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.

Leaving on a jet plane

Happiest of days

Happiest of days

*Huffs and puffs * ‘ARGHHH! I have to get my foot out….. There must be a toe warmer in between my toes and it’s REALLY annoying.   I can’t sleep with it there.’  I wriggle around trying to get my leg out of the sleeping bag that both Sarah and I are sharing rather unsuccessfully….

Last night in the tent together

Last night in the tent together

It was our last tent night and we had saved two beers from the night before to toast our cycling success – the miles, the memories and lack of frostbite. As I brought them from the tent I put one down my top to keep ‘warm’ and opened the other, drawing it up to my lips. As I tipped it up, the liquid began to freeze so quickly, turning the pale gold into ice before our eyes. We watched the second bottle do the same and resigned ourselves to hot chocolate instead, marvelling at the two frozen beery volcanoes.

Beery volcanoes

Beery volcanoes

After dinner and a little campfire, punctuated by marching about to keep warm, we settled into the tent and found Sarah’s sleeping bag zip had broken irreparably. (Sarah – I never have much luck with zips) We decided to try and fit two of us into my sleeping bag, (a massive feathery house of a thing) but even that was rather snug and left the top half of our bodies only partially covered.

At -30 it would not do and we covered our top halves in jackets and fleece to insulate, wriggling and squiggling to get comfy and lie still enough to decide if we were cold. During this time I tried using one foot to try and remove a toe warmer trapped between my little toe and his neighbour. In the end I thought it must be wedged and declared that I couldn’t sleep with it there and that we had to disentangle ourselves for me to get at it. While Sarah took this opportunity to use the en-suite facilities I took off my socks to remove said toe warmer only to find… nothing there. On closer inspection I realised that I could no longer feel my poor little toe which was now white except for a bruised-looking tip.  The pinch test failed, meaning that no blood was looping around my little digit and I couldn’t feel Sarah’s tapping or pinching.

I really was with crazy!

I really was with crazy!

Sarah immediately got to business – sitting up, massaging it and warming it in her armpit. (Romantic, or what) There we sat for 30 minutes, Sarah coaching me through muscles clenches up and down my body to squeeze warm blood down and preparing a ‘What if?’ plan incase we had to get to hospital.  I lay there, wrapped in the sleeping bag, a little bemused by the whole thing – wondering at how this would happen on our last tent night together.

At the end of 30 minutes, suddenly a rush of feeling shocked the pale toe into action and it looked red and healthy again. We looked relieved.  Phew.

A chilly Sarah

A chilly Sarah

I have learned that the cold does funny things to you as it does to kit and gear. Not only does kit getting misshapen, not fitting into this or that or folding neatly as it did before – but minds and bodies do, too. At – 40 Sarah says that I lie very still, not talking at all, in a sort of stupor as though conserving every micro-ounce of energy. I don’t think I shall miss the cold too much.

It has reassured me whilst packing my bags and boxing the bike to fly home, that Sarah is always on high alert and very in touch with what her body is doing and telling her.

Our final day of cycling went smoothly,  with mild weather, good tail winds (about time, too) and only a couple of hiccups. My rear luggage rack decided to snap off it’s fixings just one hour into our 100km ride and so we unloaded at the roadside and got creative with duct tape and cable ties.  At the other end of the road, just 10 km from our final stop we were honked at by a motorist and illuminated by the car lights behind. It was a very-smartly-behatted  State Tropper informing us that we were breaking state law and were not allowed on the Interstate. Apparently we had missed the ‘Bicycles prohibited’ signs amid our teary, thoughtful dazes as we contemplated our final hours on the bike together.

Getting creative with cable ties and duct tape

Getting creative with cable ties and duct tape

Riding with Sarah  the last 2 months have been the best times  - ever. Period. The highlights are too many to mention but my favourite part was spending 24/7 together. With only one small bicker about how best to pack my bike into its small box, we are closer then ever.

