31 Mar

Finding Home, Once And For All

It’s an awkward exchange.

Sometimes in the grocery store; no thank you, I don’t need a Thrifty’s reward card – I don’t live here. Sometimes at the doctors office; well no, I don’t have a family doctor – can you write a prescription for me? Sometimes while meeting friends of friends; these are our friends Gillian and Jason, they’re from…well…they’re from nowhere. 

Where do you live? The question comes innocently and, often, I’m left fumbling to answer.

We, of course, live nowhere. We have no home. No apartment. No car. No furniture. No things. No stuff. We are, by definition, homeless.

It feels weird to say and, depending on the audience, the reaction is mixed. Fellow travellers seem to get it. Even if they don’t travel as much as we do it’s likely they have moved around quite a bit; they are usually interested in our story and how we manage to do it. More stationary folk tend to cock their heads and look at us with a mixture of confusion and disbelief.

Honestly, I usually tailor my answer depending on how much time I have to explain. The grocery store clerk learns that we’re from Calgary (our last permanent home). I tell the doctor a truncated version and rely on the fact that he’s my mum’s doctor to smooth the story over. And new friends get the closest version of the truth; where we’ve been most recently and that we live in the world. 

I’ve thought a lot about where I call home, about where I’m from, about where I might return to one day.

There are plenty of places in the world where I feel comfortable and welcome. Where the food is delicious, the climate is warm, and the culture is easy; but there is only one place where I truly feel at home.

Returning to the west coast of Canada this month after 3 years away has me realizing that it is this corner of the world that holds my heart.

It’s the salty scent of the air; a mixture of ocean spray and the iodine undertones of seaweed on the beach (for me, the stronger the better).

Seagulls swoop along the shoreline – sometimes dark against a bright summer sky; other times themselves brightly illuminated ahead of dark storm clouds.

The landscape is almost always green. It may rain a lot but it is this constant west-coast companion that cleans the air and creates the lushness that is a west coast rainforest.

It’s the familiar sound of seaplanes droning overhead. Reaching for remote communities, these flying workhorses bridge between sea and sky, connecting fishing resorts, logging camps, and those out of reach with the rest of the world.

The constant marine traffic reminds me that the water is for more than just gazing at. Tugs,log booms, cargo ships, fishing boats, and ferries share tidal space with sailboats, kayaks, outriggers, and mega yachts. It’s a fine balance ruled by ancient mariner laws and right of ways that determine where each vessel should be.

It’s more than that though; it leans to the intangible.

know the place. I know the people – not just my friends, but everyone – I know who they are, how they were raised, and where they come from. I know where to get a good breakfast or beer. I know the good places to live or stay. I know the weather patterns and the tide charts. I know the best running routes and the secret mountain bike trails. I know it all like the back of my hand.

It’s the deep comfort of feeling in place. As much as I enjoy the unknown challenges of travel, it is innately relaxing to know where you are, to be able to find what you need, and to trust that you’ve got it covered.

We don’t plan on quitting our travel life any time soon but it has become crystal clear where we’ll probably return to if, and when, we’re ever done.

Where do you call home?

24 Mar

4 Reasons Why You SHOULDN’T Practice Before a Cycle Tour

Cycle Tour PracticeI have read a TON of cycle touring blogs in the last few months. I have read gear lists, and packing lists, and itineraries, and food plans, and camping tales (enough of these to make me secretly glad that Jason doesn’t camp – it doesn’t sound like a ton of fun!), as well as a lot of practice schedules.

Practice schedules. All the advice says, and most people do, head out on their bikes at least once before hitting the road for their cycle tour. A chance to shake out the cobwebs, make sure all the equipment is working right, and to gain the strength in their legs (and their lungs) to power them through the ride.

We haven’t done any of that.

I know, it sounds crazy…but we have some very good reasons:

1. Why get a sore bum early?

There is no doubt that your a$$ is going to hurt like a son-of-a-b*tch once you start riding for hours on end. I can’t imagine that there is anything to be done now that will make that not happen – unless, of course, you replace your office chair with a bicycle seat until you leave. So why subject yourself to such torture before you absolutely have to?

I’m not. There is only one way to work through the bicycle seat pain and that’s to just keep on going so I’ve resigned myself to the fact it’s going to hurt for a while and I’ll deal with it then. Starting now only increases the pain period and, really, who needs that?

2. It’s winter.

We have spent the last nine months in southern Ontario here in Canada through what is reported to be the worst winter in 20 years. Temperatures averaged -10C (14F) and dipped as low as -25C (-13F); I haven’t seen so much snow since I was a little girl. Great weather for building snow forts, ice skating on the local pond, or snowmobiling through the fields but not so great for trying out the new bikes.

