A day in the life of.
Alarm goes off. Snooze. Alarm goes off again. Snooze. The attempt to wake up early, like 7am or 7.30 or even 8 or 8.30 or sometimes even 9, usually is an attempt that we fail at. The tent has no windows of course so now that we have to use the rain fly, and now that there is no longer a beating sun cooking us in the tent, waking up takes longer. And the fall morning chill has penetrated the air, making it harder to leave the warm sleeping bags. My dad would call this ‘fresh’. I just call it cold.
So after rolling up sleeping bags and camping mats, while hoping there is no frost, that our food bag is intact and not ransacked by raccoon/bear/other wildlife, we tear down the tent and make breakfast. Peanut butter and honey or currently chipotle jam with banana in bread, then an apple. Slowly we pack up our paniers, and load our racks. Usually we take about an hour and a half from wake up to leaving. We are not the fastest of vagabonds.
Cycling commences. Onwards ho, down the road we go. At this point we usually have no clue as to where we will end up. We decide a rough mileage we wish to accomplish that day, with the deciding factors including: miles to nearest towns, how much water we have, how tired we are, facilities en route (which is important if you are cycling through areas that are wide open in landscape and you can’t just go and hide behind a tree), how many hills we need to climb. Sometimes we chatter about this and that, food, family, religion, movies books, our individual experiences of the people we have met. Other times, we are still. The wind whistles, the trucks roar by, bird songs heard in the distance. After some twenty odd miles, a slight hunger calls for lunch, or trail mix or a bearded bros bar. We pull over. Sometimes we find a picnic bench. Other times, we sit by the river we have been following all day. Sometimes we don’t even get off our bikes and just munch on whatever Marcus has in his briefcase, which serves as a front pannier while straddling our bikes by the side of the highway. Sustenance.
We continue cycling ever present, in thought, persistent in reaching our destination. Music fills my head, songs cycle through, ones we are learning on the ukulele (ex. dropkick Murphys), others that help me keep my stamina (ex. machin’), others that I’ve just heard on this trip and have quickly become my favorite (ex. passenger) as well as the song we are working on that is our own. Music. Interspersed with thoughts of the day and landscape that we are passing through fill the time when we are still. Voices may not be heard but inside my mind is roaring.
Darkness starts to fall. We look for our spot for the night. Where we build our home once again. We ask at gas stations, pubs and bars, libraries, supermarkets and people on the street: where can we stay. Where is it legal or tolerated and free? It is different every night. We have started to make more use of the website warm showers, which connects cyclists with hosts who will put them up for the night. This is how we met Betty and Chuck in Big Fork, Mt, Bruce in Missoula, Mt and Kim in Lethbridge, Alberta. We have camped underneath a big pine tree in medicine hat, Alberta, big enough to put ourselves, our bikes and our tent and have plenty of room for more. The Missoula place saw us sleep in a tree house! Big fork was in a teepee. Other times it is hardly the life of a high roller. The Walmart parking lot being one of them. Or the back of a pilot gas station. But part of the journey, the experience. Best of course are the lakes, rivers, beds of moss in the forest. Sometimes we have a campfire roasting our fronts. Sometimes complete with smores.
Rolling into our destination we strategize on whom we are going to ask and which establishments we are going to enter to ask about where we can stay.
To the bar! Or the library! Or gas stations, inns, coffee shops, etc. Upon reaching our destination, we pull off our gear, tent, sleeping bag, camping mat and set up home for another evening. On warm nights we sit outside, make dinner, talk, play music then play ukulele or read, write, talk to whoever is in company, colder nights, or on nights where we are being ransacked by mosquito’s, we dive for the tent, hot dinner be damned. As it is getting colder, we will be making more use of the warm showers website. As I write this we are in moose jaw, Saskatchewan staying with Glenda and Larry. Glenda made us home made veggie cabbage rolls, which are a huge thing in Canada, told us about the history of Canada and gave us Saskatoon berry crisp for desert. Tomorrow, we are staying with someone in Regina, before heading out onto the more lonesome roads of Manitoba. There we will go back to camping and rolling into towns not knowing where we will rest.