I am able to better understand and support Sarah now through the distance, holding her hand knowingly while she continues cycling and rowing home, even though she still has thousands of miles to make. When she says she has seen a sun dog I know that it is ‘freeze-your -wotsits -off’ weather and she had better get inside. Or when she says she has had a really good day on the bike, or equally a bad one – I get it.

Both happy to be here :)

Both happy to be here :)

Sarah has so many first class qualities but two that stand out are her patience and ability to remain positive and cheerful in ANY situation. Patience with me as a learning bicycle tourer making mistakes she’s already made years ago but being kind enough to sit them out and watch me make them and learn. On days when it seemed the whole of America would descend and stop and ask what, where and why, there was Sarah speaking with the same enthusiasm every time. When most people would get stressed, Sarah smiles and let it all wash over her, being meticulous in her actions to ensure the best outcome and leaving the rest up to whatever will be will be. The kindest, bravest and most humble person I’ve ever met.

So, this is the second to last of the big goodbyes done now. I am back  in the UK, helping with Happy Socks sorting and immersing myself with my farm work as lambing season descends. And Sarah and Hercules continue East to the coast.

I am constantly reminded what an incredible journey she is making and I feel so lucky that I was able to share  a tiny bit of it first hand.

Thank you so much to those who have donated to my cycling months and miles supporting the L2L charities.  Here is the link incase anyone else is tempted :)

Lucy x

P.S Thanks to Team Carlson and Team Stevens, Sable Inn – Foley, Sherry and Lee Bruce, and Accenture Minneapolis

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Of ice and men

'I thought you were guys when I first drove past..'

‘I thought you were guys when I first drove past..’

‘Did anyone ever tell you this is just a guy thing?’

If I understood his question correctly, it may be one of the most perceptive questions I have ever been asked at a talk – by adult or child. By correctly, I mean understanding this young lad to be questioning whether I had ever met with such comments, rather than him telling me that he believed, and did I not know, that adventure is just a guy thing.

'Your bike's awesome'.. as Hercules was wheeled on stage

‘Your bike’s awesome’.. as Hercules was wheeled on stage

I was really glad that this boy of 12 asked me about it being a ‘guy thing.’  Sad, too, that he lives in a society where the social vibes – in and out of the media, and home and away, must be suggesting to him that adventure is only for those people lucky enough (*cue wry smile) to be born with a Y chromosome. It is one thing to be stood barefoot in front of a class of youngsters sharing tales about how the fully laden bike behind me brought me to their country, and how various other small muscle-powered boats carried me across the sea. But to confront that question out loud with words and thoughts on the topic itself was probably more powerful. Or perhaps not. Project Manager Sara said that her 10 year old daughter had been really excited watching the preview film that Justine has made about our Alaskan kayaking adventures last summer because she was watching women – future older versions of herself – doing extreme things in the outdoors rather than the usual beards she sees on Discovery and mainstream TV.

Without confronting these things and talking about them – amongst adults and young people alike – clearly such sexism is often acknowledged and accepted and the status quo can continue on. It is good to swirl things up and encourage debate and discussion.  Chatting to other adults about the ‘guy thing’ question later that day, we were told that this area of the American Mid West is a patriarchal place, so it is easy to see where it might start. (This is not to say there are not strong women up here, either by the way) On TV the adventurous-looking ads for huge pick up trucks are coupled with testosterone in bucketloads and in outdoor stores, there are pictures of square jawed blokes doing outdoorsy things. Out on the road recently we were told by a driver that he had taken us for guys on first seeing us pedal past ‘because he didn’t expect to see ladies out riding bikes at this time of the year’. I raised my eyebrows into a ‘Did-I-really-just-hear-you-say-that?’ look. I guess that at home in the UK among friends there is nothing extraordinary in my doing what I am doing as a female. I have always been surrounded by strong women and grown up playing sports and doing adventurous things under their guidance, with their companionship etc. The glaring omission for me would be in the media – besides Ellen MacArthur’s Vendee Globe campaign on TV while I was a teenager over a decade ago, I can’t say I have been overwhelmed with media examples of women doing amazing things. This isn’t to say they aren’t doing amazing things – just that they aren’t making the media coverage and the mainstream with the same frequency or airtime/print space as the guys. And it doesn’t even have to be ‘amazing’ to be valid and valued as example and inspiration to folks that girls can, too.