There are a couple of ways you could practice even through an icy winter like this one:

    • Join spin classes. Almost every gym these days offer spin classes; a great way to get cardio training in while strengthening those all-important let muscles.
    • Get an indoor trainer. This is a great option because you can hook your own bike up to it and train on the actual bike that you’ll be riding all those kilometers later on.

We, of course, did neither of these things. We have been working out like crazy and doing loads of stair sets but, although we’re in good shape, I know that running up and down stairs is not the same thing as riding a bike. So, I say, what’s the point? Is that time on the trainer, or those spin classes, really going to make a difference once you get on the bike?

3. What if you don’t like it?

This is probably my biggest fear. What if I start practicing here and discover that I don’t like it? What if I think it’s too hard or it hurts too much? Getting on a bike and practice riding around familiar neighbourhoods and up the dreaded hills you know are  coming is quite different than jumping into it in a foreign country where everything is new and exciting. If I know that I have to push through to the end of the day, I just will because I have to. I don’t want to jump on a bike here and start to doubt whether I can do it or not – I’ll just dive in head first and assume that I’m going to love it!

4. Can you really be prepared to ride a bike for up to 8 hours a day?

Is there any amount of on-the-bike training or practicing that would really prepare me for riding 6, 7, or 8 hours a day day-after-day? I think not. Unless I was prepared to ride for 6, 7, or 8 hours a day day-after-day leading up to our actual cycle tour of Europe. Reason #2 takes care of that possibility, and thank goodness because although I’m really looking forward to riding through Europe, stopping at cafés and pubs along the way, the appeal (for me) of riding that much in Canada, past cow fields and through long stretches of desolate highway, just isn’t the same.

I don’t think we’re as unprepared as it must sound. We rode mountain bikes for years and years when we lived on the west coast of Canada; we are very familiar with being on bikes in all kinds of terrain and weather. We’ve ridden for hours on end and done multi-day trips so we know the level of physical activity we’re getting into. We work out regularly and so are in fairly good shape – both cardio and strength – and we are well aware that being ‘in shape’ doesn’t mean it won’t hurt and that we won’t find muscles we had no idea we had!

I guess only time will tell. I’ll let you know if our ‘no practice’ routine was a good idea or not!

10 Mar

Where Will We Stay While Cycle Touring Europe?

Cycle Touring Accommodation

You’ll notice that there was no camping gear in the equipment list that I published last week. You see, Jason doesn’t camp. Well apart from that time that I convinced him to hike the Tetons with me a couple of years ago and, of course, the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu but, generally, the thought of pitching a tent and climbing into a sleeping bag has him saying no to my great ideas well before I can even get them out.

So we needed a compromise for cycle touring Europe this summer. We can’t afford to stay in hotels the whole way, and besides, our plan has us cycling through a whole lot of countryside where traditional hotels and hostels might not be available.

There are a couple of options that are available:

WarmShowers

WarmShowers.org is the CouchSurfing of the cycling set. People who are willing to host cyclists sign up and provide their contact information while cyclists looking for accommodation options sign up and fill out a profile. Hosts are flagged on a map and cyclists simply look at the map to find a host that may be nearby and then send them a message.

Hosts are typically cyclists themselves and are interested in meeting like-minded folk who enjoy both travel and cycling. Accommodation is free; it is the exchange of conversation and goodwill that fuels the exchange.

Vrienden op de Fiets

Loosely translated (very loosely as I don’t know any Dutch!) this is Friends of the Bike. It works very similarly to WarmShowers but with more of a bed and breakfast feel to it. In fact, that is exactly how it works. Owners register their property with the organization and are required to provide a few basic cycling necessities; there needs to be a private room, space to store the bikes, and a breakfast upon departure. Cyclists ‘donate’ to the organization and receive a registration card, a map with all the hosts mapped out, and a booklet listing all the possible places to stay; they simply connect up, show up, and enjoy a relaxing evening. There is a cost for this option though; 19 Euro per person, per night.

Vacation Rentals

Our plan is to intersperse some longer urban stays in amongst the long days of cycling. A chance to relax and get to know a city as well as get some work done. You know how much we love renting apartments and this is a perfect occasion; we’ll be able to relax with coffee and breakfast in the morning while catching up on work and then spend the afternoons and evenings exploring and enjoying our new neighbourhood.

It will be an interesting mix of places to stay. I’m a little nervous about staying with other people but, at the same time, it’s one of the things I’m looking forward to. It’s out of my comfort zone but I have long lamented that I don’t think we ‘get under the skin’ enough when we travel; this is an experiment in doing that. I guess I should really be worrying that I will be as good a guest as I’m hoping the hosts will be ;)