearly frost bitten digits is still a novelty and that we are still singing the Frozen soundtrack at the tops of our voices.

Heres to the adventure….

Lucy x

And many thanks to the fabulous PushPedal who did a great job at getting my bike up to scratch

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In which Edmonton keeps its distance

So… the whole Edmonton thing. It’s not quite happening in the way I had imagined, though it is certainly proving to be quite the adventure and the delays and twists and turns are throwing me into meeting some lovely, interesting folks. It now looks like Lucy will almost certainly beat me to Calgary, short of the plane going on strike.

Since I last wrote we have decided (Team L2L) that we are not going to predict when I might be anywhere as it is proving rather impossible to get anywhere near the correct answer. If only Edmonton was a comet, maybe it would be easier to reach!

I have in fact been to Edmonton already this last week and with Hercules, too. But we didn’t pedal so it doesn’t count.

Snowbiker

Snowbiker

Snow dump

After my last blog the snow fell to a soft and beautiful 8 inches the night before I left Grande Prairie, making for a rather tiring 15km walk pushing my 70kg Herculean steed through the unplughed snow to get out of town. Having discovered Tim Horton’s recently, I paid my dues and inhaled half a dozen doughnuts before pushing on into the white and along the icy highway. The long and the short is that three days later I wasn’t very far down the road and so when a kindly truck driver stopped to take my photo, followed by a police officer stopping to take my details, I rode the 320km to Edmonton with Truck Driver Dave to pick up my winter spiked tyres.

Trucks trucks trucks galore

Trucks trucks trucks galore

Talk about serendipity – Dave is a keen winter biker, so had lots of useful tips to share. I had a couple of days in Edmonton rifling through my pre-shipped boxes of winter gear, bought some pretty fancy and toasty warm cycling boots as my neoprene wellies were freezing solid in the -20 C temperatures and threatening frostbite, and chose a new winter tent for Lucy and me.

In which the Police officer stops to see if I am OK

In which the Police officer stops to see if I am OK

Team Millar Western

Way back in the Yukon I met a couple on a 9 month road trip and they hooked me up with friends and family on the route, including family in Edmonton. They are part of the Millar family, which owns the forestry firm Millar Western and the lovely Janet made it her mission to find me a ride north again.On Friday two of her colleagues drove me the 300+km back out to my spot on the road to join up my dots again. Connie was the final chauffeur to me and Herc – a true Mum at heart, for , as we approached, she said, ‘I can’t do it. I can’t just leave you here at the roadside! It’s not right’. With some persuasion that I would be just fine, she did let me out into the snow and minus temperatures and Hercules and I tore through the 65km to an apartment of the aforementioned Millar Western with much more speed and grip than we had done with the old tyres. What a treat. Now, having found a way to ride, I just need to find a way to pee in the super cold without getting super cold. (For those of you about to suggest SheWee/PStyle or similar, that is just a recipe for wet/frozen shorts. I’ve tried)

Joining the dots up from the point I left off - thanks Millar Western

Joining the dots up from the point I left off – thanks Millar Western

Yesterday’s riding to Whitecourt was made all the more fun by being joined by Ray, locally acknowledged as the ‘only winter biker around here’ on his fat bike (think motorbike sized tyres) and an overnight with his young family. One of his sons exclaimed this morning ‘It was great to meet you. Now I can say I had a celebrity sleep in my bed’. ‘Oh, no, I’m sorry’, I said. ‘Hercules was in the garage’.

Staying put

And Whitecourt is where Hercules and I have stayed again today, despite my best efforts to leave and on account of Hercules having a touch of man flu, scuppering my vision to ride through the night to Edmonton. Today he had his first two flats of this continent, courtesy of one of those cheeky bits of metal wire that lorry tyre blowouts leave on the road, a broken quick release as I replaced the wheel, and an issue with the brake caliper (might be the wrong word?) grating the wheel rim in a dangerous sort of fashion, irritating my ears and damaging the rim. And this was all before I had even managed to pedal us out of town!

Three men and a bike

Three men and a bike

I am no mean bike mechanic but I do enjoy tinkering, and figuring out, something that works to get me on the road again. The grating-slowing effect of the brake system had me stumped for a wee while until a chap called Jeff stopped to help and took me back to his friends’ house, having seen me with Hercules upside down at the other end of town a few hours before. His pals Jason and son Terris jumped straight into action when we arrived, oohing and ahhing over the various novel bike parts, and I sat smiling at having three eager chaps working on Hercules. They are real wheel-nuts. Cars, bikes, engines – I could see they were in their element. Folks are super, super kind – this is not just my journey and never has been really. All of these people become a part of it, too. I just get to sit on the bike – there are so many people helping the wheels turn and get them going when things splutter to a stop. People – know that your cyclist is super grateful! inter cyclist Ray delivered a new quick-release spindle this morning to me, roadside, and insisted I take some of his extra inner tubes too, not being sure of how well tube repair would work at minus whatever.

-15C quickly became -20C, Still a novelty!

-15C quickly became -20C, Still a novelty!

Cold country, warm people

So I feel happily, cosily, looked after as I sit here cross-legged in front of a roaring wood stove in a lady’s house while she is out at a church meeting, having met her an hour before she left me alone in her house. Talk about trust, warmth and kindness. I am one very lucky lass. It is the story of the road – especially, it seems, now things are even chillier. Most people balk at the idea of me sleeping out, even though I have lots of warm clothing and a fluffy duvet of a sleeping bag. Meanwhile, my new winter 2-person tent sits patiently in my rack pack waiting for its first outing. It looks like it may wait until I reach Calgary and meet up with Lucy.

I love staying with families - it reminds me of my own

I love staying with families – it reminds me of my own

Tomorrow Hercules and I wil ltry to ride again and, if the going is good, I aim to ride late into the night to reach Edmonton. (It is 180-something km away) But I am not getting my hopes up (or Hercules’) as this journey shows me time and time and time again, you just never can tell. And anyhow, the journey is the reward….

Onwards!

Sarah and Hercules x

P.S Thanks to Dave the Truck Driver, Team Millar Western, Team Hilts, Jason, Gay and Terris, Wine, Jeff, Byron Suley nad Revolution Cycle for all your help in recent days

P.P.S The ice tyres are Schwalbe Ice Spiker Pro

Any snowy donations welcome here :)

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