I imagine I might be talking to the converted here – you are reading a blog of an expedition by a woman, after all. But my shout would be to seek out stories of women doing cool things and share them and demand from our media outlets that we ladies are given as much air time, print space, sponsorship and kudos as the beards. And that, most of all, girls and women are given the same support and encouragement and opportunities as their male counterparts – in and out of sport and adventure. It is the 21st Century after all.

Stranded in the snow.

Stranded in the snow.

 Blizzards and bikes

DCIM105GOPRO

Surreal to be walking on a frozen lake

In other news, Lucy and I continue to pedal when we can and wait out the blizzardy stuff when we cannot, now heading SE through Minnesota, state of ’10,000 lakes’. With the sub zero temperatures, lakes and rivers are freezing or frozen, turning the ice into pop-up fishing communities of huts and shacks and trailers. Yesterday we pedalled out onto the ice of one such frozen lake to meet one such fisherman.

Jeff and his ice fishing hut

Jeff and his ice fishing hut

Jeff was the closest to the slipway and as we were wary of the creaking and cracking and the idea of falling through (logic played no part here) we opted to say hello to him rather than venture out further to other trailers.

Jeff was getting set up, piling snow around the bottom of his home made insulated 5 ft x 3 ft shack, having lined it up over the two head-sized holes he had drilled through the ice.

The icy blue green was mesmerising

The icy blue green was mesmerising

‘Wanna see inside?’ he said as he opened up the door to show us the set up. A curtain was drawn to make it easier to peer into the pale green blue of the ice hole and a small heater warmed the space. A small spool of line and simple lure hung above the hole and Jeff ladled out ice to clear the water. He dropped a small fish-shaped camera down on a line and showed us the bottom of the lake as he turned the camera, telling us of a ’3 foot Northern beauty’ which had swum in and out of shot a few times. Two little perch lay flaccid in a bucket of ice, hauled out of their icy winter home to become fertiliser for Jeff’s garden.

With a heater and insulated walls, it was a cosy treat to be inside

With a heater and insulated walls, it was a cosy treat to be inside

As we walked our bikes off the ice, wondering how a 3 foot fish could be hauled up through said ice holes, Jeff went back to his FishTV, setting up for the experience. If he is anything like my brother Matt, I know that just being out there on the ice will be as important as catching anything. There is a lot to be said for just being. As I understand, ice fishing for many is a lot about beering too – and, having spent a few nights with folks from this part of the world, I can well believe it.

Until next time,

 

Sarah x

P.S Recent thanks to Janet and Harvey Solheim, Karie Kirschbaum, Gary cafe, Pastor Phil and the Huck family.

P.P.S Huge thanks to recent donors to the L2L charities. If you’d like to follow suit – please do so here: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/showFundraiserProfilePage.action?userUrl=sarahouten

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Wintry things

Sundogs and crazy bikers go out in the wintry....

Sundogs and crazy bikers go out in the wintry….

Since Lucy and I last wrote a blog (last year) we have swapped Canada for the U.S of A and 2014 for 2015, experienced some of the chilliest temperatures of the trip so far, broken a few bike bits, fixed a few others, been adopted by a wonderful Canadian family for the holidays (and consumed modest amounts of gin with them), been welcomed in  and escorted both ways in and out of cities by various other folks and had to start coming to terms with the idea that Lucy’s time out here is drawing to a close this month. Sad faces indeed… (Hercules is besides himself at the idea and I am trying to be silently stoic and failing miserably)

