The Long Haul: Cycling Across Canada
Cycling across Canada is not as hard as you think—seriously!
Sure, it’s difficult, but you don’t need to be superhuman to do a cross-Canada bike trip. Building up the stamina to ride at least 100 kilometres a day takes a lot of work, but I have found some easy ways to practice, such as by mountain biking on weekends and using a bicycle rather than transit to commute across the city.
Naturally, being comfortable with riding longer helps to prepare you for some of the bigger gaps between towns, so you’ll need to build your ability to handle distances. My longest day on a bike was 191 kilometres, but on average 120 to 140 kilometres is much more realistic. The distance you’ll be able to complete depends a lot on the wind and the weather, so look at some climate graphs and assume that you will experience spikes both above and below that graph.
Up, up and up! And back down. Starting in Vancouver and heading east allows you a day or two of moderate hills before getting into the bigger stuff. There are elevation maps for the Trans-Canada highway on its website. Knowing roughly what to expect can help you plan how far you think you can ride in a day. For me, I enjoy climbing long hills simply because you can fly down the other side. But keep in mind, the higher you go the more chance of snow! I’ve been chased by snow storms one day and sweated buckets the next.
Not as flat as you might think, the prairies might challenge you by offering an uninterrupted head-wind all day long. Two particularly memorable days for me involved a very slow ride into a strong wind. The odd time when there were trees nearby, my speed jumped thanks to the slight protection from the wind they offered. Having said that, a tail wind in the prairies is wonderful, and I missed the prairie dogs squeaking and playing by the side of the road as soon as I entered Ontario.
The trees return! It is nice to have shelter for camping and relieving yourself again. And while it can get pretty cold north of Lake Superior, the views are fantastic. There may not be mountains, but there are some hills. Here, some of the gaps between food stops can be over 150 kilometres, so plan accordingly, but once you make it to the St. Lawrence River, there are towns everywhere.
Similar to Ontario and Quebec, there are towns along the route and lots of trees. But being so close to the ocean, you’ll want to use radar maps to watch out for incoming rain; once or twice I’ve timed my lunches to avoid rain clouds or changed course slightly. The Trans-Canada highway can be more easily avoided here, and once you hit Nova Scotia, the paved shoulder basically disappears.
Lastly, before you head out, do some research and find some things you want to do along your route. A 100-kilometre detour to go bungee jumping near Ottawa was one of my boyfriend’s highlights of our trip.
So, there you have it. It’s probably not as hard you might have thought initially, and cycling across Canada is one of the best ways to test yourself, meet locals and experience the country.
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