Has been good to us. Nowhere near as expensive for produce, as we had been warned about, more types of peanut butter than the us has, some familiar English and German food items (kinder surprise! Milka!), which I have missed, consistent TAILWINDS and people who have opened their homes to us and shared their stories.
Prior to this I had no clue about the large number of Mennonite and hutterite communities and gained more of an insight into these religious groups. We met a few members and learned more about their culture and background. Jake,a Mennonite of grassy lake, Alberta, a farmer, who let us stay for the night on his property – the kittens and Bella the dog kept us warm (and awake) at night. We met a couple of Mormon missionaries in cardston, Alberta, Spencer and Parker, and talked about team sports, pessoa, and the ukuleles. Parker showed us the theme tune to pirates of the Caribbean and both told us stories of life as missionaries. The day to day. They passed us later on in the day on the high way and invited us to have some food at a baptist reception. Ever curious and hungry, we went.
Ivan, the angry, bitter and drunk Quebecois man in swift current gave us $20 after telling us we were fucking crazy and that it gets so fucking cold and what the fuck were we thinking of coming up here for, we must be fucking crazy. But here, take $20…
Do stuff. be clenched, curious. Not waiting for inspiration’s shove or society’s kiss on your forehead. Pay attention. It’s all about paying attention. attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. stay eager.
So a few days have passed since I wrote the above.
We are currently in Winnipeg, at the end of our most northern leg of the trip. We are spending a couple of days here, staying with a warm showers host, David, and his flat mates, which has been so much fun. Last night we all cooked and ate together, they had some friends over. We also checked out the town, walking about as much as we can in the chilly wind. First night we had pho – my first one – as well as bubble taro tea and both were delicious. We didn’t know that Winnipeg had a large number of cultures and with that various international cuisines, all at your doorstep: vietnamese, indian, ethiopian and many more. Through the exchange district where we had real poutine – at the white star diner! And the most amazing veg burger ever: the sunburger at the underground. Then a short walk to the forks. We also walked past the new human rights museum. We are trying to get to there today to see the exhibitions before heading out of ‘peg. Marcus is currently changing tires, oiling his chain, and I am slowly packing and of course writing. If it weren’t for the winter coming, we would stay longer in Canada. Shame that it is time to head south to warmer climates… Which well aren’t that much warmer… But hopefully warmer than here…
If you are still reading this, props. We can be long winded sometimes, but I’m glad someone is getting something out of this. Christina is pretty thorough in most things so it doesn’t come as a surprise that she covered most of our journey. That being said, we compliment each other fairly well and most times we see a different perspective on the same thing.
We have some news (a new charity!!) That we will be covering in a separate entry to follow.. Which I’m really excited for. A time and place for everything but for now, Canada aye?
We are here in Winnipeg, our last night with Dave (cyclo racer, hydrologist) and his eclectic, well-read roommates. Its been a wonderful experience the entire way through. We rode highway 1, featurig mostly beautiful 6’ shoulders with a rumble strip in between us and truckers who still pull into the left most lane, give us a honk 300 meters out, and then lazily pass us by. Approachable people who are willing to be engaged in conversation, to slow down, to listen and to be heard. Generosity that will make my high school professor and good friend split a joyful grin, nod and raise a fist to proclaim,”Fist Pump!” And the land…
To the mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders. – Lao Tzu
A swarm of mosquitoes that would make a Kiwi return to the island. A sea of grain, unfolding as the kilometers pass, eyes running off its monotonous, slippery shell, grasping desperately at a lone barn in the far off distance, as a sailor would a life boat. You don’t have much besides your thoughts. Besides rehearsing, reviewing what makes you, you. A naked look at oneself. And when something in the landscape is particularly stunning (a falcons sweep, a rivers flow, a winds song) it wraps around you, a child with a blanket, let go of self, relinquish it back to the earth, that you might melt into it, a fusion of soul with universe, a marriage, until death do we unite. Breathe deep, cold dense air into lungs. Listen close, wind whispering secrets. Let go.