Team Woodcock Cycles,Winnipeg

Team Woodcock Cycles,Winnipeg

As if wanting to send her out with a fanfare, the weather has done it’s wintry best to put on a show lately, providing beautiful sun dogs and halos around the sinking sun, painted wide skies bright with warm sunsets and full moons, shown us a north American blizzard in all its fury and reminded us of how quickly frostbite can…well, bite. Worry not – we still have all limbs, digits and extremities intact but Luce seems to be more sensitive to the cold after going out of the tent without her gloves on the other morning. Must have had snow on the brain or something…

Back in the U S of A

Back in the U S of A

Anyhooo… the big news  of late is that I am starting up my own band, with the recent gift (by Lucy – mad woman) to me of a harmonica. Expect no concerts any time soon as she won’t actually let me practice on it very much, and instead insists that I ‘save it for the ocean’. Perhaps I can pipe myself into shore as I reach the UK? So far, I am working on Frere Jacques. Watch this space… That big patch of blue is getting ever closer with every pedal stroke, though as we approach mid winter it feels like we are experiencing more ‘weather’ days with blizzards and cold temperatures, so there is still enough thousands of miles to keep me keenly aware that anything can happen.

Dave Sears from Grand Forks - kindred bikey spirit

Dave Sears from Grand Forks – kindred bikey spirit

 I still find it amusing when speaking to journalists in towns ahead of my position, when they want to know of arrival times, pointing out that I am currently static due to a blizzard etc and cannot determine when anything will happen let alone an arrival to somewhere miles and miles ahead.There are no givens and nothing can be taken for granted. Meanwhile my nutritionist Rinn Cobb is devising some pretty detailed plans of what I shall be fuelled with out there and kit orders for this and that are arriving at L2L HQ ready for shipment to the coast next month.

South to the States

South to the States

I am just waiting with baited breath to see if Hercules’ hub rim weld will hold until I (finally) meet up with the replacement hub which seems to have gone AWOL since leaving Europe a few weeks ago. For now, he is going strong and nothing has pinged or cracked and the lovely folks at Santos are working on tracing it.     Right, update out of the way, now to a brief kit list after someone requested a few weeks back. First up, I would say that something that may or may not work for me, may not do the same for A. N Other. I am continually amused by the number of (I am guessing) testosterone fuelled males who email my website declaring that I should or should not be doing this or that, going here or there and wearing this or that or not – offering their own unsolicited advice without necessarily knowing anything about my setup or plans etc.

All things kit

So…. Top tips from our experience would be to layer clothing, guarding against biting winds, keeping extra protection for extremities to hand and ensuring ‘cold fat bits’ (thighs/bum) are protected. I know some people go for bivvy bags/snow holes instead of tents in cold weather to do away with frosty issues – but for us that is not an option, given the wind and lack of deep snow.

SLEEPING:

  • MEC Lightfield tent (generally using panniers for guys instead of pegs)
  • MSR Z-Lite thermarest
  • Airmats (Lucy uses  Alpkit and I am using Exped Downmat 9)
  • 4/5 season down sleeping bags – Sarah couples hers with a Lifeventure fleece liner * Recommend waterproof bags e.g. Crux or Exped   2 x candle lanterns for warmth/moisture reduction hung from tent

CLOTHING:

  • MEC down booties (super warm for tent wear)
  • Merino wool socks by Icebreaker and Skhoop (2-3 pairs depending on temps)
  • Sealskinz waterproof socks
  • Thinner down jacket (Skhoop for Lucy, Berghaus Ignite Hoody for Sarah)
  • Thicker down jacket (Berghaus)
  • Merino wool vest/gilet and long sleeve zip tops – Icebreaker
  • Merino tank top base layer  - Icebreaker
  • Secondary layers – Lucy wearing Icebreaker, Sarah wearing MEC hooded top
  • Windproof rain jackets by Berghaus
  • Boots – 45 Nrth Wolvhammer boots (have cleats) We wear them comfortably all the time down to -45 C coldest temps. Just walk a short way if toes get cool.
  • Lucy wears a set of gaiters
  • Cycling tights by Assos (Sarah winter full length/Lucy 3/4 fleece lined)
  • 2-3 pairs of thermal tights (mix of merino wool by Icebreaker and synthetic by Berghaus and MEC) Sarah cycles in 1/2 sets and Lucy wears a pair of Jack Wolkskin fleece lined pants
  • Down skirt by Skhoop *FAVOURITE PIECE OF CLOTHING – Sarah wears hers on the bike
  • Fleece pant/trousers for tent/town (Sarah sometimes layers on bike if cold)
  • Merino wool briefs (Icebreaker)
  • Gloves by Sealskinz (mix of Lobster claw, 5 finger and fingerless Assos gloves)
  • Mittens by MEC and Berghaus
  • Pogies/bar mits (Lucy has MEC and I have neoprene Bar Mitts – latter warm enough to cycle at -45 with fingerless gloves)
  • Helmet – Rudy Project
  • Helmet cover (hi vis)
  • Skull caps – merino wool (Icebreaker)
  • Balaclavas – synthetic by OCR and Lucy wears silk
  • Neoprene face mask
  • Fleece hats by Berghaus (over-the-ears)
  • Fleece lined waterproof hat with ear flaps (Beghaus)
  • Buffs (fleecey/windproof)
  • Fleecey headband earwarmer
  • Sunglasses (Rudy Project) Goggles (Rudy Project) – Reflective/tinted is useful for bright sun but makes everything quite dark at night!
  • High vis/reflective vest

Misc:

  • MSR Whisperlite international stove
  • Home made alochol beer can stove
  • Fuel bottles
  • Fire steel – Light my Fire
  • Tinder stick – Light my fire
  • Waterproof matches
  • Lighter
  • Bike repair kit/spares
  • Titanium fork/spoon (Lifeventure)
  • Small cooking knife
  • Vacuum sealed flasks (Lifeventure)
  • MSR cooking pans
  • Leatherman knife
  • Snowshovel (MSR)
  • Tarp by Alpkit
  • Compass
  • First aid kit/medication – kept in Ortlieb dry bags/Lifeventure zip lock sacks
  • Mooncup (for ladies)
  • Natracare baby wipes (dehydrated or they freeze)
  • Zinc stick for face
  • Vaseline
  • Lesson: Check which meds need to be kept warm e.g. keep epipens on body to prevent freezing

Bike:

  • Sarah – Santos Travel Master 2.8 Alu with Rohloff hub and Gates centre-train belt drive
  • Brooks leather saddle
  • Lucy – Pinnacle
  • Studded tyres by Schwalbe (Winter marathon)
  • Modifications: Cable tie/tape foam pipe cladding around the cross bar for cold weather; reflective tape all over
  • Mirror
  • McMurdo PLB Fastfind beacon
  • Panniers & Rack Pack bags (Ortlieb)
  • Drybags – Ortlieb/Aquapac
  • Sarah has cross bar bag by Alpkit
  •   Lights: Sarah has Schmidt SON dynamo hub to power front light; Variety of LEDlights by CatEye (USB/battery)
  • LED headtorch: Petzl MYO XP
  • Sarah has flag pole and flags (Lucy lost hers on day 2)
  •  Camera gear/electronics: Canon Legria video camera and mic; Go Pro Hero 3/4 ;Pentax Q7; Power Gorilla battery and charging leads ; Small adaptors – In Ortlieb AquaCam case
  • Comms: Iridium Extrem satellite phone, plus Axcess wifi point.
  • Tablet etc: Samsung Galaxy tablet and phone/Lucy Ipad/iphone.
  • Food: Sent by sponsors – Trek and Nakd bars by Natural Balance Foods, and chocolate by Mars.
  • Recent thanks go to: Family Evans, Family Gillespie, WoodCock Cycles, MEC Winnipeg, Janet Taylor, Human Rights Museum of Canada, Darlene and George Lecuyer, Willie and Coleen Johnson, Kitty Stromberg, Dave Dahlstrom, Dave Sears, Ray Butler and Debbie Johnson, and Dakota Harvest Bakery.
  • All best   Sarah x
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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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