Monday, November 24, 2014

Sad Update

As a dismal punctuation to this trip, I regret to report that Gracie's been stolen. While tragic, it's motivated me to put together a book of this trip. In recognition of the experience she shared with me, and to ensure her story lives on, I feel a more thorough account is needed. I'll keep you posted on the progress.

Bike that crossed Canada stolen outside Toronto bar

Mark Smith's stalwart bike, Gracie, which took him from St. John’s, Newfoundland to Vancouver, B.C., earlier this year, was stolen Saturday night.

Mark Smith rode across Canada on his beloved bike, "Gracie." Smith successfully completed his trip and returned to Toronto. And on Saturday night, Gracie was stolen.
Mark Smith rode across Canada on his beloved bike, "Gracie." Smith successfully completed his trip and returned to Toronto. And on Saturday night, Gracie was stolen.
She’s a sturdy bike, built to carry heavy panniers and a passenger through the Rockies, across the plains and over the roughest terrain of the Canadian Shield.
“I didn’t want anything delicate,” Mark Smith says of Gracie, the bicycle he rode thousands of kilometres across Canada from April to July. “Anything that happened on the road, I needed to fix.”
But in spite of the fact that she wasn’t a glamorous model, Gracie caught the eye of Toronto thieves, who made off with her in the darkness on Saturday night.
Smith had been out having a drink with friends at the Black Irish pub on Queen St. E. and Sherbourne St. He came out just before midnight, expecting to cycle home to his Corktown condo, only to find that his trusty ride was gone. The $1,500 black Surly bicycle Smith bought from Bikes on Wheels earlier this year couldn’t withstand the metal-cutting tools of thieves.
Smith was shocked. “It’s not the first bike I’ve had stolen, but it was the one I was most attached to,” he says.
Gracie pictured in Blind River, Ont. during Smith's journey.
Gracie pictured in Blind River, Ont. during Smith's journey.
He immediately posted the news on his Facebook page with the words: “Gracie’s gone.” He ended the message with, “She was a great bike, and worth remembering.”
Smith grew attached to Gracie during his personal mission to cross the country by bicycle. “I was embarrassed about how little of my country I’d seen,” says Smith, 37. “I wanted to say I’d seen it coast to coast.”
And so he did. His mission to see more of Canada and spend time in quiet reflection resulted in an almost 8,000-kilometre trip, a loss of 19 pounds, the growth of a Duck Dynasty-worthy beard and a full bank of memories and photos he posted on his blogalong the way.
Gracie is in many of the shots, dipping into the Atlantic Ocean at St. John’s, Newfoundland and again at the Pacific Ocean in Stanley Park, British Columbia. There she is at the side of the road, leaning against a giant red chair, or stopping by a humorous road sign.
“She never complained, which is something I can’t say for myself,” says Smith, who called the bike his “friend” in his postings. The provincial government worker is in the midst of taking a year off to work on his art and a graphic novel, as well as make the trip of a lifetime.
The first leg of his trip involved riding east from Toronto to St. John’s. After a week’s rest, he flew to Vancouver and rode back to Toronto. Going east in April was too early, he says, “It snowed every day.”
However, easterners were by far the friendliest people, he says.
“It was absurd, everyone I passed asked me what I was doing and did I have a place to stay?”
Arriving in Vancouver, Smith dips Gracie in the Pacific at Stanley Park.
Arriving in Vancouver, Smith dips Gracie in the Pacific at Stanley Park.
Although he hobbled around with sore ankles after a day of riding on the eastern leg of the trip, the aches and pains soon disappeared and he handled the 100-kilometre ride a day well physically.
What astonished him was the emptiness of his country.
“I underestimated how much ‘nothing’ there is in Canada. I was rarely interrupted by civilization. There were big long stretches of open wilderness.”
In New Brunswick he left the Trans-Canada Highway for what he thought would be a more scenic route only to travel more than 100 kilometres without passing even an intersection. The owners of a closed motel kindly gave him accommodation for the night — the next town was still 70 kilometres away.
Smith has reported the theft to police and is scouring Craigslist and Kijiji to see if Gracie pops up for sale. Because he has the key for Gracie’s anti-theft wheels, the thieves will be unable to unlock them, says Smith. The way he locked his bike to the rack involved both the frame and wheel meaning the thieves probably had to damage it during the theft.
“It seems like a waste,” says Smith, who is hoping to be reunited with Gracie, but admits it’s a long shot.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Day 77-78: Arrival Home

I was hoping to cover art least 150km from Lion's Head yesterday, leaving only 100-or-so kilometers to get home today. Unfortunately the rain put a damper on things and I was only able to make it about 75km to Chatsworth.

Fortunately today was a great day for a 175km ride to finish up the trip. After climbing up rolling hills for the first 100km, the route was mostly downhill once I crossed over the Niagara Escarpment. Cool, overcast conditions made way for sunshine and gentle tailwind as I entered the GTA.