I snap out of a daze that I’d slipped quietly into, look back and see Christina far off, bent over handle bars, battling winds, legs pistoning. And so I back off, pumped the breaks while still pedaling against the resistance of rubber to keep warm in a cold cutting wind. A long moment passes. An upset pillow of wind buffets me before retiring. I drift again. She silently sneaks up, catching me with a ,”How are you doing?” A single closed fist, thumb and pinky extended, I signed my good health, careful not to slip back into the present, my mind a kite, my vessel far below..
“Can I help you?” came the demand from the doorway. The sun was low, smearing clouds with orange. The barn, stretched out a shadow, elastic and growing across the dirt, contending with the only slightly bigger house. It was apparent it rained recently. Two or three days ago maybe. A lone mosquito buzzed in my ear interrupting the flock of kittens prowling about. I slapped at it distractedly, replying with a less than confident, “Hello.” He looked at us suspiciously, a pair of helmeted kids on bikes with big bags strapped to the frame, asking to camp on his lawn or a place to pitch a tent. “There is a campground in town.” His dress spoke of a man who paid tithing every week. We thanked him for the advice and explained a bit about our background. Soon he offered up a bit of his own, fluent in Spanish, German, as well as English.
We pedaled on to the mosquito infested grounds, pulling on pants as fast as we could manage. A truck pulled up to our site, and I inwardly groaned, thinking it was an official of some sort to slap us a ticket for not having yet paid for our spot. It was the farmer. He showed up to offer up his lawn if we weren’t comfortable with the grounds, driving his sick daughter to the hospital 60 miles away.
Christina and I took one look at each other, simultaneously slapping at bugs on a buffet line. We packed up and headed back. We were greeted by 4 kittens and two dogs that spent so much time with cats, it wouldn’t have surprised me to hear them purring too. The kittens were obsessed with our stove, and cooking was a two person job. Christina distracted the cats and set up the tent, a kitten stretched across her shoulders. Hot food then bed as the sun was set. We slept out under the stars, on the lawn of a man who reconciled and thought to trust us, with kittens who demanded to sleep in our bags with us and a dog that yipped all night. But it was something. We woke up the next morning to our host walking over. Struggling to free myself from the fog of sleep I greeted him. “Morning!” Christina later described a struggle to keep puffy eyes open against the bright morning sun, a confused zombie.
Jake. That was his name. He apologized for not being home, for driving to the hospital, staying up all night and coming back to deliver his children to school before heading to work in his 12 acres. We thanked him anyway, refuting the politeness of a man whose instinct to provide proper hospitality to a guest left him guilty. He gave us 20 bucks and told us about a diner. “Go in and get some breakfast. Put it on my tab. But I’ve got to get to work now.” And with that, we packed up, and headed to that diner (not before having to distract following kittens with a can of tuna). We ate a breakfast of huevos rancheros and coffee.
That was Jake. And there are plenty of people like Jake we ran across. Too many to name. Too little words to speak to them and their generosity.
When we got into town late and after a dinner of pho, around 9 o’clock before the night felt settled in, we pedaled wearily over to Davids place, unsure, having arrived a day early, if we would be able to stay with him. We were greeted with many welcomes, 3 of 4 roommates in the living room. David, tall man, bearded introduced David, not as tall with a fine beard as well and Marcus, glasses, studying at a computer. This was going to get messy fast. We all became acquainted and stayed 2 nights, experiencing poutine, bike shops, and the recently opened Canadian Museum of Human Rights. We had some good company, good talks and great food. Its a beautiful city here. We are lucky to have seen Canada. I’d love to stay a bit longer, but it’s time to move on. Boston, we will see you for Thanksgiving.
Until next time, whip up a fancy dessert and eat it all by yourself, dance in the streets at 4 am, bake something for your neighbors, and visit a drive-in theater.