Stats for the trip:
87 days (including flight layover, and days off for weather and rest)
67 riding days
Total distance cycled - 7988km
Daily riding average - 119.22km
Maximum daily distance: 213km
Maximum speed: 68km/hr

Arrival home today

Rainy start for my ride out of Lion's Head yesterday

Getting an early start on the ride to Toronto

Prophetic intersection in Markdale

About to enter Niagara Escarpment where I set a new speed record for the trip

Sexy buildings in Mississauga

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Day 75-76: Blind River to Espanola to Lions Head

Heading out of Blind River yesterday, I knew there wasn't any chance of covering the 220km to South Baymouth in time for the ferry, so I settled for splitting it up over two days.

There isn't anything significant to note for the rides leading to South Baymouth. The road was in good condition, the hills were frequent but manageable, and the wind was present but sporadic.

After waiting three hours in South Baymouth for the ferry, and sitting for an hour and a half through the ferry ride, I was eager to get some miles under my belt when we landed rather than find a place in Tobermory for the night.

That decision almost burned me as I found myself 50km out of the city with the sun already set behind me and no sign of a motel. I was five minutes away from tenting in a farmer's field when I finally came across a motel in Lions Head.

*Note- I'm posting this a day late due to wifi issues. This morning looks like a full day of rain ahead of me. I'm currently in Wiarton, hoping to get in another 100km for the day.

Leaving Blind River

Serpent River

Leaving Tobermory on the Chi-Cheemaun

Glorious sea gull soaring majestically over ferry-goers, waiting for scraps and garbage

Starting to regret my decision not to stay in Tobermory for the night

In the nick of time

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Day 74: Rocky road to Blind River

For today's 134km ride from Sault Ste Marie to Blind River I enjoyed great weather, but did hit 20km of atrocious road conditions that put a lot of stress on Gracie and had my joints barking. I've ridden over pre-repaved asphalt on this trip already, but never over such a long continuous distance. 

With cheese grater road surface and loose gravel shoulder,  I picked the lesser of two evils and rode in the traffic lane, darting over onto the shoulder when vehicles squeezed me over.

Whenever I have to ride in the traffic lane because of a loose shoulder, I constantly check my rear view mirror to see if cars are getting ready to move over to accommodate me. If I can't see them moving over well in advance,  I don't wait to make sure,  I just move onto the shoulder and try not to fishtail into the ditch until the vehicle passes. It makes for slow riding, and today was even more of a challenge with both the shoulder and the road surface being so poor for a long stretch.

However,  aside from the aforementioned 20km stretch,  I had a good rhythm for today's ride. I didn't have the cold breeze off Lake Superior, and the terrain started to flatten out and become less rocky. On the whole,  a good day on the road.

Bumpy ride

On the road from the Soo

Kickin' it, old school

Road into Blind River

Day 73: Sault Ste Marie

If you're cycling through Sault Ste Marie,  make sure you stop at VĂ©lorution Bike & Ski shop. They use their back lot as a campground for touring cyclists which is free to use. They have 24hr washroom facilities and free wifi, and are also conveniently located right on the Trans-Canada. Great little oasis.

Weird story that happened but sounds totally made up:
I was looking for a bar to catch the end of the Jays game yesterday and walked into the only one I could find with the game on. The bartender said they don't allow backpacks in the bar (I resisted the urge to tell her it was a pannier). I said okay,  do you want me to put it behind the bar or something?  She said no,  you just can't have it in here. Although offended at this stupid policy, the Jays game was going into extra innings and I wanted to watch it. So I went outside and put the pannier back on my bike,  removed all the contents, went back inside, put all my crap on the bar and ordered a beer. The bartender then asked for my ID. This was getting irritating, but I gave her my drivers license which she studied intently, then went to confer with the other server,  came back and said it doesn't look like me. I showed her my health card for good measure and explained that the beard's new but I'm clearly the dude in both pictures. She reluctantly conceded and asked me what I was doing in the Soo,  as she gave me my beer. I told her I was biking across Canada. I mentioned something about having trouble finding places to grab a drink in some of the places I've passed through,  noting that the last bar I passed by was almost 350km back in White River.  She squinted her eyes at me,  and asked me what I ordered there. Odd question,  but I told her I was drinking Kokanee. She said,  I thought so,  I was your server. I work here on weekends and White River during the week.

Sunset over Lake Superior

Agawa Bay Campground

Best bike shop ever

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Day 71-72: 281km from Marathon to Agawa Bay Campground

I was remarking recently that rain has been the norm for this trip,  forcing me to ride through it or wait it out on more days than not. Well, yesterday and today have made me eat my words. Easily the best two days of weather since getting to Ontario, with sunshine, cool breeze (tailwind! ), and gorgeous scenery spoiling me for the last 48 hours. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Tonight I'm camping at Agawa Bay Campground in Lake Superior Provincial Park,  tomorrow I should be hitting Sault Ste Marie.

Leaving Marathon

White River's claim to fame

I was greeted with incredibly thick fog this morning, but it dissipated quickly

Today's ride from White River to Agawa Bay

Riding down to Agawa Bay